Keep those two themes in mind while you're reading, because understanding design trends can help you understand both where the game is now, and where it's headed. Don't worry, I'll call them out when they appear. There's some cool stuff going on here.
Let's open up with me seeming all disconnected from the shape of current competition. I'm seeing a vast number of Satellarknight decks that don't play Satellarknight Skybridge, and that's surprising to me. There were a few Regional Top 8 decks last weekend that played it, but they aren't the norm. When I first started reading about the Satellarknight theme and was just coming up with deck concepts on a casual, first-glance basis, Skybridge seemed clutch to me; while it's an inherent -1 because it has to shunt a monster back to your deck, you're sending away monsters that got you free plusses of card economy, and rotating in cards that are getting you balancing +1's as well. Skybridge can help search out the monsters you need to build infrastructure in the early game, and then when you're looking to close out the duel it's going to swap in a fresh attacker to seal the deal and outplay your opponent's expectations. Its purpose changes over time, keeping it adaptable and high in utility. That's awesome.
It also seems really valuable for its synergy with Satellarknight Alsahm, which – as I noted earlier in this Giant Set Review – I feel to be downplayed in current builds. I really think there's a competitive burn deck here, and at worst this card can dish out 2400 damage in an endgame scenario by bringing out Alsahm to burn and then attack. Note that the highest-ranked Satellarknight finisher at last weekend's Open in Orlando, Jean Iglesias, played two copies. Andrew Iglesias played a similar build but didn't run any Skybridges, and he topped out at the Top 16. That might be telling. I don't know, this is another card I'm interested in hearing your opinions on down in the comments. To me it's a no-brainer, but the status and shape of the Satellarknight deck is in such flux right now that it feels like everything is still up for debate. That kind of situation is stupidly exciting to me.
If you've read this far, you probably understand by now that Shaddoll Fusion is the heart and soul of the Shaddoll deck as it currently stands. Unleashing El Shaddoll Winda and El Shaddoll Construct, plus more El Shaddolls in future releases, it's the gateway to the theme's big boss monsters. While sending Fusion Materials to the graveyard from your side of the field or your hand requires you to have that card presence to begin with, the majority of the Shaddolls you yard are going to make 1-for-1 trades or pluses anyways; as long as you can afford the ticket, you're effectively riding free. El Shaddoll Construct requires a Light Fusion Material, which means you can only pitch one Shaddoll monster for it to redeem an effect, but the Construct itself sends a Shaddoll card from your deck to the graveyard when it's successfully Special Summoned anyway, creating a similar overall impact. The result is a card that's not usually as easy to play as say, Miracle Fusion, but that can create even bigger plays and better trades of card economy depending on the situation.
Granted, Shaddoll Fusion becomes a different beast entirely the moment your opponent controls something that was Special Summoned from their Extra Deck. In that case you retain the option to use Fusion Materials from your hand or field, but can also use Materials by yarding them straight from your deck instead. That opens up every Shaddoll ability you could hope for, and also helps you load up your graveyard with variety of cards to feed future plays – for instance, creating set-ups for revival combos with Shaddoll Falco.
As noted previously, one of the coolest things about this card is that the two monsters it can Summon right now – El Shaddoll Winda and El Shaddoll Construct – are so different. While Winda pounds through opposing card effects and hates on Special Summons yet to happen, Construct is a bigger attacker that demolishes Special Summoned monsters already played to the field. The one thing they have in common is that both can retrieve Shaddoll Fusion when they're sent to the graveyard, which is really one of the biggest factors giving the Shaddoll deck such longevity. As long as you keep your card presence up or your opponent has to field Special Summoned monsters from their Extra Deck, you don't just use this card for free: you use it for free repeatedly.
Shaddoll Beast becomes a free draw; Shaddoll Dragon pops a backrow card; Shaddoll Falco hits the field locked and loaded, face-down; Shaddoll Hedghog searches your deck for a Shaddoll monster; and Shaddoll Squamata Foolish Burials any of the above. Shaddoll Fusion. Really crazy.
