Killer Instinct Beginner's Tips - Prima Games

Killer Instinct Beginner’s Tips

by Bryan Dawson

The release of the new Killer Instinct marks the return of a series that’s been gone for well over a decade. While many of the characters may seem familiar to veterans of the series, there have been quite a few changes to the characters and the game system in general. Be sure to check out our Basics guide to get a grasp of the game system, and the official Prima Ultra Fan Book with the Free Living Guide for in-depth strategies. For now, we’ll get you started with some basic info and strategies for each character.

Note: A notation key is located at the bottom of this article.


Glacius is a zoning character with an objective to keep an opponent away. Almost all of his attacks are based around the idea of fighting from a distance, and he’s the only character in the game with the ability to use Auto-Doubles from across the screen.

One of his best tools is the Ice Lance, which covers a considerable amount of range and works well in conjunction with his jumping kicks, which also have considerable range. If you can connect a jumping kick during the latter half of a jump, you can combo into the Ice Lance, which acts as an Opener.

The Ice Lance is unsafe, but you can make it safer by canceling it into Hail or one of his other special moves. Hail is his main projectile, which can be delayed by holding punch. You can cancel many of his Normals into Hail to prevent an opponent from closing in. If you mix-up canceling the Ice Lance into Hail or Shatter, it will keep your opponent guessing for days.

Shatter is an unblockable attack that can be executed at three different ranges depending on the strength of the input. The heavy Shatter reaches almost full screen, medium hits the mid-point of the screen, and light attacks opponents close to Glacius. While the attack is unblockable, it’s also telegraphed by the light that appears above the attack.

Skilled players will be able to avoid Shatter in most situations, but you can use Shadow Hail and other attacks to keep an opponent in block stun while you attack with Shatter. Keep in mind, Shatter becomes a blockable attack if it’s used while an opponent is in block stun, so you need to time the attack to connect just as the block stun ends.

Another useful tool for Glacius beginners is his throw. If you throw an opponent into the corner, you can start a combo by following it with the Ice Lance. The timing is a little strict, so make sure you try it out in practice mode until you have it down. When you’re not in a corner, use the throw to get an opponent out of your face.

Command Attacks

  • Ice Lance – F+MP
  • Ice Pick – B+HP (anti-air)

Special Moves

  • Hail – QCB+P (projectile; hold P to delay release up to four seconds)
  • Cold Shoulder – QCB+K
  • Puddle Punch – QCF+K (invincible start-up)
  • Shatter- QCF+P (unblockable)


  • Ice Lance
  • Could Shoulder
  • Puddle Punch (LP or MP versions)
  • Shatter
  • Shadow Cold Shoulder (projectile invincible)
  • Shadow Puddle Punch (invincible on start-up)


  • Cold Shoulder
  • Puddle Punch
  • Shatter (ranged combo Linker)
  • Shadow Cold Shoulder
  • Shadow Puddle Punch


  • Hail (juggle state)
  • Cold Shoulder (wall bounce)
  • Puddle Punch (max damage)
  • Shatter (max meter gain, ranged combo Ender)
  • Shadow Shatter (ranged combo Ender)

Ultra Combo

  • QCF+3P


Jago is the free character and the most well-rounded fighter in the launch roster. If you have Street Fighter experience, think of Jago like the Ryu of Killer Instinct. He has a Tiger Fury uppercut as an anti-air, the Endokuken as a projectile attack, command overhead with Neck Cutter, and various other attacks.

You can play Jago in many different ways, but the most basic is to simply zone with him. Use his projectile to get an opponent to jump, then knock them out of the air with a Tiger Fury. If you use a light Tiger Fury, you can usually follow it with another Tiger Fury before the opponent hits the ground.

At close range use the light and medium versions of the Laser Sword to keep your offense going. Both attacks leave Jago at advantage, meaning a quick attack will beat out almost anything your opponent will be able to do. The Laser Sword is also immune to throws, which means you can use it if you anticipate a throw is coming.

The Wind Kick goes over low attacks, which makes it useful if you’re up against an opponent who likes to go low a lot. In addition, the Shadow Wind Kick goes through projectiles and covers the full length of the screen. This is a great tool against other Jago players and Glacius. Jago is especially good against Glacius because the Shadow Wind Kick can punish the Ice Lance when blocked.

While Jago can’t start a normal combo with his throws like Glacius and Thunder, he is the only character who can cancel a throw into a Shadow attack. Simply input the throw command, then immediately input the notation for the Shadow attack of your choice. In most situations the Shadow Endokuken or Shadow Tiger Fury work the best.

