Inputs, Hand Positions, and Practice Conditions

Different inputs loan themselves to different hand movements, especially the left thumb.  This has consequences for your tech skill because doing one input is going to have a bearing on the subsequent input.   Though it’s most noticeable on the joystick, it’s also a factor on the right hand.  Opting to use Z, L, tap jump, and even claw in certain situations can help mitigate flubs from hand position changes, making some techs and input sequences way easier, such as first frame aerials.

It’s important not to practice things in a vacuum.  Just because you can do two different techniques consistently does not mean you can reliably chain them together quickly.  For example, turn around up tilt out of stand, out of wavedash, and after an aerial are all significantly different inputs.  Going from 8 o’clock to 1 o’clock on the joystick is not the same as going from neutral to 1 o’clock or from 6 o’clock to 1 o’clock.  And in this case, all three scenarios also have different amounts of lag.  Standing is lagless, and wavedashing has 10 frames of lag, but after an aerial, you can quickly adjust your stick to a position that would normally register as a jump without a jump coming out, which makes turn around up tilt much easier.

This is more commonly discussed, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that there’s an asymmetry to inputs.  Shield drops, ledge tech skill, moonwalks, cactuar dash, and many more techs are heavily controller dependent.  Even snapback tends to have asymmetric influences on the stick.  If your controller is perfect, doing something in one direction still doesn’t necessarily mean you can do it in the other.  Given that your hand is on the left side of the joystick, you have to learn different motions to do the same tech in each direction.  Having to pull your thumb to moonwalk to the left feels totally different from having to push it to do it to the right.  Practice all your tech in both directions.

Posture when practicing alone is unlikely to be comparable to during tournament conditions.  Whatever chair, desk, etc. you have at home is not going to be at the tournament.  If you’re like me, then how hard you’re trying is going to be correlated to how much you’re leaning forward.  You probably won’t have the same “Armada lean” when you’re fucking around in your room.  Moreover, you won’t have sweaty hands from being nervous.  Being able to do something in your room 1000/1000 times doesn’t mean you can do it under pressure.  However, the reason for you performing something incorrectly in tournament may be something other than nerves.  Practice is most effective when there is no disparity between practice conditions and tournament conditions.  This is obviously not possible, but minimizing the differences, or at least being cognizant of them, will help you adapt more quickly to performing in tournament.  Reflecting on recurring flubs and adjusting how you practice can sometimes lead to consistent performance even in pressure situations.

Matchup Numbers

The Melee community loves debating matchup numbers.  We throw around terms like “60/40” and “hard 50/50” as if they are undeniably intuitive.  Leffen’s “60/40” Marth vs Fox matchup ratio blew up into a giant meme in the last year.  While I think few reasonable people think that Marth actually bodies Fox in a vacuum, Leffen’s analysis that having a free FD win in a BO5 skews a roughly even matchup from 50/50 to 60/40 makes a lot of sense, both intuitively and statistically.  Let’s explore some matchups and try to deduce what constitutes a winning matchup.  Take these matchups for example: Fox/Sheik vs Falcon/Marth, ICs/Sheik vs Falcon/ICs, Marth/Sheik vs Falco/Doc.

The consensus, which I agree with, is that Fox beats Sheik, and that the matchup is roughly 60/40.  Fox has neutral game tools that Sheik struggles to deal with.  Sheik has a stronger punish game but it’s very difficult to execute, and it’s not like Fox can’t hit hard himself.  Sheik has gimping tools but Fox can also get shine spikes.  It’s a stretch to argue that Sheik wins, so it feels safe to say this is at least 55/45 Fox, if not outright 60/40, with no qualifiers.

Falcon vs. Marth is one of the most debated matchups.  If there is a consensus, it’s that it’s even.  Realistically, it seems a third of people think it’s even, slightly more think Falcon dumpsters Marth, and slightly less think Marth dumpsters Falcon (I’ve been told that Druggedfox, whose knowledge I respect and trust, has said that it’s Falcon’s worst matchup).  It’s easy to understand why this matchup is hotly contested.  Marth wins the neutral and also has a strong punish game if the Marth can tech chase well.  When Falcon is near the ledge, his stock is in peril.  Falcon has a strong punish game that’s relatively straightforward in its optimized state: uthrow uair, uair them more when they’re in the air, reverse knee their up+b landing lag on stage.  Falcon also has neutral game tools that are frustrating to deal with, particularly his CC and side+b.  This matchup rewards cheese because both characters can get huge juicy openings off of gimmicky neutral play.  The gimmicks are just “real” enough and rewarding enough to warrant going for them.  I think this could be what Lovage described as a “60/60” matchup (maybe it was 80/80), trying to express that both characters have things that are really frustrating to deal with, and that both characters can blow up stocks if circumstances are correct.

