An Introduction to Sideboarding: Part I

If you’re familiar with my background, you know that I have roots in Magic: the Gathering, a TCG I presume you’ve heard of. And, if you’re at all familiar with Magic: the Gathering, you no doubt know what a ‘sideboard’ is. If you don’t–or if you’ve always wanted to learn more about the nuances of sideboarding in a game like Duelsyt–you’re in luck! Today, we are going to do just that.

Wait, what are you talking about?

First things first: what, literally, is a sideboard?

As far as Duelyst is concerned, a sideboard is something that is exclusively used in tournament play. If you’re just a ladder person and don’t plan on battling in the big leagues, well, feel free to read on but this article won’t really help you at all.

More specifically, a sideboard is a limited handful of cards (usually 5-15) that you pre-register with whatever deck you plan on playing in a particular event. I’ll highlight here the use of the singular ‘deck’ in the previous sentence. Sideboards are usually only used in tournaments that involve only one deck of 40 cards. You won’t use a sideboard in a tournament that is conquest format (or “Aestari” or whatever it’s called. Stop trying to make fetch happen, Gretchen Weiners.)

For illustration, here’s my tournament winning Zir’an list, complete with its 10-card sideboard:

Sideboard usage is relegated to games two and three, with game one requiring that players play with the “maindeck” only. This isn’t a hard and fast rule–the recent Champion of the Monolith tournament was a best-of-one event with a sideboard. Generally though, you’re locked in to your maindeck for the first game of each match. Thus, the main point of the sideboard is to tweak your deck to be better tuned against whatever potential opponents you might face.

Uh, ok. Why should I care?

Recently, some Duelyst tournament organizers have decided to move away from the conquest-esque formats and their progeny, instead favoring ones that use a sideboard. The Duelyst Melee tournament series for example is a popular tournament series that requires submission of sideboards with their decklists. (I highly encourage folks to check out this tournament series by the way. The tournament organizers have recently announced some awesome incentives, which you can take a gander at here). 

Oh wise and powerful ZoochZ, how do I build a good sideboard?

Just for you, gentle reader, I’ve developed  a handy dandy flowchart to help guide your thought processes when building all of your future sideboards. While this will likely be helpful for games beyond Duelyst, keep in mind that other games (Magic in particular) might have some considerations not laid out here.

  • What decks am I likely to face in this tournament?
    • How does my deck fare against them generally
    • Are there any cards that are particularly good against these strategies?
  • How do I best fit everything I’m trying to do into a sideboard?
    • Are there any strategies that have a major weakness that can be exploited by minimal sideboard slots?
    • What cards might be useful against multiple archetypes?
  • What sideboarding strategies do I expect other decks to employ when they face me?
    • How can I preempt their countermeasures?
    • Are there any changes I ought to make going from game two to game 3?
  • What’s going out?
    • Make a plan
    • Don’t overboard

Let’s tackle these points one at a time.

What decks am I likely to face in this tournament?

This is the sideboarding mantra you should be asking yourself before any tournament in which building a sideboard is an option. While it is not the only question you should be asking, it’s one of, if not the most, important. Sideboard space is necessarily limited, and the best sideboards will be designed for maximum efficiency. This means prioritizing sideboard slots to matchups you expect to face.

I like to devote a fair portion of my sideboard to decks that I anticipate will be fairly common in the tournament metagame. Let’s take this past week’s Duelyst Melee as an example. My thoughts going in were that Cassyva Control, Vaath Burn/Midrange, Tempo Lyonar, and Control Faie would be popular choices. I landed here based on my assessment of the metagame, and while I might not have my finger on the pulse of the metagame like I once did, this felt like a solid starting place

How does my maindeck fare against these generally?

Because your sideboard space is limited, it’s generally a good idea to avoid over preparing for decks that you already have a good matchup for. Unless they can drastically alter their deck post board to make it a much closer matchup, you’ll likely be fine devoting few spots here.

Similarly, if you have a horrendous matchup, it might behoove you to avoid devoting spots to it altogether. Again, space is limited, and if it’s going to take you 50% of your sideboard to bring a horrible matchup up to a point where it’s remotely winnable, you might be better served chalking it up as a loss and devoting resources elsewhere. I’m not sure there are any matchups currently that really rise to that threshold, but you get my point.

