Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Going Mad with Sarkhan

Yesterday, Wizards started off their official spoiler season (check out both official and unoffical spoiled cards at Gathering Magic) with a new planeswalker:

General consensus around the web appears to be that this man is no good at all. I, too, can see some obvious deficiencies. The biggest one is the lack of a positive loyalty ability. Each ability sends Sarkhan towards inevitable destruction.

People like a planeswalker who sticks around for a while. Sarkhan has a couple of turns of use and then he's out on the curb like last night's chicken necks.

From the moment I saw Sarkhan the Mad, I was intrigued. Maybe it's because I'm easily swayed by corner-case cards, maybe because I'm a contrarian at heart.

Let's set up some rules first:

1. I have never played a "standard" game in my life, and never plan to. Completely inexperienced in all other competitive formats as well. I do know a little limited, and there this is still a bomb, no one can argue that.

2. I have not had much interest in planewalkers, so far, either. I haven't opened any randomly, and have always delt with opposing planeswalkers with extreme prejudice.

3. I potentially have no idea what I'm talking about.

So with those ground rules aside, I'm going to look at the largely EDH benefits Mr. Sarkhan the Mad might present.

For starters, the man could be inexpensive cost-wise, a first for planeswalkers. I'm thinking my luck at the prerelease will be about the same as normal, and I will open garbage. That means I'll have to trade for Sarkhan. No one will trade garbage for a normal planeswalker, but they might trade garbage for Sarkhan the Mad.

Secondly, the large multiplayer games of EDH I normally play during my recreational time run by a different set of rules than 1 on 1 games others many be more familiar with. Whatever happened to the Ferrett? If there was any one card I would want his chaos-skewed preview thoughts on, Sarkhan the Mad is it.

In the games I play, the nail that sticks out gets the hammer first. If you are playing super aggressively, with commonly understood "good" deck choices, you are going to get targeted. The hate is going to swing in your direction. Your creatures, artifacts and enchantments are getting blown up. You will be punished for acting all smart and being pretty.

Planeswalkers draw a lot of hate beacause normally they're building up to something terrible. Let's look at

No one in their right mind is going to let Elspeth sit on the board for more than a couple turns. She is slowly improving her loyalty, eventually making you nigh-unstoppable. Note: because her "ultimate" ability says "for the rest of the game," this ability once-activated lasts even after you blow Elspeth up! Attention-getter, to say the least.

Sarkhan starts out as good as he will ever get. And instead of overpowered, game-breaking abilities to get your friends all up in a tizzy, Sarkhan provides a little bit of utility.

He's like a Swiss Army Knife with 4 attachments:

1. Draw cards! Drawing extra cards in black and especially red is always a challenge.
2. Neutralizing your opponent's threats. Giving your opponent a dragon may not seem like a good deal, but it all depends on what the dragon is replacing. Sliver Legion, Scion of the Ur-Dragon, Kresh the Bloodbraided, and actually most EDH generals would give you an unhappy face over this action. It is unfortunate the effect can only be achieved at sorcery speed…how much more effective it would be if you could do it during combat!
3. Beefs up any wimpy utility creatures you no longer need into serious threats. Goblin Balloon Brigade, anyone? Or for non-insane players, perhaps Siege-Gang Commander.
4. Turns your dragons into direct damage. If you have Sarkhan in play, you can get at least one dragon before using his "ultimate". And if you are playing black and red, you probably have more dragons in your deck. I know I do.

We will just have to see. It's true Wizards needs to make bad cards to ensure power creep doesn't get completely out of control. There haven't been really any traditionally "bad" planeswalkers, yet. Perhaps Sarkhan will be the first. Be he will continue to look good to me until he's lost me a couple of games. It's going to take some bitter defeats to wear the shine off his gleaming black/red exterior.

I look forward to beginning the grand experiment sometime after April 16th

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