Last updated on February 13, 2024

Test of Talents - Illustration by Lie Setiawan

Test of Talents | Illustrated by Lie Setiawan

If you’re a seasoned Magic player, you probably know that a big part of the game involves sideboarding.

Sideboarding is an essential aspect of MTG that helps even unfavorable matches for your deck. But MTG Arena offers a gameplay mode where you don’t have to worry about your sideboard: best-of-one.

Strixhaven brought a bit of change to this with the new lesson and learn cards. These gave formats like Historic and Standard a way to use the sideboard more efficiently by running cards with learn, including for BO1. This isn’t new, though. Cards like Fae of Wishes and Legion Angel already used cards outside of the game for tutoring purposes.

But does all of this apply to Brawl and Historic Brawl? Why would you even want to run a sideboard in these formats? Let’s find out!

Is There a Sideboard on Brawl or Historic Brawl?

Blizzard Brawl - Illustration by Manuel Castañón

Blizzard Brawl | Illustrated by Manuel Castañón

Unfortunately neither Brawl nor Historic Brawl have sideboards.

It’s weird and I tried different ways to bypass this limitation and trick the system into getting cards added to my sideboard zone with no success. One popular “workaround” was to change your format to “Direct Challenge” and then add your sideboard cards. I thought this would work, but I was inevitably disappointed. When I switched my deck back to the correct format, my sideboard disappeared.

This is kind of painful, and here’s why.

Why Would You Want to Put Cards in Your Sideboard?

As you may have guessed already, lesson cards are a big reason to run cards in your sideboard even if you’re playing BO1. The most powerful lesson is without a doubt Mascot Exhibition since it can be played in any deck without any color restriction.

But Brawl doesn’t support sideboards. Sure, you could just run Mascot Exhibition in your main deck, but it’s not as reliable or as powerful as you’d like.

The beauty of learn cards is that they provide a 2-for-1 effect since you always get the regular learn card effect plus the tutored card from your sideboard.

Aside from learn cards, the lack of a sideboard also means that cards like Fae of Wishesadventure sorcery and Wish are both unplayable in Brawl. They’re just dead cards and running a 1/4 creature with no value isn’t something you want to be doing.

Non-Learn Cards

Here’s the complete list of non-learn cards that aren’t as powerful in Brawl because of this limitation:

Fae of Wishes

Lesson Cards

Here are all of the lessons currently available:

So Are These Cards Just Useless?

Aether Meltdown - Illustration by Jason Felix

Aether Meltdown | Illustrated by Jason Felix

Most of them are. The only cards that could see some use are the planeswalkers like Vivien, Arkbow Ranger and Karn, the Great Creator.

Learn cards are probably not worth trying. They’re not entirely useless as you can “rummage” with their alternative effect, but I highly discourage you from running them unless you’re a dedicated deck that abuses discarding cards and filling your graveyard.

These cards were designed to use the sideboard and not exploiting their full potential is a significant drawback.

Environmental Sciences and similar cards are good early when combined with cards like Professor of Symbology. It helps aggro strategies that struggle to get their mana on early turns. But a vanilla 2/1 that loots doesn’t fit any aggro strategies. Not to discourage Immersturm Raider supporters, but it’s a fact.

MTG Arena Brawl sideboard error message

When you put cards like Legion Angel in your Brawl deck and try to save it, a warning message appears saying that you don’t have any sideboard cards in your deck. This is probably a default message that’s displayed when you add this kind of card to your deck without a sideboard. It clearly doesn’t take the format’s limitations into account, and you still can’t add cards to your sideboard in response to the message. Awkward software design if you ask me.

Why Doesn’t Brawl Have a Sideboard?

Academic Dispute - Illustration by Manuel Castañón

Academic Dispute | Illustrated by Manuel Castañón

Regular Commander decks generally don’t have a sideboard since it’s a casual, one-game format. Commander is the closest format we have to compare with Brawl, and it was kind of the inspiration for the MTGA-exclusive format to begin with. If you wanted to use cards outside of the game in regular Commander, you’d talk to your playgroup before putting them in your deck.

Brawl is currently only supported as a BO1 format and its roots in Commander are probably why it doesn’t have the option to add a sideboard in Arena.

Brawl Should Have a Sideboard

Lesson and learn cards are underwhelming. It’s not a broken mechanic, it just reads more like “draw two cards” or do X effect and draw a card. But playing one card and conniving or looting isn’t what these cards are supposed to do.

Digital-only mechanics were introduced to Magic Arena with Jumpstart: Historic Horizons. Mechanics like “perpetually” and “conjure” are possible because the software allows them to be played easily. These are very similar to searching cards with learn or cards that look outside of the game. Having these mechanics that have “outside of the game” effects without the ability to run a sideboard or tutor cards from it doesn’t make sense.

Brawl and Historic Brawl are both casual formats, so nothing is at stake. They have their share of banned cards, sure, but you can't compare Lutri, the Spellchaser with Pop Quiz plus Environmental Sciences. If WotC is worried about lessons and learn cards then they could just ban them from the format instead of making them unusable.

I don’t think there’s a strong reason why Brawl shouldn’t have a sideboard. It feels like it’s more of a “we forgot to add it” kind of deal. Hopefully, as more players see the necessity of a sideboard in Brawl and WotC realizes their mistake, it’ll get added.

Wrap Up

Deadeye Brawler - Illustration by Jesper Ejsing

Deadeye Brawler | Illustration by Jesper Ejsing

And that’s basically the whole story around sideboards in Brawl and Historic Brawl! I think sideboards are essential in any game mode, Arena or otherwise, and getting to play cards as they were designed is common sense to me.

What about you? Would you like to see sideboards added to Brawl, or would you prefer to keep it as it is? Please let me know in the comments! And if you’re headed over to MTGA to play some Brawl, make sure you’ve got Arena Tutor with you to help track your matches and improve your game.

As always, take care, and I’ll see you next time!

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