Feelingfuzzied Poor Man’s guide to Kotal Kahn.
This is not a perfect or exhaustive guide, merely a conglomeration of obvious, non obvious, and collective information from myself and various other people i have talked to.
Kotal Kahn Overview Kotal Kahn strengths lie in the range of his normals along with the speed of his movement. He can quickly walk forward/backward. Has excellent shimmy (moving back and forth to bait a whiff) and wave dashing (a form of dash blocking that results in fast movement). This means he is a great whiff punisher. He has ok damage that can be boosted in various ways. Play Kotal if you enjoy this playstyle.
S1- his standing light punch is a high, has limited anti air potential, and for some reason has 17f of hit advantage. While not confirmable this hit advantage is so high as to allow some normals connect or frame trap that just realistically should not after a light jab hits. Such as f4/f2, but basically any of his normal buttons. If blocked and you have his command grab equipped you can tick throw
F1- Forward light punch is probably his best range for speed button. Often if something is reasonably unsafe this is the punisher you want to use simply due to its range. Further if you have kahn cut its his primary midscreen extension after cut as its more damage and you do not have to dash cancel. In corner it's timing is a bit tighter and you may need to switch for S1 string for reliability.
D1- his down light punch is his fastest normal at 7 frames. Hits mid. And on hit can frame trap into his d4 for spacing. In the up close scramble d1 is his primary tool. If hit you want to go into d4 often. If blocked and you have his command grab equipped you can tick throw.
S2- This move is 0 on block. Not a lot of range however.
B2- This move and its string is at the time of this writing a trap. Its slow, high, unsafe, and leads into a string that anyone can jab and get a full combo before the third hit. Just pretend it doesn't exist until they buff/change it or the string itself.
F2- One of his best moves primarily for 2 reasons. It covers somewhere between ? and ? of the entire screen and it is a mid hitting attack. Its slow at 22 frames but you can mostly frame trap into it off of a d4 hit or s1 if you have the gall to try.
D2- Kotal’s uppercut isn’t that great. It has low horizontal range. Decently fast at 9 frames however. Is technically safe on block at -7 frames. Primarily you are between this and S1 for anti airing from the ground.
S3- This standing light kick has decent enough range for its speed, and is +1 on block. But only +2 on hit.
F3- This is a low starter which despite Kotal not having much mix still holds some value. Especially since it has enough vertical hitbox to catch a jumper whose expecting a throw/command grab without eating a D2 krushing blow for your trouble. Mathematically you can F3 (hit) and trapl into D4(hit) and frame trap into F2. Learning kotal staggers is important as its not very intuitive!
D3- From what I can tell has very little value. If you hit with d1 they are pushed back still within d4 range. It has poor overall frame data as well. Pretend it doesn’t exist is my advice.
S4- This move might be a high, but is probably his fastest move that uses his sword at 14 frame startup. Range is a hair's breadth short of round start. Is only -1 on block and 20 frames of hit advantage but it pushes the opponent so far away that even F2 would whiff.. This is a stand alone move as well with no cancel options and no strings. Pure neutral. I do not know if its hurtbox extends through its sword or not however. If it doesn’t it's a really safe high poke.
B4-This is another stand alone neutral tool but I am weary of its use. fastish at 13 frames and hits low. It has great hit advantage at 20 but is unsafe on block. Its range isn't stellar for that kind of commitment either. Most of the time players will be crouch blocking you as is unless you thoroughly condition between command grab/unblockable to try and bait a jump, and even then i do not know if this would just whiff outright.
F4-This is a a stand alone mid (no cancel, no strings) thats 15 frames startup. It his longest range non sword move, and has 26 frames of hit advantage while being only -3 on block! It's the only normal that has so much hit advantage that you need to wait slightly before pressing F2 or F2 will whiff due to the opponent still in recovery frames!
D4-This is a great low profile low attack. Good range, 15 frames of hit advantage. Technically unsafe at -8 but even with block it has decent pushback making it difficult for a realistic punish.
