Welcome to the lesson of the Turtle Hermit School series on defending pressure.
Before we get started I'd like to make a few points about defence as a whole.
FighterZ is an offence oriented game about movement, rushdown and mixups. Defending against sophisticated pressure is always going to be very difficult and the absolute best method for dealing with it is to use the techniques from the advanced movement lesson to avoid this kind of pressure in the first place.
Blocking a tricky mixup the first time is going to be incredibly difficult. The goal is to identify and take advantage of patterns your opponent uses to break your opponents offensive rhythm and escape their pressure. The goal is very rarely to throw out a button and interrupt their attacks, this is a common failing of new players and should be the habit you break first.
This lesson will focus on some common strings people use and what your defensive options should be used for but I truly believe that in this game, offence is the best defence. You can't defend everything but you can defend more than your opponent.
Lets go over the tools we'll be using to tip the balance in our favour.
Blocking - By far the most important tool you have and should be your default approach. I would recommend blocking patiently in almost all scenarios. If you are at all unsure of what to do, block until you can make a conscious decision and exploit an opening. Loses to dragon rush and can lose to high/low or left/right mixups.
Deflecting - Quite a hard tool to really understand but if you know that an attack will come and you have the ability to perform a deflect (which activates instantly) then it can break you out of their pressure and reset to neutral. You'll also want to think about your followups after a deflect. It tends to negate high/low or left/right mixups but is vulnerable to staggered pressure and dragon rushes.
Guard cancel - A fantastic option for dealing with sustained block pressure, costs one meter so I'd advise saving it for when your character is in danger of dying but if your opponent has shown you a pressure string that you aren't sure how to deal with then this is an excellent counter. Unsafe when blocked and you can be caught on the way in so timing is important. This is also possible when you have only 1 character remaining and behaves more similarly to a vanish but is unsafe on block like a vanish.
Vanish - In my eyes, this is inferior to the guard cancel as it has some startup time and can be interrupted. If you can fit it in though, it will give you some damage and some breathing room when it hits and some advantage when blocked so your fastest attack should beat theirs, they do have some options to deal with this. This can be especially useful in the corner as it will allow you to swap places with your opponent and get some payback.
Backdashing - Situational and occasionally dangerous but very useful outside the corner. If your opponent lacks long range moves then this can be preferable to deflecting. Loses to long range pokes, short gaps where you don't have time to move and many special moves. Very good option after blocking an overhead.
Jump back blocking - Similar to backdashing but you can block much sooner, there's a small window where you can be hit as you so choose your moments wisely. Blocking an attack will tend to pull you back down into their mixup and if your opponents pressure is tight then you'll get opened up. Loses to dragon rush but only if they jump then dragon rush. Airborne dragon rushes can't hit grounded opponents and vice versa.
Invincible moves/reversals - Most supers and some specials have invincibility frames that you can throw out to catch out over-eager opponents. Use with extreme caution as most don't become invincible straight away and if they are blocked they can be heavily punished. Some assist can be used in a similar way while blocking but they tend to get clipped so use with caution.
As you can see, we have a wide range of different defensive options and they all have strengths and weaknesses. Like offensive options, which one you should use depends on your opponent. An opponent who neglects dragon rush is more vulnerable to deflect and if your blocking is up to snuff then there's no urgent need to break out at all.
Choosing an option in the heat of the moment is extremely difficult and at least when starting out, blocking should be all you focus on. Teching dragon rushes as you predict them is also difficult but is all you really need.
Let's go over some common strings and their best answers as well as the process of targeting specific strings you struggle with.
In my last lesson on pressure I taught a nice comfortable pressure string. You'll find a lot of people use similar strings they are comfortable with and these can be identified surprisingly easily. For most of these, blocking until they run out of options to continue their pressure is the best option. If you see weaknesses in their pressure then you'll be able to exploit them, here are some things to look out for and the responses I'd recommend.
None of these above answers are universally usable but if you believe there'll be a gap in the pressure that you are confidant you have an answer for then it may be a good idea to try it.
A common use of overheads is to fit them into pressure strings to do some damage and fluster your opponent. The reason this is so effective is that these are slightly plus on hit and neutral on block. I haven't talked about frame data yet but what I mean by this is if you block an overhead, your fastest move and their's will probably trade but this can be unreliable, the difference is so minute that if you mash out a response even a tiny delay could cost you.
If you get hit by the overhead, a common response is to try and throw out a light attack or stand up and that's exactly what they'll be hoping you do. The best option if one hits you is to keep blocking low and watch for dragon rushes or repeated overheads. Some assists will let people get small combos after landing an overhead at which point there's nothing to do but wait.
Here are some clearer examples of these options (in approximate order of safety).
Blocking an overhead is one of the few instances I would recommend taking an action almost every time instead of blocking. If your opponent uses an assist to cover their overhead then blocking is worth it as deflect is the only other option that will still work and can be unreliable as they won't be affected by you deflecting the assist. Them spending an assist is the price they pay for attempting an overhead and still being able to pressure.
Just like overheads, dragon rushes can easily catch you off guard and they are much more punishing. The best option is to defend against their attacks as best you can and watch for the dragon rush, they can be dealt with in a few different ways that have their own strengths and weaknesses. The below examples show how to deal with a common method of using dragon rush after an air attack (make use of this yourself sometimes if you aren't already but don't rely on it too much).
Teching - Will always cancel the dragon rush but if you guess wrong then you'll be eating a lot of damage
Jabbing - Will always cancel the dragon rush but can also lose to normal attacks or even the dragon rush if done too late.
Jumping back - Will always avoid the dragon rush and depending on timing can be safe and even punish the dragon rush, you are vulnerable as you jump so depending on timing you can be punished.
These methods are all vulnerable to normal attacks so reserve them for when you're certain a dragon rush will follow.
Getting Out of The Corner
Getting stuck in the corner is a very common occurrence for all players, the best way to avoid getting stuck in the corner is to safely move as much as possible and being aware of the overall screen position.
Once in the corner all of the above methods will still work except for backdashing which essentially makes you unable to block for a short time with no actual benefit as you can't move backwards.
An extra thing to note is vanish becomes a useful tool to corner your opponent and get yourself out of the corner at the same time. Be careful when using it though as it doesnt start immediately and is heavily punishable when used poorly.
The Magic Answer to Defending Anything
There's no tool that works against every option but everything in this game has an answer. The key to improving your defence (or indeed any part of your toolkit) is to identify an area of weakness and train that specific area until it becomes second nature.
Anything you get hit by and think "How could I have defended that?" can be recreated in training mode via the record function and experimented with. You can't realistically practice against every string for every character but as you get more and more familiar with defending against these strings, you'll be able to guess which option will work.
Let's use a Kid Buu string as an example. He commonly ends his combos or blockstrings into a rolling ball attack. Two common variations he'll do are an air attack after the ball and blocking after the ball to bait a response. Here is a short breakdown on some of the responses.
There are so many more options in this scenario and that's what makes it a useful tool. Here's a slightly more refined mixup you should also practice against. Triple overhead or Empty jump low.
Training Exercise - Experimentation in training mode
Unlike my previous lessons, practising defence of all of the options I described above can be done in the exact same way. Pick an option from above or from past experience, using the record function, recreate the string and experiment with as many options as you can think of. This not only helps your defence but it can also help refine your offensive options. If you have a blockstring/mixup that you use frequently, recreate it in training mode and try to break out of it yourself, you may find it's not as airtight as you thought.
Some defensive options to experiment with are:
Anti-airing with 2H
Jump back blocking