I remember the first time someone showed me Yang Zing Path. It was in the context of "Hey do you want to write about this," and my response was "this card is Pot of Greed." And then I kind of just stared, blankly.
I'm not sure my opinion has really changed. I mean sure, you can argue that Yang Zing Path is more like Pot of Avarice than Pot of Greed since you have to shuffle a few monsters back into your deck to activate it, but since Yang Zings essentially do nothing but fill your graveyard with monsters that doesn't really seem like an issue. Note that you can shuffle back any Yang Zings you want: unlike a bunch of the other Yang Zing effects, there's no regard for different attributes, different names, or anything of the like. You just shuffle back whatever you want to see again, and then get a free +1 for your trouble. I assume this is what happens when you make three radically different deck themes across Shaddolls, Satellarknights, and Yang Zings, and then find one of them isn't as powerful as the other two. You just give it a Pot of Greed and move on, balance restored.
I could sit here and focus on the fact that Yang Zings actually like recycling monsters, since they can search them at will from the deck off their self-replacing abilities. Or I could highlight the fact that the recycling requisite at least keeps this card off the table on Turn 1, or how it can conflict with a handful of other effects making it a more balanced card than it would be if it was just formally "Yang Zing Pot of Greed." But, it basically is Yang Zing Pot of Greed, and I don't really see much of a need to dress it up like it's not.
This card's really good. Because it's Pot of Greed. So we endeth the lesson.
Yang Zing Prana's a far more complicated card than Yang Zing Path, and it has the Misfortune of working at its best when you're either playing hyper-aggressively, or not playing Yang Zing Path. The ATK boost with two different attributes of Yang Zing monsters is nice; the effect that keeps your opponent from setting monsters at four Yang Zings can be very good in the right match-up; and the "destroy all cards on the field" Dark Hole plus Heavy Storm effect is awesome, especially in conjunction with your Yang Zing's recruiting abilities.
That said, it's a slow card in a deck that's already replete with awesome themed support. It's not bad by any means, but it's largely outclassed by Yang Zing Path, Yang Zing Creation, and high-impact complementary cards like Soul Charge and Skill Drain. Could it be relevant in the future? Sure, especially at some point when we have a more stable competitive landscape and the Yang Zing player can really know what he or she is going up against. But for now? It's likely too early for this card to matter, and when it does become a factor it's likely to be a surprise tech pick at best.
Crystal Beasts be like "Nooooooooo!"
My tragic sympathy for Crystal Beasts aside, I think Magical Spring's a fascinating card. For over a decade, the answer to strategies focused on Continuous Spells and Traps, equips, and Field Spells has been simple destruction. Now instead of destroying those cards outright, there's this sort of Maxx "C" type option that speeds along your own strategy at the expense of your opponent. And at the expense of protecting their cards for them. Which seems weird at first, but really that line's just there to keep you from drawing all the cards and destroying all the things.
It's one or the other, folks – both at once would be a little rough.
Since Magical Spring is a Quick-Play Spell and actually only checks for face-up spells and traps, not for specific kinds of spells and traps, you can also slip it into long chains where several spell and trap cards are waiting to resolve and make tricky little pluses that way. I personally think that when we see Magical Spring become relevant in tournaments, it's actually going to be that sort of application that drives it. Call me crazy, but I think we're more likely to see a chain-heavy strategy winning tournaments before we see a Continuous, Equip, or Field-based strategy doing it. That said, note that Magical Spring can also draw you cards off of Pendulum cards played to Pendulum Zones, since those monsters count as spell cards for as long as they remain in the Pendulum Zones. That might be what really makes this a card to watch for the future.
While the discard effect of Magical Spring keeps it from being an easy 1-for-1 ditch against a single face-up spell or trap, there are plenty of strategies and individual cards that like rifling through their Main Deck and then dropping a bunch of cards to the graveyard, Kuribandit-style. Virtually every strategy played in tournaments right now has at least something it wants to huck to the yard, so while that discard demand is a drawback in most cases, a clever player will see it as an exploitable opportunity in the right strategies.
