Breaking Through: Sideboarding and Grand Prix Chicago
By Conley Woods
Grab your favorite beverage and popcorn and settle in for a long one folks. As promised to Chris from Kentucky, this article will discuss sideboarding. I also attended Grand Prix Chicago this past weekend, and although I didn’t win it as planned, I finished a respectable 38th place. This of course led me to write a tournament report, but as I gave my word about sideboarding, I found myself torn. Therefore the following will be an article detailing my Grand Prix experience while making an effort to focus on how I sideboarded and what tips and lessons my sideboarding can help you with in your future endeavors.
Let’s start with my deck. I took a deck similar to this to Worlds 2007 and went 4-1 in the Legacy portion, only scooping to my last round opponent to get him to level 3 for the season. I knew this tournament would feature a wide variety of decks, and because of this I wanted to have a deck that could take on all comers, even if it had no amazing matchups in the 80-20 range. We were sure Counterbalance decks would be the most represented, but other than that, we expected a lot of 5% decks to make up the field. I ended up with this build:
|3 Pernicious Deed4 Thoughtseize
|Sideboard:4 Ethersworn Canonist
The deck is much more a Rock deck than a Progenitus deck. In reality, the original reason we even added the Progenitus combo was to combat other people’s Progenitus because early in testing that was all the rage. It seemed like it would be much better than having some card like Diabolic Edict in the main deck. It turns out that he’s a nice little win condition and so we stuck with him.
Nothing too exciting here though. The deck really rewards tight play as it is essentially a controlling midrange deck with no draw engine and therefore requires the maximum use out of every card drawn. This is why Noble Hierarch gets the nod over Birds of Paradise because he is a much better top deck and you don’t really need the extra black mana too often.
The sideboard will be highlighted throughout this report but just to lay some foundation:
Ethersworn Canonist is obviously for the combo decks in the room, namely Elves and Ad Nauseum. It really shines against the Burning Wish versions of Ad Nauseum because they grab an answer for him, of which they can’t play yet, and you proceed to Thoughtseize or Cabal Therapy it out of their hand.
Krosan Grip is very versatile in this format due to the powerful nature of the artifacts and enchantments. It shines against Counterbalance decks and White Stax but has use in various other places as well.
Relic of Progenitus is obviously there against Dredge and Loam. This was originally a split of 2 Extirpate and 2 Relic but we made a last minute change to go 3-1 in favor of Relic as again, it is a better top deck due to it cantripping. Extirpate doesn’t actually affect the board and rarely provides any type of card advantage so it was reduced in numbers.
Extirpate did manage to find a single copy in the board however, because I figured it would be occasionally better against certain combo decks and also play a role in dealing with things like Eternal Dragon.
Pernicious Deed is just to fill in the role of the 4th. It is nice to have more sweepers in the board against aggro and is more versatile than something such as Infest.
Infest was originally a Damnation to also bring in against Progenitus decks, but because Infest is faster against the aggro decks and still kills all of their stuff, while also leaving behind my Tarmogoyfs and whatnot, it was added.
Loxodon Hierarch was intended to be a helper against aggro, namely that of the Burn matchup. It should be noted we planned on taking out the 3 Natural Orders and Progenitus for 1 Deed, 1 Loxodon Hierarch, 1 Loaming Shaman and 1 other card against heavy Progenitus hate like Hide//Seek and effectively morphing our deck into a traditional rock deck.
Loaming Shaman is another piece of graveyard hate that can be found with a Natural Order and comes on a 3/2 body to boot. Often times against dredge you will Order this guy up, which removes their bridges due to the sacrificed guy, and then you proceed to shuffle everything else besides Narcomeobas into their deck.
Lou, Brett, Josh and I embarked on our 16 hour drive from Colorado on Thursday and of course, as is with any road trip, plenty of shenanigans ensued. This included a God awful smell that followed us through Nebraska (NeBrettska as it would later be called) and a few near death experiences along the way. OK they weren’t actually near death experiences but you would have never guessed that judging by the reaction of everyone in the car.
