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Killer Instinct: Character Rankings for Basic and Competitive Play

17 min

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Killer Instinct: Character Rankings for Basic and Competitive Play
Wheels's Killer Instinct Character Rankings for Basic and Competitive Play

First-time players of fighting games often feel like they are opening a gift box that keeps on giving. Early expectations range from initial victories, perception of the game mechanics, and the motivation to keep playing in the face of defeat. With experience comes the struggle of executing commands and the endless cycle of mind games that keeps players focused on the match regardless of who is dominating who.

Killer Instinct is a reboot of the Killer Instinct series with some plot elements from the previous games. However, one significant change is that characters now possess a unique play style based on three core fighting game archetypes;

The Rush Down character charges in and gets up close to deal heavy combos and damage but lacks in ranged fighting, the Keep-Away character has few options up close but zones and pushes enemies back and pesters them from across the screen with projectiles, and the Grappler character gets in to juggle and toss enemies and uses powerful mix-ups to punish approaching enemies.

Characters gain a few new mechanics in accumulation to their new diversified play styles, and each character will gain further Special Attacks that they can use in addition to their traditional normals, and a passive trait, known as Instinct Mode, that activates as time goes on, which varies widely from character to character. Also, the combo and counter breakers help keep both fighters on their toes even as the hit count rises.

Not only is its combat system flashy and well thought out, but it's also well explained. For beginners, the path to illumination begins in Dojo mode, which covers everything from rudimentary movement and defense to more unconventional concepts, like how to read and apply frame data, all presented in an easily consumable way, with well-written descriptions accompanied by CPU demonstrations. By the time it's over, you won't just understand Killer Instinct – you'll appreciate fighting games.

The first steps in fighting games are vital, and choosing the right character is one of the most decisive factors for making quick progress and having much fun.

Here are the characters ranked from best to worst by Wheels in a way that would probably jumpstart or improve your Killer Instinct game career the most.

Killer Instinct Characters from Best to Worst

# 1 Rash:

Rash has been the consensus #1 because he loses no matchups. Also, one of the simplest and easiest characters to play. His only weakness is a lack of wakeup/reversal without meter. Other than that, he's a complete character.

#2 Aria:

Like Rash, Aria fights the entire cast well but is much more challenging to use, and health management is important because, unlike the rest of the cast, Aria's total health is split into three bars (bodies/modes) instead of two. With each body lost, a piece of her toolkit is also lost. The character gets worse as you do more damage to her. She pretty much shares the same strengths as Rash, as she has better mobility and the privilege of having her Medium Kick act as a projectile, which allows her to win clashes with heavy normals since Killer Instinct has a priority system.

Summary: Just as strong as Rash with probably even better offense and an actual meterless reversal (two actually), but harder to play.

#3 Fulgore:

Another character that can fight the entire cast reasonably well; I think he only truly struggles against Omen. Strong in every area, but meter management is crucial as he gains his differently than every other character in the game, and the more meter he has, the more tools the character gains during a match. He has the best offensive pressure in the game next to Thunder.  

Summary: #3 almost solely because he has a legit losing matchup, but he's a complete character.

#4 Thunder:

Thunder has the best up-close offense in the game. Can layer different specials off his normals that force the opponent to guess between blocking or getting grabbed by his command grab that leads to a hard knockdown into a ton of different oki options. This situation can loop until the opponent guesses correctly. Thunder's main weakness seems to be characters with great screen control with projectiles; Mira and Gargos are examples. Once Thunder gets in against any character, though, it's rough until you have an opportunity to create space again.

Summary: Arguably the best pressure in the game but can struggle against characters with great screen control using projectiles.

#5 Omen: 

Besides Gargos, a character with just the right tools to deal with Omen's mobility and pressure, Omen does great against a good majority of the entire cast. Omen has the luxury of having access to 3 bars of meter, as well as all his enders acting as battery enders (meter gain combo enders). He can also throw multiple fireballs at once that travel in random trajectories that don't go away from the screen even when hit. Omen is rarely without a meter and can use it to make his offense more threatening or use it as a defensive option for a move that has full invincibility on startup. His main weakness is that he has lower damage output than the rest of the cast.

