The Magic Diversity Challenge – A New Year’s Resolution

This guest article is by Charles Featherer who blogs about Magic. He has a challenge for all of us for 2014:

My regular readers know me as a father who is raising two young men and that I’ve found a meaningful way to connect with my younger son through Magic the Gathering. I can’t help but look at the Magic Community from the perspective of a parent and how it will impact on my younger son’s development. Most of the time, I see what every gamer sees – a wonderfully supportive environment full of learning and social interaction. Other times, I see or hear about a behavior that isn’t as supportive. This article isn’t about pointing a finger at behavior that we find unacceptable. Rather, it is about two wonderful groups that have taken it upon themselves to help build awareness within our community, spread the good word about the benefits of diversity in gaming, and ultimately, a challenge to every person in our community who has a chance to influence it for the better.

Traditionalists believe that you should start every new year with a resolution to improve yourself or some aspect of the world you inhabit. Many people with special interests tend to make resolutions that focuses on their area of interest. Today, I’m going to share with you my resolution for 2014 in the area of Magic the Gathering. I’m doing so in the hopes that after you read this, you’ll adopt it for yourself. I doubt everyone will who reads this article will do so – people think resolutions are silly for a host of reasons.

If you have the fortitude to step over the line in the sand with me, you’ll make a difference to the way we all interact with our community for the better. If think you have what it takes, then read on as I introduce two wonderful people to you: Tifa Robles (@TifaRobles and on Tumblr: Adventures of a Lady Planeswalker) of the Lady Planeswalkers Society and Trevor Murdock of Planeswalkers for Diversity.

::::Q&A::::

Question: Would you both take a moment to introduce yourselves and explain how you became involved in Magic?

Tifa: I’ve been playing video games and family board games my entire life. Games have always been a passion and inspiration of mine. In college, I started playing strategy games, starting my addiction with Settlers of Catan and learning games of all types. Eventually, I started working at a board game store where not only did my collection and knowledge grow rapidly, but I was introduced to Magic tournaments. I fell in love with the atmosphere and the excitement of the new release of M11 before I even learned the game itself. It wasn’t long before my boss sat me down and taught me the basics in a Winston draft (not my recommended learning tool). My spark was instantly ignited. I started competing heavily within my first month, and it wasn’t until then that I realized the sexism integrated in the Magic community. I had loved the friendly people in my shop, but once I was sitting across the table from them as opposed to selling them cards behind the counter, their attitudes took a turn for misogyny. Suddenly, it was considered silly for me to think I could be good at Magic and conversations about my breasts were completely acceptable to have right in front of me. I competed in a GP, and not much later a few PTQs. I never did very well, but I worked hard. I wanted to prove to all those critics and judgmental bigots that women could be competitive and could succeed in the Magic scene. I was also judged by my looks and the clothes I wore A LOT! It was disgusting. After nine months, I was near the end of my college career and needed to find a real job. I was very interested in work at Wizards of the Coast and had a friend recommend me for Customer Service/Game Support. I worked there during my last three months of college and six months later was hired onto the Magic Brand Team. It was a great opportunity that taught me a lot about Magic, the community, and myself. But recently, after two years on the team, I left to help grow LPS more than I could with the constraints of being a Wizards employee. LPS is now a global organization with nearly twenty chapters that have started nationwide, constantly gaining national attention from many media outlets, that only now I can be involved with.

Trevor: I actually started playing Magic in the ‘90s, the way it was intended: while friends were creating role-playing game characters. After my playgroup went separate for various reasons, I was left with a single deck (featuring pestilence rats and pestilence) and no one to play with. Several years later, when my oldest daughter started being interested in card and board games, I nabbed a Guildpact Izzet Gizmometry theme deck so we could play. Eventually my daughter lost interest but I found a casual playgroup. One of the members suggested I check out the competitive scene to help the group deal with M10 rules changes. After FNMs, drafts, and one pre-release later, I was  hooked. After becoming an FNM regular and then interested in PTQs and GPs, I started Booster Victim as a way to poke fun at the steep learning curve in Magic. What started out as humour led to a serious interest in making Magic more accessible to everyone.

Q: What event made you realize that you needed to create your group and how old is your group now?

Tifa: It wasn’t until female friends of mine showed an interest in learning and playing at my house, away from the men who knew how to play in our lives, that I realized the desire and need for a female-friendly group.The group started in April 2011 and moved into an official capacity in stores in July 2011.

Trevor: I had just started following some Magic folks on Twitter in late 2012 because of Booster Victim, when a trans player, Feline Longmore, won the SCG Seattle Legacy Open, and it was the online onslaught of disgusting (and irrelevant) comments about her gender and her being trans that led me to search for some kind of LGBT support group for Magic players. I just assumed such a thing would exist given how large the Magic community is. When I couldn’t find one, I started a Facebook group. I didn’t know about LPS at that time and when someone pointed out that it already existed I asked Tifa if I should shut down the group and invite people over to LPS. Instead she actually encouraged us to maintain a separate presence and grow it into more than just a Facebook group; she understood that we would have a wider reach by operating both groups and collaborating.

Q: What about your personal background made you feel you were the right person to start your respective organizations?

Tifa: I have always been deeply passionate and caring about equality – especially when relating to gender issues. Not that I feel it is required, but my background in feminism helps my personal determination push LPS forward. I feel like I understand the deep undertones of sexism and the importance of awareness. Awareness is the first step to progress. Plus, my experience with Magic is varied in a wide range. I was a store employee at tournaments; a participant in tournaments in many levels; an employee at Wizards in two different, very important roles; and I was friends with people in all levels of play from beginner through Pro. I’ve also always enjoyed event organizing and feel I’m a natural leader. Plus, the sexism and mockery of my group has only pushed me harder because of how relevant and necessary my group is, instead of discouraging me to slow down.

Trevor: Honestly, I don’t think I’m the right person to be leading Planeswalkers for Diversity. I think I was one of the right people to co-found it but I hope that in 2014, we garner enough attention to attract new leadership. I do have a lot of experience running (and forming) other non-profit groups though, and I knew I could draw on that and be persistent enough to put in place the building blocks of an organization that will have a big and lasting impact on environments in which Magic is played. For LGBT issues in particular, I am a resource person with the Positive Space Network at the University of Victoria. I co-lead workshops to train other resource persons, so I also have some experience specifically in creating safe spaces to draw from. I think that helped give me a good grounding to express what I am passionate about, which is all about places where Magic is played being inclusive to everyone, not just people of a particular gender, age, race, ability, sexuality, or anything else that has nothing to do with playing a competitive trading card game!

