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  1. Perhaps, it's tough to know what the consensus opinion on each ability is. My perception is that Smash is that Smash tends to get taken for granted when talking about Maddening strategy. People will mention the strength of the Swift Strikes/Hunter's Volley, they'll suggest that everyone picks up a bow to learn Curved Shot, but they typically won't note Smash specifically (instead lumping all other combat arts together under the aegis of 'don't be afraid to use combat arts'). I would wager that most people use Smash pretty regularly early on in NG Maddening playthroughs, but I think that most players aren't actively making plans to acquire it or take advantage of it. People don't have the mindset 'I need to get to D axes to get Smash', they have the mindset of 'I need to get to at least D+ axes to get into Brigand' and then pick up Smash by circumstance.
  2. The first one that springs to mind for me is akin to your description for Resonant White Magic: the combat art Smash. I think it gets discounted because it's a combat art that a number of units start the game with (learned at D axes), but it is tremendously useful in the maddening early game. It's expensive from a durability standpoint, but it gives a bonus 20 hit% (as well as some extra might), and that is vital given how inaccurate axes are. When people talk about combat arts, the Brave Arts (Swift Strikes, Hunter's Volley, Point Blank Volley) get most of the love, while Curved Shot is probably the most utilitarian combat art in the game (and deservedly so). But Smash is a tremendously useful tool in the early game. Particularly on my NG run, I found myself using the combat art regularly to ensure killing an enemy unit near the end of a turn cycle. The other one thing(s) that I'm partial to that tends not to get much love are the primary weapon triangle enforcing abilities: Swordbreaker, Lancebreaker, and Axebreaker. It seems as though many players here lean heavily on strategies that primarily use only one or two physical weapon classes (typically lances for Swift Strikes/Vengeance and maybe bows for Hunter's Volley), but if you actually use a diversified array of units it is isn't difficult to ensure that you always have the weapon triangle advantage, and +30 Hit/Avoid is a huge benefit in landing hits and avoiding damage. And using these abilities in dodgetank builds, particularly in conjunction with Alert Stance/Alert Stance+, takes those units from evasive to unhittable. If you build a sword-, a lance-, and an axe-dodgetank, you're party can bait out just about any physical attack in the game. Bowbreaker and Tomebreaker (and I supposed FIstbreaker even though it doesn't practically exist) are fine, but I've never found them nearly as useful as the main weapon triangle skills. Bowbreaker is unnecessary since any melee character can avoid counterattacks just by fighting archers at one range and Tomebreaker is usually not required to allow gauntlet-based units kill mages in one round of attacks.
  3. I think Petra is a comparable dodgetank to Ingrid for physical attacks, but Ingrid is significantly better than Petra regarding magic attacks. Since magic and physical avoid rates are calculated differently in Three Houses, it isn't uncommon for physical hit rates to by down in the 10% range (which are low enough to effectively be zero) while magic hit rates are still in the 30+% range (which is too large to ignore). (The big difference is that physical avoid has a component based on Action Speed, while magical avoid gets (Speed + Luck)/2. For really fast units like Petra or Ingrid, this can result in a loss of 10-20% evasion on magic attacks.) Ingrid doesn't get significantly more evasion on magic attacks than Petra, but she take the hit much, much more easily due to her monster resistance and typical end game class (Falcon Knight). Meanwhile, Petra has one of the lowest resistance growths in the game, and typically ends up in a low resistance class (Wyvern Lord). Overall, I think Petra is a stronger unit than Ingrid, but I think if you're looking purely for a dodgetank Ingrid is the better all around option.
  4. When I was trying out a Wyvern Cyril I was using axes. And compared to the other Wyvern units I've used it was a poor build. Not fast enough to double and not accurate enough. I'd not thought of doing a bow-centered build for wyvern, since it seems like it would hurt to give up a class-based X-faire ability and effectively forgoing the possibility of getting to S+ weapon proficiency since you don't get a class bonus there. I'd really worry about damage output as you get towards the end of the game when enemy HP tends to balloon. I've never favored the brave combat art approach to maddening. Typically by the time you gain access to those combat arts the units in your party already have access to Darting Blow. It makes the combat arts unnecessary, and typically those units are significantly more survivable on enemy phase just due to their speed (and that's before considering things like Alert Stance and X-breaker skills).
