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Against the Odds: Sarkhan's Dragons (Modern)


Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 119 of Against the Odds. Last week, we had another planeswalker-tribal Against the Odds poll, and in the end, one planeswalker ran away with first place: Sarkhan! As such, we are heading to Modern this week to play a deck that not only contains every Sarkhan planeswalker ever printed but a ton of Dragons, which are not just on-theme for a Sarkhan deck but give us some sweet combo potential. The basic idea of Sarkhan's Dragons is simple: we use our various versions of Sarkhan to either make a ton of Dragons or tutor them up from our library, and then use our huge flying threats to beat our opponent into submission. Can Sarkhan Tribal work in a format as powerful as Modern? Let's get to the videos and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck.

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Against the Odds: Sarkhan's Dragons (Deck Tech)

Against the Odds: Sarkhan's Dragons (Games)

The Deck

Sarkhan is an interesting planeswalker to build around because at first glance, there really isn't much that ties the different versions of Sarkhan together. They are all midrange threats, but they all work very differently. However, there is one thing that all of the versions of Sarkhan care about: Dragons. Each and every Sarkhan makes Dragons, cares about Dragons being on the battlefield, tutors for Dragons, or even turns into a Dragon. As a result, the best way to take advantage of having a ton of different Sarkhans on the battlefield is to build a deck that doesn't just have Sarkhans but a bunch of Dragons as support cards and finishers.

The Sarkhans

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Sarkhan Unbroken and Sarkhan Vol are the two more important Sarkhans in our deck. While both are a bit slow by Modern standards, we have a bunch of ramp, and both are powerful once they are on the battlefield, especially in a deck built to abuse their Dragon synergies. Sarkhan Unbroken can generate card advantage, fix our mana on a stable board, and make huge 4/4 fliers for protection (or to go aggro), and the ultimate—which we reach quicker than you might think—is always game winning in our deck. Meanwhile, the main purpose of Sarkhan Vol is to get to the ultimate, which makes 20 power worth of flying Dragons. While reaching the ultimate is the main goal, giving our creatures +1/+1 and haste is also helpful on occasions, allowing us to get in big surprise attacks with our Dragons. 

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Sarkhan the Mad is by far the strangest of our Sarkhans and one of the more unique planeswalkers ever printed. While not being able to gain loyalty is a problem, it does give us a way to draw some extra cards thanks to the 0 ability, helping us find more Sarkhans and Dragons. More importantly, Sarkhan the Mad's 4 gives us a way to kill our opponent with all of our Dragons even if we can't attack, which helps us avoid wraths after making a bunch of Dragons with our other Sarkhans (for example, with Sarkhan Vol's ultimate) and allows us to win through Ensnaring Bridge and Ghostly Prison

As for Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, he's probably the worst Sarkhan in our deck, since even though he turns into a Dragon, it doesn't really synergize that well with our other Sarkhans. The good news is that Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker can occasionally steal games all by himself if we can play it on Turn 3 and start attacking for four hasty damage, and in the worst case, it works like an expensive removal spell, similar to Chandra, Torch of Defiance.

The Combo

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Technically, Doubling Season is a combo with just about every planeswalker ever printed, causing the planeswalkers to enter the battlefield with twice as many loyalty counters, which is often enough that the planeswalker can ultimate immediately. Because of this, when we started doing planeswalker tribal decks, I made a promise to myself that we'd only play Doubling Season under two conditions. First, it has to be on-color with the planeswalkers, which means we aren't splashing Doubling Season in a Jace or Elspeth deck. Second, Doubling Season has to do more than just make our planeswalker ultimate immediately, by synergizing with our planeswalkers' other abilities or with the rest of our deck.

The good news is that Doubling Season is the perfect card for a Sarkhan deck. While ultimating a Sarkhan Vol (for a total of ten 4/4 Dragon tokens) or a Sarkhan Unbroken (to Dragonstorm) is nice, both Sarkhan Unbroken and Sarkhan the Mad make Dragon tokens with their minus abilities as well. Plus, Doubling Season works really well with our Dragons and our Sarkhans!

