MTG Modern Living End Deck Guide

ow to turn the tables on your opponent for three mana.

Living End is often cited as the most powerful deck in the MTG Modern metagame, and when it gets to play games uncontested by the right hate cards, it’s obvious that is true in the abstract. With a good list and smart play, Living End is still the most powerful deck in Modern even against prepared opponents.

The Best Living End Modern Decklist


Living End

Market Price:$699.28

Maindeck, 60 cards

Sortsort deckCreature (30)

  • 4Architects of Will
  • 4Curator of Mysteries
  • 4Grief
  • 4Shardless Agent
  • 4Street Wraith
  • 4Striped Riverwinder
  • 1Subtlety
  • 1Colossal Skyturtle
  • 4Waker of Waves

Sorcery (3)

  • 3Living End

Instant (8)

  • 4Force of Negation
  • 4Violent Outburst

Land (19)

  • 3Botanical Sanctum
  • 2Breeding Pool
  • 1Forest
  • 1Island
  • 4Misty Rainforest
  • 2Otawara, Soaring City
  • 2Scalding Tarn
  • 2Spirebluff Canal
  • 2Steam Vents

Sideboard (15)

  • 2Dead // Gone//
  • 3Endurance
  • 2Foundation Breaker
  • 2Leyline of Sanctity
  • 1Subtlety
  • 2Mystical Dispute
  • 1Living End
  • 2Force of Vigor

I was previously a fan of the lists that cut Grief to maindeck the other evoke Elementals and upgrade Architects of Will to Windcaller Aven. I have changed my preference back to Grief, mainly due to a downtick in Living End mirrors where Endurance is one of the few clean ways to win games.

Core Cards

Shardless Agent
Living End
Violent Outburst

The typical cascade package powers Living End, with no real reason to consider Ardent Plea or any other weird configurations.

Waker of Waves
Curator of Mysteries
Street Wraith

The highest-impact cheap cyclers are locked in. Clustering them all in blue has a subtle but noticeable impact. since drawing doubles of an off-color cycler would lead to bottlenecks on turn-two game actions.

Waker of Waves deserves special mention, since no other two-cost cycler is close to making the cut but Waker is among your best cards. Waker of Waves is close to double cycling for the cost since you can dump a second creature directly in your graveyard, but it really shines thanks to the static ability. Sometimes you have to fire off a fast but small Living End against disruption, or sometimes your opponent finds ways to bin their own creatures and have their own Living End army. Either way, between its massive size and its ability to shrink their creatures, Waker of Waves generally outclasses all of that nonsense.

Force of Negation

Double Masters 2022 | Rare

Force of Negation - Double Masters 2022 - magic

Market Price: $26.84

Living End is non-functional if an anti-cascade hate card like Teferi, Time Raveler resolves, and Force of Negation is the best way to stop those cards. With Violent Outburst, Living End can “combo off” on an opponent’s turn and use Force of Negation to fend off Counterspell as well.

Flex Slots and Alternatives


Market Price: $32.24


Market Price: $33.73


The big flex slot debate is which Incarnations you show up with. Grief is the best one against a broad metagame and interaction that fights Living End on the stack, but Subtlety is great if you expect your opponent’s hate cards to be Teferi, Time Raveler and Endurance. Endurance itself is a concession to the mirror, and there’s a bit to discuss about that one later. If you play Endurance, it needs to sync up with Colossal Skyturtle for more green cards.

Colossal Skyturtle
Brazen Borrower

Market Price: $11.33

The bounce creatures have been impressive. A little bit of interaction goes a long way when many opponents are relying on the first two turns to get threats out under Living End and sit on answers from that point on, and Colossal Skyturtle does that while being the right colors to support Force of Negation and Endurance.

What Colossal Skyturtle can’t do is save you from an unexpected Leyline of the Void, but Brazen Borrower in the sideboard does that while acting as a fallback interaction spell and threat. If you start seeing Leyline of the Void popping up in more sideboards, get some Brazen Borrower in your deck to hedge against that card.

