Pattern Recognition #213 - Sideboard

Features Opinion Pattern Recognition


7 October 2021


Hello everyone! This is Pattern Recognition, TappedOut.Net's longest running article series as written by myself, berryjon. I am something of an Old Fogey who has been around the block quite a few times where Magic is concerned, as as such, I use this series to talk about the various aspects of this game, be it deck design, card construction, mechanics chat, in-universe characters and history. Or whatever happens to cross my mind this week. Please, feel free to dissent in the comments below the article, add suggestions or just plain correct me! I am a Smart Ass, so I can take it.

So, today's article is about Sideboards. What they are, why they are, as well as breaking out a couple of examples from a different game to show how they were handled there.

The existence of the Sideboard is something that I can't quite pin down as to when it started, though I suppose that due to its nature, it probably was instituted around the same time professional level tournaments were starting up. And since then, the rules for them have stayed exactly the same, with only two tweaks.

A sideboard is a set of up to 15 cards that are not part of your deck, but rather an addition to them. They are in their own separate pile, and they stay there. In a match that is played with more than one game, such as Best Two of Three, or Best Three of Five, between rounds, but not before the first one, each player may make one-to-one substitutions of cards in their deck for cards in their sideboard.

Naturally, decks must return to their starting default deck list at the start of each new round.

Now, there are a couple caveats to this. First is that in Limited formats, like draft and sealed, all the cards that are not in your deck are in your sideboard. So sure, you've got 90 cards in that sealed pool, and you used 22 of them to make a deck. The other 68? Well, I, and I'm sure many others out there have had the opportunity to literally sideboard their entire deck out between rounds of a prerelease. I went from to in a Kaladesh prerelease (foil pre-release Dovin Baan!) and my opponent called a judge over to accuse me of cheating and the Judge sided with me, pointing out what I had done was completely legal. Poor guy was so flummoxed at the different decks that he wasn't able to recover.

Another exception is Commander, where there is no Sideboard at all. In theory, this is because there is only one game in a round, and as a result, there is no time to access your sideboard. Now, on the other hand, there are players who want a Sideboard in Commander so that cards like Glittering Wish or Karn, the Great Creator can have some value to them. In addition, the Learn mechanic from Strixhaven can allow you to put a card from your sideboard into your hand when the card resolves.

Because of this, people have been pressuring the people in charge of Commander to allow Sideboards, even citing how the Companions technically exist there, and had to have separate rulings to enable them. But so far, Commander has held firm. No Sideboards.

Lastly, because of that Learn Mechanic, the rules for Sideboards were updated with the release of that set. In games that were Best of One, such as on Arena, a 7 card Sideboard was implemented for decks to allow for single-game access via Learn. It's not much, but it's there and can be accessed.

I find that sideboards exist in one of two wide concepts, with some degree of overlap between them. The first and most common version of the sideboard is the Reactive version. This is the sort of sideboard which contains cards that are there to prop up your deck against poor matchups. For example, you might be playing a Burn deck, and your opponent is playing a Lifegain deck. After round one, you don't like your chances, so you take out some cards you feel aren't performing all that well, and drop in four Rampaging Ferocidon and a pair of Everlasting Torment, taking out six cards in the process. You go on to win your next round quite easily, then you can sideboard again, just to optimize a little.

This is how most Sideboards go, cards that are in the deck in response to the projected meta of the time and place, as well as generally bad matchups as far as your deck goes. Once you know what the opponent is running, you can then make some changes to better help your chances next time.

Related, but not quite the same is the idea of the Redundancy. In this case, your sideboard is less about shoring up your weaknesses to your opponent, and more about reinforcing your strengths. Need more Burn? Pull out Exquisite Firecraft and replace the Demolish that is currently in your deck because you were expecting a heavy Artifact meta.

Look, I have no idea why you're putting Demolish in your deck either, just go with it.

These are the two major ways to build a sideboard. I've experimented with boards that allowed me to change the focus of a deck, but 15 cards is very tight to do so, and you either have to signal the extra colours with curious land choices in your deck, or put lands into said sideboard. Not to say that lands can't go in there, as cards like Wasteland, Ghost Quarter or the more common and recent Field of Ruin can go there in case someone gets gets uppity with their lands generating excessive value. Field of the Dead, I'm looking at you.

