Axl usually wants to stay at the mid-range, outside the range of most characters' pokes. From here, you can poke at the opponent without leaving himself too open, making most attempts to approach him from the ground very slow. If you can frustrate your opponent enough to get them to jump, you can anti air them and do a significant chunk of damage with little effort. Against characters who try to play outside of Axl's range, you can move forward and poke at them to make them stop what they are doing, or at the very least try something different. Your goal with Axl in most matchups is to control the ground and bait the opponent into jumping, and then anti-air them once they do.
On defense, most of Axl's options are risky or situational, making universal mechanics integral to escaping bad situations alive. With that said, taking big risks are sometimes necessary to survive, as too much RISC gained from blocking, combined with Axl's low effective health, can make the next hit the opponent lands potentially round-ending.
Axl's pressure game revolves heavily around the traditional frame traps. Almost every blockstring Axl does has gaps (especially if the opponent is IBing), though you can space yourself to discourage/beat mashing. Also of note is Rensen YRC, a strong pressure tool and probably one of the most common ways you will use meter. Familiarize yourself with Axl's gatling table.
Rensen is a common blockstring ender at midscreen, and at max range it only puts you at -4. Opting for the up followup on block will put you at -13, but also increases the distance your opponent is pushed back. At closer ranges where Rensen is more minus, you can do for the down followup to catch people trying to close the gap or mash, though be warned that it's possible to get whiff punished. If you begin to notice that your opponent waiting to block Rensen before they make their next move, it becomes viable to end strings without Rensen in order to throw them off.
Up close, the gaps present in Axl's strings become a little more dangerous, since a timely mash can put Axl on the defensive, and his slower buttons cannot always take advantage of the frame advantage he can put himself at. 3P is one of the better buttons here, having a disjointed hitbox and being +2 on block. You can go into 6H or Raiei as pressure resets, with both being +1 and having huge reward on CH, although predictable usage of them can be fatal. It's also possible to threaten a throw from here, although you need to be careful that your opponent as been conditioned to not mash. In general, while Axl has tools for close range pressure, it's important to not stick around for too long at this range, due to his slow buttons not always being able to take advantage of the frame advantage he has. Know when it's time to back off.
- Always remember to hold back to charge Rensen
- Sometimes your opponent can be pushed too far out for certain blockstrings to work, which can cause normals to whiff; shorter strings when the opponent is at a distance is recommended to prevent this
- 2D, 5H, and f.S have long cancel windows, allowing you to be a little tricky with your strings. Delaying for too long can let your opponent mash or jump out, however.
Tips and Tricks
TK Axl Bomber
TK Bomber, an Axl Bomber done at the lowest possible height from a jump cancelable normal (with motions such as 6923H, 9623H, 69874123H, or 6321473H) is an important combo tool that extends your damage, corner carry and tension gain to new levels. The motion can be practiced easily with a c.S on a standing training dummy, though the timing depends on the "launcher's" hitstop and hitstun (eg. 6P has a short & unforgiving timing, while 2S has a medium & lenient timing).
The most obvious use is Bomber loops in the corner for big damage and huge tension gain, but even in midscreen doing a TK Bomber can lead to good things after 2S:
- Knockdown from the Bomber, which may require delaying if the opponent is high in the air.
- 5P > Rensen for more damage and a knockdown on medium characters; opponent needs to be higher in the air for 5P not to whiff.
- 5P > 6K (JC) j.6P > j.6K > Bomber for more damage and breathing room.
- 5P > 6K > 2S (HJC) j.H > j.D > Bomber for even more damage; opponent needs to be close enough for 6K > 2S and can tech after the final Bomber.
- 5K > 2S > TK Bomber into relaunch (ie. Bomber loops) if the first TK Bomber carries the opponent (and you) near enough the corner.
Dropped TK Bomber input that comes out as j.H can be salvaged with different methods:
- j.H into buffered j.D > Axl Bomber: decent damage, but leaves you in a risky recovery since it allows the opponent to tech right above you.
- j.H into buffered j.D: wallsticks the opponent for a longer time (ie. safer recovery), but still leaves you with the tech mindgame.
- j.H into double jump airthrow OS: can catch tech mash attempts, but is vulnerable to late techs.
Rensen is a projectile, which means you can YRC during its startup and unleash the "Rensen Beam".
The projectile travels almost instantly while the YRC flash gives you time to analyze the situation and act accordingly:
- Hitconfirm with dash 5K, 5P or IAD (depending on the range) into a combo if the opponent got hit.
- Run up and go for a mixup (overhead, throw, frametrap) or pressure if the opponent blocked
- Antiair with 2S, 6K or other moves if the opponent jumped and prepare for the following hitconfirm (against possible air FD).
