Tiny Edges: Always Sideboard

Most of the edges you can get in Magic come from a macro-perspective. They’re about choosing the right deck for an event, or understanding that you should adopt an aggressive posture instead of a defensive one. Those are singular decisions that will radically change your win percentage—choose a bad deck, and you’ll win 40% of your games; choose a good one, and you might win 60%. Go aggressive at exactly the right moment, and you might swing a game that you could otherwise never win. This type of big strategic decision is where I feel I personally have the biggest edge, even among PT competitors.

There are, however, a series of small things you can do that will also give you an edge in a tournament. By themselves, each will each increase your win percentage by a tiny amount—say, a quarter of a percent, or half a percent—but once you add up 10 or 20 of them, then the increased win rate becomes noticeable. Most professional players already do those things regularly, so if you do not do them or do not realize they are being done, you’re letting them get ahead of you.

In Tiny Edges, I talk about one small change you can incorporate into your game play to win just slightly more than you do now. Some of them will be basic, and some will be more complex. Hopefully, once the series is done, the tiny edges will group together to give you a significant edge over your opponent.

Pro Edge #1: Always Sideboard, Even When You Don’t

Most people don’t realize it, but sideboarding isn’t just about making your deck better against your opponent’s—it’s also about acquiring and sending information. If you are not careful, you might be telling your opponent more than you intend to because of the way you sideboard.

Imagine we’re playing a Standard Mardu mirror match. I have a ton of cheap removal and artifact removal that I can bring in, but I’m worried that you will take out some early plays and some artifacts for a more controlling plan of removal and planeswalkers. If I see you physically sideboarding in 2 cards, then I will know that you did not do this. I will know that your deck is at most two cards different than it was before. If I see you physically swap 10 cards, I will know you likely did this. This is information you’re giving me that I shouldn’t have access to, and I will sideboard and play differently because of it.

What you should do, in almost every spot, is disguise how many cards you’re truly sideboarding. The easiest way is just being sneaky about it, swapping cards for themselves or just pretending to add and remove something. The more complex way is to shuffle your entire sideboard into your deck and remove 15 cards. If you’re playing a deck that could have a transformational sideboard (such as Mardu), then shuffling your entire sideboard (or at least most of it) into your deck and removing the same number of cards is highly recommended, not only for game 2 but also for game 3 (since a lot of people change strategies depending on whether they’re on the play or on the draw, and it’s good to keep them guessing).

At PT Amonkhet, for example, David Ochoa played a match against a Temur deck in which he cast Dispossess, naming Aetherworks Marvel. He found his opponents deck to contain no Marvels. For game 3, his opponent shuffled his entire sideboard into his deck and removed 15 cards. When David again cast Dispossess, he found his opponent’s deck to be completely unchanged (still without any Marvels). If his opponent hadn’t made a show of sideboarding, then David would have known for sure that the Marvels weren’t there, but because his opponent did, he didn’t know, and decided he couldn’t afford not to have access to Dispossesses, so he kept them anyway.

This also happens in Limited, when people often just sideboard zero cards. If I play a very strong artifact, for example, and you sideboard zero cards in, I know I should not play around a Naturalize effect. I know I should not play around a Celestial Purge type card, or a card that hoses fliers. If you sideboard zero cards, I know that the Cancel you played in game 1 is still in your deck.

Now, if you sideboard two cards, I no longer know any of those things. I can suspect them, but I cannot know for sure. You could now have Naturalize in your deck, or you could not have it. You could still have Cancel, or maybe not. I might end up playing around those cards (or not playing around them), and all because you went through the motions of sideboarding.

My favorite trick in Limited is to just sideboard a card for another copy of itself. For example, say I have two Cancels in my pool—one made my main deck, one did not. During sideboarding, I’ll take out the main-deck Cancel and add the sideboard Cancel. This is impossible to track—you’ll effectively see me taking out a card and adding a different card, and there’s no way for you to figure out that they are the same. If you don’t have duplicates, then you could simply request extra basic lands—have 7 Forests in your main deck and 2 more in the sideboard, and when it comes time for games 2 or 3, switch them around.

This might seem trivial to you, but it’s something your skilled opponents will pay attention to. It’s something I will pay attention to when you play against me. It might not swing a game by itself, but it will be a factor, and it’s almost effortless to correct the way you sideboard so that you give me zero information, so I believe you should always do it.

So, that’s the first installment of the Pro Edges series! I’ll release new short videos on the subject regularly, so if you’re interested in the list you can subscribe to the channel and you’ll always know when the videos become available. See you then.



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