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Psychic Surgery – A Magic the Gathering Card Review

Psychic Surgery is a rare Enchantment card from Magic the Gathering’s famous New Phyrexia set. It has a casting cost of 1U (one generic and one Blue) to cast. This card reads:

“Whenever an opponent shuffles his or her library, you can look at the top two cards of their deck. You may exile one of those cards and put the other (or both) back on top of the deck.”

With this effect, you choose what to remove or put back. It’s a sort of “fate seal” effect, as you could well give your opponent a card they can’t use as their next draw, while also depriving them of a useful spell. If you’re milling your opponent as your win condition, chances are they are running out of their key cards that they can beat you with, anyway. This gives you an opportunity, albeit only when your opponent shuffles, to remove another of their key cards from the game. It also allows you to know what card or cards they may draw next.

While this card didn’t appear to be very good at its release, it’s simply that the decks that could use it best were still in the future. New cards expanding the Mill archetype continue to appear often since that time. Some key cards printed since that time include Jace, Memory Adept from Magic 2012, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver from Theros, and Phenax, God of Deception from Born of the Gods.

For a card that doesn’t have anything to do with mill per se, why would it be great in such a deck? Especially in the context of New Phyrexia, a high-powered set that has cards which are still useful to this day, Psychic Surgery is a disappointment in the rare slot. In fact, even at the time, it was argued that this card was more deserving of an uncommon slot. 

But, Psychic Surgery has a strong ability; to choose what cards get exiled or go back on top is quite good, since card selection is a key component of many decks. However, in most constructed settings, that is 60-card Magic, you would need to have multiple copies of Psychic Surgery in play for it to be worth its inclusion; after all, these Enchantments stack their triggers, so if you have two or three of these in play you can repeat the process to truly muck up your opponent’s game. 

However, a deck that forces your opponent to shuffle a lot is sort of an odd strategy. It was mostly ever seen as a complement to the mill strategy, by being another way of denying the opponent resources. It’s also fair that in formats such as Modern and Legacy where fetch-lands – which require your opponent to shuffle to search out a land – Psychic Surgery may seem a good deterrent. But the effect, while potent on paper, never really worked in practicality.

At least, not for many years. Eventually, there would be a Legendary Creature leading a Blue-Black Commander deck entirely focused on the very theme Psychic Surgery fits into: the denial of resources.

This Commander is Xanathar, Guild Kingpin, a Beholder Creature from Adventures From the Forgotten Realms. His entire game-plan is to deny opponent’s from casting their spells on your turn. Not only that, you get to look at the top card of their deck and cast that card while ignoring its color requirements for casting.

You may ask, OK, where does Psychic Surgery fit into this? Commander is a format full of tutors, cards that seek out certain cards in your deck with a required shuffle after the fact. Fetch lands, in particular, are especially common. If you are a Xanathar player who can drop Psychic Surgery into play on turn two, this makes for a powerful deterrent for opponents to crack their fetch lands or cast their tutors. In turn, this means you can use their tutors (and fetch lands) instead for your benefit.

While this application is absolutely niche, it’s the best opportunity for Psychic Surgery to shine since its inception. Another more recent Commander with a somewhat similar game-plan, Rashmi and Ragavan, has tried out this Enchantment with a similar role as a deterrent against fetch lands and tutors.

While hardly a staple even in Xanathar Commander decks, Psychic Surgery is a sneaky Enchantment in being a shuffling deterrent for your opponents. It’s possible that one day a Legendary Creature that forces opponents to shuffle on a regular basis may slip through the auspices of Research and Development and fall into our laps, giving Psychic Surgery an instant combo win. 

The closest Commander we have currently to being a combo plan is Thada Adel, Acquisitor, a Merfolk that whenever it deals combat damage to an opponent, searches that player’s library for an artifact card, exiles it, then shuffles their library. It’s hardly part of a win condition, of course, but it’s a neat interaction.

If nothing else, Psychic Surgery cuts off a certain design space, in that Wizards must not print any cards that can force opponents to endlessly shuffle their library. Otherwise, either this card or the new card would have to eventually be hit with the ban hammer. Who knows how this humble little “bulk rare” may catch up on Wizards if they somehow forget about its existence (which has been known to happen) and break the game of Magic?

~ Amelia Desertsong

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Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy. Personal Website: https://www.thephoenixdesertsong.com

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