:eek: The purpose of this thread is to discuss Spencer tactics specifically to counter zoning.
The content in this post has been spoiled to preserve ease-of-reading and content filtering.
So one of my biggest problems with Spencer has been where to put him on a team.
Back in March, I initially put him on anchor because I wanted my Dormammu and Hsien-Ko gayness to overwhelm people and because Spencer’s X-Factor back then was easier to get more out of than either of those two.
One of the reasons I don’t play Spencer on anchor anymore is because it stinks to be doing decently only to come down to just a bad matchup at the end of a match. The worst part about a bad matchup, I feel, is when you can’t even catch your opponent and are just running after them desperately trying to land a poke into anything that isn’t a situational 200K combo just so they can run away again.
Increasingly, however, I find that players are more than willing to, depending on the team, use some of that zoning goodness earlier in the match, rather than saving it for just their last character. As you may imagine, this can pose a problem for Spencer–I think one of the undeniable weaknesses of the character is that he does not combat screen control very well.
Basic Zoning Tenets
Just to be clear, I want to emphasize that zoning doesn’t necessarily mean runaway. Zoning pertains mostly to strong screen control, preferably with as little running away involved as possible. Indeed, I think the more static a character stays while controlling the screen, the stronger the control is -generally-, even though not moving may make that character’s control easier to exploit.
I think two of the clearest examples of zoning in this game are Dormammu and Sentinel. Dormammu being a special-based zoner and Sentinel being a normal-based zoner. Sentinel has been compared many times to a flying E. Honda, with his ability to stick out normals that cover varying angles of the screen with relative safety with respect to the point of attack (i.e., baiting a jumping heavy from Sentinel may be effective, but the chances of a character beating a jumping heavy are a little less likely). Dormammy seems to be the game’s resident special zoner, using varying types of beam-type weaponry to control very specific, but important, parts of the screen. While these two characters are not the only zoners in the game, they clearly encompass the very basic and effective aspects of the tactic.
Normal zoning is the easiest type of zoning. While using normals to zone, a character can often move with jumps or dashes to position themselves for the move (or often use the move in conjunction with these movements). Normals typically require either a simple button press or a command button press (direction + a button). While normals that zone typically have some sort of safety or hitbox adjustments that make them suitable for the task, they tend to lack any sort of “transcendent” properties that just make them cut through things. Normals are usually faster and safer than specials to zone with, oftentimes at the cost of followups and general damage.
Special zoning is a bit more intricate. Specials the zone often require the character using them to be static as a cost. Specials require less simplified input (quarter-circle, half-circle, and dragon punch motions in particular). Specials that zone are noted mostly for eating through most forms of non-projectile pokes or advances…the cost for this is a hefty recovery time, with several ways to get around any one particular special at a time. Specials tend to last longer, however, and have a higher general payout with regards to followups and damage, of which one way is building meter to extend punishes and force even more advances on the part of the opponent.
Spencer interacts with zoning in a very unique way. While the character clearly does most of his damage up close and is more threatening up close (command grabs, command overhead, sweep that floats on hit, 4 frame Armor Piercer), he is designed to move around quickly and has tools to both create space and to close space. What’s more, his space closing tools actually close space on both ends of the screen; that is to say, instead of just pulling himself to an opponent or pulling an opponent in (both of which he is capable of), he can also perform both at the same time, meeting his opponent “halfway” and making close encounters awkward for typical zoning characters.
Spencer has a few tools to deal with space control:
Zipline – A topic I plan to go in depth on later on down the road, zipline is Spencer’s main form of moblity. Not only does it sport a hitbox for convenience, but it also travels in several useful (albeit necessary) angles. Zipline is better than Spider-Man’s web glide in terms of utility, but probably loses out in pure speed. Using zipline, Spencer can pull himself to a target location on the screen that equates to any forty-five degree angle.
Wire Swing – Wire swing is Spencer’s not-so-zippy zipline that is used when he targets any upward angle while in the air. Wire swing is used for very specific approaches due to its arc, travel speed, and travel time. Using wire swing, Spencer can travel to the other side of the screen and can cancel his swing as early as halfway through the arc with any aerial normal.
