Looking for the strongest Detectives in Magic that you should be playing in Commander? Read on!
As is typically the case in modern Magic design, there were some Clues as to what the Detectives would be like peppered into the Doctor Who Commander Decks. Murders at Karlov Manor saw the return of the investigate mechanic, introduced in Shadows Over Innistrad and reused in Midnight Hunt. In addition to using Clues to dig for answers, some darker Detectives resorted to skullduggery to look through the graveyards for inspiration by collecting evidence. Still other Detectives disguise themselves face-down as a 2/2 creature with ward 2 by paying 3. These masters of disguise trigger when flipped up; some have more than 2 power; others have abilities that trigger on combat damage. The latter also benefit from the suspect ability, which gives an opponent's creature menace and can't block, enabling additional hits.
As I rank the Detectives in Magic, I'll be looking at raw power, ability to feed the keyword abilities, and the ability to play well with other Detectives and their abilities.
Sarah Jane Smith
Yes, the first Detective is from the Doctor Who set. Cue groans. No, but really, the reason Sarah is on this list is that she not only works well with the investigate mechanic, she affords Detective decks an incredible amount of flexibility as a lead singer. Most Doctors have two colors, so Sarah can pair with any nonwhite Doctor to pull the deck into different shards and wedges. Since she triggers on casting historic spells, a Sarah-led deck can jam a bunch of legendary Detectives and form her own agency. As a result, Sarah is probably the best non-Morophon option for a Detective-themed deck.
is one of the strongest Detectives in terms of raw power, even if it doesn't synergize well with other Detectives. Punisher effects are strong, and an on-curve beater that has a nasty static ability that punishes opponents by shocking them for sacrificing an artifact is potent. In higher-power formats, it's an incredible answer for the volumes of Treasures that cards like its fellow red creature, the notorious , produce. Even in lower-power formats, there are plenty of artifact-laden decks just begging for a blasting.
Morska, Undersea Sleuth
Morska is an incredibly powerful commander. It feeds its own abilities by investigating on each of its controller's upkeeps (, anyone?), growing bigger when its controller draws a second card in a given turn, and it even gives its owner no maximum hand size. Everything about Morska screams "I'm gonna dig down deep and find my own power!". Morska definitely zeroes in on the investigate ability and pushes it about as hard as it can.
Unlike's raw power, is a card that's contextually strong. It combines collecting evidence and investigating, triggering during combat regardless of whether any actual attacks are made. There are plenty of Simic cards that can load the graveyard, like , so collecting enough evidence to investigate every turn isn't too tall of a task, and the collect evidence trigger is a "may" ability, so you can protect your grave if needed. Simic has been dipping into graveyard strategies recently, especially with at the helm.
Lazav, Wearer of Faces
picks up where left off as a two-mana defensive creature with some powerful graveyard-based abilities. When Lazav attacks, a card from a grave is exiled and a Clue is made. The combination of grave hate, card draw, and the ability to become a copy of a creature Lazav exiled creates an impressive suite of abilities and a powerful build-around. There are monsters deep in the depths of Dimir, and Lazav is the one to dig them up, no matter who's hiding them.
The Inspector is another contextually strong card, but, unlike, its context is specifically other Detectives. In fact, it doesn't care if its brethren are out in the open or undercover. The inspector loots when a Detective, including itself, enters the battlefield or is flipped face-up. The word "whenever" is one of the most powerful in Magic, and cards with repeated card draw attached to them are really strong. Even without a lot of other Detectives, flicker strategies will love this.
Sophia, Dogged Detective
In addition to the not-so-subtle Velma and Scooby Doo reference (Velma, not Shaggy, because of the gender and the food reference imitating Scooby Snacks), the play on words with a dog-loving Detective being referred to as "dogged" has my heart. Sophia makes a second Detective body, a Dog Detective named, which has trample. When a Dog (not just Tiny) connects, she investigates and makes a Food. By paying one and sacrificing an artifact (like one of the two created when a Dog connects), she can buff each Dog with a +1/+1 counter. While these can stack up quickly in a dedicated Dog deck, Sophia can also be strong as a Detective commander just by making Tiny into an oxymoronically huge threat while triggering Detective cards and working with investigate shenanigans.