Friday was spent scouting, grabbing cards, and recovering from the drive. I also managed to meet up with Gavin and watch he and Brett get in a few games, but overall the day was rather uneventful. Saturday came and I unfortunately only had 2 byes, as my rating was 4 points under 2050. I felt good about my deck though and was prepared to slug out a longer than usual day.
ROUND 3: Phillip Williams with Aggro Loam
Game 1 was not really close. He had everything rolling with Loam and Terravore and a Seismic Assault to boot. A big Devastating Dreams sealed the game in his favor.
I board in 3 Relic of Progenitus, 1 Extirpate and 1 Loaming Shaman for 1 Loxodon Hierarch, 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder and 3 Cabal Therapies. If I had more Extirpates coming in, I would have left in a few Therapies, but seeing as how you have so many cards to worry about and cannot afford to sacrifice creatures to make sure you hit those cards, Therapy is sub-par. I like Elder in the matchup as he finds a land so a big Dreams doesn’t kill you, but he is just worse than everything else. Hierarch for Loaming Shaman is an easy 1 for 1 trade when the life gain is irrelevant, and the 4/4 is trumped by every creature in the Loam deck.
Game 2 I led with a Thoughtseize and took a Terravore, leaving him with a bunch of lands and a Burning Wish. He managed to find a second Terravore and Wished for LftL. I got a Relic just in time to stop his engine and kill his fatty (It becomes a 0/0 with no lands in any yards). A Loaming Shaman dealt with any remnants and I won pretty easily.
Games 3 I have to mulligan to 5 and am not feeling that great about my hand which contained the amazing synergy of Tarmogoyf and Relic of Progenitus, as well as 3 lands. I Swords a Crusher and he drops a medium sized Terravore after I had already activated my Relic and I was sitting on a Noble Hierarch and a Goyf. Luckily I ripped a Natural Order off of the top and Progenitus gets there pretty easily. It turns out 10/10s are pretty good.
Lesson 1: Utilize your testing and test sideboarded games! There were no obvious cards to take out in this matchup but I found out in testing that Cabal Therapy was too much of a tempo loss and Loxodon Hierarch was just another dude. Testing sideboarded games gives you valuable information on how to sideboard, to include what cards should be in your sideboard, and how the matchup changes after sideboarding. Do not become lazy and just run through main deck matchups. This is especially important for any mirror matches you may face as the only real advantages come after boarding.
ROUND 4: Pete Ellenberger with Dredge.
Game 1 he went off early but didn’t find a Flame-kin Zealot so I was able to Deed away all of the tokens left behind including a Golgari Grave Troll because he didn’t have the mana to regenerate it. He dug a little more but good ole Sakura-tribe elder was able to remove his Bridges from the game and I was able to Deed once more to buy me enough time to watch him deck himself.
In this matchup on the draw I board out 4 Thoughtseize, 3 Cabal Therapy and 1 Wickerbough Elder for 3 Relic of Progenitus, 1 Loaming Shaman, 1 Pernicious Deed, 1 Extirpate, 1 Loxodon Hierarch and 1 Infest. Discard cards aren’t horrible against dredge on the play because you are able to take away their Lions Eye Diamond or discard outlet, but on the draw they are completely dead other than to flashback Therapy to remove a Bridge from Below or 2. The grave hate cards are obvious, as is the Deed. Infest conveniently kills discard outlet guys like Putrid Imp while also hitting summoning sick tokens and Narcomeobas. Loxodon Hierarch sacrifices to himself to remove Bridges, which is much better than the only 3/3 Wickerbough Elder in this matchup.
Game 2 he mulliganed to 5 and had turn 1 Putrid Imp. I threw down a Relic on my turn and he had the Pithing Needle. Meanwhile his Gemstone Mine ticked down to 1 counter and he had yet to discard a Dredger. Finally a Golgari Thug hit the yard which Dredged into an Ichorid which I promptly Extirpate. I got to look through his hate cards like Chain of Vapor and then dropped a Deed and he scooped.
Lesson 2: Know how to sideboard differently depending on whether you are on the draw or play. This occurs in vintage a lot where players on the draw will sideboard out some number of Chalice of the Void because the opponent will have already played their opening hand Moxen. Likewise, some cards are just too slow on the draw and others like Knight of the White Orchid, lose a lot of their value on the play. Be willing to look at various sideboard plans for your position according to the die roll.
