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Arknights: Mastery Priority Guide - A Light Spark in Darkness Update

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Introduction

Ahh, we're here already! Those of you who skipped Ling (or still have resources left over) didn't have to wait long. I don't think you'll be disappointed either. I do have to apologize for this article though. The Masteries themselves are fairly simple and if I only wrote that section this would be a very short article. I have a lot else to say though, so let's dive in!

This article specifically covers the new units from the Invitation to Wine 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:  An emphatic yes if you don't have Eyja, but still a strong yes even if you do.  Goldenglow is a rare operator who is a complete package that will carry you in a wide variety of roles and one that will do so at an otherwise very weak spot on the roster.  She does that largely independent of what Eyja does, so Goldenglow will still have a ton of value even if you think your Caster core is strong.  In my humble opinion, Goldenglow is the best operator ahead of us as far as value goes (with Horn a close second).  While a few others have potential to be stronger in given niches, Goldenglow will bring that potential across a much wider area.  She will help you in pretty much every game mode, while absolutely obliterating some of them, and being weak in none of them.

Q:  Why have you said Goldenglow competes with Eyja for the top Caster spot?  Why was GG one of your top suggestions as an alternative target to Ling?

A:  Skip to the last two paragraphs if you want the short answer because I'm about to go on a patented TacticalBreakfast tangent / rant / history lesson.

If you really like any of the Casters other than Eyja or Ifrit, brace yourself, because I'm about to be mean.  To be blunt, aside from those two, Casters in this game have always sucked.  Now it is true plenty of them have had very valid niches, and a majority of them are at least usable.  But frankly, even the Ceobes and Passengers of the game have left a *lot* to be desired.  Hypergryph has, as a design philosophy, always overvalued Arts damage.  That is, they tend to undertune Arts damage, believing that the mere fact it is Arts gives it value over Physical damage.

That was probably more true on launch.  After all, there were very few units then with a legitimately high attack stat that could reliably overcome armor.  RES was also not that common either so there was actual value in dealing Arts damage.  But that has also meant that most Casters become a 'take if you need them', and not a 'take by default'.  Add onto that a proliferation of powerful high-attack units like Thorns and Bagpipe as well as better melee based Arts like Surtr, and higher RES enemies than before, and you get a situation where Casters just rarely ever stand out.

Eyja, and to a lesser extent Ifrit, have always been the exception to this.  Why exactly is a good question but it likely has to do with launch day balance mistakes.  Frankly again, launch day balance is all over the place.  If year-three-Hypergryph could redo launch without any repercussions, we probably wouldn't have Nightingale, Lappland, Mousse, Warfarin, or Specter in their current forms.  That's rather an aside though.  The point is that every Caster since* has been woefully undertuned and they have, at best, a strong niche and little else.  Every caster since has had weak damage or a small niche (or worse, both).

( * I'll give a side shoutout to Click who is the exception here, though her 4 stats have always held her back in the context of this discussion.)

Goldenglow then, is the first Caster in 2.5 years that has both strong DPS and isn't pigeon-holed into a relatively narrow niche.  She has strong core damage and a kit that allows her flexibility to apply it in a variety of situations and modes.  The only other Caster that can be said about is Eyja.  Goldenglow fits on nearly all teams without being a hindrance, but even better (and the edge she has over Eyja) is that her kit fits in extremely well with the "ASPD meta" that has now come out in not one, but two different recent game modes.

Essentially, Goldenglow is a unit that can fit into nearly any team while still excelling in a variety of more niche situations.  There's very few units in the lifetime of the game that can be said about.

Q:  What is the history of Goldenglow and why was she known so long?

A:  Way back when in the very first anniversary stream on CN, which is now more than two years ago, we got a big preview image.  This image showed six banners with the E1 art of six upcoming operators.  It was meant as a tease of the upcoming content.  Goldenglow was first seen here, but unfortunately for her, it took another year and three-quarters for her to actually be released.  She was the slowest of the previews which led to quite a bit of infamy given how long it took (especially compared to the others).  Thus we've known about her for quite a long time now!

