Am I The Bolas? - Killing with Commander Removal!

Mike Carrozza • May 29, 2024

Descent into Avernus Illustrated by Bruce Brenneise

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 in love!

Phyrexian Altar is my fave card, what'd you expect!

This week, commander damage as removal?

(Post edited for brevity, clarity, and a little oh-ah-ah sensation!)


Hi Mark,

I recently discovered your column, and spent all afternoon reading it. Reading your column, I can't help but dwell on a situation that happened to me recently.

Within the last nine months or so, I got back into Magic after a long break and started frequenting a new-to-me LGS that is easily the best store environment I've ever played in.

The game was me on Omnath, Locus of Mana, a group slug deck next in turn order after me, and two decks I honestly cannot remember, one may have been a Rhys the Redeemed deck. The group slug deck resolved an early Descent into Avernus. I was still fairly new to the LGS at this point but had seen enough of the group slug player to know that they build powerful and fast decks.

As happens, an early Descent sped the game up a lot. I was doing my thing on Omnath, playing lands and mana-increasers, like Extraplanar Lens, Caged Sun, Doubling Cube etc. I was also drawing quite a bit of hate because people are always scared of the spindown dice sitting on Omnath.

I try to play for more interesting wins than lethal commander damage. I find that it's usually unfun for me and the table when it's so easy to make him bigger. Between the aggro from threat assessment and the damage from Descent, I was at eight life going into my turn. At this point I'd been making noise about how Descent was going to kill us and how it needed to be answered, but to no avail. On the Descent player's turn, I would have died to the Descent damage, so I looked through everything I had in hand, everything on the field, counted and recounted and found my out: I played a Rogue's Passage, made 24 mana and used Rogue's Passage for exact lethal commander damage to not be knocked out of the game on the next upkeep.

My personal belief is that Commander etiquette says it's rude behavior to knock one person out early in the game, especially if you aren't going to take control and quickly end it. We get together to play Commander for a social experience and to play Commander. Being removed from the game early just feels bad. Here's why I may be the Bolas: I didn't take immediate control and quickly find a way to kill the other two opponents immediately after stopping the Descent into Avernus, but I did eventually win the game. I explained what I was doing, why I was doing it, and why I felt that was a reasonable course of action given the situation, and the group slug player was still pretty upset. This was the second and last pod of the night, and they packed up and left, complaining loudly the entire time.

I definitely could have chosen to dig and failed to find interaction like Naturalize, Krosan Grip, or Terastodon to deal with the Descent threat and let them have the kill on me there and kingmade, but I was also rubbed the wrong way by what felt like my opponent's lack of concern for my possible, solo, early removal from the game. Or maybe that's just a selfish interpretation of my etiquette rule mentioned above. In any case, Am I the Bolas?


Big Mana Rules!


Hey, Big Mana Rules! I'm really glad you enjoy the column and I really appreciate you writing in. If you, the reader, have a story of your own or if you spot a Reddit post you'd like Mikey to chat about, send it over to I'll cover it here for the column or on the podcast. 

So, let's talk about commander damage etiquette.

I appreciate that you laid it all out. If you're going to knock someone out with commander damage, it could really suck for that player if it happens early in the game and they have to twiddle their thumbs waiting for the game to finish before shuffling up again. 

I'd like to address a bias we share: I agree with you that commander damage is an "unfun" (read: boring) way to win, but that's personal. I know folks who live for a Voltron deck, and that's great for them. It's definitely a playstyle that does not appeal to me, but I feel joy when I see players light up when they slam their commander and juice it with Auras and Equipment. That rules, for sure. One of my friends (Chris, yes, the guy I talk about on Am I The Bolcast? a bunch) plays Omnath, Locus of Mana and he lives for the slam. 

I think it's so interesting that you've chosen big, beefy Omnath for essentially anything but Voltron/commander damage. If you've got the list online on Archidekt or Moxfield or whatever, please post it in the comments, I'm sure some readers will be equally interested in seeing it.

The way you contextualize your position is threefold:

  1. There was an early Descent into Avernus which has essentially whittled your life down to eight.
  2. You could have dug for an out that would destroy the enchantment and keep the group slug player in the game, but decided against it.
  3. You found a way to remove the enchantment by removing the player, which goes with the old adage "sometimes the best removal is player removal". You used commander damage to take that opponent out of the game and feel guilty for not ending it sooner than you had for the rest of the table.

If a Descent into Avernus drops early, it means that the game is going into hyper speed. If you're all hemorrhaging life because of the group slug player, it feels like the right move is to try to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately, if you can't deal with it, the only way out is through. The other problem with a group slug is that, when a problem is dealt with, another issue is brought up. There's only so much removal to be had, and you've got to save it for when the others pop off, too, so removing the deck here seems like the right call to keep yourself in the game and with any possibility of winning, especially if you're an upkeep away from dying. 

It's hard to argue that you're the Bolas considering all of this. You did what was right for you in this game and you went for the win, which paid off. 

The other thing you touched on is their "lack of concern for [your] possible, solo, early removal from the game". It's possible that after you died, the group slug player would have been able to deploy other threats that would take the game quickly. It's also possible that they kill you and the game gets locked up and you're the one twiddling your thumbs. This is where the etiquette of things comes in. If you're retaliating to stay in the game, I don't think there's much of a leg for them to stand on if they want to be upset about it.

If you had built up your Omnath for a one-punch and just crushed the group slug player with commander damage and they hadn't threatened to end your game, that'd be a bummer for them for sure. I'd bet they're hoping that the game will end sooner than later. But this is someone who almost took you out and didn't bat an eye. You're defending your position in a game of conflict. If they die after all that and are bummed about it, sorry buddy, it's thumb-twiddling time and I ain't mad at it. 

If you're playing a commander damage deck, you're already playing a pretty fragile strategy. If you have to bear in mind that you'll maybe take out one player and then be controlled out of being able to close the game out for the others, is that really up to you? It's great if you can handle the win by getting your opponents down like dominoes and making it quick, but sometimes that is entirely out of your control and you've got to let it go. It happens, it comes with the territory. If someone is mad, you can apologize to them and hope for the best. Hopefully, y'all had a chat before the game to say "here's my Voltron deck" and they all nodded knowing that that means "I'm going to try to kill you one at a time, most likely". 

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