Q1: How did you get into Magic the Gathering and what do you like most about the game?
Planeswalker Project: Back in around 2003 I think, I was at summer camp and at the time, I mostly played Yugioh. That was my card game of choice back then. I also collected Pokemon cards, but that was about it in terms of card games. A few kids were playing Magic, and watching them play intrigued me. They let me use one of their decks to play, it was a green deck with stuff from Onslaught block. I remember it had cards like Titanic Bulvox, Avatar of Might, Hundroog. I just sorta used that for some time, and maybe a year later, I actually bought my own deck. It was the 8th Edition Heavy Hitters deck with Rhox. That was my first deck I owned, and since then I've phased in and out of the game, until around 2013, while at college I got into a playgroup who liked to play regularly, and since my interest in Yugioh had long been waning for various reasons, I started indulging a great deal more into Magic.
I think the thing I like most about the game is just the personality of the game. I'm a huge Lord of the Rings fan, and to me, one of the things that drew me into Magic was the similarities I found to the world of Middle Earth. I love the character that each color represents, and how you can find qualities of yourself in the colors of Magic. I think the reason I dove so into Commander was that each Commander deck can very much represent a game I want to play, a character I'd like to portray, in ways I don't think you can really achieve in Modern or Standard. The choices of each card to include really make me feel my deck is representative of my playstyle, and I really like that creative outlet.
ElspethFTW: Never thought about the similarities between Magic and Lord of the Rings, but I guess there are some. Now that you mention it, hobbits would be a real cool addition to Magic. :-P
Q2: You focus a lot of your content on EDH / Commander. What’s your history with the format?
Planeswalker Project: As I said earlier, I got into a playgroup around 2012-2013, I was in my first few years of college, and a friend of mine played the format just as it was getting big. He had gotten the initial set of Commander precons, and showed me the format, as the only real deck I used often was my casual Elf deck, which has now become my Pauper Elves deck. So after the game we played where I borrowed his other Commander deck, that night I went home and tried putting together my first Commander deck. It morphed between a few Commanders, I had Savra, Queen of the Golgari, Rhys the Redeemed, Grand Arbiter Augustin, and eventually it became my main format. I had brief stints in Standard and I do have a Modern deck or two, but I grew to prefer Commander for the freedom of the format and the more fun multiplayer aspect of it. When I began doing YouTube, I sorta was all over the place with what I was putting out in terms of content, but after I did a few Commander videos, I found I absolutely adored brewing new decks and just building Commander decks in general.
ElspethFTW: Being a singleton format, Commander offers so many more deck-building possibilities and really it has the largest potential card pool of any format, since cards that aren’t good in 60-card Magic are suddenly powerhouses in Commander. :D That’s my favorite part of it.
Q3: As a format, do you believe that Commander is a great way to introduce players to MtG?
Planeswalker Project: So I do feel Commander is a great format to get new players into. Once you can get down the basic rules of the game, and those are solid and grasped, I feel Commander is one of the best formats in the game. I don't really like Standard for the rotations and the cost, especially if that $400 deck I put together is rendered obsolete by the time the next block rotates out. Modern is okay, but I'm not one for super quick cutthroat games. With Commander, I feel it has a board-game quality to it in that games can last longer, you have more crazy interactions with cards, and you can invest into a deck and not have to worry about it rotating out or losing cards to banlists. I know we've had a few bans and unbans over the years, but even then, your playgroup can give the okay to use these cards even if they're banned.
As for someone getting into the format, I feel Commander offers the most level playing field for new players. I think it's the only format that you can go buy a precon Commander deck, sit down with friends, and be able to play right away with some degree of success. You can't buy a Planeswalker deck, go to FNM and hope to stand a chance with the kid who's running a properly built Standard deck. Most newer players can't buy into a draft and be able to pick out the cards from each rotation that will fit their pool properly. I cannot imagine any person buying into a $800 Modern deck they have no idea they'll like to play. With Commander, you can spend $35 and get a deck that, should you find you dislike, you can dismantle it for parts and build another deck using some of the key staples you get in them. I feel the Commander precons are the only product Wizards produces in terms of preconstructed decks worth getting for immediate play.
I also feel that as a format, the gameplay can be a lot more fun. You can make bargains with your playmates, you can do sneaky deals, and you can build your deck to reflect your playstyle. I feel the format offers a great deal of personalization, so much moreso than any other format. You see Modern Merfolk and 90% of decklists are similar, whereas I can be facing off against someone running a Commander in a completely different direction from myself.
ElspethFTW: Commander is so wide-open as far as deckbuilding is concerned. You can go in so many directions and really put your mark on a deck. I’ve noticed even in 1v1 Commander decks on Magic Online, no two decks are the same, and that’s a highly competitive format!
Modern, Pauper, and Commander are the only formats I play anymore. Usually in Modern it’s janky stuff that I build, since I don’t have $800 to build a “proper” deck. Pauper has been stuck in there being a few really dominant decks although it’s still possible to win with a rogue deck as there is with any eternal format. But with Commander, you really can go to town with anything you want to do and be reasonably competitive in Commander, if you build your curve correctly and your synergies are strong enough.