Q: How would a Magic player become involved with supporting your group?

Tifa: It’s as simple at spreading the word in a positive light, joining our group, liking our page, following my twitter, etc. If you want to make a bigger impact, there is always the option of starting a local chapter, but this takes a huge time commitment that not everyone can commit to. More than anything, we just want to be acknowledged and accepted as a serious group and part of the community.

Trevor: Ditto, though I would also add that we are open to writers for our website at and to people joining our stream team.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge facing our Community?

Tifa: Being comfortable with what has been acceptable for years and not wanting to change. Everyone has to change. Even people who are not acting or speaking offensively need to call others out on their behavior. This can be scary and seem hopeless, but it really is the only way. Just think, in 5, 10, 20, 100 years, we will all look back at this and know which side was in the right. I don’t think anyone looks back at the 1800s and says, “We never should have given women the right to vote. What a mistake.” At least those that do aren’t taken seriously.

Trevor: There is an insidious and deeply ingrained attitude that goes like this: “I’m not actually a woman hating homophobe myself so I can say rape jokes or ‘that’s so gay’ and it’s fine because I don’t mean ill will towards anyone by it.” And as Tifa says, even those who aren’t comfortable with this attitude because they know it makes the environment too intimidating or uncomfortable for some people are often afraid to speak up because they don’t want to be seen as a party pooper. The analogy I like to make though is with that of judges. Often judges tell us things we don’t want to hear, and rulings that favour your opponent can suck. But, the presence of judges is vital to maintaining the overall fun level of the game vs. Magic event devolving into a gnarled mass of heated rules arguments. In my book, failing to speak up about non-inclusive language is just like spectating a game and failing to speak up about an illegal play.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing your respective organization’s growth?

Tifa: Being understood and accepted. We are often considered “sexist” ourselves before people even know what we are. We are not an exclusive club for women only. In fact 60-70% of our player-base is male – mostly husbands, boyfriends, fathers, and brothers, but also friends. In addition, we need to be taken seriously. For example, some competitive players refuse to play at LPS because we are welcoming to “beginners” but we really want all skill groups playing together. We have a member who placed second at a PTQ and many others who are very competitive and really good at the game, and we also have women who are just learning almost every week. We don’t want any woman to say, “That group is not for me,” before they try it out at least twice (since attendance can vary drastically).

Trevor: Our biggest challenge is the same in terms of being understood and accepted, but it looks a little different for us. Although our mandate is broad and about inclusiveness in Magic for everyone, we tend to have an LGBT focus because after women this is the biggest target group for discrimination in the Magic community, and LPS already exists with a spotlight on women. Sometimes this comes across as if we think racism and other forms of discrimination are less important than homophobia, bi-phobia, and trans-phobia (not to mention the fact that LGBT itself is shorthand). Many of our volunteers are not members of the LGBT community themselves and sometimes get accused of being politically correct or “white knighting” which is a pretty ridiculous and off base insult to lob at people who just want to make Magic more enjoyable for more people.

Q: How has the Magic community responded to your groups? Has the response surprised you in any way?

Tifa: It has surprised me on both ends of the spectrum. There has been A LOT of positive response, including articles and interest from well-known writers and commentators in the community, a chapter started and supported by members of LoadingReadyRun, and many Magic-celebs that have even attended LPS when they are in Seattle. I’m constantly grateful for this loving support and hope it continues to grow. Unfortunately, the reverse side has been just as strong. There are a lot of people who consider us sexist (as mentioned before), stupid, ridiculous, and even the most annoying and demeaning of descriptions: adorable. The forum pages I have found have sickened me with anger, but that means we just need to work harder to crush their opinions and prove them wrong.

Trevor: Similarly, I’ve been surprised at how readily several pros have been willing to donate their time and energy to joining us on stream, giving us short interviews for our “Peek” series, and spreading information about us. On the reverse side, the fact that so many people think it’s more important to use language they consider funny than be sure they are not contributing to a toxic playing environment can be discouraging. I’m also disappointed that we only have a handful of local playgroups so far, though I’d rather have a few very successful and impactful groups than a pile of floundering ones. At least we span multiple continents with our small number of groups: currently the biggest local P4D chapter is actually in Australia. Someone needs to dethrone them!

Q: Since starting your groups, who has been your biggest supporter?

Tifa: As silly as it is to say, my husband. He has not only supported all of my desires for the organization, but challenged and motivated me to go further. It was his idea to start a second chapter in the Seattle area (on the Eastside). In addition, he attends every event with me and makes sure I stay fed and hydrated as I host the tournament. He also helps teach at conventions and constantly gains members and support from big names on Twitter. Without him, LPS wouldn’t be what it is today.

Trevor: Aside from co-founder Nelson Salahub, I would have to say Tifa, actually. Without her I think P4D would have just been a Facebook group that I started hoping someone would take over. I probably would have given up on it without her encouragement and her setting an example with LPS of how much can be accomplished with some persistence to providing some leadership.

Q: Diversity is a watchword that appears to be gaining popularity in recent years. Why do you think it has become such an important topic?

Tifa: It’s part of our cultural evolution to critique our society and make it better. As equality becomes more normal and expected in places like the working world, this will spread into other spaces as well, like hobbies and lifestyles.

Trevor: Specific to the gaming community in particular, we tend to be people who were outcast in some way growing up ourselves and we tend to be people who understand the value of constructive criticism. So it’s just bound to happen that someone is going to point out the severe ironic hypocrisy of being hateful towards others because of some external thing about them that has nothing to do with gaming.

Q: If you could fix one problem, address one shortfall, or focus on one aspect of our Community – and do so through the actions of your group – what would it be? Is there something that is a close second?

Tifa: I just don’t want my Magic skills, or anyone else’s for that matter, judged based on my genitals, face, or any other unrelated feature. I want my Magic skills to speak for themselves.

Trevor: Ditto! We just focus more on the “unrelated” part, especially LGBT-ness.

Q: Have either of you run into any unexpected opposition to your group?

Tifa: I expected opposition, but some of the extreme opposition has been shocking. Mostly the crazy far-fetched conclusions about my intentions or my group’s views.

