The days of Unglued and Unhinged are long behind us (and Wizards of the Coast), but the two Conspiracy sets are the closest they’ve come in more than a decade.
All that in the service of multiplayer Spike-oriented Limited, where every box purchased is an experience unto itself.
Not to mention it’s set on a world that, while recognizably part of the Magic Multiverse, doesn’t play by all the same rules. As I’ve noted before, it’s a tiny jewel-box of a world, Renaissance Florence with brainy Goblins and just enough sorcery to keep things interesting.
There are a total of 80 new cards in Conspiracy: Take the Crown,and the balance within the various colors is far from even. (White has a full 26 new cards, while black has a mere ten; this is due in part to the concentration of mechanics like melee in white.) I’ll take a look at relevant reprints in a section at the end, but the bulk of my focus will be on the new cards and the story they tell about Fiora and the events taking place there.
I’m a fan of Winona Nelson’s art in general, and Sanctum Prelate is my favorite of her three illustrations in the set. By simplifying the background almost to Kev Walker levels — a suggestion of columns to the left, pure blank whiteness on the right — she puts all the focus on the Prelate. Another clever art trick: only the Prelate’s flesh-tones are clearly different from the two main colors of the piece, white and violet.
The sheer number of callbacks, not only to the previous Conspiracy set but to other points in Magic’s past, is staggering. Mike Linnemann has all the details. To give just one hint, check out that mural in the background. Does it look familiar?
One of the “story cards” of the set; as such, the Wizards art director certainly took care in crafting the art description and choosing an illustrator. Chris Rallis has done an admirable job of depicting the assassination of a Spirit…which is still a weird idea, when I think about it!
I’ll cheerfully admit to being a sucker for humorous Magic art. This is an excellent example of the “new era” of humorous Magic illustration, funny yet not over-the-top.
These five planeswalker and legendary creature illustrations provide a great example of how perspective (or “camera angle,” if this were a movie) influences how characters are seen. The unpretentious Kaya, Ghost Assassin is seen straight-on. Leovold, Emissary of Trest is seen slightly from above, as if the viewer is standing to shake Leovold’s hand.
The others are seen from below. Queen Marchesa, posed as if for an official portrait, is seen slightly from below, a painter’s subtle trick for elevating the subject. Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast appears at a sharper angle, making him and his self-invented conveyance seem far more menacing. And Adriana, Captain of the Guard has some of the most extreme perspective ever seen in Magic; the viewer is on the ground and knows it.
I’m not the only one who found the Jeering One’s choice of finger…ambiguous.
The expression on the middle prisoner’s face is a hoot, but there’s been some research failure on the “chopping blocks,” if you will. Unless those axes (and it’s highly unlikely they would’ve been double-bladed axes either — check out Public Execution in the same set for a “bearded axe” that’s closer to what was used in certain real-world executions in Europe) are ensorcelled, the headsmen’s blocks should be wood rather than stone, because stone will ruin those axe heads in a hurry!
Normally I’m a huge Ryan Pancoast fan, but he went far too “busy” on this illustration and it bit him here. The window pattern overlapping with the Operative’s body creates tangents for days and is tremendously visually distracting.
Name and Flavor Text Hits
Before somebody says “taxation doesn’t have anything to do with capital punishment,” behold the “head tax” (a capitation rather than a decapitation) and have a nice day. Also, never stop the snark train, Marchesa. Pretty please.
Red has the good one-liners in this set! And “Besmirch” is a simply delightful name.
Teetering right on the line of “too slangy for Magic,” but in Conspiracy: Take the Crown it’s awesome.
One of the best puns Magic has ever seen, a play on the chess-originated term “rank and file” (meaning the masses) and another meaning of “rank” meaning “smelly.” It feels darn near untranslatable, though, which is quite a shame.
Name and Flavor Text Misses
Sorry, Adriana. If that’s your rhetoric, your revolution isn’t going anywhere. Especially in Paliano, leaders need bodyguards!
…and the Homunculus thing has officially jumped the shark. Let it go, Wizards. Let it go.
I have no quarrel with the name; it’s simple, clean, and efficient. Spy Kit’s flavor text, though? I’ll cheerfully put it alongside Young Pyromancer, who punned on “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” first and better.
Top New Cards – Overall Effect
Though I didn’t mention the flavor text the first time around, I’m always a fan of a solid one-liner. They don’t have to be witty, just effective, and Sanctum Prelate’s two declarative sentences ring true.
The sheer exuberance of the art elevates it above a mere self-indulgent mass of in-jokes and references; it’s perfectly enjoyable even if you don’t get all the details. “Expropriate” as a name is a perfect Latinate fit for the plane of Fiora, and in just two lines, the flavor text tells a lot about Leovold and his personality.
I’m not entirely sold on Goblin Racketeer goading creatures, but I can’t resist that goofy grin and Goblin-grade explanation of where he got his treasure.
Daretti, Ingenious Iconoclast tells a story with his abilities, though that story is incomplete without an understanding of the original Conspiracy. The former member of the Academy, though bent on vengeance and looking to overturn the current social order, paradoxically represents the old guard in the way he uses Constructs and manipulates artifacts. When Muzzio, Visionary Architect held power, Daretti seemed like an upstart; now he’s more like a vestige of what Fiora once did best.
Reprint Hits and Misses
On one level, this Volkan Baga art looks more like an Inquisition of Kozilek than the original; at least this art has the weird plate shapes that define Kozilek visually instead of generic tentacles in Emrakul’s colors. On the other hand…what the heck is going on with this art? If anything, this looks like a creature removal spell, not a discard spell, and it’s visually confusing enough that it probably should’ve stayed in the folder of unused “slush” art.
The new Phyrexian Arena, on the other hand, I can get behind. The visual update is story-relevant, showing Koth of the Hammer on his home plane, now corrupted into New Phyrexia. In addition, the flavor text, while maintaining the “X of Y [preposition] W of Z” structure of its previous two iterations, feels fresh rather than derivative.
Within the context of Tarkir block, the flavor text of Twin Bolt from Dragons of Tarkir is a clever callback to Kill Shot from Khans of Tarkir. When both cards are in the same set, the mirror flavor texts don’t look clever anymore. They just look sloppy.
This artwork with its freaking-out Satyr certainly fits the theme of “Berserk.” On the other hand, I wonder what card it originally was meant for, because its Theros appearance practically screams “slush art.” If it was meant for Berserk all along, what could have been…
One last thought before I go: the Conspiracy sets feel like the first two in a three-set block. Under the old structure of “setup big set, complication small set, resolution small set,” the original Conspiracy would be the introduction to the world of Fiora and Conspiracy: Take the Crown would have the plot complications (the assassination of Spirit King Brago and the rise of Queen Marchesa). If there is a third Conspiracy set, though, will it end with the establishment of the Republic of Paliano — taking Fiora in a San Marino direction with a pair of consuls, perhaps — or will yet another monarch rise to take the throne? Only time and Wizards will tell.
What are your favorite new cards from Conspiracy: Take the Crown? Where would you like to see Fiora’s story go from here?