If you ask the top players in the world for the best deck in Standard, the most consistent response you’re going to hear is Jeskai Black. It’s the deck I have the most experience with and it has serious game against all comers. There is no tier 1 deck with a better game 1 percentage against Atarka Red and no deck that can put up solid numbers in quite the same way against the varied Standard metagame.
If you’re a loyal listener to the Constructed Resources podcast, hosted by Marshall Sutcliffe and myself, you will know that right now we are focused on leveling up via sideboarding. My goal is to teach listeners how to properly build sideboards and maximize their potential. You want to make sure you have enough cards to bring in for every major matchup you expect to face that will continue to increase your overall win percentage. You want to be able to remove all your dead cards in any matchup where it’s not a slam-dunk in one direction or the other. That being said, the cards you actually want to have in your sideboard will vary dramatically based on the deck and your expected metagame.
Today, I’m going to break them down for one specific deck.
Dragonlord Silumgar looked like the key card for Jeskai Black going into Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. Stealing Gideon and making an emblem was often game-winning as you both killed their powerful planeswalker and gave yourself a huge advantage. The trump it offered in the GW matchup was outstanding, as even taking a Wingmate Roc would often put the nail in the coffin.
If you have space for an additional sideboard card, Kolaghan’s Command should always merit consideration. The coolest part of this card is that it’s an answer to Jace against control decks. You desperately want to take out cards like Fiery Impulse and Wild Slash against Esper, where the only target is Jace, but you still need some answers. Killing their Jace and bringing back your own can swing a game.
There will already be copies in your main deck, but an additional in the board can offer some additional power.
Arashin Cleric is the most useful sideboard card in Standard right now. It’s the best option against Atarka Red and its presence also significantly handicaps decks like White Weenie. I have yet to play a deck in Standard without at least 2 copies of this card, unless I was playing a deck that was awful against this card. That’s how powerful it is.
That being said, it’s rather narrow. There aren’t many decks that attack your life total quickly and have creatures that get blocked by a mere 1/3 body. Jeskai Black has a very positive matchup against Atarka Red and other aggro decks in game 1, but they also get to improve the most against Jeskai Black after sideboarding. You can’t just assume that because you have a decent game-1 matchup that you can leave things the same way and easily win the match.
Cards that are effective but slow are liabilities in this matchup, like Crackling Doom or Utter End. Even Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy doesn’t really do enough against their early assault and access to Fiery Impulses, Wild Slash, and Rending Volley.
I want Arashin Clerics in some number, and it is one of few cards I would never leave home without.
Felidar Cub saw a rise in popularity thanks to the Bant Tokens deck early on and the Esper enchantment-based removal deck in the middle of the season. The floor on this card as just a 2/2 for 2 isn’t the absolute worst, but it’s far from necessary.
The combination with Kolaghan’s Command and Ojutai’s Command is fantastic synergy, so if enchantments are especially prevalent in your metagame I would make room for at least 1 copy, but with access to only 15 cards, it can be a challenge to find the space.
Hallowed Moonlight is a silver bullet against Rally the Ancestors and Collected Company. It has utility against token makers like Hangarback Walker, but is highly unnecessary. That this card cycles is a great bonus, so it can come in for any matchup where tokens are being made and you have dead cards, but it likely doesn’t do enough.
The countermagic available does enough to stop cards like Rally and Company while also being stronger in the control matchups, so this is hard to justify.
Mastery of the Unseen
Mastery of the Unseen fights on another level in attrition battles. It’s also very slow. Players make the mistake of boarding this card in against aggro because it can gain quite a bit of life, but it’s simply too slow to ever get going. Without a great way to mass produce faster mana, this just takes too long to set up. It’s still a solid card against control decks—enchantments are often tough to deal with and you can leave all your mana up every turn to threaten tricks and counters.
Players have sworn by this card in the mirror or other midrange matchups, but I’ve never been impressed. There are just more powerful things to do with my 4 open mana every turn, even though it does produce long-term card advantage. I’m not high on this card.
