Should Commander Have Sideboards?

I know it can be annoying when an outsider barges in and starts making bold claims about a format where they clearly don’t have a ton of specific format knowledge. I used to feel the same way when Pros would make generalizations about Vintage without having played much of the format.

I have a great deal of respect for niche formats and the people who spend their energy mastering them, which is why I titled my article: Should Commander Have Sideboards? And not Let Me Condescendingly Tell You Why Your Format Needs Sideboards.

I’ve been dabbling in Commander again. I’m on Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest.

Commander is fun but there are aspects that kind of “bug” me.

There is a lot to love about Commander but there are certain elements I struggle with. In particular, the “police yourselves to be the correct amount of spikey/competitive for your own individual playgroup” is kind of weird. The Commander banned list facilitates extremely fast and busted combo decks, but you need to know when it is or isn’t appropriate to play them.

Commander Deck Selection Theory Synopsis

  1. I play a busted deck and win. People say I’m a jerk and don’t want to play with me.
  2. I play a deck that sucks and lose to the person playing a deck that’s busted. Everybody pats me on the back for losing and say the person who won is a jerk.

I literally feel guilty to play the color blue. Hence the Golgari General.

My idea for a sideboard in Commander came from trying to theorycraft a solution to that particular aspect of the format that has always felt off to me. Once I started to think about what a sideboard would offer and how it might work, it seemed like a way to not only address my issue but an addition that could add a lot to the format as a whole.

I’m going to go ahead and lay out what I believe would be positives to adding a sideboard. I’m interested to see if the Commander experts out there have compelling counter-arguments for why a sideboard would be bad or is just unnecessary.

How Would It Work?

I imagine a sideboard would work as follows:

  1. Each player gets a 15-card sideboard.
  2. The cards in your sideboard cannot be cards that are already in the main deck (obviously). It’s still singleton.

At the start of the match all of the players at the table reveal which Commander they will be playing in that game. Each player then has the opportunity to swap out cards from their main deck for cards from their sideboard.

A “match” of Commander is just one game, so each player would be allowed to customize their deck before the game based upon which Commanders the other players are using.

I know Commander side events are just one game and done. So it makes sense that in order for a sideboard to have any value, you’d need to use it game 1.

But if you were playing with friends and wanted to play 2- or 3-game sets, then game 1 could be non-sideboard and then after that game concluded, players could use their sideboard.

What Is The Point?

One of the most important functions that sideboards provide is the ability to answer extremely efficient and linear strategies. In tournament Magic, if sideboards didn’t exist, the best decks would be the best linear deck with the least bad matchups. Even with sideboards, this might still be true! Busted linear decks are already really good even with sideboard cards to even the playing field.

In Commander, most of the “best” decks are consistent combo decks. It’s no different than any other kind of Magic. If your deck is really good at killing everyone else, it’s probably pretty decent.

Sideboards help even the playing field and can make the games even more fun and enjoyable. First, there are certain Commanders that tend to facilitate linear or “unfun” strategies. If you play enough Commander, I’m sure you know the ones I’m talking about…

Oh boy! Spike brought his or her Zur The Enchanter deck today!

Without going too deep into the tank, these are a few that make me roll my eyes whenever somebody brings them out.

If people are going to play Commanders that try to combo out the same way, the rest of the table might be able to bring in cards to break up or disrupt the combo. For instance, I built a Sliver Overlord deck back in the day that could consistently win the game on turn 4 or 5. It won the game the exact same way every single time:

Psychic Slivers FTW.

It was cute, but not particularly interesting once people understood the joke. But my all-in combo deck would be completely halted by a Slaughter Games naming Sliver Queen. At the very least, it would make people think twice about playing glass cannon combo decks that fold to a single card.

Be a hater without actually being a hater?

It’s also a way that players could have access to cards like Red Elemental Blast without being called a hater for maindecking in an unknown field. Of course I have a REB and Pyroblast in my sideboard! Seems obvious!

The sideboard space could also be used to transform a deck between being multiplayer or 1v1 centric. I’ve always given mad respect to players who have Commander decks that can hang in 1v1 and multiplayer. Sideboards could be another way to help these Ironmen and Ironwomen navigate the space between the two.

In summary, here are a few qualities I see as upside with regard to Commander gameplay:

  1. Sideboards help even the playing field against the really spikey combo decks without having to play narrow answer cards in the blind.
  2. Sideboards would add a level to deck construction. Instead of every deck focused on executing a narrow path to victory there would be more interaction and more reward for less focus.
  3. If you play a Commander strategy that is notably not fun, rest assured that everyone will likely have hate for you! So, it would create a metagame that discourages the kinds of decks players don’t enjoy playing against, a.k.a., losing to.
  4. Sideboards can be used to help slant a deck between 1v1 and multiplayer.

Unintended Bonuses of Commander Sideboards

I’ve always wished I could play these cards in Commander.

With a sideboard, you can! It’s kind of cool to add some neat Tutor effects to the format.

The second one I thought of is a little bit greedy, but greed is sometimes good, right?

More, please!

Wizards of the Coast preconstructed Commander decks would have to come with an extra 15 cards! Yes, please.

More importantly than getting a few extra cards is the potential for new printings that are designed to be sideboard cards in Eternal formats! It could be a really cool way to see some new sideboard cards created.

White Elemental Blast please!

I’ve always felt that sideboards are one of the most interesting aspects of playing Magic. Sideboards add a whole new level to what your deck can do and how it will interact with the other player(s).

Personally, I’d really enjoy seeing that aspect added to Commander. I may be in the minority on that point. I’m also willing to concede that I’m flat out wrong and this idea is terrible… like I said, I’m not deeply invested in Commander and I don’t consider myself an expert. But right or wrong, I like to think about how such a change would impact the format—just maybe for the better.


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