A few proven strategies have run ahead of the Standard metagame pack, but as the format becomes more defined, it grows more exploitable; savvy players are pushing back with powerful sideboard cards that stop these decks in their tracks.Graveyard Hate
Historically, whenever a deck that abuses the graveyard grows too powerful in a metagame, players react by filling their sideboards with dedicated graveyard hate cards to keep these decks in check.
There have been Whip of Erebos-based graveyard decks all throughout Khans of Tarkir Standard, but there hasn't been any serious graveyard hate standing their way. Sultai Reanimator, GB Devotion, and Abzan Reanimator have been crushing the competition and have firmly planted themselves in the top-tier of the metagame. Standard players are taking notice and have begun to fight back with all sorts of graveyard-hating tools. Burn Away
Burn Away combines a one-shot graveyard-removing hate card with a removal spell. It Removes the best opposing creature and its controller's graveyard along with it, which ensures the opponent can't recover with Whip of Erebos shenanigans. Instant speed makes Burn Away a real surprise for the opponent and it can even be used in response to a Whip of Erebos activation to gain a massive tempo edge. Dealing six damage allows it to Remove nearly any creature in Standard, including Sidisi, Brood Tyrant, Siege Rhino, and both Soul of Theros and Soul of Innistrad.
Burn Away is a particularly good option for Mardu decks, which are both highly interested in playing removal spells and highly susceptible to Whip of Erebos. It's also a reasonable choice in slower, more controlling Jeskai decks for the same reasons. Burn Away is also seeing play in Temur decks, which can easily support its relatively high mana cost. Tormod's Crypt
For those looking solely for efficiency, Tormod's Crypt fits the bill as a zero-cost graveyard hate card. As an artifact, it's available to all.
I have seen Tormod's Crypt played in Abzan Midrange decks, which are susceptible to Whip of Erebos, although they do have some ways to discard or destroy it, and aren't able to interact with Soul of Innistrad. The apparent card disadvantage of Tormod's Crypt is mitigated in a deck full of card advantage like Courser of Kruphix, Abzan Charm, and planeswalkers. The zero mana cost allows these decks to continue to deploy their powerful cards and pressure the opponent without missing a beat.
Tormod's Crypt is a fine option in Abzan decks as a supplement to Anafenza, the Foremost to create a formidable graveyard hate package. It's a reasonable option for any other archetype looking to hate on graveyards in the most efficient way possible, particularly aggressive and midrange decks that can't afford to waste time. Cranial Archive
Cranial Archive isn't the most efficient graveyard hate card, but unlike Tormod's Crypt, it replaces itself by drawing a card.
Cranial Archive has been seeing a lot of play in UB control decks as a way to answer Whip of Erebos and Soul of Innistrad, and I expect it will begin to see more play in all varieties of control deck. It's a great option for control decks looking to play a longer game and grind out the opponent.Token Hate
Token strategies have been trending upwards in Standard for weeks and have now positioned themselves at the top of the metagame. Hordeling Outburst has proven itself to be a defining card of Standard, and it now sees play in a huge variety of red decks. Raise the Alarm has also seen a marked increase in popularity over the last couple of weeks. These token cards are doing so well because they aren't susceptible to the traditional one-for-one removal spells that defined the beginning weeks of this Standard format. Players have begun to fight against this token tide with specialty sideboard removal spells. Scouring Sands
Scouring Sands is the most efficient but most narrow dedicated token hate card. For two mana it does the job cheaper than any other option, and with scry one it comes with significant added value. This is the go-to token hate card for decks looking for the effect.
