Playing Offense or Defense – Advanced Sideboard Strategy

Having a clear idea of whether you’re playing offense or defense for a particular matchup can simplify your path to victory and help dictate a refined sideboard strategy. In Classic Constructed, the extra few slots make or break a deck list. Knowing when to change gears is what separates good players from the great. Those extra slots can shift a streamlined aggro deck into a midrange powerhouse, or give a control deck that combo reach it needs, but before we go into sideboard strategy, I want to outline the general offensive and defensive deck matchups.



Header - Aggro Mirror - Two Offensive Decks

When both players have aggressive strategies, it’s a straight race to the bottom. We can expect limited defense and focus on maximization of damage. Both players tend to keep as many cards on the offence as possible, while trying to squeeze as much as possible out of those powerful hits. The initial die roll is very important in this matchup – whoever wins can opt to go second, which means they’ll be the ones to start the onslaught with a four-card hand. This matters because the game can take only a few turns. There are many examples of this in the current format – Chane vs Aggro Katsu, Herald Prism vs Raydn Boltyn, Go-Wide Azalea vs go Tall Dorinthea. Plenty to choose from.


Dorinthea IronsongKatsu, the Wanderer

A classic example of an aggro versus aggro matchup is Dorinthea versus Katsu. It has been traditionally viewed as Dorinthea favored – she has a permanent advantage in the form of a Dawnblade counter and all her cards defend for three. While Katsu can do burst damage, his attacks don’t have a permanent benefit and a chunk of his cards defend for 2. 

Adding a defensive or disruptive element to your aggro list can actually help break the aggro versus aggro matchup. Kieran “Mr. Classic” McEntegart did just that in his first Constructed Calling in 2020. He played a streamlined aggressive Katsu versus all possible matchups, other than Dorinthea. Against Dorinthea, he brought in over 10 defense reactions to stop the counters. His game plan stayed the same – race to the bottom, but when the time was right, those defense reactions were crucial to stop the Dorinthea players in their tracks. A big Unmovable (Red) or a Sink Below (Red) was usually enough to stall his opponents as he continued to pressure their life total.


Snatch (Red)Consuming Volition (Red)Spinal CrushRed in the Ledger

Other than defensive cards, any form of disruption is amazing in the aggro versus aggro matchup. On-hit effects such as Snatches, Consuming Volitions, Spinal Crushes and Red in the Ledgers are amazing at creating tempo, pressuring life total, while slowing opponents down by forcing blocks. 


Header - Aggro v. Control - Offense v. Defense

This is the most common matchup, as many decks tend to take either the offensive or defensive side. In this matchup, the aggressive player throws everything at the defensive player, while the defensive player wants to mitigate as many threats as possible until the aggressive player runs out of gas.


Razor Reflex (Red)Sink Below (Red)

In general terms, the control player usually has an advantage in this matchup, as defending tends to be easier than attacking in Flesh and Blood. Best example is comparing a Razor Reflex (Red) next to a Sink Below (Red). One costs one resource and pumps +3, while the other costs zero and defends for four. A classic example of this currently can be seen in the Chane versus Bravo matchup. Very quickly the roles of aggro and control are figured out with one side trying to stop the other.


Howl from Beyond (Red)Rift Bind (Red)Energy PotionPlunder Run (Red)

If you find yourself playing offensively into a defensive deck, adjusting your list or just sideboarding into a more combo angle can help push through the control archetype. In the Chane versus Bravo matchup, if you tend to go aggro and lose to fatigue, setting up big turns with Howls from Beyond, Potions and Rift Binds can be a way to overcome the defense. If you’re playing aggro Katsu versus control, adding some Energy Potions and Plunder Runs can help to set up those resources to push through. In general, aggro strategies can incorporate combo elements to overthrow the control player. 


Header - Control Mirror - Two Defensive Decks

Nothing screams excitement like a good old fashioned control mirror, whether it’s Bravo versus Dash Control or Katsu Control versus One Turn Kill Viserai. As both players try to mitigate the threats of the other, the games tend to be a slow, grindy fight for incremental advantages. Often, the cards left in the deck are a better indicator of who’s winning rather than life total. But there’s usually a clear winner – the player who pivots to a combo playstyle.

As both players have limited pressure on the other, they both have plenty of time to set up. Whether it’s pitch stack your deck as Bravo or Rhinar, stack 10 souls as Boltyn or 30 Runechants as Viserai, it’s much easier to do versus control than an aggressive deck that threatens you every turn. This is why usually it’s the control player that pivots into combo better that tends to win the control mirror match. If you’re a control player and struggle versus other control decks, think of ways you can play a set up or combo game a bit more, even if it means giving some precious sideboard slots to your alternative strategy.

We currently have 12 different heroes, which all can be built in a multitude of ways. You can’t dedicate a chunk of your sideboard slots to every specific matchup, but you can streamline a strong primary strategy, while having a solid pivot in your sideboard slots at the same time. A powerful aggro deck can have a viable control suite ready in the sideboard, or a control deck can have a surprising combo element. There are a number of ways to optimize your sideboard slots, and this is where true skill will shine, no matter what class or archetype you play. 

If you’re currently working on your Classic Constructed list, make sure you clearly know the role your deck has. Are you offensive or defensive? What is your primary strategy to win? Once you have optimized this, focus on your secondary strategy – the one you’ll sideboard in the matchups you struggle against. Using the matchups outlined above, you can narrow down your whole 80 cards to that primary and secondary strategy and refine your sideboard plan versus any matchup. This should give you the clarity to see the path to victory before and during the game. Also, it’s good to write this plan down for every potential matchup, as you don’t want to be using your previous brain power just before a crucial game.

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