With the announcement that I will be hosting a Standard League starting in a few weeks, I felt it would be useful to share some lessons I’ve learned about creating a sideboard for an event. I started outlining a comprehensive sideboarding guide, but decided for the sake of the upcoming league, I would write this short covering just the highlights that could help players immediately, and then circle back to the comprehensive guide when there was more time for research and vetting of concepts and theories.
- Evaluate the sideboard of my decks prior to every event. I treat my sideboard as a series of answers to problems that I expect to encounter at the event. I’ll often have multiple sideboards I use. I’ll create one for the local play where the metagame is known, and another for a more wider metagame that may be unknown.
- If I chose to play an established deck list, I always revisit the sideboard. Yes, I do ‘net deck.’ Sometimes pure home-brewing isn’t competitive enough, and the correct move is to play an established deck. Whenever I do this, I try to remember that the sideboard used for that event may not apply to the event I’m playing in now, since the sideboard should be determined by the expected metagame. I’ve found that my metagame is usually far different than the ones at high-level events.
- Solve as many problems with as few cards as possible. If I can put a card in my sideboard that can address multiple threats at once I’m happy, because I can free up more spots for answers. If I expect to see a metagame with artifacts and enchantments that I have a hard time interacting with, I may put less powerful cards in my sideboard that deal with both threats, in order to free up space for other answers to other problems.
- Sometimes it is okay to ignore the hardest deck to beat and focus on increasing win percentages against the rest of the field. This tip is less intuitive but when analyzed it makes more sense. If I know that my matchup verses one deck is horrendous. Even if I can gain a few percentages points with a card in my sideboard, I may ignore that deck altogether and focus on improving my percentages against more decks. For example, let’s say that my GW Humans list has a 20% win rate against another deck in the format, but a 40% win rate against three other decks, I may ignore the 20% win rate deck in my sideboard, and focus on making my win rate against the other three decks better.
- My sideboard is not an overflow catch for cards that didn’t make the 60 card cut. Using the sideboard for good cards that didn’t make the cut in the main deck is a popular approach for many of my friends, and I have recently started to move away from this. I used to add cards that I thought were good to my sideboard, because they were good cards, but not quite better than cards in my mainboard. I found that more times than not, I would never move those cards into my main deck because as I originally observed, my 60 cards already in the deck were better than those cards.
- I’ve learned to allow my sideboard to free up space in my main deck. This is especially true when I build control decks. Instead of building my lists to catch all threats in the main deck, I am able to use more focused answer and leave room for other answers in my sideboard. In a metagame of low to the ground fast decks, I will mainboard sweepers and ways to deal with many threats at once, while putting single target removal and permission in the sideboard. The ability to have answers in my sideboard greatly changes how I construct my deck in these cases.
- I’ve made it a point to not let the outcome of a game change whether or not I sideboard. It is common practice for players at the weekly events that I attend to just move on to game two in a match without looking at their sideboard. I’ve forced myself to look at my sideboard and analyze how it can increase my chances of winning the rest of the match no matter what happened in round one. Doing this at local events is bad because it leads to habitual behavior, and if I’m attending a larger event, I find that my habits from weekly events kick in, especially when I am tired.
I sincerely hope that those reading this will take away something from these lessons I have learned. If you feel like I am wrong about any of these, I’d love to chat more about it. Drop me a comment and I will respond accordingly.
Good Luck and Have Fun!
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Jeremy aka “Strictly Average” is an ‘average’ guy with ‘average’ plans. He is the creator and overboss of Strictly Average Gaming, which includes the Patreon group and StrictlyAverageMTG.com