Ladies and gentlemen, we give you this break from mediocre fanfic to talk about everybody’s favorite topic: sexism in Magic.
(OK, maybe just mine. I have weird hobbies. This surprises nobody.)
As previously, I’m not talking about big, scary sexism—the stuff that’s easy to point at and go “Wow, that’s fucked up.” I’m not going to talk about the stream of gross comments and behavior Jackie Lee, for example, was exposed to when she Top 8ed GP Baltimore in 2012. I’m not even going to talk about the humiliation and anger women feel when male opponents they’ve defeated say “I can’t believe I lost to a girl.” These acts of sexism are egregious enough that most reasonable people can nod their heads and follow along with the outrage and feel virtuous because they’re not Those Assholes.
I’m not even going to talk about basic lands festooned with scantily-clad, anatomically-improbable women giving you come-hither glances. (Pro tip: if you use them, they make a lot of women feel gross and contribute to what lawyers have coined a “hostile environment,” but hey, that might be your goal?)
I’m going to talk about something that’s a lot more subtle, and therefore a lot more uncomfortable, because none of us wants to be That Asshole. But sometimes we are—myself definitely included. And it can feel shitty to be called out, and it can feel even shittier when you don’t even know what the hell this person is going on about, man, I was just trying to make a joke, can’t we just roll with it and call it a joke?
No, no we can’t. Because humorless feminist here, obvs.
It starts with what is overall a really, really great Star City Games article by Danny West, “Playing Commander in Style.” He goes through some of the most degenerate Legendary Creatures and rips on them and… really, you should read the whole thing. It’s freaking great. My favorite parts are his suggestions for how to make the degenerate Commanders more stylin’. (His Relentless Rats deck suggestion made me burst out with a surprised cackle.) Dude’s comic timing is a joy to behold, and if I could barter for it, Ursula-style, I would.
And then I got to the part about Azami, Lady of Scrolls and I was all hahaha yeah so annoys very wait uh whut no no no don’t noooooooo Y U DO DIS.
To quote West directly:
I remember reading someone from WotC’s commentary on banning Mystical Tutor in Legacy years ago. They said it wasn’t just that it was powerful—though it certainly is—it’s that they didn’t want a format marquee card being a middle-aged woman pointing at a passage in a dated text book.
OK, first of all, West is kind of misquoting WotC; what Tom LaPille actually said at the time was this:
Upon the announcement of Mystical Tutor‘s banning, many players asked if unbanning Entomb was a mistake and why we didn’t just reban it. This is a fine question, but that isn’t quite what’s going on. In fact, we don’t think that unbanning Entomb was a mistake at all. We think it’s cool that Reanimator is a deck. What we don’t think is cool is to have an enigmatic-looking hooded woman holding a book and trying to look innocuous while she boosts the power of every spell-based combination deck that ever shows up in the format.
(Emphasis again mine.)
Notice the shift in interpretation: West is making a crack about the age of the woman depicted in Mystical Tutor and how her lack of stylishness somehow played a part in the card’s banning. LaPille’s joke focuses on the contrast between how mild-mannered Mystical Tutor Lady looks, vs. the explosive, game-ending combo shenanigans the card enables. At no point is LaPille trying to make any kind of serious statement about Mystical Tutor Lady’s appearance and how that appearance had any kind of bearing on the card’s banning. Soooo that’s kinda telling.
But let’s take West’s statement at face value for a moment, shall we? (“Yes, let’s!” said nobody ever, but such is the tyranny I wield over this blog.) Let’s in fact pretend that WotC had actual, real-life reservations about a middle-aged lady becoming the Face of Legacy, and that’s one of the reasons they banned the card. I have a few points I want to make about “a format marquee card being a middle-aged woman” etc:
Point the First: When I see Mystical Tutor Lady, I don’t think “frumpy middle-aged woman.” I honestly think she’s kinda foxy. Am I nuts here? Or is my love for thoughtful-looking women with gorgeous eyes and great cheekbones skewing my perception?
I don’t think it is. Mystical Tutor Lady has a facial structure actresses and supermodels would kill to have. West was either engaging in a bit of hyperbole for yuks (and fell flat), or our beauty standards are way more screwed up than I gave credit for.
Point the Second: Contrast Mystical Tutor Lady with the faces gracing the other three cards in the cycle.
(Yeah, I know, bla bla bla Goblin Tutor bla bla but it clearly doesn’t count because IT TUTORS TO HAND GOD THESE THINGS MATTER PEOPLE I MEAN WHAT ARE WE ANIMALS?)
Not that I don’t love the adorable old dudes that grace Enlightened and Worldly Tutor. And sweet Sallie Mae, the art on Vampiric Tutor is just straight-up, uh, well, awkward. But Mystical Tutor, the one female face that’s also in a position of power in this series, is actually conventionally attractive. So…what the hell? Middle-aged? Especially in comparison to the beyond-middle-aged dudes on Enlightened and Worldly tutor? (The fact that Mystical Tutor Lady is kinda hot while being the only female depicted in the cycle is its own problem, and I’ve written about it at length already, so let us consider that dead horse beaten, shall we?)