It's a very cool card, and I plan to grab a few as a precaution while they're still two bucks. This is a Maxx "C", Mystical Refpanel, Pot of Dichotomy scenario waiting to happen.
The new "U.A." or "Ultra Athlete" monsters presented as World Premieres here in Duelist Alliance are both Level 5 Warriors, which makes Feast of the Wild LV5 sort of a Bujincarnation from hell for that theme. Don't get me wrong, while the Burning Abyss theme hit the ground running the Ultra Athletes definitely need more time and cards. But when they get there – and I'm completely certain they will, just based on how World Premiere themes have been handled in the past – this card will likely be an integral part of the strategy.
When you Feast of the Wild LV5 U.A. Mighty Slugger and U.A. Perfect Ace back to the field, you're likely going to be doing it for one of two reasons: an immediate overlay for a 1-for-1 Rank 5 – which is sweet – or so to bounce the Ultra Athletes you Special Summoned back to your hand so you can replace them with duplicate copies. Those cards can then use their effects or attack as normal. Perfect Ace has an ability that lets you Special Summon it by returning any other U.A. monster to your hand, while Mighty Slugger has the same effect: that means you can revive one of each with Feast, then bump back one of them to Special Summon another copy of the other from your hand. You can then bounce the remaining Ultra Athlete you Feasted to the field to Special Summon the one you retrieved, leaving two unrestricted monsters on the field.
As we see more Ultra Athletes released in future sets that trick's going to become more and more valuable, because the range of effects you'll unlock will be much wider. For now, all you've got is a limited range of abilities across two cards. We'll talk about the Ultra Athletes themselves later on, but for now the real point is that there's a groundwork and a foundation being laid here, and Feast of the Wild LV5 is part of it.
The Monarchs Stormforth is easily one of the most talked-about cards in Duelist Alliance. Pasquale and Loukas have both written on its impact in Monarch variants, and it's already appearing as a star tech pick winning tournaments in strategies as mainstream as Shaddolls; it was a key part of Robert Tanney's victorious build from the YGO Series Open in Orlando. It's essentially just Soul Exchange but better. While the Tribute-fueling classic lets you sack off an opposing monster at the cost of your Battle Phase, Stormforth only demands that you skip your Extra Deck for the turn. That leaves you free to attack for damage or card advantage with the monster you just Tributed for, and that's amazing: it can mean free pluses of card economy or just straight-out wins.
Stormforth is a Quick-Play Spell too, instead of a Normal Spell like Soul Exchange. That's useful in numerous small ways, but my favorite might be the fact that you can sneak it past certain forms of Spell Speed 2 negation that would stop a Normal Spell in its tracks. Light and Darkness Dragon isn't relevant at the moment, but when it inevitably returns to competition… possibly because of Stormforth in the first place… you're going to be able to sneak Stormforth past its effect at Chain Link 3 and then Tribute it. That possibility fascinates me, and combined with the simple boost in utility a Spell Speed 2 effect gets, the possibilities and flexibility are really exciting here.
As Pasquale noted in his writings last week, just the sheer removal power of a non-targeting non-destruction effect like this one makes Stormforth noteworthy. Mecha Phantom Beast Dracossack, Number 101: Silent Honor ARK, El Shaddol Winda, and countless other tough-to-beat monsters are easily bested by this thing; you don't just eliminate them from the field, you launch into even more punishing plays off your Tribute Summon when you do. We've seen tons of Tribute support over the past few years, but this seems like by far the best. The drawback is minimal, the versatility is high, and the raw power level is astounding. The Monarchs Stormforth has me eager to pull out a bunch of Tribute monsters I haven't run in literally years. Just an awesome, awesome card, and it's so at-odds with the majority of this set release that I can't help but wonder where this is going and why this card exists.
Battleguard Howling is a Magic Cylinder on steroids if you're running a Warrior deck. Which might not seem immediately relevant until you realize it was released in the same set as Satellarknights, where it's already seeing play and winning success in tournaments like the ARGCS in Atlantic City.
