The Art of Side Decking Part 2

Mike Steinman

4/27/2016 11:02:00 AM

Last week we discussed the importance of Side Decking differently when going first or second. This week I want to delve into examples from current competition to help give a better understanding of what I mean. There's a lot to talk about, so I'll get right to it.

In order to build a Side Deck properly you need to know your Main Deck inside and out. You need to understand the specific purpose of every card you're playing, what exactly each card does in each matchup, and if they can be improved upon. Those are the basics of Side Decking. Even when you're just starting to think about what you want to Side Deck, you should be playing with your Main Deck and deciding what cards are subpar in each matchup, and what you wish you had in those spots instead.

Using a physical notebook or - even more convenient - the notepad on your phone is a huge help. Writing these things down so you can look back and see your thoughts in front of you will make this process way easier than trying to keep it all in your head. The first step is to play a specific matchup. When you've got enough practice against it, you'll be able to pick out the cards you'd want to swap out.

First, take out the cards you absolutely don't want. An easy example of this would be siding out Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch against Burning Abyss. After the more obvious offenders you want to find out what cards are okay, but could still be improved upon. That gives you a better understanding of what you're trying to change your deck into after siding, and gives you more options for cards to side out if you want to bring a ton in.

I'm going to use the Monarch deck I ran at YCS Vegas as an example for what I'm trying to portray.

    Quantum Monarchs Mike Steinman    
Main Deck
Side Deck
3 Ehther the Heavenly Monarch
3 Erebus the Underworld Monarch
2 Kuraz the Light Monarch
3 Mithra the Thunder Vassal
3 Super Quantum Red Layer
3 Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch
1 Thestalos the Mega Monarch
Monsters [18]
3 Domain of the True Monarchs
3 Pantheism of the Monarchs
3 Return of the Monarchs
3 Tenacity of the Monarchs
3 The Monarchs Stormforth
3 Upstart Goblin
Spells [18]
1 Escalation of the Monarchs
3 The Prime Monarch
Traps [4]
Deck Total [40]
2 Anti-Spell Fragrance
2 Breakthrough Skill
1 Chicken Game
2 Fog King
2 Mobius the Frost Monarch
2 Mystical Refpanel
1 Pendulum Storm
3 Twin Twisters
Side Deck [15]



The deck has a clear goal. It tries to optimize the best openings possible through potential weaknesses like Effect Veiler, and relies on its sheer power to steamroll any matchup without having to use matchup-specific cards. After siding though, there are definite things that can be improved on. Consider the deck's Draco Performapal matchup.

Going first against Draco Pals, you're always hoping to make a board and establish Domain of the True Monarchs to lock them out before they can play. You can use Ehther, the Heavenly Monarch to try to dodge common threats to your Domain like Eccentrick Archfiend. The most optimal opening is Thestalos the Mega Monarch to discard any opposing copies of Mystical Space Typhoon or Twin Twister, then using Ehther to lock out Eccentrick. Other openings like Mithra, tributed for Thestalos, tributed for Erebus and searching Domain are fine too. You really just want to establish a field, while making sure your opponent can't out your field. Or if they can, you want to ensure that they still can't do anything because they spent so many cards to recover that they can't do anything proactive.

Those types of plays require a hand of live cards. The first step is pinpointing cards that can potentially be dead in your opening hand. There's the rare occasion where The Monarchs Stormforth in conjunction with Mithra the Thunder Vassal will turn your hand live by allowing you to Tribute Summon a Level 8 Monarch, but other than that, it's just food for Pantheism of the Monarchs or disruption for your opponent's turn.

Since none of the Draco Pal monster effects threaten your field, that pro of Stormforth is largely irrelevant even at one copy. Usually, with searchable cards, you'd keep a copy just to give your search cards more utility, but we just figured out that we will never need Stormforth to carry out your game plan, so all three copies go. A quick second scan over the deck list and there isn't really a card there that doesn't contribute to your gameplan, so now you need three cards to side in.

