Am I The Bolas? – Your Deck is Too Expensive!

Mike Carrozza • January 5, 2022

Plea for Power | Illustrated by John Severin Brassell

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! I’m the gift that keeps on giving!

*I SWEAR I WILL EAT BETTER IN THE NEW YEAR!*

This week, a discussion about deck costs and observed power level, but more?! Nuance! Who knew!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, MARK!

(Email edited for clarity and brevity.)

I had a game last weekend with my usual playgroup. One of my friends brewed a new five-color Superfriends deck he wanted to try. Long story short, I was the Bolas for complaining the whole game about the power level and total cost of his deck.
He played a Esika, God of the Tree // The Prismatic Bridge as his commander and there was an Atraxa, Praetor’s Voice on his side of the field which caused more value through the game. He won by using a Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker ultimate, which was so frustrating that another player and I conceded. I said that the game itself was not fun. The sheer amount of value overwhelmed us all.
We had a small fight about me complaining over his expensive deck. After a cigarette, I told him I was sorry for being a jerk. We spoke the next day and I explained why I was so upset, which led us to discuss power level.
There are proxies in my friends’ decks. They say if they own the card, they put it in every deck as a proxy if it works for them. I tried to talk about it because I don’t like proxy staples or playing at high power levels. They want to adjust to our meta they say, but I feel bad knowing my decks aren’t as expensive and tuned as theirs. My friend with the Esika deck said he wanted to add a proxy of Rhystic Study in each blue deck he got, and another wanted to add rather expensive proxy lands to each of his decks.
I am not willing to get a Rhystic Study because I don’t like this kind of card design.
Does the cost of a deck define power level?
We have been friends for a long time, so a new group is not an option.
Thanks,
Adrian

AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU, ADRIAN!

Hello, and thank you for writing in.

It’s a new year and hopefully this means more Magic being played. If you – yes, you, reading this – have any stories, please submit them to markcarbonza@gmail.com. I love answering your questions and appreciate the discussions. Also, check this out – you’re now reading this in a high-pitched voice. Ouhhhhhhhh, la dee da dee deeeeeee. Isn’t reading fun?

Now for Adrian’s situation. In a game where deck prices have been skyrocketing for quite some time, it has become rather common for decks to hit several hundred dollars, which, don’t get me wrong, is absurd, but definitely happens more these days.
Let’s break things down.
Five colors usually means an intricate land base to be able to play their deck efficiently. As you surely know, lands – painfully enough – are some of the MOST EXPENSIVE PIECES OF THE GAME! I would be shocked to find out that the mana base wasn’t responsible for a chunk of change in that number.
BOOOOORING! But useful and necessary in some cases.
I am someone who has a lot of decks (30ish decks, it’s a silly amount!), and I really really really really really really really really really really really don’t want to spend $50 on a land I already have a copy of because it makes my mana smoother. I don’t want to buy another Dockside Extortionist when I already have one. It’s nearly $100 (literally $81 CAD plus shipping) for a card that belongs in every red deck (about half my decks). So I use a deckbox with staples and the placeholder cards from MDFC sets with some Sharpie, and voila. Dockside wherever it makes sense.
That said, I understand where you’re coming from. I also prefer not to play Rhystic Study if I can avoid it. Same for Cyclonic Rift and other big cards people lose their minds over. I think Sol Ring is a ridiculous card to exist, and Mana Crypt is worse. But they’re legal and if they make sense, why not. I have copies. I don’t play them in every deck because sometimes it’s good to have a restriction and they’re obvious cuts for when you want to prioritize jank over optimization.
This question is tough, but I will say
EXPENSIVE CARDS ≠ POWERFUL DECKS.
There are some expensive cards that definitely make a difference in deck power level, but I also have a foil General’s Regalia in my Sevinne, the Chronoclasm deck that’s in the double digits, and that card is ridiculous to seriously consider good. (It’s $90 USD on mtgstocks, but LP copies are around $30.)
I have also won with a precon (Silverquill Statement, if you’re curious) in a pod against three really strong decks that were easily worth over $500 a piece (foil Planar Chaos Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth is already $150). I’m talking Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, Jeska’s Will, Jeweled Lotus, and Sylvan Library strong.
There is something frustrating in the experience of seeing staples hit the table at such a frequency, especially when they are so powerful and, for some, out of reach. There’s also something very frustrating about how some cards play, like Rhystic Study or Smothering Tithe for example.
I hear where you’re coming from. I think this is 100% an opportunity to speak to your playgroup about how you feel and what can be done to bring the experience to a fun level you all can agree on. Otherwise, I normally would suggest getting to know like-minded folks to play with, but with the current state of the world, that’s definitely tough. Discord and Spelltable have been very good and useful for this. But this is a playgroup of old pals, so maybe that’ll make the discussion a little easier to have.

In regards to the way you handled yourself in this case, I do think that being barbed and upset at someone because their deck is expensive isn’t great and would lead me to crowning you the Bolas here. Taking time to cool down and have a frank discussion afterwards is healthy and is essentially the beginning of the advice I gave you here. Expressing yourself is healthy. Doing so in a respectful manner is also important. You and another player conceded, which is another way your conveyed your disappointment in the game. Complaining over and over while someone is finally getting the deck they just brewed to do its thing is grating.
Here’s some advice for everybody. I’ve been doing this for a while, but Rachel Weeks of Commander’s Sphere and the CAG put it more eloquently in a tweet a few months back: Celebrate your opponents’ decks when cool stuff is happening. Foster a supportive environment. Even if it may not be the most fun to be on the receiving end of the value onslaught, you mentioned your friend had just put the deck together and wanted to try it out. It’s tough to evaluate power level until you’ve gotten a few games in sometimes.
Happy new year, nerds. I love you all.


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