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(credit to @dot_nova for the basic write-up)
Jack-O’ is an unorthodox character with strong ground normals, a versatile set of specials, and a very unique win condition, involving the creation of ‘servants’ which attack independently. The general goal is to successfully place 3 houses (which create servants), protect and maintain them, and eventually win by overwhelming the opponent. When, where, and which houses are placed will vary depending on the matchup.
In most matchups, the goal of neutral is to look for opportunities that allow Jack-O’ to safely set a house. Look for a chance to begin offense to force a rock-paper-scissors situation (RPS) to set a house, score a knockdown for a safe house set, or be at a position/situation in which the opponent cannot immediately respond to a house set.
Once houses and servants are a factor, the goal is to protect the houses and stay nearby or behind servants to maintain momentum. As houses level over time, it forces the opponent to take risks and make decisions on whether it’s best to focus on destroying houses, servants, or focusing on Jack-O’. The same applies to Jack-O’ as the decision to take a risk to protect a particular house lies within the player.
After knocking down an opponent and depending on the special/normal used, Jack-O can:
- Set a house
- Pickup and throw a house
- Safe jump meaty
- Organ command
Reactionary Play and The Importance of Buying Time
As a Jack-O' player, it is essential to re-evaluate your concept of "winning" interactions. Unlike nearly every other character, Jack-O's concept of winning is not exclusively tied to depleting the opponent's life bar to 0 but instead to get her houses set-up and then stall until the houses are at level 3 and every possible minion is on screen. All her buttons and specials are built around facilitating this so attempting to play her like you would most of the roster (ie: winning neutral > pressure into a mix-up > combo off that mix-up that ends in knockdown > oki > repeat) will not net you results. A gatling string into 3H knockdown > house set is by design a winning interaction for her. A somewhat long block string with generous staggers is still a winning situation for her even if she doesn't actually hit the opponent. In fact this sort of block string can be even better for her than actually getting a hit because it can end in an spaced, plus 3H which gives her the opportunity to reset pressure in ways she usually couldn't.
In neutral with houses and minions out, you are free to chill out and play around the decisions your opponent is choosing to make in regards to them. If they're approaching you and ignoring the houses don't fret! This is good! This means that not only are they pushing screen away from where your houses are, they're also unconcerned with your win condition. Use this against them by interrupting their approach with your many good pokes or by simply holding their pressure. More on defense later.
If the opponent is instead choosing to solely focus on attacking the houses and ignore you this means they're more scared of you than you are of them. Take this chance to do an organ commands, set-up another house/throw an existing one, or approach them while they're over there whiffing buttons. Good players often won't sit there and whiff 4 buttons in a row to destroy a house all at once though. They will instead drop combos tactically or hit them a few times with something non-committal and then go back to focusing on you. This is where defense comes into play.
Defending intentionally can seem (and in certain match ups is) scary because, in general, Guilty Gear is all about not getting in the position where you have to defend at all, but for Jack-O' defending is part of how she wins. Because her pressure often doesn't loop itself without minions to cover her, by defending adeptly you're gaining advantage the entire time. Every second your opponent is focusing on you your houses are leveling up and your minions are spawning. Having good defense is hard in this game, but if you choose to main Jack-O' it's nearly a requirement. This doesn't mean "just block everything" because in a game like this that's nearly impossible, you should absolutely still make an attempt at escape or challenge when you feel it's safe to. It just means that by virtue of how Jack-O' works, defending is not as much of a losing situation as it is for every other character.
Buying time can also be reflected in your combo structure. Almost all of Jack-O's grounded buttons are jump cancelable so jump canceling buttons that have anti-aired into an air series consisting of several j.P's and ending j.S > j.H > 4D knockdown is actually a totally viable and even optimal thing to do depending on the situation. Your 5D combos should have as many buttons as possible in them not because they'll net you better damage but because every button that hits your opponent means more time for your houses to level up. The gravity combo is a good example of this concept. The most important part of this combo is not that the damage it does (although it does do a good amount) but how long it takes to be completed.
Remember: Anyone can win with level 3 houses, the fun part is getting there.
5D, 2D, 4D, 6D, j.D and j.2D all can be done without meter but have various different advantages with their metered versions like faster start up or further unique properties like j.D having 3 projectiles instead of 1. If you posses tension at the time of inputting any of these moves 10-15% of your tension will automatically be deducted upon start up. Because these moves are extremely important to her gameplan and using meter on them is mandatory, Jack-O' is considered a 'meter hungry' character. Meter management is an important part of Guilty Gear's design philosophy as a whole but with Jack-O's various other resources she has to manage, it can be easy to recklessly use meter without realizing and leaving you with none when you really need it.
"What do I want to be using meter on?"
Like any other character, using meter on defensive mechanics like Faultless Defense, Blitz, and Dead Angle Attack will always be valid. There's various resources on how to use these mechanics that won't be covered here but because Jack-O' gains advantage by drawing out interactions it's best to only use these metered defensive options if you really have to. The major things you'll be using your meter on in the early round while establishing your win condition are your Dust moves and YRC'ing house sets/house throws/organ commands if you're in a situation where you need to cancel the recovery of them to avoid getting punished. If you're reaching a point in the middle of the round where your houses are in good condition and you have some extra meter to spare, using your meter for emergency PRC/YRC's and extending combos with supers are good uses of it. In the later parts of the round your meter usage will depend on if you've achieved your win condition or not. If your houses are high level and good health and you have the opponent in the corner with minions swarming them, you've got your checkmate. How you use your meter in these situations is to keep the opponent locked down so you can take breaks during the sequence to issue organ commands. In these situations she'll be gaining so much meter by standing near her houses and minions for a prolonged period of time that you'll often see Jack-O's do two or three Calvados cancels in one sequence and trust me, sometimes that's the best use of your meter in this scenario.