Howling's essentially Magic Cylinder and Compulsory Evacuation Device combined, if you play Warriors and don't mind your Compulsory being un-chainable. That might sound a bit awkward, but consider this: played against a Synchro, Xyz, or Fusion Monster, Howling is essentially free. While Magic Cylinder is usually laughed out of tournaments because it represents a -1 of card economy and doesn't actually improve your position on the field, Battleguard Howling retains Compulsory Evacuation Device's potential to make a 1-for-1 trade against anything it bounces back to the Extra Deck. Combined with its ability to stave off an attack that was likely going to create a minus in the first place, it's got some pretty smart stuff going on in the card economy department.
Then, consider the ATK of the monsters you'll generally be Howling away. Since most activation opportunities for this card involve a monster attacking over one of your Warriors in the first place, you're practically guaranteed to be dishing out at least 2000 damage any time you resolve it. Howling's a bit conditional, but when it works it's often an instant +1 that wins you 25% of the game with burn damage. Extrapolate a bit further and you can probably imagine how good this card can be with Satellarknights in particular: since Stellarknight Delteros sits on the field for up to three turns raking in a free plus every turn it survives, your opponent will often have to attack it, which means they'll be eating at least 2500 damage while you lock in another +1 destruction with Delteros.
Add in the Little Detail that Howling can be played in response to targeted monster effects too, and you've got a card that works like nothing else. Heck, you don't even have to burn and bounce the monster that attacked, or that launched the effect triggering Howl in the first place: if your opponent happens to have a bigger face-up monster than the one giving you your activation condition, you can Howl that instead. Unlike Magic Cylinder, Battleguard Howling lets you pick and choose the monster you punt off the field. This card's easy to misunderstand, easy to ignore, and an absolute hidden gem. Aaron Furman's performance with it should catapult it into the spotlight, but if that somehow doesn't happen be sure to try it out yourself. It's awesome.
I remarked earlier in our Giant Set Review that Shaddoll Fusion was designed to effectively make your Fusion Summons free – unleashing big Fusion Monsters with no overall loss of card economy – provided you have the card presence to exchange in the first place. While Shaddoll Fusion on its own won't make a Fusion Summon unless your opponent controls an Extra Deck monster, the cards you give up as Fusion Materials are compensated for by the graveyard triggered abilities of your Shaddoll Materials, as well as the recursive ability of El Shaddoll Winda and El Shaddoll Construct.
It's an interesting design concept that prioritizes positioning over card loss: if you've got the right ingredients you can make the moves, and they're free in the long run, but you need the proper positioning to kick things off. Viewed in that light, Stellarnova Alpha's much the same: a Counter Trap that works like Infernity Barrier to negate the effect of a spell, trap, or monster ability, it destroys the source of the effect it shuts down. On its own that would be a 1-for-1 trade just like Infernity Barrier. But Stellarnova Alpha requires you to send a face-up "tellarknight" monster to the graveyard as its activation cost, then draws you a card when it resolves successfully. Again, you have to give up a card at activation, but you get another one in exchange once the effect's complete.
In this case the actual positioning is a little tougher: it's easier to have two Fusion Materials in hand for Shaddoll Fusion than it is to successfully Summon a 'tellarknight and then give up that field presence. But that seems a fair trade given the incredible power level of Stellarnova Alpha, which has been played as a three-of in virtually all of the top cut Satellarknight decks we've seen so far. Since the Satellarknight deck has so many Special Summon effects it's well prepared to meet the Stellarnova Alpha's activation cost, and at the same time Alpha's negation can keep your field safe when you play out a bunch of monsters at once, or consolidate multiple cards into a big Rank 4 Xyz. It's especially great at keeping Stellarknight Delteros around so you can keep popping cards with its ability, turn after turn.
Moving along, Stellarnova Wave is a high-potential card that like Yang Zing Prana, isn't seeing play partly because it's just outclassed by other on-theme options. Stellarnova Alpha is, as I just described, amazing, and running three copies alongside a full swathe of protective traps plus splashables like Vanity's Emptiness and Soul Charge leaves little space for weaker picks, even if they do still have merit.
