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How to Sideboard and Win with Selesnya Aggro

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Welcome back disciples of Vitu-Ghazi! Today we are going to take an in-depth look into sideboarding strategies with the green/white deck that I played at the SCG open. If you haven’t read my previous article where I broke down all of the card choices for the deck, you can find it here. I also want to discuss some of the cards that are difficult for the GW deck to beat. And lastly, I received some questions after the last article, so we can cover that, too. Ready? Let’s go.

Thoughts on Sideboarding

Sideboarding is an often-overlooked topic in the game of Magic. I find this very strange because you will play just as many, if not more, sideboarded games as maindeck in any given tournament. Players will often do a lot of playtesting with their decks before boarding and not bother testing the sideboard games. Again, this is a mistake because sideboard games are very different. Control decks generally become a lot better because they are able to sideboard out all the dead cards against you and board in cards that are especially good against you. Decks with fewer colors, i.e. the mono color decks, tend to have fewer options when it comes to sideboarding, so they not be as strong as a two-color deck could be. Aggro decks usually don’t have powerful cards to board against each deck because they stick with their initial strategy of just killing you fast.

Another mistake I see a lot is when people over sideboard. You don’t want to be sideboarding so much that you are no longer accomplishing the deck’s initial goal. Let’s look at aggro again. Maybe you’re a mono red player that is playing against Esper Control. You want to bring in four Burning Earth, which is good, and then you decide that you should bring in four Skullcrack to prevent them from gaining life with their Sphinx’s Revelation. Ok, maybe? Then you see your Mizzium Mortars and decide you need that to kill their Blood Baron because you can’t win if they play it. You end up boarding in so many non-creature spells that you have to board out some creatures and now you are not fast enough to kill them before they start playing powerful spells. Obviously, this example is a little far-fetched but you get the idea.

Before going through my sideboard guide, I also want to explain that sideboarding is a strategy that should not be set in stone. I will deviate from this guide in a tournament depending on what I see from an opponent. You should use this guide as an example and not the rule. For reference here is the deck I played at the open:

Matchups

First up:

Mono Black Devotion

Game one is usually very easy for GW aggro. They play a lot of creatures that don’t really worry you. They attacked with a 2/3 flier? So what? They played a 2/4 and drained some life? Don’t care. They played a giant 6/6 flier demon? Snack on this bird for a second while I kill your master.

The best way to win against mono black is to put a lot of pressure on the board quickly. As long as you can pressure them early, even if they spend their turn to kill a guy you are still attacking them for damage. That adds up and you can finish them off with your big threats. Eventually they run out of removal and they have to play their mediocre creatures.

I found that the only way for mono black to keep up is with an exceptional hand with a lot of removal followed up by an Underworld Connections. The enchantment is a great way for mono black to be able to handle our creatures and still have enough gas left over to finish out the game. They need to be able to kill our early threats though, because if they don’t, tapping out on turn three to do nothing is usually good game.

Sideboarding:

– 2 Rootborn Defenses, – 2 Experiment One

Against the midrange decks I tend to take out Experiment One because it usually gets outclassed fairly quickly. Also, your plan is to take over the game through populating. I also take out Rootborn Defenses because it costs too much to try to “get” mono black.

+ 1 Gods Willing + 1 Scion of Vitu-Ghazi +1 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice +1 Brave the Elements

Again, your plan is to overwhelm them through population. We bring in some cheap protection spells to protect our early aggression or our populating cards.

The matchup gets a lot tougher after board but still probably favorable. They bring in cards like Lifebane Zombie, Pack Rat, and more removal.

Some things to keep in mind:

– If they play Lifebane Zombie early, they now have a seven-turn clock to kill you. You need to play aggressively to outrace it.

– If they play Lifebane Zombie and your only creature is Loxodon Smiter, they have to take it.

– Turn-two Pack Rat is a reality. It can be beaten but it is difficult. If you’re worried, you can bring in Pithing Needle.

– Try to keep a mana up to protect your important populate creatures by casting Gods Willing or Brave the Elements.

