“As a close friend of Conflictus, I can safely say he is one of the nicest guys in the community in contrast to his playstyle with Sub-Zero as being one of the most scariest. I can say in the years I have known of him, he is one of the best Sub-Zero players I have ever played against and a good friend.” — Sikander
“I learned about Conflictus not so long ago. In our CIS community, he has become more than just a player. There are legends about him and also memes based on his playstyle. However, the style of play doesn’t mean anything like the player or his personality. Conflictus is one of the most dangerous Mortal Kombat players out there. His unpredictability makes everybody unnerved, he is the true definition of a demon! But the demon is only in-game, because, in real life, he is much more of an angel. A very kind and cheerful guy, although he likes to put his life on the line a lot with his risky plays!” — Arnkratos
My name is Connor Nelson or better known by my username in the community as “Conflictus.” I am known as a Sub-Zero loyalist who has played the character since release in 2019 and has collectively played the character in every single entry of the MK franchise (including crossovers such as Injustice 2) since he is my favourite character in the series. And, I have played MK for over 20 years since my first outing playing on UMK3 as a child.
Today I will be covering the basics and advanced knowledge that I have gathered since being a Day 1 Sub-Zero player, his strengths and weaknesses, his matchups, and my own personal input.
An accomplished martial artist with skills of assassination, stealth, and deadly arts, Sub-Zero hails from the clan of assassins infamously known as the Lin Kuei. Sub-Zero also is born with the unique art of cryomancery, which is the skill of being able to conjure ice at will to his advantage. He is one of, if not, the most enigmatic characters in the series who fights alongside the forces of good and is called upon to be there at Earthrealm’s aid shall any threats appear.
Sub-Zero is a rushdown orientated character, who deals in basic yet heavy amounts of damage, with his “50/50s” style, huge mix potential, and unbreakable counter zoning, he is one of the most feared characters in the series and an iconic character in mainstream media.
Easy to learn, hard to master, Sub-Zero is a great choice for those who are beginners and experienced alike, with one of the lowest skill floors in the roster for beginners to use and requiring high execution in hit-confirming at high-level gameplay, he is a good choice for everyone to add to their arsenal.
Pros and Cons
Crazy mix potential
Unsafe in a lot of his core gameplay
Amazing counter zoning
Weak corner game when pressured
Amazing comeback potential with his “non-reactable” 50/50s
Struggles against characters who excel in the air
Slide special attack
No Mid Starters
Good Buttons to use for Sub-Zero
S1, 2 – Good buttons to use to keep players in check while pressuring them, also can be hit confirmed into Ice Ball (D, F 1) to deal optimal damage, also very safe hitting on block at 0 block advantage so players can safely block afterward.
S2: While not an essentially good button by itself, this move is amazing to use against frozen opponents with a huge hit advantage that means Sub-Zero will always have another turn guaranteed, leaving opponents having to guess the next 50/50 option.
B3 – One of Sub-Zero’s key essential buttons to use, B3 is a staple in a Sub-Zero’s gameplan. At 13f, it is used to open opponents up as a low attack as part of B3, 2 into Ice Ball, or even B3, 2, 1 to keep Sub-Zero safe. It can also be used as a mixup option by doing B3 itself into a throw/F2 or even another B3 string to trick players who are expecting the throw/overhead.
B3, 2 – One of Sub-Zero’s hit confirmable and staple moveset; this is used to lead into using the ice ball hit confirms or stay safe by using B3, 2, 1.
F2 (into Slide, Creeping Ice, Ice Ball, or Rising Ice) – This move is one of, if not, the main reason Sub-Zero is feared. The dreaded overhead at 19f is the other 50/50 to compliment his B3; it is used as part of a Sub-Zero player’s offense with F2 Ice Ball, Slide, Creeping Ice, or Rising Ice. It is also infamously known as being unreactable both online and offline and a must for Sub-Zero players.
B1, 4 (into Ice Ball) – By far, the easiest of all Sub-Zero’s moves to hit confirm, B1 by itself is a great poke at 14f that covers quite a lot of distance and Sub-Zero’s go-to for whiff punishing careless players or mistakes they have made hitting air. B1, 4 into Ice Ball is easy to hit confirm to deal damage.
