The Best Fate Servants to Summon For Winning a Grail Warby Gabriella Ekens,
Now that we've learned the backstories of all those famous characters here on Fate Fridays, we can proceed to the Fate universe's central question: who would win the fight for the Holy Grail? I've looked over all the servants it's currently possible to summon in official Fate lore just to provide you with recommendations, in case you should find yourself in this improbable (yet exhilarating) situation.
Before we start, I'll have to lay down a few ground rules. The first is that alternate versions of servants are not allowed. So stuff like “Altria but a maid assassin in a bikini and riding a motorcycle” doesn't count. There are a good number of those, and on top of usually being silly they'd just make things too complicated. Secondly, my recommendations assume specific standards for you as a master. For the purposes of this list, you're a well-established Clocktower magus who's capable of supplying a servant with decent mana but incapable of fighting them directly, not some non-magical shmuck who wandered into the Grail War by accident. Thirdly, personality factors into these rankings as well, so if a servant has more ATK points than God but will kill you for looking at them funny, that's a mark against their viability. (Sorry, Spartacus.) Any mage worth their salt should know that raw power alone won't win you this title. Every class has at least one guy who could blow up the earth if they so pleased, but you probably still want a planet to live on after you win the war, right? Finally, while I'm taking into account extra lore or combat information from the mobile game Fate/Grand Order, my evaluations don't translate to viability in-game. So don't go pouring all of your resources into Fionn McCumhaill because I told you he was good here or whatever. This is a prestigious war of real magic, not some silly simulation!
All these qualities will factor into my final selection, which is guaranteed* to get you to at least fifth place in a For-Real Grail War. *Note: this guarantee is based on the participant at least possessing Tokiomi Tohsaka levels of intelligence. Results may vary for Kayneth Archibald levels of strategy and below. Of course, there will also be SPOILERS on the abilities and histories of all servants mentioned. This will be your only warning. Now on with the show...
As the original “overpowered” class, Saber starts off by offering a number of solid candidates for “biggest laser.” We should all be well acquainted with Altria Pendragon's signature EXCALIBUR!, but did you know that her entire order of knights possesses their own coterie of slightly smaller lasers? How about Miyamoto Musashi? Fergus Mac Roich? In fact, pretty much every famous swordsman in history was capable of firing energy projectiles from their signature blade. I mean, can you even call it a sword if it doesn't shoot death rays? (No you can't, which is why Souji Okita will not be considered for this category.)
As destructive as Altria's signature swing may appear to untrained eyes, it's not even the deadliest flashlight in the Saber lineup. Fate's original heroine faces stiff competition from a relatively fresh face to the universe, the Saber Altera, better known as Attila the Hun. Introduced in Fate/Grand Order before taking the spotlight in Fate/Extella, Altera's story tells us that the 6th-century conqueror was actually an alien superweapon sent to destroy humanity in the distant past. Sometime after this whole debacle, Altera got turned into an amnesiac baby and picked up by the Huns, who raised her to be “the scourge of Europe” we know and love today. Even in this form, Altera packs the punch you might expect from an extraterrestrial WMD – beyond the requisite super strength and preternatural fighting ability we expect for this list, her sword actually works as a laser sight that lets her aim a targeted orbital bombardment from the planet Mars. I don't mean an alien satellite orbiting Mars, I mean that the planet Mars (which is sentient in the Nasuverse) blasts some of its incredible planetary power at whatever Altera wants. That's gotta hurt.
While Altria's Excalibur can do similarly crazy things under certain circumstances, its full power primarily manifests in defensive situations (for example, when facing off against Altera's Sword of Mars) that probably wouldn't be accessible during your standard Grail War. But since Altera was literally made to destroy humans as quickly as possible, she's under no such limitations. In the end, while Altera is easily the most destructive Saber, some points must also be docked for being so dangerous to try and control. While her actual personality can be pretty moe (in a Rei Ayanami sort of way), she's biologically programmed to try and eradicate civilizations, so I don't think most masters will be able to restrain her from exercising these urges. Sorry.
So while it feels a bit cliché, I'm afraid I'll have to go ahead and select Altria Pendragon as my recommended Saber. As her many appearances have indicated, she's both strong enough to take out most other servants and generally cooperative with Masters, provided you don't take any moves out of Kiritsugu Emiya's playbook. She has a wide variety of techniques at her disposal (riding, magic resistance, Avalon's defensive capabilities) that allow her to fight well against a number of different classes and skills. Whenever we see her fare badly in official media, it's either because she's being hampered by Shirou's low mana supply, Kiritsugu's poor social skills, or facing off against someone with skills even more stupidly broken than hers. (And we'll be covering many of those in this list.)
