Christine Sprankle: Magic Cosplayer Extraordinaire
On November 19th 2011 the eyes of the Magic fan base were riveted on the most gratuitous coverage of a Pro Tour event since ESPN2 was rolling the cameras. Conley Woods was 13-0 with a character transformation that turned the sometimes whimsical creator of "Magical Christmas Land" into a stone-faced juggernaut intent on either winning WrestleMania for the twentieth time or dominating a tournament hall filled more by the sounds of cards snapping than tables breaking. Team Channel Fireball was the talk of the tournament with Twitter focused on the success of the Tempered Steel archetype.
In the actual event hall even more eyes were on the shimmering cloak and armor set worn by a gregarious young cosplayer. Elspeth Tirel was wandering around in San Francisco during Worlds and the attention grew quickly after a Wizards' feature told the folks at home about what they were missing at the tournament hall.
"After Worlds and especially [the] Wizards of the Coast article the…response was overwhelming. I never expected it would be so popular." She quickly gained over a thousand followers on Twitter and became something of a Magic quasi-celebrity. It certainly doesn't hurt that she has the kind of playful almost sarcastic personality to fit right.
"With my particular involvement with the gaming community…I show my appreciation for Magic in a unique way. It gets a lot of positive and negative responses from other members within the community. And to be such a figure you really can't let the negative get you down you have to take it with a grain of salt and let the positive really lift you above it. So a positive little sarcastic personality really helps to just keep [doing] what I like doing even if others don't."
Being able to deflect the negative comments let Christine become more involved in the community especially since "at the initial wave the hate was a little ridiculous and not just in volume but also content." When others are spewing "everything from lascivious slurs to saying I was fat" it's hard to keep an open mind. "But after a few podcasts and being on Twitter I guess people got more of a sense of who I am and the hate seemed to calm down a lot."
Part of who Christine Sprankle is can be summed up by her enjoyment of cosplay a type of fan behavior that is popular and well known in Japan but still hasn't spread far from the anime and videogame communities in the United States.
Christine told me about her origins with the hobby. "Cosplay has really been picking up in the US since the early 2000's. I got started back [around] 2005. My friend in high school heard about an anime convention nearby and we decided to dress up as our favorite characters from Sailor Moon. I've been doing it ever since and have made thirteen costumes."
Some of her work can be found on her deviantart page but there's one costume that's missing so far. I wondered what she would make if she didn't have to worry about the cost.
"If I had an unlimited budget to make a costume without a doubt I would do Elesh Norn Grand Cenobite. Her design is just outstanding to me and the challenge of making such a costume would be a blast to tackle. And if you're going to join the Phyrexian nation why not as a Praetor?"
So the smiling angel in the Princess Peach costume is a faade that a super-powered near-alien villainess hides behind? Not exactly. After all her second favorite videogame involves a tiny flying dragon. "Spyro was one of the first games I got when I got a PlayStation and his story is great. He's the smallest dragon and the only one left to save dragon world."
Maybe her favorite videogame is a mod version of Call of Duty so she can maliciously mow down waves of attacking zombies? Well if Banjo Kazooie had a zombie-mowing level I missed it. It did have an evil witch but that's as close to Praetorville as you get with a game starring two brightly plumaged main characters marketed for children.
But her third favorite game does at least hint at a darker nature. There's always been something sinister about kitchen utensils. "My personal favorite character [from the Super Smash Bros. games] is Princess Peach. It's just sweet victory when you whack someone with a frying pan for the win and you turn to shake hands with your opponent [while] cosplaying [the character that just beat them]."
Still regardless of whether or not Christine is hiding some grand scheme Elesh Norn seems awesome. It would be fantastic to see the hacked infinite gold version of one of her cosplays.
But cosplay isn't the only way that Christine has gotten involved in the game. In fact "The reason I started playing…was because I gave up World of Warcraft after four years." Swapping the diluted play experience of an MMO for the cardboard crack of Magic might not seem like the best idea but for Christine "[WoW] was literally consuming my life. When the third expansion came out I decided enough was enough and quit."
At the time it just so happened that "a few of [her] friends had been playing Magic since it first came out and [she] pretty much moved [her] addiction from one game to another." She's "been playing for almost 2 years now."