  5. Point Blank Volley (and more generally Hunter's Volley) are both good combat arts that work in the more aggressive strategy. I did neglect to mention those. I assumed Hunter's Volley was a given, but it's fair to give Point Blank Volley particular note (for both Cyril and Leonie). Cyril has comparable base speed growth as the other fast units in the game, but has likely won't get need the other units in terms of speed. First, Cyril starts out with only 6 base speed (compared to 9+ for most of the other fast units I mentioned). Second, Cyril is a male and so does not get access to Darting Blow, which is tremendously useful in the midgame until the speed growth rates can make a real difference. And third, Cyril is best served as an archer of some sort (he has serious accuracy issues if you send him down the Wyvern class progression), and those classes (archer, sniper, bow knight) do not provide any sort of bonus to speed growth that the other units are likely to take advantage of (even if you're doing a Wyvern Lord Petra you're still able to pick up Darting Blow pretty easily and spend some time as a Pegasus Knight). I've trying using Cyril on Maddening and he just doesn't make the cut as a good unit.
  6. Maddening NG with no divine pulses, particularly if you are unfamiliar with maddening, is a bad idea. The game is plenty hard on maddening even with divine pulses, and unless you've memorized the game script the same-turn reinforcements can easily kill a unit out of nowhere. The plus side is that the first few missions of the game are some of the toughest, so you should have a good idea of the scale of how difficult it is early in the run. The biggest challenge in Maddening is dealing with enemy units' insane speed. There are two general strategies to combat this: Rely on units with powerful combat arts to ORKO enemies before they can attack or rely on extremely fast units in fast classes to ensure they can't be followed up. Personally, I prefer the latter route particularly if you're doing Pulse-less run, as getting ORKOs generally requires never missing with the combat arts, and misses do have a tendency to happen. If you're going with the former strategy, the key units are Ferdinand (Swift Strikes), Sylvain (Swift Strikes), Seteth (Swift Strikes), and Bernadetta (Vengeance). Swift Strikes allows for two consecutive attacks prior to an enemy counterattack, which provides the opportunity to kill an enemy before damage is returned. Throw in some mages/archers and maybe a warmaster and you have a team. The weakness of the strategy is that it heavily taxes your weapon durability (non trivial through the midgame), it leans heavily on lances (enemies with the lancebreaker skill will be extremely dangerous), and if your units start taking attacks they will be torn through like paper. If you're going for the latter strategy, the key units will be Petra, Felix, Ingrid, and Leonie. These are the units with the highest speed growths in the game, and typically want to be put in classes that further enhance it. Further, its straightforward to turn these units into dodgetanks such that physical units will pose very little threat to you for most of the game. Ensure that from this group you have at least one sword-user, one lance-user, and one axe-user (I like Assassin Felix, Falcon Knight Ingrid, and Wyvern Lord Petra) to take advantage of axebreaker, swordbreaker, and lancebreaker respectively, tack on Alert Stance/Alert Stance+ and be on your way. Again, throw in some mages/archers and maybe a warmaster and you have a team. The downside to this strategy is that its more micromanaging. You need to pay attention to the classic weapon triangle and make sure that you have the right units taking attacks from the right enemies. The upside is that when it's functioning properly, you units can have avoidance rates of over 100%. It's very satisfying to see an enemy attack one of your units and only have a 12% chance to hit.
  7. The devs are always tweaking the relative power of different abilities. Some of it is reactive to problems in previous games, some if it is addressing the mechanics that are introduced in a new game. Personally, I'm happy the devs are willing to adjust things to keep the games interesting instead of letting the same broken combos persist through every game in the franchise.
