Am I The Bolas? – Wide Open

Mike Carrozza • January 19, 2022

Grand Melee | Illustrated by Trevor Hairsine

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 markcarbonza@gmail.com!

I’m Mark Carbonza!

HERE I COME, MARK!

(Email edited for brevity and clarity)

Greetings Mark,

Thanks for being a content creator and giving me something to engage with. My work/life balance generally keeps me on the sidelines of the format we both love. Fortunately, I have an outstanding LGS where the owners know my name and provide excellent service. The player community at this LGS is overwhelmingly positive.
The other key figure in my Bolas scenario is someone I’ll call Player X. I’m giving context for the third encounter with them.
The first encounter. It was my third Commander game ever, and my second time at my LGS. Everyone in the pod was great, including Player X, who helped me understand interactions and  gave good advice. 
The second encounter. A pod formed at Commander night. I was glad Player X was at the table. A few turns in, Player X activated a creature land and another player removed it with a destroy creature spell. Player X then scooped because of the incidental land destruction. This was the first instant-speed interaction of the game, and to me, scooping seemed like an overreaction. I tried to sympathize with Player X and we had a conversation about types of play we don’t like.
The third encounter. This situation has been on my mind a lot as I continue to follow your content. I showed up to my LGS and there were already several players about to form pods. Someone asked if anyone wanted to play a slower game, as he wanted to test a new deck with Averna, the Chaos Bloom. I jumped in with my Kess, Dissident Mage Amass deck, another player brought Grist, the Hunger Tide and Player X joined, but I don’t remember their deck.
Everyone delivered on the agreement for a slow start. We all had a good laugh when I played my Rupture Spire on turn 2 and confessed I was running every version of that land in my deck. I cast Kess on turn 4. On turn 5 I assessed the board before combat. The Grist player had a creature with reach. The Averna player hadn’t played any Cascade yet, but he had open mana and he already killed my first Amassed Zombie Army token. Player X had no reach or flying, but was building a board state with creatures on the ground. I attacked Player X with Kess, and continued to do so for the next few turns. After I declared a third attack with Kess, Player X expressed some frustration at me. I pointed out the board state and the number of turns it would take to lose to commander damage at 3 damage per turn. On turn 8 I attacked Player X with Kess again, which would have brought the commander damage total to 12, and Player X scooped. Everyone tried to convince Player X to stay, but with no success. The three of us remaining played a really fun game that went on for a few more rounds until a board wipe by the Grist player set me up for a big play with High Tide and Hour of Eternity. The Averna and Grist players then conceded as I had enough power on the board to take them both out.
After the game I wondered if I made the right call to continue attacking Player X with my commander. I used to play competitive formats where holding back a clearly advantageous attack would be frowned upon. The culture of Commander creates some gray area with regard to other players’ feelings, and this was the first time another Commander player scooped in response to my play. I knew the attacks were bothering Player X, and I had seen Player X scoop before. Am I the Bolas? I’m sure I’ll be in a pod with Player X again; should I do anything differently next time?
Sincerely,
Amass Aficionado

DUKES UP, AFICIONADO!

Hey there, Aficionado! Thanks for the kind words. I’m glad you enjoy the column, and I’m happy you’ve been able to get some games in.

A few things jump out at me here.

In the second encounter, Player X scooped to the first instant of the game taking out a creature land because it violated the unspoken social contract of lands being sacred and untouchable. This to me is a red flag. Magic is a game of resource management and consequence with the goal of being the last one standing. When lands become a threat of any kind, they are fair game. This land had power and toughness. After this experience, I’m sure you took stock of the plays Player X doesn’t enjoy and made sure to avoid those when playing against them.

On to the third encounter. First, I would like say I appreciate that you all agreed to a slower game and had a laugh at the Rupture Spire-type lands. An agreement had been reached and it was being demonstrated in those early turns, it seems.

Player X is upset that they’re taking 3 damage a turn as the only open attack for you. I get how this can be frustrating. I will say that presenting Player X with something to respond to is absolutely part of the game. Either with removal or politics, this needed to be addressed according to them. However, their decision was to express frustration and then scoop after being explained the board state and how they are the only open attack.

A salty scoop is way more annoying than being hit every turn of a game where it makes sense to get hit. I would definitely be more understanding of Player X if you sat down and attacked them every game regardless of the circumstances. “I’m going to send my Squirrel token into an army of 4/4 Diving Visitation Angels because I’m not just sending a Squirrel, I’m sending a message.” That’s messed up, dude. No, thanks. But I have one open attack and otherwise won’t be doing anything? Yeah, why not!?

And sometimes the answer to “why not” is “because it’s making someone upset and messing with their fun”. Coming from competitive formats to Commander, I can tell you that sometimes sandbagging an attack can be the better option as it might get you a favour or in the long run might improve a relationship in the playgroup.

That said, with Player X scooping in two out of 3 games, I am having a hard time empathizing. I also encourage people to leave games they’re not having fun in, but if that means you’re leaving most of your games out of frustration, maybe you have a problem with basic principles of Magic. I don’t want to play with kid gloves on because somebody’s feathers get ruffled so easily. I’d opt not to play with them again, personally.

This column has taught me the importance of thinking of others in your interactions on and off-board. That said, if Player X had written in and said, “I talked to this guy after I scooped a game and we bonded. Next game, he attacked me with his commander every turn,” I’d hope for honesty from my follow-up email, but once the details of the other players having flying or reach blockers and they’re being the only open attack, I would definitely say that the attacker is not the Bolas.

And that’s you! I don’t think you’re the Bolas. However, I do believe it could be fun to dive into the politics of EDH more! Enjoy that, it’s a fun part of the game.

Thanks again for writing in. If you, the reader, have a story to submit, send it over to me at markcarbonza@gmail.com! Thank you 🙂



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