The neutral game in Melee is the part of the game with the most depth and yet it still probably has the least content about it. While it’s easy to describe how matchups fundamentally “should” be played, it can be very hard to implement this knowledge. CrimsonBlur does an amazing job articulating how matchups should be played, and this is something where he is a pretty reliable source of information. The question is then, why, at a top level, are his descriptions so often inaccurate? I absolutely love that Marth vs. Sheik continues to be played out more and more the way it should happen in theory and I absolutely love that Marth vs Falcon does not. The reasons why this is the case are in the title of the article. Let’s start with RPS.
I have talked about RPS quite a lot in the past, so I can be relatively brief here. Fighting games, and most games with strategy, are ultimately a form of weighted RPS, where different options have different risk/reward ratios. Obviously things with better lower risk or higher rewards are preferable. Things that are virtually risk free will be chosen the most often. Things that have big rewards in Melee tend to be risky, though this isn’t always the case (for the sake of simplification, let’s just consider things that are easier to react to as more risky rather than a third consideration). Because there aren’t a lot of high reward options that are low risk, you can usually narrow down the number of high reward options that a player might opt to use to a small set, e.g. wavedash fsmash as Marth. Unless you are playing w33dl0rd or n0ne, you should be able to keep track of which risky options a player throws out. More often than not, high risk options are chosen on defense, because defensive situations don’t have as many good answers to them. Remember those things, and try to play around them in a low risk way. Once you have noted these habits, you can start baiting and punishing them.
What is good in Melee is mostly a function of risk/reward. Good things tend to be difficult to react to, i.e. have low risk, or are difficult to punish even when reacted to properly, e.g. Falco’s AC bair. Other good things counter specific options with devastating potency. These things might cost you your stock if you miss, but you’ll still consider using them if the situation arises. Some options, like fthrowing someone off with Marth or Falco then DJ dairing their sweetspot to the ledge, can be low risk and have a huge reward, but there are not a ton of options like this. That’s one option that hard counters a common defensive option, which is among the most sound for most of the cast in terms of risk/reward. That makes it a very sound offensive option, because not only is it devastating, but what it devastates is a good defensive option. However, almost every option in the game, no matter how stupid or sound, can be hard countered by something else. Most of these hard counters are not sound in terms of risk reward, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. It means you need to know when to do them. Here’s one of my favorite examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-HaDBU1PRc&t=8m37s
Hit shield –> bait bair oos, pivot fsmash or rboost . It works a shitton of the time. Finishing a set with a gimmick or “onesie” as Shroomed likes to call it is a fantastic way to close out a tense situation. This brings me to a discussion of my favorite player to talk about, whose dick I’ve already sucked plenty on this blog: Lord. Lord has a huge bag of gimmicks.
I sometimes resent when commentators describe his play as gimmicky, because he’s smart, has a lot of depth, and is sound in terms of the basic fundamentals of the game. In spite of this, he is a gimmicky fuck. The dude has so many more gimmicks than anyone I’ve ever met. One time, I saw him hit Shroomed’s Sheik off and waveland onto the BF side platform. PPU said into the mic, “What’s the gimmick going to be?” and then he fucking FH nairs and FFs immediately, hitting Shroomed way below the stage. Now there is no way that shit should ever work. I am not going to steal that because it feels reactable as fuck to me and like it gives them an extra chance to live that you don’t need to give them. And yet, he knew in a tournament set to go for it, because he knew it was going to work. The man knows when to do specific tricks. If your head is up your ass and you are insistent on just doing “what’s good,” you are going to come across someone like Lord, n0ne, or Laudandus who dicks you and leaves you immensely frustrated (I assume Hax and Armada aren’t reading this).
I’ve said pretty much of all of this before. But the reason I bring Lord into this article is the idea of making someone else play your game. At Genesis 3, Gahtzu lost six stocks before taking one of Lord’s. People frequently compare my playstyle to Gahtzu, as well as my bag of tricks, and let me tell you, I have gone to Lord’s house and experienced the exact situations and emotions that were on that man’s face when facing Lord. I am good but not great at doing a lot of tricks that Lord does, especially involving crouch cancel. I have experienced the same RPS situations as Gahtzu, where Lord picked things that he knows beats your options, even though your options are strategically sound. The fact that he knows they are strategically sound makes it easier for him to read and then pick the correct counter. I even know the counters to the counters, and Gahtzu might have as well. But still, he is way better at these situations because he has been in them so many times and has so much experience reading people as they adapt to his options. The easiest one I can point out is after hitting someone’s shield, a lot of people like to jab. Well guess what, ASDI down grab beats that. Jab Lord’s shield and he usually grabs you. When he hits your shield, you think he’s gonna jab? Nope, he raptor boosts. Raptor boost is a fucking terrible option to do after hitting someone’s shield, but what option does it counter? ASDI down grab spamming. It beats literally no other options. I know this, and yet, when I play Lord, because it’s his strong point and something that I am just decent at, he manages to come out on top in these situations ~70% of the time. Laudandus thinks that picking the right option in RPS is not skill. I disagree. Force people to play your game and you can win despite a skill disparity. M2K has made a career out of cheesing people in situations at the ledge where he’s at no objective advantage using the disparity in situational knowledge and awareness.
