Oh boy. Here we go. I look forward to a dramatic comment section full of rage. Well to be fair, I've spent my fair share of rage over this banner too so I guess we're even. I'll do my best to remain objective here. Lots of people are excited for Ch'en the
Hellalame Holungday, so I at least owe the attempt. I'll keep my salt mild and to a single question in the FAQ. But it's a doozy of a banner so... yea...
A small matter of business before we get started. Expect a full update with regards to the roguelike mode, especially as it gets closer to a global release. However for the most part the grades will track with advanced grades.
This article specifically covers the new units from the Summer Holiday - Dossoles Holiday 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
FAQ and Banner Discussion
Q: Should I pull?
A: No! Rise up against- Wait, I said only one question and this one isn't it.
If you care at all about power level, meta, high-risk CC, and don't find anything in the next question to be objectionable, then the answer is a very clear and strong yes. Ch’en the Holungday (Ch’alter for the rest of the article) is the single most broken operator in the game, including the 6 month look ahead we have with CN. She's been the core DPS is nearly every meaningful high risk CC clear since she's been released and is core to many comically low-OP clears of difficult stages. Even the fact that Mizuki is the polar opposite and one of the worst 6★s we've ever gotten isn't enough to change the pull equation here.
The only meta argument to not pull here is that she, like Surtr, is likely to be widely available on support which could be an option if you would only plan to use her for CC or one off challenges.
Q: What is the controversy surrounding Ch’alter? Why is it such a big deal to some people?
A: I'll try to keep this short because it's a big topic and worthy of an article itself and ultimately this is a mastery guide. It won't cover everything and there's a lot more that went into the controversy on CN beyond what I'll touch on here.
What it basically boils down to is Ch'alter, as a unit, is the most pure unadulterated cash grab that has ever been put in the game, and she came into the game without any warning at all. A lot of us play Arknights exactly because the game is different from the standard gacha-fare. We've seen a slow creep as the game has gotten older, yet with Ch'alter that slow creep took a giant leap right towards the end and represents not just the worst of Arknights, but close to the worst in gacha in general. She is so powerful that she makes a joke of the game and is now mandatory for CC. She is a beach skin that is completely non-optional (with horrifically bad art on release as well, though that was fixed). And both of those are locked behind a limited operator (don't forget the very high 300 spark is already heavily criticized) paired on a banner with one of the worst 6★s to date. Her banner is both the most necessary to pull on, and the worst odds ever on a 'necessary' banner.
Ch'alter represents a failure of balance, a failure of understanding what makes Arknights special, and a failure of any sense of care for the consumer or longer established players. The banner came unannounced as an additional limited each year when most players assumed there would only be three (there was no announcement or hint Ch'alter would be limited until a week prior on CN). It also came at a time when lots of underlying issues were being criticized like a bloating power creep, long gaps of minimal to no content, one of the worst spark systems in gacha gaming, and a bad artbook release (among a host of other complaints). It even goes so far as to make a joke of Ch'en's lore and character building, passing over 8 chapters of growth for lore irrelevant watergun and a bikini.
I will not be pulling on this banner beyond getting La Pluma and I'd generally encourage others to do the same. Even if you like summer skins, and even if you like ez-mode gameplay, it shouldn't be locked behind a cash grab limited! Vote with your wallet!
Alright, I'm done. I'll remain objective for the rest of the post.
Q: Is Ch'alter the most powerful unit in the game? More so than Surtr?
A: In my opinion, yes, and it's not all that close either. Surtr certainly offers her stiff competition, and I can certainly buy the argument in her favor in a purely CC environment. However Ch'alter is much more broadly applicable, being just as ridiculous across nearly all modes, including the new IS#2 where Surtr is nearly a non-factor. Really though, it doesn't matter. I won't be getting into any more detail on that topic because it's a pedantic debate. They are both game-breaking units regardless of how you choose to pick apart the details.
Q: What makes Ch'alter so powerful?
