Vraska’s 2018 Challenge

Magic is for Everyone. At least it should be.

In this video Magic players and judges from around the world speak from the heart about why it matters that wherever Magic is played it is inclusive to people of all kinds.

We hope that this video of Captain Vraska’s rowdy crew  inspires you to approach a judge, tournament organizer, or store owner wherever you play about creating a Planeswalkers for Diversity or Lady Planeswalkers Society chapter in 2018. Let us know if you need a hand.

You can also watch everyone’s full submissions in our Magic is for Everyone Playlist.

Common decency is not a scandal

A prominent website known for its ideological #fakenews published an article today suggesting that a recent banning of a player is the latest scandal to hit gaming. (By the way, that link is safe to open without sending the original site traffic).

The article is based on a false premise, which actually comes at the very end where the author claims that “[e]ither you believe gaming should be about fun, freedom of speech and liberty — or you believe it should be about social justice.

Of course gaming should be about fun. We can all agree on that. In fact, the article itself starts out defining this supposed Magicgate as getting in the way of people just wanting to play “… it concerns ordinary people who just want to be left alone to enjoy their hobby.”

But what we can also agree on is that it’s reasonable to expect to be treated with common decency when you sit down to play a game. That concept is not at all a battle between left and right ideologies.

The whole notion of sides here is an illusion (and Jace doesn’t seem to be around to dispel this one for some weird reason – maybe he’s lost). Games require agreed upon sets of rules where individuals interact until the conditions are completed. You don’t have to agree with all of the rules of a game to have fun playing it, and you don’t have to keep following those rules when you’re done playing. But guess what is literally in the rules for Magic? Yeah, that everyone is welcome.

Why? And why isn’t this an ideological left/right thing? Glad you asked. For folks to have fun, they have a right to expect to be able to play without being ridiculed or insulted based on gender, sexuality, race, gender identity, appearance, and anything else that has no place being brought up in a competitive fun game. That includes politics. Yes, everyone is welcome and that does really mean everyone – you don’t have to give up your ideology to play the game. But when you are in the place where everyone’s welcome including you, you’re expected to treat others with common decency.

Yes, this means some language and behaviour isn’t acceptable – to play the game, in public places. It doesn’t limit what you can say and do in the privacy of your own home, it doesn’t police what you can think in any way.

If what you care about is freedom and liberty this actually maximizes those things – everyone is free to say and do anything except stuff that could harm or exclude others from the game. The fact that there are consequences for such actions is not a scandal, and it’s not a threat. In fact, it’s just like what you learned in Kindergarten: everyone’s welcome, the point is to have fun (and maybe learn something), but when you’re not kind to others, you get a time out.

Ok so with that false premise out of the way, all that is left is a debate over whether a game’s terms and conditions can extend to online behaviour. The DCI has banned hundreds of people over the years for a variety of reasons, and other cases have resulted in community criticism of that process. But they have been open to and responsive to constructive criticism. Attempting to recruit Gamergate helpers instead doesn’t exactly inspire credibility here.

[EDIT: Added last paragraph to clarify that this article is mainly about the false premise that the article sets up in general. We’ll leave others to debate whether or not WOTC issuing a lifetime ban based on online behaviour is appropriate or not. The purpose of this article is to help have THAT conversation in good faith, and avoid getting distracted by this red herring because to quote the original article itself once again: “I want you to realize that playing games is not a left-wing thing or a right-wing thing but an everybody thing”.]

Videos for Diversity

The submissions from Captain Vraska’s 2018 Challenge inspired us to keep accept video submissions year round. If you want to tell us why it matters that that places Magic are played are welcoming and inclusive of diversity you can do that anytime – just contact us below for upload details. We will upload your video to our Magic is for Everyone Playlist.

Ixalan through Indigenous Eyes

By Gar Atkins

I suppose you can blame my cynicism on a lifetime of bad examples. But media doesn’t always do the best job at representing the Native American experience or culture. So when I, as a Native man (specifically Eastern Band Cherokee if you must know) heard that the next set was going to be Meso-American themed I was expecting the very worst. And it didn’t get any better when I heard dinosaurs were going to be involved. There are certain historical land mines when it comes this specific region. Whether it be sensationalist stories of blood sacrifices or an aesthetic that revolved mostly around human remains. Dungeons and Dragons, another Wizards of The Coast property, has always been historically terrible about that, complete with coding monsters as other ethnicities.

My expectations dipped further when I learned there were to be conquistadors, a topic with another set of baggage. Were they going to use the genocides of still-living people as a way to add drama to their setting? Were they going to frame these invaders as righteous and just?

