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 Thunder 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 and Beginner’s Tips articles. If you want to get a little more in-depth than that, read up on Thunder’s frame data. This article assumes you already know everything from the more basic articles.
You Can’t Block This Call (of the Earth)
Thunder is a grappler character, and that means he relies heavily on his command grab, Call of the Earth. If you think this holds him back at all, you would be severely mistaken. The regular and Shadow Call of the Earth throws are two of the best attacks in the game and should be feared by Thunder’s opponents.
Let’s start with the normal Call of the Earth, or simply CotE from here on. The light version executes in 10 frames, the medium in 13 frames and the heavy in 17 frames. You can cancel any blocked Normal into CotE to connect the grab on a blocking opponent. It’s possible to be poked out of the attack or for the opponent to jump to avoid it, but that just leaves them vulnerable. If an opponent tries this, simply cancel the Normal into a Triplax next time instead of CotE. They won’t be able to interrupt or jump away from the Triplax.
This tactic works especially well after blocking a jumping attack because you have even more options. You can use Thunder’s normal throw, which leads into a short combo, transition immediately into CotE, or use a Normal, then CotE. Of course you can also use Ankle Slicer or Triplax instead of CotE, but be warned that every version of the Ankle Slicer in this situation can be punished by most players if they have good reactions.
Shadow CotE is a completely different beast. There are 5 frames of startup before the screen freezes, but as soon as the freeze has concluded, the attack is instant. It can’t be used after a blocked Normal like the standard CotE (unless you delay using it slightly), but it can be used to punish otherwise safe attacks. For example, Shadow CotE can punish a blocked heavy Wind Kick from Jago. Normally it would be safe for Jago to use the attack against Thunder, but as soon as Thunder has meter (which should be almost the entire match), if Jago uses a heavy Wind Kick, he’ll eat 20-30 percent damage from the Shadow CotE.
Because Shadow CotE is virtually instant, if you see an opponent blocking, chances are you can hit them with it. Head into Practice mode and learn the maximum range of Shadow CotE. It reaches roughly halfway across the screen and can be very deceptive. Stay at the maximum range and use it as soon as you suspect the opponent won’t attack or jump.
Once you’ve trained an opponent to beware of the range of a Shadow CotE, they’ll be constantly moving away from Thunder to avoid being in that range. This allows you to push them into the corner where they can no longer run. At this point Thunder can stay at maximum Shadow CotE range, while also being able to anti-air with Sammamish if the opponent attempts to jump. If they close in, use block strings into a normal CotE, or just use Thunder’s normal throw to start a combo. Thunder has every advantage in this situation so long as the opponent is sacred of CotE and Shadow CotE.
Combos are Overrated
A vast majority of the damage in Killer Instinct comes from the combo system. It can be difficult to rack up a decent amount of damage without using a combo. Thunder is a different story. While he can certainly inflict significant damage with a combo, it’s not the only way he can deplete an opponent’s health bar.
Thunder thrives on resets because of the CotE and Shadow CotE throws. Start a combo and end it quickly with a crouching medium kick Manual. As soon as the Manual connects, let the combo drop and immediately use CotE or Shadow CotE. A dropped combo into Shadow CotE is almost impossible to see coming. The opponent would basically have to be holding up during Thunder’s combo to avoid it. The normal CotE can be interrupted, but the opponent would have to be expecting it, which means you’re telegraphing the throw or using it too much in this scenario.
If you use an Opener, followed by a Manual, then drop the combo and follow it with Shadow CotE, you can inflict over 30 percent damage while giving the opponent an extremely small window to use a Combo Breaker (during the hit stun of the Manual). To make this work with the highest possible success, you need to be able to connect a Manual after an Opener. Technically it works with a light Auto-Double, but that gives the opponent more time to react to the command grab or break the combo.
The easiest Manual for Thunder is a light attack after a light Triplax Opener. You can also use a medium attack after the light Triplax Opener, which is slightly harder to connect. If you want to extend your combo a bit longer, use Manuals instead of Auto-Doubles to make it more difficult to break, and use a light or medium Manual after a medium Ankle Slicer Linker.
If you prefer to use a Triplax Linker, any light attack is a moderately easy Manual to connect after a light or medium Triplax Linker. You should never do a heavy Triplax Linker unless you’re trying to bait a Combo Breaker so you can catch the opponent with a Counter Breaker. The heavy Triplax Linker is one of the easiest Linkers to break in the game.