Hypergryph has never commented on why her release took so long, but the common speculation is that it has to do with the Thorns backlash.  It's likely Hypergrph's original intention was to introduce new operators along with re-runs but for you newer players, this was not well received at the time.  It seems likely that some of the other previewed operators were originally intended to be run much sooner along with other re-runs but had to be delayed to other events given the backlash.  This is given weight by the fact Archetto and Surtr were among the previews but who were released during similar mini-story events like Goldenglow is.  However Carnelian, who wasn't previewed, was also released in a similar event before Goldenglow was, so that's likely not the entire story either.  So whatever the full story behind her long delay is remains a mystery open to speculation.

Q:  Why is Goldenglow often called the "pink doggo"?  Isn't she a cat?

A:  For a long time the only information we had on her was a relatively low-res image of her that was angled, cropped, and off center.  Given that most Feline characters in Arknights have peaked ears, basically everyone assumed she was a dog because of her floppy ears that could barely be seen in the first place.  The idea she was a Scottish Fold cat wasn't one that had ever come up (and to be fair I still don't think the ears are that accurate to Scottish Folds).

The whole thing got some notoriety, when Namie, her artist (and a delightful Twitter follow), made a very amusing Tweet on the topic after her eventual full reveal.

Q:  Is Quercus worth raising?

A:  If you have to ask, probably not, though unlike many 'optional raise' 5 she has a very valid niche.  She's an interesting unit and her SP battery niche is one that is potentially very powerful.  But the way she fills that niche can be pretty tough to use.  She certainly isn't newbie friendly, though she also doesn't require extreme investment to be useful should you want to try her out.

Q:  Is it worth leaving Quercus at E1 Level 1?

A:  It's complicated.  There is a ton of nuance into the slight differences it would make.  To make a long post short, those subtle differences mean it's basically impossible to give a definitive answer.  It's just as easy to craft a SP battery situation where totally maximum is best versus where totally minimum is best.  Plus she can hypothetically give 3 more SP at M3 than at SL7 on top of dealing them out faster, so it isn't even a 1 to 1 comparison in the first place!

The thing with Quercus is that she is more like a Warfarin-style SP battery than a Liskarm-style SP battery.  That is, she works best spreading the SP out to more broadly help the team rather than trying to maximize a single operator.  She can be used towards the latter, but it can be a very difficult thing to do properly given that you need just the right amount of pressure to have something to heal without killing the target.

Ultimately what I'm getting at is that she is a very niche unit, so would probably work just fine at a low level SL7 if you only wanted occasional use out of her.  But if you're making regular use out of her you'll definitely want to raise her up more.  You'll get much more use out of her if she can actually be an effective sub-healer.  And if you don't plan to make regular use out of her, the investment advice has more to do with value as opposed to which is better.

Q:  (Warning CN spoilers) Any thoughts on the just revealed summer limited since you were such a big opponent of Summer Ch'en?

A:  The units are too new to put into the look-ahead down below, but I'll give some first impressions here.

In general I think I'm pretty happy with the patch compared to last summer.  The balance is a little whacky (or a lot as I'll get into in a minute) but I think the design choices are quite a bit more palatable here.  We do have to remember though that a large part of the issue with Ch'en was not that she was meta, but rather that she was an unannounced limited creep.  A year later the limited creep is still true, we just expected it.  Make no mistake, limited units are predatory and we shouldn't forget that.  However, accepting that fact, it's hard to find too much issue with Gavial's design and both 5s look to be quite good and interesting as well.

However Pozy presents a curious wrinkle.  She is really the first unit of her kind who directly powercreeps an already top-tier unit and does so to a significant degree.  Previous powercreeps have been slow and muted, or indirect (such as GG with Ceobe), or had some other factor that made it not as big of deal (Irene with Ch'en because of Ch'alter).  I don't really care if Pozy is meta (so long as it doesn't begin to affect design decisions), however I think it's a bad precedent to see her completely blow away an already good unit like Schwarz.  I'm not exactly doom and gloom on it, but it does make me worry for the direction the game is heading.

It's nowhere near the level of controversy that Ch'en was, nor do I think it's too big of a deal myself.  I probably won't write about the topic again, but it is something I'll be keeping my eye on...

