Guest article written by Thundershot. It has been presented in its original form to conserve the style of the writing, save correcting the capitalization on RNGEternal)
(Warning: This article is about the art of sideboarding, sideboards are not currently in the game and are instead done through outside the game for tournaments. This article will not help with your ladder performance but will hopefully help your tournament performance.)
Who am I?
I am a tournament regular who has been playing Eternal since closed beta. I have participated in all four invitationals, I have multiple top 8s including two times I made the finals of tournaments, and I have also played more tournament games than any other player. I also am a member of the team VPX which consists of me, Shedd, Rewind, Unearthly, Toth, Elunex, and IlyaK. I also help moderate r/eternalcardgame and the eternal discord channel.
What is a sideboard, and why do we use it?
A sideboard is a collection of cards outside of your deck. This “starting deck” is often called a “main board” or “main deck”. A sideboard is (as of the current time) fifteen cards, and used after game one of a best of three match, or after game two of a best of five (in top 8s). When you are allowed to, you can replace cards from your main board with cards from your sideboard, so long as your deck after sideboarding (called post-board) is still legal (between 1/3rd and 2/3rds power, and only using cards you registered for the tournament).
The reason we sideboard is to gain an advantage against our opponent after game one. Ruin and decay work against attachments, as do steward of the past and reality warden against void-based strategies. The list goes on and on, but the point is that you bring in cards in order to specialize your deck for your current matchup.
Kinds of sideboard cards
There are four kinds of sideboard cards: those that answer problems, create problems, hate cards, and transformative cards.
There are many threats that your opponent will use that you need to answer. Cards like vanquish, harsh rule, protect, and furnace mage are great answers to various threats an opponent can present. These cards are usually used by the less aggressive players, but more aggressive players can use them to push tempo and/or damage. By using your sideboard, you can specialize how you react to when your opponent plays something you need to answer.
On the other hand, you can use your sideboard to add threats to your deck. Cards like azindel’s gift, soulfire drake, and deepforged plate allow you to diversify your threats and overload your opponent’s answers. By having attachments or hard to deal with units, your opponent will have to plan for them, or deal with being unable to answer them. These cards are usually really good if you’re the beatdown, though they can still work if you are not.
“Hate cards”, as the title implies, “hate” specific kinds of cards. They either shut down or severely hurt specific strategies. Examples of this are decay for attachments and healer’s cloak for burn. They are “silver bullets” that when utilized put your opponent on the back foot. Sometimes they just win the game on the spot if your opponent doesn’t find an answer like statuary maiden against kalis. These are very much meta picks as planning for void strategies when none show up means that you are playing with a smaller sideboard than the rest of the field. These kind of cards work best when you research the meta and when they apply against as many strategies as possible. Reality warden is a great example of this because it is a large, hard-to-remove unit that also shuts down void strategies.
Sometimes the deck you decide to play just can’t win certain matchups due to its strategy. Transformative cards change the fundamental aspects of your deck. These strategies are rarely used due to how many sideboard slots they use and how tricky they can be to use. An example of transformative cards is some haunting scream decks when played have cards like withering witch and lightning storm in their sideboard. These cards fundamentally turn the deck from an aggro/combo deck into a control/combo deck when brought in.
A couple of notes on types of sideboard cards
Cards can fill multiple categories, this is more of a venn diagram than four categories that never meet.
You have only fifteen sideboard slots, so prioritize cards that help your bad matchups first, then devote the remaining slots to securing more competitive matchups.
Try and have your sideboard cards be useful against as many decks as possible
Do research on the meta before you even start making a sideboard
It is a good idea to have multiple cards that come in against various strategies in order to ensure seeing more sideboard cards.
You get to know your opponent’s sideboard ahead of time, so don’t sideboard against their main deck; prepare for their sideboarded deck, instead.
Learn about the sideboarding strategy for the most popular decks so you know how to plan for it.
Lets run through a sideboard
This is Loveup’s TJP midrange deck he got second in the Mid Season Major with
2 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
4 Seek Power (Set1 #408)
4 Awakened Student (Set1 #331)
4 Desert Marshal (Set1 #332)
4 Temple Scribe (Set1 #502)
3 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
4 Amber Acolyte (Set1 #93)
4 False Prince (Set1 #356)
4 Knight-Chancellor Siraf (Set1 #335)
2 Stand Together (Set1 #334)
4 Sandstorm Titan (Set1 #99)
4 Xenan Obelisk (Set1 #103)
3 Cirso, the Great Glutton (Set1 #362)
2 Crystallize (Set1 #232)
2 Scouting Party (Set1 #488)
3 Justice Sigil (Set1 #126)
4 Primal Sigil (Set1 #187)
6 Time Sigil (Set1 #63)
2 Combrei Banner (Set1 #424)
2 Elysian Banner (Set1 #421)
4 Seat of Progress (Set0 #58)
4 Seat of Wisdom (Set0 #63)
2 Permafrost (Set1 #193)
4 Protect (Set1 #132)
1 Vanquish (Set1 #143)
2 Combrei Healer (Set1 #333)
3 Decay (Set1 #95)
2 Scorpion Wasp (Set1 #96)
1 Stand Together (Set1 #334)
As interesting as the main board is, that isn’t the purpose of this article so we will just analyse the sideboard.
2 Permafrost: This card has a lot of use, and that’s recognized because it has the other two in the main board. The card can be a very good answer against decks like stonescar and elysian midrange, but against decks like armory and big combrei, the card does very little. It is both an answer and hate card.
4 Protect: Another hate card this time against control and burn decks. Due to its ability to stop your key units from being removed, and its ability to prevent burn and hand attack like sabotage, protect is one of the most popular sideboard cards.
1 Vanquish: Vanquish is an extremely good answer but can be weak in certain matchups. Having the last one in the sideboard allows this deck to have it close on hand against decks that use large units. If you are playing justice, you should consider having four vanquishes between your main deck and sideboard.
2 Combrei Healers: This card is really nice against aggro decks like burn queen, as it is a great blocker and even gains you some life. It even has the versatility of giving another unit +3 health when needed. It acts as both an answer and a threat as it can kill your opponent if needed.
3 Decay: Decay is the most popular sideboard card in time for good reason. The ability to remove an attachment like obelisk or daisho at fast speed is extremely useful. It comes in against multiple decks and should be in your sideboard if you are playing time unless the meta has no attachments. However, it can be a dead draw, so four decay is almost never the correct choice. Three gives you a good chance to see multiples, but not have them fill your hand.
2 Scorpion Wasp: A hate card that hurts both midrange decks and “go-tall” decks like rakano plate. The card does take some setup in leaving up three power because playing it on your turn is never correct unless it wins you the game (chalice). Due to this, it is a risk to run, since if your opponent recognizes that you have it, you can be sitting there not playing your turns as optimally as possible.
1 Stand Together: Yet another hate and answer card. The card is great against board wipes and can even be used early for combat or to allow you to curve out. This card is a control player’s nightmare as when it resolves they wasted a board wipe, killed their own units, and have to face stronger units.
Thank you for reading the article, this was a lot of fun to write and I hope it is useful to players who want to get into or already participate in tournaments and want to improve their sideboard game. While tournaments are currently only done through third parties, hopefully in the future we will get the in-game tournament system we were promised. They allow a different line of thinking where sideboards come into play.
I would like to thank Ilyak, Rewind, Toth, and Shedd for proofreading and RNGEternal for letting me share my thoughts on the art of sideboarding.
May you have the best of luck in your matches.