Pop Culture, Gaming

How femme representation brought me back to Magic the Gathering

10 years ago I felt unwelcome, but things are starting to change.

I first encountered Magic the Gathering when I was 15. I was raised on fantasy novels, Arthurian legends, Redwall and Lord of the Rings and I had made friends with a group of older boys who play a card game called Magic. I hung around the Physics classroom after school with them and asked to take a look at their cards.

I loved what I saw. Each card had intricate art depicting beautiful fantasy worlds and imaginative creatures. I didn’t know much, but I knew I wanted in. The first time one of my friends tried to explain the rules, I remember trying hard to focus and understand all the moving parts. I didn’t quite understand, which was understandable. After all, the game is very complex, but more than that, my only way to access the game was through this group of players who had been playing for years and spoke in shorthand with each other without breaking it down for me. With that, the doors slammed between me and Magic the Gathering. Given the barrier to entry and the fact that it appeared to be a club for boys, by boys,  I was left uninterested.

Ten years later, I met my current partner. He’d been playing magic for 15 years. When he was introduced to the game, he wasn’t faced with the same barriers and his love for the game has never left him. We are similar in many ways- we love a good story, problem-solving and the thrill of winning. When he talked about Magic, it sounded like an entirely different culture to the one I could barely scratch the surface of as a teenager.

I started exploring, and to my delight, I found a wealth of resources for new players. I read stories written by women,  featuring femme planeswalkers that revealed a rich storyline that accompanied the current set of Magic cards. I would watch online coverage of the Pro Tour (professional Magic the Gathering), and women were presenting commentary and though the numbers are relatively low, women were competing for the most prestigious ranks in the game. There was an entire world of content that was made to make the game accessible, and I fell in love.

It helped that I had support at home from my partner who taught me to play- I live in Germany, and so the traditional store community is harder for me to join because of the language barrier. I’ve since learned that Magic has made a dedicated effort to be both more representative and accessible in the years since I first encountered the game. From my vantage point, that effort has been successful.

I don’t mean to suggest that the Magic community has no more work to do to be more gender inclusive. Most local groups are overwhelmingly male, and there is terrible sexism on online platforms, like all gaming communities.

Still, more and more, women and femme-identified people are visible in competitive play, casual groups, in podcasts, youtube and in the company that creates Magic the Gathering. It can still be hard to break into local groups of players, but it’s clear that the Magic’s creators and leaders value femme players, as well as LGBTQ+, multiracial and multinational players. As more diverse players get into Magic because they see people like them on cards, in stories, and in the community- the boys’ club mentality will change. It’s a frustratingly slow process but it’s so worth it. I believe that Magic is an incredible hobby to have. It helps me with focus and problem-solving. It serves as my self-care when I want to engage with something outside my daily grind.

If you think you may be interested in Magic, I can recommend the following resources to learn more:

1. Magic the Amateuring: Two girls started learning to play Magic in 2013 and documented it in a hilarious podcast. Now they are quite mainstream, they write for the Magic website, do commentary for Magic tournaments and they have continued the podcast, which is a fantastic source of conversations about what’s going on in the Magic world.

First listen to Episode 1, Episode 2, Episode 3,  Episode 4.

Source: Magic the Amateuring

2. The Lady Planeswalker Society: A Facebook group dedicated to connected femme Magic players in local groups and online. Check out local chapters here.

Source: Lady Planeswalkers Card Kingdom

3. Kaladesh Story: Check out the storyline from a recent set of magic cards. I dare you not to fall in love with the badass femme characters and the art depicting the Kaladesh plane.

Source: Wizards of the Coast

4. Enter the Battlefield: This documentary about pro Magic players reveals behind the scenes of the highest levels of Magic play and is totally inspiring, particularly if you have a competitive streak.

Source: Enter the Battlefield.

5. Ready to play? I recommend starting with Magic Duels on iOS. It is designed to introduce new players to the mechanics of the game and you can learn the basics if you don’t know anyone who can teach you.

Source: Wizards of the Coast