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?

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    After reading a million articles on the subject I think one could write a whole book about the subject. – rahzark Jun 19 '12 at 16:27
  • This is a really juicy question! Hopefully we'll get some really juicy answers. :) (Working on mine... slowly.) – Alex P Jun 19 '12 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 Jun 19 '12 at 23:29
  • This is a tricky question. I've half-written four answers about it and scrapped each one. – Alex P Jun 25 '12 at 14:36
  • Come on Alex, just put it out there. You can always edit it! – AndSoYouCode Jun 27 '12 at 6:18

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 you 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/whatevers 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.

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    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 Jun 25 '12 at 0:12

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