There is a debate raging in the Magic community. While most (though not all) of us finally come to the conclusion that there is a problem with how few women are playing competitive Magic, the debate centers on just how exactly that problem should be fixed. This conflict is a natural extension of the crisis that the larger gaming community is facing. It is our own little corner of the wider controversy but it is no less important in the larger scheme of achieving equality for women in Magic. 

Gaby Spartz and Meghan Wolff

The latest round of debates has been fueled by the two most recent “Women in Magic” articles penned by Channel Fireball’s Gaby Spartz and Star City Games’s Meghan Wolff. The Spartz piece debuted on April 7th and was immediately met by various degrees of support and criticism which she later addressed on May 7th. Wolff’s article came out this past week on June 15th. Writing about gender issues in Magic is starting to become a more regular occurrence and that’s a good thing. The more it’s talked about the more likely it is something will get done about it.

Across their three pieces, Spartz and Wolff make many similar points both identifying the problem and identifying potential solutions for those problems. One of the most important points they made was to further the prominence of female role models in the game. Spartz wrote, “Magic desperately needs more prominent female figures. Let’s celebrate women who can provide inspiration and confidence to other female players that they can also succeed.” Wolff dove even deeper into this point:

The lack of female visibility at competitive events is indicative of a larger trend in Magic; there is not enough Magic content written, recorded, created, or produced by women. The Magic community as a whole is very engaged in content, from reading articles to watching videos, streams, and event coverage to listening to podcasts. For as much quality content as there is available to players at any point in their careers, little of it is created by women.

Without better female representation, it is difficult to draw more women to events, and without more women choosing to participate in events the pool of potential content creators doesn’t grow. This issue creates urgency in the need for female content creators. Having women on coverage teams is not a goal for the next few years, it is a goal for right now because if you don’t start increasing female visibility now, in two years the gender breakdown in competitive Magic will remain identical to where we are at the moment.

Both women make the point clear: Magic needs more women in prominent roles now. The sentiment is that the lack of female visibility is a clear barrier to women who are interested in competitive Magic. They look at the community they are considering diving into and what do they see? They see men writing articles, men recording podcasts, men on tournament coverage, men in feature matches, and men designing and developing the game. There are a few women out there, for sure, but it’s easy to miss them in a sea of male content producers.

The solution seems simple. Get more women writers featured on sites like Channel Fireball and Star City Games and really everywhere. Get more women on coverage. Get more women featured in tournaments. Get more women in design and development. Just, anywhere you are producing Magic content, strive to include more women. What could be so difficult about that?

Meritocracy, Elitism, and Double-Standards

It turns out a lot of people have a problem with what they call “preferential treatment” for women. Here is one such opinion:

Why is it that often articles written by female Magic players end up being about females playing Magic? Why is it that people who aggressively support women in Magic want to place a woman in the coverage booth, or give women more leeway on feature matches? Why is it that we should be extra nice and accommodating to a woman who walks into a game store for the first time, just because she is a woman and not because it’s the right thing to do for any person? Why should I follow a bunch of women who play Magic on Twitter just because they are women?

As far as a woman doing coverage is concerned, I’m sure there are qualified women out there capable of doing the job, but there aren’t exactly a ton of positions available. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it can’t, or won’t.

This is a line of thought that is shared by many people. The crux of this opinion is summed up as, why should I pay attention to women just because they are women and furthermore why does everyone who supports women want to see more of them anyways? These people will often continue with some noble discussion about meritocracy: how we should read content by the “best” writers, feature matches with the “best” players, watch coverage with the “best” broadcasters, and all the time ignore people’s gender as if it simply didn’t exist. What a quaint idea.

The reality is that meritocracy and elitism are a shield used by the privileged to protect the status quo. The quality of content produced by any member of the Magic community is in no way related to their success at playing competitive Magic. Nor is it related to any accomplishments they may have in the community previously. When people say they want the “best,” what they really mean is they want the things they’re used to, a.k.a. status quo. The thoughts quoted above come from Star City Games contributor Jim Davis. In case you’re wondering why Davis should be given any kind of soapbox, here are his credentials (from his Star City Games profile):

  • 2nd at SCG Invitational Indianapolis 2011
  • 24th at Pro Tour Prague 2008
  • 8th at Grand Prix Dallas 2007
  • 1st at New York States 2007

That Pro Tour finish sure carries for a long time for Davis. Prague was seven years ago. Now, personally, I don’t believe in giving people a voice just because they’re good at Magic, but if you’re going to come out and argue that people need to earn your respect by performing well or producing some kind of breakthrough content, then maybe you should have something stronger to back up your own credentials than a couple tournaments from when Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana.

