While we wait to see the new Forbidden & Limited List which will assumedly drop next week, now seems like a good time to place our bets, figure out what's likely to last through the changes, and use those educated guesses to glean information from the biggest tournaments of the past weeks. Though this format was only two and a half months long and all of its YCS action was compressed into September, two of the Championships in that range were some of the best-documented YCS events of all time: YCS Madrid and YCS Toronto. And while both events took place on the same weekend and both were won by Shaddolls, therein lies one of the biggest differences between the two tournaments.

While YCS Madrid featured a Top 4 of three Artifact Shaddoll builds and one Dragon Shaddoll build, YCS Toronto's Top 4 consisted of one Satellarknight deck, one Combo Shaddolls, one Dragon Lightworn Shaddolls, and one Outstanding Dog Shaddolls. Some of those should be familiar: Dragon Shaddolls with White Dragon Wyverburster and Black Dragon Collapserpent, Combo Shaddolls with Thunder Dragon, and Artifact Shaddolls with Artifact Moralltach and Artifact Sanctum were the three acknowledged builds of the Shaddoll strategy heading into the weekend. However, the Dragon Lightsworn Shaddoll concept played by Patrick Hoban on his way to victory, as well as the Outstanding Dog Marron version played to the Top 4 by Ruo Chen Mo, were much newer.

Let's take a step back: why am I talking about Shaddolls? Simple answer: I don't expect any of the Big Three decks – that's Shaddolls, Satellarknights, or Burning Abyss – to change much for the new format. We'll probably see little tweaks here and there, and I wouldn't be surprised if Tour Guide From the Underworld was toned down. But big picture: I think these strategies are all making it through to winter. And while minor changes could certainly twist the shape of competition in a direction that's better or worse for certain variants of these strategies, the best way to prepare is to know all your options.

That means discussing the biggest deck of the format, and that means examining one of the most intriguing dichotomies in recent Championships.

Solving The Shaddoll Problem
I wouldn't call early showings from Shaddolls "disappointing" per se. The deck did very well in numerous events, and even kicked things off by dominating at the YGO Series Open in Orlando the first weekend Duelist Alliance was legal. From there we saw Satellarknights take the next weekend, and Burning Abyss took the weekend after that. It was a really dynamic time.

That said, the Shaddoll deck didn't quite live up to the tremendous hype that was placed upon it. We've seen that situation before – hype can often be a promising new strategy's worst enemy. Remember when Structure Deck: Gates of the Underworld dropped and everybody felt Dark World was the strongest deck going? It might have turned out to be, but instead it died a premature death because the hype had everyone Side Decking Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror and Gemini Imps the first weekend it was legal. The strategy never stood a chance. Snap forward to the present and while we can see many cases like that in the past, I don't think it's what happened with Shaddolls.

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Instead, I think the sheer number of options and room for customization created a situation where it was impossible to pick out one definitive "best build." That was harmful for two reasons: the superior version of the strategy was elusive, and by definition a bunch of players were running sub-optimal variants. On the other hand, with so many versions out there being tested, perfection was tough to find even if it was somehow possible to identify a single best approach; all across the world, different players were testing in all sorts of different directions. That meant the benefit of a global consensus – in which thousands of players all test similar builds and profit from the shared knowledge across communities – was missing.

There are questions to be answered here, and weeks later those questions still remain.

In my opinion the biggest question for this strategy comes down to its balance of Light monsters. Sure, you can argue about trap lineups; the worth of Shaddoll Core; Main Decked Super Polymerization; two Shaddoll Beast versus three, and a wealth of other factors. But really, it's the Light monsters that most determine the direction of your strategy. The Dragon build with Black Dragon Collapserpent and White Dragon Wyverburster can make better use of Rank 4's, Caius the Shadow Monarch, and can search Dark Armed Dragon with Eclipse Wyvern depending on your card choices. It can also field more damage on a more flexible basis, because Wyverburster and Collapserpent can dish out some reasonable hurt. At the same time the Dragons aren't always useful, and the more you branch out (into DAD and Wyvern, for instance) the more often you can wind up with awkward hands. The Chaos Dragons themselves can be dead in your opening turn and create mounting issues of pacing.

