Some of the most creative innovations in the game today are taking place in Shaddoll builds.

Shaddolls have gotten better and better all format. Hitting the ground running at YCS Toronto, the deck probably gained more from the release of the Performage monsters than any other strategy. While the Performages are great in all sorts of decks, creating more defense with Performage Damage Juggler and more Rank 4 potential with Performage Hat Tricker and Performage Trick Clown, they're especially good in Shaddolls since you can use them for the Fusion Summon of El Shaddoll Construct. That means a dead Performage can be sent to the graveyard for one of the deck's biggest plays, ensuring utility. And at the same time, that key play becomes easier to pull off, and can be executed with smarter card economy to boot.

Shaddolls exceeded expectations at YCS Toronto, but also stole the show with the release of Elder Entity Norden a few weeks later – another card that's great in all sorts of decks, but that shines even brighter in Shaddolls thanks to its potential as Fusion Material. While El Shaddoll Anoyatyllis has the power to shut down some of today's biggest decks, Shaddolls were sorely lacking a good Water monster for its Fusion Summon. And while Elder Entity Norden is most often Summoned with Instant Fusion to make a Rank 4 play, Shaddoll duelists suddenly had the option to Summon it, revive a free Level 4 without effect as the basis of other plays, and then sack off Norden as one half of Anoyatyllis. Once again, Shaddolls got the long end of the stick.

Heck, we even saw Patrick Hoban use the new Championship Prize Card in Shaddolls when he Top 32'd YCS Dallas. There, Hoban played Minerva, the Exalted Lightsworn to mill Shaddolls for their abilities. So many new cards have wound up bolstering the Shaddoll strategy.

Hoban's deck from YCS Dallas was actually an unsung gem of the tournament, employing a creative strategy that would help solve one of the deck's chief problems: the chance to open games with no Shaddoll Fusion or El Shaddoll Fusion, stalling the entire deck and leaving the Shaddoll player occasionally without an offence. While we'd seen Shaddolls try to patch that weakness with Polymerization before, Hoban ran just one copy in conjunction with Elemental HERO Blazeman. Then, by running multiple Reinforcement of the Army to search Blazeman, he'd effectively add four more cards that could act as a Fusion Spell. And since half of them were just Reinforcement of the Army he could run more Warriors for more flexibility.

It was a great idea, and I've been waiting to see if it catches on. Three weeks after Dallas, I'm pleased to say it's seeing Regional success.

DECKID= 103658This deck, played to a Top 8 finish by Cody Muniz at the Colorado Springs Regional Qualifier, is just one card off the Patrick Hoban original: Hoban played a Re-Fusion in his Main Deck, while Muniz opted to run Mind Control instead. Mind Control let him make even better use of his Fusion Spells and can be particularly vicious against Nekroz, where it grabs easy Water monsters for an El Shaddoll Anoyatyllis. Beyond a few tweaks to the Side and Extra Decks, this is essentially the same build.

So what does Reinforcement of the Army bring to the table? A regular Shaddoll build will have a 57.7% chance to open with one of its six Fusion Spells going first on a hand of five cards. That's actually terrible, and if it wasn't for Shaddoll Hedgehog's ability to correct that with its Flip Effect the deck would have major problems. But relying on Hedgehog locks your early game priorities and restricts your range of motion: if you don't open with Shaddoll Fusion or El Shaddoll Fusion, you're playing to get to one and largely doing nothing else. Since Hedgehog can require significant set-up when you don't manage to draw into one, that's a problem that keeps you on the back foot instead of whomping on your opponent's face with a relentless slew of purple.

Elemental HERO Blazeman fetches Polymerization the moment it's Normal Summoned or Special Summoned, so you can draw Polymerization naturally and use it then and there, or delay one turn for the Summon of Blazeman and search it as needed. With a total of ten copies of Shaddoll Fusion, El Shaddoll Fusion, and cards that get you to Polymerization, the odds of opening with a Fusion Spell jump to 78.3% on a five card hand. That's a vastly superior percentage, and each successive draw boosts your chance to hit one by about another 5%. Suddenly the deck has a wildly consistent early game and reliably takes off with its biggest plays.

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And since you're running Reinforcement of the Army instead of three copies of Polymerization and a Blazeman, you get the added element of selection that Hoban and Muniz leveraged into alternative Warrior plays. There are lots of options but both players ran Photon Thrasher and Raiden, Hand of the Lightsworn. Each is a Light monster that can act as a Fusion Material for El Shaddoll Construct, and both are Level 4's that can be played for Xyz Summons or Synchro Summons in different ways.

