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Fighting Shang Tsung

Gaps & Punishes


This is a multi-hitting high attack that leaves Shang Tsung at +6 on block. The final hit of this string can be Flawless Blocked and punished with an Up+2. Be wary because if Shang Tsung uses his 1,1,4 instead, you will be hit for trying to Flawless Block.


While this string can be punished by Flawless Blocking the last hit, it isn’t necessary because it is -6 on block. If you do choose to Flawless Block, Shang Tsung can stop the string early by only using Back+1,1, however this is also punishable at -11 on block. Shang Tsung can also cancel the Back+1,1 into Ground Eruption to stop you from Flawless Blocking. Because of this, it’s generally advised to refrain from Flawless Blocking.


This is Shang Tsung’s main attack. Make sure not to get caught by the 2nd hit of this string as it is a low. The last hit can be Flawless Blocked and punished with an Up+2. It should be noted that Shang Tsung can counter Flawless Block attempts by using his Forward+2,4,3 or using Ground Eruption after the first 2 hits. Since both of these moves hit earlier than the last hit of Forward+2,4,2, it is possible to block them while also being able to Flawless Block the last hit of Forward+2,4,2. To do so, make sure to not immediately release block after Forward+2,4. Instead, block for a split-second longer in case Shang Tsung uses his Forward+2,4,3 and Ground Eruption. Then, Flawless Block the last hit of Forward+2,4,2.

Note: Be careful when trying to Flawless Block this string if Shang Tsung has either the Force Lift or Shapeshifter’s Training abilities equipped. If Shang Tsung uses Force Lift after his Forward+2,4, it will counter your attempt at Flawless Blocking and trigger a Krushing Blow.


This is a low into overhead attack. This string contains a large gap which can be interrupted with any attack that has a start-up of 12 frames or faster. Trying to interrupt this string will however leave you vulnerable to Shang Tsung’s Back+3,Down+4 or Ground Eruption. Instead, it’s best to continue blocking low in case he uses his Back+3,Down+4, and block high on reaction to Back+3,Up+4. The overhead has a start-up of 30 frames, which can very easily be reacted to. When you see the overhead, quickly stand up and Flawless Block it. Once Flawless Blocked, Shang Tsung will be punishable at -11.

Dark Arts

Shang Tsung’s Dark Arts (1,1,2) string leaves him at +6 while creating considerable pushback on block. This string will create a frametrap, allowing Shang Tsung to guarantee a Soul Steal or Far Ground Eruption, both of which cannot be avoided. Though rather difficult, it is possible to punish Shang Tsung via Flawless Blocking. In order to do this, dash forward after blocking 1,1,2, then Flawless Block the Soul Steal or Far Ground Eruption. This is again a very tough maneuver so usually it’s best to continue blocking after 1,1,2.

Burning Evil

Shang Tsung’s Burning Evil (Forward+2,4,2) string leaves him at +4 on block, allowing him to follow up with a Down+4. Depending on the character, you’ll be able to either backdash or jump out of the Down+4 and escape his pressure. Shang Tsung can however stop jumps by using moves such as Ground Eruption. If you suspect this, use a quick move after Forward+2,4,2 to interrupt him.

Reserved Pain

Along with his many low attacks, Shang Tsung will occasionally use his Reserved Pain (Back+1,Down+2) string as a mix-up to catch you off guard. It’s incredibly important to not get hit by the overhead from this string because it will trigger a Krushing Blow if only the overhead hits by itself and will launch for a combo. Once you see his Back+1, be ready to block high and react to the overhead. You will have at least 32 frames to react before the overhead connects.

Punishing Ground Eruption

The 2nd fireball in Ground Eruption is -16 on block. If Flawless Blocked, it becomes -21 on block. This can be punished by quick, advancing attacks or a Reversal Special Move. Be wary as some moves will not work if the Ground Eruption is Amplified. To make punishing easier, dash in between the fireballs and quickly block the 2nd fireball. This will leave you closer to Shang Tsung and allow for an easy punish.

Depending on the distance, some characters can also dash forward or use an advancing attack after blocking the 1st fireball. For example, Johnny Cage can use a Forward+3 or Forward+4 after blocking the 1st fireball because it advances him forward. This will allow Johnny Cage to avoid the 2nd fireball and whiff punish Shang Tsung.


Counterpoking can be quite difficult against Shang Tsung due to him having a 7 frame Down+3 that is only -2 on block. It can also be risky to counterpoke because if he cancels his poke into Ground Eruption, it will punish your counterpoke for a full combo. It’s normally a good idea to refrain from counterpoking and wait for him to use his Ground Eruption. Since you’ll be close-up after blocking Shang Tsung’s pokes, punishing Ground Eruption will be much easier.

