The Dragon Reborn: Sarkhan, Fireblood

For as long as there has been mythology, there have been dragons. They are one of mankind’s most enduring creations and have taken various forms through various cultures: in some they are winged and four-legged, in others they have no wings at all and in others still they are serpentine. They soar through the air and they roam the woods and wind through the waves of the sea. They are great villains, irascible, proud and insatiable, and they are great, divine spirits, the embodiment of inner calm and balance. They were worships in days long ago–and, in a new way, are even worshiped now.

The dragon is eternal. The dragon is constantly reborn, in new shapes and tellings borne from the human desire for an avatar that encompasses the grace and terror and wonder that is life on the strange world. You doubt me? Come, let me show you one who knows more of dragons: Sarkhan, Fireblood.

A Closer Look: I Am Fire, I Am Death

Let’s see what Sarkhan has to offer:

A CMC of three is ideal in Oathbreaker; not only can you drop your Oathbreaker early but also that you can recast them easily and you can cast them later, alongside other spells in the same turn. Sarkhan is also mono-red, which isn’t as much of a liability in Oathbreaker as it might be in Commander; after all, Oathbreaker plays with only 20 starting life, making red’s burn spells far more effective than in Commander’s 40.

Loot effects are seriously underrated. While you obviously cannot get ahead on cards this way, you will at least have the option to bin a bad draw–and, if you can make use of your graveyard with cards like Feldon of the Third Path or Goblin Welder, looting takes on a whole new dimension of card advantage.

A second plus ability! That’s crazy for three mana! And it generates two mana?

Some may look at this and dismiss it, since the mana is limited to only Dragon spells. But what are Dragons but huge, evasive finishers? And, if you play Sarkhan on turn three, this means by turn four you’ll be able to generate six mana for a Dragon. That’s a huge jump up in the curve.

As ultimates go, this one is wholly worth popping off if you need it, but will probably never be activated in a realistic game. After all, you’re slamming Dragons every turn leading up to this, and if you cast Sarkhan on turn three this won’t be going off until turn seven at the soonest–not without some kind of Proliferate action speeding it along. Still, I don’t think I’d ever be sad to get four 5/5 Dragons!

With a starting loyalty of three and two plus abilities, Sarkhan is a supremely sweet deal for three mana.

Popular Signatures

Here are some of the most popular Signature Spells according to EDHRec:

Sarkhan’s Triumph

Pack it up, boys, we found it.

I can’t really think of any reason not to run Sarkhan’s Triumph as your Signature–not without making some kind of wacky Madness brew that takes advantage of his loot ability (and even then you have so many better options).

Sarkhan’s Triumph is your insurance policy. If you aren’t finding any Dragons naturally, or just really need a specific one like Thunderbreak Regent or Lathliss. It’s relatively cheap and an instant, making it easy to cast at the end of an opponent’s turn or in response to a removal spell targeted at Sarkhan. It’s nothing flashy, but that’s not its role.

Dragonstorm

On the polar opposite end of the spectrum is Dragonstorm, a Signature that will probably get you killed nine games out of ten before you even get a chance to cast it. On the tenth game, though? You’ll pull out five or six Dragons from your deck and kill the table.

Those interested in this Signature will definitely want access to mana accelerants, whether those are spells like Pyretic Ritual or cheap artifacts like Mox Opal. Furthermore, it’s worth noting that, as a Signature, Dragonstorm relies on Sarkhan being out before it is cast. To spend a turn chaining mana rituals and Moxen together only for an opponent to cast Hero’s Downfall on Sarkhan in response to the last ritual… well, it’ll hurt.

Draconic Roar

Draconic Roar has some decent potential in a version that tries to fuse a Dragon tribal deck with an aggressive shell similar to Chonky Red in Pioneer. In a Roar build, your focus would be cheaper Dragons, like Verix Bladewing and Glorybringer and using burn spells to close the gap or clear a path. To that end, Draconic Roar does both, similar to Searing Blaze.

Potential Signatures

I got nothing. Seriously. Like, look: can you play a generic value spell like Wheel of Fortune or Gamble as your Signature? Sure. But you can also just play Sarkhan’s Triumph and find a Dragon. Could you try to get some kind of cheese win using Irencrag Feat? Potentially. But you can also just play Sarkhan’s Triumph and find a Dragon.

This is the thing about Sarkhan: you live by the Dragon and you die by the Dragon. He’s not like Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God, where a multitude of builds are possible; he’s more like Arlinn Kord, where one thing is done and it is done extremely well.

What Does Sarkhan Want in the 58?

Dragons!

Duh!

