This entry is part 6 of 23 in the series (Social) Contract form Below

By Nole Clauson AKA MtGNole

90x90 noleWelcome to this season’s final edition of (Social) Contract from Below. Today I want to take a little different direction than my previous articles. Rather than just talk about the social contract. I’d like to branch out and talk about something that I had (and I’m guessing most of you have) never actually seen before this came up.

The other day I was helping someone with their first Commander deck. (Note: While I am decent at commander (and magic in general) I’m probably not the one you should be asking for strategy advice. If you are looking for strategy advice, please check out Robert’s article series “Elder Mastery” every Thursday.) He had just picked up a Commander’s Arsenal Maelstrom Wanderer and had built what you would expect for a first time player (lots of big splashy spells, not a lot of utility). As I was walking him through this, I asked the all-important question “Where is your graveyard hate?” (Free Strategy tip: If you are looking for ways to improve your Commander deck, play more graveyard hate.) He then reached into his deck box and pulled out a handful of additional cards. For the sake of the article I recorded them here:












Me, being thoroughly confused at this point, asked what these ten cards were for. He explained that these were his sideboard. This started a group discussion about sideboards in Commander and what they did to the game. I came to the following conclusions:

1. Sideboards let you feel OK about playing social contract-violating cards

I would feel bad about playing about half of these cards (Arcane Lab, Choke, Chill, Lifeforce, Anarchy) in my Commander decks, as (to me) they represent some of the worst things you can do in a game; target one player and deny him the chance to play at all. These “super color hosers” are the cards you expect to see in 60 card sideboards. While they are undoubtedly powerful, they aren’t really necessary. (Also Arcane lab and Choke are not good for a deck that expects to cast multiple spells a turn and has islands in its mana base. Those were easy cuts)

2. Sideboards add yet another thing to add time to the game:

We let him try his sideboard a couple of times (I’m all for experimentation). I quietly kept time to see how long added to our game. It took him on average 4.5 minutes at the beginning of the game and 2.5 minutes at the end of each game to make sideboard choices and deboard after each game. With us playing three games that afternoon that is over 20 minutes wasted not playing. Those that regularly read my column know that slow play is a pet peeve of mine and I feel like we probably could have convinced the store owner to stay open for one more game if we hadn’t burned almost half an hour waiting for one player.

3. Sideboards allow you to get away with sloppy deckbuilding:

To me at least, one of the biggest challenges of Commander is getting everything I want to put in a deck into 100 cards. With an extra ten spots of sideboard space, you are able to take the utility cards out of your deck and stick them in your sideboard. By doing this you don’t have to think as much about your card choices (especially since most commander sideboard cards are utility cards rather than something that the deck “does”) and you decks are more sloppily built because of it. Anyone who is trying to get better at building commander decks shouldn’t consider a sideboard as it gives you a free pass on including things like graveyard hate, enchantment removal, etc.

4. Sideboard makes your commander decks worse:

The problem with putting so much utility in your sideboard is that you will never have it all when you need it. As veteran players know, sometimes you win games simply because you top deck that Return to DustKrosan Grip, or Boros Charm. By putting all that kind of stuff into a board you will never have what you need but didn’t know you would need it.

5. Sideboard gives you another opportunity for you to make bad decisions (Where you probably will.)

In one of the games we played I played my Karona 5 color chaos deck, we had Lazav (blue/black control mill), Uril (not evil Uril, mostly Naya Goodstuff), Krenko (every card in this deck cost 3 or less goblins) and our poor sap who was playing MW. When we asked him what he brought in, he told us the Chill (a decent choice), Grafdigger’s cage (I thought it stopped Lazav), and Stranglehold (He thought I was a 5-color combo deck). This resulted in him having several cards that were suboptimal to say the least. He would have been better off building a few answers built into the deck and leaving the chill (which drew him an incredible amount of hate) in his binder.

So what is my final conclusion about sideboards? If you cannot tell, I’m not a fan. To be honest I do not think they are necessary, you can build a 100 card deck, still do everything you want it to, and still play enough answers to be competitive.

So that does it for me for this week and this season. As always I’d love to hear what you think in the comments, at my email, or on twitter. The contact info is below.

I hope you have enjoyed this look into the social contract. Next season (assuming William doesn’t fire me) I’m going to look at a single issue in commander; getting new people playing this game. While the details are still in the works, I will be involving all of you in the process. In the meantime, I’m going to kick back, sip a delicious beverage, and dream easy dreams of sweet new Commander Shenanigans.


Twitter: @MtGNole

Series Navigation<< Social Contract from Below #5- Forgive me Sheldon, for I have Sinned (or, how to play blue without being a jerk)(Social) Contract from Below 7- Welcome Wagons >>