Let me tell you a story. Let me be very clear: it isn’t true.

Once upon a time, the rulers of a faraway kingdom discovered a substance they could pull from the air itself. Aether, they called it, and it enabled the creation of fantastic machines that made life better for everyone.

But while the people rejoiced, the rulers quietly started finding ways to use these developments to enshrine further their own riches and power. They made rules about who could use the aether, and how, and they built machines and recruited agents to enforce those rules.

Over time, the people realized that, while they had been finding their joy and building their wonders and living their lives, prison walls had been built around them, walls made of laws, and police who the laws always favored.

In this kingdom was born a girl. Her parents were passionate and intelligent; they knew all about the prison walls. They joined with others to resist in small ways. They dreamed, some day, of tearing the walls down. And now, they had a daughter, and she loved their dream.

Following that dream was dangerous, and the girl and her parents were soon hunted by the police. Her parents hid for a time, leaving their lives behind to wander the roads outside their home city. But eventually they were found.

The girl’s father died trying to protect her; her mother disappeared (but that’s another story). The rulers decided to execute the girl in a public square as an example to inspire fear, one more brick on the invisible walls. But at the last possible moment, as the executioner’s blade came down, something in the girl revolted against the injustice and woke up, and she traveled to another world, and the story of Chandra Nalaar began.

Art by Lius Lasahido, from the story “Chandra’s Origin: Fire Logic”. Young Chandra Nalaar, a red-haired girl of 11, looks down in wonder and surprise at fire which has exploded unexpectedly from her hands. Bystanders on the crowded street watch with reactions from ranging from awe to anger.

Art by Lius Lasahido

As I said, this story isn’t true; it’s just a fantasy. It also isn’t my creation; it’s the plot of “Chandra’s Origin: Fire Logic” by Doug Beyer, published in 2015 as part of the Magic Origins set. “Fire Logic” is a beautiful story, and like the rest of Magic Origins, it was intended to explore characters who would play a major role in upcoming Magic stories. Chandra Nalaar was a heroic rogue from the beginning, but this story re-framed her disdain for law and order into a moral framework. Chandra isn’t simply an outlaw; she grew up in a police state, her parents resisted that police state, and at the age of 11 her life was changed forever by police violence. A year later, Wizards would revisit this backstory in the Kaladesh block, which sees Chandra return home, reunite with her missing mother, and topple the evil regime.

In the fictional world of Magic, Chandra is a woman with an impulsive nature, a chaotic heart, and a deeply felt commitment to justice. In our world, Chandra is several things, and one of them is a commodity: the image of a conventionally attractive young white woman with a visually-striking superpower, a name that’s recognizable (in our little subculture, anyway), and a series of stories that cannot be legally reproduced in whole or in part. And what a commodity she is: she’s featured in nineteen cards–that’s slightly more than one per year since her introduction–and Wizards has long used her as a centerpiece of their marketing, most recently in March of the Machines. A game store near me has a mannequin styled as her in their window (it always freaks me right out when I walk by, incidentally). Wizards has invested in Chandra, has tied her image with their own.

How comfortable would Chandra herself find it, this child of freedom fighters, to be a commodity? And: how would Chandra feel knowing that a billion-dollar corporation had hired investigators, allegedly from the infamous Pinkerton Agency, to go to someone’s house in order to recover a product based in part on her image?

Art from the card Captured By The Consulate, by Tyler Jacobson. Pia Nalaar, a brown-skinned woman with long dark hair, is being led by two uniformed soldiers. Her hands are bound in front of her. She looks over her shoulder at us; her face is stern and defiant.

Captured By The Consulate, by Tyler Jacobson

I was very clear at the beginning that the story of Kaladesh and Chandra is not true, and let me be very clear here: we have only one account of what happened when Wizards of the Coast sent “local contractors” to the home of YouTube content creator Dan Cannon into how the Aftermath cards leaked. Hipsters’ own Adrienne Reynolds has compiled a thorough report of everything we know about what happened, which includes the fact that Wizards has disputed Cannon’s account (it also includes the debunking of a number of baseless rumors that have sprung up around the incident–as far as we know, no one was hurt, no children were involved, and no one came into Cannon’s home without permission). Linda Codega’s article for Gizmodo is the source of a great deal of the primary reporting on this issue.

With those important caveats in mind: it is so exhausting to me how eager we as human beings are to listen to stories, to admire the heroes in them, and then to completely ignore their moral content, and yes, their political content as well.