ROUND 5: Donovan Harvie with Mono Red Burn
Game 1 saw him on the play with a Mountain and a Mogg Fanatic and I of course thought he was goblins. I Cabal Therapied him for Goblin Ring Leader as that is the only scary card in their deck for me… and see a hand of Fireblasts and Spark Elementals. I quickly changed gears. Next turn saw me drop a Goyf to deal with his Fanatic for a while. I was sure to fetch basic lands because I was sure he ran Price of Progress in his deck. He got me to around 10 but couldn’t break through with any creatures. He then attacked with the Fanatic, I blocked, and he shot my blocking Goyf. He then goes on to Shard Volley it and I respond by using a Swords on my own Goyf to gain 4 life. I got 2 Noble Hierarchs into play with another Goyf and he managed to drop me back down to 7. I feared Fireblast and attacked him for 7 with my Goyf thanks to exalted and Swords him to gain the 2 extra life while I can and my opponent is tapped down. He Lava Darts both Noble Hierarchs because he was at 3 and they attack for 2. I rip Thoughtseize though, and took a Fireblast out of his hand while he was tapped out. I then Crimed out his Spark Elemental to kill him. Gerry T was amused.
I board in 1 Loxodon Hierarch for 1 Thoughtseize. Nailing cards out of their hand will usually give you a life or 2, but past turn 1 it wasn’t what I wanted to be spending my mana on.
Game 2 is very easy as I dropped turn 2 Kitchen Finks into turn 3 Loxodon Hierarch into turn 4 Natural Order for Progenitus. It wasn’t close.
Lesson 3: Don’t over sideboard. It is never good to just bring in cards for their own sake. If you feel like you have a good matchup, be sure and only bring in the most relevant of spells. It is not a good idea to dilute the power or game plan of your deck just to say you brought in 6 cards, when 2 would have done it for you. Don’t make the game any harder than it already is.
ROUND 6: John Gapinski with Affinity
Game 1 I looked down at my hand on the draw and saw 4 lands, Cabal Therapy, Crime//Punishment, and Pernicious Deed and debate throwing it back because the hand had little action against a non-aggro deck… but I ultimately decided to keep. My opponent mulled to 6 and led with Ancient Den and passed… and I jump for joy as this hand is amazing against Affinity. I ripped a Goyf and played Cabal Therapy. There are very few hands that Affinity would keep without a 1 drop, so I named Arcbound Ravager and hit one, and saw Cranial Plating, 3 lands and a Master of Etherium. He played a land and Cranial Plating. I opt to Punish for 0 and knocked out both of his lands to slow him down. He ripped an Ornithopter and played it along with a land to equip it. I dropped a Deed and blew it for 0 to kill his land and Thopter and he scooped.
I board in 1 Pernicious Deed and 3 Krosan Grip for 3 Cabal Therapy and 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder. Once again Cabal Therapy and Elder are both fine… but they are much worse than the removal I brought in. Therapy can be very effective or a non-factor depending on what type of hands they keep and I did not want to take a chance. I would take out a Noble Hierarch here because of the 4th Deed coming in, but having the option of turn 2 Grip or Deed is too big of a boon.
He led with a turn 1 Aether Vial, which was fine because I had a Crime//Punishment ready to go. I led with a turn 1 Thoughtseize and take a Master of Etherium. I saw he had a Worker and Springleaf Drum so my Punishment should be for value and I did not have spot removal yet for that Master. He played a land and the drum, Vialed out a Worker and played Cranial Plating, which he ripped. I drew Swords to Plowshares and passed. He opted to drop the Master of Etherium he drew for the turn rather than equip and swing. I Swords it end of turn and Punish for 1 on my turn. He ripped and cast another Master but I had a Noble Hierarch to block and a Deed that I ripped for the turn. I blocked and he didn’t play another card. I Deed for 3 when he attacks and he played a land and Springleaf Drum. I ripped a Goyf and cast him. He ended up with Frogmite and Cranial Plating next turn but I Punish away his lands and Grip the Frogmite. I got there with a Goyf or 2.
