One of the keys to tournament performance in Magic is proper sideboarding. This seems to be a point of failure with many Magic players that want to move up from casual play and compete in tournaments such as Star City Games Open, Grand Prix, TCG Player MaxPoint Series, and even large Friday Night Magic tournaments.

The basic concept is easy: Take out cards that are bad and put in cards that are good. This basic advice relies on three important prerequisites:

  1. You were able to correctly identify the metagame to determine which decks you would likely face
  2. You were able to competently build a sideboard that fits with your deck
  3. You correctly identified which cards to add and remove during sideboarding

Obviously, there is no canonical answer to the first point, but the second and third points should be able to be strategized in a general manner.

How do you approach the sideboarding conundrum? Are there any shortcuts or rules of thumb that have served you well, or resources that you refer to? Do you build sideboards with different goals for the different archetypes you play such as aggro, control, midrange, or tempo?

  • 1
    After reading a million articles on the subject I think one could write a whole book about the subject.
    – rahzark
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 16:27
  • This is a really juicy question! Hopefully we'll get some really juicy answers. :) (Working on mine... slowly.)
    – Alex P
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 23:18
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    Commenting this since it's not really content of value I am personally adding, but: Even as much as one may or may not loathe "net decking", taking top tier decks, with side boards, and sideboarding guides written by pros, and playing them extensively, does lead to gaining appreciation and understanding of why and how it was done the way it is. (At least if you already have a solid grounding in the fundamentals of the game.) (Of course for a lot of truly dominant decks, it's really just about what kind of ninja tech you've cooked for the mirror!)
    – Affe
    Commented Jun 19, 2012 at 23:29
  • This is a tricky question. I've half-written four answers about it and scrapped each one.
    – Alex P
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 14:36
  • Come on Alex, just put it out there. You can always edit it! Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 6:18

3 Answers 3


In my experience, the hardest part of sideboarding is to know what cards to take out. There are some obvious cases like removing creature removal against a deck without creatures and such, but they're not the most common case. Sometimes you change one card for another with the same function (swapping Terror for Diabolic edict against a black deck), that's easy too. But what do you take out when you need grave hate against a deck with no obvious bad cards in your own?

Focus on what cards will make you win the game?

It really helps to know your deck well when you're going to sideboard. What cards are the core of your game plan. How many creatures/disruption cards/mana sources/sacrifice outlets/etc. do you optimally want? And how many can your deck still manage to play well with. How is your mana curve? Can you manage that 4-cost spell that's better or do you need the cheap one. Make sure not to focus too much on hampering you opponents game plan so that you ruin your own!

No matter what cards you decide on, don't forget to playtest! That's what really shows you how the deck plays after you've sideboarded.

Tip: A common test strategy when you don't know which of 2/3 cards you want to bring in is to play them as split-cards when you playtest. You get to chose which one you play during the game and after a few games you have a good idea of what you want.


In my humble experience I have seen two fundamentally distinct sideboarding strategies:

1) sideboard made with targeted cards, for example targeting a particular color or a particular style of playing (mill, discard, land destruction, aggro, etc.) in order to trouble the opponent and disrupt his/her strategies.

Overall basis of this strategy is adaptation after you have seen the opponent's deck on the first match.

2) sideboard made with alternate-strategy cards, for example you play the first match with a discard deck, then on the second match (when your opponent adds the cards that disrupt discard decks from his/her sideboard), you turn your deck in a land-destruction deck and make a big part of the opponent's deck useless. If you ever get to play the third match, you can decide which "face" you want to present, leaving your opponent guessing and, probably mixing up the options, making both of them less effective.

Overall basis of this strategy is catching the opponent off-guard, a more aggressive approach.

Personally, I think that option 2 is funnier and shows more personality/flamboyance.

  • 1
    PV makes a very important point about the transformational sideboard: "The one thing you must avoid is transforming into something that loses to whatever it is they were boarding anyway [...] Yet another example are the people who were boarding in Splinter Twin and Exarch in their Grapeshot/Pyromancer decks, since they theoretically take out creature hate, but that I don’t like -- you still lose to counterspells, discard and enchantment removal, all of which they will board against you no matter what."
    – Alex P
    Commented Jun 25, 2012 at 0:12

Your question looks like two questions in one. I'll deal with both separately. Do note they are both horribly difficult and complex questions that separate great players from good ones, and it's not realistic to discuss them in detail. For real help with whatever format you're playing, you should probably look for guides for the format you're playing, or even the specific deck.

Question one: how do you build a sideboard?

Use the Elephant method.

Writing out ideal realistic lists for all matchups and then trying to make the unique cards in those lists add up to 75 cards before deciding on the specific 60 for the maindeck and the specific fifteen for the sideboard

The linked article goes through a detailed case study. As you can see, it's not easy, and you really need to be familiar with the metagame to even begin.

Question two: how do you sideboard once you're in a match?

This strongly depends on both your and your opponent's decks. There are still general considerations however. Here are three articles by a Hall of Famer dealing with sideboarding for all the three macro archetypes in the game: aggro, control, and combo.

Briefly, in aggro vs. aggro you try to raise your curve slightly so that if the game goes long enough, you win. In aggro vs. control, you take out your interactive cards for more diverse threats that won't be swept away by whatever answers your opponents have. In aggro vs. combo, you want hate cards for the combo, but you can work with "soft hate" because your naturally fast clock will reduce the amount of time they have to work around your hate.

Briefly, in control vs. aggro, you add cheap answers to avoid getting run over and rely on your naturally stronger late-game to win once you establish control. In control vs. control, you go for a bomb spell that wins the game if it resolves (or possibly even if it's cast), or you can play threats that naturally generate value. In control vs. combo, you are very slow so your opponents will be able to beat "soft hate". You need targeted hate that wins the game if it resolves (and/or stays in play).

Briefly, there are two basic approaches: either you sideboard to beat their sideboard, or you transform. In the first approach you bring in cards that beat your opponent's hate cards, with the hope that if your opponent doesn't draw their sideboard cards then you win (i.e. your combo is so good that you win even if you draw your now-useless anti-hate cards), and if you both don't draw your sideboard cards then you win also. In the second approach, you bring in cards that function even if your opponent's hate cards are in play.

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