D4 – D4 despite being one of the “slower” D4’s in the game, has one of the greatest ranges for a D4 poke compared to others. You can use this to poke other players to keep them in check with hit stagger to steal your turn while also being safe on block.
F4 – Advancing mid that is also plus on block, this move is a great offensive move that keeps players in check, while it can be flawless blocked, on hit, it will push players back across the map for Sub-Zero to have more ground to maneuver around. It is also plus on block so that Sub-Zero players can use it to open up with another 50/50 opportunity or even go for a throw.
B2 (into Ice Ball) – One of the best anti-airs in the game, Sub-Zero’s B2 covers a lot of aerial ranges for characters who try to careless go in for jump kicks. It is also safe on block and super easy to land an ice ball on a jumping opponent.
F2, 4 – While F2, 4 has a Krushing Blow attached that can deal big damage, it is one of Sub-Zero’s most unsafe moves at -19 on block, which leaves Sub-Zero open for big combo at his own expense. This move should only be used to whiff punish and nothing else.
D3 – Sub-Zero, unfortunately, while has a great D4, he has a horrible D3 compared to the majority of the cast and is only useful with using F4 against female characters due to their hurtbox (especially Cetrion, who is notorious for whiffing Sub’s D1 after an F4 with her own D4) and it shouldn’t be used by itself.
B4 – Doesn’t serve many purposes, a sweeping move knocks down opponents and essentially yields no reward, avoid.
Dead of Winter
Dead of Winter (also known collectively in the community as DoW in abbreviated terms) is for those seeking a high-risk, high-reward style for Sub-Zero. It has an Amplified Ice Ball which costs one offensive meter to use with amazing velocity and not only wins in trades but also absorbs enemy projectiles and is by far the best projectile in the game that costs meter. It is the most feared move by people facing Sub-Zero, as it is a mid and, therefore, can not be ducked under like a regular iceball; opponents must always block this move. Cold Shoulder is also another ability that replaces Sub-Zero’s slide, it trades the ability to slide under and punish projectiles to deal more damage on hit and pushing opponents into a corner when amplified compared to an amplified slide which swaps sides.
Thin Ice trades high-risk, high-reward playstyles for more of a zoning style. Sub-Zero has less damage overall with this variation but also has more utility with his three abilities, which are the Air Polar Axe, Death Circle Barrage, and Frigid Ice. Air Polar Axe is a great tool as it is a projectile for Sub-Zero to use in the air, is safe on block, and also offers amazing hit advantage once landed, and can be used as an opener in this way, It can also be “spammed” to play in a keep-away style. Death Circle Barrage is Sub-Zero’s best finisher for chip damage. This move, on block, deals amazing chip damage that can kill unsuspecting players who are trapped in the corner with low health and also covers a bit of space, while keeping Sub-Zero relatively safe by taking a step back and covering ground. Lastly, Frigid Ice is also a projectile that can be used in conjunction with the Ice Ball, it is plus on block and can be used to steal turns with players looking to try and “trade back” but can end up being caught with an Ice Ball.
For Defensively orientated players, this variation is great for players who want to trade damage for safety. First is the Arctic Trap, which is a “mini ice ball” Sub-Zero places in front of him that is present for approximately 3 seconds. It is great to use against characters who try to rushdown a lot or, even better, against characters stuck in the corner as they not only have to deal with Sub-Zero but also the Arctic Trap as well. Opponents have to be careful when dealing with the trap to not getting caught by it. The other ability is Creeping Ice, which is safe on block and should be used with F2, as Creeping Ice is an alternative to Amplified Ice Ball/Slide/Rising Ice and, while it yields less damage, it is safe and creates pushback on block too for safety-conscious players.