Lesson 4: Utilize your sideboard effectively and fill it with versatile cards where you can. Sure Kataki is a beating against Affinity, but Deed and Krosan Grip are infinitely better in other matchups and are still very good here. If you have an atrocious matchup you can shore up with a few cards then a narrow but powerful card may be good. But in general, sideboard cards that can fill more than one role are ideal especially in such an open field as Legacy.
ROUND 7: Andy Probasco with U/G CounterTop
Game 1 was an attrition war. Andy managed to stabilize at around 8 life and then went on the offensive with Goyf and knocked me down pretty low. He had 1 card in hand at this point and was relying entirely on Counterbalance and Top to keep him alive. I attempted to cast a Crime targeting a Sower of Temptation in his yard to steal his Goyf and give me lethal. He has cast 3 Force of Wills at this point so I felt pretty good about this resolving. He opted to draw a card with his Top however and drew the Force and hard casted it. I don’t think he realized Force counters the Crime through Counterbalance but never the less he sealed off the game and we moved to game 2.
I boarded in 1 Pernicious Deed and 3 Krosan Grip for 2 Sakura-Tribe Elder and 2 Cabal Therapy. In testing against Counterbalance I was taking out 1 Swords instead of a Therapy because they ran very few threats and Deed was usually better and harder to counter. But Andy had Sower of Temptation so I needed to leave in all of my Swords. Therapy is awesome early but drawing too many hand disruption spells late is horrible as they just counter them all with Counterbalance so I opted to cut an extra Therapy instead of Swords. Tribe Elder doesn’t add enough to the board to be worth a card that gets countered entirely too easy in this matchup so he’s an easy cut.
In game 2 Andy once again casted all 4 Force of Wills but everyone is in pitch mode which was exactly what I wanted. I was a rock deck and every 2 for 1 I could muster pushed me closer to winning. He got Counterbalance and 2 Goyfs down but I resolved a Punishment for 2 which wasn’t blind flipped and I got there with a few Kitchen Finks as he had no cards in hand and no Top active thanks to an early Krosan Grip.
Game 3 I kept a hand of Bayou, Swamp, Cabal Therapy, Tarmogoyf, Krosan Grip, Pernicious Deed and Crime//Punishment. This hand was amazing on the draw because I had all the pieces to stop his Counterbalance lock and even an early threat to get there. I Cabal Therapied him on turn 1 after ripping a Natural Order and he Forced it pitching a Counterbalance which let me know he had some sick 2 or 3 of in hand and was afraid I would name it. I ripped a Kitchen Finks and got a Goyf countered by another pitched Force. Again this was what I wanted… but I never drew another land for 7 turns and ripped all 3 or 4 drops, which just ate at me. It’s magic however and these things happen so I gather myself and move onto round 8.
Lesson 5: Stay flexible with your boarding strategies. It is important to have a boarding plan versus the popular decks but you should not stick to those so rigidly when you notice a few different cards in an opponent’s deck. Always be willing to bring in a card or two different if you feel as though they will be better in the matchup than what you had intended on doing. Playing like a robot is not how to win tournaments so remain fluid with choices.
ROUND 8: Vivek Soi with Merfolk
Game 1 I win the roll and kept a hand of Scrubland, Forest, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Natural Order, Pernicious Deed, Thoughtseize and Kitchen Finks. I Thoughtsieze him on turn 1 and saw 2 Wasteland, 2 Mutavault, Aether Vial, Standstilla and Daze. Now the initial reaction I am sure most of you have is to just take the Vial as that is the only way he could get into this game early. He was obviously playing Merfolk and thus Vial gets him there. But in actuality, I NEEDED for him to play the Vial on turn 1 because that meant he was not playing and breaking a Wasteland which would set me back a turn and with only 1 basic in hand, wouldn’t allow me to play STE. I took his Standstill to walk him into playing Vial and he does just that. Because of this I was able to get plenty of basics into play and Deed his board to include that Vial a few turns later after he had drawn a Silvergill Adept and a Lord or 2. He couldn’t recover from the card advantage and I beat him down with some random dorks.
