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Arknights: Mastery Priority Guide - Preluding Lights Update

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Introduction

Hello! It's been a while, hasn't it? Two weeks through Under Tides, plus a dead week, plus a full Contingency Contract. At long last though, we have some new units to discuss. It's an interesting set to be sure, though not necessarily interesting in a good way, so let's dive in!

This article specifically covers the new units from the Preluding Lights event, You can find the full version of the guide here, or on the banner below which covers all of the other noteworthy masteries in the game.

The Look Ahead section also got a big update with all the new units so be sure to check it out even if you don't care for this banner.

FAQ and Banner Discussion

Q:  Should I pull?

A:  Probably not, but there are worse banners. Carnelian is certainly a character that will appeal to a lot of people, and newer players without one of the meta casters will be tempted here, but unfortunately, in my opinion, she's a failure of design and it really hurts her viability. Unlike her little sister, there's no synergy in her kit. There's no purpose in her being a modal caster. Add onto that very long charge times and you get a real clunky unit. She has amazing peak skill damage, comparable to Eyja, but lacks in all of the other parts that make Eyja good. It ultimately leads to a decidedly average rated 6★ with little value in the meta. In fact, in the CC#6 caster only clears, Beeswax was picked over her, which is a damning indictment.

On top of that, the units she shares the banner with are unusually bad. Kirara and Indigo are some of the worst post-release units at their respective rarities. There are not many post-release units these days I give no grade at all to, yet here we are. Even worse, the shared rate-up in Cliffheart is a unit everyone gets for free already!

Still though, high powered arts damage is somewhat rare, so if Carnelian appeals to you, you could do a lot worse than aiming for her. But with better banners ahead of us (Ch'alter, Saileach, Nearlter) there's not much justification to pull here outside of personal desire.

Q:  When you say Carnelian is a "good Story, but poor Advanced unit", what do you mean?

A:  Design issues aside, Carnelian has very strong damage with some significant drawbacks. However those drawbacks mostly become issues in more advanced situations where success and failure can come down to frames and seconds, issues that her contemporaries don't have. She simply takes too long to get to where she needs to be, both in initial sp and in damage ramp up. That's made even worse by her archtype that results in her doing nothing at all except occupying ever valuable deploy slots in the meantime.

In story content, those issues are much less of a problem though, and her high damage potential on a shorter cycle than Eyja will rip up a lot of stages. Thus story players will find quite a bit more value from her than advanced players will.

Q:  I see Carnelian compared to Eyjafjalla a lot. Is that true?

A:  Not really. They have comparable damage values, but it's a deceptive comparison because of the various issues noted above. Carnelian lacks all of the ancillary value that Eyja brings, nor does she bring anything new of value with her lack of internal synergy. This is true for both story players and advanced players. Eyjafjalla still stands alone as the queen of casters.

Q:  Is Kirara really that bad?

A:  Unfortunately yes. One has to wonder what the designers were thinking with this banner because she's the second character here that seems completely oblivious to the strengths of their archtype. Unlike Ethan and Manticore, Kirara offers no crowd control. Her kit appears to trade that for damage and sustain, but her damage is so weak, and her sustain is antisynergetic with her archtype, that she instead has almost no value on the field. Like Passanger she has a long cycle time, but unlike Passenger, the impact is also really anemic when it does cycle. Her kit seems to be oriented towards remote survival, allowing you to push her out further than you can place the others and soften up approaching enemies, but it's just not a viable or needed niche and the impact is too small for her to be a viable consideration.

Preluding Lights - Revolution Symphony

Carnelian

Skill
Mastery
Story
Advanced
S3M3 A+ B
S2M3 C C

Carnelian is a powerful story mode unit but has some significant design issues that keep her out of the upper tiers of the meta. Long wind ups, a lack of synergy with the archtype, and a charged effect that's basically mandatory all contribute to what would seem to be at first glance a very good unit. Instead she is left as a story mode dominator who gets picked less than her little sister in end game scenarios.

Despite the issues with her kit, it has some pretty interesting skills for consideration. A majority of players will want to stick with S3 for mastery and go no further. Damage is by far the biggest asset that she has, so maximizing it is key, as well as reducing her hampering wind up time.

S2 is an interesting option providing a good stall with some supplemental damage. Carnelian combines with Aak well since she can natively survive his buff, and with it, S2 becomes a permanent stall for the duration. However, that's ultimately a niche usage. It requires two units at a high cost and unimpressive uptime when there's almost always a better solution available and has yet to find its way into high end gameplay.

Although ungraded (6★ masteries just cost too much), I am personally quite fond of her S1 which is her only skill that plays to the strength of the archtype. Still though, the damage on S1 is unimpressive and despite the lack of synergy, most players will find S3 to be more useful overall. Beeswax S2 is still the ultimate form of the modal caster archtype. Take that, onee-san.

