Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker – Khans of Tarkir
Date Reviewed: May 25, 2023
Commander [EDH]: 3.13
Ratings are based on a 1 to 5 scale. 1 is bad. 3 is average. 5 is great.
I am quite embarrassed at the number of times I’ve referred to planeswalker cards that turn into creatures as Gideon’s thing, considering that Sarkhan has also been doing that since 2014. You’d think it would have stuck with me, considering how much I like Tarkir’s setting, and the way its five clans each allude to a different part of our Earth’s Silk Road.
In-game, this version of Sarkhan offers some interesting abilities, which seem to have been tailored for aggressive red decks with higher curves. His +1 provides a strong attack to pressure your opponent, and his -3 can be used either as self-protection or to clear the way for offense. His ultimate is perhaps at its best in decks that can regularly play multiple cards a turn in the late game, hence aggressive red; but those decks are also the most likely to have ended the game by that time, either in practice or in effect.
My recollection of that era was that there was indeed a midrange red deck, generally including green for mana acceleration and some of the Theros block’s big monsters. One of those monsters was Stormbreath Dragon, which I recall somewhat overshadowed this card. Despite that, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is still a solid choice in casual formats today.
Constructed: 2 (current formats; in Standard back then, it was probably about a 3-3.5)
Commander [EDH]: 3
Here to burninate the countryside, people, and the thatched roof cottages of Tarkir, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker was a bit of a force for its entire Standard run. It’s a five-mana 4/4 with haste and evasion and immunity to kill spells on your turn if you use his +1, and that carries a lot of weight. Remember that his +1 makes him not be a planeswalker for the rest of the turn, and that means he won’t lose loyalty on a block or on an effect otherwise. All in all, this makes Sarkhan a deceptively tricky beast to stop, and that’s before we mention his -3 serving as solid spot removal. His ultimate is very red, but you’re unlikely to get to a point where you cast it; that said, two extra cards is a good way to give red the ability to put on the gas if you’re fine giving up things on your end step…which is very Rakdos, but here we are.
Sarkhan hasn’t held up since rotating out of Standard, as five mana is a bit too high to have an impact for a planeswalker if that impact isn’t along the lines of turning a game around in a pinch. He can put up pressure, but he’s really a bit slow even for red as a finisher in a faster format.
Constructed: 2 (was good in Standard, is not so now)
Limited: 5 (very hard to out in Limited)
Commander [EDH]: 3.25 (he has some Dragon synergies, but he himself isn’t a Dragon spell, so be cautious)
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