Am I The Bolas? - Universes BeYAWNd!

Mike Carrozza • February 21, 2024

(The Eleventh Doctor |Illustrated by Justyna Dura)

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 Mark Carbonza, the guy who's going to Chicago this weekend! Let's go, everybody! Say hi!

I hear it gets pretty cold when the wind is pushin'.

This week, let's talk about friggin' Universes Beyond again!

(Post edited for brevity, clarity, and to do a little bit of razzle dazzle!)


Hi Mike,

Love the column, always entertaining.

I've been playing Magic: The Gathering since I was 10 in 1996, and I currently play Commander at a local bar and LGS. Lately, I've been feeling that I might be the Bolas.

I understand everyone has their preferences and what not, but I am not a fan of Universes Beyond cards in MtG. Personally, I find that stuff very tacky, and think it takes away from the unique and flavorful world built up over 30 years.

Recently, I was playing at the bar, which is very new-player-friendly. That night, there were 11 of us, which meant there was going to be a pod of three. I was in one of the four-player pods. We all reveal our commanders, and it turns out one of the people in my pod, a new player, is rocking one of the Doctor Who* precons, explaining since he's new to MtG it seemed like the best way to shuffle up and start playing.

I explained to the new player my personal dislike for Universes Beyond and, for a lack of a better word, the vibe it brings to the game. Unfortunately, he has no other decks. Overhearing this, the three-player pod welcomes him over and the new player happily joins them. Me and this player were both mutually understanding. He's been back often and we've since played many great games.

However, on the night in question, one of the players in our now three-player pod was a little cranky at having gone from four to three players. He didn't understand why I don't like UB commanders, and I explained how they ruin games for me. He pointed out that my commander, Zilortha, Strength Incarnate, is clearly a rip off of Godzilla (I have a foiled-etched Commander Masters print). I explained that the difference as I see it is design took something they love, kaiju movies, and used that love to create something unique and flavorful and added it to MtG instead of just ripping a known IP. He said I was being a hypocrite.

The whole exchange left a bitter taste in my mouth. Am I the Bolas for yucking another's yum? Is not wanting play across from Optimus Prime, Hero all that different from not wanting to play against certain archetypes like forced combat and wheels?



*Edit from Mark/Mike: The original email said Fallout, but those precons aren't even out yet and this email came when the Doctor Who decks were just coming out, so I made this call. 


Firstly, thank you for writing in, Gruulzilla. I appreciate you taking the time and asking me to comment on your story/opinion. If you, the reader, have a story or spot one on Reddit you'd like me to cover for the column, please send it over to me at

Okay, here we go. 

Look, Gruulzilla. I'm sorry if at times this comes off as a little harsh or blunt or even a little insensitive, but I'm at an airport typing and there's something about being in the void between Canadian airport and America that makes me want to not mince words.

Let's start with this: I do understand where you're coming from. I hated Secret Lair: The Walking Dead when it first came out mostly because of the fact that they were unique cards with no direct pipeline to wide access. I also disliked that they were only available as non-Magic universe cards. So far, I'm with you. However, this was years ago, and WotC has made it clear that, while they made Universes Within versions of The Walking Dead, Stranger Things, and Street Fighter drops, this practice is being abandoned. I think this is a bummer because I quite like Universes Within.

I also agree that the "Godzilla treatment", as it's been called, is the better way to handle non-Magic IPs in cards that are available in Magic's own universe. Furthermore, it can still be used, and I think it's the way to go.

I am also a huge fan of Magic's world! I love the characters, I love the planes, I love seeing outside influences in Magic that aren't necessarily those things. All of this is great stuff, and I agree with your concerns about Universes Beyond diluting Magic's flavor although I think they've been doing a great job with story.

Wizards just announced that we're to expect two full UB sets and supplemental product a year starting in 2025. I think it's a little shortsighted to base this on the Lord of the Rings set doing well considering, as far as non-Magic IPs go, LOTR and Warhammer 40K are probably best suited to merge into Magic without causing too much confused head-tilting.

Okay, I agree with you on something and understand your feelings.

But buddy, come on. 

A player shows up with just a precon deck that they just got, and your instinct is to poo-poo it like you're the (Editor's note: avoid unnecessary curse words, Mike) king of France. Buddy, come on. You're in a space that you described as "new-player-friendly", yet you're contributing to the opposite of that vibe. 

Not to mention that this is over something that is already part of Magic's present and future. You'll save yourself a lot of headaches and heartache if you just let go what you can't control. Other players will play Universes Beyond cards and love them, some might even hate them like you, but they're game pieces that are for a game that you are playing with other people who also love the game that you are playing!

You don't just get to high horse because you picked up a Zilortha, Strength Incarnate once it was reprinted in its non-Godzilla form. You get to enjoy that card because of Universes Beyond. It's a real chicken and egg situation, but personally, I think that Ikoria wouldn't have been Ikoria if Godzilla wasn't already on the table. The story was disconnected and, if I'm going to be blunt with you, I may as well be blunt with everybody, dog (Editor's note: Mike. Please.). 

Either way, Gruulzilla, you're the Bolas for creating a scenario/environment where a new player felt unwelcome, or at the very least a situation wherein a table nearby felt the need to interject and invite that player to their table. I understand that you and the new player have since been cool and played games, but I have to reiterate the following:

Things change. Nothing stays the same. The game you loved in 1996 has seen many, many years. While I am with you in that I prefer the Magic universe being a priority, this is the direction it's going. We're not losing Magic sets to Universes Beyond. WotC, which has been putting out a ridiculous amount of stuff lately and will continue to do so, will be supplementing the standard sets with UB stuff. 

And it sells well. It means that people love the stuff. The cards are interesting. They do good things. They are top-down designs and open up new space. It's innovative and cool. I couldn't give less of a (Editor's note: MIKE!) about Doctor freaking Who, but I built The Ninth Doctor and Clara Oswald Grixis upkeeps, and it's the most fun I've had in a while with a theme I wouldn't have thought of if it wasn't for WotC designers being inspired by The Ninth Doctor himself.

If you don't want to play with them, that's on you. If you don't want to play against them, that's going to be harder and harder to do. If you find like-minded people, enjoy that, I'm sure they're out there. But trust me, it gets a lot easier if you let go of what you cannot control. 

Sorry, buddy. Bolas. 


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