Style: Projectile Rushdown
Most Similar To: Nobody
Strengths: Maya is extremely mobile in the neutral game, which can make her incredibly hard to react to and pin down. She has fast dashes, and far-reaching dash jump which can create pressure and cross-ups out of nowhere. But her biggest strength is her dagger projectiles. When blocked, they reward Maya with upgrades that can be applied in numerous ways later in the match, including an unblockable tracking projectile, and refusing to block them will let Maya convert into a combo, even from full screen. The only way to stop Maya from gaining some benefit is to avoid the daggers entirely, which is easier said than done.
Weaknesses: Maya's main weakness is that, when not holding her daggers, her options are limited. Because the daggers are so focal to her entire gameplan, without them her pressure options are weaker, many of her important normals are completely unavailable, and her mixups are less scary. If you can forcibly remove her from her daggers, Maya is very beatable.
Best Counter-Breaker Combos
0 Meter: HK double > medium Tumble Kick > HK double > light Tumble Kick > HK double > Tumble Kick ender (38%)
1 Meter: HK double > medium Tumble Kick > HK double > light Tumble Kick > Shadow Tumble Kick > Tumble Kick ender (51%)
2 Meter: HK double > Shadow Tumble Kick > Shadow Tumble Kick > Tumble Kick ender (55%)
( Damage calculation notes)
Notes: Maya definitely lacks in the damage department with no meter, since she might not even make ender level 4 if you counter break early enough in the combo. But she does pretty respectable damage with just 1-bar, so you should probably always spend at least one if you have it. Her HK auto-double is faster than her HP auto-double, so use it exclusively in these combos. In instinct, you may choose to use the Leap Kick ender and then tack on additional damage using Dagger Toss followed by Air Mantis.
Unique Mechanic: Daggers
Maya holds two daggers while fighting, a light one colored yellow, and a dark one colored purple. You can throw these daggers like you would normal projectiles, via and a punch button. While on the ground, they travel horizontally at normal height, but you can also throw them while jumping, which sends them at a downward diagonal angle. While dashing forward, you can also throw the daggers simply by pressing a punch button. LP corresponds to the light dagger, MP corresponds to the dark dagger, and HP will always throw both, if you have them. Once you've thrown a dagger, it will either bounce off your opponent and land on the ground near him (if you're close, you're likely to catch it as it bounces), or it will travel past him and come to rest when it stops traveling, often somewhere entirely off screen.
If you want this dagger back, you have to go get it. You can pick up daggers a few ways; you can press PPP while on top of a dagger to pick it up, you can collect them by dashing forwards or backwards overtop them, and Maya will automatically pick up any dagger she travels over when doing her Tumble Kick special move (including Tumble Kick and Leap Kick linkers). When you're not holding a dagger, the button that would normally correspond to your missing dagger will trigger kick moves instead, which means Maya loses access to certain important normals and anti-airs. If you're missing either dagger, you also lose access to any option that involves the HP button, including Air Mantis and her best anti-air, crouching HP. Your opponent is going to try to prevent you from picking these daggers back up as best he can.
Why are these daggers so good? First of all, on hit, they have a lot of hitstun, which means Maya can easily confirm into a combo using an easy manual. In fact, she can even do this from full screen away, by dashing forward and throwing another dagger, and then dash jumping towards the opponent. However, and this is what's especially unique about the character, blocking the daggers also benefits Maya. When you block a dagger, Maya earns a pip for that color in her unique dagger meter, up to a maximum of 2 pips per color. Each pip earned changes the behavior of the daggers when you throw the dual daggers using HP (and only the dual dagger version), and these unique bonuses stack together. If you block the dagger from very close range, Maya will be at disadvantage, so you will be able to challenge her if she tries to throw more daggers.
The light pips affect the dual dagger's movement. Light level 1 causes the projectile to bounce off the ground, while light level 2 will additionally cause it to track the opponent until it hits them. The dark pips affect the dual dagger's durability. Dark level 1 causes the daggers to crush all other projectiles, while dark level 2 additionally makes the daggers fully unblockable. That means if you're able to get them to block 2 light daggers and 2 dark daggers, you will have access to a one-time-use tracking, bouncing, unblockable projectile which cannot be stopped by other projectiles. If Maya releases this thing, you will get hit, and you must try to mitigate the damage by combo breaking the followup, or jumping and forcing Maya to perform an awkward juggle combo.