Trevor: Honestly, I’m less surprised by opposition than underwhelmed by support. I don’t want to diminish all of the support we have gotten, and we have a handful of incredible volunteers who have made massive contributions to the organization so far. But from the broader Magic community, putting myself in the position of being a Tournament Organizer, or running a Magic-related website, etc. and coming across this group, I sort of think we should be overwhelmed by folks asking to help us out. Obviously I’m biased in being passionate about this an important cause or I wouldn’t have started it, but I’m hoping people just didn’t know about us and will start coming out of the woodwork to support our mission in 2014.

Q: What do you have planned for 2014?

Tifa: Bigger, better exposure.

Trevor: Actual real life presence in events, more diversity-and-Magic themed content on our website, and regular streaming. Tangible goal for 2014 is by the end of the year, I’d like it to be commonplace to see Planeswalkers for Diversity (and Lady Planeswalkers Society) t-shirts at Grand Prix and on Pro Tour coverage, and for major events to have members of their welcoming booths trained in creating safe spaces for women, people of colour, LGBT-folk, and people with disabilities. We are off to a good start with an invitation from the organizers of GP Sacramento coming up shortly. Now we just need some volunteers!

Q: Every leader has a vision. Where do you see your group in 5 years?

Tifa: I hope my group is known to every engaged Magic player.

Trevor: Well the ultimate goal is to fold because there is no longer any need to point out the benefits of being kind to strangers that you play a competitive game with, but realistically 5 years is too soon for that so I’ll stick with expansion of the goals for 2014 but with global coverage not just Australia and North America.

Throwing Down the Gauntlet

Tifa and Trevor are asking for everyone’s help. Everyone who reads this article can contribute – at the end of it I’ll even show how players can get in on the action. The main challenge is being made to all Professional Players, writers and bloggers, content managers, website owners, Tournament Organizers, store owners, Judges, and Podcasts. If you provide content or support the community in any way, I’m throwing the gauntlet down at your feet. This challenge is also being directed to Wizards of the Coast, to recognize 2014 as the year they make a difference in diversity through their worldwide influence. It doesn’t matter if you reach one person or ten thousand through your actions, the idea is simple.

Make a pledge to make supporting diversity in gaming this year through your words and deeds.

The Pledge

As a supporter of Magic the Gathering, you recognize the impact of your contributions. Every day, you see the effect you have on the greater Magic Community. Now it’s time for you to take the pledge:

I promise that in 2014, I will make every effort to support diversity. Through my actions, I will effect change and work to end bigotry so that all players may feel welcome. To that end, I will do the following-

  • As a writer or blogger, I will dedicate at least one article to promoting diversity.

  • As a Professional Player, I will seek to promote diversity at events I attend.

  • As a content manager, I will work with my writers and media specialists to make certain they promote diversity. I will also take up the pledge personally through my own blog or Twitter feed.

  • As a website owner, I will promote diversity through the content I provide. I will take care to highlight articles that promote Diversity and make those items easy to locate on my site.

  • As a Tournament Organizer, I will offer a free table to any group promoting diversity in gaming and/or I will sponsor at least one side-event to help promote Magic as a safe and interactive game anyone can enjoy. If I offer gaming coverage, I will do a PSA to run at each event promoting diversity.

  • As a Store Owner, I will establish and post a policy that all gamers may feel welcome and that bigotry and hate speech will not be tolerated. I will also investigate becoming a Safe Place.

  • As a Judge, I will be an ambassador for diversity, helping everyone to see the advantage of an open and friendly gaming environment.

  • As a Podcasterer, I will dedicate one episode this year to taking on the diversity challenge and I will promote diversity through my podcasts as the opportunity presents itself.

  • As WotC, we will pledge to promote diversity through our articles, website, and event coverage.

  • As a player, I will take the Gamers Against Bigotry pledge. I won’t let my fellow players get away with hate speech and I will notify a Judge when necessary at sanctioned events – even if I am not the person receiving the insult.

Seems easy, right? Here is the best part. There are already two groups that support diversity in the Magic Community. You can contact either of them directly to get their perspective on any number of issues affecting the gaming community. Doing your own interview with Tifa or Trevor will fulfill your pledge. Spend an article talking about their respective groups will do the same. I’m not suggesting that everyone out there do this. I’m only offering it as one way to fulfill your obligation to promote diversity. Be creative!

When you write your article, promote your podcast, or find another way to fulfill your pledge this year, then let Tifa and Trevor know about it. Both Planeswalkers for Diversity (@MTGDiversity) and the Lady Planewalkers Society (@MTGLadySociety) have Twitter feeds, and they will be happy to retweet your success to their followers. In this, everyone wins.

We’re also challenging everyone who reads this article to take one more step. It doesn’t matter if you are a major contributor or just a player sitting at home at the kitchen table. I entreat everyone to go to Gamers Against Bigotry and take their diversity pledge as well.

Don’t Forget Those Judges

We would be remiss if we did not mention an important part of the Magic Infraction Procedure Guide as a part of this article. While we hope and work towards changing the mindset of players, the IPG provides for a method of handling situations that do occur. Unsporting Conduct – Minor or Unsporting Conduct – Major are penalties that can be issued to players that engage in vulgar or hate speech. The IPG is a very well defined document and we all encourage players to be familiar with it and the possible ramifications of violating it. When in doubt – call a Judge.

2014 – The Year We Make a Difference

At the start of every new year, it is customary to take make a resolution for some type of self improvement or to perform an act of goodwill. Here is mine:

I promise to give this article to every content site for Magic the Gathering to be used to help promote diversity. I further promise as a blogger, to write at least one additional article promoting diversity and to continue to assist Planeswalkers for Diversity and the Lady Planeswalker Society in their mission. You see that first sentence? If you are responsible for managing a site, you have my permission (as well as Trevor’s and Tifa’s) to take this article right now and post it in its entirety, so long as you credit the source and keep it intact. If there is a need to edit it, please contact me first via email. You also may take the article to simply distribute it to your own writers to get them to write about diversity this year. This article, interview, and pledge are all one big challenge to the Community. Are you willing to take the challenge?

Khinky’s Boots #2

Welcome to Khinky’s Boots, a weekly column where our resident know-it-all dispenses indispensable advice to everyone from Planeswalkers to Pegasi.

