I’m going on the record right now: Sarkhan the Dragonspeaker is insane. While I don’t really think he has cross format potential like Jace, the Mind
Sculptor or Liliana of the Veil, as far as Standard goes Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker will be one of the best, if not the best planeswalker in town.
Let’s get right to him, starting at the top.
Mana Cost: 3RR
Sarkhan definitely falls on the wrong side of the planeswalker divide, as historically good four mana planeswalkers tend to be staples and good five mana
planeswalkers tend to be support cards. However, as Wizards has gotten better and better at designing planeswalkers of all different types, this trend has
begun to shift. A quick look at Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Nissa Worldwaker shows us that this trend is no longer a consistent one, and the power we are
starting to get for the higher cost is well worth it.
The big reason why Sarkhan costing five mana is okay is how he will be used. Sarkhan is a much more proactive planeswalker, who hits hard, wins the game
quickly, and is very hard to deal with. His fast clock combined with his durability makes paying five mana for him much more reasonable, and while he won’t
necessarily win you the game by himself like Elspeth does, he can easily put the game out of reach for your opponent or help to pull you back into the
+1: Until end of turn, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker becomes a legendary 4/4 red Dragon creature with flying, indestructible, and haste.
Stormbreath Dragon, get out of town! If nothing else, Sarkhan is a five mana 4/4 flying, indestructible, hasted dragon, and as recent history has shown us,
that is pretty damn good. Being indestructible keeps him safe from any instant speed removal save for Hero’s Downfall and almost guarantees he is good for
at least four damage no matter what. Being a planeswalker on your opponent’s turn also makes him immune to any sort of sorcery speed creature removal,
making him extremely difficult to interact with.
All of this is pretty absurd, as Sarkhan will simply keep soaring in turn after turn until your opponent is dead unless they can muster enough creatures to
properly attack him. This is also pretty different from how we’ve viewed planeswalkers in the past.
Most of the time, planeswalkers have been grindy cards that encourage you to extend the game as long as possible. Each turn you are activating a
planeswalkers ability you are accruing more advantage, and the goal is to eventually press that attrition advantage until you win. Xenagos, the Reveler
makes more tokens, Jace, Architect of Thought draws you more cards, Chandra, Pyromaster picks off small creatures and draws you more cards- all of these
walkers provide you the incremental advantage that builds up until you finally overwhelm your opponent.
Sarkhan is of a different breed, and there have only been a handful of aggressively-minded planeswalkers before him:
While Koth of the Hammer and Ajani Goldmane definitely saw major play in their respective formats, they were very singular in their goals. While they were
great at pressing an advantage, they were pretty bad when you were behind as they did little to effect an empty board or defend themselves.
This is where Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker really shines.
-3: Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker deals 4 damage to target creature.
Sarkhan can defend himself!
If you are behind, Sarkhan is not a blank Magic card like Koth of the Hammer. Sarkhan can come down, take out that Stormbreath Dragon that’s been bothering
you, and then stick around to turn the tide when you are able to start getting aggressive again.
This is so important, as one of the most important qualities a planeswalker can have is being able to defend itself. Unlike many previous planeswalkers,
which were only good at playing one side of the ball, Sarkhan is totally cool playing high-powered offense or very serviceable defense, which more than
warrants his slightly higher cost.
This also means that Sarkhan is not pigeonholed into only aggressive strategies. Sarkhan could definitely do some major work in tap-out style control decks
much like Gideon Jura did back in the day. Sarkhan can show up, destroy whatever creature your opponent has left over, and then go to town once you untap
and can use your other spells to clean up. I always liked Gideon Jura much more than Baneslayer Angel in my control decks back in the day because of how
versatile he was. He was harder to kill, and even if your opponent did manage to kill him, he likely destroyed a tapped creature on his way out. Sarkhan is
very much the same way, except he smashes face much harder.
-6: You get an emblem with “At the beginning of your draw step, draw two additional cards” and “At the beginning of your end step, discard your hand.”
