Shadow Paladin Retrospective, Part 2: By Any Means Necessary!
We’re back, ladies and dragons. Welcome to the second part of the Shadow Paladin retrospective, where I’m going to talk to you at length about the thing that propelled Shadow Paladins out of the misery induced by their initial release and headlong into the meta at large. We are, of course, talking about Revengers, the Shadow Paladin sub-clan introduced not only in its own Booster Tech, but also Shadow Paladin’s first Trial Deck, as well! Hopefully by the end of this you’ll come to understand the hows and whys of Shadow Paladin’s ascension.
Imagine it: it’s the middle of Season 3 of the anime, and Aichi’s team is going into the final match of the highschool tournament. It’s everyone’s favorite hero against everyone’s favorite edgelord: Ren Suzugamori. Ren’s return heralds a brand new style of Shadow Paladins: no longer were their skills costly without reason or underwhelming. These dark knights stand together with one goal: victory, by any means necessary. To this end, many old Shadow Paladin cards were rebranded with the Revenger name, giving them further support unique to them and their play style. While still sacrificing their own allies for big plays, the clan shifts focus towards its lower grade units superior calling other units in order to pay for those costs. As well, those skills are no longer absurdly overpriced, meaning you can actually pull some of their plays off! With support from a single Booster Tech, Shadow Paladins exploded out of the mire of sets 4 and 5 and hit the ground running.
It’s easy to see why if you look at some of the cards in Trial Deck 10: Purgatory Revenger (such an awesome, nonsense title). While most of the cards here are just retrained versions of old Shadow Paladin cards (especially the triggers), Transient Revenger, Masquerade and Nullity Revenger, Masquerade deserve some notice. Both of these are sub-clan attackers – meaning that they receive +3000 power when attacking as long as you have a Vanguard of their sub-clan. While Nullity Revenger should look familiar to you if you read Part 1, Transient Revenger is new in the fact that it is a Grade 1 with the same skill. At this point, the focus of Shadow Paladins shifts entirely towards Revengers, meaning that every Vanguard you have is going to have Revenger in its name. These two form a solid deck core that allows you to threaten a Vanguard earlier and more often with their attacks, as well as fix some of the bad math that early Revenger decks were wont to produce. Right out of the gate we have solid cards and they only improve from here!
Perhaps the best example of that improvement can be found in the new version of Shadow’s most iconic unit: Blaster Dark Revenger. The clan’s new face has a simple skill: when placed on VC or RC, you can Counterblast 2 to retire one of your opponent’s front row rear-guards. While it takes away the original Blaster Dark’s ability to snipe any unit, Blaster Dark Revenger makes up for it by being able to be used even when he isn’t the Vanguard. Though it doesn’t turn heads nowadays, back when this card was released, front row rear-guards were often the target of choice (think: 12k attackers). Along with some support we’ll talk about soon, Blaster Dark Revenger became a quick 4-of. Shame that there was only one copy in each Trial Deck.
Speaking of cards with only one copy in the trial deck, we now come to Shadow Paladin’s breakride unit: Illusionary Revenger, Mordred Phantom. Named after King Arthur’s notoriously traitorous nephew, Mordred shaped the play style of Shadow Paladins almost more than any card we’re going to talk about today (save for one other), and is responsible for giving Shadow Paladins’ first competitive deck it’s name: Arthur’s Bane. Like many Grade 3s of the era, Mordred Phantom cannot attack if you have any non-Shadow Paladin unit on the field (once again, remember: Clan mixing was a-ok in most places at this point). It also comes with a nifty 2000 power boost when attacking a Vanguard, meaning that it could challenge cross-rides easily and fix the math of a sub-optimal booster. The real meat on Mordred’s bones comes from its Limit Break skill: when another Shadow Paladin rode over it, a simple Counterblast of 1 would give your Vanguard 10000 power until the end of turn and allow you to superior call a Grade 2 or less Shadow Paladin from the deck and give it 5000 power (once again, until the end of the turn). This skill seems almost a pittance at first glance, but the sheer utility of it is half of what propelled Shadows out of the gutter. I’ll give more specifics when we get to some of the other Revenger cards, but if you need an example as to why Mordred was good: grabbing a Nullity Revenger with Mordred would make it swing for over 16000 all on its own.
