Hello everyone! We are in June, the international LGBT+ Pride Month. On this month, we remember the Stonewall riots which have become a mark for the LGBT+ community as a symbol and movement of resistance against prejudice and violence. Today, LGBT+ people can live much more freely and openly in most parts of the world than before, but, unfortunately, prejudice is something that is still rooted in our society, making the struggle for respect and safety a present concern.
Why are we discussing this in a website about Magic: the Gathering? The answer is that our beloved game isn't disconnected from themes like this. We have an extremely diverse community around the globe, with players of different stories and backgrounds sitting on the game tables to play the game. As an example, if we consider just the people who are part of our team here on Cards Realm we already have a sample of this diversity. I, Exylem, who am writing this article right now, am bisexual myself.
Of course, the pro players aren't any different, and, even though we might not always know these details, many of our heroes and heroines from Magic's competitive scene are also LGBT+.
I've had the opportunity to talk to Thoralf Severin, winner of the Barcelona 2019 Mythic Championship. This week, he spared a bit of his time to tell us a bit more about himself and his thoughts on the LGBT+ representativity on the MTG community. We hope you enjoy the interview!
1 – Hello Thoralf! Thanks for accepting to be part of this interview! You have many brazilian fans, and we are happy to have you here to talk to us! 😊
Hello, happy to be here :)
2 – Amongst other competitions, you have won the Mythic Championship IV (Barcelona) through Modern and Draft, besides being in the top 8 of three Limited Grand Prix tournaments. However, every pro started somewhere. How did you start playing Magic?
I started way back in school around 2000 (or Nemesis in Magic terms). My friends in school started playing and I joined. After some time, I wanted to play much much more but they stopped, so I had to expand to local game stores, playing almost every free minute I could - which usually meant tournaments on monday, wednesday, thursday, friday and most saturdays. So yeah, a lot ^^ .
While most of these tournaments were Standard, I liked Draft and Highlander (basically commanderless Commander with 2 players) much more and this is what we mostly played. In most of my magic life I played some GP's and a PT here and there, but didn't bother playing much constructed as I was missing the people to test with. It was when Arne (Huschenbeth) moved to Berlin that I really started developing a stronger interest in playing all the tournaments. Together with Jasper (Grimmer) we played extremely well in the Team GP season, which made me gold (back then when gold still existed ^^) and I played all the big tournaments since then.
3 – Now, looking forward, how do you feel about the changes Wizards recently announced about Magic competitive scene, like the end of MPL?
Well, obviously it sucks for me personally. I liked being in rivals. Shocking... ^^ . I can see how they think it's a good move, given their actions and numbers, but those are the reflections of their actions leading up to this year (coming from a LOT! of bad decisions) and it's not surprising to me. If you are bad at poker, the numbers show you are bad at poker and your natural conclusion should be to either improve or stop playing (for money). But just because the numbers reflect that poker is not good for you does not mean poker is not possible to be profitable, you just have to improve the right way. I don't think professional Magic improved much (or at all), looking at how many factors like professional structure, Arena features, coverage and promotions and paired with corporate decision on budget, design etc. Professional Magic was somewhat doomed.
There is some part of me that thinks with the Hasbro [considered] they did not have much of a chance and there is some part of me that thinks,that they didn't want to put the resources in trying hard enough. I have seen how they interact with feedback and it's not flattering for them. We will see what happens, but I am not too confident it will be something [to look] forward to, giving wizards history of decisions and philosophy.
Honestly, there are many many articles worth reading on this topic, so it's obviously very complex. So maybe its way over my head, but it is what it is now.
4 – Changing the subject, June is considered to be the International LGBT+ Pride Month, so let’s talk a bit about that and the MTG community. In our understanding, you are part of the LGBT+ community. Can you tell us a bit about that
Well it's not very well known, but yes, I am gay. I didn't bother making sure who knows it, but when you spend some time with me it will come out sooner or later ^^. But being more of a private person, I don't make it a topic and I pretty much refrain from publicly discussing anything around it on social media.
For me, being gay is something like not liking spicy food (yikes) or what kind of music you like. It literally shouldn't matter for what you are as a person. It CAN matter to you, like people identify over rock music or as a vocal soccer fan, but that's your choice and your choice alone. Now, I understand the world works differently and it's important to support those areas, because things aren't the way I would like them to be in most of the world. So I did rather spend my time as an honorable counsellor for LGBTQ teenagers for a Berlin organization (lambda) and organizing camps funded by the EU council for LGBTQ youth.
5 – As you are from Germany, could you tell us how is the LGBT+ members of the Magic community accepted and treated in the German hobby stores you know?
Honestly, and I am aware of how incredibly lucky this is, I never had any problem in any store. Now, admittably, most of the people, especially in the beginning, didn't know I was gay, but I have not seen any issue with other people there were so far. That being said, I live in Berlin. While Germany is a very comfortable and fortunate country to live in, Berlin is like the jackpot of pink bubbles. There are some minor issues with people using the wrong words, but most of that is not coming from bad nature and give some understanding, good faith and time it was fixed pretty quickly.
