Hello, I’m Reed Alexander, and I’m here to talk to you about sideboarding. I am an Eternal tournament grinder and streamer known as “iReedMinds” in-game. I am the Season 2 Invitational Champion, along with two Top 8 Weekly finishes in three weeks during Season 2. I also have a background in Magic: The Gathering playing in some Grand Prix Day 2s and a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier this past year.
For those who do not know what this so-called Sideboard thing is, it is a 15 card side-deck that you can use to make your deck better after the first game of a tournament match. You do this by swapping cards one-for-one between your 75 card main deck and 15 card sideboard. This can help you make your deck better for whatever matchup you are playing against.
If you are playing a control deck matched up against an aggressive deck, you probably want to remove your higher-cost cards from your deck and replace them with lower-cost cards. For example, you could remove Azindel’s Gift and replace it with Lightning Storm, since it helps deal with your opponent’s early threats, and you don’t want a high-cost card sitting in your hand for the whole game.
Sideboarding can be a difficult, intimidating, and a sometimes overwhelming part of tournament gameplay, and for good reason. The entire match can be decided by your sideboard strategy, and in most situations the more experienced and better prepared player will come out on top. I’m here to help you learn the ins-and-outs of sideboarding correctly by showing you my methods step by step.
I’ll be going through this process with the Combrei Midrange deck I played to win the Season 2 Invitational. I will take you through the thought processes that led to the exact 15 sideboard cards that I ended up playing, and how to apply those same principles to any deck.
Step One: Cutting Cards
The first step to building a sideboard is to identify which cards you want to cut in each matchup. That way you know how many cards you need to bring in during the next step
First, let’s discuss Shimmerpack. Vanquish doesn’t have enough mileage, since its only target is Sandstorm Titan, so you can cut those. You can also cut Scorpion Wasp because Shimmerpack’s threats are all very small and get blocked by our larger units anyway. You will need Five cards to replace them.
Next up is Rakano Aggro. Generally against aggro decks, you want to lower your power curve so that you can keep up in tempo. You do this by cutting a few copies of each of your higher cost cards. We cut two copies of Marshal Ironthorn because he will almost never ultimate in this matchup, and ramping your power up isn’t necessary in this matchup. You will need Four cards to replace them.
Now for Stonescar Burn. Similarly to Rakano Aggro, Burn is another aggressive deck. This means you will once again cut your higher-cost cards in order to keep up in tempo. Additionally, you cut one copy of Harsh Rule because Burn generally only has a few threats on the board at any one time. You will need Five cards to replace them.
Combrei Aggro is yet another aggressive deck. Again, you lower the curve against Combrei Aggro so that you can keep up. However, unlike the Rakano matchup, you only cut one copy of Marshal Ironthorn. This is because the matchup is likely to end up in a board stall, and Marshal Ironthorn excels in board stall situations. You will need Three cards to replace them.
-2 Mystic Ascendant
-2 Marshal Ironthorn
Stonescar Jito is your most aggressive matchup. You want to lower your curve more than anything else, so you cut more higher-cost cards than the previous matchups. Additionally, you cut the Protect because Jito doesn’t normally play any relevant removal. You will need Five cards to replace them.
-4 Combrei Healer
Now, the mirror match. The card that has the least utility is Combrei Healer, because it matches up poorly against larger units. You will need Four cards to replace them.
Against Felnscar Control, Harsh Rule can be a blowout, but more than one copy can flood your hand. You cut two copies for this reason. Felnscar also plays zero units that can be destroyed by Vanquish, so you can cut your two copies of that as well. You will need Four cards to replace them.
Armory Control decks’ only relevant creature is Icaria, so Harsh Rule and Vanquish are almost always dead cards, so you can cut both of those. Normally, you just deal with Icaria by playing Scorpion Wasp. You will need Six cards to replace them.
Step Two: Adding Cards
Now that you know how many cards you want to take out for each matchup, you need to figure out which cards would fit well in those spots. You want to try to think of cards that are good in multiple matchups, so that you can fit all your sideboard strategies into only fifteen cards. Lightning Strike is a good example of this, since it can deal with threats very efficiently against aggressive decks, and it can destroy weapons in the Armory matchup. You also don’t want to over-sideboard a certain effect. For example, Decay might a very good card against decks that play Xenan Obelisk, but if that’s their only attachment, then you don’t want to bring in three or four copies because it’s likely that your Decays will be dead cards at some point.