But that's not all! Maya can additionally use her dagger levels to power up her Spirit Strike ender. This ender places both daggers above the opponent's head, which attack once every second on their own. The number of times they will attack is dependent on the number of dagger levels you've accumulated; each dagger level adds one more attack sequence before the daggers separate and stop attacking. This means Maya has a choice to use her dagger levels to throw an increasingly strong projectile, or to set up a prolonged sequence of mixups.
Maya's daggers are really unique not only in Killer Instinct, but in fighting games in general. They give her a very unique take on the risk/reward mechanic that doesn't involve lower health values; she must convince you to block or get hit by the daggers, but if you ever manage to avoid one, she'll have to work pretty hard to get it back, and is a much more limited character in the meantime. How Maya chooses to spend her dagger levels will create lots of unique playstyles within the character.
Openers: Tumble Kick (shadow OK), Axe Kick
Maya's list of traditional openers is exceptionally short. Tumble Kick is a safe on block pressure string ender that you can use if you don't have daggers, but it always hits twice and can be shadow countered, so be wary. Axe Kick is a slow overhead attack command normal (+HK), but Maya leaps off the ground, avoiding throws and lows, and if Maya holds HK, she can fake the kick and go low instead. Axe Kick also recaptures, which is very important if you're juggling the opponent with daggers and want to start a grounded combo. Shadow Tumble Kick is projectile invincible for the duration.
Other Combo Starters: Dagger Toss (requires a manual), Leap Kick (requires a juggle)
Most of Maya's combos will start because her opponent did not block a dagger. If Maya is close to her opponent already, she can easily time a manual and start the combo that way instead, and if she's far away, she can keep you pinned with another dagger as she moves closer to you to begin her combo. If you hit with Maya's uppercutting Leap Kick, she can throw a dagger on the way down which will cause a juggle, which leaves enough time for Maya to land and start a juggle combo. You can choose to immediately recapture with Axe Kick if you like, or bounce your opponent around with Tumble Kicks and use shadow Leap Kick to cash the damage out.Linkers: Tumble Kick (shadow OK), Leap Kick (shadow OK)
Tumble Kick moves Maya forward, while Leap Kick (normally her uppercut) changes into a backwards version of Tumble Kick when used as a linker. These movement options allow Maya to push and pull her opponent towards her missing daggers, so she can go pick them up in the middle of a combo. The shadow versions of each require staggered timing to break, but they're not very difficult. But like the openers, this list isn't the full story. Maya can also apply her combo trait to combo with daggers in the middle of a combo. This is the only time a projectile is combo breakable in the game, and Maya must throw her dagger at you from very close range, but if she hits, she has +16 frame advantage and can land any strength manual afterwards, circumventing the normal manual restrictions after a linker. Note that if you choose to combo break the dagger linkers, the yellow one is always breakable with lights, while the purple one is always breakable with mediums. Use the color to help you out.
Shadow Linkers: While the break windows for Maya's two shadow linkers intersect with each other, you will have to break the 3rd and 5th hits a little earlier for the backwards-traveling Shadow Leap Kick linker than you would for the forwards-traveling Tumble Kick. Each hit has a very large 9 frame window to break, so when breaking the subsequent hits that are close together, don't mash as fast as you can, or you'll get caught by the gaps. Instead, break the second or fourth hit later in the giant break window to make sure you're nowhere near the lockout gap. Like all shadow linkers that have a 4 or 5 frame gap after the freeze, the best way to catch the first hit is to wait for Maya to show signs of full movement in her legs before breaking. Trying to break as soon as the freeze ends will lead to a lockout.
Maya has uses for all three of her enders. The hard knockdown version is Maya's most damaging ender, and is particularly useful if you want to throw shadow Spirit Slicer (the dual daggers) on top of an opponent for a mixup, or to force them to block it for some dagger pips. The Leap Kick ender allows Maya to follow up with a juggle combo; typically Maya will do some combination of normals canceled into daggers here, before doing a fast Air Mantis for some unbreakable damage at the end and a knockdown.
