When people are side-boarding to face Doomsday there is one card that they so often bring in along with all the discard, counter-magic, spheres and such; Surgical Extraction. This card is particularly annoying as it performs a number of functions against us. It removes options from our piles that can be very key (commonly LED). It can take out the namesake card (assuming no BW or after BW into DD) and worse of all it can cause us to shuffle our perfect five card piles and make them all but useless.

Let us discuss a basic pile and what points SE may affect it.
Each number represents a point we pass priority to our opponent post DD.
Here we are making the assumption that the mana for our draw spell is not generated by an LED.

Examples:

GP in hand.
-> IU, LED, LED, GP, BW               BBB+UU    (5)    8 Storm

GP in hand.
-> AoI, GP, LED, LED, BW              BBB+R2    (6)    8 Storm

First example:
Doomsday has resolved.

  1. Cast GP
  2. Cast IU
  3. Cast LED
  4. Cast LED
  5. Cast GP
  6. Cast BW
  7. Cast ToA

From the above lines. Once the opponent has let IU resolve without using SE then it is too late for it to be effective (Point 3 onwards). If they use it at point 1 then you have a very low percentage of having a useable pile where IU is still on the top of the stack and BW is still at the bottom.

Point 2 gives you a somewhat better chance however it is still poor as it relies on BW being your last card. Alas it is my experience that people tend to Surgical as soon as they can into a stack therefore relying on your opponent to 'mess up' is not an effective strategy here.

Let us now consider the second example presented above:
Doomsday has resolved.

  1. Cast GP
  2. Cast AoI
  3. Cast LED
  4. Cast LED
  5. Cast GP
  6. Cast BW
  7. Cast ToA

This is a very similar set of circumstances however we actually have a higher chance of success despite a resolved SE. Point 1 we have a few more permutations that will work as opposed to a single potential iteration of the stack.
We now have success if AoI is the first card or the second card if GP is the first. Beyond that is does not actually matter on the ordering of the cards.

Likewise point 2 is pretty much guaranteed to succeed as even if they re-order you will still 'draw' both LED and BW with the ability to cast it all. The worst case scenario here is that you 'draw' LED, LED BW with GP being the final card. In this instance you are down one storm from your original pile however the fact they have cast SE means storm count is at +1 anyways and if they have paid for it with life then that effectively reduces the storm requirement of the pile by one anyways.

We improve our chances of success further by using our other cantrips to draw into the stack. The "Look at the top three cards of your library..." and "...you may shuffle your Library..." clauses on Ponder, the "Scry 2" from Preordain and the "Draw three cards, place two cards from your hand onto the top of your Library" from Brainstorm all give you a higher chance to place the IU, AoI or TW first in the stack.

Now the above mainly tells you that all is not lost to a Surgical post DD so you should play it out just to double check the odds just in case. This also does not apply to if they have sniped LEDs from you or similar.

There are a couple of ways of beating Surgical. Obviously the use of discard or Silence can help protect you however sometimes you might be facing an active Snapcaster with Surgical in the graveyard or something similar. Forcing the opponent to panic "use it or lose it" is the best way to stop them getting full value out of it. What they try and use it on in this instance obviously depends on what is currently targetable in your graveyard. Trying to work out what the opponent will go for requires some good observational or psychological skills.

Say you send a Duress at your opponent in a game 2. You have won the first one though a storm kill and they have a Surgical in hand that you have seen with a GP. Your graveyard contains: Flooded Strand, Gitaxian Probe, Polluted Delta, Brainstorm, Ponder. What are they likely to Surgical?
From my experiences they normally aggressively try to hit Brainstorm. Everyone knows BS is busted right? What if there was also a Lotus Petal in the graveyard too? Would they try and limit your mana choices or still hit the notorious cantrip?

There are some cards that are certainly more obvious targets than others. Doomsday is the main one followed by Lion's Eye Diamond and Dark Ritual. Depending on your list and what the opponent has seen they might also be very tempted to try and get Burning Wish too. Very rarely do people aim for your protection spells (Discard or Silence) and though they sometimes do they don't often try and hit the other cantrips, Gitaxian Probe is probably the most likely candidate to be targeted after Brainstorm.

Another thing you can try and do to play against Surgical pre-combo turn is to actually lever advantage from it. Try and use your discard to hit it with an active Brainstorm available. In response to their Surgical you can cast it and use the resolving Surgical as a shuffle effect. Alternatively you might cast a Brainstorm and fail to find a fetchland, you can use any discard available (assuming no big risk to your hand) to then force the shuffle effect to occur with the tasty BS in the yard as a bait target.

Obviously not everyone plays the same and many will not adhere to the suggestions written above. You should be able to get a feel yourselves on your own local metagames and as people play against you more, they will of course improve their judgement on what to target. In larger events you should be able to get some more mileage out of opponents misplaying Surgicals as a result of not being used to facing DDFT.

If they do have a Surgical still and you need to combo off there are some piles or circumstances that will facilitate this in addition to the examples mentioned at the start.

Example:

CB in play. Cantrip in hand:
-> AoI/TW, LED, LED, GP, BW              BBB+R2    (6)    8 Storm

This pile has already been touched upon in discussing CB piles. No matter when they play Surgical post DD here, you can respond and negate its efficacy.

Another example of getting around SE is simply going off with your draw tool in hand such as AoI/TW/IU/IC. Especially with pass the turn piles you can use this to ignore the shuffle from the SE and just draw everything you need. This of course favours a LM line of play which may not always be optimal depending on the circumstances. It also means you must avoid using CB recursion or risking anything to the Graveyard that may be under threat or in multiples later.

One trick to consider is, if you go off with an uncracked fetch and the draw spell in hand, you can use that and place a land in your stack to reduce it by a card ensuring your IU/AoI/TW draws every piece you need. This does favour the use of AoI/TW over IU simply for the versatility of being able to use LED in conjunction with the 'drawn' cards.

AoI/TW in hand. Pass the Turn:
-> X, Land, LM, LED, GP              R2/UU1    (3)

Summary

  1. It's always better to go off without an opposing SE being present
  2. SE can be played around
  3. Opponent's can often panic SE the wrong thing
  4. The trick is timing and not allowing them the gap to cast it
  5. AoI/TW is a better tool than IU vs SE