Mono Red

There are a few different mono-red decks out there. There’s a fairly fast deck with a curve that stops at four with Fanatic of Mogis, and then there is the devotion-style deck that plays some bigger spells like Stormbreath Dragon. Both of these matchups play out similarly. GW’s creatures are too big and aggressively costed for mono red to smash through. They may have a Firefist Striker to get through but that’s usually not enough. Usually, the only way they can win is with Fanatic of Mogis, so make sure to pay attention to the number of red symbols on your opponent’s side of the field.

Sideboarding

– 1 Scion of Vitu-Ghazi, -2 Rootborn Defenses, -2 Boon Satyr

Scion comes out because it is a little slow. I don’t take them all out because I like the fact that the card turns the tide very quickly and lets you start attacking while leaving back three fresh blockers. Rootborn Defenses is just not needed. I don’t really like Boon Satyr in matches where there are a lot of creatures. In this case he doesn’t block anything and survive.

+1 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice, + 1 Last Breath, + 2 Unflinching Courage, + 1 Druid’s Deliverance

The goal after board is to try to gain as much life as possible. Last Breath can help to take out problematic creatures like Firefist Striker. Druid’s Deliverance is just to not die and sometimes make a two-mana wurm. The fog is sometimes relevant against Stormbreath Dragon.

Post board I feel confident about the matchup. The plan is the same except now you have a way to get out of Mogis range.

Some things to consider:

– The deck has zero ways to interact with Stormbreath Dragon at the moment. We can race it and gain life. If the card starts seeing more play we might want to play something like Arbor Colossus.

Druid’s Deliverance only stops combat damage to the player. Feel free to block and destroy their team.

Last Breath can be used on your own creatures to gain some life in a pinch.

Mono Blue

Luckily, I did not have to play against mono blue at the open. I feel that this matchup is not that great. When the deck was gaining popularity I changed the maindeck of GW to include a Banisher Priest and a Polukranos, World Eater. The sole reason was to be able to deal with Master of Waves. This matchup is really swingy because they play a bunch of stuff we don’t care about, Thassa, God of the Sea, and Master of Waves. GW cannot beat a resolved Master of Waves. You have to kill it or you will lose. Thassa also makes it so attacking is not a good option because of her indestructibility. Mono blue can usually block and Thassa will kill one attacker. You can Selesnya Charm Thassa, though. The matchup usually comes down to how many of the above cards they draw.

Sideboarding:

– 4 Experiment One -2 Rootborn Defenses

Again, Experiment One comes out because Frostburn Weird blocks it. Rootborn Defenses doesn’t do anything

+1 Last Breath, +2 Banisher Priests, +3 Mistcutter Hydra

The Last Breath is strictly to kill Master of Waves. Do not play it to kill anything else. Banisher Priests deal with Master or Thassa. Mistcutter Hydra is to break through their wall of creatures and deal the final points of damage.

From what I’ve seen, mono blue doesn’t really board in anything particularly relevant, maybe Jace, Architect of Thought to stop all your creatures.

Some things to consider:

– I’ll warn you again, kill Master of Waves or you will lose.

– Mono blue has access to Cyclonic Rift, which is very effective if you are going the populate route to try to break through.

Judge’s Familiar can be sacrificed to counter an Advent of the Wurm. Don’t forget about that little guy.

 

Esper Control

I believe Esper control is a good matchup for GW. You have maindeck Rootborn Defenses and lots of flash creatures. The ideal hand for GW would be early aggression, especially Voice of Resurgence, followed up with flash creatures and a Rootborn Defenses. You need to play guys early and leave up mana for Rootborn in case of Supreme Verdict. When they do not cast Verdict you can flash down another threat. You’re not so worried about the one-for-one removal. The plan is to apply so much pressure that they have to waste a Sphinx’s Revelation early, maybe for one or two, looking for an answer. If they cast a big Revelation, it’s usually tough to come back.

Sideboarding

– 1 Banisher Priest, -4 Selesnya Charm, -1 Loxodon Smiter

Banisher Priest doesn’t kill anything, neither does Charm. A 2/2 with flash is not good enough. Smiter is just a little too slow.

