(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And MtG?

On January 26th, 2017 Wizards of the Coast formally announced the list of teams for the Pro Tour Team series. After scrolling through the list of teams mentioned, it was noticed by many that there were no women on any of the teams. Numerous people were concerned, disappointed, and mad about this and responded on social media in a variety of ways. One of the best voices we have in the Magic community, Mrs. Mulligan made a short video on Twitch expressing her feelings on the announcement and on gender whilst playing Magic: the Gathering. Jennifer emphasized one point that I agreed with: that gender should not come into play when people are playing Magic. Overall, I think that most people playing this game want this to be the standard; however, for countless people playing this game, that is not the case. Women, men, and trans and non-binary folk responded to her video with concern, praise, and the sharing of their own stories regarding the gender imbalance that continues to be an issue within a game that can unite so many. Jennifer’s video, comments in response to her video, and articles posted by other prominent lady figures in Magic inspired me to tackle this subject and my perception of it and the response to her video. Before I get into my views on the subject, I’d like to start by going back in time to highlight significant shakeups in the last two years regarding women in Magic and then focus on some noteworthy lady voices creating content for the community to enjoy and contemplate on.

In April 2015 Gaby Spartz, a beloved streamer and competitive player from the Chicagoland area wrote an article for Channel Fireball entitled, ‘6 Things You Can Do To Get More Women Into Magic‘. She shared a list of things that players could do and not do to be more inclusive and welcoming to women attending events and encouraged the support of female role models. My friend and co-host of ‘The Girlfriend Bracket‘ Hallie Santo wrote, ‘Exile in Guyville: Thoughts on Women in Competitive Magic‘ for GatheringMagic in May 2015 about playing competitively as a woman in Magic. Two months later in June 2015, Meghan Wolff from the fabulous Magic: the Amaturing posted an article to Star City Games with the title, ‘Women in Magic: the Gathering‘. Her article generated a large discussion about the treatment of women while playing Magic and potential solutions to a continuing problem within the community. Wizards made a formal announcement in January 2016 that Gaby Spartz would be joining the video commentary team, Melissa DeTora would be doing coverage writing, and that Meghan Wolff would be joining the writing team. The following month, Maria Bartholdi (co-host of Magic: the Amaturing) became a Feature Match Spotter for Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, and Hallie Santo also joined Wizards as an event coverage writer in April 2016. While Wizards has their own reasons for these announcements, I am certain that they chose these women to represent them at this time because they knew they were talented, qualified, and vocal representations of women in Magic.

In addition to the aforementioned ladies, there are two excellent lady writers from ‘Hipsters of the Coast‘, Kate Donnelly and Jess Stirba, providing content for you to devour. If you have never heard of ‘Hipsters’, they are an excellent site that features many clever writers, including Kate and Jess. Within their articles you will find their personal experiences playing Magic and commentary on sexual harassment, equal rights and treatment for all, and the current state of our world. Last year Kate wrote an article, ‘The View From Here‘, highlighting the negative experiences she has had in Magic and her hope for a better future. Most recently Kate wrote two articles that I particular enjoyed, ‘Tired‘ and ‘Pro Tour Blues‘, detailing her frustrations as a lady Legacy player in a male dominated area and her feelings about a lack of female presentation on the Pro Tour Team Series. Jess Stirba is my go to for a perspective on the current state of our country in relation to a variety of issues and her thoughts on representation, sexual harassment, and the fight for equality for LGBTQ people. Two notable articles from her are, ‘Unexceptional and Unacceptable‘ and ‘Representation Dispels Lies‘.

In my experience as a player that once identified as female,  I can say that my experiences then and now after coming out as a non-binary person have been very positive while playing Magic: the Gathering. Discrimination based on gender has not been something prevalent for me and has not been pervasive at my local game store. I am fortunate in that regard; many women playing Magic have not had that auspicious of an experience and have faced a myriad of obstacles with many coming straight from their home base, a place that should be supportive to all players. Recently I appeared on the Magic with Zuby podcast and expressed that I feel the local level is why many women do not get into competitive Magic or excel to compete in a Grand Prix or play on the Pro Tour. I do understand that some women that play Magic do not want to be competitive and instead focus on playing Commander for fun or perhaps only enjoy pre-releases or drafts. Just like with any gender, we have different goals in mind when approaching Magic and the key for some women may be to simply have fun and not be focused on a competitive level for Magic, but still play with tenacity and a desire to win. Other womens’ goals may be Top 8ing a PPTQ, Top 8ing a Grand Prix, or grinding it out with the best of them to ultimately make it on the Pro Tour. To accomplish this, people need a stable, inclusive, and like-minded support system to grow from.

