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Attention to Detail #20
Boarding Between the Lines
by Jordan Kronick
May 5, 2006

Welcome to the twentieth edition of Attention to Detail. This week I want to take a look at something which I mentioned a couple months back but never really expanded on. I suppose that's a pretty vague description. If I had a nickel for every tangent I didn't follow up on, I would have a potentially lethal bag of nickels. To clarify; this week I'm going to talk about the importance of sideboarding in limited formats. This thought first occurred to me at the Guildpact prerelease. I was building a draft deck and there were a number of other people building decks around me. I saw them find the 23 cards they wanted to put in their decks and then the rest of their cards were often discarded or simply thrown in a pile of other draft leavings. It's important to remember that when you draft, you've got 45 cards to work with. And even after you put some of them into your main deck, the rest of your cards don't cease to exist. Some people just let their sideboards gather dust. One of the fundamental steps to becoming a better player is never to take anything for granted. Every facet of the game can potentially lead to victory, and unless you're paying attention, you could miss your opportunity.

So let's start with the easy stuff. I'm going to classify
the different kinds of sideboard moves that you can expect to make. Most of them are very simple. It's the kind of thing which, if you had a large amount of time to think about the situation, you would certainly come up with. Unfortunately, time for sideboarding is a brief couple of minutes in online play, and it can go even quicker in paper where people are ready to shuffle up and play right off the bat.

The first and most elemental form of sideboarding is generally classified as “the hoser”. Hosers come in many forms. From the oldest and most clear-cut hosers like Flashfires and Circle of Protection: Red to the more refined hosers, designed to stop a particular strategy rather than a particular color. Something like Reito Lantern would fit into the latter category. Hosers are the kind of sideboard card that people rarely forget to board in. In Core Set drafting there are often a lot of these. It is, of course, important to recognize when a hoser is really a hoser and when it's just a card that happens to mention a color. For instance – Boiling Seas is a hoser. Blue decks rarely have nonland sources of mana, so this card can be devastating at any point in the game. On the other hand, blue's answer to red – Baleful Stare – is incredibly lame. Most of the time you're better off with a Counsel of the Soratami Cards like that are proof that there is definitely such a thing as over-sideboarding. It's important to remember that the point of sideboarding is to increase the power level of your deck. If the card you're switching in is less powerful than the card you're pulling out, then it's time to reconsider. For instance, if you're playing against someone with a heavy red deck and you pull out a Wind Drake to put in a Baleful Stare, that's a pretty bad switch. The greatest strength of blue in Core Set drafting is efficient fliers. Not sorcery speed card draw that can potentially miss. On the other hand, if the card you're pulling is something not so good – let's say a Counsel of Soratami – you've got a different situation on your hands. The Stare could potentially be stronger in the early game when your opponent has a full hand. However, it could be much worse in the late game. Counsel is still the better choice, but you can see how things can change around a lot. Just because something was an auto-board in previous matches or drafts, that doesn't mean it will be this time.

The second form of sideboarding is utility sideboarding. The most common form of utility boarding is artifact and enchantment destruction. Usually when you're drafting you end up with these kind of cards in your late picks. You pick them because they “might come in handy”. It's important to remember that that's not just something to say when you take that 14th pick Leave No Trace. It really could come in handy! Of course, in some draft environments, utility takes entirely different forms. For instance, in Mirrodin, artifact destruction was more than just utility. It was powerful all-purpose removal. And in some formats other types of cards can function as utility. In Odyssey block drafting, having some manner of backup graveyard removal was great if you happened to play against a deck with a heavy threshold theme or some Roar of the Wurms that you really didn't want to take over the game. Every new block has a theme. And every theme has a few utility cards thrown in just in case it gets out of hand. This is particularly true with Ravnica block. Depending on how you look at it, Ravnica has one theme or ten. The first theme – that of mulicolored guilds – didn't have many hosers until Dissension. Now we've got Enemy of the Guildpact and Pure (one half of Pure & Simple). Much like the anti-artifact utility of Mirrodin, these utility cards are strong enough to play maindeck, almost every time. Where the sideboard utility comes into play is dealing with the assorted subthemes represented by each guild. It's helpful to the effective sideboarder that each guild has a fairly cohesive theme. If you're playing against a Gruul deck you can be pretty sure that it's not going to come at you with a strong defensive bleeding strategy. Certain guilds are easier to sideboard against than others, of course. Selesnya decks tend to be packed with saprolings. There's a whole lot of cards from the entire block that can be effective against that kind of swarm. It's important to pay attention to the cards you're not using in Ravnica block because most of them probably have some kind of niche use that nullifies a tactic you may have to face down the line.

