Shiny New Thing + Sideboarding

Mike Flores shows how he constructed a “perfect sideboard” for a Selesnya Ramp deck for the Open in Edison this weekend.

A few months ago I had the singular pleasure of spending a weekend in Las Vegas, Nevada with longtime object of my admiration (and I trust, yours), the Rain Maker, Patrick Sullivan. PSulli and I were the commentary team for the Las Vegas Open, and we had a fine time of it.

Of the many topics that we discussed, one really stuck out in my head. I was excited for Gatecrash and the impending arrival of Stomping Ground and Breeding Pool. In particular I was champing at the bit to get some more mileage out of Ranger’s Path. Ranger’s Path had been a minor contributor to some Standard combo decks, but (especially at the time) I was concerned about the “ability” to run out of Forests. Come on, Breeding Pool!

Patrick chuckled.

“You can’t go on adding all Breeding Pools and Stomping Grounds to your Forest decks,” he chided. “You can’t pay for every land to come into play untapped. Otherwise you are just going to lose to people like me.”

He was sitting next to me when he said that, not across from me or anything, so I wasn’t looking him in the eye… But I can kind of imagine him resolving a Flame Rift while he said it.

Over the past couple of weeks I have thought about that conversation, which has become increasingly relevant given the performances of recent decks at the Atlanta Open and in Japan. Experiment Jund, Boros, and especially Saito’s Gruul Deck Wins are tipping the balance of Standard even more in favor of pressure decks.

You can take the position that “there is just no reason not to splash a third color” [in green Ramp decks]… Or you can think back to what the Rain Maker said and ask yourself if you really need that Breeding Pool.

Aside: Saito’s Deck

Before we continue… Have you seen Saito’s deck (posted on Twitter)?

This deck obviously has some stuff going for it, but I am not sure what is scarier… Boros Reckoner or the prospect of playing a 20-land deck with those four-drops myself.

I was pretty tempted for a moment, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to spend one of my few big tournament bullets on an unfamiliar Red Deck with no practice going in.

/ end aside

Instead I am going to play a deck that Caleb Durward showed me at Grand Prix Atlantic City a few weeks ago. At first it looks a bit weird, but it plays pretty spectacularly, does powerful things, and has game against essentially the entire field.

The primary unique element of this deck is the enormous number of mana accelerators… Eight one-drop mana Elves, four Farseeks, and two Selesnya Keyrunes make for almost a quarter mana ramp (and you’ve still got Borderland Ranger and 24 lands on top of those).

Now if you are going to play that much mana you had best be doing something powerful. Standard no longer features unambiguous “I win” green threats like Primeval Titan, but there are actually plenty of powerful angles you can take on the format after injecting a healthy dose of green mana onto your battlefield.

Thragtusk is your effective top-end here and also your catalyst to some powerful interactions. Of course you have Thragtusk + Restoration Angel (now a classic), but you also have Garruk, Primal Hunter. This deck didn’t start out with four copies of Garruk, Primal Hunter in the main. The goal here is to play the card as the world’s best Harmonize whenever you can. Delayed Blast Call of the Harmonize is also fine… It really depends on what kind of pressure you are under and how much time you think you have.

Garruk, Primal Hunter is a powerful card in the abstract (and in particular with Thragtusk), but it also fulfills a bit of a metagame niche for this deck. Bant Control is sort of like a mirror match…though they are unlikely to approach it that way. You have a good amount of deck card flow and surprising amount of card advantage. You can pair Thragtusks and Farseeks, and out-Restoration Angel them. You can line up your deck against theirs and not be miserable…until you get to Sphinx’s Revelation.

There is no direct analogue in the Selesnya deck, but we can keep them pretty honest with Garruk. He is a steady stream of card advantage and a source of burst card advantage. Less powerful than the best Sphinx’s Revelations, maybe, but more powerful in a deck like this—especially with redundant five-power creatures—than most of the rest of the metagame.

Now speaking of those other five-power creatures, we have Angel of Serenity. Poor Angel of Serenity! At the beginning of Return to Ravnica Standard it was pretty much the Cruel Ultimatum of the format but has since given way to other Angels, viz. Angel of Glory’s Rise, and of course the aforementioned Sphinx’s Revelation at the top of the metagame power rankings.

