Side Deck Theory: Deciding What To Side Out

Kelly Locke

1/10/2017 11:00:00 AM

Siding out Main Deck cards is an often neglected topic in Side Deck discussions. I regularly seek out articles, videos, forum posts, reddit threads, and facebook discussions on siding strategy, and the most common critique I see from commentators is that these guides lack an explanation of how to side out Main Deck cards. Believe it or not, this isn't necessarily an oversight.

Content creators aren't leaving out this hugely important aspect of siding strategy because they forgot; it's left out because it's often impractical to give specifics.

Consider just how many decks there are in regular competitive play. You're probably imagining around ten decks: Metalfoes, ABCs, Paleozoics, Heroes, Mermails, Blue-Eyes, Darklords, Yang Zing, Infernoids, and Majespecters. That' just what comes to mind for me, but think about how many decks are missing from that list. There are dozens that aren't on my radar, and probably a few that you wouldn't think of unless someone mentioned them.

Creating guidelines for siding without knowing which decks your readers or viewers will be playing is extraordinarily difficult. That's why a lot of Side Deck discussions boil down to Here's a bunch of cards that are good in this match-up. Great discussions go a few steps further, detailing exactly why those sided cards are especially effective, framing cards in a going first or going second context, exploring synergies with common Main Deck cards, and describing opposing strategies so that it's clear which Main Deck tech choices are least effective in the match-up. I try to accomplish all those tasks in my articles so they're as comprehensive as possible, but even that doesn't cover exactly which cards to switch out.

You can find card-by-card siding guides by looking up tournament reports. Some players will post exactly which cards they sided in and out for each game, but that knowledge is only helpful if you're playing a similar, or perhaps even identical build. This instruction is relevant for a very short span of time, so you're better off trying to determine why they sided certain cards as opposed to how they sided. The best way to improve your siding strategy is to practice, but otherwise there are a few general guidelines that should help you get started.

Siding Out Ineffective Cards
Even the most casual players among us understand that the Side Deck is an opportunity to take out Main Deck cards that are weak against your current match-up. As a rule you should aim to remove any cards from your Main Deck that can be replaced with better cards in your Side Deck. Hand traps and backrow removal are the most commonly sided out cards in the game and their effectiveness varies greatly from match-up to match-up. Maxx C should be the first card on the chopping block if you're facing a deck that almost never Special Summons.

Yes, that's likely incredibly obvious. What might be less apparent is that sometimes keeping ineffective cards in your deck can be a better strategy. That seems counter-intuitive, but remember that both players can enter Game 2 with as many as fifteen changes to their Main and Extra Deck. Cards that weren't useful in Game 1 can become crucial to winning Games 2 and 3 depending on what your opponent sides in. This is called counter siding, and it's a slightly more advanced tactic that uses your opponent's conventional Side Deck knowledge against them.

 Twin Twisters
Twin Twisters122518
Set 2016 Mega-Tins Mega Pack
Number MP16-EN221
Type Spell Card
Attribute SPELL 
Rarity Super Rare
Card Text

Discard 1 card, then target up to 2 Spell/Trap Cards on the field; destroy them.

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For example, if you're playing a deck that's light on spells and traps then it's reasonable to assume your opponent will side out Twin Twisters. After all, they probably recognized that Twin Twisters wasn't helping them in Game 1 and might see more value in a hand trap, proactive monster removal, or other defensive cards.

That can Backfire on them in Game 2 when they're faced with continuous floodgates like Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror, Imperial Iron Wall, and Necrovalley. Suddenly Twin Twisters is a must-have card, but it's understandably unlikely for them to draw it after siding out their copies.

So what does that mean for you? Basically, even siding out weaker cards is a more complicated act than you might want to believe. Counter siding is one of the biggest reasons why suggesting cards to side out is extremely difficult. In some cases it's a decision you have to make while at the table using hints from your opponent to guide your Side Deck choices. That's something you can really only learn with practice, and it often involves a bit of guesswork.

Siding When Playing First And Second
I've covered this topic in the past, so check out my previous article if you're looking for a more thorough overview. In terms of siding out cards, plan to bring in reactive traps like Dimensional Barrier, Solemn Strike, Vanity's Emptiness, and floodgates while dropping hand traps and various forms of removal. You want a hand full of combo pieces and cards to protect your set-up on Turn 1. Ideally your opponent won't get a chance to play next turn, but failing that it should take massive resources for them to break through your set-up.

Hand traps are almost always worse than actual traps, but they see a lot of Main Deck play due to their flexibility. These cards are rarely bad, they're just not as good as a card that's built for going first or second. Maxx C can punish your opponent's Turn 1 combos, and it doubles as a way to defend your set-up on Turn 2. If you know you're going first in the next duel there's one less reason to play a hand trap. You'll get more stopping power by switching Maxx C for a card that prevents your opponent from making plays like floodgates or well-timed Summon negation effects.

