How to Immediately Become Better at Sideboarding

June 7, 2013 | Posted by Dee

One of the most common comments on this blog is players asking for sideboard plans. This is not surprising because sideboarding can be pretty tough and it often determines wins and losses.

If you think about it, your sideboarding strategy can really influence how well you do in a tournament. For example, you play in a four round FNM. Two rounds take two games to complete. The other two rounds take three games to finish.

That’s four games where you didn’t use your sideboard and six games where you used it. In 60% of your games, your sideboard came into play. That’s a pretty big percentage. Basically, if you don’t learn how to sideboard well, you could be disadvantaged in the majority of your games.

Magic The Gathering is pretty complex even without the sideboard. When you add that aspect to a game that already has a lot of moving parts, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and make bad sideboarding decisions.

With my busy schedule, I don’t always have time to give sideboard plans for specific decks but I can help you come up with your own plans. As the old saying goes, instead of just giving you fish, I also want to teach you how to fish.

So here’s a tip you can use right away to improve your sideboarding decisions.

Identify the weakest cards in the main deck.

For many players, the difficulty in sideboarding is not knowing which cards to bring in, but which cards to remove. They understand that Deathrite Shaman or Cremate are there to beat Junk Reaminator. They realize that you want Liliana of the Veil or Supreme Verdict to beat the hexproof creatures of Bant Hexproof.

However, they struggle with choosing cards to take out to make room for the sideboard cards.

One of the best ways to solve this problem is figuring out the weakest cards in your main deck. See every main deck is going to have weak links. It’s just the nature of the rules. You can’t play more than four Thragtusks or Burning-Tree Emissaries so you have to fill your deck with weaker cards to reach the minimum deck size of 60 cards.

By identifying the worst cards, you make sideboarding easier because you narrow the pool of cards that you take out for the sideboard cards. Plus, you won’t make the grave mistake of taking out your best cards in the heat of the wizard battle.

How do you determine the least powerful cards?

One helpful method is looking for situational cards, or cards that are only good in certain situations. For example, check out the Black/Red Zombies deck below by Jeremy Sunell. It got third place last weekend at the Starcitygames Standard Open.

B/R Zombies
Creatures (27)
Spells (10)
Lands (23)
Sideboard (15)

Which main deck cards are situational?

The top candidates are Electrickery, Bonfire of the Damned, Mark of Mutiny, and Liliana of the Veil. Electrickery is only good if your opponent has a lot of one-toughness creatures. Bonfire of the Damned is similar. Plus, the X-spell is not as effective because the deck doesn’t have any ramp spells and it only plays 23 lands. Mark of Mutiny is pretty bad against a deck with few creatures.

Liliana of the Veil looks like a preemptive strike against Bant Hexproof and blue control decks. However, the planeswalker is poor against cards like Voice of Resurgence, Doomed Traveler, and Lingering Souls.

You might be tempted to include Knight of Infamy as a situational card because of his protection from white ability. However, I hesitate to take out creatures in an aggro deck unless I replace them with other creatures.

For aggro decks, you typically don’t want your creature count to go down because you need a critical mass of creatures to pressure your opponent effectively.

Let’s look at another deck. This is Eric Hymel’s seventh place Jund Midrange deck from the same tournament.

Jund Midrange
Creatures (13)
Spells (22)
Lands (25)
Sideboard (15)

What are the situational cards in this deck?

We can start with the same ones in the previous deck, Liliana of the Veil and Bonfire of the Damned. Bonfire is better in this deck because it has more lands and two ramp cards, Rakdos Keyrune and Farseek. However, the X-spell is still mediocre against decks with few small creatures.

Other situational cards include Ground Seal, Sire of Insanity, Rakdos’s Return, and Tragic Slip. Ground Seal is one of the best examples of a situational card. It’s awesome against Unburial Rites and solid against Snapcaster Mage but otherwise it’s pretty bad.

Sire of Insanity and Rakdos’s Return have similar discard effects. They are great against control and slow midrange decks but they are way too slow against fast aggro decks that empty their hand quickly to attack for a lot of damage.

You may be wondering why I included Tragic Slip as a situational card for this deck but not the first deck. The first deck has 2 Bloodthrone Vampire and 4 Falkenrath Aristocrat to turn on morbid but this deck doesn’t have strong morbid enablers.

Therefore, I would board out Tragic Slip against decks with few one-toughness creatures unless they have a lot of sacrifice outlets. For example, Tragic Slip is not very good against UWR Flash but it’s solid against Naya Blitz. Also, I like Tragic Slip against Varolz decks because they are always turning on morbid with sacrifice abilities.

Over to You

Making good sideboarding decisions can be a complicated process but you can reduce the complexity by identifying situational cards. Those cards are prime candidates to take out to make room for your sideboard cards.

What are the situational cards in your deck?