Given that this was likely to be the only representation I got in any Wizards property I was worried to say the least. Native representation, let alone good native representation is few and far between in genre fiction and everything seemed to indicate that this was going to be no different. Just another thing to point at and roll my eyes.

But to my surprise, Ixalan did something I never expected. It gave me something I love.

Image result for huatli

As of the time of my writing this Ixalan’s representation on the whole is pretty solid. Now, it’s important to note that this isn’t specifically my nation being shown, but Ixalan does a really good job at avoiding the common pitfalls of native representation on the whole. The people of the Sun Empire in Magic are dressed in a way that is respectful and evocative of the specific cultures they were trying to emulate, if clearly works of fantasy. Instead of the dreaded noble savage we have skilled warriors that can hold their own. Instead of fetishized native princesses or mystic shamans we have Huatli, known by the titles dinosaur knight and warrior poet and depicted with the dignity that both of those ideas conjure. 

It’s a welcome breath of fresh air. You can bet your butt that I want a full playset of her and to build the most dino-heavy themed deck possible. I can’t tell you the pure elation of seeing someone like you in something you love when you’re not used to it. Let alone seeing someone like you be capable and strong.

This is especially important given a history of being portrayed as villains. I’m of the belief that when you are writing a group or culture that has been historically maligned it’s a chance to be empowering. Look to works of Afro-futurism such as the works of Octavia Butler for more concrete examples of why this is so important. And contrary to popular belief, these are still living cultures being represented. Nahuatl is still spoke by 1.7 million according to a 2015 survey. On August 9th of this year, Belize launched the Maya lands registry to identify and protect Mayan lands.

Now that’s not to say everything is perfect, far from it. The spirit of colonialism is alive and well in the other themes and story elements of Ixalan. Ixalan art director Cynthia Sheppard described the elevator pitch for the plane as “Vampire conquistadors” in the 2017 Pax West world-building panel, and it shows. She talked about how dinosaurs and cities of gold came about because they wanted to build off the idea of a Lost World. But the issue with lost world narratives is that they’re built off a tradition of ignoring the sovereignty of indigenous peoples.

In lost world narratives, indigenous people’s claims just don’t count no matter how long they might have called said lost world home. To these Lost World stories, natives are at best another curiosity of this strange land to ogle and at worst a racist caricature for the white square-jawed hero to kill or outwit. It’s a pattern you can find everywhere from King Kong, to Raiders of the Lost Ark, to Road To El Dorado.

Now Ixalan’s natives have done a great job at avoiding these outwardly racist aspects, but the threads of these ideas are still present in its mechanics and flavor with all its talks of exploring, discovery, and claiming. I’m left feeling slightly uncomfortable more than anything else. I feel like these are the sort of thing hiring a native consultant worth their salt would have caught.

Lost Cities of Gold themselves have a particularly troublesome history. The exaggerated stories of golden cities were used as justification for the violent conquest, genocide, slavery, and the various crimes of humanity that surround it. And the echoes of these atrocities, and others like it, are still felt today.

I know that the closer I am to a reservation the more likely I am to be harassed by cops. In America, the sports team that calls the nation’s capital home is a slur. We have a man who genocided a whole third of my nation on the twenty. Assaults and grabs for native lands continue for our resources, backed with private military and dogs or lobbyists and monetary clout at sites like Standing Rock and Menominee River.

And while I appreciate the framing of these conquistadors as the villains they should be, I feel like there is a conversation to be had about this. Sometimes making actual monsters out of the perpetrators of a very human horror distances ourselves from the truth of the situation. It’s a lot easier to think of these people as unrepentant monsters than actual humans who were capable of terrible things. It’s easy to think that you would never be complicit in these sort of acts, but turn around and call the Water Protectors you see on TV thugs and criminals. I know that I’ve seen many conversations from Jewish friends and critics surrounding depictions of Nazis. We’re always a lot closer to repeating these terrible things than we would like to admit.

I should make it very clear I’m by no means calling for the head of anyone at Wizards. I’m largely still very pleased with what I’ve seen of Ixalan and I truly hope nothing happens to change that. I’m excited to see Huatli in action, hopefully as deserving of the narrative spotlight as she feels in my heart.

I just hope next time Magic attempts something like this (and I do want there to be a next time) they hire an appropriate consultant to provide them with context that they may not normally have. As well as ask the questions that need to be asked.

What to expect from Magic Judges on inclusion

Have you ever heard someone say “Can’t we just enjoy playing Magic?” when asked to stop saying something like “that’s so gay”?

