Magic: The Gathering – The Casual Conspiracy
Despite playing and collecting Magic: The Gathering for a good number of years, I’m still a filthy casual at heart. I enjoy the details of a well-tuned Modern deck, but the cards that really excite me are those I can see getting a lot of fun out of rather than just straight value and efficiency. That’s the kind of Magic: The Gathering that gets me excited, the kind a group of people can just sit down and play without having to jump through too many hoops.
I say this so you know where I’m coming from when I say I’ve not enjoyed a Magic: The Gathering set in the last few years as much as I enjoyed the original Conspiracy. The cycle of normal set releases for Standard, and the products that go along with them, can get a little monotonous after a while for Magic players, so when Wizards does something new and interesting I tend to sit up and take notice. And boy was a glad I did that with the original Conspiracy.
Conspiracy is what a summer Magic: The Gathering set should be; no extremely limited print runs and no $10 booster packs. Conspiracy was first and foremost a good set because it actually got into the hands of players, quite often below MSRP. I’d seen Conspiracy boxes going for so little in fact I was worried it wasn’t selling very well, and Wizards might not give it a sequel. But those fears were, thankfully, unfounded.
With boxes still going for as low as $60 – 70, this is a set where you can pick up a box, draft it with a group of friends, and have some well-crafted Magic: The Gathering gameplay for minimal investment. Unlike Eternal Masters, which had an excellent draft environment but was borderline unavailable, people actually got to crack open and play Conspiracy.
The other main part of why I loved Conspiracy was its laser focus on draft, specifically a draft meant for multiplayer free-for-all games. It’s the furthest away you can get from the 1 vs. 1 net-deck cluster-fuck of Standard in a booster-pack based set. The design of the set reflected this beautifully, and what ended having the most lasting impact on my play experience was the new conspiracy card type itself.
Conspiracy almost feels like a set designed to make a budget Cube out of. My Cube exists in two modes: with conspiracies and without conspiracies. They are an option extra that can shake up the gameplay well if you get bored. They can fit in any existing Cube, and add an element of gameplay to the draft itself. Conspiracy cards augment the normal rules of the game in a way rarely seen outside of products like Planechase. They give a different flavour to a familiar game.
Perhaps I’m such a fan of Conspiracy because of my natural play-style. I’m not someone to show up to a Pro Tour Qualifier, or tune a Modern deck to grind matches in Magic: The Gathering Online, partly because I don’t like being too dependent on Wizards of the Coast as a company, but also because I value the game as a social event and not just a chance for victory. I guess you could call me a ‘veteran casual’ in that I play a lot of Commander, Highlander (yes, those are different formats), Pauper, and Cube.
Last month I heaped glowing praise on Conspiracy’s sequel, Conspiracy: Take the Crown because I thought it did a good job of maintaining this focus on gameplay whilst providing much-needed reprints. I’m glad to say the price and print level of the set have remained the same too, with Wizards of the Coast staying true to their commitment to print as much of this set as people will buy.
Hell, I even enjoyed the way Conspiracy: Take the Crown was marketed. I generally don’t like marketing fluff but the way the second Conspiracy set was announced was actually very well done: having the name of the set change as the intrigue gathered and the situation shifted was a great way of conveying the theme of the set. Very well-played on that one Wizards.
Magic: The Gathering is meant to be played, the longer I’m in the game the more I resent staple cards ending up in glass cases or sealed in PSA graded cases never to be shuffled into a deck. To some people, actually playing dual-lands — or god forbid Power Nine — is sacrilege. Someone please think of the value! Oh the humanity!
I must admit it gave me a bit of smile to see people complaining they couldn’t make money from opening boxes of Conspiracy: Take the Crown and selling singles because prices were dropping. It’s natural to want to make money, but being able to do so isn’t indicative of a healthy marketplace for people who just want reasonably priced cards to play with. You’re not supposed to be able to hoard product and create false scarcity, and there really should be enough cards printed that the market can absorb this.
If Conspiracy: Take the Crown is driving down prices even further and make profiteering on the marketplace difficult then its functioning as intended. It squarely focused on the casual market; a place where products really need to filter down for the game to keep growing and staying healthy. You can make products that are friendly to the kitchen table player without making them useless to veteran Magic: The Gathering enthusiasts.
I wrote what I called “The Enthusiast Bubble,” and how it can warp perception of who exactly is buying cards, and what those people want. As we’ve learned from Warhammer and the abysmal practices of Games Workshop, when you only try to milk your existing audience your game runs into trouble. The ideal for any products is that it can make the largest number of consumers happy whilst increasing your pool of potential customers, and from that perspective Conspiracy is a great success.
I suppose my praise of Conspiracy is as much about the ethos of the product as its actual content. Products like the now defunct Intro Packs and their replacement, the Planeswalker Decks, seem to show a mindset that marketing to casual players means a complete void of value and a slapped together product with few useful cards. There is a distinction between “casual play” and “new players” that Wizards really started to pick up on with their official support for the Commander format. To me, both Conspiracy sets are a nod in my direction that there is at least going to be some level of support for how I want to play the game.
Now if only we could get a new Planechase set…
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