Drafting Your Sideboard

Posted in Beyond the Basics on July 13, 2017

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

When you hear "sideboard," you probably think of 60-card decks. Of the twilight hours spent, carefully tuning those hallowed fifteen cards you get to swap between games. Of the many blowouts they can cause—or prevent.

But there's another kind of sideboarding, too. One that gets a lot less press, but can still be just as decisive

And that's sideboarding in Limited.

Everything in your pool that you don't put into your deck in Booster Draft or Sealed Deck constitutes your sideboard. That means you can actually have a ton of options between every game!

In Sealed, this is the rest of the pool you're handed. But in Draft, you need to curate that sideboard yourself. Not entirely unlike building a Constructed sideboard, you get to pick what goes into it throughout the draft.

Let's take a look at that further today.

Sideboard Picks

You're in a draft. You open your pack. Inside, you find a very unusual card: it's a Murder, except it only works in one of your three matches.

How strong is that card?

Murder is a card you will always play and want. You'd love to have access to it in the match where it works—it would be a big upgrade to your deck. But, of course, it's probably not something you want to put in your main deck given it's going to be dead in two of your matches.

And that's where the sideboard comes in.

This scenario may seem a bit contrived and ridiculous—that rules text is not something we'd ever print—but this fundamental situation is something you face again and again in Draft.

Let me put it a different way. You're drafting a core set and are in pack three. Your green-white deck is mostly filled out. And you have the choice between Mighty Leap and Plummet.

Mighty Leap is a card I'll play sometimes. It's a nice trick, and can push through some damage. It's entirely fine.

Plummet, on the other hand, is a card I usually don't main deck in Draft. It's situational and only good in certain matchups. You don't want it in your deck against red-green decks, for example. However, in the matchups where it's good, like against white-blue, it's really good. It's a two-mana Murder!

While of course it depends on the exact situation here, a lot of times I would take the Plummet.

If your deck is in pretty good shape and you have plenty of options, that Mighty Leap is, at best, a small upgrade over another card you could main deck. There's even a chance you take it and don't end up playing it because you have enough playables.

Something you'll notice when watching some of Magic's top players is that they draft sideboard cards a lot higher than many people. They aren't just drafting a deck; they're drafting a sideboard, too.

If you're in pack two or three and your deck is coming together, it's usually better to take a strong sideboard card than a middle-of-the-road card you may not even end up playing.

Sideboard Material

What kinds of cards should you be keeping your eye out for when drafting to fill up your sideboard?

Well, in short, anything that is situationally very strong but you wouldn't main deck. Quite often, these are situational kinds of removal.

Naturalize effects are always something I try to have access to if possible.

Amonkhet is a nicer set than most for main-decking sideboard cards, thanks to cycling. But even when Forsake the Worldly doesn't make your main deck, I always like to have one in the sideboard to bring in against the strong artifacts and enchantments of the world.

Effects that hit fliers, as mentioned earlier, are also squarely in this camp.

The sound your opponent's Dragon makes when Plummet brings it crashing to the ground is quite satisfying.

And another big category are color-hate cards. Part of the reason I wanted to write this article now is because of the five Defeats in Hour of Devastation.

You can mostly ignore the character-hate part of these cards in Limited. (Though if you manage to Liliana's Defeat a Liliana in Draft, you can mark yourself down as earning 10 Gavinpoints.) That color-hate part is where the action is at.

These are cards I predict will go late in many drafts to start—and learning to pick them up early will go a long way. Having a one-mana removal spell against the other black mage at the table you might face is a tremendous upgrade to your deck!

Granted, if you're in the color that probably means only one or two other people are, it's still worth having. I'd take Liliana's Defeat over a lot of perfectly fine cards for my black deck because it's going to be so strong if I face the mirror. (And I definitely don't want it to float to the other black player, either!)

Don't sleep on the Defeats as you go out and draft this weekend. They can make a big impact.

Matchup Sideboarding

Of course, those are just some of the "obvious" sideboard cards. They're strong against a certain class of card, and the text clearly shows that.

However, another big place to sideboard in Limited is based on matchup. You might bring in cards that don't really look like sideboard cards, yet they do help position you better.

For example, let's say you're playing against a very quick aggressive deck and you're a slower deck. Well, you may want to bring in your cheap creatures to help trade off. Even a vanilla two-mana 2/1 is fine: it can trade with your opponent's two-drop, which is what you really want. Defenders (or cards with low power and high toughness) are also great in these matchups.

Conversely, if my opponent is a slower, controlling Draft deck I will happily bring in card-advantage spells. Mind Rot, for example, is going to be solid at most points in the game against control and will help fight their resources. More big creatures are something you might want access to if the game is going to be prolonged as well. Counterspells can help push back on the cards they've built their deck around.

And then, of course, there are ways to try and answer specific cards.

Maybe your opponent has a deck full of Compulsory Rests. While Forsake the Worldly is one obvious answer, another fine answer is to bring in more bounce spells so you can return your own creatures back to your hand.

There's no end to the amount of different ways you can sideboard to edge your opponent out. 1-damage removal spells, Negates, creatures with reach, and far more can help. Be consciously paying attention to your opponent's style of deck, and then sideboard accordingly—and try to have drafted a wide range of good sideboard cards so you have options to make those swaps happen.

Drafting your Defeats

With Hour of Devastation fresh and new this weekend, it's a great time to go out to your local store, enter a draft, and put some of this into practice. There's little more satisfying than sideboarding in a card in Limited and then winning because of it.

And definitely keep an eye out for those Defeats! Bolas's orders.

Have any additional thoughts, questions, comments, or just want to let me know how you totally outmaneuvered your opponent by sideboarding? Feel free to hit me up on Twitter, Tumblr, or via email (in English, please) at BeyondBasicsMagic@gmail.com.

I'll be back next week. Talk with you again then, and have fun drafting!

Gavin
@Gavinverhey
GavInsight

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