ICs vs. Sheik has long been considered a terrible matchup for Sheik, something like 60/40 ICs.  Chudat literally never loses to Sheik.  However, Sheik’s path to victory is not strategically challenging.  Camp platforms, throw needles, shield drop aerial, and space aerials.  ICs don’t have good answers to these tools but the punish game is skewed drastically in their favor, particularly because of the popo chain grab, which can be used to buy time to set up for a wobble or even just to do massive damage on its own.  It seems despite the neutral game advantage, Sheik’s punish game disadvantage is enough for people to think ICs beat Sheik.  Modern Sheiks like Laudandus and Spark have changed the minds of some, but it still seems like not many people think Sheik wins.  Nonetheless, I’m actually hearing quite a few ICs players whine about Sheik.  Maybe this is a “hard 60/40” for ICs?  I’m really not sure.

Falcon vs. ICs has been considered Falcon favored since the beginning of time, something like 60/40 Falcon.  Falcon usually has to approach at some point.  Falcon definitely has the tools to beat the crap out of ICs in neutral, even on FD.  Nonetheless, there’s no “perfect” way to do this such that it’s risk free.  It’s not like Sheik vs ICs where you know what it’s going to look like if you win.  ICs obviously have a crazy punish game on Falcon.  Thus, Falcon wins because of his neutral game advantage and strong punish game, but he can’t usually find a free path to victory, unless he opts to platform camp and the ICs is bad at dealing with it (I personally don’t think this is very legit, though it does give easy wins against impatient players).  Maybe this is also a “hard 60/40” for Falcon? I don’t think many people would describe it that way.

Marth vs Sheik was historically considered 60/40 Sheik but some now consider it 50/50 or slightly in Marth’s favor.  Conceptually, Marth has better ground movement, better ground to ground tools because of his dtilt, and the ability to juggle Sheik.  Sheik has an easy punish game, a projectile, and great ledge guarding tools.  Much like Marth vs Falcon, it’s no surprise here why many Marth players complain about the matchup since the punish game is skewed against them.  Unlike Marth vs Falcon, this matchup doesn’t reward cheese as much, since neither character has as many opportunities to cheese nor as great a reward for doing so.  Thus, to lose neutral, Marth usually has to actually get outplayed by Sheik.  I don’t think I’ve heard any creative way to accurately describe this matchup.  Maybe a “60/40 matchup where you have to deal with a lot of bullshit” as Sheik?

Falco vs Doc is an awful matchup for Doc, probably commonly regarded as at least 60/40 for Falco.  However, Doc has a definite punish game advantage.  His gimp game is strong. Bair and cape are annoying to deal with.  Doc can chaingrab Falco.  Doc’s smash attacks should lead to kills.  Uthrow fair is a kill setup.  Yet, it’s still awful for Doc because Falco’s neutral game tools are super hard to contest.  If he’s spamming bair, utilt, or even just jumping on a platform, Doc has a difficult time opening him up.  The disparity in punish game doesn’t seem to skew the matchup in Doc’s favor because he has to significantly outplay Falco in neutral to get a meaningful opening.  Doc can touch of death Falco, but I’d still say this is an easy 60/40 for Falco.

Matchup numbers are supposed to be a concise way to express which character is advantaged but in reality, what they actually express is nebulous and rarely helpful.  There’s too many factors to compress into a simple number.  The idea of having two equally matched players in the first place is an oversimplification since different players have different strengths and weaknesses, which will be amplified or neutered based on the matchup.  HugS might not feel the effect of having a weaker punish game in a matchup as much as a weaker neutral game.  Conversely, Armada obviously had a strong neutral, but it was often his punish game that made the difference for him, so matchups where punish games aren’t as strong hurt him more.  And then there’s cases like Falcon vs Puff, where many people seemed to omit planking in the discussion, which is a strong tactic that people just chose not to use.  Shouldn’t that have been factored into the matchup number?  

Ultimately, matchup numbers are a loaded idea and are most often brought up in the context of johnning.  We all picked our characters voluntarily, and if a matchup is bad enough to use as a john, you should consider playing another character.  If you play a high tier, try to embrace the interactions of the matchup.  Being a high tier means you have the tools necessary to deal with the other character.  Melee players tend to be ignorantly hyperbolic when evaluating matchup numbers because they haven’t played fighters like SF4, where bad matchups are more common and way worse.  Even if something is really difficult to deal with, embracing this and countering it properly should lead to great satisfaction.  Pikachu has an awful grab, but Axe manages to eat Foxes alive for using utilt.  It’s only when you can embrace the strengths and weaknesses of every character that you can have the mental landscape and presence necessary to be in the moment and counter your opponent.

Effective Notetaking

Taking notes can be a hassle, but if you’re serious about improving, not doing so will hinder your growth.  Melee is a game almost unmatched in how fast it requires you to make decisions. In the heat of the moment, so many things happen such that it’s impossible to remember everything.  If you’re playing consecutive games, being focused and present requires you to discard much of what was in your mind in the previous game.  If you want to remember all the ideas you have, taking notes is crucial.  Write notes quickly.  Don’t wait until after a session.  Ideas are fleeting.  Keeping things in your short term memory for a little while seldom translates into encoding things into long term memory, even for those who have good memories.  

