Strategy Spotlight: Sideboards

Strategy Spotlight: Sideboards

Wizards just unveiled their Organized Play plans for Transformers with a roadmap to the Energon Invitational at the end of this year. All the details for the events and programs this year can be found here. A large scale tournament series culminating in a big event with plenty of prizes is extremely exciting, but the other big news is the announcement of sideboards for tournament play. Sideboards have been present in most trading card games in some capacity, and now Transformers has official sideboard rules.

Let’s go over the details for sideboards before we dive into what these will mean for the game’s strategy:

-1 character card of 20 stars or fewer
-10 battle cards
-After sideboarding, decks must be legal
-After each game in a match, the player who won that game sideboards first and declares their team. Then the player who lost that game sideboards and declares their team.
-No more than 3 copies of each Battle Card are allowed between a player’s deck and sideboard.
-Duplicate character cards are not allowed between players’ decks and sideboards.

There’s quite a bit to take in here, so I’m going to break down sideboards into two general sections: characters and battle cards. Let’s start with characters.


The sideboard rules for character cards are the most interesting to me. Attacking and defending is often determined by your character lineup, and being able to swap out an entire character can fundamentally shift how the attacks will play out in a game. Or these characters can simply help shore up particular weaknesses in a given matchup. The simplest character swap I expect are doing things like swapping Arcee out for Flamewar in blue based decks in a blue matchup where the tough from Flamewar is fairly irrelevant but the pierce from Arcee can pack a lot of punch when paired up with pump actions and weapons like Leap into Battle and Noble’s Blaster. The other type of simple character swap is likely something like changing Chop Shop out for Ransack (or vice versa) in Insecticons, where you don’t necessarily want to lose any Insecticons in your lineup because of Kickback and Swarm!, but want to still be able to get some sort of edge by having a slightly better character depending on which matchup you’re playing against.

Certain decks benefit more from a character in their sideboard than others. Combiner teams in particular have nothing to gain from this rule, as they need all of their characters in order to combine. Even non-combining Sentinels can’t do much with a different character in their sideboard as they need all Sentinels in their lineup to have their K.O.ed characters and access to their strong flip abilities while in the K.O. zone.

The decks that benefit the most from this rule will be those that have inherently more flexible character lineups. Three wide Prime decks, Double Grimlock and Brian Alan’s Thunderbee are good examples of decks that can have characters that supplement their overall strategy in their sideboard, and boarding out a given character doesn’t effectively break their deck like boarding out a combiner in a combiner team breaks the combiner deck.

It’s important to keep in mind that whichever character (and battle cards) you decide to sideboard, that you don’t cripple your own strategy in the process. The one thing you should always keep in mind is that you always want to have a proactive gameplan. And yes, even blue based decks have a proactive plan. By siding in a character that seems good against a particular deck, but doesn’t advance your strategy, you are likely just putting yourself in a position to lose to your opponent staying focused on their own plan. I’ve heard plenty of people recommending characters like Acid Storm and Warpath as sideboard characters. I think these characters are a trap and should be avoided. They don’t help with any decks’ strategy, and are just generally weak characters because they are statted poorly. Avoid them if you want to have a good sideboard for your next tournament.

Battle Cards

One good thing about introducing sideboards is opening up the possibility for several battle cards to now see play that were generally relegated to trade binders. Photon Bomb in particular jumps out to me as a card that has seen very little play because its drawback is too high against quite a few decks. However, Photon Bomb is strong against combiner lineups, and I suspect it will become a popular choice for players as Aerialbots continues to put up strong results. Espionage is another card that should continue to see its stock rise as a solid piece of disruption against certain decks. Being a white and green pip offers enough flexibility for just about any deck that is looking to scrap key cards against the right matchup.

Early on, I expect that certain cards like Force Field can provide a way for saavy players to one up their opponents in aggressive mirror matches. Force Field was a powerful way to disrupt a key attack in beatdown matches during Wave 1. However, the ubiquitous Bashing Shield significantly suppressed Force Field in the metagame. Now with the presence of sideboards, I would expect many aggressive players to take their Bashing Shields out against other aggressive decks after game 1. This gives you an opportunity to board in Force Field without fear of Bashing Shield and allows you to stop a crucial attack turn from your opponent.

In general for battle cards in your sideboard, you have two options: you can have flexible cards or narrow cards. Espionage is a good example of a flexible card, as there are plenty of matchups where you will want a disruptive battle card. Cornered is an example of a very narrow card, as you only want it against combiner decks. Cards also exist on kind of a sliding scale when it comes to a flexible versus narrow application. Photon Bomb exists somewhere in the middle, as not only is it a strong card against combiner teams, it can also put in some work against four and five wide non combiner teams.

As with sideboarding characters, you want to make sure you don’t oversideboard battle cards for any given matchup and dilute your deck’s gameplan. It’s still important that your deck is being proactive, even with disruptive elements like Espionage being used to slow your opponent down.

One last bit of advice I can give for getting an advantage with your sideboards is to actually play sideboarded games. You need to determine if any given card is actually good in a given matchup, or if it’s something that just sounds good on paper but ultimately isn’t good in practice. Playing sideboarded games also let’s you develop your game plan with your deck in those sideboarded games, and to identify key cards and characters in different matchups and how to beat those cards. I know it can seem a little daunting, but ultimately sideboards are great way to add more strategic depth to Transformers that will help well prepared players find additional edges to win matches.

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