They both work to create bigger plays with Elder Entity Norden, and Raiden's particularly valuable, offering more mill power to trigger Shaddoll abilities. Between the Performages and the Light Warriors the deck actually has so many Light monsters that it can run Black Luster Soldier - Envoy of the Beginning, too.

It's Performage Shaddolls but more flexible and more consistent. Is there a reason to run Shaddolls any other way?

That Was A Trick Question
If you're aiming for consistency and precision in the early game, then the Warrior engine is probably tough to beat. But David Wu played a Performage Shaddoll build to a Top 8 finish at the Connectict Regional Qualifier a few weeks ago that seemed to have completely different goals, elevating the Performage Shaddoll mash-up with a surprising twist: Madolches.

DECKID= 103650While the Warrior suite seeks to tilt the math in your favor and make a more consistent Shaddoll deck, David Wu's creation is an entirely different beast. Casting off trap cards entirely, this is a hyper-aggressive build that accepts the natural inconsistency of the Shaddoll Fusion Summoning plan, and instead of trying to correct it, replaces it with a chocolatey hand-cannon of pastry punishment.

The Madolche monsters add a ton of aggression to this strategy, both by virtue of typical Madolche plays and a few synergies you'll only find here. Like a regular Madolche deck this build can play Madolche Anjelly into Madolche Hootcake and use its ability to Special Summon Madolche Messengelato, searching Madolche Chateau or Madolche Ticket; or Madolche Mewfeuille, to make a Rank 3 – in this case Leviair the Sea Dragon, Wu's only Rank 3 option. Note that Hootcake will almost always be live here, since while a regular Madolche deck can stumble on occasion without a monster in the graveyard to banish, Shaddolls stick monsters in the graveyard all day long.

Mewfeuille can be Normal Summoned for its effect to make more flexible plays as well, and Wu actually went so far as to run Flame Ghost as an alternative Instant Fusion option, making the most of Xyz Summoning opportunities and possible Trishula, Dragon of the Ice Barrier plays. The Extra Deck is strained to bursting and misses a lot of options due to deck space, but Wu's clearly made careful choices.

Note that this is far from a complete Madolche suite. There's no Madolche Magileine to search cards and lend muscle. The Xyz options are limited and M-X-Saber Invoker's missing; a pillar of dedicated Madolche builds. But Madolche Queen Tiaramisu's present and accounted for, giving this deck more removal, more problem-solving, and an answer to untargetable cards it might struggle with otherwise – most notably Kozmo Forerunner. If Shaddoll Fusion didn't punish Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss enough, Tiaramisu can blow them back to the Extra Deck two by two.

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It's killer in the mirror match, where it deals with El Shaddoll Construct no sweat, and it can keep an Infernoid player from endlessly reviving something like Infernoid Onuncu by ensuring it never hits the graveyard. Tiaramisu adds a lot of field clearing power to this strategy, leaving your core Shaddoll cards and your Performages to deal damage and win games faster.

Like Ennis, Wu ran Mind Control, likely for its general utility combined with its incredible potential as a gateway to El Shaddoll Anoyatyllis after swiping a Nekroz. He also reserved Maxx "C" and Retaliating "C" for the Side Deck, instead prioritizing the popular Effect Veiler, and the far less popular Ghost Ogre & Snow Rabbit and Archfiend Eccentrick. There's a clear de-emphasis of focus on the Nekroz match-up here, with numerous Nekroz tech picks appearing in the Extra Deck instead of the Main Deck, while more diverse tech choices take center stage in the main. It's an interesting sign of the times as competition continues to become more diversified, seemingly skewing further away from Nekroz and Burning Abyss as a definite "Big Two."

Shaddolls are all over the place right now. In an era where some of the biggest decks are being played on their own with or without Elder Entity Norden, and often appear as variants centered around Performages or Mathematician, Shaddolls are even more varied with new versions seemingly popping up every two weeks. The ability to leverage off-theme monsters into Fusion Summons given the proper attributes makes Shaddolls a highly attractive theme for mash-ups, and that's opened up a great deal of room for creativity. While Nekroz and Burning Abyss continue to see some interesting developments, there's nothing that compares to the level of personalization and innovation we're seeing in Shaddolls.

Whether this will all translate to results at YCS San Jose is up in the air, but for now, Shaddolls are a ridiculously tough deck to read and predict in locals and Regionals. They're a great choice for the present, and the deck's inherent flexibility may see it through new shifts in the competitive landscape that will arrive with Dimension of Chaos.

For now, congratulations to Ethan Ennis and David Wu for their Top 8 showings, pushing competition in new directions as the format marches on.

-Jason Grabher-Meyer