Monastery Mentor is great and is finding its way into many main decks. It’s a great way to close out a game quickly should the clock ever become a factor, but producing prowess tokens means even a single spell can create a threat that will have to be dealt with.
Planar Outburst is too slow. It can be excellent against big creatures, but you have some really strong removal spells already. I used to like End Hostilities, but that was before we had access to Crackling Doom and the mana to cast it.
It’s also a little too slow to deal with fast token strategies, so this card strikes out on all levels.
Surge of Righteousness
Surge of Righteousness is a powerful card against red aggro decks, as killing their creature is worth a card and the 2 life completely cancels out a Wild Slash, gaining you nearly another card. When Jeskai decks leaned heavily on Mantis Rider and Tasigur, the Golden Fang as their finishers, this card was excellent at dealing with both. It also has applications against Anafenza, the Foremost and Siege Rhino, which can’t be ignored.
Right now, with Mantis Rider on the decline and with better removal available against Abzan (i.e. Roast), this card has started to fall out of favor. Giving it flashback with Jace rarely does anything, which is a huge negative for any instant in Jeskai.
Valorous Stance was the best removal spell available in Jeskai for a period of time, but that’s no longer the case. The ability to protect your Jace or Monastery Mentor is very real, but also not needed in a deck filled with Commands.
Right now, this is just a bad version of Roast as the synergy with Soulfire Grand Master is too good and Stance can’t actually kill an opposing Jace or Mentor.
Disdainful Stroke has so many applications. It’s great against control decks, countering a handful of their removal spells, Dragonlords, Dig Through Times, Treasure Cruises, Ugins, etc. It does serious work in the Ramp matchup, countering the big spells and the best ramp spell in Explosive Vegetation. It also happens to counter Siege Rhino, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Wingmate Roc. That’s a lot of targets.
I’m still not entirely sure this is necessary mostly because of how powerful the other counters are, but this is one of the best sideboard options in Standard.
Leaving up the lone mana for Dispel is trivial and it’s the best way to protect one of your powerful creatures. Forcing through your Dig Through Time or Ojutai’s Command can be game-winning, as can countering your opponents’ copies of those cards. Dispel being useful against Atarka Red, countering Atarka’s Command, Titan’s Strength, Temur Battle Rage, Become Immense, Wild Slash, and Fiery Impulse is some much needed additional value.
Exert Influence was considered the trump in midrange matchups when Battle for Zendikar was released. While it’s still good, it’s slow. Negate and Disdainful Stroke are everywhere, making a 5-mana spell a liability, and the power level may not be worth the mana cost. I prefer to have cheap spells to simply kill my opponent’s creatures vs. trying to break the game open by stealing them for 5.
Negate may be the next card I wouldn’t consider leaving home without. It just does too much in too many matchups. Excellent in the mirror, basically always trading up, but also strong against so many other decks. It’s incredible against control, stopping the vast majority of their deck for 2 mana. It counters Painful Truths and Gideon alike.
Many decks have been moving off main-deck Dispel in favor of Negate—which is a tough call. Negate is a great answer to something like Gideon, a card that is excellent in the matchup and plays well against Dispel, but the extra mana is that much harder to keep up. Either way, I would want access to both after sideboard as they do serious work.
Duress is so good in the current Standard format for all the reasons that Dispel and Negate are good and more. It can be played proactively when you have extra mana early in the game, and while discard spells are weak and susceptible to the topdeck and it’s not a great draw in the late game, the power level is so high for a single mana. I’ve made the mistake of playing decks without access to Duress and always felt miserable about it. The additional information about what you’re up against lets you sculpt the perfect game plan, and I actively look to play decks that can take advantage of Duress.
