Give Up Your Lives to the Cursed Dragon (Shadow Paladin Retrospective, Part 1)
Welcome, one and all! My name’s UmbreonMessiah, and I’m here to give you the darkest, edgiest retrospective of them all. That’s right: we’re talking Shadow Paladins today. This clan appeared midway through the first season of the anime (and just before the release of limit break cards), and has had a commanding presence in the community ever since. While Shadows were my first clan, I didn’t start playing them until a much later set, which we will get into at a later date. For now, I’ve dragged myself out of my Discord server to talk brass tacks about the history of Shadow Paladins in Vanguard.
Introduced as a dark opposite to the game’s iconic Royal Paladins, Shadow Paladins take the concept of strength through numbers and twist it: instead of superior calling constantly and forming powerful columns to boost with their Vanguard skills, Shadow Paladins instead use their allies as sacrifices for greater power. Might makes right to these dark knights, and each and every one of them is expendable if it means victory is achieved. It’s not hard to see why the clan gathered so much popularity even in its infancy. As we’re about to see though, the idea isn’t quite as fleshed out in their first appearance as people might have liked. Shadow Paladins ended up being overcosted and underpowered in their first outing, both in terms of their game play and in terms of their price on the market. I’m getting ahead of myself, though. Let’s start with Booster Tech 4: Eclipse of Illusionary Shadows, which contained 22 cards for the clan.
Behold Zappbau, a generic 6000 Grade 0 First Vanguard! Yes, back in the days of 2012, it was acceptable to print a generic starter in a Booster Tech. Though this is more likely due to the fact that despite being a popular clan, Shadow Paladins would not receive their own trial deck until 2014. Regardless of such, Zappbau is merely filler, because Shadow Paladins at this point were really meant to be played using their then-vaunted Ride Chain, starting with the much more well-known Fullbau. Fullbau was the first stepping stone towards what Shadow Paladins considered their true Vanguard and for the first piece of an old Ride Chain, Fullbau is fairly standard: 5000 power and when the follow-up card, Blaster Javelin, is ridden over him, you simply search your deck for Shadow Paladin’s most iconic card. Blaster Javelin itself is a 6000 Grade 1 with two skills: if it’s your Vanguard and you have Fullbau in the soul, it gets +2000 power. As well, if you call it to rear guard, you can discard a Grade 3 Shadow Paladin to search your deck for the final piece of the ride chain (we’re almost there, be patient). That secondary skill is truly what makes Blaster Javelin shine in early builds: as long as you have one, whether you rode it or not, you won’t be missing your Ace card (barring a lack of other Grade 3s). Solid stuff, for a common! But you’re not interested in talking about Blaster Javelin, are you?
No, more likely you’re interested in talking about this visually stunning Avatar: Blaster Dark. One of the most recognizable cards in the game, Blaster Dark is the poster boy for the entire clan, regardless of which form he takes. A dark mirror of the iconic Blaster Blade, Blaster Dark is the second step in Shadow Paladin’s Ride Chain. Unlike Blaster Blade, both of Blaster Dark’s skills only function when he is your Vanguard. His first is typical of Ride Chain cards: he gets +1000 power if you have the previous step (in this case, Blaster Javelin) in the soul. His second skill steals lines directly from his rival: when he’s placed on VC, you can counter blast 2 to retire one of your opponent’s rear guards. While this is fairly typical of the era, we’ll be talking a bit more about the cost of abilities in original Shadow Paladins in just a bit. Suffice to say while this skill is appropriately priced for the time, it only serves to harm the clan in the long run if used, as you’ll start to see when we factor in the cost of the next card.
With that, we finally reach Shadow Paladin’s Ace Monster: Phantom Blaster Dragon. The name itself is awe-inspiring! The final step in Shadows’ Ride Chain, Phantom Blaster Dragon is a 10000 power Grade 3 the exemplifies the Shadow Paladin play style. To begin with, he gets a nice +1000 power if Blaster Dark is in the soul, meaning that if you’ve followed your Ride Chain properly, he was one of the few 11000 Vanguards in the game. His second skill however, is where all the attention goes. As an ACT, you may Counter Blast 2 and retire three Shadow Paladin rear guards to give Phantom Blaster Dragon +10000/+1 Crit until the end of turn. It’s easy to see why people would have been taken aback by this skill back in 2012: that’s a LOT of power for a card to receive in early Vanguard, and the extra critical is quite appealing. As stated previously however, Phantom Blaster Dragon does not help with Shadow Paladin’s counter blast issues: between this and Blaster Dark’s skill, the clan is already out 4 Counter Blast…and we haven’t even started talking about the support, which is only going to compound the issue. Still, it’s hard to say this card didn’t have an impact on the community. After all, it did get retrained into an okay Breakride (but that’s for another day).
