Trailblazers. Entrepreneurs. Pioneers. Generally, these types of traits assigned to people indicate a certain amount of premeditation. But what if you’re in the middle of your groove before you truly know you’re setting a trend? What if you’re humble Minnesotans, content to eat doughnuts and graciously answer a fledgling reporter’s questions—even though you’re two of the biggest names in the worldwide Magic: The Gathering community today?
Well, then you would most likely be Meghan Wolff and Maria Bartholdi. These women are the duo behind the immensely successful Magic the Amateuring—An MtG Resource for New Players podcast and video series, but they are also so much more. Both are vibrantly active contributors to the Twin Cities theater scene, as well as independent writers, producers, and editors.
I caught up with Meghan and Maria at Glam Doll Donuts in Northeast Minneapolis to dish about the upcoming Grand Prix Minneapolis, their thoughts on female representation in Magic and gaming, and what they do besides play Magic: The Gathering as much as humanly possible.
Kendra Reynolds (TCG): Thank you both so much for coming! I appreciate it—I am a big fan of the show and this is so exciting.
Maria Bartholdi: No problem!
Meghan Wolff: You’re welcome.
TCG: Why Magic? What prompted you to pick up this particular game in 2012?
Maria: A friend had a game night with mutual friends and was like, “Hey what if I taught you guys Magic?” We learned it, thought it was amazing, to the point where we were having a Thanksgiving potluck and we were playing Magic at it.
Meghan: Yeah, and Mead Hall happened to be opening in 2012 and they were having a big event to become part of a play network—we went to the first draft and from there we were drafting every week.
TCG: Both of you are so funny and engaging; you come across very authentic in your videos. I know you are involved in Comedy Sportz—do you have theater backgrounds? Do you still do a lot of theater?
Maria: Theater was my major. It was my whole life growing up. I come from a scripted background, but about 10 years or so ago started doing improv. It was like a light bulb went off. If I’m not performing I’m very unhappy. It would make me a . . . yeah. Very unhappy person.
Meghan: Yup. That is true. For me, I quit scripted stuff in high school and did improv in college. We do still do Comedy Sportz. Doing improv is so freeing. I’m also doing an independently produced show, as well as traveling and teaching with an improvise Shakespeare group.
TCG: We know that you started playing Magic at the same time. Do you feel like your play styles have evolved dramatically over the last five years?
Maria: Something I think is kind of interesting is that Magic is the best game, and the genius of Magic is that it evolves, and people identify with it and play decks that identify with who they are. I like aggressive decks and Meghan likes controlling decks. A little different viewpoint as creature decks attack a lot more. Our skill has definitely grown; when we hit big milestones it is really great for the show. When we first started the basis of the show was growing and learning with us . . . we have moved away from that a little.
Meghan: I would say a big part of it is that you get to decide what kind of player you’re going to be and it matches your inclination in the game. But both of us are very competitive; when we sit down we want to win. You also don’t have to be a Spike, but there are PPTQ [Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier] games coming up and we prefer to play competitive Magic in an event that has some stakes. Not all games allow you to choose that.
TCG: What are your favorite decks to play and why?
Maria: I’m an aggressive player, but I’ve changed slightly. I used to draft Rakdos and it has evolved into creature based decks—smaller creatures that get bonuses. Boggles, mono-white weenies, basically I’m a huge fan of Craig Wescoe. I’m looking for this at the next GP, because you never know.
Meghan: I’m a control player. I love anything where I am drawing a lot of cards, killing creatures and countering spells. It suits my style of thinking and it is more natural for me to make a game plan around that style of play.
TCG: Meghan, in June 2015 you wrote an article for Star City Games about women in Magic and the challenges that come with being female and playing, particularly competitively. Do you think much has changed since that article came out?
Meghan: There are so many more women at events, which is great. Maria has been on coverage for the Pro-Tour. For the first time people are watching Twitch and seeing women represented. They’re seeing bylines and photos of women writing about Magic—watching Emma Handy and Jadine Klomparens, who are both very good players, along with Gabby Spartz.
TCG: When I was first starting out I was pretty intimidated by the lack of representation, and your article put what I was feeling into words.
Maria: Meghan kick-started the dialogue. Her article acted as a . . . what do you call it? The thing that restarts your heart.
Meghan: A defibrillator?
Maria: Yeah, that. [laughs] She defibrillated the whole Magic: The Gathering world. No seriously though, it was a hard couple of weeks, really quite rough. There was a response to her article and we did an episode . . . . It really showed how resistant some people were to change. What was amazing though was all the support we got. There were so many people in the community that reached out to us and showed their support; I think it was monumental in the Magic world. Then Wizards [of the Coast] contacted us and asked us for our input and we went from there.
TCG: As highly visible women in the Magic: The Gathering community, what do you see as the biggest obstacles currently for women who want to play competitive Magic?