Based on my personal experience, I’ve found that my matchups against the abovementioned archetypes were pretty solid, with Cassyva being a very good matchup and with Magmar likely being the most difficult of these matchups.

Are there any cards that are particularly good against these archetypes?

Even though I had a good matchup against Cass, it struck me that Lightbender would be a great card to have access to since it proactively dealt with creep and neutered problematic threats like Juggernaut very nicely. (More on ‘bender later)

Magmar Burn and Tempo Lyonar were both decks that I worried might be able to come out of the gates too fast. For that reason, I wanted to have access to some Sundrop Elixirs to stem the bleeding if I faced an overly aggressive strategy. I also liked having access to the card in general to trigger Sunriser, and I had played them in my more devoted Zir’an lists in the past.

This was is an initial thought, but I’m going to move on. I don’t want to get too wordy here. More importantly, the sideboarding process isn’t a linear one. It would behoove us to touch on the various aspects of sideboarding without getting bogged down at the beginning.

How do I best fit everything I’m trying to do into a sideboard?

As aforementioned, you’ll find that often want to include too many cards in your board. How do you pare them down?

One way to do that is to add some very impactful cards to really destroy a couple of matchups; doing so should mean you can devote less space to them elsewhere. In other words, “Are there any strategies that have a major weakness that can be exploited by minimal sideboard slots?

To use an example from the decklist linked above, Crossbones is a terrible maindeck card but an INCREDIBLE sideboard one. It completely invalidates Mechaz0r! decks since it can kill the 8/8 namesake.  It also provides a really nice answer to any Revas that might show up. It can kill a Heartseeker or Ki Beholder straight up, preventing any shenanigans from snowballing while also developing my board with a modest 3/3. The addition of Crossbones by itself makes my much more confidant in my ability to defeat those archetypes, so I’m fine not adding more cards to combat those strategies.

Nightwatcher was also a card that I felt wasn’t nearly good enough to play in my maindeck. Given the correct matchup though, I knew it would be worth including. It has obvious anti-Zirix potential as well as coming in to stymie Magmar’s many Elucidators, Makantors, and Saberspine Tigers.

What cards might be useful against multiple archetypes?

Here’s a good time to loop back to Lightbender. Cassyva was already a good matchup. Why am I including a card to bring in against it in that case?

The answer is that Lightbender is a nice catch-all card that I can bring in against a host of lists. Not only is it good against Cassyva, I’d also probably bring it in against Reva, Mechaz0r! decks, wall Vanar (potentially just Vanar in general), or Obelysk Vetruvian to name a few additional archetypes. It has a lot of broad applications, making it a great, well rounded choice. As such, it gets a lot more “mileage” than other sideboard choices might.

What sideboarding strategies do I expect other decks to employ when they face me? How can I preempt their countermeasures?

Sideboarding is relatively new to Duelyst, so this is somewhat untrod ground. I didn’t really know what folks would be bringing in against me during the Melee, so I had a difficult time imagining how to properly respond.

One example of how this might play out, however, would be using Hollow Grovekeeper as an example. If I somehow expected my opponent to bring these powerful legendaries in against me, I could preempt my plan by boldly boarding out of my provoke units, thus rendering my otherwise powerful 3/4s dull. It’s a gambit for sure, but it potentially has the payoff of neutering one of my opponent’s presumably most impactful cards.

This segues nicely into highlighting one of my final bits of wisdom for today: reacting to your opponent’s sideboarding strategy. If, in game 2, my opponent blows me out with a well timed Grovekeeper, well there’s no reason I can’t tell my provoke units to take a hike. There are less blunt ways of illustrating that you can switch things up, but this plays nicely into our story thus far.

There’s plenty more I have to say on sideboarding, but we’re getting a bit wordy. Let’s plan on touching on sideboarding again next week. Before I depart though, one parting thought: Have a plan. It’s great if you’ve got 10 awesome cards to bring in against an opponent, but for every card you bring in, you’ve gotta make room somehow.

Wrap up

What did you think? Have anything you’d like to add? Sound off in the comments!


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