Our contributor is Khin Kyaw, a flavour text enthusiast, fashion nerd and inveterate science fiction fan from Johannesburg. She blogs about freedom and frugality at Osprey’s Lab and explores the South African MTG community at Manabond ZA.

The Multiverse has 99 problems… Khinky is in no way qualified to fix any of them, but it never hurts to try. In today’s column: wrist bones, sphinx beards and a Lhurgoyf.

insatiable harpy

Dear Khinky

My collection of wrist bones is getting out of hand. It began with just one or two, but every time I visit a battlefield I come home with more. Now it seems like there are thousands of them piled up against the walls. My cave is always a mess and my partner keeps threatening to get rid of them all.

Please help!
Insatiable Harpy

Dear Insatiable

This is a common problem among wrist bone enthusiasts, so you are definitely not alone. I would suggest a two pronged approach:

  1. Cutting down – How many of those bones really deserve to be part of your collection? Keep only those that are very valuable or currently in use.
  2. Storage solutions – Get some nice boxes and assign a dedicated space in your cave for your bones. Your partner will be less inclined to get rid of them if you do a good job of keeping them neat.

One last thing – does your partner know how much your collection is worth? I’ve heard of cases where very rare bones ended up in the trash after a petty domestic squabble!

Good luck…
Khinky

prognostic sphinxDear Ms Khinky

I’m noticing more and more that the other sphinxes tend to be overly dismissive of me, calling me an old fogey and whatnot. I’m only a couple of centuries older than those whippersnappers but I guess I’m prejudiced too – their beards are in need of a good trim! But it seems like such a small issue and they’re a good bunch of kids. Should I just let it slide?

Old but not irrelevant,
Prognostic Sphinx

Dear Prognostic

First of all, great beard! But seriously though, discrimination is a thing; ageism is definitely a thing and if you are feeling the effects then it’s something worth trying to fix. I wish I had an easy solution. Not that it’s your responsibility to educate them but perhaps you could make the others aware of the various prejudices around age? You’ve already taken a good first step by talking about it, so thanks.

Yours
Khinky

lhurgoyfDear Khinky

I’m a nice enough guy and I don’t smell too bad, but lately I’ve had a problem making friends. I used to have a pretty average social life, you know – book club and graveyard crawls and the occasional dinner party. But nowadays I can’t seem to get within sight of the village without everyone running away. Pretty sure Hans has been spreading rumours about me again. What should I do?

Love
Lhurgoyf

Dear Lhurgoyf

Man that’s tough, I really feel for you. Let me just say that if there are unsavoury rumours floating around, they’re more likely to have originated with Saffi Eriksdotter and not poor Hans. Saffi means well but she can be a little bit dramatic sometimes.

I would advise you to take the high road – continue to be the stand up guy that you are until this whole thing blows over. Meanwhile, have you tried meeting friends who are a bit more open minded? I hear Mortivore is looking for a ballroom dancing partner and I have a feeling the two of you would get along.

Best
Khinky

Khinky’s Boots #1

Welcome to Khinky’s Boots, a new series where our resident know-it-all dispenses indispensable advice to everyone from Planeswalkers to Pegasi.

Our contributor is Khin Kyaw, a flavour text enthusiast, fashion nerd and inveterate science fiction fan from Johannesburg. She blogs about freedom and frugality at Osprey’s Lab and explores the South African MTG community at Manabond ZA.

The Multiverse has 99 problems… Khinky is in no way qualified to fix any of them, but it never hurts to try. In today’s column: an image-conscious minotaur, a petulant planeswalker and prongs.


fleetfeather sandals

To Ms Khinky

I really want to wear Fleetfeather Sandals but I’m pretty sure it will result in the other minotaurs making fun of me and questioning my minotauriness. Why should humans have the monopoly on stylish footwear though?

From
Minotaur Skullcleaver

Dear Skull

To hell with the others, wear whatever you want! Having said that, I do understand that you live in a society where traditionally minotaurian characteristics are highly prized. It’s not easy to question the status quo, but I hope that you will have the courage to do so. The sandals are just the first step, so to speak.

You do you, dude.
Khinky

leafcrown dryadDear K

What’s the deal with nymphs? They say they’re not into fur but then they go around holding hands and not wearing much, which why would they do that unless they’re trying to get my attention, right? It kills me man.

Please help!
Ajani

P.S. I’ve tried everything, even my best line (“I only have eye for you, baby”) but they won’t even let me watch.

Dear AJ

So the nymphs keep saying that they’re not into you and you keep refusing to accept this. Which tells me that their autonomy means less to you than your ego. Have some respect, AJ. The fact that you find them attractive is not their problem and they shouldn’t have to deal with your unwelcome advances. I’m sure there are plenty of faeries falling all over themselves to touch your axe… Do yourself a favour and let this one go.

Yours
Khinky

thassaDear Khinky

What’s so great about tridents anyway? I’m sick of everyone making fun of me for only having two prongs. Heliod certainly doesn’t get any grief over his spear.

From
Anonymous

Dear ThassaAnonymous

Your bident is definitely badass. Could it be that the other gods are just insecure? The fact that they’re poking fun says more about them than it does about you! Everyone knows how awesome your powers can be, so try to concentrate on function over form… After all, it’s the motion of the ocean that counts!

Yours
K

Peek #13: Feline Longmore

Image (1)Peek is a series of brief interviews of Magic personalities who support Planeswalkers for Diversity. Feline Longmore is a legacy player with a penchant for High Tide. And by penchant I mean she really loves High Tide. She first played in FNM back in 2004 and her first StarCityGames Open was July 2012.

p4d: How did you start playing Magic: The Gathering?
FL: A friend got me into the game in 2004, by the end of the year I started my first sanctioned events, FNM’s in Victorville California. First Regionals I played Tooth and Nail, going 4-4 drop.

p4d: You won a StarCity Legacy Open in Seattle a little over a year ago. Can you tell us a bit about the deck you played?
FL: High Tide, the main motivation for playing it is because I really enjoy the deck that much. Winning or losing I enjoy every round I play at every Open.

p4d: A wonderful thing about Magic is finding a card you’re inspired to build around. It sounds like you’ve found it in High Tide and since your Seattle win, you’ve continued to play legacy at a highly competitive level. What is your favourite thing about legacy?
FL: The diversity of the format that is Legacy. There are options to play just about anything and everything, it also makes for a lot of homework.