  • Sarkhan’s Whelp: This little guy is cheap and provides free damage, which crucially can hit any target. Yet, he doesn’t seem so aggressive. Look at his widdle toes, and his smoky little snout and–gah! PUT IT OUT PUT IT OUT
  • Verix Bladewing: This card is an example of why I love Oathbreaker so much. In Commander, most people wouldn’t give Verix (and Karox, for that matter) a second glance, as the whole package adds up to a couple of beaters in a high-life format. In Oathbreaker, though? Verix is a decent threat on her own, swinging for a fifth of an opponent’s starting life total, but the possibility of Karox also joining the fray is something not to be dismissed either, as both can kill just about any planeswalker in a single swing together.
  • Opportunistic Dragon: These are the kinds of Dragons you want to be playing in a typical Oathbreaker game. There will be plenty of opportunities to snag something good with this Dragon (considering how populous the Human tribe is) and as a 4/3 it’ll be beating for a respectable chunk of damage every turn.
  • Skyship Stalker: Although its natural starts are a bit under the curve, Skyship Stalker makes up for it by having three solid activated abilities, especially when you consider the synergy between First Strike and Fire Breathing.
  • Territorial Hellkite: This Hellkite is extremely aggressive! While not so great in a duel, in a multiplayer game Territorial Hellkite will always swing–at least until you run out of opponents.
  • Archwing Dragon: Anyone who played Fated Reforged limited knows how strong the Dash mechanic was–and that’s exactly Archwing Dragon has, just all the time! Yes, it may sound like a downside that Archwing bounces to hand every end step, but in practice this means that your opponents need either instant-speed removal, a big blocker or some sort of combat trick to deal with it–and of these, the latter two are rarely found in an Oathbreaker deck. And in case you are wondering, yes, you can stack your triggers in the case of our next Dragon so you don’t have to bin Archwing…
  • Avaricious Dragon: Best used in aggressive builds, Avaricious Dragon gives you enough gas to finish up a game. In slower builds, however, you will struggle to cast all the cards you draw each turn, making its discard clause a liability.
  • Glorybringer: This is one hell of a card in a format like Oathbreaker. Always you are trying to find cards that fill multiple roles, since you’re limited to 58 cards, and Glorybringer does exactly what it says on the tin: it brings you glory. It’s big, hasty, evasive and, if you really need it, it’s removal for most of the creatures in the format.
  • Thundermaw Hellkite: The only more frustrating than removal are chump blockers–fortunately, Thundermaw Hellkite has you covered! Whether you’re alpha striking or just dealing a chunk of damage, this is one Dragon you always want to have at the ready.
  • Stormbreath Dragon: Even before it becomes Monstrous, Stormbreath Dragon is a monster of a threat. Flying, Haste and Protection from White will leave your opponents scrambling for an answer.
  • Backdraft Hellkite: If the burn build interests you, Backdraft Hellkite can be an insane finisher. Slam this turn four, turn five double Price of Progress (and the four damage it generates by itself) and I’d be surprised if there were even opponents left for a turn six.
  • Demanding Dragon: We should take Ob Nixilis’ lead sometimes and give our opponents a choice when they have none. Demanding Dragon’s trigger is situationally good, but given that we have access to Dragons like Glorybringer, it shouldn’t be a first pick unless you’re really into the flavor of it.
  • Steel Hellkite: Not all Dragons need to be red! Steel Hellkite is a solid deal; like Glorybringer it is both a threat and a removal spell and it’s a great mana dump if you don’t want to overcommit!
  • Scourge of the Throne: The most expensive of this lot, Scourge of the Throne is essentially an Aurelia, the Warleader in Dragon form–that is, until you’re the player with the highest life total, which often happens when every other player is dead.
  • Drakuseth, Maw of Flames: This is a big bad Dragon the delight your inner Timmy! If Drakuseth lives to swing in, he’ll devastate your opponents’ board and probably end up dealing at least ten damage by himself in the process! Being a seven drop, however, I wouldn’t recommend running too many other big Dragons alongside him.

More Dragons!

These are Dragons, too–but they’re Dragons that care about Dragons!

  • Thunderbreak Regent: This Dragon should always be in your list. It’s relatively cheap, swimgs for a decent amount and has a pseudo-protection ability tacked onto it for all your Dragons!
  • Scourge of Valkas: Although a bit above curve for its stats, Scourge of Valkas generates free damage and has Fire Breathing to boot.
  • Lathliss, Dragon Queen: One of your finishers, Lathliss will spawn a whole storm of Dragons to tear your enemies to shreds–and buff their damage if you somehow need it!
  • Utvara Hellkite: Eight mana is a lot to ask for, even with Utvara Hellkite’s powerful token generating ability. While this is fun, it’s probably better off in Commander

Dragon Worship

While not Dragons themselves, these cards really like them:

