A Letter to Mark Rosewater About Recent Magic: the Gathering Narrative Events

Hey Mark,
My name is Jonathan, and I have been playing Magic since I was six years old – that’s 22 years now. I love this game deeply, something I know that you understand. I am passionate about the characters, the mechanics, and the dynamic that it creates between people that brings us together. As a dedicated fan, I have taught probably hundreds of people how to play Magic, and introduced it to even more. As a teacher, I showed it to my students and created a club where they could come together to socialize and celebrate fantasy in a positive space. I’ve introduced it to my friends, who come from a diverse range of backgrounds. 

One of the most impactful parts of Magic is the characters. As you are well aware, finding a character in a story who you can empathize with is critical to creating an initial spark of interest for many people. Wizard’s initiative to explore different types of characters starting around the time of the New World Order with Alesha, Narset, and other “diverse” individuals in the canon marks for me a unique turning point for Magic, where I no longer had to defend the game as being “for boys”. When my female students looked for emblematic characters to empathize with, they no longer had to see past “Boob armor”. When my transgendered friends asked me about the game, I could point to a character they would immediately gravitate towards – something that actually happened to me personally. Now this friend is a regular Magic player. My girlfriend is obsessed with Chandra, because she is such a likeable, interesting, and multifaceted character. 

You know why I’m writing to you now.

I have never been particularly interested in Magic characters’ sexual orientation. To me, it always represented a strategic method for diversifying the cast – something I support, but am not personally impacted by. As a regular reader of the Magic stories, I understood that Wizards was seeding the ground for a more complex relationship between Nissa and Chandra, and I saw it as a positive exploratory space for relationships that were deeper and more meaningful than “We saved the world together, let’s bang!”. I understand that in exploring that space, Wizards had left themselves the back door of denial, that the relationship was complex and never culminated, which is arguably both good and bad writing – but that’s an aside. Providing a model of how different relationships develop was a risky step to do in a children’s fantasy card game, but it’s one that Wizards did, and not by accident. It was an intentional and strategic step that you made during design meetings. Anyone who has worked in narrative design can see that clearly. In the most recent book, to take that decision back in such a hamfisted and disrespectful way damages not only the canon of the story, but your credibility as couriers of these types of tropes. My girlfriend, who had grown to love the complex relationship between Nissa and Chandra (her two favorite characters) was deeply disappointed to hear that the relationship was made explicit, only to have it ripped away. It would have been one thing to simply move past it, or to quietly let it disappear into the night, but to shine a light on it just to remove it is in poor taste. It hurts peoples’ ability to trust that you will respectfully represent diverse groups and relationships in the future. It hurts my ability to defend Magic as a space where these models can be developed, and honestly, it hurts the story of Magic’s defendability as a mature expression of narrative art. 
Perhaps what hurts me most of all about this relatively small decision is that it smacks of backpedaling. I get that Magic is a billion dollar brand trying to break into the international market. I get that you have a Netflix deal in the works that Wizards is deeply financially incentivized to capitalize on. I get that Chandra is the face of the Magic brand right now, and that a lot depends on her character being universally approachable. I see all of that. But selling your character short just to appease China and the mass consumer audience is selling out the values you branded yourself on just a few short years ago. The LGBT community you cultivated as a part of the Magic family was deeply betrayed by your about-face on one of the most critical representations to date. If you are willing to turn your back on them in your quest to gain an even bigger audience, what’s the next step? Where is the end of the line? I was very surprised at your willingness to do something like this, and while I understand this was likely an executive level decision, these types of decisions come at a cost that isn’t insignificant. I’ve stuck through Magic, scandal after scandal. I’ve bought into decks that got banned – that’s fine. I’ve stuck by Wizards even as they slapped me in the face with insulting decisions like selling $10 Modern Horizons packs, only to announce Pioneer weeks later. I’ll even defend you, because I get that you’re a business that needs to capitalize, and you’re exploring new markets. But in undermining the characters and representation of Magic, you damage the most important part of what your actual product is – relating to characters and experiences. In taking back what was a years-long buildup between characters, you show that you’re willing to do or say anything going forward to adjust your strategy for new opportunities. I get that you want your show to sell in China, and I get that their regulators are brutal – I’ve had to deal with that myself in my own business. But now my girlfriend doesn’t want to play her Chandra deck anymore. Honestly, it’s been a bigger hit to her than I ever could’ve imagined. I implore you to consider the importance of characterization in a game built around fantasy. If Chandra and Nissa had never had a relationship, that would have been fine. If it had never come together, or never been explicit, that would have been fine. But to admit it was a thing and destroy it in the same sentence is both confusing and betraying, and allowing an outside author to do it for you adds insult to injury. 

I know that you care deeply, perhaps more than anyone about Magic’s story, and its future as a game and narrative. As an ambassador to Magic, I want to believe that you respect your audience, and care about what we care about; that you will defend the respect of your IP as much as the fans do.  The steps taken in the most recent novel(s) betray that notion, and when decisions like this are handed down, it shakes fans’ faith in the franchise. Can I trust Magic to continue to respect its characters and design? Should I introduce my little cousins to the game and its story? While I once felt confident in knowing what MtG stood for (inclusiveness, self-fulfillment, personal expression, growth, community,..), now I must question. I know that you want to make Magic the best game it can be, and to me and many others, these values are what makes Magic the best game in the world. Please don’t abandon that. 

I would like to make one final point as well. Kowtowing to China may be profitable, but it also comes at a price. I know that the guys upstairs want to do whatever it takes to break into a multi-billion dollar market, and that you are already millions of dollars deep into that push. But take a step back and make sure you know what you’re doing. Look at companies like Blizzard, or the NBA. Don’t forget where you came from, who buys your products day-in, day-out. When you compromise your values for someone else, you are destroying the very thing that made you popular in the first place. 
I appreciate you taking the time to read my (surprisingly lengthy) letter, as well as all the feedback from within the community. I know that you care about us, and that’s what makes you such an amazing leader of my favorite community. I hope that my arguments resonate with you, and that you can hear where I’m coming from – I love Magic, and I want to keep playing it for the rest of my life! I want to teach it to my kids. But when I do, I want to be able to do so knowing that they can respect and appreciate the story that I tell them, and that I won’t need to hem and haw about how markets drove a story decision. Thanks again for your time.

Best Regards,
-Jonathan Prosperi
Golgari Mage