Kirara

Skill
Mastery
Story
Advanced
None None None

Kirara is not worth investing in. She is one of the worst units in recent memory, which is a shame. The only reason she isn't a bigger meme is that Passenger already stole that spotlight and 5★s generally get less attention. She has no control and mediocre damage. She seemingly loses those things in favor of sustain, but there just isn't any value there for what the archtype does. There isn't enough there to survive the bigger threats unaided, even with the benefits of her archtype. A lack of a good niche and very poor damage is bad combination in this game.

She's a waifu only unit, but if you really insisted I would stick with S1. It has some decent gains and better overall damage than S2. S2 has better burst with additional sustain, but it's such a small mastery gain and such a mediocre skill, that it's really hard to suggest over S1.

Indigo

Skill
Mastery
Story
Advanced
None None None

Indigo is also a quite bad unit. Her kit is at least an interesting idea, but the numbers are just not there to make it viable. There's significantly better damage and control at the same rarity and the combination just isn't there to make up the difference, so there just isn't any value in raising her.

If you wanted to do any mastery, I'd suggest Click S2 instead, though if you insist, Indigo's S2 is the better skill. The short uptime on S1 is meant to synergize with her archetype trait (a quick charge to max damage), but loses any other benefit with her kit. It's hard to use and her damage isn't enough to come close to justifying it.

Bena

Skill
Mastery
Story
Advanced
S2M3 B B+

Bena is a very curious unit. She has a strong kit with lots of potential, yet is very hard to get full value out of and hasn't really made a showing in end game content yet despite the potential. She is a very appealing unit to the more creative players, but likely to be frustrating to players who prefer brute force. Something to remember is that when she 'dies' and brings in her substitute, she loses all SP and doesn't begin gaining SP again until her base form returns. Her cycle times can be deceptively long.

Her masteries present a tough problem of priority. Neither directly affects her bait potential, but both are solid choices in different ways and do different things. I also hesitate to grade both though for fear of giving the wrong impression. I would lean towards S2 as the better mastery though. S2 has significantly better mastery gains, and significantly better damage against low to medium defense enemies (S1 doesn't overtake S2 until around 1100 enemy DEF, and by 1500 most of the advantage is lost) leaving S1 a costly alternative only better in a narrow band. Either way, though she has lots of potential, her masteries are very much luxury options.

Cliffheart

Skill
Mastery
Story
Advanced
S2M3 B- B+

Please note that Cliffheart is not a new operator but is a shared rateup on the banner, so her information is included here for reference.

Pullers are in an awkward spot, and Cliffheart is no exception, but her S2M3 is shockingly powerful. A 3 second stun on a 15 second cooldown is already massive, then she gains very rare True Damage on top of it. The skill even maintains it's value in a post-Gladiia world. She's a tough unit to use effectively though and Advanced players will find quite a bit more value here than Story players will.

The Grading System

Story vs Advanced

There are very few absolute answers when it comes to prioritizing upgrades. A major determining factor is what exactly your goals are. Now, there are actually many more types of players than these two, but the most obvious delineation as far as which masteries to think about comes down to the type of content you're most interested in clearing. If you only find value in first time story clears and risk 18 CC, then your goals will be different for someone looking to reach high-risk (25+) in CC.

Story - A story player is a player who is only interest in rewarded content.  This means all normal stages and challenge modes (without added personal challenges), risk 8 on CC daily stages, and risk 18 on CC permanent stages

Advanced - An advanced player here is any player interested in non-reward topics such as higher risk CC and more min-maxed gameplay or specialty clears.

A note on the topic of the Advanced grades is that these grades should not be taken as specific advice for a specific CC. There may be an occasional specific note to provide some context or example, but the intention here is to be more general than a particular event and prioritize skills that will be broadly useful in multiple scenarios. A skill appearing once in a high-risk CC is not enough for inclusion here as CCs tend to lend themselves to niche scenarios that can't really be planned for. Further still, Advanced grades encompass all min/maxed gameplay and do not, strictly speaking, have to be about CCs.

The Grades

S - These skills are the cream of the crop. They are skills that everyone with the unit should do and give a high priority to. Units with S tier skills get an outsized value from them, either because the skill is incredibly powerful or because it changes how the unit is used.

A - These skills are powerful skills that most players who have the unit should do. These are among the most powerful skills in the game, but less overtly overpowered than the S-tier skills.

B - These skills are reasonably powerful and worthy of consideration, but have a factor which hold them back. The impact may be relatively small for the cost, the unit may not be especially powerful already, the unit may not fit well into the meta, or there may be a better version available, among other examples.

C - These skills are strong enough to be noted, but should only be done by the most end game of players with nothing else to do. There's value in them, but in the end of the day, most players will have something better to be doing.

Breakpoint - Not a true grade, but a designator given to an M1 that gives an unusually large benefit. In most cases, these should be prioritized immediately after the E2, thanks to their low cost and high value. Note that there are many M2 and M3 breakpoints but they are not considered breakpoints for this purpose as the cost is much more expensive. Also note that some breakpoints on valueless skills are excluded as well.

Please remember all rankings here are considered independent of E2 priority, but do consider overall unit strength.  And most important, these grades should be treated as guidelines rather than absolute requirements.

