Mixups occur when an attacking player forces a defending player into a situation where they risk getting opened up to an attack. Generally speaking, there are 3 basic mixup types universal to fighting games however they are NOT mutually exclusive (meaning that one mixup situation can contain more than one type of mixup).
- High attack vs Low attack
- Left side attack vs Right side attack
- Strike vs Throw/Unblockable
A simple jump can be turned into a threatening mixup that includes more than one basic type and is available to most characters in any game.
- The attacker can use a High air attack on their way down.
- The attacker can land and hit a fast Low attack (commonly referred to as "Empty Jump Low").
- The attacker can land and throw the opponent (commonly referred to as "Empty Jump Throw").
There are several factors to consider when creating mixups or evaluating whether a mixup that someone else did is effective and worthwhile.
- Speed. Speed is the biggest factor in what makes a mixup effective or not.
Take for example Ky's basic Dust high/low mixup in Guilty Gear Xrd. The Ky can attack low with 2D or attack high with 5D. However, 5D takes 28 frames to come out, almost a full half second, making it only effective against newer players in most situations.
In contrast, compare the high/low mixup that I-no has in the same game. She can hover dash up into an 8 frame j.S high attack or go into her 5 frame 2K low attack. Given how I-no is airborne after her dash in 4 frames, this mixup is so fast that (for the most part) it is unreactable!
Generally speaking, mixups are unreactable if each of the possible attacks/throws will hit in ~15 frames or faster.
- Visual Noise. Obscuring what is coming next can make an otherwise mediocre mixup become difficult to block.
Let's look back at Ky's Dust high/low mixup. Doing this raw on an opponent who is getting up from a knockdown is somewhat easy to block especially with the big orange circle indicating a Dust overhead. However, if the Ky player puts out a projectile like Charged Stun Edge or its grinder variant, it becomes slightly harder to tell what is going on and in turn makes it slightly harder to block.
Some characters in certain games can take this to the extreme by totally obscuring a portion of the screen. This can create unreactable mixups even though the mixup itself would normally be considered reactable. One such example is Naoto Kurogane's Divine Reaper rapid mixup. By totally obscuring the screen, the opponent is deprived of visual information and is forced to guess between blocking high, blocking low, or using Counter Assault.
- Investment and Reward. Just because a mixup is unreactable however does not make it worthwhile.
For example, a lot of characters in Guilty Gear and Blazblue have unreactable mixups that require 50% meter. On the flip side, the damage that can be converted off of these mixups tends to be lackluster. There are similar mechanics in other fighting games like King of Fighters where most characters can use an unreactable, uncomboable overhead at the cost of the attacker's offense.
While all this sounds pretty bad, that doesn't make these mixups useless! Tricks like these can be used to finish off low health opponents which can steal you a round.
Levels of Mixup
Advanced players tend to think about their mixups in levels or layers. Off the same situation, a mixup should be able to hit in multiple ways (crossup, non-crossup, high, low, throw, etc). Each level has a different way to defend against it and is only used once the opponent shows they can block the preceding level. This is usually because the higher level mixups are designed to beat higher level defensive options, but would lose to lower level defensive options.
(Note that the layer designations used in the example below are NOT standardized terms.)
Layer 0: After a knockdown, the opponent performs a safe jump setup:
- An opponent unfamiliar with the situation will attempt to unsuccessfully reversal out, mash against the jump in attack, or fail to block high.
- An opponent familiar with the setup or an opponent that has become aware of the setup will now block high. The attacking player should then move on to layer 1.
Layer 1: The attacking player notices that the opponent is consistently blocking the jump in attack properly. In response, the attacking player decides to land and go for empty lows/throws after a knockdown:
- An opponent who is not expecting this will instinctively block high after the knockdown. They will then be tagged low or fail to tech the throw that would not have been possible if the attacker executed the safe jump like before.
- An opponent who is expecting such a mixup will start to fuzzy guard from high -> low or incorporate an anti-throw action (ie. throw tech, jumping, etc.) during the anticipated blockstun of an attack. The attacker should then move on to layer 2.