A Light Spark in Darkness - Spark Blossom

Goldenglow

Skill
Mastery
Story
Advanced
Roguelike
S3M3 S+ S S+
S2M3 A B B

Goldenglow's go to skill is her S3 thanks to its extremely strong burst and rare global range (the first global range skill with no condition or targeting priority).  It has important Mastery gains as well thanks to a fairly high attack multiplier that applies to all of her drones (both their base attack and their explosion damage) which makes it a high priority Mastery on one of the strongest units in the game.

Her S2 makes an excellent alternative for when the global range isn't necessary (and you can afford the wind up time of course).  It is the go to skill in longer stages, especially in the SSS mode (counted under the Story grade here).  However it has fairly weak Mastery gains with no improvements to the wind-up time and somewhat small Attack gains for an infinite duration skill.  Additionally her S3 has fairly short downtime for a skill of its power which drives S2 to be relatively more niche.  Goldenglow is so powerful that she is worth the M6, but her S2 has much lower priority and doesn't at all need to be rushed.

It's worth noting her S1 since it has absolutely massive single target DPS.  It even out paces Ceobe against all but the highest armor enemies and can often even still perform better overall in those cases thanks to a much shorter cycletime and built in RES shred.  However it ultimately remains ungraded since the situations it is better than S2 or S3 (or another operator like Surtr) are very small.  It has good gains and a niche so it's something to consider to maximize waifu, but for most players S3 will cover the same needs as S1 already.

Quercus

Skill
Mastery
Story
Advanced
Roguelike
S2M3 None B None

Quercus barely edges out a grade here since her Masteries are pretty valuable. Her SP battery niche can be fairly hard to use, but she gains a lot over Mastery between the ASPD boost, wind-up time, and up-time, so if you have bothered to E2 her it can be a valuable consideration.

Pass on her S1. It can actually have a modest and consistent HPS but it's inferior to proper medic options while also lacking their utility. And that's on top of some pretty pitiful Mastery gains.

The Grading System

Story vs Advanced vs Roguelike

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 three, 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.

Roguelike - These grades are specific to the Integrated Strategies game mode (aka, the Roguelike mode or IS#2).  These grades are slightly different compared to the Story vs Advanced delineation since the same sort of pressures apply in the mode regardless of the type of player you are.  These grades tend to be more "meta" focused than the others.  For a lengthier discussion on why this is, please check out the main Roguelike mastery guide linked below.  I've excluded most of the discussion from the main guide, simply because this guide is already long enough as it is.

Additionally, please check out the main Roguelike guide for more in-depth operator specific discussions specific to that mode.  Although I have updated most write-ups in this guide to reflect all of the grades, some of the nuance on the best picks won't come across as well here, and the main Roguelike guide will provide a better analysis of who is a strong pick.

The Grades

S - These Masteries are the cream of the crop. They are Masteries that everyone with the unit should do and give a high priority to. Units with S tier Masteries get an outsized value from them, either because the skill is incredibly powerful or because it changes how the unit is used.  For the Roguelike mode, S-tier grades are reserved for the best skills on the most meta of units (whereas meta value is not necessarily a requirement in other mode grades).

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

B - These Masteries 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 Masteries 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 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.

NG or None - Not a true grade, but these are sometimes used for Skills which are noteworthy but not worth Mastery.  Either the skill or unit is not worth using, or the Mastery has very poor Mastery gains.  NG stands for "No Grade".

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

Mastery Look Ahead

Nothing new this update. The Gavial units are too new as I write this update. I will say though that the pink wolf looks to be quite busted.

