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Since the paladin gets the spells find steed and find greater steed, it only seemed natural to take this theme to its logical end: find greatest steed:

FIND GREATEST STEED
9th-level conjuration

Casting Time: 10 minutes
Range: 30 feet
Components: V, S
Duration: Instantaneous

You summon a spirit that assumes the form of the loyalest, majestic-est mount. Appearing in an unoccupied space within range, the spirit takes on a form you choose: a unicorn, a bulette, a felidar, or a nightmare. The creature has the statistics provided in the appropriate statblock for the chosen form, though it is a celestial, a fey, or a fiend (your choice) instead of its normal creature type. Additionally, if it has an Intelligence score of 7 or lower, its Intelligence becomes 8, and it gains the ability to understand one language of your choice that you speak.

You control the mount in combat. While the mount is within 1 mile of you, you can communicate with it telepathically. While mounted on it, you can make any spell you cast that targets only you also target the mount.

The mount disappears temporarily when it drops to 0 hit points or when you dismiss it as an action. Casting this spell again re-summons the bonded mount, with all its hit points restored and any conditions removed.

You can’t have more than one mount bonded by this spell, find steed, or find greater steed at the same time. As an action, you can release a mount from its bond, causing it to disappear permanently.

Whenever the mount disappears, it leaves behind any objects it was wearing or carrying.

A mount summoned with this spell cannot take legendary actions. If it normally would have legendary actions, on its turn, it can use its action to take one of its legendary actions.

A paladin can prepare this spell as they would normally prepare a 5th-level spell, but expends two 5th-level spell slots to cast it.

This spell would appear only on the Paladin spell list, and could be prepared and cast by a paladin once the paladin was 19th-level. Additionally, this spell would be available to an 18th level Bard via magical secrets. I think this spell only being available to 18th level and higher characters is going to be enough to balance it. Compared to true polymorph, the effects here actually seem pretty modest for a 9th level spell; and for the paladin, casting is always going to be limited to once per long rest, as it uses up all of their highest level spell slots.

The mounts I have chosen range from CR 3 to CR 5. The original 2nd-level spell find steed mounts range from CR 1/8 to CR 1/2, and the now penultimate 4th-level spell find greater steed provides mounts ranging from CR 1 to CR 2. These two spells are given a comparative analysis in this answer. This CR 3-5 range seems like an appropriate increase in power, but as with both its predecessors, some of these greatest steeds will be less greatest than others. I've carefully chosen four creatures for this spell, I feel that each brings something unique to the table, even though one of them seems to be a head above the rest. Speaking of which...

The Unicorn (CR 5)

If I'm being totally honest, this spell could have been called find unicorniest steed. The unicorn is easily the best mount on the list. It is not the best damage dealer, not even close, but the utility and support the unicorn provides is unparalleled by other creatures on this list. It can cast pass without trace at will, and its ability healing touch is equivalent to a 2nd-level cure wounds twice a day.

The unicorn is the only creature on the list with legendary actions. I felt that giving the unicorn unbridled access to its legendary actions was too much. Additionally, its just easier to keep track of things when I'm not keeping up with my own turn, my mount's turn, and legendary actions for my mount on other turns. Instead, the unicorn can opt to use one of its legendary actions on its turn. In particular the unicorn's shimmering shield ability is quite good, and allows the unicorn to excel in its support role.

The Bulette (CR 5)

This guy is the bruiser of the group. At +7 to hit for 4d12+4 damage, the bulette's bite attack hits like a truck, and AC 17 averaging 93 hp gives him respectable staying power. The bulette really gets interesting with his movement: burrow 40 ft. If you're nostalgic about catching your first diglet in a cave outside of Vermilion City, the bulette is for you.

The Felidar (CR 5)

The felidar packs a similar punch to the bulette with identical AC and hitpoints, but the felidar is for the more psychically minded adventurer. The felidar has the ability to form a special bond with another creature, granting these benefits:

  • The felidar can sense the direction and distance to the bonded creature if they’re on the same plane of existence.

  • As an action, the felidar or the bonded creature can sense what the other sees and hears, during which time it loses its own sight and hearing. This effect lasts until the start of its next turn.

Similar combat prowess as the bulette, but has some interesting abilities that make the felidar an excellent scout and great insurance policy if his owner gets kidnapped.

The Nightmare (CR 3)

This goth version of the pegasus features an ability that makes it better than his winged celestial brother, earning him a spot on this list. For the most part, the nightmare is identical to the pegasus, which makes him probably the weakest choice on this list. But the nightmare has one ability the earns him his place here:

Ethereal Stride. The nightmare and up to three willing creatures within 5 feet of it magically enter the Ethereal Plane from the Material Plane, or vice versa.

