As with virtually all fighting games, Killer Instinct can be seen through two different eyes. You have the eyes of the novice, who believe certain aspects of the game are "cheap" and "unfair," or who believe the game caters to "scrubs." Then you have the high-level, tournament-hardened players who dig deep into the game system to find strategies that only the best players will utilize and understand.
This unofficial Sabrewulf guide is designed for advanced players who already know the basics and are looking to take their game to the next level. If you don't understand the KI system mechanics, check out our How to Play, Beginner's Tips and Sabrewulf Tips articles. If you want to get a little more in-depth than that, read up on Sabrewulf's frame data. This article assumes you already know everything from the more basic articles.
The Run: Overhead/Low/Uppercut Bread and Butter
Speaking to several members of the Double Helix Games development team, you may discover that they believe Sabrewulf is one of the best characters in the game, if not the best. It's mainly because this game is about opening up the opponent and creating a combo opportunity. They believe Sabrewulf can do that better than any other character.
This belief stems from his overhead/low Run mix-up. The Jumping Slash hits overhead, while the Hamstring hits low. Both attacks are unsafe if the opponent blocks, but you can Instinct Cancel to safety if it's available.
Every single time you make an opponent block a ground-based attack, you should be canceling into one of Sabrewulf's Run options. There's no excuse to use anything other than a Run option once the opponent is blocking. Use Manuals and chain strings (magic series) to confirm if the opponent is blocking, and if they are, cancel into the Jumping Slash or Hamstring. This forces the opponent to make a decision. Do they block the overhead or the low? If they guess wrong, they get hit.
Now, if you're facing an opponent who seems to constantly guess right, or you simply wish to play a bit safer, cancel into the Running Uppercut. It's -2 on block, which means you can neutral jump after it's blocked with relative safety. You can even mix this up with a back dash, or simply blocking. If you've conditioned the opponent not to retaliate after blocking a Running Uppercut, you can even go for a cross-up dash mix-up.
Let's examine a neutral jump after the Running Uppercut. While an opponent can use a preemptive anti-air to knock Sabrewulf out of the neutral jump, it's a huge risk. If Sabrewulf back dashes or simply blocks, they could be open to punishment. In most cases, an opponent will simply assume it's their turn to attack. In this instance, the neutral jump avoids their attack and allows Sabrewulf to frame trap the opponent.
Depending on what attack the opponent uses, in most cases Sabrewulf can either land a jumping attack or force an opponent to block it. If it lands, start your combo. If it's blocked, you have an entirely new mix-up. As previously stated, anytime an opponent is blocking, you should go for the overhead/low Run mix-up. That's applicable here, but you also get a cross-up dash mix-up.
All of Sabrewulf's jumping attacks are anywhere from +14 to +20, which means the opponent cannot interrupt a follow-up attack after blocking. This puts the opponent in a difficult situation. If Sabrewulf remains in front of the opponent, they have to guess between a throw or a block string into the Run mix-up. However, Sabrewulf can cross-up dash to the other side and attack or throw as well.
If you really want to mess with an opponent, continually cancel into the Running Uppercut to loop the neutral jump shenanigans over and over. In general, you shouldn't do this more than twice, but by the second Running Uppercut, the opponent will be trying to get out of the loop. This could potentially leave them vulnerable to even more mind games.
In short, here are your options when an opponent blocks an attack from Sabrewulf:
- Block string into
- Tick throw for hard knock down
- Cross-up dash pressure after knock down
- Overhead/Low Run mix-up
- Running Uppercut
- Back dash
- Cross-up dash
- Neutral jump attack
- Throw for hard knock down
- Cross-up dash pressure after knock down
- Overhead/Low Run mix-up
- Running Uppercut
- All block string options (reset the loop completely)
Now, imagine this block string series while Instinct mode is active. How much chip damage can you rack up before the opponent either gets hit or dies?
The Cross-Up Dash
Many novice players are baffled by Sabrewulf's cross-up dash. They'll claim it's broken and possibly even rage quit on you. However, when used during and after a knock down, it's not as overpowered as some may think. While the cross-up dash is a great tool for Sabrewulf, it has a decent amount of recovery at the end of it. This means that a well-timed throw or light attack can easily hit Sabrewulf before he has a chance to attack. Even after a jumping Heavy Kick, when Sabrewulf is at +20, an opponent can interrupt his cross-up dash with a light attack as the dash comes to an end.
For this reason, as players become more and more familiar with Sabrewulf's cross-up dash antics, you won't be able to use it as well after a knock down. A smart opponent knows when they can safely attack, and when it's best to just block. In most cases, they'll block after using an attack that leaves them at disadvantage (negative frames, but still safe). This is a great time to go for a cross-up dash. The opponent will be expecting a normal retaliation, not a cross-up dash. They will not be prepared to interrupt the dash with a light attack.
