Like a kid facing the wrong way on school photo day, Conspiracy will forever stand out amongst its peers. For a long time the set was regarded as truly unique. Unlike the kid facing the wrong way- he was just stupid (my classmates made sure I never lived it down).
But now there’s a hot, new competitor on the scene in the form of Conspiracy: Take the Crown.
This review is all about how Conspiracy: Take the Crown plays, innovates on design, and compares to the original. Is it the real deal? Or is this hot new thing just masquerading behind heavy makeup and a cheap boob job?
Let’s not get caught staring as we try and find out.
Above all things, Conspiracy sets are built on a gameplay premise: cards that affect the draft process and an underpowered multiplayer environment.
I say ‘underpowered’ because up until Conspiracy multiplayer was almost always a constructed format. Decks could be tailored, and as such the synergy and power level in them would be far greater than in whatever could be done with a handful of dross.
One thing I have observed is the lower the power level of the decks in a multiplayer game, the more politics factor into the gameplay.
So whether it’s a cause or an effect of the sets’ designs, politics are a key part of playing Conspiracy.
By adding politics to an interactive draft process, Conspiracy creates an experience that holds more intrigue for the average player than porn websites do for a twelve-year old boy.
Like last time, there are two types of draft cards: conspiracies and regular cards with a ‘draft me!’ ability.
The biggest change here is both are now coloured, including the conspiracies themselves.
This makes the conspiracies more balanced, as the best strategy in the original set was getting in on so many conspiracies you’d have to wear a tin-foil hat.
(Fun fact: one of my old managers used to wear a tin-foil hat. Legit. He once made me watch a documentary on the Heaven’s Gate Cult to help me understand ‘what the company [we worked for] was really like.’ He also lined his office with Nazi imagery and screamed blue murder when the state manager came in to rip it down. Somehow it took him an entire two months to get fired.)
Although there are only five coloured conspiracies, they are the ones most relevant to the draft itself and the ones you will see most often. The actual colourless ones are either extremely narrow or bombs so big George W. Bush would drop them on Iraq.
The thing with these bombs though, they’re based around fun deck construction rather than raw power and do very little on their own. If you’ve been topping up on Garbage Fires packs one and two, a pack three Hymn of the Wilds is as welcome as mail from a rival insurance company. This is true for all colourless conspiracies- they change the way you draft and build your decks.
However this does make it feel like there’s less incentive to draft them. If they aren’t your colours or you don’t feel you can support them, why bother?
You can often pick up coloured conspiracies to add small upgrades to each of your creatures late in each draft round. The others feel less and less useful the later into the draft you go. Except for Summoner’s Bond and Hold the Perimeter– take them as soon as you see them and slap the clown who passed them to you.
Giving conspiracies colours and making most of the rest construction-centric is a fantastic innovation. It stops conspiracies from being selfless sluts you could just stick anywhere, like they were in the last set. They play well, draft well and provide exciting build-around options; they just don’t feel as core to the format as they used to.
The other unique feature of Conspiracy sets, the ‘draft me!’ cards, are now actually designed to be played. Adding a colour to each one allows them to pick up stats and abilities that would be too efficient on artifact creatures any deck could whore around with. Seriously, how often would you see a Clockwork Librarian crawl onto the table? Illusionary Informant on the other hand, is an excellent card.
That said, they don’t feel like they impact the draft as much either. There’s nothing that does anything quite like Clockwork Librarian and Lore Seeker did, although Leovold’s Operative tries harder than Vanilla Ice.
There are a couple great rares that interact with cards in your draft pool rather than cards you specifically draft (Caller of the Untamed and Arcane Savant) but otherwise the incentive feels weaker to take cards specifically for the draft effect. I haven’t seen anybody I’ve played with draft something purely for the effect- everybody always seem to pick the colours they’re already in. Cards only have appeal if they’re in your colours. Otherwise they feel by and large skippable. And since they’re coloured they send clear signals other draft parties that previous draft-effect cards didn’t.
There’s also a lot of announcing. Your average Take the Crown draft features more announcements than a supermarket full of lost kids.
The format is also reliant on pen and paper. Most of the draft cards require something written down at some point, and there’s an awful lot of them. Centuries from now archaeologists will be unearthing slips of paper with ‘Messenger Jays’ scrawled on them. You have to draft knowing all your draft plays could possibly end up as part of a museum exhibit in 3150.
Like being caught in the middle of a race riot, what colour you are is suddenly really important with Take the Crown draft cards. On the whole I find this a welcome addition as a whole other level of subtlety enters when other people know what colours you’re in and how powerful some of your cards are (such as Garbage Fire). However I do lament there isn’t anything as cool and splashy as there was in the last Conspiracy set. Long may you reign Lore Seeker.
Take the Crown’s flagship mechanic is Monarch, and as far as I’m concerned IT’S THE BEST DAMN THING TO APPEAR IN MAGIC FOR YEARS. Whoever designed it deserves an Oscar, an Emmy and a fifty-foot monument dedicated to their genius.
