Know Yourself: Sideboarding 101



Hello Everyone, and welcome to another edition of Know Yourself. One underappreciated skill is that of sideboard construction, which is what I aim to talk about today. One thing that you must understand if you want to play magic on the tournament level is the important of the sideboard and what you can use it for. Today I will discuss three major philosophies of building a sideboard in the broad sense, and why utilizing all three is ultimately key in order to have the best sideboard you can.

  1. The ‘Bits and pieces’ sideboard

Often the first and most expedient way to build a sideboard, this sideboard is often built to give marginal edges in a wide format, full of multiple decks and strategies that you might be even or favored against, but these additional cards replace less useful cards in your main-deck and give you a marginal, or even overwhelming, advantage when drawn. These sideboards are full of 1 and 2-ofs, which try to account for a wide variety of needs. Along with this, these sideboards tend to be the most like this in older formats, which makes running 1 or 2 of cards easier on a deck, due to the ability to filter through and thin decks faster, making these cards more accessible. Along with this filter and drawing, these formats have stronger hate cards, making aggressively mulliganing for specific cards easier. (for example, if I cast stony silence against affinity on turn 2 after mullagining to 6 or even 5 to find that one card, that is often thought of as a correct choice since that card is so good against affinity)

However, standard also has its fair share of bits and pieces sideboards, mainly found in the 2-3 color midrange decks. The reason is that often that these decks have that many types of cards because they are so medium against the field to begin with, they can afford to have these marginal upgrades, because not drawing these means their sideboard they draw the good cards they left in for the matchup anyway.

  1. The ‘75’ card deck

Another good sideboard strategy is the old mantra “It isn’t a 60 card deck, it is a 75 card deck.” While that is always true and something that should be emphasized, saying that I would play stony silence or rule of law in a 75 card deck is a stretch. This kind of sideboarding has a lot in common with the first style, but instead of marginal hate cards that can be inserted in very specific, very crushing matchups, these sideboard cards are more in tune with marginal benefits (very similar to the standard example from earlier.) The difference is that this is an active replacement of marginal cards (magma spray / shock) versus taking out a bad card in a matchup for a good card (taking out essence scatter for negate against a spells deck). This sideboard is what you can use to refine your tweaking skills, and will grind out the rougher edges in your strategy. You have to ask questions like, “Is Supreme Will better than Negate in this matchup? It has more utility and can counter anything, but it costs more. What do I do? What creature spells do I care about? What do I want to find with the second mode?” Actively thinking about these things will make you stronger at card analysis and sideboarding overall. Therefore, this type of sideboarding comes up more in standard than in older formats.

  1. The Transformational Sideboard

By far the most difficult type of sideboard to understand, but also the easiest to construct, this sideboarding strategy is usually only employed if you are playing a very polarized deck. I.E. aggro, combo, or control. If you are playing an aggro deck, when you are on the draw, this sideboard is used to “beef up” your deck, or add a few more lands and higher costed spells in order to give you more card advantage and sticky threats when you are on the backfoot. For example, look at Ramunap Red adding more Glorybringer, Aethersphere Harvester and Chandra, Torch of Defiance to their deck after sideboard to hit bigger and harder during pro tour Hour of Devastation. For combo, you have two routes: Sideboard out all of the combo entirely, or perhaps sideboard into a different combo entirely. Todd Anderson took the first route at the past modern open with his inventive Grixis Madcap Experiment deck, sideboarding into a more classic grixis midrange deck after game one was most likely stolen by a Platinum Emperion.

Finally, for control, you generally bring all fifteen cards in order to morph into something faster for your weaker aggressive matchups. For example, if I were playing a spell based grixis control deck in standard right now, and I had to build a transformation sideboard, assuming my mana was good, it might look something like this:

4x Gifted Aetherborn

3x Gonti, Lord of Luxury

4x Glorybringer

2x Duress

2x Whirler Virtuoso

These fifteen cards would act as a switch from a Torrential Gearhulk based control deck into a fully-fledged 3 color midrange deck. Imagine my opponents surprise when I cast 2 drop that outsizes their 2 drop as a control player. These kinds of sideboards give players phenomenal edges against the unsuspecting opponent, and should always be taken seriously, since they can steal entire matches before an opponent even knows what is going on. Along with this, it often destroys an opponent’s sideboard plan, since they sideboarded with you playing as a control deck in mind.


As a magic player, understanding these three fundamental sideboarding types is important to your progression as a player. However, one must remember that these sideboards are exclusive. Maybe I have a bits and pieces sideboard that has three 5-card transformations depending on the matchup. Maybe I run the 75 card deck structure and can just pick and choose depending on how I feel an opponent constructed their deck. It is important to keep these things in mind, especially when getting used to sideboarding.

Also, as a quick aside, a great way to disguise your sideboarding is to shuffle all 15 cards in, and then take what 15 cards you don’t want out. It disguises how many cards you actually bring in, and can give your opponent the wrong idea, even if you brought in 0 cards.

Let me know what you think, and I will see you all next week!


-Forrest W.


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