WINNER: ALTRIA PENDRAGON
The obvious servant to bring up here is the original man in gold, Gilgamesh, and his infinite supply of disposable superweapons. On the basis of his Gate of Babylon Noble Phantasm alone, he may be the strongest servant you could possibly pull, as has been demonstrated many times over in official materials. At the same time, the problems with summoning him are equally crippling and familiar. He'll hate you if you bore him (and you probably will) and scheme to ditch you for the first psychopath with a mullet to cross his path. As Tokiomi Tohsaka learned, Gilgamesh's bling comes at a great cost.
So while Gilgy is an easy choice for Most Overpowered, my ultimate recommendation will have to go to someone else. Fortunately, Archers are a varied class of heroes who do sometimes wield actual ranged weapons! If you're looking for another Archer somewhat comparable in strength to the King of Heroes, there's his old acquaintance Ishtar – the Babylonian goddess of love and war – who's summoned by the Grail under rather unusual circumstances in Fate/Grand Order...
Some of you may know that there's supposed to be a rule where the Grail can't summon literal gods as servants. Well, as it turns out, there's a workaround for that – if the god wants to be summoned, they can shove themselves in there alongside some sort of power limiter. In Ishtar's case, she decides to manifest as a pseudo-servant, which is when a servant shows up by possessing a human body (usually because it'd be convenient for them somehow). In Ishtar's case, she arrives bearing a certain familiar face...
Ishtar's ultimate ability is similar to Altera's, only deriving its power from the planet Venus rather than Mars. Basically, she flies around on a giant bow (which doubles as a personal airship) and can occasionally commandeer the planet Venus to launch a targeted aerial strike. This attack can destroy entire mountain ranges, which makes it comparable in strength to Altera's Laser Pointer of Doom. Ishtar also comes with a bunch of other perks, like a deity-level mana supply (only somewhat nerfed to allow her passage through the Grail), hypnotic charm powers (from being a goddess of beauty), and whatever else can be scrounged out of her truly ancient legend. The biggest downside to having her as a servant would be her fickle personality – but even then, she's not as bad as her openly malicious blond acquaintance.
Of course, the biggest issue with selecting Ishtar is that I'm not actually sure whether she'd be summonable outside of the crazy stuff that's happening within the Grail War of Fate/GO. As such, I'm reticent to recommend her for eligibility in your average seven-servant free-for-all. Excluding these two choices limits us to a noticeably weaker tier of Archers – wimps like Chiron or Arjuna who'd have to take down their enemies one by one with actual arrows. Who has time for that?
But looking over the list of servants again, it looks like there's been one relatively recent addition to this category. Now servants who were alive during the past hundred years are rare, as well as generally weak due to a lack of mystery surrounding their histories. But in classic Fate fashion, every rule has its enormous glaring exceptions. In this case, it's Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor, human meme, and “discoverer” of electricity. (Electricity was actually discovered by dozens of different people who chipped away at the phenomenon over centuries, but the Nasuverse attributes the entire feat to this one guy.) For having come up with such a world-changing discovery, this recently-deceased Serbian-Croatian was granted complete mastery over it, which gives him raw strength on par with Zeus's signature lightning bolts.
This makes him a great choice for two reasons. First, since electricity was only recently weaponized by humans, few servants – even quite powerful ones – have any way of defending against it. (It's one of the few reliable ways of hitting Gilgamesh through his Gate of Babylon Noble Phantasm, for example.) Secondly, while his electricity powers are quite costly in terms of mana, he also possesses the Galvinism skill, which allows him to take mana from the surrounding environment. So Tesla's basically a walking wad of electrocution that none of these legendary warriors can counter since they're from a time before the invention of rubber armor. Ironically, this probably makes Tesla weak to those lame single-target Archers, since they could just launch rocks at him from further away than his electricity could reach. But if you're lucky, you'll end up in a fairly conventional Grail War with no class-doubling tomfoolery.
Given the assumption that true deities can't be summoned in most "normal" Grail Wars, Tesla gets this spot over Ishtar. She'll just have to continue bothering Gilgamesh in the reject pile. Tesla seems more agreeable than Ishtar anyway, since he cares about human progress and therefore probably won't go rogue to try and annihilate civilizations like those gods and demi-gods are wont to do. You might even be able to bond with him over the modern-day applications of his life-changing discovery. I sure hope he likes daytime television!
WINNER: NIKOLA TESLA
The Lancer category is easily a close race between just three servants: Enkidu, Karna, and Scáthach.
