Hey folks! My Kaladesh Tier List came out a couple of weeks ago, and as usual I’ve been updating regularly as I draft. I feel like I’ve learnt a lot about the format since then, and so I’m going to dive back into the world of limited strategy writing for the Kaladesh Draft Challenge, which is right on our doorstep. I plan to compete myself and am pretty excited, and I want to go over some of the ways in which Best-of-Three draft differs from Best-of-One to help my lovely readers prepare and to provide a useful resource you can come back to for your sideboarding needs. I included a brief overview of how to sideboard on the tier list page itself, but I’m going to really flesh it out and go through the ins and outs in this article.
I’ve been enthralled by Limited ever since I began playing in New Phyrexia. With a particular fondness for flashback and cube drafts, I’ve drafted more sets than I can count on every platform through wildly different eras. On Arena I draft infinitely, having profited 40k or so gems, and have made top 50 Mythic several times. Self-reflection and forming good habits are paramount to Limited improvement, and those themes feature throughout my articles.
The KLR Draft Challenge
The meat of this article is really the sideboarding, but let’s go over some event info quickly:
Format: Traditional Draft
Event Record: 6 wins or 2 losses (whichever comes first)
- 6 Wins: 20,000 Gold, 40 Kaladesh Remastered boosters
- 6 Wins: 15,000 Gold, 30 Kaladesh Remastered boosters
- 4 Wins: 10,000 Gold, 20 Kaladesh Remastered boosters
- 3 Wins: 7,500 Gold, 12 Kaladesh Remastered boosters
- 2 Wins: 4,000 Gold, 6 Kaladesh Remastered boosters
- 1 Win: 2,000 Gold, 3 Kaladesh Remastered boosters
- 0 Wins: No Rewards
Entry Fee: 3,000 Gems or 15,000 Gold
As you can see, it’s very rewarding if you do well, and sideboarding is going to be one of the main ways to gain a huge advantage!
- The stronger player is naturally favoured in Best-of-Three draft, because there’s less variance involved when you play multiple games. You shouldn’t really worry about that too much, but know that if you’re an above average player then your winrate will always be higher in best-of-three, assuming the other factors stay the same. So believe in yourself, don’t hesitate, and give it a go!
- Best-of-Three is going to take a lot longer. The maximum number of matches you can play is seven (since you’re out of the event on two losses and you need six wins for the maximum reward) so I’d set about six hours aside to play this event.
Quick Format Tips:
We’ll flesh some of this out in the rest of the article!
- Green cards are better than they look. Green has two mythic uncommons in this set, in Ridgescale Tusker and Longtusk Cub, and then fantastic common quality to back those up; it’s the best colour in my opinion, followed by Red.
- Blue cards are worse than they look. Blue is the worst colour, but still pairs very well in Red-Blue and has some powerful uncommons. Aim to draft what’s open, as always.
- The format isn’t that fast, much slower than the original Kaladesh formats (and more fun as a result!), but it’s medium speed rather than slow (e.g. Mind Rot is bad), because there are so many good 2 drops – small removal is very good and really hurts the aggro decks. Be prepared for aggro as a slower deck, make sure you have enough early defense. It’s easy to have too many 2-drops in White so you should take the merely okay ones lower there.
- The really good X/1s and X/2s are a bit worse than they look, because there’s a lot of removal for them. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take them highly though.
- Vehicles are very good, but you don’t want too many and you need to have a creature core that supports them. The more Vehicles you have, the more creatures you need, and you want to have early creatures that can crew your Vehicles well – so 2 mana 3/1s get better if you have a bunch of Crew 3 Vehicles. Don’t take the medium ones too highly, but windmill slam the really good ones.
- Removal spells that don’t hit Vehicles are worse than they look – cards like Revoke Privileges, Hunt the Weak, and Chandra’s Revolution are all worse in this set than they would normally be. Check out the tier list grades for more info. Red removal spells are still good, because Red’s best plan against Vehicles is to simply cut off the enablers completely, since it has so much small removal.
- It is important for most decks to have energy payoffs, since there are a ton of cards that produce it without too much cost. Getting good energy payoffs is much more important than enablers.
- Play around Revolt – if your opponent makes obviously suicidal attacks with Servos and such, consider letting them through. Don’t be afraid to sacrifice your creatures that have outlived their usefulness to get good Revolt triggers.
- There aren’t many big fliers: there are decks like Red-Blue which have plenty of fliers, but usually those fliers generate value rather than beating down really hard.
