What Would They Play? American Anarchist Lucy Parsons' EDH Deck

Lucy Parsons, courtesy of The Nation

Welcome to What Would They Play?

I'm Charlie, I'm a storyteller, creative writer, and author; I handle the historical sections of the articles.

And I'm Dan, a Commander player who is obsessed with building thematic decks. I connect the stories to Magic cards to create decks that reflect the vibrant tales of the past.

We take famous or not-so-famous figures from history and make Commander decks based on their lives, philosophies, and histories.

Our articles are meant to be part history lesson, part deckbuilding guide. We believe that decks can be expressions of personal philosophies, so a fun way to learn about historical figures -- and flavorful brews -- would be to speculate about what sort of Commander deck a given person would play, given their times, opinions, and philosophies.

It's like a history class, only using the medium of Magic: the Gathering.

This is meant to be an accessible glimpse at the people in question, not a rigorous or definitive biography; we have sources (and footnotes!) at the end of the article for that!

Let us begin!

Who Was Lucy "More Dangerous Than a Thousand Rioters" Parsons?

Lucy Gonzalez Parsons (Born Lucia Carter, 1851) was an African-American anarchist, feminist, labor organizer, and agitator (in the best possible sense of the word). She helped shape and was present at key moments of the young American labor movement in the 19th century and was a resolute anarchist. She remains a much admired (and very quotable) member of the anarchist canon; in her own lifetime she was renowned as a charismatic orator and prolific author.1

Not to claim Parsons has never been controversial.2 The Chicago police department famously called Lucy Parsons "more dangerous than a thousand rioters." This was no doubt due to her ability to inspire others to join the labor movement through her words, just as her chosen commander, Minn, Wily Illusionist, can bring an army of Illusion tokens to the battlefield. These tokens demonstrate the solidarity Parsons sought through their ability to increase each other's power. Though her husband, Albert, was executed following the Haymarket Affair, she remained resolute in her opinions and organizing work for the rest of her life, much like how Minn powers out permanent cards when her Illusion tokens are killed.

Sadly, Lucy Parsons died in poverty in 1942 in Chicago, and the Chicago Police Department disappeared her vast library of correspondence and essays after her death.

All headers are quotes taken from her 1905 address to the IWW (performed by Niya Craig) and her 1905 essay "The Ballot Humbug".

Let's dive into Lucy Parson's Commander deck.

Lucy Parsons early life: "Can you blame an Anarchist who declares that man-made laws are not sacred?"

Lucy Parsons (1851-1942) spent a fair amount of time in the American South (in Texas no less, moving there from Virginia with the person who owned her family and her mother) and saw the horrors of slavery up close.3 Young Lucy had a much deeper understanding of the mechanisms of slavery than most, having grown up in a society based on the naked exploitation of human beings.

While the Confederacy lost the American Civil War and slaves were freed, Lucy got to see the failures of Reconstruction up close. Capitalists, north and south, eagerly exploited the newly freed slaves and prevented them from engaging in the white-dominated civil society. Oligarchy reasserted itself with force and terror. Chattel slavery was replaced by wage-slavery, a different and far more pervasive subjugation of the working class across the newly united country.

As Kinna and Harper write on this period of her life:

Having settled the issue of individual property rights, slavers on both sides of the Confederate-Unionist divide regrouped, forging new alliances to wage covert war against the veterans who had done their killing and anyone else who attempted to resist enslavement. Dispensing with the heavy artillery, the owners now wielded the state's constitutional powers, elaborate electoral machinery, the 'lying monopolistic press,' Pinkerton private militias and armed police to quell resistance. This was class war...It was reasonable to assume that the amnesties that the Union granted the rebels in the Reconstruction era would never be extended to the anarchists and their allies who resisted the new arrangements. Workers should draw their own conclusions.

Lucy eventually married Confederate-veteran-turned-anarchist-and-socialist Albert Parsons, taking his last name. This interracial marriage ultimately led to their hasty exit from Texas due to threats from racists. The couple eventually moved north to Chicago to agitate for the embryonic American labor movement.

Lucy and Albert Parsons

Similar to the solidarity theme in our Albert Camus deck, Parsons' Minn deck seeks to field a wide army of tokens and build them all up with anthem effects. While Minn's tokens already do this on their own with their inherit power-pumping ability, they can be pumped up even further with creature-type-based effects, like Vanquisher's Banner and Lord of the Unreal, or color-based effects, like Heraldic Banner and Paragon of Gathering Mists. Not only does this power-pumping make her tokens into a formidable fighting force, it increases the effectiveness of Minn's second trigger when those Illusions are killed.

Lucy Parsons in Chicago: "We mean that the land shall belong to the landless, the tools to the toiler, and the products to the producers."

Lucy and Albert Parsons moved to Chicago in the 1870s, a leading anarchist and labor hub of the late 19th and early 20th century. Both husband and wife were involved in radical labor circles pretty much from the word go: Lucy contributed to the newspaper Alarm, organized housewives, gave public speeches, and created her own small business sewing dresses. The couple were regulars at strikes, giving speeches, walking pickets, and in any way possible supporting the overlapping radical labor movements.

