Am I The Bolas? - Giving Unwanted Advice

Mike Carrozza • May 8, 2024

(Master Warcraft |Illustrated by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai

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?"

I'm ready to hear you out and offer advice. All you have to do is email! You might see your story in the column. You might even hear it on the podcast. Which podcast? 


I'm Mark Carbonza, and I have no idea how to pronounce this card!

Let me just call this Recurring Nightmare, please!

This week, how controlling is too controlling?

(Post edited for brevity, clarity, a little bit of this, a little bit of that, etc)


Hi Mark.

I'm finally getting 'round to sending you this story.

A year ago, I had a game with a couple of ethical dilemmas. The one I want to call out is when you should stop politicking or requesting opponents do things, but if there's something else that stands out to you, go off on it. (Also, sorry for the long email, good luck abbreviating it!)

Some important context before I get into the story:

My LGS does pods based on deck power level. Players write down their power level when they sign up. The scale is from 1-5 and is as follows:

  1. Precon/weak theme decks.
  2. Modified Precon - You've swapped out some of the less focused cards for synergystic cards while not overhauling the entire deck. Deliberately weakened decks also go here.
  3. "Normal Commander" - Your deck should have a good mix of interaction and ways to progress your own game. Fast mana is discouraged here, and infinite combos may be present.
  4. High power - Incredibly efficient and tuned decks go here. Instant-speed interaction is highly recommended, as infinite combos are commonplace here and can occur early on in the game.
  5. cEDH - No holds barred, play to win.

There's a prize on the line: players draft cards from a promo pack once the game is over, with the winner getting first pick.

The game in question was at a 4 on the store's scale. I sat down with my Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger deck, decklist here. My opponents were a store regular on his Animar, Soul of Elements combo deck, and two people I didn't know playing Orvar, the All-Form and a newly built Nekusar, the Mindrazer deck. Nekusar was a little unsure of whether they fit the 4 category as they'd included a bunch of three-mana wheels and thought they were too good for a 3.

I explain to the table that my deck doesn't exactly win out of nowhere, and you'll see it coming, whereas Animar is a combo deck that plans to go infinite with Ancestral Statue, and that the best bet is to keep him off of Animar.

The deck I'm most scared of at the table is Animar, as he can go infinite really quickly, and the protection from black makes it rather hard to interact with it. I keep a hand with Brotherhood's End so that I could answer Animar before he can combo off.

Unfortunately, Animar had won the die roll, and they played Animar on turn two. By the time my turn three rolled around, Animar was out of range of Brotherhood's End. Animar's protection from black is proving awkward for me, as I look at the Bone Shards in my hand. Meanwhile, Nekusar and Orvar are slowly developing but aren't interacting yet.

Animar casts a tutor and fetches Ancestral Statue. I know that there's a potential that Animar could go off and kill one player via commander damage, so I remind the table of the potential incoming combo. Nekusar is unsure, but after talking with the table, they admit that they have nothing, and their only option is to cast Wheel of Misfortune. Both Orvar and Animar choose 0, declining, while Nekusar and I wheel.

Nekusar discards River's Rebuke and five other cards, while I get wheeled into Lightning Axe and Fury to answer Animar. The second cast of Animar sparks a counter war between them and Orvar, which Animar wins. A few turns go by, I keep reminding the table of the impending combo. Animar plays a Vizier of the Menagerie and quickly builds his board up by casting a whole bunch of creatures off the top of his deck, notably including a Prowling Serpopard, so Counterspells are off the table now. I offer to cast Kroxa to start making Animar discard at the cost of also making the other players discard, but the table asks me not to.

Instead of casting my commander, I opt to make slow value plays instead, looking for a board wipe. At the end of Nekusar's turn, he casts a Vampiric Tutor. I urge him to find a board wipe, as that plus the Counterspell that Orvar has drawn will keep Animar from comboing off and stop Animar from just killing us over a few turns with his large board of creatures.

[This is the part where I may be the Bolas]

Nekusar says that he discarded his only board wipe, pointing to the River's Rebuke in the graveyard. I express confusion and disbelief, remarking that he probably should have an actual board wipe in his deck, but ask him to do what he can. He instead tutors for Windfall and forces Animar to discard the looming Ancestral Statue, leaving just the large board of creatures to worry about.

Fortunately, I get wheeled into Damnation, while Orvar draws another Counterspell. I Damnation the board, and Orvar counters Animar again, which basically shuts them off from winning. 

At this point, I could cast my commander and start to get my own gameplan online by squeezing the last cards out of people's hands. However, I am aware that I've dictated most of the game, due to the looming threat of Animar and being the opponent most familiar with how that deck functions.

I go for a fun play and escape the From the Catacombs in my graveyard. Nekusar finally casts his commander, which then lets Orvar draw two cards on his turn. Orvar plays Spark Double and a targeting cantrip, which he chained into more targeting card draw while copying the nonlegendary Orvar. By the end of Orvar's turn, Orvar had over 20 Orvars in play and had a hand of six cards. I fail to draw a board wipe, Nekusar draws his cards and scoops, looking rather tilted. I say GG to Orvar, and also scoop, and we draft the promo pack.

I head to dinner with a friend who told me he saw a guy angrily venting about how he received unwanted deckbuilding advice. I confess to being the giver of said advice. Once we've finished eating, I return to the store to play more games and to apologize to Nekusar, but he's left by this point. I feel bad about making someone that angry, but he had signed up as a 4, agreeing to play in a game where "interaction is highly recommended" while showing no interaction outside of wheels and River's Rebuke. This did feel a bit like a hollow self-justification after the fact, though.

