On Winning

Posted in Serious Fun on April 7, 2009

By Kelly Digges

Nicol Bolas is impressive by any measure. As an Elder Dragon Legend, he was easily the best of his brethren, slamming hands into the graveyard with ease. As a planeswalker, he is truly formidable, offering tremendous board control, a punishing ultimate, and a huge 8 loyalty out of the gate if you immediately use his +3 ability. He remedies Grixis's lack of a planeswalker in spectacular fashion.

As interesting as both Nicol Bolas cards are, there's not much I can add to the discussion. Both Bolases are big, expensive, and nasty. Both are black-blue-red. You already know what sort of deck to put them in. You already know broadly what to do with them once they're in play. They're awesome, intimidating, and, as far as casual deck-building goes, almost entirely straightforward. If you've got 'em, play 'em—you don't need me to tell you that.

For the purposes of this article, I'm rather more interested in Nicol Bolas as a character. He's a 20,000-year-old dragon planeswalker who embodies the values of blue, black, and red—he is manipulative, selfish, and cruel. He plans eons ahead and weaves traps and schemes that span entire worlds.

In short, he is not somebody you want to mess with.

Flavor is not my beat, though, and Doug Beyer's article tomorrow will cover Bolas's curriculum vitae in detail. Rather than dwelling on the specifics, I want to talk about his oeuvre; his style.

I don't talk much in this column about strategies for winning. While of course I'd rather win than not, and I do put in effort to make my decks as good as they can be, that's not the most important goal that dwells in my Timmy heart when I sit down to play Magic. I don't want to win if it means playing a deck I don't enjoy. I don't want to win if it means reducing the game to an awful grind or exploiting a combo that ends the game instantly and unsatisfyingly (at least once I explain to everyone how it works and that, yes, they're dead). If I'm going to win, I want it to be on my terms.

The other reason I don't talk much about strategies for winning is that every group is different—different formats, different card pools, different personalities. I can't possibly tell you what'll work for you—I can only tell you what works (or doesn't work) for me.

That said, there are some near-universal strategies you can pursue if you're serious about crushing your play group, and a week dedicated to Magic's most dominating personality is a fine time to talk about them.

A slight problem: this is not how I roll. I don't particularly want to tell you that you should do X, Y, or Z boring thing to maximize your chance of winning, nor do I want to be quoted out of context later.

So, rather than try to tell you in my own words how to win, I'm going to hand the mic over to Mr. Bolas himself.

Click here to see what he has to say.


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