Shaddolls, Yang Zing, and Satellarknights are the newest competitive themes from Duelist Alliance and the first of the ARC-V era. Each archetype is built around a monster mechanic introduced in earlier seasons: Fusions, Synchros, and Xyz. Pendulum themes are on their way, but for now we have these decks to contend with at major tournaments.

We'll be taking a look at each strategy in turn, starting with Shaddolls today. It's performing at a roughly equal level with Satellarknights right now, but that could change over the coming weeks. It's definitely a match-up you need to be siding for.

As If Evilswarm Wasn't Enough
Any discussion on Shaddolls begins with Shaddoll Fusion; it's the card that ties this theme together. Fusion spells are notorious for their steep requirements, but Shaddoll Fusion has more in common with Miracle Fusion than Polymerization. Fusing Shaddoll monsters triggers their effects, and as a result Shaddoll Fusion is rarely played at a loss. Instead, any time a Fusion Summon is made your opponent will recoup their material investment immediately by Summoning monsters from their graveyard, adding monsters from their deck to their hand, or destroying spell and trap cards you control. Since both El Shaddoll Winda and El Shaddoll Construct grab another Shaddoll spell or trap when sent to the graveyard, it's almost impossible to lose cards when making Fusion Summons.

Winda and Construct are excellent monsters in their own right. The Special Summon-limiting effect of Winda makes it difficult to play around, and its immunity to destruction effects gives it additional staying power. At 2200 ATK it's fairly weak, but putting a stronger monster on the field can be tricky. Its 800 DEF, however, is much more easily exploited. There are a handful of cards that can punch through its stats without Special Summoning more than once: Hammer Bounzer, Blackwing - Gale the Whirlwind, and Mecha Phantom Beast Tetherwolf and Blackfalcon come to mind. Fire Hand is clearly unusable, as is Genex Ally Duradark and Fossil Dyna Pachycephalo.

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While Winda's effect keeps it safe from most forms of removal, Construct is better at dealing with attackers. Its Ally of Justice Catastor-like effect takes out even the strongest Extra Deck monsters. Leo, Keeper of the Sacred Tree is no match for Construct, and neither is Gagaga Cowboy. Star Eater won't be affected, and Catastor can make an entirely unfavorable trade with it. Construct takes on cards that Shaddoll Dragon and Shaddoll Squamata can't target, and further expands Shaddoll Fusion's utility.

The rest of the monster line-up is largely defensive: Shaddoll Hedghog searches Fusion, Shaddoll Dragon and Squamata destroy and bounce cards on the field, and Shaddoll Falco Summons another monster from the graveyard – and that's just their Flip Effects. When sent to the graveyard by a card effect, Hedghog grabs a Shaddoll monster, Dragon destroys a spell or trap on the field, Falco Summons itself, and Shaddoll Beast draws a card. Getting them into the graveyard is easily accomplished with Shaddoll Fusion and Sinister Shadow Games, but most players also use Mathematician, Armageddon Knight, and Foolish Burial.

Shaddoll builds typically include Light monsters to help Summon Construct. Lightsworn and Artifact cards are common, and even White Dragon Wyverburster and Black Dragon Collapserpent are seeing play alongside Shaddolls. Both Lightsworns and Artifacts add extra removal to the deck, lending a hand towards eliminating Side Deck cards and punishing aggressive plays. Felis, Lightsworn Archer turns Mathematician into a one-card Black Rose Dragon, and Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress picks off backrow while tossing Shaddolls into the graveyard. Artifact Sanctum is still incredibly powerful even if Shaddolls are mostly resistant to Artifact Moralltach. Once again, these cards expand coverage against a variety of threats and open up the Extra Deck for more Xyz and Synchro possibilities.

Shaddoll Dragon's probably the most concerning card in the Shaddoll monster line-up. Its bounce effect is a huge threat to Extra Deck monsters, and its ability to destroy spells and traps severely limits Side Deck options. Dimensional Fissure and Macro Cosmos are easily destroyed by chaining Sinister Shadow Games to their activation and sending Dragon to the graveyard. Dragon can also be flipped to send larger monsters like Archlord Kristya or Dark Simorgh back to the hand, and it's 1900 ATK makes it a solid attacker. Preventing Dragon's themed removal from wreaking havoc on your sided cards is incredibly important, and the first cards we'll take a look at do exactly that.

Mirrors, Noblemen, And The Holy Grail
Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror is the obvious go-to Side Deck card against Dark themes. Shaddolls only have one non-Dark monster at the moment – El Shaddoll Construct – which means every other Shaddoll monster can be negated by Shadow Mirror. Its effect covers almost all of the Shaddoll monster effects, negating them when they activate on the field or in the graveyard. What it won't stop is El Shaddoll Winda's continuous effects, but that's rarely a problem. Making a Fusion Summon while Mirror's on the field will cost your opponent two cards if you don't control an Extra Deck monster. If the monsters sent to the graveyard for Shaddoll Fusion's effect are negated, they can't recoup their losses. Playing Fusions at a minus isn't a winning strategy, and your opponent will find themselves running out of cards before long.

