Magic Champion Autumn Burchett on Gender Identity & Loving the Game

The Mythic Championship winner discusses the inspiration behind their rise.

Earlier this year, Autumn Burchett rocked the Magic: the Gathering world by winning the first-ever Mythic Championship. Using a risky but powerful Mono-Blue deck, they beat out Yoshihiko Ikawa to become not only the first champion from the U.K., but also the first gender non-binary winner of such a large tournament.

But while they have been shooting up as an MtG star in the last few years, Burchett is humble about their victories, and always looking to improve. Burchett talked to Fanbyte about their experience with Magic, how it is to be non-binary in a male-dominated game, and more. To start, though, Burchett’s introduction to Magic: The Gathering wasn’t that unusual.

“My closest friend seven years ago would play a ton of different board games and cards games with me, and one day he introduced me to Magic,” Burchett told Fanbyte. “He’d been playing for 10 years already so had a lot of stuff he’d learned to share with me and was a great teacher!”

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With their friend to lend a guiding hand, Burchett was able to learn the ins and outs of MtG, including some of its more obtuse rulesets. “There are lots of weird rules, especially as I got involved in playing older formats, but he always made sure to explain them clearly.” But as they got more comfortable with Magic’s rulesets, Burchett craved a greater challenge.

Burchett began playing competitively to play against, well, better players. It was the fastest — if not always the easiest — way to learn. Their competitive debut was at the Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar in October 2015. Burchett had a great 9–1 run in the Swiss Standard portion of the tournament, and ended up placing 11th overall.

During the Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, Burchett used the Green-White Megamorph deck, which was seen a few times throughout the tournament and twice in the Top 8. As they continued their competitive career, though, Burchett started changing up their strategy. They started “making some riskier deck choices,” especially in the past year. And instead of following the wave, they’ve pushed back against it, playing unpopular deck types specifically because they counter “what everyone else is trying to do.”

That mindset is what helped Burchett take home the Mythic championship title. Being the first non-binary champion was a big deal for the community, and Burchett’s interview on making the Top 8 is touching:

It’s so important for diversity to be visible in the competitive gaming world, but more often than not, prospective players can expect to see predominantly cishet men on the screen. Burchett further explained to Fanbyte that “Competitive [Magic] is a fairly male-dominated space, and so from that perspective I’ve often felt a bit out of place here.” The competitive field may not be diverse, but that doesn’t mean the overall community is unwelcoming. “I’ve been fortunate that the community has in general been very welcoming and accepting of me regardless,” they added.

Wizards of the Coast, the company that owns Magic: The Gathering, has made some effort to embrace diversity in its Magic Pro League (or MPL). Burchett themselves replaced Owen Turtenwald, who was kicked off the MPL when accused of predatory behavior and harassment. Other recent additions to the Magic Pro League are pushing for diversity, as well. Although the company as a whole has done goofed pretty hard this year on LGBTQ+ representation.

Diversity is important to foster the growth of competitive communities, and Burchett also draws their inspiration from other non-male MtG players.

“Melissa DeTora was a big inspiration to me when I first started playing,” Burchett said. DeTora was the first woman Magic player to place in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour tournament. She has since retired from the Pro Tour scene and now works for Wizards of the Coast itself, on the Play Design team.

Magic the Gathering Liliana

“More recently Emma Handy has been someone I really look up to,” Burchett continued. Emma Handy is a trans woman who creates content related to Magic: The Gathering — and is also a competitive player. Handy has been outspoken about her experience in MtG’s community before and after her transition, and how differently she’s been treated when presenting as a woman. You can read her full account yourself, but the gist is that it’s been a far, far cry from a wholly positive experience.

But these players, including Burchett, are making big waves in the competitive MtG scene, showing that the future of the game is not necessarily male. In an interview with Forbes, Burchett talked about being a role model: “[I]n particular I’ve had a few parents reach out to say that it was meaningful to their daughters to see someone who isn’t a boy have success in Magic, and that it makes their daughters feel like they can have success one day too.”

MtG can be overwhelming and complex, but Autumn Burchett proves that a relatively new player can succeed at the game without decades of knowledge and experience. Even Burchett’s advice to new players is lighthearted and fun:

“Don’t worry about winning at first, just enjoy playing the game, seeing all the exciting cards, and learning the rules and the cool things you can do within them!”