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Brewer's Minute: Next-Level Sideboarding

Hey, everyone! It's time for another Brewer's Minute. Sideboarding is tricky; it's not just figuring out which cards to bring in during any specific match but which cards to put into your sideboard during deck building. It's easy to fall into the trap of just including a bunch of cards that are good against the most popular decks in the format, instead of going to the next level and considering your opponent's sideboarding plan as well. So today, we're going to talk about next-level sideboarding and how it impacts not just Magic gameplay but the deck-building process as well!

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Sideboarding—Level 1

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The first level of sideboarding is pretty intuitive: you look at the deck your opponent is playing and bring in cards that fight against your opponent's land. If they are playing UW Approach, you bring in your Negates and Duresses to stop their important non-creature spells. If your opponent is on Ramunap Red, you bring in Essence Extraction to kill Kari Zev, Skyship Raider and Ahn-Crop Crasher. This holds true in older formats as well—you bring in Stony Silence to shut down Affinity in Modern or Fulminator Mage to blow up lands against Tron. Now, there's nothing wrong with sideboarding at level one; it's actually an important part of sideboarding, and almost every deck does at least some level-one sideboarding in every matchup. However, there's a second level to sideboarding as well.

Sideboarding—Level Two

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The second level of sideboarding involves awareness of your opponent's sideboard plan. Let's say you are playing UW Approach and you know your opponent is likely to overload on Negates and Duresses. It's going to be a lot harder to actually pull off the Approach of the Second Sun win, so you bring in Regal Caracal to dodge your opponent's sideboard cards. Or, you're playing Ramunap Red and expecting a bunch of Essence Extractions, so you bring in Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer, both of which don't care about Essence Extraction

This second level of sideboarding is an extremely important deck-building skill, especially when people first start building sideboards. It's easy to get stuck on level one and build a sideboard that is almost exclusively defensive and designed to fight against the opponent's primary plan, rather than taking into account how their deck will change during the sideboarding process.


If you look over the most popular decks in both Standard and Modern, you'll see that the best decks in the format have a mixture of level-one and level-two sideboard cards. They have number of cards that are good at fighting your opponent's deck and also some cards that improve your deck against your opponent's sideboard plan. Failing to have this mixture leads to weaker sideboards and weaker decks overall. 

Apart from having a good mixture of level-one and level-two sideboard cards from the deck-building process, the second challenge is figuring our what level your opponent is at when it comes to sideboarding. If your UW Approach opponent is bringing in Regal Caracal, you might have to keep some number of removal spells in your deck, but if they don't bring in any creatures, you look pretty silly drawing copies of Vraska's Contempt while they kill you with Approach of the Second Sun (I know this from experience, after misguessing against Regal Caracal sideboard plans one too many times). Ideally, you want to be exactly one level above your opponent:

  1. Level one: You bring in Negate to fight against your opponent's Approach of the Second Sun.
  2. Level two: You bring in Regal Caracal to fight against the Negate you expect your opponent is bringing in to fight your Approach of the Second Sun
  3. Level three: You bring / keep in removal to kill the Regal Caracal you expect your opponent to bring in to beat the Negates they expect you to bring in to beat their Approach of the Second Sun.

The point of all this is to make sure you push yourself to think one level further during the deck-building process. Don't just get stuck building to fight your opponent's main deck and get "got" by sideboard cards; go to the next level and think through your opponent's sideboard plans as well. Rather than just playing cards that are good against their deck, think about including a couple of level-two sideboard cards that are good against the opponent's sideboard plan as well. 


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

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