My last article, which included sideboard plans for 4 different decks, elicited many positive reactions. Given that I promised to write more articles with sideboard plans if people liked it, I have no choice but to continue this series.

This article is a bit different from the last one, though. What remains the same is that I consulted players who were successful with a certain deck. This time, I asked both Brandon Semerau (Top 8 GP Indianapolis) and Serrafin Wellinger (Top 8 GP Lille) how to sideboard with the deck they made Top 8 with: G/W Hate Bears. But while doing so, I noticed how vastly different their sideboards looked and how differently they were sideboarding in certain matchups. So instead of just giving you how they sideboard, I decided to go a little deeper and analyze the differences between both plans.

While this article only focuses on G/W Hate Bears, I am convinced that a similar approach would be very helpful for any deck. Building a sideboard is not just about picking 15 cards that you like. It’s about looking at the weaknesses of your deck (is a certain matchup already good or should you spend more sideboard slots on it?) and thus also demands that you anticipate what decks will be played.

It’s about looking at how many cards you need to take out after sideboarding against a certain deck. For a deck like G/W Hate Bears, where many of your cards are too weak in certain matchups, this is a very important step.

It’s about focusing on as many decks as possible at the same time, and picking cards that you can bring in in different matchups (this is especially true for a format like Modern where there are 100 different decks).

It’s also about realizing how good certain cards are in the matchups for which you are bringing them in. You want to improve your deck after sideboarding as much as possible. Cards like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace will obviously have a much bigger impact on how games will play out after boarding. But are they worth the sideboard slot when you can only bring them in for two different matchups? Building the right sideboard is a tough task, and Brandon, Serrafin and I are here to help you.

Analyzing Both Deck Lists

Before we start comparing how Brandon and Serrafin sideboarded in different matchups, we have to take a look at their deck lists. Since you need to ask yourself how many cards in your main deck are bad in a certain matchup, it’s important to look at the main deck, too. On top of that, certain cards in your main deck will influence the way you want to build your sideboard (I’m thinking about cards like Chord of Calling, Collected Company, etc.).

So let’s take a look at the 75 these two fine gentlemen brought to their tournaments.

G/W Hate Bears

Brandon Semerau, Top 8 at GP Indianapolis

G/W Hate Bears

Serrafin Wellinger, Top 8 at GP Lille

As you may notice, the main decks from these two players don’t differ all that much. The most meaningful difference (when it comes to building your sideboard) is the inclusion of 2 Collected Company in Serrafin’s main deck. As a result, his sideboard does not include the powerful 4-drops that Brandon has (Linvala, Keeper of Silence and Gisela, the Broken Blade). Instead, Serrafin chose to go with some utility 2- and 3-drops like Reclamation Sage, Selfless Spirit, and Spellskite.

The next big difference can be found in the 3-drops, where Brandon chose 2 Kitchen Finks and 2 Blade Splicer while Serrafin has 4 Blade Splicer. This difference basically comes down to which matchups you expect. Kitchen Finks is slightly better vs. Naya Burn and Death Shadow’s Aggro, whereas Blade Splicer is an all-star against Jund.

One more thing to notice is that Brandon has 2 Qasali Pridemage in the main deck, whereas Serrafin chose to run his artifact and enchantment removal (Reclamation Sage) in the sideboard. In the main deck, a card like Qasali Pridemage obviously makes more sense because it has some value even when your opponent doesn’t have any artifacts or enchantments. But when you are running such cards in the sideboard, you want the more powerful effect. In this case, Reclamation Sage seems like right pick, especially if you can start blinking it with Flickerwisp or Restoration Angel. It does show that sometimes, when you are short on sideboard slots, it might be a good choice to run a card like Qasali Pridemage in the main deck so you don’t have to waste 1 of your 15 precious sideboard slots.

The same principle could apply to something like Kitchen Finks. Sure, Blade Splicer is better against Jund, but only by a small margin, and I’d much rather gain 2 life against Burn. It seems like Serrafin was not all that worried about his life total though, as he did not even include Kitchen Finks in his sideboard, whereas Brandon has a third copy ready after boarding.

Anyway, enough about the deck lists—let’s talk about sideboarding. Just like last time, I asked both players to share what they were boarding against the 7 best performing decks of that particular weekend (Affinity, Bant Eldrazi, Naya Burn, Jund, Infect, R/G Tron, and Death Shadow’s Aggro). I’ve put both sideboard plans next to each other in order to make it easier to compare.

