Am I The Bolas? - Self-Proclaimed Mastermind

Mike Carrozza • October 4, 2023

Curse of Fool's Wisdom |Illustrated by Daarken

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 and I hope everybody had fun in Vegas!

Insert alt-art Gamble with art of Goblin opening a booster pack. 

This week, getting people into Magic: The Gathering goes awry!

(Email edited for brevity, clarity, charity, parity, austerity, rarity, prosperity...)


Thanks for all the articles! I'm a regular reader of your column, and I'm interested to see your take on a situation I observed recently. It's a bit long, so I hope you will bear with me.

First, we must backtrack a bit. I introduced Magic: The Gathering and EDH to a preexisting playgroup of board gamers. They'd been playing MTG only a few months when this happened.

I was outside the game, acting as the judge. Player 1 saw my deck and wanted to borrow it, so I lent it to him. P2 and P3 had seen the deck played a few times where I managed combo wins. I must say that it was a fragile, "win big/lose big" type of deck, so they really had only seen the better side of it.

P2 and P3 started the game thinking the deck I loaned P1 could kill anytime. P4 was mostly chilling, not understanding what was wrong because the commander was not threatening. P2 was also running a new deck that he was very excited to try.

The game progressed as usual. P1, being unfamiliar with the colors and playstyle, made a lot of suboptimal plays; he had told me not to tell him until the game ended, so I watched silently. P2 and P3 decided they would let P1 try out the deck and purposefully attack each other and P4. P4 still hit P1 when opportunity presented, and P1 was at dangerously low health because he hoarded all the removals. P3 was building a terribly wide and beefy board. Both P2 and P4 tried to handle the board, but P1 decided to do nothing even when he almost always had something on hand.

Then almost two hours in, the game shifted towards the endgame. P3 had a game-winning hand and board state but held it for three turns while P1 fiddled and stabilized his board state, laying out his engines one by one once he kinda got the hang of it. P2 had a lot of life and a bunch of tokens, and he was very happy this deck worked. P2 very cheerfully decided to end P3 and P4 since he had something to make his creatures unblockable and P3 was becoming too much a threat. P1 teased P2, asking if he would not send one his way (P1 was at very low life, and could easily be killed in one shot). P2 humored P1, sending one 1/1 token at P1 so P1 wouldn't die.

Then before blockers are declared, P1 flashed in removal to deal with the card that made P2 unblockable. P1 smugly told P3 and P4 to finish P2 now that he had saved them. P2 was shocked and infuriated at this action since he felt it was uncouth given he wasn't even trying to attack P1 in the first place. P1 goaded him to, and he still sent him something that would not be lethal. P2 thought P1 was robbing his joy of being able to kill people with that deck and complained to everyone but P1 (via chat). P3 proceeded to kill P2 and P4, leaving P1 to finish playing. P1 took a very long time playing with himself without realizing he had lethal on board. Without having to do complicated combo sequences as P3 had exhausted his resources for the kills, P1 took the win.

P2 was still fuming long after the game ended. P1's reasoning was P2 was at high life totals and plenty of stuff on board, while P3 had a bunch of things out but only 1 card in hand and low life. P2 sincerely believed that my deck could have wiped his board and his life total in one fell swoop (and it... kinda could). I told P2 that it would take knowledge of the deck and I was not sure P1 could pull it off, so I got where P1's judgment came from. P2 wouldn't believe me at all, reminding me of all those flashy finishes I did before.

Fast forward to the next day, P1 asked me what he did wrong, and I told him he hoarded removal way too much and let himself take too much damage. P1 defended himself saying he managed a win anyway, to which I was compelled to say that he wouldn't have been alive had he not played with his friends. P1 didn't believe it and proudly called P2 and P3 to smugly proclaim he did play nicely and the deck was not too difficult to use. Specifically, that he 'politicked his way through' so the risky plays were 'as planned'. P2 was still salty over the game and this call got him even angrier.

P3 tried to explain that they totally held back, that the win was totally not because P1 was a genius in politics. They just let him have a taste for the deck he borrowed. P1 was confused as he totally believed he won out of his ingenuity and the other players were just making very suboptimal moves one after another. Many minutes later, P1 came to a conclusion: it was still his win at politics, because he managed to get the table to pity him and not kill him despite everyone being able to! He practically gloated that everyone was dancing in his palms. P2 groaned and left the group. P3 gave up trying.

I got the personal sides of P1, P2, and P3 because they told me after the game. I told them they really should tell P1 since they had known each other for years, but they didn't. I sent a few messages back and forth to clarify and convey their intentions to each other, but then I refused to do it anymore. I wasn't going to intervene in their relationship dynamics. I assumed they should have been able to resolve things themselves.

Personally, my take is: P1 went quite Bolas in the convo the day after, but P2 and P3 were also making questionable decisions by holding back without making it clear they held back, then getting mad about it afterwards. They could have said, "Hey, I can kill you now, but in the interest of letting you try this new deck, I will let you live." And they really should make their feelings known to P1 directly instead of telling an outsider like me.

Phew, that was a lot. And I think I'm going to take a break from teaching MTG to completely new people for a while.

The Lady of Otaria


Hello, and thank you for writing in! I appreciate everybody who does even when we can't use the story; it means a whole lot to me that you think of the column and want to participate. If you've got a story or even a Reddit post you'd like me to go over here at Am I The Bolas?, please feel free to send it over to

Now, Lady of Otaria, this is an interesting one because you're not really involved in the game! As a bystander, you get to see things from a perspective we don't usually get for these submissions. That said, here's how I feel.

Player 1 is being a bit of a douche.

I don't know how else to put it. Player 1 is the Bolas, no doubt. Even after being told that the rest of the table was taking it easy on him because he was piloting a deck he's never played in a game he has less experience in, he decides that he was a mastermind of sorts or a puppet master and the rest of his friends are beneath him.

This is what's being conveyed. This is one of those "true colors" moments where someone reveals themselves in a way that is illuminating, and that bell can't be unrung. To initiate a phone call and essentially boast about his "political" prowess is just bad sportsmanship and being a sore winner. To not have the awareness, even when told, that his friends were being kind to him is quite disappointing.

Were they playing for real, there'd be no reason to pull punches and P1 would have been eliminated. Full stop.

Not a mastermind, not a politics expert, not a win earned in any sense. But a real (Editor's note: use a different word, Mike) to his friends. And that sucks.

Bolas. Easy. 

Thanks again for reading! It always rules to get submissions and comments. I appreciate you all!

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