In the Shimmerpack matchup, flyers are one of its biggest weaknesses. If you can put a solid flying clock on the board, they will fall apart quickly. The Great Parliament is a good option for this, so you bring in the fourth copy. Stand Together is also a good option against Shimmerpack, since it can stop your opponent from transforming your own units. Shimmerpack also plays eight attachments total: Permafrosts and Xenan Obelisks, and you have three cards left to bring in. Three copies of Decay would fit well in those spots.
Rakano Aggro plays several good Decay targets, but not enough to warrant bringing in three copies since most of the attachments can also be dealt with by destroying the unit it is attached to. Combrei has a tough time dealing with large Quickdraw units when they don’t have a Silence effect or a Vanquish, so you can also bring in the third and fourth copies of Vanquish.
Protect is one of your best cards against Stonescar Burn, so going up to three copies is good. Stand Together, although costing a bit more than Protect, can also save our units and help race. Most of Burn’s threats are destroyed by Vanquish, so you can bring in the extra two copies.
This makes our current sideboard 3 Decay, 2 Vanquish, 2 Protect, 1 Stand Together, and 1 The Great Parliament. You still have room for six more cards.
Combrei Aggro has a quite a few large units between Sandstorm Titan, Awakened Student, and Xenan Obelisk.Because of this, you can bring in the extra two copies of Vanquish. Since Combrei Aggro’s only attachment is Xenan Obelisk, you should only bring in 1 Decay so that you don’t have dead cards.
You really want to lower your curve against Stonescar Jito, so Awakened Student is a solid choice. Marisen’s Disciple also workes well for this as well, since it makes two bodies to block with. You could potentially just play 4 copies of one of these cards instead, but I elected for the 2-2 split in the Invitational. You can also bring in Reality Warden to hate on Shadowlands Guide. This gives you room for one more sideboard card.
Vanquish hits almost every unit that matters in the mirror match, so you can bring in the other copies. The Great Parliament is a great follow up to a Harsh Rule from either player, so having four copies can be advantageous. Stand Together can protect your team from opposing Harsh Rules, and it also helps you out in combat.
The Great Parliament and Stand Together are both good in this matchup for the same reasons it was good in the mirror match, since they are good against sweeper effects. Protect is also good vs Felnscar Control’s many removal spells, so you can go to three copies.
I’ve gone over why Stand Together and The Great Parliament are good against sweepers twice now, and the same applies in the Armory matchup. Reality Warden can be pretty solid against Smuggler’s Stash, so you can bring in the one copy. Decays are very good against their many weapons as well, so you can bring in the full three copies.
At this point in your sideboard-building process you will either have less than fifteen, more than fifteen, or you will already have a set fifteen cards. If you have less than fifteen, you will need to come up with a few more cards to combat other lesser-played decks. If you have more than fifteen, you will have to cut some cards and readjust some matchups strategies. When trying to readjust strategies, the safest matchups to cut cards from are your good matchups. For example, if you had to find a matchup to cut sideboard cards in this scenario, it would most likely be against Rakano Aggro since the matchup is favored for Combrei Midrange.
In this example, you have fourteen sideboard cards at the moment, so you need to find another card to play in the fifteenth slot. I elected to play a second copy of Reality Warden as my fifteenth card, since it is very strong against Killers, Haunting Scream, and Reanimator strategies.
Step Three: Revision
Now that you have your entire sideboard strategy laid out, you need to take a quick look through it to make sure all of your strategies make full use of your sideboard in ways that make sense. Just make a second run through of your notes for each matchup to make sure all of your strategies makes sense.
Once this is all completed, and you are satisfied with your results, congratulations! You now have a solid sideboard and strategies for each popular matchup. You can even keep your notes and use them to remember those strategies during events. Having my notes available to me makes it easier on my brain during the actual matches, since you don’t need to think as much while you are sideboarding.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to follow your sideboard notes to the letter. If your opponent is not playing a normal version of their archetype, don’t be afraid to sideboard just a little differently. For example, if your opponent is on Stonescar Maulers, instead of just following your normal Stonescar Burn notes, you can bring in one or two Decays to beat their weapons.
Thank you for joining me for my first Eternal strategy article. I hope my sideboarding process helps you with your next event. Good luck in Season 3 of the Eternal Tournament Series!