Arknights: Mastery Priority Guide - The Whirlpool That Is Passion

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I always love chapter releases. Not because of the units, who are a mixed bag. Certainly not because of the writing or my love of the arc. But for the farming. Story events are the literal most efficient farming we get for all materials. I'm gonna spend so many OP this event! Just not on Hoederer who is.... eh. I gotta write about him anyway though, so let's get into it.

This article specifically covers the new units from the Episode 13 - The Whirlpool That Is Passion 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 You pull?

A:  No.  Hoederer came out at the wrong time.  In another era he'd probably be a pretty top unit.  However, in this era of heavy powercreep he is instead nothing special.  He is yet another Guard who hits hard with some utility, but a fundamentally flawed one thanks to being a Crusher.  The 6★ design space allows a lot of that to be made up (especially compared to Wind Chimes and Quartz) but it's still present.  With a dozen other better Guards available and Degenbrecher on the very close horizon, there's just better value out there than dealing with Hoederer's flaws.

That said, if you're a big fan of the Darknights Trio, which many people are, then he is still a pretty good unit.  That general theme (waifu before meta) is something that comes up a lot in my articles.  Often it applies to some especially bad unit where you really need to stretch the justification to spend the rolls.  That's not entirely the case with Hoederer.  This article may seem harsh, but he's still a good unit.  It's just a consequence of the dramatic rise in overall power.  His damage is up there and he has enough sustain to overcome a lot of that bad Crusher body.  The problem is more all of the other upcoming banners.  There's just so many better units ahead that there's little reason to spend the pulls here.

I'll take this spot to also say that I am now taking over the "Should You Pull" series of articles.  I'll continue to include this question in the Mastery updates since I've always done that, but be sure to check that article out if you're interested in other pull related topics and more general unit overviews.  Most notably, I'll be including the "Upcoming Pull Priority" section in that article.  I started that last Mastery update and didn't really intend to continue, but it's a good excuse!

Q:  You've said "everyone ahead is good" before.  You also say Hoederer is replaceable due to lots of Guards.  Supposing I'm new and don't have access to said Guards yet, should I pull for Hoederer?

A:  Still no.  It is true that the "replaceability" argument can be a tough one to make sometimes.  Not everyone has those replaceable options!  However, there's two things to keep in mind with Hoederer if you're a newer player.

The first is Degenbrecher.  She's one of those Guards who does Hoederer's job, but better.  She's still ahead of us (solo rateup) and not that far and is one of the most meta units in the game.  There's little reason to spend the pulls now to cover the probable one month until Degenbrecher.

Second, if you're a newer player, the Crusher's flaws will seem much worse.  The 0 DEF on Crushers is a really bad flaw, and worse than people usually think.  Hoederer does have ways around it, but much of it is locked behind higher investment.  And why deal with it in the first place in your early career?  One of Hoederer's problems isn't just that he's replaceable, but that there's little reason to deal with the flaws in the first place.

If you are a newer player, Hoederer isn't where to blow your pulls.

Q:  Are Verdant, Vendela, or Delphine any good?

A:  Verdant - He's really bad which is actually kinda remarkable.  Dollkeepers are one of those "natively strong" archetypes, so the design has to be really screwed in order to make one that's actually bad.  And they succeeded in screwing up the archetype with Verdant.  Dr.Silvergun has a good breakdown of why he sucks over on YouTube which is worth a watch if you're interested.  Short version though: his damage would suck even without the health drain, and that flaw is compounded by a doll that does literally nothing.  It gives him bad damage on a long effective cycle time with no mitigation or upside.  He's a hard avoid.  If you want to play around with a Dollkeeper and don't have access to Kazemaru or Specter the Unchained, grab Bena off of Record Restoration instead.

Vendela - Incantation Medics are a pretty fun class and a natively decent one too.  Vendela is usable if she appeals to you.  However, she's pretty significantly behind Hibiscus the Purifier who herself is already nothing in Reed the Flameshadow's... uhh... shadow.  Her Taunt effect isn't particularly useful and the reflect damage is pretty minor most of the time.  It just doesn't total up to anything all that meaningful.