The rest of Puragtory Revenger is unremarkable: most of the units in it never saw play. That is perhaps because two weeks later saw the release of Booster Tech 12: Binding Force of the Black Rings…which may as well have been named “Booster Tech 12: Shadow Paladins Wreck the Game.” The anime in particular took this time to shift its focus onto Ren, who proceeded to cut a bleeding path through the show’s cast as he showed off most of the cards we’re about to talk about. The very first of those cards being Revengers’ first real starter, Frontline Revenger, Claudas. Apart from the standard First Vanguard shtick (5000 power, Forerunner), Claudas’s skill allowed you to Counterblast 1 and put it into the soul to Superior Call a Blaster Dark Revenger if you had a Grade 3 or greater Shadow Paladin Vanguard. At first glance, this skill seems a bit odd: why would you want a skill that only serves to Superior Call a specific unit, even if that unit is Blaster Dark Revenger? The answer lies in what even Bushiroad considers to be Claudas’s partner: Barrier Troop Revenger, Dorint. As a Grade 1, Dorint’s skill is incredible: While a Rear Guard, Dorint’s skill let’s you Countercharge 1 whenever Blaster Dark Revenger is placed on VC or RC in the same column as it, so long as you have a Revenger Vanguard. With this card, so many plays open up: Claudas’s skill to superior call Blaster Dark Revenger becomes free! If you use Mordred Phantom’s breakride to superior call Blaster Dark Revenger to a Dorint column, that Breakride just became free! On top of that, it essentially makes Blaster Dark Revenger’s retire skill cost only 1 Counterblast. As well, because of the nature of Dorint’s skill, you will Countercharge 1 even if you call Blaster Dark Revenger on top of Dorint…which lead to the interesting interaction of causing you to Countercharge 2 if Blaster Dark Revenger is called to a column with 2 Dorints in it (just a fun fact!)
As if that weren’t enough, Shadow Paladins also gained a way to guarantee those kinds of columns exist thanks to Dark Cloak Revenger, Tartu. When placed on VC or RC, if you have a Revenger Vanguard, you can Counterblast 2 to superior call a Grade 1 or less Revenger from your deck to the same column as her. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s almost word for word Macha’s skill…except that it only lets you grab Revengers, and Tartu has 9000 power! Tartu not only creates 16000 columns out of thin air, but she can be used to fish out Dorints from your deck to make future plays with Blaster Dark Revenger. Already things are starting to fall into place.
Another card worth mentioning is Revenger, Dark Bond Trumpeter, a 6000 power Grade 1 that allows you to superior call a Grade 0 (or less) Revenger from your deck at Rest for Counterblast 1 when it is placed on VC or RC. Dark Bond was the source of much debate during its time in the limelight thanks to people wondering just how much value was lost when calling triggers (as there were almost no other Grade 0 cards you would be calling). Apart from that, Dark Bond has amazing synergy with Tartu, allowing you to call 3 units in total for Counterblast 3. That’s efficient as hell (at least for the time)! Why would you need to do that though, you ask? Patience, we’re almost there.
“But UmbreonMessiah,” I hear you shout. “What about retiring your own units for power? I thought you said that’s what Shadow Paladins were all about!” It is, good reader, but once again that privilege is saved for their Grade 3s. BT12 had two notable Grade 3 Shadow Paladins. The much less notable of the two is Witch of Cursed Talisman, Etain. As a 10000 power Grade 3 in an era where 11000 was becoming the norm, Etain had to work extra hard to stand out. On top of getting 3000 power when attacking a Vanguard, Etain’s Limit Break sure tried its best to be unique: Counterblast 2 and retire two of your Shadow Paladin rear-guards at the beginning of the guard step in which she is attacked to retire one of your opponents’ non-attacking, non-boosting rear-guards. Up until this point, the only other truly defensive Vanguard skill belonged to a Murakumo unit, so seeing Shadow Paladins attempt it is certainly interesting. However, not only is this skill overcosted for what it does, it clearly does not mesh with what Mordred Phantom brings to the table. The chances of running Etain paled in comparison to BT12’s other Shadow Paladin Grade 3.