+ 3 Mistcutter Hydra, + 1 Scion of Vitu-Ghazi, + 2 Pithing Needle

Scion is just another big threat that cannot be one-for-one’d. In this matchup I rarely try to populate out of fear of Verdict but usually the birds left behind do some work. Pithing Needle is mainly for Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. It is very difficult to beat it, but don’t be afraid to put one down naming Jace, Architect of Thought if you need to. Mistcutter Hydra, while not as good as it is against straight UW Control, is very good after they cast a Verdict. It is also a lot of quick damage when you end-of-turn cast an Advent of the Wurm, untap and cast Mistcutter Hydra, attack for a lot.

Post-board games get better for Esper but GW should still be favored. Don’t be afraid to mulligan if your hand doesn’t look like it’s fast or resilient enough. It’s tough to win through a Blood Baron of Vizkopa but it is not impossible. You should know that they usually would not cast Baron with the intent to Verdict so you can play out more creatures than you normally would. Birds plus Boon Satyr fly over Blood Baron quite nicely.

Some things to consider:

– I’ve seen more Esper lists moving Blood Baron to the main. This does not help out the matchup.

– It’s very tough to win after they cast Sphinx’s Revelation for four or more. Try to be fast enough that they need to cast it earlier.

– If they ever cast Supreme Verdict and you have an available Rootborn Defenses, you’ve probably just won the game. It’s that good.

GR Devotion

The GR devotion matchup is only as difficult as the number of planeswalkers they have. The rest of their deck matches up fairly poorly against our deck because they have small, stupid mana guys and we have 3/3 creatures. We have the ability to go big with wurm tokens and populate, which is especially good on Scion of Vitu-Ghazi. Our Selesnya Charm hits all of their important guys, especially Polukranos. Some lists run the Dragon but the latest SCG open-winning list did not. The main problem is Garruk, Caller of Beasts. It’s tough to attack through their guys to kill him and once he starts +1’ing you’re usually too far behind.

Sideboarding:

– 2 Rootborn Defenses, – 4 Experiment One, -1 Boon Satyr

Very similar to other midrange decks, Experiment One gets outclassed too quickly, and the other cards just aren’t that good.

+ 2 Banisher Priest, + 2 Pithing Needle, + 1 Scion of Vitu-Ghazi, +1 Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice, + 1 Brave the Elements

The Banisher Priests are there to remove the big monsters. Oftentimes GR will have some mana guys and then play one big threat. You want to have a way of removing their blocker to keep applying pressure. Don’t think that it will stay gone for good because GR can definitely kill a 2/2. It’s more of a tempo play or a way to get at their planeswalkers. Pithing Needle is there to name Garruk but can also name other planeswalkers, or can name creatures to stop monstrous. Scion and Trostani are to go big and Brave the Elements is a way to break through or dodge removal. GR devotion will bring in Wasteland Viper as a way of doing tricks with Polukranos. It’s good against us.

Some things to consider:

Domri Rade plus a large creature can kill anything on your side of the field. I made the mistake once of thinking that my Trostani was safe from Mizzium Mortars. Then he Domri fought it with Ruric Thar.

Arbor Colossus may not seem like much but he can favorably block every guy on our team.

– Killing their creatures lowers their devotion. Often times GR devotion won’t block when other decks would. You can use this to attack more aggressively.

Q&A

Last week I received the question, “Why no Trostani?” I’m assuming he meant in the main. Well the reason is that the core of the deck is an aggro deck. You want to be aggressive against a lot of decks. By applying a fast clock you make your opponent react to you. Trostani, while being a very good card, is not so good for the aggressive plan. Trostani is at its best against decks without one-for-one removal or Supreme Verdict. So if you expect a lot of GR, junk, or aggro decks, Trostani would be fine for the maindeck. For the open, I expected a lot of mono black and Esper decks so I moved her to the sideboard.

Let Me Know Your Thoughts

Well there you go – a deep dive into the matches and sideboarding of GW. There is a lot to cover so I probably missed some. If you have a matchup you would like me to discuss, leave a question in the comments. You can also comment on what you thought about each sideboarding decision or on what you think could change in the decklist. Currently, I am trying to find room for one Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in the 75 to deal with dragons and Blood Barons. I will respond to each and every comment below so let me know. Thanks for reading.