High Tide

p4d: When you won the Open, there were some pretty terrible comments online about things that have nothing to do with Magic and everything to do with unrelated facts like that you happen to be a woman, you have an unusual first name, or that you are transgender. That incident actually led to the formation of the Planeswalkers for Diversity Facebook group and ultimately this website. How does it affect you when people act on negative stereotypes of woman and trans folk? How do you manage to get past it and keep putting up such great results in spite of this challenge?
FL: I don’t know if I’ve just been lucky or what, but I’ve really had no issues in person at the Open series, I just go and play Magic for the same reason everyone else is there. I guess that’s just what it comes down to and why we are all in the same room, to play. I’ve really never had issues with Magic players in person about non Magic things. Every time I have a conversation with a random at an Open 99% of the time, it’s about Magic! About Legacy! About High Tide! Sometimes it’s about “Where is the closest restaurant from here?” For what happened online back then, I wasn’t there, so I never saw any of it. I was playing in the Open ^.^

p4d: You’ve been lucky to avoid discrimination personally at events. Is it actually important that Planeswalkers for Diversity exists? If so, what would you like to see us accomplish?
FL: Yes, the fact that the group exists is very inspirational to me! What it should accomplish is a harder question to answer, I think in the end it’s what you/me/everyone makes it, what P4D is for themselves. I think, however, that everyone involved with P4D wants the same thing:  to play Magic, have fun, and if everyone keeps this in mind everyone gets along properly.

Peek #12: Nelson Salahub

Image (1)Peek is a series of brief interviews of Magic personalities who support Planeswalkers for Diversity. Nelson Salahub is one of the co-founders of Planeswalkers for Diversity.

p4d: How did you start playing Magic: The Gathering?
NS: My Uncle Dave bought me a starter deck of beta for Christmas 1993 and I immediately taught myself how to play. I found a store in town that sold the cards and I soon began hanging out there and got to know the staff, playing casual games when it wasn’t too busy and trading cards with the other customers when it was. My uncles and cousins played back then and continue playing today. Family gatherings are always followed by Magical Gatherings.

p4d: You’re a level 2 judge and the main Tournament Organizer for Yellowjacket Comics in Victoria, BC. What do you like most about judging and organizing events?
NS: I like helping people get to enjoy their hobby. Teaching someone the rules of the game, introducing someone to card interactions they find exciting, running a successful tournament, hosting a league, awarding someone a plane ticket and an invite to the Pro Tour. These things all bring a sense of satisfaction, especially when I hear positive feedback from the players. I’ve been lucky to work for a really great Magic community in Victoria.

p4d: What has it been like leading the Planeswalkers for Diversity stream team?1045238_377605879006902_54853143_n
NS: I’m still just getting my feet wet at this, but I have high hopes that the stream team will continue to grow and that www.twitch.tv/mtgdiversity will start to have it’s own unique vibe that stream viewers will key into. It’s been a lot of fun so far and I’ve enjoyed meeting some really cool people through the effort.

p4d: You are one of the co-founders of Planeswalkers for Diversity. Why do you think it is important?
NS: I want to play and judge Magic tournaments in an environment where hurtful language and behaviour aren’t present. I wanted to band up with people who also hold this value in order to share support.

p4d: What would you like to see Planeswalkers for Diversity accomplish?
NS: On the one hand I’d love to see our banner being displayed at Magic events and the meaning behind the banner understood by players that there would be zero tolerance of offensive language and behaviour. The real dream would be that the group dissolves because Magic players are all just so awesome that no one ever thinks to act otherwise.

p4d: Where can people find you online?
NS: I’m @nelsonsalahub on twitter, nelsonicles rex on modo, and coachnelly or mtgdiversity on twitch.

Training Grounds #2 featuring Tom Martell

ImageWelcome to Training Grounds, a series where a regular Magic player streams while the audience discusses strategic commentary live with a more experienced player. What distinguishes Training Grounds from a regular situation with feedback is that the streamer is cut off from the more experienced player and the audience, so doesn’t get the feedback in real-time, only later. We think this is a rather novel way to approach streaming. Have we broken the format? Is there a reason no one else does it this way? Let us know what you think in the comments below. In this episode Nelson is coached by Pro Tour Champion Tom Martell.


DiversityWhen Trevor and I brainstormed this format together I thought it might be kind of neat, but actually re-watching the stream has convinced me we’ve concocted a winner. Admittedly it’s a fair amount of work to put together, but you don’t necessarily need a pro upstream from you to learn a lot about your plays. I’m hoping the format catches on in the twitchniverse and more players level up faster using this cool learning technique.

I was really happy to have the opportunity to interact with Tom during this project. Not only one of the best players, he was also a really great guy. Be sure to check out his take on diversity in the magic scene at 1:10 of the video. Tom makes the point that given many gamers know what it’s like to be marginalised, it’s surprising that our community can sometimes be the worst at it. We’ve come a long way but there is still much to do. We can’t tolerate any type of divisive behaviour and we must make our communities acceptance of anyone other than white heterosexual males, or lack thereof, a talking point rather than ignoring it.

Into the Void

ShortcutterGetting to hear Tom’s straightforward criticism of my draft picks was really helpful in learning about the M14 format. For instance, Tom spoke about the format being marked by a lack of toughness in some creatures. Creatures like Child of Night and Goblin Shortcutter won’t be able to trade with the number of toughness 3 creatures in the set. They also fall to cards like Wring Flesh. One black is easier to keep open for the Wring than two for a Doomblade, and there’s no need to make my opponent’s job easier for them. This toughness issue was demonstrated in the draft with Goblin Shortcutter spending time in the sideboard since it just wasn’t cutting it. While I did get some kudos for making some decent picks for the archetype I was aiming for, I missed the best window to get into blue (Opportunity pack2 at 12:10) and I got to watch just how much better my blue deck would have been.

OpportunityAs I listen to difference in the tone of Tom’s voice between when his comments are muted and when we’re having a normal conversation where we can both hear each other, I notice how much information gets filtered out. Tom knows all the mistakes I’ve made during the draft but will only mention a few and will also feel inclined to offer me praise for any good decisions I’ve made. While I return to the sensory deprivation tank, I get a really honest, no-nonsense appraisal of my decisions and my understanding of the game. This led me to grasp that I was way too in love with being in the black/red sac deck and not open enough to jumping into the obviously open blue when I saw an Opportunity in pack2 at 12:10 in the stream. As it was the sac deck didn’t really come together since I had a lack of sac outlets and I ended up with a more black/red midrange deck.

