UB Surveil - Standard

This is a community-submitted deck list from LandSayGo brewer, Mo.

Sometimes I get kinda fed-up with all the craziness wrapped up in the standard metagame. Between Esper lists trying to out-value or even deny you the chance to play, Simic Reclaimation lists playing Solitaire as early as turn 4, Jeskai crushing you under the weight of 5 planeswalkers, or Bant swinging in for 20 with counterspell backup on turn 5, sometimes I just want a deck that says, "Hey, I've got a fun thing going on that's also powerful. So I'm going to sit here, and do my fun thing, and I don't care what you've got going on over there because I'll win anyways." That's why I was happy to see Mo's Dimir "They're Watching" list. Because you know what? Synergies are fun. Surveil is a powerful mechanic, and no matter what meta you're playing in, a 6/6 flample still kills you.


We're hard on the surveil plan here with a good mix of cards that surveil and cards that get better when you surveil. This is a synergy deck, meaning we're much less concerned with ruining our opponent's gameplan and more interested in developing out own. Now that I say that, of course, I have to mention one very powerful card we've got that's seeing tons of play in other decks, too: Thought Erasure. The ability to take away our opponent's counterplay or keep their board from developing while advancing our own gameplan is huge. The fact that we can put counters on our Spybug and Phastasm with this card usually means we want to cast it after we have one or more of them out on the field, so this may not be a turn 2 play as it typically is in other decks.

On the early turns, we want to cast one of the cards that snowball with each surveil. As I mentioned, Spybug and Phantasm are two great options, but we can also get some incremental life advantage with Whispering Snitch. Barring that, we'll want to get one of our value engines, Nightveil Sprite or Thief of Sanity on the board and protect them with either Thought Erasure or Sinister Sabotage.

As the game goes on, we'll want to continue to develop whatever we established in the early game. If we ended up growing a Spybug or Phantasm, we'll want to protect them with our control cards while continuing to knock down our opponent's life total. Just about anything we do will keep growing them as well. If we instead have a Thief out, we're either going to start playing the cards we stole with it or try to find our surveil payoff cards to build a boardstate.

Late game, we've got a couple options. First, we can simply out-value our opponent with cards like Cry of the Carnarium or Mission Briefing, leaving them with no more gas to either threaten us or our board, or we can land powerful finisher cards like Doom Whisperer to finish off whatever's left of their life total. Having 3 copies of Mastermind's Acquisition really expands our options and makes this deck quite flexible for the late game.


Given that we are running those Acquisitions, our sideboard is more important in this deck compared to most. Cry is a staple answer to small creature decks, and with the prevalence of mono-red and white weenie on Arena, this is practically a must-have. I wouldn't even fault someone for running 1 or 2 of these maindeck. Enhanced Surveillance is best in very long, grindy games where our opponent is trying to match us card-for-card with answers and we need both 1) to be able to avoid decking since we put so many cards in the graveyard, and 2) to consistently find the right card for the current situation. If our opponent's deck is full of answers, we need to be able to keep finding the right threat.

Mission Briefing is a fantastic value card, both highlighting the surveil synergies of the deck and giving us access to our graveyard whenever we need it.

Disdainful Stroke and Price of Fame both are answers for specific kinds of threats. Stroke is for midrange and control decks, usually for removing/countering a key spell on an important turn. Unmoored Ego is similar in this fashion, but it's a more proactive spell and only really useful against control decks with Teferi, Hero of Dominaria as the sole win condition and combo decks trying to take infinite turns with Nexus of Fate.


My first impression while playing this deck was how polarized the games were. Some games I'd have turn 1 Phantasm into turn 2 Spybug, hold up Sabotage and counter their threat turn 3 or 4, then be off to the races. Some games I turn 2 Thought Erasured, then Thief turn 3 and won through card advantage. Then there were games when I played turn 1 Phantasm and had nothing to put counters on him until turn 4, couldn't apply any pressure, and either got overwhelmed by a ground attack or card advantage.

Most of my playtesting was on Arena, so I saw a lot of mono-red aggro, esper/grixis control, and even a couple bant midrange lists.

The best matchup, I felt, were the bant lists. They had less interaction with our creatures and few fliers (Hydriod Krasis being the exception), which meant our Thief and Spybug could keep connecting without much issue. Prison Realm popped up a few times and their ability to hold up a Frilled Mystic could really disrupt my flow, but in the end my threats matched up well against their plan.

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find much success elsewhere. Mono-red was often far too fast for this deck to keep up, and while Phantasm is a great blocker, it hardly lived long enough to do what I wanted it to. The Barrier of Bones felt like a pretty good turn 1 play, but some of their creatures are still big enough to attack through it and at 3 toughness it still died to most of their burn spells. Also, with my life total being pressured so hard, Doom Whisperer couldn't surveil for me. Life was too important. Mastermind's Acquisition did have the ability to get a Cry from the sideboard, but that was often too slow to save me.

As a small sidenote, Whispering Snitch was a big deal in some of those matchups. I didn't think much of it going into the testing, but it turned out to really help vs red sometimes.

The esper and grixis games went about the same, though I had a little more success with esper. They both run boardwipes that threaten to clear our board and they both ran planeswalkers on a power level this deck can't easily match. With esper, however, they had a little less single-target removal and their planeswalkers were not as well suited to deal with the number of threats we're able to deploy. Essentially, games came down to whether or not I drew enough important threats. Most our creatures are either small enough to ignore or take long enough to develop that all the counterspells and removal our opponent has are enough to handle them easily. The big turns were when I'd find something like Doom Whisperer and resolve it or be able to protect it with a Sabotage. With only 2 Whisperers, however, the odds weren't in my favor.


The most important change I would make to this deck is the mix of payoffs and enablers. Phantasm and Spybug are pretty decent payoff cards, especially Spybug. The problem is, we need a little more than that. It may sound weird, but 8 payoff cards is simply not enough for a synergy deck. A couple removal spells from our opponent and we may never see another payoff for the rest of the game. That's why cards like Disinformation Campaign are popular in surveil decks like this, since it's another 4 payoffs specifically for surveil. But, given that surveil inherently sends a lot of cards to the graveyard, we don't need to use Campaign specifically. Anything that gets cards in the graveyard back will work, or cards with Jump Start that can be cast from the graveyard are useful, too.

Also, I feel like we need more interaction in this deck. Price of Fame is alright, but it's in the sideboard so we can only access it after a Mastermind's Acquisition, or in games 2 and 3. I'd put a playset of some sort of 2-mana removal in here. Tyrant's Scorn is a powerful new card from War of the Spark that can really help against the aggro matchups or save our important synergy cards from removal by bouncing them to our hand. Discovery // Dispersal is a very powerful option, too, as it lets us draw when we need the draw, or deal with a planeswalker when we need that later in the game, too.

Finally, I'm not sure Unmoored Ego has the value it used to. Teferi win-con control lists are few and far between any more, and Nexus decks have diversified their threats to include Tamiyo as well.

That's my writeup on the "They're Watching" deck from Mo. Thank you so much for submitting it, I really enjoyed my time playtesting! Keep those decklists coming, and we'll do our best to do them justice. Until next time, this is Matt signing out.