With a much larger card pool than Standard, Extended has all sorts of options for sideboard cards. Most decks have a pretty tight maindeck at this point, and fitting random situational cards in just isn’t feasible, but there is plenty of room for sweet cards in the sideboard. I feel that many decks under-utilize their sideboard space, especially considering how many cards are in this format. In Standard, you have to settle for slight upgrades, and possibly a mild hoser or two. The URW Control deck I played last week is a good example: it gets to bring in Essence Scatter and Negate, which basically just replace Flashfreeze in the matchups that Flashfreeze misses, but don’t really add much to the deck. The only truly powerful card I was bringing in was Luminarch Ascension, and even that was narrow and easily disrupted (although obviously insane under the right circumstances). However, you don’t have to settle for that in Extended! Extended still reaches back far enough that there are plenty of pretty sick cards, so today I want to highlight some particularly effective sideboard cards I have come across, as well as taking cheap shots at ones I dislike.
Starting with the hits:
Cards that hit narrow strategies
In this case, “narrow strategies” basically means combo, but really can be applied to any deck that relies heavily on a particular card or combination of cards, even if the deck itself isn’t of any particular archetype.
This old favorite used to be worth 20 dollars, although I always thought it overpriced. It has started to see more play recently, mainly because of Scapeshift. Hitting Scapeshift with Cranial usually cripples the Scapeshift deck, although wins with Vendilion Clique and Sakura-Tribe Elder aren’t unheard of. What makes Cranial interesting is the rise of decks that are soft to it; not only Scapeshift, but Thopter Foundry/Sword of the Meek decks, Hypergenesis, and even Martyr of Sands decks have trouble with a resolved Cranial. Any deck that has great difficulty winning once you strip a card from it is a candidate to get wrecked by Cranial, although don’t go overboard. Yes, Cranialing Vampire Hexmage in the Dark Depths matchup would be good, except that by the time you hit Cranial mana they either have comboed or disrupted you to the point that you can’t cast Cranial. I think the concentration of decks that are vulnerable to Cranial is high enough that I have been very happy with Cranial in the sideboard of multiple different decks, although having access to mana acceleration like Mox or Green ramp is a nice bonus.
Much like Cranial, Extirpate is a card that I never liked. All the cards like this are commonly put into decks “for value”, and that is just not the right way to look at them. Now I think might be Extirpate’s opportunity to shine, since there are a few good decks that really don’t want to see Extirpate. It is the best answer to the Thopter Foundry–Sword of the Meek combo, since there is no way to combo without putting Sword in the bin, and really no way to play around Extirpate (save hand disruption or Chalice, neither of which is common in Sword decks). Extirpate also gets Punishing Fire, which is a big problem for some decks, like UB Faeries (just be aware that they can return Fire in response to Extirpate with Grove of the Burnwillows; that isn’t a big problem as long as you make sure to Extirpate in response to the trigger when they don’t have any Groves untapped). Plus, Extirpate does double duty by being a Dredge hoser, albeit not enough by itself. Don’t get too frisky though; the reason I like Extirpate in the above scenarios is that all you have to do is have the Extirpate, and the opponent does the rest by putting the offending card in the graveyard. Siding in Extirpate because you plan on Duressing Hypergenesis and then Extirpating it is exactly the kind of thinking that leads people to misusing the card.
Another good answer to Scapeshift, Shadow isn’t stopped by Boseiju at all. Normally Shadow is way too narrow itself, but because it is good against Tezzeret (stops Gifts, Transmute, Tezzeret searches, and fetchlands) and Dark Depths (with its Beseeches and 8 Transmute cards), it is a card worth considering.
Teeglesworth doesn’t hose any particular card as much as it hoses entire decks. Even against a fast deck like Dark Depths, having Teeg shut off Repeal, Engineered Explosives, Beseech the Queen, and Chalice of the Void is quite annoying, to say nothing of what it does to Tezzeret or Scapeshift. Teeg even gets to beat down some, which is pretty sweet. It is important to realize that Teeg isn’t as much a lock piece as a temporary disruption; he fits well into aggressive decks that try and end the game soon, since even the decks most annoyed by Teeg will invariably find a way to remove him, given enough time. Don’t think that Teeg is just game, since that is just asking to get wrecked by a random Path to Exile or Into the Roil. Being both two colors and well-suited for beatdown, Teeg doesn’t fit in most decks, but let me be the first to tell you that Teeg is one of the cards I like to see least when playing, well, just about any deck that I would be glad to play.
