“The battle of Junin and the love of Helen each died with the death of some one man. What will die with me when I die, what pitiful or perishable form will the world lose?”

—Jorge Luis Borges, “Mutations,” Dreamtigers (1964)

The word “endling” refers to the last-known surviving member of a species before its extinction. It’s something of an orphan word—used in scholarly papers, museum interpretation, and conversation—but not fully canonized in the dictionary. One day before long, it will make the cut. I hope this article will do its search engine optimization duty, as “endling” is a beautiful and tragic little neologism.

In Magic, Endling is the last member of a group of five cards that began in 1998—Morphling, Torchling, Thornling, Brightling, and now, Endling. At one point, Morphling—also known as “Superman” to those who claimed Top 8s on its strength—was the de facto best creature in the game, with Masticore as his Robin.

I don’t count Aetherling as part of the cycle. It seems to be securing Blue’s place as the originator of ‘Lings, rather than kicking off a new cycle or finishing the old. If we get a six-mana Lichling in, say, 2030, I’ll know I was wrong. Until then, I’m treating the Aetherling like the “narluga”—a dead-end, a single sterile anomaly. Aetherling is its own endling.

Endling is the only card I preordered from Modern Horizons. I reckoned most of the set would drop upon release, and I’d pick up essentials from drafts and packs; but I immediately needed to make a home for Endlings. Now, having played it, I know it suffers from the traditional post-Morphling problem (and Morphling would suffer from it, too, were it not on the Reserved List and reprinted back into Standard): it’s too mana-intensive to be useful in Constructed formats and too low-impact to be potent in Commander. You’ll never be upset to have a Brightling or an Endling in play, nor will you be excited to draw one. In Limited, of course, any ‘Ling remains an absolute house.

More to the point, there’s a beauty to the design of Endling, and not just the individual abilities. In its own small way, Endling is the most resonant card in the whole set.

(B): Endling gains menace until end of turn

When I was a teenager, I realized I was the last male Bockman in my family. It’s probably unfair pressure to tell a socially-awkward, anxiety-raddled teenager that the family name ends with him should he die without issue; but I come from the Southern Gothic Catholic tradition, and that heavy guilt looms omnipresent. It was especially hard for me, though, as from my teen years to about 2016, I was a strict antinatalist. It seemed pretty cut and dried to me at the time: we have entirely too many people in the world, I thought, and having a child is an inherent act of cruelty that condemns an innocent life to anywhere from zero to 120 years of pain. From a utilitarian standpoint, it made sense, and I’m not here to tell anyone in that same boat that they’re wrong. You have to make the choices you have to make in your life; if they’re principled choices, all the better. I thought, and still do, that life is painful and awkward and unfair. But if life is governed by pain, then pain can’t be avoided. Instead we must adapt.

Jason Molina, who knew all about pain, once sang “Now Death is gonna hold us up in the mirror and say/‘We’re so much alike, we must be brothers.’” I think of that line every time I look at Endling’s art, with its mirrored pair of the dead. Molina died at the age of 39, leaving two young children and a stack of recordings that take up an entire bookshelf.

Aaron Graves knew about pain, too, but spent the last years of his life demonstrating that joy dilutes pain. He once sang “If there’s one thing that I insist, it’s that the group of us not exist without the helping hands we lend to one another.” When he died earlier this month at the age of 33, he left two young children, several albums, and a whole army of people he’d helped and who’d helped back. No endlings here.

The legacy you leave behind is made up of what people remember. You can change that narrative by writing more, by sharing more, by being more vulnerably accessible. It’s hard—in fact, the biggest impediment to your legacy is yourself. Sometimes it takes a whole community to build that legacy. Sometimes it’s too much for one person.

(B): Endling gains Deathtouch until end of turn.

The Menace/Deathtouch combination is incredibly strong. A 2/4 Endling with Menace and Deathtouch wins games or demoralizes opponents. Either one is a victory. It feels as fated as extinction, as sudden and cruel as a single death. You’ll be taking out two of their creatures and even if they’re able to trade with your Endling, you have another card to play:

(B): Endling gains Undying until end of turn.

Statistically, I’m likely to die early. I’m overweight, I work a sedentary job, my triglycerides are high—the list goes on. Actuarially, it’s something of a miracle I’ve made it this far. But I have made it this far, and if you’re reading this, so have you. You may even have suffered massive setbacks or powerful trauma; and you may, through some quirk of nature or through enormous personal effort, have grown even stronger because of it.

Undying, in Magic, has been flavored as one last burst of strength from beyond the grave—a single-use surge of power that makes you stronger, but can’t be recharged (without other tricks, obviously). It can suggest haunting (Geralf’s Messenger) or a flareup (Hound of Griselbrand). But it can also represent something else: resiliency. It takes two hits to kill a Vorapede and two deaths to take out a Strangleroot Geist. It’s just as easy to imagine a mythic hero having Undying as it is a massive centipede or a Frankenstein.

(1): Endling gets +1/-1 or -1/+1 until end of turn.

And yet, we are adaptable. We are never the same as when we started, and we’re capable of growth. We change over the course of our lives, and sometimes we change back.

Did the thylacine know what was being taken from it? Did the dodo have some kind of awareness at the end, even if it was just an atavistic drive to reproduce? Did the Southern Rocky Mountain gray wolf have enough self-knowledge to mourn? We’ll never know—they’re animals, and more to the point, they’re dead animals. (Can we save the Nothern Rocky Mountain gray wolf?) But we ask the questions because some part of us knows that we’re all endlings. We have consciousness, and perception, and perspective. We shape the world around us. We modify our habitats and fret about our legacies and foster secret anxieties and paraphilia, things we cannot share with anyone else because we don’t even understand the importance of them.

You’re your own unique world, and that world dies when your brain stops firing and your heart stops pumping. You look in the mirror, and you see something different from a) what others see and b) what’s actually true. That’s okay—our self-worth isn’t defined by what we see reflected; it’s an imago, not an embodiment. We’re each our own warped reflection, and, like Endling, we’re stronger than we may first appear.

This article may have turned out a bit like Overthinker’s Corner. Next go-round, let’s take it in the opposite direction and throw Goblins at our opponent until they’re dead. Until then, remember: you’re one of a kind and the end product of a long legacy. Both of those are important parts of you.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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