  8. The only note I'll give on your initial plan is that if you want to have Leonie end up in Bow Knight, you're better off putting her in Sniper as an Advanced class than Paladin. Hit+20 is very nice to counteract the range penalties from shooting at 4 range, and a Bow Knight shouldn't be taking enough attacks to make Aegis valuable. I agree with the others here that Felix and Petra are gimme recruits, as their stat growths are best non-lords in the game for physical combat. Ingrid makes for a fantastic dodge-tank if you send her into Falcon Knight, but she can require a fairly intensive class progression to make her an effective offensive weapon. It's manageable, but you need to get on it quickly. Mages are a bit trickier. Lysithea will be your default magic nuke. I like using Mercedes as a dedicated healer in Bishop, as she has the best healing spell list in the game and a great personal ability for a healer. After that, you'll likely want at least one more mage and possibly two. Hapi and Constance are attractive options if you have the DLC. Marianne is roughly on the same tier as those two, as she has a weaker Reason spell list, but better a better Faith spell list. Dorothea is probably your best option for a fourth mage if you want to go magic heavy if you don't have the DLC, as she might have the best Reason spell list in the game even if she lacks raw magic power. But she's a decent step behind the others mentioned. It wouldn't be the worst idea to recruit someone with the idea of making them a War Master eventually, as the class is fantastic and Quick Riposte is preposterously good. However...the road to get just about any unit into War Master is a slog. Unfortunately, most of the units that would want to go into that class (Raphael, Caspar, Alois, Bathlus, Dedue) really take a hit in value until on Maddening. They'll likely be burdens until you get them Quick Riposte, at which point they will be high damage dealers that don't require much babysitting. It's your call if you want to bother.
  9. I don't think have different characters peak at different times is necessarily bad. Fire Emblem as a franchise is well known for having one or two disproportionately strong characters in the party at the start of the game, only for them to fall off in utility as it progresses. The Wyvern Lord Annette build on Maddening is...OK? I've tried it on Maddening NG+, and I'd hesitate to go any further than that. It's also much stronger on the BL route, since you gain access to the Crusher. The benefit in the past to the build was that it was one of the few ways you could get good magic damage on a mounted unit. Now that the DLC is out and the Dark Flier and Valkyrie classes are a thing, it's less of a benefit. Wyvern is primarily designed to be a physical class, while Annette is intended to be a mage unit, so their stat growths aren't totally in line. There's a 15% growth rate difference in magic between most of the magic classes and the wyvern classes, so you'd be losing out on some amount of raw magic power. Similarly, no matter what benefit you get from Wyvern Rider/Lord, they won't make up for Annette's poor growths in strength, defense, or speed. Even in a Wyvern class, she isn't going to be a front line fighter. Additionally, the Bolt Axe is not a panacea either. It's powerful and can get up to 3 range (with Bolt Axe+), but it is very heavy, inaccurate, and expensive to repair. Even with Wyvern Rider/Lord base strength, Annette's going to be taking a pretty significant AS penalty for using the weapon and her speed isn't fantastic to begin with. You should expect her to attacking as a mage would be attacking (i.e. getting one attack per combat and getting doubled by most enemy units). No only that, but even though the weapon triangle is much reduced in this game it still exists, particularly in Maddening. Magic attacks typically operate outside of this, allowing for consistent accuracy against most enemy types. But many sword users will have Axebreaker, which will give them bonus avoid against Annette's magic attacks. And the Bolt Axe has a base accuracy of 60%, which will be 20-30% less than most magic spells you'd be using on a regular basis. That doesn't sound like much, but accuracy issues are a real concern on Maddening. In my playthrough using Wyvern Lord Annette, she was very similar to a standard mage in terms of utility. She was perhaps a little stronger in terms of magic power (though that might be due to how I generally use lower power, more accurate spells with most of my mages), but had poor accuracy. Is it useable? As much as any other character in the game. Is it standout good? Not particularly.
  10. I was only talking about Annette's value as a mage. Annette (along with Ignatz) is a very good rally unit. Unfortunately, you can't really have a unit perform well as both a rally unit and a mage. Units only get one action per turn, so you have to choose. Annette is totally usable early because of her Rally abilities on Blue Lion runs, and during that time she's an adequate mage. But she just doesn't increase in value nearly as much as most units in the game as the game progresses.