Most importantly, Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror stops the repeated use of Shaddoll Fusion...at least with Winda. So not only does Mirror turn every Fusion Summon into a minus for your opponent, it'll also prevent Winda from adding Shaddoll Fusion back to their hand. It's a seriously good card for this match-up, but Shaddoll players know the score: they'll be equipped to deal with it during Games 2 and 3. Artifact variants are particularly capable of taking Mirror off the field before it becomes a nuisance. Let's face it: Continuous Traps are fragile. If you put too much faith in Shadow Mirror your opponent can easily steal Game 2 with Royal Decree or Malevolent Catastrophe.

So what's a non-trap option for this match-up? How about Nobleman of Crossout, AKA 'that thing that eats Flip monsters for breakfast.' Considering that all Main Deck Shaddoll monsters are Flip Effects, Nobleman has a whole lot of targets to go after. Banishing a set Shaddoll Hedghog is a huge blow to your opponent if they haven't drawn into Shaddoll Fusion yet. It's a great out to Shaddoll Falco, or anything Falco Summons from the graveyard. Nobleman does nothing against face-up Fusions, but if they're Summoned face-down? That's another story. Nobleman will also let you clear away defenders and make direct attacks without giving your opponent cards. Running into a set Falco can be incredibly annoying, especially when it recovers Shaddoll Beast from the graveyard.

Shaddoll players don't have many answers to Nobleman, but as I mentioned earlier it's useless against Winda and Construct. For the most part you'll be using it to pick off early game monsters, or cards alongside Winda. It's much harder to counter, although the trade-off is that it doesn't have the same amount of stopping power as Shadow-Imprisoning Mirror. It's fairly effective when used alongside Vanity's Emptiness, or other cards that prevent Special Summoning. If your problems are less with Winda and Construct and more with the rest of the deck's monsters, then Nobleman is probably your best bet.

Forbidden Chalice combines Nobleman's utility against set monsters and Breakthrough Skill's effectiveness against Winda. Chalice is much, much faster than Breakthrough Skill since it can be played during the turn it's drawn and during the damage step. Want to negate the Flip Effect of a Shaddoll monster you just attacked into? Chalice has you covered. Need to bypass Winda's Summoning restriction? Chalice will let you do so a turn earlier than Breakthrough. That extra 400 ATK boost can come in handy too; a 1900 ATK monster boosted by Chalice puts it at 2300 ATK, just enough to destroy Winda by battle.

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Alternatively, Breakthrough Skill's dual use makes it an awesome pick if your hate for Winda is as intense as mine (it's fairly strong). If you can negate Winda for a turn and take it off the field, you can negate a new copy on your following turn if your opponent Summons another. There's nothing wrong with playing both and either siding between them or doubling up for certain match-ups, but it's worth noting that Breakthrough tends to be all-around better against Artifact variants. Chalice, on the other hand, is stronger against LS and pure variants.

Other Options
Macro Cosmos, Banisher of the Radiance, and Dimensional Fissure will shut down your opponent's graveyard for a time, but they're sitting ducks against your opponent's removal. Different Dimension Ground's a one-turn Macro Cosmos that isn't Continuous, making it much more difficult to counter. Chaining it to Sinister Shadow Games, Mathematician, Armageddon Knight, or Foolish Burial will banish the monsters your opponent meant to send to their graveyard. It'll also banish Shaddoll Fusion and Shaddoll Core, leaving them out of reach of Winda and Construct. Activating Ground before destroying Winda by battle or Construct by a card effect will keep them from hitting the graveyard and adding back a Shaddoll spell or trap.

I was initially a big fan of De-Fusion heading into this format. Its effect kicks a Shaddoll Fusion back to the Extra Deck without concern for either monster's effect. It plays a lot like a second or third copy of Compulsory Evacuation Device, but it's only capable of targeting two cards in the deck. It doesn't stop Shaddoll Fusion from resolving, it won't keep the rest of the deck's monsters from building up resources, and it's powerless against Artifacts and Lightsworns. There are better options available, like Phoenix Wing Wind Blast, that can perform almost identically.

Cursed Seal of the Forbidden Spell is the last card we'll look at, and it's one of my favorites. Any spell-heavy theme can easily support it, and getting rid of Shaddoll Fusion for the rest of the duel is huge. No Shaddoll Fusion means no...Fusions! But that's just the beginning: without their key spell they'll have three fewer ways to send Shaddoll monsters to their graveyard. It'll definitely slow your opponent down, but it might have slightly less of an impact if they've sided Super Polymerization. Clearly it's not a card that can fit into every strategy – particularly trap-heavy builds – but there are plenty of decks that can easily include it in their Side Deck.

Shaddolls have lots of room to grow over the next few months, and with more Fusions on the way they'll be a much more difficult match-up to play against in the future. Super Polymerization is strong enough already – it'll be even stronger when Fire and Earth Attribute Shaddoll Fusions are released in The Next Challengers. I expect to see this deck at major tournaments for a long time to come.

Until next time then

-Kelly