Hello everyone! For my article this week I have the pleasure of taking a look at a new spoiler in Magic's upcoming core set that was provided to Gathering Magic by Wizards of the Coast. Having read a good deal of spoiler articles like this myself, I'd like to start off with the thing everyone cares about rather than beating around the bush. I present Sarkhan, Fireblood:
Three-mana planeswalkers are probably the ones I feel are the hardest to properly evaluate. This is because they do not fit into a specific "mold" that playable four- and five-mana planeswalkers often slot into.
That being said my first impressions of the Fireblood are the following:
The biggest issue with the Fireblood, at a glance, is his inability to impact the board. Generally speaking, the most playable planeswalker cards are able to help protect themselves in some way, meaning when they are on their own they can still have a chance of hanging around. The fact that Sarkhan goes to four loyalty off the bat might help some. Whatever shell Fireblood does end up in will likely need consistent methods of keeping the board either clear or gummed up to make sure this walker can stick around.
A card like Sarkhan, Fireblood is only going to be as good in a given format as the tools it is helping enable. This means we want to take a peek at what the various dragons are that we can be casting.
First up - the fact that his plus adds mana of any color could end up being a big deal in Standard:
Fireblood allows us to be base one or two colors and then easily splash some more to gain access to these powerful bombs.
Past these new toys, we have a couple of existing Standard legal dragons that could be promising:
Glorybringer is an obvious power house that Fireblood will be slamming into play a turn sooner. Verix Bladewing, while less powerful on the surface, is exactly the type of card I like in my ramp decks. While it is not super impressive as a 4/4 flying for four, it still gives us something to do in the mid game when we might not have as many resources. The fact that it can kick to provide two bodies in the late game gives it a good deal of flexibility. This helps mitigate the "wrong half" problem ramp decks often have with not drawing their threats at the right time.
While it is often tempting to start diving into building specific deck lists at this point, I think it is often a good idea (especially in Standard), to wait until we have the complete picture of what the format will look like with a full spoiler before diving in. A card like Fireblood, which depends on format synergies to define their power level, demands it.
As far as non-rotating formats go, I would be fairly surprised if this planeswalker was Modern playable. Modern is very much a format about playing to the board, so the fact that Fireblood does not impact the board at all is a huge knock against him there. While I will probably try to make Fireblood work here alongside Dragonlord Ojutai at some point, my expectations will be low going in.
Legacy however could be a different story. Every time a new draw engine like this gets printed in Red / Colorless I am always keen to try and shove it into the existing Red Stompy shells. These decks tend to have a lot of desire for "filtering" like Fireblood provides. This is because they often have redundant lock pieces they do not mind turning into new cards once they are ready to start closing the game out.
It is not just the rummage effect that could be leveraged in Legacy though. Some people will remember that once upon a time the Red Stompy decks in Legacy were referred to as "Dragon Stompy" because they opt'd to employ dragons as finishing threats. Fireblood could potentially push the archetype back in that direction perhaps with Stormbreath Dragon as a finisher.
What do you think of our newest planeswalker -- Sarkahn, Fireblood? What formats and decks are you most excited to sleeve him up in? Let me know in a comment below!