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When it comes to judging mechanics for a card game, I believe many elements need to be crossed off the list to deem something as “good.” I do not think a mechanic with a wall of text is necessarily full of depth. Likewise, a mechanic that is too simple can lack intuitiveness. However, Wizards of the Coast deserves props for their latest mechanic in Magic: The Gathering (MTG) called Investigate.

As part of the Shadows over Innistrad card set, Investigate is quite straightforward. Whenever a card triggers Investigate, you place a Clue artifact token into play that reads: “(2) Sacrifice this artifact. Draw a card.”
Clue Token
That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. This is all this mechanic needs to function, but the possibilities for something deceptively easy to use are plentiful. Already, this mechanic has been widely utilized in the current Standard block. Many deck lists have plenty of cards using the Investigate mechanic for its versatility.

Let’s look at a card like Thraben Inspector as an example.
Thraben Inspector
You can play Thraben Inspector to trigger Investigate, which gives you the Clue token. On the second turn, assuming you hit your second land, you can sacrifice the Clue token to draw another card if you need to sift through your deck. Even if you choose not to sacrifice the token just then, you can always wait for another turn. What I appreciate about this mechanic is the option to do more than what is presented at face value.

Because the Clue token sticks around as a permanent, this means there can be interaction opportunities for both sides of the table. Besides your opponent removing the Clue token in some fashion, let’s say you decide to sacrifice the Clue token to pay the cost for something like Angelic Purge.
Angelic Purge
And let’s also assume you happen to have a card like Tireless Tracker in play to make use of the sacrificed Clue, which places a +1/1 counter onto your creature.

Tireless Tracker, a human scout that gains counters from clues.Overall, these Clue tokens are capable of many combos for realistic scenarios. At the very least, you have a card-drawing tool on the board. As someone who has played MTG since the Gatecrash set, I have been through my share of mechanics. I have played with some decent-and-up ones here and there, but there have been various duds for whatever reason. More often than not, these troublesome mechanics have glaring flaws in their design.

They can be too impractical, too convoluted or the biggest offender for me – they are just not fun to use in the game. As in, they do not enrich, nor invoke, something interesting for both you and your opponent. No one likes to use dull mechanics if they can help it. Ultimately, game mechanics must instill some some of substance toward the actual player experience.

This is why Investigate is so wonderful as a mechanic. Its effects are easily understood, yet the nuances derived from the simplicity are outstanding. Investigate just strikes the right balance between playability and functionality.

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Magic: The Gathering card images belong to Wizards of the Coast.  

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