Am I The Bolas? - This is an Expensive Game

Mike Carrozza • March 15, 2023

Smothering Tithe | Illustrated by Mark Behm

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, Gnshhagghkkapphribbit!

This week, skill and money. Fight!

(email edited for brevity and clarity and all that other good stuff.)


Hello, Mark,

I recently started playing Magic: the Gathering and Commander last year. For context, I started playing during the pre-release of Commander Legends: Battle for Baldur's Gate. I've been enjoying myself, and I own a handful of decks and use Moxfield to keep track of them and brew up lists for future decks I want to build. Playing Commander helps me get out of the house more.

I do my best whenever possible to avoid spending more than $25 on any individual card in my deck; I remember gritting my teeth at buying someone's gently used Smothering Tithe for my Gishath, Sun's Avatar/Kaheera, the Orphanguard deck. I just can't justify spending that much on any individual card, and I could only build that deck thanks to some fortunate pulls and saving up during the holidays.

That being said, at the LGS I frequent, there is a mix of cEDH players and casual players who have played together for years. They have their own rules & guidelines in place - of relevance, allowing proxies, provided you can show you own the card.

Being one of the new guys, I respect that this is what everyone else is okay with. I also try to respect when people say they would rather not play against certain strategies; for example, I decided not to field my Faldorn, Dread Wolf Herald deck after one player said he didn't like playing against Cascade cards.

Given how many of these folks have been playing for years as well as not being confrontational by nature, I would rather respect what has been established rather than impose a desire to tell people not to play with certain cards because they are "too expensive", or worse, lie and make proxies without telling them as has been suggested to me elsewhere online. Also, this is one of the only game stores for miles, and playing online isn't practical for me at the moment. I recognize that there are some downsides to this approach, and that, realistically, I should only be winning about 25% of the games I play, so losing isn't usually a problem for me.

Where I start getting internally frustrated, though, is when I'm playing one of my decks and someone manages to drop several Moxen on turn one, then win by turn three while thinking in the back of my head, "Wow, I don't think I have anything in my collection that can generate a win that quickly."

Here's where my struggles come in: I am bumping against the ceiling of what I can comfortably spend on my decks. My collection of cards is small, and trading isn't really something I can do given the low value of what I own. In fact, I have tried to offer trades before, but because I didn't own anything anyone wanted or needed I was rejected.

So my question for you is this: how do I avoid becoming the Bolas when your ability to build your deck seems to pale in comparison to what others are able to do?

Thank you,


P.S. If you would like to have an idea of what I am working with, my Moxfield decks are made under Breithaj13. The Teeg, Liesa, Doran, Windgrace, & Dina lists are ones I hope to build over the next few years. Feedback is appreciated.

I followed up with JakeBreak and got some more context.

As far as having anything to add, I guess it would be that I recognize money does not equal skill and that even budget players can get a win; even I have eked out wins with an Ivy Lane Denizen/Scurry Oak or Herd Baloth once in a while. I think in my case, it's more so managing expectations and keeping things in perspective while avoiding envy.

I find my discouragement tends to happen more when I play at a table with cEDH players than with other lower-powered decks. Let's say I sit down at a table of four with my Selvala, Explorer Returned deck with three others. I see someone playing Kozilek, the Great Distortion, Edgar Markov, and Kenrith, the Returned King. I'll do my threat assessment:

"Okay, Kozilek will take a while to keep going, Kenrith may need a few turns to fetch his colors before he storms off, and I've lost a few times to Edgar's tokens before, so I'll keep my eyes on Edgar and Kenrith."

Cut to turn three, the Kenrith player has Dockside Extortionist, Mana Crypt, Mox Amber, Mana Vault, and Mox Diamond out and is going infinite with a blink combo I can follow but have no immediate answer to, even though I know I have removal, like Swords to Plowshares & Beast Within, in my deck.

My thoughts are as follows:

1. Nothing in my deck can quite go off that hard.
2. This seems like a lot of effort for a single booster pack (The winner of the first game at the LGS gets their pick of one booster from the current set.)
3. A bit early for a win, but cool to see.
4. Take a breath, it's a casual hobby. You don't need to contribute to speed creep just because you lost. Nobody wins all the time.
5. Man, I wish I had something worthwhile to trade.


Thanks, JakeBreak! I appreciate you writing in and being so detailed. I had to cut things down and it's still long, but informative.

If you, the reader, have a story and you'd like me to weigh in, email me at

I'm going to cut to the chase pretty quickly and be blunt:

Either have the conversation with the people you're playing with or deal with your current power level and timeline.

I don't believe that there is at all any necessity for the "confrontation" to turn into "don't play those cards", but rather discuss the fact that where you're at financially requires you to make some concessions and it feels bad because this is your preferred rate of play and you'd like to keep up.

I haven't met a cEDH player who isn't okay with proxies, personally. In my experience, cEDH players agree on one thing: they want to play against those playing to win to the best of their ability. If there were no limits, would you pilot the deck to win and give it your 100%? Yeah? Great! That's what I've experienced when chatting with cEDH players. The limitation of actually owning a card when so many cEDH staples are $30 and above - a full $5 above your personal threshold - is frustrating. I'm not saying you can't trade up from a thumbtack, but it's definitely going to be something to consider going forward.

Or you could have a conversation with the people you've begun to get to know. You've been at this LGS for some time now, and maybe there's an exception to be made. Maybe someone has a spare deck for you to pilot for a game to whet your appetite. If they shut you down and say no exceptions can be made or there are no decks to borrow, I'm bummed about it, but them's the brakes. At least for this LGS. Maybe some guys at the store don't mind it so much and there's an opportunity to branch away from the LGS and become your own playgroup that allows you to proxy despite not owning a card.

I'm half-tempted to say that my collection belongs to everybody who wants to proxy in leagues that allow it if you own it. Guess what, you do own it. I'm lending it to you from here.

You're not the Bolas for wanting to play a game that is so fun and satisfying as Magic. You're not the Bolas for wanting to match a power level that you prefer. You are not, nor will you ever be, the Bolas for not being able to buy in or comfortably afford to play a game like this. Magic has given me so much in my life. I have friends from the game, I gained a sense of curiosity for learning, I understand so much more when I apply the lens of the game to it, I feel creative and inspired by it.

I bought in early and young and when things were way less expensive and I got to flip some of those for money or trades. Buying in now seems daunting especially if you're geared toward more competitive play.

Depending on that conversation's outcome, you might need to tough it out or change your pace. Either way, it'll get you out of this fork in the road and I bet you'll feel better knowing that you made the effort here.


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