I board in 1 Pernicious Deed, 1 Infest and 1 Loxodon Hierarch for 3 Cabal Therapy. Once again, other than Force of Will, he doesn’t have any cards that I would automatically name with Therapy and I’d rather have my guys in play than making sure Therapy hits. If I was on the play for game 2 I may have boarded different, as then naming Aether Vial is a nice bonus from Therapy, but on the draw it didn’t matter too much.
Game 2 was basically me just killing everything he owned. He dropped at least 2 Standstill this game and I immediately broke them both. I Punish away his one drops including a Vial and Curse Catcher and then landed a Deed that cleaned up more of his men. Infest killed his back-up plan of guys and I eventually Natural Order into Progenitus for the win.
Lesson 6: As nothing exciting happened this round as far as sideboarding goes, I would instead like to talk about Standstill. The goal when someone plays Standstill is simple and that is to continue to play your game as if it wasn’t in play unless you are able to capitalize on its existence. In other words, if you have Mishra’s Factory in play, than feel free to let it stick, but otherwise, break it immediately. Think of it this way: do you automatically lose a game in which Ancestral Visions resolves? No, and Standstill is simply a different form of that card. But losing becomes a much more realistic result if you give them 3 cards and 2-3 turns of tempo by waiting to play your spells. Besides, decks playing standstill only ever draw poopy cards with it anyway. They draw Force of Wills and bad cards… including more standstills, so don’t be threatened by that enchantment.
ROUND 9: Matthew East with Goblins
Game 1 he kept a pretty bad hand as I got to see it with Thoughtseize. It did have Goblin Lackey and Aether Vial in it but not much else. I took the Lackey as he had Siege-Gang Commander and Vial can’t help to get him out nearly as fast. He dropped the Vial and I ended up killing it, a Goblin Piledriver and Goblin Warchief with a Deed a couple of turns later. He tried to get there with Goblin Sharpshooter but my Kitchen Finks and Tarmogoyfs were too much.
I boarded in 1 Infest, 1 Pernicious Deed and 1 Loxodon Hierarch again for 3 Cabal Therapy. He can empty his hand too quickly for Therapy to matter much and the only card I ever name with it is Goblin Ringleader anyway, so I just let my Thoughtseizes take care of him.
Game 2 he had the nuts, with a turn 1 Lackey into Turn 2 Piledriver and Warchief off of the Lackey. He has another Piledriver the following turn and Wastelands a land of mine. I chump blocked a couple of times, but never ripped anything to get me out of the onslaught.
Game 3 I led with a Noble Hierarch into Kitchen Finks which trumped his Goblin Lackey. He tried to drop enough Piledrivers and whatnot to matter, but I continued to drop better individual men and eventually Deed away all 2 and lower guys leaving me with 2 Finks and a Witness. I Thoughtseize him to took his Goblin ringleader and his only chance at getting back into the game and took the game easily from there.
Lesson 7: Recognize a card that you continuously bring in from the board or one that you continuously board out. It could very well be the right call to move that card out of the board or maindeck and into the other. I started noticing this about Cabal Therapy throughout the day and although it worked OK sometimes, I think even Duress would have been better so you almost always hit a card at least. Therapy was by far the weakest link in the deck and hence is why it got boarded out. It is good to think about these things in playtesting though and that is why playtesting boarded games is vital, as it also helps mold your maindeck.
The day ended with me sitting pretty high in the standings with an 8-1 record. No one else ended up making day 2 which made the ordeal bittersweet but I had work to do regardless. We decided to go out for some pizza and end up stringing Gavin along until we realize that we can’t fit everyone into our car and had to leave him hanging (Sorry Gavin!). Never the less we end up grabbing some adult beverages and eating some deep dish before I convince everyone to get me home as I need some sleep before the long day 2 that would be made even longer due to daylight savings that night. Alas I head back to my room and partake in some boring sleep while the rest of the crew enjoys the sins of the night. Very few details were given but no one else showed up to the venue until 2pm the next day so I can only assume craziness ensued.
Seeing as how this is already extremely long, I will go ahead and continue with day 2 in an article that will be posted within a few days of this one. Look for a bonus extended deck tech in that one as I took a crazy midnight built deck down to Albuquerque this weekend and took home the PTQ win. Day 2 ends up a little more exciting than day 1 with the most perfect match of Magic I have ever played. Until next time, TRA LA LA I’m out.
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