For this article, I’d like to show you the ins and outs of a deck that has been popping up a lot on Magic Online recently. By “a lot”, I do not mean that it is a cornerstone of the format, and you might not have heard about it so far, but I played against at least four different versions in the last month or so. Some competitive players have even endorsed it, such as my good friend and former MOCS champion Magnus Lantto.
How good is it? We’ll discuss it in a moment. But it is undeniably spicy, and it does bring a lot of new, less linear tools to make the deck tougher to attack.
2 《Tolaria West》
4 《Field of Ruin》
-Land (20)- 4 《Curator of Mysteries》
2 《Architects of Will》
4 《Street Wraith》
4 《Striped Riverwinder》
4 《Living End》
4 《Serum Visions》
2 《Mana Leak》
4 《Cryptic Command》
4 《As Foretold》
This is a Mono-Blue 《Living End》 deck. Yes, you got that right. The key idea behind it is to abuse 《As Foretold》 in combination to the best two 0-mana spells in Modern : 《Living End》, and 《Ancestral Vision》.
There is some beauty to it : as soon as you resolve 《As Foretold》 (which is quite likely to be turn 3), you instantly get to cast one of those. But if you do not have any of them, 《As Foretold》 will still keep ticking up and let you combo whenever you draw the right spell.
Conversely, if you do not draw or resolve 《As Foretold》, you will still be perfectly able to “suspend” your 《Ancestral Vision》, which is a very reasonable option just by itself. In other words, the “combo” does not actually require you to draw both elements instantly, which gives it much, much more reliability and makes for a smaller number of clunky hands.
In order to fill your graveyard, you do exactly what a classic 《Living End》 deck would : “cycle” a bunch of giant dudes like 《Curator of Mysteries》, which gives you stuff to reanimate and lets you draw the cards you need to reanimate it. Unlike a typical 《Living End》 deck, though, you do not need to “cascade” into 《Living End》 ; this is a major perk of this build, since it allows you to play any card, not just cards with a converted mana cost over 3 mana.
You can think of this as a smoother, more flexible, but also less explosive and consistent version of 《Living End》 : you can interact a little more, your hands are not quite as clunky since drawing 《Living End》 is perfectly fine, and you are better equipped to deal with whatever hate comes your way since you have a ton of spells for the late game, including the full package of 《Cryptic Command》.
On the flipside, your combo is much, much harder to set up since A)-it actually requires you to draw both 《As Foretold》 and 《Living End》 instead of having a one-card combo and B)-you only run four of each elements when the traditional 《Living End》 versions run 8 “cascade” enablers, which in this occurrence act as both halves of our engine within a single card. In other words, you sacrifice some speed for a lot more resilience and access to many, any more options.
Should you play it ?
There is no easy answer to this. The deck definitely is for real, but it does have some weaknesses to work on. As it is, there are quite a few match-ups where this version is immensely superior to the traditional one namely every control deck and most midrange as well. Combo match-ups also tend to be better than they should, simply because you run a lot of countermagic and have a good chance of shutting them down until your own combo is ready to launch.
In other words, whenever your counterspells matter, the huge gain in consistency and control more than makes up for what you lose in terms of speed. I am thinking Blue-White control, Blue Moon, that kind of things. Hell, even UR Storm or Titanshift are fine-ish (instead of being unwinnable as they should). There, you do not care at all that you’re unable to assemble your combo pieces by turn three, and the extra cards you draw are relevant because A)-you have to cycle them if need be, B)-even a bad creature gets to attack when your opponent does not run any and C)-your counterspells have time to matter.
On the other hand, the deck is much, much slower in average than a classic version, and it is not that much better at interacting against early, creature-based aggression. In other words, if you play against anything that is applying a decent amount of pressure (Affinity, Human, 《Death's Shadow》, Burn…) it is unlikely that you’ll win : you will not be able to stop what they’re doing because your counterspells are inefficient, and you will not be likely to set-up your combo as early as they force to.
In all those match-ups where you are put under pressure, your ability to play a decent late game becomes entirely irrelevant, since you die early. And even if you do survive the early aggression it is still possible that your late game is not enough against dedicated graveyard hate.
Basically, this deck tends to draw a ton of cards, but those cards tend to be extremely low-impact. It devotes so much to making the dream of 《As Foretold》+ 《Living End》 on turn 3 possible that its ability to play outside of that plan is crippled. I beat one of them, for example, with an extremely mediocre draw that had me cast a 《Rest in Peace》 of turn 2, then play 《Path to Exile》 on a hardcast 《Curator of Mysteries》 on turn 5, and only then start doing relevant stuff. My opponent, in the meantime, proceeded to draw 9(!) extra cards with his 《Ancestral Vision》, and still failed to develop a relevant game plan when all he drew was more draw spells and a bunch of overpriced fatties to “cycle”.
That worried me quite a bit, given that this deck already has an engine that should let it beat dedicated hate with ease with a more careful build.
Should you make it better ?
Even though it might sound like I have a fairly bad opinion of the deck, I would not write about it if I considered it an unplayable piece of garbage. There are some parts that are really bad, but the core engine of card draw + 《As Foretold》 + 《Living End》 is very consistent and does not take too much space, which makes me think that it leaves room for a much better version that would ditch everything but the core engine.
First, I do not think you can remain a Mono-Blue deck. Here is why : there is no way to make the deck more explosive if we keep the same engine, which forces us to try and find good ways to interact until we combo. Those good ways exist in modern, but none of them happen to be blue. The best thing I could think of is 《Engulf the Shore》, and that will never work because A)-it is a terrible card, B)-interacting with a 4-mana spell is too slow and too easy to play around (*cough* 《Meddling Mage》 *cough*) and C)-a lot of early creatures will have 5 power by turn 4, courtesy of 《Cranial Plating》, 《Tarmogoyf》 or 《Death's Shadow》 with a life total under 9.
Yes, that would mean a worse manabase. But in all fairness, this deck does not benefit a whole lot from being Mono-Blue: the value lands are pretty bad here because your plan has nothing to do with value, and you definitely could afford a second color since what you are doing is not that demanding on the mana.
Every other color, except green, provides options to work with. I like black a lot, because it has 《Shriekmaw》 (which fits nicely into your overall game plan) and 《Bontu's Last Reckoning》, which is not necessarily a card I like but should work wonders alongside 《As Foretold》.
See where I am going with this? Yes, my second theory is that you should ditch some of the cyclers, especially 《Street Wraith》 that pressures you and is uncastable. It will undeniably make it almost impossible that you ever get to cast 《Living End》 on turn 3 and win on the spot, but…who cares? Playing creatures that help you interact, fill your graveyard eventually and are decent enough on their own would be a way to make sure you win the late game simply by virtue of drawing relevant cards.
I think you could find a very decent version of the deck by looking at UW God Pharaoh’s Gift in standard : you just play creatures that help stabilize, and eventually end up in your graveyard (you can help them het there with 《Wrath》 effects if need be…).
From then on, your combo engine actually doubles as an amazing value engine that makes sure you will not lose after your survived the initial onslaught, even if they manage to stop your combo.
What do you think?