Summary: A strong character that can do well against the entire cast, but low damage output keeps him from being higher on the list.

#6 Aganos: 

Another character that fights the cast well minus maybe a handful of bad matchups. Has the luxury of having the ability to break the combo rules of the game and has legitimate unbreakable combos that do massive damage as well as unblockable setups that lead to damaging unbreakable combos (when he has resources). His real weakness is that he suffers defensively when he has no chunks, but good Aganos players are usually great at managing this. Having a gigantic hurtbox also doesn't do him any favors.

Summary: Don't get put through a wall.

#7 Glacius:

He has insane pressure that can be layered safely with his hail, which can be hit-confirmed into an ender that allows him to loop into the same pressure. Also, has some of the highest damage output in the game. His weaknesses are mobility (outside of Instinct) and opposing characters with good tools like teleports to get around his projectiles.

Summary: Great mix, great damage, slow, susceptible to characters that can get in fast and stay in.

#8 Hisako: 

One of the craziest grapplers in any fighting game, maybe ever? Fast command grab that opens to a full combo (when Wrath meter is full) Great normals, forward-advancing mobility, and favorable frame data to make her pressure past just guessing between normal and command grab very scary. Also has an instant high/low parry that acts as a combo opener. Her main weaknesses are terrible walk speed and stubby backdash, and she seems to struggle against characters that can either keep her away or layer pressure with projectiles.

Summary: Grappler that can close distance fast and do serious damage when in but also has to be cautious when trying to get in.

#9 Eyedol: 

A character that has pretty much any tool you could think of and one of the best Instincts in the game but low damage output (outside of Instinct) and an RNG stance (or mode) switch mechanic keep this character from being any higher.

#10 Arbiter: 

A character with great normals (though on the slower side,) great layered offense with his grenade that can lead to getting a full combo off a command grab, and a great instinct that gives him access to a 3rd Strike-like parry as well as a regenerating Overshield that grants extra health plus projectile immunity as long as Overshield is available. He can also use self-grenade while Overshield is active as a very good wakeup/reversal option. He struggles against most characters that are extremely oppressive with their offense, like Fulgore, and he only has one low-hitting normal. 

Summary: Great neutral buttons and layered offense; struggles against most super offensive-based characters.

#11 Shadow Jago: 

A better version of Jago that can fight the entire cast well. Great normals, neutral, fireball game, mix, and an Instinct that adds two frames of advantages to every move he has, as well as access to a command grab that does damage based on the amount of Instinct left at the time of activation. Low damage output and the fact that no area of his game is super overwhelming put this character in the high-mid tier region of this list.

#12 Tusk: 

He can fight a majority of the cast reasonably well; he doesn't lose many matchups but doesn't win many. Has the highest damage output without the need for any resources. He has a great strike-throw game and a fundamental game plan, and his normals have an amazing range. A good entry-level character. His main weaknesses are characters that can effectively zone and fairly reactable mixup potential.

#13 Cinder: 

He is a character with a great layered offense with the use of his bombs and some decent zoning tools. Has the ability to do some hard-to-break juggle combos and cash out for damage. Has extremely stubby normals but a very solid strike-throw game. Struggles against characters that can effectively zone and keep him away and characters with three-frame Dragon Punches because a lot of his pressure can be easily punished and stopped with said Dragon Punch.

Summary: Solid character overall, but weaknesses show when being zoned or against characters with Dragon Punches.

#14 Gargos: 

A character with great strike-throw game, air control, and zoning capabilities. The more minions he has on the screen, the harder he is to deal with. He Struggles against characters that can get in quickly and stay on the offense without using meters, like Riptor and Maya. He is the only character that receives a direct hindrance while in Instinct mode and lacks defensive options. Struggles against a majority of the top-tier characters.

