Fishman73 here for an lesser known topic article. A lot of new players, when the begin to play tournaments are confused by sideboarding, and honestly it can be a bit of a grey area for experienced players as well. There are a few strategies for the sideboard Bradley has written about the transformative sideboard which is where you entirely change strategies post sideboarding, but I want to talk about what I’d call a defensive sideboard.
A defensive sideboard is put together based around three variables.
- Current Format’s Most Common Decks
- Your Deck’s Colors
- Your Deck’s weaknesses
Now let’s get into each of these specifically starting with the broadest topic. “The current field” is what I hear it often called but it’s either what decks you play most locally or what you expect to see at big tournaments. For example let’s say you went to a modern ptq in a couple of weeks and you need to put together a sideboard. The big scary decks of modern is a long list but if you do a little homework you can look at recent trends. Infect has returned with a vengeance as well as dredge. There are multiple styles of control and there will definitely be someone playing affinity and that’s just from the top of my head and you only have 15 cards so how do you deal with all of them? Overlapping cards that are good against multiple major decks.
Next let’s look at the obvious. You can’t play cards that your deck can’t cast. So merfolk can’t add 3 abrupt decays. Simply look for the staples of each color. Also traditionally each color has things it does really well.
- White- what I’d call the best sideboard color it has ways to kill every type of permanent, it can wipe the board, it can even fog or gain life for stalling the game. But sadly not many options for counterspells.
- Blue- well you have a million counterspells at your disposal but probably stick with the basic ones. The big downside with blue is there isn’t much permanent removal a lot of it is taping or bouncing to the player’s hand.
- Black- welcome to the land of everything is dead cause black is mainly just removal, hand disruption, and a some graveyard hate.
- Red- well… burn. You also have access to a large amount of artifact destruction and sweepers. Sadly there isn’t much of a way to take out enchantments
- Green- more artifact hate but this time enchantments also have an answer. You have fog and fight effects and some protection for your creatures through hexproof and similar effects.
Now be aware that this is a broad list so more likely than not whatever your problem is there is a card for it.
Now to where the little grey area becomes a huge grey area. But I hope to clear it up a little bit. For example, the way a control deck normally loses is your opponent goes to fast, protects his or her creatures, and or you don’t have answers to a certain type of threat. So in testing your deck keep track of what is your weaknesses preferably you will find multiple decks that you lose to have something in common and you choose a couple of cards that will remove, prevent, or nullify that threat. Sometimes that threat isn’t even the thing that kills you; it can be the thing keeping you from killing them, but either way, isolate the problem and present a solution.
Now here is where it gets harder: as you find those things you will notice that there are more than 15 cards you want in your sideboard, so here is my advice and an example of my personal modern deck’s sideboard. Instead of a couple of cards with four of each or 15 singles I’d balance utility or multipurpose cards so you will be able to have 4 or 5 viable cards for every match up. So my deck is my own version of merfolk using a bit of tempo over a more aggressive traditional build.
My side board
3- Tidebinder Mage (this is my oddball for Jund, Naya burn, or any deck that wants to use an aggressive red or green strategy)
3- Hurkyl’s Recall (say bye to your artifacts for a little bit)
2- Relic of Progenitus (dredge is a real threat if you just let it do its thing, and there are enough decks that currently use their graveyards that it’s extremely viable)
2- dismember (for when we desperately need permanent removal)
2- Echoing Truth (this is for its utility I can bounce a planeswalker before it ultimates or bounce all your opponent’s copy’s of ensnaring bridge as well as disrupting kiki-jiki combo and wiping tokens)
2- Spell Pierce (prevent early disruption)
1- Surgical Extraction (dredge, any combo, or to prevent reanimation)
I hope this has brought some clarity to what might be the most confusing aspect of deck building.