6 – We have Autumn Burchett and you as LGBT+ winners of the Mythic Championship. As there are few players who actually won a Mythic Championship, we can assume this means a great deal for the LGBT+ community. Do you believe that the LGBT+s are well represented on professional Magic or was this just a coincidence?
Well, there weren't many Mythic Championships, so I would just count them as regular Pro Tours and there probably have been plenty of winners over all the years. But yeah, it's nice to feel part of something when your community gets represented. There are soooo many obstacles for all the minorities that seeing your kind achieve something so big is awesome. Autumn winning was incredible, Huey (William Jensen) - world champion and hall of famer - coming out was empowering. I feel like everytime somebody non-white, non-western, non-rich (etc) wins something they are beating the odds as professional magic is unfortunately something that favors people with plenty of time and money (and it probably will be much worse after professional magic died).
And I do think that a lot of the people that want to escape the problems of life seek shelter in Magic, and in many different aspects of Magic and therefore Magic is an important hub for all of those people. So them feeling proud and represented is a big boost for the community and the people in it. With so many people telling you, that you are worth less for something that you just are, it feels so nice to have somebody that shares your fate show them, that you can be as capable as anybody else to succeed.
Little fun fact, in my first draft in Barcelona I was seated in the middle of Autumn and Huey, so one of the better queer professional draft tables of all time ^^. I was very lucky to beat Autumn in the finals.
7 – Did you face any type of prejudice while playing Magic, in tournaments or in other contexts?
Well, not directly. Since I am not the tallest and behave not "according to my age" for most of my life, I am fairly sure I get (or in magic got) underestimated a lot.
On my very first PT in Hawaii my luggage got stolen including all cards, clothes and passport and I somehow got from Hawaii to Las Vegas (where I was meeting with friends) without anything but 3 pieces of clothing. I can very much retrace a lot of the positive outcomes at key airport interactions to those two features, I think ^^.
As I said, in Berlin if you are not weird in some way, you are the weird one so that naturally excludes a lot of prejudice. But I also have to say that I don't give much room to be treated badly. I am pretty confident and people didn't (or don't) know that I am gay, even the bad natured people don't have much of an incentive. So yeah, I am extremely lucky for all of this.
However, I do know people, there were treated badly and it's not only the most obvious thing to see. Using slurs, even out of "innocent" habit, being overly casual about gender or sex or making harassing or degrading comments about somebody's appearance is very harmful to them and the environment. And yes, I have been part of that problem too, when I was younger. Sometimes I wanted to be funny and sometimes I wanted to look confident, but sometimes I was just a jerk. In rare moments that still happens today. I am quite liberal with making jokes about me or my friends (if you watched any of the Arena boys, you will know what I mean ^^) and this is very much acceptable when you are alone with your friends, but when you are in a public space it is not clear how your jokes will be perceived and that can go wrong easily. So a little respect, awareness and empathy can go a long way, even if you have to cut out that extremely funny joke for once.
8 – We have to ask: Did you follow the polemic involving Chandra and Nissa in the MTG lore books? How did you feel about the sudden “change” in Chandra’s sexual orientation?
I remember something about red-conning Chandras and Nissas interaction, but I am not sure how well I understand the situation. If it would be me, I would put queer characters everywhere in any lore. Not exclusively, but much more broadly - but yeah, I am biased ^^ .
I assume, as it basically is every reason for a big company to do something, they need to keep an image and "couldn't" afford to have this narrative, which is obviously pretty tragic. I assume they didn't like the visibilty of a queer character in a main role, so other people wouldn't dislike their main figures. And then add some queer characters on the sidelines, so people feel represented when they look deeper and others don't feel offended when they can look away.
Over the time I have lost faith in Wizards of The Coast as a good entity, because a lot of their decisions are driven by people who want to make the most amount of money and people who want to support those modern progressive narratives. We all know who wins this. But again, that is all speculation from my side and I can't definitely say anything about that besides how I feel right now.
For me Chandra and Nissa happened, for me Chandra is a beautiful queer character and they are not gonna change that :)
9 – Finally, Wizards recently created Niko, a non-binary planeswalker, among other already existing LGBT+ characters, which may sign a preoccupation of representing everyone. How do you feel about the treatment minority groups are receiving in the game?
Yes. More! As I said, they do make an effort to represent everyone, but for me, it could be much more. It makes sense, because people who look there feel validated and buy/play magic and people who are not interested aren't really pushed too much by it and also buy/play magic. For them, it's a trade-off between some visibility for people to find and not too much for people to get offended by exposure. I am very happy and its very, very important that people can look at Nico, Ral, Kynaios or Alesha and say: "yes! that's me" and feel connected, understood and validated. I think they are getting better, but also the world gets more progressive, so it is a natural conclusion.
10 – Thank you for participating in this interview, Thoralf! It was a pleasure to have you with us. Is there anything more you’d like to tell our readers? 😊
Thank you for giving such important topics the room for visibility. Magic saved me, when I was sad, Magic distracted me, when I was alone and Magic drove me, when I needed direction. Making magic as accessible and enjoyable for everyone is the most important thing and everybody should feel welcome and included and safe. I was very lucky to have experienced and felt all of this over my life.
Black Lives Matter.
Trans Rights Are Human Rights.
Stop Asian Hate.
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