Enkidu is Gilgamesh's old BFF and another one of those servants whose legend dates back to pretty much the dawn of our historical memory. In the Nasuverse, they're a genderless wad of clay that was brought to life by the gods in order to knock some sense into the rebellious King of Heroes, only for the plan to fail when the two of them became pals and decided to fight back against the gods together. In accordance with their status as a celestial superweapon, Enkidu has perfect stats and can even mess with their own parameters through their shapeshifting abilities. Since their true form is a blob, they can take most physical punishment by reverting to that form and changing back later. Being connected to the earth, they possess superhuman awareness of the territory that surrounds them, and they're near-immune to stealth attacks. Their ultimate Noble Phantasm, Enuma Elish, can even restrain gods - although it only obtains that much power when actually faced with godly opposition.
This brings us to Karna. Frankly, Karna's potential is ridiculous. While Enkidu has higher stats and might be favored to win in a straight fight between the two (since he was specifically designed to handle rowdy demigods), Karna has a more aggressive skillset while also being practically invulnerable so long as he keeps his armor on. Here's just a sample of what Karna has going for him – for one, external attacks can barely hurt him so long as he keeps on his armor. Secondly, when he takes it off, he gains one of the most powerful nuke-type Noble Phantasms in all of Fate lore, the spear Vasavi Shakti, which can eradicate entire countries. Thirdly, he can shoot eye lasers, because why not at this point? Beyond all that, he's super-good at just waving his spear around like a regular warrior. He even comes with a built in lie detector, which seems like an absolutely invaluable skill in a Grail War, where victory tends to boil down to dirty tricks and scheming between masters. The biggest issue with Karna is that he's hella expensive in terms of mana costs, so you'll want to be at least an El-Melloi-level MP sink if you want to try summoning him.
In terms of sheer martial prowess, Scáthach ranks highly too, but I don't like how the Nasuverse insists on her incredible strength without going into much detail about her specific abilities. A lot of what she's given is just carried over from what Cu can do, with the caveat that she's better at it since she's the one who taught the guy. This runs the risk of making you a predictable and boring target in the Grail War. While we're on that subject, you might think Cu Chulainn should be a candidate since his spear, Gae Bolg, is supposed to deliver a one-hit kill, but I wouldn't value those gimmicky types of abilities too highly. So many servants have attacks that are intended to work like “instant unavoidable death” (there are three in the original Fate/stay night), but they end up failing a lot in execution, mostly out of narrative necessity, but let's just say it's a probability cost to a high critical hit ratio. Let's face it, no Grail War was won or lost because because someone got immediately murdered by Sasaki Kojiro. You're not going to get that lucky.
So setting Scáthach aside with the bronze medal, I'd break the stalemate between these two top-ranking candidates based on how much mana you have at your disposal. (They both have rather chill personalities, so there's no conflict there.) Enkidu is relatively self-sustaining (his master is literally a dog in Fate/strange fake), while Karna will burn through your supplies like a California wildfire. In the end, I think I'll be leaning on luxury for this choice and selecting Karna, since this gold-plated 500 MPH explosion bishonen is just more fun than his environmentally friendly counterpart.
Riders are a hard category to evaluate since the class possesses such a wide array of skills. Its only requirement is that you ride something, and that thing can be anything from a dragon to a boat to a thinly-veiled metaphor for dick. At least we can start by invoking the No Goddesses rule to reject Quetzalcoatl, who would otherwise be the easy choice for the lucky Master in question. This narrows us down a couple of other folks, from the usual face-smashing demigod to a more unusual choice.
The top banana here is another son of the sun, Ozymandias aka Ramesses II, a pharaoh of Egypt. (He's the one who went through all of that Moses drama in the famous Bible story.) Since the Egyptian pharaohs were considered both descendants and incarnations of the sun god Ra, Ozzy has all sorts of crazy god shit at his disposal that you can take advantage of without having direct access to the original deity. For example, he counts as a Rider because he flies around on a solar airship that shoots killer lasers, and his trump card is the ability to drop a pyramid full of sphinxes on your face and laugh maniacally. That's right. He can and will drop a damn pyramid on your opponent's double-damned face. And if that's not enough, he can wield this pyramid defensively by holing up inside and letting the enemy try to reach him through his 9000 layers of insane puzzle traps. Ozymandias is immortal while inside his stronghold, so you have to take down the whole structure to get to him. Its exterior walls are also impervious to most “kill 'em all” Noble Phantasms, so you can't get EXCALIBUR-sniped from two miles away either. Once inside, your foes must face legions of sphinxes, a poisoning curse that'll kill anything that isn't another servant, and a blocker that prevents the use of most Noble Phantasms. Good luck beating this ancient Egyptian version of Kevin McCallister at his own game.