Wire Grapple – Wire grapple is Spencer’s variable act-first-and-think-later offensive tool. The wire grapple travels at all available zipline angles, but when it comes in contact with the opponent, the opponent is snared briefly and made vulnerable to any of three followups. The :l: followup sends opponents across the screen, puts them in an unrecoverable knockdown state, creates plenty of space, and allows for OTG followups. The followup, the most common, brings Spencer and the opponent together mid-screen, where Spencer follows-up with a wallbounce attack that keeps Spencer adjacent to the opponent when used at certain parts of the screen (most notably the corner); the opponent is vulnerable until they land and followups are variable. The :h: followup, the least used, simply pulls the opponent in toward Spencer. Commonly used as a frame trap, this followup creates very awkward situations since Spencer is only at a +2 advantage; this means Spencer cannot combo after this followup, but can buffer things like Armor Piercer and command grabs and even stagger a normal throw, depending on how your opponent reacts (crouching short will most likely be what you’ll see from the opponent following this move).
Bionic Maneuvers – A super that uses the wire grapple, this super is great for punishing anything from the ground up to a normal jump height and from anywhere up to a full screen away. As with the wire grapple, the arm counts as a projectile but since this is a super, the arm’s projectile is a high durability class, meaning it automagically plows through any projectile that is of a lesser durability. This super can be used to start the DHC glitch, leaves the opponent in an unrecoverable knockdown state, allows for OTG followups, and does more damage than its famous brother-in-arms (see what I did there?)
Bionic Arm – Good speed. Good invulnerability. Good hitbox. Punishes most anything from as far as half a screen away with relative impunity. Spinning knockdown and great for combo material since it counts as one high damage hit, which reduces damage scaling in the long run.
Spencer v. Zoning
As a Spencer player, depending on your team and playstyle, there is a very likely chance that you are not playing any sort of keepaway or chip hit/chip damage game with your team. Exceptions exist, but if the role of Spencer on your team is to be aggressively mobile and lead into fancy heavy damage combos, then one of your main goals is getting in. Assuming that Spencer and his opponent are separated by a full screen, let’s discuss what Spencer has at his disposal.
Normal Zoning – Sentinel, Dante, Amaterasu, Hsien-Ko, Tron to an extent, maybe Super Skrull too are all characters with some aspect of zoning to their normals. Hsien-Ko and Sentinel are probably the best in this category with regard to how specific their normals are for zoning; Dante has a long sword but doesn’t typically play a zoning style per se. With the exception of Sentinel, Spencer has a fairly easy time with normals because none of them really cover the entire screen. Characters like Hsien-Ko can cover a wide variety of angles and a great portion of the screen, but never enough to truly scare Spencer.
When in range of these normals, you’ll typically want to pushblock or backdash out of range and react to the the slower or more careless normals with wire grapple. The beauty of wire grapple is that you don’t have to know what you want to do beforehand; once you grab the opponent, the confirm gives you enough time to decide what to do. Do you want to create space? Do you want to close space? The situation may also change based on screen position. Reacting to anti-air zoning can be a little different while you’re in the air…some situations warrant Spencer completely removing himself from the equation by using zipline to retreat. Spencer is a character whose vulnerability increases severalfold while in the air: use the tools at his disposal to minimize this weakness.
Sentinel is a different echelon of zoner entirely. His normals nullify projectiles, which make wire grapples useless. He has options for all scenarios: ground to air, air to ground, ground to ground and air to air. His medium ground normals are armored, all of his aerials are flight-cancelable, and he has a hyper armor launcher. Baiting Sentinel is less than hard, but punishing him with Spencer is difficult, as Spencer has neither the range, nor the ground mobility, nor the speed to take advantage of most situations he’s put into after a blocked anything. Bad punishes can lead into getting counterhit, which leads to nasty followup situations. The most important part about fighting Sentinel’s space control is knowing when you simply must block. Similarly to special zoners, Sentinel’s space control is such that the punishes are not always simple and not always easy.
Moving in aerially against high level normal zoners is typically Spencer’s go-to option, but not necessarily his best bet, when wire grapple is ineffective. Using zipline at intelligent angles, Spencer can move forward (not without risk) in an attempt to close space. Against some characters like Sentintel, you can aim for a straight head height zipline and move forward with the intent to block, break an air grab attempt, or to create an ambiguous crossover attempt. Sentinel’s most common answer to this is raw launcher out of the block or hitstun, but has other options like using standing medium to absorb an aerial hit and lead into a ground juggle or by attempting a quick air grab or jumping light.