Scouring Sands is most popular in aggressive red decks that play creatures of their own, which necessitates the exclusion of sweepers like Anger of the Gods. These archetypes include Rabble Red decks, Heroic Boss Sligh, the new breed of RW Aggro decks, and particularly Jeskai Tokens as a solution for the mirror match. Barrage of Boulders
Barrage of Boulders is quite similar to Scouring Sands, but it concedes spending an extra mana and scry one for the Ferocious-triggered Falter effect. This is particularly excellent in Temur Monsters and Gruul Monsters, which can reliably trigger Ferocious and are susceptible to chump blockers. Arc Lightning
Arc Lightning is a great token hate card that's not nearly as narrow as the other options, but it lacks the power to kill more than three tokens. Arc Lightning trades one-for-one with Hordeling Outburst on curve, which means it is a great solution to that card. It has additional utility as a way to clean up Goblin Rabblemaster and a Goblin Token. Arc Lightning of course can Remove other weenie creatures in other matchups, and it's also a fine burn spell for handling planeswalkers or killing the opponent. Arc Lightning is the best option for red decks that are looking to get a handle on token decks but would like to keep their sideboards flexible by avoiding the most narrow answers.
I recommend avoiding Circle of Flame because it is trumped by Jeskai Ascendancy.Going Over the Top of the Top
The phrase "go over the top" has been thrown around lately in reference to Standard, and it refers to the strategy of dominating an opposing plan by playing more powerful cards that trump the opponent's strategy. One such example is Elspeth, Sun's Champion, which dominates both large creatures and ground swarms, but is trumped by Hornet Queen, which avoids the -3 board sweeper ability, flies over Soldier Tokens, and, if played immediately afterwards, presents enough damage to kill the resolved planeswalker with just one attack step. Players are taking this progression a step further with even more expensive, more powerful options that win this arms race. In Garruk's Wake
Perhaps the ultimate way to go over the top is In Garruk's Wake, which destroys all opposing creatures and planeswalkers. For nine mana, this one-sided sweeper simply wrecks any midrange opponent and will be incredibly difficult to recover from. The high cost may seem exorbitant, but this Standard format is quite slow, and the matchups where this card shines are even slower.
In Garruk's Wake now sees maindeck play in Green/Black Devotion decks, which are capable of producing large amounts of mana in the midgame. Beyond earning maindeck and sideboard space in Green/Black Devotion decks, In Garruk's Wake also sees some play as a sideboard card in midrange decks like Abzan. I expect it will grow even more popular as time goes on.
Garruk, Apex Predator
Planeswalkers are a huge part of Standard, and Garruk, Apex Predator sits at the top of the planeswalker Food Chain. Once resolved it will handily destroy any other planeswalker in play, and turn-by-turn it will either continue to manage the opposing board or develop its controller's own board with a stream of 3/3 tokens. It's more effective for removing planeswalkers than creatures, which makes it an ideal sideboard card against planeswalker-heavy decks like Abzan Midrange, but it can Remove a creature like Siege Rhino in a pinch.
Garruk, Apex Predator is playable in any BG/x midrange deck, so it is seeing play in a variety of archetypes, including Sultai Reanimator, Abzan Reanimator, GB Devotion, and Abzan Midrange. Worst Fears
While it has yet to catch on in a big way, Worst Fears effectively goes over the top of everything in the format. It's reminiscent of Mindslaver, a card that gives me nothing but fond memories. Worst Fears is best against opponents that play a lot of disruption, especially flexible disruption like Thoughtseize, Utter End, and Counterspells that can be turned against the opponent's own cards.
Worst Fears is seeing some play in UB Control as the ultimate trump against midrange opponents and even the mirror match, and it's very playable in mana-flush GB Devotion decks. This isn't a card I'd want to play more than one of, but it's something to consider and is perhaps the next step in the arms race of going over the top. Stain the Mind
Stain the Mind goes over the top of the opponent in a unique way. Stain the Mind can be used to strip the opponent of their biggest, most powerful cards, which ideally leaves them with an anemic top-end that is incapable of going over the top.
Stain the Mind is seeing the most play in the sideboards of Abzan Midrange, which uses the card to neuter Whip of Erebos decks of Hornet Queen, without which they fall prey to Elspeth, Sun's Champion. It can also be used to eliminate Whip of Erebos, which makes the opponent unable to recover from sweepers like End Hostilities or Duneblast.
