In Development – How to Waste Two Life at Instant Speed

We have all sorts of shorthands we use when we evaluate cards. There are the obvious ones, like calling something a “bomb” – a term that usually gets reserved for Limited, but can have pretty broad application for any format. Then we have those opaque statements like, “most of the time, this card does nothing.”

Check out Surgical Extraction:

Most of the time, this card does nothing.

Today, I’m going to talk about what that means, and why it’s true.

So unfair!

Today I’m talking about what I’ll call “extraction effects.” This is the family of cards that rummages through your opponent’s deck and removes cards from it. The members of that family include:


That’s quite a list. The most “pure” forms of this effect are cards like Cranial Extraction, which I’ve chosen as the eponym for the entire category.

To many of us, our first feeling about this kind of effect is that it’s amazing, or, to put it another way, unfair.

But that’s not really true.

A quick aside for the experienced player. You almost certainly understand the ideas in today’s piece already. If this is all new to you, then that’s cool, too. If not, then you can point newer players to it when they ask why you don’t just run four copies of Surgical Extraction in every deck under the sun.

Your first Jester’s Cap

I recall the first time I saw a Jester’s Cap. Ice Age had just been released, and the Cap felt like one of the flagship cards from the set. It did something we hadn’t seen so far in the core set, Antiquities, Arabian Nights, or Legends.

It took cards from your opponent’s deck.

We’ve already seen cards being removed from the game – exiled, that is – already. Swords to Plowshares has been doing that since day one. But at its most visceral level, Jester’s Cap felt like it did something grossly unfair.

Maybe you’ve felt that response on seeing the newly spoiled Surgical Extraction, or when you first laid eyes on Memoricide, Thought Hemorrhage, or one of their relatives. It’s understandable, and it’s a form of basic Magic psychology that we’ve heard the designers and developers talk about before.

Even worse than countermagic

People like to play their spells.

For most players, it is significantly more satisfying to cast a creature and then have it killed than it is to cast it and have it countered. Consider this comparison:

In the counterspell scenario, your opponent has burned a card and three mana to make sure you don’t have a creature. In the Go for the Throat scenario, they spent two mana and a card to achieve the same goal. In other words, you actually “profited” less from the Go for the Throat scenario, but if you’re a typical Magic player, you found it less frustrating anyway.

How much more frustrating is it, then, to never even cast the spell in the first place? This is why the extraction effect feels so nasty when it is used against you. And by the usual way we think about things, it then feels powerful when you have access to it.

Only it’s not.

At least most of the time, extraction effects are “worse than countermagic” in the sense that you would really rather have had a counterspell in hand than be stuck with a useless extraction spell.

Measuring the effectiveness of extraction

Extraction effects are skill testers, but not of the “never play this card” variety. They are clear “circumstantially good” cards, cards that can be incredibly powerful in certain matchups while being effectively dead in most others.

Before we go into the theory behind when an extraction effect is good or not, consider the following pair of situations.

Memoricide versus Valakut

Here’s a recent Valakut list:

Valakut (as piloted by Arodin in a recent MTGO PTQ)


Imagine it’s your fourth turn and you’re casting Memoricide into this deck. Clearly, you name Primeval Titan, and just as clearly, your Memoricide resolves. What does this do to the deck?

In addition to the obvious impact of removing the possibility of the Valakut instant kill, in this case one resolved Memoricide more than halves the chance that your opponent will topdeck one of their game enders.

And, of course, the second resolved Memoricide essentially seals the deal, reducing the deck to trying to beat face with Cobras, Oracles, a single Raging Ravine, or the slow, manual version of the Valakut kill.

Similarly, a resolved Memoricide does pleasingly bad things to Wafo-Tapa’s U/B Control list from Barcelona:

U/B Control (as piloted by Guillaume Wafo-Tapa at GP Barcelona 2011)

Pre-board, this deck’s heavy hitters are Jace and Grave Titan, putting it in a situation very similar to the Valakut deck, above. One resolved Memoricide drastically reduces the deck’s access to meaningful finishers.

Memoricide versus Boros

Now, let’s change the situation. It’s your fourth turn and you’re facing Paulo’s Boros list from GP DFW:

Boros (as played by Paulo Vitor damo da Rosa at GP DFW 2011)


So what do you even name?

Maybe it’s Koth. Let’s name Koth.

If we consider each creature, equipment, and planeswalker in the deck a “threat,” then the situation looks like this:

Now, if Koth were for some reason the only card you cared about in Paulo’s deck, this might be a more dramatic impact. In most cases, however, you’ve simply changed his chance of topdecking some harm from 58% to 54%. That’s clearly far less dramatic than the “big threat” impact that we were able to have on Valakut.

You may be tempted to point to Koth as a “big threat,” but it’s not the same. Valakut nearly founders without its big threats, whereas the Boros deck (and by extension, Paulo) will likely shrug at the loss of Koth, cast a Stoneforge Mystic, and murder you because you just spent a whole turn and four mana modestly thinning their deck’s threat count.

That’s far less exciting than our outcome against Valakut, and it hopefully suggests part of the theoretical basis for the assertion that most of the time, Surgical Extraction does nothing.

The issues with extracting

These paired examples highlight what makes extraction effects fundamentally situational. We can underline these examples by discussing some of the issues that limit the effectiveness of extraction as a game effect.

A “do nothing” card

As we saw in the Boros example, extraction effects such as Memoricide often do little to nothing to fundamentally alter the game. In this way, they have a lot in common with a milling effect that does not explicitly win the game. Although this is counterintuitive to newer players, it’s important to remember one essential point:

In most cases, removing a card from your opponent’s deck does nothing.

How long does your typical game of Standard go? I don’t know the answer to that, but imagine, for simplicity’s sake, that you go to a chunky fifteen turns. That means you see twenty-two cards in your deck on the play. This also means that you don’t see thirty-eight cards. As emotionally unsettling as this might be, you could cut your deck in half and toss half of it in the trash and your game experience would be awfully similar to having your full deck available.

Unless the specific cards you extract have a dramatic impact on your opponent’s game, extracting them does nearly nothing.

Many of the cards in our starting list attempt to mitigate this negative trait of extraction effects by stapling the extraction to some effect that impacts the game state, be it countering a spell or destroying a creature. This changes the question of worth around a bit, since it removes the following concern.

