Am I The Bolas? - Congratulations! It's a Trigger!

Mike Carrozza • September 27, 2023

Trait Doctoring |Illustrated by Clint Cearley

Hello, and welcome to Am I the Bolas?

This column is for all of you out there who have ever played some Magic and wondered if you were the bad guy. I'm here to take in your story with all of its nuances so I can bring some clarity to all those asking, "Am I the Bolas?" Whether it's because of a mean play or even just getting bored with your playgroup, I'm ready to hear you out and offer advice. All you have to do is email!

I'm Mark Carbonza, and I guess I have to start learning about Doctor Who!

I need to understand how this character is a Stuffy Doll!

This week, how late is too late on a missed trigger?

(Email edited for brevity, clarity, punctuation, and sneak in a fun word I like.)



I have a submission for you. First, let me set the stage:

I was playing a game with three strangers online. The commanders at the table were: Frodo, Adventurous Hobbit & Sam, Loyal Attendant (upgraded precon), Arcades, the Strategist, Kamiz, Obscura Oculus, and myself playing Toski, Bearer of Secrets.

My deck was a bit of a janky build where the goal was to get Lure/Venom effects on Toski and wipe people's boards of creatures over and over. This is hard to get off, so I kept a rather low profile most of the game, but I had enough interaction to stay relevant and alive.

It was a long, mostly fun game with lots of board wipes which I weathered well since I had a few utility artifacts and no artifact wipes came down. I managed to get Gorgon Flail, Grappling Hook, Nemesis Mask, and Gorgon's Head out, as well as two 8/8 Constructs from Urza's Saga. The table didn't notice my creeping into the game. I was sitting at 29 life.

The Arcades player didn't fare so well. He was hanging on several turns at four life and top-decking lands with just his commander and Zopandrel, Hunger Dominus out. Not a threat, but a good sport.

The Frodo/Sam player was also top-decking, but after some graveyard hate, he was out of steam. He did have Merry, Warden of Isengard and Pippin, Warden of Isengard in play, with eight Food tokens and 48 life, plus he'd been the dominant player most of the game. Everyone's eyes were still on him, despite my board state.

Lastly there was the Kamiz player, sitting at 23 life with Breena, the Demagogue and Smuggler's Share in play making bank and swinging in at the Frodo/Sam player.

So far so good, it was a long game, but everyone seemed to be having fun, though folks were ready for this to end. The only issue was Kamiz on several occasions did not lose life to The Ring when Frodo would hit players, even after the Frodo/Sam player would announce it. Each time, I noticed, but didn't get a chance to speak up until after Frodo/Sam passed. Kamiz seemed to get annoyed with me and at one time said I had to speak up on the same turn. I let it go since he still changed his life total.

When things got really weird though was when the Kamiz player tried to play Stolen Identity for free by placing it on his unblocked Breena and expecting the cipher to trigger on combat damage. All three of the other players didn't seem to understand that wasn't how the rules worked, so I stepped in to explain, I offered that if he wanted to do that in his first main, I'd be cool with it; we were playing pretty casual. Unfortunately, he didn't have six mana left open so he just ended the turn without casting.

My next turn, I swung in at the Frodo/Sam player with a fully equipped Toski and wiped his board. He responded on my turn by making me sack Toski. Arcades played a land (props for staying in the game!)

Kamiz's next turn, he did cast Stolen Identity and made a copy of Zopandrel, making Breena huge on attack. Note that the whole table forgot about the cipher part of Stolen Identity and it just went to the grave unencoded.

On my turn, I equipped one of the 8/8 Golems with Grappling Hook and forced Zophandrel to block. Both Kamiz and I missed the Zophandrel trigger which would have made it a trade instead of just Zophandrel dying. 

Sam/Frodo and Arcades both top-decked lands and did a bunch of nothing. On one of their turns, Kamiz suddenly remembered that he didn't encode his Stolen Identity, and wanted to put it on Breena. I didn't like it, since he had two targets when he cast it, and now only one due to my killing it, and I had options to play differently had I known. We would have had to undo my whole turn - I had removal! The table agreed that was a missed trigger and we left the Stolen Identity in the grave.

On Kamiz's last turn, he cast his commander and moved to combat. At this point he asked me, "Why is your Golem still on the board?", referring to the one I attacked with. I told him it was an 8/8 double strike to his 4/6. He then mentioned the Zopandrel trigger, a full three turns later, which would have made it a trade. I really didn't want to lose the Golem, and I had Heroic Intervention, but I was tapped out now due to casting Toski that turn in my second main. This was the difference between Kamiz losing or not the next turn.

