Am I The Bolas? - The Ethics of Land Destruction

Mike Carrozza • July 10, 2024

Armageddon Illustrated by Chris Rahn

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?"

I'm ready to hear you out and offer advice. All you have to do is email! You might see your story in the column. You might even hear it on the podcast. Which podcast? 


I'm Mike Carrozza, aka Mark Carbonza, and my new bed is uncomfortable!

I don't even feel like myself anymore!

This week, land destruction - a taboo at tables.

(Post edited for brevity, clarity, and temerity.)


Hello Mark,

I am wondering if I am a bad guy for playing land destruction at a casual get together among friends.

I started playing Magic by borrowing one of my brother's decks whenever he had friends over that wanted to play Commander. I would play random decks blind with them and generally have a good time. In the last year, I have finally taken the plunge and bought my own decks and started playing Magic more regularly.

This friend group got together with a box of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth and we had a draft. I really enjoyed the experience, and all of the decks ended up being two colors with one of them having red or black. Two of my wins came from a single card I drafted and played called Fire of Orthanc: once by removing a player's only source of red mana they had, and a second win from not allowing them to block so I could swing for lethal.

The first time I played it, a murmur went down the table that someone was playing land destruction. I can understand that it is not a fun thing to be mana-screwed. I put it in the deck since I had no ramp but figured I might get a turn ahead on land. Nobody said anything particularly negative to me for drafting that card other than my opponent, who said it would have been a very different game if I hadn't done that. Was I wrong to assume anything in the packs was fair to play, or should I have stayed away from a ruthless move since we were there to just hang out? Any insight would be appreciated.



Thank you so much for writing in! As I say every week, there's no column without the folks who send a story my way. If you, the reader, have a story you'd like me to chat about, whether it's your own, something you witnessed, or a Reddit story, send it to I'll respond with a few questions and we'll get it up for the column as soon as possible. 

It's been a little while since anybody's brought up land destruction for the column. The most interesting part of this submission to me is your perspective; you're new to the format and only have experience with targeted land removal in Limited before taking it over to Commander. 

First off, I'll say that this is enough reason to say you're not the Bolas. Welcome to Commander, buddy. You're not a villain for learning the ropes. This submission is very clearly a case of an unwritten rule not being brought to your attention until it's too late. Unfortunately, these unwritten rules cause a ton of frustration as they deal with expectations, and when some people operate within those expectations while others don't, it feels like a betrayal of the spirit of play. This is why unwritten rules are a headache for the format across the board. 

Of those unwritten rules is that land destruction is "frowned upon", although I'd argue that mass land destruction is really what people mean here. The idea that someone would blow up all the lands on board, extending the game, removing the most important resources from a player, and then not having a follow-up that would win, aka not having a plan, now that's frustrating, but with lands out there like Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Cabal Coffers kicking around for as long as they have, only feeding more and more powerful cards the necessary mana, a little Cleansing Wildfire here or there can really take down the person who is running away with the game. A well-timed Casualties of War can really set you up to take over in a big way, and taking a land out shouldn't be an afterthought! 

The reason nobody said anything when you were drafting is because, in one-on-one games, the goal is to win, and all your cards work toward that, regardless of means. Nothing is off-limits in one-on-one because who else's creature am I supposed to Doom Blade? My own? No! 

In Commander, there's the social aspect of the format that's held in high priority. Everybody wants a chance to feel good, and that usually means everybody wants to be able to "Do The Thing". They want to make sure their deck's gameplan is achieved, and usually that's enough to feel like a win at a casual table. Cards like Fire of Orthanc serve as a way to get damage in and to remove a permanent that is enabling the opponent. Going after a land that happens to be the only one that grants access to a color is going to ruffle feathers. In one-on-one? That's the smartest play! Ruin their game! In Commander, however, you significantly reduce someone's ability to "Do The Thing", and that usually means less fun for someone. It's kind of a no-no, but if you find a playgroup that's okay with it and you have Rule Zero discussion around it, it no longer becomes an unwritten rule, but rather a thing you have talked about with your opponents prior to engaging. 

Rereading your submission, it does seem like this was some sort of Limited Commander event, and it's pretty unclear if people were playing one-on-one or not. Either way, if it's in the Limited environment, I'd have to say it's pretty fair game to begin with. 

This submission acted as a great springboard for this topic that I believe we'll be seeing more of: I think targeted and maybe even mass land destruction is coming back to being okay. Of course, in your playgroup, if people hate it and Rule Zero deems it uncool, then majority rule, don't play it. If you show up to an LGS and folks similarly don't want to play against it, don't play it. But I think we'll see more folks out there being alright with it as the format is crept and gets faster and faster.

Thanks again for writing in! And thank you for reading! 

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