Spreading the Love - Bring in the Femme Fatale
The Tools of Temptation
Hey Everyone, Kya here once again!
I thought I'd do this week a little differently. It's been a long while since we talked about a topic wherein everyone is probably not in total agreement. Last time I did this, we talked about Infect, and the response was surprisingly good. Hopefully we can dive into a potentially more heated topic and do the same.
Today I'd like to talk about something Mark Rosewater seems to have put his foot down in the past: the idea of creating any sort of Succubi in Magic: the Gathering. Here are some quotes from his blog on the subject:
While I appreciate Mark looking out for us girls, I couldn't disagree more with the idea of omitting Succubi for the reasons he listed. Some people wanted a Spider commander for their tribal deck, or a Bear commander, but me? I've always loved the idea of Succubi in fantasy lore and what they bring to the table. I personally fear that Mark's and WotC's stance on this topic, though well-intended, was informed by a degree of laziness, only putting their foot down out of fear of backlash.
So today we're going to dive into my many reasons on why I think Succubi would make a great addition to the Magic: the Gathering universe. I don't want to turn this into a bully pulpit where I'm trying to force some realization across the community's consciousness. These thoughts just reflect my opinion on the matter, and of course my selfish desire to justify having a Succubus commander.
Enter... the Femme Fatale
To me, Succubi are the Demon embodiment of the Femme Fatale archtype. I've always loved the idea of the Femme Fatale in various stories. Why, you may ask? Because it usually focused on so much more than just the physical beauty of our female villain. Such temptresses showed great skill, cunning, and intelligence, allowing their victims to think they were the ones ahead, only to realize the truth when it was much too late. Like their male counterparts who focus on physical or magical power, the seductress uses her charm and her wits as much as her beauty; everything at her disposal is a means to an end.
Like any good Demon, Succubi take this attitude to the extreme. They do not tempt their victims in any different of a manner than any other Demon. So why are Succubi treated differently?
Now of course, I'm sure Mark and WotC are justly concerned about female characters who just show up for the sake of being hot and that's it. Let me be very clear, I don't want our game to become like Force of Will (the other card game, not the Magic card). Without getting into detail, there is zero need to make the classic anime silly proportions we see elsewhere. Beauty and the quest to obtain it is so much more than that. As we'll discuss later in the article, we have plenty of art already that could have been very well defined as a Succubus.
The Only Sin Too Sinful?
Despite my article rant at Wizard's stance, I don't blame them for their decision. Let me explain why. Now, this is one thing that always irked me in general when it came to the subject of physical appeal. It seems like it is an American thing in general that we have a bottomless stomach for gore and heinous violence, but the idea of someone showing skin makes people go insane. Somehow it's this one subject where we typically draw a pretty quick line. This has never made any sense to me.
With the above cards, such as Thought Scour, Wizards clearly shows they don't mind being graphic in general when it comes to individuals or groups making horrific actions. Why? Because it sells, and they think their audience can handle such images without kidnapping someone and trying it out for themselves.
It's also not just in the art, but the lore as well. Here's a quick quote from a fairly recent story article from their site:
"Liliana could feel herself getting full. Her two dozen jaws latched onto limbs and spun circles to rip them off clean. Her two dozen mouths spat out blood and devoured the charred flesh. There would be nothing left to stumble back to life. She laughed, and the crocodiles bellowed in tandem. Amonkhet's curse would not get this corpse."
"While her savage, divided mind ate the demon alive, her own teeth gently ground in subconscious tandem."
I don't know about you, but I love it that they're graphic with the few carnal sins they decide are okay to share with us. The above was one of my favorite quotes from that block (an amazing block in general, by the way). Look how Liliana became one with her vicious instinctual drive to devour a hated, living creature, enjoying in its suffering for the wrongs committed against her. However, after reading this, you're going to tell me with a straight face she wouldn't wink at a guard and strut her hips to get past him and complete her mission to obtain limitless power? Come on!
I simply think it's silly that some aspects of the game are taken to a frighteningly unhealthy extreme, but another aspect of humanity is kept out of sight. There are countless instances in the game's lore where individuals release or face their darkest imaginations, pitted against the very worst the multiverse can deliver - and when I say 'the worst,' I mean the absolute worst. It's only limited by one's twisted imagination. Players watch as someone's brains get literally scrambled, but we can't acknowledge physicality. It feels somewhat dishonest. Though informed by good intent - avoiding stereotypes - it does feel as though a large puzzle piece is occasionally missing from the world they've created, and if you can't tell, I'm not alright with unfinished puzzles.
