May 28, 2023
  1. Introduction
  2. A Brief History
  3. The Spectral Duke Rideline
  4. Enter the Reverse 
  5. Supporting Grade 3s
  6. A Dynamic Duo
  7. Duke’s Band of Knights
  8. Sample Decklist
  9. Concluding Thoughts

Hey guys, Josh here. So lately I’ve been getting back on the saddle, the saddle being playing Spectral Duke Dragon (SDD). Though not necessarily my favorite deck, it holds a special place in my heart for being the first deck I have ever achieved competitive success with in Vanguard. Sadly, the deck fell off after a while, both with me and in the meta as a whole. However, with the release of Clan Collection Vol. 6, Spectral Duke Dragon finally received support in the form of his reverse counterpart: Spectral Dupe Dragon “Reverse”. 

So I thought that, for today’s article, why not take a look at the new and improved Spectral Duke deck in the V-Premium format? This article will include not just a breakdown of the playstyle and card selection for the deck, but also an analysis of the deck’s viability in its entirety. And do note that although extensive testing was conducted in order to thoroughly understand and assess the deck, there aren’t a great deal of results from the meta as of yet since the new support is relatively new and the meta is currently preoccupied with Steam Maiden + powerful G-boot decks. So although my assessments are substantiated by expert opinion and testing, there is always a chance that things do not pan out as predicted so do keep that in mind when reading. 

With all that said, it’s time to delve into the Spectral Duke Dragon deck!

A Brief History

As with my previous article, I feel that it’s only right to give a quick recap on Spectral Duke up till this point. After all, if we’re going to judge the deck, we should at least get to know it first. So Spectral Duke dragon is a pretty popular vanguard within the Gold Paladin clan. First released during the Limit Break era, Duke is among the OG Gold Paladins. Although not the face of the clan (whereas Ezel and Gurguit stand as veritable poster children of the clan) the Duke retains an impressive fan following due to him being an atypical vanguard of the clan as a result of his Shadow Paladin roots.

Indeed, Spectral Duke Dragon started life as a knight known by the name of “Vortimer”. Being more than a mere mortal, Vortimer would dawn the “Armor of the Black Horse” to unleash his draconic potential. Although there is a dark power within the armor, Vortimer resolved himself to fight with the honor befitting a knight, thus giving rise to the legend of a guardian dragon which transcends the ages!

Now make no mistake; although Vortimer/Spectral Duke are Gold Paladin units, many regard them as Shadow Paladins at heart. And how could you not? In addition to the lore which deals with themes of struggle with darkness and duty, Spectral Duke and his group of knights would later become Shadow Paladin units in the G era. If that weren’t enough, the gameplay of Spectral Duke dragon is so much like that of a Shadow Paladin that in Vanguard Zero, you could literally play the Ride Line in both Gold and Shadow Paladins!

But enough of that. Regardless of the clan, Duke is a formidable vanguard that is well known for his power, so much so that the deck saw competitive success in the Limit Break, G, and V eras of Vanguard (G era being the Diablo Form). V-Premium in particular saw a great showing of the deck’s incredible strength until it fell off a few months back. So we’re dealing with a deck with a good deal of history behind it, but does the Duke live up to the legend laid out before us? Let’s find out.

The Spectral Duke Rideline

So starting with a rundown of the Basics, SDD at its heart is a ride line. This means that Duke comes as a package with a Grade 1 and Grade 2, which are the Vortimers. And the effects these units possess are as amazing and thematically in-tune as their godly artwork! Beginning as a Scout, Grade 1 Vortimer serves the role of searcher and support for your vanguards. Evolving into the Black Dragon Knight, Vortimer gains a bit more power but his true potential shines once Duke hits the field. As for the Duke himself, we see a truly powerful vanguard who sacrifices his comrades to break through his limits (sound familiar?). In addition, with Vortimer in the soul, we see the true value of the ride line shine forth as Duke gains power and critical, making him especially deadly when coupled with the restand skill.

It’s a magnificent rideline that focuses on a vanguard-centric offense to demolish the opponent. With both the rideline gimmick and limit break serving to beef up Spectral Duke, the vanguard becomes extremely frightening to contend with. Now you may look at the card and think “Well hey now, this doesn’t seem that terrible”. After all, the power up is only 1k and the restand retires a whole 3 rearguards. But the devil is in the details my friend.

