Am I The Bolas? – Picking for the Table

Mike Carrozza • December 8, 2021

Council’s Judgment, Illustrated by Jeff Simpson

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 markcarbonza@gmail.com!

Who am I?

I’m Mark Carbonza! I found out some dummy named Mike Carrozza is pretending to be me!!!

HERE I COME, MARK

(Email edited for brevity, clarity, and anonymity)

Hi Mark,
Big fan of the work that your column is doing to elevate self-reflection on how we play our format! I’ve been sitting on this letter idea for a bit.
My regular playgroup has some variety in what we’re trying to get out of the Commander experience. Lately, I’ve been trying to push for more explicit Rule Zero conversations so we can match our decks to what we’re looking for that day. I’m one of the less competitive players in that I have taken objectively powerful cards or combos out of decks when they create unfun play patterns. I don’t mean to force that mentality on the group if it’s not what other people want.
We had a five-player game where three of the players were playing decks that tend to take long turns or create difficult-to-interact-with stacks without ending the game nor really pushing the game towards finishing. The other non-combo player and I joked about playing a subgame under the table while we waited for priority. I think the group could agree this wasn’t a particularly good game, but I feel like it’s indicative of how those decks can dominate the game experience for everyone.
Here’s the question: I have a pretty powerful combo deck myself. It’s not cEDH, but it can present an infinite combo pretty quickly. Would I be the Bolas for pulling out my combo deck in response to their Storm decks?
On the one hand, it seems a bit childish to fight fire with fire. I don’t want to encourage a competitive arms race. On the other hand, it also feels childish to try to force the group to play the game a certain way. If the implied contract of that game is more about individual fun than table fun, I don’t know that I’m wrong for saying that my fun option is ending the game efficiently. At least, instead of watching extended Storm turns or getting shut down by a stream of Counterspells.
Cheers,
“More of a Beer and Pretzels Kind of Player”

ADDENDUM!

In hindsight, it’s obvious those decks weren’t a match for each other. Perhaps a more driving question is “Am I the Bolas for being pushy about Rule Zero and table fun?” Our group plays together in part because our LGS scene is extremely competitive, and that’s not our vibe. I think I put the most effort into the group experience over my own gameplay or victory. I’ve definitely tried to start deck selection by asking questions or explaining why I’m picking a given deck.

MY ARMS ARE WIDE OPEN, BEER AND PRETZELS

Hi, Beer and Pretzels!
This one is tough! There aren’t outright Bolases. Both your reactions to this are fair in the face of what you’re dealing with. Your pals are playing the decks they enjoy!
Going with a “taste of their own medicine” approach might be exactly what gets through to some people, but that same approach could completely push someone off. Same goes with having an extended Rule Zero conversation.
I think that I Hate Your Deck has been doing it very well with their chats at the beginning of recent videos. I also will reiterate Lenny Wooley from EDHREC‘s advice about having a post-game chat about what you all enjoyed or didn’t about that game.
As always, being open and communicative with your playgroup is what will get you closer to everybody having as good a time can get.
I would recommend having games wherein that kind of Storm or engine deck game with longer puzzle turns are encouraged and everybody plays those. Then maybe afterwards, you can have another game where everybody plays “turn off your brain” type strategies or jank strategies.
Another thing my old playgroup did was creating different kind of pods with restrictions. We switched things up so it wouldn’t be a meta we could game, but we did a bunch: budget decks, cEDH pods, tribal-only pods, decks themed around art (for example “circles in all the art” or “people looking left in the art”). We had fun with our themes, and it kept things fresh and on a level. It kept things interesting.
Ultimately, I am right with you. I have nixed stronger spells from decks in the interest of bringing them to the middle. I refuse to run nonland tutors. I’ve had a Counterspell to stop someone from winning, but the line of play was so interesting and cool that the whole table was figuring it out together and I didn’t play the counter. I am about the group having a good time. If there are members who aren’t, then that means it’s time to have a chat.
You got this.
🙂 Thanks again for writing in.
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