The Combo build's hugely explosive, handling discard costs better than other variants thanks to Thunder Dragon and thus making tremendous use of Main Decked Super Polymerization (a card that's unapproachable in other variants in the eyes of many). At the same time it has trouble fielding damage on a flexible basis, it has to commit more to pressure the opponent, and it can't interact with the opponent's plays as easily as Artifact Shaddolls. That Artifact variant – which did so well at YCS Madrid, taking three slots in the Top 4 along with the Championship – is the most reactive of the bunch. It responds well to numerous threats and handles rogue decks especially well compared to other Shaddoll variants. That factor was huge at Madrid, where the Top 32 saw numerous rogue strategies make the cut, from Infernities and Mermails to Burn, Geargia Fire Fist Stun and beyond.

So You've Got These Three Shaddoll Variants
…And they're all pretty big headed into the YCS Toronto and YCS Madrid weekend, but they've all got acknowledged strengths and acknowledged challenges. None of them are perfect builds. And then wham, we hit the Top 4 of YCS Toronto and suddenly two very different takes on the strategy are suddenly sitting at the top of the Mountain. And the cool part? Both builds are working to solve a lot of the inherent problems plaguing all three Shaddoll builds in different ways.

Before we go any further, take a look at Patrick Hoban and Ruo Chen Mo's builds from Toronto. Normally in Competitive Corner we'd present deck lists in spoiler panels, but in this case I'd recommend you open up both lists in new windows and just keep them open so you can refer back to each. It's gonna save you some scroll time and it'll make this discussion a little more approachable. Go ahead and get those opened.

Got 'em? Good. So right off the bat let's talk about the Shaddoll lineups just to get them out of the way. Ruo Chen Mo played a fairly typical eleven-monsters that favored three Shaddoll Dragon over three Shaddoll Beast. That's not the most common choice but certainly not weird; we see that a lot. In contrast Hoban ran only nine Shaddolls, playing triple Beast and just one copy each of Shaddoll Hedgehog and Shaddoll Falco. He needed to do that because he was playing a ton of different Light monsters – a whopping eight in total. That's way more than we're used to seeing in the more standard Artifact, Dragon, and Combo variants. Hoban wound up running 21 monsters total, which is pretty normal for any Dragon Shaddoll variant. Some will go substantially higher if they run all the bells and whistles. But Ruo Chen Mo played a total of just fifteen monsters, despite running more actual Shaddolls.

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That's really the big difference between these two decks on a fundamental level: Patrick Hoban aimed to solve the challenges of the Dragon Shaddoll build by running more Light monsters, favoring specifics cards that gave him certain match-up advantages and helped him make the most of his Wyverbursters and Collapserpents. His biggest innovation was the use of two Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress and triple Raiden, Hand of the Lightsworn, and even early in Day 1 it was very clear that was a great choice. I remember speaking to Hoban early on in the tournament and seeing how happy he was with those cards: it was a short talk, but he shared lot of details in very little time. I was sold.

Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress is great because it can pressure backrow, especially valuable in the Satellarknight match-up. Raiden's awesome because it gives you another way to use your Chaos Dragons, which aren't as useful in more conventional builds. Hoban ran Scrap Dragon and Stardust Spark Dragon, giving him spot removal and the ability to protect his Vanity's Emptiness plays by Tuning Raiden and a Dragon. Both Lightsworn help fill the graveyard to set up a variety of effects too, and make the Chaos Dragons easier to Summon. All the milling helped Soul Charge plays as well.