Dealing With Soul Steal

Soul Steal allows Shang Tsung to temporarily morph into your character while receiving a damage boost. You’ll mainly want to play defensively because as long as Shang Tsung is morphed, he’ll always have the advantage. Pay close attention to the duration that he is morphed. Shang Tsung will stay morphed for at least 4 seconds. If Soul Steal is Amplified then he will stay morphed for at least 8 seconds. When Shang Tsung morphs back, he will be vulnerable and unable to move for a short period of time. Once you know when Shang Tsung will morph back, be prepared to go on the offensive.

It’s also important to know that if Shang Tsung performs a Back Throw immediately after morphing back, it will trigger a Krushing Blow and launch for a combo. Make sure to use a Throw Escape against his Back Throw if you predict that he will try to trigger the Krushing Blow.

Rushing Spike & Rising Chest Kick

At midscreen you will want to block high in case Shang Tsung uses his Rushing Spike (Forward+3), which is an advancing overhead attack. Because you’ll be blocking high, he can mix this up with his Rising Chest Kick (Forward+4), which is an advancing high attack that leaves him at +5 on block. Both his Forward+3 and Forward+4 can be punished by performing a Flawless Block on reaction. It is also possible to interrupt these moves with a quick poke or a jab. Since Forward+4 is a high, it can also be punished by ducking and using a Down+2KB. However, this is mainly a hard read because you must also watch out for Forward+3 and Ground Eruption.

If you fail to punish Forward+4 and it’s blocked, it will leave Shang Tsung at either +5 or +6 depending on the distance. After Forward+4, Shang Tsung can guarantee a poke or Back+3 so be sure to block low. Once conditioned to block, Shang Tsung may also go for a grab after his Forward+4, so you will want to watch out for his throw and be ready to use a Throw Escape.


When cornered by Shang Tsung, you do not have to respect Shang Tsung as much because he won’t be able to combo off of Ground Eruption. This makes dealing with Shang Tsung’s pressure and mindgames much easier. For example, counterpoking Shang Tsung becomes far less risky in the corner because if you are hit by Ground Eruption, it will only knock you down and not launch for a combo.

Note: This does not apply if Shang Tsung has the Force Lift, Superkick or Shapeshifter’s Training abilities equipped because he will have much stronger combos in the corner.

Punishing Superkick

The Superkick ability allows Shang Tsung to transform into Rain and unleash a devastating kick. Shang Tsung will mainly use this up-close for pressure. On block, Superkick will leave Shang Tsung at -9, however it can be very difficult to punish due to pushback. For some characters, you may need to block standing or crouching in order to punish. The most consistent way to punish Superkick is to Flawless Block. Once Flawless Blocked, Shang Tsung will be punishable at -19.

Note: Be careful when trying to Flawless Block after Shang Tsung’s Back+1 because you will be vulnerable to his Back+1,Down+2 which will trigger a Krushing Blow.

If you are expecting the Superkick, Shang Tsung can cancel out of it for pressure. The most common attack he will use Superkick after is his Back+1. If cancelled after this, Shang Tsung will be at -7 on block. Although this is a safe cancel, you can still interrupt Shang Tsung out of his follow-up attack. All of Shang Tsung’s Superkick cancels leave him at a disadvantage, so you will be able to interrupt or punish the Superkick cancel. However if Shang Tsung does not cancel out of the Superkick, then you’ll be launched for a combo.

Superkick Cancel
Block Advantage
1 -16
1,1 -19
Back+1 -7
Back+1,1 -15
Down+1 -23
2 -17
2,1 -8
Back+2 -10
Forward+2 -9
Forward+2,4 -12
3 -8
3,Up+2 -13
Back+3 -13
Back+3,Up+4 -14
Down+3 -21
4 -10
Down+4 -18

Slide Mix-ups

The Slide ability allows Shang Tsung to transform into Reptile and perform a sliding attack. Slide is mostly used as a mix-up with Shang Tsung’s Back+1,Down+2. When defending against this mix-up, it’s usually best to block high due to the Krushing Blow from the overhead. While this mix-up is strong, Slide does not deal much damage and if blocked, can be heavily punished.


One of Shang Tsung’s best zoning tools is his Corpse Drop which is an overhead projectile. This can usually be blocked high on reaction because of its slow start-up. When blocking Corpse Drop, make sure to immediately block low afterwards in case he Amplifies it. Additionally, you can jump out of the low to avoid taking chip damage. When fullscreen, you will want to jump forward after Corpse Drop to close the distance. If closer up, jumping forward is much riskier due to the possibility of being anti-aired. Instead, use a Short Hop after blocking the Corpse Drop. Short Hops recover much quicker than jumps and will prevent yourself from being anti-aired.

Last Updated on October 23, 2020

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