Before I fully jump into this article, let’s see how I did on my Pro Tour Ixalan predictions from last week. If you haven’t read the article yet, here it is for reference.
For my two Limited predictions, I don’t believe we watched a player Pack 1, Pick 1 a 2 mana 2/2 on camera (someone correct me if I’m wrong), but I am somewhat confident that it happened somewhere at the Pro Tour. Due to the state of this Limited format, where aggression and mana efficiency is at a premium, a 2 mana 2/2 is a good rate, and Bishop’s Soldier is, in my opinion, a first pickable card in certain situations. I’ll give myself a B- rating on that one. I was perhaps a little aggressive. As for the other prediction, I was fairly incorrect, and I think it’s due to me giving the format too much credit. It’s rather monotonous and features the same decks over and over again.
In constructed, I did quite a bit better. While I don’t believe we saw it on camera, I feel confident that someone cast a third copy of Approach of the Second Sun somewhere in the tournament hall over the two days. Moving past this, someone did willingly cast a Dhund Operative, and on camera nonetheless! The epitome of mediocrity saw play! Vanilla 3/2s for 2 forever! For my other three Standard predictions, I can also tout that I correctly predicted some of the Pro Tour top 8. An aggro deck and control deck did make top 8 in the form of Ramunap Red and Jeskai Approach, however the complaining from the player base was more aimed at Energy variants, which took up 4 of the 8 slots when you add the winning Sultai Energy list to the more traditional 4-Color and Temur lists. I think I did pretty well! Now let’s jump into this week’s topic, sideboarding.
You Are Building Your Sideboards Incorrectly
In all likelihood, you build your sideboards incorrectly. I do too! However, this part of deckbuilding should be an important area of improvement for players, and one I’ve been focusing a lot on recently. Statistically, you play more games over the course of a tournament post-sideboarded than pre-sideboarded. This means that you should put as much of an emphasis, if not more, on your sideboard as you do your mainboard. Here are some of the common mistakes players make when building sideboards:
Fun-ofs are the easiest way for your sideboard to get derailed and you to have a wasted slot. Many players think of the sideboard as 15 cards that they have the option of bringing in should they please. Cards that are flashy but only somewhat productive or don’t necessarily fit the deck’s game plan but are really cool when they’re cast or lead to great stories if you win with them are terrible choices for sideboards. The sideboard is not the place where you put your “getcha” cards in the hope that one of them will stick. I think that much of the idea that fun-ofs are acceptable in sideboards comes from the fact that sideboards are rarely made with matchup game plans in mind, but are rather constructed after the fact as a hodgepodge of cards that are in the deck’s colors.
The Fear of the Number 4
Players seem to develop a real fear of the number 4 when building sideboards, because time and time again we see sideboards that max out at 3 on a card. Doing this allows for a greater diversity of options in the sideboard, but if a card is extremely important to a matchup or has great play in multiple matchups, there’s no reason to not put it in as a 4-of.
Not Having the Correct Number of Cards for a Matchup
This ties into one of the major points I’ll be making later in this article where I go over some sideboard-building tips, but the first and most glaring error I see in most sideboards is a discrepancy between the number of cards intended for a matchup in the sideboard, and the number of cards intended to be cut from the mainboard. Sure, it’s easy to say “hey, I’ll put another Authority of the Consuls in my sideboard for Ramunap Red”, but this slot is not being used to its full potential if that extra Authority comes at the cost of cutting a card that was already decent in the matchup. Making sure that you have the correct number of cards to bring in and take out will help create a succinct and effective sideboard plan that’s much more potent than one that aims to get it right through suboptimal choices.
How to Build a Better Sideboard
While it’s nice to sit here and criticize how many players (I am guilty of this as well) build sideboards, it’s a much better use of time to explain ways to build better and more effective sideboards. Let’s look at a few ways that players can improve in this part of deckbuilding.