Here’s some tips for what to note:

Answers to situations, bad habits, prospective techniques, macro ideas. 

Why you think you’re losing in friendlies, after sets, or when watching matches.  This allows you to theorycraft in your downtime and discuss macro problems or challenging situations with other players.

Things you have an intuitive idea about, such as percents.  Getting these down on paper will help crystallize it in your mind.  After writing it down, you’ll be extra cognizant of the situations and can verify your intuition, letting you turn it from an intuition into factual knowledge.

If you have an epiphany, definitely write it down.  For instance, I once realized that you cannot always avoid dangerous situations.  Sometimes, you even want to put yourself in dangerous situations.  Navigating these situations quickly and intelligently is just as important as avoiding them.  Another example could be that you can pressure with movement rather than with attacks.

BE SURE TO WRITE NOTES TO BEAT ICS!  These fuckers have so many counterintuitive things and situations that can win or cost you the match.  Many of these situations have objectively best responses.

Here’s some tips about how to format your notes:

Organize notes by matchup.

Separate notes for the lab and for going into a match.  Don’t be afraid to write a little mantra to keep in your head such as “DON’T SHIELD” vs. Falco, “DON’T PLAY AFRAID” vs ICs, “DON’T OVERCOMMIT,” “DON’T GET SPOTDODGE CHEESED.”

Separate notes about what to do from notes about what not to do.  Maybe organize by other things as well, such as punish game vs defensive game.

Have a section for stage specific things.

Write notes about longterm ideas and optimizations on a separate page and discuss these with knowledgeable players.  Many ideas require extensive practice to implement and it’s worthwhile to discuss these things with other people before investing your lab time (e.g. trigger optimization).

Make sure your notes aren’t too cluttered.  Notes for doubles and secondaries should be separate.

Reformat your notes regularly.  If you notetake on paper, this means rewriting pages and ripping out old pages, or buying new notebooks.  Some notes will become ingrained such that you no longer need them on paper.  Other ones may have been ideas that you ultimately decide were not good or were just wrong.  

Keep notes succinct.

Use shorthand.  Your notes don’t need to be coherent to anyone but yourself.  Having names for techniques (DJ Nintendo shit) can express ideas with fewer words.

As someone who virtually never took notes in academia, I understand reluctance to take notes on Melee.  It’s nerdy and feels like work.  Much of the time, notes taken get neglected and don’t manifest in actual games.  Until recently, most adept Melee players were more about playing on feel than any formulaic approach.  This is exceedingly difficult in the meta now.  Writing notes buffs the effectiveness of your time in the lab significantly.  It facilitates keeping the most important ideas for your gameplan foremost in your thoughts.  When there are inadequate setups to warmup, reading your notes will help insure you don’t go into your next set on autopilot. If you’re struggling to improve or ever feel unsure what to practice, notetaking will alleviate these issues.

Match Preparation and Economy of Time

Knowledge of which opponents you’re likely to face at a tournament can be a powerful advantage.  You’re able to study matchups, streamline your practice, and come up with a gameplan.  Despite these boons, advanced knowledge can also be a detriment.  Studying your opponent can lead to incorrect assumptions.  For instance, Qerb told me that at Full Bloom 5, he sat down to play Rik, and he had prepared for the Fox matchup.  Rik selected Falco, which put Qerb into a panicked mental state. Qerb’s preparation resulted in this moment of shock, and he regretted preparing at all.  He said had he not prepared, he would have been spared this moment of shock.  Recently, I had my best placing at a regional, Bridgetown Blitz, coming in at 2nd.  My preparation was more helpful than detrimental but only marginally.

Looking at the bracket, I was seeded to play Aura, a formidable Peach player whom I recently lost to.  After fighting Aura, I was seeded to play Captain Faceroll, and the odds of him getting upset seemed exceptionally low.  Were I to beat both of these players, I would play the winner of Bladewise and Fatgoku in WF.  Aura is good, but I was confident I would win if I played well since I beat him in the past, played him that week at a local, and felt that the day on which I lost was my worst play of the year.  Nonetheless, it would be brazen not to prepare for the Peach matchup.  This is a matchup where I feel I have many ideas yet to be implemented.  Furthermore, many techniques that are important in this matchup are not transferable to other matchups, so they may be glossed over in my normal practice routine, as I tend to beat Peach already.  I spent hours in the lab making sure I did not lose to Peach.  Ultimately, I did not lose to Peach.  I actually didn’t even play a Peach.