Unit
Type
Comments
Guiding Ahead
Enforcer Welfare How many times can I say stroke in one paragraph? This stroker is a surprisingly interesting stroker. He strokes in a way the other strokers can't since he is able to stroke enemies through his tile, such as if they are being blocked from behind. Even better, his stroke skills don't deal damage, another unique trait among the strokers, further increasing his stroking niche. Like most strokers, he has big masteries upgrades thanks to a stroke force increase at M3. Both of his stroking skills will be good targets, though S2 will be graded higher thanks to its better stroke force. Seriously, who thought "Push Stroker" was a good name for this archtype?
Kazemaru Gacha One of my personal favorite upcoming units. Her kit plays to the strength of the archetype far better than Bena does, with her S1 being usable right off of respawn and her S2 providing really strong synergy with the whole doll gimmick. Both of her skills are good mastery options, though she’s still a luxury unit overall. I favor S2 here for the more impactful on-demand arts nuke.
Fiametta Gacha Her kit is a little bit awkward which will likely prevent her from ever being an end-game CC unit, however she does enough damage to be competent in the story, and is considered a well above average IS#2 unit. That’s largely due to her S2 which gives her a strong burst that’s spammable in fairly common conditions. Her S3 has its places too, though its overall DPS is not as impressive.
Chapter 10 - Shatterpoint
Heidi Welfare Heidi's kit will certainly enable some creative things with her block manipulation, and her Inspire effect is shockingly high, being comparable to Skalter's S3. However short uptimes (only 10 seconds on S1) in a tough archtype, as well as not stacking with Skalter, will hold her back from being anything too special. Most players won't get much value from her, but should you want to raise her anyway, stick with S1 which has the stronger mastery gains and more useful niche.
Chestnut Gacha Unlike Mulberry and Honeyberry, he's a really poor regular medic, which drastically limits his value. Six months ago on CN time there may have been value in his low rarity elemental healing versus the relatively expensive Berries, but being so far off now, there just isn't any reason to wait. If you are an active player now reading this look-ahead, he is a unit to avoid (and probably will be even for new players). Just raise Honeyberry or Mulberry instead who are worth much more long term despite their costs. Neither skill stands out as a good mastery either, though I would favor S1 since S2 is limiting on one of the more valuable aspects of the archtype.
Rockrock Gacha Lost a bit in the hype around Horn, Rockrock actually has some shocking DPS, almost matching Goldenglow's S1 single-target DPS. For a 5★ that's pretty incredible. Unfortunately she has a long cycle time thanks to Overdrive, and brings no other utility like GG does which limits her. She'll be a viable option for newer players with weak caster cores, though even then because of the mandatory and free Amiya, even that role is limited. S2 is her stronger skill and a very strong mastery.
Horn Gacha I was already high on Horn, but since her release I've come to consider her the single best OP ahead of us. She is very powerful across all of the major game modes which is something rather rare among even the most meta of OPs. She has top tier damage, range, and bulk all in one, and all of her skills will be strong considerations. However, that said, start with S3 with a lower priority for S2. Don't worry about S1 until we get closer to SSS as that mode is where her S1 will really shine.
Stultifera Navis
Lumen Welfare Lumen had a lot of hype around him on release which has rightly tempered a bit. He is still a very strong medic though, so it's a good thing he's welfare and we don't have to worry about deciding to pull him or not! Regardless of how you feel about him meta-wise, his S3 is his best skill and will garner the highest Mastery grade with the other skills unlikely to be graded. The windup time can be rough but it provides amazing HPS as well as instantly removing ever dangerous stuns which is both a unique and very powerful niche across many different game modes.
Windflit Gacha Another very disappointing and undertuned 5★, and worse, one who butchered one of the more interesting archetypes with incredibly poor numbers and a perplexing restriction (he'd be bad even with no restriction). Even Supporter specific players will find very limited use out of him. That leaves him as a husbando-only promotion, though those players may find use in both skills depending on how you're trying to use him.
Irene Gacha Irene is what happens when a Swordmaster is released in year 3 instead of year 1 (like Ch'en). She has very powerful burst damage that can hold up against even tough enemies. Although her damage is not as overtly broken as the top-tier of DPS units which keeps her from being a 'must-pull' sort of unit, the fact she has such strong burst holds a ton of value for all sorts of players (she has make high risk CC appearances, is a very strong starting IS pick, and destroys story mode enemies). There's a good chance that all of her skills get a grade, though give a very strong favor to her S3 which is where her power lies. S1 and S2 are both very good with strong Mastery gains, but have much more niche usage and will lean more towards luxury investments instead of necessities like her S3 is.
