Flexible Sideboarding in Modern

by Andreas Petersen on 15 February 2019, Friday

Andreas Petersen

Today I'm back to looking at Modern with the art of building a sideboard in focus. I will go over four of the most popular decks and show examples for how to fight them with useful crossover sideboard cards.

First things first: How to build a sideboard

Whenever you build a good sideboard, you need to study recent results, metagame shares and tendencies in order to hit the nail on the head. There are two tried and tested methods in my book, the first one a lot more "high risk, high reward" than the other one.

At Pro Tour 25th Anniversary I was locked on Titan Shift in Modern, but I was concerned with the amount of Ironworks combo I would have to face. I could either accept a bad matchup and hope to dodge it or I could "waste" four slots in my sideboard and try to crush it. I had a feeling that KCI would appeal to a lot of good players, so I decided to cut a Mountain for a Blood Crypt and run quadruple Slaughter Games in my sideboard. I ended up gatting paired against KCI three times, winning two of them thanks to Slaughter Games. I did not get to finish the third one at 1-1 vs. Ben Stark where I had lands, Farseek and Slaughter Games (castable on turn three) in hand. I was on the draw and never got to ask Ben if he had the turn 3 kill, so I can't count it as a win or a loss of course. The point I'm trying to make is that dedicating four sideboard slots to one matchup worked out for me that time, but it's extremely hard to justify in a normal Modern metagame. That leads me to the second approach.

The Beauty of Crossover Cards: Give up impact for flexibility

Realistically, if I wanted to improve my odds significantly against KCI at that event, I would need a combination of graveyard hate and artifact removal in those four slots and probably make room for even more by giving up percentages to numerous other matchups that I prepared for. Thankfully, no deck in the current metagame demands as much from its opponents, so let's put that thing to rest and focus on the Modern metagame, February 2019.

Izzet Phoenix

Playing against Arclight Phoenix is a tough nut to crack because its draws vary so much from game to game. Sometimes you need removal for their turn two Thing in the Ice and other times you have to worry about recurring birds from the graveyard and your Fatal Push does next to nothing. Likewise, gaining an advantage after sideboard is hard to do with other cards than the obvious graveyard hate. My best bet if you want a card that will also do work in other matchups is Thalia, Guardian of Thraben to hinder their ability to chain spells. She will also help you against Storm, Burn and Control decks.

Death's Shadow

Before we get to how to sideboard against Death's Shadow decks, I just want to mention a cool card they recently started to run. Shattering Blow's exile wording has earned it a spot in their sideboard because of Wurmcoil Engine and Hangarback Walker. At the same time it answers Chalice of the VoidCranial Plating and Ensnaring Bridge. Compared to Abrade you lose a piece of small creature removal in your sideboard, but exiling big hard-to-deal-with artifacts has proven more vital right now.

Aside from playing a lot of hard removal like Path to Exile and Terminate or a creature deck with tons of permanents on the battlefield early on, you can attack Death's Shadow from your sideboard a couple of ways. The deck is softer to graveyard hate than most people think. Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace on the battlefield means that it is more or less relegated to using only Death's Shadow and Snapcaster Mage as the blue Ambush Viper as its road to victory which isn't very scary. Likewise sticky threats like Kitchen Finks will block twice in a damage race while they still have tons of applications against Burn, Black-Green Midrange decks and Control.

Another good one is Celestial Purge which will deal with the big critters of Shadow while it also takes care of Liliana of the VeilBlood Moon and any Red creatures out there.


Most players know that graveyard hate is great against Dredge, but let's break down the different options.

  • Leyline of the Void is the most backbreaking piece of hate, but also comes with the most variance since you can't draw into it later in the game.
  • Rest in Peace is great because you can keep hands without it and find it on your turn one Serum Visions or find it with your scry off of a mulligan. Occasionally when on the play, Dredge will get on the board on turn 2 with some threats, and the second turn Rest in Peace is too late. Like Leyline, it is also quite good against Hardened Scales, Black-Green Midrange, Phoenix, Shadow and Storm.
  • Tormod's Crypt could be your graveyard hate of choice if you need metalcraft for Mox Opal or you play Burn with Light up the Stage to find it. You will need a fast clock to close out the game to support the Crypt, otherwise the one time-effect will be lackluster.
  • Surgical Extraction will do great work against Dredge because it plays relatively few different threats. It combos well with Snapcaster Mage and will make the opponent work to get the Phoenixes into play only to realize it's not gonna happen.
  • Grafdigger's Cage can stop Dredge, Phoenix, GriselbrandSnapcaster Mage and even Collected Company or Chord of Calling from doing anything meaningful. If you don’t run any of these cards yourself, I always love the first copy of Grafdigger's Cage in my sideboard.
  • Relic of Progenitus is the most maindeckable card on the list because of its ability to cantrip for two mana when it's dead. In some metagames I can see myself playing it in the starting 60 in Tron and Titan Shift.
  • Nihil Spellbomb will be the go-to for Black-Green Midrange players who don't enjoy the variance swings of Leyline of the Void. They want to disrupt the opponent's graveyard while keeping their own for Tarmogoyf. Spellbomb itself even adds an artifact to your yard.


If you didn't already, check out my article on Rakdos Burn including videos of my top 8 matches of the Modern Challenge here!

Life would be so much easier if you could just slam 4 Dragon's Claw into your sideboard and crush the tournament. Lifegain is going to be great against Burn, but you need to find cards that help you in other matchups. Dispel will counter a decent amount of burn spells while it helps out against Cryptic CommandCollected Company and Gifts Ungiven to name a few. Kitchen Finks will spell trouble for the burn player and do relevant stuff against the decks I talked about in the Shadow part. Negateand Flashfreeze will be fine against Burn while they also counter big mana plays in your expected metagame whether it's Karn Liberated or Primeval Titan.

This article was written by Andreas Petersen in a media collaboration with snapcardster.com

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