I remember the first time this really, really struck me: an internet eon ago, after Donald Glover casually remarked that he might like to play Spider-Man, and he was met with a mountain of rabid bigotry. I’m far from the internet’s biggest Spider-Man fan, but I had read a lot of Spider-Man comics, and deeply loved the Tobey Maguire movies from the early 2000’s. I just could not understand how someone could care at all about Spider-Man, and also think that it was appropriate to object forcefully to a Black man playing the role, much less to state those objections publicly and vitriolically.

The present case is very different from that scandal of yesteryear, of course; it isn’t fans who are ignoring Chandra’s values, but Wizards of the Coast. That makes their behavior more comprehensible. After all, Wizards is a billion-dollar division of Hasbro, and Hasbro is a multinational corporation with billions of dollars in revenue. It isn’t rational, in 2023, to expect them to do anything other than what they believe will raise the price of their stock in order to enrich their shareholders, whether or not it’s the right thing. Wizards is happy to have her on the cover of MOM, and they’re happy to commission fiction starring her. But they’re unwilling to take the values of her story seriously.

Imagine if you read Cannon’s account of what happened to Chandra, how PIs hired by Wizards allegedly threatened him, made his wife cry, and tried to push their way into his house? And how would she react if you explained that Wizards had, allegedly, hired the Pinkerton Agency, a group most recently associated with spying on legally-organizing workers, and historically associated with being a private army hiring itself out for use against strikers?

Again, let me caveat: based on our best information, it is likely that nothing illegal happened. But that doesn’t mean that what happened was OK. Cannon mentions that his wife started to cry at one point; this is subjective, but for my money if you watch Cannon’s original video describing the incident, you can see he was shaken. That may or may not have been an intended consequence of sending these “local contractors” (the term Wizards used in their statement to Linda Codega) to his house, but it was a foreseeable one–and it’s foreseeable that the next time Wizards does the same thing, it will have the same result. Whether or not the investigators “threatened” Cannon in a legal sense, they clearly intimidated him, in the sense of making him feel intimidated, which is more or less inevitable when you send private security to someone’s door.

Stories don’t necessarily mean one simple thing, but they do mean things; Chandra Nalaar isn’t a real person, but she means something too, something beyond “buy more Magic cards.” She meant something to Doug Beyer, who wrote “Fire Logic,” she meant something to K. Arsenault Rivera, who wrote Chandra in the March of the Machines storyline. And she means something to me. I probably wouldn’t play Magic if it weren’t for Chandra. When I heard about the fan reaction to War of the Spark: Forsaken, and the way the community rejected its homophobic ending, I became intrigued by Magic for the first time since I was a kid. When I read the subsequent stories and realized that the Wizards story team was committed to walking back Forsaken and recovering Chandra and Nissa as queer characters, I decided to give playing Magic again a try.

Art from the card Open The Way by Livia Prima. Nissa, a woman clad in green, holds the hand of Chandra, a woman dressed in red, leading her through a lush forest toward a glowing blue portal.

Open the Way by Livia Prima

Right now should be the apex of my enthusiasm; I should be telling all my friends about how Magic is totally gay now, some of their most prominent characters are queer, and so are key authors. Instead, I feel conflicted about writing about the game at all, even in an effort to make it more fun and welcoming for queer players. Rep is great, but it’s hard to be a queer fan of a company that would involve a private security company in a situation like this and then refuse to address the consequences. Police discrimination against LGBTQ people is a hideous problem, to say nothing of the communities we stand in solidarity with; Wizards’ “local contractors” weren’t police, but they serve the same function, and they allegedly told Cannon they would involve the police. It’s easy to imagine the alleged Pinkertons’ alleged threats of legal consequences and low-level physical intimidation escalating into a much more frightening situation, or simply being all that much more traumatic, if it had happened to be a trans or Black streamer who got a box of Aftermath cards.

Wizards should step forward and, if Cannon’s account is inaccurate, correct the record, with receipts, so fans can understand what happened. They should clarify their relationship with Pinkerton, if any, and if that relationship has a future. They should acknowledge the mistakes they made in this situation if they can’t explain or disprove what happened, and they should make it clear what changes they are making for the future.

Something that Wizards has said specifically is that “under no circumstances would we instruct any employee or contracted agency to intimidate an individual” (see Codega’s article). But Wizards is not absolved of responsibility if they never told their “local contractors” to intimidate Cannon; they are absolved if their contractors never did intimidate Cannon, if actually the visit was professional and courteous. Or else if they commit to never again working with these contractors, Pinkerton or whoever it was, or any similar outfit.

“Fire Logic” is a beautiful story. I take it seriously, and I take Chandra seriously. But I don’t think any of us should–or even can–take her all that seriously forever, if Wizards won’t take her seriously themselves.

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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