Delphine - Delphine actually isn't terrible, which given modern 5★s and other chapter welfares is a high compliment.  She has a synergetic kit with some pretty good DPS and total damage!  However, the usual 5★ Caster problems exist here.  There's a ton of options and Delphine falls somewhere in the middle of the collection, so although she's certainly usable, she's also nothing special.  Even among the Mystic Casters, you'll get more value out of Harmonie or Indigo with their built-in control.

Q:  What does the upcoming pull priority look like?

A:  I didn't want this to be a regular part of this article, but with every patch releasing some new insane unit, I feel the need to add it again.  It's lucky then that I'm taking over the "Should You Pull" article series!  If you want my general opinion on the upcoming pull priorities, check out that article where it should be a regular feature of the series as long as I'm writing it.  It's linked above.

Yes, I am saying this twice here.  I figured a lot of people probably glossed over the first question, so you get it twice.

Q: Any Module thoughts this patch?

A:  EN - Episode 13 - The Whirlpool That Is Passion

  • Fortress Base Effect - The damage portion of the base effect here is pretty good.  It scales nicely to really boost their output.  The blocking requirement isn't ideal, but the +ATK stats that come with it make it worthwhile regardless.  The caveat may hold it back from being an absurd base effect, but the base Module is still very worth it on all of them.
  • Horn - Horn's upgrades are somewhat like Eyja1's.  They are great damage increases and have a meaningful impact.  Horn's are especially valuable since she gains a huge amount of stats even on the upgrades which usually have comparatively low stat gains.  However, like Eyja1 it's not *exactly* an essential upgrade given the short supply of blocks.  It's still a high priority upgrade, but in the terms I usually use in this guide, they're more like A-tier upgrades instead of S-tier, especially since Horn has a bit of a tough time in the current IS iteration.  Also be aware that Horn does NOT get the no-deploy caveat that Schwarz and Eyja1 get, although that doesn't change too much here since Horn herself is the main beneficiary of the buff.
  • Ashlock and Firewhistle - The usual "good but not meta" 5★ spiel applies here.  Their upgrades are great for the rarity and worth getting if you use either of them.  However, they aren't essential themselves, so don't rush anything beyond the base Module if you only use them on occasion.
  • Ebenholz - What a neat little addition!  You would think this would mean we would see more third Modules in the future, yet this Module made it the 7 months to global without another.  Odd.  Anyway, Ebenholz's Third Module is generally regarded as his best.  It has a higher damage output than the other two in most cases, and the Necrosis damage adds a healthy dose of damage that evades the RES which typically plagues him (assuming that RES isn't so high he can't apply it in the first place).  If you only occasionally use Ebenholz or already have one of his original Module upgrades, then the costs here probably won't justify the investment of a fully leveled Module.  This Module is a good one, but doesn't change Ebenholz's overall meta value.  However, if you're a regular Ebenholz enjoyer, this is definitely a Module to grab.

CN (lookahead) - Operation Lucent Arrowhead

While the Lucent Arrowhead patch is extremely new as I write this, I think that the Sentinel Modules are pretty straight forward.  They're also extremely relevant given it coincides with Jessica2's release on global, so I'll take the chance to address them in this update.  Fingers crossed I don't regret doing this early.

  • Sentinel - I did these last update, so check that writeup for those if you missed them.  They aren't too special though.
  • Ela - Ela is an insane unit and her Module is a big part of it.  Crit Modules tend to be pretty valuable, and Ela gets some really big boosts and a good chunk of ATK.  Ela is a super meta unit, so definitely plan for the full mod3 with her.
  • Ash - Ash's second Module is her better one in terms of damage.  If you use her a lot then it's worth a look.  However, meta-wise Ash has been on the weak side for a while now and her new Module doesn't change that.  It's especially painful coming up behind Ela who is hypermeta and very similar.
  • Iana - Iana's Module is a very interesting one due to how her kit works.  In theme, her kit is a reverse Dollkeeper, but in terms of game mechanics, "she" is still the Substitute which leads to some odd implications with her Module.  Since the Substitute is the only part of her kit that does damage, the base Module effect is just a straight DPS increase which is pretty good!  Additionally, since the Substitute isn't a "Summon" in the mechanical sense (but Kazemaru's S2 is!) Iana's DPS likewise benefits from the extra stats too.