On tournament day, Aura lost to Vinodh, a Puff that beat me in our last two sets, but that I had beaten in encounters before that.  Vinodh is among the most irritating opponents possible, as he is a Puff who is not averse to planking.  I knew that Vinodh had a chance of beating Aura but I decided not to prepare for this contingency since Aura had a strong record against Vinodh.  Hence, I was not prepared to play Vinodh, both in terms of mentality and in terms of actual practice.  Luckily, Falcon vs Puff is not a matchup that requires much labbing, just good fundamentals, so I managed to win.  Against Faceroll, my Sheik practice helped a bit, but not very much.  I practiced mostly on Fountain of Dreams and Yoshi’s but I told him he could always pick Battlefield, and he proceeded to pick it every time.  More than half my practice was techniques that are only applicable on stages we didn’t play. Finally, I ended up playing Fatgoku in WF and GF.  I got bodied.  I’m not dismayed by this because I made a conscious choice just to hope Bladewise would win.  I did not feel it was possible for me to lab out three matchups in a way that would allow me to beat three different players of this caliber.  I am not confident in my ability to beat Fatgoku in general, so even with hindsight, I think I prepared as best as possible and placed as well as feasible at this event.

In preparing for Bridgetown, I did not watch any VODs.  Even if I had been able to watch VODs of me vs. Faceroll from Genesis, I would not have.  Studying your opponent’s habits from VODs can give inaccurate expectations for their playstyle or habits, priming your reactions incorrectly.  It’s naive to assume that playstyles and flowcharts are static. People are constantly adjusting and improving.  Even more importantly, mental states and moods are not static, which can influence inputs as much as volition.  In the StarCraft community, it’s often noted how some players excel in leagues where they can prepare for an opponent days ahead but struggle when they have to run through a bracket in consecutive matches.  Here’s some lessons regarding preparation that I’ve learned from RTS games:

Study strategic, overarching things about opponents more than situational details.

Your reputation can influence the other player’s gameplan and preparation.  Playing contrary to your own reputation can lead to a decisive advantage out the gate and can also be used as a conditioning tool.

Knowing what options you are going to use yields an adaptation advantage.  If you know X beats Y and opponent favors Y, you can also anticipate that he will use Z that beats X.  Prepare an answer for Z.

When game day comes, don’t be stubborn.  Things you’ve prepared may not ultimately be applicable or relevant.  You may have miscalculated. You may not be able to implement something smoothly under tournament conditions.  Be ready to amend your plans.

Be mindful of the economy of time (how to spend your preparation time and how your opponent may have spent theirs):

Every matchup has defining interactions, interactions where if you fail to execute, you actually cannot play the matchup.  In StarCraft, you have to be able to micro mutas in ZvT. In Melee, you have to be able to waveshine upsmash as Fox vs. Peach.  As Falcon, you have to be able to uthrow → uair Sheik.  Make sure these things are foremost in your practice routine.  These are things you want to be able to do even when you’re playing your D game or choking.  It’s outright irresponsible to neglect practicing these things considering how important they are and how much you get out of just a few minutes of practice.

Being proactive can negate the other player’s practice by dictating the terms of engagement and forcing situations they didn’t prepare for.

Coming up with a gameplan that runs contrary to the assumptions of the other player can negate their preparation.  This could mean playing a secondary, playing on unexpected stages, or even having a fundamentally different gameplan for the matchup, e.g. camping platforms instead of playing a ground game.

Sometimes in StarCraft, they play BO1.  It’s possible to prepare a gimmick to steal a game.  Similarly in Melee, making sure you’re on point with a couple gimmicks or baits to steal ~2 stocks in a set can win you the set.  Try to practice things that will actually lead to decisive swings, such as an on shield bait into a kill setup.

*Having access to 20XX (both 4.07 and 3.02) as well as Uncle Punch can help you cram more practice into the same time interval.

Speed of adaptation is one of the most important and underappreciated skills of top players.  How quickly one adapts is strongly correlated to overall strength as a player.  If you prepare well, you should not only be strong out the gate but also quick to adjust.  Many situations in fighting games ultimately come down to rock paper scissors.  Coming into a match with full understanding of these situations is a powerful advantage. Remember that being too ahead of the meta in these situations is a disadvantage since you want to be one level of yomi ahead, not two (for instance, if spotdodge > grab, knee > spotdodge, ftilt > knee, going for ftilt loses to grab, so it’s possible to read too many levels deep).  However, reading their adaptation on their first attempt to counter your initial tactic can be mentally devastating.  

The most appealing thing about Melee is its incredible skill cap and the infinitude of options/techniques.  It’s easy to get lost in the lab, distracted by something amusing or flashy.  Moving around a stage and letting your mind wander can inspire ideas that would make for an incredible tech skill video.  There’s countless things to practice but limited time.  Don’t get distracted by outlandish theorycraft and prospective ideas if you have an imminent goal! Study a matchup and write a list of things to practice.  Allocate time intervals for each technique. Effective match preparation is a prime way to elevate your results quickly, improve your matchup spread, and become a better player overall.

Envisioning a Path to Victory

A primary appeal of Melee is that it’s uniquely conducive to personal expression.  The fluidity of the engine and multitude of options allow for exceptionally distinct playstyles.  Virtually all of the top Falcons have extremely distinct playstyles.  The same could be said for Marth, Falco, and even Puff.  It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you know a matchup when you actually only know how to beat certain playstyles.  It’s hard to divorce the notion of knowing a matchup from knowing how to beat your practice partners and rivals.

