There and Back Again: A Wizard’s Tale
My story with Magic began at the Magic 2011 prerelease. I was going through a difficult time in my personal life. I was two weeks into my summer vacation after my junior year in college and one week into a job I loved. I needed something new and healthy to focus my time and energy on. I worked as a Game Specialist at Uncle’s Games teaching and selling games to families and gamers. This was a perfect fit for me, an avid board gamer.
Freshly out of a relationship and couch-surfing, I was looking for any overtime hours I could pick up, and I managed to work on the Saturday of the prerelease. The atmosphere in the store was so exciting, and there were plenty of friendly faces. People were enthusiastic for the game they all came together to play. It reminded me of the energy conventions seem to spread across communities—how everyone feels connected to everyone else because we all know that we can relate on some level. It’s when we can finally fit in with a large number of people and not be considered weird for loving something, be it games, cosplay, fantasy, comics, or whatever! My attention was instantly grabbed by the Magic community.
Less than a week later, my boss taught me in a Winston Draft, and I was hooked. I started playing in Friday Night Magic events three weeks later and was at a Grand Prix within two months. Before long, I even tried my hand at some Pro Tour Qualifiers and any high-level tournaments I could get my hands on. I wasn’t good, but I was driven. I was driven by many things. After my heartbreak, I needed to prove to myself that I could be good at something, and Magic was the perfect escapism from the emotions from the changes in my life. I didn’t have to think about the drama in my friend group choosing sides after the breakup, where I was going to live, or what career I wanted after college; I could just become lost in the strategy of a game that takes years to master.
I started making friends with people in the Magic community, which was good because all my friends were close to the parts of my life I needed some space from. I started going to karaoke with some of these friends and meeting up to learn more about deck-building. As a single woman, I received a lot of attention. I received more attention than I knew what to do with, and it was conflicting because I wasn’t in a strong place emotionally. Not all of the attention was positive either. It seemed I rubbed some members of the almost-exclusively-male community the wrong way. It felt that I was either pissing people off with my bubbly attitude or breaking hearts. All that said, the most difficult part of all was having everyone think I was bad at Magic simply by looking at me—and them being right. This was by far what drove me the most.
I could not stand that people would sit across from me expecting a win because I was a woman—and for them to get that win. It hurt. I practiced again and again so that I could prove them wrong. I played any chance I had, even if I knew I’d lose, and I usually did. Eventually, I would win on occasion. Then, I would win against people who were good—not often, but it happened. While the majority of the community seemed to think I never had a chance at competing “for real,” a few believed in me. And my desire to prove those others wrong pushed me every step of the way. I faced some blatant sexism, but it was mostly subtle sexism that is just part of the gaming culture at large and accepted by society. Each sexist comment I received, each eye roll, each person who refused to look me in the eyes all fed the fire inside me.
Magic quickly became the most important part of my life, and I realized I wanted a career in this community. I started researching jobs at Wizards of the Coast and wondered if doing well at PTQs could get me noticed by Wizards. However, I didn’t know where I would fit in there. I had only been playing a few months, and I knew I wasn’t good yet. The last quarter of my college career arrived. A dear friend of mine wanted to recruit me to Microsoft to be a writer for video games. This seemed ideal for me. I was earning a degree in Creative Writing, and my passion for video games is as important to me as Magic. However, I couldn’t commit until I at least tried to make it in the door at Wizards. I knew a lot of people who worked there, so I started making phone calls. Lee Sharpe walked my resume over to Game Support, and in less than two weeks, I started. I received the call offering me the job while playing in a 1K event. I placed twelfth in the event with a mono-green Standard deck I’d built by myself, and I felt I ended my competitive career strongly.
Around this same time, female friends in my life started asking if I could teach them to play Magic. They’d seen the positive changes in my life and were interested in what it was all about. Most of the people interested didn’t want to learn in the intimidating tournament scene in stores and also didn’t want to learn from their significant others. They wanted to be in a more comfortable space, which started as my living room. It felt like nothing more than casual ladies’ nights, which was something I’d always wanted but never had.
