Magic and the Boob Plate
This week, I’d like to introduce you to Lauren Dodge. She’s the mastermind behind the MTG Fashions blog, making fashionable outfits based on planeswalkers, guilds, and more. Being Jace is more than just a blue sweatshirt, and her insight of color and fashion is groundbreaking to our community. Why she’s here today is to provide that view of clothing and history and, specifically, women in armor, considering Theros is right around the corner. You’ll notice her influence all over the article. We’ll see what we can do going forward. There’re a lot of links in this article; read it fast first, and then wade through it. But for now, let us dive in . . . THEROS IS COMING:
We have to discuss a few things to set the basis for Theros, and the most important is the current state of Sci-Fi and Fantasy art. More than an initiative, a cultural shift has happened, wherein chainmail bikinis are now old-fashioned in people’s minds while also boob plates are slowly eroding as acceptable garments. Our own MJ Scott discussed breasts in Magic and came up with a subjective view of “good” and “offensive” imagery. It wasn’t the first on the Internet, and it surely won’t be the last.
We flavorful writers at GatheringMagic cover the issue of the “male gaze” and depictions on a seemingly semi-annual basis because art is visceral and it impacts new players quite a lot. The more articles we can write to cover art and its impact, the better unified voice we can create to shine light on an issue, or rather, push a unified agenda to improve or better the field. Without thorough commentary, everyone has a love–hate opinion on artworks. (Slivers rule/suck, for example, and that’s why I haven’t covered it yet.) Art impacts in subtle ways, and we Vorthos folk—you know, the art and storyline people—need to start yelling why showing an elf with giant boobs is not a good idea and something to avoid . . . every time it happens in every game, and not just Magic.
We’re not here to have good and bad art—that’s for Tumblr and for forums to constantly redo—but rather, we mean to show what we mean by boob plates and show incredible, flavorful alternatives that fit characters better and are more resonant for our player base. If that is “good’ or “better,” so be it, but I like to say, “This is more logical; why don’t we depict a logical equivalent for women.” But that’s just me.
Boob Plate – Definitions
Boob-plate armor is in its most deconstructed form is a Rule of Sexy trope: “In other words, when things are sufficiently sexy, viewers will accept them, even when they are outright impossible, or just astronomically improbable.” Since we’re in a roughly medieval, fantastic game, armor is the de facto protective clothing. It works pretty well against swords. I’m sure you can Google or search Gatherer for a variety of examples. If you need a hint, search for armored Angels—they have boob plates nearly every time.
It’s basically this, with variations:
Seeing plate armor with bare midriff, plates that show larger breasts, chainmail bikinis, and the like all fit into this category. It’s a trope—simple as that. Magic is not exempt from it really at all. I searched the last three core sets and found some examples in mere minutes. They are arguably the most accessible sets and should be the core, the base, of the game. There are examples of plunging necklines and half-naked characters, sure, but that’s more of a stylistic choice than an art-direction choice such as keeping in boob plate.
What we’re here to discuss is why boob plate is still in Magic and great examples that stand to counteract it. Since it offers very little practical usage and will probably kill you, our “magical protection while half-naked” only goes so far. If we have great examples alongside it, why don’t we just use those? If we’re fantasy, why are we half-in with boob plate and half-out with forward thinking and dressing women? Medieval warring women didn’t wear boob plate, and it is thought to wholly not have existed. We have yet to find an example of a woman’s stylized armor. That is not to say that armor didn’t have things that appear to be breasts—far from it!
Many Roman breastplates in museums have stylized male six-pack abdominal muscles and pectoral muscles. It was actually rather common in higher-ranking Roman legionnaires:
From the Royal-Athena Gallery, Art of the Ancient World - Vol. XVIII
Men had stylized armor, yes. Women, as far as history has shown us, have not. But that isn’t to say it wasn’t possible. They did have different armor, but size DD boobs weren’t on them. An analysis of the “authentic armor from Joan of Arc” brings that into light: “Joan's armor would have been rounded outward to accommodate her breasts.” Whether or not it’s true or even speculative, armor was made to fit the wearer. Women’s hips and shoulders meant that standard male sizes of plate armor would not work. Adding highly decorative elements and added plate intricacy is not only less protective, it would take more time, and for the percentage of women warriors, it wasn’t a good supply-chain decision. Higher-ranking women such as Joan would have filigree, and as we will see later, so would have some queens who strode into battle.
Why Boob Plate Is in Magic—Still
Let’s just write a lot of letters to please make both genders more realistic in their armor. That should do it . . . for the future . . . for which artworks will be printed years from now . . . when we might not even be playing or be able to keep up a campaign for that long. Even after a Koch brothers’ size campaign, some things will remain.
