III. Main Deck Card Choices
IV. General Strategy
V. Sideboard Card Choices
This past Modern PPTQ season was an odd spectacle. It was definitely the most open I have ever seen the Modern format. What we didn’t know at the time is it would be the last Modern PPTQ as far as we can tell. If I had of known this in advance I might have actually tried a bit harder than I did and maybe would have resigned myself to a tier one deck. However I did not know this and in usual Jeremy Brain fashion I showed up to every event with some monstrosity better left forgotten in a basement.
Typically when I want to play “control” I do so in a very proactive fashion rather than reactive. Usually I lean towards prison style resource denial decks. Not this time. I cast the first Cryptic Command I’ve ever cast in my Magic career this year. What I immediately discovered is the card isn’t as cut and dry as the automatic “counter-draw” I’m used to encountering.
In a conscious effort to continuously improve as a Magic player I wanted to learn “how to Cryptic Command”. This lead me to the decision of I want to cast the max amount of Cryptic Commands for the least amount of money as possible. The deck I initially landed on was the super fringe Mono Blue Living End. After some light gold-fishing and a few games later the conclusion became this deck, in its current configuration was trash. However I felt it had very high potential. Quickly my plan of spending as little as possible fell apart as I started to value out the deck.
The end product only slightly resembled the previous fringe budget deck I played before. No longer did the deck rely solely on being a combo deck with an awkward control package. Now it was a hard control deck with the potential to “combo” kill. I put combo in quotes because at this point it no longer felt like combo. It just felt like control doing what control does best. Control, stabilize, conquer.
The deck list I started with looked something like this:
This build was fun and I did get some matches with it. The problem was I couldn’t get any prize conversion out of the deck and this needed to be fixed. This is what I ended up with:
The end product ran less basics to facilitate man-lands, fetches, shocks and better utility. This allowed me to have better access to black instead of just hoping on the dumb luck of finding it on its own. I added two Search for Azcanta since the front side happened to enable my deck without using any mana and the back side allowed me to better stabilize and maintain control of the board. With Search for Azcanta now in the deck I needed to make better use of my graveyard so Snapcaster Mage became an instant MVP in the deck. Once an As Foretold passed two counters the Snapcaster Mage value became huge.
In the sideboard I added an Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver; initially for creature match ups but ended up becoming a house in my control and combo matches. The Liliana again was huge in my creature match ups and of course my games against control. At the time there was a fair amount of Dredge, KCI and Storm floating around so the varied graveyard hate was extremely powerful.
Traditionally when we think of “Living End” as a deck we picture the Jund variant made famous by social pariah Travis Woo. Initially appearing in extended the deck slammed as many cycling creatures into the graveyard as fast as possible then used a Violent Outburst or Demonic Dread to cascade into a living end. This resulted in board-wiping your opponent’s field and mass reanimating your graveyard. Violent Outburst allowed this to happen on your opponent’s end step, possibly resulting in lethal damage on your turn.
That version still exists in Modern and periodically reappears to make waves in the format. While the creatures may be different the deck is essentially unchanged in theory.
When Amonkhet was spoiled in 2017 and we got our first glimpse of “As Foretold” the gears started spinning. Brewers all over attempted to find a way to break the new “Aether Vial”. Storm and Living end strategies seemed to be the primary outlet for the card. These new “free spell combo” decks surged in the months following Amonkhet’s set release before gradually fading away. Every so often a slightly different list would break through and regain attention to the card but nothing major ever happened.
III. Main Deck Choices
Ancestral Vision: Automatic four of. Most of the time when you cast As Foretold your hand is starting to get a little on the low side. Refill your hand and hopefully catch a Living End for your next turn.
As Foretold: Automatic four of. Literally the whole reason we are playing this deck. The card is fairly good right away but doesn’t become truly powerful until it has 4 or more counters on it.
Bojuka Bog: Minimum of one. Two max in the seventy five. This card is extremely powerful in this deck. It is fetch-able off of a Tolaria West and guarantees no recursion on your opponent’s field when you have to cast Living End multiple times.
Creeping Tar Pit: Two or three copies is where you want to be. You don’t want too many lands entering tapped in this deck. However a backup win condition is an asset in any deck. An added bonus is Creeping Tar Pit is the best Planeswalker killer in the format.
Cryptic Command: Three or four copies is a must. I think less than four however is a huge mistake. You need to keep control of the board at all times and Cryptic Command is very effective at that. Once As Foretold hits four counters casting Cryptic Command for free just feels disgusting.
Curator of Mysteries: two to four copies off this card. Personally I feel this is the weakest cycler in the deck. However it is a one mana cycle cost so it does deserve a spot.
Fatal Push: Two to four copies. Possibly the best one mana removal ever printed. Depending on the number of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben you expect to encounter increase or decrease this number.
Fetid Pools: At most run one. I wanted another fetch-able land but I didn’t want a shock land. I figured this was fine since it had utility if I drew it late game.
Field of Ruin: Minimum of one. Max of 3. Originally the deck ran 4 copies of this. As I cut down on the basic land count they became a bigger risk. The card is still fantastic since Tron is an annoying match up and Field of Ruin can be searched for with Tolaria West.
Living End: Two to four copies. Unlike traditional Living End lists we aren’t rushing head first at an attempted combo. Instead we are using living end primarily for it’s actual intended purpose, a board wipe with the potential of gaining value. This means running a full four copies isn’t nearly as necessary.
