Of all the really sweet cards that came out of Shadows over Innistrad, There was one card in
particular that I needed to get my hands on, and it’s probably not what you would have expected. No, as cool as
Arlinn Kord is, and as good as Avacyn is, I was most excited for a lowly common. A 1/2 creature for a single white mana. Yes, that’s right, I was super excited to get a copy of Thraben Inspector.
Let’s look at this card for a moment. I’ve already gone over its power and toughness, which
are slightly better than you expect for one mana, so that’s good. It’s also a Human Soldier,
which could be relevant. But it’s the trigger when it enters the battlefield that I’m happy to see:
. That is to say, when it comes into play, you get a clue artifact token that you
can sacrifice to draw a card. You could look at it as a three-cost creature that draws a card as
it enters, if you wanted, but from that standpoint it looks a little over-costed.
So why should I care about this potentially over-costed card, you might be asking? What’s so
special about this creature? Well, to explain that I need to first tell you about a Commander
deck I have.
This is perhaps my favourite Commander deck that I have ever built, and that’s saying
something when you consider that I have over twenty of them. The deck’s commander is
on Innistrad. She has a particular ability that is often referred to as a ‘tax
’ effect: “Noncreature
spells cost 1 generic mana more to cast.” My deck was designed to work around this penalty
by running as many creatures as possible; this way, while my opponents would have to pay
extra mana for their spells, I would not! In its current incarnation the deck runs 54 creatures,
including Thalia herself (the rest is 39 Lands and 7 noncreature spells).
Because I still needed spell-like effects in the deck, most of my creatures have abilities that
trigger when they enter the battlefield (or “ETB”), like Duplicant
, who exiles another creature,
or Geist-Honored Monk
, who puts creature tokens into play. It also has a lot of cards that let
me re-use those ETB triggers by returning creatures to my hand or by ‘flickering
’ them (i.e.
exiling them temporarily, then returning them to the battlefield). Cards like Flickerwisp
give me a lot of extra uses out of the same ETB triggers, potentially exiling several
creatures at once with a single Duplicant
, or flooding the board with tokens. So this brings us back to
. As you might already see, being able to constantly replay this card would result in a lot of extra
Clue tokens, which in turn would result in a lot of extra cards I could draw. That does seem pretty good, but we already established that the card draw from Thraben Inspector
may cost more mana than it is worth. So we ask
again, why am I so excited by it? Surely there are better cards for my deck! Spoiler alert:
If you look at the history of white creatures, you’ll quickly discover that very few of them let
you draw cards. This is supposed to be this colour’s big weakness, after all: White has the
most versatile answers, but no way to easily draw them. This is especially true when this
effect is tied to a creature. In fact, out of all of the White creature cards in the game, only four
of them let you draw cards when they enter the battlefield:
(Mentor of the Meek has a similar effect, but he triggers when other creatures ETB, so I won’t discuss him further here.) Let’s take a closer look at those four card drawing creatures:
Wall of Omens is a 0/4 defender for two mana that lets you draw a card on ETB. It’s really good, and is already in my Commander deck. But it is only one card, and the best commander decks have some redundancy. That means finding at least one other card that has basically the same effect.
Orator of Ojutai looks almost the same as Wall of Omens: it’s also a 0/4 defender for two mana, but to draw a card it requires you to have a Dragon either in play or in your hand when you cast it. Since my deck only has one Dragon in it, this just won’t do the trick.
Carrier Pigeons is an obscure card from Alliances. It’s a 1/1 flying creature for four mana. Already things are looking grim. When it ETBs you do get a card for free… but you draw it at the beginning of the next upkeep. This has been sitting in my Commander deck for a little while, now, and while I like the silliness of having it there, it’s bad enough that I’d be happy to replace it. And so here comes Thraben Inspector . It’s effectively three mana to draw a card, but in White that’s so rare I was already willing to spend four mana on that effect. On its own the Thraben Inspector is already better than Carrier Pigeons by costing one less mana, but it also allows you to draw the card immediately; that’s huge. When you also consider that I could save mana one turn and sacrifice the Clue token later makes Thraben Inspector a lot more flexible. It has some problems with cards that put creatures directly onto the battlefield, like Flickerwisp or Restoration Angel, since you have to pay mana to draw a card with the Clue token, but that seems like a small price to pay, especially when the card draw need not be delayed like it is with Carrier Pigeons.
There you have it. While there are so many cards in Shadows over Innistrad that I had fun playing with, both in Draft and in Commander, it is Thraben Inspector, that lowly common, that is easily my favourite card from the set.