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!
Who am I?
I’m Mark Carbonza! The guy who greets you when you get Hurled Through Hell!
“Welcome! The AC’s broken :(“
THIS WEEK! We have an interesting story about how infamy can hang over your head. Let’s cut to Jane’s message.
HOWDYOUDOTHERE MARK, OL’ PAL?!
Am I the bolas for defending a player who is infamous for cheating being harassed in an LGS?
There is a lot of context for this one. At my old LGS, a former pro player named Alex who is infamous for being caught cheating multiple times – most notably using the explore mechanic – used to come by and bring his cubes, which had some of the most crazy bling I’ve ever seen and were incredibly fun to play.
Once, during a Commander Cube game, a regular of the LGS came over to our game and interrupted our game to ask Alex if he was “having fun exploring” or a similar schoolyard level insult and demanding to know why Alex was allowed in the store at all. Alex explained that we were not playing a sanctioned event – there was no power in the world that could ban him from playing casual games with cards he owned, and then ignored the regular. The regular did not stop interrupting our game, and I stood up and told him if he didn’t want to play with a cheater absolutely nobody was forcing him to, and to piss off and mind his own business.
I know some people are going to wonder “why would I play with a cheater” but he was also one of the only people who went to that store who never once acted creepy towards me for being a woman. I absolutely believe that Alex was guilty of cheating and deserved to be banned from sanctioned events where he could be stealing other players’ winnings. However, I definitely felt a lot of sympathy for someone being harrassed and made to feel like they were unwelcome in a gaming space. Am I the Bolas?
– Jane Doe
MY DEAR JANE, WHY I HAVEN’T SEENT YOU IN A TURTLE’S MONTH!
Hi, Jane! Silly made up greeting aside, I feel like this experience is interesting in a few ways.
Clearly, you’ve made peace with the fact that Alex was found to be a cheater, banned from further sanctioned events, and is now wearing that badge of dishonor while playing within the rules that he is currently afforded. I can dig that. There is a case of morality prioritization here that I find fascinating. The regular who continued to press Alex about his cheating past after Alex outlined how he has paid for his cheating ways and how he is allowed to continue his relationship with the game we all love. I understand him a tiny bit, but damn, that moral compass needs a recalibration.
I have a strong sense of justice. I like to live my life knowing that if I witness or experience something that is not right, I will speak up and do my best to rectify a situation. I feel like the regular popping over and asking “What are you doing here? How are you allowed to keep playing the game, weren’t you banned?” is in line with what I would likely do. As long as he’s not hurting anybody, why continue to press on?
I’ve quoted this before, but here it is again. Kyle Kinane on Whiskey Icarus said “I’m not here to be a goalie in life. As long as you’re not hurting anybody, I’m here to either help or get out of the way.”
I feel like, if anything, Alex has moved away from hurting anybody considering he is the one who was welcoming to Jane in a non-creepy way. That can be huge for someone in our community. As much as we want to believe Magic is super-duper inclusive, there are still lots (read: too many) of people who make others uncomfortable. Being able to make that environment a welcoming space is a very good and valuable thing to contribute to somewhere like an LGS.
Has he learned his lesson? I hope so! His reputation as a cheater is going to follow him places and he can no longer play sanctioned events. Does it also merit being harassed over it? Not even close.
Going back to that Kinane quote. Jane, you did the right thing. I’d say cheating in a game where there were repercussions sustained for his actions is definitely way less harmful than someone continually annoying and making a space hostile to anybody trying to do their best. Jane, you’re not the Bolas. The regular became the horned dragon when he wouldn’t back off, even from a cheater. The regular did the exact opposite of what Alex did for you. And that’s awful.
Another thing I’d like to touch on very briefly is that we’re all human. We make mistakes. Whether that’s forgetting a trigger at your upkeep or intentionally misusing a card and cheating at tournament play. But if a cheater takes the time to do what is necessary to redeem themselves in the eyes of those they’ve harmed, even a few steps in the right direction, it’s important to recognize and appreciate that. A friend of mine once said “We don’t throw people away.” Effort to be better should be acknowledged for the outcast to feel like it isn’t just a Sisyphusian task. Alex cheated, suffered consequences, found those who accept him in his circle and even has a stock answer for people like the regular who kept pressing on. Forgiveness is powerful and can be earned. We can’t hold things over people’s heads because power or moral superiority feel nice, because then you’re the Bolas. Plain and simple.
Can’t wait for a bunch of you guys to read this last paragraph and come at me with ridiculous examples. Thanks in advance for please please please not being jerks.