Sorry for the long email, trying to include all the context I can because I'm genuinely conflicted on this one to this day. There's one thing I'd like to emphasize: I was actively hounding the table to answer Animar's combo at most decision points. Orvar casts Ponder? "Remember, Animar has the combo in hand."

Hope it makes an interesting column/discussion on the podcast.



Hey, Simon! Thanks for writing in. It's nice to see you in the inbox after seeing you in the comments section so often. As someone who reads and appreciates the column, you know that there isn't one without folks writing in, so thank you! If you, the reader, have a story you'd like to submit or a Reddit thread catches your eye and you think "Now, that's one I gotta show Mikey!" please send it over to I'll get to it for the column and maybe we'll chat about it on the podcast.

There are a few things to chat about in this entry, and that's to be expected given its length! I trimmed it down considerably, and we've still got a big'n. 

I think the first thing to mention is that, as much as your LGS has tried, there simply isn't a perfect science to the power level rankings, particularly with five numbers. I'd argue that the Nekusar, the Mindrazer player was correct in their assessment that a deck that plays a ton of wheels might not be the kind of deck that'd play nice in an environment where certain strategies are discouraged. However, at Level 3, there's mention of having interaction, while Level 4 explicitly says instant-speed interaction is highly recommended and that this is a place for really tuned decks. I see the dilemma Nekusar faced when showing up for game night. Luckily, they do walk away with some kind of lesson, but we'll get to that. 

You say "I am aware that I've dictated most of the game" which is an interesting way to describe it. You make it abundantly clear that you are the most vocal person at the table: a looming threat you're familiar with is about to make its move, and you want to protect your position, resisting to make it difficult for the Animar player. Fair!

Unfortunately, it's possible to over-politic a table. I think you did in this case. Warning of a threat and conferring with the table to pool resources, what a fun aspect of Commander we get to experience. I love politics, but when every action is met with an extra step of "Simon's going to tell us about Animar again", it totally fits with dictating. It's a nagging, a chirping; you're in your opponents' ears as though you're their friends, but they're strangers at your table. A reminder for every action is like getting several DMs from a person you don't know day after day poking you about something you said you'd get to if you had the time. It's the kind of thing that doesn't sit well with a ton of people. Be careful about how much you remind the table and be sure to be useful to the players you're "hounding" as well. 

Speaking of being careful, you offhandedly remarked about a player's deck and its lack of interaction. With the structure at the LGS and the instant-speed interaction being highly recommended, it's fair to be surprised by such a thing. I can't deny that, and that stems from the LGS's power ranking system. That said, clearly you hurt Nekusar's feelings (side note: It's fun to speak of the players using the commanders names because now I'm picking this friggin' guy crying).

It makes sense that Nekusar was upset. You spent the game telling the table that they need to play a particular thing instead of them coming to that conclusion on their own. Should they have had another board wipe in their deck? Oh, most definitely. But the way that information was conveyed can be received differently depending on both parties. I don't know if you're a Bolas for it, but I think you should be careful. I think there's a few layers here: the embarrassment of signing up for a more-powerful-than-they-can-handle pod, being told how to play, not having the tools to handle a situation, being told offhandedly that they didn't build their deck right... I wouldn't feel great. 

I appreciate your instinct to apologize, and frankly, I'm assuming positive intent here, but intent isn't the result. If you were to give someone deckbuilding advice, it should be offered and accepted before just giving it to them. I understand how this stuff happens, though. Sometimes somebody says something like "I run 30 lands in my deck" and they aren't talking about cEDH, and you'll have a reaction you can't control, like a guffaw, which would be enough to give that deck's owner pause at least. It's fair to happen, I can't fault you totally there, but be mindful.

When it comes to some advice of my own, as someone who does politic but has been on the receiving end of both unwanted deckbuilding advice and unwanted gameplay advice in the form of over-politicking, here's what I have to say:

Speak up. It's not as easy for everybody, but I hope reading this empowers you to do so. I'm not saying go out of your way to say stuff like "nobody asked you" and "will you please shut the (Editor's note: stop trying to use this word) up?!"

But I am saying to plant your feet when you feel like you're being pushed and provide some resistance. "What you should really do with this deck is -" "I'd like to stop you there please and mention that I do not want any unsolicited advice about my deckbuilding."

And after the umpteenth mention of Animar in a turn cycle, saying something to the effect of "I've heard your concerns about Animar" and you can add something if you want to hammer home, like, "and repeating them at this point feels condescending" or "and I would appreciate if you would remind us less."

All said and done, I get that your intentions weren't malicious, but the outcome was a salty Nekusar player at the very least and that's a bummer! Plus, you were bummed out about it too, so that can't feel great. I do hope that the Nekusar player heard the advice especially if they want to keep registering at a Level 4, but ultimately, they were doing what they could. 

I think this is the part that stands out most to me: 

I was actively hounding the table to answer Animar's combo at most decision points. Orvar casts Ponder? "Remember, Animar has the combo in hand."

The emphasis on "actively hounding the table" paints the picture vividly reading back on the whole email. I think that if I were at this table I would be frustrated as well. I think politicking could go down a notch in the ol' Simon playbook. But just a notch, bud. Politicking isn't evil or anything. 

You're not the Bolas as a person or in your intention, but in this story, I think I'm leaning Bolas! Sorry, Simon!

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