    Her upgrades are also nuanced.  They're a sizable increase to her Fragile, however her Fragile is single target and only applied off of her Talent.  If you manually activate S2, there's no Fragile effect!  It's a good increase, but it is not at all easy to get it applied where you want.  They're worthwhile upgrades for off-meta players who want to maximize their Iana usage, but your average player probably won't find the cost vs effort to be worth it.  Also keep in mind that Fragile doesn't stack, so if you plan to run a lot of R6 OPs, Ela will cover that better without the extra investment.

  • Fuze and Doc - Subpar units with subpar Modules.  I'm only including this here so you don't think I forgot.

Q: "The shilling myself question"

A:  If you missed it in the previous updates, I published my first fictional work.  You can find the clean version of it over on AO3 here.

I also recently published a new article which dives into all the gory details of Elemental Damage, which you can find linked below.

Episode 13 - The Whirlpool That Is Passion - From Gleams And Smoke I Emerge


S3M3 A A- B+
S1M3 B B- B+
S2M3 C C C

Hoederer is not an easy unit when it comes to Mastery investment. While most 6★s have a standout skill, Hoederer's main skill doesn't stand out to near the same degree. All of his skills have potential value depending on the situation! If you want to maximize your Hoederer usage, then you will likely want the full M9. However, that is extremely expensive so most people won't want to go that far. So be aware that selecting the skills to pursue is tricky! Use your best judgment here for what you want out of him.

That said, his S3 is still generally the skill to start with. It's a weird skill. Its uptime compared to downtime is very unusual, mixed with health drain on an already fragile body and some RNG. However, while up, it has a ton of damage, sustain, and control. The bigger flaw is actually the 50 second downtime, during which he has no form of sustain. But supposing you can survive that, his S3 has the most impact in total which tends to make it his primary skill.

As for secondary skills, the split in usage between his S1 and S2 is fairly even, however I would suggest his S1 for Mastery over S2. His S2 is more commonly used and still has worthwhile Masteries. The additional ATK on an always up passive is valuable. However, it is mainly used for its reliable stun which isn't affected by Mastery. If you're trying to stunlock a long wind-up enemy, S2 will usually be just as effective at S2SL7 as it is at S2M3.

Meanwhile, his S1 is a great sustain skill for when S3's downtime is unmanageable. While the long attack interval of a Crusher can be a problem, it still triggers a huge gain in HP every third attack which makes up for a lot of the Crusher's flaws. As long as he can attack, he can sustain through some pretty harsh lanes. Mastery is a big factor for that since the SP cost drops from 3 to 2 at S1M3. That's huge on an Attack Recovery skill on a 2.5 second interval! Compared to the Mastery gains on his S2, the Mastery gains on his S1 matter much more if you can't afford the full M9.


S2M3 None

Vendela is a weak showing of the potential of Incantation Medics. Her utility is extremely situational, and not very useful even in those situations, which leaves her with just OK damage and OK but unreliable healing. While that mix is enough to make her usable, it leaves Vendela as a desire-only promotion.

In that case, either of her skills are options, which is often the case in units with weak utility. Her S2 is that weak utility, but it is relatively unique and is the skill more likely to matter in those special situations she can potentially excel in. Her S1 may make for a better daily driver skill if you want to maximize your Vendela usage. It has a better uptime and does not rely on the reflect. However, the gap between her two skills is not particularly great. Without the reflect, S1M3 only out-DPS's S2M3 by less than 100 DPS, a total easily made up by the reflect. For most, S2 will be sufficient.