- React to an invulnerable reversal (when Rensen whiffs while opponent is still on ground level) by blocking and punish their recovery.
When executing a Rensen YRC in blockstrings, you must time the YRC after the opponent has left blockstun and before the projectile hits them which means the easiest way to do it is canceling Rensen from normals with low attack levels and/or long cancel times, the best choices being f.S, 2D, and 2P. Delaying the Rensen too much may leave enough time for the opponent to jump away with FD, so try to leave as small gap as possible to hit them during the jump startup frames.
Even though it is a really strong move, Rensen YRC isn't the perfect solution for all situations: Rensen still has its startup which can be hit by quick midrange moves (eg. characters with good f.S, 2S or 5H). Using it means spending 25% tension and suffering tension gain rate slowdown for a while, so throwing it out randomly in the hopes landing a hit, instead of actually paying attention to the neutral game and answering to opponent's actions with a meterless option, is a waste of resources. Also, if the opponent blocks it and you can't open their guard up with the following pressure, you're back to the starting point.
While 2K isn't Axl's best low option in blockstrings because of the damage proration (70%) and limited gatling options (c.S/f.S, 2D), it has a hurtbox that goes very low very quickly, allowing you to prone under various things. The most obvious use is dodging projectiles like Ky's Stun Edge, but it also works well against taller normals in footsies or for beating throw OSes as an empty jump low outisde throw range.
You can even use 2K to make some character-defining moves completely whiff: if you see a Sol coming in with a Bandit Bringer, you can respond with 2K, making the BB whiff and allowing you to throw OS on their recovery. It works well against some characters' jump normals too, but once the opponent takes notice of it, they can respond by hitting deeper (which in turn gives you more frames to use regular antiair options like 2S, 6P and air throw).
Similar to Sol's "Runflame" (using running momentum with Gunflame), it is possible to input a dash while doing Rensen. Run Rensen (also sometimes called "Runsen") is done by inputting a run (66) while releasing your charge instead of just forward (6). While there currently no use for it in combos, it is a great tool to extend the range of your Rensen and surprise your opponent during situations where both players are throwing projectiles from long distance. Coupled with Rensen YRC, you can get pressure or hitconfirm from a further range than from a normal Rensen. Video Example
Axl has basically three "modes" for acting in neutral:
- Close in (run, Raiei (YRC), 6H, IAD j.S)
- Antiair (pre-emptive 5P & 6K, stand-by for 2S, 6P, airthrow)
- Ground pressure (Rensen (YRC), 2P, f.S, 3P)
Although Axl has one choice that covers them all, Rensen YRC, without meter Axl has to dedicate himself to one of these options which means you can counter it with a correct read/reaction:
- Stand by and repel his approaches correctly; ground approaches with your long-range pokes, and air approaches with well-timed 6Ps (j.S has a hurtbox going along its hitbox so it loses to real antiairs when timed correctly).
- Run to go under his 5P/6K for a punish (doesn't work for tall run animation characters) or to get closer with FD dash breaks while he's stand-bying or after Rensen's frame disadvantage on block.
- Jump and IAD over his ground options for high risk, high return; IAD YRC is a strong option that beats Rensen-up and the antiair stand-by (though loses to Rensen YRC, pre-emptive 6K and 4F high parry-counter on reaction).
The balance of use between these three modes are based on the risks and rewards: the long range ground moves do very little damage since they rarely combo without meter (notable exception being 2H which combos to Rensen for knockdown even on normal hit) while even basic antiair combos do loads of damage. With a theoretical probabilities of 50% 2P/Rensen, and 50% 5P/6K, you would win easily against Axl by running under 5P/6K everytime there's a chance for it, but in reality the numbers for Axl players would probably look more like 25% for ground pressure with 2P & Rensen, 65% stand-by for antiair (with much less pre-emptive 5P/6K), and 10% for closing in. Good Axl players will obviously adjust the ratio in real time according to opponent's character (which defines the basic risks and rewards) and playing habits (which gives confidence for slow premptive moves like 6K and 2H), which means you must to do the same thing in order to win the war in neutral.
Once you have been forced to block Axl's moves, the mindgame shifts into "what to do after X": Rensen, Raiei and 6H are all pretty much safe on regular block (of course depending on the range and opposing character), which means Axl can keep up the guessing game.
- After Rensen things don't change much from neutral aside the frame advantage against him (regular -15, up follow-up -13, former being less when it hits on later active frames (ie. further away) and latter being easy to IB for -17 regardless of range) which isn't that meaningful in the post-Rensen range, but it nevertheless gives you a better return for your correct guess (eg. IAD after blocked Rensen into 2P or run after blocked Rensen into 5P).
