Modern has a huge cardpool that goes back over ten years, containing a wealth of hidden treasures waiting to be discovered. Picking just fifteen cards from a pool of thousands requires deep knowledge of the cardpool and format. Most people just copy sideboards they see on the internet, and when people do deviate they tend to stick with what they are familiar with.
Modern is high-powered and very diverse, especially when compared to Standard, so it must be approached with this in mind. The best sideboard cards tend to be powerful but flexible, narrowly hateful but broadly applicable. Since Modern is full of linear strategies that can be exploited by a carefully chosen sideboard, linear decks often sideboard with the goal of answering opposing hate cards directly.
For my first day with QS, I wrote a two-part guide on the most important sideboard cards for the upcoming Grand Prix Richmond. Before reading on today, I highly recommend checking out those short pieces here and there.
Moving beyond the most popular, there is a whole trove of effective sideboard cards waiting to be exploited in Modern. Today I’ll share my list of some of the most undervalued sideboard cards in Modern.
Although diverse, the format has started to settle down with a clear top-tier emerging. This top-tier is Affinity, Birthing Pod, and Splinter Twin, which have been the most popular and successful decks in live and online Modern events. Fighting against these three decks is critical, and I value cards that hate on all three. The first two sideboard cards today do just that:
This is tech back from when Mirrodin was in Standard, and it’s still awesome today. While it does not shut down mana creatures, it does shut down Birthing Pod, along with any sort of combo shenanigans from either Viscera Seer or Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Damping Matrix also stops the Splinter Twin combo. It is also excellent against Affinity, where it stops their key cards, Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating.
Another excellent permanent against the top-tier of the format is Linvala, Keeper of Silence. It lacks the artifact hate of Damping Matrix, but it completely hoses mana creatures, including Steel Overseer, stops Splinter Twin combo and presents a sizable flying body. It's also strong against Affinity because it shuts down their best creatures and blocks very well. The card has often been seen as a tool-box target, but it’s a great sideboard card for any white-heavy deck looking for an extra edge against the top-tier.
The diversity of Modern means every deck has a problem somewhere. Some decks might have trouble beating a certain card, while others might have trouble beating certain decks. In either case, reaching for the sideboard is going to be important. The next three cards are examples of extreme measures decks can take to tackle a tough problem:
Beyond Dredge, I can’t think of a deck in history that is more subject to hate cards than Affinity. The deck takes constant abuse, but it always finds success. One of the most extreme hate cards against Affinity is Kataki, War's Rage, and Gut Shot is an instant solution that generates a lot of tempo.
Bringing in a narrow card just to answer a potential sideboard card is typically bad strategy, but Kataki, War's Rage is most commonly seen out of Birthing Pod, and that means Gut Shot will nearly always prove useful because it’s also excellent for removing their turn-one mana creature.
Much like Darkblast, Gut Shot also has a lot of broad applicability in the format. As a free spell, it’s also always going to be a tempo-positive play. Gut Shot has been growing in popularity Affinity sideboards online, and it’s been seen other sideboards like Infect and Travis Woo’s Ninja-Bear-Delver deck.
Entrepreneurial Burn players have been turning to Aura Barbs, which hates on the enchantments directly, and makes it an extremely potent sideboard card for a specific problem.
Burn is completely focused on bringing the opponent to zero life, which makes it consistent. But it’s also very vulnerable to lifegain.
Lifegain itself can be hated out with various narrow cards, but it’s more difficult when the lifegain comes with a clock attached, which exactly the problem GW Auras poses with cards like Daybreak Coronet, Unflinching Courage and even Spirit Link. They will also bring in cards like Leyline of Sanctity, which doesn't gain life but hates on burn spells all the same.
In a nutshell, the text of this card reads “creatures you control have protection from burn spells.” Burn is the most commonly played form of creature removal in the Modern format, and, without it, many decks are simply defenseless against creatures. In a world where the best targeted removal spell is Lightning Bolt and the best sweeper is Anger of the Gods, it’s clear why a card like Mark of Asylum has a lot of utility.
Mark of Asylum is being played online in the sideboard of GW Hatebears, which was better known as the “GW Kibler” deck for a while last year, as a way to protect its many creatures from burn. It simply shuts down many cards in the format, a trait it shares with other oppressive white sideboard enchantments like Stony Silence and Rest in Peace. The card has applications in the sideboard of any white deck heavy on the creatures, and it’s a card I expect to see a lot more of in the future.
There are some excellent counterspells available in Modern, and the banning of Deathrite Shaman has made them more popular than ever. Fortunately, Modern also contains some highly-effective solutions for counterspells:
Back in the original Ravnica, Gigadrowse was the best blue solution to counterspells, and it even won the World Championship in Makihito Mihara’s UR Dragonstorm combo deck. It can be cast at end-of-opponent’s turn to tap them out before initiating a combo on the next turn. Unlike something like Mana Short, Gigadrowse gets around counterspells because Replicate produces multiple copies, making it essentially uncounterable. It’s also quite excellent against other combo decks, and it can be used in their upkeep to effectively Time Walk them.
Gigadrowse has applications for any blue combo deck, including Splinter Twin and Scapeshift, and just last weekend it was found in the sideboard of a Magic Online Premier event-winning Storm deck. I expect the card to start picking up popularity as blue grows more common in the Modern metagame.
For players that want to shut down opposing counterspells but aren’t looking to play any instants of their own, Defense Grid is a very effective solution to counterspells with a pedigree that includes the combo-winter of Urza’s Saga block and the sideboard of the current Legacy bogey man, Sneak and Show.
Defense Grid makes opposing counterspells awkward and typically impossible to cast for the first few turns of the game, and late in the game it removes the tempo advantage counterspells often generate. Defense Grid is excellent out of the sideboard of Green Tron and it’s been picking up a lot of steam in Storm decks online. It has applications for any other combo deck weak to counterspells, including the Ad Nauseam deck and Amulet of Vigor combo, and it’s one of the first sideboard cards I’d reach for when building a new combo deck in the format. With blue on the rise, this card is only getting better with time.
Finally, my best kept secret sideboard card:
Darkblast has long been one of my favorite sideboard cards, and I remember using it to good effect back in original Ravnica block Standard. For the last few years, I’ve been using the card in Legacy where it punishes Elf combo and Death and Taxes, both full of X/1 creatures. Formats like Legacy and Modern value efficiency, and that often means creatures are small. The current Modern format has all sorts of important small creatures to destroy.
Darkblast is a great way to eliminate staple card advantage creatures like Dark Confidant and Snapcaster Mage, mana cogs Noble Hierarch and Birds of Paradise, and tempo-deck creatures like Delver of Secrets // Insectile Aberration and Spellstutter Sprite.
My favorite use of Darkblast in Modern is as a dedicated hate card against Affinity, where it answers their manlands Blinkmoth Nexus and Inkmoth Nexus, and their cog creatures Vault Skirge, Signal Pest and Memnite.
Please note that this is a strategy article, and the cards I've included as being undervalued are from a strategic standpoint and may or may not also be undervalued from a market standpoint.
What Modern sideboard cards do you think are the most undervalued, strategically and financially? Post a comment!