Sideboarding in Modern Part I

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Posted April 10, 2017 by Abdullah Elhawary in Tabletop

Welcome back trusty reader! It’s been a short while since I’ve posted an article due to exams and sickness but fear not! I have returned with a vengeance to guide you through the scary world of Modern. Whenever you have a format as diverse and healthy as Modern is, sideboarding is almost as important (if not more important) than the maindeck itself. In any given tournament you can expect to face linear aggro decks like Affinity and Burn, grindy midrange deck like Jund and Abzan, control decks like Grixis, big mana decks like Tron and Titan Shift, combo decks like Storm and Ad Nauseam, and whatever you classify Death’s Shadow decks as. I’m not even mentioning the obscure decks like Hulk Footsteps, Bogles and Tooth & Nail.

Anyways, building a sideboard is a multi-step process that can be the downfall of many players. I will try my best to give you my take on how you should construct your sideboard based on your deck alongside evaluating Modern’s best sideboard cards.

Strategy:

I usually break Modern down into five main archetypes as mentioned above; aggro, midrange, control, big mana and combo. I dedicate half of my sideboard (7-8) for hate cards that shut off certain strategies entirely like graveyard hate, artifact/enchantment removal and select removal/sweepers because they are generically good against most of the field.

The other half is dedicated to match-ups that need to be severely improved such as Tron for Jund or Infect for Tron. I am a firm believer in improving your worst match-up or two by a lot as opposed to having a half-assed sideboard plan that fails because you hoped to draw the one or two cards you dedicated to a match-up. Graveyard hate like Rest in Peace can completely or partially nullify the effectiveness of DredgeSnapcaster Mage, Tasigur, Lingering Souls, TarmogoyfKolaghan’s Command, and others.

Similarly, it is important to have access to removal for non-creature permanents. Not all decks can play Rest in Peace, Stony Silence, Ancient Grudge, Fulminator Mage, etc due to not having access to the colors necessary, the card interfering with your overall plan, or simply having a combo deck that operates on a different axis entirely.

Generic Hate

Graveyard Hate Cards:

  

Honorable Mentions: Grafdigger’s Cage & Surgical Extraction

These are the best sideboard options against the various strategies that use the graveyard. Out of all of these, Rest in Peace is king, but it requires that you have access to white mana and that you don’t rely on your graveyard to generate some kind of advantage. Relic of Progenitus is in some ways a poor man’s Rest in Peace, but that doesn’t detract from its flexibility. It’s colorless, gets you a card back later, and is insurance against removal as long as you have mana open. That being said, it is a temporary answer that can be overloaded by something like Dredge quite easily.

Nihil Spellbomb is perfect for Jund, Grixis, Junk, Esper and BUG decks that want to keep their own graveyard intact due to Snapcaster Mage, Kolaghan’s Command, Goyf and Lingering Souls. It also recoups the card that you spent so it acts as a functional 2 for 1, which is exactly what these decks want to be doing.

Grafdigger’s Cage might be the worst of all these options because it doesn’t actually stop cards from entering/staying in the graveyard. It still prevents them from doing anything when they’re there. It also stops persist and flashback so do keep that in mind if you play Cage.

I would like to give an honorable mention to Surgical Extraction because, although it isn’t full on graveyard hate, having the ability to completely remove a problematic card from your opponent’s deck is worth the card disadvantage. There are a lot of linear combo decks in the format, and Surgical works wonders in those matchups. I do not advise bringing it against fair midrange and control decks as they can easily win without access to one card, and Surgical is card disadvantage.

I’ve never really been a fan of Leyline of the Void – if you can please play any of the other cards instead. Leyline is abysmal if you don’t draw it in your opening hand. Lastly, please do not play Wheel of Sun and Moon. Ever.

It is important to mention that having access to something like 2 Scavenging Oozes in your maindeck is not enough to justify not having graveyard hate. This was quite common for the time that Deathrite Shaman was legal as Jund/ Junk players assumed their Deathrites were enough. Do not fall in this possible pitfall when building a sideboard.

Artifact/ Enchantment Removal:

  

Honorable Mentions: Reclamation Sage*, Fragmentize & Hurkyl’s Recall

Despite its efficiency and more lenient color demands, Natural State hasn’t dethroned Ancient Grudge for one simple reason; there are many more artifacts than enchantments in the format. This is mainly due to Affinity being a top tier deck since the format’s inception. Grudge’s flexibility in killing any artifact and having flashback for a measly one mana makes it one of the best sideboard cards ever printed.

Natural State and Nature’s Claim are neck and neck for 2nd place, but I give the edge to Natural State. You are usually trying to pressure decks like Affinity so the four life can represent an additional turn for your opponent. Most of the artifacts/ enchantments in the format cost 3 or less mana so Natural State’s drawback is actually quite minimal.

However, if you are playing a deck that either overkills like Dredge or doesn’t care about giving your opponent extra life like Infect, then Nature’s Claim is clearly the better card. Reclamation Sage is also a noteworthy card due to the existence of creature-based strategies such as Abzan Company, Hatebears, and decks with other creature tutor effects such as Traverse the Ulvenwald and Summoner’s Pact.