  11. Annette is frowned upon as a mage not because of her stats, but because of her spell list. All of her reason list is effectively 1-2 range generic attack spells. She doesn't get a 3-range spell like Thoron or Banshee. She doesn't get a siege magic spell like Bolting or Meteor. The only spell that she gets that attacks a weakness is Excalibur, but it only gets bonus damage on fliers, which you can get anyway with any bow. And doesn't get the best high-end power spells like Agnea's Arrow or Hades. And her Faith list is just terrible. She doesn't get Physic, which is the default spell for healing in this game. She doesn't get any mass healing. She doesn't get any utility spell like Rescue, Warp, or Ward. And she doesn't get any useful attack spells like Seraphim or Luna. Pretty much every other character in the game who is intended to be a mage can check at least one of these boxes. Many mages can check multiple boxes from this list. Annette doesn't check any of them. Her stats are fine, even good, for a mage, particularly in the early game. But as other mages get more utility with their spell lists, Annette's value plummets. This is a harder question to answer. You can make ballpark estimations for expected stat growth by looking at the growth rates for individual classes and making an educated guess at how long each unit will be in each class. It's usually a safe assumption the units will be in commoner/noble from 1-4, beginner classes from 5-9 (5 level), intermediate from 10-19 (10 levels), advanced from 20-29 (10 levels), and master from 30-45 (~15 levels). The only big exception here is for units that stop at Advanced classes for a given playthrough (e.g. Assassins and Paladins). And if you plan to split time between classes in a tier, you can split the levels accordingly. For example, let's do a compare and contrast of two common builds for Ferdinand: Paladin and Wyvern Lord. Let's assume that in both cases he goes Noble->Fighter-Brigand (to pick up Death Blow) for his first 15 levels. For the Paladin build, he would get 5 levels of Cavalier, then 25 levels of Paladin. For the Wyvern Lord path, he would get 5 more levels of Brigand, 10 levels of Wyvern Rider, then 15 levels of Wyvern Lord. The expected growth in each of these builds due solely to the growth rates of the classes in some key stats would be: Ferdinand (Paladin): 8.5 HP, 2.75 STR, -3 SPD Ferdinand (Wyvern Lord): 9 HP, 3.75 STR, 1.5 SPD Note there would also be minor differences in other stats, but they aren't really significant. The upshot is that for these two builds, the difference between the classes isn't that huge in most stats. The one difference that you *should* pay attention to is speed. There's a 4.5 point difference in speed between these two builds, and that's before we even consider that Wyvern Lord gets a +4 speed class bonus, while Cavalier actually gets -1 speed as a class trait. So using these two builds, you could expect your endgame Wyvern Lord to have about 9.5 more speed than your endgame Paladin. That's a really big difference, and given how valuable speed is in Maddening, you can see why many players would prefer the Wyvern Lord build for Ferdinand. RNG may come into a little bit, as would potential stat buffs due class stat minimums, but less than you might think.
  12. I think there's a middle ground between your level of usage and only recruiting the units you intend to use. When I play, I generally recruit everyone I can with the intention of eventually clearing the paralogues (the paralogues are the most fun missions anyway and have great rewards). I'll usually have a good idea of the units I want to use over the course of the game (generally units that are by consensus good and perhaps one or two oddball builds I want to try out). The main units will get my attention when in comes to teaching sessions and usage in main story missions and paralogues. Other units really only come in during auxiliary missions or as adjutants. (Bonus note: adjutants still get bonus xp and weapon/class xp from using the experience gem and the knowledge gem, so adjutants typically equip those accessories in my games.) I've found that going this way lets you gain enough levels with the supporting cast in order to have them be high enough level to participate in their paralogues, even if they won't be nearly as useful as the main party. But once their paralogue is done, I usually stop using the unit. Once I have Thyrsus, Lorenz isn't getting back in the party. Once I've completed Ignatz and Raphael's paralogue, I likely won't use them again. Playing a non-Blue Lions path? I'll still recruit Annette, but she won't be getting in the party. Considering that most of the second half of the game expects you on a monthly basis to go Explore->Fight->Explore-Fight->Mission, you're probably going to want to have 14 usuable non-Byleth students to be able to get the most out of your training sessions before refreshing motivation (7 students per weekly training session). Additionally, it helps to know when you can switch to focusing just on your primary weapon for training goals to get the 1.5x bonus. There really isn't any point to training Flying past A+ (Alert Stance+), Riding past A+ (Movement+1), White Magic past A (when a unit's last spell would be learned, or Authority past A (when you can equip A-tier battalions). And with Authority, you even decide to abandon it after B-rank without too much loss, particularly if the unit has a bane. Once a unit has learned all these relevant abilities for their build, and has the necessary proficiencies for the classes they want, they should just focus on reaching S+ proficiency in their primary weapon instead of unnecessarily dumping weapon XP into them. By doing this, it's pretty common for me to get 7-10 units up to S+ proficiency in a given run on maddening, and that's before even using DLC bonuses like the sauna.