Mission Briefing: I haven’t actually tried this yet but it was suggested to me. It makes a decent budget Snapcaster Mage. Another added bonus, Only if you have As Foretold in play, is this allows you to cast Living End and Ancestral Visions from the graveyard.
Nimble Obstructionist: Run two or more. Its really hard to fit more than two of this in the deck but you really want to as it is a very strong card. Having an uncounterable stifle and draw effect has the potential to be absolutely back breaking.
Remand: Run two to four copies. Not the best counter spell ever printed but certainly the best for it’s purpose. Delaying your opponent by a turn is certainly relevant and so is the card draw.
Search for Azcanta: Two copies. No more. No less. This was possibly the biggest boost to power I added in the deck. It filtered my cyclers for free. Once it flips it finds anything but creatures and lands. This includes As Foretold. Even extra spells get put in the graveyard for later Snapcaster Mage use.
Snapcaster Mage: Two to four copies. Next to Search for Azcanta, Snapcaster Mage was probably the biggest push in the power level of the deck. It feels bad casting a Living End with a Snapcaster Mage in play. However playing a free Snapcaster Mage with As foretold to cast Cryptic Command and bounce Snapcaster Mage back to hand was fantastic.
Street Wraith: Automatic four of. Free cyclers are always good. With the added advantage of possibly having swamp walk Street Wraith is one of the best choices for the deck.
Striped Riverwinder: Automatic four of. This 7 mana cost Hexproof 5/5 that cycles for one is arguably the best creature in the deck. Once it lands it is almost impossible to get rid of. More often then not I’d only leave these and Nimble Obstructionist in post board.
Tolaria West: Automatic four of. Probably the best card in the whole deck. It fetches nearly everything you could possibly need in the deck. If all else fails its a land.
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth: No more than one. Not the most necessary card but it certainly fills a function. I wouldn’t play the deck without one.
IV. General Strategy
This deck is extremely straight forward. The goal is to spend the early turns filling your graveyard and sculpting your hand with cycling creatures and remands. Turn three you want to cast an As Foretold and either an Ancestral Visions or a Living End. If you were able to get a reasonable amount of creatures in you’re graveyard, or you’re opponent’s board state is getting a little scary. Then Living End is the answer. If not Ancestral Visions. After casting a Living End you want to keep the board empty to make quick work of your opponent. If that isn’t possible you want to keep them tapped down with Cryptic Command.
V. Sideboard Choices
Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver: I keep getting told this card is bad, I strongly disagree. In your combo and control match-ups it has the potential to just strip answers from your opponents deck and possibly give you win conditions. Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver’s ultimate also can clear the way for a potentially devastating Living End.
Cast Down: Not the best piece of removal not the worst. It was certainly interesting. Depending on your expected meta you could opt for Go for the Throat or Doom Blade instead.
Ceremonious Rejection: At the time I was playing this there was a lot of KCI and Hardened Scales floating around. Now there is even more as well as Grixis Whir making it into the fold. I feel any blue deck not running at least one to two of this just wants to lose.
Collective Brutality: The absolute best burn hate printed in recent years. In this deck this can put 2 cyclers into your graveyard, kill an Eidolon of the Great Revels or Goblin Guide, strip a problematic burn spell out of your opponents hand and finally gain you two life while draining them. Also I hear it’s good verses control.
Commandeer: Cuter than it is good. it’s still hilarious to steal an opponent’s Planeswalker
Damping Sphere: KCI and Storm are problems. Post board they can never hope to beat you and a lot of it is attributed to this card.
Faerie Macabre: Fantastic grave hate that can also protect your grave from opponent’s Surgical Extractions.
Hurkyl’s Recall: Again Hardened Scales and KCI have to be dealt with and this is one way to do it.
Jace, The Mind Sculptor: Not the best Planeswalker for this deck but in the right meta he can be a really strong choice.
Liliana, the Last Hope: Great alternate win condition verses control. Kills Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and nearly everything in Hardened Scales. Assuming they haven’t played a Hardened Scales.
Negate: Some people prefer Dispel in this spot. I feel the extra mana for added versatility is too valuable.
Ravenous Trap: good old fashioned anti dredge tech from vintage. Extremely strong verses KCI, Storm, Dredge, Bridgevine etc.
Surgical Extraction: Good catchall removal for combo.
Burn: 50/50 match-up. Ideally you want to get game one or game 3 will be a very up hill battle. Go as fast as you can. Post-board Collective Brutality is an absolute house. Collective Brutality gets even stronger with Snapcaster Mage
KCI: Scoop game one. Do it as soon as you realize they are on KCI before they have a chance to identify what you are playing. This will get you game two. Game 3 will be a very hard grind.
Uwx: You have more counter magic than they do. Take your time and only fight over things that will kill you. Post board Surgical Extraction, Collective Brutality and Faerie Macabre are your friends.
Dredge: Game one can be tricky. Bojuka Bog is a very key card and needs to be well timed. Post board the game is a joke. Your varied grave hate will make playing around it a headache for them
Hardened Scales: This match can be very difficult as they can go very fast. Try your best to get game one so you can be on the play game three and be careful how you time your Hurkyl’s Recalls
Tron: Depending on the skill and luck of your opponent this match can be very frustrating. Field of ruin can make game one a little easier. Game two and three do everything you can to slow down and deter them from assembling tron. Eventually they will still hit six mana and cast Wurmcoil Engine but the chances of seeing a Ulamog are very low.