Living End and A Lesson in Redirection
Hi there everyone!
It's great to be back here writing for MTGCanada! I've taken a little over a month off from writing thanks to life, as happens sometimes. But I've had a lot of really cool experiences over the past two months, and the events I've gone to have sort of refreshed my M:tG energy.
In the five years I've been playing Magic, this is one of the better little runs I've strung together. I've been able to Top 8 a Modern PPTQ at Face to Face Games Toronto with Burn, Top 16 SCG Classic Syracuse with Living End, and Top 8 Face to Face Games Modern 5k Open+ with Living End. By no means does this put me in the big leagues, but it's certainly got me thinking positively for a change.
Since Humans came out as a Modern deck in mid-late 2017, I've had a really hard time deciding to register my pet deck (Living End) at Modern tournaments. The main reason being the instability of the match-up between the two. I don't think it's an unwinnable match, but it is one I dislike playing.
Kitesail Freebooters eat cascade spells from our hand, Meddling Mage on Living End is almost lights out, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben ups our combo-mana requirement from three mana (cascade spell) to five (+1 for cascade spell, +1 for Living End). Humans has three fantastic ways to disrupt Living End, so I'm sure you can see why I was hesitant.
However, I bit the bullet and decided to hunker down and play Living End. This decision has solidified my opinion that it's best to play what you're most comfortable with in Modern. Admittedly, I dodged Humans a lot in the two tournaments that I did well with Living End. But hey, that's the name of the game.
Here's my Syracuse list. It's pretty atrocious, but I was borrowing the deck and didn't want to play my Burn deck (the only deck I brought, for the Open the day before). I cobbled this version of the deck together, ran hot, and caught a couple sweet breaks!
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Living End - SCG Modern Classic Syracuse - 15th
I'd say the things to note about this list are:
- I chose to play three Living Ends again. I've been experimenting with two, and maybe I'm just unlucky as heck, but I always draw one or two of them.
- There are three Architects of Will. Normally I wouldn't play these anymore, but my friend only had one Archfiend of Ifnir handy. I also don't like how Architects of Will make Tarmogoyf two counts bigger for Artifact/Creature. The ability is sometimes relevant, though.
- There are three Simian Spirit Guides. Sometimes I play four of this card, sometimes two. I haven't exactly figured out the correct balance, but I've been playing four and it hasn't really been an issue.
- 20 cycle cards in the list. The absolute minimum is 18, which is usually the stock number, but it seems most versions I put together these days have 20. I'm no amazing Mathematics guy or anything, but I feel like 20 has been my sweet spot and I don't think the extra bit of consistency is hurting much.
- Don't ask me about that main deck Kolaghan's Command. I think I was either out of time, or out of card resources, so I stuck it in. Not a fan.
- There was no Forbidden Orchard available from my friend's collection, which is something I usually don't sleeve up Living End without anymore. It's fantastic in the control matches to give Demonic Dread a target, or when opponents are the wiser and don't give you a target. It makes it so that you don't have to commit a Beast Within or hard-cast Simian Spirit Guide JUST to target, so you can cascade into Living End.
- Those Copperline Gorges should be Grove of the Burnwillows, but beggars can't be choosers. One to three life over the course of a game is no problem, when we usually dome-shot after our combo for large increments of damage. It's rare that a Living End ever presents a clock longer than two turns.
Shortly after this run with Living End, I was feeling pretty high on it so I took it out to Face to Face Games Open+ 5K, and hit a good streak again! This time with a much more comfortable list:
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Living End - Face to Face Games Open+ 5k - 6th
Notes on this list:
- Still at 20 cyclers.
- Up to four Spirit Guides for explosive starts and quicker cycling on Archfiend of Ifnir if necessary.
- Forbidden Orchard added, Grove of the Burnwillows added (would be three, but I only own one currently).