This guy can disappear to the ethereal plane at will. And he can bring his three closest friends. The utility of this ability is limited only by your imagination and how annoyed your DM is that your flaming horse can walk through walls.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How would this spell interact with a Ring of Spell Storing? The ring "... can store up to 5 levels worth of spells ..." It's a 9th level spell, but it requires two 5th level spell slots. Could someone cast it on two Rings and get this benefit? It's an edge case, but may open you up for more loopholes. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Jul 10 at 19:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MivaScott It's a 9th-level spell. A paladin can use two 5th-level spell slots to cast it, but Ring of Spell Storing stores spells, not spell slots. That being said, an 18th-level bard with 1 level in paladin would have three 5th-level spell slots and one 9th-level slot, so they would technically be able to cast it twice. Not sure if that's game-breaking though. \$\endgroup\$ – smbailey Jul 10 at 20:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @smbailey, as I pointed out the description says levels worth or spells. This spell is different in that it's a 9th-level spell, but uses two 5th-level slots. Which "level" would the ring consider? Could someone cast the spell and have one of the 5th-level spell slots sucked into the ring for later? Could the caster then cast it again the next day and only use up one 5th-level spell slot with the ring making up the rest? Now the character still has a 5th-level spell slot for adventuring for the day. \$\endgroup\$ – MivaScott Jul 10 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm curious if you've considered that most of the proposed mounts lack a fly speed. \$\endgroup\$ – Pyrotechnical Jul 13 at 0:51
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Pretty weak for 9th level

If you really, really want to ride a Unicorn than this is somewhat better than True Polymorph for that because it doesn't require concentration. That being said, if you can cast True Polymorph and can find a large boulder or a tree you can ride a young dragon of any colour for an hour instead, and that's arguably one of the least useful things you can do with that spell. Shapechange can be employed in a somewhat similar manner, letting you become one of most creatures in the MM for an hour. Again, it requires concentration so if the end goal is to have a unicorn mount it's not as good for that very specific purpose, but again you can usually gain access to much better things than a Unicorn with this even if it's only for an hour.

More importantly, spells like Conjure Elemental, Planar Ally and Infernal Calling exist which let you get access to most of these creatures much earlier - and while the latter usually wouldn't be under your control, since we have access to 9th level spells you could simply fix that by using Wish to instantly cast Planar Binding at 8th level, and if the target fails the saving throw you have that creature now for half a year. Not bad.

Are you sure you want this to be a spell?

If all you want is to give paladins access to some more powerful mounts later in the game you could simply put these options on a magic item that enhances Find Greater Steed, or dole them out as quest rewards from the powerful extraplanar entities you are almost certainly going to be dealing with by the time you're 17th level. Adding a new spell with a unique casting mechanic on top doesn't seem to me like the best way to approach this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "you could simply put these options on a magic item that enhances Find Greater Steed" - as a suggestion, what about if you upcast it at 5th level? \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jul 10 at 19:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ While this is a 9th level spell in name, it is 5th level in spirit since it is Paladin only. You might want to talk about that. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 10 at 19:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ For that matter, you could just add a paladin class feature that upgrades your find greater steed, similar to how Pact of the Chain upgrades find familiar. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jul 10 at 20:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ What I mean is that it is being balanced for a Paladin so traditional 9th level spells aren't really a proper comparison. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jul 10 at 20:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri I believe this was made 9th level out of concern for Bards or other features which give you access to spells from other spell lists. Hence why I am addressing it that way in the answer. Like I say in the second part of the answer, I don’t think treating this as a spell is the best approach to do what OP wants here anyway. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jul 11 at 12:35
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Frame challenge: Find 'whatever' steed is a class feature, not a spell

Attempting to balance this as a spell is a poor idea, because this is just a 5e method of giving a Paladin a steed in a similar way to previous editions. Basically this is cast, then unprepared and never cast again unless your DM decides they want to kill your mount, which is basically just a tax.

So what you are really doing by creating this spell is asking "is it ok to give a high level character a pet unicorn?".

That is less of a balance issue and more of a campaign issue.

For casters who have to pick limited spells this is balanced, in fact possibly poor, but for a Paladin, who picks from the full list, so can cast it then drop it, this is basically free which becomes far more powerful than intended.

Thematically I like this, and have seen many people do similar things by adding an 'at higher levels' clause into Find Steed or Find Greater Steed, but as it stands I don't think this spell is 'balanced' and I am not sure it is possible to do so in the traditional manner.

Additional thoughts

As @pleasestopbeingevil points out, befriending a creature to use as a mount becomes quite easy at higher levels, so a better balancing factor is how you would judge someone simply saying 'please' to a unicorn. That is always going to be campaign dependent.

Additionally the best spell I can think to balance against is Awaken. It has a cost and is tricky to cast, but with time and setup can get higher level creatures as mounts (and the cost becomes trivial), which if well treated could stay with the party properly. How you adjudicate this spell is also going to be campaign dependent.

Overall I would worry less about balance in contrast to other spells, and consider the wider impact on the campaign of mounts and allies instead.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that a high-level character that wants a pet unicorn or whatever other mount can just get one. It's not like the DM can realistically stop a 9th level paladin from tracking down, soliciting, and recruiting an ally sometime during the ~ 87 encounters it'll take them to hit 17th level. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jul 11 at 20:50

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