Am I The Bolas? - For Worse or Worse

Mike Carrozza • August 23, 2023

Choice of Damnations |Illustrated by Tim Hildebrandt

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'll be printed in Universes Beyond!

Yeah, it's a reprint, but they liked my hat a lot!

This week, a few people sent me a Reddit post they think is perfect for the column. Let's take a look.

(Edited for brevity, clarity, punctuation, making the card previews happen, and forcing the column title somewhere. Hello reader, I appreciate you so much, I was gone for a minute, and I'm happy you're here.)


I was in an EDH pod at my LGS last Friday, and I (player 1) was the main threat for most of the game.

As a result, Skullbriar (player 3) was sending his commander after me repeatedly. I was one attack away from losing to Skullbriar, the Walking Grave commander damage, and I ended my turn with not enough toughness to block trample lethal, but I did have exactly two mana up for a top-decked Terminate as my only defence against Skullbriar.

I pass the turn to player 2, and after untapping, he attempts to win the game with the Zealous Conscripts + Splinter Twin combo. Player 3 and player 4 have no response. I look at my two mana and Terminate and show the card to the table. I tell player 3 that I was saving it for his Skullbriar, but if he promises not to attack me with Skullbriar on this turn cycle, I will use it to kill the Conscripts instead.

He responds that he never makes any agreements or deals in EDH and he will simply do whatever he thinks is right on his turn. Fair enough. I don't push him further on that topic since he did give the warning about him not making deals at the beginning of the game. 

I say, "No response, Splinter Twin resolves". All three opponents, including the Splinter Twin guy, begin questioning why I wouldn't use my Terminate. I respond that I don't think it matters to me, since I'm going to lose either way.

Player 3 attacked me with Skullbriar for the last three turns, and I see no reason why he wouldn't do it again, especially since I'll be completely tapped out. Player 3 says if I'm going to lose anyways and I don't think it matters, I should at least not play in a way that ruins the game for two other people. I respond that "ruining the game" is a bit of stretch, and that I don't think I actually have any such obligation in this scenario here.

Player 4 argues that player 3 might not attack me if I save him, so I ask player 3 again if he's willing to commit to not attacking me with Skullbriar for one turn if I Terminate the Conscripts. He reaffirms his position about not making deals or discussing what he will/won't do on his turn. I reaffirm my decision to not intervene then, since I am dead either way.

Even Player 2 now jumps in and says I'm playing suboptimally, that I should prevent the guaranteed loss right in front of me and then worry about Skullbriar later, to which I point out there is no "later" because I am completely tapped out and will die to Skullbriar as soon as Player 2 passes to Player 3. I stand my ground about not Terminating the Conscripts. The game ends, and it seems like they're all pretty upset at me, because our pod disbands and everyone goes to try to find new pods.

I've been thinking about it over the weekend, and I still don't think I made such a poor or rude play that it warranted such a strong response. That said, I do recognize that three people including the player that benefited from my inaction the most were all upset at me, so I can't help but wonder if I'm in the wrong here. How do you guys feel about this? Am I the Bolas?*

(*They didn't write the last sentence.)


Thanks to everybody who sent me this post! It makes me really happy to know that for some folks I'm one of the people you feel like sharing stories like this. Keep 'em coming! is ready to receive your stories! And to those who have already sent some in, rest assured that I'm working on them and they'll be coming.

This story fired me the hell up.

Accusing this person of "ruining the game" for other players is pretty rich, especially when there's someone at the table who can make a deal to easily avoid this fate. Oh, so it's fine if Player 3 takes a principled stand, but if you do it when literally another player is threatening a win, all of a sudden it's "ruining the game". Jog on.

Here's the thing about people who don't make deals as a general rule in EDH: they're well within their right to do so, and if that's their preferred way to play, so be it. But that doesn't mean that if something happens that upsets them and is a direct result of their personal policy that they get to be a jerk about it.

Let's be real: if that player had decided to break his rule, you'd have used the Terminate, which means that yes, that player would have to compromise their personal rules, which isn't always a position people are eager to be in. However, by asking and getting a firm answer, you show that you respect what they're saying by not playing the Terminate.

Let's address a few questions I have:

Is there an expectation for players to play optimally in a pod like this?

Sure, that's probably what you hope when you sit down with a group of players. You want to shuffle up and hope nobody's being spiteful, and if someone's got a Smothering Tithe, the other three players are probably going to dedicate the next piece of removal to it. But if it's time for the game to end and there are no more ways for you to win besides putting your faith in someone who will undoubtedly kill you next turn, I'd say it's a coin flip on whether I'd do what you did. Depends on how I feel. Do I want to deal with somebody being salty over a lose-lose decision? If I don't, then what? Skullbriar finishes me off and I sit around watching the rest of the pod finally use removal on the beat stick that's been smacking me all game? Give me a break!

My last question is the one that makes me at all think you did anything wrong...

Why did you show them? If Skullbriar guy made a point to announce that he doesn't do deals or forecast anything he's going to play, why expect him to do anything? If you hadn't shown off the removal, this would've all been a non-issue and the Splinter Twin/Zealous Conscripts guy would have been like "I did very good! I am Big Magic Boss Boy! Nobody can win like I can!" Why not let them be oblivious?

There was nothing to be done: the Skullbriar player is the only one who could have effected this outcome, and that's it. He stated he won't make any deal,  so he got to prove it and that caused him to lose. I hope he recognizes that his inflexibility is what caused his game loss in the end.

Not the Bolas.

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