A Limited Look At Surveil

Ryan Saxe thinks this new Guilds of Ravnica mechanic could be something else! Today he looks at a few previews that could make or break the strategy altogether!

While there are a bunch of mechanics in this format, I would like to zero
in on one that I believe is likely to have a large impact on the format:
surveil. This mechanic looks unassuming, as it’s just a variant on scry,
but it’s so much better than that.

First and foremost, scry is spectacular. Mechanics that smooth out your
draws are always fantastic in Limited, as reducing the number of non-games
is valuable. This is why cycling is one of the best Limited mechanics of
all time. While the mechanics in the set don’t provide surveil the
opportunity to function as card advantage, it can dramatically impact the
potential card quality and interactions you have access to thanks to
undergrowth and jump-start. And let me tell you, some commons with surveil
are quite good.

I would be surprised if these cards aren’t in the top ten commons in Guilds of Ravnica, and to be honest, they both could be in the top
five. Cloudreader Sphinx was one of the best commons in Dominaria,
and Lich’s Caress was maybe the best common in the Core Set 2019.
While Watcher in the Mist and Deadly Visit are different, I expect them to
perform well.

And these aren’t the only surveil cards that you’ll be fighting over. Price
of Fame could easily be the best uncommon in the set. Notion Rain is
spectacular and splashable card advantage. And the list goes on.

What this means is that the surveil build-around cards could struggle to
come together. Sure, Whisper Agent and Unexplained Disappearance aren’t
fantastic cards, but they’re playable in any deck that can cast them. I
imagine that the card quality on these cards is high enough that getting a
density of surveil cards could prove difficult.

That being said, surveil inherently helps you find other cards with
surveil. Hence, such a density may not be as necessary as you would think.
If the goal is to cast as many cards with surveil as possible, once you
cast the first one, you can just dig for the second. It’s important to keep
this in mind when evaluating the build-around cards. Furthermore, when
drafting, you should keep in mind that some forms of surveil are
repeatable, and hence, may be premium alongside this specific strategy.

And there are actually quite a few build-arounds. Let’s look at each one
individually, considering the lens provided previously:

A 1/3 for two isn’t too embarrassing, but it’s definitely below par. I
would guess that this card needs to drain for three before being worth it
since it’s likely not going to trade well in a world with mentor (although
maybe convoke will facilitate enough 1/1 tokens that a 1/3 can still
shine). Overall, I think you can probably only play this card in a deck
with repeatable sources of surveil.

Normal Grade: D

Build-Around Grade: C-

Thoughtbound Phantasm is a card with extremely high potential. I think many
read cards like this and dismiss them, but remember that it’s only a
one-mana-investment. A 2/2 defender isn’t great, but if this card trades
with any attacking creature, it has done its job and alongside one surveil
trigger, Thoughtbound Phantasm becomes a well-sized blocker. And if you’re
lucky enough to chain them together, your one-mana investment becomes quite
the threat.

Normal Grade: D+

Build-Around Grade: C+

I’m surprised this is a common. I mean, an Ophidian with deathtouch would
be printed at rare. Of course, it’s just a 2/3 for three, which you don’t
always play. That said, the potential is so high that I would probably
always include Darkblade Agent with only a few ways to surveil, and turning
on deathtouch at instant speed is no joke either. I imagine that
Unexplained Disappearance and this card will be best friends.

Normal Grade: C-

Build-Around Grade: B

How good Dimir Spybug is will drastically depend on how often the surveil
deck comes together. Two mana for a 1/1 flier is a terrible rate. Sure, you
can curve into it well and then a 2/2 flying beater is a solid card, but it
seems like it’ll just be too hard to get this one going.

Normal Grade: D-

Build-Around Grade: C+

Enhanced Surveillance is the only true build-around card we’ve seen. A card
that’s completely unplayable unless your entire deck is built around it, if
you’re able to do so, it’s very powerful. Turning surveil 2 into surveil 4
lets you churn through your entire library very quickly. Dig for your best
cards, and if you don’t hit it, then dig for another surveil card to keep
the chain going. And it even has a clause built in to prevent decking
yourself. Be on the lookout for a card like Epitaph Golem to pair with this

All things considered, I don’t expect this card to work as often as I would
like since a lot of the surveil cards will be picked up by other drafters.

Normal Grade: F

Build-Around Grade: B+

Disinformation Campaign on its face is a clean two-for-one. It can draw you
to additional surveil cards, which then yield more card advantage by
returning the Campaign to your hand. The fact that this card is completely
playable without surveil is one of the reasons I expect it to be so good.
If the format ends up being fast, it will lose a lot of luster, but that’s
not what I’m expecting based on what we’ve seen so far.

Normal Grade: C

Build-Around Grade: B+

Overall, there are a lot of great cards with surveil. While there are
build-arounds, it looks like you should be prioritizing the cards with the
mechanic first, as they stand so well on their own. That said, surveil
raises some additional concern.

Surveil smoothing over your draws means less games decided by mana flood or
mana screw. An abundance of guildgates means you can have a better mana
base to cast your spells. When you take them together, is there really a
reason to draft something else? Both increase the probability that you can
draw and cast your best spells. This means that if a game goes long, a deck
with multiple surveil cards may have an edge. And don’t forget that we have
Surveillor of Means to ensure the aggressive decks don’t curbstomp you…

Furthermore, there appear to be enough good cards with surveil at common in
each color that you won’t even need to be Dimir to exploit this. With that
as the case, I imagine that multicolor midrange could just run rampant,
often based in blue or black. Will this be true? I have no clue and I hope
not, but it’s a legitimate concern based on what we have seen so far.