A: In my opinion, the ammo system. Her damage is ridiculous but were it just a normal burst skill, it might not be *that* much worse than TSS or Volcano. The ammo system really brings it to the next level though. Skills rarely reach their true theoretical damage potential because enemies die and then the skill ends. That might sound a bit silly but when you consider the long charge times of skills like this, it makes more sense. How good would TSS be if every single swing was applied to mobs instead of being potentially skipped on nothing? Then add onto that a manual deactivation so you can control the charge as necessary? Ch’alter has something few other DPS unit have, which is near complete control over her downtime. Her skill duration, on one of the strongest damage outputs in the game, is exactly as long as it needs to be with the only limiting factor being the charge time which can be placed exactly where it’s needed.
Q: How good is La Pluma?
A: She is one of the best 5★s in recent memory. I'd personally say the best since April which is now quite a long time ago. She is still a touch under 'meta' (pretty much all 5★s are these days, at best) simply because the power of the game has crept so far. A 5★ really has to do something special like Specter, Shamare, April, or Elysium to stand out in the current metagame. However that accounts for a pretty small portion of the game. She will only fall off for those with truly stacked rosters. For the rest of us, she is a tremendous unit. Reaper guards are what enmity guards (like Akafuyu and Hellagur) should have been.
Q: I want La Pluma, but not Ch'alter. Is it worth it to chase La Pluma pots because of the better 5★ rate-up?
A: No. La Pluma is a great unit but has terrible pots. Instead of +atk she gets +def and she gets no talent upgrade. Pots in this game are already low value, but there's very little difference between pot 1 and pot 6 for La Pluma.
Q: How good is Tequila?
A: He's in the upper crust of 5★s because of his damage potential, but a good bit off of La Pluma and not all that close to meta tier. He suffers from similar issues as Carnelian which is that he has great damage, but just doesn't do anything when his skill isn't up and his kit doesn't take much advantage of it otherwise. If you have a weaker end team, especially in terms of ground burst, then he'll be a very useful addition, but stronger meta teams won't have much use for him. A bulk of his value comes in the fact he's totally free and needs relatively little investment (E1 SL7 is fine) to be a functional asset to the team.
Summer Carnival [Dossoles Holiday] - Summer Stars
Ch'en the Holungday
I've said many times in the lead up that Ch’alter's S3M3 overtakes TSS as the most important mastery in the game, but I'll slide back on that ever so slightly. To be clear, Ch'alter's S3M3 is the most powerful skill in the game (or at least tied with Surtr S3), and that alone means it is the highest of priorities for anyone who wants to make maximal use of her. For Advanced players, I would say it is still more important since every second of charge time and initial sp matters! If there's any meta criticism at all of Ch'alter though, it's that the gains on M3 itself are juuuuust a touch unimpressive for the cost which I suppose gives the edge back to TSS for Story players.
However that's all a pedantic argument in a game where 'best' doesn't really matter. It's in the highest tier of importance still no matter how you nitpick at it.
Her other skills aren't really worth considering. Her S2 is a good skill on its own, but there's almost never any reason to consider it over S3.
Mizuki is a rather tough unit to grade, as weaker 6★s tend to be. Strong units tend to have a particular skill that stands out as the reason they're good, while weaker units, like Mizuki, can be tougher to separate out the impact of the differences. The nuances of their place in the game is also difficult to convey so I hesitate to 'over grade' them as well, which is ultimately why Mizuki's S3 is not graded here.
His three skills are all viable options, but the flashier S3 is also his weakest one. Early showcases featuring his lackluster S3 might even be a significant contributor to his tepid reception. Typically in these guides I tend to favor the burst skills, but S3 just doesn't bring anything meaningful over the other options along with a brutally long cooldown. It even works against his archetype, forcing some measure of team support that Stalkers don't usually need! However even with S1 or S2 he's still nothing too special as a 6★ so I wouldn't suggest anything more than the S1M1 breakpoint unless you have a specific personal desire.
If you do though (which many will), I favor S2 here over S1 since the attached stall on S2 (albeit only against two targets) is quite good with respectable DPS. At M3 the cycle time is pretty short too, giving him a good uptime. A number of people favor S1 which, surprisingly, is his highest overall DPS skill by quite a bit. However the damage front loads in waves, and there are lots of consistent damage options out there these days so taking the utility and stronger control is generally the better option.
La Pluma has two good skills, and both are valuable masteries, but S2 is by far the standout. At S2M3 she has incredible DPS, nigh unkillable sustain, and a manageable sp cost. In fact, thanks to the interval reduction, S2M3 is one of the best masteries in the game in terms of pure DPS gains (only BP S2 beats it, and that's frontloaded into M1). It's so good that it could easily be considered an essential mastery for her effective usage.