UPDATE: Soooo, several friends pointed out that Enlightened Tutor is, in fact, an adorable old lady. I feel pretty mortified, and offer myself as an object lesson on how some people (well, actually pretty much only me in this particular instance, because everyone else I’ve talked to parsed Enlightened Tutor as female) interpret gender when given the potential for ambiguity. Remember how I said that I’m not exempt from occasionally being That Asshole? Proof, right here.
So. Uh. Well, that kind of blew my mind for the day. In a really awesome way, though.
In conclusion: Mystical Tutor Lady: actually attractive enough to be a Cover Girl, if she weren’t so busy fucking up every format in which she’s legal.
Point the Third: I would be so. Flippin’. Thrilled. To see a woman like Mystical Tutor Lady be the face of Magic for a set or three. I am so very, very tired of sexualized ladies, hugely muscular guys, and smirky dudes being the face of Magic. Chandra went from a sweet steampunk-esque aesthetic to a Scarlett Johansson knock-off clad in chainmail Frederick’s of Hollywood. Liliana went from sexy bellydancer who still looks scary enough to fuck you up to conventional cheesecake giving you a come-hither glance. And f’real now, Garruk the Roid Rager was the face of M15.
I dare Wizards to give us a major female Magic character (read: Planeswalker) in the next couple of sets who doesn’t have a body that wouldn’t look out of place on a runway or the cover of Playboy. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage was a great start, but that was three blocks ago. Hell, at this point, I’ll take more than one female Planeswalker per set.
Mystical Tutor Lady, honestly, is most directly analogous to Jace in terms of appearance: mysterious. Good-lookin’. And, not gonna lie, kinda douchey, too—I mean look at that smirk. The smirk of blue mages everywhere. And I, for one, welcome more faces like hers in Magic, both in its art and in its player’s community.
All right. Whew. Glad I got that off my chest. Anyway, I kinda shrugged off the Mystical Tutor crack and continued reading the article and three paragraphs down…
How to Make Azami Cool Again:
It’s impossible. She’s an aging librarian. If you really want to try to style up Azami, you could take all the wizards out of your deck, tie weights to your ankles, and jump in a pool.
Ugh. No. NO.
I mean, OK, Azami is the Lady of Broken Combo Crap. I totally agree with his sentiments about how Azami works in general and how Azami decks work in particular—and I think the jump-in-the-pool comment was pretty funny. But while West rips into many different Commanders in this article (he calls Uril, the Miststalker “a giant, unfriendly idiot you grow without hindrance,” which startled another a cackle out of me), he specifically makes fun of the physical appearance of the characters on only two cards—and both cards feature women. And one of them because she’s an OLDER LADY LIBRARIAN.
Y’all. We’re nerds here, right? We’re playing a game in which we’re basically magical wizards waging magical battles across endless planes of magical existence. We’ve spent a lot of time—some dullards would probably even say too much time—arguing how THESE pieces of cardboard are CLEARLY BETTER than those other pieces of cardboard. Many of us prefer spending our Friday nights turning cards sideways and taking our opponents from 20 to 0 life points in lieu of, fuck, I don’t know, playing hula hoops or doing the hustle or whatever the hell it is kids do these days that’s cool.
Shouldn’t we freaking love librarians, regardless of age? I don’t know about you, but I dreamed about becoming a librarian when I was a kid. Holy shit, a job in which I’m surrounded by books and to ensure that other people are surrounded by books? GIMME.
And I mean look at the art on Azami. LOOK AT IT.
Fuckin’ scrolls everywhere! Why? Because she fuckin’ said so. She’s the motherfuckin’ lady of motherfuckin’ scrolls! And those sleeves! And that hair! I WOULD KILL FOR THE ABILITY TO MAKE SCROLLS FLY AT MY BIDDING, ALSO THOSE SLEEVES AND THAT HAIRDO.
Not only is the composition superb, but the artist has managed to convey a sense of calm power in Azami. This is a woman, more than any other I’ve seen in Magic, who wouldn’t even bother killing yaks from 200 yards away with mind-bullets. The yaks would apologize for creating a mess, put all those scrolls back in the proper order, and promptly jump off the nearest cliff to save her the fuss and bother.
And the artist accomplishes all this without giving Azami breasts bigger than her head, unnecessarily exposed body bits, or lordotic poses (*koff* Kiora, the Crashing Wave *koff*).
West can riff all he wants on how broken and unfun Azami is, and he does, but when he rags on her age—seriously, now. Why? Is it funny because older people don’t play Magic? Is it funny because older women in particular don’t play Magic? I ran one of the biggest game stores in Portland for a couple years, and lemme tell you, that’s untrue. They’re considerably rarer than the dudes between the ages of 13 and 35 who made up the majority of my former clientele, but they exist.
Some of these women played back when damage went on the stack and there was a functional difference between Instants and Interrupts. And some of these women picked up Magic a couple months ago because their kids were really into it and then fell in love with the game for its own sake.
These women are fuckin’ cool. These women are fuckin’ STYLIN’ in the only way that counts in the Magic community: they are enthusiastic about playing the game and they make the community a better, more diverse place.
So Danny West, I’m calling you out. Yes, it’s small stuff, especially when compared to some of the truly nasty sexist shit that goes down in the Magic community sometimes. But the small stuff counts, too, because the small stuff is what skates by, unnoticed—and ultimately, the small stuff matters.