Am I The Bolas? - Too Many Cooks
Gyome, Master Chef | Illustrated by Steve Prescott
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, the joke joke joke joke.
Joke joke joke joke.
This week, a message about pod size! (Email edited for brevity, clarity, etc.)
Been wanting to write in for a bit but could never find the right story or advice but now I do so I am!
So with my table group, we're usually a group of four but will occasionally have a fifth drop in. And whenever they do, the games tend to run longer and durdle a lot more. I wouldn't necessarily say this is because of the player, though I do notice he can be a bit too reactionary even when it's turn six and we're all still at 40 life.
But really, it's more the time that the games take. Tonight I was hoping to leave around 7pm and expressed as such, but wasn't able to leave until 8pm. That's only because my roommate and I were the first ones out after he died and I scooped due to a lack of any gas. I love playing with my friends, but it's frustrating that this often happens when we have five players.
In the past, I've tried suggesting variants like Star or Emperor (that one where everyone but one player has a secret role), but no one ever really wanted to, so I lost a lot of my desire to keep suggesting them.
So am I the Bolas for wanting to keep the games to four-player pods?
A Tired Chef
Given that I'd been working through a backlog of emails (Thank you so much for writing in! The set reviews keep coming up!), I responded to ATC a little later and received further context:
We tried Star (immediate players to your left and right are not opponents, the rest are) and it sadly ended with one of our players needing to take a break from the group as a whole since he wasn't even enjoying playing anymore. There was a bit of personal drama that went with it, but overall his feelings were that the table wasn't really the level of play he enjoyed with the game. He hasn't really been back to a game with this group since, and even I've had to play with them less because of this issue.
Plus, said 5th player has become fairly problematic outside of MtG to the point of the friendship between us practically dissolving.
So essentially it's become a matter of:
A) the playstyle of the table as a whole being unbalanced and unfun to some.
B) this one player many of us are starting to grow increasingly less fond of but not sure how to approach.
Hello, A Tired Chef!
Thank you so much for writing in. As you know, it means a lot to me that people write in or send in threads they find interesting on Twitter/Reddit and I appreciate you very much for doing this.
That said, this might be the easiest Am I The Bolas? article answer in the history of the column since that one where I had to comment on the lewd anime playmat.
You're not the Bolas for preferring to play Commander with four-player pods exclusively. Larger games aren't your jam! They do tend to go longer because more turns are being taken and more cards are being played. The board state of any old Commander game is already a lot to track, but I have to crane my neck out to see Player Six's board and remember that, while I'm looking over there, Player One's got Counterspell mana up? For some people, that sounds great. Heck, I think that's cool once in a while.
I don't like Emperor or Star as the basis of five-player games because sometimes it warps what my deck wants to be doing. I can, however, appreciate that the goals change and creating different focuses impacts the speed of the game.
All that said, Commander is a format whose default standard is the four-player pod. It's the numbe of players on Spelltable, it's how many players are on Game Knights or Battle of the Brews (I've been in these!) or MTGGoldfish (on Magic Online) or Brainstorm Brewery or Guardian Project Podcast streams or MTGMuddstah's game play or even EDHRECast's Twitch streams Wednesday nights (subscribe now!).
It's the perfect numbe of players. The setup of the table is contained and ideal for tracking the board. The angle for socializing requires minimal movement usually.
Frankly, I prefer four-player pods, too! In fact, if there's a four-player pod forming at my LGS and a fifth shows up, but the table is into playing five, I suggest that they play that game of four and I either wait for another pod or offer to hop in the next one. If six players are together, we split into two pods of three. It's more enjoyable and manageable in my opinion.
Especially at an LGS. I'll say that the only time I've been eager or interesting in playing more than four players has been with a playgroup of mine or trusted players. If I'm hanging out with a bunch of comedian friends who play Magic, I'll fire off a five-player pod no problem. If I'm with a handful of fellow Magic writers and content creators, let's give six players a try and see if we can learn something together!
But if I'm sitting down to any degree of unfamiliarity, I want the default. Four-player pod.
You're not the Bolas for your preference.
And neither is your friend who prefers a different kind of playstyle who has abstained from games recently. They have their own wants and needs, they'll figure it out, and if they come back, awesome.
Unfortunately, with them gone and the other player being a difficult person (with whom I'd have a chat with or kinda just let go if it's that bad), that leaves you with a three-player pod which, while not ideal, is still serviceable, so that's something? Right?
If you have any stories you'd like my thoughts on, please email email@example.com!