After graduating college, I had more time on my hands. Friends of mine began encouraging me to do something larger with my ladies’ group. I realized this had more potential than my living room could provide. Maybe there were dozens, even hundreds, of women who wanted to learn Magic but didn’t feel that they had a welcoming place to do so. I agreed that the Magic scene was incredibly hard to break into. It’s intimidating enough for a new player who gets treated poorly because he or she is a “n00b,” but add on top of that being the only woman in a room with forty people, and it doesn’t seem worth the hassle. I see nothing about Magic that is unappealing to women, especially women who like strategy games already. There are strong female characters in reasonable clothing (most of the time), and it’s a social activity. I wanted to take away the barriers related to the gender disparity and create an alternative space that is crafted for newer players to learn without fear of judgment.
Card Kingdom had just opened up and was recommended to me as the perfect place to start something. They were thrilled to be involved! Thus, the Lady Planeswalkers Society (LPS) was born! It was small in the beginning, but it grew quickly, and I had to learn how to make as many people happy as possible. There were stumbles along the way, and there continue to be, but much like my job at Wizards, I was able to get the hang of it quickly.
I tend to fast-track my life, and being at Wizards was no exception. It wasn’t long before I started looking for bigger opportunities within the building. I was drawn toward an open position on the Magic Brand team. Since I’d worked with the Brand team to start LPS, they knew my name and face. They were impressed enough with what I was doing inside and outside with Magic to at least interview me. I was just out of college, which wasn’t what they had in mind, but I impressed the right people one by one. Five interviews and five months later, I received the job offer.
I felt as though I was living a dream! The job had endless possibilities and so many parts. My job was to manage all packaging, ad cards, art assets, permissions, and a lot of meetings all over the company to discuss the future of the Magic brand and ensure everything followed the brand vision. The longer I was on the team, the more I was able to add to my job description. I was excited to contribute ideas to future products and experiences. For a while, I wrote flavor text, but I found it limiting and tedious. I managed to put a couple articles up on Daily MTG and even one Uncharted Realms! I was on a design mini-team, the Wizards team for Community Cup, and a co-host for the Daily MTG Podcast.
Fast-forward a year and a half, and I started to want even more. Things move slowly inside Wizards, and that wasn’t how I operated. In addition, LPS was growing faster than I’d ever anticipated. The interview and article opportunities were flying through my door. My life partner Mike Robles had recently left Wizards and was doing streams, writing articles, and doing other things. I was jealous. He was free and happy. I had to turn down opportunity after opportunity because Wizards would not allow me to write articles elsewhere, be involved in certain events, appear in videos, or be interviewed by most places. Basically, anything that could be considered press was off limits. They made some exceptions for me at first, but the larger LPS grew, the bigger the names coming to me were, and the less likely Wizards would say yes.
After a few months, my internal conflict started to affect my work. On top of that, half of the Brand team left for Microsoft, and the other half was promoted. I watched as everyone else was promoted on my team. This made staying there less appealing. Come GeekGirlCon, I had contacts wanting to work with me who were as big as Geek & Sundry and National Geographic. Wizards gave me an ultimatum. I fought with myself for two months before quitting. It was the hardest, yet best, career move I have ever made.
Don’t read this wrong. I still love my old coworkers at Wizards and wish the very best for everyone there. The decision had nothing to do with any individual people; it was all about policy, PR control, and personal growth. When I started as a Brand Manager, my happiness level and potential was a 9 on a 10-point scale, and LPS’s success was a 6. Over time, the scales began tipping in opposite directions, with LPS growing and my happiness at work slowly deflating. In order to bring LPS to the level I want, I had to leave.
Before my two weeks’ notice was up, I already had a job at Microsoft as a Games Producer for the Xbox Dashboard. I spent the first six months out of Wizards promoting LPS the way I was never able to, going to conventions, writing articles, and appearing on podcasts and videos. I couldn’t compete in tournaments until after Journey into Nyx Game Day, so I had some time to not even think about competitive play.