Speaking of that support, let’s talk about two of Shadow Paladin’s most standout cards. First on the list is Darkness Maiden, Macha (pronounced Maha), an 8000 power Grade 2 whose skill was ahead of its time: when placed on Vanguard or Rear Guard, Counter Blast 2 to superior call a Grade 1 or less Shadow Paladin from your to the same column as Macha. Read differently, Macha creates a legitimate attacking column or gathers you resources for Phantom Blaster Dragon for CB2. While this was cost effective in terms of BT-04 Vanguard, it’s important to remember the overarching problem with Shadow Paladins at this point: all their skills were expensive. Macha’s CB2 might have been appropriately priced for what it did, but in a clan full of other high-cost skills, you couldn’t afford to use Macha’s skill if you wanted to make big plays.
The next big Shadow Paladin card is one that is now starting to see play again: Skull Witch, Nemain (pronounced Nevan). A cursory glance will probably make you stare in disbelief, but your eyes are not fooling you: Nemain is indeed a 3000 power Grade 2. Riding Nemain was and still is considered a worst-case scenario and could often spell doom to the player that had to do it. There has to be a reason for such a low power, right? The answer lies in its amazing skill: when called to rear guard, CB1 and discard a Shadow Paladin to draw two cards. I bolded that just so you’d really focus on it: she lets you draw two cards! Draw effects like this were usually reserved for Grade 3 Vanguards and had much higher costs associated with them. Nemain has remained an off and on presence in Shadow Paladins: she started out as mandatory before disappearing until the Legion format, only to return as a powerful tech option in the most recent Shadow Paladin decks. The only problem with Nemain is, once again, the overall cost of abilities in the early Shadow Paladin deck. That being said, Nemain was on the “low-cost” side of the Shadow Paladin spectrum, meaning you might even get to use her skill twice in a game, if you were lucky.
We can’t move on without talking about what is likely one of the sleeper hits of the clan however: Dark Mage, Badhabh Caar (pronounced perplexingly as BIBE Car). As a 9000 power Grade 3, Badhabh Caar doesn’t impress on looks. His skill is what allows him to stand out in this crowd: when ridden or placed on rear guard, you check the top card of your deck and if it’s a Shadow Paladin, superior call it. This is hands down the best way to fill the field for Phantom Blaster Dragon’s skill and could often produce columns where there were none before. Sadly though, Badhabh Caar’s skill is a bit on the random side. Sometimes it would pay off and other times it simply wasted time.
Another card of note is another back up Grade 3: Dark Metal Dragon. Dark Metal Dragon is interesting in that it’s skill turns every card in your deck, even Triggers, into Triggers. When Dark Metal Dragon is your vanguard, each time your Drive Check reveals a Shadow Paladin, it gets +2000 power. Though the part about revealing Shadow Paladins sounds silly now, remember that back in BT-04 clan mixing wasn’t against the rules. In a full Shadow Paladin deck, this meant that whenever Dark Metal Dragon attacked as your Vanguard, it got +4000 on top of whatever triggers you might check, increasing its danger potential as a Vanguard considerably. The only con here is that the skill only works when Dark Metal Dragon is your Vangard. When placed on RC, it’s just a 10000 power unit.
The roller coaster doesn’t end in BT-04 though! Booster Tech 5: Awakening of Twin Blades marked the end of Vanguard’s first season in the anime and with it came some of the most memorable and powerful cards in the game’s history. Yet, despite being a major narrative force in the show, Shadow Paladins only received eight cards in this set, with one of them being a critical trigger. Oh, did I forget to mention that until BT-05 Shadows were forced to run a rainbow trigger lineup? Either way, at this point cross-rides were all the rage in Vanguard and a certain Overlord was about to run rampant all over the metagame. So, what with their main man being Kai’s rival and all, of course Shadow Paladins had to have their own Overlord! It is just unfortunate that it did not become anywhere near as game shattering as its Kagero counterpart.
Phantom Blaster Overlord tries to solve the problems of Phantom Blaster Dragon in all the wrong ways. As an early 11000 power Grade 3, it comes with a restriction: if you control any unit or Vanguard that is not a Shadow Paladin unit, it gets -2000 power. Once again, a skill that seems strange now but made sense in the context of the set it was released in. Like all cross-rides, Phantom Blaster Overlord gains +2000 power if its original form is in the soul (that being Phantom Blaster Dragon, naturally). Where Phantom Blaster Overlord misses the mark is in its skill: when it attacks, you may Counter Blast 3 and discard a copy of Phantom Blaster Overlord from your hand to give it +10000 power and +1 critical. While it improves on Phantom Blaster Dragon in terms of when its skill can be activated and that it doesn’t require you to retire 3 units, it falls apart when we get to the actual cost: Counter Blast 3 and a Persona Blast for an effect this simple is simply too expensive. Once again, to put it into perspective, you would only ever be able to use Phantom Blaster Overlord’s skill once per game…which is also assuming you didn’t try to use the skills of any of your other Shadow Paladin units on the way. It being a cross-ride didn’t help it much either, unfortunately. It’s difficult to be positive about Phantom Blaster Overlord, so perhaps we should move on.
The set also saw some interesting cards in the form of Moonlight Witch, Vaha and Knight of Nullity, Masquerade. The former is a Maiden of Libra clone (CB2 when its attack hits to draw a card) while the latter is one of the earliest 12000 attackers in the game: all that’s required is that you have a Blaster vanguard when it attacks and BAM, +3000 power. While the former would likely never make it into a Shadow Paladin deck (thanks once again to its cost), the latter was fantastic support for the clan that could threaten any standard Vanguard without assistance. Both of these cards were RR however, meaning that Knight of Nullity could be a bit difficult to acquire.
Another standout of the set is Nightmare Painter. A 6000 power Grade 1, Nightmare Painter provided some interesting support for the clan: when placed on Vanguard or Rear guard, you could choose a card from your hand and put it into your soul. While not necessarily the most powerful card, it could be used as a tech option if you feared not making your ride chain. Nightmare Painter is actually more famous for some of its applications in early Extreme Fight decks, but we’re not here to talk about that. It is still an interesting card nonetheless.
The last card worth mentioning in the set is one of the strangest Shadow Paladin cards there is: Phantom Bringer Demon. As a 5000 power Grade 0, you would expect something like this to be a First Vanguard…but it isn’t. Phantom Bringer Demon lacks the Forerunner skill, meaning that its skill can only be useful to you if you run it in the main deck. That skill, by the way? Counter Blast 1 and retire two of your Shadow Paladin rear guards to search your deck for a Phantom Blaster Overlord and add it to your hand. There was potential in the card given some of the superior calling that Shadow Paladin could do, but it is ultimately brought down by its cost and the fact that you would need to find room in your main deck for an extra Grade 0 to even attempt it.
Apart from anemic Blaster support, that’s all there is to talk about when it comes to BT-05. However, the train hasn’t quite come to a stop yet, folks! There are still a few cards to talk about…and I mean a few. Because of story events in the show, Shadow Paladins would cease to exist in continuity for an entire season. This meant, obviously, that Shadow Paladin support would be non-existent…or did it? Between BT-05 and BT-12, a grand total of four Shadow Paladin cards were printed. The first of these is Cursed Lancer, a shop promo that was supposed to be the answer to Shadow Paladins’ Counter Blast issue: a 9000 power Grade 2 that allowed you to Countercharge 1 if it hit a Vanguard. The only problem with Cursed Lancer in terms of the old Shadow Paladin deck is that there was little room for it. If you could fit it in it would create a lot of pressure, though. The second is Knight of Fighting Spirit, Dordona, a simple 10000 power Grade 2 released in Extra Booster 3: Cavalry of Black Steel alongside a whole slew of other noteworthy cards from other clans. It was one of two Shadow Paladins printed in that set along with the only Limit Break card Shadow Paladins would have until 2014: Origin Mage, Ildona. As a 10000 power Grade 3, Ildona had two skills that worked if he was your Vanguard: first, he gained +3000 power when attacking a Vanguard. Second, as an LB4: when attacking, Counter Blast 2 and retire two of your Shadow Paladin rear guards to draw 2 cards and get +3000 power. Sound familiar? It’s almost like a prototype for a very powerful card we’ll talk about at a future date (you know the one). Ildona would likely have made Shadow Paladins quite strong if any other worthwhile support had been released along with him. Sadly the only other card to come out in this block of support would be BT-09’s Blaster Dark Spirit: a 10000 power Grade 2 that can retire any rear guard for CB1 when called from the deck, but retires itself if attacked. It also counted as a Gold Paladin card…for whatever good that did it. Strangely enough, Japanese players used this card in more recent Shadow Paladin decks in order to abuse one of Shadow Paladins powerful Strides…but we’ll get to that when we get to it.
That is all there is to say about original Shadow Paladins! As stated previously, the running theme with these guys was “Overcosted and underpowered.” They would have been better if their skills didn’t require so many resources to use, but they still managed to leave an impact on the game as a whole. They were so cool that people practically begged Bushiroad to bring them back, to make them stronger…so they did. Join me next time as we delve into the next wave of Shadow Paladins and get some Revenge(r) on the meta.