Stain the Mind is relatively flexible compared to the more expensive and narrow "go over the top" cards, and it creates options in various game states and matchups. I expect this to see more play as the format develops, including the sideboards of decks like Mardu and even in Whip of Erebos decks themselves as a way to fight against the mirror match. Keep in mind it's best when paired with discard like Thoughtseize of Despise, which can help set up the most potent Stain the Mind possible.Powerful Niche Sideboard Cards
In the early days of this format players tended to stick to broad answers that were applicable in a variety of matchups, but as the Standard metagame becomes more predictable, narrow-but-powerful sideboard cards see more play. It's possible to get an edge by playing cards that serve a very specific function but provide a massive advantage when applicable. Peak Eruption
Other cards in this cycle - which includes Dark Betrayal, Gainsay, Glare of Heresy, and Hun the Hunter - have all had their days in the sun over the past year, but Peak Eruption has spent nearly all of its lifespan on the sidelines. Now, with Chained to the Rocks functioning as a premier removal spell in Standard, Peak Eruption has a chance to shine.
This land destruction spell only hits Mountains, which makes it quite narrow, especially considering that most decks playing Mountains are aggressive and not particularly susceptible to land destruction, but against Chained to the Rocks Peak Eruption generates card advantage and a significant tempo swing. Peak Eruption also deals three damage, which means in the best case it can even destroy a planeswalker.
Peak Eruption is best out of an aggressive, creature-heavy red deck that is likely to be victimized by Chained to the Rocks and that can leverage the three damage as a finisher. It is currently seeing play in Rabble Red and Heroic Boss Sligh, and it sees scattered play in Jeskai decks. As Chained to the Rocks grows in popularity, so too should Peak Eruption. Pharika's Mender
Not a card I would have expected to see much Constructed play, Pharika's Mender is actually quite powerful in any sort of attrition battle. It's an excellent option out of the sideboard of any Whip of Erebos deck, which will fill the graveyard with juicy targets.
Pharika's Mender can Raise Dead any creature, but it's especially useful for returning any Whip of Erebos that were discarded or destroyed. It also has synergies with the graveyard enablers themselves, which will often mill Whip of Erebos. It also has synergy with Whip of Erebos as an excellent reanimation target that will generate lasting card advantage, which will go long way in overwhelming opposing removal spells. Pharika's Mender also has the ability to return other copies of Pharika's Mender, which leads to an effectively inexhaustible chain of creatures.
Heliod's Pilgrim lends itself to playing a toolbox of narrow but powerful sideboard one-of cards, and Mortal Obstinacy is currently one of the best options available. Mortal Obstinacy functions as an efficient piece of enchantment removal comparable to Erase, but it also triggers Heroic. Playing one copy in the sideboard of UW Heroic gives the deck access to enchantment removal for Whip of Erebos and Jeskai Ascendancy without spending many sideboard slots.
On the same subject of Heliod's Pilgrim targets, Battle Mastery is a very potent finisher for racing matchups like the mirror and Green Devotion decks. Spectra Ward is seeing play as a way to stop targeted creature removal and blockers cold.Conclusions
This Standard format holds a rich and deep cardpool that has created the most fun and dynamic Standard metagame in memory. This deep cardpool means Standard has many very powerful sideboard options available. The metagame has become defined, so you can get an edge over the competition by dedicating sideboard slots to specific matchups and exploit the static metagame.
What sideboard cards did I miss? What other sideboard cards are poised to dominate specific opponents in this Standard metagame? Have you seen anything out of the ordinary? Are there any cards that might not be necessary now but could shine in the right future metagame? Share your thoughts in the comments! I'll also do my best to answer any further questions on the topic of Standard sideboard cards.
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P.S. I want to give a special thanks to Dan Snow, Eli Loveman, Connor Delaney, Dave Korman, and Mark Donaldson. When my friend and I were set to begin our drive back home from Grand Prix Baltimore last weekend, we discovered his car battery had died, and these guys went out of their way to give us a jump and get us on our way. Thanks again guys!