Thursday, November 29, 2012

Study Guide: Royal Paladin

By rawritzrichii, seek consent before reposting.
The Royal Paladins, being the first clan ever introduced and the dual mascots of the franchise alongside Kagerou, have a certain appeal to them. While very expensive and not for everybody, the clan is easy to wield and has enough fame behind it that it tends to attract many different fighters regardless of background. As part of a series on the clan, I'll begin by discussing their general strategy and several key cards from the first, third and seventh booster sets, as well as from extra boosters 2 and 3.

The initial first vanguard introduced in Descent of the King of Knights is Barcgal, a card that's left a very strong impact on the history of the game despite having fallen out of use some time ago. Before covering any other cards, it's important that we discuss Barcgal thoroughly, though it's unlikely that he will return to the pro scene within the next few years. Even though we've since moved on, Barcgal provides an important understanding of how cards are designed and what we will and will not see in the future.

Barcgal is one of the original four cards to outride, moving from the soul to the field when ridden over with a grade 1 of the same clan as herself. This is an immediate advantage because it gives you one extra card over the opponent, although unlike many later first vanguards of this type, Barcgal has just 4000 power. This is significant because the minimum to draw more than 5000 shield from a base 10000 unit is 15000 total, and 16000 for base 11000 vanguards.

Thankfully, the Royals have a way to deal with this. The classic way to use Barcgal from the first booster set was to move her to the rearguard circle behind the vanguard, and from there ride the King of Knights, Alfred, the original Paladin boss card. In exchange for being unboostable, the King of Knights' continuous skill gives him +2000 power for each Royal Paladin rearguard; so while Barcgal is in this way contributing less power than if she could boost the King, that +2000 comes at no extra cost and with two other rearguards that should be out in the first place to form at least one full line, the King is all the way up at 16000, our minimum. Barcgal's other skill is to rest herself to call either Flogal or Knight of the Future, Llew, and while that means that she will not be able to boost for the turn, that 4000 power boost usually doesn't carry an impact on the game in the first place.

Flogal and Llew are both trigger units, with Flogal being a stand trigger and Llew being a critical trigger. Automatically the skill comes with several restrictions. First, it requires that stand triggers be used in a deckbuild that generally prefers critical and draw triggers wherever possible, and Flogal will generally have to be run in copies of two to avoid damage checking her or starting a turn with her in the hand. Second, only one of these units can be called per turn thanks to Barcgal's skill requiring her to be rested, and third it remove trigger units from the deck and decreases the chance of drive checking them. Finally, Flogal has only 5000 power while Llew has 4000. Because of that, neither of them can boost a rearguard line for a full 16000 power, and Flogal can only reach 15000. So while Barcgal's call-to-field is a direct increase in advantage, it is a very poor one that forms detrimental lines and decreases the chance of a successful trigger check.

There is one way to use the superior call effectively, however. When on the field, Llew has a skill where he can counterblast 1 to send Barcgal, Flogal and himself to the soul to superior ride the grade 2 Blaster Blade from the deck. Since this ride comes from the deck and not the hand, it is an increase in an advantage over the opponent, who will generally be riding from their hand, but because we just lost three cards after gaining three cards, the net advantage of a fighter who uses this two-turn combo is +1. The opponent can lose advantage through this ride, since when Blaster Blade is ridden he can counterblast 2 to activate his vanguard skill and retire an opponent's rearguard, but it is very rare to be at three damage by the turn that you can activate this superior ride.

The main card that earned Barcgal her restriction is not going to be discussed until next time, but for now consider the factor that this high beast's superior ride combo can be made unavoidable by not calling any front-row rearguards in your opening turn. The opponent must declare an attack with their vanguard to perform  a drive check, or they fall behind in card advantage by not drive checking, but with only the vanguard to attack, gaining the counterblast for Llew is inevitable. With Flogal called on the opening turn and Llew on the second, the issue of being locked at grade 1 is completely eliminated. (As Llew is restricted to superior riding at grade 1, grade lock from 0 and 3 has not.) This affects the redraw at the start of the match, because if you can be certain that you will have a grade 2 to ride through Llew, then you only need to search for a grade 1 and grade 3 when redrawing your hand. While superior rides have not disappeared from the game, no first vanguard printed since eliminates chance in the same way. Kyrph only goes off if the grade 2 Beaumains is ridden and with Gareth in the rearguard, Spring Breeze can only initiate a superior ride to Pellinore if he is one of three cards on the top of the deck, and Nahas is in the same situation as Kyrph.

