Just Building Around – Surveil

Thank you for joining me in a new article series I’m calling “Just Building Around” where I take one new card from a recently released product and build a deck for it!  It could be a 4-of in constructed, or it could be a sweet legendary creature as the Commander of a new EDH deck. Either way, I will walk you through my thought process as I come up with awesome synergies, discover new cards, and in the end hopefully build a fun deck.

For the inaugural session, I want to take aim at my favorite mechanic to come out of Guilds of Ravnica. Surveil is a sneaky powerful ability, and being able to manipulate the top of your library to pick and choose your draws while also filling your graveyard on purpose sounds incredibly abusable!

I want to start with the most all-in Surveil card I can think of, which would be Enhanced Surveillance!  What’s better than getting to look at the top card of your library and decide to keep it or put it in your graveyard?  Getting to look at the TOP THREE CARDS and deciding which ones to keep, what order to draw them in, or whether they belong in your graveyard.  In order to know which direction to take this strategy, it is important to make a list of cards with the Surveil ability and a list of the payoffs that incentivize you for going all in on this strategy.


Playable cards with Surveil include Connive // Concoct, Discovery // DispersalDoom WhispererDream EaterLazav, the MultifariousMission Briefing, Nightveil Sprite, Notion Rain, Price of Fame, Sinister SabotageThought Erasure, and Unexplained Disappearance.

The payoff cards are less numerous, but still quite powerful.  Cards like Blood Operative, Creeping Chill, Dimir SpybugDisinformation Campaign, NarcomoebaThoughtbound Phantasm, and Whispering Snitch give you a way to win the game and provide a reason to be Surveiling so much.  But knowing that we want to be a control deck using the early turns to interrupt our opponents game-plan, set up our own plan and get to the late-game with splashy finishers lets us focus in on strategies that will get us to that end.  This means that trying to play the beat-down is not going to be effective and cards like Nightveil Sprite and Dimir Spybug are off the table.  And as much as I love Notion Rain, the mana cost is too high and the 2 life is too steep in a world where Mono-White, Mono-Red, and White-Red aggro strategies are the top tier decks.

A few of the cards on the payoffs list do stand out as auto-includes.  Blood Operative gives you an early and recursive threat that also provides a source of lifegain to catch back up on the aggro decks, Creeping Chill is a free 6-life-point swing when you are able to dump it in your yard off a Surveil, and Disinformation Campaign gives you an avenue to dismantle your opponent’s hand while drawing you into more Surveil cards to keep the train a-rollin’.  I also like including some amount of Thoughtbound Phantasm and Whispering Snitch to act as early road blocks against aggro as well as turning into a way to close the game out late, so we will start with a 2-2 split until we get the Surveil package figured out.

Knowing we want to control the game, cast multiple spells a turn, and eventually be casting very large spells to close it out, I am pegging this as a 26 land deck.  So far our deck looks like this:

As for the gameplan, I am thinking for top-end we want to stick a Doom Whisperer and ride him to victory.  I also like the inclusion of 1-ofs Lazav, the Multifarious and Dream Eater to allow the deck flexibility in the gameplan.  Getting to the late game means that we need to filter our draws with early Surveil spells, draw multiple extra cards per turn, and hit all of our land drops.  Discovery // Dispersal lets us do exactly that and the modality of the card means if we happen to draw one late in the game, we can cast the Dispersal half to further our disruption game-plan.  Speaking of disrupting the opponents plans, Thought Erasure is the perfect way to pick apart the opponent’s hand while also giving you perfect information as to what they are building towards AND also giving you extra utility with a tacked on Surveil to boot.  We are also going to need ways to stop our opponent from landing certain spells, and Sinister Sabotage is just what the doctor ordered.  Acting as a strictly better Cancel, being able to flat -out counter anything while also Surveiling makes its inclusion a no-brainer.