Logistically speaking it can’t really work that way – if we were allowed to act however we wanted without a care for how it affects other players then the chances people will do something to ruin each others’ experiences skyrocket. In other words there’s a silent implied second part to that sentence: “Can’t we just enjoy playing Magic without giving any thought to whether our actions are (inadvertently) detracting from others’ ability to do the same?”

Unfortunately, the majority of players hear sexist, homophobic, transphobic, and racist remarks in places that they play Magic, and a considerable proportion of players report that such comments reduce the chance that they will return to play Magic in that place again.

Luckily, there’s no need to get into a philosophical debate when it comes up in your Local Game Store because it’s literally in the rules that anywhere sanctioned Magic is played must be welcoming and inclusive regardless of gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, race, religion, ability, or anything else that has nothing to do with the game.

While all players have a role to play in changing the reality of this situation, lets drill down on what players can expect from Magic Judges.

Judges have a responsibility to ensure that places Magic is played are welcoming and inclusive

Magic Judges are all bound by the Judge Code of Conduct which has the following to say about creating welcoming environments (taken directly from the code but the order has been changed here):

  1. Judges have the same responsibilities as all members of the Magic community to avoid actions which could reasonably be expected to cause someone else to feel harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked. Judges should not express views that would make other members of the Magic community feel unsafe or unwilling to attend an event where that judge was on staff.
  2. Judges should not allow others to create a bad environment by inaction.
  3. They have additional responsibility to act positively to create environments where these behaviors are not accepted and all members of the Magic community can feel welcome.

First and foremost, hopefully players will never experience behaviour from judges directly that discourages them from feeling welcome but if you do and are not comfortable pointing out the code of conduct to the judge in question, you can always use the Judge feedback form (which includes an anonymous option).

The second bullet directs judges not to contribute to an unwelcoming environment through inaction. So if you have a problem relating to discrimination, judges can be expected to assist with solving that problem. As discussed in the judge seminar video below, it’s not always clear when and how to intervene but generally these principles were agreed to be helpful for judges:

  • Try to intervene as soon as possible, even at casual events, to send a message to other players about what is not acceptable language. Saying something is much better than saying nothing here.
  • Try to assume that players are not intending to be malicious with words that cause other people discomfort. Starting with a simple “that’s not cool” or “we don’t use those words here” is sufficient surprisingly often. Saying something that allows the player to learn is much better than putting them on the defensive.
  • Every situation is unique so use judgment for when to deviate from the default of speaking up and/or whether later in depth follow up with the player is needed.

Finally, the code directs judges to actively work to improve the welcoming atmosphere of and contribute to a culture of inclusivity everywhere Magic is played through an “additional responsibility to act positively to create environments where … all members of the Magic community can feel welcome”. Some ways that judges can do this include:

  • Don’t always use male pronouns for hypothetical players & judges
  • Call out “small things” even when not judging
  • Approach game stores where they judge about regular events where inclusiveness is highlighted 
  • Add this small phrase to opening announcements on Planeswalkers for Diversity / Lady Planeswalker Society nights: “Treat your opponent well regardless of their gender, race, orientation, or anything else. Of course this is always expected where Magic is played but we are paying particular attention to it tonight.”
  • Add this small phrase to all opening announcements: “Treat your opponent with respect regardless of their gender, race, orientation, or anything else – remember your opponent is a human not a gremlin.” (or zombie or eldrazi or whatever other monster is on theme).
  • Get involved with the Judges for Diversity judge project.


There are actual rules for handling discriminatory behaviour at all levels of play 

The focus at Regular Rules Enforcement Level (like Friday Night Magic, a Pre-Release, or most other sanctioned events at your Local Game Store) is educational. Since there are no official warnings at Regular, judges should start by assuming players are unaware of why their comments are not allowed and inform players of what is expected. If a player becomes argumentative, the judge can explain that whether this policy makes sense to them or not is immaterial. Rather, explain that it is not allowed in Wizards Play Network stores / at sanctioned Magic events. They will need to comply and can discuss their opinion of the policy at another time. Persistent and unrepentant behavior constitutes what is referred to as a “Serious Problem” in Judging at Regular. There are no game/match losses at regular so a player who continues risks being disqualified and asked to leave the premises.

At Competitive events like Grand Prix, judges have additional tools to use in the form of warnings and match loss penalties.

Unsporting Conduct (USC) – Major is a match loss  and is defined as occurring when:  A player takes action towards one or more individuals that could reasonably be expected to create a feeling of being harassed, threatened, bullied, or stalked. This may include insults based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Threats of physical violence should be treated as Unsporting Conduct – Aggressive Behavior.