Your goals while going second are to break your opponent's set-up and end the game as early as possible. That might involve achieving your win condition on your first turn, or it could mean that you've set the stage for a slow roll towards victory. Either way, breaking your opponent's set-up is crucial. You'll have to do that at some point before they can leverage their field position to beat you.

For many decks the best way to do that is to use your six-card starting hand to remove your opponent's cards from the field. That means proactive removal is preferential to your traps. Dark Hole, Raigeki, Kaijus, and spells in general end up being a more successful than your Solemns while going second.

You can also expect to play second and change your Main Deck to match that preference. Most decks this format want to play first, so if you lose the dice roll you can safely assume you'll be playing second. If you win, you can simply choose to play second. That actually reduces the number of cards you have to side out because there's no need to plan for going first.

 Toadally Awesome
Toadally Awesome124750
Set Invasion: Vengeance
Number INOV-EN052
Level 2
Type Xyz/Effect Monster
Monster Aqua
Attribute WATER 
A / D 2200 / 0
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

2 Level 2 Aqua-Type monsters
Once per turn, during the Standby Phase: You can detach 1 Xyz Material from this card; Special Summon 1 "Frog" monster from your Deck. Once per turn, during either player's turn, when your opponent activates a Spell/Trap Card, or monster effect: You can send 1 Aqua-Type monster from your hand or face-up from your field to the Graveyard; negate the activation, and if you do, destroy that card, then you can Set it to your field. If this card is sent to the Graveyard: You can target 1 WATER monster in your Graveyard; add it to your hand.

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It's a risky strategy that's not as useful when floodgates or negation-heavy set-ups are common. These days, Toadally Awesome practically demands that players choose to go first.

Siding when going first or second changes how your decks plays at the start of the duel. You can also adjust your deck for other reasons, including shifting from a conservative to aggressive playstyle. Aggressive spells like Soul Charge and One for One can be swapped for conservative techs, like Drowning Mirror Force or Oasis of Dragon Souls. This also plays into counter siding, and shifting enough cards around can weaken your opponent's sided cards.

To accomplish that you'll need to identify which Main and Side Deck cards help your strategy in an aggressive or conservative way, and plan out a siding strategy so that only one set of cards exists in your Main Deck at a time. You can also look for other bipolar playstyles and adjust around those cards. Your options will be determined by the deck you're playing and which cards you're siding. Examples include playing a slightly different build by adjusting a few cards, or even using a conversion side to radically alter how your deck plays.

What Not To Side Out
There are probably many cards in your deck you wouldn't dream of siding out. Monsters that are crucial to your deck's theme or strategy won't be going anywhere, but you can change their ratios slightly depending on how they interact with your opponent's cards. Draw spells, assuming they work in the deck post-siding, should never be sided out. If you're siding in a card you probably want to see it as early as possible, and your draw engines are your best way to get to them. Duels are frequently decided by whoever draws their sided cards first. Upstart Goblin is an exception to the rule when it's played to make space for Side Deck cards.

You should also avoid siding out all of your answers to a specific card. Emptying your deck of removal options is the quickest way to lose to a sided floodgate. You never want to be helpless against a Vanity's Fiend, Archlord Kristya, Masked HERO Dark Law, or Anti-Spell Fragrance. Trading highly effective backrow removal for less effect, but more flexible general removal is a smart siding strategy when you don't know what your opponent is bringing to the table. Kaijus are awesome outs to dangerous monsters, but leaving in Dark Hole gives you an answer to a wider range of floodgates.

Hopefully these guidelines have helped answer some of your questions about deciding which cards to side out. It's a very involved and complicated process that is different for each player, even if they're running the exact same build! There are plenty of good reasons why few writers address this topic specifically. The next time you're bored in class, or riding the bus to work, try writing a siding plan for your most important match-ups. Keep working at it, keeping these guidelines in mind, and you'll be much more prepared for your next event.

Until next time then


Kelly​​ ​​Locke​​ ​​is​​ ​​a​​ ​​West​​ ​​Michigan​​ ​​gamer,​​ ​​writer,​​ ​​and​​ ​​college​​ ​​student.​​ ​​​​ ​​In​​ ​​addition​​ ​​to​​ ​​writing​​ ​​on TCGplayer,​​ ​​Kelly​​ ​​writes​​ ​​​​personal​​ ​​blog​​​​ ​​covering​​ ​​Yugioh,​​ ​​Destiny,​​ ​​and​​ ​​other​​ ​​hobbies.​​ ​​You​​ ​​can follow​​ ​​him​​ ​​on​​ ​​​​Twitter​​​​ ​​and​​ ​​check​​ ​​out​​ ​​his​​ ​​​​Youtube​​ ​​channel​​.​​ ​​​​ ​​He​​ ​​is​​ ​​currently​​ ​​studying​​ ​​marketing​​ ​​at Western​​ ​​Michigan​​ ​​University,​​ ​​and​​ ​​hopes​​ ​​to​​ ​​graduate​​ ​​before​​ ​​​​Dragon​​ ​​Ravine​​​​ ​​is​​ ​​Unlimited.

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