Am I The Bolas? - Who Deserved the Crown?
Crown of Doom Illustrated by Jasper Sandner
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 email@example.com!
Who am I?
I'm Mark Carbonza! I'm the placeholder for this part of the article on purpose because that's the gag this week - does anybody think it's funny? I had a good laugh at it!
This week, a conversation about kingmaking and whether it can be avoided or not. Kingmaking is when your actions in game intentionally give an opponent an edge for the win when you no longer are in the running.
Honk honk, Marky Mark!
(email edited for brevity and clarity)
This story/event isn't necessarily about me being the Bolas, but about me thinking someone else was the Bolas and me getting mad about it.
After a board wipe, I had a lot of lands and a ton of cards in my hand so I was able to recover quickly. Life totals were very low and I ended my turn with a board state that could kill everyone at the table on the next turn. Seeing this, two players coordinated to take me out, which I would usually be fine with. One player had tons of flyers and the other had Lathril as his commander. They went through with their plan, and the player with flyers took me to single digit life while the Lathril player took me and the flyers player out in one go.
This made me very salty because, to me, it looked like the flyers player was throwing away his own win to give it to the Lathril player and to make me lose. The response of the flyers player was "it's the only thing I can do to still influence the game", which I understand. But it did not make me less upset.
This situation has made me think a lot about the idea of kingmaking. I was angry and salty at the flyers player, but I understand that he wanted to influence the game in his last turn, even if he was going to lose regardless. In short, am I the Bolas because I was mad at kingmaking?
Beep beep, Tijmen Tij!
Your feelings are valid. I understand where you're coming from.
But let's take a step back.
The player piloting the flyers was kingmaking, pretty clearly. However, from their perspective, he essentially would be kingmaking no matter what. By doing what he's done, he kingmade Lathril. By attacking Lathril, he kingmakes you. By not doing anything, he puts Lathril at a severe disadvantage for resources as you are the imminent threat with the win on board, which means he kingmakes you in a subtler way.
Either way, in the eyes of the victor, it is well earned. They politicked their way to a win. If you had won, you'd done everything right, set up the kill and executed. That's an earned win for you, right?
In the way that the flyers player behaved, there's an interesting phenomenon that comes up in multiplayer games wherein a threat is presented and overtakes the free-for-all. This creates an archenemy situation to the point where, even if a player loses, if someone achieves the same goal they were setting out for, they consider this a win for themselves in a way.
In a game where everyone is working toward the goal of killing each other, sometimes people can forget that they are the villain to someone else. When one person gets too close to achieving their goal when it's mass execution, there's bound to be some banding together among those being attacked.
Kingmaking in these scenarios as described above can have a bit of a heroic feel to it, like a "I jumped in front of my friend as they were being shot at with an arrow and now I am the one who has been shot with an arrow!" kind of thing. Sure they die too, but they did something valorous.
I find this kind of kingmaking to be a bit more of a grey area. Unlike the kind of kingmaking where someone decides to severely help someone or ruin someone's whole deal on the way out - "I guess I'm dead to this attack so...I'll destroy that Curse of Thirst on the other player so they can kill the curse deck that just took me out." That's awful.
But to play things out and eke out a second place by kingmaking, that's not the great nor is it the worst, but it's understandable. The good news is the game is over and there's time to shuffle up and go again.
So while I can validate your feelings that this doesn't feel good, I believe your initial reaction is that of a Bolas, but your softening to it upon reflection reveals that deep down that's not who you are.
Not the Bolas, but definitely can be one if the anger was worse and was manifested outwardly.
Thanks again for writing in, Tijmen!
If you have a story you'd like me to weigh in on, email firstname.lastname@example.org