Junebug told me that he thought it was not ideal to have conscious analysis of play during the heat of the game but rather that it was preferable to be able to switch from one gear or style to another based on your existing knowledge base.  For some, this is how to place highest on average.  When confronted with the question “What if you play against someone who plays in a style completely unfamiliar to you,” Junebug responded, “I lose.”  No doubt this is a plight shared by many.  Based on your understanding of character strengths and weaknesses, macro analysis of playstyles, and niche situational knowledge, it’s entirely possible to envision a path to victory against an opponent you are only vaguely familiar with.

Let’s take Wizzrobe for example.  He plays Captain Falcon and does not play secondaries.  Falcon is weak in terms of out of shield, frame data, recovery, and grounded attack options.  Falcon is strong in terms of mobility and anti air options. Wizzrobe is known for being a campy player who relies on a solid defensive game and milking his openings once he gets them.  He is fast, technical, and consistent.  He is known for being robotic and not adapting.  He is known for “execution testing.”  These facts alone should inspire an extensive list of macro and micro level ideas.

Macro analysis:

I don’t want to overextend, get baited, or telegraph that I’m willing to chase him and flail in his direction.  That would play to the strengths of both his character and his playstyle.  Acting second, or baiting a laggy commitment from him with a low lag option is preferable.  Make sure my ground movement is on point.

I should be extra disciplined in neutral and make sure not to get tilted should I lose neutral and eat a fat punish.  If I get out of a punish, that should feel like a lucky respite that serves to rally me because I’m going into the match expecting to be punished into oblivion when opened up.  

Players who are known for solid defensive games tend to be worse in scrambles and (perhaps counterintuitively) can sometimes be baited quite easily.

Players who are robotic respond poorly to unfamiliar situations.  Combined with the previous point, I might be able to cheese him if I am able to set up situations where I can mix him up or bait him.  If I am confident that I have some risky tricks that are strong mixups against Falcon, this may be a good opponent to use them on, despite my general desire not to overextend in neutral.

Wizzrobe is young and technical.  If some interaction unfolds in a way I did not know was possible, do not let that break my focus.  Acknowledge the possibility that some “next level shit” might go down and make sure not to have any lapse in vigilance.

Micro analysis: 

Falcon’s recovery is bad, and he’s susceptible to cheese.  Go for some gimp setups.

Absolutely under no circumstances do something that will give him a shield grab.

Don’t do any of the “noob” things that Falcon players feed on, e.g. spot dodge, mindlessly DI in, or get jab reset.

“Defensive falcon” often means spams fadeback nair.  Use options that can beat this and be ready to pounce.

Falcon players often have exploitable defensive habits due to his bad frame data, out of shield, and recovery.  See if I can get him to nair poorly and punish.  Falcon players spam buffer roll.  Don’t let him escape this easily.  Don’t get double jump counterattacked and let him open you up for free.

Feigning an attack while approaching may trick him into shielding, which will result in a mixup situation.  Standard options for Falcon in this situation are nair out of shield or roll, both of which I want to be ready to punish.

If my macro hypothesis about him being a player who might crack when in scrambles and in close quarters is correct, this could manifest in him raptor boosting or falcon kicking in the corner and on wakeup.  Be ready to ASDI down and CC to punish.  Space moves slightly deeper to compensate for pullback.  

Encroach on him with ASDI down and movement options that also allow for CC.  Getting close to him while still having these defensive options available could bait him into doing something I could punish (in reality, Wizzrobe uses raw grab more than any other top Falcon, so this might serve to discourage this, but for the sake of the example, let’s assume this tendency is not known).

Being able to steal the ledge quickly and in tricky ways is something I should practice because he spams haxdash; it’s also useful against Falcon recovery.  Conversely, being frame tight when I am on the ledge will be important because he is known for execution testing ledgedashes.

It would be naive to assume this plan, based largely on generalizations and conjecture, will yield a victory.  Formulating it is still worthwhile.  Being able to remind yourself of your goals and situations you anticipate arising is a meaningful boon–it helps accelerate adaptation, primes you to react quickly, and assists in weeding out stray thoughts.  Having key points and ideas to focus on between stocks as you get ready for the next engagement helps ensure you won’t have a lapse in your decision making.  If your plan is going well, you can even anticipate how a competent opponent may be inclined to adapt to it and mix them up preemptively to gain a decisive advantage in the mental game.  

Knowing what to do is distinct from doing it.  Having a plan doesn’t mean you’ll win. Regardless of your plan and your execution, it’s still a fighting game, which has a PvP component and generally requires adaptation on the fly.  Nonetheless, if you are adept at formulating plans, you should be able to attribute most of your losses to a failure to execute your plan.  Even if this is not the case, you may be able to use the information you gained to revise your plan.  Envisioning your path to victory before your sets will help you perform better in the set and will help you take away more from the set if you lose.