Sideboarding in Draft
Being able to change your deck between games is the most important difference between best-of-one and best-of-three. It completely shifts the dynamic of both the pick-making and gameplay stages in Best-of-Three draft, and it can be quite confusing and weird at first, but really it adds a whole new axis of skill to drafting and is a lot of fun once you get used to it!
You might be used to sideboarding in Constructed, where you have access to a full 15-card board at all times to switch things up between games, but Draft is a rather different animal. Because you have a limited number of picks, it’s not uncommon for decks to only have a few cards available to sideboard, and it really ranges from 0 to 5 or so, at least in terms of common sideboard cards – 0 is not uncommon, but I think it’s generally a mistake to end up with truly zero sideboard cards, and might indicate that people aren’t going out of their way enough. Despite the fewer cards available, sideboarding is still extremely important but certainly less so in Draft than Constructed; it’s rare to be able to radically change your gameplan in Draft, unless you have an entirely different deck available – which happens sometimes, say when you were deciding between two colours and ended up with a lot of picks in the colour you didn’t ultimately end up going with, but isn’t all that common nevertheless.
Nevertheless, just being able to get rid of the worst cards in your deck for cards that are good in the matchup can radically skew games 2 and 3 in your favour. In one of my recent Kaladesh drafts, my opponent and I both had access to Lifecrafter’s Bestiary, an insane artifact bomb, but I had Appetite for the Unnatural and Creeping Mold in my sideboard to bring in, and they didn’t have artifact removal. We were both playing slow value-oriented decks, so the games really did come down to who had Bestiary stick – the amount of card advantage gained over the course of the game was an insurmountable advantage. So in games 2 and 3, they would get only one or two turns of drawing cards before I destroyed their Bestiary, but mine stuck around and I won those games very easily as a result. Usually the effect isn’t as massive as this example – it won’t generally win you the game by itself to just bring in a couple of good cards for the matchup, but being able to upgrade your two or three worst cards into good cards you’re happy to draw makes a massive difference. If you have random bad 2 drops lying around in a slower matchup, they’re just going to be dead draws for most of the game and outclassed far too quickly to have a useful effect, so that’s the exact situation where you want to board them out, but there’s a reason you’re maindecking them – in faster matchups, you really need access to them because missing a point on the curve will be much more crippling. If you don’t have a mediocre 2 drop available to trade for their 2 drop, that 2 drop can easily deal as much as 6 damage when backed up by removal and tricks, or be available to hold equipment and buffs and become a much greater threat.
It’s not that you made a mistake in playing the random bad 2 drop – you gain the advantage of having it in your maindeck in aggressive matchups, and still being able to ditch it when it’s bad. In the matchup I just talked about, I was very happy just to have two or three 2-drops rather than five or six – if I had drawn those 2 drops in the spots where I instead drew artifact removal, I would almost certainly have lost both games. It didn’t have to be artifact removal necessarily – just having two more slow expensive cards, preferably the sort that drew cards, makes a massive difference in slower matchups, even if those cards are too slow to maindeck against the field at large. For example, a card like Decoction Module, which is slow and doesn’t do anything in any matchup where tempo is important, can actually be good enough in this sort of glacial matchup if you’re playing a deck that has creatures with good ETBs (enter the battlefield abilities) to take advantage of its activated ability – the danger of including this sort of card in your maindeck, which is that your opponent will play creatures and you’ll fall behind and you won’t have enough time to use it a ton of times and really get good value, doesn’t really apply in a glacially slow mirror. Sure, they might have a fast draw and punish you, but it’s a lot less likely to happen, and it’s only one card so hopefully your deck will still have enough tools to outclass their 2 drops and such. I wouldn’t recommend boarding in like four slow cards like Decoction Module though, because then you really do become vulnerable to those 2-drops. Just as in Constructed, you don’t want to go overboard with sideboarding.
At the end of the day, it’s really just shifting your priorities a little in the pick-making stage, something that’s integral to that stage anyway, and paying close attention to what your opponents are doing in the playing stage, which Arena makes easy for you since you can just click “view battlefield” in the top right and check their board, graveyard, and exile for all the cards they’ve played.
Don’t worry if any of this isn’t clear yet – we’re going to go through a whole bunch of examples shortly! If even after the article is over, you’re still a bit confused about anything I’ve said, then ask me questions in the comments/on Twitter, or consider booking a session of my Limited coaching service!
Preparing your sideboard when making picks
The pick-making stage is critical, because clearly if you don’t pick the cards then you won’t have them available to sideboard! In best-of-one, cards like Negate and Duress generally just suck and you shouldn’t pick them, so best-of-three adds a bunch of interesting options into the card pool, and makes some of the later picks in each pack more dynamic and interesting.