There is some discretion here but it’s important to avoid “gamers like to be irreverent / I was just joking with my friend who doesn’t mind being called that” types of excuses. The Major and Minor USC infractions do NOT depend on if anyone felt uncomfortable or on whether harm was intended. An infraction is committed if language was used that reasonably could be expected to make someone at the event feel uncomfortable.

USC – Minor is a warning (though multiple warnings could result in an upgrade to game loss) and covers things that are generally disruptive but would not necessarily be bothersome to the average person on the street.

For more detail on what kinds of scenarios would be infractions see: How to make Unsporting Conduct Minor and Major rulings with Diversity in mind (Judge Seminar Presentation by Violet Edgar)

Many judges are new to handling such scenarios and might need some feedback

Although these rules described above clearly support the importance of judges creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, there is a lot of subjectivity in interpretation. Unlike common rules interactions where you can expect most judges to give similar rulings, many judges could miss the mark simply from lack of experience with these situations. That’s why the Inclusive Environments Victoria BC 2016 Judge Conference Presentation (PDF) includes four real life scenarios and group discussions about how to handle them. The video includes the report back from small groups where you can hear that around half of the judges present might not have understood how to handle the situations at first. If you’re facing some kind of discrimination and the judges involved don’t seem to be taking it as seriously as this article suggests they should, feel free to get in touch using our contact form here as we can help with this – it’s not your job to educate your judge but it is someone’s!

More Resources

Organizations working on improving inclusiveness in Magic

Other resources

Video Presentation

Some feedback from participants

  • “I find it important as we’ve recently had a few members of the LGBTQ community show interest in magic and I want to ensure everyone is welcome and having a good time.”
  • “Engaging everyone with the scenarios and almost putting us in the situations helped show how people can disregard how others might feel.”
  • “The real world examples were shocking.”

Protection from Silencing

On November 8th, 2016, I settled in to enjoy Hillary Clinton’s expected victory. While I knew Hillary wasn’t widely beloved, I thought Trump’s attitudes towards vulnerable groups would be a deal-breaker for enough people. I exchanged messages with anxious friends assuring them that polls looked good. I retweeted photos of women joyfully voting in their pantsuits. I was sick to my stomach, unable to forget the many protections Trump promised to strip from the people I care about, but I was cautiously optimistic.



By the time my husband got home from work I was lying in the dark with my head covered. I knew it was over. He tried to keep my spirits up a while longer, pointing out when she won Virginia or her electoral numbers rose, but I am seasoned at spotting and digging in against a wave of despair.


I have autism, PTSD, and limited physical mobility, so it is difficult for me to consistently take part in most communities. The internet is basically my home. When the results of the election were officially called, I went where I go to heal: MTG Social Justice Twitter.


Starting Out


To understand how I ended up there, it’s important to know how I began: scared and lonely. The details from my childhood aren’t important, but the lessons are. I learned to always be on guard, no matter the situation. I learned to get adult attention without letting them figure out that I had Serious Problems. I obeyed. I overachieved. I cried a lot, mostly in private. And most of all, I survived. Seizing joy and feelings of safety in the moments I could find them, sometimes falling apart, but mostly just shutting down inside so I could go about my day.



I can’t remember when or how I first discovered MTG Twitter. I’d experimented with the platform before but couldn’t figure out what to do with it. I do remember that the second time I looked into it, I was lucky to encounter the helpful and welcoming Liz Cady (@jhoiraartificer). I was mostly quiet, because people were scary and there were a lot of them and I could not catalog and avoid all the ways these hundreds of people might want to hurt me if I stepped out of line. Mostly I listened.


And I had certainly picked a good group to listen to. I’m sure I vaguely identified as a feminist before—I have a remarkable extended family of ass-kicking aunts—but a whole new world of information was opening up in front of me. My timeline constantly featured modern feminist fundamentals that I’d never heard before, values that certainly weren’t encouraged in my home. Your body is yours alone. You can say no to being touched and you do not have to defend your reason. What? You are not obligated to give your attention to every person who demands it. What? Pointing out that someone is being abusive does not make you abusive yourself. What?! Several times a day, I scrolled through my timeline—preview card, friend’s new haircut, life-altering truth, cute meme.


Seeing Possibilities


Right around the time I joined the community, Wizards of the Coast started realizing they were behind the times. Although they had some basic policies that were progressive when they were implemented, such as no damsels in distress, the women still tended to be oversexualized and made up a small minority of existing planeswalkers. Although the style guide instructed artists to illustrate a variety of races, ages, and body types, this was treated very loosely. The striking progress can be seen between Innistrad and Shadows Over Innistrad, when all the human women finally got to bundle up for the cold weather, and we found people of color besides Grizzled Outcasts and Tiago Chan.