  13. On maddening I've never had too much issue with getting to S+ with anyone in my most regularly used units, even on NG. But I will cede that when I play I will usually focus on 15 or so units to primarily use. This allows me focus a bit more on training sessions and use in auxiliary battles. But I've never resorted to using a rusted/broken weapon to grind out weapon xp. If you're using more units, it may be more difficult. Additionally, I generally find it to be easier to achieve S+ ranks on maddening despite the lower weapon xp gains just due to the presence of more and harder enemies.
  14. The difference between starting at E rank and starting at D rank is 100 weapon experience. That's trivially little, even if the unit doesn't have a boon. It's the equivalent of participating in a couple of auxiliary battles. On maddening, even units without flying boons would have Alert Stance before the time skip. Alert Stance+ would usually pop up somewhere in the Chapter 14-16 range, depending on the unit's usage. That's plenty of time to take advantage of those skills. And I've never found myself particularly pressed when it comes to gaining sufficient weapon/skill proficiency in the game. Even in maddening runs where I'd be using large numbers of units I'd still end up able to get S+ in a primary weapon, A+ in a couple other categories (flying, riding, authority, etc.), and maybe some scattered C ranks to get into particular classes. I've certainly never thought the lack of a boon in flying (or riding) should keep a unit out of a mounted class. Perhaps a bane would be enough to shy me from master tier level classes, but otherwise it isn't an issue. That's a fair point. Flying battalions are in short supply, and really good ones are uncommon. But the benefits of the classes are so good in their own right that it makes up for it. For example, a Wyvern Lord is already getting +4 strength, +4 speed (which battlations don't normally buff), +10 avoid (class ability) on top of whatever benefits they get from their battalion. And that's before even counting movement range increase, being able to avoid terrain obstacles, and having Canto. Even if the quality of the flying battalions tends to be lower, the effectiveness of the units tends not to suffer.
  15. It's not a huge investment given that both Falcon Knight and Wyvern Lord already require significant flying proficiency (B+ and A respectively). Once you're in those classes it's inevitable you'll to get to Alert Stance+ eventually since you get significant flying experience for every action you take in those classes. Also, by the time you actually get into those classes you won't need to train for any future class requirements. Which means you use your training slots on your primary weapon and flying. The only other thing you're realistically training at that point is Authority to eventually use A rank battalions, but that's a luxury that isn't desperately needed. B and even C rank battalions are plenty good. There's effectively no cost in these cases. The commitment to get a secondary weapon proficiency is likely going to be more than required for flying given that only one melee class has a secondary weapon requirement greater than C rank: War Master. And getting from C to A+ for Weapon Prowess 5 is a bigger ask than B+ to A+ for Alert Stance+. I wouldn't suggest a melee unit with a non-flying endgame class in mind pick up Alert Stance to avoid diluting their proficiencies too much, but it's a gimme for any unit in a flying class. And given how powerful the flying classes are in this game it's common enough to have 3-5 fliers in your party by the endgame, especially now that the Dark Flier class is a thing.
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