- Kessig Wolf Run added. Kessig Wolf Run seemed really weird to me, but it gives us a way to power through blockers given the situation. But really, its true purpose is for the Humans match up, and boyyyyy did it ever come up clutch for me. I used the Kessig Wolf Run to target an opposing Phantasmal Image and pump it for 0, thus eliminating it in a crucial spot of the match, giving me lethal on board in the air. Phantasmal Image had copied Archfiend of Ifnir, and targeting the Phantasmal Image to remove it felt very powerful and situational.
- Still on eight cascade spells. Sometimes it feels like way too much, and although Demonic Dread is almost always the first card you cut after sideboard - I still feel like I want eight copies for decks that play hand disruption. Well timed hand disruption can most certainly dash our plans, as long as we're not just cycling into another.
- Still on four Fulminator Mages main, although I've been debating changing this. Either skimping or cutting from the main board altogether. Powering out an early Fulminator Mage is one of my favourite ways of playing this deck. I've won really difficult matches doing so, such as Burn. Sometimes you just get lucky and Fulminator their Sacred Foundry and they don't have another white source and double Boros Charm/Lightning Helix in hand. It happens, but it can't happen if you cut the Fulminators.
Otherwise, it seems relatively weak right now. Tron is on a huge down-swing and there's not too many decks you can just completely shut down by offing one land. If you do just have the nut though, and have a quick Fulminator into Living End... Well, Fulminator Mage'ing more than once in the first three turns is usually a pretty easy lights out.
Moral of the stories: Play what you know. You'll get lucky way fewer times than you get unlucky, so if you put the time in on a single deck you'll be rewarded.
A Lesson in Re-direction
One of my favourite cards ever printed in Magic is Ricochet Trap. It can do some VERY creative and busted stuff and is incredibly hard to play around or predict, especially in a deck that uses Simian Spirit Guide.
This means that if the opponent plays a blue spell in a turn, you can use Simian Spirit Guide (while tapped out) to Ricochet Trap something. Crouching Mana Monkey, Hidden Ricochet Trap.
This play sort of reminds me of a little trick I like to use, sometimes accompanied by some VERY light acting. Picture this:
I play a land for turn 1, pass. End of the opponents turn, I cycle, cycle a Street Wraith, nothing out of the ordinary.
Turn 2, business as usual, land, pass. End of opponent's turn I cycle, cycle, and breathe a big sigh as if I didn't find what I was looking for.
Turn 3, I quickly draw for turn, pass without playing a land (even if you have it)
A lot of the time, my opponent would feel so comfortable on their turn because I was "land-screwed" that they didn't consider Simian Spirit Guide or my combo. This usually led to an over-extension on the board on their part. I've found that it's usually right to take the hit, see if they play any more creatures, then pull the trigger: Simian Spirit Guide for third mana, Violent Outburst into Living End and... got 'em. I'm not saying it's right to not play your lands on the correct turns, but sometimes you just get 'em.
This is what playing against Ricochet Trap feels like. So, in honour of this spectacular fringe-yet-powerful spell, I'd like to recount my top five Ricochet Trap stories/situations.
5. The Multi Trap
This one hasn't come up often, but I do recall one specific time while I was playing against Ad Nauseam. I believe we got into a crazy awkward counter war, where he had cast three Pact of Negation and I had cast three Ricochet Traps in a turn as we fought over a Living End. For clarification, I think I was trying to Living End to kill his Laboratory Maniac as he tried to win with a Serum Visions. As crazy of a game as this sounds like, I'm pretty sure the reason I didn't just get Lightning Storm'd out was because I had cast multiple copies of Gnaw to the Bone and gained enough life to withstand a full Lightning Storm. This created one of the coolest, deepest stacks I've personally seen in a game of Modern I was part of:
Serum Visions-->Violent Outburst-->Living End-->Pact of Negation-->Ricochet Trap-->Pact of Negation-->Ricochet Trap-->Pact of Negation-->Ricochet Trap.
Once in a blue moon this kind of multi-trap scenario happens against a control deck, but never have I seen a nine-card stack like this involving Living End. Craziness.
