Spoiler Warning: This article contains spoilers for large portions of Magic the Gathering’s storyline including recent stories in Phyrexia: All Will be One, Brother’s War, and going back as far as the War of the Spark story. If you have not read all of those stories and don’t wish to have plot details revealed, please bookmark this article and come back once you’ve caught up on as much as you’d like through the end of Phyrexia: All Will be One.

At the tail end of 2022, with the release of the last fiction for Brother’s War, we reached a small but important milestone in Magic storytelling. For the first time since 2019, notable planeswalkers, founding Gatewatch members, and one-time adorable girlfriends Chandra Nalaar and Nissa Revane appeared together in a piece of official Magic fiction. It was a longtime coming, and it presents a good opportunity to reflect on how Wizards has been handling the iconic pair since the creative and PR disaster of their breakup – and what it can tell us about where Wizards stands on LGBTQ rep.

Nissa and Chandra, a History

Chandra and Nissa’s last appearance together has already been discussed at length, but if you need a refresher, brash Chandra and introverted Nissa had a slow burn romance over years across the storylines for various sets, culminating in a declaration of love in the novel War of the Spark: Ravnica. But the sequel to Ravnica, War of the Spark: Forsaken, broke off the nascent relationship abruptly and included a clumsy, homophobic, and deeply cringe no-homo asserting that Chandra doesn’t like women and actually only goes for really macho guys.

To the Magic community’s credit, there was an immediate and ferocious backlash at this obvious reactionary turn. Wizards apologized, author Greg Weisman disavowed the most egregious passage (stating it was added after he turned in his manuscript), and Mark Rosewater himself confirmed that Chandra is pansexual in a statement on his blog

All of this received a great deal of attention at the time, but something that’s been discussed less is what happened to Chandra and Nissa next. After all, the uproar and apology left Chandra and Nissa themselves stuck in a sort of limbo, since the ending of Forsaken apparently wasn’t a reliable guide to Magic continuity. 

That limbo lasted a year, until the release of the Zendikar Rising.

An illustration of Nissa half in shadow, from the card “Nissa of Shadowed Boughs”

Nissa of Shadowed Boughs by Yongjae Choi

The main storyline, by A.T. Greenblatt, was our first glimpse of Nissa after the events of Forsaken, and while it did enshrine the breakup as canon, on the whole it was a great start. We find Nissa back fighting for her home plane, still grieving the events of the War of the Spark – in particular, the loss of Chandra. 

She didn’t want to think about Jace or the battle with Nicol Bolas and its toll on Ravnica or the shattered state of the Gatewatch or Gideon’s death or Chandra.

Especially not Chandra.

The Zendikar Rising storyline kept the breakup, but unlike the end of Forsaken, it took the breakup seriously. We see Nissa grieving the relationship, filled with regret. And by the end, we see her gradually start to heal. 

If Nissa had never become a planeswalker, her chest wouldn’t be constricting right now with the pain and guilt of past mistakes and lost friendships. She wouldn’t be mourning Gideon’s death. Or the loss of Chandra’s love….

On the other hand, if she’d never left Zendikar, if she never tried and failed and tried again, she wouldn’t be standing here in front of the Singing City, defending her home when no one else would.

A happy couple may be what the community wanted and deserved, but Nissa’s heartbreak was a heck of a lot better than the mutual shrug of Forsaken. It acknowledged that these women really were in love, that their love meant something to them – and it established that Nissa, at least, was definitively queer.

We had to wait another year after Zendikar Rising to check in with Chandra, but she came back in style in Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow, literally. 

Illustration of Chandra smirking in an elaborate red dress, from the card “Chandra, Dressed to Kill”

Chandra, Dressed to Kill by Viktor Titov

There’s no mention of Nissa in the main story for these two Innistrad sets, written entirely by K. Arsenault Rivera, but Chandra’s queerness is on full display as she flirts with the impressive paladin Adeline throughout the storyline, beginning with the moment they meet

“These are my friends—Kaya, Teferi, and—”

“Chandra Nalaar,” the pyromancer cuts in. “My name’s Chandra. What’s your name?”

The cathar smirks and chuckles. “Adeline’s fine. It’s nice to meet you, Arlinn, Kaya, Teferi, and Chandra Nalaar. Katilda says you’re here to help with Harvesttide?”

Arlinn has the feeling Chandra would help with whatever it was Adeline asked of her….

It’s interesting that poor Nissa doesn’t even rate a mention, but this series did stick the landing, or at least avoid an obvious misstep, by showing Chandra having a flirtation with a woman. Admittedly, it’s a low bar to clear; it’s not hard to see that pairing Chandra with a man right away would have looked bad. Chandra has clearly shown an interest in men before and could be paired with one in the future – in fact, that would be an admirable challenge to bi- and pan-erasure – but it was important for Wizards to show that they were willing to let Chandra be visibly, obviously queer. Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow gave us back the queer Chandra that Forsaken tried to steal. 

That brings us up to late 2022, and to the pair’s next appearance – together, for the first time since Forsaken – in Brother’s War. Chandra and Nissa appear together in the side story “Exodus”, by Reinhardt Suarez, as they reunite to join the war with Phyrexia. Suarez does a lot in a little space in this story, showing Chandra and Nissa’s relationship as charged and difficult in a way that’s perfect for exes who were once best friends.

