To Sarkhan or Not to Sarkhan?

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By: Jared Yost

That is the question. First I should probably explain why.

Today I’d like to compare two cards to each other that are eerily similar but at the same time vastly different – Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and Stormbreath Dragon. I have a feeling that one of these cards could be a breakout mythic that reaches heights of $30+ over its Standard life. The question is, which one?

How They’re Similar

Just look at how similar these two cards are on the surface:

  • Exact same mana cost (3RR)
  • The number 4 is everywhere on these cards. Sarkhan becomes a 4/4 on the first ability, Stormbreath is a 4/4. Sarkhan even has four loyalty to start with and deals four damage with his second ability! So many fours.
  • Both have haste, flying, and are dragons
  • Both are mythic rares from the first set in their respective blocks

If you would have told me that there would be two cards in Standard that are this similar on the surface I would have told you that Wizards R&D would never do that, it is too lazy even for them. Now that it actually has happened, I can actually prove that they’re getting lazy! Yeah, let’s make sure to have that awesome mythic rare hasty dragon in every set that can appeal to spikes and casuals… At least its not a titan!

Wait though, let’s point out the differences before we start saying that Wizards has been getting really lazy.

The Differences

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

  • Indestructible as a creature
  • Provides creature removal
  • Planeswalkers get around sorcery speed spells / abilities

Stormbreath Dragon

  • Has protection from white
  • Monstrosity ability can provide extra reach
  • Also creates a bigger dragon, for a more explosive ability that can finish a game faster than Sarkhan

Looking at the differences the two cards operate entirely different from each other. Sarkhan can perform the role of both control and aggro when needed, whereas Stormbreath is the definition of a midrange card and can only provide that role due to the linearity of it being a creature.

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Based on the differences lets delve into the specific good and bad things about each card.

Pros and Cons of Each

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker

  • Pros of being a Planeswalker
    • Planeswalkers are hugely popular with the casual crowd, much more so than dragons by themselves generally speaking. Financially, this means that they will retain a good amount of their value even through rotation and could cause the Planeswalker to spike if it is played regularly in Standard.
    • Planeswalkers also cater to spike if they do… well, spikey things. Generally speaking, if a Planeswalker is good at protecting itself (the classic case being Elspeth, Knight-Errant with the token generating ability) then it has a good chance of being a Standard all-star. Other abilities in this category include removal and card advantage abilities.
      • Sarkhan has removal, but at great cost to his loyalty. His ultimate can go off and provide “card advantage” in the late game but that is a best case scenario that will not happen most of the time. His only loyalty increasing ability is becoming the 4/4 with haste until end of turn, which doesn’t provide any of the extra spike abilities to take him over the edge. Thus why he is only played as a two-of in decks right now.
    • As mentioned in the differences section, he can play the role of aggro or control when needed. Versatility generally speaking means that card has a higher chance of seeing play than a more linear card that can fall out of a favor if the metagame changes.
  • Cons of being a Planeswalker
    • Legendary permanent. Can only have one Sarkhan out at the same time.
    • Becoming a 4/4 only lasts until end of turn. Thus, he cannot block.
    • Cannot become greater than 4/4 without additional cards / synergies. Strombreath’s Monstrosity ability is all part of the same midrange package.

Stormbreath Dragon

  • Pros of being a creature
    • Protection from white can be much more relevant than indestructible in the current Standard.
      • Since indestructible only lasts while Sarkhan is a creature, it matters much less than protection from white that is always on.
      • Three out of five clans have white in them, so if you play Stormbreath odds are the protection from white is going to matter in your matchup.
    • Monstrosity can provide the extra reach to finish the game that turn
      • Sarkhan generally cannot provide extra reach, except through his ultimate ability. This ability can go off but odds are when you play Sarkhan your opponent will be gunning for him and it will be harder to do this than monstrifying Stormbreath.
        • Strombreath you can monstrify two turns after you play it if on curve, Sarkhan needs a minimum of three turns to ultimate no matter what.
  • Cons of being a creature
    • The old argument “dies to removal” – much easier to remove this card than Sarkhan generally speaking.
    • Only really fits into midrange strategies.
    • Monstrosity only hits players, not creatures.

Other Considerations

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  • Theros vs Khans of Tarkir
    • Theros we can all agree was much less popular than Khans due to the fetchland reprint hype. Therefore, I believe that over the life of Khans players will be cracking significantly more packs than Theros.
      • However, In terms of Sarkhan himself, I’m not sure if cracking additional packs will necessarily affect his price all that much. He has many more areas of interest than Stormbreath Dragon from players due to being a Planeswalker and his price will reflect that over time.
  • Price point entry is fairly low for both cards
    • Stormbreath’s lowest price to date was around $11 in August and Sarkhan’s lowest price to date is the current price of $17. Stormbreath is currently $15.50, up $4.50 from the low.
      • Being up $4.50 means that Stormbreath is already starting to see some a price increase due to being played in Standard since the release of both cards.

Past Similar Card Performance

Thundermaw Hellkite would be the closest comparison to Stormbreath and Sarkhan that we’ve seen in the past. Below is the chart noting its progress from Oct 2012 through Jan of 2013.
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Notice that December is the month that the card started seeing a price increase, and it finally spiked in the middle of December to $40. Stormbreath and Sarkhan will not follow a similar pattern because they are from the fall sets, which means that more packs were opened due to drafting and higher print runs. Since Hellkite was in a core set the price increase was more pronounced based on demand.

What we can conclude from the graph is that around the middle of December, the point we’re at now, is when cards are going to start spiking for Standard play going into next year. Yet Strombreath already experienced a spike and decline in October from $25 to the current price.

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What happened?

Well, players were picking up their copies due to the hype of Mardu as deck. Then, since the clans are generally well balanced, stores weren’t selling as many after the new Khans Standard hype and had to lower the price. This trend isn’t something we’ve seen before which is why I’m interested in tracking Strombreath’s price over the next few months. Will one clan become more dominant and make this card better?

Final Thoughts

Based on the current price trend, Stormbreath appears to be in a lull and continuing downward. It hasn’t reach its lowest point again yet which means that it could just as well swing back up if more players find it powerful in Standard. Fate Reforged could make or break this dragon.

Sarkhan, on the other hand, feels like the safer long term bet for me. If they don’t create another dragon-type card like Sarkhan or Stormbreath in the next few blocks then he will be the go-to card for you five casting cost hasty beats. Being a planeswalker also makes him safer from huge price swings like other mythics that tend to be more flash-in-the-pan.

In summary, Sarkhan feels like the longer term safe bet for Standard while Stormbreath has the highest chance to spike from Theros being out of print and its protection from white which can help it against the white clan decks that have dominating Standard. If the right help is given to red decks in Fate Reforged, expect to see more of Stormbreath after January of next year. It already spiked based on a format shakeup and could just as easily spike again.


 

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