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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
I'm Mark Carbonza! I'm the only guy who reads this intro every article!
WORDS! ARE! POWER!
This week, a message from a dog owner!
(Email edited for clarity and brevity.)
WOOF WOOF MARK
I really enjoy the column, keep up the good work!
I had a situation at my LGS a couple of weeks ago that's been sticking in my mind, and I go back and forth about how bad of a thing it was that I did.
It was a five-person pod because there were a lot of players at the store that week; I don't remember all of the decks at the table, but I was playing/ legendary tribal, and the other player in question was playing a blinged out deck.
The game started out pretty slow for the other players and I was taking the opportunity to get in damage with THE DOG before someone inevitably removed it. Everyone had weenies out but the Obeka player was spending their turn playing very strong mana rocks and enchantments, so I was attacking them since I saw them as a threat to go off out of nowhere, and because they were open and Kediss was allowing me to do damage to the rest of the table if I could get in with THE DOG.
Around their turn 5 they were one hit away from dying to THE DOG by commander damage. They had Obeka out with aattached, so I couldn't remove her to get in for the kill even if I'd wanted to. At this point, I had decided I would start attacking someone else so as not to knock someone out of a five-person pod so early in the game, but was hoping the threat of THE DOG killing them would prevent them from doing Obeka shenanigans. They said out loud something to the effect of: "He is going to kill me with Yoshimaru next turn unless I or someone else do something," and then proceeded to tap out for a spell that drew them three cards that would make them discard three at end of turn. Instead of leaving Obeka untapped, their one untargetable blocker to prevent THE DOG from killing them... they tap it to end the turn so they don't have to discard three cards and pass with no blockers and no mana up.
At this point, I sort of felt like they were either holding up some sort of free trick they could use, or they just knowingly allowed themselves to die so that they wouldn't have to discard (which seemed unlikely), so I attacked, partially because I wanted to let them have it and partially because I felt like they were dissing THE DOG...
The other players seemed a little taken aback that I had actually attacked them, and brought it up several times throughout the rest of the game. The player I killed stuck around and at one point complained that, "There was nothing I could do, that's what my deck does," which I thought was a little ridiculous seeing as the kill was on the board.
I'm feeling a bit Bolas-y reading this back now but I'm interested in your feedback on this situation, as I feel it illustrates an interesting dynamic between gameplay decisions and social contract that often complicates games of commander.
Hi, Gabriel! Thanks for writing in! I love it when folks send me their stories, so thank you again to all who've submitted - and that can be you!
I have to start by saying that someone else's poor threat assessment is not your fault. Let's go with that, right off the top. Obeka's controller was aware and expressed their awareness of their Doge clock, so it's not your problem that they chose to activate Obeka instead of discarding to what I assume was. This cost them the game because they telegraphed the possibility of free removal since they - armed with the information that they would lose if they did not have a blocker - lowered their shields and players like yourself know to be skeptical. is a powerful and popular card in EDH and it's totally fair to call the bluff.
That being said, dear lord, it is so frustrating being knocked out of a five-player pod first. Depending on the vibe at this particular table, maybe it was not the right move, but I think it was correct and here's why:
- You are playing an aggro deck, and with Kediss out, Yoshimaru hitting any opponent is moving you forward in your gameplan. Obeka player is wide open.
- The Obeka player had a creature, protected by Greaves, as the perfect blocker to stave off THE DOG and rather than keeping them up, they chose to tap Obeka on their own turn. What disrespect to the aggro player!
- You call the bluff and bait out surprise removal so you don't have to worry about it later. Not to mention it would be used against your one-mana commander. Worst case scenario, you are hitting an opponent for lethal.
You mentioned that the Obeka player was taking a lot of set-up turns, playing rocks, remaining open. This is to be expected in a casual pod, but you are on an aggro strategy looking for any opening you have. This is a tough article.
I emailed Gabriel about any omissions from the first email and this is what he had to say:
"I guess one aspect I didn't really include was that the clear blinginess of their deck was a big part of my threat assessment, which, in hindsight, is maybe the wrong way of looking at it, and could be an interesting aspect to the story, but maybe it muddies the waters too much. Obeka is no doubt a scary commander, and they were getting pretty set up, other people at the table seemed worried, etc., but I honestly initially started attacking them because of how expensive their deck looked, and read that as an indication of its power level. Include that or don't, I trust you to make it work for your purposes!"
I appreciate your self-reflection here. Blinginess isn't a marker of a deck's power. It usually just signals that the deck is a labour of love. That said, the table being weary of the Obeka deck and the fact that it is often a combo deck means that those set up turns tend to turn into win-the-game turns at the snap of fingers.
I still maintain that the aggro strategy smacking the player who is open, especially the one who had a blocker but chose to tap it down, is reason enough.
I don't think you're the Bolas in this case. However, if the game was more casual and the table discussed it, laying off a player in a five-player game without combo decks would be my speed. Given the information provided, this was the right way to tackle the situation.
Thanks again for writing in!