It has been quite a year. Over the course of my some forty plus columns in 2016 I have addressed a lot of issues, some of which seem worth discussing again with the benefit of hindsight.


One of my first columns of 2016 was Blame Crony Capitalism, in January of 2016. In it I argue against the corporation as a morally neutral or positive force in American society, based on the news that Hasbro was pushing a crackdown on proxied cards. While their position was a bit overblown, I tried to bring it out to the broader context in which their decision made business sense, and what that means for the rest of us. By December, though, my anti-capitalist fervor had been stoked by an election season in which corporate media had focused on one candidate’s email security policies without examining the other candidate’s Russian ties or own shoddy security practices. That column, Capital Screw, was an infuriated response to a situation which allowed the least qualified, least examined, most compromised presidential candidate in my lifetime to win an election based on false promises and flagrant lies. Capitalism failed to provide our democracy with the strong institutions to innoculate ourselves against the predations of a foreign-backed kleptocrat, because at the end of the day there is nothing capitalism values more than strip-mining everything of value in a society.




But it’s been a dark year. Another trans woman was murdered, prompting Another Magic Player Murdered. Like many a trans woman, that Philly trans lady had some experience playing Magic the Gathering, and her reduction to her trans identity in death was distressing to me. As I would later express in Elegy in December, the way in which a trans person is viewed post-mortem is something of importance to me. All too often vibrant trans lives are presented as being shallow and two dimensional to minimize the loss and subtly suggest that it was right for us to be murdered. Fuck that noise.


A discussion of the logistics of Grand Prix events in Feed Your Players was soon followed by the passage of North Carolina’s HB2 anti-trans bill. Since it meant a change in the bathroom laws for the impending Charlotte Grand Prix, I spent two articles on the topic. First I wrote about Bathroom Bans, highlighting the five point legislative action plan they’re using to try to make trans people unable to function in sync with society. Here’s a reminder of these five points, since they will be relevant in the coming wars:


  1. States and the federal government should not allow legal gender marker changes.
  2. Transgender people should not have any legal protections against discrimination, nor should anyone be forced to respect their identity.
  3. Transgender people should not be legally allowed to use facilities in accordance with their gender identity.
  4. Medical coverage related to transition should not be provided by the government, or any other entity.
  5. Transgender people should not be allowed to serve in the military.


When I was dissatisfied with the Wizards of the Coast response, I wrote another article, Fantasy Statements, on what I wanted to hear from an organization faced with this challenge. Wizards linked to my article in the daily roundup approvingly, before making a statement during the GP Charlotte coverage. Their statement wasn’t great, it managed to talk about the issue without mentioning trans people specifically, but it was something, and I feel some pride in getting them to at least recognize the increased risk that some of their players now face.


I spent several articles talking about tactics and strategy, in Magic and in life. In Influential Tactics I wrote up a four point distillation of how to push for change, after the moderate success of my HB2 advocacy. Those points?


  1. Ask for reasonable things.
  2. Find a win-win outcome.
  3. Don’t lie.
  4. Sometimes you have to lose to win.


In general I stand by them, but I will admit I have been somewhat shaken by the ascendancy of Trump, no matter how illegitimate his victory ends up being. He is basically the epitome of the opposite trend, and while I would never play a second game of multiplayer Magic with the man, it does suggest that there are ways to make horrific change appealing to all the worst aspects of man.


Still, this was not my only list of suggestions. In Political Parvenu I responded to an argument reducing multiplayer dynamics to the following points:


  1. The Art of Misdirection
  2. The Art of Deception
  3. The Art of Influencing Perception
  4. The Art of Power
  5. The Art of Persuasion


These tactics, while effective in the moment, seemed to have long-term issues if played on a systemic level. When discussion a more sustainable system, I posited the following points would provide a better outcome.


  1. Manage Your Reputation
  2. Show Your Math
  3. Minimize Your Threat Profile
  4. Make Some Queens
  5. Keep an Eye on the Happiness of Others


Shockingly, this classicist is a firm believer in bread and circuses, even as the world seems to be trending towards stick and starvation instead. It’s enough to make a person lose their shit, which is probably why I wrote Anger is a Tool. It was an ode to the potential utility of well-directed rage, and in the end I fear that the ascendancy of our Russian Puppet President has shown that it is the best tool in our modern arsenal. I did not go so far.


Anyway, I also spent some time dispelling common myths. In Personal Solutions to Political Problems I took apart an article advising women to “lean in” if we want to make more of an impact on the Magic scene. Shockingly, I was not a fan, and point by point I dismantled the presented idiocy. I don’t think ill of the girl who wrote it, for what it’s worth; it’s easy to get seduced by the idea that a game like Magic is a meritocracy, or that meritocracy is even a system with value. It was a nice piece of work. “It’s a bad look to use the civil rights movement as a way to casually dismiss a course of action that would increase diversity,” remains a good line.