The +1k power may seem puny, but here’s the thing: It’s constantly active. That means that Gold Paladin has a vanguard that has force numbers despite being an accel clan, leading to a fairly significant defensive advantage against many fellow Accel clans as well as protect decks. As for the retires, let’s keep in mind that this is Gold Paladin we’re talking about here; it’s an accel clan that spams units to the field, meaning that you’ll have plenty of rears to consume for SDD.

All in all it’s an extremely potent combination of units, but there is a lot more to the deck than just 3 units. Regardless, Spectral Duke Dragon is a legend…

Enter the Reverse 

…and now that legend will become a tragedy. Indeed, the reverse has come to cray and corrupted the Duke, resulting in the monstrous Spectral Dupe Dragon “Reverse”! A behemoth of a unit, Dupe (yes yes it’s a silly name but hey there’s charm to it) descends onto the battlefield, bringing the deck a new and decisive finisher. But before I continue basking in its glory, let’s briefly go over Dupe’s effects since he is a new addition.

So Dupe has three effects, the first one being the final evolution of the rideline bonus (and a crossride bonus) which grants Dupe 10k power AND a critical as long as Duke is in the soul. This is in most regards a strict upgrade to Duke’s first skill, although I do want to point out that you lose the 1k buff on the opponent’s turn so there is a trade off of defense for offense. 

Dupe’s second skill allows him to counter-blast one and lock 3 rear guards to restand with -1 drive. This is of course a reversal (pun intended) of Duke’s restand which retires rears for his restands. And although at first glance this skill may seem a bit weaker due to there being no extra drives via limit break, it’s actually stronger in other regards. See, locking units is more preferable to retiring them as they will remain at the end of turn, resulting in no minus in field advantage. But the big benefit? This skill is not once per turn, meaning that you can swing with Dupe a potential 3+ times! That with the first skill makes Dupe a killer vanguard which can end the game, and we’re still not done reading his effects.

Yup, there’s a third skill, and it’s a doozy. See, Duke has an effect to superior ride himself from the hand at the end of the battle your G3 or greater vanguard attacked, resulting in another VG attack and an accel marker to boot. The catch? It only activates at ultimate break. Oh, and you also have to CB2 and lock 3 rear guards as the cost. It’s an expensive skill to be sure, but actually very scary since you can indeed surprise the opponent with a third attack from the hand after they suffer through Duke’s (or heck even a vanguard Dupe’s) multiple attacks, truly sending them to the depths of despair. And although this skill is difficult to line up at times, it’s still a neat option that can strike fear in the opponent.

Taking all of his effects into consideration, Spectral Dupe Dragon is a fantastic unit and serves as a strong win condition for the deck. He’s not perfect though. Dupe asks for a lot of CB in theory so you’ll have to budget your CB well or get lucky with a CC off your superior calls. And given that CC isn’t super plentiful in the deck, a lack of face up damage can restrict you from going all out. Another flaw with Dupe is that he ironically has anti-synergy with the Vortimers. Not only does his locks not trigger their retire skills, but Black Dragon Knight’s skill to call 2 units from deck only triggers when Duke rides over him, so riding Dupe wastes that powerful skill. 

Bearing that in mind, Dupe is not ideally a first G3 ride as he doesn’t build resources with the Vortimers nor does he get the extra drive that Duke does. That said, he can be a good first ride if two conditions are met: Your G2 vanguard is not Vortimer, and you are not on limit break. If this is the case, then riding Dupe is usually a better option as Duke is unable to net you a plus in advantage. Do note that you’ll need to find a way to get Duke into soul to grant the crossride bonus, which funnily enough can be achieved using Aglovale’s skill (whom we’ll discuss later) to put a rearguard Duke into soul. Despite this hypothetical, Dupe is not the G3 you should aim to ride first.

Instead, he’s your final ride and excels at pushing for game by burning through your field and CB for insane VG multi attacks. And it’s a great buff to the deck which honestly lacked the raw offensive power to contend with the current meta after the loss of a certain unit I’ll go over in a moment. So although Spectral Dupe Dragon “Reverse” is a tragic unit lore-wise, we Duke players welcome him with open arms as a breath of life into the deck!