As previously mentioned, it's also not a bad idea to use the cross-up dash after a jumping attack, due to the large amount of frame advantage. The dash can still be interrupted, but the opponent has to guess between a throw, attacking from the front or the cross-up dash. They have very little time to react to each option.
Just because the cross-up dash isn't as safe as most Sabrewulf players would like to think, doesn't mean it can't be used effectively after a knockdown. If you score a hard knockdown, or the opponent doesn't quick rise, you can use multiple cross-up dashes before the opponent gets up. You can even use a couple cross-up dashes, then a neutral or cross-up jump to really mess with an opponent. Sabrewulf can't cross-up any of his jumping attacks, but you can empty jump on the cross-up as well.
The main point here is not to limit yourself to using Sabrewulf's cross-up dash after landing a knockdown. It's highly effective in many more situations. In some cases you can even dash right up to an opponent from almost a full screen-length away, and then cross-up (after two or three dashes to close the distance). Most opponents expect Sabrewulf to stop and attack or simply block. They won't be expecting a cross-up dash attempt from across the screen.
Block Strings and Tick Throws
Every character in Killer Instinct can utilize block strings and tick throws. However, Sabrewulf has a unique advantage in that not only is his walk speed one of the fastest in the game, he can also do lengthy block strings due to his magic series. At close range, Sabrewulf can chain three crouching light punches into a standing medium punch, followed by a standing heavy punch. The further away from the opponent Sabrewulf is when he begins the block string, the more crouching light punches you have to remove from the string.
At any point in time during this block string (or the many variations of it), Sabrewulf can cancel into his bread and butter Run mix-up, or take one step forward and throw the opponent. You can even toss in a neutral jump or cross-up dash for additional mix-up potential. All of this is especially effective if you have an opponent cornered and unable to back dash.
Sabrewulf can also start a block string with Overpower, which doubles as a frame trap. With no charge time at all, Overpower is +2 when blocked. This means you can follow with any light attack and it cannot be interrupted. Give Overpower a slight charge and Sabrewulf is at +4 or +5 (depending on how slight the charge is). At +4, you can use another Overpower (with no charge) and the opponent cannot interrupt (with the exception of Jago's Tiger Fury and Orchid's Air Buster - which are risky attacks in this situation).
Most skilled opponents will know not to attack after blocking Overpower, which means you can get away with another slightly charged Overpower after the opponent blocks the first one. After blocking two or even three Overpower attacks an opponent will start to get antsy. While Overpower is not an Opener, when you're ready to combo, use the magic series (light, then medium, then heavy punches) to start a combo. If Overpower is blocked, you get a normal block string. If Overpower hits, you start a combo.
Block strings help Sabrewulf hit confirm a Ragged Edge (which should never be used on a blocking opponent with meter), build meter and inflict chip damage when Instinct mode is active. They're important to Sabrewulf's mix-up game. An opponent should never block only one attack from Sabrewulf.
To Manual or Not to Manual
As players start to get better and better, combos will begin to evolve. Manuals will become a normal occurrence in combos to make them harder to break. While a light Auto-Double might have a 10-frame window to break, a light Manual would have something closer to a 4-frame window to break. In other words, it's extremely difficult to break a Manual. However, at the same time, Manuals are typically not the easiest attacks to connect.
The frame data after an Opener is different compared to the frame data after a Linker. With Sabrewulf, the easiest Manuals to use are any light attack aside from standing light kick. All of his medium attacks aside from medium kick are a little harder to link, but still easier than Sabrewulf's heavy attacks, and while the heavy attacks are the hardest to connect, crouching heavy punch is easier than the rest.
A Hamstring, Jumping Slash, Shadow Jumping Slash or Shadow Ragged Edge are the easiest attacks to Manual after when starting a combo. Mid-combo, the heavy Jumping Slash and Hamstring Linkers provide the easiest Manual timing, as well as either Shadow Linker. You can use a Manual after all of Sabrewulf's Openers and Linkers, but these are the easiest to land Manuals after.
If you have difficulty connecting Manuals, don't try them in match play until you've practiced considerably in Practice mode. While Manuals are very difficult to break, you don't have to use them to be successful. Light Auto-Doubles are also difficult to break (although easier than Manuals), and the threat of a Counter Breaker is always looming.
One strategy that's not generally recommended is using Sabrewulf's chains (magic series) as Manuals. While the chains are easy to connect after the first Manual, they increase the KV meter significantly and drastically reduce the length and damage of your combo. They're also easier to break because they follow a set pattern.