S12- -2 on block, +6 on hit. High starter but fast. Second hit is a mid. In the corner this is his more reliable extension after a kahn cut where F12 might whiff due to the change in air time while in the corner.
S122- safe at -6 with 38 frames of hit advantage! Pushes them decently far away, even further if its off an air juggle. If not an air juggle it has them at the perfect range for a unblockable attack setup with them just at the tip of its range. (More on unblockable setups later). In the corner this just gives you a lot of advantage at the expense of damage (but more pressure is always good). You can also get off a god ray relatively safely off of this though some matchups can still full punish you. Namely ones with a teleport.
F12- This is his primary extension after a kahn cut. Decent range for its speed so can whiff punish or used as a safer punishment option after someone does something unsafe into your block.
F122- Highly unsafe on block at -16 but last hit is an overhead with 13 frames of hit advantage. Places the target at your feet for pressure. The last hit being an overhead is important given enemies are much more likely to crouch block kotal and try to jump his command grab if you have it. This also triggers probably one of if not his best krushing blow. Just remember don't just throw out that last 2 willy nilly or you will eat a full combo.
F14- If for some reason they are blocking high a lot or you think you have conditioned them to expect the overhead 2 in F122. This string has merit. Second hit is a low attack with 20 frames of advantage on hit and only -5 on block. Idea for this interaction could be F12 (hit confirmable -1 on hit) into d1 (+8 hit, tick throw block potential) into F14 into F2. just as an idea.
S22- -9 on block and not much pushback means its unsafe. The first hit has lower range. Only 2 frames of advantage on hit. Second hit is a low though. However its a unique attack using his small curved daggers. Dubious use on its own? Again players will enjoy crouchblocking.
S221- This move is safe at -7. Does a pop up that appears to not be able to be extended with midscreen. But can extend in the corner. Last hit is a mid (so high>low>mid). From what i can tell its primary use is for variations without kahn cut letting you get higher combo damage in the corner.
F24- Safe at -7. +5 hit advantage. Both mids. This is your optimal whiff damage string and something you will use often it is a commitment though as you lose your turn if blocked (but at least you don't eat a full punish).
F243- Unsafe low at the end at -15 with a decent 17 frames of hit advantage. Similar to F122 this is a commitment and should only be used if you find them stand blocking you a lot (but uncertain why someone would often since kotal has to risk unsafe moves to condition stand blocking).
B22- Unsafe, high starter. 45 hit advantage! Second hit is a mid. If you can use this as a whiff punish it would be THE ONLY TIME I would ever use it, and even then you have better options. At 45 hit advantage you might go, hey! Use the unblockable! But the unblockable hits during wakeup frames so they take no damage and you eat a full punish. You cannot delay the cancel long enough for it to hit. God rays still gets wake up attacked due to the longer recovery and closer proximity you are to the target. You have a lot of advantage on hit for general pressure though. In general we have better whiff options.
B223- Just don't use this. Yes its a safe overhead you say! But there is such a huge gap after the second 2 that anyone can jab and get a full combo punish for you even trying to press 3, plus both 2’s are unsafe on block. My hopes is this was unintentional and will get buffed. A safe overhead would go a long way towards conditioning someone to stand block and even then it's so telegraphed i'm not sure if it would work.
S34- fast high into mid. 0 on block! 34 frames of hit advantage as well. Sadly cannot cancel into unblockable either and 34 frames is an awkward amount of hit advantage considering you have to dash up to hit with anything that isn't a longer range move. But if timed right you can stuff non invincible wakeups with F2 combo starter.
F34- Low into mid, 45 frames of hit advantage and only -3 on block. Massive knockback. Could setup god rays vs some characters, or get a lot of advantage in the corner. No cancel window though. Solid tool.
