• Why I’m so worried about playing Magic: The Gathering again

    by  • February 4, 2013 • Essays • 14 Comments

    There’s a Magic: The Gathering tournament this Friday. I was invited because they want as many people as possible to come to the game and I used to play way back in the day. It’s been quite a while. I started playing in, what, 1996? I don’t even remember. But it was a long time ago. I played because my youngest brother wanted to play but needed someone to play with him. So we picked up cards, learned the rules and played. I’d sometimes even played with a few of his friends. It was addictive. Fun and addictive. I loved it.

    Then, less than a year later, we heard about a tournament. First, it’s important to realize that we lived in a small town about 2 hours from the nearest city. This wasn’t going to be a big, official thing. Just a few folks getting together in the local strip mall and playing a round-robin game for a few extra booster packs.

    I showed up, excited and hopeful to actually play with new people. The tables were filled with guys, all of them in their 20s or 30s. All of them somewhat overweight or with questionable hygiene (or in one case, both). I hovered at the edges, trying to figure out where I could register. Or maybe just watch a game or two. Immediate I was looked at with some suspicion and asked if I was lost. Then if I was looking for someone in particular. Then treated as some kind of bug they’d just stepped on when I mentioned I wanted to watch a game or two.

    I was so summarily dismissed that I couldn’t bring my young, teenager self, to ask for a game. I couldn’t even watch, the players were so casually cruel and suspicious of my presence.

    So I left

    I didn’t play magic again until some time in 2002, over five years later, when I met another couple of women who also played Magic. And we had fun. We didn’t do much to buy cards because we were all quite broke, but we would play these lightning rounds where we’d randomly select two colours and have to build a deck in 15 minutes (45 cards), then play.

    These games are some of my fondest memories of Magic. Fast games requiring building decks without being able to carefully match and compare cards. You had to think fast. You had to understand the core of the game without spending hours testing. You just had to act.

    Then, for various reasons, we didn’t have much time so I didn’t play again until maybe 2005. And here I learned, again, that I wasn’t welcome much in the hobby.

    Another set of players, all highly competitive men, who would build what they called “tournament” decks. These weren’t designed for fun, friendly games. They were designed to absolutely shut down your opponent as quickly as possible, exploiting any tiny little mechanic they possibly could. The players were indifferent to trouncing me. They were uninterested in explaining how they were building those combinations1 or in treating me more than an easy win to be able test a new deck.

    They made fun of me for being so awful.

    Now it’s 2013

    I’ve been assured that this is a friendly tournament, not something highly competitive. There’s even a prize for last place. So I should be fine. I have nothing to worry about. No one is going to mock my lack of recent knowledge of the game or the fact that I never did play competitively. I should be fine.

    But then I found out that I will be the only woman playing.2

    At first, you may be thinking, why should that be a problem? I’m not going to be only woman present, so it’s not a question of being surrounded by only guys. And I know many of the other players and none of them strike me as the kinds of jerks who will make fun of my rusty skills as being the fault of my gender. In fact, many of them would probably think that kind of comment was strange and stupid given that they know me. They aren’t going to judge the whole of women based on how well I play.

    But there are others there. Others who might. Others whom I don’t know.

    And I’m so worried. So worried that this will just be another repeat of the story I’ve seen before. I’ll be excluded, mocked and trounced by uncaring players who have no interest in actually having fun because, to them, the only fun is winning.

    Because, to this kind of person, mocking me for losing will take on a certain tone. You know the tone. The one that contains a sneer of contempt. How dare I pretend I could play with the boys? I should know better.

    I don’t want to feel like that pre-teen girl again, shut down by people who know better than to let me play. Who are uninterested in me being an equal and see my gender as a reason to exclude me.

    I’m going to go. And yes, I may be terrible. But you know what? I’m going to be worried and I’m going to be nervous. But I’m not going to give up just yet. Because, dammit, this game is fun and I want to have fun.


