Am I The Bolas? - Is This Bad Threat Assessment?

Mike Carrozza • June 5, 2024

Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines Illustrated by Martina Fačková

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, and I'm just here to learn

So Master, you're saying these aren't those kind of dummies?

This week, why is threat assessment so hard?

(Post edited for brevity, clarity, and so it feels like you can picture Spongebob reading this to you. Dahahahahaha oh, Squidward!)


Hey Mark,

I discovered your column recently and have devoured my way backwards through the catalog. Thanks for the entertainment and words of wisdom!

My story deals with frustrations in bad threat assessment and how to handle poor choices from other players at the table. I have no issues when you remove my stuff for the most part, but the salt starts to flow when there are obviously better targets in sight. I also think it's worth touching on how to move past disagreements at the table. We've moved past plenty of issues before and have not carried any negative sentiment week over week, but this situation feels like it has not dissipated.

I established a regular playgroup through a few friends I had met at an LGS over the past year. We still play weekly, but this happened recently, tainting our sessions with bad vibes stemming from this moment. This player is very certain they were in the right, that I was in the wrong for protesting, and has been sending passive-aggressive memes to the group chat along the lines of mocking losing your cool in response to removal.

I was on Preston, the Vanisher bounce, Player 2 was on K'rrik, Son of Yawgmoth combos, Player 3 playing General Ferrous Rokiric aggro, and Player 4 on a control/self-mill Sidisi, Brood Tyrant build.

I had gotten off to a fantastic start, to be fair. I hit several value engines early but hadn't had much payoff yet other than one card that draws a card on ETB. I was durdling away with value bounce pieces, like a Teleportation Circle and a Sun Titan. I had hit an early Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines, but it was removed before doubling any triggers. The Sidisi player did remark that I was preventing their play that turn; this is important for later. Sun Titan is an incredible card in Preston letting you "double-dip" on the Illusion generation, but it was currently retrieving nothing since my graveyard was empty. I just wanted the big body to finally be able to block a 4/4 Rokiric Golem.

The Rokiric player was swinging those 4/4 Golems and had most of the table down to about half life. He was the primary player driving the game so far.

I've had frustrations with the Sidisi player previously. This was not the first time this scenario played out, and I've started changing certain things on game night to try to alleviate these issues. They can be a little removal-happy and will often cast their spell on the first available option instead of waiting to see how the rest of the turns play out. As a result, I've noticed that I have a much better time when I don't sit directly to this player's left. Unfortunately, tonight I ran a little late and was stuck in the seat of destiny.

At one point, the game had progressed far enough, a board wipe was played that removed everything other than five 4/4 Rokiric Golems, K'rrik, and my Sun Titan. The Sidisi player was left at 20 life without blockers. On their turn, they held up all their mana and passed to me. I didn't draw anything consequential, didn't want to make any enemies, so I prioritized blocking over dealing combat damage with Sun Titan. The Sidisi player got mad that I just skipped through combat, so I was goaded into swinging at the Rokiric player. Despite there being no valid targets for the Sun Titan attack trigger, the Sidisi player gleefully sprung into action and started counting out cards from their graveyard. They whipped out a new card they were excited to try, Urgent Necropsy, and gleefully removed Sun Titan, Teleportation Circle, and Panharmonicon: my entire board.

To be fair, these are strong pieces, but there was nothing of consequence to bounce or recur. I put up a pretty big stink about getting all three targets while the rest of the table was much more directly threatening and had done much more damage to the Sidisi player. I put up my hands in frustration and passed. The K'rrik player immediately played The One Ring, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, and attached a Swiftfoot Boots they had to Sheoldred. Player 3 swung most of the Golems at the defenseless Sidisi player, who died when they could have just saved their removal for targets of consequence.

Not completely sure how they feel vindicated about this misplay, but regardless, my salty tears were enough for them to be satiated. If anything, we should have been allies in that moment to deal with the Golems knocking everyone down or the combo pieces coming out in mono-black.

I know I'm the Bolas for holding up the game to complain, attempt politics, refusal to accept resolution for a few minutes to attempt to talk sense into Player 4. How do you stay level-headed in the face of poor threat assessment by others that targets you over much more valuable targets on the table? I'm still salty about the way this all shook out weeks later. Was I the Bolas for complaining about removing value permanents that aren't active in the moment over much more pressing immediate issues? Did I get spite played for playing Elesh Norn?

Thanks for the time,

I received a followup email from Hax for further context since beginning this article:

One of the bigger nagging things in the playgroup is the "fun deal" which was involved with the player in question getting immunity for one turn from the Golems in exchange for doing the removal on someone else. It definitely makes my reaction a little pettier, but doesn't change the fact that my buddy had been only threatened by that player. In retrospect I feel bad about overreacting, I should have just taken it, the game was more or less over at this point anyway. 

