Katarina's offensive spread is exactly the same as Tharja's (32/34 atk/spd). As such, she has the same problems as Tharja - specifically, a lack of raw atk and spd that keeps her from being a serious contender for red Nino/Linde equivalent. Still, that spread is definitely usable - just not optimal.
Defensively, Katarina gets more res but less hp and def than Tharja. This makes her slightly better at handling Nino and Julia, but much weaker to physical assault - anyone capable of closing in on her will usually kill her on the spot.
All in all, Katarina's spread is... good, but unimpressive.
Katarina brings us the red Owl tome. Owl tomes provide 10 might and buff the wielder by +2 in all stats (but hp) for every adjacent ally during combat. We were expecting the red Owl tome to appear, since the blue and green appeared in the last non-promotional banner (through Boey and Mae, respectively), so this new skill is no surprise. From a general point of view, Owl tomes are great for teams that rely on formation, but generally inferior to Blade tomes for offense.
Additionally, Katarina introduces Atk Ploy... which is actually a fascinating skill. At the beginning of every turn, Katarina checks every enemy on her column and line (cardinal directions, i.e. North, East, South and West) and debuffs those whose res is lower than her own for -5 atk. Keep in mind this isn't limited by distance - Atk Ploy works even from the other side of the terrain. This brings a lot of interesting new options to handle dangerous foes, especially in Arena.
Katarina also comes with preexisting Glacies (nothing great here) and Swift Sparrow, merely one of the best skills in the game by two landslides. Swift Sparrow used to be limited; these days are now over.
Athena is fast. Like, really fast. She also packs a decent 31 base atk, which is two points above Lon'qu (the most obvious comparison - he's faster than her by one point).
We're looking at a very interesting unit here. +atk Athena sports 34/38 atk/spd, which is basically +spd Lucina minus one point in spd. This is good. Athena also has more res and def than Lucina, but at the cost of less hp - which means she'll be better suited for short skirmishes than for extended battles (of course, this is only relevant if Athena doesn't nuke whoever she's attacking before they get to retaliate).
Of course, this all means Athena is rather bad at defense - but that's obviously not her job in the first place, so no real complaint here.
Sturdy Blow is the dual Death/Armored Blow, providing +4/+4 atk/def when attacking. This isn't as useful as Swift Sparrow, but still, this skill might be useful on Bonfire/Ignis users such as Eldigan, or on some gimmicky units such as Alfonse or Seliph.
Wo Dao+ is getting a second source in Athena. That's definitely appreciable, considering the sword's usefulness. Finally, Moonbow is standard and not particularly precious (Odin comes a dime a dozen).
Luke may look unimpressive at first glance, but 34 atk is actually the highest base atk among sword cavaliers.
... Unfortunately this isn't really redeeming, this just means Luke is the best Brave Sword+ wielder among them but none of them is actually brilliant with a Brave Sword+.
Beyond his atk, Luke is decidedly standard. Somewhat physically bulky, slow, fragile against magic, high-hish hp. Yeah, forgettable.
You're not looking for a spread in Luke, anyway.
So, this is where things get interesting.
Luke introduces Fire Boost (which functions exactly like you'd expect - boosts atk by 6 in battle if the enemy is downhill from the unit by at least 3 hp). This skill was expected to complete the scheme with Earth and Wind Boost, and we can bet Water Boost is coming up eventually (respectively for def, spd and res). It has the same problems as the other Boosts - specifically, reliance on hp is dangerous, and Fury or a Blow would usually be superior on most units and in most situations.
... And then there's Panic Ploy. Short description: Panic Ploy OP, please nerf.
Okay, more seriously, Panic Ploy shares this banner's spotlight with Roderick's Firesweep Lance. Calling Panic Ploy excellent wouldn't be hyperbolic.
Panic Ploy, just like Attack Ploy, checks every enemy in cardinal directions at the beginning of every turn of its wielder. This time, though, (current) hp is the stat that is being checked - and the effect being applied is Panic, which transforms buffs into corresponding debuffs.
You know that time in Arena when you faced a fully buffed Blade tome Olwen who nuked on turn 2? Well, now she's at -6 in every stat. Exactly. (It's also easy to trigger on actually relevant foes because most Blade tome users have low hp.)
Panic Ploy has potentially huge metagame impact. The most obvious one is it makes Goads and Wards better (since Panic Ploy only reverses field buffs - the ones that appear in unit stat). The second one is it's now actually dangerous to run Hone/Fortify in C-slot on defense teams (and to some extent in offense teams, but this skill is much more dangerous in player hands than it is in AI hands). The third, subsequent effect is SCamilla now has a hard counter in the form of a skill.
This is already kind of impressive, and there are definitely uses I'm not even thinking of yet. 11/10 skill would imagine again.
(Also, Luke comes with Bonfire and Brave Sword+. These don't really matter unless you're actually considering running Luke on his merits, which is unlikely because the red slot in Horse Emblem teams is usually more defensive than that.)
A fast cavalry lancer with decent atk! Is it Christmas yet?
... Yeah, everything relevant about Roderick's spread fits in that sentence. He's fast, that speed is useful and fits well with his skills, and he's pretty good at chipping and killing. Especially thanks to his wonderful spear.
Definitely a keeper if you ever consider running melee blue cavalry (which, precisely, may become a relevant alternative to running blue mage cavalry in Horse Emblem thanks to Roderick).
Three new skills! Christmas, definitely Christmas.
So, Rally Defense Resistance is rather straightforward - it's the reverse Rally from Rally Attack Speed, which was introduced last banner by Bride Cordelia. +3/+3 def/res to target adjacent ally, this is great. This isn't Roderick's main claim to awesomeness.
Drive Def 2 is essentially a pleb Ward - it gives everyone within two spaces (minus Roderick) +3 def in combat. This is somewhat nice. This isn't Roderick's main claim to awesomeness.
Firesweep Lance is a 15 might lance that prevents counterattacks (just like Firesweep Bow). This is Roderick's main claim to awesomeness. The Firesweep Lance makes absolute monsters such as 2-hit no-riposte Cordelia possible. 2-hit no-riposte Cordelia is actually plainly better than Brave Lance Cordelia in most scenarios. Food for thought.
The main problem with Roderick isn't a lack of skills - quite the reverse. There's too much awesome stuff to pick from! If you ever consider burning one up, inheriting the Firesweep Lance+ and the Rally Defense Resistance is probably optimal. Drive Def is largely negligible.
If you're going to roll, make sure to roll blue. Rolling red is a matter of needs and taste, because although all three units are bringing great skills, neither of them (the units) is game-changing - their skills are. Especially Firesweep Lance and Panic Ploy.
-- by takaminacchan