MTG Streets of New Capenna available now!
   Sign In
Create Account




Sometimes things don't go your way. I can see that this observation doesn't count as an entire point so I'll elaborate. Sometimes, and I'm speaking specifically about games of Commander right now, things in the game don't go your way. Your spells get countered, your creatures get destroyed, you get landscrewed despite running 34 lands, more than you ever imagined you'd run in any format. Sometimes the rest of the table decides that we're not playing Commander, we're playing Archenemy. Sometimes that Archenemy is you. If you don't deserve it... well, I don't actually have any advice for you. I'm sorry that happened - maybe go post on reddit about your experience. No one will believe you but they may at least act sympathetic to your plight. However, let's say you may have not been attacked necessarily unfairly.

I'm not saying the times where I have found myself the Archenemy have all been undeserved. I can see, for example, how using The Chain Veil and Estrid, the Masked to generate infinite mana and put infinite counters on Helix Pinnacle and then passing the turn might have inspired some erstwhile foes to set aside their differences and work together. Believe me, I get it. However, doing well in a game has a tendency to garner some notice and if your deck can't maintain superiority in the face of a good, old-fashioned dogpiling, you may want to try using politics to mitigate how much animosity your moves generate. Or, and this is more fun, you can try to think like an Archenemy.

Archenemy is a product that came out 12 years ago and that in and of itself is nuts. What's even more nuts, though, is that they managed to balance how unfair it is to be in a 3 on 1 situation with the use of special cards called "schemes." When you drew a scheme, you did whatever the card said, usually something unfair like "destroy all non-land permanents target player controls" or "Draw 4 cards, you have no maximum hand size the rest of the game." Powerful, free effects like this helped you survive a 3v1 game, though not always. It turns out unfavorable odds are just that, and overcoming them is a challenge, even with a free draw-four. We're not likely going to be permitted to set any schemes in motion during a typical game of Commander, but I still think we can learn a few lessons about overcoming long odds by thinking like Nicol Bolas. If Nicol Bolas laughs at a 3v1 scenario, surely there are lessons we can learn about how to defeat similar odds. We don't have to take down the entire Gatewatch, just a few people who spent the first half of the game messing with each other because they didn't know you were about to emerge as the prime threat to the board. This is going to be a piece of cake.

One common technique for supervillains is to goad the hero into making a rash move, or demoralize the hero with some devastating banter. Nicol Bolas would try and divide his enemies and get them to fight amongst themselves, buying him time to set up his next master stroke and get his enemies to tenderize each other a bit so they're easier for Bolas to pick off. While laughing and taunting people at the table won't lead to better in-game outcomes and should probably be avoided, you do have a very similar in-game mechanism - goad. If your opponents are busy fighting each other, they won't have time to attack you. A goaded creature must attack if able and can't attack you. That may sound like I'm just telling you all what Goad is, but I think it helps to reframe Goad as a two-fold mechanic. It makes sure combat is done and it make sure it won't involve you to an extent. Your opponents are going to punch themselves out engaging in combat and either chipping away at blockers or life totals, but you're also designating certain creatures not your problem. Allowing their creatures to take each other out frees you up to focus on your evil machinations.

Bolas isn't the world-ending big baddy he's portrayed as (I assume) in Magic's lore because he's all talk, though. Bolas strikes fear into the hearts of mortals because Bolas straight up punishes all dissent. You can't instantly kill an opponent for hitting you but you can sure take out any offending creatures. No Mercy, Dread, even Cunning Rhetoric can serve as major deterrents and cards like Crawlspace, Propaganda, and Norn's Annex can make other players seem more appealing targets. If you're going to generate some heat, you should have a few ways to fight the flames. Bolas shows No Mercy, why should you?

I don't want to spend too much ink on the section everyone knows I wish I could make the whole article about, but if being a Bolas doesn't mean you steal their creatures and beat them with them, explain this card.

In Bolas's Clutches

And this one

Slave of Bolas

Bolas wouldn't waste five mana on a Threaten in this economy, though - Bolas thinks much bigger. Think Insurrection and if there are still players alive post-combat, Goblin Bombardment for good measure. Bolas is all about reusable sources of their spells - Mind's Dilation, Stolen Strategy, Helm of Possession. A true Archenemy knows that if there are 3 boards to his one, the odds can only truly be evened by emptying those boards. Playing a ton of Wrath effects personally bores me to tears and just adds time to the game - wouldn't you rather be making everyone attack each other and shaving ten minutes off of the game time instead of blowing up a bunch of creatures and adding 25 minutes? These days it's considered impolite to kick a Cyclonic Rift, but if you're the Archenemy already, I don't see a problem with cementing your status as the big bad, so long as that Cyc Rift ends the game rather than prolongs it. We're emulating Nicol Bolas here, we're not monsters.

If a lot of these card selections and discussions sound a bit familiar, I think it's because this may be the way I've always played Commander but dialed up to 11 with my back against the wall. I've always liked Crawlspace, Stolen Strategy and Disrupt Decorum and maybe it's not a coincidence that I tend to double down on those types of plays when I feel the table begin to shoot one too many glances in my direction. Those plays are what works when you're the Archenemy but also when the other players' decks are better than yours. Is being a gigantic villain really 75% theory distilled? In a way, but maybe not the way you're thinking. 75% deck-building doesn't lend itself to playing like Nicol Bolas, but it does lend itself to being appropriate for any table, and that includes tables where the other three players want to kill you. If anything, the 3v1 is the ultimate test of a 75% deck's mettle and not all of them pass. One deck that has passed the test, though, could use a few tweaks. Let's look at my Valki deck.

The tweaked version of this deck that I run now has a ton of mana rocks because it's super mana-hungry, even with a bunch of the more expensive cards pared down. If we want to apply some of our Bolasy lessons from today's article, I think the deck should look a bit more like the following.

We're way better at both Goad and No Mercy effects in this deck. We have cut a lot of removal in favor of making it harder to attack us. I have also removed a few cards like Herald of Leshrac that get, and it pains me to say this, disproportionate hate. No one likes someone stealing their lands, but Herald is so expensive. It's your whole turn to play it and it dies right away, basically time-walking you. A deck like this might want to lay low for a bit, which might mean you don't cast Valki. Casting Valki makes Tibalt that much more expensive to play later and it also ticks everyone off. It's sometimes fun to make Valki into a decent utility creature early but make sure you're ready for the whole table to be upset, because it's going to happen.

What do we think? Did embracing our Bolasy side help us get a little more sneaky and find ways for our opponents to do our bidding? Did we make the deck even more miserable to play against (perhaps controversially, I maintain we did not)? Let me know in the comments section. That does it for me, readers. Thanks so much for hanging in there with me. Until next time!

Limited time 30% buy trade in bonus buylist