When you're changing your deck, you have to consider what problems you could face when cards are switched out. You could say that Monarchs are inconsistent. Although The Monarchs Stormforth doesn't directly boost consistency, it makes your deck a little more consistent indirectly by giving you more cards to discard to Pantheism of the Monarchs. On top of the deck's existing consistency issues, losing Stormforth represents another slight dip in reliability, so it would be nice to be able to replace it with whatever you side in. In this case, you're going to be hard-pressed to find cards that boost your consistency since you'd be maining them already if they existed. But there are other ways to see more live cards namely floodgating your opponent.

Let's look for a card that could buy you a couple of turns. Anti-Spell Fragrance fit the bill perfectly at the time, giving you the opportunity to shut your opponent down with just one card, allowing you to see more draw phases to reach your key cards. It also has the added bonus of securing the game if you do open a hand that lets you go off and create a ton of field presence.

 Thestalos the Mega Monarch
Thestalos the Mega Monarch82694
Set Primal Origin
Number PRIO-EN035
Level 8
Type Effect Monster
Monster Pyro
Attribute FIRE 
A / D 2800 / 1000
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

You can Tribute Summon this card by Tributing 1 Tribute Summoned monster. When this card is Tribute Summoned: Look at your opponent's hand and discard 1 card from their hand, then, if it was a Monster Card, inflict damage to your opponent equal to its original Level x 200. If this card was Tributed Summoned by Tributing a FIRE monster, add this additional effect.
Also, inflict 1000 damage to your opponent after that.

Our Best Prices: [View ALL Prices]
Store Condition Qty Avail Price  
NateD Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $5.11
Gaming Goat Joliet 1st Edition - Lightly Played 1 $5.99
USA Comics 1st Edition - Lightly Played 1 $6.00
TBG Cards 1st Edition - Near Mint 1 $6.10
XtremeGames Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $6.41
Amazing Discoveries Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $6.52 allows you to buy cards from any of our vendors, all at the same time, in a simple checkout experience. Shop, Compare & Save with! - [Store FAQ]

In your optimal set-up you'll have summoned Thestalos the Mega Monarch, allowing you to pitch cards like Mystical Space Typhoon and Twin Twisters from your opponent's hand. That lets cards like Anti-Spell Fragrance and Ehther the Heavenly Monarch to finish the rest by denying Archfiend Eccentrick.

There's a downside to cards like these as they won't immediately help you unbrick a clogged hand. For that reason you don't want to play too many; drawing them in multiples can actually worsen that kind of situation. For this example we still need one more card to replace the third Stormforth, but there's no other cards we can play.. or are there?

Chicken Game was a heavily debated card in Monarchs. On one side it gave you extra chances to draw your key cards, in a way no other card could, but it came with a risk. That was reason enough for me to avoid it for Main Deck play. But if Stormforth is going to be a blank card going first anyway, and you're already maxed on Anti-Spell Fragrance, I'd rather take the chance with Chicken Game than have none at all. I sided Chicken Game going first against Draco Pals, a choice no one else came to, but it makes perfect sense to me.

When I was first learning how to play competitively, I always wondered why side decks always looked so weird; there were always random cards in there I'd never imagine siding. I understand now that when you test enough, and get a handle on what your deck's objectives are, you can usually find a card that fulfills that role - even if it's unconventional.

Going first against Draco Pals:

- 3 The Monarchs Stormforth

+ 2 Anti-Spell Fragrance, 1 Chicken Game

Going second is going to be a totally different story. Again, you have to analyze what your game plan will be and what will cause problems for you. Draco Pals made big boards of Xyz, Synchro, and Fusion monsters usually consisting of Divine Dragon Knight Felgrand, Dinoster Power the Mighty Dracoslayer, and Abyss Dweller backed with even more powerful trap cards than before in the form of Chaos Trap Hole something you can't play around with Return of the Monarchs Magic Deflector, and Mask of Restrict. In this case there are cards you absolutely need in order to compete, so you want to look at siding cards in first before you figure out what cards you want to take out.

There are a lot of threatening backrows in Games 2 and 3, so three Twin Twisters seems to be an obvious choice. This is where playtesting comes in. For Vegas we needed three copies of Twin Twisters to see it enough to out their important trap cards a sufficient portion of the time, but at the same time wanted to avoid drawing them together and suffering clogged hands. We found that we still wanted one more card, and Pendulum Storm was the next best option after Twin Twisters. I explained my Reasoning in a previous article, but basically we came to that conclusion because there were so few counters to it.