This seems like an odd place for Pulse, since I am talking about narrow strategies, but really, what is more narrow than the straight burn plan? Pulse even just got an upgrade with the removal of mana burn, since the evil Red mage can no longer burn himself low enough that your Pulse won’t return! I think you would beat Burn more often than you would lose if all you did is start casting Pulse on turn three, which is exactly the kind of power I look for in a sideboard card. Still, Pulse is a pretty narrow card in its own right; the only deck I would side in Pulse against is Burn, since even against Tribal Zoo I don’t think it quite pulls its weight. It does a fantastic job of hosing spell-based damage, but once they start hitting you with Nacatl and co. every turn, you would much rather have a real spell. As many have said, Burn is quite a popular deck this season, and Pulse does a good job of beating it.
Much like Pulse, COP: Red is really only applicable when your opponent is packing 14 Mountains in his deck. I like Pulse more overall, but a mix of the two is effective, especially since drawing multiple Circles is bad news. My Tezzeret configuration is two Pulse, one Circle, which has been doing well for me. One disturbing trend to be aware of is the rise in decks siding Everlasting Torment, which conveniently enough stops both of the cards I like to board in. So far it is nowhere near universal, but keep Torment in mind. It still costs three and doesn’t directly deal damage, but it can win some games that no other card would.
Ok, maybe “unbeatable” is a little harsh, but when I talk about value, I mean cards that aren’t as specifically targeted as the more narrow hosers. Of course, the more narrow the card the more powerful, and the more flexible the less powerful (at least generally). That’s why a card like Kitchen Finks often gets the nod over something like Pulse of the Fields. Finks is worse than Pulse in the Burn matchup, at least in my testing, but has more broad applications. Even if Finks is worse in any given matchup than another card, it helps overall more because it is good against more decks. This is pretty obvious, but it is worth explaining, since you want a mix of both types of card in your sideboard, and getting the mix right is the trick. The only time where you really can afford to play all super-targeted sideboard cards is when you have a dead-on read of the metagame, and that is extremely rare. If you are good enough to predict two Affinity pairings in your future, feel free and sleeve up three Katakis, but in this format that would be a really bad call. Affinity isn’t prevalent enough that you can afford to use three slots just for that matchup, and you will be better off settling for Wraths or Paths that are decent against Affinity and actually relevant elsewhere.
Originally found in Nassif’s deck from Worlds, I was very impressed with Spell Pierce when I tried it. It isn’t a card I would play too many of; two seems to be a good number. What Spell Pierce does is just completely blow out the opponent, since nobody ever plays around it. When you cast Thirst with a Blue up in the Tezzeret mirror, they play around Spell Snare and use Cryptic Command instead of Mana Leak, leading to a pretty sick Spell Pierce. It also is absurd against Hypergenesis, and one of the few outs to their “turn two on the play, thanks” draws. Its value goes down pretty sharply as the game progresses, especially when the opponent is aware of it, but it does so much early that I have been quite happy with it. Sadly, if UB Faeries starts to cut down on generic Blue-type decks, Spell Pierce may not have a chance to shine, since it doesn’t do a whole lot against Spellstutter Sprite and Mistbind Clique.
This is just barely broad enough to make it out of the narrow category, but it legitimately does come in against a variety of decks, and definitely isn’t a typical hoser. Purge actually seems like the exact kind of card I warned about at the beginning of the article: all it does is trade 1 for 1 against a Black or Red permanent, which doesn’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of enemies. The reason I kind of like Purge is that it does an unexpected effect at instant speed, and a pretty useful one at that. Most White decks can’t kill a Dark Depths token instantly except for with Path, so a Depths player with a Chalice for one out is almost assuredly just going to pop Depths at end of turn, at which point you wreck them with Purge. Even if they know you have Purge, they have to have Muddle or Thoughtseize, since Chalice doesn’t do anything. Purge also nukes Blood Moon, which is a difficult permanent to get rid of, and deals with Everlasting Torment, which I mentioned earlier. I would warn against bringing it in against Faeries though, since a spell for 1W that says “destroy target Bitterblossom wasn’t good enough in Standard and isn’t good enough now.
Yes, Meloku costs a whole five mana, but you get a pretty good return on that. There is a reason Meloku was probably the most feared creature in Standard a few years back, and a one-of Meloku is pretty sweet in some decks right now. Siding in one creature in a mostly creatureless deck can take people by surprise, and Meloku is certainly capable of winning games on his own, especially once they have taken out their removal. Having an alternate win condition is good in narrow decks, and Meloku is one of the best.