But there's more to it than that. Stellarnova Wave is interesting because it can be played to do something most Satellarknight duelists aren't aiming to do right now, which is accruing massive burn damage with Satellearknight Alsahm. While the 1-card investment required to put Wave on the table can seem a bit daunting compared to the alternatives, any extra Summon like Satellarknight Altair or Satellarknight Deneb is going to balance that out almost instantly. That's not the problem. The real issue is that Wave pushes an already-fast deck into a warpspeed pacing it might not actually need, or helps create more opportunities to abuse multiple copies of Alsahm that no one's actually playing.
Stellarnova Wave is a cool card, and I wouldn't be surprised if we sat it in top cut Satellarknight builds in the future. But the focus of the mainstream Satellarknight decks we're seeing right now in this first-generation period just doesn't fit this card's purpose. But keep it in mind as the format progresses – when we get to the point where we start seeing "accepted" or "standard" builds of Satellarknights, this may be a big point of innovation that could set you apart from the pack.
While most Shaddoll players are running a handful of Light monsters like Lyla, Lightsworn Sorceress; Felis, Lightsworn Archer; Effect Veiler; and White Dragon Wyverburster to get their Light count up for El Shaddoll Construct, Shaddoll Core is a searchable, flexible, on-theme answer to that same challenge. The Shaddoll deck already has plenty of Dark monsters to use as Fusion Materials for El Shaddoll Winda, but it has to stretch a bit to make Construct. The Core can be a Dark or a Light monster as needed, and it has the Shaddoll name-stamp so it's going to work with several useful effects.
That said, for the moment it's simply faster and easier to run a few Light monsters. The Lights that are seeing play in Shaddolls have impressive abilities and closely-knit synergies with Shaddoll play patterns, and that's why we're not seeing Shaddoll Core on many tables. Since it's a trap card it needs to be set before you can activate it, whereas you could just Normal Summon a Light monster (or pitch it to the graveyard with or for an effect). Right now, those Light monsters fulfill the Shaddoll deck's priorities better than a trap monster.
But that changes moving forward! As more El Shaddolls are released in future sets, the range and utility of Shaddoll Core will improve dramatically. That's where this card's going to become valuable, and that makes it worthy of note moving forward. It's seeing some play now, but it's going to become more useful as the Shaddoll strategy evolves.
Sinister Shadow Games is great. At this point we've discussed the various Shaddoll trigger effects that go off in the graveyard ad infinitum, so we don't really need to cover them again. Shadow Games is a great reactive trap card that can fill a number of different roles depending on what you kick to the graveyard, and you can even use it to force your Flip Effects without exposing yourself to Summon negation.
It's a three-of in almost every top cut Shaddoll deck we're seeing. It works with cards you're already playing, to give more results at times the Shaddoll deck wouldn't make actions in otherwise. It's just outstanding support for the theme.
Yang Zing Creation is tremendous. While players have struggled to find optimal builds of the Yang Zing strategy early in its run – it's really no secret that the deck's been widely outperformed by Satellarknights, Shaddolls, and even Burning Abyss – Yang Zing Creation's certainly one of the standouts of any successful Yang Zing build. It effectively doubles your Special Summoning power the first time a Yang Zing is destroyed each turn, so your 1-for-1 chump blocks suddenly become +1's and create free Synchro Summoning opportunities.
If you're underwhelmed at the fact that Yang Zing Creation only works once per turn, remember that whatever you Special Summon continues to make 1-for-1 search replacements if your opponent destroys your new bonus monster. Yes, Creation only gets you a single +1 every turn. But the signature abilities of the Yang Zing monsters ensure that your +1's stick every time, and there's a tremendous difference between an impermanent plus and a lasting one.
I know some people aren't running this card in their Yang Zing builds? But for me it's a must. It's just a crushingly good card that turns your killer defense into a punishing offense.
Yang Zing Unleashed is a bit more esoteric, but it does two very different things and both have a ton of value if you play your cards right. The ability to throw down a big monster and then force your opponent to ram into it can create a lot of card advantage. You can also twist your opponent's arm into attacking your smaller Yang Zings too, giving you more search opportunities and helping you fill your graveyard for effects like Yang Zing Path and Yang Zing Prana. It's a specialized Final Attack Orders and so much more.
