Sullivan’s Satchel: Sideboarding With Burn, Ravnica Guild Kits, And Siege Rhino

Patrick Sullivan answers mailbag questions on sideboarding with Burn decks, products like Ravnica Guild Kits, and Siege Rhino as a metagame’s king.

Siege Rhino
Siege Rhino, illustrated by Volkan Baga

Hello, and welcome to this week’s installment of Sullivan’s Satchel. In our current times, many Magic players I know are moving towards more of a “casually competitive” framework, almost out of necessity. The continuity of physical tournaments is done for now, and the highest levels of digital Organized Play are unattainable save for a select few. But Magic is still fun and lots of people have their identity and social circles tied into playing competitively, and so people soldier on in spite of the incentives not being what they were. For a variety of reasons I’m there too, and I’m having more fun with Magic now than I did ten years ago. The ecosystem is more conducive to experimentation; I face more novel decks in Magic Online (MTGO) Leagues in the aggregate than I did a year ago.

I think this is noteworthy because there’s a camp of Magic grinder that screams for more and more data, more and more events to serve as data points, and at this point I question if that creates the most net-fun. Not to say high-level events and tons of iteration aren’t fun; I’ve enjoyed the game a lot while playing under that incentive structure. But grinding ladders on Magic: The Gathering Arena (Arena) or playing for a few dollars on MTGO is enough to keep me more than sated, and it seems to be doing the same for a lot of people in my social circle. No real call to action here, just an interesting thing to think about, I think.

With that, Marc-André Pelletier would like to know:

When does a spell resolve?

I can’t find an answer anywhere.

My best explanation is “when both players pass priority on an otherwise empty stack.” If you cast a Lava Spike and neither you nor your opponent responds, then it resolves. If you have something on the battlefield that triggers, say a Dragon’s Claw or Monastery Swiftspear, those triggers will resolve (again, with any player having an opportunity to respond) before the spell resolves. Hope this helps.

From Ken Kauffman:

Long time reader/viewer and big fan of your content and coverage. On a past SCG Open stream, I heard you remark that the average Modern Burn player would have a higher winrate if they never sideboarded, since they often dilute their deck too much or bring in bad cards for a matchup. As I’ve been playing with your Pioneer Boros Wizards list recently, I can’t help but feel I’m making the same mistake you mentioned with sideboarding.

With some matchups like Rakdos Arcanist or Uro Omnath, it feels like many of the sideboard cards are justifiable to bring in. How do you evaluate situations like these to improve as a player, and what are the key benchmarks for a sideboard card to be good enough to bring in for a Burn style deck that doesn’t want to dilute itself too much?

This is complicated and there are no easy shortcuts. A lot of the equation starts by answering, “To what extent do I need each card to be proactive in order to win?” The more you’re about Lava Spikes and less about creatures, the more you need all your cards to be the same. The more your opponent interacts with you, the more it tilts in that direction. A good example in Modern is Mono-Green Tron. You can afford to sideboard something purely reactive – Path to Exile, Stony Silence, Wear // Tear – because they’re rarely killing your creatures and the implied extra lifting they can do gives you more slack with your reactive cards.

Compare this to Death’s Shadow or Jund, where they’re bringing in more cheap cards and stuff like Collective Brutality. I’m not saying Path to Exile or Rest in Peace aren’t useful here, but cards like that are a much trickier proposition than against stuff like Mono-Green Tron.

In Modern, I think the calculus has changed a little bit with Sunbaked Canyon; you are less prone to flooding out and more equipped to play a long game. Lurrus of the Dream-Den helps on those fronts as well, if you choose to build around it. In that framework, I have a higher tolerance for reactive cards that don’t deal any damage, even ones that have low ceilings. Wear // Tear was a card I wouldn’t consider before, and now I regularly include it in my sideboard.

My current Pioneer sideboard is:

Roiling Vortex is pretty good against control decks, and you have a lot of inefficient burn such as Wild Slash and Lightning Strike that can be cut. That’s fairly obvious, and the Soul-Guide Lanterns come in against Uro or anything else with graveyard synergies. The Lantern also comes into play against opposing sideboards littered with removal that exiles, so you have something good to do with Lurrus even if all your creatures are exiled via Anger of the Gods or something similar.

My plan against creature decks is typically removing Eidolon of the Great Revel and Boros Charm on the draw for Searing Bloods when appropriate and Chained to the Rocks, and then cutting the Chains for Eidolons when on the play. Chained to the Rocks is fine but not the most reliable, and Eidolon is so much stronger on the play than on the draw against other attacking decks, so that’s been the inflection point for me. If it’s a creature deck that’s especially hostile to one-toughness creatures (some Bolas’s Citadel / Blisterpod type of thing that was floating around), I like to cut Viashino Pyromancer and Wizard’s Lighting instead of Eidolon and Charm.