There are women who are outright dismissed at their local game store due to their gender, and not judged on their skill to join a team. Perhaps they are not invited to join in on testing with a group from their local game store for an upcoming PPTQ, SCG, or Grand Prix event because they are a woman and they don’t take her seriously. A woman attended an FNM at her local game store for the first time and had a negative experience. It was with both players and staff and she chose not to return. No other options were available within a reasonable driving distance in her area, so she sticks to Magic Online or simply does not play at all.

The aforementioned examples are real stories that I have heard from women who play or want to play Magic that did not have a stable, inclusive, and like-minded support system. Stories exist out there that are worse than these and paint a picture for what women players have experienced. Just because my experience has been positive, I know that I do not speak for all women or all non-binary people, nor do all the aforementioned ladies voices speak for all women. We are an ever evolving tapestry of players who are sharing our experiences and views, and our intention in doing so is not to diminish other peoples experiences. All of these experiences matter. Good and bad.

There were many people that disagreed with the video Jennifer made. I am going to highlight some areas where her message of positivity could have been lost to others whose experience is different, but also equally valuable. In Jennifer’s video she says, “You shouldn’t care if someone is a man or woman when you’re trying to decide what to think of them or how to interact with them. Basically, gender just doesn’t matter in these situations”. I agree that you shouldn’t care about gender in and of itself when sitting down to play against an opponent, but I try to look at this from another perspective. To me, gender DOES matter in these situations. Men SHOULD care about how they are going to interact with a woman opponent. Not because she is a delicate flower that will bend or break at any second, but to take a minute to mentally consider her previous experiences before engaging her in conversation and making remarks that could come out poorly (intentionally or not). Often men are told what they shouldn’t do when interacting with lady players; I want to encourage what they should consider when these situations arise. There are male opponents that might not be used to seeing a lady player because his experience has been one without women slinging spells. Comments that I love hearing are, “It’s really nice to see more women playing Magic” or “There is a really awesome showing of women at this Grand Prix”. Those are comments that are encouraging to hear because I think that some men do understand that for some women, getting out there can be difficult because of less understanding men. When I hear some men make the old assertion that a woman is there with her boyfriend or simply dragged along to the event, that is the opposite of what I and women want to hear.

Jennifer asks about the Pro Tour Team series, ‘Why is it even a factor to consider their gender?’ Gender shouldn’t be a factor in selecting a team mate for the team based on their skill, but overall the community wants to see representation on a grand scale. We as a community want to see women and trans and non-binary folk at the Pro Tour. We crave to see visible diversity because it is representative of who we are. I feel, as many do and as I have previously expressed, that a poor starting point at a local game store can stop many on their path to greatness in competitive Magic. Stopping bad behavior where it starts will be key to ensuring that more women have a chance. I fully understand that not all Magic players are that ‘good’ at Magic to begin with, but we have to be encouraging to those that are excelling, regardless of their gender. As a male player, DO be an ally for women in Magic. DO speak out at your local game store if you see that it is a toxic environment for lady players and trans and non-binary folk. DO encourage other men to do the same.

Overall, I feel Jennifer was trying to send a great message, and a valid one. A persistent discussion is important to ensure the continued growth of women in Magic in a positive manner. Even the opinions of those who disagree matter; we cannot grow together if we are unwilling to discuss the issue. Jennifer is encouraging focusing on treating all women like any other player that would sit down to play Magic. I hope that one day, it will be that simple; but I realize it currently is not. In my mind, I wish that we could all just get along within our Magic community and on a larger scale within our world. Change doesn’t happen overnight. One of my favorite judges, Riki Hayashi made a post on his blog on Friday entitled, ‘Changing the Culture‘. He addressed his treatment at local game stores and his feelings on local play. Riki also mentioned how he would like to see SCG formally address their stance on harassment and inclusivity for all at events to put others at ease while attending. I have always appreciated SCG and Pastimes for their attention to this matter and know I can expect any concerns to be dealt with. Melissa DeTora made a series of tweets which said, ‘ 20 yrs ago it was rare to see a woman at a game store, let alone on the PT. 10 yrs ago we saw about one woman per PT on average. 4 years ago we saw women make Top 8 of GPs and a Pro Tour. Today it’s common to see women at top tables of a GP. Things won’t change overnight but they will if we support women in MTG. Looking forward to seeing the next woman plat pro.’ Melissa’s statement on women in Magic resonated a lot with me as a player and as a content creator for a game that has given me so much. I know that I wouldn’t be creating content such as this post without a stable, inclusive, and like-minded support system including my local game store and fellow content creators across a variety of genders. We as a community are fortunate for the outspoken voices we have that understand that women in Magic continues to be an important issue. Without hearing from a variety of perspectives, we would not fully be able to grasp the past, present, and future of ladies in this game. The potential for women playing competitive Magic only continues to grow and I look forward to seeing the next lady at the Pro Tour giving it her all and showing all women what could await them in the future with allies and strong voices at their side.

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