Now, to figure out what cards you want to take out. Both Thestalos the Mega Monarch and Thestalos the Firestorm Monarch seem weak, since neither help you address an established board. You don't want them. You also don't want the second copy of Kuraz the Light Monarch since you're trying to clear their board without giving your opponent free cards in the exchange. You only need the one copy to help protect Domain of the True Monarchs if your opponent ever gets the chance to come back.

Butt that change creates a problem that you can't ignore; it reduces the number of tributes and the number of cards you can combo with Tenacity of the Monarchs. The only way to solve that problem is to replace those cards with different ones that can fill the same purpose. Mobius the Frost Monarch helps you achieve your desired goal going second against Draco Pals, by helping destroy Magic Deflector, Pendulum Scales, and most importantly by just being a monster you can summon through Chaos Trap Hole while also destroying them. It's a perfect fit.

 Magic Deflector
Magic Deflector67278
Set Abyss Rising
Number ABYR-EN076
Type Trap Card
Attribute TRAP 
Rarity Common
Card Text

For the rest of this turn, negate all Equip, Field, Continuous and Quick-Play Spell Card effects on the field.

Our Best Prices: [View ALL Prices]
Store Condition Qty Avail Price  
Pro-PlayGames Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $0.05
Pro-PlayGames 1st Edition - Lightly Played 1 $0.05
TemptingDeal 1st Edition - Lightly Played 2 $0.05
TemptingDeal Unlimited - Lightly Played 1 $0.05
NeutronBlastGaming 1st Edition - Near Mint 5 $0.08
bjbstore 1st Edition - Near Mint 1 $0.08 allows you to buy cards from any of our vendors, all at the same time, in a simple checkout experience. Shop, Compare & Save with! - [Store FAQ]

You also want to take out Escalation of the Monarchs, since it isn't helping you break your opponent's board. The Prime Monarch's your final cut, since it does nothing by itself and drawing two copies together is almost never good when you're going second against immense pressure. With one more look there doesn't seem to be any more cards that you'd want to take out. It's a rare case where the numbers just happen to work out perfectly. You get to take out the six cards you really didn't want for the match-up, and got to replace them with six must-haves.

Going second against Draco Pals:

- 2 Thestalos, 1 Mega Thestalos, 1 Kuraz, 1 Escalation, 1 Prime

+ 3 Twisters, 1 Storm, 2 Mobius

You just do this for every match up, ignoring the fifteen card limit. At the end of it you might be over fifteen, under fifteen, or occasionally right on the mark. If you find yourself under fifteen then that's great. That means you get to pick really specific cards for uncommon matchups, just in case. You can use those free Side Deck slots to tech off-the-wall picks like Infernoids or Heroes.

If you're over fifteen it gets a little tricky. This Side Deck was actually sixteen cards when I first built it. The solution is to find opportunities for overlap. For example, I wanted effect negation going first against Atlanteans, and I always wanted to have effect negation for the mirror match. I also had three copies of Mystical Refpanel for the mirror.

I saw that as a chance to make a sacrifice. I was siding two copies of Breakthrough Skill for Atlanteans and three Refpanels plus one Breakthrough Skill for the mirror. I could cut the third Refpanel and just side a second Breakthrough in its place. Optimal? No. But almost just as good? That's the goal.

As a little exercise, I'd like you guys to post in the comment section how you think I ended up siding in and out against Atlanteans, Monarchs, Kozmos, Phantom Knights and Burning Abyss, and Monarch Explosion FTK. I'll post the answers in a couple of days! Remember, practice makes perfect. I hope this discussions helps at least one person who was having trouble with Side Decking. If you have any more questions don't be afraid to add me on Facebook or leave a comment. Until next time!

-Mike Steinman

Join our Newsletters

Subscribe to get the latest information on your favorite games.


All original content herein is Copyright 2016 Ascension Gaming Network, Inc. TCGplayer® and MaxPoint® are trademarks of Ascension Gaming Network, Inc.
No portion of this web site may be used without expressed written consent. All rights reserved.
Magic the Gathering and its respective properties are copyright Wizards of the Coast
Privacy Policy  |  Terms of Service