“Magic: The Gathering” is a card game filled with fantasy creatures and spells, where competitors known as “planeswalkers” duke it out for dominance. It’s also a game largely assumed to have a predominately adult male audience.
Enter Dana Fischer, a 9-year-old from San Diego challenging such stereotypes. Born in 2010 and a dedicated Magic enthusiast since the age of 3, Dana began garnering media attention in 2017 for her forays along the game’s competitive circuit, where she routinely found herself facing opponents more than three times her age.
A video released by Wizards of the Coast, the company behind the game, in 2018 described her as “the vanguard of the next generation of Magic.” In January, she set a new record and became the youngest player to win a cash prize at the MagicFest Austin Grand Prix — a victory that she later wrote about on the Magic site Channel Fireball, with a little editing help from her father, Adam Fischer.
Dana is acutely aware that she defies expectations of what a typical planeswalker might look like, and as her fame has grown, she’s embraced the goal of championing age and gender diversity within the Magic community.
“I think that the biggest thing that spoke to me [after my Grand Prix win] was showing other girls and women that even though more men play this game, young and old women can play the game too and do well at it if they really want to,” she said in an interview with HuffPost.
Adam Fischer, himself a former competitive Magic player in 2002 and 2003, initially taught the game to both Dana and her older sister, Sadie, as a Father’s Day activity before they could fully read. The girls learned to play by associating each card’s function with its accompanying picture, and in the years to come, Dana’s passion for Magic only increased. This interest has remained unabated despite recent obstacles like the COVID-19 lockdown, Fischer said.
“The coronavirus sidelined her aspirations with big events, since the in-person ones have been canceled for now, and the online events have at least a 13 if not 16-18 minimum age,” Fischer told HuffPost. “However, Dana’s using the different situation to reach out to the community in other ways, specifically her just-launched YouTube and family Twitch channels.”
Both channels show Dana revealing new cards, commentating on matches and playing the digital version of the game, Magic: The Gathering Arena, alongside her father, who vets the Twitch chat for potentially inappropriate remarks. The arrangement is similar to how Dana plays in tournaments, where her father sits on the sidelines, helps her shuffle cards (an occasional challenge for her self-described “tiny hands”) and offers a combination of parental supervision and coachlike support.
“There’s so many benefits that she’s gotten in her development because of Magic,” Fischer said, pointing out that the game has increased Dana’s math skills, expanded her vocabulary with its often-complex fantasy terms and provided important learning experiences. These include an introduction to the concept of non-binary gender, as highlighted in 2019 by Autumn Burchett, the first non-binary player to have won a prestigious Magic Pro Tour, as well as a frank discussion on the discrimination suffered by Tania Russell, a female player who took to Twitter in February with a thread about “internalized sexism” at competitive Magic events.
Fischer, who maintains Dana’s Twitter and Facebook accounts due to social media age restrictions, also added that both he and his wife Rachelle are aware of the toxicity, “colorful language” and skepticism that occasionally crops up in a competitive gaming scene dominated by men.
“There have been a couple people who have been skeptical of Dana, saying it’s her parents — specifically her dad — making her do this,” Fischer said. “But my wife and I don’t want to be those parents to force our child into anything if they don’t want to do it. Magic is something that’s optional. We want it to come from her.”
Balancing Dana’s interests with those of her big sister, Sadie, has also been a priority for the family. Now 12 years old, Sadie prefers ice skating, baking, science and experimenting with video editing over Magic, and though “it was a bit tricky finding the right balance for a while,” when Fischer isn’t traveling to tournaments with Dana, he carves out time to visit science museums in different cities with Sadie. With the advent of Dana’s YouTube channel, both sisters have also had the chance to collaborate on a project related to the game that their father taught them so long ago.
“Sadie did most of the editing for [one of Dana’s card preview videos], as she took a TV broadcasting elective at school,” Fischer said.
With Dana’s video presence ramping up, the 9-year-old is hoping that she can “do more stuff in the gaming industry” as she grows older — preferably via a future career at either Wizards of the Coast or Riot Games, the company where her father works. Most of all, though, she hopes that her presence in the Magic hobby can encourage more kids — especially young girls — to take the plunge and become planeswalkers.
“Some people are like, ‘I can’t play this game because it’s all men and adults and it’s [recommended for ages] 13+,’” Dana said. “But that’s just a suggestion of how complex it is. You can still play, and you can still play competitively, too. At a tournament, you know that you’re there to play the game and you know what you think about yourself. Don’t let anyone change that.”