4. "Rancor your Blank-or"
In a weird turn of events against a Bogles player once, I was on four mana and my opponent attempted to cast Rancor on their suited up Slippery Bogle. Unfortunately for the opponent, after a judge call (and admittedly, I was unsure of this one at the time) it was deemed that I could change the target of an enchantment aura with Ricochet Trap to their Kor Spiritdancer which had summoning sickness. This let me untap, draw a land and cascade into Living End without dying the previous turn to a Rancor-ized Bogle. Feels good man.
I actually had no idea before this that enchantment auras "target". To enchant something, it must be targeted. I believe auras are the only permanents that require a target.
3. Spreading Seas In All Directions
This is some quick thinking that really made me happy. To get out of a bad position against a Merfolk player at a Face to Face Open, I had cascaded into Living End on my turn using a Demonic Dread to flip the graveyard and the battlefield. Fortunately, I felt comfortable as I had enough blockers to withstand the oncoming onslaught. Plus, I had a backup plan. I knew my opponent could blow me out by casting a Spreading Seas, letting all the Merfolk I just brought back Islandwalk to victory. However, I left up a Copperline Gorge with a Ricochet Trap in hand, and my opponent did not have any Cursecatchers in play.
The opponent DID have Spreading Seas, so when they went to Spreading Seas me, I Ricochet Trap'd it for one red mana, then made them Spreading Seas their own Mutavault. Saved myself from lethal; won on the crack-back. I was happy I caught that line and anticipated my path to victory.
2. Choke Them Out!
This one actually happened in Syracuse in round four of the tournament. I was playing against a Mono U Turns player, and it's game two. My opponent is on the play and plays their fourth land, clearly leaving up Cryptic Command. Pass.
I un-tap, draw, and confidently play my third land and slam a Choke. Jumping at this amazing possibility to counter my Choke and keep his four Islands safe, my opponent casted Cryptic Command countering target Choke, and drawing a card. To this, I exiled a Simian Spirit Guide, cast Ricochet Trap, and changed the target of his Cryptic Command to Ricochet Trap.
Ricochet Trap changes the target to Ricochet Trap, then Cryptic tries to counter and doesn't see Ricochet Trap on the stack anymore and is fizzled. This is the way to go, as you cannot make a counter spell target itself.
Now I'm not saying this is an easy one to ready in the dark, but when my opponent cast that Cryptic Command, there was a surefire way to win. All they had to do was counter target spell (Choke) and bounce target land (as there were no other permanents on board yet). This would nullify Ricochet Trap, as Cryptic would now have two targets, and Ricochet Trap can only change the target of target spell with a single target.
My Choke resolved and that was a wrap on that one.
1. What's YOUR Hand Look Like?
Admittedly, this story is taken from pure mistake-land. My opponent made a really weird play, and to this day I'm still trying to figure out what the purpose of it was.
Regardless, I had cast Living End at the end of my turn for some reason. I think my opponent had cracked a fetch (while having only one other mana up) so in response, I cascaded into Living End. I was almost certain there was no one-mana counter spell to ruin my day. I placed approximately 26 power or so onto the battlefield. Whatever the size, it was one-swing-lethal. They got a tapped land and made no play at end of turn.
On my opponents turn, awkwardly, they main phase'd a Snapcaster Mage, targeted Thoughtseize, and proceeded to Thoughtseize me. Just trying to see where it would go, I responded by Richochet Trap'ing the Thoughtseize back at him.
Awkwardly enough, my opponent had four lands in hand and a Wrath of God. And here's what I really don't understand: why not just play the Wrath of God first? What can I possibly have had that made casting their own Snapcaster first, trying to Thoughtseize me, before casting the Wrath of God make sense? This also leaves their own Snapcaster to get mangled by the Wrath of God that they're intending to play.
I'll never know, but you should have seen my face when I realised I had just Thoughtseized away my opponent's Wrath of God and only path toward winning the game.
Thanks so much for joining me. If you'd like to follow my Magic the Gathering adventure, check me out at https://twitter.com/GoblinCredible
What are YOUR favourite pet cards? Ever catch someone with something like a Crouching Mana Monkey, Hidden Ricochet Trap?
Tell me about it in the comments!
Until next time.