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Developing Conspiracy

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The letter B!efore we dig into Conspiracy let's take a look at the development team that helped make it happen.


Dave Humpherys (lead)

That's me. I was the lead developer on Journey into Nyx, Gatecrash, and Avacyn Restored. I manage the Magic R&D development team.


Dan Emmons

Each development team really wants someone on the team whose primary responsibility in R&D is design. In this case, Dan was our go-to for helping us create new cards in a pinch and making sure we were doing things that would make design happy. Dan has been on a number of design and development teams, past and future. Dan has taken on the duty to explore where each of our Planeswalker characters have been and what elements of those cards we should be looking to propagate in the future, so that each feels distinctive.


Joe Huber

Sadly for us, Joe has moved onto other adventures in life. While he was in the company, he was a designer for the digital side of R&D, placing a lot of his energies in the various releases of Duels of the Planeswalkers. Joe was very excited about Conspiracy as a general concept and asked if he could join the development team after it had begun. Joe has perspectives about making fun products that I knew we could use here. He also has a satisfyingly distinctive laugh that we could use as a gauge of how well we were doing.


Sam Stoddard

You likely know Sam from the Latest Developments column on this site, where he talks about the many things our development team does. Sam has been on several development teams over the past couple of years. He has led the development of the last several Duel Decks products that we've either released or announced. He also led development of the three Theros block challenge decks: Face the Hydra, Battle the Horde, and Defeat a God. Finally, he led development of the card content and progression for Magic 2015—Duels of the Planeswalkers.


Gavin Verhey

Gavin is someone else you are likely to know from this site. In his column, ReConstructed, he looks at decks submitted by readers and recreates them in new shapes and forms. Gavin has spent a good amount of time working on Kaijudo. Most recently, he's rejoined Magic R&D on the design team and is spending his focus on branded play, creating experiences like you've most recently seen with nine quests as part of yhe Hero's Path during Theros block.



Marchesa, the Black Rose | Art by Matt Stewart

Something New

It's not all that often, as a developer, that you get the chance to be part of creating something that really is unlike any other product we've released before. Fortunately, Shawn Main, as the lead designer, had a lot perspective, having played with his playgroup using a similar format, and he helped present a strong vision for the product that I could use as a guide.

What is the optimal use of the Conspiracy packs? You draft them and then play free-for-all multiplayer games.

As we embarked on making this set, I was curious who would gravitate toward this product. A lot of our new product launches have someone in particular in mind. As examples, we have Commander products for players either embracing or wanting to enter that format. Similarly, we released Modern Masters to support players enjoying Modern as a nonrotating format bigger than Standard.

But who is Conspiracy for?

Most simply put, it is for: (1) people who like to draft and (2) people who like multiplayer. How much overlap is there between these two groups? That is a question we could mostly only speculate about. For those who love both, Conspiracy felt like a slam dunk, but I knew it was my job to make sure that if you really enjoy either one of these two things that you'd have a great time with it. I made all reasonable efforts to make either group happy, even if the other experience was foreign or less ideal to it. Meanwhile, I kept checking in with Shawn Main to make sure I wasn't straying away from the experience he wanted. There's always that danger that, in trying to make everyone happy, you make nobody happy. The more and more we tested, the more clear it was that things were working well. In particular, I had a great number of people come into a playtest as skeptics, only to find themselves having a great time.

Beyond this suggested play experience of drafting, then playing in groups of three to five players, that I'm hoping you'll try at least once, Conspiracy also offers some cool new possibilities for Cube, Commander, and Legacy play.

Art by Karla Ortiz

A Personal Aside

You might not expect to see me here as the lead developer on this set. I would hardly call myself a casual-play guru. If you are familiar with me, you know I've played in more than fifty Pro Tours. While I did spend a lot of late nights playing Magic using the Emperor format in the halls of M.I.T. before this thing called the Pro Tour was invented, as soon as I played in my first tournaments, it would be easy enough to categorize me as a very competitive player. I would note, though, it took many years to break me of playing very wacky decks, and perhaps less-competitive decks, at even the highest levels of competition. For example, at the first Pro Tour, when people were running Land Tax or sideboarding Necropotence, I had my four copies of Sindbad as my card-advantage engine. My most competitive "Type 1" decks featured Rasputin Dreamweaver and Sol'kanar the Swamp King as the only creatures. Let's just say I'm always intrigued by things off the beaten path.

For this project, free-for-all game play was a new landscape for me. I generally had not considered it something for me. I much preferred multiplayer formats where diplomacy wasn't a factor and it was two equally sized teams, or at least I thought I preferred it that way. Consequently, I went into this project with some skepticism, but the first time I played Shawn's prototype I had a lot of fun. Each person in the early playtest groups had his or her own styles. Players were having a good time whether they were trying to be political or whether they just focused on playing their cards. And regardless, there was a lot of fun banter going on during the games.

The strategic setup was also fascinating for me to explore. Right from the start, the card evaluation for drafting cards was tricky to appreciate. How good is one-shot removal? How much better is vigilance or deathtouch? What do I want to avoid because it will make me an enemy to others? Then, having executed on various hypotheses during the draft, it was fun to see how well things worked out in practice during the game. How aggressively should I use cards? What would I need to have available in reserve as players start getting eliminated?

There was a lot to dig into!

And as a developer, there was a lot to excite. Applying many of the techniques that have been working well for us in our traditional sets, like focusing on color pairs, proved exciting in the new context provided by the drafting-related cards and the multiplayer nature of the format.