Which is not to say that it isn’t justifiably near the top; simply that as Reanimator decks have gone in other directions, it is no longer as popular. The reason I like Angel of Serenity so much in this deck is that along with Cavern of Souls, it makes for a powerful long game kill against Bant Control. That deck wants to kill you with Nephalia Drownyard, but it is very difficult to escape an Angel loop where Cavern of Souls supplies Angel of Serenity that targets one or more of its buddies. Now every time Bant deals with your creatures you will always have another Angel to set up another Angel.

Okay… That’s the main deck.

Let’s build a sideboard!

I call this technique Perfect Sideboarding because the numbers are meant to fit perfectly (not because the technique is any more perfect than tweak sideboarding, transformational sideboarding, or other strategies). The goal is to figure out what you want to take out in every matchup and build a sideboard that gives you value in any such anticipated matchups while minimizing your bad draws.

One reason this is an effective sideboarding strategy is that many players know what kinds of cards they are excited about bringing in but don’t know what to take out! Worse yet, they overload on cards that seem good (or they just want four copies of between main deck and sideboard) and can never use all their sideboard cards without actually losing value.

Perfect Sideboarding approaches from the opposite direction, ergo limiting your ability to screw yourself that particular way.

So to begin, let’s lay out the big chunks of decks we might expect to play against. Such as…

  1. Fast aggro with reach (e.g. RDW, Boros, Gruul)
  2. Fast aggro without reach (typically must kill you in The Red Zone)
  3. Midrange (typically green decks)
  4. Control decks with permission
  5. Combo decks (for sake of argument, let’s call this Reanimator)

Bigger formats often actually have lots of different kinds of combo decks. Midrange decks tend to be able to disrupt traditional two- and three-card combos reasonably well, do worse against progressive or Storm combo decks, and really suck against Big Spell decks that just do one awesome thing. That is why it is rare that midrange green decks excel in big formats that have lots of viable combo decks. You can’t deal with all of them, and you are naturally quite weak against more than half of them.

So what do we hate?

Fast Aggro With Reach

This chunk is increasingly popular, which should be good for a G/W deck (G/W midrange decks being historically solid against Red Deck variants) but there are two big issues coming up. One of them is Boros Reckoner. That card is a card. It’s just sweet, and it really hurts a deck like this one’s ability to control the board by blocking. The other problem card is Stromkirk Noble. Why Stromkirk Noble? That one-drop has been only intermittently played in Red Decks since it was printed over a year ago, but the move to more red-based decks (Rakdos Red and now Gruul) has made it more popular than Gravecrawler. The problem is it is tough to block early because you might only have Avacyn’s Pilgrim or Borderland Ranger, and it can potentially get too big.

Because of that we have to leave in at least two copies of Angel of Serenity.

Ideally I would want to cut down to one Angel (Garruk Relentless access), but our solution to many problems has to be “Angel it” so we can’t cut more than one.

We certainly aren’t cutting Thragtusk; so if we want to reduce our curve we have no choice but to go Garruk, Primal Hunter. I do think we want to keep at least one copy of Garruk, Primal Hunter; but especially if they have a good removal hand, it will often just die.

The next weakest card is probably Selesnya Charm. I would keep all of them if the opponent played Thundermaw Hellkite but otherwise would be fine cutting as many as all three. It is too expensive and too exposed as a combat-based removal trick; though the card is unambiguously awesome, it isn’t necessarily the most appropriate here.


  1. 1 Angel of Serenity
  2. 3 Garruk, Primal Hunter
  3. 0-3 Selesnya Charm


Fast Aggro Without Reach

The goal here is pretty much to not get rushed to death. Their deck relies on cards like Rancor or Silverblade Paladin to kill you; you can fight them just by having bigger creatures.

Selesnya Charm is actually one of your strongest cards here as the opponent is likely to have Thragtusk and because creature combat actually matters.

Other issues include stall positions (i.e. you probably want a way to break a stall) and the fact that they might be fighting your Garruks with their Garruks.

Interestingly every one of our cards is good. We have to respect their speed so might want to shave an Angel of Serenity off the top end, but I don’t see a huge amount of necessary cuts. I would be leaning towards adding a Terminus, so (this might seem odd to you) my next cut would probably be one Arbor Elf, to limit my exposure to my own sweeper.

