The Five Mistakes You Make in Modern Sideboarding

This is a large topic but I have done my best to consolidate the info into five points. Sideboarding is perhaps the most difficult part of playing Modern. Bad players will often simply say “good cards go in, bad cards come out”. Well it is hard to determine what is good/bad in a matchup and there are many logical pitfalls beyond that. Today we will go over the five common mistakes that Modern players make when it comes to sideboarding strategy. Please keep in mind that I am not talking down to you. I recognize these mistakes because I have made everyone of them until a more skilled player taught me otherwise.

This is an easy mistake to make and we all have done it. When you build a sideboard you usually aim to have something for everyone. Inevitably, you will run into a matchup and half of your sideboard appears to be good against them. However, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. It varies from archetype to archetype but overboarding is real danger. The more synergy-based your deck is, the more likely it is that your are overboarding. Easy examples would be Dredge and combo decks. These decks are linear and aim to overwhelm the opponent with their basic gameplan. As a result, sideboarding with these decks often is focused on reinforcing that gameplan rather than disrupting the opponent; think Nature’s Claim aimed at Rest in Peace. There will be matchups in which interaction is necessary though so they run that too. An opponent may play creatures but you do not need to board in removal if your basic gameplan is stronger than and not disrupted by those creatures.

Let us take a look at Humans. When you sideboard out a human for a non-human you are weakening Champion of the Parish and Thalia’s Lieutenant. The card you boarded in has to be more than just good in the matchup. It has to be better than the card you took out and when judging that you must consider how it affects your deck’s gameplan. Is Ravenous Trap good against Mono-Red Phoenix? It can be. Should you board it in? That depends on what you have to take out and what else is coming in. For most Modern Humans lists, the answer is no because you have other quality board-ins and few of your cards are worse than Ravenous Trap. For heavily interactive decks like UW Control and Jund this is much less of a concern. Your gameplan is shredding the opponent’s gameplan and just about everything you would want to board in does that. As a side note, be mindful of your curve. It is dangerous to board out one drops to bring in four drops; be mindful of how you built your sixty. You do not have to match mana costs of board-ins and board-outs 1:1 but it is something to consider.

Boarding to Beat Their Maindeck
This is another very common mistake. So you played Game 1, recognized what the opponent’s strategy was, and now you are boarding to beat that. This is a mistake that Dredge players never make. By nature of their strategy, they sideboard to beat the opponent’s sideboard rather than their maindeck. Regardless of what deck you play, you need to consider this. Postboard, you are not going up against their sixty, so why would you sideboard as if you were? You are going up against the best sixty out of their seventy-five. I understand that this is not easy. To do this effectively in Game 2 you need to be familiar with the typical sideboards of every archetype. This is near impossible when the format is so ridiculously diverse.

We will use Modern Humans as an example again. Every time I write a guide I will get the question, “why are you bringing in Dismember against UW Control?” This is a reasonable question. The only creatures you can be sure to see in UW are Celestial Colonnade and Snapcaster Mage. Only one of those is actually worth Dismembering; that is not enough if you read below. However, take a look at UW Control sideboards. Every single one of them has creatures to bring in. Historically a Baneslayer Angel and more recently a Monastery Mentor. If left unanswered, these cards are extremely difficult to win through. We know that they are coming in though and we can Dismember them, or a Colonnade, for just one mana to secure our win. It is hard to recall such specific information during the short sideboarding period between games but when you are writing a sideboard guide, such information is just a Google away.

Sticking to a Guide
It probably seems funny for me to say this; I cut my content-creation teeth writing sideboard guides. But I have always said that players should not take my word as gospel. Sideboarding is an art rather than a science. When I, or anyone, writes a sideboard guide they are presenting how they board their seventy-five to beat the common seventy-five for an opposing archetype. There is a very good chance that your opponent is not playing the common seventy-five though. Even if they are, they may not sideboard it the same way. Maybe they make one of the mistakes listed in this article. Maybe they are boarding to beat the common seventy-five that you may or may not be playing; now we are getting meta.