To be fair, there are some alternatives, and the biggest is a fellow Ozzy might not like very much – one Pale Rider aka Pestilence, the apocalyptic disease-bringer from the Book of Revelation itself. As you might expect, Pale Rider is an extremely unusual servant that can't even be properly characterized as a person. Pale Rider is the barely-anthropomorphized concept of disease, which sweeps ceaselessly throughout the territory of its Grail War in Fate/strange fake. If you're looking for more servants like Tesla who could easily bypass most defenses you're likely to face in combat (including Ozzy's death cage), Pale Rider is one of them. Of course, the problem is that it might resurrect the Black Plague and subject the rest of humanity to a horrifying epidemic, so you should probably have a contingency plan in place for that scenario.
Setting aside that unconventional option for more eccentric mages, Ozymandias remains an easy pick for #1. There are lots of great Riders to choose from, so I'll admit it feels strange to not even consider such demonstrably strong servants as Iskandar in this class. I mean, he can summon an army, but what's that going to do against a guy who's locked himself in an immortality vault guarded by one million sphinxes?
Oh boy, it's time for the WIZARDS. Caster is maybe the most crowded class in all of Fate lore because it encompasses a ton of famous people who lack martial prowess. Scheherazade's storytelling? Magic, obviously. Charles Babbage? Being good at computers is also magic. Leonardo Da Vinci's groundbreaking anatomical sketches and use of perspective in painting? MAGIC. And of course, these varied skillsets all achieve their ultimate form by being used to power different types of giant fuck-off lasers.
Despite the variety inherent to this class, it's perhaps unsurprising that this category boils down to a contest between two of the most infamous magic users in history: Merlin and Solomon. Between a King and a Kingmaker, which of these two would be the better option in a seven-man skirmish for your own heart's desire?
Merlin's a bit of a special case in Fate lore since he never technically died. Instead, a pissed-off ex of his tricked him into walking into a jail tower in Avalon, which he can't leave since there's an “innocence” exit requirement. Still, the guy is really good at magic, so he's figured out how to cast projections of his physical body anywhere (and anywhen) he wants. This includes “inside of the Grail,” so he can play the part of servant if it tickles his fancy. Beyond that, Merlin has access to all the shit you could possibly do with magic, especially illusions. He could boost your capabilities – especially physical ones – about as high as they'll go and even see into the future. In Fate/Grand Order, he can even swing Excalibur around himself for basic attacks. (But since that's kind of a gimmick, I don't really want to count it as a skill he can wield reliably.)
Now Solomon is the much more active option. As the founder of most of the Magecraft systems used in the modern-day Fate universe, he is truly the lord of magicky shit – and he's a pretty nice guy to boot. In his legends, the guy was famous for mastery over 72 demons and receiving miraculous wisdom from God. Frankly, even if that wisdom was just “don't be a dick”, that alone would put him head-and-shoulders above most magicians in Fate. In F/GO, Solomon's demons are running loose, but their strength tells us a lot about what he could do with them properly under control. Beyond that, Solomon is clairvoyant like Merlin, and he owns ten god-given rings that can conjure and create any sort of Magecraft instantly.
Yeah, I have to side with Solomon here. While Merlin has a pretty solid lead in raw power over most other mages, Solomon has a leg up as the guy who invented most of the systems that the modern mage world utilizes. Factor in that legion of demon familiars, magic-countering god rings, and a downright agreeable personality, and you have more than enough perks to make up the difference in a Grail War. Solomon seems like a nice guy who still knows how to be crafty in combat, while Merlin comes off as a conniving asshole uninterested in much beyond his own amusement. Merlin may be the pinnacle of the “supporting caster” archetype, but Solomon was given “you can do anything” bling by God.
WINNER: KING SOLOMON
For once we have a straightforward section, because honestly, Assassin is a bit of a dumpy class overall. Any contenders on par with the other monsters on this list are going to stand out right away. This leaves us with basically one choice to guarantee you survive to at least fifth place.
