Well, three days to go and the English Nationals will be upon us. I’ll be heading over to Guildford this Saturday to get some drafting practice in a couple of side events, get a nice meal down me, a few drinks with some friends and (possibly) a good night’s sleep before the big day.
One of the things I’ll be doing this week is tuning the sideboard for my deck. As I’ve mentioned before, a sideboard is the last thing I build for a deck I’ve been working on. In many cases, I’ll have a rough idea about some cards that could be in it weeks before the deck has got to a half-decent condition. Often, building a sideboard shows me weaknesses in the main deck that I hadn’t noticed or thought a sideboard would cure, and these reflect back into changes to the main deck.
So, how do you go about building a sideboard? What sort of cards should go in it and what sort aren’t going to help you? What sort of strategies should you adopt when sideboarding in a tournament and how do you decide what to take out? All of these are hard questions with many answers but, as it’s my article, I’ll try to tell you some of the things I think about.
Firstly, what’s the purpose of a sideboard? A sideboard is there to increase your deck’s win percentage against a number of opponents. To achieve this we merely need to include cards that strengthen an aspect of our deck that is weak against another. However, most sideboards include a number of game-winning cards, cards that are chosen to beat a certain decktype or colour. Cards that, although you can put them in your deck, do nothing but hose another deck. You could add an Lightbringer against Suicide Black, but why bother when you can add Light of Day instead (don’t bother emailing me telling me that there are situations where you’d prefer a Lightbringer… I know that there are, it’s just an example)?
Many people HATE the idea of colour hosers, but they’re a fact of life and there’d be no point talking about sideboards without considering how important they are: Light of Day can win the game against Suicide Black. True you have to draw it, they have to not steal it from your hand, and they have to not keep a Thran Lens on the table, but it can win you the game.
Here’s a question for you though: who is going to play Light of Day against a black deck? Someone who can cast white spells, of course. Now, which colours are the best at getting rid or artifacts? White, red and green. So, what are the chances of a white player getting rid of a Thran Lens? Pretty good, perhaps even odds on. That’s an important point to remember. Whatever cards you pick you need to remember that your opponent will be sideboarding too, they’ll have an idea what you’re playing and, if they’re any good, they should be able to guess what you’re going to bring in. If they can deal with your sideboard cards, they haven’t helped you very much. If you only need to stall your opponent for a round or two they might give you the win, or they might not.
So, why do some of the best Suicide Black players play Thran Lens against white? The answer is that Suicide Black only needs one or two extra turns to win (generally), they can Duress or Unmask it from an opening hand and it’s their only answer to Light of Day. They can’t get rid of Light of Day in the current environment (Nevinyrral’s Disk RIP). Thran Lens is the best answer they have, and they have to use it because if they have no choice.
The reason that Light of Day is such a problem is the design of Magic: the Gathering. Some colours cannot deal with certain types of permanents. Black, Red and Blue have problems with enchantments. Blue and Green have problems with creatures. White can deal with just about every permanent, but a lot of the time the answer costs 4 mana. It’s going to help us a lot if, when building our sideboards, we kept this in mind. If your opponent can’t get rid of your sideboard card, it’s going to hurt them a lot more than one that sticks around for a turn or two.
We have three things to consider. What deck types does our deck loose to a lot? What colours does our deck have the most problems with? Are there any particular cards played by a lot of people that we have problems with?
If we discount rogue decks for the moment (I’ll bring them back in later), we’re quite lucky in the current environment. Most of the deck types are mono-coloured. If you have problems dealing with a single colour you probably have problems dealing with a particular deck. Also, as the decks seem to be very similar, it’s likely that if you’re having problems with a particular card it’s a well-known part of a deck type, and so the problem reduces further. So, in a highly tuned environment you can afford to sideboard for decktypes, as you won’t run into many rogue decks (you hope).
In a less well-known environment, you might want to weaken your sideboard against well-known decks a little to try to give you more options against rogue decks. If I’m playing Blastogeddon against against a red deck and they have sideboards against white and green, what do they put in? How do they know what to take out?
If their sideboards are tightly bound to being”anti-rebel” and”anti-stompy” they’re not going to have much luck. If they’ve made them a little more generic they’ll probably be able to pick and choose what they bring in.
