There are several major skillsets that give top-tier players a huge advantage over novice players. Today I want to discuss sideboards, their importance, and how to properly prepare yours and use it. Before we get into that though, I’d like to introduce myself.
I’ve been playing Eternal for just over a month. In that time, I won the first two TCG-Esports tournaments I played in, hit Masters ranks effortlessly, and have been welcomed to one of the best teams in Eternal, Seek Power Gaming. I have nearly two decades of experience in competitive Magic: The Gathering, which is where a lot of my game knowledge and influence comes from. I stream 6 nights a week on twitch, you can find me at twitch.tv/spg_masterplan.
What is a Sideboard and Why Bother?
A player’s sideboard is 15 cards, in addition to the 75 you play with in a general game on ladder. After you play your first game, and have an idea of what your opponent’s game plan is, you can substitute cards into your deck from your sideboard. This allows you to have a stronger game plan against what your opponent is trying to do, as well as removing cards that may be bad against an opponent.
The Importance of Sideboarding
Matches are decided in a best 2 out of 3 games (or in some cases, 3 of 5.) If half of the matches were to finish in two games, and the other half were to go to three games, then 60% of games are played with use of your sideboard.
This means that your sideboarded version of your deck actually sees MORE play than your unsideboarded, and thus your sideboard requires just as much preparation for the next ETS. In order for your deck to perform optimally, the sideboard must be optimal, and your choices on how you sideboard are just as important as the cards within it.
Netdecks vs Brews
Let’s start this section by clearing up a stigma people seem to have:
Netdecking is not a bad thing.
There is nothing wrong with recognizing a deck is good, and wanting to play it yourself. After all, if a deck is winning, it must be good, right? That said there’s nothing wrong with brewing decks yourself, and I encourage you to do so.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, we need to discuss how to properly netdeck. You need to make sure you know what each card is for. To do this, we’re going to use the list TonyGeeeee played in the ETS Weekly on 09/09/17. (Link here)
Now, because Tony is a teammate and friend, I of course have had conversations with him regarding the deck, I understand his card choices. However, had I not had that experience, I wouldn’t know exactly what the purpose of each card in his sideboard was. What do I bring in against X deck? What do I take out for Y?
The reason I point this out, is because even if you DO netdeck, you should always look at the sideboard, look at each individual card, and decide why it’s there, what your plan for it is, and how you plan to use it; not just copy it and expect to randomly slot cards into your deck. Understand each card in your sideboard as if it was a card in your main.
Understanding the Metagame
An understanding of the current metagame is essential to building your sideboard. This means your first step in building your sideboard should be looking at what the most popular decks at the time are. The best way to figure this out is to pay close attention to EternalWarcry and see which decks are seeing the most play in tournaments.
Once you’ve got a solid understanding of the meta, you should put a good amount of time testing matches against the most played decks, without using any sideboard at all. During this testing, you should be noting which decks you have the best win-rate against, and which ones are your problem matchups. Take note of your weak cards in each matchup, and the strong cards in each matchup.
Use the Decklists
One major difference Eternal has over other card games that use sideboards, is that you have complete access to your opponent’s decklist. Because of this, you have access to the information of what is in your opponent’s sideboard. You need to foresee how they will intend to sideboard, and ensure that you’re boarding against what THEY plan to bring in.
A simple example of this, if you were playing Elysian Midrange with 4 copies of Permafrost and 2 copies of Crystallize and your opponent has 3 Infinite Hourglass in their sideboard, you have the information that they will likely bring them in, and thus you should take out your Permafrost and Crystallize. This gives you an advantage by not keeping in cards that will otherwise be dead draws against your opponent’s sideboard cards.
One of the biggest issues players have, is they will put a large number of cards in their sideboard for one specific bad matchup, only to find they have to take cards that are good in the matchup out in order to add in the sideboarded cards. This over-commitment of resources means you have less slots in your sideboard to address the rest of your matchups. In order to avoid this, you need to determine how many cards you want to take out against certain matchups. If you’re playing Praxis Midrange, and have a bad matchup against Burn Queen, first determine what specifically you don’t want in the matchup in your maindeck before deciding what you DO want in your sideboard. This will help you determine how many slots you can actively use for the matchup, as well as helping maintain a balance for the entire metagame.
The value of a card in your sideboard is not determined simply by the power of the card in the matchup, it’s determined by how much better it is than the card it’s replacing. So if you have a card that’s 9/10 in a matchup, but it’s replacing a card that’s 6/10, you’re really not gaining much value from that replacement, and you should first determine if the card is necessary at all. Maximizing the difference in power level between the cards you’re adding and the cards you’re removing should be your ultimate goal in each match.
I think the best way to end this article would be with a simple recap:
- Remember, your sideboard is just as important as your main deck.
- Over half of your games are played post-sideboard.
- Optimize your sideboard to compete against the current metagame.
- Have your game plan ready for each opponent.
- Sideboard against what your opponent will be sideboarding in, not what their main deck is.
- Don’t excessively sideboard.
Following this article will improve your winrate, improve your sideboard creation skills, and help you become a better player.