Through the Breach

Many of my plays were acceptable to Tom but I did get the benefit of hearing which lines he didn’t like and why.

One such play was in outraging a Xathrid Necromacer in Game 1 at 28:10 into the stream. I thought I was dealing with an important creature that would potentially win the game for my opponent, but Tom could see that the Necromancer wasn’t Xathridgoing to be a threat long term and I was already winning on board even if my opponent got a few zombies. It would have been much safer if I had held onto the burn spell in case my opponent dropped a Sengir Vampire or something else I couldn’t otherwise deal with.

Another piece of advice was for the black/red mirror match. Black/red was popular in this draft, and incidentally, it also made an appearance in the previous Isolation Cell article being the deck played. Tom explained that the black/red mirror match was a game of attrition. As such, advancing your board position and ensuring you don’t fall behind is crucial. Mind Rot is a relatively cheap spell in black, easily splashable, that erodes the opponents card advantage. Keeping the opponent behind us on cards in a war of attrition is excellent, and Mind Rot does just that.

We didn’t win this draft but I learned something about the format and had a lot of fun.

Thanks for reading and please, be excellent to each other.

Peek #10: Kathleen De Vere of Loading Ready Run

Image (1)Peek is a series of brief interviews of Magic personalities who support Planeswalkers for Diversity. Kathleen De Vere is with LoadingReadyRun, the sketch comedy group that produces the Friday Nights video series for DailyMtg.com.

p4d: What’s your Magic origin story?
KDV: I started during Zendikar block. I was at PAX and the intro decks they were handing out tweaked my interest. The next thing I know, I’m in the the back of a Seattle after-hours club on Sunday night learning the basics. All the other people there were just trying to sober up with some greasy night food, meanwhile we’re eating dessert and learning about the stack.1002520_10151795098425042_1784138616_n

p4d: Loading Ready Run produces all kinds of comedy that has nothing to do with Magic. How did it come about that you began producing LRR content for Magic?
KDV: We ended up getting hooked up with Wizards of the Coast after we did a video called It’s Magic. After we all started playing again in 2009, Graham wrote a video about us playing Magic as part of our commodoreHUSTLE sitcom — a series of videos where we play caricatured versions of ourselves. The video was a big hit, both with our fans and Magic players who had never heard of us. Eventually Wizards got wind of it and asked us to start making videos for them.

p4d: What’s your favourite scene from a Friday Nights so far?
KDV: We’ve done a lot of jokes I’m delighted with, but sometimes I think the best moments in a video are the unpredictable ones. Recently we did an episode of Friday Nights called Hero’s Path: The Calling as part of a sub-series we’re doing to help promote the in-store events for Theros Block. There is a scene where Graham starts to explain how he did at a Pre-release to a cat. The cat looks up at Graham at just the right time during his description for maximum comedic effect. Obviously, there isn’t really a way to make a cat do that on purpose so it’s extra wonderful to me.

p4d: Why do you love cats so much, and do you have a favourite cat in Magic?
KDV: I love cats because my family loves cats. My dad taught me to respect and appreciate the company of animals from a very young age. My favorite cat in magic is Scythe Tiger. sure, you may have to sac a land to them but back when they were legal so was Sun Titan, so you could set up some disgusting combos.Image

p4d: Are there some awesome Magic related prizes and personalities that we can look forward to on Desert Bus this year?
KDV: We are lucky to have a good working relationship with Wizards of the Coast, and they’ve always been very generous with us when it comes to Desert Bus. In previous years, they’ve given us everything from sold-out From the Vault sets to full, uncut foil sheets. I can’t say what we’re getting this year, but its Desert Bus, so expect crazy stuff you’d never find anywhere else!

p4d: LRR has several years’ experience with making the Magic community better by promoting having fun. Your success is reflected in things like your famous wacky drafts that are now part of the MTGO Community Cup. Planeswalkers for Diversity’s goal is a lofty one: to strive for a more accepting real-life atmosphere everywhere Magic is played. Any advice?
KDV: I lobbed this one at Graham, he says: It’s important to realize that Magic is a game, and we play it because we enjoy it. It is a fun activity! I think the most important thing you can do to create a welcoming environment is to actively call out people who are making Magic unfun and tell them their attitudes are not acceptable. Too often people just think to themselves, “wow that person is being a jerk” and they don’t do anything. If we don’t ever say anything, the offending party has no reason to modify their behavior because they think it’s fine. But if even one person says something, other people will back them up.

p4d: Your Kickstarter that is running right now has been funded. Congrats! What do Magic players who may be unfamiliar with your other work need to know about the stretch goals?
KDV: Oh man, our stretch goals are great. We’re very close to hitting Crapshots, which means we’ll do another season of our ultra-short, ultra weird mini-sketches, many of which are about Magic! However, my secret hope is that we can get to $170,000 so we’ll have to fulfil a long-running threat for a terrible D&D campaign. You see, LRR member Jeremy Petter has a reputation for being quite the blood-thirsty DM, and he has nursed the dream of running a campaign called “Temple of the Lava Bears,” where the entire goal is obliterate the party in the most unfair, yet hilarious, ways possible. If we meet that goal he’s going finally create this campaign, and we’re going to broadcast and record our play sessions so everyone can share in our pain.

kathleenp4d: You attend a local chapter of Lady Planeswalkers Society. How do you view the overlap and collaboration between LPS and p4d?
KDV: I view the Lady Planeswalker Society and Planeswalkers for Diversity as complementary groups. Both prioritize creating a fun, accepting environment to play Magic in and both groups are really helping to make the local play environment more diverse. The biggest difference for me is that locally LPS is held in a private home which means I can drink wine!

p4d: Where can folks find Loading Ready Run online?
KDV: So many places! You can of course, check out our website, LoadingReadyRun.com to catch all our videos, and our Magic vid/podcast TapTapConcede. The videos we create for Wizards of the Coast are also found on the official Magic YouTube channel. You can find us on Twitter at LoadingReadyRun and LRRMtG for just Magic stuff. Our Twitch channel where we livedraft is twitch.tv/loadingreadyrun and we do a series of wacky drafts for MTGO Academy too. Phew!

