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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Bechdel test and Magic: the Gathering

Warning: Do not treat this post seriously.

Bechdel test is a famous test for female presence in movies, but it can apply just as well to any other work of fiction.

So I had this thought - Wizards of the Coast has pretty good reputation when it comes to gender balance in their storyline, but how well would actual Magic: the Gathering decks do at passing the Bechdel test? So here's the equivalent test for decks:

  • It contains cards representing at least two female characters - creatures, planeswalkers, or spells clearly featuring female characters in name, art, and/or flavor text (multiple cards representing the same character like Chandra, Pyromaster and Flames of the Firebrand only count once); the character does not have to be named or human (but it should generally be some kind of humanoid at least)
  • which interact with each other
  • and the interaction is not about some man (like both counting as devotion to the same male God)
And let's now evaluate a bunch of decks.
The deck is one big sausagefest - all of its creatures are either male or monstrous and of unspecified gender, and their only interaction is being devoted to Erebos, God of the Dead and his Gray Merchant of Asphodel.

The only female presence in the deck is an occasional Pharika's Cure sideboard, but that card doesn't really count since it actually shows Solon, (male) acolyte of Pharika, and even if it did it won't be curing any of course creatures.

Score: Fail. (and its Bg and Bw variants aren't any better)
The central character in the deck is Thassa, God of the Sea, and some of her supporting characters like Tidebinder Mage and Hypnotic Siren are female as well, and between their devotion, and Thassa making them unblockable and helping them with her Bident, interactions are pretty strong.

Score: Pass.
This deck depends on the build. The deck is very light on creatures, and central two characters are Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Jace, Architect of Thought. Other popular characters are Aetherling, Nyx-Fleece Ram, Mutavault - none of them female.

The deck occasionally plays sideboard Archangel of Thune, and Elspeth's ultimate sort of interacts with her, or Archangel's ability can help Elspeth's soldiers (but not Elspeth herself). This could count if Archangel was a common mainboard card, but it feels too weak.

Score: Fail (some builds arguably weak pass).
The deck doesn't feature them directly, but Chandra and Aurelia both feature in art of many cards.

Cards in the deck rarely interact with each other, other than by all burning opponent's face, but Warleader's Helix bringing back Chandra's Phoenix from the grave technically counts. 

Score: Pass.
People were totally obsessed asking if Domri Rade is a boy or a girl, but word of god is that he's a he - it would have made matters simpler if they decided otherwise, since Domri interacts with every creature in your deck, but let's look at the rest of it.

Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix seem female, as far as I can judge plant and centaur anatomy, and Caryatid can tap for mana to cast Courser, which is a fairly weak interaction.

Looking at sideboard, the deck sometimes features Nylea's Disciple, Vraska the Unseen, and Chandra, Pyromaster. Nylea's Disciple interacts with all your green cards via their shared devotion to Nylea, God of the Hunt, and Chandra's synergy with Courser of Kruphix is just amazing.

These interactions aren't very strong or involve SB-only cards, but there's lot of them.

Score: Pass.
This deck is just filled with creatures but except for Thrill-Kill Assassin (also knows as Massacre Girl) none of them are women.

Score: Fail.
The deck features Bassara Tower Archer and Gladecover Scout, but the very point of the deck is that they're hexproof and don't interact with anybody ever. They only make exception for Ajani.

Score: Fail
The deck generally includes Pharika, God of Affliction, and all the creatures in it are devoted to her, and she returns the favour by turning their dead bodies into poisonous snakes... People can be weird like that sometimes.

Some builds try to work without Pharika, and while there are some minor interactions, I'd say they generally fail the test.

Score: Pass (for Pharika builds).


Of decks I checked 4/8 passed. That's honestly a lot more than I expected.

While I was checking various decks another thing became clear - while other colors have decent cast of female characters, black seems to be very heavily male-dominated. Think of it what you will.

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