That said, it's the Synchro Summon effect that can help you defy your opponent's expectations and steal wins. The ability to pop a big effect Synchro onto the field when your opponent doesn't expect it – say, Black Rose Dragon – is tremendous. But you can also use Yang Zing Unleashed in conjunction with Skill Drain, allowing you to Synchro Summon on your opponent's turn even when the Synchro abilities of your Yang Zings are turned off. That can help you outplay your opponent's expectations in big, big ways.
The future of the Yang Zing deck in the TCG seems up in the air right now; with so many big shifts in competitive metagames, and so much success from three other Duelist Alliance strategies, Yang Zings could fall by the wayside. But they have powerful abilities that are worth exploring, and Yang Zing Unleashed is one of the trickiest to master. Expect to experiment with it at great length if you want to play it, and expect it to be a metagame call in very specific ways.
Kelly Locke did a great job just a few days ago, explaining why Face-Off is a potentially useful card that's currently outclassed due to the shape of competition. Definitely check out that discussion for some more depth and some more perspective; everything Kelly said is true, and the reality is that in a lot of different ways, Face-Off is just inferior to Debunk. Since so many of the cards you'd want to Face-Off can also be stopped with Debunk, and since Debunk addresses so many other threats outside of the Damage Step, Face-Off winds up coming out the loser in that comparison virtually every time.
But that said, Face-Off does handle some cards Debunk can't touch, and with the rising threat of Shaddolls I can't help but think that the ability to stop a Flip Effect when you reveal a monster in battle might become really valuable, really fast. Moving forward, it's important to keep in mind what Face-Off is capable of. Kelly's right, it's not at its peak performance yet, but it seems inevitable that it's going to get there at some point. In the mean time we can enjoy the fact that while it might not stack up to Debunk by comparison right this moment, it can actually beat Debunk in the most literal game terms if your opponent tries to Debunk you in the Damage Step.
There's a beautiful irony to that which I appreciate.
Easily one of the most hyped and sought-after cards in Duelist Alliance, Time-Space Trap Hole ends our investigation of the DUEA core set. While Time-Space Trap Hole's high potential as a solve-it-all against Pendulum Summons may not be relevant right this moment, that's going to become a more important factor over time. Note that shuffling back Pendulum Monsters that your opponent's trying to Pendulum Summon keeps those cards in your opponent's Main Deck where they have to search or draw them again, whereas destroying them would send them to the Extra Deck for immediate reuse. That's huge against stuff like Odd-Eyes Pendulum Dragon.
While Time-Space Trap Hole draws immediate comparisons to Black Horn of Heaven, the differences between them create two distinct entities: Black Horn can only ever stop one monster at a time, and since it negates a Special Summon it has zero impact on Special Summons that were the result of an effect: Time-Space can stop both inherent Special Summons as Black Horn would, as well as stuff like Satellarknight Vega, Shaddoll Fusion, and the Synchro Summoning effects of the Yang Zings.
Time-Space Trap Hole isn't limited to a specific range of monsters, like monsters with 1500 ATK or more for Bottomless Trap Hole or monsters that have activated effects like Traptrix Trap Hole Nightmare. Since it shuffles monsters away instead of destroying them it won't feed your opponent's graveyard, and it gets around destruction-resisting effects like Stardust Dragon or Number 101: Silent Honor ARK. It's also searchable via Traptrix Myrmeleo, so it's immediately worth considering in any deck running Traptrix. Many players believe it's flatly superior to Trap Hole Nightmare.
It's a great card and it'll only get better as Pendulum Summons become more important. It's really got nowhere to go but up.
That's another fifteen cards discussed and finished with! So far we've looked at a whopping 61 cards from Duelist Alliance; I'm pretty sure that's some kind of record for our Giant Set Reviews. All that's left are the OCG imports and the TCG World Premieres, and we'll talk about the mixed bag that is the back-end bonus line-up from DUEA tomorrow, as we bring it all home in Part 5!