Specter the Unchained Gacha Limited Initially panned (rightly) on her release, Specter's Alter has gotten one of the best modules in terms of how it improves the unit. Her meta value is still in question, but she at least improves past her 5★ self a bit. It will make grading her quite difficult as a module level 3 is very expensive for a task that can usually still be accomplished by her far cheaper base form. Regardless, her best Mastery is S2 since S3 remains a very subpar damage skill for a 6★ even with mod 3. But S2's priority will depend on if you plan to go for her mod 3. If no, then it's a luxury. If yes, then it's a necessity.
Contingency Contract #9 - Operation Deepness
Erato CC Welfare Erato is an "if you have to ask, don't bother" sort of unit. There is potential in her kit, but similar to Kafka, there's no improvement on her primary factor (the sleep) over Mastery. Plus since her sleep is single target, it doesn't fit in well with existing sleep stall cycles. Her S2 may be an option for waifu purposes as it is the better damage skill, but overall her DPS is underwhelming so she's unlikely to be graded at all despite the potential.
Lingering Echoes
Czerny Welfare I will confess that I don't really have a good feel for Czerny. He isn't really a unit that inspires a lot of interest and there's been very few highlights of him so far. He can make a decently functional RES tank with his S1 which is a modestly rare niche, though the lower rarity Matterhorn does that role better and already barely sees usage. That leaves his S2, which is a fun skill, but one without particularly impressive numbers. If you wanted an offensive oriented Arts Protector, you'd be better off with Shalem, so Czerny will probably not have any graded skills.
Hibiscus the Purifier Gacha I'm quite fond of Hibiscus' design (both aesthetically and as a unit) and she will definitely find usage in various NicheKnights clears. However, as a general unit, the numbers aren't quite there to make her anything too special, although she is the best hybrid dps/healer so far. Both of her skills are options. You will probably want to focus on her S2 which is her more unique skill, though its low total damage and limited targeting gives plenty of room for her S1 to be useful despite being quite a basic skill.
Ebenholz Gacha There's been a lot of discussion on if Ebenholz is any good or not. Of course I will give my opinion here, though be warned there is still a lot of on-going discussion on him and my opinion could very well change. That said, I don't have an especially favorable view of Ebenholz, although I don't quite think he is awful either. His elite/boss killing niche is strong enough to be quite useful in Story content, but his kit is designed in a way where he doesn't have an easy way to generate charges once they're spent, and he is only really effective if the elites/bosses come in one at a time. To me, this makes him a unit that makes for nice Youtube highlights, but a difficult one to reliably use as a regular part of the team. If you plan to use him, you'll probably want to do both S2 and S3, though favor S3 if you only did one. S3 is the more important skill for his niche, while his S2 is the better option for general Caster duties (something better done by Goldenglow or Eyja).
Dorothy's Vision
Astgenne Welfare As a 5★ that only does straight damage, she will always be limited in a meta context, but Astgenne is a pretty good unit among other 5★ Casters at least. She fixes a lot of the issues Leizi has with shorter cycles and stronger damage which makes her perfectly usable. However she takes a lot of investment between Masteries and Modules, plus lives in that unfortunate gulf of competing with the free, strong, and mandatory Amiya. That makes her a waifu option only, but at least a pretty good one. S2 is by far her better skill as S1 doesn't have enough damage on it to justify its use.
Greyy the Lightning Bearer Gacha Greyy grew up pretty nicely with his new alter form. Once a joke at the tail end of the 4★ rarity, he now has a fairly solid niche in his extended range control and solid area damage. Sniper players especially will find him very valuable but unfortunate RNG and 5★ stats will keep him out of the general meta still. His S2 is his best skill by quite a bit, though his S1 will have some small niche value as well with a more consistent slow for its duration.
Dorothy Gacha Dorothy is reminiscent of Ling in many ways, but without the baggage of bogging down your team slots. There is a lot of powerful potential with her kit, but like the 5★ trappers, it's a kit that requires a lot of investment, both in resources and in effort. She is certainly not an easy unit to get maximum value out of, so for many she may come across as more of a luxury then her potential would indicate. Like all trappers, her Masteries are valuable (near mandatory) since they reduce the cycle of her traps and all three of her skills have value. Her S3 is probably the best target with its superior damage, though her S1 and S2 both have very appealing niches. She'll be an M9 candidate for some players, though an M0-M3 for others.
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About the Author(s)

Lost redditor, April simp, and Mastery guru
/u/TacticalBreakfast, TacticalBreakfast#1637 on Discord, or TacticalBreakf1 on Twitter.

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