We are going to need ways of getting creatures off the board too, so Price of Fame is a must-include as well.  As we come to the end of the list of cards that should be considered, I feel like it would be criminal to not include Mission Briefing in our all-in Surveil deck.  This Snapcaster Mage without legs (yes, a drawback…but come on, not every card can be Snapcaster Mage) will allow you to maneuver the mid-game turns to a point where re-casting a Discovery // Dispersal, Thought Erasure, or Price of Fame is exactly what you needed in the moment, and it even allows you to re-use those Creeping Chills that ended up making their way into your hand!  The last card I want access to for sure is Connive // Concoct.  What is the point of filling up your graveyard if you’re not going to abuse it!  While the goal would be to use the Concoct half to Zombify one of your creatures, there is no shame in casting Connive as a desperation attempt to live a few more turns or simply steal a bomb like Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice!

So now we have come to the point where we are sitting at 68 cards in the main deck and we need to make some cuts. Disinformation Campaign becomes quite redundant and ineffective later in the game when you have run your opponent out of cards in hand, so I am going to cut this down to 3.  Blood Operative is another one of the payoff cards that doesn’t give enough impact to the board on its own and requires some significant help to make work.  Cutting Surveil spells in favor of this just doesn’t make sense because that reduces the density of cards in your deck that make it powerful in the first place.  I am going down to shave this down to 2 copies.  Considering the inclusion of Mission Briefing, this allows us to shave down on a couple different spells so I will drop one Sinister Sabotage and still feel comfortable being able to react to what my opponent is playing.  I am also comfortable cutting a Doom Whisperer because I know there are ways to get him back out of the graveyard later on.

At 63 cards the cuts are becoming more difficult to call.  I am hesitant to go below 10 creatures in this build because we don’t have a non-damage avenue to win the game, and I think we have the perfect mix of early creatures that will help us stall the game and late game finishers to close things out, so cutting the spells is way to go from here.  Going down to two copies of Price of Fame and three copies of Discovery // Dispersal works for the same Mission Briefing reasons as the previous cuts.  Now we are at 61 cards.  One more cut to go.  Remember I just said I don’t want to cut any creatures?  Well now I have changed my mind.  I think the last cut should be one of the Whispering Snitch as this is the creature that I foresee as having the least impact as the games play out.

But that mana base!  I have purposefully neglected the land slots until now because I wanted to figure out the color distribution of my spells before deciding which lands and the amounts of them that I would need.  The first thing I look at is which color do I want access to first.  My curve is skewed heavily towards Blue on the early turns, but having access to Black will be important as early as turn 2. Black mana will be a definite requirement by turn 4, which means that the 9-9 split of basics should be a 10-8 split in favor of Island instead.  Next, factoring in utility lands, having access to Field of Ruin to blow up an opponent’s dual land or utility land is very important.  I am comfortable going to 2 copies by cutting one each of the basics.  As I stated at the start, drawing cards will be very important to this deck, so including one copy of Memorial to Genius over a basic Island is something I definitely want.  Remember when I cut a copy of Doom Whisperer because I knew I would be able to dig him out of the yard?  I was already planning including two copies of Memorial to Folly when I made that decision.  And there we have it, our deck is complete!

And now we are ready to sleeve it up and take it for a spin at FNM.  There are probably some numbers that need to be tweaked.  Add a copy of this, drop a copy of that.  Maybe the early creatures don’t matter as much.  Maybe they are more important than we thought!  There is also a few spells that were not included in this first build because they weren’t focused on the all-in strategy.  I would definitely want to find room for a copy of Search for Azcanta to allow early draw filtering, filling the graveyard, and eventually access to extra mana and a way to ensure you are hitting your Surveil spells every turn. I also want a copy of The Eldest Reborn because it attacks our opponent on all 3 axes of our own game plan: disrupt, dismantle, and recursion. The only real way to figure it out is to playtest and see how the matchups play out. I hope you enjoyed this deck building process with me, and until next time, Just Build Around!

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