Consistency and Rising to the Challenge

It’s a common occurrence for people to play better against better opponents.  When pushed by a formidable opponent, it makes sense that you can’t play lazy and that you’ll have to dig deep to match them.  Though this is a compelling narrative, it isn’t going to describe many of your tournament sets, wins or losses. A more consistent path to victory is to train in a way that’s conducive to increasing your floor.

Consider these situations:

1a) You outclassed your opponent 1b) You were upset
2a) You were similar skill levels but managed to win 2b) You were similar skill levels but your opponent took it
3a) You upset someone better 3b) You were outclassed

Only in situation 3a are you rising to the challenge of a foe that pushes you to your limits.  This is the main situation where you need to raise your ceiling to win. Increasing your floor will make situation 1 consistently swing your way, and it will more often influence situation 2 than increasing your ceiling since it’s not often two players are actually playing near the peak of their game.  Even in situation 3, you may benefit from raising your floor as often as from raising your ceiling. Raising your floor dramatically increases your chance of making an upset should your opponent have an off day.

The nature of performing anything is that some days the performance will be better than others.  Thus, the way to improve consistency is to make your bad days less bad. Below are tips that should help you in this endeavor:

Make the things you practice the most the things that are most integral to your gameplay.  Life isn’t an anime where you master a technique by successfully performing it once. Mastery is a grind that involves practicing the same thing year after year.  Keep your tools sharp and don’t take for granted that your proficiency for given techniques will be lasting when you neglect practice.

Take friendlies seriously and try hard but don’t let this stop you from experimenting and practicing difficult techniques.  If you can’t perform something in friendlies, it’s highly unlikely you’ll be able to when you’re having tournament nerves.

Don’t neglect neutral game because your opponent is bad.  This gets you in the wrong mindset. Thinking about risk/reward when playing against lesser opponents is an awful approach to the game because your punish game will make every option favorable through this lens.  Having to switch gears between playing a real neutral and dicking around detracts from your effective warmup.

Play against people who play disciplined.  It makes it way easier to transition from friendlies to tournament if you are playing people who make you work for your openings.

Have gameplans, particularly for matchups where you’re at a neutral game advantage, and be mindful of which options are good against which.  You’ll inevitably get thrown off gameplans based on styles of your opponents, but if you aren’t playing against a high tier, you should be able to remind yourself of a conceptually simple path to victory to fall back on.  Being generally mindful about which options beat which will help you make quick alterations to your gameplan. Switching from gear 1 to gear 2 based on your opponent’s style is easier than coming up with answers on the fly.

Don’t be presumptuous when it comes to “scrubby” options.  If your opponent does something that you think is scrubby, it may not mean that they are bad.  It might mean that you haven’t demonstrated to them that you can counter them. It might even mean they think you’re bad.  Good players sometimes go for dumb things. Thinking that you shouldn’t get hit by something because it’s dumb or that your opponent shouldn’t do something because it’s dumb is an easy path to getting tilted and underperforming.

Put yourself in pressure situations regularly.  This means entering tournaments often, though money matches may help (it doesn’t from my experience, but others have said it does).

Be mindful of your ego.  Your skill level isn’t static and neither is your opponent’s.  Just because “you’re better” than your opponent doesn’t mean you won’t have to try your hardest to win.  Go into every match assuming you’ll have to try your hardest, that way you won’t waiver in your focus.

Be cognizant of what kind of person and player you are.  Knowing that you can fall back on your ledge game, your laser game, your dash dance, etc. will help you clutch games.  Know whether you’re comfortable gambling the set in crucial moments. Calming your inner monologue is crucial to winning and removing these thought processes will prevent choking.

Make sure you’re having fun.  Given that the tangible rewards of being a smasher are nonexistent for most, it’s borderline impossible to have the level of discipline necessary to practice diligently if you aren’t finding the game fun.  It isn’t always going to be fun, but revel in the parts that are. Reminding ourselves why we love the game is important.

I’m known to be a huge choker.  Most of my best wins are from a combination of my opponents choking and me being good at digging deep when at a deficit and capitalizing.  It’s a myth that as you play more, nerves will just cease to be a problem. Even Armada, the paragon of mental fortitude, had one of the worst chokes I’ve ever seen during the last game of Evo 2016.  Don’t get me started on Zain vs Wizzrobe sets. It’s through mindful practice that people conquer these struggles and learn to play their best in tournament. Don’t count on rising to the challenge. Count on falling back on what you’ve trained.  

Commonly Occurring Causes of SDs

I’ve taken my own stock countless times.  Many times, I was baffled.  Over time, I’ve accumulated knowledge about situations in which this takes place.  For the purpose of this list, something that is not technically an SD but that results in an easily avoidable death counts as an SD.  Here’s a list that is roughly ordered in terms of most common to least common:

Trying to tech and then getting hit before you hit the ground will make you miss the subsequent tech, which can easily be followed up on with a knee, fox usmash, etc.  Be calculated every time you full press a trigger because it creates a significant window where you cannot tech (if I recall correctly, it’s a 20 frame window where tech is buffered followed by a 40 frame window where you cannot input another tech).

