For three years I worked behind the counter of a perfume store. I sprayed perfume and cologne on little strips of white paper, passed around a jar of coffee beans, and tried to upsell the customer with larger sizes and bottles of lotion. My lanyard had my name with the quote, “let me help you find your signature scent.” While the idea of a signature scent was absurd to me, I didn’t really mind the job; I got commission added to my check and it wasn’t very demanding most of the time. I didn’t like trying to sell people stuff that they didn’t need, but in the scheme of things it wasn’t a bad gig. I worked part-time in low stress environment and still managed to pay my rent.

The next job I worked was in a homeless shelter. I traded in my collared shirts, coffee beans, and the cash register for a metal detector, med checks, and intake forms. I worked in a dilapidated old house where up to 20 men crowded into five bedrooms. The shelter was closed during the day so the residents were on their own in the community from 8am–3pm. Some went out to look for work while others just tried to find a place to be without being questioned or kicked out. It was especially bad on summer days when it was hot, winter days when it was freezing cold, and whenever it rained. Yet, the shelter did provide a place for these guys to sleep, shower, eat dinner, wash their clothes, watch TV, and socialize. I was glad to be there, to do whatever I could to help, to offer whatever solace a middle-class college student could to a group of people who had it way worse than I did.

From a strictly olfactory vantage point the two jobs were very different. The perfume store smelled like flowers, musk, citrus, and the shelter smelled like… well, it smelled like sweat and dirty laundry. The perfume store gave me headaches but I got used to the shelter smells. I realized it was just the reality of the situation. All the guys showered every day and washed their clothes whenever the machine was free. It wasn’t a hygiene issue so much as it was a living issue. A bunch of people out all day, sometimes in stressful situations, all came back to a cramped space and tried to make the best of it.

So what does this have to do with Magic?

Recently, I’ve seen a string of posts on Reddit and Magic content sites about personal hygiene at Magic tournaments. I’ve seen a lot of shame-posting about players’ hygiene at tournaments and a general sense that this is a real problem that needs to be addressed. Before we continue, let’s check out a couple of examples:

Crowning Moment

Exhibit A – Reddit Post titled “What a Hero”. 1493 Upvotes.

LGS Sign

Exhibit B – Reddit post titled “From the front page…more hygiene posts related to Mtg. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, our reputation:” 498 Upvotes.

sign at lgs

Exhibit C – Reddit post titled “This sign should be in every single LGS. It also shouldn’t have to exist.” 889 upvotes.


Exhibit D – ChannelFireball article by Gaby Spartz titled, “6 Things You Can Do To Get More Women Into Magic”.

The first three of these originated from Reddit/r/MagicTCG and the last is from a Gaby Spartz article on ChannelFireball (which is very insightful for the most part). While they range from insensitive to offensive, these posts posit that there is an issue with hygiene and that it is an individual problem. It is one individual, or a group of individuals, who “offend” other players by smelling bad. These players are portrayed to be either totally aloof or willfully defiant in their refusal to “shower, use deodorant, and brush [their] teeth.” The problem with these individuals seems to be that they cast a smelly pall over the Magic community. They contribute to the stereotype of the unwashed nerd and make the tournament less enjoyable for other people. I mean, how can you focus on your storm count when the guy next to you smells like B.O.?

There are a variety of things wrong with this mentality and I want to try to break them down here.

1. The issue is more of a spatial one then one of personal hygiene.

Earlier I talked about the smell of the homeless shelter I worked in. Despite everyone showering, brushing teeth, and wearing deodorant, it smelled like body odor. This was a problem with too many people in one space and poor ventilation in that space. Does that sound familiar? I’ve played at prereleases, PTQs, and GPs where the space provided was not really large enough to accommodate all the players in that space. I’ve sat shoulder to shoulder with the guy next to me as we both attempted to play on surfaces that couldn’t adequately fit our playmats. Now, in a longer tournament, you are often expected to exist in this space for the better part of a day—five, seven, nine hours. While Magic isn’t a physical game, it is often a stressful one, and it’s pretty reasonable to think that over the course of a day you’re going to sweat. Don’t even get me started on spaces that don’t have air-conditioning. If the event is held in a windowless basement in June and it smells kind of musky, are we really blaming players for this?