Ultimately meritocracy and elitism are not how Star City Games and Channel Fireball choose who writes for them. These decisions are much more meticulous and are rooted in the goals of the website. Star City Games is not interested in having the “best” Magic players as writers. If they did they would find someone who placed in the top-64 of a pro tour sometime this decade to replace Jim Davis. What Star City Games wants is to make money selling singles and get people to come to play on the SCG Open circuit. Davis can accomplish both of these goals because he discusses new decks and is highly visible on the Open circuit.

If Star City Games has the additional goal of improving the equality and position of women in Magic then they can do that by following the advice of Spartz and Wolff and giving more visibility to female voices, whether or not they keep Jim Davis around.

Being an Ally

Change is coming. It is inevitable. However, it needs our help. When I say “our” I mean white men who are in a position of power to make decisions about who gets to create and produce Magic the Gathering content. Hipsters of the Coast is a small website but it has a dedicated audience and it is well-known at very high levels of the game. We have power to create change at our level and we intend to do so.

Gaby Spartz and Meghan Wolff want to see that change happen from the top. They want to see Wizards of the Coast, Star City Games, and Channel Fireball invoke change. This means women writing articles, women featured on camera at tournaments, and women providing commentary as part of the coverage team. As pillars of the community, these three entities have the power to make this change happen at the highest levels and set a shining beacon for the rest of us.

Jim Davis believes that the only way for women to earn their place in the community is to write things that are interesting to Jim Davis.

Break formats and write about it! Top Eight an SCG Open! Show me why U/B Control is better than Esper Dragons in Standard! Teach me a brand-new way to draft my Cube! Show me your favorite Modern Masters 2 draft archetype! Create unique and interesting content that will get people’s attention!

In Jim Davis’s world the only acceptable female writers are those who can perform above and beyond their male counterparts and get people’s attention in that way. It’s an obvious double-standard. How many writers are breaking formats? How many SCG Open top-8 finishers are writing regularly. Jim Davis says that women should be treated equally but then he says he’s only interested in women who fit his definition of the “best” Magic players. Maybe Jim Davis would be surprised to learn there are people in the community who are interested in different things, but that would require Davis to have the capacity to actually understand another human being’s perspective. Maybe Magic Head Designer Mark Rosewater can help him out:

http://markrosewater.tumblr.com/post/122011706093/im-not-sure-how-much-you-may-want-to-debate-this

This isn’t right. We need to change this.

Further Reading

If you want to dive deeper into the discussion, and read Jim Davis’s full thoughts, please check out AJ Sacher’s incredibly thoughtful commentary or this very important rebuttal by Anastacia Tomson.

The Quick Hits

  • The collective Magic Judges are rolling out some new programs with the goal of enhancing player experiences at Magic tournaments [Magic Judges Blog]
  • Ant Tessitore breaks down the changes to how Wizards tells the story of Magic and gives us all the background info we need on Magic Origins [Gathering Magic]
  • Bruce Richard shares his story of life as an #MTGDad, a trend which is sweeping the nation as the earliest generation of Magic players passes the game onto the newest generation [DailyMTG]
  • The official gameplay trailer for Duels: Origins has been released and it looks about as you’d expect. I still have high hopes for this game and I’m looking forward to picking it up ASAP. P.S. If anyone from Wizards is reading this and wants to send me an early copy to review my email is richs[email protected] [Magic Arcana]
  • John Dale Beety also breaks down what we know about Magic Origins. Sure a lot of it is the same information from Ant Tessitore but really you can’t be too excited for this set [Star City Games]
  • Are you curious how sweet Liliana became demonic-pact-bound necromancer Liliana? Well wonder no more and check out her origin story by James Wyatt [Uncharted Realms]
  • Wizards wants to see people get a little dressed up for the Origins pre-release and they’ll be honoring each of the five planeswalkers in the set with theme weeks following the pre-release [Magic Arcana]
  • Cliff Daigle shares his experiences as a potential #MTGDad with two young daughters that he hopes will one day learn the game he enjoys so much, but he worries about what their experience may be like [MTG Price]

Wallpaper of the Week

I think it’s safe to say that fans of the game have been waiting patiently since PAX East for high-res images of Karla Ortiz’s fantastic painting of young Liliana Vess, the promising healer whose selfishness and greed led her down the path of darkness and necromancy. This painting highlights this journey as the innocent-looking healer walks away from the white walls of her home and into the dark raven-filled woods.

Grade: A

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

Don't Miss Out!

Sign up for the Hipsters Newsletter for weekly updates.