Am I The Bolas? - Howling Salt Mine Crossover
Force of Will | Illustrated by Richard Kane Ferguson
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 email@example.com!
I'm Mark Carbonza, the never-ending preview season of Magic!
This week, a bit of a different approach to the article series! This story comes to us courtesy of Uncle Stern, a listener of The Howling Salt Mine podcast. Specifically, it comes from an episode of the podcast on which I was a guest for episode HSM 35 "Am I The Bolas? Crossover with Mike Carrozza.
On the episode, we cover this story submitted by their listener. I was not the kindest, I'll admit, but I meant what I said and I'm doubling down. Here's the email sent in originally to the guys at The Howling Salt Mine by Uncle Stern. Cheers, thanks for being a good sport, Uncle.
(Uncle Stern gave permission to use the email in this article. I edited the email for brevity, clarity, spelling, punctuation, and to add the thing what makes the cards appear when you click 'em. You love it, I know you do!)
MARK, HOP IN THIS CART, WE'RE GOING INTO THE MINE!
Dearest Howling Salt Miners,
I don't remember much about that game; it was all a fog. All I know is a line was crossed and I did the crossing.
I was playing Lord Xander, the Collector, a regular saltsmith on his own, but in my deck, he was damn near impotent; I just couldn't muster the board state to cast him.
I was spinning my wheels, looking for a way to push ahead as the table passed by me turn after turn out of pity. I couldn't take it. I did the unthinkable. I countered an opponent's Sol Ring. He didn't need the mana! His playmat was brimming with land! But wait, this story's just getting started.
He was dumbfounded and said, "Alright then, if that's how we're playing, I'm gonna destroy your Sol Ring." I needed that one-drop mana lifeline if Xander was gonna make an appearance in my next turn and I was tapped out, so I played my ace.
I Force of Willed his removal spell and what blue card did I exile to pay for it? A Mana Drain. My deck had more counters than Home Depot during their kitchen and bathroom promos.
The rest of the match is a fog and I'm sure I was the first to die that game. But this particular back-and-forth has been firmly cemented in the histories of our playgroup.
To summarize: I was playing Lord Xander, the Collector in a game of Commander with my regular pod and was struggling the whole match to get any kind of board state. In my frustration, I countered another player's casting of Sol Ring with Annul, then countered his retaliatory destruction of my own Sol Ring by casting Force of Will and paying for it by exiling Mana Drain.
Am I lucky to have friends? Should I seek therapy?
THIS IS A BUMPY RIDE, BOYS!
Alright, Uncle Stern. Thanks for letting me use your story and thank you to the guys over at The Howling Salt Mine for having me.
If you have your own story and you'd like me to weigh in, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll comment on your story in this series. Even if you have a Reddit post you saw that made you think it'd be great for Am I The Bolas?, send it in!
Let's get into this.
First of all, it's never fun to be spinning your wheels at a table and feel like everybody's passing you by. That's not great at all. I feel you. It sucks. Staring at a grip of cards and waiting for a way to do something with them is a bummer. I'm going to venture a guess that you did not have the second blue mana to cast Mana Drain because otherwise that'd be the move: counter a spell so it it would provide you with some mana since you're saying you needed it all for casting your commander.
It is a frustrating part of playing Magic: the mana system won't come through for you all the time. It doesn't matter if you have enough lands build in, getting mana screwed or flooded can cause a lot of nongames to happen. I'd even say that you weren't having a nongame. Your opponents were busy focusing on each other rather than you as you were not a threat to them... yet.
Your opponents were "pitying" you, but that's just a possibility to climb out of a hole later. Or if you can Stifle a game-winning play later on, you'll curry favor with two other players and still have an impact on the game.
What I think is the biggest issue here is patience.
Clearly, your Lord Xander deck loves to counter spells. You list three counters in this story alone, and I'd bet they aren't the only ones even if you hadn't mentioned Home Depot. I think this kind of playstyle requires a love of picking your moment. I'm afraid countering a Sol Ring just to do something in the game after not playing anyway and because the impact on that opponent's board would be minimal is understandable, but with it, as you recognize, you have to accept the consequences. Now that you've countered a Sol Ring, your opponent decided to destroy yours - an eye for an eye.
I get that you were behind, but this would have been the moment to let it go. Force of Will ditching Mana Drain is one of those plays you make when you're about to win or lose and here it just smacks of "well, nothing else is happening."
If you weren't a threat before, you definitely aren't one now. I think the grand stand of the FoW just feels like conceding while doing something petty on the way out, basically. If this saved you the Sol Ring and you got to play Xander... fine, that's okay I guess, but truly when you say "He didn't need the mana", you, yourself, are pointing to the futility of countering the artifact. I'd personally have waited for a better spell to knock down, whether it be with Annul or pitching Annul to Force of Will.
Picking this fight over the Sol Ring is a tantrum move - countering to save yours is self-preservation to an extent, but man, it just feels like it could have been avoided.
I don't know that you're the Bolas, but you're definitely somebody making a scene. If you're playing a deck with so much counter magic, you're already setting yourself up to being disliked at the table. People don't like paying their resources only to do nothing. If your deck's got so much of it, it's basically so you can keep doing stuff like this and now... the more I think about it, yeah bud, this is Bolasy as hell right here. You need counters to keep from losing your commander or to slow people down until you can get your commander out; I'm sure that's part of it, but as I mentioned, Counterspells are about picking your moment. Patience and discipline in the face of the situation at hand.
Eye dee kay, bud. I'm not a fan of this move. You're not evil, but I reckon after the dust settled over your Sol Ring fiasco, the others not involved shared a feeling of "...oooookay."
Not the Bolas, but you're on a watch list for potential Bolases (kind of like how Dockside Extortionist is on the list of cards to watch for banning).