On the last weekend of July, I attended MagicCon Barcelona as one of the New Perspectives Grant recipients. The New Perspectives program is organised by Wizards of the Coast’s diversity and inclusion team, and aims to support Magic the Gathering “enthusiasts who belong to historically underrepresented groups”. But what was it like – and is the program necessary?
New Perspectives Grants are supposed to help those from underrepresented backgrounds have the unforgettable experience of going to MagicCon; that includes underrepresented ethnicities, genders, sexual identities, people with disabilities, and military veterans.
The grant has run for every MagicCon in 2023, with the next grant recipients going to Vegas in September – you can find details of the programme here. My grant included a $2000 stipend for travel costs, accommodation, and other costs associated with flying across the world to play with cardboard, as well as a Black Lotus VIP Badge to attend the event.
Each morning there was the option of a chat, coffee and breakfast with visiting Wizards notables, such as Mark Rosewater, head designer of Magic: The Gathering, and cosplay attendees such as Tappy Toe Claws.
MagicCon hosted exclusive events for Black Lotus attendees, and by extension grant recipients. These ranged from a sealed game using six packs of original Zendikar boosters (you know, the MtG set from 2009 with the enemy fetch lands) to an UnSet event hosted by Mark Rosewater.
What was the catch? Could this group of people, selected for their new perspectives on Magic, simply be a focus group in disguise for WotC to market test future products? Nope. Nothing was asked of me, beyond a commemorative photograph with the other grant winners. I had the option to give Wizards of the Coast feedback at the event, but that was open to all Magic players, regardless of background or circumstance.
Even the exclusive events were optional. Instead of attending Zendikar sealed, I went to Principal Magic Designer Gavin Verhey’s unbelievable ‘Unknown’ event, a draft including exclusive test cards made just for MagicCon Barcelona. I was pleasantly surprised when I was gifted six Zendikar packs afterwards by a friendly judge!
The main events weren’t exclusive at all: Josh Lee Kwai and Jimmy Wong’s Game Knights Live didn’t need a special ticket. You needed no ticket to speak to cosplayers like Teferi Magic, Nissa Cosplay and Olivia Gobert-Hicks. You didn’t need anything special to go and get your cards signed or purchase art from titans of the game such as Richard Kane Ferguson and John Avon or the modern masters Magali Vilanueve and Justinya Dura.
Anyone who attended could experience casual play and enjoy that MtG community vibe to the full. That was the beauty of the event – very little content was gated off for big spenders. But if MagicCon Barcelona was that accessible, is the New Perspectives Grant needed at all?
Even the most accessible con in the world has barriers. The first is financial; people from underrepresented backgrounds are more likely to earn less, and are way less likely to be able to afford the event in the first place.
Those from underrepresented identities, particularly sexual and gender identities, are much more likely to experience hate and discrimination, and are more likely to feel less comfortable at events such as these. The New Perspectives program says: there’s space for you here. It says that you’re welcome. That can do a lot more for someone who needs it than a $2000 grant.
After the event, the program encourages recipients to keep in touch with one another, connect with past recipients and encourage people to apply for future events. When the event is over, you can be part of something bigger, a community. Past recipients have welcomed me; and I will welcome and champion those fortunate enough to come after me.
I am glad that Wizards of the Coast is choosing to pursue this route of making their game and their events even more accessible: I hope to see this program continue.
It’s an exciting time for Magic the Gathering news recently, with the full MTG release schedule for 2024 recently revealed at GenCon. Wizards announced Modern Horizons 3, as well as concept art from sets launching in 2025. If you can’t wait for those, check out our guide to MTG Arena codes if you fancy free digital boosters to crack online.