Dead // Gone
Leyline of Sanctity

Two sideboard cards I want to highlight that aren’t always present are Dead//Gone and Leyline of Sanctity.

Despite the symmetrical sweep of Living End, it can be vulnerable to a cheap threat like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer backed by disruption. Dead//Gone is the best card for keeping those Ragavan games from slipping away, especially when the Gone side handles Murktide Regent in longer games.

Leyline of Sanctity isn’t great against most of the tier 1 decks, but it causes huge problems for many of the tier 2 decks. They have to make decisions that make their deck worse overall to play around it, like Golgari Yawgmoth swapping Blood Artist for Zulaport Cutthroat or playing less efficient graveyard hate than Endurance that doesn’t target a player. And that doesn’t even consider the free Leyline wins against Burn. Leyline of Sanctity isn’t the card you want if you have to beat Izzet Tempo, Four-Color Yorion, and Hammer Time every round, but Leyline of Sanctity gives you free wins against the rest of today’s broader metagame.

When to Play Living End

The best time to play Living End is when no one else is playing Living End. The deck’s success is one of the most cyclical parts of Modern.

Living End is resilient to hate, but it isn’t impervious. There’s some point where everyone gets sick of losing to Living End, puts a bunch of Endurance, Teferi, Flusterstorm, and Chalice of the Void in their deck, and Living End goes into hiding for a bit. Then everyone trims on those cards after a couple weeks and Living End starts winning again.

This entire dynamic is one of the driving forces of the Modern metagame since many of those anti-Living End cards have impacts elsewhere. Living End rising up might drive another temporarily successful deck out of the metagame, or another deck’s success might lead to an increase in Endurance that causes incidental issues for Living End.

How to Play Living End

Most of playing Living End isn’t rocket science. Cycle some stuff, hit your land drops, play a cascade spell, win the game.

You need a copy of Living End in your deck to cascade into. Sometimes you draw a Living End, or it gets hit with Counterspell, or it gets exiled to Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and the remaining Living End count in your deck runs low. If there’s only one left to hit in your deck, you can’t run through a Counterspell with multiple cascade cards—you need to fight to resolve that last Living End.

If there’s only one left and you already have a graveyard loaded with creatures because you have been digging for a cascade spell and finally found one, you might not want to cycle more cards in case you accidentally draw the third Living End. You can even play Violent Outburst in your upkeep to really ensure the worst case scenario doesn’t happen. Endurance can help with this in long games by shuffling a copy of Living End from your graveyard back into your deck.

Your opponent gets all their dead creatures back when Living End resolves. Occasionally something like Archon of Cruelty will end up in their graveyard, at which point you have two options. You can Endurance or Faerie Macabre to clear it out of their graveyard, or you can build up so much stuff in your graveyard that it just doesn’t matter. Bonus points in the giant graveyard case if you have Violent Outburst to end-of-turn Living End, untap, and get the first attack.

On that note, be careful when evoking Grief. Putting a good creature in your opponent’s graveyard is just delaying the problem until after Living End resolves.

Striped Riverwinder

Hour Of Devastation | Common

Striped Riverwinder - Hour of Devastation - magic

It’s easy to over-sideboard with Living End. In a deck with so many cyclers, you can think of your draws as replacing themselves and dead-ending at the non-cycling cards. When you broaden the range of non-cycling cards to include a bunch of interaction, that means you will dead end less at cascade spells or lands, and your hands will have a higher fail rate. Most sideboard plans will rely on cutting non-cycling cards for different non-cycling cards.

Tormod’s Crypt

Core Set 2021 | Uncommon

Tormod's Crypt - Core Set 2021 - magic

Against all the one-shot graveyard cleanup like Soul-Guide Lantern or Endurance, you want to force your opponent to use their card, then restock your graveyard. Put a few cyclers in your graveyard, then hold back a couple to cycle after you run a Living End into their hate card.

If you need your first Living End to clean up their battlefield and a second Living End would just flip back all the things you needed to kill, you want this all to happen while your first Living End is on the stack. Save free Street Wraith cycles or build up extra mana before you cascade into Living End, and then right after they are forced to exile your graveyard, fill it back up before Living End resolves.