Sideboarding with G/W Hate Bears

Vs. Affinity

Brandon Semerau Serrafin Wellinger
OUT IN OUT IN
2 Gavony Township 2 Tectonic Edge 4 Aether Vial 3 Stony Silence
2 Kitchen Finks 2 Sunlance 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 2 Spellskite
2 Leonin Arbiter 2 Stony Silence 3 Leonin Arbiter 2 Reclamation Sage
2 Selfless Spirit
1 Engineered Explosives
6 6 10 10

Both players were not very keen on facing Affinity. Game 1 can be especially hard as a Cranial Plating or an early Steel Overseer can quickly end a game. The longer the game goes, the easier it gets for G/W Hate Bears to win, as overall card power in Affinity (Ornithopter, Memnite, etc.) falls off drastically in the late game.

After sideboarding, things get a lot better—mainly because of Stony Silence, which shuts down their strongest cards like Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, and Steel Overseer.

When comparing both players’ sideboards, it’s hard to ignore that Serrafin seems more ready to face Affinity. Not only does he have 3 Stony Silence in the board, but he also is able to replace the rather useless Leonin Arbiters and Thalia for better creatures like Spellskite (mainly vs. Arcbound Ravager and Etched Champion), Reclamation Sage, and Selfless Spirit. Engineered Explosives basically acts as a pseudo Stony Silence as it is also able to handle the most annoying cards (Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, and Steel Overseer). Reclamation Sage is especially nice in combination with Flickerwisp and Restoration Angel.

I’m a bit surprised that Brandon is not taking out his Aether Vials, as these seem rather slow and get shut down by his own Stony Silence. I do however like that he has 2 Tectonic Edge to bring in, allowing him to cut Gavony Township (which seems too slow and not very impactful in the matchup).

Both players cut Leonin Arbiter, which seems pretty logical as Affinity doesn’t have any search effects and because Affinity only runs 1 basic land, thus they will not be able to search more after the first Ghost Quarter or Path to Exile.

Vs. Bant Eldrazi

Brandon Semerau Serrafin Wellinger
OUT IN OUT IN
2 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 2 Sunlance 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 2 Selfless Spirit
1 Qasali Pridemage 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence 1 Scavenging Ooze 2 Spellskite
3 3 4 4

The matchup against Bant Eldrazi should already be fine and I guess that also explains why neither of these players have a lot of sideboard cards dedicated to the matchup. According to Serrafin, the matchup usually plays out the same way: you prevent them from attacking profitably with a huge wall of creatures while beating them down in the air.

I’m liking the 2 Sunlance from Brandon a bit more than Spellskite, as these actually take care of Eldrazi Displacer (which is their most important card in this matchup) instead of having to pay 2 life all the time. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben seems like a logical cut as Bant Eldrazi has very few noncreature spells. Selfless Spirit helps in beat them down in the air and can sometimes be nice when double-blocking a Reality Smasher or Thought-Knot Seer.

Vs. Naya Burn

Brandon Semerau Serrafin Wellinger
OUT IN OUT IN
2 Path to Exile 1 Kitchen Finks 4 Aether Vial 2 Spellskite
2 Flickerwisp 1 Scavenging Ooze 1 Celestial Purge
1 Restoration Angel 1 Gisela, the Broken Blade 1 Ethersworn Canonist
2 Sunlance
5 5 4 4

Burn seems like a tricky matchup as both players were not very happy to face it. Serrafin especially was hoping not to face the Burn menace, as he decided to cut all of his sideboard hate against Burn in favor of graveyard hate. The fact that he is sideboarding an Ethersworn Canonist (which is okay but never great) shows how unprepared he is for this matchup. Brandon seems more prepared with his 2 main-deck Kitchen Finks, plus a 3rd one from the sideboard.

I’m unsure about Gisela, the Broken Blade. A 4-power lifelink creature obviously seems nice, but I’m afraid she is a bit too slow and she will just die to Lightning Bolt, Rift Bolt, or Searing Blaze. I’m also unsure about cutting Path to Exile (basically making the switch with Sunlance). I feel like you can use as many of these effects as possible so I’d be more inclined to cut a number of Aether Vials, as Serrafin does.

Vs. Jund

Brandon Semerau Serrafin Wellinger
OUT IN OUT IN
1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben 1 Kitchen Finks 4 Aether Vial 2 Selfless Spirit
2 Qasali Pridemage 1 Scavenging Ooze 1 Celestial Purge
1 Dismember 1 Rest in Peace
3 3 4 4

Opinions were divided over the matchup against Jund. Brandon said it was his worst matchup because Jund is very good at handling the weak creatures from G/W Hate Bears, while gaining card advantage from Liliana of the Veil, Kolaghan’s Command, and Dark Confidant. Serrafin was a bit more optimistic, as he said games usually go very long and Blade Splicer really helps in these grindy games because Jund either has to kill a 1/1 or leave it on the board, where it can potentially create more Golem tokens thanks to Restoration Angel and Flickerwisp.

