10 Unexpected Sideboard Cards in Battle for Zendikar Limited

Everyone knows that Plummet is a good sideboard card against fliers. It says so right on the card. Sideboarding in Limited is often overlooked and many players just assume they don’t have any sideboard cards and then don’t bother, but what they ignore is that many main-deck cards become worse in a certain context. For example, if my opponent has a lot of 4-toughness creatures, my Kor Castigator looks much less appealing. Hopefully I can improve it to a more meaningful card post-board. Here are my favorite examples of cards players miss during this process:

Belligerent Whiptail

How is a below-average creature a good sideboard card? It solves the Kor Castigator problem we just looked at! Base-UR decks have a ton of 4-toughness creatures including Kozilek’s Sentinel, Benthic Infiltrator, Herald of Kozilek, and Kozilek’s Channeler. Whiptail can run right past all of them and pressure your opponent through the midgame before it finally gets double-blocked and you then find some way to deal the last bit of damage needed to win.

Goblin War Paint

When a matchup comes down to a pure race and your opponent has little in the way of interaction, Goblin War Paint can provide some extra reach, and lets small creatures attack through large creatures when necessary. It’s a bad card that becomes good under the right circumstances.

Processor Assault

Isn’t this card just good or bad? Well, kind of. If you have 5+ ways to turn it on consistently, I think it’s just a good main-deck card, but it still remains a viable sideboard option in decks with fewer ways to exile that need to kill a big threat in longer matchups. I brought it in under these conditions in my PTQ Top 8 video.

Bone Splinters

Ideally you’re picking this card when you’re in the GB Sacrifice deck (though that deck rarely comes together) because outside of that it is just a 2-for-1 in the wrong direction. Yet 2-for-1’ing yourself can be a game-winning play when you kill a 7+ casting-cost Eldrazi and you should consider bringing this in if you need another way to manage big threats. When your opponent’s plan revolves around ramping threats out, 2-for-1’ing yourself isn’t as bad—they’ve invested a bunch of resources into casting a single card.

Dutiful Return

This looks like a reasonable sideboard card, but I’ve never had the situation come up where I’ve wanted to board this in. You’ll need to be trading a lot for this to be good, and in those situations Mortuary Mire performs a similar role without taking up a card slot. For that reason I like having access to a Mire from the board in my black decks.

Dispel

I mention this because it looks like a sideboard card that comes in often, but there usually aren’t enough instants in a given deck to justify bringing it in. The exception is when you see expensive instants that will give you enough time to actually draw and then hold up your Dispel. When you do see 3-to-5-mana instants, Dispel should make its way into your deck post-board. Nothing feels better than Dispeling a Scour from Existence.

Roilmage’s Trick

This card has a few interesting applications, the most common of which is to use it against a deck trying to win with Swarm Surge. Roilmage’s Trick not only negates Surge when timed properly but also leads to a virtual Plague Wind where each powerful first-striking attacker turns into a feeble chump attacker. Other applications are against Ally decks focused on similar pump strategies like Tajuru Warcaller and Tajuru Beastmaster. Those decks will sometimes play a copy or two of Unnatural Aggression, which Roilmage’s Trick can also counter since it works outside of combat.

Angelic Gift

While this is generally a marginal 22nd playable, it can also do work in grindy matchups that get clogged up on the ground. That will most often occur in a white deck focused on Allies trying to break through the late game in a pseudo mirror. It also works better if you have many creatures that line up poorly versus your opponent’s since the Gift can improve all your bad creatures when you can’t possibly board them all out.

Pathway Arrows

The interaction between this card and deathtouch creatures allow it to be a maindeck all-star in BW decks, but I’ve liked it as a strong sideboard card for a long time. It excels at neutralizing big Eldrazi while also killing x/1s, most of which are Eldrazi Scion tokens. As the format has matured with more players fighting to draft Grixis devoid decks, this card has improved dramatically because you’re simply more likely to play against a deck where it will have an impact.

Scour From Existence

Scour works on a similar level as Bone Splinters in that it’s an awkward card to answer big problems when you don’t have the tools to do so otherwise. Instead of 2-for-1’ing yourself, Scour just costs an enormous 7 mana, but you can often maneuver around that downside because of the matchups you board it in for. It’s meant to take down big Eldrazi, and getting to 7 mana against those decks just isn’t that tall an order. The dream is to counter an awakened Coastal Discovery or Planar Outburst on the stack by exiling the soon-to-be-awakened land, but that’s not an achievement I’ve yet to pull off.

Wrap Up

Thinking outside the box is critical in Limited. There are new situations in every match, so continually ask yourself when a card is better or worse given a new context. Sideboarding is all about making your cards line up better against your opponent’s, but cards often get labeled as good sideboard material or bad, when in reality each card has a range of usefulness. Bringing in a normally below average card in a situation where it’s above average is one of the most fun and challenging puzzles to crack with each new set. Good luck in your games, and remember to pause and think before blindly shuffling up for game 2!

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