My own personal thoughts on being a female Magic: the Gathering player… I hope you enjoy.
I started playing Magic right after Battle for Zendikar released. My boyfriend at the time had been playing since around Ravnica and wanted to get me into the game. He bought me the blue-green intro deck and began teaching me how to play. After awhile, we upgraded the deck until it was a standard-competitive ramp deck with Ulamog as the curve topper. I began to hold my own at the school gaming lounge and the local card shop. Sadly, due to relationship problems, I never got to test the deck’s strength at FNM.
Right away, I noticed an “Oh, how cute” attitude from other players. People went easier on me in trades and games. Nicknames like “Little Lady” and “Sweetheart” got tossed out during matches. I felt like I had to work ten times harder to prove myself. Despite not being the butt of sexual jokes, I still felt I had a harder time being accepted as a player.
Even my boyfriend had his own opinion about my being a female gamer and how it was wrong that guys were nicer to me in trades. Unfortunately, his opinion was skewed toward sexism. He was convinced I used my looks to get good trades. (While that may be true, I didn’t do it on purpose.) He was also a condescending teacher, often questioning perfectly solid plays in games I won. He and I had a lot of relationship issues, and unfortunately, Magic became a real point of contention for us, so much so that I gave up the game for a short while. He treated me like the girlfriend player, sometimes answering questions for me, sometimes insisting I follow his advice, often to my game’s detriment.
Didn’t he get it? I didn’t want special attention in trading. I wanted fair trades for both parties. I wanted the same respect and treatment he got during trading and playing. I didn’t want him stopping games to point out a bad play. I wanted to learn as he had, through trial and error. The thing about Magic is that it’s a personality game as much as rules and interactions. A bad play to one player becomes good when they realize it’s setting up a blowout next turn. A player can take a deck and use it to control the board for hours while another player can use the same set of sixty cards to wipe the table with everyone by turn three. Magic is individualistic, and the best way I learned was by open-hand rounds and analyzing my plays post-game.
My first boyfriend and I broke up right as I started getting into EDH. I began dating a legacy and commander player. With the new relationship came a much more competitive playgroup. I dropped out of standard almost entirely to take on the challenges (financial and mental) of commander. My first deck was led by Bruna, Light of Alabaster, in response to a challenge by my ex who was convinced I couldn’t build and run a good voltron-control commander deck. Together, my new beau and I built one of the most powerful Bruna decks our group had seen.
My new boyfriend is almost more feminist than I am. With that feminism came a new sense of empowerment playing Magic. He never acted as if I was stupid or didn’t know how to play the game. He never treated me like the girlfriend player, knowing I could stand up to any instant or sorcery. Instead of condescending my choices of deckbuilding and playstyle, he explained his point of view but never expected me to do as he said. At the card shop, he didn’t hover during games to point out my mistakes. He and his friends coached me but treated me as their equal, both in game and in trade.
This, my friends, is what every player should experience in Magic. MTG has grown into more than a card game; it’s a community. Everyone that sits down to play should be treated with fairness and walk away with a smile and good feeling. Whether male or female, old or young, experienced or new, everyone deserves this kind of experience.
Being a Girl Player
The worst experience I had as a girl player was the Eldritch Moon midnight prerelease. Two of my four opponents were condescending, one of them even refusing to shake my hand and introduce himself during pre-match shuffling. After beating me soundly in game one, he smirked at me and rubbed in how mana-flooded I’d been. When I stepped out for air to cure my headache, he gloated to friends who were out smoking how he’d beaten me. That’s about the only time Magic has really made me want to cry. Especially when one of his friends flirted heavily with me while telling me his girlfriend wouldn’t care and ignoring how clear I’d made it that I was taken.
I finally had to accept that some boys would always treat me like this. The only thing I could do was turn around and try to beat them at their own game. I was finally able to do so, even though I still make misplays. It was comical to watch the male players who didn’t know me assume I was the least threatening deck at the table only to realize they were wrong.
The biggest problem I see for female players is the gender stereotypes assigned today. Females in Magic are played up so much as if it’s some surprise girls can like and be good at a card game that’s more intensive than Uno. It shouldn’t come as a shock if a girl wants to play at FNM instead of go to the mall, and she shouldn’t be treated any differently before, during, or after her match.
Male players, I’m not blaming you, but in a way, I am. A lot of you are like my boyfriend who constantly helps me succeed as a player. Some of you aren’t. I’m reminded of the time I was in the middle of a commander game, and a guy sat down uninvited and began asking me if I knew what every card being played did. I finished the game with immense frustration since it was obvious he thought I was inept. The thing that made it so frustrating was that he did it to me, the only girl in the pod.
So how do we go about fixing this? I wish I had all the answers, but unfortunately, the snap of my fingers cannot reverse the gender stereotyping that is so engrained in our society. The best thing I can do is ask the male players out there to stop measuring a player’s skills by gender. I notice this every time I shuffle up for a match with my boyfriend and new opponents. Without realizing it, the males always target him as the bigger threat simply because he’s… male? I’ve soundly beaten him in games before; in fact we met when I beat him in Standard! During a round between classes at university, my biggest threat in a game was another girl. Surprise, girls can play Magic!
I’m going to go ahead and admit I had some serious writer’s block on this article. My poor boyfriend was on the receiving end of a lot of grousing about how it’s so damn hard to write about this topic. Why was it so difficult for me? It’s hard for me to pin down exactly why girls don’t play Magic because I have such a good time with it. It’s my hobby and one of my favorite things to do. It’s my favorite group activity, and almost all of my best friends have come from the game.
I wrote this article for all the girls out there who don’t have a good time playing Magic. I wrote this for the women players who are harassed and spoken down to at FNM. I wrote this for the girls thinking of getting into Magic. It is my sincerest wish that every player has the positive experience I’ve had in Magic: the Gathering. As a budding feminist and lover of Magic, it’s my desire for girls to start gaining a stronger presence in the game.
My current goal is to Top 8 at a Grand Prix this fall. I want to see girls in the ProTour, and I want to see them at FNM every week. If we stop judging players by appearance, we’ll at least begin making headway toward not being shocked and sour when girls prove they can play with the boys. I hope you enjoyed this article. Let me know what you think in the comments below. Until next time!