Arena’s success on streaming and video platforms has had a major knock-on effect, Titus Chalk told me. It’s creating space in the game’s fandom for players who have been squeezed out of traditional spaces. Thanks to streaming, many of the game’s most popular content creators are women—such as Amy the Amazonian, Gaby Spartz, MTGNerdGirl, and Emma Handy. Autumn Burchett, a nonbinary pro player from London, was the very first Mythic Championship winner, rolling to an impressive victory with a deck they perfected on Arena.
“Streaming has really helped build an audience for a lot of players from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in Magic,” Chalk said. “Previously the only way to get that kind of exposure was by making it to the Pro Tour—and slogging through a male-dominated competitive scene was not always easy.”
Emma Partlow agreed. A 31-year-old Magic journalist from Suffolk, England, she first picked up Magic five years ago. Since then she’s noticed the community has become more accepting and diverse. “Seeing success from players such as Autumn Burchett and Jessica Estephan has really made this a normal occurrence within the game, which it should be anyway.
“However, Magic has this awful tendency to base social rank on success, which has meant it’s taken a while for underrepresented groups to be noticed—it should not be this way regardless, but it’s a poor habit within the community.”
One challenge Partlow has witnessed is the merging of groups within the community that might not usually cross paths. “You have to respect that some players just have poor social decorum, and it’s not based on their attitude—some folks simply don’t know how to act around women or non-binary people as their experiences are limited.” It’s important to treat everyone equally, she continued, to seek a place of understanding and mutual respect and not treat anyone as an exception due to their ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. “I’ve had that happen to me a lot.”
Partlow has attended several MagicFests over the past three years, and she’s seeing more women every year. “It’s very encouraging,” she said, “and Wizards are doing an excellent job of promoting minority groups.”
Official release — September 2019
“We want MTG: Arena to be the definitive way for new and old players alike to jump into Magic: The Gathering whenever they want,” Wizards asserted in a recent State of the Game update. That’s about all you need to hear to understand the Wizards’ commitment to the platform. Arena is Magic’s future.
Arena officially launched on September 26. This aligned with the new Standard season—when several older expansion sets rotated out of the Standard format—and alongside a new expansion set, Throne of Eldraine. Cards from sets previously released that are no longer Standard legal have been moved to an Arena-exclusive format called Historic, similar to Hearthstone’s “Wild” format.
“Arena is my favorite way to play Magic,” Amy the Amazonian told me. “A lot of this is how easy it is to get access to cards I doubt I’d have the budget for in [paper] Magic.” It can be difficult on Arena to find your footing as a new player, she admits, “but it’s been fantastic as a content creator.”
Amazonian is a 28-year-old streamer and gamer from Boston who first gained attention in the community thanks to her intricate costumes made from Magic cards. She has since moved into streaming Arena full-time on Twitch.
As a person with a disability, Amazonian appreciates how “the digital space makes it much easier to track things without having to ask my opponent or track things which would normally lead to slow playing.”
Arena is an inherently accessible game compared to the paper version, she further explained. “The text is clear and can be zoomed in on without disrupting gameplay. Colors are clearly presented on the game pieces, and additional symbolic reminders are present to remind users about creature abilities. All the game pieces are right-side up and organized in a way which is the same from player-to-player. This means there is less thinking and work on the short-term memory of the players parts. Reducing mental load is extremely helpful in making the game accessible.”
These accessibility measures also go beyond the game’s user interface, she pointed out. “For people with social phobia or anxiety disorders, the barrier between you and your opponent makes the game a less likely source of anxiety. You don’t need to ask your opponent to see cards, ask for hand counts, ask to see cards in exile or graveyard, or describe actions. Not having to communicate verbally also means that players that have auditory or speech disorders are not inhibited in play. I have an auditory processing disorder and limited hearing, so it’s awesome to get to play in Arena.”