Correctly sideboarding has become drastically more complex in Flesh and Blood as of late. Although we got a taste of it in Monarch, the introduction of Tales of Aria firmly cemented the meta into one where heroes have incredibly diverse toolkits to attack their opponents. For example, sitting across a Lexi player could mean they are either an Ice build, a Lightning build, a hybrid build or more. This is further complicated by the variety of weapons heroes have access too. Is the Runeblade player across from me running Rosetta Thorn? Dread Scythe? Reaping Blade? Who knows! This new issue of variety demands a new level of sideboarding skill from players.
Before Monarch, most of us had a fair idea of what our opponent’s game plan would be, and the meta was extremely defined. Viserai and Bravo would usually play control until they would swing big, Katsu and Dorinthea would be playing slightly aggressive, presenting lots of on-hits, or decks like Dash would wear you down gaining extreme value from Teklo Plasma Pistol. This sort of defined meta made sideboarding extremely easy. We knew what people were going to be running, and if they deviated from it then they were probably running a suboptimal build.
Hence, before I start breaking down how to play against it, I wanted to note that the new variety and flexibility in Flesh and Blood has been a welcome addition. It asks more out of the player base then simply rudimentary “silver bullet” type sideboarding and has forced old heroes to become more flexible in their game plans, being ready to switch into aggro or control depending on who they’re playing against.
However, as much as I do enjoy this direction for the game, I equally want to help you learn how to mitigate its effects through good sideboarding. We’ll be going over mainly theory in this article; however, I do try to touch on some specific scenarios. I was planning to showcase a sideboarding breakdown for one deck sitting down in front of another, but simply I don’t feel that does much. Just as the meta is incredibly diverse, so are your own personal sideboards and decks. Enriching a philosophy and process around “hedge-boarding” is much more valuable then any specific scenario I could present which would probably have little comparison to your own builds.
Before we get into the theory, lets make it clear that good sideboarding isn’t a clear path to victory. No, you’re not going to automatically win the Wizard matchup just because you side boarded in Heart of Ice, or similarly win a Dash matchup because you added in three Argh… Smash!. Your core deck construction, and the basis of your original game plan, must be solid.
Remember, for most decks, this article is going to concern approximately the last four to 12 cards you choose to add into a matchup. The remaining 56 to 48 should be founded in solid gameplay and theory, with the sideboard working in synchrony with them. In addition to this, your own gameplay is incredibly important to handling matchups. Think of it simply as if I presented to you a 60-card deck without the option to sideboard. All you would be able to do is adjust your gameplay. If you needed to play more aggressively, you would take blows to do so, and vice versa if the matchup demanded you block and wait for your chances. Good sideboard technique is only one part of the puzzle; how you personally adjust alongside your sideboard additions and matchups is what will truly allow you to stay above the opposition.
With that out of the way, let’s step into the theory.
When we sideboard, we generally go through this process of questions in order:
- Who am I playing against?
- What is the current meta/archetype like for that hero?
- How do I fare against this current hero/archetype as is (my core deck)?
Let’s take an example of a Dorinthea player versus a Prism opponent. In the case of question number one, we can see that we’re sitting across a Prism player, which we know represents one of our most poor matchups. Okay, great – we now know who we’re facing and a general idea of the threat they represent; in this case, high.
Question two leads us into our meta knowledge. Since we’ve been able to keep up with the recent meta, we know Prism has taken a slight backseat lately in terms of success, however the last successful build for her was based around her auras and less upon straight attack actions. This knowledge lets us assume that we’re probably not going to be running into straight aggro Prism that will pound us with Heralds. More likely than not, we’ll be having to deal also with several threatening auras in the game including Genesis, Merciful Retribution and several Spectral Shields.
In question three, we now answer the nitty gritty. We know our worst nightmare is the aggro Prism, so we need to sideboard in a good number of six-attacks so we can handle this. In addition to this, we also need to be able to hedge for the likely possibility of an aura build, this means adding in cards like Timesnap Potion, Time Skippers and Rout so we can get rid of Spectral Shields and auras when we need to.
This is the essence of hedge-boarding; being able to sideboard without being too concerned about having a “silver bullet” sideboard for heroes. If we knew our opponent was aggro Prism, for instance (which was quite common in the early Monarch meta), then it would be easy to roll in multitudes of six-attack actions and wipe the floor with the opponent. However, the presence of multiple outcomes in their archetype means we must hedge-board to effectively account for either variant. Now, for heroes who generally only run one of two builds, this may sound intuitive. What becomes trickier then is when you need to account for three, four or even five possible meta builds that are all very threatening, or possibly two builds that require extremely different cards and game plans to handle. This is when hedge-boarding becomes very relevant.
When facing two very different archetypes, such as an Ice versus Earth Oldhim, you need to make sure you can handle both in your hedge-board. The former archetype is very control-oriented and the other is extremely aggressive. When thinking upon the defensive side of the matchup, focus on what both builds do well. In this instance, both Ice and Earth Oldhim will be presenting big damage and possibly dominate from their tempo turns.
You can sideboard for this by adding in defense reactions to keep in Arsenal, or simply focus on being very aggressive/present lots of on-hits to stop them from ever gaining too much tempo. If you were to focus on simply the differences, such that Ice Oldhim can really disrupt your hand and Earth Oldhim can present extremely high values of damage, then you would never be able sideboard adequately. Focus on the common denominators in builds, this is the key.
Even on the offensive side… how can you punish either Ice or Earth Oldhim? Well, they both are bound to contain many two-block cards. Presenting awkward on-hits and/or going tall may a be difficult order for them to get over. Once again, focusing on the common denominators in the builds will help you make correct hedge-boarding decisions.
Lastly, I want to add in a quick note saying that doing all this at match time is extremely difficult. All this prep work needs to be done before hand should you want to make these sort of complex decisions matchup to matchup. When you sit down against a hero, have a sideboard guide to reference where all your thinking is already done. Going through this entire process at match time will not only be mentally exhausting, but chances are you will make many mistakes and poor choices in the process.
That about wraps up my bit on hedge-boarding. Truth be told, I initially hated sideboarding when I first started playing Classic Constructed. It felt like an extra chore I had to do to play the game. However, as time has passed, I’ve realized that it is as much part of the game itself as actually playing, and much intricacy and beauty is there for those who truly can sideboard well. As the game grows both in terms of heroes and archetypes, being able to understand and utilize hedge-boarding will serve those well who are able to put in the time and effort in to learn it.