S2M3 None

Verdant is a bad unit. He has poor damage on bad cycles and should not be invested in. With S2 his damage is only average for a 4★ which is already off to a bad start. In addition, while using S2, he kills himself in 20 attacks (13.3 seconds). This is a problem in the archetype since it extends their downtime by an additional 20 seconds when changing to the doll, but at least on other Dollkeepers, they have good DPS and other mitigations to make up for that downside. Verdant has no such benefit, resulting in incredibly poor total DPS damage on a very long cycle time and no other upside.

There's very little reason to invest any resources into Verdant. If Dollkeepers interest you, every other Dollkeeper is better, including the freely available Bena. But, if you *really* insist on pursuing Mastery on Verdant, then still go with S2. Despite being a bad DPS skill, it's better than no DPS skill as his S1 is essentially useless. Even 4★ only players will rarely find any use out of it, although technically he can break 3000 HP with a full Module and S1M3 which may matter on some extremely rare occasions.


S2M3 None

Delphine is a decent 5★ with a good design and reasonable damage. However, a complete lack of utility means she's still relatively low value in a meta context, and thus ungraded. However, she is reasonably popular and her damage is good enough to reasonably consider her Masteries as a personal desire upgrade. In such a case, you will likely want to stick with her S2 which is where a lot of her damage will come from. The HP threshold may be annoying at times, but it synergizes well with her Talent, and will result in better outcomes when properly planned.

Her S1 is a typical Mystic Caster S1. It can build charges fast when the ranges properly line up, but that isn't an easy thing to accomplish and her S2 will usually be better. S1 Masteries are for Delphine maximalists only.

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, risk 18 on CC permanent stages, and the SSS game mode.

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 or IS#3).  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 IS#3, only up to Ascension 7 (trimmed medal) is considered for grades, however write-ups may include suggestions for higher Ascensions.

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

The new Rainbox 6 collab units from Operation Lucent Arrowhead are added down below. Babel units will be added next update, but early reviews are... not good. Ascalon looks like a Mizuki side-grade at best. Aroma looks potentially worse than Corroserum which is actually pretty impressive. However at least Odda and Lutonada look pretty decent! Oh well, I don't think anyone will complain about time to save before the big 5th Anniversary limited.

Zwillingstürme im Herbst
Caper Red Certs While recent non-6★ of new archetypes have been very undertuned, Caper is an exception who makes for a pretty nice low-rarity DPS unit. She has a good stat spread, strong DPS, a unique range, and doesn't seem to be as impacted by ASPD debuffs as other units. On the other hand, she has little utility, and meta-chasers won't find any value in what she brings. Still, niche players will find her to be a quite nice addition, and she's probably even good enough to justify the cert cost for newer players. S2 will be the skill for Mastery. It has far better damage thanks to the extra projectile. S1 doesn't do anything special and doesn't have good damage numbers for an Offensive Recovery skill of its nature.

tl;dr S2 modestly graded. Pass on S1.
Diamante Red Certs Diamante has gone pretty well under the radar, and that's largely because he's probably the least interesting unit in the patch. He's awkwardly set up to do most of his damage to units already under Elemental fallout, but the units best at applying Elemental fallout (Virtuosa and Ebenholz) don't need his help. He also isn't great at applying Necrosis himself, and even in the best case scenarios, his damage isn't particularly noteworthy. Add on a 600 red cert cost and you get a unit that’s not really worth the cost. That said, I wouldn't be too shocked if he shows up in some niche clears as a source of pseudo-True Damage, but even that will depend on if other Elemental damage dealers line-up with the niche theme. In such rare cases, either skill might have potential. His S1 is probably best in an isolated vacuum since it's the skill that can actually apply Necrosis, but S2 will out damage it if paired with other Elemental units.

