Am I The Bolas? - Fight Fair
Herald of the Fair | Illustrated by Steven Belledin
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, and I'm the PHREXIANIZED VERSION OF MIKE CARROZZA, OH NO!
This week, a group of friends navigates a difficult dynamic.
MARK, PLEASE ADVISE
At a kitchen-table game with my usual pod - my wife, a good friend, and her husband - we all agreed that we'd play "fair" decks for the evening. The game became: Me, with Hydra Tribal captained by Saskia the Unyielding; my wife, with Necrons, under Imotekh the Stormlord; our friend with Slivers, under Sliver Overlord; and finally the subject of today's discussion, her husband, with a stax/turns/combo, under Sharuum the Hegemon.
His deck, which is well known to us, relies on looping Nevinyrral's Disk with Sharuum and indestructible mana sources until he can assemble either the Necrotic Ooze combo or take infinite turns with Time Sieve. He argued that the deck was "fair" now that he had taken out the Winter Orb, which we banned from our table, and all of the combos were permanent-based. Also, we knew that this was the least-degenerate deck he owned, so we allowed it.
By turn three, the ladies hadn't really established any board, and Combo Husband spent his first three turns tutoring up combo pieces. I, playing last in turn order, had drawn an unbelievably lucky first hand that I've never seen before or since, and on turn three, I was swinging a 24/24 Kalonian Hydra at the combo player.
(My plays went like this, with an untapped green-producing land drop each turn: Turn one, Concordant Crossroads. Turn two, Sol Ring into Branching Evolution. Turn three, Kalonian Hydra - which enters with four counters, then doubled to eight - attack with haste, and trigger double counters - eight counters, doubled to 16, which takes it to 24 counters total.)
Combo Husband got pissed and complained that we had all agreed to play "fair," that I had lied about my deck, and that furthermore he was always being hated off the table by the three of us... which is technically true, because he insists on playing combo decks against a table full of tribal-aggro and Battlecruiser fans whose best recourse is to remove the combo player rather than completely restructure all of our decks.
He scooped all his cards and left the table to sulk in his office for the rest of the night.
I know the term "fair deck" is subjective, but am I the Bolas for describing my huge-creature-tribal deck as "fair" when it has the capability to go off like that? Is it wrong to aggro out a combo player when it's known that the rest of the table hasn't built interaction against that kind of a strategy?
WHAT'S UP, DOC?
Hi, Doc! Thanks for writing in. I really appreciate you sharing this story with me.
If you have been thinking of sending in a story for this column, I recommend doing so as soon as possible! Send an email to email@example.com.
Now that that's out of the way, let's get into it!
This is such a rich story, there is so much to talk about. Let's begin with the fact that there's an understanding within your playgroup about what a "fair" deck is. From context here, "fair" seems to mean combos aren't the way. "Fair" in this case kind of also seems like low interaction, or rather, "do your own thing", "let's race" kind of game.
I think it's important to establish especially within a regular playgroup what kind of games you're all looking to play. Obviously, the odd one out is Combo Husband, who apparently only runs combo decks that go off.
Let me say right off the bat: if the combo player sits at the table and says "I'll play my "fairest" combo deck" and then spends three first turns tutoring pieces every turn, I call b(editor's note: Mike, can you maybe use a different word?)t.
How do you spend turn after turn tutoring in a deck that is completely advertised as an infinite combo deck and not expect players to come for you? Combo Husband leaving the table to sulk in his office after this is a big eyeroll for me.
Don't get me wrong, I fully advocate for you to leave a situation if you're uncomfortable or not having fun. But be reasonable. It is extremely clear with the set-up of these decks and the discussion about playing "fair" decks that a deck threatening to combo while two players are on set-up turns is worthy of being deemed the threat.
There is a discussion to be had about the fact that Combo Husband seems to enjoy a playstyle that the rest of the group does not seem to like.
Finally, as for whether you're the Bolas for your "fair" deck going off like that, no. You're not the Bolas here. Commander is a game with so much variance, and even a deck someone would call a five can have an explosive start. To quote Robert California, "Sometimes the flowers arrange themselves."
That said, you built your deck with the capacity for something like this. You also built your deck with the capacity to basically have also been on your third set-up turn. Everything lined up this time. No shame in that. It all came together.
Is Combo Husband the Bolas?
I don't think so. He clearly likes a playstyle that doesn't work for this playgroup, a playgroup that he is in because he is married to your friend and you're all close. Is this a group he'd choose? Is there something that the rest of you can maybe do to play at his level? Is there a way for you all to work together to meet at the same power?
Ah, but sulking away when you're the combo player and tutoring three turns in a row because you were accurately assessed as the threat? Boooooooo.
Thanks for writing in! I look forward to reading more stories, so send 'em on in to firstname.lastname@example.org