Article by Nate Slover
This is my current budget mono red Goblins list for Modern.
This list was introduced in two previous articles. If you haven’t read those, they will give you a good overview of the cards that made the list and those that were considered but didn’t make the cut. Those articles can be found here:
PART 3: SIDEBOARDS
As promised at the end of part two, I’m going to dive into sideboard options for Goblins in Modern. Before handling the specifics, I think it is important to have a general understanding of good sideboarding strategy. Sideboarding and building a good sideboard is one aspect of the game that many players don’t fully think through. I’m certainly guilty of this. Most of the time, the sideboard is simply an afterthought that is thrown together at the last minute before an event. If you’re hoping to do well at any event, you’re really doing yourself a major disservice by not taking the time to carefully craft a cohesive sideboard.
The goal of sideboarding is to make your deck stronger for games two and three by using both general metagame knowledge and the information of your opponent’s specific deck. Be aware of the individual cards that your opponent cast. This will give you clues of other cards that might be included in their mainboard or their sideboard.
In constructing your sideboard, step one should be to determine the metagame that you will most likely face. Do your best to understand the popular decks of the format and know which cards are best at shutting down their overall strategy. To a certain extend this is guesswork. There are many sites like Modern Nexus and MTGTop8 that track and post metagame data for you. These are good resources. Since the metagame is always shifting, sideboards should not stay stagnant but instead need to be evolving with the shifts in the metagame. Even if you mostly include the same cards, it can be good to shift around the numbers based on which tier one and tier two decks you’ll most likely be paired against.
You should also have an understanding of how likely your deck is to beat up on certain archetypes. In Modern, your deck may have an easy matchup against Tron so instead of wasting any slots on land destruction, focus your attention on winning against other bad matchups. I think this is the single most important aspect of building an effective sideboard. It’s not necessary to include any cards that further shore up your winning matchups. Hone in on beating decks that have an easy game one against you. If your deck struggles against Affinity, you should certainly add artifact hate into your sideboard. Since Modern has access to so many artifact destruction spells and effects, it is best for players to choose the one that hurts your opponent the most. Shattering Blow is an example that wrecks cards like Wurmcoil Engine or Hangarback Walker but only removing a single threat for two mana against Affinity generally isn’t efficient enough to survive. Shattering Spree is probably a better option since it can sweep the board.
The best way to understand what matchups are favorable or unfavorable is to test extensively. This means you need to play against each archetype as many rounds as you can. Only playing three rounds against a specific list is not a large enough sample size to make a real judgment or even draw any solid conclusions. Those three matches might give you some insight that is noteworthy but you’ll need more time to fully understand how to pilot your specific deck to beat different archetypes. Testing will show you which spells your opponent actually cares about in your matchup. Certain things will be obvious. It’s obvious that a turn two Cranial Plating must be answered. It might not be obvious which merfolk you should play around if your opponent’s Aether Vial set on two and you’re considering an attack with no removal in hand unless you play it out at least ten or twenty times. It is also very helpful to pilot the other decks in the format to better understand how they function both in general and against your own deck. You will quickly learn where their weaknesses are and which mainboard or sibeboard cards they are trying to avoid.
It can be helpful to invest some time in creating a deck library. Proxy as many cards as you need. If you’re only playing casually at your local game store, this might be overkill but if you want to go to win a major event, you’ll need to test against the established metagame. A great resource to create proxy cards is MetaDeck. Tournament data and deck lists for Standard, Modern and Legacy are available within the site so you are able to have tier one decks printed without having to type in the name of a single card.
Six General Sideboard Tips
These principles tend to cover all constructed formats that use sideboards. These tips are not laws. There will always be some exceptions but this is a good place to get a basic understanding for building a strong sideboard and for sideboarding strategy in game.
