Today I’m helping us kick off a new chapter for me at GDC. While we have always touted ourselves as the “defenders of the social contract,” we have focused primarily on how it applies to face-to-face interactions, in games. We want to start taking that focus and widening it to include the community as well. GDC wants to bring that fun and casual experience you have when you sit around a table to play with friends to the online forum.
On that note, I will be doing a regular community spotlight segment. The goal to bring additional attention to players, shops, organizations, and websites who influence their community in a positive way. Our inaugural piece is going to focus on a player, podcaster, writer, reporter, and community organizer by the name of Hallie Santo.
Hallie writes for GatheringMagic.com and occasionally DailyMTG. She has a podcast, the Girlfriend Bracket. She plays competitively and works on coverage for some of the larger events on the west coast. Hallie is also an active member and mentor in the Lady Planeswalker Society. If that wasn’t enough, she is also an occasional Commander player. I’ve been fortunate to know Hallie through my work at Card Kingdom, where we are both employed. I am grateful she could take the time to do this interview.
Sean: Hallie, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. You are doing so much within the Magic community. I’m going to try and cover everything today, but I’ll apologize ahead of time if I accidentally leave something out.
I heard somewhere that you have been playing Magic since 2012, and quickly became involved in growing the community. How did you first get into Magic and what made you want to help bridge that gap between casual players (like most of us here on GDC) and the tournament environment?
Hallie: I did play my first game of Magic in 2012, a few days after I graduated from college. I was thinking of moving to Seattle at the time, so I planned a post-grad trip to check out the city. I stayed with a friend who had been playing Magic on and off since Odyssey and who had won college scholarship money playing in the Junior Super Series during Darksteel. He’d been telling me about Magic for a while, so one night, I asked him to teach me how to play. I took to the game immediately and resolved to continue learning to play Magic.
When I moved to Seattle a month or so later, another friend invited me to Café Mox to play board games. It was a Friday night, and the place was so crowded that we had to wait for over an hour to get a table. I asked if there was some sort of special event going on, and a Card Kingdom employee told me that the store was hosting its weekly Friday Night Magic tournament. I peeked into the tournament room and saw over seventy players slinging spells and having fun. I hadn’t realized that Magic was such a popular and social game, and it seemed like just the thing to get me out of my tiny apartment. I came back to the store shortly thereafter to buy cards, and by the end of the summer, I had started playing in small tournaments at various local stores.
I think my desire to introduce casual players to competitive Magic was born out of my early experiences at The Lady Planeswalkers Society. Most LPS members only played Magic at LPS or at their kitchen tables, and while some players just enjoyed the casual and social aspects of Magic, others were afraid to attend larger tournaments (even FNMs) for fear of being bullied and ostracized. I believe that any Magic tournament that purports to be open to everyone should feel like it is open to everyone, and I want to remove barriers that prevent players from feeling welcome.
Sean: I’ve heard of the Lady Planeswalkers Society, but I am a bit ashamed to admit that I don’t know much about what they do. Seattle is the first place I have seen with an active chapter. Could you describe what the LPS is and where people who are interested could find out more?
Hallie: Sure! LPS is a network of Magic: The Gathering playgroups for players of all genders and skill levels. LPS was founded in Seattle by former Wizards of the Coast Brand Manager Tifa Robles and held its first eight-player tournament at Card Kingdom in July 2011. We host tournaments every Tuesday night, and formats vary from week to week; we try to make our tournaments accessible to newer players, so we play a lot of Limited, with some Standard and Commander thrown in for good measure. We’ve also run Learn-to-Play Magic booths at several local conventions, including PAX West, Emerald City Comic Con, and GeekGirlCon.
LPS has dozens of chapters across the country and around the world. You can find a full list of chapters at our website, ladyplaneswalkers.weebly.com. You can also join our Facebook group and follow us on Twitter @MTGLadySociety.
Sean: Aside from being involved in the LPS, I think you are probably best known for being the co-host of the Girlfriend Bracket (seen either on Gathering Magic or through Wizards on the Community Super League). Your group has been making quality podcasts for nearly 80 episodes. For those who haven’t listened, could you talk a little bit about what the podcast is all about and what your secret has been to keeping it going for so long?
Hallie: I often describe The Girlfriend Bracket as “Magic: the Gathering’s answer to The View.” The podcast was originally Erin Campbell’s idea – she had hosted an interview podcast called The Deck Tease for years and was looking for a fun side project. Occasionally, instead of having a pro player or other well-known community member on her show, she’d assemble a group of women to discuss current events, and she wanted to see what would happen if she pursued a show of that format full-time. At the beginning of 2015, she set out to find three co-hosts with different backgrounds – ideally, she wanted a tournament player, a judge, and a more casual player who had opinions on the tournament scene.
