Mulldrifting – The Female Advantage

Tuesday, August 31st – In her first article for StarCityGames.com, Lauren Lee (a.k.a. Mulldrifting) provides sensible and thought-provoking advice for the growing number of women in Magic.

Welcome to the first of hopefully many StarCityGames.com articles written by yours truly, Mulldrifting.

Who or what is a Mulldrifting?

Mulldrifting is a gamer, much like you, with a passion for Magic: the Gathering. Mulldrifting started playing around the release of Morningtide, and started attending FNM after the release of Conflux. Once the ball got rolling, there was no looking back —Mulldrifting’s competitive drive kicked in and took over. Mulldrifting then qualified for Pro Tour: Amsterdam, and will be attending in just a few days.

Mulldrifting is also a She.

I wish I could say that was not a big deal in the gaming community, but everywhere I look — for Street Fighter, Starcraft, chess, poker, and of course Magic — men dominate the competitive atmosphere. I am taking up my hammer and chisel and chipping away at the problem, and this StarCityGames.com column is one of the tools I will use in my quest.

It is my honest belief that the currently low numbers of women attending competitive Magic events is an artificial construct. Artificial in the sense that it has nothing to do with the inherent ability of women, or their inherent dislike for competition or gaming or nerdy card games. It has nothing to do with an “inherent” anything. It’s not natural. But wait, don’t get too ahead of me, yet.

I am fully aware that the numbers of women and men at competitive Magic events will never be even. Maybe never even close to even. I can think of a bunch of hand-wavy ideas as to why that is — why it is that men will always dominate high-level, competitive gaming events. And I continue to wonder about it, but I don’t think any of the answers I’ve heard or thought up are satisfactory. They’re generally either evo-psych nonsense, or first-hand anecdotes, or vaguely related but incomprehensive studies. For now, I just put that all aside.

My goal is merely to improve the numbers bit-by-bit. Two women participated in U.S. Nationals this year, out of several hundred. At GPs, I see a handful of women out of a room of 1000+ players. I see slightly better ratios at gaming stores. At the store I go to in New York City (Jim Hanley’s Universe), there are probably 3-4 women that regularly attend either the draft events or the Constructed tournaments. At the store I went to in Pasadena, CA, (Game Empire), I was probably the only woman to go to almost every FNM. I have no idea how many women to expect at the upcoming Pro Tour, but I would not be surprised if I were the only woman at the Player’s Dinner. (I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a couple of international women players. I am not very well-connected outside of the United States.)

These numbers are artificially deflated to me. I don’t think it’s weird that there are not many women; I just think it’s weird that the ratio seems to be 1 woman to every 100 men, or even every 300 men. I don’t think we’re dealing with an immutable limiting factor here. What this means to me is that there are factors keeping women from the game that we could easily change, but we have simply never thought about doing so before. (Because not enough people cared before. But maybe people will start caring sooner rather than later, if we discuss it or just think about it more often.)

This column will attempt to do a few things to alter the way people see women in Magic.

First of all, just by writing about Magic on a weekly basis — about Standard, spoilers, tournaments, the metagame, Magic theory, etc. — I will show people that women can become deeply passionate about the game, as well as be well-informed about the game. And, of course, I’ll show that women can play the game well too. I’m far, far from the best, but I think I’m good enough for countering the idea that women simply can’t play Magic — which I hear said all too often with a straight face. (Or I hear it from Jon Becker, in which case I don’t know what to think.)

Second of all, I will occasionally talk about the women in the game, what it’s like for a woman to play Magic, and discuss why there aren’t more of us out there. But this will not be the focus of my column. That would get boring, even for me! But it will largely be the topic of this first article. (It’s my debut article, godammit, and I’ll write whatever I damn well please! It’s certainly a topic that has always concerned me a lot, ever since I started competitive gaming.)

I want to openly encourage more women to start playing Magic, to go out to community events and start putting their name out there. That’s what this article will hopefully do. (So if any of you know any women thinking about heading into the competitive realm, show them this handy article, and maybe it will convince them one way or the other.)

Here are some advantages to being a woman in Magic. (These are all accumulated mostly from personal experiences.)

