Magic The Gathering Arena Sideboards Beginner’s Guide

by CounterHit

With the much-requested BO3 ranked mode officially announced and right around the corner, I thought now might be a good time to put out a quick guide for those who may be interested in the format, but don’t know where to start. Most guides for sideboards I’ve found out there for people seem to be written for people who are already familiar with the basics, but a lot of people on here have commented things like “I would love to play BO3, but I have no idea how to make a deck with a sideboard.” This is for you.

Disclaimer: This will be extremely basic, just to help players new to Magic or BO3 TCG formats get started. To go beyond this, there is a wealth of knowledge out on the internet that’s just a quick search away!

Creating Your Main Deck

To get started, let’s just look at the deck you’re using for BO1 play (whatever that happens to be). You’ll want to examine all of the card choices you’ve made and determine what each card’s potential for being “dead” in any matchup will be. A dead card is one that either can’t be played, or will have no meaningful impact on the game; these cards are waste of their card slot. In BO1, you may play some cards that have a decent chance of being dead because they are tech for certain matchups where they are essential. In BO3, you aren’t going to want to have those cards in your Main deck. You can calibrate your main deck to have the highest chance of success against the general meta you expect to encounter. Let’s look at some examples:

  • You may have [[Cast Down]] in your deck. While some decks could be creatureless or only have legendary creatures in them, we expect that a very high number of your opponents will be using creatures and they’ll typically be important. We’ll leave this in.
  • What about a card like [[The Eldest Reborn]]? It’s a fantastic way to deal with decks that play few creatures/planeswalkers that are high value, but difficult to remove (I’m looking at you, [[Carnage Tyrant]]). But is it always useful? If you’re finding you play against a high number of aggro decks, the opponent will usually have something small and unimportant to sacrifice, which limits the immediate impact of the card. While you can use it to get something nice out of a graveyard, that particular use gives the opponent time to respond and prevent it. If we’re seeing high aggro in our meta, we are probably going to take this card out of the Main deck.

You’ll want to evaluate every card in this way. Is the card essential to your gameplan, or is it tech to deal with certain situations/matchups? If it’s tech, how often do you face that situation/matchup? If it’s less than like 70% of the time, there’s a good chance you’ll want to remove it from your Main deck and find something that’s going to be useful all of the time, even if it’s less impactful some of the time. The goal is to make your deck as generally useful as possible for the first game. Once you’ve gone through all of your cards and replaced the tech with general stuff, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Creating the Sideboard

The first thing you’ll want to do is revisit the cards you removed when making your Main deck. You probably had them in there for a reason, and most of them are going to be added back into your Sideboard. For the remaining slots available, think of all your decks worst possible matchups. Do you have any cards that would help you win those specific matchups? Go ahead and add them in. If you don’t have tons and tons of cards, don’t worry. One nice beginner-friendly feature is that your sideboard is allowed to be less than 15 cards. Just add what you have that will be the most useful. If you find you’re running out of card slots, just focus on the one or two worst matchups that you see consistently.

What you’re looking for here are cards that can act as extreme answers to your bad matchups. Here are some examples of typical sideboard choices for popular decks in the current Standard:

  • If you’re playing White Weenies or Boros Aggro, [[Tocatli Honor Guard]] is not the most impressive 2-drop: it has low power and its ability is almost completely dead in any matchup besides explore-based Golgari decks. However, against Golgari decks, it completely negates one of the fundamental mechanics the deck is built around; a turn 2 Tocatli Honor Guard will usually have a massive impact on the speed at which a Golgari deck can get to its win conditions, giving you more time to beat them down. As a bonus, it also negates the lifegain and self-pumping of [[Wildgrowth Walker]]. This is a great card to bring in after game 1, but isn’t that great to start with because it’s just a slow, crappy card outside of this matchup.
  • Speaking of Golgari, these decks frequently pack a nice suite of creature removal to stem the tide of aggro decks in the early game. But what happens when you face a control or combo deck that plays little to no creatures? All your creature removal just became dead. Consider bringing in a set of [[Duress]] for these matchups. Your odds of hitting a non-creature card skyrocket against these decks, and you can use it to force out counterspells on key turns or pick off an important piece of your opponent’s plan before they can make use of it.

The specific choices you make will depend on what your deck is weak to, and what you’re typically seeing in the meta at any given time. If you’re still getting stuck on what to pick, check out the variety of deckbuilding sites and see what other people with similar decks are running in their Sideboards. Also remember that like anything in a TCG, you’re going to constantly change what you have in your Sideboard as you encounter more matchups and the meta shifts. You don’t have to get it exactly right on your first try. As you’re playing, you may find yourself frequently saying “if only I had [X kind of card] in this match!” That’s when you know you should add this to your Sideboard.

Making the Switch During a Match

This is probably what people find to be the most intimidating part of playing with a Sideboard, since it can sometimes be difficult to find the right cards to take out. To make this process easy and clear when you’re starting out, I recommend doing each of these things in order:

  • Check if any of your Main deck cards became dead in this matchup. We tried to minimize this earlier, but it is unavoidable to some extent. Maybe you have [[Ritual of Soot]] against Jeskai control, or a Main deck [[Tocatli Honor Guard]] but your opponent isn’t Golgari. Remove all such cards to start.
  • Next, look at your sideboard and find the cards that will help you the most based on what you’ve seen so far. These will usually be direct answers that you’ve planned for based on our previous steps when you were building the deck. Don’t even worry about card count at this point. Is the card going to be helpful in this game? If so, just add it.
  • Finally, if you did both of the previous steps and are still over 60 cards, you’ll need to examine the cards in the deck and just start removing the least useful ones until you get down to 60. It might feel a bit stressful at first, but the more you play, the more you’ll begin to notice the cards that are only marginally useful and it will get easier to take them out at the right times.

NOTE: When making tech selections, remember that your opponent will be teching against you as well. For example, if you are playing aggro, you can expect them to bring in sweepers. Plan your cards accordingly.

Now You’re Ready!

You can now go out into Traditional Constructed and see what it’s all about. It’s a wonderful way to play, where the meta can be more diverse and you have more flexibility to adapt to your opponent in real time during a match. The more you play, the more you will be able to refine your deck and Sideboard techniques.

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