  • Dragonlord’s Servant, Dragonspeaker Shaman: If Dragons are anything but awesome, they’re also expensive. Sarkhan does a lot of work to offset their cost, but some cheap cost reducers (that also double as bodyguards for Sarkhan until a Dragon comes down) are always welcome!
  • Dragon’s Hoard: This card is just plain good. By the time you cast your Dragons you’ll want some more cards to fill back up for the ensuing removal–and, hey! Look at what you’ve got stored away in the Hoard. Until that time, Dragon’s Hoard is a respectable Manalith.
  • Dragon Tempest: Haste and extra damage for a low cost–it’s just plain good! And if you have other flying creatures somehow, even better.
  • Hazoret’s Monument: Yeah, yeah, it doesn’t have “dragon” or “draconic” in the name, but Hazoret’s Monument is still very useful for reducing the overall cost of your scaly friends, and it has a looting effect stapled onto it besides.
  • Spit Flame: There’s a lot to love about this card. It’s solid removal, it recurs regularly and you can easily bin it with Sarkhan’s loot ability without worrying about actually going down a card.
  • Crucible of the Spirit Dragon, Haven of the Spirit Dragon: While being able to generate colored mana for Dragon spells isn’t necessarily that useful in a mono-colored deck, both of these lands have their own utility. In the case of Crucible, it can be used to invest extra mana into storage counters, to be spent on a later turn for either multiple ability activations or a big Dragon like Drakuseth; in the case of Haven, it’s essentially a Buried Ruin for Dragons (but can also grab an Ugin if you’re playing him).
  • Sarkhan, the Masterless: This version of Sarkhan is decent at stopping small creatures from chipping away at Sarkhan after your Dragons attack, and can generate a Dragon himself. His plus ability is also quite handy for creating a few more beaters to close out the game.
  • Crucible of Fire: While wholly unnecessary in most builds, anyone seeking to capitalize on cards like Nesting Dragon or Dragon tokens will find this buff very handy indeed.
  • Draconic Roar, Sarkhan’s Triumph: If neither are in the Command Zone, they should be in the 58.

The Reign of Fire

Finally, these are cards that, while not directly supporting your tribe, support the kind of strategy Dragons naturally occupy:

  • Sarkhan’s Unsealing: Most of the time, this enchantment will deal four damage to any target when you can a Dragon, which by itself is really good. However, if you cast Drakuseth or any of these other Dragons, you get what will very likely be a huge board wipe.
  • Blood Moon, Magus of the Moon: Since we’re trying to hit our opponents with Dragons repeatedly until they’re dead, it’s important that they don’t remove them in the process. Enter these Moon effects, which will severely curb not only their removal but all of their deck as well, provided they aren’t playing a mono-colored deck. These land early and barely affect your deck at all, and thanks to recent reprints are pretty cheap!
  • Ruination: Like the Moons, Ruination curbs your opponents’ multicolored mana while never really hurting yours.
  • Earthquake, Magmaquake: These, along with any card like Pyroclasm that just deal too little damage to harm our Dragons significantly, are a great way to clear up opponents’ attackers for the following turn. And, since they hit players as well, they can be used to finish off an opponent!
  • Sneak Attack, Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded: With such a heavy curve, finding way to cheat Dragons into play, even temporarily, can help you claim a victory.
    • Feldon of the Third Path: And just because they’re sacrificed at end of turn (or discarded to Sarkhan’s loot ability!) doesn’t mean they have to stay gone, either.
  • Trinisphere, Chalice of the Void, Thorn of Amethyst: Like the Moons, these are cards designed to slow down opponents while you carry on as usual. This strategy doesn’t just apply to Sarkhan; before they had planeswalkers and Goblins, Moon Stompy decks in Legacy ran Dragons (such as Rakdos Pit Dragon) as their finishers. It’s a pretty straightforward idea: play a hate piece that cripples traditional, low-curve strategies and go completely over the top of it woth something that usually would be too slow for the format.

Lists

Build 1: The Lonely Mountain

Signature: Sarkhan’s Triumph

This is what I would consider the “optimal” Sarkhan list: you play some early interaction, you play Sarkhan, you play big Dragon, you win. This is meat and potatoes, and it’s so satisfying.

Build 2: Burn Them All

Signature: Draconic Roar

This is more an attempt to fuse a Burn deck with Dragon Stompy, and I don’t dislike the result nearly as much as I thought I would. All of your Dragons are lower in cost than usually, but that just means you’ll have more mana for casting burn spells. This list is fast and efficient, and honestly might perform better in a duel than our first build!

Budget Build: Dollar Store Dargons

Signature: Sarkhan’s Triumph

This… looks a lot like our first build, and that’s because about 90% of it is unchanged! As budget Oathbreakers go, Sarkhan is amazing: we managed to keep Blood Moon and Strip Mine in while staying under budget. That basically never happens! Usually some concessions have to be made and the strategy tweaked to remain strong, but here all we really had to do was cut Wheel of Fortune and some pricey lands.

Spicy Build: Apocalypse in Dragon Form

Signature: Dragonstorm

Our final, spicy list is really trying to make Dragonstorm work. The result is… okay, I suppose, but sources of fast mana are lacking in mono-red, especially with Lion’s Eye Diamond banned in this format. Still, this will be a fun variant if you tire of the Triumph build.

Conclusion

Drogon. Falcor. Mushu. Saphira. Smaug. Dragons have captured our imaginations in popular culture, taking on as many different roles as we humans. Our love for them burns deeply, and what Magic player among us cannot think of at least one Dragon we pulled from a booster or a chose from a sealed deck or saw in a friend’s binder and thought “whoa, that’s cool.Dragons are powerful. Dragons are awesome. Dragons are eternal.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll join me next week as we take a special look at colorless Oathbreakers. Until then, keep brewin’!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s