Coatl Parry- 14 frame startup parry that does not counter, does not interrupt, and doesn't even stop a combo from rolling through your face. Has long recovery even on success and the damage buff you get is very short lasting. The only time you'd even attempt to use this move is on a projectile and even then a meter burn projectile will often result in you taking damage and you can be blown up with teleports and the like. A poor move and i would use it rarely.
Mehtiz Cut- 20 frames of startup, unsafe at -17, and 18 frames of hit advantage. 75 cancel frames? Odd because you CANNOT CANCEL THIS. This is your general ender if you do not have kahn cut. With meter burn you can switch sides which has legitimate value since without kahn cut you really need corner for more damage.
Yeye disc- 29 frames of startup ugh, fast when its out though. Unsafe at -12, with 18 frames of hit advantage. It's a projectile its not useless. And it has a nice 25% damage krushing blow in a projectile war. Strategically i would try to save this for ending a round as that can really shut down projectile wars and force them to move in.
Xolal Quake- This is Kotal’s unblockable attack. It has 41 frames of startup and is *painfully reactable*. That said, its an unblockable the only way they get around it if they can't interrupt you with a hit is teleport or to jump. There are also unblockable setups you can use to make people fear this move and then you can capitalize on their attempts to deal with said setup (again more on that later). Only 2 frames of hit advantage but meter burn gives +8. You don't HAVE to meter burn this but often you know when it's going to hit before it does because almost nobody waits until the last moment of those 41 frames of startup to get out of its way. And it's an easy 156 damage before any form of kotal damage buffs.
Hue-grab- This is his command grab in ascension loadout. 14 frames of startup and is a mid grab meaning the opponent HAS TO JUMP to avoid it. This makes it an exceptionally decent command grab. 18 frames of hit advantage. Game says 177 cancel advantage but i'm not really understanding this (hey if anyone wants to explain it let me know i'll edit this). It always switches sides which is annoying but often kotals best place is midscreen anyways, and in ascension typically gets more damage there too due to cut air time reduction in corner (due to no horizontal air travel im guessing). This also gives a nice damage buff that lasts about 10 seconds and i THINK refreshes if you grab again. Stacks to 3 times. If you get a lot of grabs in your looking at easy 400 damage combos! This is a cornerstone feature of his kit in ascension to be sure and you will often want to end a combo with this. Amp’d version throws target further (easily into the corner if you are even kinda close to it).
Tecuan Maul- 13 frames of startup is actually pretty fast and it moves basically full screen until it connects. However its actual movement outside of point blank is pretty slow and very reactable. You Can meter burn this to bypass through projectiles, from fullscreen most people will still block but if you make the read at around midscreen you can get the punish. It also does very high damage for a single move. This is one of totemics primary enders but only has 3 frames of advantage on hit. Its mad punishable however and you will eat huge combos if its into someone blocking.
(Air) Maul- 13 frames of startup makes it decently fast, sadly isn't an overhead, but a mid. It causes you to switch sides as you roll past them. This is about the only time i could ever see trying to use B2 as it puts you in primary range to whiff punish a wakeup attack. But if they don't prepare to eat a full combo. You can combo it with normal air attacks though for a bit more damage. (162 total in fact if you combo it off an overhead kick) equally bad on block however!
Eztill totem- nearly 60 frames of recovery, stacks to 3, gives you health back provided you’ve damaged your opponent. More stacks means more health back. Nearly 60 frames of recovery makes me hesitant on this but it has only 1 frame of startup. Could probably do some setups with this.
Kahn Cut- Probably one of the biggest reasons people go with ascension. This is a combo extender and lets kotal feel like he can actually do combos outside of the 221 string in the corner. Unsafe on block as with all of kotals specials. 40 frames of hit advantage though. Now what's nice about this is as far as i can tell it's his ONLY MOVE where you can use his unblockable after and straight beat non invincible wakeup attacks. This itself can be a surprise to people since when you use kahn cut people expect you to just extend the combo. Sadly this isn't a whole lot of more damage then just finishing the combo with F12 command grab and actually less if you meter burn the grab. But you don't switch sides. HOWEVER AGAIN, you can F12 and use a second kahn cut and still get this setup! Something to consider. Loses to invulnerable wakeups obviously. (note-the last example is MU dependant!)
