Sideboard (and wishboards) in Commander

Commander (EDH) forum

Posted on July 17, 2019, 7:59 a.m. by Tzefick

This is a continuation of a derailed comment section to Berryjon's article on the Mulligan rule change.

Berryjon's article on the Mulligan rule change

To get the initial grounds for the subject, I invite you to first read the comment section of the above link (and the article, because it's quite good).

Quote of the post I wanted to respond to: "ae0n5105 says... Tzefick, I mainly am concerned about sideboarding rather than wishboards, as there are several common threats that if left unchecked, would greatly reduce the play experience for everyone. Especially in groups with new players as they often do not have the experience to understand threats, and often are visited by people looking for new players to try their combo decks out on (as their groups are already burned out on the idea).

The EDH rules committee often says that these types of rules can be house ruled in, so their word is not absolute which is a fair point, but I find that often you can only bank on their rules being known to any normal group. When I join a new playgroup, I often find myself having the same conversation as I discuss my sideboard and provide reasons why they should be concerned of "Certain threats". Mostly they are OK with using them, but I feel like I would prefer more to skip having to have the conversation.

At one point I actually joined a game at a local Card store in my new neighborhood and sided in a "Solemnity" by chance (someone had an Atraxa deck). My new acquaintances were amazed as a different player just so happened to bring his blue green surprise infect deck that night.

I didn't win, but we all had more fun than expected since the infect deck had cards like blighted agent and tons of pump spells."

ae0n5105, I understand your point. As I said in my post, Commander is casual at heart, so there's nothing wrong with tuning your deck between games.

If you keep yourself to a sideboard / small selection of cards, you are reducing time between games for the betterment of your playgroup.

What I read from your post (correct me if I misunderstood) is that you wish people in general were better at adjusting their decks between games to acclimate to new playgroups, certain play strategies or what not.

However I don't think an official implementation of a formalized sideboard will change this behavior by itself. I think it's a format wide knowledge aspect that hinders this. I think to really move on this subject, the best way would be for Commander content creators to discuss and utilize deck adjustments between games. If it becomes more the norm to do, then more people will start taking sideboards into consideration.

If people get more aware that it is a thing that can improve your game experience (if it truly does) it has a better chance at taking root in the format. And it would force people to consider countermeasures. So you cannot just slump into a certain deck structure and expect to continue the same play pattern with similar results. If you play heavily into mill strategies, people are going to use mill counter measures, such as the Eldrazi. If you don't account your own counter measures, your strategy will suffer.

I think the critical element to this entire subject is something that the Command Zone have re-iterated a lot of times in their recent videos, and especially the one on the Commander ban; communication within the playgroup.

I really hope that the possible introduction of a sideboard will not devolve the format into a state where you cannot play the same deck twice, if it leans heavily into a certain strategy, because everyone will just sideboard hoser tools.

It might be reasonable to think that you should be able to deal with a little counter measures to your heavy leaning strategy. However if everyone around the table suddenly sideboard in counter measures to your specific strategy, it could reduce Commander to a cumbersome format for certain strategies, more so than is already the case.

I also really hope that if sideboarding gets mainstream, it doesn't happen before the first game based solely on the revealed commanders.

I think the first game should always be "blind" in terms of counter measures.

Otherwise you suddenly have counter packages that fits against certain deck types.

Just an example but, it would really suck if I revealed Ghave, Guru of Spores as my commander and suddenly everyone around the table sideboards in Solemnity , Linvala, Keeper of Silence , Angel of Jubilation or similar cards just because they perceive my commander as a big enough potential threat (for combo or whatever), without actually seeing what my deck does.


The point being that sideboards should be more formalized if it improves the play experience overall, and not just necessarily for the majority but for all players.

If someone wants to play a Stax deck, they should be allowed to play that without fearing that everyone on game 1 suddenly have an overflow of counter measures. Game 2 is still fair game, but game 1 should be relatively unhindered by the presence of a sideboard option.

ZendikariWol says... #2

This is commander. It’s hundred-card singleton. Your deck should be your sideboard.

July 17, 2019 8:39 a.m.

Caerwyn says... #3

I do not think a sideboard is necessary for a number of reasons:

  1. As ZendikariWol mentioned, commander is a singleton format--deckbuilding in singleton is a nuanced art, as you're going to lack the consistency of the four-card formats. This means you have to carefully design your 100 cards to be able to quickly adjust and deal with threats, despite having a low likelihood of just drawing into your silver bullet. The addition of a sideboard allows you to pack more silver bullets to use in game two, allowing you to run a bit less interaction game one, as you test the waters.

  2. Sideboards do not work as well in multiplayer games, since you have too many different opponents to sideboard against. Generally, this means your sideboard step pretty much boils down to "the three losing players sideboard to stop the winning player" which is not exactly fun.

