Am I The Bolas? - Cruel Ultimatum!

Mike Carrozza • January 12, 2022

Bad Deal | Illustrated by Zoltan Boros

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! I'm the guy who tried to have a snowball fight in a MagicFest conference hall.


This week, a chat about timing.


Dear moral arbiter of all things ruthless, powerful, and hubristic.

To start this story, I am definitely the Bolas by some definition, as the deck I was playing was a rule-0 Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God deck in a five-person pod against a Breya, Etherium Shaper, an Alela, Artful Provocateur, a Kozilek, the Great Distortion, and a Saskia the Unyielding

After I get off to an early lead, the game has been chugging along for six or seven turns. The Saskia deck has failed to get off the ground and has one medium creature on the board, the Alela player has missed several land drops, and the Kozilek deck has two Eldrazi but can't cast the headliner himself. The Breya deck is ticking along nicely and notably has a pair of Wandering Archaic tokens.

I rip a Cruel Ultimatum and want to cast it, but I'm in a bit of a predicament. I can't afford to pay for both Archaics, and if I target the Archaic player with mine, theirs is definitely coming back at me. So I tell them I want to cast Cruel Ultimatum, and that I won't pay for either Archaic if they don't target me with their copies. They agree, so I point an Ultimatum at the Kozilek player. Breya decides to target the Kozilek player with one, and the Saskia player with the other. This leaves Kozilek's player without cards and not quite at Kozilek mana, Saskia with an empty board and one card in hand, and myself and Breya both far ahead of the pack with full hands and plenty of stuff on board. 

The Saskia player is not super happy with this, correctly claiming that this puts them out of the game, and that this cruel collaboration has led to me replacing the main threat with another while hurting the little people. If the third Ultimatum had gone at the Kozilek player, Breya would still get the positives from it without basically neutering the Saskia deck.

Who's the Bolas? Me for giving away copies of Cruel Ultimatum to someone who is already in a reasonable position? Breya for targeting a bystander? Both of us? Neither? 


Cynthia, Disciple of Bolas



First of all, thank you for writing in. It's because of people like you that this column happens, and I appreciate it.

Also, hell yeah. I love the idea of a Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God deck and would love to see a list (Cynthia sent one!).

From what I understand, this seems like a case of wanting to play something really flavorful in a flavor-packed deck. Valuing that experience over the state of play is what I reckon happened here. I am definitely all for it. If you built a Vorthos experience, enjoy the Vorthos experience. I mean, if you build a Pirate deck, maybe don't steal your opponents' drinks or something like that, but if you're building a deck about the big bad of Magic: The Gathering, go ahead and be a big bad! Be evil!

I can tell you with absolute certainty that, no matter the table, the player with two Wandering Archaics is the one I'm calling a threat. In my opinion, the best move would have been to not use the Ultimatum until you could pay for one of the Archaics at least and accept the blowback. Making a deal with the leading threat at the table so you can have a selfish move of seeing a Chef's Kiss of a flavor win doesn't make you the Bolas necessarily, but it does get the Dragon-God's attention.

You had three options with this Cruel Ultimatum:

1 - Don't play it yet. As suggested, save up for that extra two mana to pay for one of the Archaics. This means you can aim it at the person you really want to hit later without giving them resources. This also gives you goodwill with the other players in the pod no matter how weak their setups are at this point in the game.

2 - Go for the throat and target the Breya player, accepting both Ultimatums to the face. Sure, you get rid of your hand, but you've got 7 mana and a powerful planeswalker commander that can draw you more cards. You've likely gotten rid of a good creature and nabbed three cards from the Breya player. This also gives you goodwill with the other three players who now that they see the two decks fighting for first are aimed at each other feel safer to build more aggressively.

3 - A deal fit for a Bolas. What you did. Flavorfully, fantastic. In practice, harsh on the rest of the table, but ultimately, worth it (Cynthia won the game shortly after this turn).

This is how the game goes sometimes. You'll get interacted with and blown out. Sometimes, you're collateral damage in a fight between titans. It is what it is. Soon, the game is over and it's time to shuffle up again.

I don't think there is a Bolas here, at least not in the sense of what the column is usually about. I think these are things that happen and are expected in a game of Magic. If the Saskia player was hit with every single removal spell despite the rest of the boards developing, I'd ask if you've heard of threat assessment, but it seems like this is just Magic happening. And that friggin' rules.

I hope everybody is feeling great out there. Love and appreciation to all of you 🙂

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