Side-boarding in Modern can seem, to many, a daunting task. Considering the vast number of viable strategies in the format and the relatively large card pool, choosing fifteen answers to problems you might face in a tournament can come across as impossible. Furthermore, the cards in your sideboard have to meld well with the strategy of your deck in order to be successful, which only adds another box that your sideboard must check. Creating a sideboard can be very difficult, and choosing which cards will make the cut is a crucial skill in becoming a better Magic player.

 

In the most recent Star City Games: Modern Classic in Atlanta, Georgia on June 4, five of the top eight decks (62.5%) in the tournament ran either Grafdigger’s Cage or Relic of Progenitus in their sideboards. Ten of the top sixteen decks (62.5%) contained graveyard-hate in their sideboard. Of those ten decks, nine decided to run Grafdigger’s Cage or Relic of Progenitus while one deck ran a single Surgical Extraction.

 

To many players, the inclusions of Grafdigger’s Cage or Relic of Progenitus in a sideboard are interchangeable. They are both one-mana colorless artifacts that give decks that wish to interact with their graveyard a tough time. Additionally, they both have applications which extend beyond punishing graveyard interactions and because of this, both are very valuable sideboard additions. While it is true that both cards have their merit in this Modern format, it is equally necessary to consider how these cards differ and why one might be better than the other, or subsequently why your deck may require none at all. As seen in the statistics from the most recent Modern Classic, it seems as though many people are split.

 

Let’s begin with Grafdigger’s Cage. Grafdigger’s Cage, in my opinion, is an exceptional sideboard card in regards to its versatility in this format. While the Cage itself is not actively a flexible card, it interacts with a large number of popular decks in Modern and that can be a very valuable trait.

 

Grafdigger’s Cage positively (for the caster) interacts with opponents’ Collected Companies, Snapcaster Mages, persist triggers, Chord of Callings, Nahiri, the Harbingers, Dredge/Zombie strategies as well as many other popular approaches to this Modern format. Because of its colorless nature, Cage can fit into all decks which also makes it a great sideboard addition. There are however, many downsides to Grafdigger’s Cage, which are important to note.

 

Due to the passive nature of the card, Grafdigger’s Cage can often be a very poor late-game draw. In decks like Infect or Ad Nauseam, where drawing particular spells is of great importance, having a dead draw in your deck is not an option. Furthermore, although Grafdigger’s Cage hits a large number of decks and strategies, its effect on the decks which is does target is often minimal. Take a look at Ali Aintrazi’s Kiki-Chord deck which he placed ninth with in Atlanta.

Creatures (26)

  • 1 Spellskite
  • 4 Birds of Paradise
  • 1 Deceiver Exarch
  • 2 Eternal Witness
  • 1 Fulminator Mage
  • 1 Glen Elendra Archmage
  • 1 Lone Missionary
  • 1 Noble Hierarch
  • 1 Qasali Pridemage
  • 2 Restoration Angel
  • 1 Scavenging Ooze
  • 4 Voice of Resurgence
  • 3 Wall of Omens
  • 1 Wall of Roots
  • 1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
  • 1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

Planeswalkers (4)

  • 4 Nahiri, the Harbinger

Lands (23)

  • 2 Forest
  • 1 Mountain
  • 1 Plains
  • 1 Breeding Pool
  • 1 Fire-Lit Thicket
  • 1 Hallowed Fountain
  • 1 Horizon Canopy
  • 1 Raging Ravine
  • 2 Razorverge Thicket
  • 1 Sacred Foundry
  • 2 Stomping Ground
  • 1 Temple Garden
  • 4 Windswept Heath
  • 4 Wooded Foothills

Spells (8)

  • 4 Chord of Calling
  • 4 Path to Exile

Sideboard (15)

  • 1 Engineered Explosives
  • 1 Phyrexian Revoker
  • 1 Burrenton Forge-Tender
  • 1 Fulminator Mage
  • 1 Reclamation Sage
  • 1 Scavenging Ooze
  • 2 Stony Silence
  • 1 Eidolon of Rhetoric
  • 2 Lightning Helix
  • 2 Unified Will
  • 1 Kataki, War’s Wage
  • 1 Pia and Kirin Nalaar

In Aintrazi’s list, Grafdigger’s Cage would only hit Nahiri, the Harbinger and Chord of Calling. Given that Grafdigger’s Cage is typically a one-of in Modern sideboard (possibly two copies), hitting only 8 cards in an opponent’s deck does not seem worth it. This is especially true because unless you play Cage on turn one, its ability to debilitate your opponent’s strategies gradually decreases to a point where Cage ends up being a dead draw. Its passive nature is its weakness in this situation. Furthermore, this is the best case scenario for Cage – having the ability to target an opponent’s primary strategy. Against many popular decks whose primary strategy is not Chord of Calling or Nahiri, such as Tron, Infect, Valakut decks, Ad Nauseam, Jund, Zoo, Burn, Affinity and many other decks, Cage becomes even more ineffectual.

If your deck can afford to have a dead draw that it can simply draw through in the late game, and if you believe that cards like Collected Company, Nahiri or Chord of Calling are particular detrimental to your deck’s strategy, then I would advise playing a copy or two of Grafdigger’s Cage in your sideboard. If the above description does not apply to you however, it may be wise to explore other, more high-impact options.

Having just explored Grafdigger’s Cage in depth, I think it is important now to look at Relic of Progenitus and its impact within a deck’s sideboard. On its face, Relic seems a bit anemic – a one-mana colorless artifact that exiles a single card at a time from a given graveyard, and can exile all graveyards with a cantrip once. Relic of Progenitus however, is a very powerful sideboard option.

Firstly, Relic positively (for the caster) interacts with opponents’ Snapcaster Mages, Persist-Triggers, Goryo’s Vengeance decks, and Dredge/Zombie strategies just like Cage does. And while Relic does not interact with Nahiri, the Harbinger or Chord of Calling or Collected Company, it is able to substantially weaken cards like Eternal Witness and Grim Lavamancer that interact with the graveyard.

Furthermore, in the late game, Relic of Progenitus is, at worst, a draw spell which in many cases is just fine. Additionally, albeit a bit more fringe, Relic of Progenitus is able to interact with Life from the Loam as well as Living End which are two cards that do in fact see some play in Modern.

Possibly most importantly, Relic of Progenitus is able to shrink Tarmagoyf and prevent an opponent from casting Tasigur, the Golden Fang, two cards which see a large amount of play in Modern. Additionally, the decks that play Tarmagoyf often play either Snapcaster Mage or Kolaghan’s Command, which means that Relic of Progenitus will have a high applicability rate against these decks.

Relic is not redundant in multiples has game against a lot of the top decks in Modern, which is what makes it such a great sideboard option.

Ultimately, when creating a sideboard in Modern, you have to analyze your deck and consider what the goal of your deck is. If you find that it is important for you to interact with graveyards, and you think that Relic of Progenitus or Grafdigger’s Cage (instead of Surgical Extraction, Nihil Spellbomb etc.) are the best possible choice, it is important to contemplate what kind of versatile interaction do you want to have. While there is some overlap in capability between Relic and Cage, each card does have its own niche abilities which sets them apart from one another. Understanding these differences is essential to crafting the perfect sideboard for your deck.

 

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