Hard pressing your trigger when you L-cancel will result in you subsequently missing the tech if you get hit out of your aerial because of this lockout mechanic.  L-cancel with light press or even Z.

Trying to react to getting hit with a tech input can result in an air dodge if you are not cognizant of your DI because you might slide off the stage as you go for the tech input.

When you grab the ledge, let your analog stick reset to neutral before doing an input on the analog stick.  If you try to ledgehop without letting your stick reset, you will tournament winner, which will likely be punished and result in loss of a stock.  Similarly, if you don’t think you are going to reach the ledge and try to up+b, but then do end up grabbing the ledge before your up+b, this will probably result in a tournament winner.

If you roll to the edge of the stage, your ECB is in a state such that you must do a frame perfect wavedash.  Depending on how egregious your timing is with the wavedash, failure to do a frame perfect wavedash is likely to result in you airdodging off the stage.

Going from light shield to full shield has at least one frame in which you are not at all protected by your shield.  If you want to full shield, make sure to depress the trigger all the way immediately.

Attempting to jump as you dash or get pushed off the stage can result in a ledge cancelled jump squat.  Don’t ledge cancel your jump squat and then do an aerial and fall to your death.

Attempting to shield DI can result in very bad regular DI.  It’s difficult to learn exactly how each move can be used to shield poke you, but it’s important to try to do so.  Using light shield can help mitigate this problem.  The most common situation where this is costly is when people are angling their shields horizontally to prepare to shield drop.  Getting hit while doing this will result in abysmal DI.  For some characters like Marth, who are easier to shield poke while on the ground, you will have to be extra mindful of how you might get hit out of your shield and be ready to DI those moves.

If you attempt to SDI but your opponent does not time their move as you expected, remember to still input regular DI after your SDI input.  Sometimes people get too fixated on SDI and then miss regular DI, which might be enough to survive.

If you attempt to buffer an action using the c-stick, make sure to not do the c-stick input on the first frame you are actionable.  If you tried to buffer a roll and got an fsmash, this is because when the c-stick input is on the same frame you become actionable, the c-stick input takes priority over the attempted buffer roll input.

Accidentally buffering a jump out of hitstun by hitting up on the joystick from DI or SDI is an easy way to throw away your stock.  Be cognizant of exactly how long you are in hitstun so you don’t do this by accident or let your opponent trick you into doing it in high hitstun situations.

Accidentally buffering a getup attack by getting hit while you’re pressing buttons is really bad, especially in doubles.  Don’t spam buttons excessively—know exactly how each input is going to map onto the screen.

Spamming jump, up+b, or side+b to recover as quickly as possible results in you recovering slower than timing the input.  The best mashers in the world can get about 15 mashes per second.  This means that, if you are in the top one percentile of mashers, you still can only get one press per every four frames. For frame tight situations, you really need to learn when your stun/lag ends and time your button presses accordingly.  An effective strategy for mitigating this learning curve in situations where you have your jump is to press up on the joystick, then both x/y right as you think you’ll be actionable because up on the joystick gives a small buffer window for jumping, and the x/y presses will come out very shortly thereafter in case you tried to buffer jump too early.

Air dodge is not frame one.  Often when people try to air dodge onto the stage, they do it too late and get hit before the air dodge comes out.  An easy way to tell if this was the case when you tried to airdodge is to enable V-cancel sound effect on the 20xx hackpack.  A slightly late air dodge will result in getting a V-cancel.

Failing to properly account for hitlag of offstage moves is likely to result in a botched recovery.  Hitlag on average is three frames, which means that if you hit your attack off stage, you should input your recovery action three frames later if the move hits than if it does not.  Electric moves have double hitlag, so hitting with an electric move requires waiting longer (note that this makes it particularly important for Falcon mains to recognize if they are going to hit with weak knee, strong knee, or whiff).

IASA frames cannot be interrupted by B moves.  If you try to jump out of an aerial off stage, you can generally jump earlier than you can up+b.  If you are going for an up+b or side+b out of your aerial, be cognizant that you will probably have to wait a few additional frames compared to if you had jumped out.

Learn which moves contort your ECB to avoid situations where you try to jump back on stage with an attack, only to miss the stage and fall to your death.  There are often times where you will land on the stage if you don’t throw out an aerial, but doing the move alters your ECB such that you don’t make it on the stage.

Hitting people off platforms, both when they are vulnerable or when shielding, can result in you getting counterattacked, particularly in this era of ASDI down.  Light shielding at the edge of a platform is many years old, but some people are still not used to ASDI down.  Don’t hit someone off the platform only to lose your stock to an easy counter attack.