Card disadvantage

In the Memoricide examples above, I assumed that the target cards were solely in the opponent’s deck. If, instead, you catch one or more in hand, congratulations – you’ve just cast what is likely to be an overpriced discard spell.

In the Valakut example, the likelihood that you’ll catch one or more big threat cards in their hand on your fourth turn is in the neighborhood of 66%, which isn’t horrible but on its own would not be worth investing a card and four mana. In comparison, you could spend one card and one mana to Duress or Inquisition, yielding a much higher chance of nabbing a card.

Of course, Valakut is one of those special cases where the potential to cripple the deck makes it worthwhile for us to gamble on not hitting a card in hand. But against Boros, there are much better things we should be doing with four mana and a card.

Is it worth it?

For any card, we can rephrase this question like so:

“Would another card be better?”

Eradicate was a Kamigawa-era card that stapled together Doom Blade and an extraction effect. Its competition for the black removal slot in Standard at the time included Putrefy and Mortify, which both had their own neat add-on effects. Was removing creature cards that you might never encounter in the game worth more than “being one mana cheaper” or the added ability to destroy an artifact or enchantment? Or, for that matter, being an Instant?

Heck, no.

In the modern context, it’s tempting to imagine using Memoricide in U/W/B Caw-Blade to remove your opponent’s Swords in the mirror match. In the super abstract, that makes Memoricide seem far better than Duress or Inquisition of Kozilek.

Except it costs four mana, which is one too many even on the play.

You’re far too likely to end up in the unenviable position of removing their remaining Sword while they beat you up with the one they managed to cast and equip. And honestly, even if you did hit both Swords, you’d still be stuck fighting against Jace, Gideon, some creature duals, and an endless swarm of obnoxious birds.

If a card is going to sometimes interact with your opponent’s hand and never interact with the board, then it must fundamentally alter their overall game plan in a manner that significantly skews the odds of winning in your favor – or almost any other card you can choose will be better.

Issues on issues – why Surgical Extraction is actually worse than this

Let’s loop all this theory back into our new hype card, Surgical Extraction. The discussion above maps pretty much directly onto our understanding of Memoricide and its use. However, Surgical Extraction brings with it one giant, thumping additional issue that makes it a marginal, conditional card the vast majority of the time.

The big flaw

When can you cast Surgical Extraction?


When they’ve already cast the spell.

Yes, you might have made them discard to give you access to the card. But now you’re just working inefficiently, turning a nothing-for-one into a sort of gimpy one-for-two.

Memoricide at least offers you the possibility of beating them to the punch and removing all access to the target card before you have to deal with it via some other means. If Memoricide is a bad plan in most cases, such as the Boros and Caw-Blade matchups, Surgical Extraction is nearly no plan at all. It boils down to, “After they shoot a couple of our guys, we’ll know what kind of gun they’re using and pick out the perfect body armor.”

Most of the time, Surgical Extraction is going to be a cheaper, faster Memoricide that sucks.

Why would you use this card?

Cards like Surgical Extraction live in the corner case of the corner case that is extraction cards being the right choice. They are suited for a game situation in which:

1) Someone else is doing the work of putting the target card in the graveyard

2) You need to deal with that card very, very quickly

In other words, your opponent is trying to abuse the graveyard, and they’re doing it in a way that either requires an instant to break the chain or occurs so explosively that you won’t have time to cast a four-mana sorcery to stop it.

Thus, when Dredge was legal in Ravnica – Time Spiral Standard, Extirpate was an okay sideboard choice (with bonus value thanks to Project X decks also abusing the graveyard). In contemporary Legacy, however, it’s hard to see why you would choose to run the pinpoint weapon that is Surgical Extraction when you could simply use Ravenous Trap instead, unless a slower graveyard deck than Dredge sees a resurgence and you can’t count on three cards hitting the bin.

Even then, there are lots of competitors, as I’ve discussed elsewhere.

Outside of these fairly specific requirements, Surgical Extraction is not likely to be a better choice than many other cards you might use in its place, Memoricide included.

For those who are into Wizards set Kremlinology, this could be taken to mean that one or more cards in New Phyrexia let you abuse the graveyard in a very powerful way. I suppose we’ll see.

Conditionally useful

This topic is old news for a lot of experienced players, but surprisingly opaque for those who are newer to the game – even players who have seen a lot of competitive success already. Hopefully, this overview was either useful to you, or can serve as a place for you to point to when a buddy insists that Surgical Extraction is ridiculously overpowered, and clearly the best card in New Phyrexia.

magic (at) alexandershearer.com
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104 thoughts on “In Development – How to Waste Two Life at Instant Speed”

  1. plus “fourty-eight” is misspelled. lol. bad at math and enligsh? and at proof reading? what aer yu good at, exactly?

  2. also, you ironically missed Extract from the list of cards, and Duress and Inquisition don’t really do the same discard job against Valakut that Memoricide does (obviously they do in other cases).

  3. Well I think you missed an important point: extraction effects are good if there is only one card with which your opponent can win. Memoricide the Seismic Assault out of Seismic Swans or the Painter’s Servant of a Painter Grindstone deck, or Grapeshot out of a Storm deck etc, and they are hosed/. Those decks will lose since they are built around finding that *one* card. However, if they have multiple viable win conditions then all you did was to shift them from one game plan to another.

  4. Nice article. I definitely know some people who need to read it.

    A lot of people seem to think that Innistrad is going to heavily involve the graveyard. So that’s my read on the Kremlinology front.

  5. A decent explanation on why these effects are usually bad, but you might want to give more examples that newer players can relate to i.e. standard. Extraction is currently “useful” vs two cards that see play, Vengevine and Bloodghast, although it is actually very poor vs Bloodghast, not only because it costs life but they can respond by cracking a fetchland and “countering” the spell.

    What’s funny is, everyone went crazy for Jester’s Cap back when it was realized as you said, but players were ho-hum on that other card from the set, Necropotence.

  6. Excellent work. You discuss clearly what a lot of people have struggled to communicate over the years. This is a great theory piece; instant classic.

    @Bob: Fall in a hole and die.

  7. Luis Scott-Vargas

    This article definitely needed to be written. I’ve said basically the same thing many times, but people still fall for it, and this is a handy place to point them when they do. I anticipate linking to this many times in the future.

  8. Definitely a good article.

    Basically only play this if your deck can’t handle vengevine.

