Does building a sideboard feel like an art? Today we are going to build a sideboard from scratch in as scientific a way as possible. We will follow some general principles to help us arrive at a reasoned final 75 cards. To pull things out of the abstract we will follow along with an actual deck and build a usable sideboard for it. RG Tron is the deck I have the most experience with in Modern, so that’s the one we’ll use.

By the end of this article you should feel more confident about building a sideboard, regardless of the format.

Current List (Dec 2015)

Let’s start by pulling out a sample deck and see what’s going on.


Overall I think this is a good maindeck, but we can do better. Relics and Emrakul in the maindeck are meta calls. Many people have been cutting Emrakul from the 75 as they expect a rise of non-blue, aggressive decks.

The sideboard is a little all over the place, and we’ll improve it by looking at the types of matches we expect to face. We’ll get back to the decklist once we have a better sense of the meta.

Decks you expect to face:
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The types of decks you expect to face is one of the most important considerations when it comes to building a deck. We can talk about a deck’s “power” or “strength” in a vaccuum, but in a tournament we are actually playing against other decks. Imagine a store where everyone plays grindy control decks. The player who brings even a weak “untiered” aggro deck will probably win a lot of matches.

Assessing the meta is very challenging at the moment because of the recent bannings which have eliminated two of the top decks. Many players are waiting until the next Pro Tour to see how things shape up. Our usual source of meta analysis is Modern Nexus and MTG Goldfish, but they do not have enough data to accurately capture the current meta. We could also scour MTG Top 8 for the decks that are winning tournaments, but this only tells us who the predators are and not who the prey is.

At the end of the day we still need to make a decision about the meta, so we will make our best guess even if it uses imperfect information.

According to Modern Nexus, here’s the Nov 2015 MTGO metagame breakdown for Modern, before the big banning of Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom.

1 Amulet Bloom -BANNED 8.5%
2 Affinity 8.2%
3 Burn 7.7%
4 RG Tron 5.1%
5 Jund 4.8%
6 UR Twin -BANNED 4.8%
7 Infect 4.5%
8 Living End 3.7%
9 Merfolk 3.4%
10 Grixis Twin -BANNED 3.1%
11 Abzan 2.8%
12 Scapeshift 2.6%
13 Naya Company 2.6%

XX Total 61.5%

This is assembled from all MTGO dailies from Nov 2015.

The meta will shift to fill the vacuum left by Twin and Amulet Bloom, so we will only use the percentages as guides. Let’s tweak them to account for the anticipated rise of aggro (Infect, Burn, Affinity), Eldrazi decks and the increase in blue based control (the former Twin players have to go somewhere). I will round things to 2.5% to make things easier to discuss and I will use my judgement to guess the upcoming meta; this isn’t particularly scientific!

1 Affinity 12.5%
2 Burn 10.0%
3 Infect 7.5%
4 RG Tron 7.5%
5 Jund 5.0%
6 Uxx Control 5.0%
7 Living End 5.0%
8 Zoo 5.0%
9 Merfolk 2.5%
10 Abzan 2.5%
11 Scapeshift 2.5%
12 Naya Company 2.5%
13 Eldrazi 2.5%

XX Total 70.0%

I have no idea where Temur Delver should fit into this chart. This deck won SCG Atlanta post-ban and had a top 16 finish. It’s too early for me to guess about this deck. Modern Nexus recently released an “Early Metagame Snapshot in Twinless Modern” which uses two weeks of data. Even though there isn’t much data, it can still hint at where the meta is going.

Meta-game conclusions:
Quiet-Contemplation-MtG-Art

What does this meta breakdown tell us about potential card choices for our maindeck?

Relics are great (12.5%) against Jund, Living End, Abzan and reasonable (12.5%) in Uxx Control and Infect matchups . That’s pretty good for a card that cycles so it is never dead. Pyroclasms are looking very good right now, with very few matchups where you want to side them all out. Spellskite is great or useful against Affinity, Burn, RG Tron, Infect, Zoo and Scapeshift, which is ~45% of the meta. That’s a great reason to go up to two (or even 3) MD Spellskite.

Ugin on the other hand is looking very bad right now. There are so few Collected Company decks running around, and the GBx matchups are already very good without Ugin. Including Merfolk gives (15.0%) matchups that Ugin is good in. I’m tempted to move Ugin to the SB, or even straight up cut him (until the meta changes again).

Emrakul seems to be kind of clunky in this meta, but I really like the inevitability she provides. She is impervious to removal, discard, sacrifice effects; you always have her. However she is very slow and the current meta seems quite fast. The common thinking is to remove her from the 75.

This is not a metagame for Slaughter Games. It is only really amazing in the Scapeshift match. In the other combo matchups it is usually too slow. I don’t think it is worth it. Not including Slaughter Games also frees up our flex land slot. I’ll get to the SB discussion a bit later, but this is one of the few cards that affects our MD, so I mention it here.