Selfless Spirit is the most promising card in both players’ sideboards as Jund usually brings in a certain number of Damnations or Anger of the Gods, against which Selfless Spirit shines. I’m also liking the singleton Celestial Purge/Dismember to get rid of Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Grim Flayer/Dark Confidant, or Grim Lavamancer. Celestial Purge has the bonus of being able to handle Liliana of the Veil or Night of Soul’s Betrayal.

Once again Serrafin is taking out Aether Vial, while Brandon is keeping them. The reasoning behind this is that, according to Serrafin, every card you draw against Jund has to have an impact and trade for at least one card. Cards that don’t trade or generate card advantage are not acceptable in this matchup. That means Aether Vial has to go, as drawing redundant copies of it can really break your neck.

Instead, Brandon is taking out his 2 Qasali Pridemage and a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

Vs. Infect

Brandon Semerau Serrafin Wellinger
OUT IN OUT IN
2 Kitchen Finks 2 Sunlance 4 Scavenging Ooze 2 Selfless Spirit
2 Gavony Township 2 Tectonic Edge 2 Blade Splicer 2 Spellskite
1 Eternal Witness 1 Dismember 1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Restoration Angel 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence 1 Engineered Explosives
6 6 6 6

Once again opinions were divided. Serrafin would rather not face Infect at all, while Brandon felt like it was fairly even. Blighted Agent is a real problem, as G/W Hate Bears only has 4 Path to Exile to interact with it and it can kill you out of nowhere. This is also the reason why I’m liking Brandon’s sideboard a lot more in this matchup. Having 2 Sunlance and 1 Dismember as extra ways to handle Blight Agent really helps. Spellskite seems nice against Infect, but in reality it will often just die to

Spellskite seems nice against Infect, but in reality it will often just die to Twisted Image or Dismember. The singleton Ethersworn Canonist looks pretty nice though, as Infect can no longer pump their creature and protect it at the same time, leaving themselves open to Path to Exile whenever they try to go for it. I’m again liking the switch from Gavony Township to Tectonic Edge, as killing Inkmoth Nexus is better than trying to block it with Selfless Spirit.

Vs. R/G Tron

Brandon Semerau Serrafin Wellinger
OUT IN OUT IN
4 Aether Vial 2 Stony Silence 4 Scavenging Ooze 2 Selfless Spirit
2 Gavony Township 2 Tectonic Edge 4 Aether Vial 3 Stony Silence
1 Path to Exile 1 Kitchen Finks 2 Reclamation Sage
2 Life from the Loam 1 Gaddock Teeg
7 7 8 8

Both players seemed to like their chances against R/G Tron, although it has to be said that board sweepers (Pyroclasm, Kozilek’s Return, etc.) can be devastating (aren’t they, Zac Hill?).

This time around, both players take out their Aether Vials, and for good reason—it gets shut down by Stony Silence. The switch from Gavony Township to Tectonic Edge once again seems logical. The combo with Life from the Loam looks promising, but I’m afraid it will either be too slow or you’ll end up drawing Life from the Loam without Ghost Quarter or Tectonic Edge. I’m not sure about cutting Path to Exile, as it does still handle Wurmcoil Engine or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. The Selfless Spirits seem pretty good at preventing your whole board from getting killed by a single Pyroclasm.

Vs. Death Shadow’s Suicide Zoo

Brandon Semerau Serrafin Wellinger
OUT IN OUT IN
2 Qasali Pridemage 2 Sunlance 2 Scavenging Ooze 2 Spellskite
1 Eternal Witness 1 Kitchen Finks 2 Collected Company 1 Celestial Purge
1 Scavenging Ooze 1 Gisela, the Broken Blade 1 Engineered Explosives
4 4 4 4

The last matchup I’ll talk about is one you shouldn’t be too worried about according to Brandon and Serrafin. Both players sideboard 4, although completely different, cards. The ones I’m liking the most are Spellskite and Engineered Explosives. Taking out Collected Company seems logical, as the creatures you can find with it aren’t all that good in the matchup and because it is kind of slow. As for Brandon, Qasali Pridemage and Scavenging Ooze seem like a logical cut, but I am unsure about taking out the Eternal Witness as it will let you rebuy your best card against them (Path to Exile).