Supporting Grade 3s

Okay now we’re moving on to the secondary casts of characters in Spectral Duke. Except for one unit that is. Yup, it’s time to talk about Percival. For those of you players who have suffered due to the insanity that is this card, feel free to take a moment to vent. Done? Okay let’s continue. Alright so needless to say, Percival is a powerful card. Heck, even relatively new players can look at his effect and grasp the power of it. Being as powerful as it is, Percival is an automatic staple in every Gold Paladin deck in the format due to the accel generation and advantage he accrues. He’s also so powerful that the banlist had to intercede and ban the card in the most recent list. 

This was a big blow to the clan, especially to Duke, and a big reason for SDD decks falling off in the meta. Tis an unfortunate turn of events for the deck, but hey we can still run other powerful cards. That’s where these fine gentledragons come in. Full Cavalier is a great supporting piece for Duke as it cont only generates an extra rear for a mere SB, it also gives a buff to the vanguard which is meaningful given that this is a vanguard-centric deck. Also keep in mind that Soul Blast is an easy resource for the deck so Full Cavalier is just superb all around.

Running a lineup of Duke, Dupe, and Cavalier would seem to more than fill in for your Grade 3 slots, but given that this is Gold Paladin, we must always consider the Grade 3 highroll route. Enter Mach Slash, a card which seeks to facilitate a lightning speed offense in GP decks. Although the card is pretty solid and benefits from a high G3 count due to making relevant numbers off of its superior call multi-attack, it’s not all that necessary. Duke decks are more concerned with the vanguard and don’t do much to substantiate such a high octane rear guard offense, though it is still worthy of consideration for folks who want a blitzkrieg-esque strategy for the deck.

A Dynamic Duo

Before I go into the rest of the Grade 2 and 1 recruits, I want to first spotlight a duo of massive importance. Barring perhaps Mach Slash build, the Black Chain duo are a staple pair that grants a big boost to the Duke playstyle. Kahedin is a somewhat basic G2 relative to Gold paladin, allowing you a +1 in field advantage for a Counter blast. This isn’t terribly exceptional though it’s definitely nice. The real value of Kahedin lies in his partner Hoel. See, Hoel grants a 5k bonus to a unit in his column, but with Kahedin on the field it becomes 10k. The beauty here is that this can even work for your vanguard, meaning that each of your VG multi attacks get the buff. This culminates into a duo that not only feeds resources to Duke, but provides a crucial power-up to your vanguard so that your attacks are more devastating. Although ratios are a bit debatable, aim to run at least 3 of each because enabling the 10k buff from Hoel is honestly a godsend for your vanguards.

Duke’s Band of Knights

And now we get to the rest of the deck (excluding triggers). As we can see, there are a good number of units available that can fill in for the rest of the deck, these six being the best among said options. No longer a mandatory include, we have Aglovale. Serving as both an alternative ride should Black Dragon Knight not appear as well as a solid beater on rearguard, Aglovale is a very well rounded card that adds power, advantage, and even a bit of soul for the deck. However, now that his legion mate is banned, Aglovale is not a requirement and in fact could be a tad costly as his first skill costs a Counter-blast and his other skill is technically a neg 1 in card advantage. He’s still pretty potent so run at your leisure.

Another automatic staple is Gorboduc, the resident Grade 3 searcher of the clan. Not only is this card invaluable for seeing your Grade 3 units, but the extra 5k power is deceptively potent as it allows for stronger columns and even makes Gorboduc a viable attacker. Whether for consistency or for power, run 4 of this unit no questions asked.

From here the playing field becomes more narrow as we squeeze in our final options. When it comes to these last 4 units, they fulfill somewhat similar roles but the nuance behind them makes all the difference. The liberator pair of Phallon and Josephus are more of a highroll approach as their effects are more specific but allow for higher rewards. That said, there’s more to them than their primary effects as both units can serve more than one function; Phallon is a good beater regardless of if he hits the vanguard and Josephus is still a neat ride target should you fail to call him from the deck.

As for Perimore and Dindrane, these two are less versatile but easier to achieve. Perimore and Dindrane make for a +1 for a SB or a +2 for a CB which is solid resource generation, but this is about where it ends. Dindrane is only 7k for most of the game and Perimore only gets 5k power on the turn he’s called. 