1. Don’t sideboard extensively against matchups that you already dominate.
I covered this earlier in the article. Your main focus for the sideboard needs to be to improve your poor matchups. Don’t waste slots on cards that only fight decks that are already easy wins. You only have fifteen slots for your sideboard. There should be very a specific purpose and matchup in mind for every card that is included in your sideboard. It’s even better if certain cards are good against multiple archetypes and can be sideboarded in against decks that are either favorable or unfavorable matchups. Blood Moon is a great example of a card that can come in against a huge range of decks. It is a card that is backbreaking against both Tron and Amulet Bloom. Both of these archetypes function very differently even though they each struggle when their mana base is disrupted. At their core level, they are both ramp strategies but Tron certainly fits into the control category while Amulet Bloom is purely combo. Our Modern Budget Goblins deck above easily beats up on Tron and can struggle against a combo deck as fast as Amulet Bloom but either way Blood Moon is a card that will always come in after game one. Even if there are ten cards in your sideboard that could be strong against a matchup that you already dominate don’t put in too many. It could weaken your deck overall.
2. Know when to concede the matchup.
Abysmal matchups might take at least ten sideboard slots to make it even close to favorable. If any matchup exclusively takes that many slots from your sideboard, it’s most likely best to ignore it and hope you dodge it during an event.
3. Know ahead of time what to take out and put in for each matchup.
Make yourself a chart that is based on your testing. Your chart should include each tier one deck plus other tier two decks that you suspect will make an appearance. Your cheat sheet will save you a lot of time and keep your sideboarding choices consistent between matches. It is reasonable to deviate somewhat from your chart based on specific cards that your opponent is running. It’s possible that your opponent is far enough from a stock list that the answers you have in the sideboard aren’t right or other cards you didn’t expect might also get sided in.
4. The sideboard is not the place for cards that you wanted to squeeze into the main deck but didn’t have space.
If a card wasn’t good enough in testing for the mainboard, it won’t be good enough to side in. Similarly, you might notice that there are certain cards that are always the first to be sided out. It could be that these cards aren’t pulling their weight in a large portion of matches and should be cut. It might be that they are good cards in a vacuum but are weak with the current state of the format. If they’re cut, they can always slot back as the metagame shifts.
5. Linear decks should sideboard very sparingly.
Linear decks focus entirely on one goal or theme. Every card in the list should support or synergize with that goal. Most of the time linear decks don’t focus on what the opponent is doing. It’s more valuable to continue advancing your straightforward game plan instead of interacting with your opponent. Linear strategies are usually very proactive and must be answered. In Modern, Burn, Affinity, Amulet Bloom and Storm are all examples of well-known and top tier linear strategies. When you sideboard too much with these decks, you are dismantling certain pieces from the engine that make your deck go. It still may function but not at full speed.
6. Sometimes it’s good to mulligan aggressively for specific sideboard cards.
This is especially true in either very poor matchups or if there are cards that might cause your opponent to simply scoop if it resolves. There are some decks that fold to Rest in Peace. It might be smart to mulligan a reasonable hand of seven to dig for a Rest in Peace in your opening hand. It’s important to understand how powerful your sideboard cards truly are in each matchup. Blood Moon[c/] might come in for many matchups but the power level will vary. The power level may even vary against decks that fit in the same archetype. Some Zoo lists struggle to cast spells through a [c]Blood Moon while others will even play it in their own sideboard. When you see a turn one Wild Nacatl, don’t instantly think of the Blood Moon waiting in your sideboard. Take the time to watch your opponent’s mana base carefully throughout the match and how often your opponent will intentionally fetch basic lands to play around any kind of nonbasic land hate. Blood Moon might not be the right answer against your opponent’s specific list.
Now it’s time to bring all these ideas and concepts back to Modern and the budget goblins list above. Modern has access to great sideboard cards that are very strong against the top tier strategies. It should be relatively clear that Affinity doesn’t want to play against artifact destruction spells. Amulet Bloom gets wrecked by land destruction. Other non-linear strategies in Modern might be harder to sideboard correctly against. Modern is a pretty wide-open format, which is one thing that I love about it. Any major top eight could include eight different decks. I think the biggest thing is to constantly be testing your sideboard and swapping cards in and out for the specific event you’ll be playing in. If you can be clear on your sideboard plan for most major decks, it will save you from making mistakes while you’re sitting across from a real opponent. Even if your plan is to not sideboard a single card against some decks, you need to know ahead if time.
My current sideboard includes 3 Blood Moon, 2 Dismember, 3 Rending Volley, 3 Smash to Smithereens, 2 Grafdigger’s Cage and 2 Everlasting Torment. If the deck splashed other colors, it would obviously open up a huge number of other cards that could be included. Each color is going to offer specific hate. Red has a very hard time dealing with enchantments but is best color for destroying artifacts. In any mono-color deck, it’s important to also utilize artifacts in your sideboard to help with your color’s weaknesses. I doubt that this sideboard is optimal but I’ll explain my thinking for each card and briefly discuss other cards that could be considered and tested.