Layer 2: The attacking player notices that their meaty mixup has been ineffective. The attacking player now decides to incorporate more elaborate mixup options after a knockdown. Delayed or extra high attacks will beat out high -> low fuzzy guarding. Examples include using multiple overheads/jump attacks after the first jump in attack of a safe jump, jumping and then performing a delayed airdash high attack, or landing with a grounded overhead. Tick throws can make it harder to time a proper throw tech and air throws can catch jumping opponents trying to evade the throw mixup.
- An opponent who is unfamiliar with this scenario will likely end up holding the mixup. They will try to guess how to defend properly and may or may not succeed.
- An opponent who notices that the attacking player is taking greater liberties with their knockdown mixup will begin challenging the opponent by mashing out of the attacker's delayed setups or reversaling out. If the attacker is trying to stack multiple overheads or delayed overheads, the opponent may just stand block without fuzzy guarding from high to low. Note how the "correct" response for layer 2 is the incorrect one for layer 0 and layer 1.
Layer 3: The attacking player notices that their mixup is now being challenged or that the opponent has resources that can make a reversal safe if blocked. To avoid being knocked out, the attacking player will try to bait an attack either by executing the initial safe jump setup (layer 0) or by moving away so that the reversal will whiff and become punishable again.
- An opponent who is not correctly anticipating what the opponent is going to do will find that their mash is being beaten out by a meaty or that their reversal is punished with a lethal combo.
- An opponent who correctly anticipates what will happen may simply return to blocking the safe jump setup. An opponent who anticipates that the attacker is trying to make a reversal whiff can even challenge the waiting player by applying a mixup on them!
Note that there are significantly greater risks and opportunity costs for both players in the layer 3 actions. The attacker loses their entire knockdown mixup if they simply perform a safe jump. The attacker also leaves themselves open to anything as they wait for the opponent's reversal to whiff. Alternatively, the opponent who simply stand blocks during a safe jump setup might find themselves opened up by layer 2 mixup. The opponent who expects the attacker to bait a reversal may end up eating another combo for trying to surprise them.
Defending Against Mixups
Before a player can consider how to defend against mixups, it's important to first know what a character's mixup options are and what the correct "answers" to avoid getting opened up by that mixup. Once those are known, there are several things that can be done to better the odds of defending against a mixup. As a general rule, it is best to guard low by default and respond to overheads/throws.
- Avoiding the situation: While not the most glamorous solution, it can be the most important. Some characters have unreactable or multilayered mixups that should be avoided at all costs. Playing the neutral game well and not letting them set up their deadly offense is sometimes the only way to deal with such characters due to how potent their abilities are. Some examples of such characters include Millia and I-no from Guilty Gear along with Arakune and Rachel in Blazblue.
Other ways to avoid mixup situations entirely can involve using other defensive tools. Using a reversal to break out of an opponent's offense is a risky but valid tactic. Increasing pushback with mechanics like Faultless Defense, Barrier, or Z Reflect can push an opponent out so that some attacks in a mixup will whiff. Using other mechanics like Dead Angle Attack, Counter Assault, or Vanish can assist in escaping.
- Anticipate the mixup: If you've been hit by the mixup before, then you should recognize when the opponent is going to do that same mixup, for example if the opponent always cancels attack X into an overhead, then you can begin blocking high once you see X. This will force the opponent to change their mixup, such as going low after X instead. Some gimmicky mixups can even be completely nullified this way - for example when is no low option after X.
- Option Selects: Mixups often follow certain patterns or behaviors that can be taken advantage of. Overheads often hit slower than lows and therefore can be automatically guarded against using a Fuzzy Overhead option select. Normal Throws will not grab jumping opponents and can be automatically avoided with Fuzzy Jump option select. Characters with a meterless reversal can (in some cases) input that move backwards to option select against left/right mixups. Other option selects can be applied to other situations to improve a player's defense.