Sarkhan’s ultimate, like most planeswalker ultimates, isn’t really that big of a deal. It is certainly not a ‘you win the game’ ultimate and not one you
would likely want to sacrifice him for. The Grafted Skullcap ability is much more suited for aggressive decks than control decks and could definitely give
you the extra gas needed to close a game out. The question is, is it really better than just attacking for four in the air again? Perhaps if the board gets
cluttered up with flying blockers and you really need an extra push sure, but on the whole I’m unimpressed.
The only thing that is impressive about it is how fast Sarkhan gets there. Assuming you play him and immediately bring him to five loyalty, he can get to
his ultimate in only two turns.
The best sequence I can see is if you were to ultimate him two turns after playing him, and then immediately play a second, plus it, and attack for four.
This means you never have to skip a turn of attacking with him, you still get the powerful card draw of the emblem, and most importantly it means that you
can play with the full playset of Sarkhans without worried too much about the legend rule getting in the way.
Sarkhan’s ultimate is not extremely exciting, but it comes up quick and gives you a reason to jam even more Sarkhans into your deck, and that’s good enough
Starting Loyalty: 4
Sarkhan doesn’t mess around and is pretty damn tough. Unlike flimsy planeswalkers like Kiora, the Crashing Wave and Xenagos, the Reveler, Sarkhan goes
straight to five loyalty, and will likely be going nowhere but up. This means even if your opponent is swinging back at him it will likely take more than
one attack to take him out, and all the while you are preserving your own life total and continuing to apply pressure.
Sarkhan’s aggressive nature also means that if you are backing him up with other forms of pressure, it is going to be very difficult for your opponent to
stop their defending long enough to turn around and attack him. Sarkhan can survive a single hit from a Stormbreath Dragon (or another Sarkhan), which is
very important as haste creatures are often a great defense against opposing planeswalkers, and he currently doesn’t die to any playable burn spells in the
Brewing With Sarkhan
I think Sarkhan is going to take a lot of the wind out of Stormbreath Dragon’s sails, and he can slot right in as a major threat in many of the
Monsters-style decks. With Domri Rade rotating out and no need to maintain a high creature count, these decks can take more of a spell based, planeswalker
slant like the Naya Planeswalker decks that were floating around for a while. Sarkhan essentially obsoletes Ajani, Mentor of Heroes, and with Naya not
being a wedge and Elspeth, Sun’s Champion being the only remaining white card we would really want to play, I think we can try other combinations.
How about we just stick with good ole Red and Green?
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Polukranos, World Eater
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 2 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Courser of Kruphix
- 2 Rattleclaw Mystic
Of course there are many more cards to be spoiled, and we may see so many awesome Temur cards that playing straight R/G might be silly, but this seems like
a pretty sweet baseline to go off of. We have all the strength of the Elvish Mystic–Sylvan Caryatid–Courser of Kruphix trifecta, with an amazingly powerful
top end headlined by two extremely hard hitting planeswalkers in Nissa, Worldwaker and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Of course Xenagos, the Reveler is no
slouch either, and this deck seems like it could apply large amounts of pressure from multiple angles. Planar Cleansing is also rotating, so building a
huge and varied board could be a very powerful strategy.
We don’t know what creatures are going to be popular and what other removal options we will have, so our Lightning Strike/Magma Jet split is pretty much
just a guess, but that will also be fleshed out as more cards are spoiled.
Another card that has me excited to pair with Sarkhan is Generator Servant. Generator Servant is an okay card, but with the current Standard format being
awash with all types of versatile removal spells, it was pretty likely your opponent could deal with whatever you would power out in an efficient manner.
Yet Sarkhan hits so hard to kill and kills so quickly that playing him on turn 3 might be just what the doctor ordered. Generator Servant could also power
out Nissa in the previous decklist, and in certain formats this sort of all-in approach could be a very successful one-especially week one if you can catch
everyone off guard.
I haven’t even touched on how you could use Sarkhan in a tap-out style control deck, or even as the top end of a straight aggressive deck, but I am very
excited to see what he can do over the next year or so. Mardu seems like it is going to be a very aggressive clan while Jeskai is a spell-based control
clan, and Sarkhan could fit very well in either.
What do you think? Is Sarkhan the real deal? And if so where does he slot in best?