Generally, if you’re playing best-of-three, you should take sideboard cards over every D-tier card, assuming their good case is pretty common, you’re not low on playables, and the D-tier card isn’t especially good in your deck for whatever reason. Sideboard cards tend to get worse in multiples, unless the “good case” for them is quite common. In the playing stage, a lot can constitute a sideboard card – a 1/3 against a deck full of 2/1s can be a fine sideboard card, for example, but you shouldn’t consider it that in the pick-making stage, because your opponent having a bunch of 2/1s for 2 in their deck is a very niche scenario. It’s nice if it happens, but not something you should go out of your way to plan for. In this stage, you just want the common good case sideboard cards like Appetite for the Unnatural and Destructive Tampering higher. While this set doesn’t have a Plummet effect (flying creature hate), those often fall into the category of good sideboard card too, since lots of flying creatures is a very common kind of deck. Generally, the best sideboard cards are both high impact and commonly useful, but just one of the two can still be fine – in the latter case, the card is often still a fine upgrade on your worst maindeck cards, and in the former case, you can just not bring it in when that rarer case doesn’t come up, so you’re not actually losing very much, assuming you didn’t pass much for it to begin with. I see cards like Wildest Dreams and Ceremonious Rejection as examples of this – they have their matchups where they’re totally absurd, but I don’t expect those to come up that much so I don’t really consider them exciting sideboard cards. I’ll still certainly be taking them over any trash I see though.
If you have a lot of playables, you can afford to make speculative picks more, because having a bunch of weak playables and being able to choose the best of them for your 23rd card really isn’t that exciting – they’ll probably be very interchangeable at that point, so just having some good sideboard cards instead is far better. Playable counts are something that take practice to get used to, but honestly in most most modern Draft formats, you just shouldn’t worry too much – they’re packed full of playables, and if you’re drafting and reading signals well, then you’ll almost always have enough. Even if you have to play a card that’s slightly weaker than the one you could’ve taken, that’s really not a big deal.
As always, remember to consider your deck when you’re pondering how highly to take sideboard cards. Fliers are one of the common things to watch out for in Limited, but they might not be as big a deal as you think. Most decks can just race fliers decks with bigger creatures (this is how Green gets a lot of its wins against them), or just remove them. That being said, picking up sideboard cards against them is important if you’re a deck that doesn’t beat down that well or has a natural inclination to get into board stalls more (or you’re a player who isn’t great at handling board stalls – often you can set up attacks to navigate through them) by virtue of being midrangey and not having that much removal, for example. There isn’t good flier hate in this set, but in the absence of a Plummet effect, you can look to take cards like Consulate Skygate and Highspire Artisan, which aren’t nearly as good but perfectly serviceable, a little higher if you are this kind of deck. You can potentially maindeck one, but beware, since both those cards are mediocre. Meanwhile if your deck is really good against fliers, don’t bother unless it’s a very free pick. You only really need to sideboard against things that are problem for you – don’t sacrifice deck quality for cards you’re beating anyway, because then they’ll just board some of those cards out and get you!
Consider your wheels – people aren’t going to take Creeping Mold that highly, so you can just snap it up when it wheels and there’s no reason to take it early. It’s rarely a good idea to take sideboard cards over good cards early, unless your deck is especially weak to something and that particular sideboard card is unusually sought after
Examples of sideboarding in the play stage
Tl;dr/quick things to consider:
- Is their deck fast or slow? How effectively were they able to pressure you?
- How many artifacts/enchantments did they play? How many of those are powerful/important to kill?
- Did they play lots of creatures of a certain statline? Do you have creatures with statlines that match up badly e.g. 2/1 vs 1/3? Maybe you should board those out.
- Are you on the play or the draw? Slow cards and boarding into aggressive plans is worse on the draw. Consider trimming a land on the draw.
- So, overall, what’s your plan against them?
Let’s flesh some of this out:
- Decide on a plan for each matchup – this is the most important tip. It’s not that you need to radically change what your deck is doing, or that you even should – often unless you have really a ton of good sideboard cards and/or can afford to change colours, you won’t be able to execute the plan properly. Pick plans that your deck will back you up on. If your opponent is slow, are you going to go fast and try to overwhelm them, or are you going to try to fight them on the same axis and outvalue them? If your cards aren’t good at producing value or you don’t have much high end, the latter isn’t going to work. If they have a lot of good blockers or lots of lifegain or your deck doesn’t have that many 2 drops, the former probably isn’t going to work. If you’re trying to go slow, random 2 mana 2/2s are not going to do much for you and you should instead try to board in card draw or expensive impactful cards. If you’re going to go fast, then you might want to board in more 2 drops and cut some of your more expensive cards.