- After a blocked Raiei or 6H, Axl is close to you with +1 advantage: his 7 frame 2K has early low-profile frames which makes it able to beat many mashing options (aside from fast 5Ks and 2Ks that hit low) and even against the ones that do beat it, he can always take a big risk with Benten (full invuln 1-11F) or 4F guard-point counter (needs to guess high-mid or low correctly). If Axl blocks or backdashes because he fears retaliation with a better normals, DP, or command throw, you can turn the tides by running in.
- Axl's only quick moves with frame advantages are c.S (+1) and 3P (+2), latter being a really good pressure tool because of the great range and good follow-ups (from various frametrap gatlings to dash 5K pressure reset). Without IB'ing the 3P and acting quickly, Axl can quite freely test your patience with short strings while building his own meter and cranking your RISC gauge up, which makes the next hit with 6H or Raiei really dangerous.
- While 5K and 2K are both quite slow on full recovery (21 and 18 frames, advantages -3 and -1), as stagger pressure they have better range than most 5P/2Ps, better startup than most f.Ses (even with the frame disadvantage), and have hurtboxes that are strong against the opposite type of normals (5K with decent low-crush and 2K with great low-profile), so you have to choose the abare normal and timing really carefully, especially without IB.
Axl's unorthodox mixup tools are really slow, so learning how to deal with them on reaction is important for the matchup.
- Rashousen command throw - Jump (and hold FD in case of YRC/PRC feint) on reaction and airdash forwards for a punish on the huge recovery.
- Raiei overhead/crossup - IB or airthrow as a reaction to Axl disappearing.
- 6H overhead - Try to instant block (air IB often giving a quaranteed punish) or 6P on reaction, though latter is very risky after c.S or 5H (as opposed to 2H) because of the smaller gap and huge 6H counterhit.
When these moves lose their effectiveness, Axl has to start doing legit frametrap/throw mixups. While his slow run and slow normals (most of which are negative on full recovery) are much more suited for frametraps that push him back to the neutral guessing game on block, Axl gets a big return for his throw since he can combo for 100+ damage and a knockdown in midscreen (and even more in the corner) on practically all characters. This means blocking is much less riskier than mashing or jumping out, but be prepared to abare if Axl shows too much disrespect with pressure resets and throws.
- Safe points (without 50% for RRC):
- Rensen - Rensen extends Axl's hurtbox forward a lot, so whenever he does it in a regular ground combo (eg. 5K > c.S > 2D > Rensen) a Burst hits him easily, though beware of Axl stopping at 2D and/or being too far for Burst to reach.
- Axl Bomber - While it's easy to burst a Bomber on reaction, this special is usually the final hit of the combo which means you take close to full damage (only preventing the knockdown).
- Bomber Loops in the corner is one exception that should be stopped before Axl does huge damage and gains loads of tension; beware of Axl baiting the burst after 2S or c.S (eg. going for a regular air combo that starts with a throw OS normal).
- Unsafe points
- 2S and 6K - The hurtboxes of both normals take time to reach the opponent (and do not extend as far as the hitboxes) while the vacuum hits cancel immediately into other moves, which means a burst can whiff very easily.
- Rensen-up RRC - This RRC gives Axl loads of untech time to wait for the RRC proration to end, which means bursting during this period is extremely dangerous; Axl can even safely bait it by doing a run FD break.
- Rensen-down - In corner, the chain spin lifts the opponent up decently and Burst lifts you even higher in the air, so bursting outside pointblank range can easily whiff.
- Counterhit 6H - The untech time lasts until knockdown; panic bursting immediately is dangerous because Axl can block for a while and still confirm a BnB combo with 5P, 6K, or dash 5K.
- Counterhit Raiei - Like 6H, on counterhit the untech time lasts until knockdown, so panic bursts are not recommended, especially on CH Raiei RRC which gives about as much untech time as Rensen RRC.
- Good players will wait for the CH confirm (to not waste meter on RRC) and lower level players often autopilot into RRC when avaible, so even normal hit Raiei can be a dangerous place to burst.
- Artemis Hunter (aka Benten), Axl's DP, is easily safe jumped since it has a 9F startup and is freely punished on block (-27, usually enough for run c.S punishes). The horizontal range is also quite weak, so it can be baited with well spaced projectile oki. On regular hit (and counterhit that isn't on ground level) you can tech in the air. The damage (46) isn't great either, so overall it's not the best reversal out there.
- Sparrowhawk Stance: See the Special Move entry description for the logic behind the mindgames.
- Rensen's down follow-up, normally -5 on block, can be pushed away with FD to make it whiff and therefore easier to punish.