April 22, 2012

Magic101 : Tournament Preparations - Sideboarding 101


For a week, I have been trying to figure out what topic I will be writing about. I didn't want to write something that will seem very generic and plain such as my FNM decklist. So to add a twist, I will write about a very basic skill in Magic: the Gathering. So basic, that most of us take it for granted and sometimes overdo it - Sideboarding.

Sideboarding is basically perceived as bringing in cards that will help your deck perform better and giving you better chances of winning the game. As a pilot of UB Control for so long, I will take a typical UB deck as an example. You might notice that control decks try to put a lot of options in their main decks. In the UB list for example, Doomlade, Go for the Throat, Ratchet Bomb, Curse of Death's Hold, Black Sun's Zenith, etc. When you look at these cards, their power level is not very great compared to , let's say a Planeswalker card like Gideon Jura that punishes aggro, or Oblivion Ring to answer everything. UB uses all these good, specific but sub-optimal cards (that are only applicable in some match-ups) in the main decks, and rely on card advantage (Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy) to give you the chance to draw those specific cards and use them at the right time. And my point is that UB practically survives winning the round through Sideboarding. In a matchup against tokens for example, you side-out the Doom blades and Go for the Throats and put in cards that deal with tokens better such as board additional board sweepers and ratchet bombs. In the case of fighting against other Control decks, you might want to choose either Doom Blade or Go for the Throat, but you need to side out Curse of Death's Hold and Black Sun's Zenith since they are not good against control and are too mana-intensive. When you pilot UB, you always feel like doing sideboards to improve your chances in winning the game by cutting cards in the main deck that do not perform well against your opponent.

What I discussed above is the basic idea of sideboarding. However, I want you to understand that there is another dimension in replacing your main deck cards from the side. This is sideboarding to anticipate your opponent's sideboard. Last FNM I brought this decklist into the tournament.

Spirit Delver

4 Darkslick Shores
4 Glacial Fortress
2 Moorland Haunt
6 Island
1 Swamp
3 Plains
2 Evolving Wilds


4 Delver of Secrets
4 Drogskol Captain
4 Phantasmal Image
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Dungeon Geists

4 Lingering Souls
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Ponder
1 Revoke Existence


3 Mana Leak
4 Vapor Snag
1 Surgical Extraction

2 Negate
2 Dissipate
1 Surgical Extraction
2 Dungeon Geists
2 Celestial Purge
2 Divine Offering
1 Revoke Existence
2 Gut Shot
1 Timely Reinforcements

In sideboarding to be able to cope up with your opponent's sideboard, you need to have a better understanding of the current meta game and anticipate what cards your opponents may have put in the deck to beat you. Basically, you get to develop this skill by playing more and more games and getting to know the top decks and how people tend to play with these top decks. For rouge decks, you can apply this skill against them by simply playing with them multiple times.

In my last FNM for example, when I was playing against a semi midrange-control deck, I sided-out my Mana Leaks, for additional Sugrical Extraction and 2 Dungeon Geist. Although it might not make sense that you side-out your only counter spell, when you get to play with control decks and when people see you have mana leak in game 1, they somehow tend to play around mana leak by ramping up until they can pay the cost for mana leak before playing their spells. They do this so often that having mana leak in your hand will simply be a dead card for you. And since they always think you have a mana leak in your deck, it is better to let them think that you have it and you can put more cards that can give you more chance of winning the next game.

Another example takes me back to the time of Scars of Mirrodin, when I tried to pilot a UB Mimic Vat Deck. The deck was pretty insane when you get to have the Mimic Vat in play as you can have an endless Grave Titan or Wurmcoil Engine every turn, or steal your opponents' creatures after killing the creatures. When sideboarding came, I was almost sure that by how game 1 went, my opponent will put cards to deal with the Mimic Vats, usually spells like Naturalize can do the job but these cards specialize only in dealing with artifacts or enchantments (in this case for your Mimic Vat). So my move was to remove the Mimic Vat in anticipation for his sideboard moves, giving me extra spaces for cards that will improve my deck against my opponent, while at the same time, making his sideboard moves dead and not helping him at all. Honestly, I have also been a victim of this a few times in my current local shop, but ideally, your opponent has no choice but to add answers to your main board threats giving you the option to this any time you want.

Always remember, do not overdo sideboards. The main deck is listed as "main" for a reason and there is a reason why sideboards are named "side" boards. Main decks are supposed to be centralizing on how you would like to win and what your strategy is. So main decks tend to be more "focused" on your goal and how you will achieve that goal. Sideboards may give you better chances to "react" and "deal" with your opponent's deck but putting in sideboard cards will lessen your chances to achieve your goal and stick to your strategy since you are removing some of the core cards in your deck.

As a summary before I end this article, sideboards are important and they can be a double edge sword as they can help you deal with your opponents better but take you away from your core strategy. Sideboarding can be done mostly to improve your deck against a specific opponent but it can also be done by anticipating your opponent's moves against you.

I hope you have learned something through this article and try to apply these in your next tournament.


  1. nakakanosebleed etech hah. hindi ko masisid ha.. sideboarding is so complicated pala.. whew

  2. Hi anonymous. :D who are you? onin ba ito? hehe



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