By Mr. Saint
Written in Collaboration with Level 99 Discord User @ReggiesWarOnEverything
Do you know what playing as Mole Knight reminds me of? A dedicated outboxer. For the uninitiated, outboxing is one of the four orthodox boxing styles that categorize the majority of athletes in modern boxing. It is a style defined by faster, long range punches, using superior mobility and spacing to make up for a lack of power (here’s a great montage of one of the most well-known outboxers of all time, Muhammad Ali). There is often a rhythmic nature to the way in which an outboxer fights, dipping and dodging in and out of their preferred range to land hits, then retreating before the opponent can retaliate. In some ways, Mole Knight has a similar rhythm to his gameplay.
To illustrate, let’s look at Mole Knight’s character ability (UA). Mole Knight’s UA allows him to place his Burrow at Range 3 from his current location and draw a card. When he initiates a Strike, he may have his attack gain “Before: if your Burrow is unoccupied, Advance or Retreat until you are in its space.” Properly spaced, the Burrow’s optional trigger combines with the movement triggers of most of Mole Knight’s specials (as well as some of the normals, such as Assault, Dive, and Cross) to allow you to continually make use of his ability, constantly moving into ranges where you can be most effective, then retreating before the opponent can counter.
The movement provided by Mole Knight’s Burrow is deceptively strong. Because it modifies Mole Knight’s attack, rather than moving him before attacks are set, it can act as a natural defense against certain fast attacks. If the Mole Knight player initiates a Strike at Range 4 with his Burrow at Range 1 and uses his ability to gain the Burrow’s Before trigger, it is unlikely that you will be able to defend with something like Grasp or Cammy’s Cannon Spike. If Mole Knight’s attack is slower, he will not yet have entered the effective Range of most fast attacks, and your attack will miss. If you instead respond with a Slow attack of your own, such as Sweep, you have to worry about the “Ignore Guard” on Diving Dig (or Spike if the Burrow is at R2-3). Mole Knight’s UA provides a built in mix-up with the added benefit of lowering the value of fast attacks with small range bands.
With correct Burrow positioning, it’s also possible to set up very threatening attack chains with relatively few answers. For example, if Mole Knight is at Range 5, with his Burrow at Range 3, he can play Assault (gaining the Burrow trigger) to confirm the attack and gain Advantage. With his gained turn, he can again Strike from Burrow, this time with Spike (retreating from Range 1 to 3, where the Spike can hit). If the Assault hits, the only counterplay to this series of attacks is either to Cross out, or a 5 Power, 4+ Speed Special Attack to stun the Spike.
Because the Burrow provides a Before trigger, Mole Knight also has access to something that is fairly common in fighting games in general but relatively rare in Exceed: option selects. For those unfamiliar, an option select in video game fighters is created when the player executes an ambiguous input command, causing the game to choose whichever is most applicable. A common example is the crouch tech, where a player holds down-back and inputs a throw command. If the opponent attempts to throw the player, the throw will be teched. If the opponent does something else, the game will instead register the input as a crouching attack. In Exceed, I would define an option select as having multiple meaningful choices after attacks are revealed.
Here’s how it works for Mole Knight: If you choose to initiate a Strike with a card that has a Before trigger and elect to gain the Burrow’s Before trigger, you now have two effects that would normally resolve at the same time (prior to checking Range to see if you hit). When this occurs, you get to choose the order that these triggers resolve in. This interaction gives Mole Knight’s UA special synergy with Dive (see picture below for an example).
Notably, there is counterplay to Mole Knight’s potentially very effective UA. One tactic is to “occupy” the Burrow (keep your character in the same space as it). While this is easier before Mole Knight Exceeds, Mole Knight has tools to make this line of play difficult to maintain. If the opponent is flinging projectiles from range while in the same space as the Burrow, a defensive Block Push is the perfect solution. With its 6 Guard, very few fireballs can stun it. And with its “Hit: Push 1” trigger, the Mole Knight player is perfectly set up to initiate a Strike on their own turn with their Burrow at Range 1 to the opponent. Headbutt, Mole Knight’s only force special, provides an on-curve solution to an opponent who refuses to move off your Burrow. Headbutt is just as good on offense as defense, providing its own option select on hit: Retreat 1 or Advance 2 and gain Advantage.
While he does have a few defensive options, Mole Knight is significantly stronger on attack than on defense. He can have trouble against characters that refuse to afford him the breathing room necessary to set up his Burrow at its most effective ranges. All of his attacks are on or below curve, requiring either EXing or boosts to outspeed opponents on defense. While an Exceeded Zsolt is scary for most any character, Mole Knight, like Ken, suffers more than most, as Advantage-chaining denies him the use of his Burrow entirely. Mole Knight can also have difficulty against characters who have extended range Sweeps and Sweep-like attacks. Characters like Remiliss (with the Radiation transform), Umina (stun immune Sweeps and Dark Thoughts), and Sydney and Serena (multiple Sweep-likes that calculate their range from Serena) can effectively trade up against Mole Knight’s otherwise safe attacks.
In general, Mole Knight does not want to trade (until he has Exceeded). His attacks lack the punch of some of the game’s heavier hitters, and he relies on his positional advantages to attack safely without fear of reprisal. This explains why Mole Knight usually wants to Exceed as early as possible. In addition to the flexibility that his improved UA provides for Burrow placement, striking from Burrow in Exceed mode grants +2 Power. It is often correct for Mole Knight to play safely and avoid trades in the early game to acquire the gauge he needs to Exceed, then switch to a very aggressive playstyle once he is in Exceed mode to close out the game. Also, when Exceeded and striking from Burrow, Mole Knight’s Dives have 7 Power, a critical breakpoint against the Sweep-like attacks he tries to avoid prior to Exceeding.
Mole Knight is a study in calculated aggression. He is at his best when the Mole Knight player understands the opponents options and strategically positions his Burrow and other mobility options to neutralize them. Like the outboxer comparison we used above, skillful piloting of Mole Knight looks effortless, but is actually the result of careful consideration. Pick your spot, get in, and back out before the opponent even knows what hit them.
As a reminder, I’m an Exceed enthusiast, not an Exceed expert, so I welcome discussion and constructive criticism on this post. Let me know if you enjoyed it, or if there is something specific you would like to see covered in the future!