Deep Freeze (Amplified Ice Ball) + Creeping Ice (or Rising Ice/ Air Axe)
My personal favourite that I always run is Deep Freeze with Creeping Ice, as Sub-Zero has accessibility to using Amplified Ice Balls, which, as described before, are amazing at counter zoning but can also be used to deal extra damage after landing F2 on hit to deal great damage (extra damage if you include Fatal Blow by doing J2, 4 into Fatal Blow as this is optimal on freeze). Sub-Zero also has access to Slide which is one of his best tools and also being essentially one of the best tools in the entire game. This is because you can go under “high” projectiles and catch unsuspecting players, as well as having KB attached to it by landing three successful Slides when amplified. I also run Creeping Ice alongside Deep Freeze because I love having access to a safety option just in case I have a life lead or think that my opponent will be able to correctly predict that I’m attempting to go for F2 overhead. I like to use that option as a safety net in the best terminology. While these two are my favourite to use, you can substitute Creeping Ice with Rising Ice or Air Axe, with Rising Ice being used for more combo damage by launching the opponent in the air and doing combos from there or Air Axe as an air projectile which can be used to great effect against grounded-based characters (Geras, for example). It’s whatever you fancy really!
Rising Ice + Creeping Ice + Air Axe
Some Sub-Zero players such as Disarted prefer to use this variation, as it more utility based and brings more neutral to Sub-Zero’s gameplan, which has the safety of Creeping Ice, the damage potential of Rising Ice, and having an air projectile in the form of the Air Polar Axe. So while it does not have the Amplified Ice Ball, it brings more “flavour” to Sub-Zero’s neutral and gives him more options to play around and use, and makes him more menacing in more ways than one.
General Tips & Combos with Sub-Zero (plus my own experience)
As stated before, Sub-Zero is a rushdown character who relies on his 50/50s for mixes and whiff punishing to open players up, but while Sub-Zero is essentially one of the easiest characters to learn in MK11, a general misconception is that the character requires no skill to play and win with This is not the case due to Sub-Zeros being reckless with how they play. This will lead to a fast defeat for themselves and quick victory for their opponent, due to Sub-Zero being unsafe in a lot of his moves.
Sub-Zero, however, is quite different from a lot of characters in the game, because he is less about combos and more about punishing, hit confirming, and mix. A HUGE part of his game plan is hit confirm, hit confirm, hit confirm.
Sub-Zero players need to rely heavily on mixing with their moves and inputs to keep their opponents guessing, as doing something repetitively is considered “Flowchart” (following the same pattern of moves and gameplan). You must play mind games with the opponent and always keep them uncomfortable, even a “Random YOLO slide” which I’m infamous for doing when I pre-mediate my slides as soon as I see an opportunity.
For example, in terms of predictability (which is a Sub-Zero player’s worst enemy), don’t always do an F2 Ice Ball after doing F4, if an opponent quickly realizes your pattern of play, this can put you at risk. ALWAYS try to do something different or something that the opponent won’t expect to get yourself a nice chunk of damage. As a great admirer of philosophers and war figures, a great quote to implement is from The Art Of War by Sun Tzu.
“When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.”
Sub-Zero players have access to one of the best projectiles in the entire game with the ice ball and are great against careless opponents who try to zone too much or don’t respect Sub-Zero enough. Don’t be afraid to “spam” Ice Balls to keep players in check (but try to avoid this with characters with teleports like Scorpion and Raiden, who can easily punish Sub-Zero for being too reckless).
A huge staple for budding Sub-Zero players is practicing hit confirming his Ice Ball as much as you can. I recommend starting off practice hit confirming with Sub-Zero’s easiest hitconfirm B1, 4 into Ice Ball in the Practice section of MK11 and making sure that the A.I is set to block “Random Kombo.” This is a great way to practice your hit confirms. I recommend trying to land at least 10 hit confirms in a row with B1, 4 Ice Ball before moving onto B3, 2 Iceball (which I consider medium difficulty in terms of his hit confirms) and landing so many in a row each time. If you feel really up for the challenge, you can go for his hardest-hit confirm with 1, 2, Ice Ball, which is hard to be consistent with but so rewarding once you get the hang of it.