Infinite Obliteration is fairly narrow but effective. It takes Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, and players once believed that was all it does. If that were all that Obliteration did, I would still consider but likely omit it. It can also break up the combo elements of the Rally deck, and there is splash damage in taking a card like Dragonlord Ojutai from Esper Dragons. Limiting the number of threats you have to deal with from Esper can be very real when your deck has so many answers to begin with. I always try my best to include a single copy of this card and hope that I can find it in time with Jace and/or Dig Through Time.
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Ob Nixilis Reignited is one of the most powerful options against Abzan. That alone is reason enough for me to include a copy in my sideboard. It happens to also be strong in any slower or grindy matchup. Killing their most powerful creature while still needing to be dealt with is huge. The mana cost is also huge, and double-black isn’t trivial.
With 6 loyalty, card draw, and utility on an empty board or one with a big threat, Ob Nixilis is a card I look to include.
This card should be maindeck, but an additional copy in the sideboard is common. I would want to have access to at least 3 after sideboarding, as it’s incredible in so many grindy matchups, but if you already have 3 main it’s not required. When my opponents draw and cast this against me in the midgame, it’s definitely the card that makes me groan the most. At parity, it’s such a challenge to ever beat this card. The fact that it’s great on turn 3 or turn 30 is huge.
Self-Inflicted Wound is a great removal spell, but feels highly unnecessary in this particular deck. Getting black mana early isn’t part of your normal plan, and you have access to so many great targeted removal spells along with Crackling Doom, making Self-Inflicted Wound unnecessary simply due to better options.
Taking out Hangarback Walker tokens, Gideon’s Knights, Sorin’s Vampires, Secure the Wastes, Dragon Fodder, and Hordeling Outburst means there is definite utility. There have been metagames where I have had multiple copies in my sideboard, but right now I’m much more likely to play 0 and be happy with it.
If you’re playing your own Monastery Mentors, you can’t play this card, but if you’re not (maybe you should be), this may be a solid option for you.
Outpost Siege has been a Standard sideboard all-star for some time now, but I don’t think this is the deck for it. Any matchup where I would want Outpost Siege for card advantage is likely to be one where I want counter magic, and they combine poorly.
Radiant Flames is another card I have never left home without. The aggro decks are going to be prepared for you after sideboard, so even if your matchup is solid, you’re going to want some trump cards. This is an excellent one—keeping the board clear and under control is the name of the game for a deck that’s looking to take advantage of the late game.
I play multiple copies of Radiant Flames whenever I can and I don’t think I would register under 2.
Rending Volley is great at killing Jeskai’s creatures and Dragonlord Ojutai alike. It takes down Jace and Chief of the Edge. It’s also basically a luxury as you already have solid removal against all these cards. This is one of the most powerful options available in Standard and I am very unlikely to play it. The marginal returns of taking out Fiery Impulse for Rending Volley just don’t make much sense, so this card doesn’t make my cut despite being excellent.
Roast is just good old-fashioned power. It kills the relevant big creatures and the life swing in conjunction with Soulfire Grand Master is huge. It’s also extremely cheap to cast, so flashing it back with Jace or buying it back with Soulfire is quite easy to do. This is the card I want against Abzan and the fact that it’s powerful enough to take down Jace, Soulfire, Monastery Mentor, or Tasigur, the Golden Fang against Jeskai makes it a powerful option that I want several of between my main deck and sideboard (often playing 3-4 total).
I have these as my top 24 sideboard cards for Jeskai Black, but how you use them is up to you. Identifying the cards that you need to remove from your deck in the aggro, midrange, and control matchups will help to illuminate the options that are most appealing for you. It will likely include some combination of Radiant Flames and Arashin Clerics vs. aggro, some card draw and upgraded removal vs. midrange, and some countermagic and card advantage vs. control.
Hopefully you continue to check out Constructed Resources here at ChannelFireball if you’re looking to continue learning more about sideboarding. We went deep into sideboarding in Standard in the latest episode, so hopefully you can combine these tools to continue to increase your win percentage.
Is there any other sideboard card you’ve found especially impressive in Jeskai Black? Is there any sideboard card that hasn’t seen much play that you really like against it? Post in the comments!