Q4: What have you found most rewarding about running your Youtube channel?
Planeswalker Project: I think that I've found the most rewarding part of being a Magic Youtube creator is the sense of satisfaction when I can help players in their deckbuilding skill. Building Commander decks is an art. There is no such thing as a perfect deck in Commander. There will always be a bad matchup for your deck, and there is always the chance of a new card coming out that will be a great inclusion for your deck. I look at some of the decks I use that have remained relatively consistent over the years, and find that I want to improve them in some way. And if I can manage to help a player wanting to better themselves at playing the Commander format, then I've done what I want to do.
ElspethFTW: Teaching is really one of the best things YouTube videos can do, and while blogs are informative, watching someone actually do it can be really helpful :)
Q5: Is there something about MtG that you feel requires immediate attention?
Planeswalker Project: Rant incoming so apologies in advance. I know alot of folks have been upset over the recent print quality of cards; cardboard being shoddy quality and bending and warping something fierce. That's definitely a big problem. The foils are a big issue too.
ElspethFTW: Absolutely, I’ve started actually tagging Wizards of the Coast whenever I see printing/cardstock issues mentioned on social media.
Planeswalker Project: But these are all things that have been talked to death among the collective cacophony of our community and I feel Wizards is well within the ability to fix these problems. I feel the real issue with the MtG community that poses perhaps a greater threat to our solidarity and even the future of the game, something we as a community don't quite have at this time, is what I look at as our public relations as a community.
We don't really have any established code of ethics or standards on how we ought to be treating each other, since common sense doesn't seem to apply here for some. I know I personally am a very welcoming and sympathetic person. When we sit down to play Magic, you are my equal. Period. I don't understand why the golden rule doesn't seem to penetrate the realms of the multiverse but that has caused us to lose alot of potential players.
Right now we don't really have any member of the community with a voice loud enough or firm enough to resonate widely with people giving any kind of help to fix the social problems our community faces. There are aspects of the conduct of many members of the community that could use a courteous nudge towards the right direction, such as the hygiene that I myself have experienced in some instances.
There are also some aspects that need a firm foot being put down, like the sexism, and I don't really think we have someone really fighting for that in a way that is making progress. It seems even Mark Rosewater, the guy at the helm of the ship, even has trouble getting it across to people "there are women Magic players and it’s not your business to decide their place in the game. In fact, there are Magic players across the spectrums of sexualities and genders and lifestyles, and it's not your business to decide their place in the game or how you think they deserve to be treated. Don't be a dick. It's nice that opinions may vary from person to person, and everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but when a person's opinion is uneducated and biased towards old-fashioned thinking to the point it causes conflicts, it really is in part the root of the problem.
I got alot of backlash from folks for coming forward about this problem, many not wanting to "get political in Magic," but I feel that for members of the community who might find themselves in situations where they feel uncomfortable, they have voiced their concerns time and again, and there is a great deal of people who just want to overlook the problem, and others, who don't really have a solution. I hear incidents where women Magic players deal with sexist remarks, sexual harassment, I hear of LGBTQ Magic players who are harassed for being part of the LGBTQ community, and while these echo loudly in the community, we have a division of response. You have the part of the community who are advocating and wanting for a shift in attitude towards the people in our community subjected to harassment, and then you have the other side who doesn't want to hear it. They think the problem isn't as bad as it's made out to be. I've even seen some defend the game as a sort of "boys-only" kind of community, and that they want no women or LGBTQ players, which I find ridiculous. It is a card game, it's for every person who wants to play the game.
And I get that alot of folks playing Magic use it as an escape from the harshness of reality; I know I use the game as a form of escapism. They don't want the problems they hear and deal with in the real world to translate to the game they enjoy. But for the women who play Magic, for the Magic fans who are LGBTQ, who want to play Magic and enjoy the game as well, who are subject to the same sexist crap they want to play the game to get away from, still faced with the same crap, it can be a real turnoff to the game.
And I get that not all playgroups have the same unwelcoming attitude, I know many to be a very welcoming and open group who just want to play Magic. But for every person who chooses to leave the game of Magic because they're tired of being mistreated by the community, even if it's just a small trollish minority of the community, that's one more person who has had a negative experience with the game, one more person who will never recommend the game to a friend, and one more person who misses out on the fun that can be had.
And when you're a gaming company making a hugely popular product on the rise such as Magic, having dissatisfied customers is the last thing you want. And I've heard the rebuttal time and again, "they shouldn't let these words get to them, they write their own tragedy, social justice warriors are ruining the game defending these people" but my question is: why are they being treated this way from the getgo? Why is there this attitude towards people that they should just grin and bear being treated like this?
I saw a comment from Gaby Spartz's draft video that had LSV in it pretty recently, on her channel, saying if she wasn't present in the video that was on her channel, it would be a perfect draft video. The comment was extremely sexist and condescending to her. Why is our community, which is largely made up of let's admit it, nerds and social outcasts, even remotely okay with this sort of alienating language?
