Double or Nothing: Sideboard Sickness

All that’s left is to start the laborious process of building a sideboard and working out your sideboard strategy. Sooner or later, you get bored and want to play other decks. You’ve got Sideboard Sickness.

How long can you think about a sideboard?

A couple of hours? A day? A week, maybe?

Now that it’s become light enough for me to walk home from work every day, I find myself with half an hour of thinking time on the way home… And invariably, I start to think about what I’m bringing in and what I’m taking out in each matchup I might come across in the Regionals.

Okay. Yes. I know that there are other things to think about; I’m obsessed, that’s all.

The list of decks I’m expecting to see are:

  • R/G (Frog in a Blender, Fat Crank)

  • Mono black aggro (including splash red and white versions)

  • Mono black control

  • BG Beats (Mongers, Shades, Duress, Rats, etc)

  • UG Tempo (including the versions that splash red)

  • Orbosition (with or without squirrels)

  • Tog (with and without Familiars and Infiltrators)

  • Enforcer Go

  • Tings

  • BUG (Mongers, Deeds, Counters, Infiltrators)

That’s in no real order, of course. I’m guessing that there will be more U/G Tempo decks than Mono black aggro and, even with the doomsayers

That’s quite a few decks, really… But I’m still missing a lot. Sligh may be present, but for all purposes can be sideboarded against as if you’re playing against R/G. There are bound to be many rogue control decks: Star-Spangled Slaughter and B/W/U control with Infiltrators or Magpies have been bandied about, but if you can sideboard against Enforcer, Tog and Mono black control, you’ve probably got a good chance of having something useful against them too.

At the end of the day though, I’m starting to suffer Sideboard Sickness.

Sideboard Sickness is quite simple, really: You know what deck you’re going to play at a big tourney. You have tested it against all the major deck archetypes (hell, I’ve tested it against every deck I’ve seen on the net in weeks!) and you know within one or two cards what’s in your main deck. All that’s left is to start the laborious process of building a sideboard and working out your sideboard strategy. Sooner or later, you get bored of playing the deck and want to play other, more fun, decks.

When that happens, you’re in danger of going off the boil: You’ve got Sideboard Sickness.

It starts once you’ve written down a list of decks you expect to see and write down the cards you know you’ll need to beat them. Maybe you think you need to bring five cards in to shore up your deck against R/G; maybe it’s more. Maybe you know that Spellbane Centaurs and Elvish Lyrists will win the day against Opposition. Perhaps Compost seems so good against Black aggro that you should really play four of them – after all, you do want to see them early on and they do have Duress don’t they?

Then you add them all up. All of the cards for your proposed sideboard, that’s when you notice that you have a few too many – five, six, eight, ten too many – so you have to start to take cards out.

"I don’t expect to see that matchup; why spend slots on it?"

"I know two guys will play that, but even with my best sideboard I’ll be really lucky to win – why not consider it an auto loss and save the sideboard slots for something that they can make a difference against?"

"I win so well against that deck that I can afford not to sideboard – after all, I’ve seen their sideboards and I’m not scared."

It’s so complicated. How do you begin? How do you not go mad? Well, if you ask any of my friends they’ll say I’ve failed – I have gone mad. If you ask me, I’m skirting the borders of the mad country, running up to customs and running away before I hand over my travelling documents.

Some simple rules make building your sideboard easier, with examples:

First things first; make a list of all the decks you know of, try to group decks that work in a similar way together, especially if you think sideboarding against them will be similar. So for our purposes, I’m going to say R/G, U/G Tempo, and ‘Tog might be the top three.

Then talk to your friends and their friends; try to work out what the top three decks you’re going to expect are and build your sideboard around them – trying to leave a few spare slots. Against R/G, we’ll bring in two Tangles and three Shivan Wurms. Against ‘Tog, we’ll bring in two Obliterates, Terminates, and maybe Spellbane Centaurs to nullify their bounce. Against U/G Tempo, the Spellbanes will do wonders, as will cards that eat their graveyard or slow them down – maybe the Tangles?