Having said that, I’ve had good experiences in venues too, where there is plenty of space, the area is well-ventilated, and the temperature is reasonable. One thing I don’t tend to notice is these spaces possessing the foul odor that is seemingly offensive to so many in the community.

2. The hygiene issue is overblown and not really that much of a problem.

I’m writing this article as a response to a string of posts about hygiene not because I’ve found personal hygiene to be a problem at Magic tournaments. I think in a lot of ways the hygiene issue is an imagined problem more than an actual one. While many players have a memory of a specific instance of being bothered by an odor at a Magic tournament, I would argue that this is not the situation at most tournaments. Most of the time when you go to a tournament, you think about the competition, trading, and the lines of play during the game—not that there is a prevailing noxious odor. The reason for that is because, most of the time, there isn’t an odor. I just flat-out disagree with Spartz’s notion that “Magic player hygiene is often embarassing.” I don’t think that’s true and believe that the statement is based around stereotype rather than actual experience. I’ve met a lot of Magic players over the years, hundreds of them, and struggle to name more than one or two players who had some kind of prevailing issue with not showering or brushing their teeth.

3. Good hygiene and body odor–free are not synonymous. Also it’s none of your business.

In her article, Spartz writes, “If you smell something, say something.” The problem I have with this statement is, well, it’s kind of none of your fucking business what your friends or Magic acquaintances smell like. You are not a mandated reporter of body odors and shouldn’t act like it’s your responsibility. If you suspect someone of cheating, call a judge. If you suspect someone of not using deodorant, keep it to yourself. I don’t know what is so difficult about this statement or why people feel that the way other people smell is their business.

Furthermore, if someone smells like B.O., it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have bad hygiene habits. Deodorant is not an essential item in the process of cleaning ourselves. People don’t wear deodorant/antiperspirant for a variety of reasons and they shouldn’t be made to feel like they have to. I’ve gotten used to the smell of sweat, not because I’m complicit in some terrible anti-hygiene agenda, but because it’s the way people naturally smell.

When I worked at the perfume store, I found a lot of scents to be unappealing. Yet, people would still come in and buy those things. Rather than tell them that I found that scent to be oppressive or gross, I just rang it up for them. Part of this was good customer service, but moreover it was common courtesy. Me making you feel bad about something you like does nothing for either of us. In the case of Magic tournaments, if you do “say something” about someone’s odor, you’re not being helpful, you’re being rude. Creating an awkward situation, or shaming another person, does nothing good for either party, so just don’t do it.

In conclusion, I find repeated claims of bad hygiene at Magic tournaments to be overblown, more the product of poorly ventilated spaces than the malicious smelliness of some individuals. Furthermore, I think as a society we need to get over the idea that you need to wear deodorant/antiperspirant to be functioning member of society. Lastly, I don’t think it’s your business to judge people on their hygiene skills at a Magic tournament. You are not their doctor and it’s not your job to comment about it. The signs at the local game stores, pictured above, do more to perpetuate stereotypes and to shame people than they do actual good. They make people in the community, people who spend their time and money at that establishment, feel unwelcome. That sucks. If you have a sign like that at your LGS, instead of tracking down someone to humiliate, maybe track down the store owners and see what you can do about getting that sign taken down.

At age 15, while standing in a record store with his high school bandmates, Shawn Massak made the uncool decision to spend the last of his money on a 7th edition starter deck (the one with foil Thorn Elemental). Since that fateful day 11 years ago, Shawn has decorated rooms of his apartment with MTG posters, cosplayed as Jace, the Mindsculptor, and competes with LSV for the record of most islands played (lifetime). When he’s not playing Magic, Shawn works as a job coach for people with disabilities and plays guitar in an indie-pop band.

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