Peek #9: Sam Killermann of Gamers Against Bigotry

Image (1)Peek is a series of brief interviews of Magic personalities who support Planeswalkers for Diversity. Sam Killermann is co-founder of Gamers Against Bigotry, an organization that Planeswalkers for Diversity fully endorses. We share a similar mission, theirs with a broader mandate aimed largely at video gaming audience.

p4d: What is your Magic: The Gathering origin story?
sK:  When I started, it was an extension of my love of playing Pokémon. I enjoyed the gameplay, but more than that I appreciated all the time I spent strategizing with friends about deck building. I enjoyed that a huge percentage of the game took place before it even started. Pokémon was an easy entry into Collectible Card Games (CCGs) because (when I played it) of the limited number of cards and deck possibilities. Magic took those possibilities and ran with them. I loved it. I don’t play CCGs or tabletop games much anymore though; most of my multiplayer gaming these days is Minecraft, CS:GO, or LoL.

p4d: How did Gamers Against Bigotry get started?
sK: It started because of an article I wrote that was a guide to responding to bigoted language. Someone asked me what advice I had for responding to bigoted language in games. I told him I didn’t recommend responding in-game, because that generally just adds fuel to the fire, and leads to uncomfortable or emotionally harmful situations. I said (quite dismissively) someone with a lot of influence, like Mike and Jerry at PA, would need to create something that exists outside of the game itself in order to start that conversation in a way that might lead to some positive change.

A few hours after posting that reply I thought, “Wow, that was incredibly lazy of me. ‘Someone’ needs to do it? Maybe I should at least give it a shot.” I brainstormed for a while, GAB was the result, and I launched the site shortly thereafter. It’s been a rollercoaster since then.

p4d: What is the GAB pledge and why is it important?592203_329949017083163_1115960001_q
sK:  There are two big things that the GAB pledge is hoping to accomplish. Both are of equal importance, so disregard the order here.

One, it serves as a means of personal accountability. A reminder to folks that they are responsible for their behavior with others, and a push to make those interactions positive, or, at least, non-stigmatizing, when they are playing games with other human beings. This goal is based on the research published about honor codes and their effects on individual ethics. In other words, if you remind someone of what is considered to be “ethical” or “positive” behavior, they are more likely to live up to that standard, even if there aren’t any foreseeable repercussions for not doing so.

Two, the pledge is a barometer of sorts for how the gaming community feels about inclusivity in games. A lot of people think the majority of people playing online games are trolls or bigots or jerks or other negative things. We don’t believe this. We think that the vast majority of gamers really want gaming to be a place where everyone feels welcome, and that there is just an extremely vocal minority making it unwelcoming. As the pledge count increases, we can bring that number to developers and industry reps and say, “See: this is important to gamers. Now let’s work together to make things better.”

p4d: How can gamers make their community better?
sK: The biggest impact gamers can make with the least amount of effort is through active advocacy in their individual spaces.

If you host a weekly MTG game, establish guidelines for what type of behavior is/isn’t acceptable. The same goes for any clan you play with, or even just a random party you end up with in a game, whether it’s online or in-person. Stand up for basic respect of other human beings, and If someone says something bigoted, then say something.

If you want your game to be welcoming to gamers of all identities, a simple request is that gamers don’t use any bigoted language or casual slurs during games. A grander approach could be intentional language in your publicity that makes it clear to all gamers that they are welcome. Being a GAB partner is an easy way to accomplish this. And you can keep going. There are innumerable ways you can go about creating intentionally inclusive gaming spaces.

One thing I know about gamers is they have amazing imaginations and critical thinking skills. Put your heads together and you can come up with some amazing ways to improve the community. Do or do not. There is no try.

p4d: Where can folks find you online?
sK: GAB is on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Steam, and of course at gamersagainstbitgotry.org. I’m personally active in all the same places (but mostly just the Facebook and Twitter parts). I play a lot on Steam under the official GAB account (my personal account has pretty much been completely abandoned in the past year as a result of it), where you can play some CS:GO with me if you’re up for it. Just send a friend request and let me know who you are, or join the GAB Steam Group.

Oh, and if anyone wants to set up a GAB-friendly Minecraft server, I would love to hang out there.

Peek #8: Allison Medwin

Image (1)Peek is a series of brief interviews of Magic personalities who support Planeswalkers for Diversity. Allison Medwin is a level 2 judge, former Star City Games employee, at the time of this interview (July 9, 2013) was just about to take up employment at Wizards of the Coast, and is one of the core volunteers for Planeswalkers for Diversity.

p4d: How did you start playing Magic: The Gathering?
AM: It was 1993, I was in junior high, and my friend Will showed me these cards he got from his older brother. I knew about Wizards of the Coast already because there was a legal controversy over an early RPG product “The Primal Order,” and I really liked how founder and then-CEO Peter Adkison handled it.

Even so, I wasn’t initially impressed. I figured that it would just be a race to see who could draw more fireball spells faster than the other player could draw “fireball-proof” spells. I was a tween, and thought I knew everything. And… thank God I was wrong! Giving Magic a chance was one of the best decisions of my life.

Since then, I took a break for a few years (Urza’s Legacy through the end of Odyssey block, with an exception for the Odyssey prerelease) but all in all I’ve been playing for about seventeen of the twenty years Magic’s been around, both on Magic Online and in paper.

p4d: What was your favourite part of working at Star City Games?
AM: The people, no question. Here’s the context: I was working in Roanoke as an Event Specialist, on a team of four people running the Open Series. I was traveling at least two weekends a month, sometimes all the way across the country. Hours were long and sleep was short, and my experience being openly queer in Roanoke was both frustrating and painful. If you don’t like the people you work with under situations like that, it’s just hell.

Fortunately, I got to work pretty closely with Jared Sylva and Nicholas Sabin, both of the judges who trained and helped me get started. I still have a lot of affection for both of them, even though I rarely see them nowadays. The fourth person on that team was Riki Hayashi, who is probably the single most thought-provoking judge I’ve ever met. Him I still have contact with, since by coincidence we’ve both moved back to the West Coast, and he’s now my Regional Coordinator.

