Shadows over Innistrad Modern is beginning to take shape. New graveyard-themed cards have sparked a resurgence of dredge decks, but the format's hottest new card heading into a double-header Grand Prix weekend is Nahiri, the Harbinger. It has paired with the unbanned Ancestral Vision to bring about a resurgence in blue control strategies. The recent banning of Splinter Twin means a void in the combo niche has been filled by various Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks. I have identified eight sideboard cards that can be used to get an edge on this metagame as it develops.
An unorthodox solution to Nahiri, the Harbinger is Bribery. The ultimate ability of the planeswalker can search for any creature and put it into play with haste, so it's typically used to find Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to put the opponent out of the game immediately. The one copy of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn that these decks use to win the game is a liability in the face of Bribery, which can snatch this creature out of their deck to turn it against its owner.
Decks that use Nahiri, the Harbinger rely on creature removal spells that can't target Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, so they will be helpless to stop it. Stealing Primeval Titan is great too, so Bribery works against Primeval Titan / Through the Breach decks, and some even splash for Nahiri, the Harbinger and will include Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Bribery is also a fine card against traditional R/G Tron decks, which have a good target in Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, if not bigger Eldrazi; some Tron decks even have a singleton copy of Emrakul, the Aeons Torn to sideboard in against blue control decks, which walks right into the Bribery plan.
Blue versions of Nahiri, the Harbinger decks will have Counterspells, so try to protect Bribery with discard or Counterspells of your own. These decks will usually have Snapcaster Mage, so keep that option in mind, especially because Emrakul, the Aeons Torn could be in their hand, but you may be able to take something else like Vendilion Clique or Pia and Kiran Nalaar. When you have plenty of mana, you can find their Snapcaster Mage to flashback your own Bribery for another go around their deck. Bribery is also great if you have Snapcaster Mage of your own or Jace, Vryn's Prodigy to reuse it.
When it was printed, Thrun, the Last Troll served as a sort of death-knell for control decks in Standard, which were kept alive only because of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Thrun, the Last Troll necessitated a shift towards a faster, more aggressive control deck, an age ushered in by Stoneforge Mystic and CawBlade, and eventually culminating in the Delver of Secrets-era of blue decks. Modern was created with Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Ancestral Vision on the banned list, and Snapcaster Mage was not yet printed, so the format was born without a control deck, and Modern has existed without any real control deck persisting to gain a permanent foothold in the metagame. Now, Ancestral Vision and cards like Nahiri, the Harbinger have brought about a control renaissance, and that puts Thrun, the Last Troll into consideration. It's not unprecedented, because Thrun, the Last Troll has seen play in the format before, during a brief period of time when Jeskai control was a metagame contender, but metagame shifts meant Thrun, the Last Troll wasn't useful for long. It looks better than ever now, and control decks like Jeskai remain unable to profitably interact with Thrun, the Last Troll on any axis, because it dodges all disruption and is impossible to defeat in combat.
Thrun, the Last Troll is ideal for B/G/x decks like Abzan and Jund, which seek to fight fair against control decks over a long game. Thrun, the Last Toll is a great trump in this game of tit for tat, and it provides the sort of inevitability that defeats their card advantage strategy because it invalidates so many of their cards. This card has applications in any green deck looking for an edge, and that includes those with Chord of Calling to find it and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks looking to get more aggressive in the face of hosers like Crumble to Dust and Aven Mindcensor.
The rise of Nahiri, the Harbinger means having an answer to the Planeswalker is important. It's not something that can be ignored, and if resolved must be dealt with immediately. Celestial Purge is a clean answer to Nahiri, the Harbinger that's available to any white deck. It's very flexible in its applications across a variety of matchups against a number of problem permanents. It continues to be an an excellent solution to Liliana of the Veil, but it's better than ever because it's also an answer to Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. It's great against Burn decks and cards like Monastery Swiftspear and Eidolon of the Great Revel. It also answers some troublesome permanents like Thopter Foundry, Bitterblossom, and Shrieking Affliction.
The problem of Nahiri, the Harbinger is easily solved by Pithing Needle, which can be preemptively cast to prevent the Planeswalker from ever being activated. Decks with Nahiri, the Harbinger won't bring in artifact removal against most opponents, and that leaves them vulnerable to Pithing Needle, which gets into play early before Counterspells are online and is difficult to interact with otherwise. Pithing Needle is exceptional for its accessibility across all colors, and for its efficiency at one mana. It's flexible in its ability to answer a variety of problem permanents across the format.
Against Tron Pithing Needle can stop their mana in Expedition Map, win conditions Karn Liberated and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, or their sweeper Oblivion Stone. Against Grishoalbrand it stops Griselbrand from starting their card draw engine, or stops Borborygmos Enraged from winning the game. Against Thopter Foundry decks it stops their combo, as well as Engineered Explosives, and it even prevents their Academy Ruins recursion. Pithing Needle has some utility against Dredge, where it stops Insolent Neonate and Drowned Rusalka, as well as Greater Gargadon from being activated while Suspended. Against the Melira, Sylvok Outcast combo, it names Viscera Seer, and against B/G/x decks it can stop Liliana of the Veil or Scavenging Ooze. It's great against Affinity, where it can stop all of their best cards like Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, and Steel Overseer.