The initial perception is that RG Tron and Eldrazi will be popular after the ban. This will push people to run more Ghost Quarters and Crumble to Dust, and in response I think we want to be running at least one extra Forest in the maindeck.

Warping Wail is a card that is difficult to evaluate because of its situational nature, but one I think is worth trying out. It can exile many creatures in the format like Snapcaster Mage, Vendilion Clique, Glistener Elf, Blinkmoth Nexus, Eldrazi Mimic, Eternal Witness and many more. The juiciest thing we can counter is Scapeshift, but I also imagine us getting incidental value from countering a Rift Bolt or a Lava Spike. The final mode can produce surprise blockers for Tarmogoyf, or help us get a turn 3 Ugin in Magical Christmas Land.

Deck Reconstruction
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Based on these conclusions, here’s the decklist I think you should be running:


MD Changes: -1 Oblivion Stone, -1 Ugin, -1 Tendo, -1 Emrakul, +1 Pyroclasm, +1 Spellskite, +1 Forest, +1 Warping Wail.

Sideboard
4 Nature’s Claim

1 Spellskite

2 Ghost Quarter

8 ???

The first 7 cards are what I consider to be the 7 fundamental SB slots in RG Tron. They are flexible and cover a lot of the decks we expect you to meet. Nature’s Claim provides removal against Affinity, gains life against Burn and removes pesky enchantments like Stony Silence and Blood Moon. The Ghost Quarters provide much needed ammunition in the mirror, and helps us deal with manlands that would be otherwise difficult to remove.

The 8 remaining slots will be figured out as we complete our SB guide. We’ll see how many cards we *want* to take out in each match, and we’ll see how many sideboard cards we could possibly bring in. This way we’ll see what we need those 8 extra cards to be doing. This is called our “Initial Sideboard Plan”. The idea is that even if we wanted to build a 15 card anti-Jund sideboard it would not make sense, because we don’t have 15 cards to take out! This is a strategy employed by the guys over at the Brainstorm Show, although I’m sure it has older origins.

My guess for RG Tron is that we’ll want 2 pieces of artifact removal (Ancient Grudge, Vandalblast), 1-2 Ugins, 1-2 aggro cards (Thragtusk is a popular choice) and 2 Pithing Needles.

Initial SB plan
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To avoid repeating myself, I’m going to put all the reasoning in the final version of the SB plan. So just take my word for some of these, or skip to the end to see the arguments. This part takes experience, or at the very least knowing how the matchups usually play out. Playing a couple of test matches against these decks will help you to figure out what cards you really don’t want in each matchup.

A special note for RG Tron: we almost never want to remove any of our 20 engine cards (Chromatic Star, Chromatic Sphere, Sylvan Scrying, Expedition Map, Ancient Stirrings). Taking these out is usually a sign that we have too many sideboard cards for a particular matchup. One special exception is that against tempo heavy decks with Remand, we can justify sideboarding out a single Sylvan Scrying. It is very painful to have that Remanded when you cast it off of a Chromatic Star as your only source of green.

The Sideboard GuideOutIn
Affinity1 Warping Wail
2 Relic
2-4 Karn
1 Eye of Ugin
1 Newlamog
4 Nature's Claim
1-2 Ghost Quarter
(1-4 Free Slots)
Burn1 Newlamog
2 Relic
3 Oblivion Stone
1 Warping Wail
4 Nature's Claim
1 Spellskite
(2 Free Slot)
Infect1 Newlamog
2 Relic
1 Spellskite
1 Ghost Quarter
(1 Free Slot)
RG Tron4 Pyroclasm
2 Relic
0-2 Nature's Claim
2 Ghost Quarter
1 Spellskite
(1-3 Free Slots)

Jund2 Spellskite
1 Warping Wail
(3 Free Slots)
Uxx Control4 Pyroclasm
1 Warping Wail
3 Oblivion Stone
1 Spellskite
4 Nature's Claim
(3 Free Slots)
Living End4 Pyroclasm1 Spellskite
(3 Free Slots)
Zoo4 Pyroclasm
1 Warping Wail
1 Spellskite
(4 Free Slots)
Merfolk4 Pyroclasm
1 Warping Wail
4 Nature's Claim
2 Ghost Quarter
Abzan2 Pyroclasm
2 Spellskite
1 Warping Wail
4 Nature's Claim
(1 Free Slot)
Scapeshift2 Relic
4 Pyroclasm
3 Oblivion Stone
1 Spellskite
4 Nature's Claim
2 Ghost Quarter
(2 Free Slots)
Naya Company2 Spellskite2 Nature's Claim
Eldrazi2 Relic
2 Spellskite
1 Warping Wail
2 Ghost Quarter
3 (Free Slots)

Our 8 SB slots – Discussion
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After the initial run through, here are the decks we have free slots in:

Affinity (1-4)
Burn (2)
Infect (1)
RG Tron (1-2)
Jund (3)
Uxx Control (3)
Living End (3)
Zoo (4)
Abzan (1)
Scapeshift (2)
Eldrazi (2)

Here’s how I’m going to choose the 7 cards:

1. Focus on the most common matchups. (We will worry more about Affinity than Scapeshift.)
2. Focus on the matchups that are 40-60%. (I.e. mostly ignore the extreme matchups.)
3. Choose flexible cards that could go in against the 30% of decks that aren’t represented in the 13 most played decks.

