Commander Spotlight: Surge of Strength

Despite an EDH deck consisting of 100 different cards, space has a tendency of running out much quicker than you’d expect. If you’ve ever spent time compiling your own EDH deck, this is one of the first hard lessons you come to learn from the process. No matter how much you want to include a pile of cards for any particular reason, at the end of the day, there is never enough room to accommodate them all. Rarely is deck construction about adding cards at the end as much as it is about making the tough choices over what to keep.

The individual decision-making steps taken to that end will of course range wildly from person to person depending on individual player styles, deck theme, card flavor, and a multitude of other arbitrary preferences. And naturally, this includes the card’s usefulness itself.

When push comes to shove and you have to make the tough cuts, most people are going to go with the card that’ll give them the biggest bang for their buck.

It makes sense, objectively. If you had to make a call, would you rather use Dark Banishing or Murder? Cancel or Spell Blast? Fog or Hunter’s Ambush?

While you can – and should – consider different cards to provide variety to your decks (i.e. you don’t have to put the same ‘staple‘ cards in every deck, as has been the argument here since the beginning), to help with corner case situations, and to generally embrace the sheer scope of Magic’s wide-ranging possibilities, there are some general baseline limits to anyone’s willingness to do so.

Or put another way: while using variations of Lightning Bolt is certainly encouraged, that doesn’t mean anyone should (or would) willingly drop down to the power level of something like Ragefire just for the sake of variety. There is still a realistic need that the card be useful and competitive. While you don’t have to use the apex card of any particular ability in your deck, there still has to be a baseline cutoff point.

Of the many card effects out there, one with an abundance of options to choose from are instant-speed creature buffs. Nearly every set comes with its own version or three, and when it comes to deciding if it’s worth considering in your Commander deck, the first question you ask yourself is: at the absolute very least, is it as good as Giant Growth?

This week’s card pick answers that question in the affirmative…most of the time.

Today we have: Surge of Strength

Name: Surge of Strength

Edition: Alliances

Rarity: Uncommon

Focus: Creature Buff

Highlights: Surge of Strength was a popular casual Red/Green card during the first decade of Magic thanks to its potential to create some major unexpected – even game-ending – creature buffing for a mere two mana. Seen by many as the ‘poor man’s Berserk‘, it took Giant Growth and added Trample to the equation at the cost of a card discard.

In the casual gaming scene, Surge’s usefulness has diminished a bit over time thanks to later releases such as Predator’s StrikeColossal Might, and Invigorated Rampage, all of which provide a 3-4 power buff and Trample for the same mana cost, minus the any down side.

However, in Commander, it still has ample potential for much larger output.

Surge of Strength states that the affected creature gets +X/+0 equal to that creature’s converted mana cost. Practically speaking, this means that for any creature of converted mana cost of 4 or less, the output is approximately the same as many of its contemporary card options. Yet given the format’s propensity for larger, more expensive creatures, Surge is the better option. A 6 CMC creature is generally one to be concerned about, but giving that creature an additional +6/+0 and Trample during combat for two mana? That is well above the typical curve and easily worth considering.

The one obvious downside to Surge of Strength is that its offering of major creature boosting-potential includes the need for you to discard a Red or Green card. This can be problematic if you don’t have a card to pitch, but aside from the color requirements, the card discarded is immaterial. A historically common misconception with Surge of Strength is that it boosts the creature equal to the discarded card’s cost, but you can pitch nearly anything and it will still work – which means you don’t have to chuck one powerful card to temporarily aid another.

All in all, this puts Surge of Strength way above the Giant Growth baseline, providing some unexpected and potentially explosive creature buffing at the right moments. If you’re having to make those last few hard choices for your deck, consider keeping this one on the short list the next time you’re in need of a useful creature boon.

Keep an eye out for us to be regularly featuring other more accessible-but-worth-it Commander cards going forward. In the meantime, we’ll keep the light on for you.

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