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Binders Full of Women

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This article was originally published on playunplugged.com and forms part of the Blackborder.com / Playunplugged.com partnership.

Binders Full of Women

by Mike Eaton, Play Unplugged

So, for the past few days, some of us in the Magic: the Gathering community have been talking about having our own “binders full of women” like Mitt Romney. Probably the reference nearest to my heart came from writer David Leavitt, the Boston Magic Examiner, through Facebook. Mostly because, as is well-established, I love angels.

David Leavitt’s “binder full of women”

But let’s be serious, here. Magic in particular is a game that, unlike many others in the fantasy genre, routinely presents us with female characters to model ourselves on. Magic gives us heroes with words and deeds equally as powerful as their minds and bodies. In the words of lead designer Mark Rosewater:

Most importantly, we don’t put women into submissive roles, something that is very common for the fantasy genre. In our game, women are never shown cowering or being kidnapped or being victims. Our women are also not using their sexuality as a weapon. The women portrayed in our game are all shown to be powerful and competent fighters and wizards. In short, in Magic, women are not things for men to fight over/save; instead they’re kicking some ass. I’m not saying we’re perfect by any stretch, but I do feel we have taken many steps that are not done by the majority of our industry.

When I look through my binder, I see a lot of beautiful, competent women on those cards. But they’re not eye candy. They’re competent characters, with a lot to say for themselves. Today, let’s celebrate the women of Magic: the Gathering. If you’re one of the folks who said Deathless Angel was “too fat” when she was printed, you might be in the wrong place — but you might learn something. Either way: Welcome!

  • Hurkyl formulated the spell that vaporized Mishra’s dragon engines. The spell she created is one of the most powerful anti-artifact weapons ever printed. And that’s from all the way back in Antiquities!
  • Disa the Restless was a chronicler from Magic’s Ice Age. Her journal entries painted landscapes and events for us that no art could capture. You can click through the flavor texts that feature her writings in the link.
  • Jaya Ballard, Task Mage might look like “Joan Jett with goggles” now, but when her snark and antics followed us through packs from the Ice Age block, all we knew was that she was coming, and she was bringing fire. We didn’t need to see her all dolled up in leather, or any description at all, except a possible, tasteful look on Meteor Shower; the folks at Magic let her present herself through her own words on twenty-one separate cards first.
  • Irini Sengir, the vampire dwarf ally of the Baron, was perhaps Magic’s first great female villain. Though allied with the Sengir family through her sire, she had her own agenda — to wipe Reveka and her wizard school off Ulgrotha forever.
  • The African-themed Mirage block brought us a sinister, almost unstoppable foe in the Endbringer Shauku. Though the art may or may not depict it, we know from the flavor text that she is the ancient and powerful Vampiric Tutor. Numbering among the heroes of Jamuraa are Asmira, the Holy Avenger, leader of the nation of Femeref and Sidar (General) of the armies of Zhalfir. Her exploits make her one of the greatest heroes Jamuraa has ever known. Jamuraa also gave us Jolrael, Empress of the Mwonvuli jungle, her magic tied to the beasts and to the land.
  • The crew of the Skyship Weatherlight was as memorable as anything a Magic story has ever given us. Captained by Sisay, fearless and inventive, the Weatherlight sailed the skies with its brilliant navigator, Hanna; Orim, its powerful but loving healer, whose stern guidance helped Gerrard on his life’s mission; and Mirri, a cat warrior whose loyalty and tenacity made her a fearsome ally — but whose softer side made us realize that, as animalistic as she was at times, there are many layers to us all.
  • Rayne, the chancellor of the Tolarian Academy, was a wizard unafraid to talk down to Urza, himself, perhaps the most powerful character in Magic history. Care for her students and for her creations, she knew, was necessary to temper the limits of sheer power and creation. She brought her heart and mind to magic, as one.
  • The barbarian Jeska has a story so complicated that it’s best just to link you. There, you can follow her as she transforms into the vicious warlord Phage, and after a fight to the death with the religious zealot angel Akroma, into the living embodiment of mana, itself — the false goddess Karona. That must have been a lot to take in.

Skipping ahead to modern-day Planeswalkers . . . (Should have made this a multi-day article . . .)

  • Chandra Nalaar began as a Task Mage from the school that Jaya Ballard founded. She went on to hop planes in search of the most powerful red magic in existence. Her travels took her to discover the Ghostfire of Ugin, and to trade barbs, blows, and knowledge with Jace Beleren. Chandra lives for herself, seeking adventure where it may be found, on her own terms.
  • The dark mage Liliana Vess sold her soul for power years ago, to a group of demons. Now, it is her mission to track down and kill every one of her demon masters, the ones who gave her the trademark tattoos she bears like a cross and to liberate herself for good. Liliana was able to use an artifact called the Chain Veil to amplify her power tremendously; she cursed a fellow planeswalker, Garruk Wildspeaker, and she destroyed the Helvault just to get to her demon master, Griselbrand and end him herself.

(The story of the Helvault also involved Thalia, stalwart defender of her home, who stood up to Liliana and lived — and the archangel Avacyn, whose very existence was enough to keep evil in the shadows and give magic to the people of her world. It might be problematic that Avacyn was created by the planeswalker Sorin Markov to do this, but that’s hardly her fault. We can’t pick our parents.)

  • The leader of Zendikar’s elves, Nissa Revane was unlike most planeswalkers, in that she returned to her home to guide her people after acquiring her power. When the horrific Eldrazi loomed, she betrayed her ally Sorin Markov, and set them free, thinking they would now be free to leave Zendikar and attack some other world. She was absolutely wrong; the Eldrazi stayed, and Markov left her to deal with them on her own. She has made it her mission to find help and to return to save her people. Nissa may not have had all the answers, but she is wise enough to realize that; she must now take responsibility for what she has done, and free Zendikar from the ancient evil upon it.
  • We know little of Tamiyo, of the Kamigawa moonfolk, other than that she is a scholar, using her ability to shift planes to study (among other things) Innistrad’s silver moon. Hopefully, we will see Tamiyo as a counterpart to Jace’s type of magic — the pursuit and harvest of pure knowledge, like her human counterpart, the Lady of Scrolls, Azami.

Much of Tamiyo’s story has yet to be told.

  • Elspeth Tirel was born among Magic’s most horrible villains, the Phyrexians. When she was thirteen, the madness became too much for her; her powers manifested, and she planeswalked away. She settled on a shard of the plane of Alara called Bant, becoming a knight, until the war across Alara called her to act with her planeswalker power, once more. The last we saw Elspeth, she was on Mirrodin (now New Phyrexia), fighting to cleanse it of every last drop of the oil that breeds such evil — the evil of her youth, made manifest again.

I know for a fact that I missed quite a few great ladies, from Glissa and Azusa to Kaalia and Lin Sivvi — there are just so many, and that’s really the point! Magic’s characters, male and female are vibrant, and they ring true to our sensibilities, and I’m so glad to be involved with a game that features female characters like these.

Please, share your favorite females in Magic on the forums! Let the world know that Magic is a game that doesn’t just call up women from a series of binders and use them; it gives us a world where all races and genders have equal opportunity to lead fulfilling lives on their own terms — to set the world afire, or to heal its wounds, as they like.

Thanks, everyone, for reading, and for continuing to Play Unplugged!

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