Here’s a partial list of our sideboard options. This list is the product of talking to other players, reading other lists and poring over set lists. For your deck, try to keep a similar list. Put some odd-ball cards on the list and test them out. Most cards will be bad, but occasionally you’ll stumble upon something great.

A reasonable choice is to include 2 pieces of artifact hate (like Ancient Grudge) which hits Affinity and some fringe decks like Lantern Control and Ad Nauseam. Something like Deglamer could also work, but we don’t actually need the extra flexibility. The enchantments we really care about are white, and against those decks we (usually) don’t even use all of our Nature’s Claims.

That leaves us with 6 free slots and these decks remaining:

Affinity (0-2)
Burn (2)
Infect (1)
RG Tron (1-2)
Jund (3)
Uxx Control (3)
Living End (3)
Zoo (4)
Abzan (1)
Scapeshift (4)
Eldrazi (2)

Thragtusk deals with Jund, Abzan, Burn and Zoo. It is also fine against Affinity and can gain life against Scapeshift. Choosing Thragtusk leaves us with 5 slots free, and:

Affinity (0-1)
Burn (1)
Infect (1)
RG Tron (1-2)
Jund (2)
Uxx Control (3)
Living End (2)
Zoo (3)
Abzan (1)
Scapeshift (3)
Eldrazi (2)

Warping Wail is a very flexible card and is useful against Infect, Tron, Living End and Scapeshift (22.5%). In a pinch it is an extra blocker against aggro decks. It also counters Crumble to Dust, which I anticipate many red decks will bring in against us. It hasn’t had a lot of testing, but I’m willing to believe that it is worth playing. So let’s include 2, and that leaves us with 3 slots free.

Affinity (0-1)
Burn (1)
Jund (2)
Uxx Control (3)
Zoo (3)
Abzan (1)
Eldrazi (2)

This is where things start to become tricky. I’m willing to stop adding sideboard slots for Burn and Affinity. An extra Relic is great against Jund, Uxx Control and Abzan. This leave us with 2 slots:

Jund (1)
Uxx Control (2)
Zoo (3)
Eldrazi (2)

I’m tempted by 2 Firespout, but an additional Wurmcoil would also be helpful. So let’s say an additional Wurmcoil and 1 Firespout. This also helps fill our gaps against Burn and Affinity.

Cards we didn’t use

There are many cards we could have included but didn’t. When the meta shifts or if you just don’t like some card choices I picked, then you can pick some cards from this list: Emrakul, Pithing Needle, Crumble to Dust, Surgical Extraction, Blood Moon, Life from the Loam, Crucible of Worlds, Roast, Tarmogoyf, Kozilek’s Return.

Final list

20 Lands (Flex – Forest)
22 Cantrips/Tutors (20 Usual + 2 Relics)
7 Sweepers – 4 Pyroclasm, 3 Oblivion Stone 6 Creatures – 3 Wurmcoil, 2 Spellskite, 1 Newlamog
5 Utility – 4 Karn, 1 Warping Wail

Sideboard
4 Nature’s Claim
1 Spellskite
2 Ghost Quarter
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Thragtusk
2 Warping Wail
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Firespout

Annotated Sideboard guide
MK_3

As with any sideboard guide, you should strive to understand the reasons behind each decision. Don’t do something if you don’t understand it!

1 Affinity

OUT (9): 1 Warping Wail, 2 Relic, 4 Karn, 1 Eye of Ugin, 1 Newlamog
IN (9): 4 Nature’s Claim, 2 Ancient Grudge, 2 Ghost Quarter, 1 Firespout

Relics are dead. Affinity usually goes too wide for Karn, and Eye of Ugin doesn’t produce mana early when we need it. Newlamog is slow, and we don’t want Eye, so we cut Newlamog. Ghost Quarters are needed to get their Inkmoth Nexus and Blinkmoth Nexus which can survive an Oblivion stone.