Unlicensed Hearse

Streets Of New Capenna | Rare

Unlicensed Hearse - Streets of New Capenna - magic

Against continuous but incomplete graveyard hate like Unlicensed Hearse, you are trying to save your cyclers for one big turn. Hold onto your cyclers until you can unload a bunch of them on an end step, untap, maybe churn through a couple more, then cascade.

Relic of Progenitus

Eternal Masters | Uncommon

Relic of Progenitus - Eternal Masters - magic

Relic of Progenitus is the worst of both worlds for you. If you have enough fetch lands you can use those to hold off the tap ability and treat it like a one-shot exile, but often you have to mix these two approaches and accept that your first Living End will fail or just treat Relic like Leyline of the Void.

Sideboard Guide

Vs. Izzet Tempo

Murktide Regent

Modern Horizons 2 | Mythic

Murktide Regent - Modern Horizons 2 - magic

Market Price: $13.58

Most games against Izzet Tempo come down to forcing a Living End through a Counterspell or two. Violent Outburst is your best card since it lets you crunch the Izzet player’s mana by cascading twice in a row early on. Ragavan is their most important card since it lets them ignore any mana crunch.

If your hand is all set Game 1 to cascade on turn three, there’s a small amount of value to not revealing you are Living End on turn one. I would default to just playing normally, especially in paper where your opponent likely saw one of your prior matches, but if you can leave up a fetch land on turn one and then bin a Waker of Waves and Street Wraith on their end step turn two, you might catch them tapped out for Ledger Shredder and get a free win.

1 Living End1 Subtlety
2 Mystical Dispute1 Striped Riverwinder
2 Dead // Gone1 Waker of Waves
 2 Force of Negation

Force of Negation gets trimmed because they don’t have good proactive targets for multiple Forces and because the classic Violent Outburst-plus-Force pairing gets busted up by Flusterstorm. I only want Force in my sideboarded deck to respect Unlicensed Hearse, and Grief is another way to mitigate that.

You are trying to avoid the game ending because you run out of copies of Living End in your deck to cascade into. Grief is amazing as a way to trade a card that isn’t Living End for a Counterspell, and the fourth Living End goes a long way. I have previously used a couple Endurance to reshuffle Living End into my deck, but I don’t think that is necessary in the Grief lists of Living End.

Dead//Gone is just to handle Ragavan and cut off their free wins.

Play around Blood Moon if possible. Fetching the Forest is more important than the Island since you can’t cast any cascade spells without the Forest, and needing to find Forest makes Misty Rainforest very important.

After sideboarding, I like to play around Spell Pierce if I’m hitting land drops. Just being able to take one answer in their hand out of the equation helps a ton after they load up on Flusterstorm.

Vs. Four-Color Yorion

Omnath, Locus of Creation

Zendikar Rising | Mythic

Omnath, Locus of Creation - Zendikar Rising - magic

Market Price: $10.92

There are three types of games Living End loses to Four-Color Yorion. Your opponent can resolve Teferi, Time Raveler and prevent you from playing the game, they can Traverse the Ulvenwald for their maindeck Endurance, or Living End can end up a bit short on cyclers and lose to Solitude and a bit of follow-up action from the Four-Color side.

Since your opponent reveals Yorion, Sky Nomad before mulligans, you can plan for some of this. On the draw, you really want an interactive spell to answer Teferi. On the play, you either want those same answers or a turn-three Living End with a lot of fast cycling before it. I only start worrying about Endurance if the game continues past the turn-three Teferi checkpoint, and the only real adjustment is figuring out where the number of creatures in my graveyard crosses from “a lot” to “more than enough.”

1 Subtlety2 Waker of Waves
1 Mystical Dispute 

Waker of Waves getting trimmed here is a nod to how important cheap cyclers are to racing Teferi on the play and how irrelevant bouncing their creatures is. Only a single copy of Mystical Dispute making the cut is a similar concern about cutting too deep into your cycling creatures.