  3. Sideboards are disproportionately powerful in certain colors than they are in others, which is a problem in a game so closely tied to color identity. For example, mono-colored decks (and some color combination) have the twofold problem of (a) not having many sideboard options available, and (b) being really easy to sideboard against. Combined together, this means the sideboard phase is disproportionately punitive on certain types of decks.

  4. The lack of a sideboard is another way to differentiate Commander from other formats, ensuring it has a completely unique experience.

Others might disagree on the above, which is precisely why the RC is clear homeruling is encouraged in the format. I just do not see enough utility in allowing a sideboard (or any card swaps mid-event) to justify a fundamental change in how Commander deckbuilding is approached.

July 17, 2019 9:32 a.m.

Dango says... #4

From a deckbuilding perspective, constructing a deck in a highlander/singleton format is a challenge in and of itself. For me personally, this is what I love about the format. Challenging yourself with such a limited stucture and figuring out which cards work for your playgroup and which cards don't makes the game really fun. I like to tune my decks toward my meta, and allowing a sideboard in the general rules of the game give you a good 10 to 15 card buffer of cards you can slot in, and that isn't really desirable considering the nature of the format. I'd also argue that a sideboard promotes stale deckbuilding because game one lets you get a feel for the matchups and allows you to sideboard in particular cards to give you an advantage, but I feel as if everyone should be in the same boat whether you're playing in a blind meta or in a tuned to your playgroup type of meta. Allowing sideboards in this format give you a huge buffer zone that would otherwise be absent. You have to draw the line at some point, and making cuts to cards that you think you want to play but don't quite make the cut is one of the most excruciatingly painful yet beautiful testaments of the game. My decks change on a weekly basis because I'm always testing new things. If sideboards were legal in Commander, I can't say I'd have that quality experience.

Furthermore, house rules are formalized under the official rules of the game, as they are a welcomed exception to the rules as long as they benefit the experience of your playgroup. Nothing's stopping you from trying out sideboards and allowing wish cards to work in your playgroup so long as all participants are okay with that.

July 17, 2019 11:26 a.m.

GhostChieftain says... #5

In my opinion sideboard is a good thing to add because there are commander leagues and tournaments as well.

July 17, 2019 12:30 p.m.

SMASHER101 says... #6

I think that there should be no sideboard. Wish cards should be played as written on the card because this is casual not tournament where you can only grab things from your sideboard. You should be allowed to keep a few extra cards with your deck to wish out, and you should be able to grab cards from another deck or from your binder. Imagine having someone threatening to go of it'd be fun to go into your binder and grab that obscure hate piece.

July 18, 2019 2:35 p.m.

ae0n5105 says... #7

Tzefick unfortunately commander games go hours (at least mine do), and often there is no game #2 to sideboard in cards as people need to leave. I agree blind siding in cards is NOT ideal, but if you see something like [Teferi Temporal Archmage] it is probably not unwise to expect a LOT of counterspells and extra turns. Likewise with Skithiryx it's not a far stretch that infect may be a thing.

But back to my main point, I've personally experienced cards like [Nether Void] in person and find that if you do not have the option to address this type of thing, you end up with several uninteractive games. Mind you there is a "Social contract" but also mind that there is a non-zero amount of MTG players who really do not get it, and resort to pubstomping folks. Like the player i mentioned in my prior group. There were literally dozens of card shops in our area with with to "Rotate" his decks among, and watch people get dis-interested in Commander. In fact the guy mentioned he "Built the deck" specifically to show Commander players why NOT to play commander which I thought was odd, but found out to be true after a few games.

I have of course experienced some deck builders who are not trying to outright make Commander games Miserable (like the previous example) but still unintentionally love a commander enough to make a deck that NO one can deal with. They either quit playing (the deck or commander altogether) as no one wants to lose EVERY time, or change commanders and decks as the deck quickly becomes notorious in the group.

My thought is if i have some ability to balance this out, that same player may be able to see that power can be balanced and get fun out of the challenge, and maybe decide to change things themselves, rather than have the situation play out.

I can mainboard a deck of answers mind you, but i'd like to do my own thing myself, and 115 cards (or 110 according to the original optional rule on the committee website) is not a violation of singleton or of limited pools by any means. In fact, if I know ahead of time who i'm playing against (and their current decks) I can just sub in the cards initially and not really be side-boarding as I keep accurate lists.

I just feel that it would benefit new groups to be able to have options when a "pubsomper" comes around with an uninteractive deck, since often they move around as their normal group doesn't want to organize play when they are in town.

Also, I have been playing EDH for over 10 years now and I feel (IMHO) "Casual" vs "tournament" play is kind of a cop out, as everyone is a bit competitive. It's not like we start out the night wanting to lose 2-3 multi hour games in a row, with no intention of potentially winning. Note: I say that and I own a Phelldagrif deck without return of the second sun... but still...

July 18, 2019 11:19 p.m.

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