Punishing Axe Bash
Sub-Zero’s Axe Bash (+,,) is a forward-advancing high. Throwing out low pokes in the neutral will allow you to attack Sub-Zero while avoiding this string because the 1st hit is a high. On a read, it is also possible to duck underneath the 1st hit and punish with a jab. This can however be a bit difficult and will leave you vulnerable to being hit by Sub-Zero’s + and +,.
Sub-Zero has one of the fastest pokes in the game with his + having a start-up of 6 frames. Typically, he may try to poke after strings such as +, and +,,. These strings are -6 and -5 on block respectively. If your attack is slower than 11 or 12 frames, then you will be interrupted by Sub-Zero’s +.
In order to stop Sub-Zero from mashing +, use an attack that is faster than 11 or 12 frames. For many characters, this will be their poke or throw. While Sub-Zero’s + is indeed fast, it also has a weakness. Compared to most characters’ pokes, Sub-Zero’s + has very little range. This allows you to walk back and whiff punish Sub-Zero’s + in certain situations. This can be a stronger option than poking because you will gain a full combo.
While these are great ways to deal with Sub-Zero’s +, you may also simply ignore it and attack. Sub-Zero’s + is not very threatening as it will only deal 2% damage, so do not be afraid to take your turn and attack.
Defending Against Mix-ups
Sub-Zero’s primary mix-up comes from his +, and +. There are two ways to defend against this mix-up. The 1st is to fuzzy guard the mix-up. Since + comes out in 13 frames and + comes out in 19 frames, the low will hit 6 frames earlier than the overhead. To fuzzy guard this you must first block low then block high.
Fuzzy guarding however can be countered if Sub-Zero delays his +, so that it hits as you go from crouching to standing. If you predict that he will delay his +,, this will create an opening for you to interrupt with a poke or jab. For example, after Sub-Zero hits you with a +, he will be at +10. If he uses his 19 frame +, there will be a 9 frame gap to interrupt. If Sub-Zero uses his +, and he delays it, it will also create a gap depending on how much it is delayed. This will essentially turn Sub-Zero’s 50/50 into a 33/33/33, or 3-way mix-up, as you will have the extra option to interrupt his mix-up.
The 2nd way to defend against Sub-Zero’s mix-up is to block low and only block high on reaction to the overhead. Since Sub-Zero’s + has a start-up of 19 frames, it is possible to block it on reaction. This is extremely difficult and should only be done if you have strong reactions. Keep in mind that if you are focused on fuzzy guarding or reacting to Sub-Zero’s mix-up, you will be vulnerable to being thrown.
Another important part to defending against Sub-Zero’s mix-up is to always pay attention to his Offensive Meter. If Sub-Zero has the Deep Freeze or Rising Ice abilities equipped and he does not have Offensive Meter, you should almost always block low because he can only combo off of his + by Amplifying his Ice Ball.
Countering Brutal Kick
Sub-Zero’s Brutal Kick (+) is a slow, forward-advancing mid attack that is +4 on block. A lot of times, Sub-Zero will use this move at long-range to close the distance while gaining frame advantage. Since this move has a start-up of 28 frames, it can be punished on reaction. To punish +, you must either Flawless Block or interrupt it with a jab. The timing for this can be tricky however depending on the spacing it’s used at.
Note: Sub-Zero’s + will trigger a Krushing Blow if it hits 2 times in a row. If Sub-Zero had previously hit you with his +, then trying to punish will be much riskier.
After blocking +, Sub-Zero will be at +4. He can then follow this up with a +, throw, or apply his 50/50 mix-up between +, and +. It’s usually best to continue blocking and defend against Sub-Zero’s next attack. However if you think that he will go for his 50/50, use a jab which will interrupt both the overhead and low for a full combo.
Note: If Sub-Zero’s + is blocked at maximum distance, he can be up to +5 or higher on block, which means there will be no gap to interrupt his 50/50.
Sub-Zero’s Slide is an advancing low attack that travels a far distance. When Amplified, it will switch positions. Usually, Sub-Zero may attempt to throw out Slide to stop your movements or put you into the corner. If you predict that he will use Slide, block low and punish. Slide can also be used after Sub-Zero’s +. If you are not prepared, this can be tricky to defend against because you must block high and then low very quickly.
Amplified Slide will also trigger a Krushing Blow on the 3rd Amplified Slide to hit. If you have already been hit by 2 Amplified Slides, make sure to avoid being hit again to prevent him from trigger its Krushing Blow.
If Sub-Zero has the Cold Shoulder ability equipped, it will replace his Slide move. Instead of a low, Cold Shoulder is an advancing mid attack. Be careful when trying to punish Cold Shoulder as it can be Amplified on block. Since Cold Shoulder can be Amplified at any point, Sub-Zero can use it to counter your attempt at punishing it. In order to punish Cold Shoulder, you must guess whether Sub-Zero will Amplify it or not. After blocking Cold Shoulder, either punish immediately or continue to block in case he Amplifies it.
The Arctic Trap ability is a Special Move that temporarily stays on the screen. If you make contact with it, you will be frozen. Arctic Trap has a slow start-up of 41 frames, so if you notice Sub-Zero trying to set it up, quickly attack him before he can get the Arctic Trap out.
If Sub-Zero manages to set up the Arctic Trap, try to stay away until it disappears. Once set up, Sub-Zero will have the ability to combo off of his Slide when Amplified, knocking you into the Arctic Trap. Stay on guard and block low in case he uses Slide. Make sure to try to keep your distance from Sub-Zero because up-close he will be able to combo from his overhead by cancelling it into Slide and Amplifying it.
Arctic Trap Setup
In the corner, Arctic Trap becomes even more troublesome. Sub-Zero can set up Arctic Trap by ending his combos with +,,. This setup becomes safe if you use a Delayed Getup or Roll Escape. Once the Arctic Trap is set up, Sub-Zero will be able to apply a constant barrage of mix-ups while making it difficult for you to counterattack. Although the Arctic Trap will be set up, Sub-Zero’s mix-ups are not guaranteed. A well-timed jump for example will avoid both Sub-Zero’s overhead and low attacks.
If you wish to interrupt Sub-Zero’s mix-up, you can time an attack just before his attack connects, though this can be quite difficult. Moves that go through the Arctic Trap without moving your character forward are also viable to counter the setup. Additionally if there is an interactable in the corner, you can use it to escape or armor through Sub-Zero’s attack. Finally, Flawless Blocking the Arctic Trap will destroy it and allow you to interrupt Sub-Zero.
In order to counter the setup, do not use a Delayed Getup or Roll Escape. Instead, get up normally off the ground and attack Sub-Zero before the Arctic Trap can be placed. You can also block the Arctic Trap, which will cause it to disappear and leave Sub-Zero punishable at -11. Some characters will also be able to use a Getup Attack to escape the setup.
Keep in mind that if you do not use a Delayed Getup, Sub-Zero will be able to attack while you are knocked down instead of setting up the Arctic Trap. Ultimately you must guess on whether Sub-Zero will attempt to set up the Arctic Trap or attack on knockdown.