    ADDENDUM: I should also note, as a fun aside, that a local Magic group recently posted a facebook event that I had mistaken for this event because they were referencing the same thing. I quickly realized the mistake, but then realized that the group was boasting how, at the next release event, there would be strippers. So, yeah, I’m still not feeling that the Magic community is being very welcoming.

    1. Turns out they were using pre-built decks by tournament winners they had found on the internet. They really weren’t even building their own decks. This bothered me endlessly.
    2. Update: There will be a second woman playing but there wasn’t at the time I wrote this.


    I am a casual tabletop gamer and occasional larper who likes to hold forth on gaming in general and draws like a crazy monkey who was given coffee by accident.

    14 Responses to Why I’m so worried about playing Magic: The Gathering again

    1. avatar
      February 4, 2013 at 16:47

      Argh–those are really awful experiences. What a sad existence for the guys involved. And especially sad that they were just copying past winners’ decks. I am glad that at least outside of tournaments you had a better group of players.

      What the heck is up with the statements about having strippers at games? It was mentioned to me at a con RPG once that they were planning to have a pole & pole dancer at next year’s game by the same GM. Not terribly surprisingly, at a later con this game’s GM, _after_ I had explicitly told him I wasn’t interested in going to bed with him, proceeded to tell me all about the contents of his S&M kit in hopes of changing my mind. Special.

      For the most part I’ve been welcomed and treated very well at con games, though.

      With regard to CCGs, my daughter had a better experience with Pokemon at least lol! When she was 6 she was regularly beating 8-12 year old boys at organized play. (To be fair, I’d read about how to build decks well and had taught her, whereas the other parents didn’t know how to play.) The 12-year-old head of the group just barely beat her in one game, and the delight on his face for having been challenged for the first time in a while was palpable–he went on and on about how she’d have won if that last coin flip had gone differently. These kids had fantastic sportsmanship, and it was a great experience for her. She just ran her first con RPG this past November–proud mama!

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      • avatar
        February 5, 2013 at 20:18

        I suspect that different properties (ie. Pokemon vs. MtG) have very different demographics, partially due to age. I hope that things are much better for your daughter if she shows interest in more CCGs as she gets older. That’s part of my hopes with these kinds of post. To help show how these kinds of experience not only can force people out of the hobby but can also make people very cautious to return.

        I know that my mother didn’t approve much of such things, but then, I didn’t have much of an allowance to spend and I spent a not insignificant part of it on Magic cards. That probably was a big problem. 😀

        As for the strippers thing, I don’t know. I really don’t. I think it’s just a complete lack of awareness that strippers may be, I don’t know, damaging to the image they might want if they want more players?

    2. avatar
      February 4, 2013 at 17:50

      Ugh, this sucks and I’m sorry you’ve had bad experiences with the Magic community. I think that things are changing, though its slow and not consistant, more of a two steps forward one step back sort of lurch. I know that my own “friendly” local gaming store has a purely male crowd who frequently make misogynistic and homophobic comments.

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      • avatar
        February 5, 2013 at 20:21

        Oh ew.

        I decided to head into a local comic/gaming store to check out some of the Magic stuff. I found them to be the very typical neglectful attitude. But then, they may be like that to everyone.

        Though there’s at least one gaming store that I’ll go into if absolutely necessary for the poor behaviour of the staff. Mostly because I have better options than having to put up with that.

    3. avatar
      February 4, 2013 at 21:06

      I’m not in to MtG, but I have seen games/tournaments going on in shops I visit. It may give you hope to know I’ve seen women playing in mostly male sessions and it didn’t appear that they were being looked down upon or otherwise treated as anything other than folks playing a game.

      I am glad you are trying again with a different group. I hope it turns out to be a positive experience rather than a repeat of the past. I’d believe the assurances folks gave you over comments on an unrelated site. Of course, if you’re still dubious, you could follow up referencing the stripper comments to find out for sure what the deal is.