Maria: Lots of guys have strong playgroups and do so much testing. It is harder for women to find that. There are not as many women on the scene and play testing is how you get better. As soon as we start to get a more critical mass of women we can start to change that. You need to see it to be it, we need to start women thinking “Oh yeah, that could be me, I could be this.” It is a long road—a fun road—but it doesn’t instantly happen. We lost Melissa [DeTora] to Wizards . . . [laughs] Okay I guess we didn’t really lose her. She is doing amazing stuff at Wizards, but she’s not playing competitively anymore.
Meghan: I’d echo what Maria said. On a local level it can be really difficult to transition into competition just because it can be difficult to break into that social circle. It’s sometimes hard to get invited into a group to play test and do more with it.
TCG: So much has happened for Magic the Amateuring and for both of you in the five years since you started. Did you ever think you might end up writing and speaking, or doing national commentary for Wizards of the Coast, or are you kind of amazed at how all this turned out?
Meghan: We are constantly amazed.
Maria: Constant. Never in a billion years. Now Magic and things with Magic is our full time job. If you had told us this would happen five years ago—that we could talk about something we love and have that be our job . . . wow.
Meghan: The timing too . . . thanks to podcasting. In the past, really, what could you do? Now there are so many things—options.
TCG: There are so many funny shows and shorts based around Magic: The Gathering—My Roommate Is a Planeswalker is one of yours and it is so funny. There is also Friday Nights by Loading Ready Run and the Tolarian College videos. Why do you think humor lends itself so well to Magic?
Meghan: In part because there is so much story to Magic, there is an infinite well of things you can draw from to inspire your comedy. You can trace a lot of jokes down to the color pie, the characters and the mechanics of the game—they all serve as inspiration for comedy.
TCG: What are your next big plans for Magic? Do you plan on playing in the Grand Prix Minneapolis?
Maria: I’m really excited to be doing commentary for the Grand Prix Minneapolis. Both Melissa DeTora and I will be there; it will be the first GP that has two women doing commentary. This was my goal for this year, to have at least two women commentating. Other than that I just want to keep playing and doing better. When I do something I want to be the best . . . [laughs] Until everyone says that I am the best I will keep going.
Meghan: I am playing in the GP and also have to play well enough not to be dropped . . . I have a Fringe show that day. I feel pretty optimistic.
TCG: You’re playing in the GP and you have a Fringe show? What show are you in?
Meghan: I’m in a show at Intermedia Arts called Mayor Lear of Townsville. It’s going to be amazing—basically a combo of King Lear and Powerpuff Girls. There is fantastic choreography and fight scenes, which is totally up my alley.
TCG: Meghan, you won a Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier recently. What does that mean for you?
Meghan: My big goal is to win another PPTQ, and if I top four the regional I would get on the Pro Tour.
TCG: While obviously Magic: The Gathering is life, what do you do outside of Magic? Were there things you were headed toward before Magic became such a big part of your life?
Maria: It was kind of crazy. I was on a path as a producer for PBS, which I enjoyed, working in nonprofit. As we started to get more into the podcast and producing and working with Wizards, it took some time for people to understand what I was doing. In the end I realized my career goal was to make something I created, rather than to create for others.
Maria: Thanks! I recently used Lyft and when I told my driver where I was going and why she told me not to tell her sons that I was making a living off of games. “It’s not a real job,” she said. But people need to understand how committed you have to be. One hundred percent on—all the time.
Meghan: For me, what happened is that I got laid off out of the blue. My mom was very supportive; she said rather than get back on the job hunt, what if you take a little time, finish your MFA [Masters of Fine Arts] and figure it out from there. For me, two goals are to do something creatively satisfying and to be a good person. This affords me room and gives me freedom to do that, and to have time for improv and performance. The flip side is that it’s time consuming. Travel is fun—but it takes up time. When you work independently, you don’t have a weekend. All the time you’re working, going to bed thinking about the podcast, always being available. Feeding the entrepreneurial drive I didn’t know I had!
Maria: Hey Meghan, do you remember when we were in Texas and I said I want to have this thing, and you said “What? A baby??” and I said, “No, a podcast!” [All of us laughing]
TCG: If you could put any card back into Standard, what would it be?
Meghan: Sphinx’s Revelation, a card for all time.
Maria: Brimaz, for the cat deck.
TCG: Awesome. What would you like to share with the Twin Cities Geek community and the Magic: The Gathering community?
Maria: If anyone is interested in playing Magic: The Gathering, there are unending resources and the Twin Cities is home to a lot of really good stores. GP Minneapolis is going to be so much fun, with a lot of great side events. Don’t sit out on a game because you feel like you don’t fit in; we want to get more people of different stripes and backgrounds involved.
Meghan: Magic: The Gathering is so large and wonderfully multifaceted there is a space for you no matter who you are. I believe you can pick any qualification of a person and you can find them represented. They already play Magic.
TCG: Thank you both again!
Maria and Meghan: You’re so welcome!