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Brewer's Minute: Modern Sideboarding

Hey, everyone. It's time for another Brewer's Minute. This week, I wanted to take some time to talk about building a sideboard in Modern. Unlike in Standard, where the format includes only a small number of decks, which allows for narrow sideboard answers, in Modern the format is extremely diverse, which means a good sideboard card is almost the opposite. Rather than being extremely good against a single card or deck, Modern sideboard cards need to do a little something in a whole bunch of matchups. 

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Hello, everyone, it's Seth, probably better known as Saffron Olive, and it's time for another Brewer's Minute. This week, I want to take a bit of time to talk about building a sideboard in Modern because if you're used to building Standard sideboards, you'll find that building a Modern sideboard is very, very different. As such, today we are going to talk a bit about the differences between building a Standard sideboard and a Modern sideboard and delve into some ideas about building a successful Modern sideboard. 

First, before talking specifically about sideboards, we need to talk about the Modern metagame. If you look over the most popular decks in Modern, you'll find that Infect—currently the most played deck in the format—only makes up about 10% of the meta, and Jund—coming in second—is similar. This means that over the course of a 15-round tournament, you might play against Infect and Jund three times, and after that, there's another six or so decks that each make up about 5% of the meta, which means you might play them once (on average) in a 15-round Grand Prix. The point of all this is that Modern is an incredibly diverse format, especially compared to Standard, where the top two decks in the format make up about 40% of the meta and the top four about 60%. 

As such, in Standard, it's completely normal and acceptable to play sideboard cards that are only good in a single matchup or even against a single card. Since you are going to play the same four decks in perhaps nine out of 15 rounds, you can afford to use slots on narrow answers. In Modern, since there are so many different decks that you'll face, things are exactly the opposite. Instead of playing narrow sideboard cards that are only good against a single card or deck, you need to fill your sideboard with cards that are applicable in as many matchups as possible. 

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So, let's say you're building a Modern deck and you want to dedicate some number of slots to beating Affinity. Probably the most game-winning sideboard card available is Shatterstorm (or Vandalblast, which is essentially the same). I'm not sure I've ever cast a Shatterstorm against Affinity and went on to lose the game. But remember, you'll only play against Affinity about one in every 15 games, which means having a card that wins the matchup 90% of the time isn't really all that helpful across a long tournament. On the other hand, you can play something like Stony Silence, which isn't a guaranteed win against Affinity (I've cast it plenty of times in the matchup and went on to lose to Signal Pests and Ornithopters), although it's a very good card in the matchup. The upside of Stony Silence is that you can also bring it in against Tron (another 5% matchup), where Shatterstorm is pretty bad; against Lantern Control; and probably against some other fringe decks as well (like Eggs, for example). 

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The point is that in Modern, there are a ton of matchups. There are perhaps 30 viable decks in the format, which means you are trying to fight against a whole bunch of decks with a very limited number of sideboard slots. Unlike in Standard, where you can play Tears of Valakut to kill Archangel Avacyn, in Modern you need sideboard cards that do things in multiple matchups. This is why a card that ranges from playable to good in a lot of matchups like Stony Silence is a way more powerful sideboard option than an "I win" card in one matchup like Shatterstorm. This is why Spell Piece is one of the most played cards in the format. Against combo, it can keep your opponent from killing you with Ad Nauseam or Scapeshift, but it can also keep you alive when your aggro opponent throws a Lightning Bolt at your face and even stop a Turn 3 Karn Liberated against Tron, the format's ramp deck. 

As such, next time you go to build a sideboard for Modern, err on the side of choosing the more flexible card in every situation, for every slot. Remember: you have 15 cards to fight against perhaps 30 viable decks, so finding cards that do something in as many matchups as possible is essential.


Anyway, that's all for today. Leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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