    Anyone else think its funny that both this and memoricide have been buy a box promo’s? I guess they know people get excited by this type of effect.

  9. Yes, I am selling all copies of Surgical Extraction I open right away, before the inevitable price crash.

  10. Excellent article, Alex. This is definitely a hole that people fall into on Extirpate, Memoricide, and other cards of that ilk.

    I’d be interested in a follow-up article on when it *is* useful, however. This is probably most true in eternal formats – for example, extracting bridge from below nerfs Dredge quite nicely. BUG landstill can also extirpate/extract wasteland to remove the uncounterable defense that many decks have against Wasteland. Removing life from the loam is also a good way of eliminating a strong graveyard-based advantage engine.

    Explaining when this type of card should be played – which is far less than it is, but still sometimes – is useful for clarifying the point. Maybe something relating to understanding the core strategy of a deck, and determining what it is vulnerable to?

  11. This article is truth. The buy-a-box promo is hilariously worse than Memoricide, and Memoricide is questionable sideboard material as is.

  12. I feel like extraction effects are level 2 in the “gateway from bad to good player”. MaRo talks about how they printed lifegain cards like Ivory Cup to appeal to those players and to teach them how the cards didn’t do anything so that when they had the “a-ha” moment things started to click with them. Extraction effects are like that and the way certain people I knew reacted to surgical extraction was tied to their playskill…

  13. Eradicate (and the rest of the cycle) were from Urza’s Destiny, actually. They were later reprinted in Kamigawa block.

  14. Maybe I’m a noob, but I feel like turn 1 Inquisition (or Duress/Despise) targeting Squawk or Mystic and then removing all copies of them seems like a good play. Or Lotus Cobra. Or Sculptor. Or Vengevine. Why is this bad again?

  15. can you permanently put this on the front page of the site? way too many people need to learn this concept.

  16. I’ve had 2 kicked sadistic sacraments resolve against me while I was hoping to topdeck. Still topdecked (after drawing 5 lands) and won. (kicked) Sadistic sacrament certainly has a psychological effect though.

    One thing this article missed was the corollary that good players don’t live in fear of being memoricided. If they think inferno titan is the best threat they’ll start with 4 of those. They’d never worry about threat diversity just in case someone memoricided them. (I’ve done this though). If RUG ran one of each titan in their colours and an avenger they’d just be handicapping themselves. (that’s an extreme case though)

  17. @Noob

    While making them discard something important turn one and then extracting it seems good, most of the time it is just a waste.

    Think about it this way, for it to be effective three things have to happen.
    1. You have to have the duress (or inq/despise)
    2. You have to have the Surgical Extraction
    3. They have to have something worth taking

    This article gave a perfect example with boros. you waste 2 life, 2 cards and a turn taking one card from their hand leaving them with all the other threats to kill you with on your now mulligan to 5. The only thing you want to take out the threats against are decks like valakut, where memoricide is much better in that you can cast it before the titan comes down, and you don’t need a discard or kill spell to go with it.

  18. Also, I could be wrong, but why intentionally decrease the value of Surgical Extraction? If you’re going to try and skew some prices, why not write an article on why Jace 2.0 really isn’t as good as we all think he is?

  19. @ Noob – to elaborate on MN, we can add a 4th issue, as well.

    4. They would have to have a substantial chance of drawing a second copy of the card you took, before you could deal with it otherwise.

    You have to ask yourself, in a lot of situations, “is this effect worth a card, or is there a better card I could be playing”? Honestly, just making sure you have the T1 inquisition/despise to take the hawk/mystic is a better use of the space. Maybe if you already are at 4x Inquisition, 4x Despise, and maybe 1-2x Duress, then you want extraction… but somehow I doubt that’s likely.

    Typically, the probability that they draw that same threat, and that you can’t handle it another way, is quite low. That’s why the only time these cards are useful is as cards that break the backs of a combo deck. Valakut is close enough for memoricide to work, which is why it’s a solid SB option in UB or Darkblade. Dredge is a solid example in Legacy (and skilled play can hurt ANT as well). But, in most cases, it really isn’t worth the card slot in your deck and SB.

  20. who going to cast memoridice on sword when you could name jace or gideon?

    turn1 duress followed up with extraction for free seems good to me…

    coupled with discard its pretty good. i guess if you plan to just wait around for thier yard to fill its not great but why whould you do that?

  21. I agree that this effect is overplayed, but I still run Extirpate in my BUG landstill deck (and one main) because it serves a number of great functions:

    1) It stops Wasteland. BUG Landstill is so vulnerable to Wasteland it’s not even funny. Simply spending the card to Extirpate Wasteland prevents the tempo loss associated with other copies of Wasteland. With Knight of the Reliquary being a huge part of Legacy, this is by far the most relevant interaction.

    2) It is useful against the two fast graveyard decks – Dredge and Breakfast. Landstill is a slow deck, and the ability to use something like Extirpate as a surgical strike against those two (slowing them down) allows you to fight on more even footing until you can lock up the game with something like Cunning Wish –> Ravenous Trap behind an active Jace.

    Really, those two interactions alone are worth it to me.

  22. I agree that this sort of thing is overplayed, but I play Extirpate in BUG Landstill, for two huge reasons:

    1) WASTELAND!!!! BUG Landstill is a slow deck that is extremely vulnerable to Wasteland, because the card is so frequently a time walk for the opposing player. Simply being able to Extirpate Wasteland to avoid future tempo loss is great. The knowledge that I won’t get randomly time walked allows me to plan my turns more effectively and thus mount a better defense.

    2) It’s useful as a surgical strike to slow down the two fast graveyard decks – Dredge and Breakfast. Because BUG Landstill is so slow, being able to delay your opponent is valuable. This allows your more powerful late game cards to come online and gives you the ability to move the fight onto your terms, where card advantage is a much bigger deal. Here, you can beat them, finishing them off with Ravenous Trap or something of that nature.

  23. @tc:

    It’s still bad because you used 2 cards to get rid of their one card. Yes, you took 3 cards out of the deck as well. Big deal — they are going to draw 3 different cards instead, and they are going to beat you with those 3 different cards because you effectively took a mulligan AND paid 2 life to boot. Plus, if you don’t have the Duress, it’s a completely dead card.

    It’s not the worst play ever. In a control deck, it’s more relevant than a bolt to the opponent’s dome, for example. But it’s not a play you want to spend a full card on.

