I could not in good conscience write an article about Commander right now. I have a voice, meager though it might be, and I could not stomach using it to write about Commander right now.
So, first and unequivocally foremost: Black lives matter.
With that as a backdrop for the national and international discourse, many longstanding institutions, monolithic brands, idolized individuals, and treasured organizations have found themselves squarely under the microscope. Skeletons are being pulled out of closets, inconvenient truths revealed.
I could not in good conscience write an article about Commander right now because Magic is currently having its own reckoning.
In early June, this stunningly powerful and passionate letter from Lawrence Harmon shone a light on some ugly truths about Wizards of the Coast and its giant corporate daddy, Hasbro. The letter made the rounds on social media, with Magic players, pros and content creators of all races, genders, and statures voicing overwhelming solidarity with Harmon and his message - that tokenism was not only insufficient at this inflection point in our society's history, it was to many Magic players an astoundingly tone-deaf insult.
Late on the same day Harmon issued his letter, Wizards announced it would push the dog and pony Twitch show for Core Set 2021 back by one day out of respect for a national day of mourning on June 4th.
On June 4th, Core Set 2021 spoilers made it into the wild anyway. Done by previewers living outside the United States and likely the result of pre-scheduled tweets, the fact that they appeared less than half a day after Wizards proclaimed its act of respect didn't sit well with some players, including myself.
Then on June 5th, the big Core Set 2021 unveiling finally took place and, surely much to the delight of bigwigs in Renton and Providence, everyone was talking about Magic in a fun way again. Dogs! Mill! Ugin! Grim Tutor! Order was restored.
Not so fast.
Early on June 8th, Wizards and Hasbro found themselves right back where they were six days prior when Zaiem Beg shared this, another impassioned indictment of the racial inequity employees, contractors, content creators and players have experienced when working for or with Wizards. Like Harmon's letter before it, Beg's tweet caught fire. Some of the loudest voices in the Magic world stood in support of Beg, Harmon and everyone who's come forward in the intervening days to share their stories.
As of this writing, Wizards of the Coast has said nothing. Nothing. No denial, no rebuttal, no mea culpa. Nothing.
The Core Set 2021 previews keep coming. Competitive Magic trudges along. An out-of-nowhere ban caught Historic players by surprise. Genial public-facing Wizards staffers keep posting blogs and articles and videos about fun Magic things.
And yet, with Magic and the company that makes it accused of staggering systemic racial inequity at all levels of its operations, Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro have had no responses.
To say I'm disappointed would be a massive understatement. I'm quite sure I'm not alone.
Allow me to provide some crucial context on myself for those who don't know me well. I am white. I am male and cisgender. I am gay (better hurry up and grab a hoodie with a rainbow planeswalker symbol on it, it is June after all). I have a lot of privilege. I'm aware of it now much more than I have been in the past. Given the accounts of Harmon, Beg, and dozens of others, I am someone who would have a much better chance of being hired, retained, and treated well at Wizards than others with different skin colors would. I could very easily do what far too many white cisgender Magic personalities are doing and stay quiet right now. I could keep my name, my "brand" (ha) out of the line of fire and just stick to the game. Human rights movement underway? I wouldn't know, I'm brewing a heckin' cute Dogs deck! Teehee!
I cannot and will not do that. Just last week I extolled the virtues of Magic in general and Commander in specific as ways of bringing humans together to help each other have fun. I still believe everything I said then remains true now. But I do sincerely apologize because this right here is the article I wanted to write last week, the one I should have written last week. I hope I'm not too late.
Magic does a lot of good. But that doesn't give it and the people who make and play it a pass.
Hey Wizards, hey Hasbro. You're up.
Your silence is deafening. In the time since Harmon's letter, the official Magic account has tweeted Core Set 2021 previews, continued to promote Secret Lairs, hyped the online Pro Tour events - by the way, WOTC, no one's forgotten how you gutted the prize pool for competitive Magic, but we've got bigger fish to fry at the moment - and so on.
The pursuit of profit continues unabated.
Not one word about Lawrence Harmon. Not one word about Zaiem Beg. Not one word about the people who shared their experiences. No promise to remove the Gatherer link to a card drenched in racist overtones, drawn by a racist artist and - I wish I was making this up - carrying the Gatherer ID number of 1488, numbers with which white supremacists have overtly identified for decades.
I'm willing to bet that Hasbro's corporate lawyers have told everyone at Wizards to keep their mouths shut. Don't say anything that could be used against them in court. Don't say anything to alienate consumers with different politics. Don't risk the overseas marketplace you've worked so hard to cultivate. This will all blow over.
Hasbro, Wizards - I promise you this will not blow over.
Magic needs more Black artists. It's had two in 26 years. Two. One, two. That's mortifying. It's horrific.
Magic needs more Black authors. It's had one. Inexcusable.
Magic needs Black designers. It's never had any. Indefensible.
Magic needs more Black content creators. Many, many more.
Magic needs more Black players and pros.
Magic needs more Black voices. At every level.
Wizards of the Coast must own up to its sins both of commission and omission. This company must make amends and not just promise to do better, but actually do better. It needs to do that now.
You can find Dave on Twitter.