First Trans, Nonbinary Winner of Magic the Gathering Mythic Championship

First Trans, Nonbinary Winner of Magic the Gathering Mythic Championship

This past weekend, at the Mythic Championship professional tournament of the fantasy-themed card game Magic the Gathering (which boasts a $500,000 prize pool), a transgender, nonbinary player won first place for the first time in history. I’ve been playing Magic myself with my son for some months now, so even though my skills are nowhere near tournament level, I know enough to be thoroughly impressed. You should be, too.

Autumn Burchett, currently the English national champion, won at the international Mythic Championship (formerly the Pro Tour) held in Cleveland, Ohio, becoming “the first English national to win a premiere-level event, as well as the first trans, non-binary champion between all Pro Tours and Mythic Championships,” reports Hipsters of the Coast, a Magic news site. The win netted Burchett $50,000. The company behind Magic, Wizards of the Coast, wrote of Burchett’s play:

Most of the games in the five-game match were extraordinarily tight affairs that came down to one or two decisions. And despite playing in their first-ever Sunday at a premiere tournament, Burchett was cool and collected. They earned rave reviews from pros watching the finals as they put on a clinic for playing the deck. Even after falling down two games to one and having their back against the wall, Burchett just could not be stopped this weekend.

After the win, another gamer tweeted about the inspiration Burchett will provide to players at local game stores, to which Burchett responded, “If me being out and achieving things makes even one trans person feel more able to come out and be themselves… that is just… everything.”

For those unfamiliar with the game, here’s a quick and greatly oversimplified overview: Players each craft a 60-card deck of lands, spells, creatures, artifacts, and other items from the more than 18,000 Magic cards has created over its 25-year history. (Some formats limit players to cards from recent years, which still number in the hundreds.) They then compete with the ultimate goal of reducing an opponent’s life points from 20 to zero by attacking with creatures or other spells. Each card contains resources, abilities, or actions that positively or negatively impact other cards. Strategies can be created to strengthen or multiply one’s creatures, control what an opponent can or can’t do, make more effective use of land resources that “pay” for casting spells, and much more. One can create a deck that is quick and aggressive or controlling and patient. There’s endless room for creativity with the beautifully drawn cards of powerful wizards, sneaky goblins, massive dragons, necromantic nightmares, spirits of nature, and heroic warriors, among others. The cards also form an integrated universe via a deep and connected backstory. Imagine the card-drawing mechanic of poker mixed with the multi-dimensional strategy of chess and the aesthetic of Dungeons & Dragons (Wizards of the Coast’s other big franchise), and you’ll have some idea of what it’s like.

Magic allows for lots of creativity and fun, but there’s also serious game theory behind it—the legacy of its inventor, mathematician Richard Garfield. That’s why Burchett’s win is so impressive.

Lest you still think this just a silly card game: There are over 20 million Magic players around the world and over 20 billion Magic cards in print, in 11 languages; the game is making rapid strides into e-sports with its Magic the Gathering: Arena digital game; and between the tabletop and e-sports versions, will award several million dollars in prize money at its professional tournaments this year.

My modest familiarity with Magic means I’m wowed by anyone who plays at the pro level. I’m a strictly casual player myself, though, and more often than not lose to my son, who’s spent far more hours playing the game with his friends. Still, he’s a teenager and spending time with me, so I’ll count that as a win regardless. (My family also had quite the adventure at Wizards’ headquarters a few years ago.)

Wizards has for a number of years tried to make its products LGBTQ inclusive. Its 2014 rules for D&D explicitly embrace diverse gender identities and sexual orientations and one D&D adventure even has a two-dad family. Several Magic cards have also shown gay, nonbinary, transgender, and asexual characters, their identities expressed through “flavor text” on the cards themselves (like the 2013 card Guardians of Meletis, which seems to be the first one to show a queer character), as well as via longer stories on its website (such as this one about Alesha, who is transgender). It’s wonderful to see that the products are both reflective of and encouraging to the real LGBTQ people who play them.

Watch the clip below to hear Burchett speak in a post-tournament interview about the non-“cis, het, White guy” players who have gone before and inspired them, and how they hope they can have a fraction of the influence on other players as well. (You can also view the full interview in the longer video here, beginning at about 8:47:45, where interviewer Brian David-Marshall also notes the tremendous positive response on social media to Burchett’s win.)

Congratulations to Burchett on the championship! I look forward to following their progress in the year’s future tournaments.