Am I The Bolas? - Swinging in for a Trigger

Mike Carrozza • June 22, 2022

Akiri, Fearless Voyager |Illustrated by Ekaterina Burmak

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, I'm the guy who took over Xander's Lounge and made it an LGS.

Ob Nixilis is my landlord! Fitting! Commentary!

This week, a post from Reddit was forwarded my way by a few readers (thanks again!) and it's a doozy.

Hey, Mark, I Saw Something You'll Like

(Post edited for brevity and clarity)

Pro-Tip: When asking if you could 'Poke' a random opponent for an opportunistic attack or damage trigger, don't hit them with a truck.

I had this encounter happen last weekend at a table of EDH.

Player 1: Go-Shintai of Life's Origin
Player 2: Prosper, Tome-Bound
Player3: Akiri, Fearless Voyager
Player4 (Me): Galazeth Prismari

Player 1 hit all his crucial draws and land drops. He managed to fortify his board with a Sterling Grove, Greater Auramancy, Ghostly Prison, and Energy Field. His board established the pillowfort, but he had zero other Shrines or wincons to really be a 'threat' to anybody. He also had Reki, the History of Kamigawa on the field.

I knew this deck wouldn't be a problem for me, since I played a deck that had Devastation Tide and Cyclonic Rift, and it also had a lot of digging and tutoring power to grab them. However, his main point of strength was Energy Field, and he only needed to either lose or discard one permanent, then the shields come down for him to take damage.

Cue the Akiri, Fearless Voyager player, who had Akiri on the field with a Commander's Plate attached, meaning Akiri was a 6/6 with protection from blue, green, and black. He also had a Giver of Runes on the field. He had the exact tool to get rid of Energy Field: He could snipe Reki with a Sword of Fire and Ice damage trigger. I said sure, I could take it, but mentioned that I had plenty of answers to deal with that board state anyway. So he proceeds to put the Sword on the field... but then he ALSO slams down a Batterskull on the field, both attaching to Akiri and slamming down for 12 commander damage in one swoop.

I was on edge, as I did not agree to take 12 commander damage for 'a poke for a damage trigger'. I now saw him as a direct threat, rather than the enchantment pillowfort. So as his damage trigger went on the stack, I redirected that trigger with Deflecting Swat to the Giver of Runes as that was protecting his board state. In my defense, it was the only thing causing his board to become uninterruptable, should he proceed to kill the Pillowfort player and come for the rest of us after.

He proceeds to act surprised and devalued why I just "kinged his plan and support the pillowfort player", completely ignoring the fact he just put me on a 1-turn clock that nobody could block or interact with due to the many Protection of Colours. Still upset, I mentioned many times that adding the Batterskull was not part of the deal and put in a lot of needless damage, pretty much holding me at gunpoint with this attack, hence why my attention went to what made his board untargetable rather than the Shrine player's pillowfort. He then killed the Prosper player and scooped, with the Shrine player winning with literally 0 Shrines (outside his commander) played.

Lesson of today: If you ask to poke somebody for a trigger to deal with a different threat, don't smack them with something that's over half of the required damage condition to lose.

Talk (About) Smack(ing Players)

This was a really fun read.

This was sent in to me by a few readers, and I can't thank you enough. I appreciate you reading the column and participating in it. Of course, this post ends with an implied "Am I The Bolas?"  I don't think OP feels any regret or remorse, which I understand.

This is about making deals. OP offered to take a hit after discussing with the Akiri player regarding a damage trigger with the information presented to them: Sword of Fire and Ice can set the wheels in motion to take down a mutual threat. A deal is struck to get that damage trigger and nothing else. OP volunteers to take a hit they did not need to in hopes of helping the table. But for the Akiri player to slap Batterskull down? This is textbook "give an inch, take a mile".

The way the Akiri player went about this reeks of dishonesty and goes against a bit of an unspoken rule in Commander: don't go back on your deals.

In some circles, going back on your deals is permissible when presented with new information that allows you to take the game that turn. However, even then, some people don't care. Unless it's a guaranteed lock, most people rarely forget when they've been betrayed, so it's best not to go back on them.

OP made the right call. A bit of a "lemme teach youse a lesson" approach. They used the tools available to them to send a message: "That wasn't cool."

I'm not saying that everybody has to map out everything in the deal, draw up a contract, call up Falco Spara, Pactweaver to go over it, strike an accord, and then proceed. Some people have fun with words. "If I play this creature, I won't pay for Rhystic Study if you don't board wipe next turn." The deal is accepted and the Study player instead Terminates said creature. Technically, they honor the deal...

It's a little shady, but in this case, I'm way more on board because they weren't the one to offer the deal. If a player proposes a plan and the goal is to be duplicitous, to wordily set up a trap that would not have been successful without abusing the expected trust of a pod, I can tell you I'm not going to look for more games with that player.

Here's a scenario: "If  you don't kill my Sen Triplets before my turn, I promise, I won't target you with the upkeep trigger." Cut to that me getting targeted at my opponent's upkeep. 

Nope. Won't catch me and that person in a game together again.

Make a deal. Stick to the plan. Easy peasy, baby!

That's why this story is frustrating and satisfying at the same time. The Akiri player presented a deal in bad faith: they could have played Batterskull in their post-combat main phase if they really wanted to play it. OP kept up their part of the deal and reacted to it being altered. I love seeing bad behavior (yeah, it's judgy; that's the point, welcome to the column *gavel gavel bang bang*) get discouraged by being confronted by consequences.

All said, the Akiri player being oblivious to why this is frustrating and complaining that OP "kingmade" the Shrines player is baffling. Lack of self-awareness is a huge pet peeve, so I hope this player took a moment to self-reflect on the game after cooling down once it ended.

Well done, OP. Solid move. Not the Bolas.

If you would like to send me your story or another Reddit post, please email me at and I will write about it!

Love you. Thank you.

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