Sabrewulf was arguably the best of the eight season one characters in the Xbox One reboot of Killer Instinct. When it came time for Iron Galaxy and Microsoft to make some adjustments to the season one characters, it's no surprise that Sabrewulf was toned down. While he wasn't the only character to lose some of his power, he was hit the hardest by the nerf stick.
Let's take a look at the official list of changes that will take place on September 23:
- The final hit of Shadow Leaping Slash now recaptures an airborne opponent into a ground combo.
- While the forward Dash is the same duration as before, Sabrewulf gets behind his opponent quicker now so that properly timed punish attempts are less likely to come out facing the wrong way.
- One additional frame has been added after the Super Flash before Shadow Eclipse hits.
- Backdash distance reduced.
- Crouching Light Punch pushes the opponent back further.
- Fixed a bug that let Sabrewulf cancel Crouching Medium Punch into his Heavy Chain during Hitstop, which also prevented Manual Breakers from firing correctly.
- In addition to its previous properties, while in Instinct Sabre now gains the ability to perform a Feral Cancel (HP+HK) which can cancel any grounded move back to neutral. This has a short cooldown on it but can be performed as much as you want during Instinct.
We spent some time with Sabrewulf at PAX Prime to see just how impactful these changes are. While Sabrewulf players won't be able to get away with some of the shenanigans they pulled off over the last year, the wolf is not in terrible shape. You can't be as reckless, and you'll have to stand and fight more often than not, but so far he remains one of the best characters in the season one roster.
Starting with the positive changes, Shadow Leaping Slash is now an Aerial Recapture. That means if it's used on an aerial opponent, Sabrewulf can continue the combo on the ground. While this is a plus, it has very limited uses at the moment. Most of Sabrewulf's attacks that knock an opponent into the air have a considerable amount of recovery. It can only be used after Sabrewulf's juggle ender, or if you hit a Running Uppercut.
While Instinct is active, Sabrewulf now gains the ability to use Feral Cancels. This is a game changer for the wolf and makes his Instinct far more potent. While more testing is required to know the exact awesomeness of this new ability, it essentially allows Sabrewulf to assault an opponent with a nearly uninterruptible string of attacks. With each attack being Feral Canceled into the next, there's very little time for an opponent to use a Shadow Counter, and with meter gain much slower in the rebalance, opponents won't want to simply toss out a Shadow Counter in the hope that it's timed correctly. If you thought Sabrewulf's offensive pressure was good before, wait until you see the Feral Cancels in action.
That covers all of Sabrewulf's improvements. As you can see, it's quite a long list. Moving onto the nerfs, let's start with the biggest one. Sabrewulf's dash has been drastically altered. At present, you can get away from just about anyone or anything with a series of backdashes. Once the patch hits, that will all change, as Sabrewulf's new backdash is about on par with Jago's. It goes far enough to use the invincibility to avoid an attack, but you won't be able to use it to run away.
Sabrewulf's forward dash crosses up sooner, which means opponents will have more time to punish the dash cross-up. This isn't a huge change because adept players could already punish the cross-up dash, but it will make it easier for everyone else. While not mentioned in the official change list, the distance at which the forward dash crosses up has been reduced as well. In certain situations when a cross-up dash was guaranteed immediately following a knockdown, you now have to move forward slightly, then dash forward to get the dash to cross-up. It limits Sabrewulf's setups slightly, but it's not a huge issue.
Currently, Sabrewulf's Shadow Eclipse had six frames of startup before the Super Flash, and zero frames after. Basically it executed in six frames and was unblockable if you weren't already blocking before the Super Flash. The Super Flash is still six frames, but the attack executes one frame after the Super Flash ends. This really isn't a significant change because the attack is still completely invincible. The only time this change will really have an impact is when Shadow Eclipse is used simultaneously with another invincible attack. The extra frame of startup may then cause Sabrewulf to get hit depending on the speed of the other invincible attack. Otherwise, if you're not blocking when the Super Flash occurs, there's still a high probability you're going to get hit.
Crouching Light Punch (LP) now pushes an opponent further away. This is a big change to Sabrewulf players who used crouching LP to maintain pressure. Once the patch hits, you can only connect with two or three crouching LPs before the opponent is out of range. Normals now inflict more damage, so while this hurts Sabrewulf, it's not a huge loss given some of the other changes to the general system mechanics.
Overall, Sabrewulf is not as good as he was, but how much he lost depends on how you played Sabrewulf and how much you're willing to adapt to the new one. His pressure game isn't as potent, but gets a huge boost while in Instinct. Meanwhile, he has a bit more combo options with the new Aerial Recapture, but you have to be a little more careful with Shadow Eclipse. You also can't rely on Sabrewulf's backdash to escape every situation, and the cross-up dash has to be timed well or else you'll get punished. He isn't as good as he once was, but he could easily be the best of the season one characters.