Sideboarding with the best deck in Modern

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There’s a whole lotta Modern going on this weekend, from SCG Regionals to a Face to Face Games Toronto Open, so there’s no time like the present for me to lay out a reasonably comprehensive guide to sideboarding with the best version of the format’s best deck. Last time I wrote about this strategy, I recommended a green splash for Life Goes On, a trump card for the Burn matchup. In the weeks since GP Toronto, Burn’s metagame share has plummeted, and so the need for a dedicated plan for that matchup has disappeared. With the green splash gone and some sideboard slots freed up, it’s time to focus on the deck’s new problem matchups: Dredge and Whir Prison. Here’s how to beat them, the mirror and everyone else.


I’ll explain the changes as I go through the individual matchups that they’re meant to improve. As for the maindeck, Gut Shot’s stock is as low as ever, being a blank against the format’s best decks, so the split with Surgical has changed, now that the free Extirpate is where we want to be against the entirety of the format’s top tier.

If you’re looking for all of this information in a more printable format and with fewer dreaded capital letters, here’s a Google Sheet for your enjoyment. My sincerest apologies to the recipients of all the shade thrown in my comments on these matchups. Remember, your Modern deck is not your identity nor your personality, and just because I call your deck bad doesn’t mean I think you’re bad. Unless you play Ad Nauseam, in which case you’ve already done enough damage to your own psyche that any further harm I inflict is marginal at best.

vs Izzet Phoenix
IN
1 Beacon Bolt 2 Surgical Extraction 1 Ral, Izzet Viceroy 1 Flame Slash

OUT
1 Gut Shot 4 Lightning Bolt

While others look to solve this matchup with cards like Entrancing Melody and Threads of Disloyalty, I’m looking to get an edge while using cards that have significant applications elsewhere. To that end, we’re taking advantage of the deck’s low threat density to use the full four copies of Surgical Extraction for maximum value. This can allow you to run your opponent fully out of threats if you play tight. With a very high removal count and a virtual seven copies of Surgical thanks to Snapcaster, this is a robust plan that also manages to not detract from our lean aggressive strategy with expensive, clunky Mind Control effects.

vs Grixis Shadow
IN
1 Ral, Izzet Viceroy 1 Beacon Bolt 2 Blood Moon

OUT
2 Surgical Extraction 1 Gut Shot 1 Flame Slash

Shadow is where the strange inclusion of Beacon Bolt really shines, as a Terminate that uniquely plays around Thoughtseize. This matchup, minus some unbeatable nut draws from the opponent, tends to play out fairly slowly, with the Shadow player taking a few turns to tear apart your hand while setting up their game. Therefore, in this matchup, and in this matchup only, we choose to take the draw. It’s deathly important for us to have a density of spells to push our gameplan through the barrage of Thoughtseizes that Shadow will throw at us. If we were to take the play and be forced to mulligan, a single discard spell from them would spell immediate doom. Likewise, the opponent can struggle to both piece together the prerequisite low life total in conjunction with the critical mass of threats and answers when on a low card count, and this is the axis on which the matchup is fought — not tempo. Take it slow, and be confident that this isn’t actually a bad matchup so long as you understand this important fact.

vs Burn
IN
2 Spell Pierce 2 Abrade 2 Dispel 1 Flame Slash

OUT
1 Gut Shot 2 Surgical Extraction 1 Snapcaster Mage 3 Opt

While we lose Life Goes On in this iteration of the deck, the slots go to Dispel and Flame Slash, cards that still contribute to our gameplan in this matchup. A gameplan that consists, of course, of making sure Eidolon doesn’t stay on the table, killing them as quickly as possible and hopefully countering an important burn spell with Spell Pierce or Dispel. The most difficult decisions in this matchup usually come down to whether to hold removal for a potential Eidolon or to fire them off immediately on Swiftspear and Goblin Guide. I err on the side of aggression here, especially post-board when we add removal and they, presumably, cut a couple burn spells.

vs Dredge
IN
2 Surgical Extraction 1 Anger of the Gods 2 Spell Pierce 1 Ral, Izzet Viceroy

OUT
1 Gut Shot 1 Flame Slash 1 Lightning Axe 3 Lightning Bolt

The only thing that really sticks out here is that we’re bringing in our good friend Ral in a matchup where, in theory, he’d have no business hanging around. Post-board, Dredge brings in a monstrous amount of removal to deal with Thing in the Ice, and with a virtual seven copies of Surgical, we do a great job of helping to slow the game down to a crawl. To win, we need all the threats we can get our grimy hands on — and it’s not like any of our removal is really doing anything here.

vs Humans/Spirits
IN
2 Abrade 1 Anger of the Gods 1 Beacon Bolt 1 Flame Slash

OUT
2 Surgical Extraction 2 Crackling Drake 1 Thought Scour

vs Whir
IN
2 Spell Pierce 1 Ral, Izzet Viceroy 2 Abrade 1 Shatterstorm 2 Blood Moon 1 Surgical Extraction 2 Dispel

OUT
1 Gut Shot 1 Flame Slash 1 Lightning Axe 4 Lightning Bolt 2 Crackling Drake 2 Thought Scour