This is where I am asking if I am the Bolas. I called it another missed trigger. At this point, this guy seemed to be intentionally missing things and trying to gain board advantage from it, and now it could save him from dying. He claimed that Zopandrel happens regardless of if he names it, which I know is not the case. He also argued that I made him lose life earlier as a missed trigger after the turn, which isn't a missed trigger, and I did call it as soon as I was able. He then resorted to the "it's a casual game," to which I told him that if he had called it on my turn, I would have had an answer, but now I'm tapped out, and I'm not okay with having no opportunity to answer. The other two players stayed out of it.

In the end, he wouldn't budge, by either allowing me to take back my last turn and play Heroic Intervention, or by letting the Golem live, so I left the table, not finishing the game. I simply said, "I don't have time for this."

In short, am I the Bolas for leaving the table or am I the Bolas for not allowing the missed trigger to happen three turns later, potentially losing me the game? My philosophy of casual is, takebacks are okay as long as people didn't make decisions based on them, and the whole board is okay.


Elgorond Halistar


Thank you so much for writing in. For folks thinking about messaging, please do! is where you should send your stories or Reddit posts you think it'd be worth having me ramble about! Thanks for reading.

First of all, cool deck idea. I love when I hear about novel ways to brew a commander. That's what this format is all about to me. I really love seeing creative takes on a commander, just as much as I love seeing a good engine come together.

Alright, Elgorond. There are a few things in here that I agree with.

I think takebacks are normal, especially in casual pods, and more even so especially since the complexity of the game continues to grow. I think for the most part, in my experience, takebacks are so reasonable that they're often handled with a bit of a hand wave like "Eh, yeah, that's fine, no worries." This story has a few elements of what makes a bad takeback.

Never mind the Kamiz player needing to be reminded of The Ring's trigger that causes all opponents to lose three life. That's still a relatively new mechanic and it's going to take some poking at some players who aren't familiar with it. This kind of thing is normal and not something I can get mad at until it's like the fifth time we remind someone that hey pal, it's time to drop three life.

The most egregious of the takeback requests in this story has to be the missed trigger three turns later that has a massive impact on whether the game is won by yourself or the Kamiz player. If the trigger was missed turns ago and was not rectified then, there can be a case for a turn cycle, but three full go-arounds of the table is just a hard no. At least then it's possible to walk back the possibility of having drawn the protection (Heroic Intervention) over the next two turns you got to take.

Triggers are missed, it happens. Not to mention, he was copying another player's creature, which I have to also say is a point for a takeback. However, if you're copying another player's card, please be sure to read it and jot down important information such as "each combat". The timing on this particular takeback is just a flat missed trigger, in my opinion. Regardless of whether it's an optional ability.

I also think that you are valid for not allowing the cipher trigger to be walked back. It entirely changes things. If Stolen Identity is encoded onto Breena, for example, you'd have to kill Breena, since, every turn, you'll have a new token Zopandrel to deal with even if the first copy goes away.

Cipher is an optional ability, and putting Stolen Identity into the graveyard signals that that's where it's going. Since you had to take the time to explain how the card works, there was already an expected understanding of it. When resolving a Stolen Identity, he could have chosen either of his creatures. You having removal and showing how it works means that there's a likelihood that because of this revealed information, Kamiz would choose the one that makes more sense, but if there's any integrity here, he'd stick to where he wanted it, which most likely would have been Breena if I had to guess. A big flying creature is probably getting through for damage.

So the compromise would be to ask which of the creatures they'd like to keep and get rid of the other one, but even then, a takeback when such important information is revealed is a gray area that is much easier to navigate within a trusted playgroup.

I don't think either of you are the Bolas. There isn't a villain here. Sure, Kamiz was sticking to their guns and not compromising, but at the end of the day, nobody wins here. Gotta call it a stalemate.

But if I were at the table, given all this information, I'm sticking with you, bud.

Thanks for writing in!

Mike Carrozza is a stand-up comedian from Montreal who’s done a lot of cool things like put out an album called Cherubic and worked with Tig Notaro, Kyle Kinane, and more people to brag about. He’s also been an avid EDH player who loves making silly stuff happen. @mikecarrozza on platforms