Chalice of the Void is a fairly common sideboard card, and is a spot where I wish this list could access Brazen Borrower. On the play you have good coverage between Grief and Force of Negation, but if you know your opponent is heavy on Chalice of the Void I would adjust a bit on the draw when turn-one Grief is too slow. A Foundation Breaker or two helps line up your numbers right, and I might preemptively sideboard that way against the Four-Color Elementals lists where Risen Reef and Ephemerate edge out Counterspell.

Vs. Living End

Living End

Time Spiral: Remastered | Mythic

Living End - Time Spiral: Remastered - magic

Welcome to the worst matchup in Modern. Technically the match has a winner, but everyone involved loses some sanity.

Both players get all their stuff back when Living End resolves, so resolving Living End isn’t even a clear advantage. Both players can cycle more stuff after Living End and re-Living End to flip that all back. But then the opponent can Living End back again, and what ends up happening is nothing.

Everyone is trying to balance keeping up with their opponent’s cyclers in the graveyard so they can’t get one-shot by an end-of-turn Violent Outburst into an attack, but also saving cyclers so they can choose what to do if their opponent casts Living End first, but also using cyclers to maybe get to a situation with Force of Negation and lands to resolve a bigger Living End unopposed, but also…

There’s just a bunch of levels of horrible.


Market Price: $33.73

Street Wraith

The two simple truths in all this mess:

  • Endurance clearing out a graveyard is the cleanest way to win most games.
  • Don’t cycle Street Wraith until you absolutely need to. So many parts of the matchup revolve around instantly stocking your graveyard at some key moment, and only Street Wraith can do that for free.
3 Endurance4 Force of Negation
1 Leyline of Sanctity 

This sideboard strategy is making a bold statement. If you win the fight over who has the better graveyard, it doesn’t matter if a Living End resolves. All I want to do is maximize my cyclers and Endurance triggers, and minimize their Endurance triggers. I’m willing to risk my opponent having Leyline of the Void for Game 2 and adjust for Game 3.

I’m being very deliberate and maybe playing it a bit too safe with one Leyline of Sanctity. you love to start games with it to shut off Endurance, but you absolutely do not want to dead-end cycle into a Leyline.

That all said, if I’m playing a ton of Living End mirrors I’m probably going to think about not playing Living End. Not just because the matchup is horrible, but because that means everyone else is playing matches against Living End and it’s only a matter of days before I’m playing against piles of sideboard cards that make Living End a poor metagame choice.

Vs. Hammer Time

Colossus Hammer

Commander: Adventures In The Forgotten Realms | Uncommon

Colossus Hammer - Commander: Adventures in the Forgotten Realms - magic

Go fast, win the game, don’t die. Just two ships passing in the night, except your ship has Force of Negation and Colossal Skyturtle so sometimes their ship crashes. They might have Spell Pierce, but that’s a really uncertain “might.”

2 Dead // Gone1 Subtlety
2 Foundation Breaker2 Grief
2 Force of Vigor2 Striped Riverwinder
 1 Waker of Waves

Striped Riverwinder is a low priority cycling creature against Hammer Time. Hexproof doesn’t matter, so it’s just 5 power. Waker of Waves is strong, but you want one-cost cyclers to mix in when spending mana on your interactive spells.

Subtlety looks okay on the surface as a free piece of interaction, but usually it’s only stopping a fraction of a turn of mana because their threats are so cheap. A conditional answer that puts you down on cards and mana is just never going to trade well. Grief is in a similar boat, where it’s totally fine interaction but worse than the sideboard cards when you can only afford to draw so many cards without cycling or cascade.

Vs. Four-Color Creativity

Indomitable Creativity

Aether Revolt | Mythic

Indomitable Creativity - Aether Revolt - magic

Market Price: $20.53

Four-Color Creativity is a generally positive matchup, so I’ll focus on the ways you can lose it. Your opponent can either discard an Archon of Cruelty and break the symmetry of Living End, or they can cast an Indomitable Creativity after Living End resolves and hope Archon beats your creatures. In both cases, the answer is either to outpace their ability to get an Archon on the battlefield or make so many creatures it doesn’t matter. Violent Outburst also helps in that second case so you can get the first attack after resolving your Living End, and this matchup is a reason to want Colossal Skyturtle in the Subtlety flex slots.