tl;dr Likely ungraded, but both skills may be options.
Lessing Welfare After a strong start, the 6★ Welfares really fell off a cliff and that trend continues with Lessing. He's in a natively bad archetype and has meaningless utility, resulting in a unit with no good place on a roster. Self status removal seems an odd choice to design a unit around given that Lumen (another welfare) can already do it for everyone. There's a decent chance Lessing becomes the second ungraded 6★ after Vigil. If he does pick up a grade, it will be on his S3 which is the most impactful in total. Husbando and Welfare players will probably want his S2 as well, but for the general player, the effective cycle is far too long to be useful.

tl;dr Potentially ungraded. Lean S3, if desired.
Bassline Gacha Bassline is the best gacha 5★ in quite a while. He fills a strong basic role with plenty of niche value that makes him a pretty appealing consideration. His S1 is identical to Nearl (Defender) but he overall trades some healing effectiveness for bulk. Although like Nearl, the choice to invest in him rather than the much cheaper (and great in IS) Gummy is a fair question. His S2 adds some unexpectedly great additional niche value as well. It is the single best no-damage-stall skill currently available (think the UT gas cans / eggs or flowers) with a full 60 second uptime (20 seconds more than Nearl's S2), and the external Arts mitigation is also rare. To be clear, that niche will rarely see practical use. But it’s still worth nothing that he’s the increasingly rare kind of 5★ with the potential to appear in advanced end-game content.

tl;dr S1 well graded, similar to Nearl S1. S2 is a good Advanced stall option, but probably ungraded like other similar skills.
Viviana Gacha It's not really fair to compare Viviana to Surtr, who is one of the best units in the game. However, it's rather inevitable. It's also useful, I think, to show why Viviana is a below average 6★. Viviana lacks everything that makes Surtr so good, resulting in an ultimately subpar unit with little upside. She does cap out at some very high Arts DPS from a melee tile, which is natively a pretty strong niche to have, but the upside ends there. She has a long wind-up, no RES-shred, heavy RNG, a focus on "dueling", and no self-sustain. Whereas Surtr is brain-dead drop and delete, Viviana is quite a bit harder to use for usually far worse results. S3 will be her main, and probably only, skill for Mastery. It has the highest DPS and limits the RNG to her shields rather than her damage. There won't be much need to invest beyond that. S2 is decent enough, taken alone, but in places where it's better than S3, you should probably be using a different unit instead. The extra block will often result in her shields getting eaten up by trash hits.

tl;dr S3 likely the only graded skill, with mid-tier grades.
Virtuosa Gacha Limited Virtuosa (a.k.a. Arturia) is a remarkably unique unit. While most "unique" units end up being quite niche or gimmicky, Virtuosa is very powerful as she is the first unit to truly exploit the potential of friendly Elemental Damage. I do not have the space here to give a full write-up of the Necrosis effects, but the important part is that, when triggered, it effectively deals 12k True Damage. This is more than enough to kill most basic mobs and many elites, and Arturia can often trigger it on large groups with her Talent alone! She is currently the best "sweeper" in most situations, while also being similarly effective against bosses.

S3 will be her primary graded skill, with S1 somewhere behind. S3 triggers the Necrosis Fallout incredibly fast on all targets in a wide area. S1 will be more situational, but at S1M3 she begins with a full 3 charges which allows her to heli-drop the Necrosis Fallout effect against even bosses. Her S2 will probably be a pass. It's still good, but she's so good with her other skills there's rarely reason to bring another unit into the fold.

Lest I oversell her, there are two drawbacks to keep in mind. First, enemies can have both resistance to the Elemental Damage itself and to the resulting damage. Only enemies from her initial event currently have either resistance, which is why she is so powerful, but like normal RES with Casters, if it becomes more common, it will severely limit her. Second, her DPS isn't actually that high. As HP pools bloat in difficult content, she will become less and less effective compared to more traditional DPS options.

