You find yourself paired up for round one of your local Friday Night Magic tournament. You power shuffle your deck, then rifle shuffle. You start the match. Within a few turns the match is slipping away from you little by little, but in typical Hitchhiker’s Guide style, my advice is this: DON’T PANIC!
Don’t get me wrong, winning game one is great, but it provides little for players to use to assure victory in the match. In fact, game one is best used as a way to study what an opponent is going to play and how to effectively use the best tool players have in their arsenal to stop them, the side deck.
Side Deck – A list of 15 cards separate from the Main deck which potentially provides a player with an advantage against an opponent’s deck. These cards can be exchanged in a one-for-one fashion in between games two and three.
Most players familiar with the game know what a side deck is and probably have one to go alongside their more favored decks (especially if they play in local or district tournaments). However, most have the wrong idea of when to side deck and, more importantly,what to take out and what to replace it with. So from here I will be breaking down the art to effectively side decking.
Part One: Meet Your Match
In order to decide what to side in or out of the main deck, a player needs to look into what weaknesses an opponent could exploit with their own side deck and decide how to combat them.
A mirror match (a match played against an extremely similar deck) could very well be just as bad, if not worse than a player’s worst matchup versus a strong competing deck. In that case, picking the right cards to side out can seem impossible. Choosing the cards to take out of the main deck can seem like an overwhelming and often confusing task due to the struggle to keep in the win conditions. So long as you don’t side out those you are on the right track!
Example: if a deck is built around control, then don’t remove counter spells and draw power techs. Instead, look at the supporting cards that aren’t a necessity but that provide an extra bit of trouble for an opponent.
Enter critical technique number two – Keep them guessing.
If a player uses Geist of Saint Traft and Angelic Destiny, (both of which are looming threats) he could choose to side out the Angelic Destiny in game two, to assure that win conditions are solid. This technique can be beneficial in multiple ways. For one, an opponent may side in cards that destroy or exile enchantments to remove Angelic Destiny, but with no target those cards become dead in hand. Removing Angelic Destiny also gives a player more space to add in answers for an opponent’s win conditions.
Part Two: Practice Makes Perfect
What most players fail to realize is that when playing with a side board, they only play one of every three matches with their main deck unaltered. Without properly play testing a deck with a side board even during non-competitive play, players will be less likely to learn from their mistakes. This can lead to a harder time adjusting play styles to compensate for the newly added cards. What this all equates to is this: practice, practice and practice some more until the deck works just as smoothly before and after side decking.
Change: although it can be scary to a player who has a tried-and-true side deck, it can make all the difference in the world in the rapidly changing meta-game of Magic. Every day play styles, deck techs, deck builds and meta-trends are changing and so should side decks. Even at the local level there can be entire shifts in the ratio of deck types which drastically changes the options a player has for side deck material. Never be afraid to experiment with new ideas when you feel as though you have found better techs.
Part Three: Going Overboard
The last and final problem most players run into is over siding, a process in which a given player allots too many answers to the same threat their opponent’s deck poses. If a player sides in six different anti-enchantment cards against their opponent’s two enchantment cards, that player has gone too far. Be sure that any answer to an opponent’s threat is proportional to the threat itself. The key is balance, moderation and adapting to the deck’s contents.
Overall, with proper use of these techniques a player can strive to go from just an average player to an up and coming pro by using every advantage at their disposal to crush opponents in the fast paced meta-game of Magic.
Do you have any side decking advise for your fellow Magic: The Gathering players, or a question for a future article? Post in the comments below!
And for those of you living in or visiting the Hampton Roads area, please join us for weekly tournaments and Friday Night Magic at 859 S. Lynnhaven Rd, Virginia Beach, VA 23452. [Get Directions].
We are also hosting pre-release tournaments for Avacyn Restored. (April 28th @ Midnight, April 28th @ 12PM [Helvault] & 7PM and April 29th @ 2PM [Helvault].)