Number of Matchups Where a Specific Card is Sideboarded

Before concluding this article, I decided to take a look at the number of matchups a specific sideboard card was used by both players (when only counting the 7 best performing decks). In an ideal world, you would have high numbers on each sideboard card. But it is not as simple as that. First of all, if you are boarding a certain card in each matchup, why is it not in your main deck? And second, some cards, like Stony Silence, are just more impactful, thus could justify themselves even with a low number of matchups where you board it in. Looking at these numbers does, however, teach us which cards are underused, and which cards are used quite a lot.

Brandon Semerau Serrafin Wellinger
Stony Silence 2 Celestial Purge 3
Rest in Peace 0 Ethersworn Canonist 2
Gisela, the Broken Blade 2 Reclamation Sage 2
Linvala, Keeper of Silence 2 Selfless Spirit 5
Kitchen Finks 4 Stony Silence 2
Scavenging Ooze 2 Engineered Explosives 3
Life from the Loam 1 Gaddock Teeg 1
Tectonic Edge 3 Rest in Peace 1
Sunlance 5 Spellskite 5
Dismember 2

Across these 2 players and 7 matchups, there is only one card not being used and that is the Rest in Peaces from Brandon Semerau. In fact, Serrafin has 2 copies of Rest in Peace himself, but he is sideboarding 1 of his 2 copies of the card against Jund. Of course, Rest in Peace is mainly for decks that we didn’t talk about (Dredge, Pyromancer’s Ascension, and Junk), but the fact that we are not bringing them in against any of the 7 most played decks is questionable at least. In fact, when asked for what changes Brandon would make to his sideboard, he said that he would drop the 2 Rest in Peace in favor of an Aven Mindcensor and a third copy of Stony Silence.

The other cards that seem underused are Life from the Loam from Brandon and Gaddock Teeg from Serrafin. To be fair, I am not a big fan of these 2 cards myself. Life from the Loam is slow and demands you draw a copy of Ghost Quarter (or Tectonic Edge) early as well, whereas Gaddock Teeg is a 2/2 that gets easily killed when necessary and shuts down your own Collected Company.

The cards that are being used the most are Sunlance from Brandon and Selfless Spirit and Spellskite from Serrafin. All these cards come in for 5 out of 7 matchups. The next card on that list would be the third Kitchen Finks from Brandon, but it has to be said that Brandon sideboards it against R/G Tron where the impact of the card seems rather low.

I think the general approach of building two completely different sideboards and comparing them to each other in your most important matchups is a good way of finding the best 15 sideboard cards. Often the choice of which cards to cut from your sideboard is made at the last minute, without really giving it enough thought. Often you’ll find yourself short on sideboard cards in certain matchups if you do it this way. An exercise like the one I did takes a lot of time, but it’s one that could prove crucial on your way to that Grand Prix or WMCQ Top 8.

But What Would Marijn Do?

And I guess this brings us to the final question of this article: “Which sideboard would Marijn build?” To be fair, building a sideboard without playing the deck myself is rather difficult. If I’d have to base my sideboard on what I learned from writing this article, it would look like this:

 

As for the main deck, I’d probably run something very close to what Serrafin had, except that I would make space for 1 Qasali Pridemage. Collected Company is a powerful card and I like how it keeps your opponent guessing. Without CoCo in your deck, it is too easy for your opponent to play around Restoration Angel. But as I said, I’m pretty sure I’d shake up the numbers after playing the deck a bit. I feel confident that with this sideboard I’ll have plenty of cards to bring in for each matchup. The question is, however, if we’re not over-sideboarding, or if the cards we’re bringing in are powerful enough. Only playing the different matchups a number of times will give us the answer.

 

Of course, it doesn’t stop here. We still have to figure out a fitting sideboard plan for this sideboard. But good teachers never send home their students without a proper amount of homework. So I’ll leave it up to you guys to find the fitting sideboard plan! My job is done here.

Bonus Section: Sideboarding with Grixis Delver

Last time, I missed Albertus Law’s answer to my message and as a result did not include his sideboard plan in my article. I added it later to the comments of my article, but I’m unsure how many of you actually read that part. To make sure everyone who wants to know how to sideboard with Grixis Delver reads it this time around, I decided to include it as a bonus section to this article.

Vs. Affinity

Out

In

Vs. Infect

Out

In

Vs. Bant Eldrazi

Out

In

Vs. Naya Burn

Out

In

Vs. Jund

Out

In

Vs. R/G Tron

Out

In

Vs. Death Shadow’s Suicide Zoo

Out

In

To conclude, I’d like to thank Brandon, Serrafin, and Albertus for helping me out with this article. They were all very willing to help out and I hope that their advice will help you readers on your quest to make the perfect sideboard.