For one thing, it’s easy to grab people’s attention and interest. When I started attending FNM, it turned a few heads, especially when I performed well. Every accomplishment seems to mean a little more to people when it’s achieved at the hands of a girl. Occasionally, people will act up and say things like, “I can’t believe I lost to a girl!” But that just makes it sweeter to win, and it freely advertises to bystanders that you (the girl) just won. It helps to win, but I think even if you’re a woman that just really wants to learn and improve, you will make fast friends — most people are attracted to an eager learner, and if you make that obvious, you will quickly obtain enough helpful advice where winning becomes easier.

After all, how quickly was I able to meet people and make friends after moving to New York approximately a year ago? I didn’t even start attending FNM until a month or two later, when I worked up the will. The recent release of Zendikar was my first excuse to go out to a Magic event in New York City. I started by just drafting because I’d been out of the Constructed loop for some time during M10. After a few weeks, I started getting to know the people at the store, and I was very easy to recognize and remember. I couldn’t always remember people, but they usually remembered me. I got back into Standard by playing Jund, which was obviously the big deck at the time, and also the deck I had been playing pre-M10, and I won some FNMs back-to-back. It didn’t take much effort at all to make a good number of friends at my local gaming store after that.

The biggest thing about being a woman in Magic is that people are more willing to give you a chance, as long as you make it obvious you’re in the market for certain opportunities. The story of how I got to know Zvi Mowshowitz, for instance, all started by his willingness to give me a chance. Zvi and I are both on Twitter. Pro Tour: San Diego had recently passed, and Mythic was a brand new deck that people were not taking remotely seriously (including myself, honestly). Somehow, I got the impression that Zvi was looking to play some Magic. I knew he lived somewhere in NYC, so I DM’ed him and asked him if he wanted to test. He said yes, and we scheduled some time to battle Jund versus Mythic. He had no idea who I was, and we had never met, but I figured it didn’t hurt to ask. It was honestly cool meeting him and hearing him talk about various things. He is an open and friendly person, so it no longer surprises me the way he responded.

(Don’t all start clamoring for Zvi at once, now. He probably had enough of that at Karaoke at U.S. Nationals. I was sadly not at the Karaoke place on that particular night, but I hear it was pretty epic.)

After seeing Mythic in action, piloted by the deck’s creator, it became apparent that the deck was incredibly powerful. So I slowly gathered the pieces, as expensive as they were, and started slinging the deck on the sidelines — just in between rounds. The first time I played the deck in a sanctioned event was probably the PTQ that I won. A ridiculous sequence of events! If I hadn’t tested with Zvi, I probably never would’ve realized Mythic was so good, and I probably wouldn’t have picked up on the subtle way he was playing the deck, which allowed me to pilot it to a win.

Fast-forward. Zvi is looking for members to fill out his team for Nationals/Amsterdam. I email Zvi for a spot on the team, and I barely (in my mind anyway) manage to make it on. (It helped that I had a lot of open time for testing, and I knew some of the other members like Brian Kowal and Alexander West.)

Obviously, simply “being a girl” didn’t get me all the way, but it couldn’t have hurt either. Sometimes sticking out like a sore thumb is a good thing, and mixed with enough ambition and just straight-up asking for things, good things can come our way. Networking is extremely important in Magic, and whatever helps you open those avenues is good. (My one real takeaway piece of advice — if you take nothing else out of this article, keep this in mind — network like a mo’fo.)

I assume you guys probably expected me to write things more along the lines of “you can put your opponents on tilt by acting really girly, or by showing your boobs.” Or maybe “you can try to seduce your opponent into making misplays.” I have no idea if any of these tactics work, and I’m sorry that I cannot offer much insight there. I have no actual objection to using some off-color methods to try to win games of Magic, but… It’s like how people don’t encourage you to study Jedi Mind Tricks to get better at Magic. It’s largely a diversion of resources. You’d be much better off simply trying to get better at playing games of Magic.

I think all the real advantages to being a woman lie in how it facilitates networking, and how you can receive a lot of positive attention and encouragement from being a female Magic player. Magic is a lot more fun when you’re surrounded by good people and good friends. Just don’t be afraid to ask for things. In the middle of testing, ask random people what they think the best play is, and show them the board and your hand. Ask for help with decklists. Ask for people’s thoughts on draft picks, or the metagame, or whatever. Magic players like to talk. You just have to make them realize it’s not actually awkward talking to a girl, because you’re just like them — you’re a Magic player.

Until text time!

Lauren Lee (Mulldrifting)