tl;dr S3 top-tier graded. S1 next and also high-graded. S2 possibly low-graded.
The Rides to Lake Silberneherze
Harold Welfare One has to wonder why Harold exists (As a unit, not as a character. As a character, he’s fantastic). There are already two 5★ Wandering Medics who are both good, and now a 6★ one as well, who is broken, so the design space is already pretty crowded. Harold straddles the line somewhere between the two Berries. He has better regular healing than Honeyberry S1, but a better cycle than Mulberry’s S2. That’s useful, especially if Harold fits into your niche or preferences, but anyone with either Berry or Eyja already raised won’t find him useful. His S2 will be graded similar to the Berries. The numbers between S1 and S2 are very comparable, but S2 has the additional Elemental Healing, which doesn’t leave much benefit for S1.

tl;dr S2 graded similar to Honeyberry/Mulberry S1.
Leto / Лето Gacha A Physical based Guard isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Being Physical is why SilverAsh is so good, for example. However, Leto just doesn’t hit hard enough and has no other real benefit to compensate. At max she tops out at around 1.6k ATK which is enough to punch through some basic DEF, but not tough DEF. She doesn’t bring much else to the table either. Aside from her DPS, she has almost no utility. Only Rosa’s S2 really benefits from her buff, and she has an awkward and unnecessary drawback. Overall, she is functional enough that she may find use in various niche clears but not much else. Leto will be ungraded, but go with S2 if you plan to raise her anyway. It has the higher ATK which she needs to puncture armor as well as the usual Lord benefits.

tl;dr Likely ungraded. Strongly favor S2, if desired.
Degenbrecher Gacha There’s an angry rant brewing, come Degenbrecher’s global release. I don’t get too fussed by powercreep in general, but Degenbrecher does it by tossing out one of the basic design principles of her archetype. She has Auto Recovery on her S3 instead of Offensive Recovery, which every other Swordmaster skill before this has had. And, shockingly (/s), it makes her really good. Her S3 is quite literally Irene’s S3 but better. AAAAAAAAAAA- ahem. Anyway, Degenbrecher teeters on the EX-tier with very strong burst damage on a competitive cycle. She also brings a new keyword, Tremble, which like previous new keywords will have to have specific coded immunities on enemies which gives her a leg up versus other forms of control. Her S3 will be among the highest graded skills in the guide. As mentioned, the Auto Recovery gives it a huge advantage and it also happens to be her best damage too. Only S3 is necessary for Mastery, but both S1 and S2 can make justifiable secondaries. S1 for AFK memes, but S2 otherwise with its shorter potential cycle and a reliable Tremble trigger.

tl;dr S3 is an easy S++ skill. S1 and S2 may get moderate grades as well, but neither compares to S3.
To The Grinning Valley
Warmy Gacha Releasing the 5★ Primal Caster for Burn before any Burn Ritualist is such a Hypergryph thing to do. Ugh. Regardless of who is released down the road though, I wouldn't expect any assessment of Warmy to change. Primal Casters are in a bad spot by default since they are reliant on another unit and are mediocre at applying the Elemental effect themselves. That's true for Diamante, and Warmy's kit is nearly a copy paste of his so the assessment ends up the same. She does enough damage to be usable if you want, but there just won't be any good meta justification, especially among the vast oceans of 5★ Caster options. As with Diamante, the skill selection is a pick your poison. S1 will allow her to inflict Burn, but is not very good at it. S2 relies on someone else to inflict Burn, but will do more damage in that case.

tl;dr Likely ungraded, but both skills may be options.
Ray Gacha Guards get a lot of flak lately (rightly so tbf) but what about Snipers? With Ray there are now four hyper-meta Snipers that tread the EX line. Ray is a single target specialist who hits extremely hard with a ton of flexibility and range. She's well designed too, showing how a kit can make use of the Hunter Trait, which Coldshot failed to do. Despite some stiff competition, Ray shows a ton of potential. Ch'en remains the go to Sniper for area sweeping, but Ray seems to show a higher ceiling than Pozemka or Typhon for single target DPS. She stole the crown of top Sniper pick from Typhon in the most recent CN IS#4 tournament for example! However, she is a very high skill ceiling unit and many people will prefer Typhon's simplicity compared to micromanaging Ray's pet. As for Masteries, S3 is the clear winner and will be another S++ graded skill. The secondary skill is harder to suss out and Ray could end up a graded M9, although both S1 and S2 will be comparatively low priority. I favor S1 for the really fun tech it enables. With her pet she can Shift at angles that more classical Shifters can't hit. S2 meanwhile may appear as an AFK skill but actually requires a lot of micromanagement to work with her ammo mechanic. It's a good skill, but seems to have a fairly small niche over S3.

