Am I The Bolas? - Who Tracks Commander Damage?

Mike Carrozza • April 24, 2024

(Rafiq of the Many |Illustrated by Michael Komarck

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This week, something I genuinely hadn't been questioned before!

(Post edited for brevity, clarity, and for a little flair here and there. Huzzah!)


Howdy Mike,

Here's how I would sum up the situation I encountered yesterday at my LGS:

A player I actually like, and have played with before, did something that kind of boggled my mind yesterday. Another player attacked them with their commander, Neyali, Suns' Vanguard, and I casually mentioned that it was commander damage.

Their response? "Commander damage is the responsibility of the player," gesturing to the other player who had attacked him with Neyali.

As a Commander player of 14 years, I'd never run into this before. Some people hate commander damage, sure, but they still begrudgingly track it when asked. Even going back to my early days when we played commander damage incorrectly (unified, as opposed to per commander) because it was the wild west, you tracked commander damage dealt to you. With that in mind, I probably reacted in the wrong way, flatly stating "No. Not even if it was the rules." Not my proudest moment, but the table sensed the tension and moved on, commander damage untracked.

To be fair, it had no effect on the game whatsoever, with a Falco Spara, Pactweaver player later going nuts and flying over the top with a horde of creatures to kill us all, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth. Further complicating matters, the player in question was using a life wheel to track his life total, while the rest of us were using a life tracker app, which would have made the whole thing a non-issue. We didn't push him on using the life tracker, and I myself prefer dice in most of my games, but still... This seemed combative for no reason.

I dunno... Am I the Bolas for expecting you to keep track of commander damage I dealt to you? Seems like common courtesy, tbh.




Hey Dorg!

Thanks for writing in! If you, the reader, have a story to share or a Reddit post you'd like me to chat about here, send it over to As I always say, the column couldn't exist without folks like you writing in, and without the column, there wouldn't be A PODCAST! Am I The Bolcast?'s latest episode dropped yesterday!

Now, onto the commander damage discussion.

I genuinely had not thought about this before. Has it come up before? Probably in passing, but never has this been posed as a question to me, and I've never thought to question it. This will feel more like a bit of a stream-of-consciousness entry than an article with a verdict, maybe!

When I learned about Commander and all its rules, commander damage was just tracked by the player taking the damage. I never thought more about it. 

But let's have us a think!

I guess it all depends on how you see commander damage. It'd be a lot less of an argument if it was treated like infect. It's codified in the rules: the player gets poison counters, and since those are on the player, that'd be on the player to track.

Is commander damage a win condition or is it like having another life total? Let's say commander damage is my deck's plan. I run a Voltron deck, my commander is my rocketship to victory, my goal is to hit each of my opponents with a 21-damage punch. Since it's so important to me, shouldn't I be the one to keep track of the commander damage?

Commander damage isn't the gameplan for a lot of decks. I tend to run decks that love a Zulaport Cutthroat finish, for example, so when it's important to the gameplan, wouldn't the player who knows that this will come up be best equipped to do so? If I play with the initiative, I make sure to have extra copies of The Undercity for each of my opponents in case they can get through my White Plume Adventurer and take the initiative away from me. If I plan to play a Voltron strategy where commander damage matters, my instinct is to bring a grip of spindowns and to make sure that I know how much commander damage it will take for me to win. But that's me! I wouldn't bat an eye if my opponents started tracking the commander damage I've done to them.

Because, essentially, commander damage is like a secret second health bar. Should I not have to represent public knowledge that affects the game? If someone needs to know how many cards are in my library, I have to count them out and present that information. If somebody needs to see my graveyard, I need to provide a list of its contents or at least the interesting bits. How much commander damage have I taken from Rafiq of the Many? I should have to present that similarly to having poison counters. And then there are the corner cases, like if somebody slams Act of Treason, taking a commander for combat; it feels like public knowledge of all commander damage would be important to have, right?

What side am I on? I'm in a bit of a middle ground. I say if you're playing a Voltron deck, bring three spindowns but offer them to your opponent as a means of tracking the commander damage dealt to them by you so you provide the means and they do the tracking because much like a life total, that's where I'm looking when I make an attack. Heck, if I'm at a table, I've got a pack of Infinitokens we can all use to write it all down for everybody and have that in the middle where our playmate overlap. 

What I'm not gelling with in this story is that the person who isn't tracking their commander damage is also the person who refuses to use the lifetracker app on a phone. The apps are designed to do this work for you. Not to mention all of these apps, even SpellTable, put commander damage tracking on the person receiving it. Is this maybe why he stuck to his guns and refused the app even? Lots of foresight, if so. 

That said, though, I have a pretty sweet Elesh Norn, Phyrexian life counter I got as a promo from March of the Machine, and I love using it. If an app is tracking our game and I really wanted to use my MoM life counter, I'd track on both. Simple as that! Why make it more complicated? Why make a whole deal out of this? What else is going on, bud?

Anyway, no Bolas here, but I do think it's really silly to refuse the life tracker app option. 

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