Greetings cardfighters and welcome to my fourth article! This week I wanted to discuss one of the most successful decks in the 2015 format: Royal Paladin. The clan serves as my primary deck of choice so I'd like to discuss its strengths, weaknesses, and why it has been and will continue to be a top tier threat. The two played variations of the deck (Altmile Stride/Thing Saver or Pure Seekers) have topped every English Bushiroad event as well as several ARGs this year, so it is important to understand what makes up arguably the best deck at the current time.
What makes Royal Paladins strong?
The clan overall serves as a strong jack of all trades that can superior call, gain power, gain criticals, and retire a little. This flexibility is what has made Royal Paladins a solid choice throughout the game's history. The Majesty Lord Blaster deck of 2013 is a good example of a fast, flexible deck that lasted in the metagame for quite a while during its time. The clan serves as a strong toolbox for its different units that can add power pressure to rear-guard lanes, call a full field, or retire front-row rears depending on what the situation calls for.
The card that has pushed the clan to the point of being one of the strongest decks is none other than Seeker, Thing Saver Dragon. I fully believe the reason they gave Kai Toshiki Royal Paladins in Season 4 of the anime was to have an excuse to give the clan a re-standing dragon vanguard. While Thing Saver is just one in a pool of re-standing vanguards, what makes the card really strong is the clan it was put in. When you combine the traits of the Royal Paladin clan listed above as well as a re-standing vanguard, you have an adaptable deck with the ability to create pressure via a full field as well as multiple vanguard attacks. The card also patched up the clan's weakness to a certain degree, which was a reliance on strength in numbers, yet it still serves as a strong team-player with a full board. This is what separates Thing Saver from most other re-standing vanguards as being one of the most adaptable re-standing vanguards in the game, although Revenger, Phantom Blaster Abyss does share many of these advantages as well. A small but potentially noticeable difference between Thing Saver and its Abyss counterpart is how it only costs two cards instead of three, a break even in card advantage instead of a -1. One other very important trait to list is that Thing Saver Dragon is not restricted to once per turn. If you have four open counterblast and five soul (you will gain the sixth off the first superior ride), you have the ability to use Thing Saver Dragon twice that turn! If executed correctly, it is very difficult to survive that scenario in most cases.
You mentioned two builds?
There are two versions of the Royal Paladin deck being played at the current moment and both utilize Thing Saver Dragon. The Altmile build seems to be the more popular one, as it places a heavy emphasis on striding. The deck's winning image is to use Blue Sky Knight, Altmile's stride skill in combination with Holy Dragon, Saint Blow Dragon to provide heavy pressure through rear-guard columns that exceed 21k power, as well as a gargantuan vanguard with a critical. Once the opponent is whittled down, you can either win via Altmile's Generation Break or use Thing Saver Dragon to defeat the opponent. The deck also has exceptionally strong Grade 2's like Jewel Knight, Swordmy to quickly call a field. Knight of Fragment creates pressure via the threat of un-flipping plus soul charging, and Knight of Twin Sword grants a fourth attack or simply creates a +1 in card advantage. The first G unit, Shrouded Divine Knight, Gablade has the ability to call either one of these cards for free using its on-hit skill. The strengths of this build is the strong amounts of pressure Altmile provides as well as the ability to gain huge surges of momentum with inexpensive superior calling into powerful Grade 2 units.
The weaknesses of this build is that Blaster Blade Seeker usually serves as a vanilla unit, it is occasionally unable to damage Jewel Knight names for Swordmy's skill, and the deck usually has a vanilla early game (assuming Swordmy couldn't resolve or wasn't drawn) due to the rest of the cards requiring Generation Break 1. This results in the deck, like most G era decks, to dislike going first in a cardfight. The deck is also more tempted to eat up more counter-blast resources than the Pure Seeker build does.
The Pure Seeker deck either uses Light Source Seeker, Alfred Exiv or Seeker, Sacred Wingal as its alternate Grade 3 and primarily focuses its attention on Legion mechanics as well as a more consistent early game than the Altmile deck. By focusing on Legion, you have more opportunities to fill your deck with trigger units. Alfred Exiv serves as critical pressure that can bait Perfect Guards as well as an emergency superior call source if required, making it versatile and consistent. Alfred Exiv is also capable of performing legion with the original Blaster Blade, which can be ran to retire problematic cards in certain match-ups, such as Commander Laurel or Judgebau Revenger. Sacred Wingal on the other hand gives a free superior call that reserves counter-blasts for later, usually resulting in an easy +2 with Blaster Blade Seeker. The deck makes use of four copies of Blaster Blade Seeker to provide a cheap method of retiring the opponent's front-row, and Great Crossbow Seeker, Gildas serves as the on-legion superior call engine. The deck is able to stride if needed. Gablade plays nice with Blaster Blade Seeker or can be used to fetch Gildas out of the deck for the following turn.