tl;dr S3 top-tier grades. S1 and S2 possible lower-end grades.
Here a People Sow
Wanqing Welfare Hey, a good 5★! It only took being added on to an already good archetype. Much like Harold, Wangqing exists in a pretty crowded space. It's good by default which makes him notable, but you only need so many Vanguards. Although largely redundant, Wanqing brings some new and viable utility which should make him an option to consider. His DP generation and uptime are identical to Elysium so he should be graded similar to him, with the difference mostly coming down to the utility the situation calls for. New players and Advanced players will find him quite nice for a welfare, although Story players will mostly find him to be just another option among a sea of many, especially with Agents being in the fray as well.

tl;dr Both skills should be well graded options, similar to other Flagbearers. Favor S2 first with S1 being a more advanced luxury.
Grain Buds Gacha A rather average 5★ which, given recent trends, I suppose is better than normal. Grain Buds is really nothing special. She isn't really bad but doesn't really do anything special either. Just sort of filler that's difficult to find much to say about. She’s a modern replacement to Istina who was pretty fringe herself. If she appeals to you or you play any low rarity niche, then S2 is the target since she can reach 100% Slow uptime for the skill duration on a pretty good cycle. However, neither her DPS or utility has much general value.

tl;dr Ungraded, but favor S2, if desired.
Zuo Le Gacha Another busted Guard. At least Shu is broken in an interesting way. Zuo Le is just the latest entrant in the ever growing power spike. He's quite comparable to Executor the Ex Foedere in his gameplay, although he relies more on rapid skill activations. This makes him quite adept at low operator clears since he can keep up with even heavy rushes. I ultimately think he falls a bit under Executor and other recent Guards though. His DPH isn't especially high and he requires quite a bit more micromanagement and planning to use. That is nitpicking though, which is necessary given the recent powercreep. Zuo Le is extremely good and will be well graded. He's likely to be an M6 consideration, with S3 probably being the better graded. The instant duration and burst of his S3 plays better into his skill spam niche since S2 ends up with a longer skill cycle, although the reliable Barrier and extra block on S2 make it worth a solid look as well. His S1 might have some value as an AFK skill, but with no way to control his HP or Barrier, it falls more into the classic Musha problems.

tl;dr Strong M6. Top graded S3. Same grade or slightly lower for S2.
Shu Gacha Limited Oh boy. Shu is... difficult to assess. She is the most broken operator we've ever gotten, although I don't mean that in the way it's typically used. She isn't the "strongest" but rather she quite literally breaks the game in places. On top of that, her Sui Talent is incredibly powerful (and frustratingly toxic since it's locked behind Limiteds). It makes her painful to assess in write-ups like this. Is she a must pull or is she a pass among a sea of busted DPS? Honestly, it's hard to say. Attempting to look beyond that weirdness, she is a very solid Guardian with incredible healing numbers and stall potential that should see her with regular use. S3 will be the first target for Mastery which has some pretty serious gains for her core use. S1 will be well graded behind it, likely with the same grade as Saria's S1 (they're identical except in name). Her S2 is the final choice which is her best raw healing skill, although that usage trails a little behind the other two.

tl;dr At least M6, S3 > S1. S2 a consideration as well.
Reclamation Algorithm 2
Kestrel Welfare Kestrel fills a hole at the rarity which has been missing since launch. The offensive oriented 5★ Pioneers focus more on burst rather than fighting prowess so Kestrel fills a gap between Scavenger and Siege. Too bad she came out in year five of the game instead of year one then. Pioneer value has been in the toilet for years now and she comes right on the heels of a much better welfare at the same rarity, Wanqing. Niche players may be able to extract some value out of her, but in general, Pioneers just have no role in the current metagame. Even brand new players won't be able to benefit from her since she's locked behind the RA2 shop (although that may change if we also get the compensation currency that CN got)!