I hope at this point it’s obvious how this ties into conditioning. If you are able to put people in mixup situations, especially ones that you are familiar with that they have to learn on the fly, you are likely to come out ahead, e.g. Lord punishing Flash whenever he tried to get back on stage. The best way to do this is to do something standard and low risk the first few times a situation comes up, then to mix them up later in the set. Sometimes it may be best to save your mixup for later in the set in order to trick them at a crucial moment, though I have ambivalent feelings about whether you should not take stocks because you want to save tricks for later. Don’t forget that, in some situations, not mixing it up can be a really strong mixup, and if successful, this tends to get in peoples’ heads and tilt them (Frootloop is a player who’s very good at this). Getting hit by Fox usmash a bunch of times makes people think “Fox is such bs.” If the flow of the match calls for it, don’t be afraid to go for some whack shit like that.
As a final point, let me come back to the beginning and use Marth vs. Sheik and Marth vs. Falcon to drive the point home. In theorycraftland, Marth vs. Sheik should be played by Marth dancing around Sheik, using his superior ground movement and dtilt to poke Sheik because she doesn’t want to jump. In practice, this matchup has usually come down to Marth’s having imperfect maneuvering and getting caught, then getting beat up by Sheik’s punish game, which is immensely easier to perform than Marth’s. Going into 2017, it seems like Marth players are finally getting to the level where they can move around and play the match the way it “should” play out. In theory, Marth vs. Falcon should be played by Marth stuffing or evading Falcon whenever he tries to throw out a move, and by using Marth’s dtilt to prevent Falcon from playing a one dimensional, move on the ground and fish for grabs type game. I think that, in theory, Falcon shouldn’t really be able to hit Marth (if you’ve ever played Tai in the matchup, he plays it the most like the way I’ve laid it out). However, in practice, Falcon can set up enough RPS situations using CC, raw grab, run up shield, instant uair, and raptor boost so that Marth players can’t just play it out the way it “should” go. If Falcon wins only a few RPS exchanges, or is able to call out Marth movement with a risky approach just a few times, Falcon can still win. Marth is getting better at avoiding situations where any mixup can happen against Sheik, but Falcon players are getting better at creating frustrating situations for Marth where you can trick them and get a juicy opening.
Here’s an excerpt from Luninspectra’s “7 Habits of a Professional Smasher,” which is one of the existing pieces of literature that I highly recommend reading, and which goes into detail about the subjects discussed in this article. Please forgive him for his dark era Smashboards punctuation.
The Amount Of Case Constructions You Have Determines The Ability You Have To Play Against New Players Comfortably. You Construct Cases To Mentally Minimize The Possible Actions Your Opponent Can Take. Here’s An Example:
rey Double-jumps As jeff Is Standing There
jeff Knows That rey Can Only:
1) Come Down With An Aerial
2) Firefox Or Illusion To Another Part Of The Stage
jeff Will Now Be A Statistician And Remember What rey Did When He Double-jumped. (you Don’t Actually Have To Use A Log Or Count…but If You Can That Will Be Amazing). Mostly At This Point, You Should Remember The Primary Action rey Will Take (coming Down With An Aerial), And The Secondary Action (wavelanding). You Can Then Minimize It Even More, Because rey Will Either Come Down With An Aerial Or Waveland. What Move Counters Both Of Them? Possibly The Raptor (falcon’s Forward+b).
Apply The Best Move For The Situation Or Use It By Chance/prediction. I Minimized The Actions To 2, Which Means The Lowest Chance You Have To Get Him Is 50% (assuming You Do The Right Moves). It Would Just Be A Little Hard, If rey Did An Airdodge To Avoid The Raptor Or Knee, Because He Never Did That At All In The Match Until Then.”
Wobbles’s The Four Aspects of Melee and 10,000 Words of Power by Little England are the other two articles I recommend reading for insight into fighting game fundamentals. Here are links to these articles:
I don’t know why the spacing between paragraphs isn’t working properly in this article ;(