Is it the Colors?
What would Succubi add to the game, and would they make sense in this universe? Could the color or creature type be an issue? Well, it's definitely within the realm of a creature type; a Demon would do anything to get power. What about the color? Let's look at what black is known for:
"Black: Greed and ambition are the largest players in Black's internal psychology - Greed counters shame, always demanding more; ambition counters humility, never permitting compromise.
There are essentially two pillars to Black's efforts, which play out in mechanics roughly as follows: Parasitism, which is Black's readiness to steal power, and Amorality, which provides Black direct access to its desires, provided it can pay the price."
Well... Succubus definitely fit the color (quite beautifully, I might add). They use the powers they have to obtain more power. By using your power of seduction, you amass an army or collection of artifacts to further fuel your drive for more power. That's exactly, 100%, completely what black does. They couldn't be more on the nose, like any other Demon.
Is it the Mechanic?
Maybe it's a mechanics problem. Sure, the lore makes absolute sense for them, but how would we be able to turn it into something that would make sense in the gameplay itself?
Turns out we have the Succubus mechanic down already. Black, blue, and even red are masters at making their enemies do their bidding. Tell me if these two creatures were in black and labeled Demon, they wouldn't be considered exactly that! They charm their victims for their own ends. Sure, make it a little flowery if you want, but you know exactly what this is. These are Succubi disguised as Faeries! Which actually wouldn't be far off to what a Succubus would do, is it? I'm onto you, Merieke Ri Berit!
Is it the Looks?
Okay, I admit it. I threw Gwendlyn Di Corci in here as a low blow. We all know Wizards had a wild past with their Dominaria temptresses, one of whom was literally a human Succubus. However let's take a serious look at Visara the Dreadful for a minute. Take the Gorgon qualities away, label it a Demon... tell me that's not what a Succubus would look like, people. That's all we need!
As I mentioned before, these characters don't need anything crazy or risque; we don't need Earthbind or Blood Lust or Red-Hot Hottie to convey any such implications, and not every attempt at a Succubus character will immediately be construed as that extreme or suggestive. Subtlety is key. Both Visara and Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief are beautiful examples of how you can physically create perfectly good Succubi that won't make anyone feel uneasy. They'll just make everyone feel dead, because that's how I like my opponents best: defeated.
What About the Other Side?
It's not all about anger and injustice in this article. There are some really wacky aspects of this I truly enjoy on this subject. Let's look at the hilarious double standard for a minute in some of these cards.
Wow. Don't get me wrong, fellas, I like the art on the above cards plenty. However, I like the above cards art for the same reason you'd like the female versions of these cards. The point is that Magic has a recent precedent of depicting loincloth-clad male characters with an obvious eye toward their physiques. Among their other powers, they use their physical looks to dominate those around them. In this case, instead of temptation, it's called awe. Different emotion, same frontal lobe area, same concept. And it's fine that males do this. It's just not necessarily fine that female characters aren't allowed to do the same.
On a related note, I don't think it's a surprise when I say that a great many of the male characters in Magic: the Gathering look like the above. It's not necessarily fine for that to be the case, either. I appreciate a world with texture and grit, and that includes characters who use physicality as a resource, but it also includes main characters who don't fit the 'ideal' body image, or main characters with a physical disability. WotC has been better about this in recent years - Daretti, Scrap Savant cannot walk, but sure can lead a fantastic commander deck, for example - but there's always room to improve. From Enthralling Victor to the concept of Succubi to the desire for representation, bodies matter.
As I said before, I like that Mark and WotC look out for us gals. Wizards has demonstrated a willingness to speak up and take stances on thorny subjects, and that's fantastic.
I just do believe that it's equally as problematic to actively avoid appeal as it is to cater to it. Sweeping something under a rug or hiding it away can make it feel like a bigger deal than it needs to be, and can obstruct great or common-sense world building. I sometimes feel that I can sense fear behind some artistic decisions in this game, and that's a jarring feeling that takes me out of the fiction. I don't think it's good to approach this topic with a shallow or nervous mentality. I like it when my games mirror the complexity of real-life people too.
Simply put, there should - and can - be a middle ground.
I'm sure we can find a compromise. How about we shake on it?
What? Don't you trust me?
It's not much of a Kya article without a thematic decklist. I know I was complaining a bit, so let's pay tribute to some of the great girls of Magic: the Gathering.
Just think how much better this deck would be with an official Succubus at the helm! They take things to a whole new level, because that's what they do. They're Demons. Demons do that.
Thanks for taking in the time to read my rant.