- Try to pay attention to how your cards are playing out. A card like Hinterland Drake is really bad when flying pressure isn’t important and when it can’t block anything, and you should be able to see that in game one. If they have a bunch of mill, then splashing cards is worse, because they might mill your basic land, and if you’re playing a bunch of Attune with Aethers and other ways to fetch that land, then you may only have one.
Overall, just listen to your instincts. As you practice and sideboard more often, it will become clearer and clearer which cards aren’t performing.
- You shouldn’t be happy to maindeck artifact or enchantment removal in this format – there are more artifacts than in a normal set, but still not enough good ones. Board in Appetite for the Unnatural if you see a lot of targets for it, or several high-value ones, and Creeping Mold only if you see several high-value ones – expensive and sorcery speed means the latter isn’t worth it otherwise. Only count cards that are worth removing as targets – if they’ve already had their effect (like the Puzzleknots) or are weak, there is no reason to board stuff in against them. Board in Fragmentize only if you see lots of artifacts that cost 4 or less that are worth destroying – it is doubly conditional, so it is a much worse sideboard card unless you run into that specific case.
You might think that Vehicles are a good reason to maindeck artifact hate, but I wouldn’t usually agree. Most of the removal in the set hits them anyway – in fact, pretty much every instant speed removal spell will do a fine job as long as it’s not too conditional. If your removal spells are the kind such as Revoke Privileges and Hunt the Weak, which don’t hit them, or Die Young/Furious Reprisal, which won’t do enough to kill them usually, AND you aren’t a deck that’s good against Vehicles anyway (which many decks are this set because there’s a lot of common deathtouch creatures and the Green creatures will often outsize vehicles), then sure, that can be a good reason to value artifact hate higher. That being said, often Red decks can just kill enough crew creatures to turn off Vehicles too, so you need to be a pretty rare (and not necessarily great) deck, all in all.
It’s not always about the numbers – if they have a couple of artifact bombs that you can’t otherwise deal with, and they’re not pressuring you hard so you won’t lose early with them stuck in your hand, then that’s a good enough reason to bring in artifact hate, even if they don’t have many other decent artifacts.
- Negate is generally bad in Draft, but can be useful to sideboard in against decks with a ton of noncreature spells – I would need about half the cards they played in previous games to be noncreatures before I’d be happy to have Negate, because unlike with Appetite, there’s the opportunity cost of having it up – you aren’t always going to be able to counter spells at the right time if you have to use your mana on other things. Consider whether your deck is good at holding up mana – if you have other ways to use mana at instant speed or other counterspells already, then Negate gets better, and you might only need a few high value targets like Appetite if you have a bunch (still, I would want more than with Appetite). Duress (not in this set) suffers from the same rules, but is a bad topdeck instead of requiring you to hold mana up – if you expect to be playing a really slow, grindy mirror then Negate will be better than Duress (which might not even be worth boarding in unless they have card draw), but Duress will be better in the early game and for as long as they have a bunch of cards in hand.
- Consider play versus draw. In Draft, you almost always want to choose to be on the play (the only time you should choose to be on the draw is in a really slow deck mirror, where you’re confident they haven’t boarded in some midrange creatures and gone for a more beatdowny plan – but if you’re ever in doubt, just pick play), but it’s not nearly as much of a big deal as in Constructed, especially in formats that aren’t especially fast (this one isn’t). Still, there are plenty of cards that are weaker on the draw than the play, like pretty much every card that doesn’t impact the board quickly. That doesn’t mean you should necessarily board all of these cards out on the draw, but certainly you should against an aggressive deck on the draw. If you’re boarding into an aggressive plan yourself, that’s not going to work nearly as well on the draw, as your 2 drops and such will be outclassed much more quickly. Counterspells also tend to be worse on the draw, because you need to have the board covered before you can afford to hold them up.
You can often afford to trim a land on the draw and in heavy removal matchups, because you’re going to draw into lands naturally if the game goes long, and your opponent won’t be able to capitalise on the tempo they gain from you missing a land drop if their hand is full of removal. In slow matchups generally, you can sometimes board out a land, but playing your expensive spells on time is still going to be important – if your opponent is using their mana to draw a bunch of cards and sculpt their hand, then they’re getting a much better deal than you are if they’re stuck on lands. Using mana well is always important in draft, so don’t mess around too much – trim one land only, if you want to.
- Try to pay attention to what creatures your opponent plays, what size they are. If they have lots of x/1s then Chandra’s Pyrohelix, Fireforger’s Puzzleknot, and cards that make Servos (but not if it’s Audacious Infiltrator!) all get much better.