Thunder is also one of the few characters who has a battery Ender. This means if he uses the heavy Ankle Slicer to end a combo, he gains Shadow meter. The more damage the combo inflicts, the more meter Thunder replenishes. At most, he can replenish one stock of Shadow meter.
Now one of Thunder’s best tactics is not to finish his combos and instead go for resets with CotE and Shadow CotE. However, once you have Manuals down, you can use a full combo and end it with the battery Ender when you need meter. Essentially, at the highest level of play, Thunder should always have meter to burn. This is important because Thunder gains a lot of advantage when he has meter, but he loses all of the when he’s meterless.
Resistance is Futile
In other fighting games, grappler characters tend to have more health than other characters. Killer Instinct uses a standardized health system in which every character has the same amount of health. So instead of giving Thunder more health, he has armor and invincibility. What this means is that Thunder basically has an answer for every situation so long as he has meter. If you’re playing well, you should almost always have meter with Thunder.
First and foremost is the Shadow Triplax. It has one hit of armor, which means it will go through a single-hit attack and still hit the opponent. This should be used anytime you think the opponent will start their offense. It is especially effective after an opponent blocks one of Thunder’s safe attacks, such as a light Triplax.
In most instances an opponent will believe it’s their turn to attack after blocking the light Triplax, which means Thunder can use a Shadow Triplax and blow right through the opponent’s attack. There are very few multi-hitting attacks in Killer Instinct, and using them can be a risk due to the Shadow Counter system, so it’s a safe bet that most opponents will attempt to start their offense with a single hit attack.
Speaking of Shadow Counters, because Thunder’s Shadow Counter is his Shadow Triplax, he can use a Shadow Counter in instances that would not work with other characters. The most common usage for a Shadow Counter is after blocking the fourth hit of a Shadow attack. For this reason, it isn’t uncommon to see players Instinct Canceling on the fourth hit of a blocked Shadow attack to bait and punish a Shadow Counter attempt. Because of Thunder’s armor, he can use a Shadow Counter after blocking the third hit of a Shadow attack. The Shadow Counter will absorb the fourth hit, then the armor will blow through the last hit.
This tactic works even better against characters such as Orchid, Jago, or Sabrewulf. All of these characters have attacks that hit twice, or mix-ups that hit once, but it’s risky to attempt a Shadow Counter because they can interchange these attacks with other multi-hitting attacks. For example, Jago’s Laser Sword can be one or two hits. Under normal circumstances an opponent can’t use a Shadow Counter however, Thunder can because the Shadow Counter will eat the first attack while the armor will eat the second if Jago uses a medium or heavy Laser Sword. Sabrewulf’s Normal cancel into a Run mix-up or Ragged Edge falls victim to Thunder’s Shadow Counter as well. Having the extra hit makes it an extremely valuable tool.
The Instinct to Fly
One of the main complaints about Thunder is the fact that he’s not very mobile. His dash doesn’t cover a lot of ground and his walk speed is slow. This makes it difficult for him to close in on an opponent. While the Shadow CotE has a lot of range, it’s not enough to make up for the slow walk speed and dash when he’s up against faster characters such as Orchid or Sabrewulf. This is where his Instinct comes into play.
Thunder’s Instinct mode essentially makes him the most mobile character in the game. His dash covers more ground, executes faster, and can cross-up an opponent (similar to Sabrewulf). He can also cancel the end of the dash into a special move, or cancel the end of a special move into the dash. However, it’s not all that difficult for an opponent to run away from Thunder as soon as he activates Instinct, so you can’t just use it at random.
The best time to use Thunder’s Instinct is after getting knocked to the ground, or after an opponent blocks an attack. Because the Instinct dash is invincible at the beginning of the animation, if an opponent knocks Thunder to the ground, he can activate Instinct as soon as he stands up, then quickly dash through any pressure the opponent is attempting.
After a blocked attack, an Instinct Cancel allows Thunder to use the dash while he’s still in the opponent’s face. It doesn’t give the opponent time to get away. In fact, Thunder can Instinct Cancel the second hit of a blocked Triplax, dash to the other side and cancel the dash into another Triplax or a throw.
While having this ability twice in one match is great, you do not want to activate Thunder’s Instinct when an opponent is about to lose their first health bar. As it stands, Thunder’s Instinct won’t last more than a combo or two. If you burn half of it during the round transition, you may get one chance to open up the opponent at best. Do not use Thunder’s Instinct during his first health bar unless the opponent has more than 30 percent of their first health bar remaining. Anything less can be depleted with a single combo, or even one Shadow CotE, and could potentially waste Instinct mode.