Am I The Bolas? - Don't Make Me Do It
Threaten | Illustrated by Pete Venters
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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
I'm Mark Carbonza, the guy with a bag of goodies for all the good little kids.
Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Magic!
This week, it's about sticking to your word...or is it?
(Email edited for brevity, clarity, and linking card images)
My play group and I meet once a month to play Magic. On this evening I was playing my new deck Oloro, Ageless Ascetic (life gain) against a Zagras, Thief of Heartbeats deathtouch ping deck, a Gargos, Vicious Watcher Hydra tribal, and a Abdel Adrian, Gorion's Ward // Far Traveler blink swarm deck.
The match started with me getting a Soul Warden out early, which was netting me a ton of life gain thanks to the blink deck. My opening hand contained everyone's favorite card, Aetherflux Reservoir. At turn five, the Abdel and Gargos decks gain a lot of momentum thanks to Sol Ring and green ramp. Turn six, I draw Storm Herd and plot a win by playing my Aetherflux. I inform my group that I'll end the player who messes with me. Normally, I don't like to put a target on my back like this, but at this point I needed to keep my life high, especially knowing the Zagras player likes targeting me. Anyway, the Gargos player drops Primordial Hydra becoming a large threat.
Turn seven, I play a Defiant Bloodlord and start slowly draining the table with Soul Warden triggers. Turn eight, people are still afraid of my Reservoir, and my plans for a turn-ten Storm Herd are looking fantastic. Unfortunately, while I'm at 76 life on the ninth go around the table, the Abdel player decides to see what happens by making the bold decision to blink my Aetherflux until end of turn with the intent of turning his army towards me.
My response looking at the board was unfortunately not the one I wanted to make, but I knew I had to pull the trigger to back my talk up. I struck the Gargos player out of the game as my only way of survival, as I couldn't last against the Primordial Hydra. The rest of the game - which lasted five more turns - I kept having pieces picked off the board by deathtouch pings from the Zagras player, and he won thanks to mass ping effects. Was I the Bolas for making the big threat and targeting someone who didn't provoke me?
I admit after the game I realized I could have tried to politic the Gargos player into not swinging for one more turn, and we're friends, so no one was super salty about what had transpired. I've been playing since February of this year and don't want to harm anyone's fun by making bad calls.
Thank you for your time, Nathaniel
Thanks so much for writing in. I love seeing the notification hit my phone that another email has bopped into my email@example.com inbox. More people should do what you did and email in their stories!
Before I begin, I have to say hats off for the Oloro, Ageless Ascetic. I haven't seen that guy in a hot minute. An original non-keyworded Eminence commander, Oloro was everywhere for a while, and I still really like him. Solid choice. Moving on!
I will say, this feels like it's got to be one of the easiest AITBs in recent memory. You bluffed, it got called, and you acted on threat assessment many turns after you initially made the threat rather than upholding it.
Politics in Commander are pretty much what this column is about, and in case you haven't noticed after a year+ of weekly/biweekly (set review cycle permitting) entries in this column, it's a nuanced affair.
Did you technically - in your gameplay - make the right call eliminating the Gargos player? Yes. You recognized that if the Gargos player were to attack you in their next turn, you would not survive. You assessed the situation and figured out that Abdel's army, while large, was still manageable. On the other hand, Gargos had you dead to rights and you ignored Zagras here.
I'm afraid you had no good moves here technically. Had you kept up your threat, you'd have survived Abdel, then taken a massive swing from Gargos, and likely Zagras would've finished you off. Killing the Gargos player made that happen. If you had killed the Zagras player, both the Gargos and Abdel players would have likely assessed that you are the more unpredictable of their opponents and would have attacked you... or... maybe they'd have gone for each other's throat?
I still think gameplay-wise, you probably made the right call. Are you the Bolas for doing so? No. Are you the Bolas for doing so after threatening whoever messes with you next with instant annihilation?
There's a reason we've been using the word threat and not deal. There is no agreement happening. A threat is a statement of an intention of committing a hostile action on someone in retribution for something done or not done (thank you, dictionary).
Stating your intention is not an agreed-upon chain of events. If anything, you did yourself a disservice not carrying through with your threat because the next time you threaten something like this, players believing themselves to not be the biggest threat to you will act and cause you to come back to this crossroads of acting on your word or going against it for the "correct" play.
When all is said and done, things change in this game we love. They change fast. Your plan for a massive Storm Herd was on rails and hit a brick wall a turn later. You adjusted your action to meet the game where it is. That's how it works.
Hoooooowever, you're absolutely correct in that you should have and could have struck a deal with one of the players whose face to which you hold a metaphorical gun. While making a deal while a player is under Duress seems like it could be in bad faith, it can buy you more time than you have.
I think you know but just so you read it - Not the Bolas.
Thanks again for writing in. If you have a story or saw a Reddit post you want me to weigh in on, please message me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Happy holidays <3