Maya has a unique ender called Dagger Assault Activation. It does very little damage by itself, but this ender spends all of Maya's dagger pips and puts both daggers above the opponent's head, which attack every second while Maya is free to move around. The more dagger pips you have, the more times the daggers will strike, up to a maximum of 5 cycles. If Maya is hit, however, Dagger Assault immediately ends and the daggers get separated. Maya can perform mixups while the daggers are threatening to strike. For example, she can do a roll jump over the opponent's head and make the daggers hit ambiguously as a crossup. Or, Maya can do high/low mixups by performing or faking Axe Kick, and the opponent will be hesitant to challenge in case the Dagger Assault hits them. If the opponent is content to try blocking, Maya can also simply throw them between dagger attacks. There's room for creativity here in how Maya attacks an opponent who has Dagger Assault attached to them, so experiment and find some cool tricks!
Recapture & Flipout: Axe Kick (recapture)
Maya is a strong juggle character, especially due to Leap Kick (both regular and shadow) and the fact that the Enmity Strike dual dagger toss will launch the opponent. Maya can use Axe Kick to recapture her opponents during many of her juggles, and this is especially important if she doesn't have meter to cash out juggles with shadow Leap Kick.
Normals to watch: Be careful of Maya's crouching MK, as it's a farther reaching low attach than most crouching MKs in the game and leads to a combo or a blocked dagger pretty easily. Standing MK is also good for covering space in front of Maya when she's not holding daggers. However, most of her exceptional normals involve her punch normals while holding daggers. Crouching HP is an excellent anti-air, even though it has a bit of startup, and jumping HP is an absolutely mammoth crossup that she can do out of a dash jump, which seems to cross up from well over half screen away. Far standing HP is a two-hit attack that will put you in massive block stun; if Maya cancels this normal into shadow Spirit Slicer on block, you'll be forced to fill her dagger meter to max. Better shadow counter the second hit while you can! Air Mantis is an aerial command grab (+HP in air) that grabs all standing and jumping opponents for 14% unbreakable damage. Crouch it to avoid it entirely, but it comes out pretty fast and is good bait if the opponent tries to jump away from daggers, or high block a jump-in or Axe Kick. If Maya is not holding both daggers, she loses access to all of these moves, so losing even a single dagger has far-reaching consequences for Maya's gameplay.
Specials to watch: It's all about the daggers. In addition to simply throwing light and dark daggers, hoping you will either block them in a block string or get hit by them for a combo, Maya can throw a shadow version using both daggers. Shadow Spirit Slicer throws both daggers directly in front of Maya as a "spinner", which places a giant hitbox on the screen that hits 4 times. If you block all 4 of these hits, Maya will fill her dagger meter to max, and Maya has setups that basically force the opposition to block it. Once shadow Spirit Slicer is over, however, the daggers will violently separate, forcing Maya to go to great lengths to pick them up unless she has you cornered or has instinct available.
Leap Kick is Maya's uppercut, and it's a bit of a weird move. Maya travels at three different trajectories depending on the strength used, and she can throw a dagger any time after the apex of the move. However, Maya cannot throw daggers if you block Leap Kick, which means punishing Leap Kick is very easy on block, but more difficult if it whiffs. Light Leap Kick is the most invincible non-shadow version but it runs out of invincibilty one frame before it becomes active, which means well-timed attacks will stuff the move with no trouble. Only shadow Leap Kick is truly invincible. If light Leap Kick is giving you trouble, you can take it to the lab and try to stuff it with a perfect meaty or a deep jumping crossup, or simply just block it and punish.
General strategy: If you have both daggers, your first goal should be to force the opponent to block a few of them. Against beginner opponents, this is actually quite easy; simply throw a dagger after any blocked normal, which will gain you a dagger pip and the dagger is also likely to bounce directly back into your hands. You can also throw them from the air or from any Leap Kick, as long as the Leap Kick was not blocked. Wiser opponents, however, will come up with clever ways to avoid your daggers (such as by low-profiling them; the dagger hitbox is quite far off the ground) which will send them flying hopelessly off screen, and they'll dare you to approach it with your weakened moveset. If you can play this dagger mind game well and have a high success rate for your daggers getting blocked or hitting, Maya is a strong character and quite difficult to deal with. If you lose some of your daggers early, in the worst case you might have to wait until your instinct gauge fills to get them back, which is a lot of life lost for one error. Maya's non-traditional approach to offense means blocking is often a bad idea, and will require some creative insight to overcome. The reward for separating Maya from her daggers is worth the effort, though; when she loses her daggers, Maya has one foot in the grave.