The curious case for Karin as a top five character in Street Fighter 5

Posted by John 'Velociraptor' Guerrero • April 9, 2019 at 7:41 p.m. PDT

I've been trying to put together a top five Season 4 character list for this week's EventHubs Podcast (spoilers) and have been having a surprisingly difficult time doing so. It's pretty easy to give S-tier status to Akuma and Rashid, but after that things get hazy quickly.

There are some very clear candidates for a top 10 or 15, but top five? Birdie, M. Bison, Cammy, Zeku, Guile, Urien, Menat, Kolin, Ibuki, and Karin are all up there, but who of those makes it into that upper echelon? I don't have a stapled down answer yet, but I do find myself gravitating toward Karin in a way that's kind of peculiar, but seems to hold water as I continue to think on it.

Unlike Other Top Tiers

One can look at Rashid and see that he is elevated to high status by multiple pillars including, but not necessarily limited to, amazing movement, far-reaching normals with excellent conversion rates, explosive and preemptive offense opportunities, and exceptional defensive options even from the corner.

Akuma also stands on multiple pillars as he has shining strengths in various categories such as damage output, pressure, footsies, and approach. Previous years' top tiers have usually been those who can turn on the all out offense with devastating approach and/or mix ups and ride that wave to victory.

I deem my reasoning for Karin being up there "peculiar" ("curious" in the headline, as I do love my alliteration) because unlike more obvious top of the mountain fighters, she really has all of her best eggs into one basket: footsies.

What's more, footsies has traditionally been seen in SF5 as not a particularly efficient category to excel in as many characters have found greater success in the less thoughtful avenues of tossing out of heavy buttons and safe special moves in hopes of Crush Counters and big damage.

Image source: Shuckle

People weren't wrong in thinking this, and it's especially understandable since they were often contrasting earlier SF5 to the very footsie-heavy Street Fighter 4. The truth is, though, this game has changed drastically since day one with reductions to the input lag and its tendency to fluctuate, extended and longer-lasting hurt boxes on normals, and nerfs to the damage output following Crush Counters and V-Trigger cancels.

Slowly but surely, Capcom has been buffing footsies while leaving Karin relatively close to being the same footsie-beast she always has been. As foreign as it seems to say a character can stand alone on this one strength in SF5 and reach the top 5 ranks, I think Karin might be able to do it here in Season 4.


I'll be honest, I most likely wouldn't be making this argument without REC|Punk's example. This young competitor is on another level when it comes to vision and comprehension of footsies and neutral play, and he's showcased that both back in Season 2 and here in Season 4.

In 2017 (even before the aforementioned, inherent footsie nerfs were removed/lessened) Punk was destroying the best of the best with an unparalleled control of the neutral. Now that the weighted training clothes are off, he's shown he's back in a huge way given his first place finish at Final Round 2019 and his second place finish at NorCal Regionals.

Winning with her is obviously not a walk in the park as there are other very strong Karin players such as FD|Johnny and RB|Bonchan that have yet to replicate the same levels of success as Punk. That said, we seldom see any other Akuma players outside of Rohto|Tokido taking home gold at major Capcom Pro Tour events, and that's not for lack of players using the character.

Even when pitted against CYG|Fuudo's Birdie (a character that has recently climbed the tier lists and has oft been regarded as a counter to Karin because of his ability to shut down her footsie play) Punk showed at NCR that this match up is more than doable:

Video credit Capcom Fighters

If Birdie isn't stopping Karin, is there a character that truly can get in her way? The wrench in the works might be Menat, who, unlike Birdie, doesn't have to risk a hurtbox at all to go toe to toe with Ms. Kanzuki.

The fortune telling fighter saw some nerfs since last Season, and likely won't be quite as prevalent this year in competitive play. Still, Menat has been a fairly hard counter to Karin simply because she fights from afar without relying on projectiles (which can be navigated through with EX Dash) or long limbs (which can be counter hit or whiff punished).

We've one example of the Menat/Karin match up thus far as Victrix|Justin Wong took on Punk at Final Round, with a result of Punk winning the bout 2-0. Check out this godlike whiff punish used to close out the set:

Click image for animated version

We'll see if this trend continues through the 2019 Tour, but it truly does seem that Karin is able to get the job done against virtually any character on the roster at this point. If that's indeed the case, it contributes to her strong candidacy for being in the top five.

Closing Thoughts

Karin has never been too incredibly low on the tier lists, but I do think she may have climbed higher than ever before thanks to some less immediately apparent changes working together to pave the way for her.

Then again I may be misled here and Karin might wind up just being part of the top 10 (I can't imagine she's outside of that).

In any case, the difficulty to determine this higher ranks with much certainty is a good look for SF5's balance, and should make for some interesting developments as we continue into the 2019 season.

I'm all ears to any and all opinions that agree or disagree with what I've laid out here, so please feel free to offer yours along with any reasoning that brings you to it.

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