Congratulations to TJ “King of DN” Kinsley who reigned supreme with Nekroz in a finals mirror match at the 150th YCS this past weekend. Among the decks that topped the event were Qliphorts, Burning Abyss, and Ritual Beasts. Surprisingly, or not surprisingly depending on who you speak to, Shaddolls did not secure a single spot in the Top32. The deck was well represented amongst the roughly 1800 players who attended, but for some reason it didn’t quite make the cut. In the weeks leading up to YCS Columbus, I had a good amount of testing against Shaddolls since many players at my local card store swore by it. I noticed some major flaws in the deck after playing a few short games against it while using Nekroz, and I’ve been verbalizing them to the people in my community. This article could just as easily be titled “The Problem with Shaddolls,” as I will be giving a detailed analysis on why it does not stack up to the competition in today’s meta.
In 2014, Shaddolls became one of the most powerful decks to grace the game of Yu-Gi-Oh. Super Polymerization was at three per deck, and Patrick Hoban was able to almost immediately win a YCS by maxing out on the card before someone else realized its absurdness. After that, Konami put the card to one per deck, and Shaddolls started losing their stronghold on the game. At the same time, Qliphorts came out, which proved to be an unfavorable matchup—to say the least—and Burning Abyss received a formidable boost with the release of Virgil and Fire Lake. The meta quickly shifted to just those two decks, and Shaddolls were suddenly the underdog. On the following banlist, Konami completely banned Super Polymerization, which seemed subtle at the time, but not when you consider the fact that it is one of the most powerful cards ever printed AND a huge factor in the deck’s success.
The other reason why it used to be so good was because of its ability to grind away the opponent’s card advantage with easy +1s and +2s. If you resolve Shaddoll Fusion from the deck, it is an immediate +2 in card advantage, and possibly more if you beat anything in battle. On top of that, the actual effects of the Shaddolls monsters were pretty broken: you could draw a card, search a Shaddoll, revive a Shaddoll, pop a backrow, slow down the rate of special summons, etc. Now, those effects actually suck in comparison to everything else that’s happening. This is the basic power creep in Yu-Gi-Oh. Things that used to be overpowered and complained about are now 2-0ed and laughed at.
The most notorious deck this format, Nekroz, has four monsters that are an incredible pain to deal with if you’re using Shaddolls. First, we have the Nekroz of Unicore, which is stronger than Winda, and it cuts off all of your extra deck effects. That means Construct doesn’t get to send anything from the deck, effectively making her a -1. Next up is the Nekroz of Clausolas, who can turn any monster’s attack to 0 and cut off its effects. Just like Unicore, this makes Construct a -1 and surprisingly simple to deal with, too. If that isn’t enough, there’s the Nekroz of Brionac, which has the nasty ability to bounce all of your Fusions back to the extra deck at no cost. That’s right, a Nekroz player can just say the word and you have to go back into your extra deck. At this point, the minuses are starting to pile up. The final nail in the coffin is the notorious Nekroz of Trishula, which is legitimately an autowin if it ever resolves during the match. Shaddolls are pretty dependent on keeping perfect control over all of their resources, and taking away three of them at once is just too much to reasonably come back from. The sad thing is, Nekroz can still do more to hurt the Shadoll deck, like the infamous Djinn lock. Setting a Squamata or Dragon in hopes of breaking the lock may not happen, either. It only takes an in-hand Trishula to stop you from getting out of it, and the longer it lasts, the more likely that it won’t matter when you finally break it—if ever.