On the play, you just want to power out a Living End on turn three since it will outpace Indomitable Creativity and Prismari Command. Savvy opponents might choose to skip a land on an early turn to discard Archon of Creativity, which pushes you back to the loaded graveyard plan.

2 Foundation Breaker1 Subtlety
1 Force of Vigor2 Striped Riverwinder

Four-Color Creativity lists are split between Leyline of the Void and Turn the Earth as their anti-graveyard sideboard card. I would rather start by sideboarding to beat Leyline of the Void, which is 100% to win the game if it goes unanswered. You can also use the green cards to clean up Clue or Treasure tokens, leaving Living End to sweep up the creatures and cover all their Indomitable Creativity fodder. Striped Riverwinder is a fine sideboard sacrifice to make as a creature too small to attack into an Archon without evasion to dodge Dwarf tokens.

If you see Turn the Earth instead of Leyline of the Void, leave in the Striped Riverwinder and opt for Endurance over Foundation Breaker. If they aggressively cast Turn the Earth you can clear out the flashback with Endurance, or you can clear out a discarded Archon of Cruelty. And if you see Leyline of the Void, get that second Force of Vigor in there too.

Your opponent will also have Flusterstorm, and they should sideboard in Veil of Summer. If you draw Grief, try to cast it when your opponent is tapped out or when you can strain their mana with Grief into a Living End to minimize the impact of Veil. The exception is when you draw and can evoke multiple copies of Grief, where straining your opponent’s mana is secondary to pacing them out over turns to increase the odds one of them resolves through Veil.

Vs. Golgari Yawgmoth

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

Modern Horizons | Mythic

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician - Modern Horizons - magic

Market Price: $12.59

Golgari Yawgmoth is the reverse of what I just said about Four-Color Creativity. This matchup is generally not good, and I will tell you the ways to hopefully make it not make it worse.

Do not make them discard Yawgmoth, Thran Physician to Grief. Honestly, try not to make your opponent discard any undying creatures to Grief. Go after Chord of Calling or Eldritch Evolution if those cards are relevant, and if not go after Ignoble Hierarch to try and slow them down.

Street Wraith is among your best cards for multiple reasons. It is the most evasive threat in the matchup, and you often need tons of creatures off Living End to close out through undying blockers. Hands light on cycling creatures are likely to lose to a clogged battlefield or a Grist, the Hunger Tide even if Living End resolves.

Your opponent can Chord of Calling for Endurance. The problem with playing around that is going slower lets them Chord of Calling for Yawgmoth, Thran Physician. Just accept that’s a bad thing that can happen and hope Grief sorts it out for you.

2 Leyline of Sanctity4 Force of Negation
2 Endurance1 Striped Riverwinder
1 Subtlety 

I don’t like the maindeck interaction Living End has in this matchup, which is great because you need to cut something for your sideboard cards. Force of Negation has some upside if your opponent has Necromentia, but otherwise is good against exactly Eldritch Evolution. Even Grief is borderline due to how discarded creatures are a liability, but you really need to clear Endurance out of your opponent’s hand.

Leyline of Sanctity is your best sideboard card against Golgari Yawgmoth. It stops Endurance, Thoughtseize, Necromentia, and Blood Artist. That makes it almost impossible for your opponent to disrupt or combo kill which usually adds up to an easy win. If you see Zulaport Cutthroat over Blood Artist be aware your opponent can combo-kill you since that drain ability doesn’t target, but turning off all your opponent’s disruption should still make the Leyline games much better than the matchup’s baseline.

* * *

When Living End is the best deck to play for a tournament, it steamrolls the competition. Even if you don’t plan on becoming a “Living End main,” understanding the metagame and play patterns surrounding the deck will help you avoid getting swept away in a Living End boom week. Or maybe that can give you the skills to know when it’s time to roll with Shardless Agent and Curator of Mysteries and get those free wins for yourself.