Phew. While this might seem excessive, we’re basically bringing in every single card that can interact with them — minus the unnecessary fourth copy of the mediocre Surgical Extraction — and boarding out all the assorted nonsense that doesn’t really contribute to our ability to deal with Ensnaring Bridge and friends. This matchup is legitimately very bad without a dedicated and coherent strategy. Ours is drawing the card Shatterstorm, abusing its “they can’t be regenerated” clause, then attacking for lethal. Fortunately our entire deck is bad cantrips and Snapcaster Mage gives us a way to cast it even if we incidentally mill it with Scour, so it’s a pretty good plan.

vs BGx
IN
1 Ral, Izzet Viceroy 1 Beacon Bolt 2 Blood Moon

OUT
2 Surgical Extraction 1 Gut Shot 1 Opt

As much as this matchup plays out like it does against Death’s Shadow, we simply can’t afford to take the draw and get blown out by, say, a Liliana of the Veil on our Thing in the Ice. Their plays are actually good on curve, unlike Shadow, and deserve to be respected.

vs Jeskai/UW
IN
2 Spell Pierce 1 Ral, Izzet Viceroy 2 Blood Moon 2 Dispel

OUT
1 Gut Shot 1 Flame Slash 4 Lightning Bolt 1 Surgical Extraction

Keep in mind that they’re likely to be bringing in Baneslayer Angel to trump our Phoenixes in the air. Having two hard answers in the form of Ral and Lightning Axe (which does double duty against Celestial Colonnade) on top of flipping Thing in the Ice is worthwhile. Phoenix is by far the most important card in this matchup, but be aware that they’re going to have Surgical Extraction and the like postboard. This means that it’s often wise to hardcast Phoenixes unless you can discard them and return them with counterspell backup.

vs Amulet
IN
2 Abrade 2 Blood Moon 2 Dispel

OUT
2 Surgical Extraction 1 Flame Slash 1 Gut Shot 1 Snapcaster Mage 1 Lightning Axe

You may be tempted to try and Thought Scour/Surgical Extraction to try and snipe a Titan in this matchup, but I’d caution against it. We have other tools to interact, and their clock isn’t really much faster than ours. Just play around Azusa to the best of your ability and try to kill or Blood Moon them quickly.

vs Red Phoenix
IN
2 Surgical Extraction 2 Abrade 1 Flame Slash

OUT
1 Gut Shot 4 Opt

This matchup is as close to a bye as they come. Instead of the format-defining Thing in the Ice, this deck incomprehensibly plays one-mana 1/2s. Kill their unplayable creatures and then them, easily, every time.

vs Tron
IN
2 Spell Pierce 2 Abrade 2 Blood Moon

OUT
2 Surgical Extraction 1 Flame Slash 1 Lightning Axe 1 Lightning Bolt 1 Snapcaster Mage

Nothing to see here, just another deck that doesn’t operate at an appropriate power level for Modern in 2019 vainly clinging on to a bunch of Relic of Progenitus in place of a coherent strategy.

vs Storm
IN
2 Spell Pierce 2 Surgical Extraction 2 Dispel 1 Anger of the Gods

OUT
2 Crackling Drake 1 Gut Shot 1 Flame Slash 3 Thought Scour

I haven’t seen this deck put up meaningful results in a while, but our trillion copies of Surgical Extraction and incidental answers to Empty the Warrens are sure to cause problems for them.

vs Affinity/Hardened Scales
IN
2 Abrade 1 Anger of the Gods 1 Flame Slash 1 Shatterstorm

OUT
2 Surgical Extraction 3 Thought Scour

We get some splash damage going on here from the Shatterstorm inclusion, and with Affinity gaining in popularity thanks to the new Experimental Frenzy build, I’m happy to have it on the team. That said, these decks can’t beat Thing in the Ice, so that’s awkward. For them.

vs Hollow One
IN
2 Abrade 1 Flame Slash 1 Beacon Bolt 1 Surgical Extraction

OUT
1 Gut Shot 1 Snapcaster Mage 1 Lightning Bolt 2 Thought Scour

Figuring out what to cut in this matchup is a bit awkward. I don’t want to cut too many Lightning Bolts, as having ways to beat resolved recursive threats is important, but I also don’t want to go too low on cantrips because Thing in the Ice is a serious problem for Hollow One. I arrived at this spread of cards to trim, but it’s quite likely that there’s a better set of numbers.

vs Scapeshift
IN
2 Spell Pierce 2 Blood Moon

OUT
2 Surgical Extraction 1 Flame Slash 1 Lightning Axe Scapeshift might be a combo deck, but we’re multiple turns faster than them. If you see a bunch of Damping Spheres and Relic of Progenitus, consider trimming Bolts for Abrades. It’s hard to say with certainty whether or not they’ll have those cards in enough density to justify the preemptive switch as the archetypical Scapeshift deck is built at random out of a trade binder, so use your judgment on this one.

vs Ad Nauseam
IN
2 Spell Pierce 2 Abrade 2 Blood Moon 2 Surgical Extraction 2 Dispel

OUT
4 Lightning Bolt 1 Gut Shot 2 Flame Slash 1 Lightning Axe 2 Crackling Drake

I guess you can board like this, but it doesn’t particularly matter, since this deck incomprehensibly plays a tutor with the text “lose the game 90 per cent of the time” on it. Speaking of free wins, remember to always target them with Thought Scour, as not only can they randomly lose to the minor deck damage, but also because Surgical is rather game-ending if you hit any of their major combo pieces.

Thanks for reading, and good luck this weekend! Let me know if you play with the deck, and if you have any questions, hit me up on, as SCG Points Leader Dom Harvey puts it, The Website.

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