    Now, if they have a second Jace in hand, the card becomes real, since they lose their second Jace. You would still probably be better off playing another Duress.

  24. i think this is a much different threat in legacy, where you can remove their goyfs, sword of the meek, high tides, wastelands, LED’s, etc the list goes on and on.

  25. I may be one of those players you are talking about that is somewhat experienced but not a pro that still thinks extraction is good. I believe that extration effects in general are bad other than specific circumstances. I believe used correctly, however, they win games and I have seen it over and over again.

    Too many times several decks just lose to certain cards. The example of boros maindeck is the extreme of what you can point out (next to monored), but for a good reason while making a point. With some decks now, and specifically pointed out prior, inquistion and extraction is DEFINETELY a two-for-zero initial…but being able to take a jace against control, a cobra, a sword, a squadran hawk, a valakut immediately after tec-edging it…severely effect the game.

    This significatnly reduces the threat of the deck against your plan and in response to a turn two mana leak casting extraction and KNOWING the oposing rug deck doesn’t have but possibly one more counterspell brought in from sideboard or caw-blade has little one-cc counterspells left can definetely change the game.

    Most decks nowadays are NOT boros and very linear in threat density. It is well-documented that caw-blade has different facets in their win conditions, and this is how they win. Being able to KNOW the jace angle and/or the sword angle will just be taken offline for the rest of the game allows a more linear attack without fear.

    I’m not saying extration belongs maindeck four-of…but I believe the ability to cast while being tapped out and how several decks can be somewhat crippled with correct usage, it may need at least some timesting put into it in the current meta.

  26. @ rob

    Wtf? If they have a High Tide or LED in the graveyard, you’ve probably already lost (though in the High Tide case they are slightly disrupted). Extracting Wasteland after they’ve already gotten value out of one is a terrible situation – it removes what? Three cards your opponent could potentially draw? Without affecting the board at all? And now you’re down an entire card? Why is this better than playing almost anything else?

    The only thing this card has relevance against is decks abusing the graveyard, where it ranges from mediocre to decent. Even if you extract a Vengevine, if they already cast it or Fauna Shaman’d it to there then you’re still down a card from the situation (though the case in which one was Fauna Shaman’d away for another is common).

    I like that this article was written, but I never understood how anyone could find these effects powerful. Just taking the time to consider “how often does this card have any effect on the game at all” reveals the effect to be pretty unexciting.

  27. im pretty sure the main thing is that these type of cards require you to spend a card – a card that could have been anything else – to get rid of cards your opponent might not even have. Say your memoricide was actually a day of judgement, or a flashfreeze against valakut, if they never draw their primeval, you can use it to deal with their avenger. but if you memoricide titan, they can kill you with avenger anyway, or just top decking mountains/ramp spells.

  28. opponent: Underground Sea
    You: Wasteland, extract underground sea, profit!

    you are not going to win against boros extracting things.
    You are going to win against combos and controll.
    Extracting Primeval titan against valakaut is pure gold. They now have to win with valakaut “fair” triggers.

  29. I slightly disagree with your review of SE..
    I think that when you talk about an extraction effect like this (potentially mana free) you have to consider other profitable ways of putting an opponent card in a graveyard other than duress/IoK: for example tectonic edgeing a Valakut then SE, milling an opponent then SE, and more important counter a spell then SE..
    In all these cases i see no important card disvantage and, even if he doesn’t have a second copy of the card in hand, you are sure he can’t topdeck and play it for the rest of the game, that may be very important with cards like Valakut, Primeval Titan, Gideon, Jace, Stoneforge Mystic, Inferno Titan, Kalastria, Bloodghast, Vengevine, Fauna Shaman..
    More important, you can play SE the turn you want to play it, 1st turn after duress, 2nd turn after mana leak, 4th turn after milling with SoBaM, etc..making SE a very versatile spell..

  30. Pingback: New Phyrexia, Big Red, Stuff We Liked This Week… and Vibrators | Mixed kNuts

  31. The card isn’t AWFUL but it’s not great and I’d rather be doing other things. I’d like to think that wizards is smart enough to realize that the effect of this card weak enough that it’s safe to cost it “free” and available to any deck.

    I play Dredge and non-black decks shouldn’t be able to extract my goodies. So the fact that it’s only real purpose might end up being to screw me over makes me want to eat any copies I open.

  32. But its worth 12.50$ it must be good!!!1111!!!!

    Seriously though, your articles are always amazing.

  33. What a lot of people fail to realize is that library is not really a resource. Not until number of cards in it goes down to 0 cards. You could care less if opponent milled 90% of your deck with most decks. Of course, some decks rely on couple win conditions, like Valakut, so Memoriciding them is sweet, but more modern versions of valakut pack 3-4 different threats, so paying 4 mana to thin their deck isn’t too exciting anymore

  34. i’m glad this article was written. it should be an important resource for players still struggling with an important theoretical concept. and that, apparently, includes many of the comment thread posters here who still don’t get it despite this article.

  35. Lobotomy effects are stronger against decks with low threat density. No surprise here. Resolving a turn 3 Memoricide against RUG and naming Inferno Titan is a pretty big game most of the time.

  36. @Dave88: How do you have half of your library removed and still win? Was your opponent an idiot? I guess he is because of playing Sad Sac….

    Yeah, I agree with this article. This card isn’t going to be $20 for much longer.

  37. I think most people have the wrong idea about cards that remove cards from your opponents library/graveyard/etc. I am excited and will remain so about this card because of a few factors.

    1. Everything else in standard has a considerable cost to it and this obviously doesn’t
    2. Being phyrexian mana means it can be played in any color deck
    3. If you are an avid control player it gives you answers to cards like bloodghast and vengevine

    I think the problem really lies with what these cards are generally used for. Obviously there are matchups that this card works better against than others. I know playing U/B and even BUG that the opponent is able to consistently lay threat after threat in the early game. Simple 1 for trades with a vengevine or a bloodghast aren’t effective as you have no way to stop them from recurring or running over your board.

    I feel this card is best used in the SB unless your meta has a ton of vamps or fauna shaman decks. If that is the case, I find it hard to find a card that like this that does exactly what you want, when you would need it to.

    Conversely, cards like memoricide don’t require the card to be in the graveyard first in order to target it, which is a benefit, but sometimes T4 memoricide is just too slow and a dead card at that point, especially on the draw.