Some decks looking for a Pithing Needle effect can consider Phyrexian Revoker, which has similar functionality but in the form of a creature. It can attack and block and do what creatures can do, and can particularly be found by something like Chord of Calling or Collected Company. There is a downside of being more vulnerable to cards that destroy creatures, and the higher mana cost. There is a subtle difference in how Phyrexian Revoker functions compares to Pithing Needle, that it can't name lands like Academy Ruins, but it actually stops mana abilities like Birds of Paradise or Springleaf Drum.
Blue control decks are on the rise in Modern. Control decks have the incentive to slow the game down with their wealth of disruption because the stream of card advantage generated by cards like Ancestral Vision and Snapcaster Mage means these decks will inevitably win the game. The success of Nahiri, the Harbinger in Jeskai Control and a resurgence in Grixis decks with Kolaghan's Command and Goblin Dark-Dwellers means there is more control than ever before.
Trying to fight fair against the disruption and card advantage of blue decks is a fool's errand. Blue decks are the masters of their craft, and fighting them on their own terms playing their own game is doomed to failure. Beating blue decks means fighting dirty. Get medieval on your opponent by going back to the earliest sets in Modern with some of the finest hosers the format has to offer, Choke and Boil. These cards attack the mana of blue decks and constrains their ability to leverage their card advantage superiority. The blue strategy of treading water while slowly grinding out card or board advantage falls flat in the face of this extreme mana denial.
Choke is accessible to green decks, and is especially potent in decks like Abzan and Jund. It's great out of Collected Company decks of all sorts, where acceleration like Birds of Paradise or Llanowar Elves can get it into play on turn two. Boil has historically been used in R/G Tron, and it could definitely help decks like Scapeshift or Nahiri Mardu get an edge over blue decks.
Land decks are the fastest growing segment of the Modern metagame, with both R/G Tron and various forms of Valakut, the Molten the Pinnacle decks seeing plenty of success in recent events. Banning Eye of Ugin has done nothing to cut down Tron deck, which have adopted Sanctum of Ugin to provide some ability to find threats. Scapeshift decks have filled some of the space opened by the banning of Splinter Twin, and the most popular Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deck uses Primeval Titan and Through the Breach to get a ton of lands into play fast.
All of these land-centric decks are susceptible to Aven Mindcensor, which prevents them from searching their library for the lands they need to win. Urzatron decks lean on Sylvan Scrying and Expedition Map to find Tron pieces and Sanctum of Ugin to find threats, and Aven Mindcensor mostly stops these. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks are especially weak to Aven Mindcensor, because not only does it stop Primeval Titan and Scapeshift from finding the lands they seek, but it can stop their bread and butter mana acceleration like Farseek and Search for Tomorrow. These decks do have ways to destroy Aven Mindcensor, but it's part of a plan to beat these decks. It can be used preemptively, or carefully as a pseudo-counterspell in response to their deck-searching spell, stopping it before they are able to deal with Aven Mindcensor.
Aven Mindcensor is also a way to one-up Nahiri, the Harbinger's -8 ultimate ability, which searches the deck. Emrakul, the Aeons Torn is unlikely to be in the top 4 cards, so the ability will be countered and the planeswalker out of luck!
Slaughter Games is a great style of disruption against a format where combo and control are on the rise. It serves as a way to nerf the opponent's entire deck, and, ideally, irreparably cripple their strategy. It has traditionally been used against Scapeshift decks, where it strips their win condition and forces them to win the hard way with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and land drops. With Scapeshift back in the metagame, Slaughter Games has returned. It's extremely effective against Primeval Titan decks, many which forego Scapeshift entirely.
Slaughter Games can also be used to hose Nahiri, the Harbinger. If cast soon enough it can completely remove the planeswalker from the opponent's deck, which is ideal, but it can also simply remove Emrakul, the Aeons Torn from their deck. Against decks like Jeskai Harbinger, this leaves them with just a few creatures like Snapcaster Mage with which to win the game, so it becomes a very reasonable strategy to contain these threats and wait for your opponent to run out of cards and deck themselves.
Slaughter Games can't be countered, so in decks that can cast it it's the obvious choice because many of the decks it's good against pack Counterspells. In decks without red, especially creature decks like Abzan Company, Stain the Mind is a very efficient way to nerf the opponent's deck. Slaughter Games often finds a home in Jund, but Abzan decks can simply use Cranial Extraction or Memoricide.
The shift away from Eldrazi creatures to a more diverse Modern format means re-examining sideboard cards in classic Modern archetypes like Jund, and the current trend of the metagame points towards Jund Charm being excellent. First and foremost, Jund Charm functions as a dedicated graveyard hoser. It's very effective against Dredge decks in particular because it's also a dedicated board sweeper against decks that flood the board with creatures, so it manages their ability to flood the battlefield with small creatures. It shines against creature decks including Infect, Affinity, W/B Tokens, and any Collected Company decks. Jund Charm has a third mode that should be slightly familiar to those that used Abzan Charm in Standard last season, a +1/+1 counter ability that functions as a combat trick or a way to stop burn spells from killing creatures, so it always offers more utility than the primary graveyard hoser or board sweeper modes.
What are your Top 8 Modern sideboard cards?