Blaster Blade himself is a focal unit for the Royal Paladins, and while they are generally thought of as being a rearguard-centric clan, it would not be a mistake to also call them a Blaster Blade-centric clan. (This is as opposed to other Paladins, which have their own Blasters and other key units to focus on.) He is at his most powerful in the vanguard circle, while in the rearguard his counterblast 2 becomes a skill that retires an opponent's grade 2 or higher rearguard, setting him apart from Berserk Dragon, who only retires grade 2 and lesser units. This is useful for dealing with rearguard grade 3s, in particular the rearguard attackers that have become so prominent from set 6 onward, and the Royal Paladins' own Palamedes. Blaster Blade provides a counter card for virtually every situation, since he can initiate a chain of losses to the opponent by activating his skill in the vanguard circle to retire a boosting unit and then call rearguards to attack their front line units, so that no matter what else goes on inside that turn, the opponent is guaranteed to have lost two cards.

Right from the first trial deck released, the Royal Paladins have had a way to search for Blade, and with the loss of Barcgal's superior ride this card becomes more important than ever. Solitary Knight, Gancelot is a base 9000 grade 3 that can be sent from the hand to the deck to search for Blaster Blade, and then add that card in the hand. Since this skill is used in the main phase, it has to be used on the turn before riding Blaster Blade when you're still at grade 1, so it makes the Blade ride very heavily telegraphed, but since drawing Gancelot inside that turn is the same as drawing Blade, then it at the least gives you a way to effectively run five, six and eight Blaster Blade instead of four. Gancelot's other skill is to counterblast 2 from the vanguard circle when Blaster Blade is in the soul to gain +5000 power and +1 critical. There are a number of reasons as to why this was a good skill. It makes him a very easy 20-21000+ line, it can make the opponent start guarding for two triggers when at two damage instead of three, it can accelerate the game considerably and harm their hand, but the skill has simply not aged well in the modern day. While in the world of trial decks Gancelot was a very powerful card that drained the opponent quickly, the first booster set, Descent of the King of Knights, introduced the concept of perfect defense to Cardfight, and with it Gancelot's battle ability was significantly reduced. Simply losing two cards instead of three to six in one turn made the attack impractical at best and a very large consumption of resources, while the Solitary Knight's base 9000 power made him defensively outdated as more and more base 10000, base 11000 and later on 12-13000 units entered the game. Perhaps his skill's lone redeeming factor at this point is that with as low as a 7000 boost, Gancelot can hit the 23000+ marker against crossride units with one use of his skill, but on the opponent's turn 9000 power is simply too low to defend well. Because of that, Gancelot's primary purpose now is as a search card for Blaster Blade.

With Barcgal restricted, a new first vanguard needs to be determined. Stardust Trumpeter, Giro and Graeme have always been around as filler units for that place, and their lack of skills isn't necessarily a bad thing. Most FVGs designed during the first three sets are intended to either leave the field or not appear in it in the first place, and the one card of extra soul can be important to particular skills, as not all FVGs return to the soul after use. However, BT03: Demonic Lord Invasion gives us another option that can be used in virtually any Royal deck. Drangal is a Royal Paladin equivalent to Ichibyoshi, searching the top 5 cards of the deck at the start of the ride phase for the grade 1 Knight of Quests, Galahad. And like the Ichibyoshi-Tsukuyomi line, each subsequent entry in the Galahad series can superior ride the next in line and build a stack of cards at the bottom of the deck to eventually draw into, though the Royal Paladins lack the same level of draw and deck-checking support that OraThin has. Since this is an opportunity at a one and two card increase in advantage, it's perfectly viable to just run the grade 1 and 2 forms of Galahad with Drangal, or even just the grade 1 with him.

