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The Dragon's Den
Revisiting Sideboards...

By DeQuan Watson - 4.22.05

I've gotten a lot of good reader feedback from my last couple of articles.  I want everyone to know that I have read them all.  I am usually pretty good about responding, but these past couple of weeks have been simply heinous to me.  In addition to all my writing agreements and store operations, I've had a couple of large tournaments to run and also recently got recruited to be part of a weekly radio show.  I think I get more exposure every month than a gamer really should be allowed to.  Anyway, all that being said, I want to let all the loyal readers out there know that I am working on getting responses out to everyone.  I just hate giving the quick responses.  I want a letter to be worth your time to read.
But anyway, on to other things.  A few weeks ago I gave some information on sideboard building.  Unfortunately, I didn't really get to delve into it the proper way that I wanted to.  Having a prepared sideboard gives you an edge.  This is a part of playing the game that many players seem to overlook and it costs them innumerable matches.  There is a lot more to sideboarding other than having the right cards. 
Play With the Sideboard
How often do you play games with your sideboard included?  If you are the average player, I'd expect your answer is something along the lines of "not many."  Don't worry, I'm not here to harp on about not doing this.  You'd be amazed at how many players don't do it.  Why they don't is beyond me though.
If you sit and thing about it, the absolute lowest percentage of games you can play in a tournament that will include your sideboard is 50%.  That 50% only qualifies if you sweep all your matches.  What are the odds that EVERY match you play is going to be a nice and easy 2-0 win?  It's not real likely.  And I'd say that it's even less likely in the later rounds when you are facing good decks in the hands of well prepared players. 
So, realistically speaking, it's more likely that somewhere in the ballpark of 55-65% of your games will include the sideboard.  In other words, roughly two our of three games will likely include your sideboard during the course of the day.  For example, let's say your day looks like:
Round 1    2-0  Win
Round 2    2-1 Win
Round 3    0-2  Loss
Round 4    1-2 Loss
Round 5    2-0 win
In the given example over the course of five rounds, 12 games were played.  Of those twelve games, seven matches were played with the inclusion of the sideboard.  That's roughly 58% of your game during the course of one event.  This should be enough proof to get your mind going.
I watch people play games every day.  Very few of them even think about playing post-sideboard.  It almost seems like a waste to play a matchup more than 20 times and not play with sideboards during any of them.  There is some valuable play time and interesting knowledge slipping away there.
Don't Forget to Play Games Pre-Sideboard
All those this statement seems counterintuitive, it's not.  You can't just copy a deck and sideboard and start sideboarding.  OK, you actually can, but I wouldn't recommend it.  You won't know what to sideboard.  You won't know what you can and can't do in the match.  You won't know what cards are stronger for swinging the match in your favor.  There are a lot of things those pre-sideboarded games teach you.  You just need to balance things out to make sure they work for you.  Long story short, you need to play those first games to figure out what you really need in the first place. 
While playing, make sure to take note and what cards are a real problem for you.  What cards put the match in your opponent's favor when he draws them.  Is there a card or two in your deck that gives you an edge already.  And also, keep an open mind when doing this.  Sometimes you will see that one deck has a decisive advantage already.  This means that you may not need to sideboard heavily for this matchup.
Test Against the Right Decks
The reason that copying a deck and following the sideboard guidelines (notice how I called them"guidelines") doesn't work, is that the person you wrote the list is not playing against the same decks you are.  Here the popular deck may be White Weenie.  In your neck of the woods, it might be Tooth and Nail.  Where the writer plays, MonoBlue Control might be the big deck. 
What works well for me and my White Weenie heavy environment is likely going to be dead weight in a field full of Tooth and Nail.  And what's great to deal with Tooth and Nail is likely going to be awful against MonoBlue Control.  There's not an accurate way of assessing your local metagame unless you've already played in the local event scene.  If you have already played, then you've got a leg up.  Put that knowledge to good use.  If you haven't, the best you can do is give yourself some versatility and work from there. 
Weight Your Sideboard Properly
This is a part that's real tricky for players.  Many players try to have something in the sideboard for every deck.  This is nice in theory, but doesn't usually work out.  Others try to have three of each sideboard card.  This is nice and pretty on paper, but may actually be hurting your true purpose for having them there in the first place.
Let's go back a second and look at different environments.  If I plan yo play locally and expect a lot of white weenie, then I obviously need to have something to slow them down or regulate their creatures and equipment.  Let us say that my card of choice for this matchup is Ghostly Prison.  That's a start.  I've not identified a card that I want for the matchup.  If I expect there to be a lot of that deck, I'm going to play three and possibly even four copies in the sideboard.  If I have THAT many problem with the deck, then I may even look at adding a Ghostly Prison or two to the main part of the deck.
But, let's look at it a bit different.  If the deck I am playing already does well against White Weenie, I don't want to waste all those extra sideboard spaces to help a matchup that I'm already dominant in.  I may decide to play a few artifact removal spells or creature removal spells to help out during problem times.  And in this scenario, I may only dedicate three slots to it.  If the I expected the number of White Weenie decks to be lower and I knew that I already dominated the match, then I might only give the sideboard two slots for dealing with White Weenie.
Get Away From Staple Cards
When sideboarding during games and creating your sideboard, don't allow yourself to get "trapped" into playing staple sideboard cards.  Cards like Ghostly Prison, Time Stop, Naturalize, and even Boil, may be good in some cases, but not all cases.  It's easy to get lost this way.  There are many cards that you learn well.  And in some decks you learn to rely on them.  But they aren't always good.
For instance, you may have played a deck where you sideboarded Time Stop against Tooth and Nail.  This may have worked out great for you.  So in this new deck, you are going to lean on Time Stop as your sideboard answer to Tooth and Nail.  Well unfortunately, this new deck may not be as mana intensive as your last deck.  This is going to make it difficult to cast that Time Stop.
We all know that Naturalize is a great answer for dealing with both artifacts and enchantments.  But some environments may have more artifacts or more enchantments.  In some cases, one type may be hard to find in a tournament.  If this is the case for you, look for other options.  Sometimes there are things that are better.  If you have a Green/Black deck that has ways of returning creatures from the graveyard and your environment has a decent amount of artifacts, but very few enchantments, you would much rather have a card such as Viridian Shaman.  She still deals with artifacts, but because she is a creature you are able to get multiple uses out of her.  This makes her far superior to Naturalize in this case.
Hopefully, this gives you all something to think about.  Sideboarding can help out your game a lot.  It's such a big part of the competition, yet too many players seem to ignore it until game time.  Do yourself a favor and play with your sideboard more often. 
Until next time,
DeQuan Watson
a.k.a. PowrDragn
at Pojo dot com

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