Hello and welcome, everyone! Today I’m going to talk about the card Surgical Extraction, how to use it, and when to use it. Surgical Extraction is one of the most widely played sideboard cards in Legacy, and its main purpose is to serve as graveyard hate against decks like Dredge and Reanimator.

Surgical Extraction v. Dredge

Knowing how and when to use your Surgical Extraction can be quite tricky, and it’s especially so when playing against Dredge, because they have so many different targets for it that are all very tempting. How you use it is going to depend on the circumstances of the game state you’re in, so let’s go through the options real quick.

The Dredgers—Golgari Grave-Troll, Stinkweed Imp, and Golgari Thug

Going after their dredger is very risky, but the payoff can be very high if you succeed. If you cast Surgical Extraction on their only dredger on turn one, there’s a chance that their engine doesn’t get going for several turns, in which case you should be far enough ahead to win. While the upside is indeed quite high, I’d still advise you to think twice before choosing this line. Not only is the chance that they simply put another dredger in the graveyard on the following turn quite high, but you also risk being completely blown out by a cycled Street Wraith in response to your Surgical Extraction.

The Creatures—Narcomoeba and Ichorid

These cards form an integral part of dredge. They enable cards like Cabal Therapy and Bridge from Below, and allow the dredge player to put pressure on the opponent. Snagging one of these with a Surgical Extraction can certainly help relieve some of that pressure and buy you some time to deal with the rest of their threats. While this line is normally solid, it becomes even more appealing when you have multiple copies of Surgical Extraction (or a Snapcaster Mage to go with it). If you can take away all of their Narcomoebas as well as all of their Ichorids, it will be very difficult for them to win. Some versions of Dredge, particularly the manaless version, play other creatures such as Nether Shadow and Prized Amalgam, so pay attention to which particular build your opponent is playing before making any decisions.

The Bridges—Bridge from Below

Bridge from Below is what really lets Dredge go off. If you have counter magic for their Dread Return and removal spells or blockers for their creatures, getting rid of Bridge from Below can help you stabilize the board. If you have access to a card like Izzet Staticaster, getting rid of their bridges is probably a good idea.

Keep in mind that Bridge from Below has what is referred to as an “if clause,” meaning that if it’s no longer in the graveyard when the triggered ability resolves, they don’t get any zombies. This means that you can hold your Surgical Extraction in case you find a better target, and also that you might be able to trick them into playing into your Surgical Extraction. They might sacrifice a creature to Cabal Therapy that they otherwise wouldn’t have, or block with their creatures because it’s only good for them if their creatures die—or so they think.

The problem with going after Bridge from Below is that it’s one of the cards that is easiest to deal with for many decks. Surgical Extraction is going to be one of your best cards against Dredge no matter what deck you’re playing, so if you’re able to take care of their bridges some other way (by killing your own creature for example), you probably shouldn’t waste your Surgical Extraction on them.

The Rest—Dread Return, etc.

Sometimes you want to use Surgical Extraction to stop a Dread Return, but in those cases it tends to be a very obvious play, and I don’t think it requires much further discussion. There are some corner case scenarios where you want to surgical other cards, but they’re very rare.

Surgical Extraction v. Reanimator

Playing with Surgical Extraction against Reanimator is much more straightforward. Normally you want to wait until they try to reanimate a creature before you surgically extract it to force them to waste one of their reanimation spells. This isn’t always the correct play however, as it’s quite weak to a topdecked Force of Will as well as Shallow Grave/Goryo’s Vengeance type of cards. You don’t want to delay casting your Surgical Extraction only for them to draw into a piece of counter magic (or the mana to cast it) and find yourself wishing you had preemptively dealt with their Griselbrands.

Surgical Extraction v. Lands

Experienced Lands players will expect and play around your Surgical Extractions. They will leave up an additional Grove of the Burnwillows in case you go after their Punishing Fires. They will keep a cycling land in hand to protect their Life from the Loam. These are still the two cards you usually want to go after, but you should always be mindful of any tricks they might have to sabotage your plans.

Keep in mind that a single Crop Rotation for a Grove of the Burnwillows (or even a Bojuka Bog) could make your Surgical Extraction fizzle. If you notice that they’re playing around your Surgical Extraction, consider if you should go after one of their other cards instead. You can buy yourself a lot of time by taking away all their copies of Dark Depths. One of my favorite plays is to use Surgical Extraction to support your other hate cards for the matchup. Take away their Krosan Grips, and leave them with no way of answering your Blood Moon.

Surgical Extraction v. The Field

These graveyard centric matchups is where Surgical Extraction shines the most. They are the reason you play it in your sideboard in the first place, and it’s obvious that you should bring it in against them. That is not to say however that there are no other matchups where Surgical Extraction can be useful. While there is certainly some truth to the notion that Surgical Extraction is the most oversideboarded card in the format, we should still strive to understand its flexibility and many uses.

Snapcaster Mage

Surgical Extraction can be used to effectively counter half of a Snapcaster Mage. I’m not too high on this plan by itself, and would advise against bringing in Surgical Extraction solely for Snapcaster Mage.


Surgical Extraction is phenomenal against Intuition. Decks such as Omnitell and High Tide will find three copies of the same cards with it. They spend three mana to search for a card, and you spend zero to one mana to take it away. That’s a pretty good deal on its own, and on top of that you also get to take away all copies of one of their key cards. It’s very rare that they search for anything that isn’t part of their combo.

Cabal Therapy

Surgical Extraction synergizes well with all discard spells, because you can have them discard a card and then surgical it. But it goes particularly well with Cabal Therapy, as it also shows you their hand, letting you know what to name with your Cabal Therapy.


Speaking of discard spells, one of the ways in which combo decks like Sneak and Show will protect themselves from hand disruption is by using Brainstorm to hide their best cards. Here Surgical Extraction can put a real dent in their plans by shuffling away those cards. This is what I did when I beat an OmniSneak player during my latest Legacy tournament. My opponent responded to my Cabal Therapy with a Brainstorm. After the Brainstorm had resolved I played a Surgical Extraction on it, shuffling away the cards he’d hid on top and showing me his hand in the process.


Casting Surgical Extraction in response to a miracle trigger lets you take away the miracle from their hand. This tends to be a powerful play, because not only does it effectively counter their sweeper, but it also assures that they won’t be casting any more Terminus this game. This line only works if they have another Terminus in the graveyard already, but games against Miracles tend to go quite long, and it’s not uncommon for them to play multiple miracles in a single game.

Combo decks

By taking away a key combo piece from your opponent, you make it significantly more difficult for them to win. While ideally you’d want to stop a Past in Flames or snipe their one Tendrils of Agony with it, sometimes hitting their Infernal Tutors or taking away threshold for their Cabal Rituals can be enough to beat Storm. Against Sneak and Show, if you take away their Sneak Attacks or Emrakuls it will be much trickier for them to beat your Karakas.

Dual lands

This applies primarily when playing against RUG Delver, but Surgical Extraction can be used in conjunction with Wasteland in order to lock an opponent out of an entire color. This works because the only lands that produce colored mana in RUG Delver are Tropical Island and Volcanic Island, so if you surgical one of them they won’t have any more to search for. While this play is certainly on the cute side, and RUG Delver is no longer a dominant force in Legacy, it’s still an interesting angle of attack that you shouldn’t forget about.

Sidenote: it’s not unheard of for RUG Delver players in the past to play a 2-1 split between Volcanic Island and Steam Vents (and Tropical Island and Breeding Pool) as a hedge against Surgical Extraction.


Surgical Extraction is one of the most widely played sideboard cards in Legacy, and it should be in your interests to understand it. It’s much more flexible than it first appears to be, and can be used in a number of creative ways. On the other hand it’s also one of the most oversideboarded cards, but hopefully when we understand how it can be used we’ll be better equipped to determine when to use it.

Sandro is a Magic player from Stockholm, Sweden. He’s been playing Goblins in Legacy for years. Follow him on Twitter @SandroRajalin

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