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, and I'll only be calling this guy "Mistah Pwesident".
Do I need a reason?
This week, a chat about threat assessment
(Email edited for brevity, clarity, redundancy, and brevity and also clarity.)
MARK, TELL ME I'M WRONG! I DARE YA!
This isn't necessarily one incident as much an ongoing sentiment and dynamic between me and my playgroup.
Roughly three years ago, our Commander playgroup formed, consisting of me, Josh, Casey, Tim, & Poe. Josh & I are childhood friends and have been playing Magic for over twenty years. Casey hosts our games and had been playing about three years before the playgroup. Casey had just introduced Tim and Poe to the game.
A little background to understand my point of view: I started playing Magic during 7th Edition, when the game was a lot simpler and aggro was more of the status quo. In my early years of playing, I quickly became a big fan of the Sligh approach, as well as mono-green Elves, mono-green stompy, and Gruul Midrange.
I had a very specific playstyle set in stone. I wasn't ALWAYS playing those archetypes, but they were my bread and butter.
While Josh has played as long as me, he never took the game as seriously. So, going into it, Josh and Casey knew that I was the guy to beat at the table. I built the better decks and had 20 years of experience under my belt. It didn't take long for Tim and Poe to see that too.
After a while, two sentiments starting forming in the group:
1. I am archenemy. Take me out fast.
2. Run excessive amounts of creature removal and board wipes because that shuts me down. By excessive, I mean 10-15 wipes and 10-15 kill spells.
I understand the sentiment that I should just adapt. However, at the same time, it feels personal. I am being singled out and the meta is intentionally inclined to hose me alone.
Furthermore, the overall threat assessment of the group was warped by this. Poe is a big stompy player, too. Oftentimes, all of the removal is thrown my way, despite Poe sitting on a large board state, so he pops off and wins.
The final straw was a night where I played mydeck and exactly that scenario played out. Every creature I played got blown up the turn cycle I played it on, while Poe was allowed to maintain a board state of six-plus creatures. Two board wipes had me questioning if I should scoop. I was topdecking and they still insisted on blowing up every Elf that I played.
The turn after I was the first eliminated, Poe castand won.
I lost my cool and started raising hell with them.
Tim explained, "We can't let your Elves get started. You'll just pop off and win"
Me: Oh, but Poe can pop can pop off?!
Tim: Poe isn't a threat!
When I got home that night, I decided that if they wanted an Archenemy, I'd give them one. I spent the next two weeks brewing the most salt-inducingdeck possible.
After a few game nights of this, they started groaning & complaining. I wasn't winning much, but I was making each game withmiserable.
Josh thought he would do the same, so he threw together adeck built around as many salt-inducing cards as possible. I welcomed it. I don't think he realized what my intention really was, because him adding to it helped what I was trying to do.
Our solution after that point was to start playing almost exclusively Two-Headed Giant instead.
That started about a year ago. Nowadays, I have added other salt-inducing decks to my pool: other decks I built take VERY long turns and they hate it. They occasionally make comments like "[He] makes nothing but [Insert derogatory descriptor] decks anymore."
I try to tell them that they turned me into this and they say I'm just a petty whiner.
Do you think I taught them a necessary lesson or am I the Bolas?
Trust me, I was voicing my issue the whole time. I wasn't just fuming in silence. It would take a lot more than salty Magic games to ruin our long-time friendships.
They kept insisting that it wasn't personal and that they weren't targeting me that much, yet it really seemed to be that way really often. To give you evidence of how personal it actually was, there was a point, around the time that I builtthat I decided to start tracking each persons win/loss record.
After 50 games, Tim, Casey, and Poe had four-player free-for-all winrates of 31%, 28%, and 26% respectively. My winrate was 11%. That discrepancy is evidence of blatant bias in threat assessment.
However, our THG winrates were all pretty close to 50%, as they should be.
So when the table can't gang up on me, I win as much as I should. I communicated my grievances. After I pointed out my 11% winrate, they seemed to ease up a bit. Playing almost exclusively THG has helped a lot too.
LIFE IS COMPLICATED, IT'S NOT SO SIMPLE!
Thanks for writing in, Jeremy. I really appreciate it. If anybody reading this has a story of their own or a story they've heard or a Reddit post they'd like me to write about, send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeremy, I'm going to be blunt with you. My instinct is to say that you're the Bolas. You even have a moment in your story where you write of Josh making a salty deck like a villain detailing a dastardly plan. It's got twiddly finger tent vibe. Very "Excellent" Mr. Burns stuff.
Building decks that you and your friends would describe as "miserable" to "teach a lesson" is such a quintessentially Bolas move. Anytime I get a submission here where somebody says "I builtbecause of my playgroup" - which happens a surprising amount - I think now, that's a villainous choice (SHOUT OUT, *Air horns x4*).
That said, it's pretty clear with the stats that your playgroup has been targeting you and their threat assessment was biased! So, I reckon you're pretty justified in taking some kind of action. I appreciate that you were vocal about your frustrations with the group but I'm mostly impressed with the solution your group came to. I am happy to see that the data you've collected backs you up. I also hope that with this data presented to them, when the crew goes for another free-for-all game, they'll keep in mind that they have in fact been targeting you unfairly.
So how do I call this one? I think there's a big hint of Bolas, but I have a lot of empathy for you - or is it sympathy? Empasymathy?
When all is said and done, I feel like the "build a miserable deck because that'll show 'em" route is always Bolas-coded big time. It reminds me of Syndrome from The Incredibles. I am glad you and your friends are solid enough to know this won't end your decades-long friendship.
I'm calling this a Bolas move, but the stats-tracking and sharing with your group is great. Some playgroups could probably take notes from this!
Bolas it is!