So which pair should you choose? Well that’s up to each individual. At first glance, Perimore and Dindrane would seem more appealing as their benefits are more guaranteed and seem to fit with the attrition element of Duke. However, keep in mind that although SDD decks are focused on the vanguard, having strong rearguards are still great for adding on to the pressure the opponent must deal with. In this way, Phallon and Josephus are great choices as their effects to call or keep the top card of the deck allows for more multiattack or even the potential to anticipate a trigger. Additionally, these are also plusses from the deck which do not require Soul Blasts or Counter blasts so they are very economical despite being somewhat situational.

Ultimately both are solid avenues. If you want a personal suggestion, I prefer the Liberator pair as their potential payoff is greater and Phallon in particular is an awesome card for being that powerful- and annoying- unit for the opponent. Regardless, I’d recommend an average of 2 copies of each card (perhaps more if you ditch Aglovale) since deck space is rather tight and the searching power of Gold Paladin makes finding these units more assured than in most clans.

Oh, and as a final note, the trigger lineup in Duke is fairly straightforward as the standard lineup of 4 Draw PGs, 8 Criticals, and 4 Heals are solid in the deck. An argument could be made for Fronts but there are a couple issues. For one, since SDD decks focus on the vanguard, fronts aren’t as menacing as good old fashion crits. Part and parcel with this, the opponent will likely feel less threatened by your vanguard since they know that criticals aren’t going to punish them. Finally, another conflicting issue with fronts is that SDD attack patterns don’t optimize fronts since you want to use some rearguard swings before moving on to the vanguard attack, meaning less value is generated by triggering a front.

Sample Decklist

Here’s the list I’ve found the most success with. Emphasis is of course placed on the Duke core at 3-4 copies with extraneous options (not counting Phallon) being included at less copies. The deck emphasizes a fair balance between versatility and aggression, with the fringe options allowing for small buffs and opportunities for additional resources. Following this logic, a 2/2 split on heal triggers is also included. Although the higher amount of 1-2 ofs would seem to make pulling said cards very inconsistent, this is Gold Paladin we’re talking about. Of all the clans on Cray, Paladins- especially Golds- have the highest aptitude for filtering out and calling their units from the deck, meaning that even 1-of cards like percival are still fairly likely to pop up in a game. In fact, being able to see the 1 copy of Percival is a big reason why Gurguit decks have recently resurfaced to the competitive scene. So yeah, trust me here, it is consistent. 

Of course, other options such as Aglovale, Mach Slash, Sagramore, Perimore, and Dindrane are all viable but I ultimately went with this due to the balance and multi-functionality of these selections. Nevertheless, these units could easily be swapped out so definitely use this list as a template to get creative with your own version!

Concluding Thoughts

Well that about sums up this deck guide on Spectral Duke Dragon in 2022. As of the time of this article, the new cards have been present for a few weeks in the EN meta and show little results for the list. However, as previously stated, this is mainly because the meta is currently in a super fast-paced format where top dog accel decks such as Gurguit, Thavas, Vanquisher, and even Leo-pald are prevalent along with the ludicrous Steam Maiden deck. In comparison, Duke decks use their superior card advantage and devastating Limit / Ultimate breaks to overwhelm the opponent, which is a very solid game plan but a bit slow by comparison. For instance, compared to its fellow GP deck Gurguit, Duke doesn’t possess as much multiattack, nor does it enable super high power lines for its rearguards. Instead, it relies on the Vanguard to do the lion’s share of the work, which it most certainly can, but in my experience it sometimes comes down to how hard Duke can sack the opponent in a moment of weakness. Dupe most certainly helps with the offensive merit of the strategy but may not survive until that point in the current competitive environment.

That said, Spectral Duke Dragon is still a solid tier two contender among the likes of Revenger and Jewel Knight. Its vanguard pressure and massive hand size are definitely powerhouse aspects of the deck, not to mention the threat of limit break actually makes the deck more threatening when it’s forced to go second than most, a neat benefit given that some folk consider this to be a coin flip meta. Furthermore, should the V meta decide to hit Steam Maidens and Gurguit, Duke decks have a golden opportunity to pop up onto the scene. Although it’s uncertain, I personally feel that good pilots can find success with the deck, albeit not easily with the current state of the format.

Nevertheless, this is an incredibly solid deck to pick up given its potential and relatively low price tag following the rideline reprints in the latest set. With time, I’m confident that the moment will come for Duke to rise up again to the meta stage and once more show to the world the power of the golden dragon!

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