Shaddolls Cards Are Not What’s Winning Your Games
This is perhaps the biggest factor as to why Shaddolls are not performing too well. Simply put, the few games that Shaddolls are winning are not because of the Shaddoll engine. Outside of opening with Mistake, I can’t think of the last time a Construct beat me from 8000 to 0. Therefore, main decking three copies of Mistake, an unsearchable trap card, does not mean that your Shadoll deck suddenly has a good matchup against Nekroz. It means your unsearchable trap card has a good matchup against Nekroz. As for the new Water Fusion, yeah, it’s cute and everything, but Nekroz players are already maining searchable outs to the Djinn lock, which happen to be searchable outs to the Water Fusion, too. On top of that, some Nekroz players are maining Zefrasaber, Swordmaster of the Nekroz, which literally bypasses the entire effect of the Water Fusion. Also, let us not forget how awkward it is to summon the Water Fusion in the first place. You either main deck some terrible water monsters that you don’t want to draw in any other matchup, or you play more than one copy of Shaddoll Core, which actually sucks since you need an entire turn to set it up, and everything has to go perfectly. That means your opponent cannot have an MST to chain to your Shaddoll Fusion, because if he does, you will be forced to fuse with other things, and no other Fusion is intimidating.
You have to realize when the deck’s engine is not propelling you to victory. You could beat a Nekroz player with Crystal Beasts if you drew enough Mistakes. The same can be said about other floodgates such as Secret Village of the Spellcasters and Anti-Spell Fragrance. So, if you want to enter a tournament with “unsearchable-floodgate.dek” then I strongly recommend it isn’t more than a local/regional.
Qliphorts are back, thanks to Lose 1 Turn. This was already a miserable matchup for Shaddolls at the end of last year, and nothing has changed since then. There are too many problems for Shaddolls to effectively deal with when playing against Qli, and the deck gets quickly overwhelmed by almost everything the Pendulum deck does. Not to mention that Qliphort Carrier and Qliphort Stealth naturally hurt the Shaddoll strategy, or the fact that none of the Shaddoll Fusion monsters do anything to the Qliphort deck. You will also be fusing for full price since Qliphort players never leave an extra deck monster on the field before ending their turn. Lastly, if Shaddolls do not draw adequate defense in the first two turns, Qliphorts will simply OTK them. It only takes one copy of Disk to resolve for things to get out of hand. I actually stopped playing Dolls last year because of how annoying this specific matchup became. Some uphill battles are just not worth the effort.
The Shaddoll Engine Requires Unsearchable Setups
In 2014, you may have had time to set a Shaddoll Hedgehog in order to find a copy of Shaddoll Fusion, but that luxury is long gone. The other decks are getting immediate gratification with things like Qliphort Scout, Satellarknight Deneb, Manju/Senju/Brionac/Reinforcement of the Army/The Whole Deck. It is no surprise that when Shaddolls do not draw one of their six Fusion spells, the game ends rather quickly. Drawing monsters is simply not okay in that deck because they do not do much on their own. You have to draw the perfect combination of monsters, Fusion spells, and protection for the deck to function in this meta. If you go first, you only get five cards. It takes at least three to fuse, so your other cards have to be pretty good protection to not catch a first turn Trishula or Brionac. It’s kind of awkward how almost all of its best first turn plays will end with a hand, a field, and a graveyard. Meanwhile, you have team blue over here just dropping a monster that searches the entire deck—literally—and cleaning up your field without sacrificing card advantage.
Maybe if Shaddolls had a Reinforcement of the Army for Fusion Spells they’d be good? Perhaps Konami already knows this and plans to give it to them. In any event, right now you have to draw your hand and play with whatever your deck decides to give you, whereas Nekroz players can draw a hand and then molds it to exactly what is needed at the time. The Clausolas will become X Ritual Spell, the Reinforcement of the Army will become X Warrior, the Brionac will become X Ritual Monster, the Manju/Senju will become whatever is needed plus a way to make a Rank 4 Xyz, etc. In Shaddolls case, the Squamata, Dragon, Beast, Falco, and Hedgehog will do nothing without a Fusion Spell, and even with a Fusion Spell they are still lackluster in comparison.
For local/regional play, you can absolutely use Shaddolls and get there. That’s the great thing about those tournaments—almost anything can do well. However, at a major event where you are sure to play against the top decks repeatedly, I would strongly suggest playing something better or something innovative. With innovation, you at least have the element of surprise, and that can be enough to win tournaments. Hopefully, after the next banlist, Shaddolls will be back in contention. It is truly one of my favorite decks, but now is simply not the time for it. If the Sticks, Chairs, and the Water Fusion couldn’t save it, then nothing will.
-The Dark Magician