The Pioneer deck is much more a creature deck primarily and a Burn deck secondarily, and the Modern versions are the opposite. The latter is more conducive to sideboard slots on things like Skullcrack, Smash to Smithereens, and Searing effects, and the former gives more space for pure creature removal and Disenchants.

From Brandon:

Okay Patrick, let’s get to the real question. Lebron or Jordan? And don’t give me any of this “different era” nonsense. Furthermore, what does this most recent ring mean for Lebron, and for that debate? Thank you so much for your articles, commentation, and overall contribution to the game. I had you sign a mountain at a GP years ago, and I’m still just as star struck by how knowledgeable, sarcastic, and at the same time level headed you are. You’re the best red player who’s ever played the game. You and Cedric are the best commentators to ever grace the booth. Your articles are the best Magic content hitting the internet every week. Take it to the bank.

First of all, thanks for the kind words. Second, I’m not sure how you can separate the eras, in part because both Jordan and LeBron are optimized for the rules sets they played with. Jordan was absolutely unguardable one-on-one; that’s the best skill you can possess when the rules permit aggressive hand-checking but don’t allow zone defense. LeBron’s mastery of the chess pieces is more appropriate for the NBA in 2020. Both Jordan and LeBron would be incredible no matter what era you put them in, but I think each would thrive slightly less in the other’s era.

I don’t think LeBron’s case in this debate is anchored in rings. To me, his longevity is unbelievable; like it looks like a typo when you look at minutes played, playoff games played, NBA finals trips, you name it. If he plays like this for a few more years, passes Kareem on the all-time scoring list, wins another MVP, etc., I’d be happy calling him the GOAT even if he doesn’t win another title. I respect people feeling differently here; and I think younger basketball fans don’t appreciate just how destructive MJ was even prior to his championship runs.

I enjoy watching LeBron play more than any player ever, setting aside weird rooting interests. I know that isn’t exactly what you’re speaking to but sports are an entertainment product and it matters to me a little bit, even if it’s only a tiebreaker.

From David Thompson:

Leaving Ravnica has me reflecting on the Guild Kits & what a great product I felt they were. How would you approach creating a “guild kit” for other planes, especially those with less straightforward color breakdowns (i.e., no Tarkir)?

Have a good one!


I think creature types are the most fruitful path here. Doesn’t work every time, but they do a lot to provide the architecture for the set and the worldbuilding, usually are distributed among two-plus colors, and resonate with people even if they aren’t familiar with Magic’s mechanics. Ravnica has architecture so good it’s basically cheating for making the products you’ve mentioned, but with a little bit of creativity and straining I think you can come up with stuff even outside the explicitly two-/three-color blocks.

Lastly, the Question of the Week, and winner of $25 in SCG credit, from Tim Rice:

A common take right now is that the best Standard in recent memory was Theros/Khans of Tarkir when Siege Rhino ruled the land. While Siege Rhino was the most visible card during that period, I believe that Thoughtseize was actually the “best card”, in that it was what most of the best decks were built around.

WotC has said they believe it was a mistake to reprint Thoughtseize in Theros, but given the power level of cards that have printed since then and the general discontent of the Magic community, I wonder if they learned the wrong lessons.

Historically, Thoughtseize tends to show up in interactive creature decks and seems to encourage the type of Magic that most people say they want Standard to be about. Pushing this line of reasoning to its extreme, should WotC consider making Thoughtseize an evergreen Standard card (or at the very least, reprint it much more frequently), similar to Negate, some flavor of Disenchant, etc?

Thank you for your time,


I think Magic is at its best when decks are broadly proactive but have some level of destructive interaction. For me, the line of what types of interaction are palatable or not is not solid; you have to get into the weeds with it and see how it goes, but in general I’m not a fan of destructive interaction that people play just on raw rate instead of as a solution to something. Thoughtseize shows up all over the place because it’s really good against someone doing almost anything, and that combined with it costing one means it crosses into inappropriate territory, at least for Standard.

To me, the worst systemic issue in Standard the last few years has been the extent to which the best decks are just a collection of the most powerful cards on the curve and not stuff to do with themes or mechanics. Thoughtseize is so strong against someone trying to do something synergistic, and I think Standard would benefit from some of that stuff being much stronger than it has been in the past.

The Standard format you mentioned was excellent and it is proof that Thoughtseize doesn’t doom a format, but I think it goes wrong way more than it goes right. I think discard like Duress and Despise does a lot of the good work that cards like Negate do and wouldn’t mind them being evergreen or close to it, however.