That settled, the Royal Paladins have several grade 1s that should be discussed. In addition to standardized units like the base 8000 Little Sage, Marron and card changing Lake Maiden, Lien, who each provide a strong opening ride depending on which turn is taken first, Lion Mane Stallion and Wingal are both custom boosters suited to particular units. Lion Mane is base 4000, but can soulblast 1 when he boosts a unit with "Alfred" in its card name to give +6000 for a total boost of 10000. This can't normally be used with the King of Knights due to his first continuous skill interfering, but it can be used on a rearguard Alfred for a 20000 line, or with Alfred's prince form, Alfred Early. While base 4000 is very weak as we saw with Barcgal, that final 20000 can be a key number versus base 10000 vanguards because it forces out two cards for minimum defense and three accounting for one trigger. Compare this to Wingal, who is base 6000 and has no cost, but despite giving a +10000 boost can normally only push Blaster Blade up to 19000. Wingal is somewhat more stable than Alfred, as he can still bring base 10000 rearguards like Gallatin up to 16000, and with Blaster Blade he can forcibly retire weaker units like Magician Girl, Kirara and Silent Tom. On the other hand, Lion Mane is capable of the same forced retire on both the aforementioned and more powerful units, and plenty of soul is provided for his skill by both Barcgal and Drangal.

Knight of Rose, Morganna is a base 6000 that is considerably less stable. Her skill is to discard one when she attacks to turn her into a base 10000 unit for the rest of the turn. While this provides an alternative 10000-power unit if grade 2s become scarce, and unlike with the similar Holy Disaster Dragon unit, with a stand trigger Morganna can attack again for a full 15000 instead of 11000, the skill comes at the cost of card advantage and is situational at best. Long-term it will hurt your ability to survive the game, and as this very clan proved in the Summer 2012 Japanese nationals, longevity takes precedence over blitz tactics.

One point regarding the clan card changer Lien, is that since the King of Knights only requires her on the field to gain power, not to have her standing, her skill can be used freely from behind the vanguard while having no real impact on the game. Since no booster is necessary for Alfred, this is one of the better ways to utilize a card changing unit.

Other than Blaster Blade, there are only a few grade 2s that need heavy attention inside the clan. Covenant Knight, Randolf, Swordsman of the Blaze, Palamedes and Eagle Knight of the Skies are all different takes on the same skill, being base 8000 units which rise up to 11000 under specific conditions when they attack. Early in the game this was done to emulate having more than four copies of Gallatin in the deck, easily reaching 16000+ with as low as base 5000 boosting units, but it also allows the two of them to attack base 11000 vanguards completely unassisted. All of their skills are conditional. Randolf's activates when you have more cards in your hand during his attack, while Eagle Knight activates when you have more rearguards. Neither factor is generally in your control, but there are ways to work with them. Since the Royal Paladins can avoid having to ride from the hand with Barcgal or Galahad, this can allow them to maintain a slightly larger hand and by focusing intensely on the opponent's vanguard, they can keep Randolf's power active. Since the clan is also very superior call centric, its skills can further protect the hand from being overspent. However, Eagle Knight is more controllable since retiring an opponent's rearguard can be done with Blaster Blade or even a basic attack, and filling the field is not too problematic for RoyPala. Blaze Palamedes takes this level of control further by gaining his +3000 when there are two or more grade 3 Royal Paladins on your own field; so with a grade 3 vanguard and one grade 3 rearguard, his skill will trigger. This is one factor which is entirely under your control, making either Palamedes or Eagle Knight the best units for this option depending on the situation.

While their ability to attack base 11000 units unassisted is only matched by particular grade 2 units, since it's rare to not have three boosting cards late in the game and most fighers prefer to play for the end rather than the beginning, these base 8000 attackers have been largely outmoded by the release of Knight of Determination, Lamorak. Lamorak has no skill--he is Gallatin under a different name. Because of that, four Lamorak and four Gallatin can be run in a single deck, leaving room for Blaster Blade as your third grade three. Between these three cards and the grade 2 form of Galahad, there should be no trouble assembling a basic lineup for the Royal Paladin deck.