  1. -1 Angel of Serenity
  2. -1 Arbor Elf



Card advantage is the name of the game here. Both decks are essentially green haymaker decks so you need mana flowing to hit your big stuff.

A lot of things depend on their card choices; do they run Rakdos’s Return? Bonfire of the Damned? Are they just a big creature deck like you? If so do they have Thundermaw Hellkite? Selesnya Charm is OK against Thragtusk (and potentially opposing Angel of Serenity), but you really, really need to respect Thundermaw.

Again, all our cards are good.

We can typically expect our games to go long, which means that we don’t want to draw mana Elves late (great early, unexciting later). I would again advocate cutting just one and possibly bolstering the Garruk count, probably cutting one of the three-drops (Borderland Ranger or Selesnya Keyrune) so:

  1. -1 Arbor Elf
  2. 0-1 Borderland Ranger
  3. 0-1 Selesnya Keyrune


Control Decks With Permission

We get to make a lot of moves here because certain cards stink.

Selesnya Charm for instance…marginal against Bant Control (Thragtusk) and thoroughly flaccid against Flash and those kinds of decks. Even worse against Esper.

Most of these kinds of decks will have some sort of Wrath of God, so I think you (again) want to limit your exposure a bit on the Elf side. One Arbor Elf.

Angel of Serenity is an ace against Bant but not great against Flash.


  1. -3 Selesnya Charm
  2. -1 Arbor Elf


  1. -3 Selesnya Charm
  2. -1 Arbor Elf
  3. -2 Angel of Serenity


Combo Decks (Reanimator)

I am going to assume Angel of Glory’s Rise here; Selesnya Charm is one of your best cards against Griselbrand and Angel of Serenity; not good against Glory’s Rise and all small Humans. Garruk, Primal Hunter is pretty good, but I think you have to worry about deck speed and being completely blown out before you get going with him. If anything, swapping for a couple of the other Garruk could help pick off opponent enablers.

  1. -3 Selesnya Charm
  2. -2 Garruk, Primal Hunter

I ended up with this:

2 Staff of Nin
1 Acidic Slime
1 Garruk Relentless
3 Blind Obedience
3 Rest in Peace
4 Rhox Faithmender
1 Terminus

If you really, really want to beat Bant, you can play 4 Sands of Delirium (which are an insane turn-two combo with your eight Elves) and cut one Staff of Nin, one Garruk Relentless, and two Blind Obedience, but I think that with Angel loop and all the card advantage you are more than reasonable against Bant.



Red Aggro With Reach

-1 Angel of Serenity
-3 Garruk, Primal Hunter
-3 Selesnya Charm
+4 Rhox Faithmender
+3 Blind Obedience


Red Aggro Without Reach

-1 Angel of Serenity
-1 Arbor Elf
+1 Garruk Relentless
+1 Terminus

Staff of Nin and the second Garruk are totally plausible here as well; for instance you could go down to one Angel of Serenity or just get faster on a five-for-four Garruk swap.



-1 Arbor Elf
-1 Borderland Ranger
-1 Selesnya Keyrune
+2 Staff of Nin
+1 Garruk Relentless

The second Slime and the Terminus are options here as well. If you are playing a Staff of Nin / bigger long game, Restoration Angel tricks actually get less exciting. Note also you are taking away one of Resto’s best buddies in Borderland Ranger. I can see going down to three Restoration Angels, therefore.


Control With Permission


-3 Selesnya Charm
-1 Arbor Elf
+2 Staff of Nin
+1 Garruk Relentless
+1 Acidic Slime


-3 Selesnya Charm
-1 Arbor Elf
-2 Angel of Serenity
+3 Rest in Peace
+1 Staff of Nin
+1 Garruk Relentless
+1 Acidic Slime

The Slime is here for Moorland Haunt, Runechanter’s Pike, and so on. Two copies of Staff of Nin are possibly better than one Staff and one Garruk Relentless; you could also just cut all three big Angels, as the likelihood of wanting to hide a Snapcaster Mage or Augur of Bolas has to be remote.


Combo (Reanimator)

-3 Selesnya Charm
-2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
+3 Rest in Peace
+1 Garruk Relentless
+1 Terminus

Terminus’s main job is to clean up 1,000 Huntmaster tokens if need. Be. Obviously you are banking on beating them before it gets to that point.

And that’s how I made my sideboard.