Clearly, some artworks will always be reprints from previous sets, and players like them. A large percentage of the player base thinks Dark Confidant should be Bob Maher and cards such as Serra Avenger should be, well, what they are used to and expect. I could see Sylvan Ranger being a piece of slush art that was made a while ago. (Look close.) Slush art is bought artwork, but the card was cut by Development at the last minute. These exist and get a pass for now. In case you didn’t know, there are piles of slush art at every major company. WotC is no different. It saves a ton of money to use a piece you already paid for, and more so, changing your depictions takes even more money.
One of the most misunderstood reasoning for why some intellectual properties don’t change their depictions of women is simply that it’s the signifying feature. Those of you who know Warhammer will have a hard time defining Witch Elves without mentioning their nakedness.
A Witch Elf, from Warhammer Fantasy’s MMO. Copyright Games Workshop
Intellectual properties—brands, really—define what races wear and what marks their differences. Magic’s elves span a variety of body types from Mirrodin to Ravnica, and their visual diversity shows consistency but strong deviations. Of course, we don’t see fat vampires, but women being clothed versus unclothed isn’t really tied to a setting or race. As we planeswalk, seeing uniformly near-naked elves is not something we’re tied to with the Magic brand. We have a wide-open IP, so we see some naked and some clothed examples.
I would urge that showing the nakedness, as with the 1980s-mural-on-the-side-of-a-van depictions of women, are quite bad for the brand. They might not be damaging the brand, but they surely aren’t helping attract new players. I think we can look at what is being cosplayed as good examples. Liliana is on one end, and Elspeth is on the other: unclothed versus clothed. The brand is tightening, and slowly, I swear, it is growing slightly better each year. We just have some face-palms from time to time.
You will hear about women in armor more often than here. Blogs are popping up around the clock and making a groundswell to make the issue visible. I would love to see more Magic players post to Reddit’s Armored Women subreddit, doing a public service of telling the Internet that Magic is working on it, showing a couple great examples when they pop up.
I find a contemporary grouping of people discussing art to be a wholly net benefit to our genre. The more we analyze, the better WotC employees can understand what is working and what isn’t, allowing them to move our entire genre forward to friendlier, more logical depictions. We’re not in the 1980s anymore, we can use Google to find what works and what doesn’t. To form a deeper view on this entire issue, take ten minutes to check these out:
Two minutes at each site will give you the gist of the issue. I don’t care if you nod or disagree; you just have to be aware that it pisses some people off something fierce. Those are the people who are on the edge of buying products. They’re passionate, and passionate folk buy products in larger amounts than people who dabble or take a passing interest.
Lauren learned some of this from her British literature professor. She’s a big feminist, and she actually advocated for the armor portrayal in Snow White and the Huntsman. Near universal hatred of Kristen Stewart aside, her armor is appropriate, and they feminize it by having her hair down. Wearing helmets would defeat the purpose of even casting. It’s the argument that, “If women wanted to be fully protected, shouldn’t they be in full plate armor?” that tries to find an opening in the boob-plate argument.
Her hair is feminine, but her armor is appropriate and practical. MTV covered the story right.
This phenomenon is not new to movies either. This has been happening for years, but it isn’t in the most popular of movies—funny that. Functional, feminine armor was also in Elizabeth: The Golden Age
Notice the detailing. Simply adding enamel changes a ton! Since most Magic characters would be named or be in guilds, that fine filigree or added something to denote that it’s a woman helps. I’d love to see more helmets and really get into showing male-versus-female depictions, but it’s a bit hard to hear rousing battle speeches with a helmet on.
Clearly, an obligatory Mulan image is needed. She is the epitome of women in logical clothing. In her case, logical armor is a man’s armor, which is a whole can of worms, but we’ll keep it simple in that it isn’t pink.
Swag indeed, from the wonderful Disney creators
What’s most interesting is to wonder what is left to show that she is a woman. That’s the information that Magic’s style guides should have. “You need such-and-such a point to show men versus women in full armor; please include it.”
Compare that to Pixar’s Brave, which recently made the main character Merida more feminine and sexualized only to have a public outcry because her character was supposed to be a girl. She was supposed to be a strong heroine. People can figure out a male or female character. You don’t need gratuitous boobs or shoulder-to-hip ratios to prove it to people. Developing characters does that pretty well by itself.
