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A Look at Surge and Crush of Tentacles

Ten days ago on the World Magic Cup live stream, a card featuring a brand-new mechanic from Oath of the Gatewatch was previewed:

crushoftentacles

To provide the proper context for this and other, unknown cards in Oath of the Gatewatch, I’ll take a look at the surge mechanic in general. Afterwards, I’ll offer some ideas to abuse Crush of Tentacles in Standard.

The Surge Mechanic

Surge costs are always cheaper than the regular cost of a card, as confirmed by Gavin Verhey. Cost reduction mechanics and mechanics that rely on earlier plays can potentially be busted—see delve and storm—so I’ll be keeping a close eye on the Oath of the Gatewatch previews over the course of the next few weeks. It’s a mechanic that could have Modern applications.

In Modern, there is an abundance of cards like Gitaxian Probe, Lotus Bloom, Mishra’s Bauble, Summoner’s Pact, Manamorphose, Springleaf Drum, Ornithopter, and Mox Opal that turn on surge for free. Desperate Ritual or Pyretic Ritual could work even better.

 

Now, I doubt that the effect on Crush of Tentacles is powerful enough for Modern—it is a format where people can reliably kill you on turn 4, after all—but these zero-mana options and rituals do indicate Modern potential for the surge mechanic.

In Standard, however, there are no rituals. Dark Petition and Mardu Warshrieker are the closest we have, but they don’t really count because they don’t yield a net gain in mana. Nevertheless, there are plenty of Standard-legal ways to turn on surge for zero mana:

 

You could play Briber’s Purse, Endless One, or Hangarback Walker for zero. This would come at the cost of having a Briber’s Purse in your deck or losing an Endless One or Hangarback Walker, but the surge bonuses could be worth it.

 

You could trigger Living Lore or Narset, Enlightened Master during combat to get a free spell.

You could use rebound to get a free spell in your upkeep. The best rebound spells in Standard are Artful Maneuver, Center Soul, Narset Transcendent, Sight Beyond Sight, and Profound Journey.

You could be playing Standard Two-headed Giant and your teammate helps you out.

While these zero-mana options are worth building around—the first three at least—it is more likely that in a real game of Standard you’ll turn on surge with a 1-mana or 2-mana card. A 1-drop creature like Warden of the First Tree or Monastery Swiftspear is not ideal because you don’t want to hold on to such a card until turn 6, but cards like Duress, Magmatic Insight, Treasure Cruise, or Murderous Cut are reasonable turn-6 plays that could work as efficient surge enablers. So that’s where I would look.

I’ll turn to board wipes and 8/8s shortly, but I’ll provide a few rules notes before. First, you cannot chain Bring to Light into Crush of Tentacles: the converted mana cost is always 6 and, more importantly, you can’t pay a surge cost if you cast a card without paying its mana cost or for some other alternative cost. For the same reason, you can’t pay the surge cost for a spell that was flashed back by Snapcaster Mage. However, Jace, Telepath Unbound’s -3 ability works. Finally, I’ll mention that surge doesn’t override the sorcery restriction—you can’t cast a surged Crush of Tentacles during your opponent’s turn.

Bounce all nonland permanents

Enough about surge. Let’s look at the text box on Crush of Tentacles. Devastation Tide won a Pro Tour and Whelming Wave won a Grand Prix, so bouncing all nonland permanents is a Constructed-worthy effect. In my mind, it’s worth 3 mana: a clean sorcery for 1UU that would do nothing else but bounce all nonland permanents could be Standard playable.

As with any symmetric effect, it’s always worth trying to break the symmetry. There are several ways to do that. First, lands awakened by Ruinous Path or Clutch of Currents, will stay on the battlefield. Second, an opponent who has exiled your Rattleclaw Mystic with Silkwrap will play right into your hands. Third and most importantly, your permanents with enters-the-battlefield or on-cast effects can be rebought for another use. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of potential Standard-legal options:

Although Den Protector didn’t technically fit into this category, it’s a fine card to return to your own hand. In particular, when you have 10 mana, you can set up a loop where every turn you attack with an 8/8, cast and unmorph Den Protector to return Crush of Tentacles to your hand, and surge it to reset the board once again. It’s not a fool-proof game plan, but it’s a nice loop to work toward.

Another card that you’d be happy to return to your own hand is Demonic Pact. Constructed decks arguably need at least 8 ways to get rid of the enchantment, and cards that accomplish this economically are in short supply. People have relied on Disperse or The Great Aurora in the past, but Crush of Tentacles offers a new dimension as a card that can reset your own Demonic Pact while simultaneously sweeping the rest of the board.

An 8/8 Octopus

The Octopus is huge, but it lacks evasion or any other ability. I think that a hypothetical vanilla 8/8 for 2UU would actually be fine to have in Standard. Sure, it towers over other creatures in combat and dodges damage-based removal spells like Fiery Impulse, Roast, and Dromoka’s Command, but it still falls to Murderous Cut, Silkwrap, Ultimate Price, Abzan Charm, and Crackling Doom. It can also be easily chump-blocked. Maybe development would have to tweak this hypothetical card to a 7/7 for balancing issues or whatever, but what I’m saying is that a vanilla 8/8 is worth roughly 4 mana.

Putting it Together

In my view, the board wipe and the 8/8 culinary ingredient together are worth roughly 7 mana. So if you’re able to cast Crush of Tentacles for 5 mana, then that’s a great deal. I’ve seen enough, er, “games” of Magic to know where that would be going.

The following deck combines many of my ideas in one list:

I’ll be interested to see whether a deck like this can make waves in Standard. What do you think?

To conclude, I’ll leave you with a Vintage opening hand. This likely won’t become a competitive option, but there is no better way to crush your opponent on turn 1 than with a tasty Octopus.

Black Lotus
Mox Ruby
Mox Emerald
Crush of Tentacles
Berserk
Reckless Charge
Pact of Negation

[Editor’s Note: A few changes for clarity were made by the author.]

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