Am I The Bolas? - Using House Rules to Your Advantage

Mike Carrozza • July 3, 2024

Arcades, the Strategist Illustrated by Even Amundsen

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, the guy whose sleep paralysis demon is getting a card in Duskmourn!

Hey, Ovi! Been a while!

This week, a question about gaming the house rules to get what you want. 

(Post edited for brevity, clarity, and hilarity ahahahahahahahahahaha.)


I was playing my Wall kindred deck and was nearly dead on board to my friend's Zombie kindred deck. My friend searched up a Zombie lord to hand, which would be more than enough to kill me. As part of the resolution of the search, he revealed this card to all players by placing it on the table while he shuffled his deck. He forgot that he hadn't cast the lord yet and proceeded to run out a few more things from his hand.

He got to a point where he could no longer pay to cast the lord, but our playgroup is pretty generous with takebacks. However, the rule is that takebacks are acceptable unless unknown information is revealed. Fully knowing this, I played a meaningless spell from my hand - Unknown information has entered the chat - and allowed my friend to go to combat. He attacked me with everything, I blocked, then declared that I'd take a non-lethal amount of damage because it didn't include any pump from the lord, which was never cast. He accepted his fate and won the game a turn cycle later, but at least I got one more turn to try to find an answer.

Am I the Bolas for knowingly allowing my friend to misplay, then intentionally adding meaningless unknown information to the process so he couldn't use take-backs to go back and play the Zombie lord that would have killed me?

Your's truly,
Degenerate Arcades Player


Thanks for writing in, Degenerate Arcades Player! Without folks like you, the column and the podcast could never exist! If you, the reader, have a story or Reddit post you'd like me to comment on, send it over to

Let's get to the talk. You sure you were playing Arcades and not a Dimir deck? Woooooooo, baby!

This is interesting for a few reasons. Is this a common occurrence for your playgroup? When somebody mistakenly tutors a creature to play instead of to hand, does nobody say anything at all? It feels like, by the time two spells are cast and the card is supposed to be in hand but it's still on the board, I'm going to have something to say, that's for sure. I see why you wouldn't, though. I think that if they went to combat and still hadn't cast the lord, they'd still not be allowed to backtrack so severely. This raises the question: just how generous is your playgroup with the takebacks?

This is a weird one. I don't really think you're wrong for hoping for more time to try to take the win, but I definitely don't dig the way you went about it. At the very least, if I'm at the table, this would not be possible since I'd point it out. Your playgroup seems to allow takebacks from a little while back as long as hidden information isn't revealed, which could lead to some pretty warping moves like this one. It's almost like if you catch a misplay, you can play something like Dark Ritual without a plan just to ensure that the play cannot be taken back. I think, on the whole, this rule needs some revision. I'd say moving phases and declaring an attack, only to have it pointed out that the lord was never cast, should be far enough to not allow a takeback without having to snap off a card to ensure it can't be undone. 

I can't be too hard on you for competitively leaning on a rule to your advantage if that's the vibe of the table. However, when a table is this lenient with takebacks, it's usually not a particularly competitive environment. So I don't know! I guess to answer your question, you could very well be the Bolas if the vibe is wrong for this kind of play. But if your playgroup is fine with rules lawyer type moves and - I guess this qualifies as this, but - angle shooting, then you're alright. 

I think the best way to figure out whether or not you were the Bolas is to ask your playgroup directly. Do they know that's why you cast that spell? Is this something they also do? Is the vibe of the group to play to the best of your ability? This branches into two schools of thought that comes down to your interpretation of what it means to give your best. Is knowing that the Lord is the best play and that it is what spells out a win enough or is casting it absolutely necessary? Is allowing that takeback not still rewarding for the play or is the punishment of having forgotten to cast it how somebody learns to be a better player? 

If I'm at this table, I prefer pointing out what is ostensibly an illegal action (putting a card in play without playing it otherwise being allowed to). However, if we're being sweaty and you're all about sequencing and the importance of getting timing right, then I guess you're right to stay quiet. I still believe that this is not usually the environment where a takeback-rich experience thrives.

With the given context, I'm thinking you're the Bolas, but hey, I can't fully weigh in here. Chat with your friends, they know this situation way better. 

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