Command Attacks

  • Double Roundhouse – F+HK
  • Neck Cutter – B+HP (overhead)

Special Moves

  • Wind Kick – QCB+K (low invincible)
  • Laser Sword – QCB+P (throw invincible)
  • Endokuken – QCF+P
  • Tiger Fury – DP+P (anti-air, invincible start-up)


  • Wind Kick
  • Laser Sword
  • Shadow Wind Kick (projectile invincible)
  • Shadow Laser Sword (upper body invincible during start-up)


  • Wind Kick
  • Laser Sword
  • Shadow Wind Kick
  • Shadow Laser Sword


  • Wind Kick (wall bounce)
  • Laser Blade (juggle state)
  • Endokuken (max meter gain)
  • Tiger Fury (max damage)
  • Shadow Tiger Fury (max damage)
  • Shadow Endokuken

Ultra Combo

  • DP+3P


Orchid is very much a 50/50 character. She lives and dies by the 50/50 mix-up. Her Ichi Ni San special move can hit low or as an overhead, or you can charge the last hit to create an additional mix-up. At a full charge, it becomes unblockable, but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to use it with any kind of frequency on a skilled player.

In addition to the Ichi Ni San mix-up, her Blockade Runner is low, with the HK version connecting from across the screen. It also slides under most projectiles, making it very useful against Jago, and it goes until an Ice Lance from Glacius. If that weren’t enough, she has a command overhead with Whiplash, although it’s somewhat slow, and can be punished if the opponent blocks, so be careful when using it.

One of her best tools is the Ichi Ni San Ender. When used to end a combo, it knocks an opponent into the air. She can follow with a jump and hit an opponent with her Danger Zone air throw. This causes a ground bounce that she can follow with any number of options. A quick Air Buster works, but you can also get creative and cause a guessing game as the opponent gets up.

You might follow the air throw with an Air Buster, then immediately begin the Ichi Ni San. If the opponent gets up immediately, they’ll have to guess between the various ending options off of Orchid’s Ichi Ni San. Get creative with your attacks following the air throw to really keep an opponent guessing.

Orchid’s Instinct Mode is also very unique. She calls a firecat to dash toward the opponent with an attack. While Instinct Mode is active, she can call a firecat by pressing HP and HK. Use this as you jump over an opponent to create a cross-up situation, or in the middle of an unsafe special move to prevent an opponent from punishing. As long as her Instinct Mode is active, you should have firecats continuously chasing the opponent down as you mix-up them up with various attacks.

Command Attacks

  • Whiplash – F+HK (overhead)
  • Danger Zone – F+LP+LK or B+LP+LK (in the air, throw)

Special Moves

  • Flick Flack – QCB+K
  • Ichi Ni San-Light – QCF+P, QCF+P, QCF+LP (third attack connects low)
  • Ichi Ni San-Medium – QCF+P, QCF+P, QCF+MP (third attack is an overhead)
  • Ichi Ni San-Heavy – QCF+P, QCF+P, QCF+HP (hold HP to charge third attack, unblockable at max charge)
  • Blockade Runner – QCF+K
  • Air Buster – DP+K (start-up is invincible)


  • Flick Flack
  • Ichi Ni San (all versions)
  • Blockade Runner
  • Shadow Flick Flack
  • Firecat (Shadow version of Blockade Runner)


  • Flick Flack
  • Ichi Ni San (light or medium versions)
  • Blockade Runner
  • Shadow Flick Flack
  • Firecat (Shadow version of Blockade Runner)


  • HK Flick Flack (juggle state)
  • Ichi Ni San-Heavy (juggle state)
  • HK Blockade Runner (wall bounce)
  • HK Air Buster (max damage)
  • Shadow Ichi Ni San (juggle state)
  • Upper Firecat (max damage, Shadow version of Air Buster)

Ultra Combo

  • QCB+3K


Sabrewulf is a tried and true rush down character. The only way he can be played effectively is with aggressive ferocity. He is designed to get in your face and force an opponent to make a 50/50 guess. If the opponent guesses right, they can punish Sabrewulf, but if they guess wrong, it could mean a 50 percent damage combo.

Your main offensive tool should be crouching MP. It has exceptional range and can be canceled into Sabrewulf’s special moves. If you have good reactions, you can confirm that it hits before canceling it. If it hits, cancel into the Ragged Edge and start a combo. If it’s blocked, cancel into Sabrewulf’s Run, then immediately use the Hamstring or Jumping Slash. Hamstring hits low, while the Jumping Slash is an overhead, which results in a 50/50 mix-up. Just make sure to cancel the Run as quickly as possible. The opponent should only see the Hamstring or Jumping Slash, not the Run animation.