That was not the only time this year I had to push back against a negative idea spreading through our community. When a Magic Pro whose personal affiliation is to the Cthullu-monsters of the multiverse sexually harassed one of my trans women friends on the scene, I called that shit out in Unexceptional and Unacceptable. Time and additional interaction has only further convinced me that the pro in question is a transmisogynist and a sexual harasser, but I wanted to bring the discussion out to the way in which our community handles these things. That meant depersonalizing the article, which I still think was the correct response.


Speaking of correct responses, I spent an article (Virtue and Voice) discussing the concept of “virtue signaling” when Beloved Pro Reid Duke was quoted giving a full-throated defense of Magic’s increasing diversity. I kept seeing that term popping up in responses to him, and the concept infuriates me to this day. You don’t get to dismiss the power of moral suasion by implying that a person talking openly about progressive views is just doing so for the pussy, which is the basic undercurrent to that right-wing bullshit. Maybe if people felt more comfortable calling out racism and sexism without worrying about the feelings of those complicit in these systems, we would not be in a situation where a tremendous percentage of this country feels actively unsafe for the election of a racist xenophobic sexual predator. When he won the nomination, I wrote about how this type of attitude was promising to poison Magic communities, tying in the right’s aggressive antagonism in Magic in the Time of Trump.


In May, I did not think that man would win. Fuck, I didn’t think we were broken enough as a nation to let the man win even on November 9th, which lead to the column My Heart Weeps. I stand by the validity of that reaction.


Let’s get the rest of my Trump columns out of the way. I had been anxious about the election in early October, writing about how the Nazi parallels had me worried I would again have to flee my home in the column Organizing for the Apocalypse. Leading up to the election I used my bully pulpit to advocate for the election of Hillary Clinton in Vote For Her. It was not enough, though every worst case scenario is now a possible future since she has lost. I will miss Miami. Finally, in the wake of this horrific act of electoral violence, I welcomed newcomers to the cultural resistance (in a column aptly named Welcome to the Cultural Resistance). In it I suggested that the following things were baseline acts to show that we do not give up on the value of a multicultural future:


  1. Speak out against hate.
  2. Protest when able.
  3. Save as many as you can.


Of course a Magic Pro slash noted libertarian jumped into the comments to dispute whether or not the nazis had ever won a popular election (basically a definitional question vis-a-vis the value of a plurality), once again shaking my enthusiasm for the game. There is a lot of that in our future, and I fear for the effect that presidential approval of assaults on vulnerable peoples will increasingly make Magic spaces feel unsafe; as is there are already so many willing to defend nazis and sexism, and I can’t imagine that getting better with time.


Magic becoming more inhospitable is not the only reason I have somewhat cooled on the game. I have also found myself drawn to another game, Overwatch, because it allows me to interact with a game in a support role I don’t often have access to in Magic. The article I wrote in the wake of the Pulse Shooting, Murder Simulators and You, examined how zero-sum game design meant even RPGs like Fallout and card games like Magic fail to offer the experience of winning a game without ever doing damage to an opponent. It was not my only column on Overwatch, and I still spend at least an hour per day on Overwatch, slowly improving my Mercy.


There were good times. Kaya, Ghost Assassin prompted the article Representation Done Right, because the steps Wizards took to not fuck up their first black woman planeswalker lead us to a final product that does a good job of offering representation to a subset of our community so often overlooked. Being black and a woman is two things, if your frame of reference is that white male is default (and not just an option of equal weight as any other potential starting position). And representation is important; I wrote Representation Dispels Lies a month before Kaya was spoiled. There is still work to be done, but we took steps in the right direction in 2016.


Finally, I also spent some columns on talking about myself. I know, not the most fascinating topic for most, but part of representation is making sure that our potential role models are three dimensional characters, warts and all. While sometimes that means things like writing my Elegy, I also grappled with the countercultural roots of the term hipster in Why I’m a Hipster, as well as using the opportunity of Hipsters of the Coast’s four year anniversary to go back to where my time at this blog started, Trans, Not Special. While I stand by that original post, I feel the 2016 update, Four Years Later, Trans and Special, highlights the person behind that original post, hopefully in a way which offers additional weight.


Last week I wrote (in Change Focus) that I was unsure as to what the coming year will bring for me and this game. It’s been seven days and I am still lost as to the future. There is too much noise for me to make any promises. But I hope to continue writing about the culture in which we play this game, and the tension between a playerbase whose boundaries were influenced by white supremacy and yet whose leadership is firmly established against such exclusionary creeds. And that’s assuming my NYC-living self isn’t incinerated in nuclear flame at some point in the near future (or sent to the camps, or murdered by a police officer, or one of the many other horrific scenarios in which my voice is silenced). But I can promise this. For as long as I have a voice, I will raise it against injustice. It’s who I am, and I’m fairly certain it’s who you tune in to read.


I love you all. Stay safe out there.


Jess Stirba is worried 2017 will make 2016 look like easy mode.

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