tl;dr Ungraded, but S2 is the better option.
Operation Lucent Arrowhead
Doc Welfare Doc is better than the existing 5★ Instructors, but not by much. He has decent enough DPS on his S1 to be functional on his own, and the healing on his S2 is high enough to have some potential in niche clears. However, as a general unit he's pretty mediocre. The tendency of R6 ops to have limited uses is a huge limiting factor on Doc. The fact it's on both of his skills is especially painful. He's basically a dead spot on the field after only a minute! Unfortunately Doc is a bottom tier 5★ and will be a pass for all but heavy niche players. There was potential in his kit, but it just quite wasn't realized.

tl;dr Ungraded. Both skills have flaws, so pick your poison, but probably lean S1.
Fuze Collab Gacha Fuze is thematic design taken too far. I absolutely appreciate how HG designs the R6 units with their R6 kits at the front. Most of the time it works to good effect too, however in Fuze's case it ends up being really awkward. The implementation here doesn't translate well into Arknights and we're left with a really awkward S2 that is very hard to use for subpar damage. Fortunately for Fuze, he's a Centurion who are natively good. Instead of his S2, look towards his S1. He still isn't a great Centurion compared to his competition, but at least makes a functional wave clearer with some unique utility. Although his low DPH is a major hindrance, leaving him more comparable to Savage than to Specter or Broca.

tl;dr Ungraded. Favor S1 for daily use, although S2 is an option as well if you want more unique use out of him.
Iana Collab Gacha I'm not sure how Iana exists in the same patch as Fuze and Doc. While the latter two are painfully mediocre and exemplify the recent design flaws in the non-6★ rarities, Iana somehow ends up being a shining beacon of hope. She's well designed with a kit that is synergetic, flavorful, useful, and unique. Of course, as a 5★ she isn't meta by any means and Kazemaru is still notably better in the role. However, Iana will be a great option for anyone who likes looking a bit beyond the meta.

Be aware that Iana's kit has a bit more nuance than the text indicates (this is true on CN also and is not a translation issue). If her S2 is ready, it automatically activates when her Talent is triggered with no user interaction. Additionally, S2's duration (10s) doesn't match the "dolls" duration (20s) so she only has the extra ASPD for half of the doll duration, meaning S2's downtime is 15 seconds, and not 5 like you might assume. This remains true even if you manually activate S2.

tl;dr S2 graded a bit under Kazemaru. S1 notable, but probably ungraded.
Ela Collab Gacha I'm running out of words to describe powercreep. I wish I'd saved the word "insane" because that's what Ela is, and it's remarkable that in an era of extreme powercreep, a unit manages to make the use of that word not seem like hyperbole. Ela has insane damage and a ton of utility. She directly powercreeps or heavily encroaches on the niches of more units than anyone before her. She's better than the Marksmen, competitive with Ray and Typhon (Ela has more damage but Ray/Typhon still have range), pairs better with other meta DPS than Suzuran, and is more powerful than Dorothy with better team utility. She even knocks Texas2 and Yato2 down a peg by being a really good Specialist pick in IS! If you care about meta at all, Ela is a must pull unit. Now, there is plenty of nuance in there,but she does so much that it's hard to summarize in a single paragraph like this. A lot of words will be said in this article series when she finally arrives. As far as Masteries go, her S3 is head and shoulders above everything else. Much of why she is so meta is tied to her S3 which lowers the potential value of her other skills. At least she has the decency to not demand the expensive M6 like many meta units do!

tl;dr S3 will be an S++ Mastery. Both S1 and S2 may also be graded (flexibility on a meta unit), but pale in comparison to her S3.
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Lost redditor, April simp, and Mastery guru
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