  38. Thank you for pointing out another blind spot for us who are still a bit wet behind the ears. Great read!

  39. “Everything else in standard has a considerable cost to it and this obviously doesn’t”

    It costs a card. Most of the time, it’s removing cards from an area (graveyard, library) which are not normally fully accessible. These effects are only good against decks which do use those areas, mostly through tutors (valakut) or recursion (dredge). There are, typically, very few such decks, precisely because they require such narrow cards to interact with. This is a hate card. It is not a value card, since it is only better than a second discard/counter when they have 3 or more copies in hand, which is very, very rare. Narrow hate cards are only good when the decks running them are overwhelmingly popular, which isn’t really the case for Valakut or Dredge.

    Narrow hate cards are not intended for general use, even if they don’t cost mana. It’s the same reason that memnite is not the best creature ever.

  40. Does not anyone remember that cranial extraction was one of the most played and expensive cards from kamigawa? yes, that was because gifts was good. People need to remember that these effects are exceptionally powerful if given the right meta, lobotomy was an amazing card and we shouldn’t forget that. The reason memoricide is not nearly as good as its arcane counterpart is that we live in a format defined by creatures, Cranial only can reliably hit expensive things as cheap things will already be in play. I am not saying that it is always right to play these effects, but they are far from bad.

  41. Excellent article. Hearing about the omgbrokenness of first turn Extraction is getting reaaaally old.

  42. Sorry I think you’re blatantly wrong with this card. There will be 3 turn 1 discard cards when NPH becomes legal and Despise is also a great card. Turn 1 duress / despise / inquisition into surgical extraction is a nutty play that will severely hurt your opponent. I can see your argument against Boros or even RDW but it still provides you CA by limiting the outs they have.

    This is not a card that will win you games on its own, but it doesn’t have to be. It will be a staple in mono black control decks of the future and the price will settle between $20-$25.

  43. ^^^^^^^^ Lone, you are completely right except for the fact that it’s price wont go that high due to it being the promo and not being a mythic

  44. I feel like it’s disingenuous to throw all those claims of “it provides no Card Advantage” out there without mentioning one very real and relevant way that Surgical Extraction gives you card advantage – Squadron Hawk.
    When you Surgical Extraction the first Squadron Hawk, you’ve 3-for-1’d your opponent in a very real way.
    I know it’s only one example, but it’s a very relevant and important example in current standard.

  45. So I read the article feeling like surely the readers at CF already knows all of this. But the hilarious comments section proves me wrong again.

  46. I like the amount of people that stubbornly insist how good this card is. What is so hard to understand? Trading 2 life and a card for nothing is not gaining some kind of advantage!
    Tell me you’ve never been beaten by caw blade when they didn’t draw a jace. What happens when valakut kills you with an early avenger or kahlani heart with 2 valakuts on the table?

    The only exception is very narrow combo decks like sanity grinding, Thought Hemorrhage was acctully pretty good there (of course thought hemorrhage took cards out of thier hand and dealt damage too…)

    @lone, ” I can see your argument against Boros or even RDW but it still provides you CA by limiting the outs they have.”
    Uhhhhhhhhhhh, no. I think you misunderstand what card advantage is. When you use a card in your hand and it does nothing to effect the board or get rid of a card in your opponent’s hand that is card advantage…for your opponent.

    I will gladly take the 4 best cards out of my deck at the start of the game to make you loose 2 life and mulligan to 6.

  47. @twan So this is the case where they played a squadron hawk and got all the other hawks in their hand and then you killed that hawk and then surgical extractioned it? Given that they spent 1 card to get all 4 hawks and you are spending 2 cards to kill and remove them how is the CA on your side exactly? (btw ppl dont usually fetch all 3 other hawks with their first, although actually in this case that is completely irrelevant)

  48. Agree totally with the article people think these cards are far more valuable than they really are. It’s a great sidebord scheme don’t get me wrong, I run 4 Extirpates in my legacy sideboard they are great against decks like dredge, high tide, ANT, etc….(great against combo) terrible against aggro heavy decks. Good call LSV as well. agree

  49. Great article and I totally agree with it. I knew the card wasn’t that great in the first place but I hadn’t even considered the fact that removing cards from their library essentially does nothing but let them draw other cards.

    I see other people posting how you’re wrong but the cases they offer are already stated useful cases, or they ignore the fact that your opponent is just drawing something else. You already stated it’s good vs the low density threat lists like valakut, and yet people want to argue. It’s nonsense. Great job Alex!

  50. Why is everyone giving this guy fits with your meaningless complaints about Vengevine. We do have Baneslayer and Titans. What more Vengevine hate do you need?

  51. So basically you are saying that these kind of cards are good against control because it gives the chance to take out their one threat. Also good against combo since you can take out their combo piece. Though its bad against agro and mid range because there are too many things for them to have for you to get rid of.

    I am sure that everyone here who says these cards are completely unplayable and always bad has sat in many matches where they are hoping the other person doesn’t draw that card that wins them the game, and the opponent happens to have 4 in their deck somewhere.

    Also think some of these cards kind of counter what Jace and Stone Forge (etc) are trying to do in that Jace is in there to help you get to what card you need in the matchup to win, while some of these cards can just completely take it away.

  52. Why does everyone seem to be trying to play this in a black deck? Unlike the poster above me I do not think a card that can be played for 0 mana will be the reason to play MBC.

    Any deck can play the card and it would have to take a very specific meta for it to be good (i.e. graveyard based decks that require a fast “answer”).

    It’s not like I have realistic expectations of removing a Titan for 2 life seeing as the titan has to be in the grave already.

    Decent utility card that will impact eternal formats (maybe)
    Standard staple worth dropping a benjamin for a playset on? (not likely)

  53. Like playing Krosan Grip, lobotomies are situational, the difference is that grip is almost always effective, whereas there are only a few decks that really suffer from getting lobo’d. I recently played Pyromancer’s Ascension in a tourney and lived in fear of a Memoricide, even though I only saw one black player. Granted, I built my sideboard in case I ran into a leyline of sanctity, etc. Like all hate cards, you don’t run a lobo in your maindeck, but they can be a nasty shock game two against the right deck.

  54. Re Some Commentators – Actually the issue isn’t that it is a bad card. It is a very good card. It just isn’t useful for the kinds of things most T2 players want to use it for.