Of the sixteen Shaddoll players in the Top 32 of YCS Toronto, only two others are on record as having run triple Soul Charge: Marcus Carisse and Desmond Johnson. That's to be expected, because both ran Combo Shaddoll variants (Carisse with Thunder Dragon and Johnson with The White Stone of Legend, Blue-Eyes White Dragon, and Trade-In). But triple Soul Charge in a Dragon Shaddoll variant? That was a surprise, and boy did it work. The result was a build that could use its Chaos Dragons better; play Soul Charge more consistently; and make superior use of Vanity's Emptiness amongst a wealth of other advantages. Nutty.

Ruo Chen Mo Went In The Opposite Direction
At least two Shaddoll duelists made it to the Top 32 by doing something completely different. While Hoban played Light monsters out the wazoo to create a clearly superior strategy, Ruo Chen Mo and Ali Yassine played just one Light monster each: the old-school classic, Outstanding Dog Marron. Once noteworthy just as a way of keeping yourself from decking out, Outstanding Dog Marron returns to your deck whenever it's sent to your graveyard. While playing just one Light monster means you won't draw it much, Chen Mo and Yassine planned to search Marron as needed with Shaddoll Fusion (since it can pull Fusion Materials from your deck when your opponent controls an Extra Deck monster).

While that may sound like a limiting approach that would keep you from Summoning El Shaddoll Construct when you want it, the shape of competition right now means that if you want El Shaddoll Construct, it's probably because your opponent's got an Extra Deck monster on the field anyways. Sure, the Outstanding Dog Shaddol deck can't field Construct nearly as easily just to deal damage, but that's arguably a poor reason to drop Construct in most match-ups anyways.

What did these two competitors get in return for accepting those limitations? A surprising number of advantages, actually. By running just one Light monster they could play lower monster counts overall, which meant they had space for triple Upstart Goblin and more trap cards. It also gave them room for double Soul Charge and double Super Polymerization. At the same time it ensured that they'd draw fewer dead Light monsters: there's no risk here of topdecking an Artifact Moralltach, an impossible-to-Summon Chaos Dragon, or the dreaded double Thunder Dragon. You grab Outstanding Dog Marron when you need it, and in the rare games where you do open with it you can immediately chuck it for one of five Fusion cards. You can always prioritize your Normal Summon for Armageddon Knight, Mathematician or Shaddoll monsters.

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Just the fact that you get to put Marron back into your deck again and again is really sweet too, because as much as playing just one Light monster helps keep you from drawing it early on, Marron's ability ensures that you never run out of steam in the mid and late game either. If you've played Shaddolls a bit you probably know what I'm talking about: those awful situations where your opponent controls an Extra Deck monster and you have Shaddoll Fusion, but your Extra Deck doesn't have the Fusion Materials you need because you've already used them all. While running out of Shaddolls can be a concern, Marron guarantees that you'll always have the Light half of a Fusion Summon.

It's a really smart use for a card that's been around for nearly eleven years and has basically never done anything. Ever. It's such a basic idea, but it allows so much freedom in deck building, and offers so many opportunities by granting you superior longevity and allowing a level of interaction with your opponent that can arguably rival Artifact Shaddolls. Since this build can run Super Polymerization and more trap cards it has that reactive edge, but there's no danger of drawing a useless Artifact Moralltach (or a dead Artifact Sanctum in the late game).

I feel like despite the success of these two variants, they're not getting the attention they should be seeing in this, the final hour of the format. Let's be clear: this isn't the time to be slacking off just because the future's hazy. YCS Dallas is October 4th. Whoever wins the Championship that weekend, they're going to be someone who hit the ground running, fully educated about their options and ready to make deck building decisions and important metagame reads.

I'll be deeply surprised if Shaddolls don't remain a top strategy in the new format, and I personally think these two builds are superior to the more accepted Artifact, Dragon, and Combo variants. Log some time with them this week, or at the very least get familiar with the lists and how they work. These are the kinds of understandings that make or break Champions when the chips are down.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer