Conspiracy has been my favorite set since before it even came out! Once Wizards announced they designed a set for draft to be played in four-player multiplayer games, I was over-the-moon excited! Shaking excited. Piddle on the floor like a puppy excited! I preordered a case and I'd never even ordered a box of any set! For those of you who've read my articles at DailyMTG, or GatheringMagic before that, or at the Muse Vessel before that, this comes as no surprise. I have loved multiplayer Magic since I started playing during Fourth Edition and have really enjoyed Cube drafts since a couple guys in my group built their cubes five years ago. The idea of taking those two concepts and combine them into one thing seemed even better than combining peanut butter and chocolate.
When creating a regular set, Wizards needs to create a robust set that is interesting to draft for players from their first draft to their hundredth draft, a carefully balanced format where a particular deck build doesn't simply dominate again and again. Eventually the experienced drafters start to see particular deck types in a variety of colors, or color synergies start to show themselves.
Conspiracy had some advantages and disadvantages when it came to the long-term success of the draft format. With many multiplayer games we tend to see the board develop, then everyone settles in behind their defenses and waits. Attacking usually means you are vulnerable to an attack back from the other players in the game. Wizards, with the closed environment of cards, could create an environment that encouraged attacking. Keeping games moving and shifting is a big part of what makes multiplayer games fun, and Wizards knew that their format would have to find ways to encourage the players to interact, something they never really had to worry about with regular drafts.
The added layer of difficulty of a multiplayer format was made easier due to this being a multiplayer format. Yes, it works both ways! If the draft produced a deck or couple of decks that seemed consistently more powerful, there would be three opponents there to try and deal with the problem. This meant that if the W/R Defender deck was too powerful, it was going to be balanced with three opponents pounding away at it. A 40-card deck can run out of options quickly.
As someone who has drafted Conspiracy over 25 times, I can safely say that the set is still great to draft! It really comes down to three things:
Muzzio, Visionary Architect is the least popular of the five
Grenzo, Dungeon Warden also has limited popularity, but that is more a product of what he does. Playing Grenzo, Dungeon Warden involves manipulating the bottom of your library, mana ramp, and a deck that is primarily creatures. While I enjoy this kind of deck, Grenzo, Dungeon Warden doesn't allow for a wide variety of decks, so you find yourself running the same cards again and again. This doesn't result in a popular commander.
Selvala, Explorer Returned offers a little more variety than Grenzo, Dungeon Warden and is the feature card for the parley mechanic. For most Conspiracy games, parley wasn't the best ability. Letting every opponent draw a card so you could draw a card and get a benefit of unknown size just wasn't all that appealing for most Conspiracy games. Commander games offer a much larger card pool and many more ways to manipulate the top card of your library. Most Commander decks using Selvala, Explorer Returned want their opponents to draw cards, so the parley drawback becomes a positive.
These white/green decks are often starved for card drawing and have plenty of ways to take advantage of the repeated, small life gain (the best kind of life gain!). Kevin, a friend in my playgroup, has a Selvala, Explorer Returned deck that he uses to great advantage. Most players are happy to draw cards early in the game, even when it means Kevin is getting two or three extra mana. His funky group hug deck demands that the rest of us decide how far we are willing to go before we think it will be too late to reel him in.
Brago, King Eternal has proven to be a powerful and popular Commander. His ability to flicker permanents is great. When he does combat damage he can flicker to give himself pseudo-vigilance. He can flicker all your other creatures to give them the same vigilance and rebuy any enter-the-battlefield triggers. I particularly like his ability to blink Planeswalkers. Getting to use your Planeswalkers twice in one turn is a wonderful thing!
I believed that the combat damage limitation for Brago, King Eternal would make him a fair creature, but most players have managed to work around it fairly easily. I use several copies in a 60-card casual deck that viciously abuses the Planeswalker angle. I'm considering a shift to include mostly creatures, just to change things up a little. There are so many options when it comes to Brago, King Eternal!
Marchesa, the Black Rose features the dethrone mechanic from Conspiracy. In the drafts, dethrone was a nice way to keep players attacking during the game, since your creatures would get bigger. In Commander, it is just one of many ways to get +1/+1 counters on your creatures to ensure they return to the battlefield if they should die.
Marchesa, the Black Rose decks are very popular. I suspect people love the deck options since they generally include plenty of +1/+1 counters and I can't be the only one who loves having dice on every creature! Or maybe it is just because Marchesa, the Black Rose decks tend to be powerful and fun to play while allowing for personal deck-building touches. I built one soon after getting a chance to play with Marchesa, the Black Rose in a Conspiracy draft.
The deck has proven to be a lot of fun. There is a small Wizard theme that comes out to play occasionally, and when the deck starts to work, looping creatures overwhelm opponents quickly.
When it comes to Conspiracy, I really don't think you can go wrong. The draft games are great, and when you are finished, you have plenty of cards that will slide easily into your current Commander decks, and provide you with all sorts of options for new decks! I hope Conspiracy: Take the Crown proves to be as much fun as the original!