I never stopped being “competitive” while at Wizards, but it was different, and the pressures were less intimidating or personal. Playing Magic at Wizards was interesting because people are very good, and I still felt the need to prove myself, but not due to gender or judgment. I just wanted to prove that I belonged there, and being good at Magic seemed to be a good way to do so. I improved so much while working there that I actually placed ninth in a Wizards league. That accomplishment made me realize I’m actually pretty good at this game. Finally! I did a lot of spellslinging while working there. The difference is that when you are set up at a table for spellslinging, people already accept that you must be good, and they know you work at Wizards, so they tend to act respectfully.
However, going back into the tournament scene after Wizards was scary for a number of reasons. I had only played with people I knew at Wizards or at LPS for over three years! I would have to face strangers again—and potentially sexist strangers. I also know there are people in the Magic community who don’t like that I’m trying to change it, and now I have to be in the same room as they are and might have to battle them. I don’t want to lose to people who view my life with disdain, and I still don’t want to lose to people who assume I’m bad at Magic because I’m a girl. Now, I also feel pressured that people expect me to do well, and I don’t want to let them down. I especially don’t want to let down all the people who look up to what LPS has done by failing in the competitive scene. One bad reputation I’ve heard is that LPS is unwelcoming to competitive players, and as a competitive player, I have to disagree. If I can prove I’m competitive by winning, maybe competitive players will give my group another chance. So many pressures . . .
I’ve now been to some events. At one event, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone was interested in how long my husband has played and his backstory, but they wouldn’t even look me in the eyes or ask for my name. This was hard. I was able to see how easy it was for him to break in and be accepted, while I sat to the side, ignored. At this same event, I had a kid be shocked I was playing at all, and he tried to teach me the basic rules as I was building my deck. Yes, I know how my cards work, thanks. How do you say that without coming across as rude? I was so frustrated and played a great, close match that I ended up losing within a turn. My opponent was respectful. After the match, another man said, “Oh, you lost, too?” with a demeaning laugh at the end, as though it was so funny because it was so obvious. I left the tournament immediately.
At my old FNM stomping grounds, I went back and played in a couple events. I was so incredibly nervous that I stumbled through games with a Standard deck I’d played hundreds of times, making a few game-changing mistakes. The games were very close, and every match went to three games, but I could calculate the exact errors I made that cost me the games after the fact, and all of them were because I was unable to slow down and think clearly. This happened again at an FNM at Card Kingdom during Round 1, and luckily, I was able to get over it and have a good rest of the night, but it was challenging. I’m still learning how to not get these jitters that cause me to forget basic decision-making. It’s really difficult.
Strangely, it hasn’t happened every time. I had an amazing first prerelease back. Everyone was super-friendly, and I didn’t feel as though anyone was judging me. I won Round 1 and felt confident going into Round 2, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. After I won Round 2 in under ten minutes, I was feeling awesome about my deck. I started to feel less nervous about losing. Many people at the event were impressed and expecting me to go 4–0. That was enough for me to relax and feel comfortable.
I was 3–0 going into the finals and lost honorably. Going 3–1 at my first official prerelease in over three years was a fantastic feeling that gives me hope. It makes me excited for my future in Magic, but I need to work on not psyching myself out and slowing down to think during games when I’m feeling the pressures I put on myself. I just never want to let my gender down, and one woman’s loss is another lame excuse for some dude to say, “You play like a girl,” as an insult.
I plan on continuing to play competitively, but I don’t yet know to what extent. A decently sized group of us from LPS have been training hard for Team Sealed, so I will be at Grand Prix Portland, and I’ll see how that goes. There are a lot of people in LPS interested in high-level tournament play who want to train together, so that encourages me to keep trying. I’m not against reentering the PTQ scene, but I don’t want to ruin my love for Magic by beating myself up over every loss. I need to discover the right balance, which is the way of life. I hope to see you at an event someday. Feel free to say hello—it might be just what I need.