During a combo, Sabrewulf is one of the most difficult characters to read. While other characters have clear cut animations that allow skilled players to differentiate between light, medium, and heavy attacks, Sabrewulf’s attacks all have a similar animation. This makes it much more difficult to determine which attack he’s using and break accordingly.

In addition, if the opponent gets locked out, Sabrewulf can use a single Auto-Double over and over again without having to worry about Linkers or Manuals. This is a special ability for Sabrewulf referred to as his Rabid Bites. To make the most of this ability, as soon as an opponent is locked out, use HP or HK repeatedly to initiate Sabrewulf’s heavy Rabid Bites and inflict considerable damage. End the combo before the opponent is free from the lock out to guarantee the damage.

Last but certainly not least is Sabrewulf’s ability to dash through an opponent. He’s the only character that can do this aside from Thunder (in Instinct Mode). It’s extremely effective after you knock an opponent down, because you can dash through them while they’re getting up and attack from the opposite side. With proper timing, the opponent won’t know which direction to block.

Command Attacks

  • Overpower – B+HP (hold HP to charge; unblockable at max charge)

Special Moves

  • Ragged Edge – B,F+P
  • Eclipse – D,U+P (anti-air)
  • Run – B,F+K
  • Hamstring – LP or LK (during Run; crosses up on hit; goes under most projectiles)
  • Jumping Slash – MP or MK (during Run; overhead; projectile invincible during active frames)
  • Running Uppercut – HP or HK (during Run; juggle state)


  • Ragged Edge
  • Hamstring
  • Jumping Slash
  • Shadow Ragged Edge (throw invincible)
  • Shadow Jumping Slash (projectile invincible)


  • Ragged Edge
  • Hamstring (crosses up)
  • Jumping Slash
  • Shadow Ragged Edge
  • Shadow Jumping Slash


  • Ragged Edge (wall bounce)
  • Eclipse (max damage)
  • Running Uppercut (juggle state)
  • Shadow Eclipse (juggle state, max damage)

Ultra Combo

  • B,F+3P


Sadira is the first true aerial character in Killer Instinct. She has better air mobility than any other character, but limited ground options. Both of her normal Enders lead into air juggle opportunities. While her ground options are limited by design, she’s not as hurt as you would think. Her Blade Demon jumps over low attacks during the active frames, and she has a decent amount of frame advantage after the Widow’s Drop, which can lead to very good frame traps on the ground.

While Sadira has a few options on the ground, it’s in the air where she spends most of her time. She is the only character with a double jump, meaning she can jump, then jump again while she’s in the air. With a combination of neutral, forward, and back jumps, this makes it very difficult for opponents to knock her out of the air.

In addition to her double-jump capability, she has an air projectile attack with the Widow’s Bite, and the ability to grab the wall and bounce off of it with the Web Cling. Both of these attacks can be canceled into after an air Normal, making them extremely effective. The HP version of the Widow’s Bite even pulls Sadira to the enemy to being a combo if the opponent is on the ground. Be careful when using it though, a skilled opponent can block the projectile, then use a Shadow Counter against the follow-up.

Use Sadira’s advanced air movement to put an opponent in difficult cross-up situations. Begin to jump over an opponent, then use a neutral double jump to create an ambiguous cross-up. You can also use the Widow’s Drop dive kick in numerous situations because it gives Sadira advantage if it’s blocked, and allows her to start a combo if it connects.

Sadira is not an easy character to learn, but a skilled Sadira player should constantly be on the move and in the air. Do not give an opponent a chance to think about how to combat her aerial mobility, but at the same time you must be wary of anti-air attacks and Shadow Counters.

Rounding out Sadira’s basic game plan is her Instinct Mode. When active, pressing HP and HK creates a web wherever Sadira is. If the opponent gets hit by the web, it traps them there for a short time, allowing Sadira to start a combo or land a few aerial attacks. It’s especially effective if you have an opponent cornered because you can apply a great deal of pressure with her normal attacks, while keeping webs on the opponent to prevent a counterattack.

Command Attacks

  • Double Jump – Up (during a normal jump)
  • Widow’s Drop – D+MK (in the air)
  • Fang – F+HK (anti-air)

Special Moves

  • Blade Demon – QCF+P (low invincible during active frames)
  • Recluse – QCB+K (anti-air)
  • Widow’s Bite – QCF+P (in the air)
  • Web Cling – QCB+P (in the air)


  • Widow’s Drop
  • Blade Demon
  • LK or MK Recluse
  • Widow’s Bite
  • Shadow Blade Demon
  • Shadow Widow’s Bite


  • Blade Demon
  • Recluse
  • Shadow Blade Demon


  • Blade Demon (juggle state)
  • Recluse (juggle state)
  • Shadow Recluse (juggle state)

Ultra Combo

  • QCF+3P


Thunder is a grappler-style character. He wants to be in an opponent’s face as often as possible. He is the only character with a command throw, which cannot be escaped. In addition, his back throw is an Opener, which means he can execute a back throw, then follow with an Auto-Double. Doing so adds quite a bit to the KV meter, but it’s an easy way to start a combo. He can also use the back throw as a Linker, but it also adds a considerable amount to the KV meter.

