Seeing new planeswalker cards is unquestionably one of the best parts of any preview season. Planeswalkers are the driving force behind different decks, color combinations, and strategies, and can even shape entire formats. Elspeth, Sun's Champion was one of the five most influential cards for her entire time in Standard, and she accomplished that while costing six mana. Coincidentally (or not), the card I get to talk about today also costs six mana, and also packs quite a punch.
Take a look at Sorin, Grim Nemesis:
Six mana is quite the price tag, but you get plenty of power for your investment. Plus, now that Chandra is making waves in Standard, it looks like six is the new four, in terms of which planeswalkers see a lot of play.
Let's go down the list of abilities.
+1: Reveal the top card of your library and put that card into your hand. Each opponent loses life equal to its converted mana cost.
As someone who has flipped an Emrakul to a Dark Confidant (true story), the thought of doing it to my opponent sounds pretty sweet. The power here is mainly in the "draw a card" aspect, but getting free life loss in is a real bonus. Plus, the longer the game goes, the more the value shifts toward the life loss, and playing Sorin and hoping to finish off the opponent seems like something that's going to happen often.
Having at least one ability that puts you up a card each turn is important, as it makes Sorin a good play even on an empty board. You could even build some fancy deck using ten-drops and ways to put them on top of your deck (Conduit of Ruin, anyone?), but that's likely a bit ambitious.
-X: Sorin, Grim Nemesis deals X damage to target creature or planeswalker and you gain X life.
Here is the defensive ability, which is key. Sorin having the power to protect himself is crucial, and he clearly subscribes to the theory that the best defense is a good offense. Sorin even takes down opposing planeswalkers, and playing him and eating a creature or planeswalker is a very easy way to pick up a two-for-one plus a bit of life. With 6 starting loyalty, Sorin can win most fights, which makes him a good trump card.
Sorin's biggest vulnerability is a board of multiple threats, as the -X ability can only kill one and leaves Sorin in a weakened position when the others attack. Even a pair of 3/3s is enough to beat Sorin, and a pair of 2/2s puts him under a lot of pressure. He's similar to Ob Nixilis in that regard, and Ob Nixilis has seen a fair amount of play. In fact, Sorin is a like a bigger, meaner version of Ob Nixilis, and does all the things Ob does but slightly better (costs your opponent life instead of you, gains life, and can kill planeswalkers).
-9: Put a number of 1/1 black Vampire Knight creature tokens with lifelink onto the battlefield equal to the highest life total among all players.
As with most planeswalkers, the vast majority of Sorin's power comes from the first two abilities. The ultimate is awesome if you can pull it off, but that usually indicates a fairly strong position to begin with. I like the idea of a sweeping tide of 1/1 lifelinkers, but don't expect to see them all that often.
So, where does all this leave Sorin?
We don't know exactly what decks will emerge once the next set steps out from the shadows, as it were, but there are plenty of good controlling black and white cards to pair with Sorin. He's a natural fit in any deck looking to prolong the game, and looks especially good in a deck that can play creatures before he lands. You probably want to get Kalitas in there, and Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim might not be a bad blocker either.
Six mana does mean your deck needs to play a lot of lands and some ways to draw extra cards, which is where Painful Truths comes in. The mana won't be quite as free without Polluted Delta and friends, but I'm sure there will still be plenty of options if you want to make a mana base that works. Sorin even combines nicely with Truths because of how much life he can gain you, and I have no concerns about drawing too many cards, if such a thing is even real.
I anticipate plenty of midrange mirrors in the upcoming Standard season, especially with Rally the Ancestors saying farewell, and cards like Sorin are exactly how you get an edge in those games.
I'm holding out hope for a Sorin-plus-Emrakul mash-up in Modern (this time causing your opponent to lose 15 life instead of yourself), but the odds of that are looking grim. Still, Sorin is a powerful card, and I expect to see him often enough—even if it's more for value than as part of a somewhat erratic combo.