Content warning: sexual violence

Prereleases for a new set are usually a joyous time for the Magic community. Whether you gather with friends at a local game store or log in to MTG Arena or Magic Online to play in digital prerelease tournaments, the magic of playing with brand new cards for the first time is always palpable.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 has forced the cancellation of many in-person prereleases, leaving digital prereleases as the only way for most people to experience Core Set 2021’s prerelease. The set’s prerelease season kicks off today with the MTG Arena Early Access Event, which is traditionally held on the day before a set releases online, when Wizards of the Coast grants streamers from all over the community access to fully stocked accounts for the day.

MTG Arena Early Access events are always scheduled the day before a new set releases on digital platforms.

But today’s Early Access Event has unintentionally collided with the Twitch Blackout, a day-long boycott of the streaming service announced on Monday by activists to raise awareness about accusations of sexual harassment and abuse by streamers on the platform. Magic’s streaming community lives on Twitch and many of its most popular streamers have declared that they will be participating in the blackout, including Gaby Spartz, Gabriel Nassif, Andrea Mengucci, Ally Warfield, and Ben Stark.

“Twitch has systemic problems that have allowed abuse, harassment, and sexual misconduct to run unchecked for years,” Spartz tweeted. “Victims are coming forward, yet Twitch has only responded with platitudes. I’m participating in a #twitchblackout happening 6/24″—and thus won’t be streaming the Early Access Event—in order “to demand action from @Twitch, to back up their statements with more than just words. A PR statement from them doesn’t accomplish anything, and won’t help improve the problem if it’s not followed by actionable items.”

“I’m choosing to do this as a form of protest, and in solidarity with the victims,” Spartz continued. “Do NOT judge anyone who does choose to stream tomorrow. Everyone’s circumstances are different, and not everyone has the privilege to take the day off of streaming.”

Despite the number of streamers that will be participating in the blackout, the Core Set 2021 Early Access Event is going ahead today as scheduled.

“To be transparent, we are unable to move the date of the Early Access Event due to the technicalities of the event and the release of M21 in MTG Arena, which is why we will not be postponing the event,” Influencer Marketing Manger Michelle Sutterfield posted in the event’s Discord channel. “However, we also want to make it clear that if you are wanting to participate in the blackout and not stream the Early Access Event on Twitch, that decision will not be held against you negatively in any way.”

“We want to support all our creators and understand the integrity you put in your content and in the communities you are responsible for,” Sutterfield went on to say. “If you would like to continue streaming the Early Access Event on Twitch on 6/24, and want to use that opportunity to bring awareness to the social justice issues happening in our society today, we would like to hear your thoughts on how you’d like to do this, so that we can help.”

One of the activists organizing the Twitch Blackout.

The Twitch Blackout and its focus on sexual harassment and abuse comes at a sensitive time for Wizards and the Magic community. Noah Bradley, one of the game’s most popular artists, acknowledged over the weekend that he had a history of sexual harassment at art industry events, causing an outpouring of stories from other women about their experiences with sexual harassment in the art industry. Wizards quickly cut ties with him on Monday evening and revealed that the final card bearing his art will be released in February 2021.

But Bradley isn’t the only prominent man in the Magic community to face such accusations in recent years. In 2019, Hall of Famer Owen Turtenwald was removed from the Magic Pro League following allegations of “a pattern of predatory behavior toward female Magic players.” And in 2018, professional player Todd Stevens was fired from Star City Games and suspended for allegedly sexually harassing women. Turtenwald never returned to Magic and switched to Hearthstone, while Stevens has gone on to be a highly visible Magic streamer on Twitch.

Wizards has a history of acting swiftly and strongly to deal with players and community members accused of anything close to sexual harassment in order to create a more inclusive game—but often without public comment. In addition to the aforementioned cases, they also banned Zach Jesse when it was revealed that he had pled guilty to aggravated sexual battery and suspended Sidney Blair after he took compromising photos of players at Grand Prix Richmond in 2014.

Sutterfield represents that same ethos of inclusivity in her position managing Magic’s influencers. “It is my goal that we continue to look inwards on how to learn, grow, and make this space as supportive, safe, and welcoming to all,” she said.

And speaking of the Magic streamers participating in the the Twitch Blackout, Sutterfield told Hipsters of the Coast: “I support them all.”

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