There are two great tools in Thunder’s arsenal. The first is the Horn Breaker overhead attack. It’s unsafe if the opponent blocks, but it can be canceled into a special move to keep Thunder safe. Cancel it into the Call of the Earth command throw, or the Ankle Slicer, which hits low. You can cancel into any of his other special moves, but the command throw forces the opponent to jump, and the Ankle Slicer forces them to block low. With any other special move cancel, the opponent can simply remain blocking and not have to worry about too much.

The second great tool in Thunder’s arsenal is the Call of the Earth command throw and his ability to cancel into it from many of his normal attacks. The throw will not connect if an opponent is in block stun or hit stun, but there are plenty of attacks that allow for easy timing of the command throw so it connects just as the opponent is free to move. For example, crouching HP canceling into Call of the Earth allows the command throw to connect whether the crouching HP hits or the opponent blocks. The opponent can jump out of the throw if they predict it’s coming, but you can cancel into any of Thunder’s other special moves to keep an opponent guessing.

The Shadow Call of the Earth executes faster than the normal version, inflicts considerably more damage, and launches an opponent into the air allowing for juggle follow-ups. You can cancel a Normal into it just like the standard Call of the Earth, and you can follow it with the Sammamish uppercut or any number of attacks to juggle. It’s very difficult to avoid the Shadow Call of the Earth. In almost every instance an opponent must preemptively jump or else the throw is virtually guaranteed to connect.

Thunder’s Shadow Triplax is also a great tool. It has one hit of armor, which means it goes through one attack. Thunder still takes damage, but the Shadow Triplax will still connect and allow him to start a combo. This is extremely useful for aggressive opponents who are constantly in Thunder’s face.

Another important note for Thunder beginners is the Ankle Slicer Ender. When the heavy Ankle Slicer is used to end a combo, it knocks an opponent down right in front of Thunder. This gives him great positioning to attempt a cross-up, go for a Shadow Call of the Earth, or any number of options.

Thunder Instinct Mode is also extremely important. Once active, Thunder gains the ability to dash through attacks and opponents. You can cancel special moves into the dash, or cancel the dash into special moves. It gives Thunder the ability to cross-up an opponent multiple times, making it very difficult to determine how to block.

Command Attacks

  • Horn Breaker – F+HP (Overhead)
  • Sky Fall – D+HK (in the air)

Special Moves

  • Triplax – QCF+P
  • Call of the Earth – QCB+P (throw invincible)
  • Ankle Slicer – QCB+K (low invincible during start-up)
  • Sammamish – DP+P (projectile invincible)


  • Triplax
  • Ankle Slicer
  • Back Throw (B+LP+LK)


  • Triplax
  • Ankle Slicer
  • Back Throw
  • Shadow Triplax
  • Shadow Ankle Slicer


  • Triplax (wall bounce)
  • Call of the Earth (max damage)
  • Ankle Slicer (max meter gain)
  • Sammamish (juggle state)
  • Shadow Call of the Earth (juggle state)
  • Shadow Sammamish (max damage)

Ultra Combo

  • QCF+3P

Notation Key

Default Controller Layout

Light Punch (LP) = X
Medium Punch (MP) = Y
Heavy Punch (HP) = Right Bumper (RB)
Light Kick (LK) = A
Medium Kick (MK) = B
Heavy Kick (HK) = Right Trigger (RT)
All Three Punches (3P) = Left Bumper (LB)
All Three Kicks (3K) = Left Trigger (LT)


B = Back
F = Forward
U = Up
D = Down

QCF = Quarter-Circle Forward = Down to Forward
QCB = Quarter-Circle Back = Down to Back
DP = Dragon Punch Motion = Forward, then Down to Forward

LP = Light Punch
MP = Medium Punch
HK = Heavy Punch

LK = Light Kick
MK = Medium Kick
HK = Heavy Kick

3P = All Three Punches
3K = All Three Kicks

View = Taunt
Menu = Pause

About The Author

Bryan Dawson

Bryan Dawson has an extensive background in the gaming industry, having worked as a journalist for various publications for nearly 20 years and participating in a multitude of competitive fighting game events. He has authored over a dozen strategy guides for Prima Games, worked as a consultant on numerous gaming-related TV and web shows and was the Operations Manager for the fighting game division of the IGN Pro League.

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