S1 is a bit more complex. S1M3 is a huge breakpoint that greatly increases the damage of the skill and makes her an extremely strong and consistent cornerstone at a lower rarity than the other cornerstones. It's a tougher role though, especially since the 6★ cornerstones are so powerful, and the team can offer her relatively limited support (similar to enmity guards). It has good grades here because it's a strong skill and mastery, but for most S1M3 should be treated as a luxury. S2 is the better option in a majority of situations.
She is a solid choice in the roguelike mode currently running on CN. That isn't reflected in the grades here, but it's worth at least noting for now, especially with regards to her S1 which will likely be more valuable there.
Tequila's S2 is often called a mini-TSS, and for good reason. Ground based, high physical damage per hit, in an AoE, is quite rare and quite valuable. However he can be tough to use, still doesn't compare to the strong 6★s, and doesn't have especially strong mastery gains thanks to his essentially mandatory 40 second trait (no uptime or cycle time improvements over mastery). Like La Pluma, he is a strong unit that will benefit weaker teams more compared to stronger teams, however weaker teams often have greater resources pressure which can make the investment here a bit less appealing for the smaller gains. His E2 talent gain is already comical and his low base attack scales poorly with levels. His S2 mastery gains, especially M3, can seem to be quite small for the cost. The difference between him at E1 max SL7 and E2 max M3 is important, but nowhere near as big as comparable DPS units (La Pluma for example is a much more drastic difference).
None of this is to say he's bad by the way. He's amazing, in fact, especially since we get him for free! Just be aware the mastery gains aren't all that impressive and he still doesn't compare to the 6★s. A small bit of caution is warranted before heavy investment.
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.
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
Not many new units since the last update this time. Shalem is added here but there isn't a lot of gameplay available for him yet and he's still very new so take any judgement with a grain of salt. Nine-Color Deer is not included yet either as she is not yet out!
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!
|Chapter 9 - Stormwatch|
|Saileach||Gacha||Saileach is a unique unit balance-wise. She has the biggest gap in priority between story and advanced players of any unit out there. She is very important for advanced players who are aiming for higher risk levels, but a very expensive luxury for story players who will find Myrtle and Elysium more than sufficient. S3 will be her best skill for both and likely the only suggestion for story players. Advanced players will likely want to at least M6 her though, and maybe M9, with S3M3 > S1M3 >> S2M3.|
|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. She looks to be a relatively important option in IS#2.|
|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. Some of that value may come back with IS#2 though.|
|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.|
|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||I had previously said she was disappointing, which to be clear reflected a bit of my own preference as someone who was looking forward to Flametail for a long time. To give a more fair shake, she is perfectly functional with a solid niche and decent DPS, but her uptime is so criminally short against an already small dodge niche that she'll have a hard time finding a consistent role that isn't covered better by someone else. Outside of her low-uptime dodge niche, Saga is significantly better if a 2-block Vanguard is required. S3 will be the better mastery and will be integral to making good use of her. S2, though a decent skill, has relatively worse gains.|
|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.|
|Break the Ice|
|Kjera||Welfare||Don't be fooled by her low base attack. She joins Click as one of the very few good low rarity casters. She is marginally better than Click, though it's a bit tough to say if she's worth the extra cost, especially with how valuable the low cost Click is in IS#2. Either way, S2 is the obvious mastery choice here, though the gains are a touch anemic.|
|Aurora||Gacha||She's unlikely to be anything special because of her archtype and reliance on other freezers. I do however like her potential as an interesting fun unit with her absolutely ridiculous per hit potential and shorter SP cost than Eune. S2 will be the go to most likely.|
|Gnosis||Gacha||Extremely good looking unit. He'll be at least Suzuran tier and possibly higher. It's hard right now to tell if S2 or S3 will be better, but S2 has the bigger mastery gains and will be more important to its usage, while S3 has fairly weak mastery gains. A worthwhile M6 either way though and he competes with Saileach for one of the few non-limited good OPs lately.|
|Shalem||Welfare||He hasn't been out long and there's very few highlights out yet, but from what is there, he looks to be unimpressive. Right now at least it's hard to even judge which skill is better even just for husbando purposes.|