Once you’ve done that, look at the remaining deck groups and see if there are any you always lose to. If you think a lot of people will be playing it, look at the cards in your sideboard already and see if any help. If they do, great. If not, are there any similar cards that would do the job? If so, swap them over and check that the decks you started off against are still covered. I think that quite a few people will play black, either aggro or control… So I’d like Compost to help me out there, but against the control decks I can bring in Obliterate, which we’ve already put in the sideboard. I also think there’ll be a host of people playing control decks. Obliterate helps again, but Spellbane could help if they’re relying on bounce too much.

If you don’t think many people will play it, you might be able to afford to expect a loss and move on. If you need five or six cards to help you turn it around but they’re useless against any other matchup, you might have to accept you’re going to lose – after all, we’ve covered a lot of the field already. Example: I know that one or two people will play Tings. R/G isn’t awful, but after sideboarding they can easily win. I don’t have much to bring in, really – unless I can Obliterate on my own, so I’d need to play three or four more spells to make any sideboard effective. Maybe we just don’t include anything for Tings and ride our luck.

Finally have a look at the last three or four decktypes. Are there any that are 50/50 before sideboarding? If there are then a few cards might be able to push you deck to win games two and three – again check your sideboard to see if anything there is similar, if so great and again if not maybe there’s one or two slots left you can use. Of the decks left, G/B with Deeds and ‘Mongers can be tough. Two ‘Mongers pretty much seals the win for them unless you’ve already got them down low. A Terminate or two would help no end, so maybe we add an extra one or two to make sure this matchup is a win?

Building sideboarding is an art, not a science. After doing all of the above, I sit down and write down what I have to bring in against each of the decks I started off with. Often, you’ll be unhappy that you only have three average cards to bring in for a matchup that’s quite tough. That’s when your mind will start wondering:

"If I drop one Lyricist, I could play another Terminate! I don’t think there’ll be many Opposition decks anyway."


"Three Obliterates seems quite a lot; you can’t cast them early and the field is quite aggressive. If I dropped one, I could make room for…"

…and so on. All this time we’ve been fretting over just fifteen cards – and we haven’t even looked at what we’re going to take out of the main deck to bring them in yet!

Typically, I look to bring out cards that don’t help me much. FTK won’t help you against creatureless decks, an easy one. Lots of token generators often won’t help you against decks packed with bounce – maybe a Call of the Herd drops out for a Spellbane Centaur. In the G/R mirror match, your small guys aren’t as helpful as against control – maybe a Wild Mongrel needs to come out to make room for a Dragon?

Next I look to see if any of my sideboard cards perform the same function as main deck cards, but just do it better – if so, they’re candidates to be swapped out.

Finally I make sure I’m not changing the mana curve too much. If you’re bringing in three Shivan Wurms and two Obliterates against someone, you probably don’t want to take out all of your Birds and Elves; taking out other, higher casting cost spells is probably the way to go.

All of this goes round and round and round every time I walk home. Thankfully, I’m pretty sure I have the main deck nailed down, and thirteen of the sideboard cards are nailed in place too. I’m planning on taking seventeen cards with me on the day and scouting like never before to help make sure I pick the right two cards to finish of the board. The only thing left is to nail down what goes in and out in each matchup.

It’s often tempting to try and sideboard as much as possible, especially if there’s a scenario that might happen:

"If I bring in my Spiritmongers and he casts Mutilate, he’ll have to wait until he has six Swamps before he can do it!"

"I know that he has a little bounce, but it’s not really a problem for me since my Spellbanes would stop the bounce, too…"

Don’t be scared of only brining one or two cards in against someone if that’s all you’ve planned. Don’t be scared into bringing in ten because they won the first game convincingly – after all, you have to take ten out to do it! Try to stick to your plan as much as possible, but be flexible. If you didn’t expect to see Ensnaring Bridge in your opponent’s R/G deck after sideboarding, don’t be afraid to bring in a solution if you think you’ll lose because of it – at the same time, if it’s obvious they don’t have cards in the deck after two games that you sideboarded answers in for, you can try taking them out. Be warned however, that people often bring in tricks in the last game just to mess around with this kind of thinking.

So it’s the end of the day for me and I’m going to head home, get some food down me, and go out clubbing – takes the mind off Magic, Magic cards, and those fifteen cards that decided all too many matches.

Here’s to a night without sideboards in mind.

Cheers, Jim.

Team PhatBeats.

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