By now, we are very far from the 90s, when players couldn’t netdeck, played innovative decks, and promoted their own brews. Today, everybody has access to the World Champion’s deck list and can easily win with it without changing a single card. That’s great—don’t get me wrong—but underneath the deck lists is the work of the person who built it the first time.

When you’re sideboarding, though, having access to every deck list might become detrimental: mindless netdecking puts you in an awkward spot where you don’t know how your deck works. You have to understand what your deck is trying to do for any given matchup, and from that understanding which cards are not suited for the fight. A step further is understanding which cards won’t be good based on what we know the opponent’s deck will transform into.

When I try a new deck, I usually look at how it’s built across different tournaments and then create a rough 60-card list. To build my last Standard deck, Abzan Midrange, I took a deck list by Paul Cheon from GP Denver and changed some cards, discussing it with my good friend Raymond Perez.

• Once you decide on a main deck, the best way to build the perfect sideboard is to write down the most played decks. For Abzan Midrange, I wrote down: Abzan Aggro, Abzan Whip, Sidisi Whip, Abzan Midrange, UB Control, UW Heroic, Jeskai Tokens, Temur Aggro.

• For each matchup, I make a list of which cards I would like to board out. This evaluation is based on my previous experiences with similar decks, but I strongly recommend that you test the matchup before setting in stone what you don’t want in your 60. For example, I really dislike Sylvan Caryatid against midrange and control decks, because you don’t want to draw them in the late game and you don’t need to be fast, since the games are based on trading resources and who wins in topdeck mode.

• Once I understand how many cards I don’t want in the main, I have to be sure I have the same number to board in. It’s critical to have the right number of cards—you need to bring in enough cards to improve the matchup, but avoid over-sideboarding. In my experience against decks like UB Control (or Miracles in Legacy) people don’t truly grasp how many dead cards they have in the main deck and get weighed down by them in post-board games.

• Once you know how many cards you want, it’s time to decide which ones. This is where things get tricky. You have to satisfy the demands of every matchup with only 15 cards, so to do that you have to find interchangeable cards that are good against different decks.

• Sometimes you just can’t narrow down to 15 cards, so you have to make concessions. In this case, if you have a very bad matchup that is unpopular, you can afford to try to avoid it.

• If you have one particularly bad matchup, you might need cards that only come in in that matchup but are necessary to shore up your percentage. For example at the WMC I was playing Abzan Whip and had in my sideboard 3 Glares of Heresy, basically only for UW Heroic.

• At the end of the process, it can happen that you have fewer than 15 cards between the ones you want to board in and the ones you want to board out (especially in Standard where the card pool is small). In this case, my advice is to add a sideboard card specifically for a matchup that you expect to face the most, or to add a spicy card for a matchup that is less popular (e.g. Drown in Sorrow vs. Mono-Red).

In my case, when making a sideboard guide for Abzan Midrange I found myself with 14 cards in the sideboard.

Since we usually want to cut 4 Sylvan Caryatid because they are not very good when we board in more Wrath effects and they are not good against midrange or control, I still want to keep a high number of mana sources to cast my 6-drops, so I added an additional Temple to the sideboard.

At my last PTQ I played the deck Reid Duke and Gerard Fabiano used to reach the Top 4 at the SCG Players Championship, without testing.

Sultai Reanimator by Gerard Fabiano

When I got the cards, I noticed that I wasn’t able to properly play the deck because against Whip decks you want to board in about 14 cards and have almost nothing bad to remove. Caryatid can’t go since you only have 8 blue sources with your lands and you are actually boarding in more blue cards. I played 4 times against Whip decks and always boarded in different ways (undoubtedly making errors). I would never play that deck again without knowing Reid and Gerrard’s plan first. Don’t make my mistake.

With these lessons in mind, I developed the list and sideboard guide of the deck I used last weekend to win a PTQ for Brussels:

Abzan Midrange

The deck is very similar to the one Paul Cheon used to reach the Top 8 in Denver. I really dislike the maindeck Nissa, Worldwaker because it’s very bad if we want to play End Hostilities. I think that Nissa is only good against UB Control, where she is incredible.

I love Liliana Vess—she’s so good against midrange and control, which together make up most of Standard. The last thing I disagree with Paul about is the 4 Drown in Sorrow in his sideboard. They are great against only Mono-Red, a bad matchup but a very unpopular deck. I’d rather play more Bile Blights and Glares of Heresy.

Abzan Aggro

Remove

Add

Abzan Whip

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Add

Sidisi Whip

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Add

Abzan Midrange

Remove

Add

UB Control

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Add

UW Heroic

Remove

Add

Jeskai Tokens

Remove

Add

Temur Aggro

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Add

If you have any questions about the sideboard guide just ask me in the comments, I’ll be glad to answer you. Thanks for reading!

Ciao!