With the release of Avacyn Restored in 2012, Wizards found itself in the middle of the growing debate of whether feminist players were being “too sensitive” about representation. The art on Triumph of Ferocity showed a key moment in the story, where Garruk is demanding that Liliana remove the curse she placed on him, and his pose ended up unintentionally looking somewhat reminiscent of sexual assault. Jesse Mason pointed this out in an article on Gathering Magic, where he carefully qualified his statement by saying that he believed it was entirely accidental, did not think the artist was sexist, and was optimistic that Wizards would be more careful in the future. This elicited a reaction from many that I would more or less characterize as “Nuh-uh, shut up.”


The art did not affect me personally. I basically went, “Ooh, I can see what he’s talking about, that’s unfortunate. I hoped they learned something.” What I did find disturbing was all the people on social media who were angry that someone even voiced a concern. How eager they were to convince us that we weren’t seeing what we were seeing. It’s an experience survivors tend to know well—“Why do you have to make waves?” “I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding.” “You’re so sensitive.” But what I learned that day, what my MTG Twitter friends showed me, is that I could keep telling them what I thought over and over. I might not convince them but I didn’t have to obey them. My friends and I could keep reminding each other that we see what we see and we know what we know and it’s all worth saying.


Breaking Through


And, miraculously, the last word came from Wizards itself. Elaine Chase made a statement acknowledging our concerns and accepting the experience as a learning opportunity.

(Image borrowed from here, ironically a blog post expressing annoyance at our protests)


Much of my life experience had convinced me that my opinion didn’t matter. Not only that people would ignore me, but that they were correct to ignore me. Because I didn’t know what I was talking about. Because I was too sensitive. Because other people didn’t have a problem with what was happening, so why should I make trouble? It is difficult to convey the impact of someone with authority stepping up, telling the people trying to silence us that they actually want to hear what we have to say.


Time passed. I continued to struggle with PTSD symptoms but steadily improved. I don’t want to downplay the impact of other influences, like my wonderful husband and an incredible employment experience, but Magic has come through for me in a million unexpected ways. I got to work closely with gentle and supportive men in the judge program. I got stranded in an unfamiliar airport in the middle of the night, dead of winter, and the local Magic Facebook group organized to pick me up and take me somewhere safe.  I started getting the idea that finding security was not just an immature fantasy.


Meanwhile, Wizards also steadily improved. The social justice community grew. My Twitter feed became a hub not only for women’s issues, but all kinds of social justice concerns—race, class, gender identity, disability. It taught me about Black Lives Matter. It taught me about boundaries, about oppression, about what is and isn’t my responsibility. It taught me to listen to the voices of the people I’d been overlooking, and it lifted up my voice when I needed to be heard. And this wasn’t some carefully moderated safe space tucked away in a corner—this was the vision presented by Wizards’ in-game representation and social media. Caring about the concerns of marginalized people was no longer “niche.”


Moving Forward

And so, when faced with the reality of a President Trump, the first place I turned was MTG Social Justice Twitter. Some people were in shock and terror at the dangers they saw headed their way. Some people were offering comfort. Some people were offering practical help. No one was telling anyone to “stop overreacting” or “be reasonable.” This place, at least, was free of ugly surprises. A few days later, as the mainstream media starts to normalize the frightening developments and people begin to tell me I’m being divisive, I still see friends calling it like they see it.

Seven years ago I would have been totally lost. I would have seen myself once again surviving only by letting myself go hollow and silent. I would not have known that I could do otherwise, or how. But thanks to my friends, I have words to explain why this isn’t right, and information to back up the intensity of my reaction. I have a sense of right and wrong that can’t be corroded by false equivalence or moral relativism. I can speak my mind to people outside my “bubble” and shake off their efforts to shut me down.


I didn’t know what I was getting into when I picked up Magic ten years ago as a lonely college kid. I wanted friends and a distraction from my misery. I certainly would not have predicted “This is going to treat your PTSD. This is going to make you part of something much bigger than yourself. This is going to empower you when you are personally terrified of your president.” But looking back, looking at the people who mixed valuable life education in with their Magic tweets, looking at everyone who pushed Wizards to open their eyes and everyone at Wizards who listened, looking at the leadership provided by Lady Planeswalker Society and Planeswalkers for Diversity, it’s not surprising at all. This is what we’ve all worked for.


A few of my favorite Twitter accounts combining social justice and MTG:

You can find me at @Natasha_LH and nlh.magic@gmail.com