The Dragons

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Broodmate Dragon and Predator Dragon are our best Dragons with Doubling Season. Broodmate Dragon is a huge threat on its own, especially if we can ramp into it on Turn 3 or 4, which is possible in our deck, and if we happen to have a Doubling Season on the battlefield, we end up with 12 flying power across three Dragon bodies for just six mana, which is a great deal. Meanwhile, Predator Dragon is our surprise finisher. With a Doubling Season doubling up the +1/+1 counters it gets from devouring random mana dorks and Dragon tokens, we only need to eat four creatures to make Predator Dragon a hasty, flying 20/20!

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Thunderbreak Regent does two really important things for our deck. First, it gives us a less expensive Dragon to lower our curve and allows us to get a threat on the battlefield earlier in the game, which is important because we are overloaded in the five- and six-mana slot thanks to our Sarkhans, Doubling Season, and other Dragons. Second, its triggered ability protects our Dragons from our opponent's removal, with makes cards like Predator Dragon and Broodmate Dragon even scarier, since our opponent has to take a Lava Spike to the face if they want to kill them with Path to Exile or Terminate.

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Last but not least, we have a single copy of Dragonlord Kolaghan, which is mostly in our deck as a combo finish in conjunction with Sarkhan Unbroken's Dragonstorm-esque ultimate. While getting all of the Broodmate Dragons, Predator Dragons, and Thunderbreak Regents out of our deck and onto the battlefield is great, there's always a risk that our opponent will just untap and cast a Supreme Verdict or Damnation. This isn't a problem when we can grab our Dragonlord Kolaghan as well, since we can immediately attack with somewhere between 40 and 100 power of Dragons right away thanks to our team having haste!

Ramp

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Finally, we have a bunch of ramp, which is important since our deck is pretty expensive, with nearly all of our creatures and planeswalkers costing between four and six mana. Birds of Paradise is nice because it not only ramps but also helps us fix our colors, which is important in a four-color deck. Meanwhile, the combo of Arbor Elf and Utopia Sprawl lets us start playing four-drops like Thunderbreak Regent and Sarkhan Vol on Turn 2 and five-drops like Sarkhan Unbroken and Sarkhan the Mad on Turn 3 when we get our best draws. The other upside of Birds of Paradise and Arbor Elf is that in the late game, when we don't need any more mana, we can feed them to Predator Dragon to make it a huge, hasty, potentially game-ending threat out of nowhere!

The Matchups

The matchups for Sarkhan's Dragons are pretty simple: we don't like to play against fast combo like Storm, since we don't have that many ways to interact and our clock is usually a couple of turns slower than our opponent's, even if we get a good draw. Hardcore control decks with lots of counters can also be challenging because tapping out for five- and six-mana threats only to get them countered for two mana with Remand, Mana Leak, and Logic Knot is a huge tempo swing. This being said, we can occasionally beat control if we manage to slip a planeswalker through our opponent's defenses, since just a single planeswalker has a good chance of ultimating against control's slow clock. 

On the other hand, we do well against creature-based aggro and midrange decks, where our planeswalkers naturally dodge removal, and our Dragons are fairly resilient thanks to Broodmate Dragon making a token and Thunderbreak Regent's triggered ability. We also have a reasonable chance against slower combo decks thanks to Doubling Season. In theory, if we get our nut draw, we can play a Doubling Season on Turn 3 and a Sarkhan Unbroken on Turn 4 and win the game on the spot, which is usually fast enough to race decks like Ad Nauseam and Scapeshift

The Odds

All in all, we only got in five matches this week, since some of them were pretty long, but we ended up winning three, good for a 60% match win percentage, along with winning seven of our 14 games, for a 50% game win percentage, which are slightly above average results for an Against the Odds deck and much better than I hoped when I realized that Sarkhan had won the poll. As for Sarkhan himself, some of the versions were very strong, especially with Doubling Season (Sarkhan Vol and Sarkhan Unbroken), while the others were just okay, although even our worst Sarkhan (Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker) managed to sneak in and steal a game against GB Midrange, coming down on Turn 3 and Stormbreath Dragoning away the opponent's life total. Most importantly, the deck was actually really fun to play, and the combo turns of dumping a bunch of Dragons onto the battlefield and going from an empty board to close to 100 hasty power and toughness were amazing!

Vote for Next Week's Deck

Not poll this week. Next week is the first week of Rivals of Ixalan, and we're going to kick things off with a special episode! Don't worry; the poll will return next week, and it will be overflowing with sweet Rivals of Ixalan cards!

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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