And on to the misses…
Leave these in the binder
What is a good list without a bad list? Here I get to tell you why some pretty commonly played sideboard (and even maindeck) cards are terrible, or at least unimpressive.
The most egregious offender is none other than Pikula himself (at least if you spring for the Planeshift versions). I haven’t thought Meddling Mage was good for five years, and that includes just about any format where he was legal. The problem with Mage is that even the decks that he “hoses”, like Scapeshift or the like, have plenty of answers, and if you start Maging the answers to Mage, they can just ignore him and play their crucial spell. But wait, what if you have multiple Mages? Ok, let’s say you have multiple Mages against Scapeshift, one of the matchups where Mage is at his best. Your first Mage names Firespout, and your second names Scapeshift, even assuming further that they both resolve unhindered. One Into the Roil later, and you have nothing. It isn’t like you have their actual decklist in hand, either. Most of the time you won’t know if they play Into the Roil, Firespout, Repeal, or a combination of the three (most commonly Into the Roil and Firespout, but some have Magma Jet too). My point is that Meddling Mage is rarely as back-breaking as people seem to think, and often just flat out misses. Naming Thopter Foundry against Tezzeret (everyone always brings in Mages against Tezz) is laughable at best, since they have 4 or 5 ways minimum to remove it, and can still Tezzeret into Foundry. The only time I have really like Mage is against Hypergenesis, and they still have Firespout and Putrefy and Wipe Away. The reason I think that Teeg is awesome and Mage sucks is that Teeg actually disrupts the opposing gameplan. Teeg not only stops the Tezzeret, he also stops the Cryptic and Gifts which dig for cards, and the Explosives and Wraths that threaten him. Against Scapeshift he is about the same as Mage, although older lists with Repeal sure got hosed. Of course, I haven’t even gotten into the aggro matchups, which are plentiful, and Mage is pretty much Grizzly Bears there. I haven’t like Mage for quite a while, and would recommend against playing it now.
This mainly shows up in Dark Depths, but a number of other decks seem to like sideboarding it. Chalice isn’t pulling its weight nowadays, especially with the downswing in Hypergenesis. Boarding it in against Zoo or Burn is pretty mediocre if you are playing a deck with any number of relevant maindeck artifacts. They typically will have Smash to Smithereens, Ancient Grudge, or Qasali Pridemage, and even if they don’t it can be hard to play Chalice when it is still relevant. If they play a Goblin Guide and you play a Chalice, assuming you are on the play, they can easily just follow up with Keldon Marauders and Hellspark Elemental, which is almost enough right there. Chalice was good for a time, but I would stay away from sideboarding it now. I think it is fine in the Dark Depths maindeck, although I have been trying to retool the deck, which I might have more info on in the future, depending on how it goes.
Before you scroll up, let me assure that this is in fact the “miss” section. Despite Archmage being a core member of most of my Blue sideboards for the last year (in multiple formats), I have begun to like it less and less. The decks it is good against are adapting, and even just becoming fewer. Scapeshift often has Boseiju, and it isn’t like it is easy to resolve a four-mana spell to begin with. Faeries can mostly ignore it, since all of their non-creature spells come out earlier than the Mage, and it is pretty slow against Hypergenesis. It might be nearly game-over if it comes out in time, but delaying Hypergenesis that long requires other hate cards, which might as well just do the job themselves. The only matchup where it is really awesome is the Tezzeret mirror, and this Extended format is way too open for that to be a big concern. My foil Archmages are sitting in a box, as they have been for weeks, and I don’t anticipate grabbing them anytime soon.
Where are all the Red and Green cards?
Well, when I start playing Red and Green decks, maybe I’ll let you know! I did include Gaddock Teeg, in the good section no less, so there is at least one Green card in the lists. Obviously most of these cards fit in the Esper Shard, but by no means does that mean they are only good for Control/Combo decks. Granted, I have mostly been playing with UW Control, Tezzeret, Scapeshift, Dark Depths, Martyr (a little ill-fated, but maybe Ben got it right today, since his list certainly looks better than mine), and Faeries, but the impressions I have gotten of these cards is applicable for other decks. The mana is so good in this format, and splashing Extirpate or Cranial isn’t much of a stretch. The White cards in particular could be very effective in Zoo, which typically has a tough time against Burn decks. Ideally this look into the underplayed (and overplayed) sideboard cards gives you a bit more to work off of when you are constructing your own sideboard, and feel free to recommend more cards in the comments. There are plenty of hidden gems yet to be discovered, and some of them might even have Red mana in the casting cost!