The last point, before I move on to looking at an actual sideboard, is very important indeed: What do you take out? Many people build sideboards for their decks – excellent sideboards – and loose because they take out the wrong cards, or take out too many cards. When playing Bargain you need the Skirges, the Rectors, the Soul Feasts, the Rituals, the Tutors, and the Yawgmoth’s Wills. In fact you need almost all of the cards in the deck because the deck is so well tuned. You can’t take many cards out before the deck stops working in a consistent fashion. In fact, Team PhatBeats decided that four cards was probably the best, five if you really needed to and AT MOST six cards. This meant we had to think VERY carefully about what went in and out in every matchup.
So. Building a sideboard for Blastogeddon. I’ll give you the list and talk about my choices. A listing of Blastogeddon can be found at the end of my last article”Having Fun”.
Blastogeddon performs quite well against most decks. Any deck that builds mana up fast and can control most of its opponents permanents will do. So, why have I chosen the cards that I have?
Against Ponza, Wildfire and many red decks, I find that if I can keep my creatures I’ll probably win. The best answer I’ve found is the Absolute Law and Worship pairing. Red can’t get rid of either cards. They can cast Thran Lens but I have five main deck ways of getting rid of it. We have probably five cards to go in against all red decks: 3 Tutors, Absolute Law and Worship. Against land destruction decks I like to bring in the Planar Birth, and with lots of artifacts I like the Splinters a lot. There is a potential to bring in eight cards to bring in, so what would be take out and why?
The red player will spot that I’m playing white and probably guess I’ll bring in Absolute Law and so bring in Thran Lens. We have to be able to get rid of it, so we can’t diminish the amount of artifact removal we have, we can change it though. In the main deck are three Disenchants, a Seal of Cleansing and a Monkey. One or two of these could come out for the Splinters. The main deck Wrath isn’t so helpful, as I’m hoping I have more creatures than they will – I’ll also need my mana producers much more against a land destruction deck. Against a land destruction deck Masticore is very expensive so that might come out too.
In the Ponza match up we also need to slow down and try to keep everything under control, so beatdown isn’t as important, that means we don’t need to see the Blastoderms quite as often – so we might take one out, or the one main deck Worldy Tutor.
Finally we’re not so concerned about blowing up all the land, as our opponent will be doing that for us. It’s probably a better idea to wait for an Armageddon and cast is later in the game, with lots of pro-red mana producing creatures out.
So far we have:
We’re still two cards out. This is the problem with sideboarding. Looking at the deck, I don’t want to take out the two more cards that I need to because I want to keep them all. So we take a look at the cards and try to work out what is more important. As I said, if I can keep my creatures alive I usually win, That means casting an Absolute Law, which means we NEED the Tutors to help us get it. Once that’s out the only things that can hurt us are Thran Lens or colourless damage – a Masticore – so we need the artifact removal.
Planar Birth is nice but there’s only one. Against a deck running Tectonic Breaks they won’t be useful as they’ll just Break it all back into the graveyard, so I’ll drop it. Even after that we need to find space for one more card. As I said the Blastoderms are for Beatdown and we’re trying to be a control player. Almost all the other creatures are very resilient or produce mana. Blastoderm is expensive in the Ponza Match up and dies after only three turns. We’ll drop one. This gives us:
Six in and six out. We’ve also identified a suspect sideboard card: Planar Birth. If it’s only in the sideboard for Ponza and we’re not going to bring it in we can take it out of the board – that frees up a slot for us to try more things.
Once you’ve done this for one deck you need to remember it. You can’t take a set of notes with you into a tourney – it’s against the Floor Rules.
Then you need to repeat the process for the other deck types you know will be there. It’s a good exercise to do this for all the deck types you know of – just in case there’s a surprise in the meta-game.
Sideboarding is a skill, just like deckbuilding. Some people can build sideboards and use them properly, some people take sideboards along they don’t understand and loose a lot of games they might have won. All in all, I try to stick to the following guidelines:
1. Build a sideboard.
2. Try to work out what your opponent will sideboard in against you.
3. Try to use cards that your opponent can’t deal with (if possible).
4. Work out what cards you’re going to bring in, and what cards you’re going to take out.
5. Actually playtest sideboarded games and make notes on which cards you saw and whether they did what you wanted or not.
6. Go back and look at the sideboard, make changes and start the process again.
Once again any suggestions for my sideboard would be most welcome. I hope that the guidelines outlined above will help some people – they’ve certainly helped me. I’m going to be spending lots of time working on my sideboard over the next two days, lots of time. I’ll probably spend a little time playing Asheron’s Call too. Yep, they’ve got me playing it too.
I wish you all luck at whichever nationals you’re going to attend. Believe me, no matter how good you are you’re going to need it, Magic is a card game after all.