  55. i still think that this card will be decent in at least the sideboard if the spoilers on mtgsalvation are even remotely true. blue just got a huge boost in there counter spell arsenal if they cast a turn 2 counter spell i would feel good about pulling the rest from that set out of their deck. or better yet turn 1 duress pull Jace the Mind Skulpter, pay 2 life pull their main win con from the game. blue is going be big in this next set so be prepared.

  56. In vintage, ‘extraction effects’ can be very good at kicking decks like oath and tezzeret in the groin because you can sad-sac and get rid of time vault, oath targets, and A-call, but, no, surgical extraction doesn’t help at all in Type 1 because you want to hit restricted cards. In legacy, I can see trying to battle combo decks with it (though extirpate is still better), but, again, I’m not sure you’d use surgical extraction over any other similar effect.

    All in all, these cards have their uses, but they’re definitely not as good as many players think they are. I remember opening Jester’s cap in a 5th edition booster back in the day, and I hosed all of the kids at my lunch table with it, but, unfortunately, it’s not really good enough to get beyond the seventh grade cafeteria.

  57. Extraction effects are very disappointing – when playing B or U/B decks I’ll sideboard them against valakut and some slower (turn 4-5 or later) combo decks I’ve seen people trying out, as a way to shut down their combo, remove titans, etc. but I’ve never had a use for them main deck, and even sideboard memoricide is the only one that’s proven even remotely useful in standard/extended – getting a primeval titan or combo piece into the grave yard is hard, without letting it resolve – at which time it’s generally far too late to worry about extracting it anyway.
    Extirpate I’ve seen some use for in legacy in very specific matchups (reanimator, dredge, sometimes Ad Nauseam), though I would much rather have leyline of the void, Tormond’s crypt or Relic of Progenitus most of the time, to deal with the entire graveyard, rather than just one card from it.

  58. @ CSeraph – EXACTLY. This is good for dealing with graveyard-based combos, and protecting control from excessive tempo loss in some cases, or giving information in others. That’s it.

  59. Everyone who somehow thinks this card is great against Caw Blade is vastly overestimating how important any single CB card is to the deck. And now Batterskull only adds yet another major threat to the pile.

    Keep this in mind also:

    Despise can’t take Swords or Skull or counter magic.
    Inquisition can’t take Jace or Gideon.
    Duress can’t take Stoneforge or Caw!.

    You need to hope which ever card you want to target from their hand is one you have the right card for; and then hope they do not proceed to simply draw decent follow ups from among the major threats you don’t take.

  60. extirpate is good against high tide because they play intuition. e.g. If they play intuition for 3 high tides extirpate kills them unless they immediately cast high tide and can combo off with only 1 in effect.

    For the person asking they double sad sacced me but of the 30 cards they took nim deathmantle wasn’t one of them (yes they misplayed) and I had mortarpod in play so I was lucky enough to draw nim deathmatle and a (bad) creature in about 7 turns and burned them out. lucky for me lifestaff had given me plenty of time.

  61. @ Josh T

    These are very good points to note to anyone who plans on combining this card with discard or land destruction. Waaay too many things have to go right for this card to do much of anything. In many ways, this card is a win-more card – for it to accomplish anything you have to have dealt with their threat and be ahead on board enough to have the luxury to play a card that doesn’t effect the board at all. If all those things are occurring, it’s very likely you’re winning the game anyway.

    Sure, Tectonic Edging a Valakut and then extracting it hurts their deck a lot. But a lot has to go right for that play to even come up. And what do you do when they just beat you down with Primeval Titan, Raging Ravine, and Avenger of Zendikar?

    Seriously consider how often this card rots in your hand or you cast it and it accomplishes nothing against any deck not abusing the graveyard.

  62. Overall was a good article, but would’ve appreciated an opening that highlighted more that extraction effects are often misevaluated rather than simply telling people how to evaluate extraction effects. I say this because with the way it was opened, while solid, set slightly the wrong tone for those who would find it old news, though the ending was perfect for the article and helped in that regard. All in all, well worth a read for players old and new.

  63. @Elephant

    Yeah, and it only gets worse the more complex the set up needs to be.

    A primarily black deck at least has the ability to pull some sort of on the play trick with the card some of the time. Use in other colors just gets kinda pointless as all the other colors largely need to remove a threat from the board before removing from the deck.

    And as Alex says that is simply awful.

  64. One other exception is worth noting. If the opponent is planning to use his or her library as a resource (for example, with many tutor effects), then eliminating key tutor targets can be almost like discard, or better (since it exiles the cards). I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of Earwig Squad in EDH (of course, the 5/3 for 2B doesn’t hurt, either)!

  65. @Jonathan

    Which in the case of this card actually highlight how bad it is; it is useless unit after they have already tutored and played the key card.

  66. @ Jon – Very true. This is what has made Earwig Squad a fringe Vintage card as well.

    @ Josh – That applies to restricted-list dominated vintage, but not Legacy, where pulling out key graveyard cards can matter.

  67. In terms of relevancy to other cards in the set, Surgical Extraction will ultimately only be relevant in shutting down recursion via Sheoldred or post Life’s Finale, in which, theoretically, you could remove all of their remaining threats from the game.

    I suppose it could be fun to fire off 4 of them after revealing a Chancellor of the Spires. For 8 life it may be worth potentially removing 16 cards from an opponent’s deck from the game on turn 1.

    I really don’t see cards such as Remember the Fallen, Auriok Surivivors, or Slag Fiend mattering that much.

    The caveat of it having to be a card in the graveyard was one that definitely struck me from the moment I had read it, and made me confused as to why the card was being so hyped. That it can be played in “any” deck due to the Phyrexian mana makes it, I suppose, more useful to for decks that usually wouldn’t have such an effect, but otherwise this isn’t as cool as people are making it out to be.

  68. Estimados, creo que este artículo nos presenta una vista un tanto sesgada y un tanto abusiva en el análisis de esta carta, pues bien demuestra sus posibles limitaciones no hace lo mismo con sus fortalezas. Para mi esta carta es una de las mejores de la edición por varios motivos, uno de ellos es el coste de ejecución, el hecho de no pagar maná para lanzarla la convierte es una carta potente cualquier sea su efecto. La velocidad es otra de sus virtudes, al ser instantáneo podemos jugarla siempre en respuesta a los movimientos de nuestro oponente, eso es un gran bonus. Por último su efecto en algunas barajas (decks) puede ser decidor para el juego, al disminuir su capacidad de encontrar su mejores cartas.