If you lack access to green or red, Fragmentize and Hurkyl’s Recall are considerably worse that the aforementioned options but are still fine alternatives.

*I strongly recommend owning the game day promo of this card because it is ridiculously beautiful

Land Destruction:

 

Honorable Mentions: Molten RainChoke, Boil & Ghost Quarter

Blood Moon isn’t technically land destruction, but it’s a lot better than that because of how format warping the card is. It is unacceptable to not run basic lands due to the mere existence of this card. It can win games all by itself. It’s like Mind Twist stapled to Armageddon! Maybe I’m a little too excited, but if your manabase can support it, run Blood Moon and enjoy your free wins.

You have to work a little harder with Fulminator Mage to get those W’s but it’s hate that can pressure your opponent’s life total. It shines in grindy Jund and Grixis strategies that have access to both Kolaghan’s Command and Liliana the Last Hope for recursion. 

Rain of Tears gets the nod ahead of something like Molten Rain (in displaying it’s image at least) because there are a lot of people who forget this cards exists and plays nicely with Snapcaster Mage. It’s good ol’ fashioned land destruction and can even go after basics in a pinch.

Molten Rain, on the other hand, is at the forefront of a lot of people’s mind due to its recent reprinting in Modern Masters. Similar to Rain of Tears, it can destroy any land. However it rewards you for sniping those pesky non-basic lands by adding 2 damage to the deal.

Speaking of good deals; are blue based decks giving you a headache? Well fear not Modern player, for I have just the answers for you: Choke and Boil. They come in two colors, green and red, and in two types, enchantment and instant. If you somehow don’t think these are good deals, we will throw in the horrific white boarder so you can truly show your opponent who’s boss. People don’t see these cards coming at all.

Ghost Quarter is a very sideboard-able card but a lot of people shy away from sideboarding lands due to the fact that they think it should be in the maindeck. I agree with that in most scenarios, but sometimes you just want access to more Ghost Quarters than you may have in your maindeck, though having 4 isn’t always correct.

Specific Creature Removal/ Sweepers:

Unlike the last three section, this and the following sections are more catch-all kinds of cards. Only having access to dead removal spells like Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push against Tron and Bant Eldrazi seems like a recipe for disaster. That’s why I think that some of your sideboard slots should be dedicated to more customizable removal and sweepers.

There’s no shortage of wraths in Modern – Pyroclasm, Firespout, Anger of the Gods, Damnation, Supreme Verdict and of course Wrath of God all exist. They’re all great against a plethora of creature decks; from low to the ground aggro decks like Merfolk, Elves and Zoo to Eldrazi variants.

Disfigure is one of many cheap removal spells that can help make your deck leaner and enable turns where you cast two spells in the early game. Addtional examples are Flame Slash, Condemn, Dismember and Murderous Cut.

Finally, I want to dedicate this last spot to my current favorite sideboard card in Modern, Big Game Hunter. With Modern being overwhelmed by high power threats like Death’s Shadow, Goyf, Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher it is important to have an answer to these threats. Is there a better way to do this than by 2 for 1’ing your opponent as you kill their best threat? This human rebel assassin is phenomenal both in and against Death’s Shadow aggro and Jund as well due to Kolaghan’s Command, Liliana and Traverse the Ulvenwald.

Modal Cycles

Honorable Mention: Jund Charm

The charms have always seen as peripheral options in Modern, but their flexibility shines when the format is as open as this one. There are too many modal cycles in the form of charms and commands across many sets, but I have picked out 3 that currently see minimal sideboard play.

Golgari Charm is incredible tech against Lingering Souls, Elves, Blood Moon, wraths and Affinity which are cards/decks that see no overlap and normally wouldn’t be sideboarded against in the same way. You can forego the entire headache of trying to do that (and prepare for the rest of the format) by using Golgari Charm.

Orzhov Charm would normally deserve to be an unplayable sideboard charm, but with the recent rise in popularity of Abzan Death’s Shadow, I expect this card to see an uptick in play. It can return a Death’s Shadow to play at instant speed or kill a creature whilst lowering your life total.

We also have Rakdos Charm which can nuke a player’s graveyard or kill an artifact. Both are amazing modes for the. The third mode used to be quite good against Splinter Twin, and if the Copycat combo ever does find it’s way into Modern, this mode will again be relevant.

Lastly, we have my favorite charm, Jund Charm, which used to be a card in the maindeck in most Jund lists circa 2011/2012. And for good reason. Exiling a graveyard, growing your creatures and pyroclasm all at instant speed make this card a very good deal for just 3 mana.

A conclusion of sorts:

Hopefully, you have realized how difficult building a sideboard can be. I could go for hours and hours about the sideboard plans/cards that every deck could have ,but my editor probably won’t let me. That being said, this article isn’t nearly enough to cover how to sideboard in Modern. I will be back in the near future with the second part of the article, which will be dedicated to the best cards against the top archetypes in Modern.


About the Author

Abdullah Elhawary
Abdullah Elhawary