Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Magical Conspiracy

Dangerous, yet fun, mysteries await those who open
these packs
Conspiracy is a Magic: The Gathering set released last June by Wizards of the Coast. Unlike normal sets, Conspiracy was designed specifically to be drafted.

Ever since I started playing Magic again last year, I've fallen in love with the draft format and really wanted to give Conspiracy a try. Thankfully, I finally got the chance to play it last Friday at my local game store and I thought I'd give my thoughts and opinions about it here.

While I'd like to start off with the elements and ideas that make Conspiracy an interesting and unique draft format, I feel like I should explain who drafting works first.

Drafting is a "limited" format where each player is given three Magic packs. Roughly six to eight players will sit around a table, pick up the first pack when everyone's ready, and open it. They will look through the cards, pick one they want, then pass the rest to their left. This continues until all the cards in that pack have been selected.

They will repeat this process with the remaining packs, expect they will pass the contents of the second pack to the right instead. Once all the cards from all the packs have been divided among the players, they will take said cards and build a deck out of at least 40 of them and play a few matches with those decks.

Now that you know how to draft, let's talk about how Conspiracy is different and why that's cool.

Just look at that draft value!
Although the majority of the cards featured in Conspiracy are reprints from previous sets of Magic, 65 of the 210 cards in the set are brand new, with several of those cards actually possessing abilities that affect the draft while it's happening. These cards (which are mostly artifacts) do things like add a new booster pack from any set of Magic to the draft, draft multiple cards from a single pack, look at any one unopened pack that's in the draft or a pack currently not being looked at by a player, and find out what cards other people have drafted.

These "meta-draft" cards really add a cool element to the draft itself, making it more than just picking and passing cards. Think about what it would be like to draft a Lore Keeper and get to add a pack of Modern Masters, Future Sight, or Revised to the draft? That would be insane and possibly lead to some really memorable draft game experiences later during actual play, not to mention the financial value you might walk away with.

The second element that makes Conspiracy awesome is that games are played with multiple people instead of the usual 1 vs.1 affairs. Because it was designed with this in mind, Conspiracy introduces a new type of card and several new keyword abilities.

"Conspiracies" are a new card type that start off in the command zone and either begin face up or face down at the beginning of the game. These conspiracies have special abilities that give you come neat, little tricks like getting to automatically go first, giving you an extra mulligan, allow you to only run a minimum of 35 cards instead of 40, or allow every land in your deck to tap for any type of mana (as long as you run every card in your pull).

The conspiracies that start face down are called "hidden agendas" and require you to name a specific card before you start playing. When that card is played, the hidden agenda is flipped up and activates. These hidden agendas can do things like give target creature haste, have it come in with a +1/+1 counter, give it the ability to table said creature for any color of mana, allow you to copy an instant or sorcery, etc.

Would you like to Ancestral Recall
or Time Walk?
The several new keyword abilities are Dethrone, Parley, and Will of the Council. Dethrone is an ability made for more aggressive strategies, giving creatures with the ability a +1/+1 counter each time they attack the player with the most life or is tied for the most life. Parley has everyone reveal the top card of their decks, does something for every nonland card revealed this way, and allows the players to draw that card. Finally, Will of the Council offers everyone two options they must vote on, with the option that receives the most votes or happens to be tied for the most votes activating.

Both the conspiracies and these new keywords really shake up the actual gameplay, creating tough decisions or weird moments at the table. You might have that one player who's going the Dethrone strategy, but is actively trying to lose life as well so they aren't on top and can keep getting his triggers, or the other person using a lot of parley cards so she can gain a lot of mana and creatures, but also filtering her deck so her spells still get some effect.

The meta-draft cards add a cool extra layer to the drafting experience, the conspiracies were an excellent addition, and the new keywords make multiplayer games much more exciting and intriguing.

However, I do have a small handful of complaints. First, I don't like how drawing your entire deck and losing because of that is such a real possibility. This mostly is due to the multiplayer format, how long these games tend to last, and the size of most normal draft decks. Because of this, you might actually want to break from the normal assumption and run a 45 card deck just to be safe.

Also, due to the fact that the majority of the cards are reprints, the flavor of the set really doesn't come through all that well. Conspiracy is a set that takes place upon the plane of Fiora, which seems to take a lot of influence from Italy during the Renaissance Era. While the new cards definitely show this, I wish we could have gotten at least some new art for some of the reprinted cards that depicted this flavor a lot better. However, I am something of a Vorthos when it comes to Magic lore, so this is more of a personal nitpick than a legitimate criticism.

Finally, due to the added mechanics that effect the draft and the multiplayer nature of the subsequent games, I would never through a new Magic player into a Conspiracy draft. We had some new players within our drafting pod who had never done this before, which caused our pod to move incredibly slowly and a few accidents occurred during the draft as well. This is definitely a set and format meant for more experienced players who know what they're doing and have drafted a couple of times before.

Even with these problems and issues, Conspiracy is probably one of my favorite draft environments yet. I've only manage to draft the set once, but I would eagerly jump at the chance to do it again. I'd love to see the conspiracies make their way into numerous different cubes, along with the meta-draft cards, and the new keywords could really liven up any game of Commander. I highly recommend Conspiracy to anyone who's an avid drafter and would love something fresh and new to try.