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      • avatar
        February 5, 2013 at 20:23

        I know my friends, and I trust them not to be complete assholes. So I’m hoping that it’ll be a good experience.

        But at the same time, I knew the friends in 2005 who were highly competitive. And they were complete assholes about the game.

    4. avatar
      February 5, 2013 at 00:41

      About two years ago I got back into Magic heavily. It’s hard, because it’s a game that largely relies on finances to keep up, but I have a pretty friendly meta and I really wanted to introduce them to EDH (aka, Commander). We fell back into the rabbit-hole deeply, them more than me even, and with the release of Gatecrash, they’ve been going to tourneys. They keep inviting me, and I keep passing. I wrote about this way back in my very first GAW post, but it’s just not a safe space for me.

      Sometimes my friends don’t believe me and think I’m just overreacting. But then last night my roomie and I dropped by our local gameshop to look at card singles. There were two young men at the counter, playing a game between them and the shop-owner. As I approached the glass case (which they were playing on) to peruse the singles, the guy nearest me looked down his nose and then moved to the other side of his friend, deliberately putting another body between he and I. I swallowed hard and tried not to let it bother me, but it did. A lot.

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      • avatar
        February 5, 2013 at 20:26

        Ha! Yeah. *hugs*

        I started pointing this out to a friend who didn’t think it was that bad. Once they started watching, they were disgusted. Mostly because it’s easy to think these things aren’t real when no one acknowledges that they’re happening.

    5. avatar
      February 5, 2013 at 16:19

      I too am rusty as all get out when it comes to MtG and tournaments. In fact, I spent time at the FLGS during the Gatecrash prerelease helping my seven year old sell girl scout cookies (talk about a captive audience!). But thankfully the shop owner and his team know us and respect us. From our group of married couples and their teenage kids, there are always at least three of the female persuasion in attendance, and I’m happy to report there are also a couple other females besides us attending now. And I find as the older I get, I have less and less of a problem speaking up and putting someone in their place.

      There’s another lesser factor at play too here, although the sexism part is quite alive and well. It’s gameplay style. With the Gatecrash prerelease, there were no side draft tournaments being done, apparently this was per WotC’s request. However, when they are offered at tournaments, I have found side drafts and the crowd playing them to be much more casual, relaxed, and welcoming to women and to those that are newer to tournament play. It’s not as cutthroat as the mains can get.

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      • avatar
        February 5, 2013 at 20:29

        Interesting tip about the gameplay issue. I think setting up something that is welcoming is totally important for bringing in new players to games. Especially competitive games like Magic.

        This tournament isn’t a serious event. It’s just a guy who has bought a booster box and we’re all drafting decks from that, but he’s getting all the cards back at the end.

        There are “prizes” but I’ve been informed that they’re kind of joke prizes, and nothing impressive.

    6. avatar
      February 6, 2013 at 04:24

      I’ve been pretty lucky with MtG, I have to say. That said, I’ve also been very choosy about where I play, and tend to leave places that treat me poorly on the first visit, never to return. My local shop has a wonderful owner and a reasonably good crowd that includes a number of couples…but they also structure events to cater to more casual players.

      I empathize, though, it sucks hard to have experiences like that.

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    7. avatar
      February 8, 2013 at 19:02

      First off, background: I have been playing Magic for the past twenty years, I have an extensive collection and have also taught a large number of people, men and women, to play this awesome game. I am not, however, the “typical” game store player, I know what hygiene and exercise are, in fact many of my friends don’t know that I have 60,000 magic cards nor do they care, I much prefer to play at my home or my friends homes and I have a cub which brings new players ou of the woodworks quite nicely.

      Why I am posting: I completly understand why people, both men and women, receive negativity at new game stores and tourneys, it happens to me all of the time, fear, distrust, anger, disgust, arrogance, these are the emotions thrown towards new faces, especially women, in magic environments most likely because these are the emotions “normally” throw n at magic players in non-magic environments, particularly schools. If you add to that the lack of hygiene, fashion sense, general social skills that many male ccgers posess, you must realise that negatvity is what they expect to receive and is also what thy will most likely respond with. Also, you will have jerks in every field.