- If they don’t have much instant-speed removal and you’re on the offensive, that is the best time to board in tricks like Precise Strike and Built to Smash, or auras like Siege Modification. Remember not to trim too many creatures though, or important curve plays, and adjust for the cards you’re bringing in – if you’re putting in three auras, then chances are you’re going to want another creature or two and are going to have to start cutting other noncreature spells. The failcase of not having a creature is terrible with auras and tricks, and often it’s not just any old creature – a 1/1 with an aura is probably not going to brawl that effectively. If your opponent has less removal, you’re more likely to have creatures in play, so this effect does even out some.
- Your fliers are naturally going to be smaller than your other creatures but still cost a lot of mana, so if your opponents have a lot of small removal (which is everywhere this set), then consider boarding out cards like Aeronaut Admiral and Propeller Pioneer.
Consider how your opponent is sideboarding
This is a lot harder to do in Draft than in Constructed, because you won’t have access to their decklists or have necessarily played against similar lists a bunch, but format knowledge is a huge boon here. If you know that this particular set has a million artifact removal spells at common (and certainly Kaladesh has more than most), then you can expect your opponents to bring those in. Sometimes, you can get them by boarding out the artifacts, but presumably if they’re bringing in hate against you, then those artifacts are good and you shouldn’t. Still, if in game 2, you see that they’ve literally brought in five artifact removal spells, then yeah it’s probably worth doing that for game 3! Remember that those artifact removal spells will leave them down a card, and generate you virtual card advantage if they don’t have targets – but consider what their cards actually do because if you board out your artifacts and then are left with a bunch of enchantments and they’ve boarded in five Appetite for the Unnaturals, then you’re still going to have targets available for them.
If you’re playing a slow matchup and your opponent is boarding out their 2 drops, you can try to game them by boarding into a faster deck – let’s say you have a ton of 2 drops and other aggressive tools in your sideboard, for example. This doesn’t come up a lot again, because most decks won’t be able to change fundamentally, and it will only work for one game because they’ll bring the 2 drops back in, but then you can board your 2 drops back out for game 3 and double bluff them! If your opponent’s deck is naturally bad against fast starts, clearly you might want to approach from that angle anyway, regardless of how you think they’ll sideboard.
Most of the counter-sideboarding you can do will be in game 3, so pay attention to how things have changed in game 2! Sideboarding for game 2 is mostly just against what’s in their maind
- Don’t board out good cards when you sideboard. If your maindeck is all good cards in the matchup anyway, there’s no real reason to sideboard – at that point, you’re just making your deck less consistent by boarding in cards that won’t always have good targets.
- Cards that do the same thing have diminishing returns. This means that the more artifact removal you have, the less you should want to bring in another copy – even a deck that has plenty of good artifacts will sometimes have draws that are low on them, and being stuck with a bunch of Appetite for the Unnaturals in hand versus your opponent’s nonartifact creatures won’t end well for you. Consider what proportion of your opponent’s deck is actually artifacts before you bring in a 3rd or 4th copy of a piece of artifact hate – even the second can be kind of rough, if they don’t have plenty of good targets, but the third and fourth is reserved for extremely rare decks only, where over half of their deck is made up of decent artifacts, for example.
- Don’t sacrifice your curve or your creature count too much. Sure, it’s fine to have less 2 drops in slower matchups if they don’t have a late game effect, but you don’t want to board them all out. If you cut too many creatures, it can become very hard to block their stuff and pressure them adequately, especially if they have removal spells. This isn’t like Constructed – you almost always need to have some amount of creatures, so your important creatures are more likely to die against removal if you board out too many weaker ones; weaker creatures benefit stronger creatures by acting as lightning rods, if they’re still somewhat useful. In that way, having 2 drops can keep your 5 drops alive.
Tier List Changes
I thought the format would be a little faster than it actually is, just based on experience from Kaladesh and Aether Revolt. As such, some slower cards have gone up. Cards that don’t hit Vehicles, like Revoke Privileges, have gone down a bit. I’ve been really impressed with Audacious Infiltrator, which crews Vehicles really well and often trades up in this format. Green is excellent at defending itself this format, so slow cards are better in Green.
Aeronaut Admiral C+ -> C
Audacious Infiltrator C -> C+
Chandra’s Revolution B- -> C+
Frontline Rebel C- -> D+
Irontread Crusher D -> D+
Lifecrafter’s Bestiary B+ -> A
Revoke Privileges B- -> C+
Subtle Strike C+ -> C
Wispweaver Angel C -> C+
Thanks for reading! If you’re looking for more of my stuff to read next, I’d recommend some of my strategy articles: