Sometimes a deck rolls around that’s just so cool, I can’t wait to write about it.
Last weekend’s Regional Qualifiers actually delivered several decks of that caliber, but my favorite of the bunch was Aaron Coker’s Phantom Knight Hero build from the Regional Qualifier in Pearl Mississippi this weekend. We’ve seen splashed copies of Mask Change II in all sorts of Burning Abyss and Phantom Knight variants over the past weeks, so when I first saw this thing billed as “Phantom Knight Hero” that’s what I was expecting. But Coker’s deck is an entirely different beast, and it’s uniquely positioned to defy opponents’ expectations and punish some of the top strategies of today.
While Phantom Knights were played with Burning Abyss cards the moment they debuted, and lots of BA players have flocked to the PK Fire mash-up lately to curb the impact of Ghost Reaper & Winter Cherries – the Phantom Knight back-up plan keeps the deck from auto-losing – that’s really the first thing that sets Coker’s deck apart. He’s not running Burning Abyss whatsoever.
Instead, he’s playing the common combo of Phantom Knights and Speedroids for a fast and efficient Rank 3 engine. We’ve certainly seen that before, but the twist is that he then added a suite of Hero and Warrior cards as well, turning the deck into a turbo strategy that chucks Masked HERO Dark Law onto the field Turn 1 every game and then defends it to lock the duel.
“Setting up a Dark Law that can’t be killed is the main objective of the deck,” Coker remarked post-event. When he goes first, his goal is to end his turn with multiple Rank 3’s and Dark Law: usually those Rank 3’s would be Leviair the Sea Dragons, which feed his Turn 1 combos to get things started and then threaten an insurmountable Turn 2; they recycle Phantom Knight monsters that were overlaid for Xyz Summons and then banished for their abilities. He could also call on a Rank 3 toolbox to defend Dark Law with stuff like Mechquipped Angineer, or troubleshoot the field with The Phantom Knights of Break Sword or Super Quantal Mech Beast Grampulse if he was going second.
From there Coker’d use Dark Law’s banishing effect to ward off Kozmo spaceships, Burning Abyss monsters, and Monarch cards with graveyard effects. He could even punish his Pendulum opponents by ensuring that their monsters would go to the graveyard if they were lost, instead of being recycled back into the Extra Deck. That’s huge, especially played in tandem with Dark Law’s banishing effect, triggering when your opponent searches their deck.
Left to do its work, Masked HERO Dark Law wins you nearly any big match-up in current competition. The trick is making it quickly and consistently, and then protecting it long enough to win. Coker pulled out all the stops to make that happen, and the result was a really cool combo deck that plays well against virtually anything in competition today.
Here’s what it looked like.
Aaron Coker’s Phantom Knight Heroes: 40 Cards
Pearl Mississippi Regional Qualifier, May 21 2016
3 The Phantom Knights of Ancient Cloak
3 The Phantom Knights of Ragged Gloves
3 The Phantom Knights of Silent Boots
3 Elemental HERO Shadow Mist
3 Marauding Captain
1 Kagemucha Knight
3 Speedroid Terrortop
1 Speedroid Taketomborg
3 Mask Change II
1 Mask Change
2 Allure of Darkness
2 Twin Twisters
1 Foolish Burial
1 Gold Sarcophagus
1 Reinforcement of the Army
3 Phantom Knights’ Fog Blade
2 Phantom Knights’ Wing
1 Solemn Warning
Extra Deck: 15
2 Masked HERO Dark Law
1 Masked HERO Dian
3 Leviair the Sea Dragon
2 The Phantom Knights of Break Sword
1 Dante, Traveler of the Burning Abyss
1 Dark Rebellion Xyz Dragon
1 Mechquipped Angineer
1 Number 20: Giga-Brilliant
1 Number 66: Master Key Beetle
1 Number F0: Utopic Future
1 Super Quantal Mech Beast Grampulse
For this deck to be successful you generally need to open with Masked HERO Dark Law every game. You also want to Summon it as efficiently as possible. There are lots of ways to accomplish that, but there are really two categories of approach: Mask Change and Mask Change II both offer a series of different paths to Dark Law.
Regular Mask Change only works with HERO monsters, and in this build that means upgrading Elemental HERO Shadow Mist into Dark Law. There’s nothing else you can send to the graveyard since Coker didn’t run any other Heroes. That makes Mask Change a more narrow card than Mask Change II, so you don’t want to draw it; you just want to search it with Shadow Mist. Coker ran just one copy so he could search it with Shadow Mist’s ability off a Special Summon.
From there he could trade it in for Dark Law immediately as a 1-for-1, since he got the Mask Change for free. While other Hero decks might let the Shadow Mist sit and Mask Change it the turn following to grift another search off Shadow Mist’s graveyard effect, Coker didn’t have any other Heroes to search, so there would be little or no reason to delay the Summon.
Coker could make that play happen in a number of different ways. He could draw Shadow Mist or search it with Reinforcement of the Army, then Special Summon it with Marauding Captain to trigger Shadow Mist’s search. He could banish Shadow Mist from his deck with Gold Sarcophagus, then bring it to the field with Leviair the Sea Dragon. He could even Summon Masked HERO Dian, swing over a monster, and then Special Summon Shadow Mist with Dian’s ability – it brings out a Level 4 or lower Hero from your deck whenever it runs a monster down in battle and sends it to the graveyard.
But the lynchpin that really made Coker’s deck so consistent was Transmodify. We’ve written about it before here on the CoreTCG Blog, and it’s seen a little competitive play in the past, but if you’re not familiar with it, Transmodify’s a Normal Spell that sends one of your face-up monsters to the graveyard. It Special Summons a monster from your deck with the same type and attribute, but one Level higher.
Since all of the Phantom Knights are Level 3 Dark Warriors, you can Transmodify any one of them to Special Summon Shadow Mist from the deck, triggering Shadow Mist’s search and landing your Phantom Knight in the graveyard. And since the Phantom Knights all have graveyard triggers that effectively get you a free cards, Transmodify plus any Phantom Knight becomes another 1-for-1 into Dark Law through Shadow Mist.
“It’s like A Hero Lives, except you don’t pay 4000 Life Points,” Coker explained. Not only that, but A Hero Lives only works when you have nothing on the field. Transmodify doesn’t care what your field looks like so it’s often a more flexible card. That’s why it was so important for Coker to play three of each of his Phantom Knights – an outlandish proposition in any other modern PK build – and why he didn’t run Burning Abyss. monsters Malebranches wouldn’t help here: they’re Level 3 Darks, but they’re Fiends instead of Warriors. They don’t work with Transmodify.
The other gameplan relies on simply drawing one of the three copies of Mask Change II. You have to discard a card to activate it, and if you’re hard-drawing it instead of searching it with Shadow Mist you’re taking a -2 of card economy. You give up Mask Change II, the discard, and whatever monster you upcycle (a -3), and get back nothing but Dark Law in the process (a +1 to bring the transaction to a -2).
But again, that’s where the Phantom Knights come in: each one you use for each part of Mask Change II turns the respective minus into an even trade, so if you’re pitching two Phantom Knights you’ve got another 1-for-1 anyways. Add in the free search power of Speedroid Terrortop, the chance to combo Allure of Darkness with Leviair the Sea Dragon, and the recursive power of the Phantom Knights’ trap cards, and you’ve got a ridiculously efficient deck.
All you’ve gotta do from there is use Phantom Knights’ Fog Blade, Phantom Knights’ Wing, Solemn Warning, and maybe a little help from Mechquipped Angineer to protect Dark Law and lock in your field long enough to win. If your opponent has backrow or a big blocker next turn, more free Special Summons off your Leviairs bring out Grampulse, The Phantom Knights of Break Sword and Number F0: Utopic Future to seal the deal.
Perfect Twists And Innovations
Coker made some really cool decisions that challenge standard Hero conventions to get the most out of this strategy, so it’s worth discussing them in brief. This is a very detail-driven deck, and it’s really important to know all your options.
Marauding Captain’s easily one of the deck’s biggest head-turners. While we’re used to seeing more standard Hero decks run Goblindbergh to Special Summon Elemental HERO Shadow Mist from the hand, Marauding Captain does effectively the same thing, but fields a Level 3 instead of a Level 4 so you can make Rank 3’s and more Leviair plays. Marauding Captain’s an Earth monster too, so Coker could sack it off for Mask Change II and bring out Masked HERO Dian, giving him the chance to Special Summon Shadow Mist if he couldn’t get to it otherwise.
Being a Level 3 Dark Warrior, Kagemucha Knight works as your tenth compatible card to Transmodify into Elemental HERO Shadow Mist, and its Special Summon ability can help you make more Rank 3’s to string out bigger play sequences. Coker mentioned that he considered it the most flexible slot in the deck, so there’s clearly room to customize there, but this entire concept is built on consistency and Kagemucha does a nice job offering redundancy while filling a few different roles.
As noted before, Gold Sarcophagus opens up another way to Special Summon Elemental HERO Shadow Mist, banishing it from the deck so you can bring it to the field with Leviair. Reinforcement of the Army pulls double duty searching Marauding Captain or Shadow Mist for from-the-hand Special Summons, or gets you any Phantom Knight monster as an alternative.
This deck can struggle against Domain of the True Monarchs going second since it can’t accomplish much without an Extra Deck, but the majority of Monarch players are only running one copy and are playing an Extra Deck themselves, keeping them off Domain’s floodgate-type effect. This deck definitely wants to go first, but when it doesn’t get to open, it’s still a wildly effective board-breaking Rank 3 toolbox that can make its own opportunities and then ratchet in a lock.
It’s an impressive deck, appearing just in time to throw a curveball in the general direction of YCS Providence. Big congrats to Aaron Coker for his innovation and his success, and good luck to everyone playing in the YCS this weekend!