      Most of my very good friends play magic with me, most of whom didn’t play before they met me, and magic had nothing, or very little to do with us becoming friends. I do have friends that I found because of magic, some of whom I would consider good friends. In my own relationship struggles I have actually found it pretty difficult have a good gaming/magic playing girlfriend, though I have had many good girlfriends.

      Play Magic with people you already enjoy being around, ask husbands, boyfriends, brothers if their friends play, chances are they might have wives or girlfriends that do, make a day of it, my cube drafts usually include 2-3 couples and we have great times, beer helps too.

      In summary, yes local game stores can be threatening places, but if you display positivity and knowledge of the game you can gain acceptance, happy gaming!

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      • avatar
        February 14, 2013 at 16:31

        I disagree entirely with the notion that because something is not mainstream that it excuses rude, aggressive or otherwise jerk behaviour. You can be defensive about something your embarrassed about without being a jerk. Furthermore, there is a difference between poor social skills and being a jerk. And poor social skills or being an outcast is not a magic pass to be sexist or otherwise an asshole.
        Poor social skills prevent you from carrying on a conversation or cause you to drone on about something no one is interested in. There are plenty of people with poor social skills that are perfectly nice even if a bit oblivious. The guy that spends a half-hour telling me about his star trek fan-fiction without picking up the social cues that I’m not interested has poor social skills. The guy who calls girls “babe” despite being told not to is a jerk and doesn’t have an excuse.

        And I don’t think that the outcast line even holds up any more. Video games and comic books are the norm now. Look at the blockbuster movies of the past year and WoW and try to tell me that doing traditionally nerdy things is still not accepted. Gamers are not outcasts, so who exactly is oppressing them to justify their knee jerk behaviour and suspicion of everyone? And further, if I come into a comic book or gaming store or enter a magic tournament, why would you assume that I’m part of this phantom menace that’s out to pick on you for your hobby? Isn’t it much more likely that I’m actually interested in these things and that they’re just bullies? The imagined slight comes from a sense of entitlement and privilege, which is the problem.

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    8. avatar
      February 15, 2013 at 18:13

      Here’s my rant on when the local game store environment is hostile to women, which seems to fit in this discussion.

      [background: magic player for 18 years, judge for 10, taught by my sons after I turned 40]

      I so want all these “broken” stores fixed. And “I have a dream” that someday our children will play Magic and be judged on their competitiveness, not their chromosomes (apologies to MLK Jr).

      I’m sort of a broken record on this topic but I’ll repeat myself for those of you who haven’t heard my rant: FNM needs more grown-ups. There will always be a new crop of adolescents but if they find a mixture of ages in the event they’ll temper their behavior accordingly. So here’s my rallying cry: “Teach your parents to play Magic!!”

      However it takes a long time to learn to play once you turn forty, so in the meantime I advocate reporting toxic environments to Wizards, because they do listen.

      I can’t help thinking of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball – he had no other team (or store) to go to but you might find one just a little further away. Jackie had teammates and management to help him through all the horrible experiences. If you’re by yourself, either bail and report or come back in a group.

      If you’ve read this far and are wondering how to treat women who come to your store, treat them as customers and players! Don’t comment on their gender, don’t comment on their skin color, don’t comment on the size of their ears – just treat players as players and they’ll return! If you overhear other players creating a hostile environment and you’re a friend or store employee, take them aside and remind them that their behavior is inappropriate. If you’re not a friend or employee, you can always say something like “Now, now, none of that!” or “Weird sense of humor, Dude.”

      Things are changing. There are women playing and judging Magic on the pro tour, which should help make it less shocking to see women at FNM. I hope my suggestions will help speed up the process. Thanks for reading.

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