“I didn’t . . . That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what did you mean?” snapped Nissa. She instantly regretted how harshly that came out. Why were things always so difficult between them, no matter how much they cared for each other?

On the other hand, “Exodus” is a bit of an anticlimax, as far as Nissa and Chandra are concerned. There’s no reckoning, no discussion or direct acknowledgement of what happened in Forsaken, and the story skips lightly over some dramatic moments, like Chandra finding Nissa on Zendikar to recruit her for the war against Phyrexia, which must have been a very awkward conversation. “Exodus” is connective tissue; it drops exposition on the planeswalkers’ plan to attack New Phyrexia and establishes the presence of characters who come up in All Will Be One, like Lukka and Tyvar. The story marks a milestone as Nissa and Chandra finally come back together, but mostly it’s setting up what happens next. In fact, it ends with a nasty little bit of foreshadowing.

…Nissa had hoped to see Chandra again before marching into hell, if only to settle things after their heated conversation that morning. To tell her that she had a point. To tell her that she cared. But that would have to wait….

We know now that Nissa really should have said what she had to say, because at the end of the All Will Be One storyline, she stands against her former allies, compleated by Phyrexia. And, to be honest, I couldn’t be happier about it. Nissa’s compleation is a promise we’ll see more of her in upcoming sets, and it creates all sorts of exciting possibilities for Nissa, and for Nissa and Chandra. “Free your love interest from the villain’s mind control” is a pretty classic pulp fiction trope, and for a reason. 

Illustration showing Nissa hovering before Elesha Norn, transformed into a monster with four arms, from the card “All Will Be One”.

All Will be One by Chris Rahn

Of course, that’s not the only thing that could happen next; it’s probably not even especially likely, as it hasn’t been that long since Wizards told Greg Weisman that Chandra/Nissa was “not a relationship that WotC planned to pursue.” But looking back over 2 plus years of stories since Nissa returned in Zendikar Rising, there’s some reason to feel cautiously optimistic. The authors who have written Nissa and Chandra, working within whatever confines they got from Wizards, have generally respected the fact that Nissa and Chandra’s breakup was a big deal (more than Forsaken ever did, anyway), and have let the characters be overtly queer. That’s not nothing, especially alongside “Notes for a Stranger’‘ by Alison Lührs, the beautiful story accompanying the Pride Across The Multiverse Secret Lair drop that gave us Saheeli and Huatli, or the casual inclusion of multiple non-binary characters in various stories in 2022. 

On the other hand, it’s also not everything. However thoughtful and well-intentioned individual authors or employees are, companies like Wizards or Hasbro alway have an incentive to distance themselves from LGBTQ stories and LGBTQ fans. Wizards has an unfortunate habit of issuing little reminders of that fact; “Notes for a Stranger” (and the generally delightful Pride Across the Multiverse) was marred by the offensive decision to flag this extremely PG story with a content warning reading “this story contains content that may not be suitable for younger readers”. 

Screenshot of the Wizards website showing a link to Notes for a Stranger. Colorful art shows Huatli and Saheeli hugging. Small text on the bottom of the image shows a content warning for parents of younger readers.

The story has no horror, violence, sex, or physical affection more intense than hand-holding; in short, it’s pretty obvious what someone at Wizards thought wasn’t “suitable for younger readers.” The content warning went up at some point during Pride Month 2022 , and has since been removed (it can still be seen on the Wayback Machine). Honestly, it’s frustrating to want to praise the creative team at Wizards for the good work that they’ve done in the last two years, but find that other people at the same company insist on making these little gestures that communicate carelessness – at best – on LGBTQ issues. 

It’s also worth noting that, while Wizards has done a lot to repair their bad handling of Nissa and Chandra, we haven’t seen Magic’s most prominent gay man, Ral Zarek, since Forsaken (outside of Pride Across The Multiverse). It may not be an accident; the politics of representation are complex, but gay male characters can be challenging to straight audiences in ways that gay female characters aren’t. Suffice to say, gay men deserve to see themselves in Magic too.

What does this all mean for Nissa and Chandra? The better question might be, what could Nissa and Chandra mean for Wizards? The company has an opportunity to let their creative team tell a compelling story in the aftermath of ONE and leave the stain of Forsaken behind. Or they could tiptoe around Chandra and Nissa’s connection and keep up a “two steps forward, one step back” pace. The story has moved these two entangled women into a position where they’re on opposite sides, with words unsaid between them; Chekhov’s gun is loaded, and we deserve to see it fire. 

Anything could happen when it does: Nissa could become an iconic new villain with a tie to Magic’s signature planeswalker. She could be healed, and her friendship with Chandra could be repaired. It could even end with a kiss. Or maybe it will be something else altogether – as long as Wizards doesn’t turn its back on these two great queer characters again by failing to acknowledge that they loved each other, and what that means about who they are, I’ll be happy. While they’re at it, I hope that they’ll include gay men, and keep adding more trans inclusion. 

And maybe – maybe – they can do all of that without adding a content warning every time two women look at each other funny. 

Dora Rogers (she/her) is a writer, game designer, and heart-eyes lesbo from Montreal. She is one half of Gal Pal Games, and you can find her solo TTRPG and interactive fiction projects on itch.io. Follow her in all the places, or catch her on Arena playing questionable Vorthos decks in Standard.

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