Against small characters like Ammy and Hsien-Ko, using quick downward angles tends to help out with moving forward without leaving Spencer too vulnerable, but doesn’t quite get the job done entirely: these characters have great frontal control as well, so being smart with aerial movement is necessary. Indeed, trying to combat this by going too high up can lead to Spencer mixing himself up on the way down, a situation you don’t want to find yourself in. Normal jumping with blocks and using wire grapples out of blockstun is a great option and is often unexpected.
Characters that don’t have a good way of covering themselves from above can be susceptible to super jump wire grapples using either the or :h: versions, but more specifically the :h: version.
Fighting aerial-based normals is much easier. Use that grounded wire grapple! For flight characters, it forces that block and for most other aerial characters, if it makes them block, that blockstun grounds them and makes dealing with them a little easier for the time being. Going air to air with Spencer is typically not a fantastic idea, but you can zipline into slower air normals to interrupt the attacker and create an awkwardly close aerial situation.
Special Zoning – This is where Spencer has the hardest time in terms of zoning. The weird part is that his tools combat this type of zoning the best–his supers are great to beat projectile and beam type zoning. The unfortunate drawback is not meter management, but the fact that in most situations, you will be initiating the super first and you can guess what that means; counter supers in both senses (supers like Wesker’s that physically counter you or like Haggar’s that will grab you and counter supering in the sense of reacting to your super with another super). Spencer is particularly vulnerable to specials canceled into supers to make them safe, which pelts his already meek chances of moving in safely with the threats of heavy chip damage and lost opportunities.
First and foremost, when it comes to using supers against special zoning, remember this: do not take the bait! As a general rule, if the opposing team has any of the following characters, you should not be attempting to use Bionic Arm outside of a combo: Wesker, Taskmaster, Tron, Haggar, Thor, and M.O.D.O.K… Even if those characters are not on point, the speed at which a team can DHC into them to get out of trouble is concerning, so do not do it.
Again, the aspect of projectile screen control that is most apparent is that normals can’t beat projectiles normally. This makes fighting special zoning a purely defensive affair. Spencer’s wire grapple, which counts as a projectile, will often get beat out by other projectiles as well, which limits its usefulness. Ziplines and wavedashes will be Spencer’s main method of transportation and I cannot stress the importance of quick and tight wavedashes to ensure Spencer’s safety.
Dormammu is a character that covers obscene amounts of the screen when all his specials are considered, but thankfully there is enough of a gap between each one to make fighting a zoner like Dormammu much more manageable. Against Dormammu in particular, the thing that makes his zoning so successful is that he has ABC zoning (a guessing game of where on the screen to put something, choices of A, B, or C that typically determine a specific range), a fullscreen super, a tracking super, variable fullscreen specials in the form of Liberation, and the “contingency plan” (a.k.a. Flame Carpet). Not the perfect zoner, but as far as projectile zoning goes, Dormammu is extremely potent. To top everything off, he has access to a teleport just in case.
Spencer’s super jump is invaluable against projectile zoners because of his ability to maneuver himself very well during a super jump. The property of not turning around in the air comes to benefit Spencer here because if you can disorient a projectile zoner while they are out of the corner, you have a chance at sneaking in. Your goal here typically isn’t to land a chip hit here and there because projectile zoners typically make up for their strong screen presence with subpar normals; you want to take advantage of this and create as close-up of a situation as safely as you can so you can lead into big damage instead of small situational combos.
Unfortunately, there are some fights Spencer just does not win. Losing to projectile zoners is very easy to do, which is why I encourage learning how to create a high damage situation out of a close encounter. Similarly to fighting Phoenix or Wolverine, when you get a chance to KO, you should really take it…think of fighting a zoner that way when you get in. Hitting them and not KOing them leaves more opportunities of field control, chip damage via assists and supers, and prolonging a match that puts your Spencer at risk.
Please feel free to share your ideas, discrepancies, or solutions to Spencer’s zoning problems. I, too, am an evolving Spencer player, so while I feel nothing is set in stone regarding the character, I am interested in tackling his very real and very apparent weaknesses.