Which of the games does she prefer?
"I've had a lot of fun with both in different ways. With World of Warcraft you get the anonymity of playing online and playing by yourself. But Magic brings groups of strangers together with a common interest with events all around the world. So I guess I would have to say without a doubt Magic."
Magic's global appeal has always been one of its strongest features and thanks to the Pro Tour and the Grand Prix circuit many players have been able to cross oceans and clog passports with stamps for exotic locations. Christine's future plans may also involve some travelling.
"I do have a few events on my list to attend. Most are in California since it's my home state and easiest on my student budget. I'll be attending GP Anaheim in May; I'll be dressed as Elspeth plus two new costumes. I believe a few other cosplayers will be attending [so] I'm really excited for it! And then comes GP San Francisco in October. That will be a special one for me since it's where I wore Elspeth for the first time. And if I can somehow raise the money I would absolutely love love love to go to GenCon Indy. It's the perfect place for a cosplaying Magic player!"
Of course she wouldn't do that if the game was just moderately rewarding. It happens to be a ridiculous amount of fun to play as well.
Christine's favorite format is Standard. "I haven't been playing long so my knowledge of cards is limited and in turn [it makes it] harder for me to play formats such as Legacy and Modern… With Standard the card pool is smaller and a lot easier for me to keep up with the cards and decks coming out."
Like Chris Kluwe she prefers to get her fill of older cards with Commander. "I took a Heaven's Inferno deck and tore it apart." The ease of getting into the popular casual format made it appealing to her. "Like I said I haven't been playing long so my card pool is limited but the Commander decks Wizards put out made a great stepping stone for one such as myself." Of course as with her grand designs when it comes to cosplay she harbors some fantasies about what she would do in Commander if she could. "I would love to build an EDH deck around Tolsimir Wolfblood. Green/white is one of my favorite color combos."
From cosplay to Standard and tabletop Commander games Christine has fully immersed herself in the world of Magic: The Gathering and with that she has embraced the Magiccommunity that has grown around the game. Even more than the chance to meet the game's brightest stars she appreciates getting to hang out with players and fans everywhere.
"It may sound corny but I would much rather meet more players and fans of Magic all over the world then meet just one 'celebrity.' I would love to go to more events and play against a wide variety of players and share…our love for the game. That would be…special to me. But If I had to have a favorite Magic celebrity it would have to be Patrick Chapin. His heartfelt enthusiasm for Magic is really inspiring to me. And his constant contribution to the community is something to admire."
As Tom Martell alluded to one of the biggest issues impacting the community as Magic continues its remarkable growth is the broader appeal of the game to women. It's important to Christine as well. "I really can't stand the outdated attitude a good percentage the community holds about 'girls being allowed to play with the boys.'" In fact the point that it's an issue at all bothers her. "It's absolutely unnecessary drama brought up by immature players in my opinion." Her thoughts are mildly voiced compared to some of the more outspoken members of the community but the conviction behind the sentiment is strong.
"We are female [and] we do play. Why treat us different?"
As Magic and gaming culture in general continue to expand the antiquated insularity that isolates the community needs to vanish. It's certainly true that the issue should never have come up but the reality of the situation is such that it is a subject that must be addressed. Negative behaviors need to be curtailed and it should happen sooner rather than later.
Christine continues to be actively involved with the game and her plans for the future welcome an exciting addition to the normal grind of fifteen-hour Grand Prix days. You can follow Christine on Twitter as she tries to bring more colorful costumes and her cheery personality to the Pro circuit and you can even get an autographed print of her in your favorite character's wardrobe.
"If you contact me on Twitter (@cspranklerun) and pay a small printing and shipping fee I'll send you a signed picture of your choice of me in whatever cosplay you want. I'm also working on getting posters made."
Appropriate requests only of course but definitely something to look forward to "if you're interested."
Since returning to StarCityGames.com Ben has had a chance to interview some of the most exciting personalities currently in the game. Coming next week he gets a chance to look back at one of the most mind-blowing topdecks in history when he profiles Craig Jones. In the meantime don't forget to follow him on Twitter (@snglmaltproof) and visit his blog for more Magic and writing.