I read somewhere that Monarch was designed as an incentive for players to attack in multiplayer. It accomplishes that, but then I’ve found it accomplishes so much more. A huge amount of political plays can eventuate from its strategic depth.
That depth doesn’t change game-to-game, but turn to turn, and is multiplied by the amount of players in the game. The potential for variance is huge, and is based on the game-state it gets introduced into (and ‘game state’ includes the psychology of other players!). It can be used as a path to get ahead, or a political tool to influence action in enemies. It can be different things at different times and it doesn’t go away until the game ends (or restarts: thanks a lot Karn).
It’s adequately explored in the cycle of rares that do cool things when you’re the Monarch; not to mention the Queen herself. It also crosses over into Commander territory, as it is introduced by individual cards rather than presented as a ‘Conspiracy only’ mechanic. For this I am eternally thankful.
I feel Monarch is the single best thing to happen to multiplayer Magic since the original Commander set got printed.
The other mechanic designed to prevent everybody from just sitting back and drinking margaritas is Melee, and it incentivizes attacking better than a blow-up clown.
The original Conspiracy likewise featured a mechanic with a similar purpose in the form of Dethrone, but game states existed where it was pretty much useless (such as when you had the highest life.) It was also available on only a handful of cards in two colours.
In contrast Melee is well represented across a variety of cards, colours and rarities. It also provides the right incentive to prompt pro-active plays against a variety of opponents at any stage in the game. The only real downsides to it are you need at least two creatures and at least two opponents.
I don’t feel like there’s a huge amount of design space behind Melee, but it supports the purpose it was designed for and is quite fun to play with. And if you don’t agree then you clearly haven’t sent a Wings of the Guard into the red zone.
Goad is really fun and a great way of stirring the pot, but doesn’t have as huge an impact on most games it appears in. It’s a fun mechanic, but unfortunately it relies too much on what opponents have on the table. And It really needs to have some sort of repeatability to be anything more than a Threaten variant. That repeatability is only present on three cards; one a rare, the second a card that rarely gets played. The third one though, the Peacock, is apparently the bees knees. I have just never seen it in action.
I feel like Goad suffers from the same problem Myriad did in Commander 2015, where the designers invented something really cool but then didn’t bother supporting it enough. Speaking of which, why isn’t Myriad in this set?
Voting returns as Council’s Dilemma. It’s a slightly different to Will of the Council, as rather than everyone deciding on the effect, people decide on what the effect is (wow that sentence made so much sense…).
The mechanic scales up based on the amount of players, so like an orgy the more people present the more awesome it’ll be. This does play out a little differently though as it removes some of the tension from the game. It feels more like ‘Oh drat he’s played Messenger Jays again,’ rather everybody campaigning for their desired effect. Nobody is ever happy to see these cards except the person who played them.
(On the other hand, only Magister of Worth, Coercive Portal and sometimes Bite of the Black Rose actually created tense debates in the original set. Other cards like Plea for Power would routinely die in a silent chorus of farts because nobody let you do the fun thing.)
The effects are always going to be consistent and, unlike Goad, voting will happen in most games because the cards that voting appears on are very playable. Particularly if you’re in a five-man pod and they’re all dumb enough to give you a 7/6 flyer.
I am unsure on whether I like this new iteration of voting better than the previous. Like a lot of things in Take the Crown, splashiness seems to be trumped in favour of playability and consistency. And that design direction seems to be of benefit to everything in the format. So I guess I am in favour.
Gameplay does tend to be more aggressive as was envisioned in the set’s design goals. Melee provides a great incentive to attack early, and Monarch does too as soon as it shows up. Although a plausible scenario, I am yet to play a game it doesn’t appear in.
There tends to be a fair bit of back and forth swinging early, and the action kind of gets going around turn five. If you deploy a decent threat any earlier be prepared to get ganged up on later, and that’s GG for you my friend.
Monarch usually changes things a lot when it appears, and then it keeps changing things every turn. People usually do want the crown and you can play this to your advantage. I have had some great times purposely giving the crown away, knowing it opens up it’s wearer to attack from everybody else. A lot of the mid-game tends to be centred around the crown and whoever happens to be open.
The politics get rather heavy in the late game, making Take the Crown both more forgiving and more punishing to players who make mistakes- and which it is depends on the game state at the time. Mistakes are easier to make in this format as the power of individual cards is lower and thus said politics become more important. Be prepared to see a game close out with Blood-Toll Harpy. Plan your moves with caution, and remember your board state communicates more than your mouth does. Use your mouth to distract, dissuade and bargain; it’s usually not hard to call someone’s bluff. Holding onto the crown seems quite important in the late game- just don’t deck yourself doing so.
The turtling/pillowfort/’I’m harmless’ strategy still plays out. Addressing it was a key design consideration but it’s still a viable option when playing. The set design does promote attacking, and games are more bloodthirsty and interactive, but the guy who gets hit the least still has a better chance of winning. That said, Take the Crown does do a better job of combating it than any other multiplayer environment I’ve experienced. The best way of sorting it out is recognizing these strategies for what they are and taking them down in the mid-game (for the experienced multi-players) or making sure you hold onto the crown in the late game.