The third form of sideboarding is among the least used,
which is a shame. I'm talking about target anti-utility boarding. Let me present the following situation to explain what I mean. Suppose you have a Ravnica draft deck that is fairly stable on mana. You've got a couple of Signets and a couple of karoos. In the first game, your opponent plays a Seed Spark and trashes one of your Signets. After the game you look through your deck and realize that the Signets are the only artifacts or enchantments in your entire deck. In this case, I would remove the Signets from my deck and replace them with something a bit more geared towards beating my opponent. This nullifies one of your opponents cards. Finding simple ways to cause your opponent to have dead cards is an important tactic. Now, if instead of a pair of Signets you instead had a Glare of Subdual or something of that quality, it would be silly to suggest removing it. Once again, you need to balance quality with strategy. So what do you do in that situation with the Glare? Well that brings me to number four on my list.

The fourth form of sideboarding is decoy padding. Suppose you've got the one Glare and your opponent is packing a Seed Spark. Now, removing the Spark is a bad idea as mentioned above. But if it's your only enchantment then you could have a problem. Assuming your opponent didn't get rid of their Seed Spark (and why would they?) then they've got one card at least in their deck which is devoted to destroying one of your most potent cards. The answer in this situation could be to pad out your deck with decoys. Find some potentially dangerous enchantments or artifacts and work them into your deck. If you can give your opponent a different target for that Seed Spark, maybe you'll be able to sneak the Glare in once they've burned it up.

The fifth form of sideboarding I will simply call the “d'oh” effect. This is what happens when you're looking through your sideboard between games and you find something that you really should have maindecked. For whatever reason you made a different choice, but now it's time to fix that situation. For instance, let's say that you were playing a Gruul-based draft deck including Ravnica, Guildpact and Dissension. You've got a Streetbreaker Wurm in your sideboard. Already that's a sign that something went wrong. Maybe you were just too full on 5-drops, though. Then you look at your maindeck and you see that you're running a Whiptail Moloch. The Moloch has the same converted mana cost as the Wurm and 1 less toughness. It also hurts one of your creatures when it comes into play! Unless you've got a clever combo with the Moloch, it seems like you definitely should have been running the wurm in its place. Time to make that switch. Remember that even if you don't draft any hosers and even if there's no utility to add or targets to remove or decoys to pad with, it's always a good idea to look at your sideboard between games. You may notice something that you missed the first time around. This is especially true in the online world. You're given a set amount of time to sideboard with. Use it! Don't just immediately click the little green check mark when the sideboarding screen pops up. Instead, take a minute to make sure that the deck is as good as you can make it.

The sixth and rarest form of sideboarding is almost entirely within the domain of Magic Online. I'm talking about “the big switch”. This usually only happens in Sealed Deck formats. Magic Online has a nice feature that lets you save your draft and sealed decks as files so they can be loaded at different times. When I play sealed deck, I always take the time to make a few different builds of my deck utilizing different cards and colors and strategies. I save each of them so that I can quickly change my deck between rounds. If I play through the first game and realize that one of the other builds would be superior, I can just switch it! I've used this to great effect in Core Set sealed deck. I've already mentioned that there's a good number of hosers in 9th Edition. Well, with this strategy I can give my opponent a lot of dead cards. If the first game ends and I notice my opponent is taking a while to sideboard, and they are playing a color that could potentially have some strong hoser options (like black with Execute and Slay or White's Circles of Protection), then I always consider switching the colors of my deck. Nothing is better than beating down a red player in game one with your blue flying army and then when they board in all the Boiling Seas, I switch to a black/green deck! This strategy is decent in sealed deck tournaments but certainly most useful in Leagues. In a League you can test each deck in the casual rooms before you use it. So you can get a feel for what kind of strengths each particular build has. Take notes and make sure you know which is which.

Well, that's it for my overdue treatise on sideboarding. Usually it's a pretty dry topic, but I hope I gave it a little bit of new life. Pay attention to your sideboard. It's just one more important detail, after all.



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