Am I The Bolas? - Learning the Wincons

Mike Carrozza • January 10, 2023

Exhaustion | Illustrated by Paolo Parente

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!

I'm Mark Carbonza, the guy who leaked all the new cards way ahead of time.

Editor: Mike, stop it.

This week, a playgroup needs some help!

(Email edited for brevity, clarity, and that thing where you can hover over a card name and it comes up so you can see the card while you read the article; pretty cool stuff eh?)


Hello, Mark! I just started reading your Am I The Bolas articles, and I've gotta say: I'm hooked! I wanted to throw my hat in the ring and see if my personal playgroup issue could be weighed in on.

I've got a wonderful playgroup consisting of two of my best friends and my dad. My dad consistently plays decks brewed with cards in our collection (six power level), and my friends and I like to buy 250-400 dollar decks, with mine being sevens or low eights. My friends' decks are mid-to-high sevens.

My friend, who I'm going to refer to as Gideon, plays nasty decks that are incredibly hard to interact with the moment they go off.

I'm talking Kyler, Sigardian Emissary turning from a board with one 2/2 to a board filled with 17/17s, a Zada, Hedron Grinder deck that draws its entire library and kills everyone at the table with some ridiculous creatures as quickly as humanly possible, and, the deck that he's playing in this story, a Runo Stromkirk deck that can consistently tutor a Spawning Kraken to the top and have 21 9/9s at the blink of an eye.

Needless to say, my playgroup has seen this happen enough to know we need to stop it before it happens. 

So, most games go like this:

I play my commander (usually a Jaxis, the Troublemaker deck).

Gideon plays his commander.

Gideon's commander gets removed, then he spends the next turn cycle complaining about how nobody ever removes my commander.

Gideon recasts his commander, flips it.

Gideon casts a Spawning Kraken.

The table gets smacked across the face and we're suddenly facing lethal.

Somebody board wipes. Somebody exiles his graveyard.

He complains for the rest of the night about how he never gets to do anything.

One of us wins: cue the, "Oh, if you removed this instead of my thing this wouldn't have happened, blah blah blah."

As you can tell, I'm getting tired of this same old song-and-dance routine. Even when I had a power level 9 deck and people focused me, he still found a way to complain (for example, when I An Offer You Can't Refused his Sol Ring because Sol Rings are an omen for what's to come in that deck).

Is he the Bolas for complaining about us wanting to shut down his consistent turn five-six wins? Or are we the Bolas for picking on his deck constantly because of previous games?

Also, we do leave him alone sometimes, because we do feel bad about him never winning. We're not monsters.



A person who just wants to play Chisei, Heart of Oceans in peace


Thank you so much! I'm thrilled to hear that you're hooked on the series. I really enjoy reading everybody's story submissions and weighing in on the whole deal. If anybody would like to submit, please email me at !

On to the story at hand.

I'd like to say off the bat that I don't think anybody is the Bolas here, per se. I think that the closest it gets is that Gideon's complaining is annoying, but that doesn't make them the biggest bad guy in the history of the game.

Has a conversation been had with Gideon about his decks overpowering the table? Has the playgroup expressed that the power level needs to be adjusted?

You signed the email as "A person who just wants to play Chisei, Heart of Oceans in peace". Chisei isn't a powerful commander and falls into the category of "janky", while all the decks Gideon's bringing to the table seem to be explosive combo decks. Consistently winning on turns five or six means that in a playgroup wherein the decks are played regularly, opponents will begin to recognize the warning signs for the win and will train them to react to these harbingers. If the playgroup plays with some regularity, as you suggest, then I wouldn't be surprised if players made adjustments to their deck lists to combat the frequently presented threats.

It seems like turn five or six is early for everybody but Gideon. It's time to have a chat.

This is one of your best friends. I'm certain that he'd be receptive to a conversation to improve the experience at the table for everybody. I recommend having a discussion of your wants and expectations for the games within the playgroup.

Here are a few things to suggest:

  1. Have Gideon borrow one of your decks. Jaxis and Chisei will be a change of pace compared to the explosiveness of Gideon's decks and solving the puzzle of another deck can be extremely rewarding.
  2. Alternatively, Gideon could lend his decks to the entire pod and have everyone trying to go off on turn 6-7. This is assuming he's got one more deck other than the three mentioned, but I'm sure this experiment might encourage him to pick up one of yours for the game.
  3. Encourage a budget brew pod or impose restrictions. I've found that eliminating tutors from my decks has given me a lot more variety in my games. The only tutoring I allow for myself is using lands-to-play tutors (i.e., Fetch lands, Sword of the Animist, etc). I play The Ever-Changing 'Dane, and if I wanted to ensure a win consistently, I'd pack the deck with Sidisi, Undead Vizier and Vampiric Tutor and just get Kokusho, the Evening Star to loop over and over, making Dane a copy and whatnot. Instead, removing the tutors means that I get to exercise adaptability and can include different paths that can move to a win rather than a set game plan.
    That said, this is what I personally enjoy out of my Magic games and not everybody else's.
  4. Given that you're all using a power level scale and play within your group, it could be useful to define that scale a little more. Saying every deck is a seven or a high seven or whatever doesn't really help when there's no parameters. From there, reevaluate your decks. You'll probably quickly find that the decks are mismatched in their fights. Then, like in boxing and MMA, you can organize decks by "weight class" and play those against each other.
  5. When Gideon complains, offer the challenge of brewing a deck that flies under the radar more. Maybe even a group hug deck or a slower paced deck that can also be explosive.

So, in summary, is there a Bolas? Not really. Gideon complaining about stuff sucks, and that is behaviour that needs to be addressed for it to change.

Like in many submissions for this column that involve a regular playgroup, the best advice I can give is to have a conversation. You've known each other a while, it's time to be a little vulnerable and express your feelings. Be kind, be understanding, listen to each other, make the adjustments for everybody to feel heard, and enjoy.

Thanks again for submitting! If you have a story or even a Reddit post or anything you'd like me to discuss, email me at We're taking this column to weekly again so I'll need your stories! Bring them on!


Mike Mark

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