Not All Shadow Moves are Created Equal
It seems that in the early life of Killer Instinct, many players think all Shadow attacks are roughly the same. If they get hit out of a Shadow attack, they cry foul, and during a combo they feel any Shadow attack will do for a Linker. That is absolutely not the case with any character.
For Sabrewulf, he has very distinct purposes for each of his Shadow attacks. Let's start with the Shadow Ragged Edge. This is Sabrewulf's fastest Shadow attack, which means it's the best attack to use for punishment. Sabrewulf can punish a lot of attacks that many people think are safe. The biggest example of this would be Jago's heavy Wind Kick, but it can also punish every version of Thunder's Ankle Slicer (even the Shadow variant), as well as Orchid's Shadow Flick Flack and Firecat. It can even punish the medium version of Sadira's Blade Demon, an attack that most Sadira players think is safe to use against Sabrewulf.
In a combo, your best option is the Shadow Jumping Slash. Not only is it Sabrewulf's fastest Shadow Linker for use using a lockout, it also inflicts more damage than the Shadow Ragged Edge. The only reason to use a Shadow Ragged Edge mid-combo is if you want to push an opponent to the corner. In every other instance, if you want to use a Shadow Linker, it should be the Shadow Jumping Slash.
Now the Shadow Eclipse has a few uses, but let's cover when you should not be using it first. Do not use the Shadow Eclipse to end your combos. It inflicts more damage to use a Shadow Linker and a normal Ender instead of using the meter to end a combo with the Shadow Eclipse. The only time it's even moderately justifiable is if you use the Running Uppercut juggle Ender, then juggle with Shadow Eclipse, but even in this scenario, the additional damage from the Shadow Eclipse is not worth the meter.
Shadow Eclipse is Sabrewulf's only Shadow attack with invincibility frames. It also has a very large hit box. This makes it a great tool for wake-up when an opponent is attempting to pressure Sabrewulf after a knockdown. Be careful not to get baited into using it. It's very punishable if it's blocked or misses. With that in mind, you can cancel it with Instinct mode if you have it available. If you plan to cancel it, wait until the last hit so you can potentially bait the opponent into using a Shadow Counter, then punish them for it.
The frame data for the Shadow Eclipse shows that it has 6 frames of startup before the screen freezes, then executes instantly after the freeze. What this means is that if the opponent isn't blocking before the freeze, the Shadow Eclipse is guaranteed. This makes it an interesting tool to use in conjunction with the cross-up dash. If you use Shadow Eclipse right after your cross-up the opponent, if they weren't immediately blocking the opposite direction, the Shadow Eclipse is guaranteed. If it hits, you can juggle with another Shadow Eclipse and a Running Uppercut for over 30 percent damage with minimal effort.
Instinct Mode: Two for One Deal
Sabrewulf's Instinct mode isn't as functional as some of the other characters'. He doesn't get any amazing setups just Sadira's Instinct mode, and it doesn't make all of his attacks safe like Orchid's Instinct. What it does do is increase his damage by 20 percent. This is significant, and means you should use Instinct as soon as an opponent is locked out to maximize combo damage. However, it brings into question whether or not it should be used once in a match, or twice.
Characters with highly functional Instinct modes are encouraged to use Instinct early in a match so it's available a second time before the end of the match. In Sabrewulf's case, one Instinct mode combo can inflict 70 percent damage or more with relative ease. His Instinct is designed to kill an opponent as quickly as possible. However, he can easily inflict close to 50 percent damage with only a single lockout and no need to use Instinct mode.
Chances are you won't have Instinct mode available until at least half of your first health bar is gone, and that's being generous. Even if your opponent still has full health, two combos will quickly deplete his first health bar. At that point, you can burn Instinct early in the opponent's second health bar to potentially finish the match in one combo. If you burn Instinct early, it's unlikely you'll have it available again until the match is almost over.
Killer Instinct is a game in which a comeback is only one lockout away. With Sabrewulf's great damage, he can close out a match very quickly once he's in Instinct mode. However, if you burned Instinct early to clear out an opponent's first health bar, they'll have a better opportunity to make a comeback because you won't be able to take out their second health bar with a single combo.
Essentially, using Sabrewulf's Instinct mode twice in one match is very situational. If you get a lockout and the opponent still has over half their first health bar (and you're still in the first health bar), you can burn it without worrying too much. But in almost any other circumstance, it's better to use a 50 percent damage combo during a lockout and save the Instinct meter. Not only is Instinct useful for damage, it can make Sabrewulf's Shadow Eclipse and his Run mix-up safe if the opponent blocks. It has far more uses than just adding damage.