Sarkhan the Mad
– Rise of the Eldrazi
May 23, 2019
Commander [EDH]: 4.00
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
Back in Rise of the Eldrazi, Sarkhan the Mad was a unique planeswalker in that he had a high starting loyalty but had no way to increase it without help…potentially foreshadowing the angle of some of the War of the Spark uncommon planeswalkers, but with the usual planeswalker “power” level.
His 0 is an interesting, albeit risky, effect: a take on Dark Confidant, only harming himself instead of you. If you get lucky, Sarkhan can sit on board as a hard-to-kill card draw engine that gets you to the good stuff faster…or, of course, he could kill himself immediately. Either is interesting, but Sarkhan can pay off if you have ways to scry or manipulate your deck otherwise.
His other two abilities are interesting. His -2 is spot removal…though not really, because it turns the creature into a Dragon. Mind, there are times where a dragon is preferable to a creature (such as if you’re staring down, amusingly enough, an Eldrazi), but it tends to function better to upgrade your own creatures. And his -4 (functionally his ultimate) commands your dragons to swoop on an opponent. The notable thing is that he can ult immediately, and if you manage to ult Sarkhan Vol before this, you have exactly 20 damage coming from Sarkhan the Mad. So there is that!
Sarkhan the Mad plays well with the other Sarkhan planeswalkers, particularly for that ultimate; it is a five-mana card capable of ending the game on the spot, if you know what you’re doing. But it does require a lot of set-up to get there. Still, I rank Sarkhan 2.0 decently enough because you don’t need to protect him to get value, even if his weird skillset makes him a bit awkward to get maximum value from.
Sarkhan was the first planeswalker who deviated significantly from the format that was well established by that point. He seems perhaps less transgressive than the recent ones with static abilities, but he is no less unique in his way. His take on repeated card-drawing is one that no other planeswalker has quite emulated; it lacks the immediacy of something like Chandra, Torch of Defiance’s “impulsive draw” effect, but it does give you new cards in your hand without having to pay life or discard anything else. His other abilities are more like combo abilities than things that are just value in themselves, but I wouldn’t hold that against them. After all, how many cards can upgrade a token-themed deck’s midgame into something with Jund-sized creatures? And how many cards can deal a hundred damage to someone after a Patriarch’s Bidding on dragons?
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