    Obviamente debemos atender a que este artículo se desprende directamente del equipo del Sr. LSV, quien tiene todos mis respetos y sigo constantemente, pero tiendo a pensar que esta filosofía de juego emanada de este equipo no tienen mucha afinidad con el color NEGRO y su esencia. Muchas veces en el pasado el sr. LSV ha manifestado su desagrado por este tipo de cartas y eso al parecer se hace común para sus equipo (ChannelFireBall). Lamentablemente este mensaje creo a mi entender es poco positivo para el juego y para quienes disfrutamos del magic, pues aporta muy poco para crear barajas (decks) control y más creativas, sino que le dejamos toda la responsabilidad a lo poderoso de sus cartas para crear nuestra super-barajas, que nos son más que la suma de las mejores impresiones, eso para mi no es magic, y por lo que me pregunto ¿cuanto del éxito de las barajas dependen del jugador y cuanto de sus cartas?


  69. Typical theory in constructing standard decks is to go for consistency. I believe I’ve heard Conley throw off-the-cuff remarks about “Picking 9 cards, cram 4 of each in a deck, and then you’re basically done” in an interview (it may not have been Conley). Surgical Extraction punishes this mentality. If the heart of your deck is a 4 of, and one of them ends up in the graveyard. Surgical Extraction can eliminate the rest.

    Surgical Extraction targets *any* card that is not a basic land.

    Sure, Memoriciding a titan causes them to “fight fair”… Tec Edging a Valakut and Surgically Extracting that causes them not to fight at all.

    Boros relies on the landfall mechanic. Extract those fetches so your Massacre Wurm (carnifex demon, pyroclasm, etc) chomps all those little lynxes and pedes that are unable to inflate above the danger.

    CawBlade (Luis’s day 3 list) has 16 potential critters. Hawk, Mystic, Gideon, Colonnade are 15 of them, and all multiples. One lonely Mortarpod could be left to bear those swords. This is the worst case.

    It may not be Card Advantage, by definition, but leaving an opponent with 44 cards that can’t win the game is an appealing option indeed.

    In the new meta, can you see what a beating Tec Edge + Extraction will be to multicolor decks? All that nice mana fixing we’ve been enjoying the last 2 years can soon be a thing of the past.
    I can see those 4 Preordains that have been so staple be replaced with Surgical Extractions. You dig for an out, I deal with it and remove any possibility of drawing that out again. Here’s the decline of control and the reemergence of combo. Allowing your opponent to deal with one card of your lynchpin strategy will allow him to remove that strategy from the deck.
    Aaron Forsythe said that NPH was designed by the biggest griefers in the company. I believe it. Kiss consistency goodbye.

  70. Terrible article. Any retard knows valakut is the only deck this is useful in. Waste of my time.

  71. It seems like this has become a black-and-white issue: some people despise this card, and some people exalt it. What I’m not seeing in the article, or in the comments section, is balance (which is more of a white issue, I know.) This is not an excessively powerful card: it simply removes a threat from the game. This is not a useless card: it removes a threat from the game. Off the top of my head, extraction is most useful against: graveyard pull, single-threat decks, decks that tutor a lot, decks that run lots of 4-of, and decks that have threats that will make victory impossible for you. Add to the list if I missed something. Saying that this card is useless is not evaluating it for what it does, it’s evaluating it for what one expects it to do. Which bring me to my next point: how has SE affected Standard? Oh, right, we don’t know yet. What types of decks do you run SE in? No one has even suggested that. Sure, a few people mentioned discard effects, but that’s not a deck list. So, before this card is castigated unnecessarily, let’s try careful consideration.

  72. With the summoning trap/avenger/primeval titan diagram, you don’t really get to count summoning trap as a threat once the titans are gone.

    Also, Surgical Extraction will most likely be an anti-dredge card that everyone can play. What’s not great about that? Sure, its probably crap in Standard, but so is Mental Misstep.

  73. Only thing i will point out is why would the esperblade deck have no other plays for turns 1-3, no duress, no hawk, no mana leak?

  74. What most people don’t seem to realize is what exactly extraction effects are good against. I run 3 of extirpate in Legacy as the card is very good against all in combo strategies as well as any graveyard based strategies. Examples include ANT when the try to IGG loop or have to chain infernals to raise storm count, High Tide as it’s almost impossible for the deck to go off with only 1 high tide effect in play, Dredge dredge dredge, Reanimator, Painters Servant if you can get a servant or grindstone into the yard (Which if you can’t you’ve lost already) Life from the Loam decks. As well as being able to get rid of silver bullets against your deck if you’ve managed to dodge one already somehow (happens all the time while playing junk, Discard perish extirpate perish)

    Other than against those types of decks it for the most part is as useless as they say, but against the right decks it’s either backbreaking by itself or is the final nail in the coffin.

  75. in standard, magnivore was mostly only afraid of cranial extraction and sometimes even eradicate. those were pretty much the only reason the deck wanted mana leak/remand for a while in standard.

    other combo (and control) decks used to fold to extraction/hemorrhage before jace was always an alternate win condition for them. t1 discard into this will be key if combo becomes a player in standard and, as three people have pointed out, will randomly devastate them on turn 1 fairly often given the amount of good discard in standard that comes in against them anyways.

    of course it’s weak against caw.

  76. When Magnivore was in standard, what it was a fraid of was losing the roll.

    These cards have a inche. The author knows that sometimes the effect is good, but like he says, it’s basically only good in the most narrow circumstances, that being your opponent actively trying to get things in the graveyard, or decks with really low threat density. Ie, cannot win without a Bogardan Hellkite, or a Primeval Titan.