You need to be mindful of what you saw in Game 1 and make adjustments accordingly. However, do not get overzealous. This leads some players to discredit and avoid sideboard guides entirely. This is a critical mistake. When you write a guide at home you have hours, days, or weeks to get it together rather than minutes to think it over. More importantly, the internet provides access to endless information and the experience of others to guide your decisions. Again, this comes up with Humans. Some Grixis Shadow players board out Gurmag Angler and transition to Grixis Control in order to beat us. When they do this, Reflector Mage goes from great to underwhelming. You cannot be sure whether they will do this but if it seems like they did to steal Game 2, adjust your strategy accordingly. Sideboard guides are just guides, not laws.

Boarding to Beat a Specific Card
When sideboarding it is easy to focus too much on what happened in the previous game, zeroing in on a specific card. The most common card I see cause this mistake is Blood Moon. For many players this is the most tilting card to lose to in the format. For some decks it literally means game over. Believe it or not though, that does not necessarily mean you should sideboard against it. Whatever the card is, remember that they can only run four copies and they probably should not aggressively mulligan to it. Dredge decks absolutely should be bringing in Nature’s Claim to blow up Leyline of the Void but these decks are the exception. Opponent’s will mulligan to it and you cannot reasonably win with it in play.

Again, let us look at Humans. Should Humans or any deck board in a Disenchant effect because they fear Blood Moon? That depends. Is it a Blue Moon deck with no other targets? Then you probably should just let them have it. It is definitely a bad feeling but you have to push through. When they draw Blood Moon and you draw your Disenchant effect you will feel validated but it is not the most likely outcome. The more likely outcome is that one of the following occurs: they drew Moon and you had no answer, you drew Disenchant and had no use for it, neither of you drew the relevant cards. This is even more relevant for cards like Worship that are typically one ofs. Let them have that rare win, do not dilute your deck for it. Again, this depends on the deck you are playing, the matchup at hand, and what you would be boarding out for said card.

Fearing Nonbos
This is similar to the above mistake but focuses on interactions within your own deck. Many decks dip into various gameplay mechanics to form a cohesive strategy. There are artifacts worth playing outside of dedicated artifact decks and there are graveyard centric cards worth playing outside of dedicated graveyard decks. When you have powerful, symmetrical hate cards you may be stepping on your own toes postboard. This often is not actually something that you need to worry about. There are many examples of this. UW Control decks run Snapcaster Mage and in the sideboard they have Rest in Peace. With RiP in play Snapcaster Mage loses most of the text that makes it a powerful card so should it be boarded out? Probably not. Again lets us look at Humans. With Collector Ouphe in play Aether Vial is rendered inert so should it be boarded out? Nope. Say you run a playset of Vial/Snapper and board in two Ouphe/RiP. Having one or the other is a good place to be. Having neither is fine too. The only issue is when we have both of them.

Let us look at it statistically. Multivariate probability tell us that having both cards within our first three draw steps will occur in only 15.3% of games. This is not a common occurrence. For frame of reference, it is close to the odds that a twenty land deck opens a hand with four or more lands. It is a bummer but it is not common. Furthermore, RiP is so good against Hogvine and Ouphe is so good against Affinity that you will still be in a great spot. Do not make your deck worse because of an unfavorable interaction that probably will not come up. Even when it does happen, you want to have a backup plan if and when your hate card is answered. This is still not an absolute though; you need to think about it. How bad does your hate card damage your strategy? How vital to your strategy is the potential board out? How many copies of each card will be in your sixty postboard? The odds jump to 26.5% if both cards are playsets. Also keep in mind that the London mulligan will let you bottom an inert card if need be. It is a tough decision that you should ponder when developing a guide; not a snap decision to make between games. Usually though, you should not worry much about nonbos.

Please do not be discouraged if you have made these mistakes. These are all mistakes that I have made at one point or another. This is a terrifically complicated game and we are all in the long process of mastering it. I do hope that this article has helped you along that journey. Are there any other common mistakes that we did not cover here? Which Modern deck do you believe is the most difficult to sideboard effectively? Please share your thoughts with us in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with another article for you to enjoy. Until then my friends.

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