#15 Mira: 

The highest damage output in the game but at the cost of your health. Health being a resource makes her a "glass cannon" character; very high-risk but high-reward equally. She is a solid character otherwise but can struggle against characters that can zone like Gargos or characters with high damage output like Rash.

#16 Maya: 

Maya could end up being higher on this list thanks to the newly rediscovered and explored hard knockdown bug. Overall, she's a super solid character who can fight most of the cast pretty well. She can charge her daggers and combine them to throw an unblockable homing projectile that can lead to a combo which is the best part about her. Other than that, she's solid but not too overwhelming.

#17 Spinal:

He is an overall solid character but relies on fishing for resources over the course of a match to maximize his overall potential. He struggles against some characters that are offensive-minded because of a lack of defensive options.

#18 Riptor: 

A character with a very underrated offense. Great strike-throw game, great mix through her stance, and great mobility. Has setups where she can meaty, absorb the hit of a Dragon Punch, win the clash and start a combo. Her Instinct is also solid and increases the range of her tail-based attacks and mobility. Struggles against characters that can layer offense with projectiles and don't have great reversals without meter.

#19 Jago: 

The "baseline" of the game. A super solid, fundamental character that isn't necessarily weak but isn't overwhelmingly powerful. Another great entry-level character choice.

#20 Eagle: 

Arguably the most polarizing character in Killer Instinct. On the one hand, he has some of the best offensive layered pressure and mixes in the game. He is also the most "knowledge-check" character in the game. On the other hand, he has the worst defense in the game and objectively has the worst Instinct. On top of that, he also has some of the worst damage output in the game.

#21 TJ Combo: 

A character that is all about being in your face. Strictly offensive, great damage output, and one of the best Instincts in the game. However, he can suffer from being very stubby and has to take many risks to close distances and possibly take a ton of damage in the process. He also lacks a good reversal without the use of meter.

#22 Kan-Ra:

Kan-Ra could be higher on this list than where he is now because he does have really good layered offense and screen control with his Scarabs. However, he is a very difficult character to use, lacks defensive options, and the one option he has costs health just for using it. He also has a ton of technical bugs that work against him and a healthy amount of problematic matchups.

#23 General RAAM: 

The truest grappler in the game. Great normals, great damage, and an Instinct that slowly adds potential damage to the opponent and makes the entire screen hard to see. However, he is a big character that has to take many risks to close distances with limited mobility, so characters with projectiles give him a ton of issues.

#24 Shin Hisako: 

This character has some amazing oki and literal unreactable, but punishable, offense up-close. However, she cannot effectively close distance in the neutral without taking a great risk. Characters that can effectively zone give her a ton of issues.

#25 Kilgore: 

A character with solid neutral tools and space control but lacks damage outside of Instinct and doesn't have a ton of mixup potential outside of knockdowns layered with his missiles. His normals are also fairly stubby, and you have to manage how often you use his chainguns; otherwise, even though you get a damage boost and more juggle potential, the range is reduced. Like Maya, however, he could be higher on this list due to the rediscovered hard knockdown bug.

#26 Sadira:

She has a great Instinct with solid comeback potential. Otherwise, low damage output and stubby normals make her extremely non-threatening, and she has a ton of losing matchups.

#27 Orchid: 

A character with good buttons, oki, damage, and is a good entry-level character. However, she loses to about half the cast, and her overall gameplan is very dry. Also has a very underwhelming Instinct with not much comeback potential.

#28 Sabrewulf: 

Similar to TJ Combo, a character about being in your face. Has great normals, offensive pressure, and damage. Struggles against characters that can zone and control space and has difficulties closing distance without taking risks. Also loses to about half the cast.

#29 Kim Wu:

The only redeeming factor about this character is that she has great damage output. Otherwise, she's extremely stubby, her jump is extremely floaty and very susceptible to anti-airs, and she also has trouble closing distance without taking a big risk. Don't believe in this character in a competitive setting at all.

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