Mastery Look Ahead

There's a big update this time. There's been two new banners as well as new additional units in the red cert shop, and most look pretty good! Remember this information is cursory without the usual level of research I put into a full update, so take it for what it is.

A quick note, Honeyberry and Pudding DO NOT replace Ethan and Breeze. They are added to the red cert shop in addition rather than as a replacement. You can still buy Ethan and Breeze even after the new units come in so don't worry about rushing!

Unit
Type
Comments
Interlocking Competition
Pallas Gacha Waifu only unit. The requirements on her buffs are too strict for general use and she's only saved from being a basement unit by being a pretty good guard herself. S3 mid priority if you raise her at all. S2 is also a possibility but has limited applicability. edit: Thanks to those who pointed out S1 which I neglected to mention. S1 is a solid laneholding skill, and a worthy consideration if you want to use her regularly, but doesn't change the baseline conclusion and will still be a low priority story-only option.
Dossoles Holiday
Ch'en the Hellalame Gacha Limited Anyone who tells you Ch'alter isn't the most broken unit in the game is wrong. Only Surtr even compares. S3 is the new best mastery in the game, overtaking TSS, simply because of how ludicrously overpowered Ch'alter is.
Mizuki Gacha Waifu (heh) only.  Similar to Kirara, he doesn't play to the strengths of the archtype, and though his damage is better, it's still really subpar, especially for the rarity.  Both S3 and S2 are options, though it can be hard to separate the advantages among the mediocre performance.  However no one should bother unless they personally favor him.
La Pluma Gacha S++ cuteness but also a really really good unit. Potential M6. S2 is probably the better choice for its high burst shredding, but S1 is a solid pseudo-cornerstone sustain. She is sure to be amazing in the upcoming IS#2.
Tequila Welfare A good boy with good damage. S2M3 very high priority. It's a mini-SilverAsh you get for free, with a faster cycle time. S1 looks like a dud though.
Chapter 9 - Stormwatch
Saileach Gacha Saileach is a remarkably well balanced unit.  She is a very powerful unit that everyone will find value in, but also one who is not quite the "mandatory tier" either.  That's an incredible feat for the 6* version of one of the most broken archtypes in the game! Most players will want to stick with S3 which has several very powerful effects on a short cycle time. S2 is an interesting option as well, though its uses will be quite a bit more limited. Pass on S1 which is exactly the same as Elysium's S1 but with a much higher cost, and who is often better in that role because of his talent.
Mulberry Gacha Not only is she the new sustained HPS queen, but elemental damage has been a big mechanic of late, further increasing her value. S1 mastery is key to how good she is and will be the highest graded pure healing skill in the game. However it will still be a mid-priority luxury overall.
Roberta Gacha THE NEXT LOUD NOISES UNIT. She had an interesting potential with her shields, but Nearl creeps that potential already. She was already going to have low-ish grades, but they took another hit with our look ahead benefit.
Pinus Sylvestris
Ashlock Gacha A surprisingly impressive 5★. Still probably not enough for meta players but S2M3 has some really really solid damage and an abusable range that can get around some stage mechanics.
Fartooth Gacha Fartooth has a really cool niche, but is subpar outside of it.  She rates pretty poorly overall since there's always better damage options unless you can take advantage of her range.  And her biggest competition, Schwarz, already has good range.  She isn't necessarily bad, but is entirely a luxury unit.  S3 is the better skill.  S2 is just too hard to reliably make use of.
Near Light
Pudding Red Cert Shop The Pinecone of her archtype. She isn't necessarily better than Leizi or Passenger, but she shows the strengths of the archtype in a much lower cost package with better general purpose viability. Both skills and masteries are decent with S1 better for control and S2 significantly better for damage.
Honeyberry Red Cert Shop A good healer, however Mulberry is better and for now you don't need two environmental damage healers. Probably not worth the 600 cert cost for most people. Both skills are viable, but S2 masteries are relatively anemic gains, so S1 is probably the better choice.
Wildmane Welfare Continues the streak of pretty good and interesting free units. S2 is her best skill since S1 just doesn't do enough damage and there are better helidrop Vanguard skills. S2 gives a real nice stall, but mastery gains are pretty small (no force upgrade) so it will probably be a low-graded luxury, if it's graded at all.
Corroserum Gacha He's decent, but Ifrit is miles better and his niche over her (silence) is tiny and not very good. S1 has better damage but the gap between him and Ifrit is so huge he's unlikely to be graded.
Flametail Gacha An extremely disappointing unit. Her uptime is so criminally short that even as a meme, her dodges just can't handle anything especially difficult. Saga is significantly better in most situations. S2 is decent but the mastery gains on it are small. S3 is the better skill with really good gains and mastery is going to be important for maintaining any viability should you want to use her.
Nearl the Radiant Knight Gacha Limited Nearl isn't "nearl"y as busted as previous limiteds, though she's still extremely good. Meta-wise S2 will likely be the go to skill, though S3 will be the better general purpose skill. Both will be highly graded, though not quite top tier. Her S1 will be a nice consideration too, but probably left to waifu only.
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About the Author(s)

Lost redditor, April simp, and Mastery guru
/u/TacticalBreakfast

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