Am I The Bolas? - How to Handle the Most Hated Cards

Mike Carrozza • June 19, 2024

Oko, Thief of Crowns Illustrated by Yongjae Choi

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 Mike Carrozza, aka Mark Carbonza, the guy whose great-great-great-great-great-great-great neighbor is in the game now!

Nobody knows if this is true, but it's possible!

This week, how to handle the stigma of a card.

(Post edited for brevity, clarity, and to make it the same font as the rest of this.)


Hi Mark/Mike,

I love the column and the podcast. It manages to strike a mirthful tone while taking seriously the pitfalls of enjoying a totally broken and ungovernable format like Commander. I had a little tale of Bolasness to share that's a bit different than the type of high drama tales that usually occupies this space, but one that is pretty common and that we should all be mindful of.

A few weeks ago, I was at a newly opened LGS playing with a good friend, and we picked up three randoms for a five-player pod. One of the random players was an employee of the store that had just ended his shift. I was playing my Indoraptor, the Perfect Hybrid deck while the store employee was playing The Goose Mother. I don't remember what the other three decks were. Goose Mother told everyone that his deck was just about making Food tokens and trying to make his commander a big, beefy flyer because he thought a giant Goose was funny.

We got started with a pretty straightforward game that had a few turns of build. On turn five, though, I was able to turn a Fiery Confluence into 24 damage to the table and then bring out Indoraptor with 24 +1/+1 counters. Everyone laughed about it being huge and I felt like the fun was about to begin and passed. That is, until The Goose Mother's turn where he put down an Oko, Thief of Crowns and made my commander an Elk.

I am a player that absolutely hates the original Oko because of the chilling effect it can have on a game. No one wants to play out anything that can risk being Elked or stolen, and it feels like the brakes get slammed on the whole game. Goose Mother insisted that he had it in the deck just to make Food, and I laughed at him and said, "No one plays Oko just to make Food, right?"

I should say that I was 100% not salty about my giant commander being the target of removal; it was clearly the right call to neutralize it. I genuinely just hate Oko, and so every turn for the next four or five turns, I threw my 27 power Elk at Oko, continued to point out how OP that card is, and generally complained about it. In my mind, someone that works at the store wanted us to believe it was a silly Food deck while playing OP cards and putting up a smoke screen about his intentions, and I kept letting everyone at the table know that I don't believe anyone plays Oko to make Food or that it should have ever been printed.

The game went about 12 turns, I was ultimately able to get rid of Oko and pull out a pretty fun win with a Chandra's Ignition to re-cast a giant Indoraptor. We all shuffled up and played two more games. I switched decks, but he played his same deck for both. During those games, it was made clear that his deck really was a medium-low power level build just about making Foods and putting +1/+1 counters on his commander. He was actually pretty new to the game, only owned that one deck, and did only put in Oko because it makes Food without being fully aware of the stigma that card has.

As I was driving home and thinking about the night, I realized that I was almost certainly a Bolas to a complete stranger. I assumed since he works at the LGS that he's a Spiky player that knows everything about the game. I accused him of lying about just trying to make Food with Oko. I complained about it being on the table and focused my entire gameplan just on getting rid of it for as many turns as that took, and I did all this to a new player that was learning to appreciate the Commander format with his only deck.

So I guess I am not asking "Am I the Bolas?" because I've kind of already acknowledged that I was. It's more to share this tale with other readers and ask people to consider how we handle seeing notorious cards hit the table when playing with strangers and the assumptions we make about them based on very little information. If there is a question, it would be how to constructively address with new players what message those powerful cards send to the table and how we can all give people the benefit of the doubt during our first game together.

Thanks for the column, and I hope others can benefit from this little tale.




I'm so glad you wrote in and that you've been enjoying the column and podcast! Without folks like you, there's no column, so thank you, thank you, thank you! If you, the reader, have a story of your own or you've found a Reddit post you'd like me to chat about, please send it over to 

When it comes to your story, we can afford to say right away that there is some Bolas energy in here. 

There are so many powerful cards in Magic: The Gathering that have a stigma to them because they're strong or they warp games. We've all heard about how Dockside Extortionist, Smothering Tithe, and Farewell are all so powerful and inspire groans at a table. There are many, many more. Whether it's stax pieces, like Winter Orb, Stasis, and Blood Moon, or if it's the strongest interaction in the format, like free spells, there are some cards that in some (usually non-competitive) pods that will get a rise out of a player or two. 

It's natural to have your guard up against some cards. Oko, Thief of Crowns, as of writing, is banned in six formats and was notoriously banned in Standard for being so extremely powerful. This was in 2019, and that's not that far back, so it's normal for the memory of the strength of the card to loom large in your mind when you see it, not to mention your experience of seeing what that card can do to the table. However, in the case of this The Goose Mother deck, it matches the theme. Oko makes Food tokens. Is he still one of the strongest planeswalkers ever printed? Absolutely! But does he also match the theme? Yes. And you can't fault anybody for including a strong card that matches a theme. Over the course of other games, you got to see that the Goose player was not lying. 

The one thing that is sorely lacking for me in this submission and that I hope is simply omitted is an apology. I hope over the course of the other games, where the player only made Food tokens with Oko, that you took an opportunity to say something like, "Oh, my bad, looks like you really are only using him to make Food."

This case feels specific, but it's a case of a new player getting their bearings. It's not like they committed a faux pas by including Oko in their list. They didn't know the reputation he has. Learning more about that reputation and his power will inform that player enough to make a decision on whether to continue to include the card or to remove it from their list, and that's all there is to it, really. If someone asks for your opinion, give it to them, if you'd like. In game, however, you've got game actions to get that across. If you hadn't said anything and just kept attacking Oko, I think the message is loud and clear. Moreover, part of the multiplayer aspect of Commander is political chatter: directing attention to strong plays to alert other players to the powerful goings-on of opponents is an extremely necessary and potent strategy in the moves set of any Commander player. There are cards that earn their stigma in a grander sense, format-wide, but others gain notoriety in certain decks. It's okay to point those cards out, especially if they're value permanents that accrue more and more if they stick around. 

That said, another wrinkle is that this player is new to Commander and just built this deck using the resources he had, having had no experience with Oko, Thief of Crowns' ability to create a bit of a standstill. I believe a good way to approach this in the future is to points out that the card is powerful, yes, but not in the way of saying "nobody plays this card just for this". Rather, it might be best to say something like "I've seen this card warp games around it, and I have to focus all of my attention on it" and when met with questions, answer them honestly! 

All this to say, I see where you're coming from and understand your frustration when your opponent explicitly says that Oko is for Food generation but then uses it to Elk your commander. It's a strong card whose secondary purpose in the deck came up in this game. They play it for one reason and your deck pushed it to require that activation. I see that you understand that part. I think at a certain point, you need to trust your opponent's word and assume positive intent. Be kind to each other and lead with the thought that people are being genuine when they sit down to play with you. If they take advantage of your trust, you can decide whether or not to play with them again. Their gain is short-lived, but you're the real winner. You have the ability to go into a new game with hope and appreciation in your eyes; that's power!

Spread the fun, buddy!

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