By these movie examples, I would love future style guides to have allusions to armor from here. I’m not “just saying” here to be polite. We have a serious gender imbalance in Magic. Among the myriad of reasons, art is a non-zero contributing factor. Fighting women, especially in armor, is a pretty easy new idea that mere art direction can fix. (Using reprints or slush art bought a while ago—well, that’s harder.) We can ask creative manager Colin Kawakami and art directors Jeremy Jarvis and Matt Cavotta of the Creative Team to be cognizant of it and then ping Magic Brand Director Elaine Chase and the rest of the brand team about it. That’s really it.
What we would say is this:
As Laura elaborates: Elspeth’s armor provides a slightly more practical alternative in her chainmail shirt. She forgoes plate altogether for a shirt that drapes over her figure. That, coupled with her earrings and decorated armor, shows that practical can and should equate to feminine. Now, chainmail isn’t the best for deflecting blows, but it’s better than the dangers presented in “boob plate.”
Keep those in mind you guys.
When you template your own design cards, use random DeviantArt examples like this. It will separate your cards from the no-image cards and the ones whose designers choose the worst of the boob-plate trope. Don’t be lazy; art matters.
Party City will sell out of white robes.
Clearly, as evidenced by the preview art, we will see white robes. I hope more color will be seen in the robed garments, but I’m sure accessories will fill that part and not the robes themselves. Cosplayers will have a field day with newer, cheaper MTG options. Lauren is going nuts about this and is working on a few MTG-themed outfits as we speak.
We will see Roman-style stylized musculature on breastplate armor.
There will be some “sexy” women armor, lacking in vital areas of protection.
Boob plate isn’t going away yet.
Both of these have a very, very high percentage chance of happening. I’m talking Ryan Bushard calling a speculation card chance. (High)
We will see human men and women fighting together.
Greek and Roman warriors had men and women in their ranks. Sparta is the most notable example, where men and women were full members of the army. The movie 300, while very pretty in a cinematography sense, was very historically inaccurate in depicting zero women warriors. Some cultures had full women regimens, and we’re not talking Snu Snu here. If that’s your thing and want to learn more, here’s the rabbit hole, Alice.
We will see goddess depictions, especially warring ones.
I would love to see parallels of Artemis, Athena, or Aphrodite and reoccurring goddess depictions on pots or statues. We had a glimpse of this in Zendikar with the three Merfolk gods Emeria, Ula, and Cosi that turned out to be Eldrazi, but it wasn’t deeply covered. I fully believe it will happen here.
Artemis is the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and chastity. We could easily have a hunting/archer subtheme—ahem, archer lord, ahem—and integrate it easily into a setting visually.
Excerpt from Artemis, 470 BCE, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 10.185
Athena is the goddess of defensive warfare and wisdom. Defender and drawing cards could work well in Theros, but making new “gods” could open up a wide range of possibilities where multiple aspects are joined into one thing.
Excerpt from Athena, Athenian red-figure amphora, ~525 BCE, Antikenmuseen, Berlin, F2159
Aphrodite is like the Greek Liliana—she's sexualized but still extremely powerful. There's nothing wrong with embracing femininity. Sex is her thing, that doesn’t make her weak. Think of lure effects or forced attacks with sirens to understand her in the design sense. It’s hard to have a warring deity mixed with an overtly sexual one, but perhaps it’s possible in Theros.
Excerpt from Zeus & Aphrodite, Apulian Red Figure, ca 350–340BCE, J. Paul Getty Museum, 86.AE.680
We will see tons of titans.
There had to be a test on a new creature type that can span colors and fit flavorfully. Ahem, they all had their time in the light with primeval being a bit over the top in Commander.
We’ll see “minor” characters who are legendary.
Think of Cupid (Eros) and similar, smaller demigods as making appearances. The legend rule change helps to make this happen. We won’t have more main characters—oh no. We will have more of a supporting cast. Think of how the Weatherlight Saga played out. It was Gerrard and Urza versus e’re body. Squee played a minor role, but people loved him and still do. Think more along those lines.
We’ll see some classical artifacts such as pots and statues.
Omitting Greek vases would be just silly, but to deviate from the real, it’s plenty possible, but I sincerely doubt it. I’d love to see mana batteries as receptacles like the Baghdad Battery.
I left out a lot of information this week. If you have a tidbit that Lauren, Wizards, or I would like to know, please include it below. The more information we have, the better the art turns out to be.
Thank you to Lauren for helping out everywhere in today’s article.
Thank you to Wizards for working on this. I know they are.
Thanks to everyone who participated in last week’s contest to rewrite a little flavor. Winners are announced in the comments back there. Packs given out: German Judgment, Gatecrash, Avacyn Restored, and Scars of Mirrodin.