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Ryan Archer

Ryan Archer

@RyanArcherMTG     -     Email     -     Articles
Ryan Archer is a PTQ grinder and a Magic financier. When he's not making top eight in a tournament or looking for the next card to spike, he's playtesting as a member of Team RIW or writing articles for BrainstormBrewery.com or MTGinfosource.com
Ryan Archer

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About the author

Ryan Archer

@RyanArcherMTG     -     Email     -     Articles
Ryan Archer is a PTQ grinder and a Magic financier. When he's not making top eight in a tournament or looking for the next card to spike, he's playtesting as a member of Team RIW or writing articles for BrainstormBrewery.com or MTGinfosource.com

15 comments

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  1. Kyle

    Lifebane zombie does not react with Loxodon Smiter favorably, since it exiles the card instead of discarding it.

    1. Jason Alt

      His point still stands that if it’s your only creature, they have to take it. They probably won’t mind, though!

    2. Ryan Archer

      Yes you’re 100% percent right. Exiling with Lifebane Zombie will not put Loxodon Smiter into play. Unlike Thoughtseize where if Smiter is your only non land card they have to choose it and it would go into play. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Christoph F

    Hey Ryan,

    I have been playing GW aggro/ tokens since before rotation and your articles have been of great help to me in finding a balance between tokens and an aggressive start.

    Like you said, Esper control is one of the best matchups for this deck, so it surprises me that you play 2 Rootborn defenses mainboard. I have been playing with 1 more banisher priest and 1 Ajani, caller of the pride with great success. Mono blue is a though match-up and having the extra priest seems highly relevant. I also love having the Ajani in the deck to give the extra edge against midrange decks.

    Thanks for all the great writing you do.

    1. Ryan Archer

      I like the Rootborn Defenses main to make sure I can win against Esper because sideboard games seem to be closer. Defenses is never really terrible in other matches, except for maybe very aggressive decks but even then maybe you dodge some removal or make a 3 mana wurm.

      Ajani, Caller of the Pride is a card I have been considering moving to the deck. It seems fine against all the decks and sometimes can help you fly over GR’s creatures to kill their planewalkers. Flying is also especially relevant to get over Blood Barons. Thanks for pointing this guy out and thanks for the kind words. It always feels good when someone appreciates your work. Good luck with GW Aggro.

  3. Chris

    Getting there with Scion: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL2jQrD9SkZOOhbu-w3wTEp2TOvZ3qm3pw

    Granted this is a Friday Night Standard Player Run Event and I don’t own VoRs, deck still performed very well and your sideboarding tips were crucial. Thanks!

    1. Ryan Archer

      Congratulations, always good to hear when your tips help someone out. Even more, considering that you were not playing Voice. I find him to be one of the best cards in the deck. Keep it up.

  4. moonpi

    Really appreciate these articles, and seriously considering running GW at GP Dallas. Why fleecemane lion over call of the conclave?

    1. Ryan Archer

      I’ve said it before but I’m not a huge fan of the lion, but I include him over Call because I want to be more resilient to Ratchet Bomb type effects (Gaze of Granite and to a lesser degree Far//Away and Detention Sphere), basically anything that is good against tokens. People will board in those type of effects and think that they can’t lose, only to be beaten by a solid curve. If the format turns more midrange it might be right to switch but I like not having to worry about if they are playing Ratchet Bomb because any deck can run it. Good Luck at GP Dallas what ever deck you choose.

  5. armyn

    What are you thoughts about soldier of pantheon and brave the elements in main? Thank you

    1. Ryan Archer

      I think Soldier is fairly weak right now because of the mono colored decks. He has a difficult time breaking through. That said he is excellent against the GW deck so if it ever catches on I could get behind this guy. I like Brave the Elements but there are too many creatures that are just straight green to be super effective. My newest list goes even more green to battle against Blood Baron.

  6. JAck

    Hi,

    I played this deck and I really Love it! I add 2 Ajani’s instead rootborn defenses and it works great. Have you done any changes to the deck so far? I am going to play this deck for ptq.

    All best

    1. Ryan Archer

      I am also working on this list for PTQ season. I had a PTQ last Saturday so I put a lot of thought into it trying to answer the decks problem cards. I will give the updated list in my next article.

  7. Martin Coppersmith

    You know, you can’t really be a disiciple of a building. Vorthos fail. Good thing it’s a strategy article right?

    And a good walk through at that.

    1. Ryan Archer

      Thanks I feel very strongly about the deck. Here’s hoping we get some good green white cards in the new set.

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