And for those who find this sort of attitude unacceptable as I do, why are we not speaking out against it? Remaining silent is pretty much condoning the remarks. When I was growing up, the hurtful bullying I endured was all from my interests being deemed "nerdy." I played video games. I played card games. I played an instrument. Because of this, I got picked on mercilessly. Now that I'm an adult, which I think the vast majority of these people making these kinds of remarks are as well, I find it entirely unreasonable to be rude like this to someone. I don't get what makes it so difficult to just be pleasant to your peers. Just play the damn game, get over yourself, and stop making a big deal your opponent happens to be a woman.
And I'm sure people grab for the torches and pitchforks because "oh no the Planeswalker Project guy is a social justice warrior!" Please. Since when is being kind and compassionate to my fellow community such a bad thing? When did society change and being an asshole become acceptable? If we are at a game store, and I hear you throwing around remarks like some of the sexist garbage I've heard tossed around, or any kind of improper language meant to pull someone down, you better know I will call you out on it.
Planeswalker Project: Now onto how we can work on this. I've degrees in communications, I know communication law inside and out. I've experience as a public relations person, I've had to look at how to foster positive attitudes and charisma in communities before. It's incredibly hard to get a collective multimillion-person community to agree, "hey, let's maybe not be such a jerk to so-and-so," when we have only scattered folks being vocal about it.
And I know that there is little chance of changing the minds of folks so deeply ingrained with their beliefs and mindsets. My only advice to those who refuse to listen, keep spouting the nonsense under your banner of "free speech", but we don't have to give you the time of day. We can put you in time out like a child. Sit in the corner with your inappropriate behavior and when you learn to act like a mature adult, then you can come play again.
ElspethFTW: I commend you on speaking out. There are others in the community, namely a few writers at Hipsters of the Coast, that are, too. I try to signal boost these “social justice warrior” types of messages as much as I can, but I know what you mean. A “PR warrior” for the Magic community may be a really important thing that needs to happen.
Yes, MtG is a form of escapism for many, as it has been for me in the past. But some people think that Magic is their way of forcing their politics on others. It does work both ways, though, unfortunately. However, we know who the real instigators of trouble are: those that want MtG to be a boys-only, mostly white-only (Europeans and Asians are usually OK with them) club. And despite what some people think, this is NOT what MtG ever was as a whole. Maybe the competitive scene, but certainly not locally. And the reason why? Because in a lot of places where the game is played at a high-level, it usually is a boys-only club. Not everywhere, certainly, but the game does have that sort of stigma against it and Wizards really wants to change that. That's very threatening to some and the push-back has been quite vocal. And so that's why there's been such a ruckus.
Quite a few unsettling things are said and done at both minor and major events by some players. But it's not being called out enough, and that's the problem. By the rules, this type of behavior actually is not tolerated at sanctioned events. It’s within the realm of a judge’s or tournament organizer's power to disqualify someone for being sexist or using hateful language I’m pretty sure. I don’t know the exact rules on this, but I’ve seen people that inform players that if they see this type of behavior to report it. The organizers WILL do something about it.
Unfortunately, a lot of people, a lot of good people, turn the other way. I really think this is as you said people don’t want to get political playing Magic. I get that. But they also shouldn’t be making people that have as much right to be playing the game as anyone feel unwelcome.
The real issues go way beyond the game. There are some people that I thought were reasonably good people being very outspoken AGAINST the push towards diversity in the Magic community. Wizards is doing everything they can to include everybody, not as a money grab, but because it’s the right thing to do.
There are going to always be sexist, racist, ignorant people out there. As long as people keep their opinions to themselves while playing the game, I don’t think there should be a problem. I see a lot of youtube videos and blogs, though, being pretty rude and angry to Wizards of the Coast for “forcing them” to share their community with LBGTQ folks and women. If they don’t want to see this happen, then just don’t be a part of it! That’s the way I see it. They can say all they want to say online and to each other but when it comes down to the local game store or tournament setting, it simply shouldn’t be tolerated.
There is always the possibility that some venues get hyper-sensitive to all this, someone reports somebody for an off-color remark and they get kicked out unfairly. I think this does actually happen, and it is possible to punish someone for just saying something dumb without knowing the whole story. What really needs to be done is to just make it clear to just play the damn game and leave your personal issues to yourself.
Those that are really a problem make it really obvious and they need to be shown the door if they are causing a big issue. I don’t think that means banning anyone or anything,, but make it clear that you’re not going to be playing in events if you’re going to be blatantly disrespectful.
But is that really possible? Maybe, maybe not. Really, people just need to be civil, and it seems that’s a problem in a lot of places right now, not just Magic.
Any other questions, comments, concerns?
Planeswalker Project: I truly, truly love the Magic community. I got so heavily involved with it at a time in my life that was very hard on me, and the people of the community are beautiful people. So to all you ladies, gentlemen, and nonbinary friends, thank you for letting me be a part of the Magic the Gathering community!
ElspethFTW: The MtG community is a great place and we’re happy to have you. :) Take care.
** Disclaimer: I was compensated in absolutely no form for this interview. It was done purely for the good of the Magic the Gathering community and the goodness of my own heart ;)
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