It is almost impossible to overstate the gulf between rich and poor at this time (or now).4 As an anarchist, Lucy repeatedly called for a commonwealth of labor, where those who labored owned the means of production and could not be compelled to sell their labor for a pittance to the capitalists, who would have no place in this new, stateless and egalitarian world.

Everything changed in August of 1886, with the Haymarket Affair.

In Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism, Peter Marshall writes of the Haymarket Affair of May 3, 18865:

After a bomb had been thrown in a crowd of police during a workers' rally for an eight-hour day, four anarchists were eventually hanged. Convicted on the flimsiest evidence, the judge at the trial had declared: Not because you have caused the Haymarket bomb, but because you are anarchists, you are on trial.

Lucy campaigned tirelessly across the country, bringing popular outrage at the verdict to bear at the travesty. She raised awareness and funds for the Haymarket defendants' legal defense. Some of her most incisive and incendiary-worded work comes from this period: in a December 1886 speech, Lucy Parsons said6 :

The meeting at Haymarket square was a peaceable meeting. Suppose, when an anarchist saw the police arrive on the scene, with murder in their eyes, determined to break up that meeting, suppose he had thrown that bomb; he would have violated no law. That will be the verdict of your children. Had I been there, had I seen those murderous police approach, had I heard that insolent command to disperse, had I heard Fielden say, "Captain, this is a peaceable meeting," had I seen the liberties of my countrymen trodden under foot, I would have flung the bomb myself. I would have violated no law, but would have upheld the constitution.

Unfortunately, the judge in the Haymarket case was as good as his word: while some of the Haymarket anarchists were "only" imprisoned and later released, the rest of them, including Albert Parsons, were executed in 1887 despite little to no evidence of involvement in the affair. Lucy was heartbroken and left with two children to raise.

Instead of dimming Lucy's enthusiasm for anarchism and labor justice, Albert's execution only seemed to stiffen her resolve. The galvanizing effect of Albert's martyrdom is represented well by Minn's second ability, where a lost Illusion creature can be replaced by something even more powerful. Other cards in the deck also allow Parsons to draw strength from the deaths of her creatures, such as Youthful Scholar, Murder of Crows, and Slithermuse. These all play well with the same sacrifice outlets that support Minn's second ability, some of which we will discuss further below.

Involvement in the IWW (1905-onward): "There is no power on this earth as great as intellect, it moves the world, it moves the earth."

Lucy Parsons went on to help found the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, colloquially known as Wobblies), in 1905. The IWW was intended to connect all previous industrial unions under the tent of "one big union" to allow for concerted action while allowing for individual initiatives and wildcat strikes.

Lucy Parsons also contributed to the understanding and development of the sit-down strike. In her address to the IWW in 1905 she said:

My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in, and take possession of the necessary property of production.

This would go on to be a major tactic in subsequent labor movements, including those of the Industrial Workers of the World, meant to force the hands of the ruling class in breaking up strikes and having the upside of taking valuable company property hostage. Likewise it is a tactic used in Parsons' Commander deck. Some of the most exciting permanents to sneak in with Minn's final ability are Control Magic effects that let her seize her opponents' most valuable permanents. With Grafted Identity, she can either sneak it in and avoid the additional cost, or sacrifice an Illusion token to hardcast it and get another trigger. Volition Reins also deserves special mention for untapping the permanent it enchants; since Minn can deploy it at instant speed, it can seriously disrupt an opponent's combat plans.

Lucy Parsons' influence on the IWW was considerable, and it was a powerful force in the first part of the 20th century. A full history of the IWW is outside the scope of this article, but it was (and is) a revolutionary union that is explicitly feminist and anti-racist, and it supports direct action to resolve workers' problems.7 Lucy Parsons' dedication to spreading the ideas of anarchism and meeting people where they were using plain, direct language was unsparing.

Globe logo with the letters I.W.W. separated by three stars. Encircled by the name, "Industrial Workers of the World."

The power of intellect, as stated in the header quote of this section, is usually represented in Magic through drawing cards. This is, of course, a key point behind the choice of a commander that rewards drawing cards. It's relatively simple to ensure drawing a second card on one's own turn with planeswalkers such as Teferi, Temporal Pilgrim and Jace, Unraveler of Secrets or artifacts and enchantments like Howling Mine and Well of Ideas (group hug cards like these also reflect an anarchist ideal of mutual aid).

However, to truly wield the power of a thousand illusory rioters, Parsons tries to draw two cards on each of her opponents' turns as well. She achieves this through a mix of card-drawing instants and activated abilities. Archmage's Charm serves a dual role of drawing cards or seizing Sol Rings (perhaps the most widespread property of [mana] production in the format). Drowned Rusalka, Read the Runes, and Perilous Research are particularly fun with Minn since they let you sacrifice some of your Illusion tokens to deploy your freshly drawn (or not-so-freshly-drawn) cards right away. Arcanis the Omnipotent, Ormos, Archive Keeper, and Treasure Trove8 can repeatedly trigger Minn's Illusion-creating ability with their activated abilities, as well as being powerful things to cheat out with Minn's second ability. Additionally, Toothy, Imaginary Friend and Wizard Class can offer some card-drawing payoffs even if Minn is not on the battlefield.

