Take note that I am not a professional player, and that my rules to sideboarding should be taken with a grain of salt. These are just the rules that I follow when playing on either Arena or Paper.
How To Not Suck at Sideboarding
There’s no perfect formula to sideboarding, nor is there a concrete or fixed sideboard list for any deck. Two Simic Flash decks will run the same sideboard list, but the approach to sideboarding will be different.
For new players, this is one skill that needs to be practiced and perfected, on top of learning how to mulligan. Believe me, going back into Standard after a short hiatus was challenging for two reasons: I didn’t know what decks were the decks to beat, and two, I had no idea how these decks played. So, I had to re-learn how to sideboard.
I was able to come up with these 10 rules when I was grinding for Mythic last season. I managed to reach Diamond 2 at my peak, but hovered between Diamond 3 and 4 before the season ended. Thus, I am confident that these rules are great foundations for beginners in building their sideboarding skills.
For the rest of the article, I will be referring to the sideboard list of my Sultai Flash deck.
#1 – Know The Deck
The very first rule to sideboard is to know how the deck runs. There’s no need to memorize the cards inside a particular deck, but what you are after is how the deck plays and its core cards. For example, in Esper Control decks, you know they’re going to run Teferi, Time Raveler as one of its main approaches to controlling the board and the tempo.
Knowing the core cards and what they can do for the deck and against your deck can greatly help you with your sideboarding. As long as you know what category the deck belongs under, you should be able to come up with a solid sideboard plan.
Speaking of categories, here’s how I would categorize decks:
- Aggro decks – Heavy on creatures, less on removals. Sideboard contains removals.
- Control decks – Heavy on removals and planeswalkers. Sideboard contains creatures.
- Midrange decks – Balanced amount of creatures and spells. Sideboard contains more removal.
#2 – Rule Of 4 Versus Rule Of 1
The second biggest issue of sideboarding is knowing what to take out and how many to take out for a particular card.
Again, take this part with a grain of salt. I usually take out cards that contain at least 3 copies of in my mainboard and cut out at least 1 or 2 copies to make way for the sideboard cards.
In this case, if I wanted to go against Teferi, Time Raveler, I’m more likely to cut out Essence Scatter to make way for more copies of Negate.
Now, this part takes practice and a lot of experimentation because again there’s no concrete formula as to how many cards should be removed or added. This is where all the other rules come in.
#3 – Sideboard To Protect
For Sultai and Simic Flash, the sideboard is focused on protecting the player and its creatures rather than going on the offensive.
In this case, if I know that I am going against a control deck, I would invest more on Negates and Veil of Summer to buy me a few extra turns.
Some decks such as Orzhov Aggro and Mono Red take on a more offensive approach when they sideboard as they’ll try to speed up their clock.
#4 – Change Your Playstyle
Sideboarding not only requires you to change your deck, but it also requires you to play the deck differently.
Sometimes, you’re going to have to go slower than the pace that you’re supposed to play and sometimes, you have to go faster.
As a Flash player, I go slower when facing against Control decks to transition smoothly into the late game. Against aggro decks, I go a little faster but making sure that I still stick to my goal: which is to control the tempo.
#5 – Adjust Your Weaknesses
My sideboarding philosophy is to adjust to my deck’s weaknesses as opposed to its strengths. Here’s an example.
Against control decks, my Sultai Flash deck runs removals which doesn’t do me any good because the opponent runs less creatures so I have more dead cards in the deck. I consider this a weakness because I don’t have the cards that I should be playing.
During the sideboarding process, I take out copies of the removal spells to make way for spells to help me in the next 2 games such as Negate and Veil of Summer.
#6 – Sideboard With Contingencies
You’re never going to be able to predict what the opponent is sideboarding against you. Just because you memorize their sideboard doesn’t mean you know what cards they’re using and how they’re going to play the deck in the next games.
If I am up against Temur Elementals, I can safely predict that they’re going to drop Shifting Ceratops and Chandra, Awakened Inferno because it goes around my counter spells. Shifting Ceratops becomes a huge problem because more than half of my creatures are blue-based. I have to rely on topdecking a Nightpack Ambusher to go against Shifting Ceratops.
#7 – Cut Costs On The Second Game
You have to be ready to cut your costs in the second and third game because part of sideboarding is cutting out some of the core cards that make the deck functional. I have three copies of Shifting Ceratops on my sideboard, and to make way for them, I have to take out copies of my creatures.
Some players would take out spells to make way for creatures, and vice versa, but the philosophy remains the same. Cutting costs on the second and third game is crucial to sideboarding. Cards that you run 4 copies of will now be 1 or 2 copies less during the next games. And as mentioned in #6, this is where you have to create contingency plans.
#8 – Play With The Costs
Sometimes, the best way to knowing what cards to take out in your mainboard is to base it on the costs. In my case, if I want to insert Shifting Ceratops, I am going to have to cut out Nightpack Ambusher because they share the same casting costs.
I could, in theory, cut out a copy of Frilled Mystic too, but I am reliant in having more copies of them than Nightpack Ambusher because of their ETB ability.
#9 – Know Your Flex Slots
Flex slots refer to cards that you know will always get cut out during the sideboarding process, and it’s easy to come up with a sideboard guide if you know what your flex slots are.
In this case, my flex slots are:
- Spectral Sailor
- Brineborn Cutthroat
These are what gets taken out most of the time during the sideboarding phase when I feel that adjustments are already too tight.
#10 – Improvise, Adapt, Overcome
Sideboarding is all about improvising, adapting, and overcoming. You improvise the more you play with your deck. You adapt based on what decks you’re playing against, and you overcome your opponent in the next 2 matches.
Sideboarding takes a bit of practice and experimentation, so don’t be afraid to make adjustments when necessary. Remember, there’s no exact science or formula to be followed, and you have to rely on your instinct and how well you know the deck you’re playing against.
Here’s The Professor’s Video on his Introduction To Sideboarding: