Am I The Bolas? - Sneaky Synergy
Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter | Illustrated by Jeff Dee
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, and I'm all about Squad goals!
ALL I WANT TO DO IS BUILD YOU UP!
This week, a message about how a brew can get away from you.
(edited for brevity and clarity)
I've been reading your column for a while now, and while I've never (to my knowledge) approached being the Bolas before, I've seen it happen at my LGS, and it's no fun. Pub-stomping, blind targeting, hate-picking, new-player-mindgaming...
I'm not a long-term player, but I'm not new to the game either. I've been playing Commander for about five years now, and I've played in a variety of groups and situations. I'm someone who enjoys playing at different power levels as long as everyone is on the same page, and I generally have a few decks at different power levels when heading down to my LGS on Sundays. Before each game (the pods shuffle after each game), we have a short conversation about the power level of the decks we're using to ensure a balanced game that's fun for everyone.
Last week, I went down to my LGS with a new deck. I'd gotten Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter as my promo at Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate Prerelease, drafted around him, and had a great time. When I got home, I'd immediately gotten to brewing a full deck. It was designed to be a more casual deck; only one tutor, no two- or three-card infinites, and a silly win condition involving pinging people down with Reckless Fireweaver.
I'd goldfished it several times and it performed exactly as I expected. But this game was different. I'd thrown a Bolas's Citadel in, more for the sacrifice ability than the cast-from-library ability, and hit a Quicksmith Genius off the top. This allowed me to continue chaining spells until I hit a Poet's Quill, which I included to gain some life off my pinger effects.
I put it on my Reckless Fireweaver and suddenly found myself casting, looting, and scrying my way through my whole deck, after which I Elixir of Immortality'd my graveyard back and started over.
It wasn't something I'd ever imagined the deck doing, and it gave me a sudden joy (and truthfully some smugness) that I had brewed such a synergistic deck. While mentally patting myself on the back for my brewing skills, I realized that two of my opponents were looking at their phones and the third had gotten up and was watching another table.
Without realizing, I'd taken a 12-minute turn, with no interaction or signs that it was anything other than solitaire aside from the constant "everybody take one". I quickly did some math, realized I had more than enough Treasures to kill the table thrice over with Agent of the Iron Throne, and humbly apologized for taking up such a large part of their afternoon.
That night I sat down with the deck and looked through it with a more experienced eye. All the synergy pieces, the ones designed to smooth my draw or buffer my life total or just allow me to untap Jan Jansen on everyone's turn, suddenly seemed like the worst kind of stax pieces - designed to shut other people out of the game by my turns never ending.
Jan is currently on hiatus while I figure out where I went wrong, whether I can salvage the deck, and most importantly whether or not I owe everyone at my LGS apology ice cream.
What do you think? Am I the Bolas for building the deck the way I did, or was it the way I just wouldn't stop, or (devil's advocate here) was it on my opponents that didn't remove my board full of engine pieces?
To put "more casual" into some more context, it was a table with a Gishath, Sun's Avatar Dino Tribal deck that consistently lands Gishath on turn 6, a Thassa, Deep-Dwelling steal deck, and another deck that I can't remember. "Casual" relative to the cEDH game at the next table. Not the absolutely highest-tuned decks, but very well built and running many color staples, including removal.
TAPDANCER, HOW DO YOU DO?
I will say I don't think I'll ever get tired of a message beginning with "I've been reading your column for a while". Thanks so much for reading, and you, whoever you are, also reading this - thank you, too!
Let me get this out of the way: describing pinging people down with Reckless Fireweaver as a silly little win condition, to me, an avid aristocrats player? How dare you!
Kidding aside, it is a viable win condition, especially in a deck that produces Treasure tokens and can untap Jan Jansen, Chaos Crafter. Combo city, baby!
This one is a bit of a toughie. You described this deck as lower-powered when you met with this new pod; however, from what I gather here, you hadn't played any games beyond goldfishing. I think the best way to introduce this kind of deck is to disclose that you haven't played games with it, but that it feels low power when you test it.
Making that claim about the deck before the inclusion of one of the most busted cards to pop off with (Bolas's Citadel) means you've upped it a little notch. That said, how were you supposed to know how much that one card can impact this deck if you haven't played with it?
A few things to note: you had a lot of fun with this kind of build while playing it. I don't think you need to take apart Jan, just classify him as a stronger deck than you initially gave credit for. The synergy pieces in decks like this mean turning one resource into another at a whim. That's ridiculously powerful. Limiting these in your build could bring it down a notch, but it does mean that when you get them out, those games could send you flying.
Your opponents could have removal, but at lower-powered tables, interaction is less common. It's more of a "let people do their thing and protect mine a little" mentality than in higher-powered games. While more powerful decks want spot and mass removal spells to make about 10% of their decks, lower-powered decks look at about half that, in my experience. Putting this on your opponents' ability to use removal isn't quite fair given the expectation set before the game.
Do I think you're the Bolas for unintentionally misrepresenting the power level of your deck? No.
But I do think you should have been a little bit more mindful? When you hit maybe the 10th spell cast from this, maybe check with the table if they have anything and whether or not they see a way out. I get that sometimes people pull out their phones, but I also think it's up to them while actively participating in the game to say something like, "Hey, I think you got it, maybe let's shuffle up and we can pick new decks."
So, not the Bolas for unintentional deck power misrepresentation, but definitely a bit of a Bolas for the 12-minute turn without checking in or noticing. Twelve minutes is a really long time to go without checking in or chatting and it's difficult to believe that it went so long when Reckless Fireweaver is making it all happen.
Verdict: sorry, buddy, yeah a little!
If you have a story of your own to share and would like me to weigh in, please email email@example.com!
Love and appreciation,