Figure Out Matchup Plans
More often than not, sideboards are crafted as an amalgamation of hate cards for certain matchups, regardless of actual game plans. There are certain decks that want this type of sideboard, like aggressive, glass-cannon style combo decks, but most do not. Instead, it’s much more beneficial for most decks to configure game plans for certain matchups post-board and design a sideboard to facilitate this. Much of this comes down to testing a matchup post-board as much as you do pre-board, finding the game plan that gives you the best chance of winning (even if it involves wildly different cards from your mainboard), and making this game plan possible through sideboarding. Does Appetite for the Unnatural really fit into your game plan for this given matchup? Or are you including it because it’s good against Mardu Vehicles and you feel the need to improve the matchup? Are there options that better fit into what your game plan is in the post-board games, like Manglehorn?
Testing a matchup pre-board as a way of figuring out which decks are favored pre-board against others is not a bad idea, but once you are settled on a deck, testing the deck’s post-board matchups against the format and developing game plans, no matter how many cards they demand, will greatly improve your results.
Including the Right Number of Cards for a Matchup
While it may make sense on the surface, the practice of sideboarding very few cards against favorable pre-board matchups and dedicating a dozen or so cards against unfavorable pre-board matchups severely limits sideboard building. If a Standard matchup is 65/35 pre-board (this is just about as one-sided as Standard gets), it may be very tempting from the 35% deck’s perspective to jam 12 cards in and get the nice cathartic release when you win the next two games by an incredible margin. However, it doesn’t matter how hard you win, what matters is if you win. Let’s look at the U/W Approach vs. Ramunap Red matchup of last format (and somewhat this format).
U/W Approach is, from my experience, approximately a 65/35 underdog in game 1, as its major path to victory is having Ramunap Red commit too much to the board and running into a Fumigate, or a straight-up race, where multiple copies of Approach of the Second Sun are cast back-to-back. In the sideboard, it’s common to find Authority of the Consuls and Regal Caracal. For Grand Prix DC this year, I played 4 copies each of Authority and Caracal in my sideboard, because I simply didn’t want to be a significant underdog against arguably the most popular deck of the format. What this led to was a 4-2 record (if I recall correctly) against Ramunap Red, but I actually think that including that much hate was not necessary, as many of my post-board games in these matches were incredibly one-sided. The second copy of Authority of the Consuls in any given game is a nice boon, but doesn’t improve the odds of winning that much. The same can be said about Regal Caracal. The first is fantastic, but the second is close to overkill in many situations. If I had the tournament to do over again, I feel confident that it would be correct to play 3 copies of each.
Making the Most of Your 15
In an ideal world, we would get infinite sideboard slots so that we can perfectly tailor our deck for any given matchup. However, we don’t live in that world, so we have to make the most of the 15 slots we are given. What this boils down to is making sure each sideboard slot gives the most “percentage points” it can. That fourth copy of Authority of the Consuls or Regal Caracal does make that U/W Approach deck better against Ramunap Red, but by how much? This is one reason why Negate is such a popular sideboard card. It may not be the absolute best card against control decks or Tokens decks, but it is very good against both, making the total theoretical percentage points it offers greater than, say, Doomfall for control or Appetite for the Unnatural for Tokens. Similarly, if there’s a terrifying combo deck that’s been sprouting up on MtGO, most of the time it’s not worth including hate cards for it, because in all likelihood it won’t be a considerable part of the metagame, and those hate cards you just included are worth very few percentage points.
Building a sideboard isn’t easy. In fact, correctly building and executing a sideboard plan is one of the most difficult aspects of Magic, but it is unfortunately often overlooked. Hopefully this article gave you examples of poor sideboard building to stay away from, as well as some tips to build better sideboards and maximize those valuable 15 extra cards that we’re afforded.
Until next time,
If you watched Pro Tour Ixalan, you may have been disappointed with what you saw. A monotonous draft format and an already solved Standard format led to this Pro Tour not having the same excitement surrounding it as many previously. Wondering why? Riccardo Monico breaks it down for you in this article.
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