Legacy: "Of all the modern delusions, the ballot has certainly been the greatest. Yet most of the people believe in it."

Lucy Parsons--who lived through the Civil War, the failures of Reconstructions, the horrors of Jim Crow and the industrial revolution, the First World War and the first red scare that followed it, a world depression and the opening of the Second World War--understood what was (and remains) arrayed against the anarchist, feminist, and labor movements all too well.

She maintained a critical eye on the nature of power, particularly on how it effected women.

Whatever the system--chattel slavery, or the wage-slavery of capitalism that replaced it--Lucy Parsons noted that the women always got the worst of an already bad situation.

Speaking in 1905, she noted:

We [women] are exploited more ruthlessly than men. Whenever wages are to be reduced the capitalist class use women to reduce them, and if there is anything that you men should do in the future it is to organise the women. . . .

It was true in 1905 when Parsons wrote it, true in 1918 when (white) women got the vote, and true in 1965 when women of color received the franchise, and it is, quite sadly, true now in 2023 where women still do not have equal rights in America.

She understood through lived experience that the capitalist "democratic" state would always be oligarchic and in conflict with the practice of democracy in everyday life. It couldn't exist without the exploitation of the poor. After all, Parsons continued, one could hardly really expect the rich to vote away their own wealth through mechanisms of electoral democracy. In her classic essay "The Ballot Humbug", Parsons continues:

"Of course it is better to have majority rule if it represents the real wishes of a large number of people than to have minority rule which is only in the interest of the few, as is the case today, where all laws are practically in the interest of the capitalistic class."

Parsons ultimately died in 1942, but her legacy of resistance, education, and determination lives on.

Parsons' full Minn, Wily Illusionist decklist is below!

A Thousand Illusory Rioters

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Commander (1)
Enchantments (11)
Artifacts (11)
Creatures (25)
Lands (38)
Planeswalkers (2)
Sorceries (1)
Instants (12)

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  1. Legendary American historian and writer Studs Terkel fondly recalls seeing an aged Parsons speaking fervently in Chicago as a young man, between world wars; her fiery rhetoric and undimmed passion made a deep impression on the future historian. As Parsons passed her bright hat around for collections after her public speech in Bughouse Square, an old-time IWW man put a whole dollar in Parsons's hat (Terkel notes: "That was like a hundred fifty, two hundred bucks today!").
  2. Later in life, Lucy Parsons had her son, Albert Richard Parsons, committed to an insane asylum after he proclaimed his intention to join the US military in the Philippines, where he died twenty years later in difficult circumstances.
  3. Parsons didn't claim to be African-American and instead emphasized her Latina/Native American heritage while alive. This obfuscation on her part didn't prevent her from addressing African-American audiences or issues as part of the class struggle. Better authors than me have addressed the possible reasons that Parsons may have had for obscuring her heritage, but it is a point worth discussing in a long and complicated biography that sadly we don't have enough time to get into at length.
  4. In her 1884 work To Tramps, Parsons advocates that the dispossessed, left with no other recourse, ostracized by all, familiarize themselves with explosives and take the initiative to avenge themselves upon the capitalist class who left them and their children to starve and freeze in the Chicago streets.
  5. The gains of labor movement as we understand it today in 21st-century America--the nominal 40-hour work week, 5-day working week, any sort of worker protections on the job or rights, including the right to strike--is unimaginable without the ceaseless efforts of anarchists and activists like Lucy Parsons. The Haymarket Affair was a touchstone and call of conscience for many people, as the Sacco and Vanzetti trial would be a generation later, to join the anarchist cause, most notably to Lucy Parson's best frenemy, Emma Goldman.
  6. In this same speech, she gives one of my favorite explanation for the red flag of socialism, namely: "But the red flag, the horrible red flag, what does that mean? Not that the streets should run with gore, but that the same red blood courses through the veins of the whole human race." It meant the brotherhood of man. When the red flag floats over the world the idle shall be called to work. There will be an end of prostitution for women, of slavery for man, of hunger for children."
  7. Of particular note is the African-American anarchist Ben Fletcher, of Local 8 in Philadelphia in the early 20th century, who succeeded in making a racially integrated longshoreman's union and led several successful strikes on the Delaware waterfront before the First World War.
  8. Parsons and Goldman maintained a not-so-polite rivalry, while holding opposed positions on the family and free-love respectively in the canon of anarchism.

What Would They Play? is a collaboration between author Charlie Allison and game designer Dan Sibley. The series is part history lesson, part deck-building journal and aims to bring historical figures back to life through the lens of Magic: The Gathering. You can find Dan on Twitter at @VedalkenSamurai and Charlie on the web at www.charlie-allison.com and https://blog.pmpress.org/authors-artists-comrades/charlie-allison/.