In terms of raw power, the best Assassin is easily King Hassan, the first of the Hassan-i-Sabbah and leader of the Hashashin. This league of killers should be well known to anyone who's ever dabbled in Fate lore, since they make up a good chunk of the Assassin class' ranks. Now yes, his gimmick is the same instant death skills I pooh-pooh'd earlier, but if anyone has the clout to actually get those to work, it's this guy. Hassan is so good at assassinating that he's tossed out much of the old techniques of stealth and speed in favor of swinging around a big stupid greatsword with ease. He hits as hard as you'd expect from his pedigree, often blasting his opponents straight into the netherworld with one touch. To more concretely justify his one-hit-kill abilities, they function most similarly to another one of Type-Moon's proven insta-killers, Shiki Ryougi, who has the ability to interact with the very concept of death. King Hassan can even kill abstract ideas like “the ability to communicate” or “relationships between people” with his skill, which makes him downright existentially powerful.
Frankly, Assassins just aren't a good pick for a conventional Grail War, since your opponents are liable to try and eliminate you before your Servant, and you're probably a squishy flesh-wizard who needs better defense against the ultra-durable heroes some jerk will send over to obliterate you. However, Assassins are great at reconnaissance, so their skills prove invaluable when Grail Wars turn into team affairs, giving your squad someone who can dedicate their time to maintaining security or keeping an eye on the enemy. Maybe that's why Tokiomi gave Assassin to his stooge apprentice who was never supposed to have an actual chance at the Grail?
In the end, Assassins are a great support class, but those aren't so useful in the standard “one servant per master free-for-all” format. I've never seen anyone have much success with the “sneak attack all the masters when their backs are turned” approach, but if you really want to try, definitely pick the candidate with the highest-ranked Presence Concealment and greatest do-over ability. (You don't want to get eliminated just because an assassination attempt doesn't go right on the first shot six times in a row. Those aren't good odds!) I'd say that Kirei's original Hassan of the Hundred Faces was pretty ideal for these purposes, but you definitely need whichever Assassin can get you through a face-to-face encounter with the enemy Saber, who you can bet has the best chance of being there at the conclusion. So as broken and dubiously summonable as he may be, King Hassan's your best bet.
WINNER: KING HASSAN
Much like with Assassin, the limitations of this class mean there's no contest for the top spot here. Despite their reputation for brute strength, most Berserkers are pretty underwhelming in base potential. I attribute this to the class having started out on such a high note. Since his debut in the original Fate/stay night, Herakles remains one of the best servants you could possibly summon in this category, and despite some respectable challengers, nobody has managed to topple him in my estimation. God Hand is just too useful to be overtaken, even while the competition continues to hone their ever more ludicrously powerful nukes.
But seriously: God Hand. If you don't recall, God Hand makes it so that Herakles has to be killed twelve times over before he's down for good in a Grail War. Since Herakles is quite tough and strong already, this skill allows him to tank most supermoves to kill his opponents in the latency period that follows (and still have room to fight another round of six Servants, if things work out perfectly for you). While many other Berserkers (most notably Beowulf or any of the oni-kin) can handle incredible levels of punishment with gusto, nobody can take a Noble Phantasm to the face like Herakles. So unless your opponent has the mana supply to fire off twelve Excaliburs/Vasavi Shaktis in quick succession, there's not much to be done against Herk in single combat.
Really the only servant who might be able to take Herakles one-on-one with no gimmicks would be Karna (if he doesn't take off his armor and just plows at Herakles with basic attacks for a long time). Everyone else would need to resort to alternate tactics, like hit-and-run maneuvers, teaming up, or digging into their endless supply of extra swords. Other Berserkers can do all sorts of fun stuff, like “summon a giant labyrinth to hunt down opponents” (Asterios), “harness the souls of four legendary subordinates as weapons” (Minamoto no Yorimitsu), or “temporarily stop all violence on the battlefield” (Florence Nightingale), but that's all worth squat compared to the sheer tactical advantage of just not dying when you're killed.
Otherwise, Herakles is susceptible to the usual Berserker problems of not being able to communicate outside of grunts and roars. I know that some of these fancy new Berserkers don't abide by this restriction, but I expect my Berserkers to uphold tradition, dammit. Either way, the higher-level Madness Enhancement translates to better stats, and Herakles is lucid enough in personality to understand most direct orders as intended. So unlike some Berserkers whose madness manifests as an unusual fixation, he won't try to do something weird like commit a lovers' suicide with you. Perhaps being inarticulate is a blessing in that regard. There's less room for miscommunication if you keep communication super-basic.
And that's a wrap on Fate Fridays! Scouring the Type-Moon wiki for this rundown certainly presented a unique challenge. What's the difference between SKILL X and SKILL Y? And does it matter whether it's A-rank or A+++ rank? Well, if you disagreed with my choices, you can debate the merits of your own favorite Servants in the forums! Thanks for joining me on this ride through the Nasuverse, and I'm sure I'll be back when more Fate anime get adapted next year!
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