Not wiggling out of tumble can result in significant windows where you can get punished in a situation where you’d likely be safe.  Wiggling out can be done simply with one movement of the analog stick from center to either side, so you should try to time it.  Note that a “bad dashback” also results in a failed wiggle, hence why many top players still opt to wiggle instead of doing only one movement of the stick.

If you Amsah tech at high percent, be sure to fast fall to the ledge or use the 1 frame input trick to break your momentum to avoid flying off the stage.

When shined by Fox near the ledge, be sure to fast fall to the ledge.  Most often you also want to DI or even SDI away on the shine before the fast fall in order to get to the ledge as fast as possible.  If you DI in, you might get shined a second time before you snap to the ledge.  Input your fast fall later if you get double or multishined.  *When shined at the edge of Yoshi’s, if you play a character that does not get knocked down by shine and ASDI down, you’ll land and be actionable.  Use this to your advantage and don’t do the fastfall input.

If you fall off a platform with your back to the edge of it while shielding, input a fastfall in order to avoid having to tech.  Sometimes people will even intentionally push you off a platform, and in these cases, fastfalling is a crucial piece of counterplay.

If you are near the ledge, be mindful that you might get pushed off the stage.  Many things can make this happen.  Don’t let someone get a kill by rolling into you like this  Other common situations include getting pushed off from doing a powershield, a ground move clanking, or from someone doing a ledge standup.

Holding forward on the analog stick while recovering on Battlefield is usually what causes you to get “Battlefielded.”

Randall makes people mess up all the time.  Learn the timer.  It comes out when the 1s digit is a 5 (technically right after it turns to 4).  When the 10s digit is even, it’s on the right; when it’s odd, it’s on the left.  Thus, when the clock reads 7:55:00, it’s about to come out on the right.  Remember that on the right side it comes out low and on the left side it comes out high.  Don’t let it come out and ruin your ledgedash on the left side.

If you try to up+b, then unexpectedly land on Randall, you are extremely likely to side+b.  This is because a significant amount of the area on the analog stick that gets read as up+b while in the air is mapped to side+b when grounded.  In these situations, make sure your joystick is pointed near 12 o’clock in order to avoid an accidental side+b.

If you get a bair input when you tried to Scar jump, this is most likely because your c-stick was moved after your drop from ledge input before it reset to neutral.  You don’t need to be delicate when it comes to holding away from the ledge with c-stick.  What you need to do is make sure it gets back to neutral without moving vertically at all.  Note that this can be highly variable between controllers.

Wispy always blows towards the edge of the stage.  Sometimes characters with high amounts of landing lag will land on the platform.  In these cases, you might be used to milking all of their lag to punish them.  If you do this, they might get under you and punish you.

Sheik is actionable much sooner when she clips the edge of the stage with her up+b.  Don’t mess up your punish and then get shieldgrabbed or spotdodge grabbed into a gimp.  See this thread for details

If you try to roll from the edge while ledge guarding Luigi, be sure to use light press to roll.  People die far too often from airdodging as they try to roll from the ledge, which will not happen if you light press the trigger.

When trying to teeter cancel, letting go of the joystick too early makes you run off the stage.  Go into your run animation, then release the stick as you get closer to the ledge.  This seems counterintuitive, but teeter canceling is very easy, so practice it for a couple minutes and you should get it down.

If you try to approach with grab and buffer dthrow, then get hit out of your approach, you might buffer a spot dodge.

Often times, when you’re in lag, perhaps from doing an up+b onto the stage, the opponent has only a small set of options that can end your stock without any mixups.  In these situations, it’s possible that you have a defensive option—probably involving ASDI or SDI—that will prevent them from being able to end your stock.  In these situations, you should always do the input just in case, because you’re in lag, so it won’t result in anything else coming out.  For example, when I whiff a raptor boost at high percent against Marth, I always input an Amsah tech because they are likely to go for up+b or fsmash.  Near the edge of the stage, they may opt to grab me instead since I can’t Amsah tech that, but then I can react to the grab.  Sometimes after doing an up+b onto the stage, Marth players will opt for ledgehop nair because that’s his aerial with the most knockback.  In these situations, you should always hold down, because then you can shield before the second hit.  If Peach grabs you at high percent, immediately DI for fthrow and react if she does another throw.  Fox going for ledgehop drill into waveshine usmash is also a common situation which can be countered, as it’s easy to SDI, but this isn’t quite the same since it’s likely the Fox player will have additonal kill setups.  Learn commonly occurring situations where you have defensive counterplay that comes at no opportunity cost!

When doing an up+b onto the stage as Falcon, Ganon, or Marth on Yoshi’s or Stadium, if you land on the last pixel of the stage horizontally, you’ll fall off the stage.  This tends to actually be a good thing, but if you are unprepared, you’ll probably fall to your death.

If you’re on the left side of the rock transformation, many grounded options will push you off the stage.  Test which moves do this so you can know which ones to use should you get into a weird situation down there.

If you fall through Stadium, try to recover.  On top of saving your stock, you might even look like a badass like this