God ray- God rays heals you for 150 damage if you stand in it for full duration or 150 damage to your opponent if they are in it for full duration. 14 frames startup is fine but it has 47 frames of recovery and is impossible to safely setup vs certain matchups, primarily with certain fast gap closers or any teleport at all. You need to really know the mu to use this safely. That said its unblockable damage on the opponent and healing for yourself (and can do both at same time). A strong tool in certain matchups, a hesitant one vs others.
So now that we have analyzed nearly all of his moves how do we use them?
D1 in close for the scramble, this jails into d4 wich if hits can frame trap into many of his starters even potentially f2. When in doubt and the enemy is close, d1 into tick throw or d1 into d4.
Any move that has -2 or less advantage on block (maybe higher in some niche situations) can be used as stagger or attempts to d4/d1 someone. Look through this guide or his frame data on ideas for this.
Unblockable setups!- Multiple strings let you attempt an unblockable setup. This doesn't mean the opponent cannot avoid it as you may think but the use of his unblockable attack. This attack must be jumped or teleported around to deal with it. 122 (on grounded opponent), non amped command grab, KAHN cut, and others allow this setup. When you condition the opponent to jump or teleport, afraid of your unblockable, you can start punishing that strategy, rinse and repeat. Smartest thing a player can do is jump forward to punish you on some of these setups. But if you know it you can air to air them into a full combo.
God rays setups!- These are harder to setup as it has more recovery, no hit/block advantage values since it does not strike your opponent technically. Its situational and matchup dependant. But when you are in a situation to use it, please do. Especially when opponents are low on HP, this slight annoyance becomes infuriating and let you just win.
Kotal Oki- Kotal Oki isn't as traditional as other characters like jacqui or sonya. It's still about conditioning and then doing something else. But the range and tools you use are a bit different. It's all depending on Mu what you start off with. But its a mixture of unblockable setups, air to air reads, dash up raw command grabs. Dash up regular grabs. Backdash unblockable reads and whiff punishing.
Are they blocking a lot? Unblockable setups, command grabs, regular grabs. This forces them to stop relying on block and get active. Often once or twice is enough to make a player realize its not going to work to simply block Kotal. After that its dependant on the character your facing. Scorpion? Prepare for teleports on wakeup to get out of the unblockables. You can counter this with grabs, or just block and punish. If its a character like jacqui. You can actually condition her with unblockable and if she gets aggressive and tries to charge on wakeup you can backdash into unblockable accusing her charge to whiff. Kotal has a lot of ways to break someones guard down provided you get creative and condition! I think unblockable setups are the perfect conditioning tool because they are forced to deal with it and in turn depending on MU you can narrow down their options and deal with them in turn.
Don't be afraid to raw command grab, its 14 frame startup and has to be jumped to avoided, cannot be teched or ducked. While tick throws are great they are a risk in that if the opponent for some reason let up on block and you committed, you now whiff the command grab and eat a full punish. Only tick throw if you know they like to hold block!
Totemic is considered the lesser variation but as some people have mentioned to me it's largely a counter pick. Its essentially a defensive anti zoning variation letting you self heal and force zoners to come to you.
Once again kotal’s general gameplan is that of a whiff punisher with long range moves, great movement speed. He has some awkward but effective frame traps, jails and staggers if you take the time to learn his frame data intimately and rewards patient play and infuriating opponents who want in and to press buttons. His best range is midscreen for sure. Many people say hes low tier and while i wont say hes super high tiered (definitely needs his B2 string reworked for starters) hes solid towards a patient playstyle and with intimate knowledge of his movepool. He will reward your dedication over time but his playstyle may not be for everyone! I'll do my best to update this guide with patches or corrections if i have gotten something wrong. I'm no pro expert, just an enthusiast that enjoys the character.