I've already covered the King of Knights' main skill, but his secondary skill is to counterblast 3 to superior call one grade 2 or less Royal Paladin from the deck. This is an activate and can be used in either circle, so it can be used at any point after you ride but before you attack, and it gives Alfred some rearguard utility in addition to calling him alongside Lion Mane. He can even call his own boosting unit from the rearguard, forming a somewhat-consistent 20000 rearguard line, or Blaster Blade if you're at five damage and want to hurt the opponent's rearguard before the battle phase. This is one feature of earlier sets that post-BT05 sets have been lacking, as more modern vanguard grade 3s often lack useful rearguard skills. Alfred's skill is particularly useful since you can choose to include only a single copy of a card and still be able to reliably bring it out, although it does place heavy strain on your counterblast. Alfred has endured several years and more than nine booster sets, and still remains one of the best cards ever printed and a primary choice for Royal Paladin cardfighters today, both abroad and in the States.

There is one more Alfred who came up before, Alfred Early. The manga equivalent to the King of Knights works somewhat differently from what most of the pro scene sees. When you ride him, you can call a Blaster Blade from your soul to the rearguard. This seems like a nice one-card advantage at first, like Barcgal's outrider skill applied to a grade 2, but reading into this more closely we can also use Blaster Blade's counterblast to retire an opponent's rearguard, turning Early's skill into a cleverly-worded counterblast 2 to call one and retire one, for a two card advantage overall. Since Blaster Blade is already searchable through Gancelot and several later cards, forming a combination deck with these units is very easy.

For rearguard support, Swordsman of the Explosive Flames, Palamedes ranks among the best rearguards in the pro scene. His skill is deceptively simple, gaining +3000 power when you have two or more grade 3 Royal Paladins on the field. This includes himself, meaning that even being able to call Palamedes is all the setup that you need for his skill to activate. This makes him a very easy 21000+ power rearguard with Marron or Palamedes' grade 1 equivalent Toypugal, 20000 with many of the skilled grade 1s, and he can even attack crossride units unboosted. With as low as a 3000 power boost, Palamedes can meet the minimum base 16000 requirements for taking more than 5000 shield from a base 11000, and it's similarly easy to do the same to crossrides. Ironically for how simple his skill is, Palamedes has become one of the most well known Royal Paladins, befitting of a clan based around the rearguard. Swordsman of the Twin Shine, Marhaus is his lesser cousin, gaining only +2000 power when you have a Royal vanguard, and while this makes a good substitute setup with Marron or Toypugal, it will never be quite as powerful as Palamedes himself.

The final card that I'm going to discuss today is White Dragon Knight, Pendragon. Pendragon is a somewhat difficult card to talk about because he's not easily categorized into one strategy or another. This can also be a good thing however, because it means that Pendragon can be safely integrated into almost any Royal Paladin deck, even as a one-card copy, with very little problems. Initially he simply gives +5000 power on-ride, forming an easy 21000+ line that can go all the way up to 23000 for anti-crossride attacks. His second skill is a limit break 4, the first limit break that the Royal Paladins have ever received. At four or more damage, you can start your main phase by looking at up to five cards from the top of the deck (you can choose less--zero, one et cetera) and then choosing up to one (again, you can choose zero) grade 3 Royal Paladin from among them, and riding it. The remaining cards are then shuffled back into the deck. The most apparent way to use this is by riding a second Pendragon on the turn after you rode the first, getting a somewhat consistent +5000 across multiple turns. However, you can also do this to increase the ease with which you ride the King of Knights or Alfred Early, and since the ride comes at no expense to you, it's a good way to make your main strategy more fluid since it's like being able to run five of any RoyPala grade 3 instead of four. As Pendragon is easily applied to any strategy and not just the ones discussed here, these ideas can be applied to Royal Paladin units from other modules.

Next time we revisit the Royal Paladin clan, I'll be going in-depth on the Soul Saver Dragon strategy and how Barcgal was used in early 2011.