Erin already had me in mind for the “tournament player” seat when she put out the call for potential co-hosts. She and I had met through mutual friends a few years prior, and she invited me to fill in for her usual co-host on The Deck Tease’s special M15 preview episode. We had great on-air chemistry, and she invited me back for a few more episodes, including her second “women’s round table” feature. We already had a great working relationship, so there was no doubt in my mind that I should follow her to her next project.
By March, we had a full cast: Katie Neal, an L2 judge from Montana, got the “judge” seat, and Erin’s friend Kriz Schultz from the greater Milwaukee area became our casual player. We went into the show with a clear purpose – we were going to talk about news, current events, and issues affecting women in the community, with a healthy dose of fun and laughs – but most of us were inexperienced podcasters, so it took us a few episodes to find our groove. But as our friendship grew (and we experimented with different audio equipment), our shows steadily improved, and we started reaching wider audiences. Countless listeners have told us that they feel like they’re having a conversation with their friends whenever they listen to our show, and I think that’s what’s kept us going for so long – we’re really good friends, on the air and off.
Sean: I’ve had the fortune to both play against you and see you play limited. You are clearly a talented player, and I have also noticed that you do event coverage. How did you get involved with covering events, and how do you make the difficult decision between competing in events and providing coverage for those events?
Hallie: I started doing event coverage because it seemed like the best way to pursue two of my greatest passions: Magic and writing. I have a creative writing degree and had been working as a freelance writer when I was given the opportunity to do tournament coverage for Wizards of the Coast. I had a working interview at Grand Prix Seattle-Tacoma and officially joined the coverage team for Grand Prix Los Angeles this year.
Everything in life has an opportunity cost, and I’m certainly aware that every event I cover for Wizards is an event that I’ve chosen not to compete in. But there will always be more events to play in and alternate paths I can take to get on the Pro Tour – the local PPTQ circuit, Magic Online – so I don’t feel like I’m missing out necessarily.
Sean: I have seen articles from you on both Gathering Magic and Daily MTG. Your topics seem to have a range as broad as your experience, going between competitive advice to community issues. What is your process for deciding on a topic for an article and putting pen to paper?
Hallie: Last year, when I was a much more prolific Magic writer, I tended to choose topics that I cared about and felt qualified to comment on. I’ve always occupied an interesting space in the Magic community, in that I’m a competitive-minded but relatively inexperienced player, so I’ve tried to leverage the few important tournament experiences I’ve had. I had a bad experience with an angle-shooting opponent and didn’t see much writing about the subject at the time, so I wrote an article about it.
I read a bunch of articles about the topic of women in Magic and didn’t feel they fully encompassed my experience, so I added my voice to that conversation. My Magic writing method has always been to fill in any gaps I see in the larger community conversation – what isn’t being addressed? – and I haven’t been writing as much lately because I haven’t been noticing as many gaps. And maybe that’s a good thing – maybe it’s a sign that there are more voices, more diverse voices, being heard in our community.
Sean: I’d be remiss not to talk about the best format, Commander. Do you play? If you do, could you talk to us a bit about your current favorite deck?
Hallie: I don’t consider myself a Commander player, but I do play every now and then with friends who love the format. Back when I first started playing, one of my close friends would have regular Commander nights at his house, and I would borrow decks to play with them, but I never enjoyed playing because the decks I borrowed weren’t really my style. The inherent inconsistency of a 99-card singleton deck was a huge roadblock for me at the time, so I tried to mitigate some of that by building Momir Vig, Simic Visionary. I enjoyed playing the deck and won quite a few games with it, but once my friends had played against the deck a couple times, they figured out how to beat it. (Torpor Orb was a huge problem for me.) I built a second deck – Oona, Queen of the Fae – and milling people out with Palinchron and Caged Sun was fun for a while, but I eventually grew disinterested in the format.
Different players play Magic differently, and I’ve resolved that I enjoy building Commander decks far more than I actually enjoy the way Commander games play out. As a competitive player, I’m used to playing Magic against one person and doing everything I can do beat one person, and Commander has an entirely different dynamic – I’d start games of Commander by building up resources and board presence, and before long, I’d be fending off attacks from all three of my opponents. Diplomacy is a valuable skill, but it’s not always transferable to other formats of Magic.
Sean: Thank you again for coming on. Is there anything new coming up in that you would like to talk about? For any of our readers looking to hear more from you, how do you recommend people keep up to date on everything you are up to?
Hallie: Recently, I’ve been creating content for Card Kingdom’s weekly newsletter, including deck techs and videos. You can sign up for emails at cardkingdom.com or watch my introductory drafting videos on the Card Kingdom YouTube channel.
If you’d like to get in touch with me (or see photos of my awesome dog), I’m on Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @halcansan. Thanks for chatting with me!
Thanks – Let me know if you have any feedback or ideas, and join me in thanking Hallie for her time and contributions to GDC and the Magic community!