Be ready to tune me out if this isn’t your thing. But stick with me to the end, and you’ll know what I’m about.
Back story is necessary.
Magic: the Gathering (MtG hereon) is a card game I’ve played since I was a kid (though there was a long inactive period). I enjoyed it very much for the stories, the different worlds, the heroes and the villains. And hullo, dragons.
MtG usually releases a ‘block’ every year, meaning three sets of cards all related to the same story. In the past three years, I’ve made decks of cards based primarily on one theme of each block. Last year was an Ancient Greek/Roman gods and goddesses theme, and I made a Spartan themed deck (though they don’t use the name Spartan; the flavor is there though). This year is Khans (full name Khans of Tarkir, a plane [world] that used to have dragons, but no longer does]).
I heart history, and I was always especially impressed with the Mongol khans and how they swept through Asia like no one’s business. In the Khans of Tarkir set, you have 5 clans, each with their own khan, each with their own themes and environment. I was drawn to the Mardu, who were the most like the Mongols of our history. I even named my deck Temujin, after Genghis Khan’s true name. I dug it.
So the second set of the block goes back in time, where there are still five clans, but there are also dragons still alive. And I was excited to see what the Mardu would have going for them. I saw their new khan, and I was like, that lady is pretty sweet.
But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Alesha, Who Smiles at Death (already a badass name):
Some noteworthy quotes:
"Greet death with sword in hand."
"Take inspiration from your enemies, and make their strengths your own."
"If you must die today, make your death worthy of legend."
A short blurb about her:
Although Alesha, Who Smiles at Death is only nineteen years old, she is the Mardu khan, as well as an expert rider, a fine archer, and a master of the sword. She wields a heavy blade with which she strides fearlessly into hand-to-hand combat. She scoffs at dragonkind, believing them to be nothing more than vermin, and challenges her enemies to face her in battle.
Pretty cool, pretty cool. A stark contrast to other khans. Badass lady is badass.
So then I read these short stories Wizards of the Coast post to flesh out the storylines, and the other day they had a story about Alesha. And I’m reading along, reading along, and I stumble on this:
"You could have earned your war name," she said. "Know who you are, and claim it."
Anger twisted the orc’s face and he took another step toward her. “You tell me this? A human boy who thinks he’s a woman?”
Wait, what? I read on:
Some of them, mostly orcs, boasted of their ancestors’ deeds and spoke of their pride in adopting those ancestors’ names. She had been so different—only sixteen, a boy in everyone’s eyes but her own, about to choose and declare her name before the khan and all the Mardu.
Then the khan came to Alesha. She stood before him, snakes coiling in the pit of her stomach, and told how she had slain her first dragon. The khan nodded and asked her name.
"Alesha," she said, as loudly as she could. Just Alesha, her grandmother’s name.
"Alesha!" the khan shouted, without a moment’s pause.
And the whole gathered horde shouted “Alesha!” in reply. The warriors of the Mardu shouted her name.
In that moment, if anyone had told her that in three years’ time she would be khan, she just might have dared to believe it.
It hit me then that Magic: the Gathering had just taken a pretty big step. They had created not only their first transgender character, and not only made her a prominent character, but also made her a khan. And her clan didn’t give a shit, because she was who she was, and had earned her name and her place. And that was just…well, that was just pretty cool.
So Temujin is still evolving as the sets come out, and I had already planned on adding her to my deck. Some might pause before adding her, wondering about her story. I’ve certainly seen comments on forums and the like expressing confusion, or disappointment.
But I don’t give a shit, because she is who she is, and has earned her name and her place in my deck.
(Sauce for those interested in reading about past-Tarkir in short blurbs; Sauce for those who want to read the short story where her past is revealed)