Behold: Revenger, Raging Form Dragon, a card of nearly limitless hype and the other major reason Shadow Paladins became a game-wide terror. Raging Form Dragon’s basic skill is somewhat tame: Counterblast 1 when it attacks to give it 3000 power. Nothing special, right? What really set Raging Form Dragon apart from the rest was its Limit Break: after it attacked, retire 3 Revenger units to superior persona ride another copy from the hand as Stand, and give it 10000 power. Spectral Duke Dragon’s spirit infuses itself into Shadow Paladins and this is the result: a restanding monster of a Vanguard that comes at you again even stronger than it did the first time. Not only did Raging Form Dragon make terrifying plays with Mordred Phantom, such as allowing you to magic a column for a mere Counterblast 3 (a big deal at the time) as well as give your Vanguard absurd power, but Raging Form Dragon also let you utterly destroy your opponent if they had yet to reach Grade 3 (thanks in part to its second skill). Along with all the superior calling synergy in the deck (think back to things like Tartu and Dark Bond, combined with Mordred’s Breakride), Revengers came out the gate like a wrecking ball, crashing through anyone else who dared get in their way. Arthur’s Bane was the main reason why, a deck that looked a little something like:
1x Frontline Revenger, Claudas (FV)
4x Revenger, Air Raid Dragon (CRIT)
4x Grim Revenger (CRIT)
4x Shadow Paladin Critical or Freezing Revenger (DRAW)
4x Healing Revenger (HEAL)
4x Dark Revenger, Mac Lir (Perfect Guard, which I didn’t show!)
4x Barrier Troop Revenger, Dorint
3x Transient Revenger, Masquerade
3x Revenger, Dark Bond Trumpeter
4x Blaster Dark Revenger
4x Dark Cloak Revenger, Tartu
3x Nullity Revenger, Masquerade
4x Illusionary Revenger, Mordred Phantom
4x Revenger, Raging Form Dragon
The only real question on everyone’s minds once Shadow Paladins staked out their territory was: “where do they go from here?” To answer that question, gaze upon Booster Tech 15: Infinite Rebirth. Many other clans saw vast improvements in this set (especially Pale Moon, but we’re not here to talk about that). Shadow Paladins received many cards, though most would not come into their own until later in Shadows’ lifespan. Before getting to the real meat, I’m going to give some shout-outs to some lesser known Shadow Paladin cards. Our first goes to Self-Control Revenger, Rakia and Overcoming Revenger, Rukea, a Grade 1 and Grade 2 pair that gain 3000 power whenever a Revenger of a Grade less than themselves is called to RC. Rakia and Rukea would see themselves end up as tech options for Revenger decks during the G-Era, but until they were largely unused. The second shout-out goes to Sharp Point Revenger, Shadow Lancer, a 7000 power Grade 1 that would search for Mordred Phantom when called to RC for the low, low price of a discarded Grade 3. Shadow Lancer didn’t see much play, given that Revenger decks struggled to find room for him, but he was a tech option much sooner than Rukea or Rakia. The third and final goes to the reprint of Cursed Lancer, a card I talked about in Part 1 (and mistakenly claimed was a shop promo: it, in fact, was printed in the English version of BT04). Not much to say about this one: it was nice of them to reprint Cursed Lancer after so much time had passed, but by this point Cursed Lancer had long stopped being useful.
With that out of the way, we move on to Sharp Fang Witch, Fodla. Fodla has shades of Badhabh Caar and Macha in her: she has 9000 power as a Grade 3 and when called to VC or RC, you can Counterblast 1 to superior call up to two Grade 0 Shadow Paladins from your deck. Fodla wouldn’t see the light of day until quite recently, where she suddenly popped up as a tech option in the most recent Shadow Paladin decks. At the time of her release and shortly afterwards however, Fodla was seen as underwhelming. The same could not be said of Black-Winged Swordbreaker, Shadow Paladin’s version of Sword of Hope, Richard: when called from the deck, Soul blast 1 to draw a card. The only thing that kept Swordbreaker from being broken (hehe) when she came out was the fact that she is not a Revenger. That distinction no longer maters though, which has allowed Swordbreaker to become one of the most common tech options in Shadow Paladin decks. It is almost impossible to find a deck that doesn’t use her now. The skill speaks for itself, really!