2 Burn

OUT (8): 1 Newlamog, 2 Relic, 3 Oblivion Stone, 1 Warping Wail, 1 Eye of Ugin IN (8): 4 Nature’s Claim, 1 Spellskite, 1 Wurmcoil Engine, 1 Thragtusk, 1 Ghost Quarter

Relics are dead, Newlamog and Oblivion Stone are too slow. Nature’s Claim is mostly to hit our own artifacts (preferably Star) to gain 4 life, but can also hit an Eidolon of the Great Revel. Ghost Quarter replaces the Eye which doesn’t make mana.

3 Infect

OUT (4): 1 Newlamog, 2 Relic, 1 Eye of Ugin IN (4): 1 Spellskite, 2 Warping Wail, 1 Ghost Quarter

Eye and Newlamog are too slow. Relics only get Become Immense. Warping Wail exiles all of their unpumped creatures.

4 RG Tron

OUT (6): 4 Pyroclasm, 2 Relic
IN (6): 2 Ghost Quarter, 1 Spellskite, 2 Warping Wail, 1 Thragtusk

This is very much a tempo game. Ghost Quarter and Warping Wail (counters: Sylvan Scrying, Ancient Stirrings, Crumble to Dust) will keep them off balance. Spellskite helps us weather an opposing Turn 3 Karn.

5 Jund

OUT (3): 2 Spellskite, 1 Warping Wail
IN (3): 1 Relic, 1 Wurmcoil Engine, 1 Thragtusk

Relics are amazing, and the creatures will help us stabilize.

6 Uxx Control

OUT – Grixis (6): 4 Pyroclasm, 2 Spellskite IN – Grixis (6): 1 Thragtusk, 1 Relic, 2 Ghost Quarter, 2 Warping Wail.

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Pyroclasm is mostly dead. Oblivion Stone can hit Gurmag Angler. Warping Wail is mostly to protect against Crumble to Dust, but can also eat Cliques or Snapcaster Mages.

OUT – UWR (7): 4 Pyroclasm, 3 O Stone
IN – UWR (7): 1 Thragtusk, 2 Nature’s Claim, 1 Relic, 1 Ghost Quarter, 2 Warping Wail.

The board wipes are mostly dead (although be careful if they side in Geist). Nature’s Claim gets Blood Moon and Stony Silence.

7 Living End

OUT (4): 4 Pyroclasm IN (4): 1 Wurmcoil Engine, 2 Warping Wail, 1 Relic

Relic and Warping Wail (counters Living End) are clear, and the Wurmcoil is resilient to a resolved Living End.

8 Zoo

OUT (4): 4 Pyroclasm IN (4): 1 Spellskite, 1 Thragtusk, 1 Wurmcoil Engine, 1 Firespout Pyroclasm doesn’t actually kill anything in their deck. Spellskite is just a blocker. Warping Wail is left in as an additional blocker.

9 Merfolk

OUT (6): 2 Relic, 4 Pyroclasm IN (6): 4 Nature’s Claim, 1 Ghost Quarter, 1 Firespout Pyroclasm doesn’t usually kill anything in their deck once they get two lords. Nature’s Claim gets their Spreading Seas. Spellskite is kept in as a blocker.

10 Abzan

OUT (5): 2 Pyroclasm, 2 Spellskite, 1 Warping Wail
IN (5): 3 Nature’s Claim, 1 Relic, 1 Thragtusk.

Pyroclasm only hits some of their creatures but none of the scary ones. Nature’s Claim can be used to protect Wurmcoil or to blow up Stony Silence. Thragtusk is resilient to Path to Exile.

11 Scapeshift

OUT (9): 2 Relic, 4 Pyroclasm, 3 Oblivion Stone IN (9): 1 Spellskite, 4 Nature’s Claim, 2 Warping Wail, 2 Ghost Quarter

The Nature’s Claim are just to give yourself life and mess up their math. Pyroclasm and Oblivion Stone don’t do anything. Relic is okay, but we have better cards.

12 Naya Company

OUT (2): 2 Spellskite IN (2): 2 Nature’s Claim

This is just to get Stony Silence. Relics can deal with their annoying GW creatures.

13 Eldrazi

OUT (4): 2 Relic, 1 Warping Wail, 1 Spellskite IN (4): 2 Ghost Quarter, 1 Thragtusk, 1 Wurmcoil Engine

We don’t have enough things to bring in, so we only lose 1 Spellskite. The creatures are to help apply pressure.

Final Thoughts
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Now that we’ve done all the hard work we should put down our list and come back to it a day later. How do you feel about each matchup? Did you make any glaring mistakes? Don’t be afraid to scrap everything and start again. When I play decks regularly I usually repeat this exercise about once a month as the metagame shifts.

Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think; I’d love to hear from you. How do you build a sideboard? How much do you take the meta into account?

Catch me at the Face to Face Games Open in Toronto on Saturday February 6, send me a message on reddit /u/mpaw975, or send me an email at mpawliuk@gmail.com.

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