Beginner’s Do’s and Don’ts of Sideboarding

By: Drew Kobus

Hey guys! Drew again, and I’m so excited to be back with you all talking about quite possibly the most important topic in competitive (and even casual) Magic: The Gathering play, sideboarding! This topic comes up a lot, and whether you’re a seasoned pro, an FNM warrior, or just dipping your toe in the water with a little ladder grinding on Arena, there’s a lot to consider when building your sideboard. The thing that makes sideboarding an important point of discussion currently is the recent introduction of the “Traditional Ranked” ladder on Arena. While in preseason, Arena’s ranked que was only single game matches with no sideboarding, but most events are structured for “Best of Three” matches with sideboarding after each game. Sideboarding is something that I know can be a bit daunting for newer players used to only jamming single games with their friends or on Arena, so I’m going to try and give you a few tips and tricks for effective sideboard building. Now, sideboarding can get very in depth with a lot of exceptions to different rules, so I won’t be able to cover all the minutia of this concept, but I’m going to do my best to present you with a beginner’s introduction to get you started. So, without further ado, let’s get started!

Alright, so you’re planning for FNM, you’ve been really enjoying smashing into people online with some UB Pirates (first off, props to you, the deck is great, a personal favorite of mine) and your main deck looks like this:

4 Curious Obsession

1 Dimir Guildgate

4 Dire Fleet Poisoner

2 Dive Down

4 Drowned Catacomb

3 Fathom Fleet Captain

2 Hostage Taker

8 Island

4 Kitesail Freebooter

4 Lookout’s Dispersal

2 Opt

4 Siren Stormtamer

6 Swamp

4 Thief of Sanity

4 Thought Erasure

4 Watery Grave

You know your deck’s game plan and you know how it plays, but you’ve noticed you’re having a little trouble against the more aggressive decks like Mono Red and White, so what do you do? This is where sideboarding gets a little tricky. The first thing I’ve seen many people do when building their sideboard is say something like “Oh, I probably need something like eight sideboard slots to beat the red matchup, it’s really bad” this is the wrong way to approach sideboarding, one of the big “don’ts” I mentioned earlier. So what’s a better way to figure out how many spots to dedicate to beating the red decks post-board? The first step is usually to look through your main deck after playing the matchup a couple times and decide which cards aren’t great and that you would rather not have in your deck against them. In this case, the cards that you likely want to remove from your deck entirely are four Thought Erasure and three Fathom Fleet Captain. The Erasures are a little slow and don’t impact the board and the captains get picked off by Fanatical Firebrand and Goblin ChainWhirler too easily. The two copies of Opt are also easy cuts because they act as filler cards anyway and are always the first cards boarded out of this deck. This gives us nine potential slots to dedicate to the mono red matchup, but that only leaves six slots for the rest of the field which is not ideal, so what do we do? A good thing to consider is finding versatile cards that can be answers to multiple archetypes as opposed to just one. You can dedicate your nine slots to being four Moment of Craving, four Sovereign’s Bite and a Fountain of Renewal, and you’ll likely beat Mono Red more often than not, but those cards are extremely narrow. These are the cards I would play in my sideboard and bring in against the Mono Red deck:


3 Cast Down

3 Fungal Infection

2 Hostage Taker

1 Spell Pierce


Now, why are these the cards I chose for these slots? The three copies of Cast Down are cheap interactive spells that let me deal with most of their threats while still being a card that can be useful in other matchups like Sultai Midrange and the Hadana’s Climb decks. Fungal Infection is the only card that is somewhat narrow here, but three narrow cards is much better than nine. This card gives us a cheap and efficient way of dealing with some of their early threats while also deploying our own which can be a big advantage, and this card is also reasonable against decks like Mono White and Mono Blue, so it makes the cut. Hostage Taker is a card that is not in the board specifically with this matchup in mind, but it is still passable here and better than other cards we could have in our deck. The one Spell Pierce is in the sideboard to fight efficiently against control decks, but is better than a Thought Erasure in this matchup as it can counter burn spells of copies of Light Up The Stage, to slow down our opponent, so it makes the cut.

The next point I want to make is that you should have a plan for every matchup. Your main deck will never be perfectly suited for any given matchup, not even your good ones. A good example is this deck’s matchup vs control. This matchup is typically very good, you have disruptive creatures, card advantage and counterspells and other disruption to protect your threats from their interaction. This does not mean you shouldn’t have a plan for this matchup. There are several cards in your deck that you really don’t want to see against the control deck, namely Hostage Taker, and Dire Fleet Poisoner leaves a bit to be desired, so it’s generally a good idea to remove them from your deck.  My sideboard choices for this matchup are as follows:


3 Dire Fleet Poisoner

2 Opt

2 Hostage Taker


2 Negate

2 Deadeye Tracker

1 Disdainful Stroke

1 Spell Pierce

1 PlageCrafter

Why these cards? That’s easy, Negate, Disdainful Stroke, and Spell Pierce are all reasonably good cards that are good vs control decks like Jeskai and Esper and combo decks like Bant Nexus, while also being viable in other places like Spell Pierce coming in against Mono Red. The two Deadeye Trackers are a concession to another point I want to make, sideboarding should never dilute your primary game plan or synergies too much. Tracker is a cheap creature with the creature type Pirate and a relevant activated ability that allows for incidental graveyard hate and mitigating flood in the mid to late game. Tracker also allows us to keep our creature and Pirate density high to enable our synergies and make sure we don’t run out of creatures to attack with. The Plaguecrafter is mostly just for this matchup, being able to take down resolved planeswalkers as well as Niv-Mizzets and Chromiums is very powerful and warrants a single narrow card in the board.

Those are the two big points I wanted to touch on, sideboarding is a scary process if you don’t know how to approach it properly, but hopefully I have provided you with a couple of good tools to help you build the best sideboard you can whether you’re prepping for a SCG Open or FNM, the right sideboard can make all the difference between a 0-3 drop and winning the event. Of course, as I mentioned above, sideboarding can get much more in depth as you learn more and improve, but I hope these basic tools are enough to at least get you started. Remember to always evaluate the cards you have access too and chose the ones with the most versatility and impact for the matchups where you need help, and do your best to shy away from overboarding, just because a card seems ok for a matchup, doesn’t mean it has to come in, remember that sideboarding is a 1-for-1 process and anything you bring in needs something to come out in its place. Until next time! I hope you found this information helpful, and I can’t wait to see you all battling with your perfectly crafted sideboards! Keeps slinging your favorite spells and having fun, and hit me up on social media if you have any questions! Twitter @TheMagikalDrew, Facebook Drew J Kobus, and in person at Battlegrounds!