Detective of the Month
might just be the single most powerful Detectives-matter card printed. Emblems are sometimes discussed as a broken mechanic, and is essentially an emblem. As long as the controller has the city's blessing (not tough in a game lasting longer than five turns), Detectives can't be blocked. Being able to connect unimpeded would be strong enough, but with the number of unmasked Detectives using this to connect and trigger abilities on dealing combat damage, this really stacks up. If that weren't enough, the Detective creates a token every turn its controller draws a second card, which is easy with the investigate synergies.
Kaust, Eyes of the Glade
Speaking of unmasked Detectives, Kaust specializes in pushing the disguise ability about as far as it can be pushed. Card draw is rare on Naya commanders, but Kaust uses the trick of turning face-down creatures face-up in combat to draw cards, and allows its controller to save mana by tapping to flip a creature instead of paying the morph, megamorph, or disguise cost: a real Kaust-ian bargain! Get it, like Faust...anyways. Additionally, the hybrid cost makes this a Naya commander that can be cast on turn two, enabling it to hit the battlefield before the face-down creatures it enables. Three-color commanders that only cost two mana are a relatively new design space, but they certainly look to be good as gold.
While Detectives have a variety of associated mechanics, investigating is perhaps what they are best known for, and no card enables this more than, which investigates every time an artifact is cast by its controller. "Whenever" may be one of the strongest words in Magic, but "costs less" is even more broken. The Gadgeteer reduces the cost of ALL artifacts its controller controls, but cannot reduce them lower than one. The combination of giving fuel to affinity and Cheerio decks and reducing activated abilities means that this is going to be a potent combo card for years to come.
This is a bit of speculation on my part, but a functional reprint offeels like something white can really use. One-mana defensive creatures that have strong enters-the-battlefield abilities, that work with artifacts, and that draw cards are incredibly useful, and white has been improving in this area over the past few years. The more functional that reprints exist, the easier it is to build around the ability, and the easier it is to redefine what the color can do.
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint
Another neat commander option enabled by Doctor Who, both Vastra and Jenny care about Clues, and they bring Detectives into Temur colors. Since Temur is a nonwhite combination,can't enable it, but caring about Clues works with investigate. While can also bring Detective into Temur, she doesn't synergize well with other Detectives, so Vastra and Jenny are about as good as it gets in that wedge.
Case File Auditor
This is largely dependent on how strong Cases turn out to be. At present, there isn't a lot of support for Cases among Detectives. Still, sources for card advantage in white are few and far between. Sagas got some support, but the Saga support doesn't really extend to cases, as it's mostly specific to the one enchantment type. It does seem like there is plenty of design space here, so this may be a card to watch in the future.
Nelly Borca, Impulsive Accuser
Whoa, Nelly! Bell Borca's niece packs a wallop. She's the girl who cried wolf, suspecting creatures when she attacks and goading them into decisions their controller will regret later. She also draws her controller and those attacking her controller's enemies cards when those enemies attack each other. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend", and the Borcas seem to have friends in some very high places.
Lonis, Genetics Expert
My issue with Lonis is that I'm not a fan of how evolve works with its last ability; putting a counter on a creature already out doesn't do anything with evolve, so its abilities don't feed each other, as opposed to, say, Lazav, who triggers on attack. There are 10 other Detectives that work with investigate, and, while "that many times" is a powerful line of text, Lonis is a counters-matter, power/toughness matters, and investigate commander, only one of which makes it a good Detective. In the words of Benoit Blanc, I feel Lonis is "a smaller doughnut with its own hole" and will either require a lot of effort to be good, or will just sit around doing nothing. On the other hand, cEDH is its own beast, and as Sam Black recently noted, the card has a lot of potential to be broken at higher levels!
These are MY picks for the best Detectives in Magic, but what are yours?
And what were your favorite references to the real-world (or potential Universes Beyond)?