I also have a reputation as a lurking threat that will win at some point if not dealt with. The mono-white flicker deck is a big clue that I tend to play a lot of grindy value engines. I have the highest winrate by a solid margin and have won more than a few games out of nowhere at the end. We now joke that winning a game by being ignored by being non-threatening in last place is the "Hax" position. 

The vibes of this playgroup have markedly improved since the moment in question, and we've all made attempts to fix anything causing strife, but I haven't pulled out the deck in question since this incident over lingering sentiment. 


Thanks for writing in, Hax! I appreciate that you've gone back through the older articles and even checked out the podcast! If you, the reader, have a story you'd like to share with me or you've got a post online you want me to write about, send it over to It might take me some time to get through the backlog (turns out Hax wrote me in April! Yowza!) but I will get to it!

Diving into this one, I'll be upfront and say your addendum is definitely necessary to properly discuss this story! It's a little complicated! I think that if we take the story at face value before the additional context, this Sidisi player is a big-time Bolas who probably really hated that Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines play enough to give the game away to the Rokiric player. It's clear from the story that the Boros beatdown was in full effect and the rest of the table was trying to keep up and failing. But with the context provided, your reputation probably played into the decisions!

This story does bring up a few points worth approaching individually:

  1. Removal timingMore than once in your emails, you mentioned that the Sidisi player is "removal-happy", meaning that the moment they can snap off their removal, they do, without much regard for the possibility of a more worthy target appearing or whether that current target is really doing so much harm or good for the table. 
    I've said it once or twice in a few past articles, but I'm happy to repeat as much as necessary for the players in their journey to understand control and/or removal: these tools are a patient person's game. The fact that the removal is used at the turn after theirs isn't optimal play. It should be in response to something or held until the last possible moment to be certain it isn't wasted. The way you have mitigated this by not being the player to come immediately after them in turn order tells me that this is a player who wants to be good with removal but might want to take some cues from more experienced control players. I think of Crim aka The Asian Avenger of MTG Goldfish: he's a troll when it comes to playing Magic, ready to be the bad guy, relishing in it, even! But he knows when and what to hit when a piece of removal is burning in his pocket. The way the Sidisi player plays their removal may as well be on their own turn, but if that's how they like to play, that's how they like to play. It's unfortunately what feeds into my second point. 
  2. Poor threat assessmentIt's so difficult to comment on one's threat assessment because, inherently, you can never have perfect information thanks to Magic's hidden zones (hand and library). You don't know what that player has, and if they play something that seems silly to play, maybe that's the missing piece to allow them to continue with their own gameplan. 
    However, if a game is going a certain way and you've been taking a beating from one deck that has shown itself to be resilient and brawling, why focus on Sun Titan when there's nothing in the graveyard? And if you're so intent on targeting the Sun Titan and all those permanents, why not wait for as much information as possible or for Hax to try to play something that will finally interact with his permanents believing he's got the out when you've got the perfect answer? 
    I agree with you, Hax, this should have been a moment of being allies against the more imminent and pressuring threats. Let's not forget that, while Sidisi could have taken out a Golem, the K'rrik player had Swiftfoot Boots in play and those are always worth getting rid of. Hitting three of your things when you're not in a dominant position feels like a vendetta and is absolutely, in this moment, poor threat assessment. However...
  3. Established playgroup dynamicsNow we can address the addendum. Just as you have mentioned that Sidisi's reputation is being removal-happy and popping stuff willynilly at the first shot, your reputation in the group would have been a good idea to include in the original email. 
    If there's a sleeping dragon at the table, you keep an eye on it. If you're the playgroup's most frequent winner and it comes when they least expect it, I can't say I fully blame Sidisi for wanting to keep you in check. Was it still not great timing? Oh, of course! You attacked the Rokiric player and they didn't even get to blockers step, what a silly use for a removal spell. Let your opponents hurt each other and then pop off the removal, at the very least. 
    I think that Sidisi should have held the card for your permanents, that's for sure, but I don't think they made good use of it in that moment, which is why it's a frustrating ordeal. Maybe they thought this was their opportunity to remember that you take the win unexpectedly and they wanted to get ahead of it, but they still had nothing to the army of Golems surely ready to take them out. 
    I like that you are all perceptive enough to recognize these patterns in your group and that you can joke about it. Joking about stuff like this can be fun but ultimately it highlights some truth and that's when people can do something about it. I'm glad to see some action taken to make your game night experiences at least a little better. 


Are you the Bolas for trying to politic your way out of having your entire board destroyed by someone who will die to the crack of a Golem army? Not really, you've got to try. But c'est la vie. 

Is Sidisi the Bolas for their habitual removal at inopportune times? No. Are they the Bolas for this targeting fiasco? I don't know that I'd go that far, but I don't think I'd be stoked either way. It's less of a Bolas and more of a Bazaar Trader giving you a raw deal. Sucks that it happened, but after you've felt your emotions, try to calm yourself a minute, remember it's a game, and shuffle up to play again. Hopefully, there won't be another one of these scenarios again and if they become the norm, it's time to meta build with this in mind!

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