But in the end, the Sideboard is reactive. I'm not about to make any sort of opinions or judgment calls on the best use of them, save to admit that they all have validity in their own way. And in fact, some people are so sure of their deck building skills that they forgo the use of a Sideboard entirely!

Take it from me, when your opponent starts to sideboard after a round and I you just sit there, smiling because you know that nothing needs to change is just a wonderful piece of psychological warfare.

But the concept of the sideboard is not... new to the idea of the Customizable Card game, and one game in particular let the idea of the sideboard get to their heads, and now I'm going to bring up my favourite badly designed game in existence, Star Trek: The Customizable Card Game.

The card that spawned a thousand Sideboards

Now, you see, the STCCG has some very stringent deck design limitations, including the sizes of the multiple decks, and what has to happen before the game even begins. Yes, decks. Plural. Anyway, the Tent was printed in the second expansion set of the game, after Premiere, then Alternate Universe, then Q Continuum. It was joined with by the Q-Flash side deck, but that one saw no where near as much play.

Anyway, as you look to that card, what you see is that the Tent created what was effectively what we in Magic would call a s "Sideboard", but in Star Trek, was called a side deck. Yes, you had a Seed Deck, a Draw Deck, a Tent Deck, and a Flash Deck and don't look at me like that, things would get worse. In order to gain access to the cards in the tent, you would either discard a copy of the Tent that was in your hand to grab a card of your choice out of the Tent, or you could put it on top of your libraryDraw Deck to get a card at random from the Tent. Guess which one people tended to take?

To put this into Magic terms, the Tent was a sideboard that you could only access during a game through the use of a Wish card, and couldn't switch out between rounds. And it had thirteen cards, instead of 15, but that's a minor difference.

The Flash side deck was a way to introduce more obstacles into the way of players attempting to complete missions. The Tribble Deck let you introduce Tribbles and Troubles (don't ask), the Battle Bridge allowed you to make ship to ship combat more interesting, the Dyson Sphere door which adds more Dilemmas to the mix (ugh).

Look, I love the game, but there was a horrible proliferation of these sorts of things as the game's designers were hamstrung by their own design rules. There was a maximum of 30 cards in your seed deck. Except for missions, which didn't count. Except for some other cards, which didn't count.

Anyway, for those of you wondering, my only remaining deck (a NA DQ deck) uses just the Tent and the Battle Bridge. In fact, in the master community supported rules set for the game , the use of the Tent is so ubiquitous that it and its successor, the Civil War Tent are explicitly cited as cards you should put into your deck (on page 13). It's like being told that a Sol Ring goes into your Commander deck, or Fetch Lands into Modern. It's just assumed at this point that such a thing is going to happen.

Of course, my use for the tent is also directly called out in the same document (on page 14) as one of the ways that the deck is used. specifically, my Tent has one copy of a Pralor Warship to be downloaded via a Closing Spacedoor, and the rest of the deck is used as storage space for my Referee cards.

Yes, I run a RefTent. Whatcha's gonna do about it?

Nothing. Because I haven't played a game in over 10 years. But the deck still lives, just in case.

All this complexity in other games makes me appreciate just how simple and relatively easy to play Magic is. Yes, it has its own complexities, but the sideboard isn't one of them. It's a resource that must be carefully curated and managed, meaning that it isn't a magical 'solve all problems' button. It's options that you might not have at hand, and need to win or lose to retrieve.

And I don't mind it at all.

Join me next week when I stop delaying, and get back to talking about my set design. Let's hit the commons!

Until then please consider donating to my Pattern Recognition Patreon. Yeah, I have a job, but more income is always better. I still have plans to do a audio Pattern Recognition at some point, or perhaps a Twitch stream. And you can bribe your way to the front of the line to have your questions, comments and observations answered!

This article is a follow-up to Pattern Recognition #212 - Brawl-halla The next article in this series is Pattern Recognition #214 - A New Set - Green Commons

JANKYARD_DOG says... #1

What's up with the latest article? Got Thopters everytime.

October 17, 2021 4:24 p.m.

berryjon says... #2

JANKYARD_DOG I don't know yet. I've poked yeaGO about it, but I haven't heard back. Could be something on the backend.

October 17, 2021 6:46 p.m.

yeaGO says... #3

had some bad brackets, fixed

October 18, 2021 1:49 p.m.

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