Am I The Bolas? - Custom Cards Are Cool and All, But No Thanks

Mike Carrozza • May 3, 2023

Drawn From Dreams |Illustrated by Chris Seaman

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 if I were a Praetor, my back saga would be called 

Do people even like these joke intros?

This week's story comes from Reddit courtesy of BadDragonTribal over in r/EDH and sent to me by a reader.

(Edited for clarity, brevity, spelling, italicizing, style guide elements, forcing the Am I The Bolas line, you know, you're not reading this part...)


A new guy has joined my Spelltable server and he's a little overenthusiastic, but not mean-spirited. Interrupts a lot, but I've played with worse players. The thing is he almost exclusively plays custom content commanders and a lot of custom cards in the 99. Not like edits of existing cards with different flavor and art, but r/custommagic-style cards. In a game I spectated the tail end of, he apparently played a host of Yu-Gi-Oh staples that had been converted into Magic cards. All agreed to in Rule 0 conversation of course because my Spelltable server is pretty liberal with deckbuilding, but some of them are pretty wild.

If they were balanced cards, I would have less of an issue with it, but like most custom cards of anime protagonists, they tend to be way undercosted for what they do. I remember the commander I played against drew a card whenever an Equipment entered the battlefield and, if the commander was equipped, all Equipment have "Equip 0", and the commander only cost 1WB. I think it couldn't possibly be that bad, but the first thing he says after drawing his starting hand is "Aww, no Colossus Hammer?"

I like to play Magic: the Gathering, base game, no modifications. No shade on custom cards, but there is already PLENTY to explore in Magic if you ask me. I don't get bored. If I think Wizards of the Coast has trouble balancing this game to be fun, I definitely don't trust custom card makers who don't tend to focus on game balance because their cards usually aren't intended for play.

The problem is this player is very active on my Spelltable server and jumps into games lightning fast and I don't get the opportunity to say no to custom cards until we're in the rule 0 conversation. Seeing as he is the only one using them, it would be a kind of targeted statement while looking for a group.

I've never had a deck or a player I just don't want to play against before and am kind of floundering for what to say the next time he asks to play with custom cards. If I say no, that discounts pretty much all of his decks, meaning I'd have to just excuse myself from the pod to be polite. But... I'm not gonna do that if I'm the one putting that pod together.

How have you kindly handled situations with players you just don't feel like playing against? Like I said, he's not mean or that annoying on the scale of Magic players, but I don't get to play a lot of games in a week and I don't want to play against custom cards during those few games. Am I the Bolas for not wanting to play against custom cards?


Hello, and thank you to my readers who continue to send me their stories and stories they find on Reddit. I really appreciate your continued  support of this column. Thank you so much.

I really like this story, and I will say the same thing I say for almost every article: have a difficult conversation with people. It's not easy, but will improve your life. It is possible that this person playing custom cards has a list to swap from to make his deck legal.

I use the term "legal" because let's remember that your play preference is actually just following the rules.

The rules of the game are set. Rule Zero Conversations are encouraged so players get figure out a little more about what kind of game is about to be had (power level, how fast is your deck, is anybody playing stax? etc.), but more recently, has been co-opted to be a conversation about what rules can be negotiated. While spiritually in line with what the RZC is meant for, here's a reminder for players using the conversation to chat about what rules can be broken and exceptions can be made: if a single player in the pod wishes to continue with the regular rules, this overrides the rest. 

It seems pretty drastic, but I assure you, it's true. If I am joining a four-player game and I say I want to run Claire D'Loon, Joy Sculptor instead of Sakashima of a Thousand Faces and Livio, Oathsworn Sentinel, I'm checking with the group for permission to break the rules. So if anybody in that pod says no, I won't run Claire. If I really want to play Claire, I will have to wait for a pod that doesn't mind and join them.

This reminds me of last week's article where the Shorikai, Genesis Engine player revealed that they were playing Paradox Engine in their deck after shuffling up. I want to stress that if this happens, that's garbage behavior. You decided to bring it up after the game was agreed upon. Boo forever. It's banned for a reason. But if this was cleared with the group, fine. Have your fun! Hey, why not.

I bring all this up, BadDragonTribal, to say that if this person continues to behave as though they have implicit permission to essentially break the rules without the RZC, they will continue to do so unless somebody speaks up.

If you don't want to face their custom cards, it's time to chime in and then next time you ask for a game, they'll either not jump in or they'll use one of their non-custom card decks. I realize you mention that all their decks have them, but who cares! You don't want to play against them, you get to veto this as they are not playing the game you're playing.

Especially with all those buuuusted designs. There's a reason Wizards of the Coast hires game designers to create the game pieces we know and love. There's a process to creating a balanced and acceptable card. Yes, some are still cracked in half, but they're sanctioned as official game pieces and are therefore legal unless the Rules Committee says so.

That's not to say that there aren't good and cool custom cards. I love seeing custom designs. I think they're very creative and interesting, but if I had to play custom cards frequently, that would straight up piss me off. It's like, hey buddy, are we even playing Magic: the Gathering? I'm supposed to recognize cards, too.

You're not the Bolas. You should get to say no. You should not feel bad for saying you'd rather not play against custom cards.  I encourage you to speak up for yourself and your preferences, knowing that you have the rules on your side.

Thanks again for reading, I'll have more for you next time!

Please write your stories and send 'em over!

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