Fun fact: I’m pretty sure that when I start at Wizards I’ll be the only one who’s had a regular full-time job at both companies. That’s my claim to some tiny fraction of fame.

p4d: You will be starting to work at Wizards of the Coast shortly. What will your role be there and what are you most excited about?
AM: The offer I accepted was for a position in Game Support, answering emails and phone calls. I’m not 100% on the details of the job, but what I do know is that it’ll be vaguely similar to being a judge, except that instead of thirteen hour days on my feet with minimal breaks, I’ll be sitting at a desk for eight with regular breaks.

But the way I hear it, the job is the same kind of fast-paced diversity that I love about judging, so I’m looking forward to getting started this coming Tuesday [July 9th].

I also have a lot of friends already in the building, and there’s really very little that’s better than working with your friends. No matter how cool the job is, it gets a lot better when the people you talk shop with are the same people that you’ve known and called ‘friend’ for months or years.1290099_10101161392013047_1967886608_n

Plus at the Wizards office, you can buy cans of soda for a quarter. Any company that’ll subsidize my caffeine addiction, y’know?

p4d: You have been involved with Planeswalkers for Diversity from day one. Why do you think it is important?
AM: I identify as a dyke about as readily as I do as a gamer, but my social circle is almost exclusively gamers. One of the biggest challenges I faced as I started judging and got more heavily back into paper Magic was how to mesh those two hugely important parts of my life together.

Frankly, in a lot of places it’s much harder than it needs to be. It’s kind of isolating, really, to walk into a room full of Magic players as a woman, regardless of your orientation. And then, to feel like a minority in a minority… I’ve never hid my queerness, and I’ve had a lot of players react pretty negatively to both my gender and my orientation. Beyond the hostility, the sexism, homophobia, harassment, etc. feeling alone in a crowd is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. If we can encourage more acceptance of people from all walks of life in the Magic community, even a little, then I think we’ll have done a great thing.

I do think Magic culture is in a much better place overall than it was five years ago, with a big help from some pretty awesome articles encouraging people to treat each other better. That said, we’ve got a long way to go and I think putting some structure to the existing cultural shift can be a really good thing.

p4d: What would you like to see Planeswalkers for Diversity accomplish?
AM: One of the most powerful speeches I’ve ever heard was from Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones from UT-Austin when she articulated and explained her six rules for being an ally. I would highly recommend everyone interested in promoting diversity in any environment check it out here: http://www.utexas.edu/cola/centers/cwgs/news/2610. Both the transcript and video are well worth the time.

I’d love to help create an environment where the thirteen-year-old gay kid showing up at a Magic event doesn’t have to worry about catching shit because he’s gay, only because he’s probably an immature kid. Where the trans Magic player never has to be called a “he-she” or get deliberately misgendered. Where the Black guy never has to hear a crack about why he’s playing Magic and not Yu-Gi-Oh. Or the other women who play this game… I’m fortunate in that I rarely get much of the worst and most obnoxious sexual harassment that I’ve seen, but quite frankly I’m amazed that the percent of women players is as high as it is.

I think we’ve got some pretty solid ideas and I’m excited to see what comes of them.

p4d: Where can people find you online?
AM: I’m on Facebook, but that’s mostly a personal account. I also have a personal Twitter account (@trulyaliem), that I use to talk about lots of different topics from gaming to feminism to current events to completely silly ideas to random thoughts that I think are profound (but are probably just narcissistic).

That said, it’s important to be clear that when I tweet anything, I don’t speak for any organization that I’ve ever been associated with, not Star City Games, not the Magic Judge program, not even Planeswalkers For Diversity, and certainly not Wizards of the Coast. So if you want to follow me, awesome, if you want to follow an Official Wizards Person who will give you insight into Magic, try Mark Rosewater or Aaron Forsythe.

Peek #7: Tom Martell

Image (1)Peek is a series of brief interviews of Magic personalities who support Planeswalkers for Diversity. Tom Martell has been a key member of both the Channel Fireball and StarCity Games pro teams and had his first Pro Tour win in February of 2013 in Montreal. Tom joined on Tuesday September 3rd on www.twitch.tv/mtgdiversity as part of our Judge of Currents series.

p4d: How did you start playing Magic: The Gathering?
TM: I started in 1994 when a friend at summer camp introduced me to the game. I’d been playing chess for a number of years and had recently started attending tournaments; Magic appealed to me in a very similar way and I took to it quickly. I ended up quitting during Fallen Empires until my senior year in high school, when some friends started playing during lunch. I was winding down my competitive chess “career” but still wanted a competitive outlet, so when they told me that the game now had a large tournament scene, I dove in. I went to FNM that week and I was hooked; I won a PTQ for PT Chicago 2000 a few months later and was off to the races.

p4d: Congratulations on your Pro Tour win earlier this year! Do you have a favourite play of the event that sticks out in your mind where you almost took a different line that would have changed the result?
TM:  Honestly, a large part of that tournament is a blur. I felt I played very well during the drafts, winning some extremely close games with solid but not spectacular decks. Against Mihara, playing at 2-0 in our second draft pod, I left up removal instead of playing a creature on a turn where I thought he’d have to play a Madcap Skills. I was able to 2 for 1 him and pulled out a close win.download

p4d: Does your Mom still listen to the Top8Magic podcast?
TM:  I suspect she still tunes in from time to time.

p4d: Why do your twitch viewers keep talking about your amazing graphic design skills?
TM: I recently created my first MS Paint image for a friend who was streaming with me as she wanted to maintain a degree of privacy. I created it as a joke but it took on a bit of its own life.

p4d: What can Magic players do to improve at the game?
TM: This is a hard question – everyone learns differently and needs to work on different aspects of their game. The most important thing you can do is learn to be very honest with yourself and aware of what you are doing – after a match, ask yourself what you did well and did poorly but also try and remember what you were focused on. One mistake players can make is they tunnel in on a specific line of play or line of thinking and never ask themselves if they were focused on the right things.

p4d: How can players can make the Magic community better?
TM: At the end of the day, Magic is a game. We do this because it is fun and we enjoy it. Fun is not a zero sum game – we can work together to increase the total amount of pleasure we are all experiencing from Magic. It is also a social community. Don’t ruin it for others and don’t sit silently while someone else ruins it for another person. It is our shared responsibility to speak up for what we believe is right and to make sure no one feels attacked or persecuted for who they are as a member of the community.

p4d: Where can folks find you online?
TM: You can find me on twitter – @tommartell or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mtgTomM