Now that the rogue cards and generic support are out of the way though, we can go back to the Revengers. BT-15 saw the release of Judgebau Revenger, the second most-hated canine in Vanguard next to Flogal. Whenever your Vanguard with “Phantom” in its name is boosted by this card hits, you can Counterblast 1 and put Judgebau into the soul to superior call two Grade 1 or less Shadow Paladins from your deck at rest. At his release, Judgebau was considered “all right” and seen in a few Shadow Paladin decks (mostly thanks to a card we’re going to get to soon). It wasn’t until the advent of Legion that Judgebau became one of the most powerful First Vanguards in the game. By that point, all worthy Grade 3s that Revengers would want to run had Phantom in their name, meaning that Judgebau was always live once you hit Grade 3. It’s not hard to see why Judgebau is good: his superior calls aren’t limited to Revengers. That means that cards like Swordbreaker can be called with his skill to net you extra cards, or you can grab one-of tech options, thus justifying some odd card choices. To this day, Judgebau may be the most retired starter by opponents in Vanguard due to how irritating his bonuses can be to fight against. Some players would even run two Swordbreakers in their decks because Judgebau allowed them to abuse them so well. If Shadow Paladins hadn’t moved away from Revengers, Judgebau would still be infuriating other clans to this day. Beyond solid.
The next card worth looking at is Wily Revenger, Mana, a deceptively powerful card that enabled tons of goofy combos and plays. Though Mana’s 8000 power isn’t threatening on its own, the fact that she allows you to superior call a Grade 1 or less Revenger from your deck for free when she’s placed on VC or RC more than makes up for it (even if that card has to be put on the bottom of your deck at the end of turn). An ability like that sounds like it would have made Mana broken as hell, right? Surprisingly, players opted to not run Mana unless they were running an alternate build (we’re getting there, I promise). Mana’s true time to shine wouldn’t come until GBT-03, where the release of Shadow Paladins’ first G-Units would raise her up from “intersting tech” to “instant four-of” and jack her price from almost nothing to almost $20. If you think you’ve started to notice a trend with this set, you’re not wrong.
With that we come to the big, bad Shadow Paladin card of this set: Revenger, Dragruler Phantom. A Crossride of Mordred Phantom (yes, Crossbreakrides were a thing), Dragruler has the standard +2000 whenever Mordred Phantom is in the soul. Dragruler’s Limit Break is where people took notice: Counterblast 1 and retire 2 Revengers to deal 1 damage to your opponent (assuming their damage was 4 or less) and gain 10000 power that turn. Dragruler was the first unit to have a skill that straight up dealt damage to your opponent, which caught many players by surprise. As well, on a breakride turn, Dragruler could reach a terrifying 31000 power (or more, depending on how much you used the skill). Thanks to cards like Mana, getting those 2 Revengers on the field to sacrifice wasn’t hard, either. Sadly, Dragruler’s skill didn’t impress as much on release as one might expect. For one, trigger effects were not nullified, meaning that you could end up giving your opponent extra power and more cards to guard with if you were unlucky. As well, once the opponent was at 5 damage (a common occurrence at the time), Dragruler’s Limit Break became “Counterblast 1 and retire 2 to gain 10000 power” which is bordering on Phantom Blaster Dragon levels of “meh.” It was still a popular choice, but did not have anywhere near the level of success that Raging Form Dragon. Dragruler did see a resurgence after GBT-03, where it became part of a combo that put your opponent at 5 damage and forced them to guard an absurdly powerful attack with few options to defend themselves with. Other than that however, Dragruler has been mostly forgotten.
I could not end this part of the retrospective without giving some dishonorable mentions to two particular cards: Hellrage Revenger, Quesal and Revenger, Bloodmaster. The former is Shadow Paladins’ first Quintet Wall, which despite having a frigging awesome name is about as good as any other Quintet Wall (which is to say “situationally good” at best). Bloodmaster, on the other hand, gets the unique distinction of trying to be a Revenger version of Skull Witch, Nemain and making a horrible mess of itself instead. A 5000 power Grade 2, Bloodmaster’s skill let you Counterblast 1 if you placed it on RC to put a card from the top of your deck face down into your damage zone to draw 2 cards. Bloodmaster is comically bad: I’m laughing about it as I write this! Even more hilarious? It’s a RR! If ever you need a good chuckle, just remind yourself that Revenger, Bloodmaster exists and your day will be brightened.
That covers this part of the Shadow Paladin retrospective. Next time we dive deep into EB-11 to talk about Legion and Shadow Paladin’s next archetype: Witches!