Actually, his +1 ability is very good. Until the end of turn, he becomes a legendary 4/4 red Dragon creature with flying, indestructible, and haste. Well, then. For 5 mana, that’s not bad at all, especially when you’re actually gaining him loyalty. That’s a very solid ability.
The -3 ability is Flame Slash, deal 4 damage to target creature. It is a form of protection. While it’s a bit costly, it will deal with problem creatures that Lightning Strike and many other removal spells currently in Standard cannot. Sometimes, a creature simply has to go.
His ultimate ability for -6 is an emblem, and it’s a very different kind of emblem…
“At the beginning of your draw step, draw two additional cards” and “At the beginning of your end step, discard your hand.”
At first glance, this emblem doesn’t look very good. However, if you’re running a deck that constantly burns through cards in hand, such as a R/G or Jund (R/G/B) mid-range deck, drawing 3 cards each turn that you’ll likely be able to play that turn isn’t so bad, considering that by the time you even get a chance to use that emblem, it’s in the late-game anyway. Actually, you may never even need to use that emblem, because by the time you cast Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker and swing with him, you should have the game pretty much in hand anyway. But it’s a nice option to have in the late game so you’re not simply top-decking, a fear that a lot of aggro decks have.
Overall, we’re looking at a pretty solid mid-range Planeswalker. His emblem will definitely be situational, depending on how bad the draws have been – you can just throw away land you don’t need. Also, now that we will have fetchlands in Standard again, you’ll be going through your deck a bit faster now, so discarding lands is not going to hurt nearly as much as it used to.
In Commander, being mono-red gives a lot more viability, which is great. He does automatically have the ability to “go ultimate” with Doubling Season on board, as well. However, honestly, you’re not going to be using his ultimate all that much in Commander unless you play a deck where you don’t mind constantly discarding your hand. There are decks like that, but not many. You’re mostly going to play him for his first two abilities which is you play most planeswalkers in the first place. There is a laundry list of Commanders that will find a home for him, especially the more aggressive R/G and R/W ones.
Looking forward to casting Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker in the near future!
– Elspeth for the Win