Am I The Bolas? - "'Sexy' Playmat?!?!"

Mike Carrozza • July 23, 2021

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!

Who am I? My name is Mark Carbonza. I'm the guy who thinks Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar is the scientific name for lobster.

Ding Dong, Is Mark Home?

This is from a while ago. At my LGS, prior to the pandemic, I would show up for their Wednesday Commander Night. Friends from my playgroup would join. Sometimes we wouldn't have enough to round out our pod and someone we didn't know would jump in.  This one time, another guy also showed up early and asked to join us. Once we all established what we wanted out of our games, New Guy pulled out his deck and playmat. The playmat was an overly sexualized depiction of an anime schoolgirl with massive breasts. His sleeves were no better. They featured Liliana and Chandra making out.

So I told him that I would not play unless he changed his playmat. That's just not comfortable to me. I said that I would sit out the game and go get a sandwich across the street until more people showed up for another pod to fire. I offered to lend another playmat and figured I could deal with his sleeves. He refused. My friends told me to calm down and that it's no big deal, but I didn't like it. To be perfectly honest, I'm actually a little upset they didn't take my side. I went to the sandwich place until the event start time. My friends telling me I was overreacting has made this story stick with me for a couple of years.

So Mark, am I the Bolas of this story?

Sincerely, Not My Thing

Hey there, Not My Thing!

Touchy subject. Also, pretty cut and dry. Let me just get this right out of the way: I abhor those cartoon or anime depictions of hyper-sexualized girls with the colossal breasts and a look in their eye that might suggest they're not the happiest with their turn of events. No matter how you slice it, it's a no from me.

If you sit at the table with me, I will ask that you not use that kind of playmat. However, I explain that you can use that playmat if you'd like, but I will let you know that I am going to clown you for the decision. I give a fair warning. 

It's how I cope with being uncomfortable with this imagery! So, Not My Thing, I'm glad you wrote in.  

Here's the deal. You were uncomfortable with something, spoke up about it, proposed a solution while setting boundaries for this situation to resolve amicably.  An ultimatum: "If New Guy plays with his playmat, I am leaving the pod until another fires." You removed yourself from an uncomfortable situation after doing whatever was in your power to compromise and make it a good time.

You are not the Bolas. 

...but does this story have a Bolas? Some are going to argue with me. I think New Guy is. However, I can see a case made for him that might garner sympathy. Ultimately, I am firm in my belief that he is wrong here. 

As to not alienate the readership that loves the image category from New Guy's mat, here are some thoughts on the matter.  Perspective is everything. New Guy probably thinks you're the Bolas because he spent money and time picking out his favorite pics that he enjoys for his sleeves and playmat (honestly, barf, I'm not even going to pretend here). Magic, especially Commander, allows for plenty of room for self-expression. Accessories are a way to personalize the game. For instance, if I have a commander that Ultra Pro has a 100 card deck box for, I'm going to get that deck box. It makes me happy! But you were uncomfortable and clearly set your boundaries. "No. I will not play if that is on the table." To New Guy, that's a denial of his expression. To you, this is somebody who is introducing discomfort to a familiar and safe environment.  You've got your friends. You wrote that they said to  "calm down" and you were "overreacting". This makes me wonder if things got a little heated. Local Game Stores are a gathering point for fun. Magic is a game and games are supposed to be fun. Both you and New Guy can argue that your fun was being attacked which is why I'm glad one of you removed yourselves from the situation.

I don't understand your friends not choosing to side with you, though. Even if they're being nice to New Guy, maybe they could have helped compromise, like "Hey, sorry New Guy, Not My Thing really doesn't like this stuff and we're old pals, so we will choose to fire a pod without you. However, NMT has already offered to lend you their sick as heck Steam Vents playmat. Does that work?"  All in all, I think this is a story of people handling a situation a little less ideally than I'd like. 

But since you're asking me? Yeah, buddy, New Guy suuuuuucks. A real d#@k. What if I showed up to a game and had an image on my playmat of, I don't know, balloons. I'm joining a pod and pull out my playmat ready to go. One of the folks in the pod pipes up with "Hey, I've got a phobia of balloons. It's totally irrational and even if I know they're not really balloons, it puts me on edge just thinking about them. Would you mind putting that away and borrowing one of my playmats?" If I said "No, I really like balloons. They really rev my engine. They're my favorite and I don't care about how upset or anxious this picture makes you," I would definitely be the Bolas. I am prioritizing my joy over the comfort of another person. That's just not how I do things. That's not even to mention how that imagery makes some women in the environment feel. I've had conversations with women who play Magic regarding this topic and while few of them are fine with it, a lot of them just, I don't know, aren't cool with objectification. "But Mike, it is an object! It's a drawing on a playmat." The mat is an object and the art depiction is the problem. So are you clinging to damn semantics. Roll that thing up and pull out another mat. 

"As long as you're not hurting anybody, I'm here to either help or get out of the way" - paraphrasing Kyle Kinane on Whiskey Icarus. 

This is the phrase that I come back to in my conduct with others. I also take it to mean its inverse. "If you are hurting somebody, I'm going to get in your way and hinder your efforts." "Are you hurting anybody?" Yes. Causing discomfort is a mental hurt.  So compromise or walk away.  When I started learning how to drive, my father told me "you're not just driving for yourself, but everybody else." Be vigilant of how you treat people around you and please speak up when someone expresses that they are being mistreated or made to feel uncomfortable. But don't forget to also stand up for yourself and others. Which is what you did, and that's why you're 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