The main reason one would choose to use Pure Seekers is to more easily accomplish a double re-standing Thing Saver Dragon. Riding Thing Saver on top of a legioned vanguard (assuming Advance Party Seeker, File was not retired) would provide the 5 soul necessary to double re-stand, should you have four counterblast available. This is accomplished by either reserving counter-blast usage or by using Grynngal Seeker to un-flip your damage. The deck is also able to use Blaster Blade Seeker's abilities to the fullest. The deck also boasts a stronger early game with Honest Seeker, Cynric and Full Bloom Seeker, Cerdic. The weaknesses of this build over the Altmile version is a less powerful mid-game due to just having the usual two stage rear-guard columns, as well a lack of synergy with the strong Grade 2s the Altmile deck gets to play.
So what are the weaknesses of the clan?
The deck's main weakness is its reliance on counter-blast. Almost every played Royal Paladin card with the exception of Shrouded Divine Knight, Gablade and Seeker, Sacred Wingal require counter-blasts to do anything. If you are playing against the clan, sometimes it is important to deny them the tools they need to be effective by focusing on the rear-guard rather than dealing damage. By doing so, you can slow down their game to where they are unable to press for major advantage, and then you can utilize that to gain momentum. Royal Paladin is also unable to deal with excessive retiring. Unlike their Gold Paladin counterparts, Royal Paladin superior calling typically costs more when they sometimes need the counter-blast to do other things (pun intended). While the deck is capable of handling smaller amounts of retiring (which is why it has an excellent Gear Chronicle match-up), massive retiring can prove to be problematic as it takes away from the rear-guard pressure the deck has. Which cards are effective of doing this you ask? Here are a couple examples.
What decks specifically have a good match-up against Royal Paladin?
Royal Paladins do not have very many bad matchups due to their strong versatility but there are a few decks that come to mind.
From my experience, I would say a very tough match-up is the Cat Butler/Raizer deck. The main reason for this is that one is forced to guard early against that deck, since the deck has a safety line. You are not allowed to go to four damage at an uncomfortable time as multiple Cat Butlers can spell game for you, combined with Ultimate Raizer Mega-flare's critical. This especially hurts Royal Paladins because as stated, the deck thrives off counter-blasts. When the Royal Paladin player is not allowed to have the tools they need, they're far less likely to win.
Dragonic Overlord "the X" is pretty much a 50/50 match-up with Royal Paladin, as is proven with both decks having a roughly equal amount of representation in the playing field, as well as both topping in large amounts. The match-up typically favors whoever is able to establish momentum and keep it. One of the ways the deck can win is by resolving a successful attack with Dragonic Overlord "the X". By attacking the rear-guard, the Royal Paladin player is unable to use their G - Perfect Guard Holy Knight Guardian, a card they happily play due to the much appreciated damage un-flip. Resolving the End's persona-blast allows "the X" to gain a massive amount of tempo and card advantage, and the Royal Paladin player is not always capable of breaking it. It is also worth noting that the Kagero clan has many opportunities to retire the Royal player's forerunner, which makes resolving Thing Saver Dragon more difficult without a Margal. This match-up can go the other way however, with the Royal Player sometimes being able to just guard "the X" and replace the rear-guards lost from the persona-blast if used.
For the too long didn't read version: if "the X" can successfully play control against the Paladin player, Kagero should win. If it is unable to, the Royal Paladin player should win.
For an honorable mention award, I would say Star-vader, "Omega" Glendios gives Royals a tough time. The deck currently is not present in the metagame as it simply lost popularity after the Limit Break era in addition to having a horrendous match-up versus Dragonic Overlord "the X". That said, the existence of Taboo Star-vader, Rubidium stops Thing Saver Dragon in it's tracks, as it is unable to re-stand after attacking a rear-guard. It also provides an easy out to Saint Blow Dragon. The deck's ability to lock a column and commit 21k+ rear-guards hampers the Altmile build's ability to create pressure with their own 21k lanes.
What is the future looking like for Royal Paladins?
I don't believe the deck will be leaving the top-tier realm anytime soon. While the support in G-BT02 Soaring Ascent of Gale & Blossom is minimal, the deck still has plenty of tools to compete with the upcoming decks. The Aqua Force match-up could spell trouble for Royal Paladin, as Royals have minimal tools to play control against a deck that needs to be controlled down but both decks have plenty of aggression in their own facets, so it results down to who draws and triggers better. While I believe the Japanese metagame should not be viewed as anything more than a ballpark figure as to how the English metagame will go, the sheer amount of tops Royal Paladin has gotten with G-BT02 out should say at least something. Future releases may potentially change things, as Shadow Paladins are gaining a large amount of support that will challenge the Royal Paladin/Kagero stronghold. It remains to be seen if the G-BT03 Sovereign Star Dragon decks will topple Royals from the top tiers, but it seems unlikely with just how inherently good Seeker, Thing Saver Dragon is. It is best to just accept that the deck will be around for a long time, so always consider how your new deck will take on Royal Paladin. So as we always say, Play Hard or Go Home!