  77. I didnt dig through the whole comment area but only like a half so this was mentioned then im sorry.
    I dont get your numbers. Explain where did you get your numbers like 66% chance of threat. I see 8 cards(4titans,2pact,2avenger) nothing more, where is your calculation base. As in every single article where is somebody mentioning numbers and statistic. Without an explanation is such a thing useless. Thats my first point.
    Next the thing of your examples: you are not playing only extraction and 56 lands. You are definitely playing black, so against boros, you should have any kind of answer to his small guys. If you dont, then..I think you shouldnt be sitting at that table. So, for me and I hope that not only for me, the game plan depends on my opponent plan. If im playing black something hate with some discard and good creature removal, then what is my biggest problem in matchup against boros? Koth is a good target, but of course, against such an agressive deck, extraction is 100% going out after game 1 (assuming playing it in main deck). But now we are still competing on this field, so against valakut, if we manage to cast extraction before the threat we wanna cut, then we have maybe more than half way to the win. In fact, extraction in this matchup will be even better, because he is able to tutor that threat so he is able to play it more likely. Against the cawblade its little bit more complicated than you stated. If you play inquisition or despise you could avoid that situation you mentioned by discarding mystic. And you are most likely to play those cards in B/X deck.Then you bought the time for playing your extraction. Against RUG extracting titan as the biggest threat on the field right now (as LSV said in one video) looks fair. Playing competitive magic requires the knowledge of the field so you will definitely know what to extract in certain situations. Im not saying that memoricide is good nor playable in 4 copies but for me lot of your arguments doesnt look so good. I dont think I can find a single card capable of dealing with every single threat or card you hate in opponents deck besides those I already play in my deck. The main difference between memoricide, which is actually useful (in your examples 50/50) and the new surgical extraction is that you cant cast the new one without any kind of support from other cards. You have to run duress/despise/inq/XXX for it to be effective. In most cases surg. extraction will be good in max 1-2 copies in very, very specific deck if you even can fit it in. I think all cards power except some special ones is in the power of cards you can substitute with to react better on current meta (as you mentioned with eradicate/putrefy/mortify). So as for current meta, there are better cards than memoricide to put in current decks, but for surg extraction there will maybe be space.
    And to make the point of my comment clear: im not saying, that extraction effect is imba and you should play gazilion of copies of them, but I want just to pinpoint that some of your arguments are not really that good as they look like at the first sight. Thats just my point of view and I can see clearly your pov, but dont think that is good for new players to just throw away the effect of extraction like its total garbage because somebody said that.

  78. If you’re going to use statistics, the least you could do is not bend them to prove your point. You start off by talking about Valakut not topdecking a “game ender” and then when you go to talk about your side of the point, you consider steppe lynx for boros on turn 5 a “game ender”. Really dude?

    I like your point a lot, and agree with it. The problem is that you completely destroyed it by making a bad argument, so anyone who is on the cusp of realizing these cards aren’t great is also in the realm of being able to figure out that you put out a very biased way to explain it, thus questioning the whole point in the first place.

    If you’re going to try to use logic and math to explain something, make sure it adds up logically and mathematically. Otherwise you just look like an ass. Grats.

  79. How many times have you heard the outcome of two control decks coming down to “he landed his Jace first.”? Knocking out a Jace before turn 4 with a Despise/Duress and extraction seems pretty ok bc guess what? You now have the only Jaces left.

    Sure Surgical Extraction isn’t a powerhouse against SOME aggro decks (except those decks that run that oh so unpopular Vengevine) . But isn’t that the case with Spell Pierce? Don’t you normally side out most or all of your Spell Pierces in game two against Boros? When you are up against the wall vs Boros and you draw a Spell Pierce its just as dead as Extraction.

    In a metagame that is concerned about killing Jace, Primeval, Gideon, Inferno, Vengevine, etc a turn 1 Despise into a turn 1-3 Surgical Extraction is pretty good….and if you hit a deck with numerous little annoyances (like boros, rdw) SIDE OUT EXTRACTION and ONLY PLAY IT IF YOU CAN SOMEHOWWWWW COME UP WITH THAT SPARE 1 BLACK MANA. Seriously. It’s not like you have to pay 2 life. If you are at the point of the game where all your black mana is gone, you probably should have stopped playing as soon as the destructive force hit (or you should have extracted the force)

  80. I really can’t see you playing discard + extraction on Primeval Titan or Avenger of Zendikar in the Valakut early in the game. If we manage to snatch a lotus cobra for extraction we have the win pretty secure. If we snatch the Khalni Heart Expedition we get a pretty good deal since this also hinders the ramp of mana in the game.

    Against Boros we are looking at extracting two cards, Koth and Stoneforge Mystic, the other creatures can be killed with regular spells and really isn’t a problem unless they get to play around for a few turns. A 2:nd choice would be Goblin Guide. If the initial aggression is stopped (which an early extraction will do) Boros will find itself behind fast.

    While extraction is no bomb it will destroy many decks if you get the right cards removed. I think some people forget that you can remove non-basic lands with it which is pretty good against some decks (think Valakut) The Elf deck that some play would also get some problems if some key cards gt removed early in the game.

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  83. I feel Lobotomy is not a bad card at all, being much an extended hand disruption spell rather than just extraction, as it effectively removes a card from his hand, suffering from no card disadvantage. Unless he has his hand full of Basic Lands, which would rather set him in disadvantage.

  84. I run a mono black deck where i use my surgical extraction to remove removal spells.. such as go for the throat, beast within, dismember.. It should definatly be a sideboard card at best.
    The hole argument for memorasideing the swords from the mystic.. use hammer of ruin.. same mana cost to cast and equip.. if their using swords then most likly they are attacking and there creature is tapped.. swing to kill a sword.. or they would not swing to prevent you from killing their sword.. so it is an effective counter measure.. at trample… and your in buisness… way better then memorasiding for one card in deck..

  85. yeah, I guess I must fall into the category of “bad players who think SE is a good card”
    obviously not against every deck, but against many it can be devastating. A deck that uses any of the variety of the search cards available in standard, such as the trinket/treasure mages, etc. completely trashes your “library is not utlility” theory. Yeah in many cases I would pull SE out in game 2 depending on opponents deck. But as many people have pointed out a turn 1 duress/despise -> SE can wreck a deck that relies on Koth , ‘Kut , not to mention Splinter Twin ! I will agree that against aggro decks it is not worth playing. But vs. combo decks and control decks it IS good. I mean you can throw all the stats and theories you want out there… but real game play has convinced me of its power. Nothing like gutting your opponents top 8 win cards in the 1st 3 turns. Sure late game it is pretty useless… just like mana leak and so many other 4 of cards that you see over and over. So all in all I guess I agree w/ most of this article minus the ( imho ) miscalculation of the “cards that will never be drawn” factor.

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