Don’t forget, with Sub-Zero, having amazing mix that is considered by many to be the best in the game, he also one of the best back dashes in the game. Don’t be afraid to use it to whiff punish players. A great way to use his back dash to whiff punish is by after using F4, quickly back dash and close in with F2, Amp Ice Ball. Many players will try to mash D3/D1 to get their turn back, and this can catch a lot of players out who are careless with their mashing.
Another great example of putting his back dash to full use is whenever you see an opponent going for an advancing move. When you see this, quickly back dash and then use B1, 4. If you are successful, you can easily hit confirm into Ice Ball and get a decent punish combo afterward.
Sub-Zero’s weaknesses in matches are that, even though he has amazing mix, he struggles against characters that jump in the air frequently, such as Slight Gas Kabal, Upgraded Jacqui, Kung Lao, etc. When facing these characters, prepare to B2 at any given moment to anti-air them and focus a lot more on 1, 2s to keep them in check rather than fighting back with mix, as these characters potentially can avoid the mix of Sub-Zero if they repeatedly jump. Go for more 1, 2s and even jump back J2 is good at dealing with these characters as well.
A common mistake I see a lot of Sub-Zero players making (mainly beginners) is not using Fatal Blow optimally. While Sub-Zero has the infamous F2 or B3/2 into Fatal Blow which earned him an infamous reputation of “Guess or die” with his fatal, a lot of beginners with Sub-Zero do not use the optimal Fatal Blow damage when they freeze someone. When a character is frozen, Sub-Zero’s damage gets scaled. Whenever you freeze someone and you’re going for the fatal blow, ALWAYS J2 into 4 into Fatal Blow. It is the most optimal Fatal Blow damage and always guarantees at least 40% damage rather than simply going for Fatal Blow on freeze or doing some string into Fatal Blow.
Another common mistake by people who use Sub-Zero is against female characters. Female characters have their own hurtbox and are easier to whiff on. I have seen Sub-Zero’s D1 whiff a lot after an F4 on a female character many times. It is best to use a D3 after doing an F4 rather than a D1; it will consistently land a lot more.
And the last common mistake is similar to the Fatal Blow situation with a frozen opponent. I’ve seen Sub-Zeros not optimizing their combos on a frozen opponent, instead of randomly attacking their opponent with a combo when they are frozen, make the most out of it. I like to J2 into 4 Slide to get the best bang out for my buck. I will side switch with my opponent and do J2, 4 Slide Amplified to get a lot of damage. With the amplified slide from the corner, I can put them back in the corner while getting an extra bit of damage and building up for my slide KB. You can also use B1, 4, 3, Slide as well to fully optimize your combo, but I like to go for the J2 approach, as it is more consistent for me to land.
Lastly, get to know the matchups. With every character in the game, there are matchups, which are essentially how well your character does against another person’s character. A rating of 5-5 is balanced, while 6-4 means it is favoured towards someone. The higher the difference, the more favoured that person’s character is.
My personal experience with Sub-Zero is I like to call him the “S Tier Killer,” because even though he is a great character, he is not considered by the majority of players as a Top 5 character. There are other characters who have more success in tournaments and better tools to use than Sub-Zero. But Sub-Zero is great against a lot of the S Tier characters, such as Cetrion. While she is considered the best character by many, Sub-Zero has ways to deal with her with his amazing counter zoning and rushdown that makes a lot of Cetrion players fear him. As Asodimazze (the best Cetrion in EU) said to Dashfight once, “Give me anyone but Sub-Zero.”
I hope that everybody enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing this guide. I would like to thank Arnkratos and Sikander for writing & expressing their support for me writing this guide, VLJV for giving his own input into the guide, Profe for pushing me into making this guide, and, lastly, but most importantly, my friends and fans who follow me on Twitter and support me in the MK community and are my rock!
Hope you all enjoyed and if you would like, you can follow me on Twitter and even on Twitch!
Want a different perspective? Maybe you want to learn EVEN MORE about Sub-Zero! Check out this Sub-Zero guide from AF0xyGrampa that details more ways to play everyone's favorite Lin Kuei!