"How do I gain meter as Jack-O'?"
While Jack-O' can gain meter in the same manner as everyone else (moving forward, hitting or pressuring the opponent, instant blocking,) she has another way of gaining meter specific to her. If her screen position is near a house, even if she's blocking or simply standing there, she will gain additional meter just from the act of being close to a house. Obviously this gains you meter and that's good, but it also forces you to be close to your houses where, if the opponent wins neutral, will put them in a bad situation. You don't really focus on gaining meter in this way much until you've got your win condition and are swarming the opponent but it can be a good way to build some if you're hurting for it. In the same vein, picking up and holding a house gains you even more meter than standing near them while also regenerating its current health. You cannot block while holding a house so if you're trying to build meter this way, be prepared to absorb the house if the situation looks dangerous.
"What are less optimal ways to use meter?"
RRC'ing to extend a combo is not something you want to be doing much. Because Jack-O' has no meterless special moves that aren't purely for setting up, RRC'ing to extend a combo will usually net you very minimal additional damage. Of course if it's gong to kill go for it, but otherwise you have better uses. j.D YRC can facilitate some cheeky mix-ups but the advantage you'll gain off those versus the meter spent is negligible. This isn't to say using meter in these ways is totally useless, just that you should be aware of the circumstances under which you're doing so.
Tips and Tricks
You can YRC normals and house pickup/house set/house throw/organ command to avoid being punished.
Using Calvados to make blockstrings safe is also useful as tension pulse is not affected (RC/YRC/PRC affect tension pulse for an extended period of time).
3H RRC can be used to hard-bait bursts and get combo extensions.
c.S can frametrap into c.S if you have running momentum during the first one. This is useful for spacing out f.S afterwards, which should make your 3H safe unless your opponent instant blocks f.S.
2K frametraps into 2K on block, and combos on counter hit. There's often situations where you'll hit the second 2K, in which case, you can go straight into f.S 3H.
Jack-O's main mixup tools are 5D, 6K, 6D, and her frametraps.
Once you've got your opponent locked down with minions, that's when you're OK to go for overheads. 5D can often be disguised in the frenzy of minions, but 6K has no flash. If 6K hits, that's when you probably have the meter to RC for a knockdown combo.
The main way you'll be landing your 6D is by either mixing it in when your opponent expects a normal after a minion hit, or doing tick throws a la Sol- doing a running 2K cancelled into 6D is usually a good way to tick throw. Many people will incorrectly mash buttons like 2K or 2P against tick throws, which Jack-O will then invuln over due to the low invuln on 6D. You can also tick throw using Calvados, because it doesn't have as much blockstun as the fire might indicate- the fire visually obscures Jack-O while she's using 6D.
5D low-profiles in the middle of the animation. It's really hard to get anything useful out of that, though- it's almost impossible to e.g. low profile a Burst with it.
5D6 is nearly useless. Jack-O almost always prefers 5D8 because her minions can't interrupt her combo when she's high in the sky.
Instant Blocking f.S gives you a chance to hit Jack-O with something like a f.S or 2K before she can use 3H.
Instant Blocking 3H ruins the plus frames that Jack-O aims to gain by using it at distance.
Dead Angle Attack, Burst, and Blitz Shield (yes, just the shield!) destroy all of Jack-O's minions on hit. Use your resources defensively against her, but do NOT use Faultless Defense against her ground strings! Unless you're confident that it'll make 3H whiff, it will give her more plus frames to keep her pressure up and delay for Servants.
The houses that the minions spawn from have a sort of "cooldown" when you hit them, before you can hit them again. Mashing a fast normal against them is not good because you'll probably just whiff completely. It's best to kill Jack-O's houses by using big, swinging normals and projectiles, so that you can either keep Jack-O in blockstun, or simply hit all of her houses at once if they're stacked near each other. For example, doing Axl's 2H into Rensen on block gets 2 hits in on her houses.
Do NOT use Faultless Defense against Jack-O. Jack-O aims to gain plus frames with a properly spaced 3H, and FD causes her to fall into just the perfect range for maximum plus frames, not to mention the ones that FD adds on its own. Jack-O's minions do chip damage, but they cannot kill you if you're blocking them. You only need to FD when you're low on health if Jack-O is specifically using special moves against you, all of which are likely unsafe on block.
-13 - Jack-O is locked into a long spinning animation that usually isn't used in combos. Can only bait bursts if a house is under her while not very close to the enemy, by cancelling into Ghost Pick UpGuard:
-2 - The Spin Cycle. Jack-O can only cancel the last hit of this move, so she's very committed once she presses it. This is also her highest damage move for most combos.
-10 - Jack-O can only bait bursts during this move with a Red Roman Cancel, which she will sometimes use for combo extensions.
Doveingly's Xrd Jack-O' for Beginners:
Overview and Buttons
Dust moves, Specials, and Supers
More coming soon.
Servant Behavior Guide:
Dot_Nova's anti-Jack-O' guide:
While this guide was made to teach people how to beat Jack-O', it's also very useful to understand the strategy behind keeping people from beating you.
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