During the week, a co-worker and I got into an argument about why the Standard format is bothersome to me, because the diversity of decks, the “optimal” sideboard is unattainable. We went rounds for about two hours discussing everything from, decks in the past, what it means to have a “bad match-up”, defined formats, what that means exactly, what makes a deck good and how the sideboard helps that. It boiled down to my understanding of a sideboard, which is, it’s 15 cards that help you or give you an advantage against decks, you can’t beat normally. That is undeniably false. What a good sideboard consists of is, 15 cards that improves your decks performance against what you expect to play against most often. Those two things sound the same but in detail are wildly different and I’ll explain why.
So, when you build your main deck, you have a lot of things to consider.
- How often am I going to see the cards I need?
- Which cards in particular are the most crucial to get?
- In what way, if any, can I manipulate the odds of getting cards I need?
- What exactly, is my win condition?
- How will this deck perform against the decks that are going top 8 reliably?
And a thousand other things to take into consideration. Now, obviously, a deck can’t have everything covered. You can have as many cards in a deck as you want but it’s a matter of numbers. The more cards you have in your deck the less likely you are to see certain cards reliably. For example, with the maximum amount of one card allowed in your deck, which is four, out of 60 cards, you will see that card roughly 6% of the time. So adding more cards is just a consciously inhibiting you. In comes the sideboard. With a sideboard, the size of your deck, effectively, jumps to 75 without changing the odds of drawing into the cards you need to see. But what your sideboard consists of is where things get tricky.
Like I said before, what I thought a sideboard was supposed to do was to impede my opponent, especially against decks I have an unfavorable match up against. Why that is wrong is because, you want the cards in your sideboard to put you ahead of your opponent in someway, not be reactionary. So for example, if I’m running a blue/black deck and my opponent has a lot of artifacts, a card type both blue and black are notorious for being unable to destroy, then I want to sideboard in cards that make it more difficult for them to use their artifacts. As a rough, and I stress the word rough, scenario, if my sideboard options are a counterspell or a spell that makes them discard, I would pick the discard spell because, I am just as likely to see the counterspell as I am to see the discard spell however, when I do finally get the counterspell it may not be as relevant whereas the discard spell can still be used to get something else out of their hand and still gives me the additional information of what’s in their hand.
In closing, there’s no such thing as the perfect deck and by extension, the perfect sideboard. However recognizing what makes a sideboard good is a good step in getting better at the game.