Blood Moon: I’ve recently heard some players discussing the possibility of a future Modern format that doesn’t include Blood Moon. I’m not sure this is the kind of card that Wizards would consider banning in the format but I can say that Blood Moon is an incredibly powerful effect against a format full of multi-color decks each with a terribly greedy mana base. Certain strategies like Tron and Amulet Bloom rely on their mana to do unfair things. They each get wrecked by Blood Moon. For other decks, it is important to watch your opponent’s mana base throughout the match. When Blood Moon hits the table, you want to make it count. Some three color decks will bring in Blood Moon. They have designed their mana base with the card in mind. This card is perfect in any mono red list. It is certainly not a budget option. You’ll be lucky to get one for under $30. A good budget alternative at three mana and $1 apiece is Molten Rain. Molten Rain only hits one land but it does tack on a couple damage to your opponent’s face.
Dismember: Dismember answers nearly every threat in the format except for Primeval Titan, Wurmcoil Engine and Griselbrand. It still brings down their power and toughness so a Goblin Guide can trade. Dismember will cost life to cast but it’s not a problem when the mana base is made up of basics instead of shock lands. Dismember could be considered for the main deck but it’s important that Lightning Bolt and Goblin Grenade can be pointed at your opponent.
Rending Volley: This is the cheaper and more efficient version of Combust. Rending Volley is great against Splinter Twin. It’s much easier to leave up a single red mana instead of two since this deck wants to use every mana to deploy a steady stream of strong threats. Rending Volley also hits some other difficult creatures that survive Lightning Bolt. It kills Restoration Angel and helps a goblin token take down a Siege Rhino.
Smash to Smithereens: Artifact hate is a must since Affinity is and probably will always be a top tier strategy in Modern. Other strategies that rely on artifacts in Modern have popped up on occasion but generally don’t make it to tier one. After the banning of Second Sunrise, Eggs hasn’t really stuck around. Lantern Control is a relatively new deck in the format, which relies on several artifacts to lock out the opponent. There are a huge number of red spells that destroy artifacts. I like that Smash to Smithereens also hits the opponent for three damage. I’m willing to pay an extra mana to Lightning Bolt the opponent. Shattering Spree is also a great option since it can hit multiple targets. Affinity is a strategy that dumps its hand on the table with a few must answer threats. I think a split between Smash to Smithereens and Shattering Spree could be a good option for this deck. Some other options in red are Shattering Blow, Vandalblast and Shatterstorm.
Grafdigger’s Cage: This card would be a stronger sideboard option if Green Sun’s Zenith and Birthing Pod were still in the format. Grafdigger’s Cage does shut off Collected Company, Gifts Ungiven, Snapcaster Mage, Kitchen Finks, Murderous Redcap, Through the Breach and Goryo’s Vengeance, among many other less commonly played cards like Polymorph, Vengevine, Faithless Looting, Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger. It is very important to note that it has no effect on cards that are cast from exile. It does nothing against cascade spells, Living Death and Bring to Light. There are other options to fill this slot in the board. Relic of Progenitus, Surgical Extraction and Tormod’s Crypt are all worth considering to attack your opponent’s graveyard.
Everlasting Torment: Everlasting Torment is a wonderful, obscure enchantment printed in Shadowmoor. It’s also a bonus that Richard Kane Ferguson did the super weird art. Life gain is relevant in Modern. Soul Sisters isn’t a tier one strategy but it could win a major event. That deck is the most extreme example where Everlasting Torment will shine. It’s also very good against the black and green decks. Scavenging Ooze and Seige Rhino are both big and gain life. This card shuts off the life gain and being able to deal damage in the form of wither means that the goblins will wear down the larger creatures over time. Everlasting Torment also stops infinite life loop shenanigans with Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Kitchen Finks.
Sideboarding correctly is easily one of the most difficult aspects of competitive Magic. I’m always learning more and certainly am not yet an expert. I hope these insights and tips were helpful. Thanks for reading. Happy brewing!