Art by John Severin Brassell

The Old

We'll get to more of the new stuff in a moment, but let's touch on what you'll see as far as reprints. There are a lot of appealing reprints that make sense for multiplayer, not completely unlike what you might see in a Commander-related product. Within this group of cards, you'll also see many cards that see a frequent one-on-one play as well. I don't think you'll be disappointed. But we were very judicious in what made sense here. You won't see the likes of Wasteland or Force of Will, which wouldn't really add anything "net fun" to the multiplayer environment except for the most avid of griefers. There's not much upside to putting myself down one or more crucial resources to hurt one of the other three or four players. You will, however, see popular situational cards that are more likely to have their conditions met when there are more players and more turns in a game. Whether talking about new cards or reprints, we focused heavily on what would optimize the draft and play experiences.

Speaking of situational effects, this brings me to the returning mechanics in the set. One of them is morbid, which is a situational effect of sorts. Yes, it actually comes up frequently in one-on-one battles, but it is a mechanic we knew would shine here with more players. The other returning mechanics were largely about smoothing out the early and late games for players to increase the likelihood that each and every player would have a chance to stay involved in the game.

Landcycling is the most straightforward of the other mechanics for making sure players tended not to stumble. These cards provide spells effects that can be cycled in a pinch to make sure you don't stumble on mana. The other smoothing mechanic returning here is multikicker. This serves the desired role by giving players cards that are both efficient early in the game and in the late game. Players can make use of whatever mana situation they find themselves in with these cards and help ease tensions in drafting between drafting for a late game and yet still having options if someone starts attacking you early in the game.

Cogwork Librarian | Art by Dan Scott

And Back to the New

Making new multiplayer-focused cards was a lot of fun, especially once the creative team became excited about the project and unexpectedly went about building a style guide about Fiora for the set. It was very rewarding to create top-down cards for the characters that creative team members Richard Whitters and Adam Lee were describing to me in the setting. It was fun pulling everything together and capturing key figures in this ongoing power struggle set in a world of intrigue and plotting.

It was also exciting to find out there was a desire to create the first new Planeswalker outside of our normal standard sets, and you've likely seen the result.


I'll speak here only briefly about the new mechanics in the set for typical Magic cards. You can take a look at Shawn Main's article for more info. Here's my developer's take on the most crucial role of each: Dethrone was included in the set largely to get the ball rolling in games and to provide both incentive and excuse to attack players. Will of the council, which turned out to be quite popular, was a way to formally bring diplomacy into the game and encourage conversation. Parley helped provide card flow for all players, to help ensure action both in the early and late game.

Let's Draft

Without doubt, it was most fun trying to work in the space of the draft-influencing cards. After all, that was what really sets this product apart from the rest.

Ultimately, we arrived at having one draft-influencing card per pack. These cards replaced the basic land slot.

There were a lot more challenges with these cards than I would have expected. What are the sorts of things I wanted out of these cards? I wanted each card to specifically influence the draft process, to modify how you evaluate various cards during the draft, to set a stage for novel game-play experiences themselves, or simply to be fun and unique.

Often, I'd be trying to ask the question of myself and others on the team to envision scenarios that you wish you could do in drafts, and especially cards that they'd want for their Cubes. Hopefully, we've captured many of the first responses that come to your mind.

You'll find that some of the draft-ability cards go into your decks, but others don't have mana costs and start in the command zone. These are the conspiracies. When you are drafting, I found many people would undervalue just how good these cards are. For the most part, you will always play them no matter what your deck is doing or what color(s) it is. But exactly how much will you prioritize them? Do you take them over a bomby creature or a sweep effect? It's not obvious by any means. They will likely be significantly better, and more fun I might add, than most any card that would just barely make the cut in your deck. In case you haven't seen it clarified elsewhere, conspiracies are the only cards in the set that aren't legal for any sanctioned Constructed format, but may be included in other Limited formats, such as Cube Draft.

One of my favorite cards in the set is Worldknit. If you draft this card, and choose to play with it, you can have all of your lands produce any color of mana. What's the catch? Well, you have to play with every single card in your card pool, even those fourteenth and fifteenth picks. However, you can go about taking the most powerful card for your current draft deck in every single pack. And this set is just crazy enough there might be ways to remove cards from your "card pool."


We did set limitations on what we were willing to do in this inaugural set. For example, I didn't want them to disrupt the flow of the draft itself. As an example, we didn't make a card that switched the direction of the draft mid-draft, because this would be messy if everyone weren't drafting at the same pace. All of the cards were written to work well even if someone happens to have several packs waiting in front of them. Beyond this rule, I felt like we could get away with most anything else, even if it was complex. The only other side note was that there are a number of cards that ask you to note something about a card as you draft it. A lot of these were a lot of fun but would require a player to mark them up in some fashion during playtesting. Ultimately, with the help of editing, and Matt Tabak in particular, we reached wording where the cards starting in the command zone could be noted in any various way you preferred. You'll come to know these as hidden agendas. And we tweaked the cards shuffled into your deck so they could all be treated equally, whether it was the first, second, or third copy of that card you had drafted. All of this will hopefully make more sense as you see more of the cards in the set are revealed.

My official preview card for today is a different take on a conspiracy.

How highly would you draft a card that would let you choose between two opening hands?


Having such a choice of which hand to keep is quite the luxury. I might add it is a lot more useful than a free mulligan, since you know what's behind door number two. And if you like neither opening hand Backup Plan offers you, you can still take mulligans (and the first mulligan in multiplayer is free).

And with that, I wish you all luck in exploring this set. Thanks for reading!

—Dave Humpherys



 
Dave Humpherys
Dave Humpherys

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Dave Humpherys has been managing the development team for Magic R&D since 2010. He led development for the Avacyn Restored and Gatecrash sets. He was inducted into the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame in 2006.

 
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