Creature name is quite important, and when drafting you can usually pick up three to five copies of a single creature. Stick to lower casting-cost aggressive creatures with some sort of evasion, then fix all your conspiracies to them as most of the common conspiracies reward attacking.
Just remember that conspiracies are always something to be wary of from opponents. Pay attention to what colours players have untapped. Note that Shimmering Grotto and Opaline Unicorn can provide mana for off colour conspiracies. If the attacker has a lot of red untapped and an unrevealed conspiracy, it is wise to block.
There don’t appear to be any colour themes between the colour pairings, unlike the last Conspiracy. While some of those were amazing (draft all the Flamewrights!) there don’t seem to be any guiding beacons towards what you should draft in this set. It’s more or less take it as it comes, and if you want a cool build-around, just hope you nab a colourless conspiracy in the first pack. It should also note there are draft-arounds, like Animus of Predation and Arcane Savant, that require you to do specific work during the draft. This quite cool if you’re up for the legwork.
On the whole I feel the gameplay is pushed towards being as aggressive and political as possible. As such it feels very tense all the way through, particularly in the closing stages when players are beginning to get eliminated. Personally I think it’s amazing and just the kick in the groin multiplayer needed- you just need to make sure your deck construction and table talk is at a premium, because slip ups can be more brutal than a rhino horn up the butthole.
Obviously there are amazing rares and mythics that are bound to harden nipples everywhere, but I’m not going to mention them here (oh look you wore that tight shirt for nothing). Instead I’m going to mention some of the commons and uncommons that stood out to be particularly good as you’re bound to encounter them.
Wings of the Guard: Do not underestimate this card. These things are little shits. They come down early and can soon be swinging for 3 or 4 each turn. Spread your attacks out across players so no single player has serious incentive to kill them and you can net 15 to 20 damage out of one card. Otherwise kill on sight.
Orchard Elemental: Big creatures are always good in multiplayer, and lifegain is particularly valuable. This guy provides both. How much life you gain is inconsistent, but be thankful it’s stapled to a behemoth of fruit.
Messenger Jays: I really like this card. You either end up with a huge flyer, a new hand of cards, or any combination thereof. Plus the artwork and implied theme is like real-life Twitter. Is this what passes for social media in Paliano?
Monstrous creatures: Monstrous replaces the Multikicker creatures from the previous Conspiracy. A lesson from that set: always consider scalable threats highly. Just make sure you can take advantage of the monstrosity sooner rather than later. The best of the commons seems to be the Leucrocota, because vigilance is a better deterrent than garlic breath.
Grenzo’s Ruffians: Be very careful because this guy is political suicide. This and the red conspiracy is living the dream, but unless you can take everyone out with one hit you’re going to be copping a lot of hate. Use with caution.
Unnerve: Unnerve seems to wheel around a lot which is good. Because it is a fantastic card. It makes a very good mid-to-late game lynchpin that can effectively remove players from the game. Just don’t play it too early, timing is everything with this card.
Summoner’s Bond: This is easily the best of the conspiracies. If you have 3-5 copies of one creature and 3-5 copies of another you can chain together a card advantage engine. Or use your 3-5 dorks to search for your one giant bomb. Just remember the giant bomb nets you another dork when you play it!
Reviving Dose: This card looks terrible, and I’m not saying you should ever try and draft it. But if it ends up in your pool, and you’re in white, for god’s sake play it! Lifegain is particularly important in this set, and this does not cost you a card. And by adding cards 41 and 42 to your deck, you can stop yourself from decking in the late game due from the Monarch mechanic. This card stopped me dying to an Overrun, and ever since then I swear by it.
However I am annoyed they missed out on some very obvious and awesome designs that could’ve better supported the lesser mechanics. For instance, where is a simple equipment that grants a creature Melee, or a red sorcery that reads ‘Goad all you creatures you don’t control’?
The only thing I ever did more fun than draft Conspiracy: Take the Crown was fuck three girls in one day. Plus an entire box costs about the same as I paid for one of those girls, so it’s more economical to boot!
The design is on point, and creates the kind of experience it was set out to create. What’s more its key mechanic (the standout of the set) will have repercussions in Commander and on kitchen tables everywhere.
The only downsides are downplaying your threat level is still a viable tactic in multiplayer, and they could’ve explored some of the lesser mechanics (Melee and Goad) more than they did. Draft effects and vote cards are not as wild and splashy as they were in Conspiracy, but I don’t consider this a downside as neither detriment the environment- rather they seem to enhance it.
In closing I would call Conspiracy: Take the Crown an enormous success and move to nominate Shawn Main for a Pulitzer.
Actually – wait- there is another major downside. At the time of writing IT’S SOLD OUT EVERYWHERE.
So for those of you who just ripped open boosters hoping to score Show & Tells, I could cry ‘shame on you.’ But let me instead point you to those three girls I mentioned earlier. We’ll start with Linda. She charges $175 an hour. That’s about what you paid for a box isn’t it?