Strictly Eternal 101 – Surgically Speaking

Howdy folks! It’s Joe here again and it’s time for another edition of Jace’s Anatomy!  Or rather a good old fashioned Legacy rant time.

We haven’t had one of these in a while, so let’s get right into the thick of it.  This week we’re gonna be talking all about everyone’s favorite graveyard hate/combo hate card, Surgical Extraction!


Let’s get that right out of the way.  Like every card in this game, Surgical Extraction has its complexity in regards to how one should be playing it.  Surgical is probably one of the most heavily misplayed cards of all time (outside of how badly people can Brainstorm).  I’ve been on the opposite end of some very, very bad Surgicals; more often than not, they’ve never really done anything to me from a game winning standpoint.


In fact, just this week I was playtesting Scapewish on XMage, and had a Pox player Surgical my Green Sun’s Zeniths.  Even though I ended up losing this game, losing GSZ wasn’t the reason why.  I lost because I couldn’t put up enough mana ramp to push through Liliana of the Veil and Sinkhole / Hymn to Tourach.  All the Surgical really did was remove an option.


Now I hear you out there thinking, “well if I remove an option, my opponent is now forced to play without that option. That’s good right?”  Only if that option completely debilitates their ability to play their deck.  This is why Surgical is powerful versus combo decks. It allows the Surgical player to dismantle the combo player’s plan, putting them in a position where they are unable to play the game.

Too often I see people advocate to bring in Surgical Extraction versus decks like Miracles (“But it’ll remove their Mentors or their Jace!”). More often than not I see Miracles pilots slaughter those players because they can simply move on with their life and present a different angle of attack.  The players playing Surgical don’t understand why this plan didn’t work because they’ve grown to rely on Surgical like a crutch.


Step 1 – stop treating Surgical Extraction like crutch, and stop bringing it in for every matchup.  If you’re only firing it off for information purposes, it’s not being used to its full potential. That makes it a very bad card to have around.  It often ends up dead in hand with no other uses, and in some matchups where life total matters casting it for 2 life is super awkward.

Step 2 – Stop bringing this card in against every Cabal Therapy deck (except for Storm for obvious reasons).  Not every Cabal Therapy deck is unfair; in fact, many aren’t.  Surgicalling a Cabal Therapy is not really getting you anywhere in the grand scheme of things.  I hear you saying “If they can cast Therapy they can shred my hand apart!”  I get that.  Keep hands that aren’t as soft to Cabal Therapy, and you won’t have that problem.  In fact, the only fair Cabal Therapy deck I’d actually recommend bringing Surgical in against is Nyx Fit (Academy Rector version) and that’s not because of Therapy, but rather Academy Rector.

Step 3 – Do bring this card in for unfair matchups, either combo or graveyard decks.  However, be aware that your opponent is going to have an answer for it, likely through either discard or countermagic. Or they may present multiple difficult threats that force the Surgical player to make a bad choice.  Dredge/Manaless Dredge are both decks that are phenomenal against Surgical Extraction because they have multiple dredge threats and multiple ways of dealing with getting out from Surgical (such as Street Wraith).

Some examples of good Surgical moments do come to mind.  I was playing against UB Reanimator and I desperately needed to resolve a threat. My opponent had a Griselbrand on the table, but with the capacity to draw a grip of 7 cards only once.  I forced through a Surgical, hitting his Force of Wills. I knew that all he had left in his library as countermagic was Daze, and I had plenty of mana to pay for that. Sure enough, when I cast my threat spell they used Griselbrand to draw 7, but saw no countermagic whatsoever.


Except for these corner cases of the opponent being on fast combo or on an unfair strategy that often requires on a single threat or two threats to win, Surgical is actually a do-nothing card.  You shouldn’t be casting it on your opponent’s Ponders/Brainstorms, because at the end of the day, it’s not really going to do much to your opponent when they lose those cards.

Wrapping Up

That’s all the time we have this week, folks.  Next week we’re hopping back into some Legacy spice train with a little Steel Men Stompy!

Join me next time on E.R.: The Gatewatch Years!

– Joseph Dyer

Joseph is an avid player of eternal Magic formats, including Vintage and Legacy.  As a Nic Fit player who will tell anyone who will listen about his deck, Joe spends his time analyzing and playing on Magic Online and various online platforms, while prepping for competitive events.  To follow more from Joe, check out his Twitter!

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