The format has shifted more drastically in recent months than it did in all of 2018. Between bans, unbans, and powerful printings Modern has been turned upside down. I have noticed many players struggling to build an effective sideboard now. The metagame seems to have settled and the efficacy of many effects has changed. Today I would like to introduce and explain the four sideboard effects that need to be reconsidered in late 2019. For more general tips about sideboarding strategy, you want to take a look at this article.
I have been speaking the praises of these effects for a few weeks now. In the past they have mostly been restricted to Torpor Orb as a searchable one of in decks with Whir of Invention or Karn the Great Creator. That is pretty fair considering how narrow it once was. Now though? These effects are the best they have ever been. Let’s take a look:
Amulet Titan- Primeval Titan
Bant Soulherder- Many things
Goblins- Many things
GW Eldrazi- Stoneforge Mystic and Thought-Knot Seer
Humans- Many things
Spirits- Mausoleum Wanderer and Spell Queller
Titanshift- Primeval Titan
UWx Stoneblade- Stoneforge Mystic and Snapcaster Mage
Whirza- Sword of the Meek and Urza, Lord High Artificer
The effect is more format relevant than it has ever been so if you can make use of Torpor Orb, you should certainly pack one. Better yet we recently were given the most pushed version of this effect yet in Hushbringer. Tocatli Honor Guard saw fringe play. Hushringer is an Honor Guard that got -0/-1 to gain flying, lifelink, and the ability to stop death triggers. That is a great trade. The best home for it as far as I can tell is Burn. They would appreciate the help in these matchups and it may even be worthwhile in other matchups. Against Hardened Scales it stops modular triggers and Hangarback Walker. Against Tron it stops both ends of Thragtusk and allows you to actually stop a Wurmcoil Engine with double bolt. I am not an expert on these particular matchups so it may not be worth brining but I figured it was worth mentioning. The greatest limiting factor on these effects is that many decks that would run them cannot because it heavily disrupt their own strategy. Take this as a sign that if you can run it, you probably should right now.
Null Rod Effects
These ones are a bit of the opposite case in my opinion. They just are not what they once were. Sure they still work but nobody comes anywhere close to scooping to them anymore. I remember a tournament years ago, rest in peace to video coverage, at which an Abzan player kept a hand that was five lands and Stony Silence against Affinity in Game 2 and won. The card was just that good. Here in 2019 we have players still acting like it is two mana “win the game” and it is far from it.
It was exciting when we were given Karn the Great Creator and Collector Ouphe in a short span of time. Null Rod for everyone and one of them is mainboard material! There was a side effect though. The artifact players that once had a small handful of outs to Stony Silence can no longer just accept the rare scoop. The effect is now common so they have built their decks and sideboards to beat it consistently. I am not saying that these effects are now bad; they are still worth running. But if you keep a bad hand just because it has a Null Rod effect, you are probably going to lose.
There are more surgical ways to go after activated abilities and they hit much more than artifacts. However, Needles have gotten a bit of a bad rap in Modern. Traditionally they were only in color-light decks with poor sideboard options. This has mostly continued into the current day with them being restricted to one ofs in, again, Whir and Karn decks. They are starting to improve though and I see them frequently misused. Every time I see a player slam one and declare their choice I want to scream. These effects function the same way a Meddling Mage does. They are not ETB abilities that go on the stack. When you cast Pithing Needle, the spell goes on the stack. When the opponent lets it resolve, the ability takes effect immediately and modifies the way in which the Needle enters the battlefield. For example, when you cast a Needle into an opponent’s Walking Ballista you are saying “now or never”. If they fire it off down to a 0/0, you can just choose to name something else. If they do not pull the trigger, you can name the Ballista. The opponent does not have priority between the naming and it taking effect.
This gets even better if you are able to sneak these effects into play. One example would be Phyrexian Revoker in an Aether Vial deck. When you activate an Aether Vial on two, the opponent has no idea what it is. They can respond to that activation but they do not have much info to go off of. Once they let that activated ability resolve, it is too late to act. You will immediately put Revoker into play and name something; there is no trigger to respond to once they see what is happening. Today’s combo decks are reliant on activated abilities to win; Thopter Foundry, Urza, Devoted Druid, etc. Today’s interactive decks are reliant on planeswalkers to seal the deal; there are too many to list at this point. Needles are also the best way to lock down a Batterskull if you can take care of the germ token; or just lock down the SFM if all you need is a speed bump. You can even run Sorcerous Spyglass to get out of playing the guessing game. Do keep in mind that you need Revoker if you are aiming to stop mana abilities though. I am not saying that every deck needs a Needle but more of us should be considering them right now.
I have such a love/hate relationship with these cards. In particular Surgical Extraction has long been the most overboarded card in the format and we get a new article to point this out every few months. We saw this hit its peak during Hog Summer but there are an impressive number of stragglers. Well I will be the latest in a long line of writers to say it: stop jamming this in every deck and stop boarding it in for every matchup. I know it will feel good on that rare occasion where you nab a second copy of the card that is in their hand but it is an unlikely occurrence. You are barely affecting the opponent’s draw step either. They could survive to draw ten more cards and guess what? Statistically they were not going to draw a second copy anyways; only a 47.3% chance. Taking random good spells out of the opponent’s deck is a waste of a card. However, there are decks that heavily rely on a specific card and they might even put it into the graveyard for you to take out.
Consider Sword of the Meek and Paradoxical Outcome or a deck like Dredge that is sure to give you a juicy target; countering Creeping Chill is nice. Unfortunately, those decks do not make up a large enough portion of the format currently. Extirpate effects are far more effective in black decks though. You do not have to rely on the opponent to set you up if you play targeted discard. They likely have their key card in their opening hand so that you can Thoughtseize it and immediately Extirpate the others from their hand/library. Or against something like Tron, a Jund player can use Assassin’s Trophy or Ghost Quarter to open key lands up to Surgical. I am sad to say but this is not a likely occurrence either. With a full playset of land destruction and two Surgical in your deck, you will only put that together in 8% of opening hands. Some of those hands will not even be keepable. You are better off just using Trophy to speedbump them before ending the game quickly. In the vast majority of metagames, these effects are not worthwhile outside of black decks. Even in those decks they are not as powerful as most people think. Right now this is something to keep in your binder.
I know I am going to get some angry comments for this one but that is okay. The reason I am writing this is because I have either underrated or overrated these effects in the past. We are all learning in this game and hopefully this will help you along the way. Is there an effect that you think is being underutilized though? Or perhaps one that we are all wasting sideboard slots on? 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.