When I listen to commentary, I hear constant incorrect predictions about what stage is going to be counterpicked. When I watch Twitch VODs, I read constant disapproval of my counterpicks. Let’s talk about each stage briefly and what they offer.
FD: Lots of space to retreat. Approaches are more telegraphed because there are fewer options. Camping is strong here. Flowchart punishes are buffed. Recovery options are generally reduced, though Fox can angle deeply into the stage, and wall jumps are also possible. Ledge guarding someone by hitting them with a strong move into the stage is bad because the stage is so long.
Pokemon Stadium: Long stage with lots of room to retreat, but with a low ceiling and janky transformations. The platforms are pretty small here and don’t always help recovery because they are a bit closer to the center of the stage. Recovering can be difficult because you can’t see yourself under the stage, and angling into the stage is possible but not easy. I would not recommend picking this stage unless you are somewhat comfortable on at least 3 transformations.
FoD: Small stage with high ceiling. The fundamental opposite of FD in that it’s the most free flow and the least flowchart. With constantly changing platforms, you have to constantly change your strategy. There is always a top platform, though it’s somewhat low. Some player opt to camp until the stage configuration is “Mini FD.” Eyeing Fox recovery can be difficult here because he will be put into the magnifying lens even when he’s not very far off stage. Allows for T-Drop and cool recoveries from low.
Yoshi’s: This stage is crazy! You get close quarters fighting, low platforms, shy guys (fly guys for you snobs), Randall, Scar Jumps, and tiny blast zones. This is the stage you go to if you want to fight. Every character has traits that are stronger on this stage, so don’t neglect it because it’s “bad in a matchup.”
Dreamland: The opposite of Yoshi’s. Big stage you go to when you want to live forever, camp, and be meticulous in neutral. Platforms are high and can be hard to cover. Sometimes Wispy messes up ledge guards.
Battlefield: The Goldilocks stage. If other stages feel too big or too small, this is the stage you want. Note that the top platform is very high, and the side platforms are quite wide, so it can be difficult to cover them. Also reduces recovery options because people can’t angle into the stage.
When striking in singles, you should have a very clear idea of what strategy you want to implement on the stage you strike to. If you have a strategy that you want to implement on one stage (probably a losing stage), it might be wise to go to that stage first. That way, if you win you come out ahead in counterpicks, and if you lose, you haven’t given your opponent information for how you’re going to play in the rest of the set. Note that you shouldn’t do this if your opponent will still have a strong counterpick for game 3.
When you counterpick a stage, your stage should generally mitigate the factors that caused you to lose the previous game. In my last 5 sets against good Falcos in NorCal, I’ve opted to CP Yoshi’s on match point each time. Conceptually, I hate this idea. I feel that that stage is risky and super good for Falco. Regardless of this, I felt that the reason I was losing was that I couldn’t get in on Falco, so I wanted to go to the stage where it was easiest for me to close distance. It worked every time. Yoshi’s could also be a good pick as a floatie if your opponent banned FoD and beat you by camping you. I hate watching floatie players pick Dreamland and then get wrecked by camping.
Melee has a lot more strategy than low level players realize. There are numerous reasons why you would pick a stage or ban a stage. Thinking you shouldn’t go somewhere because it’s bad in the matchup is often the wrong way to think about things. You should pick a stage where you have a solid idea for how you are going to win there. This is something that you learn by assessing what went wrong in the games you lost, and is thus a function of the opponent’s playstyle. Don’t think of stages as “good” and “bad,” think of them in terms of what will work for the situation you’re in.
This is especially true in doubles. Because you have to account for so many characters and playstyles on the screen, you should really think about your stage striking, bans, and counterpicks. Dreamland is often a good stage to start on against floaties because it gives you the most time to find your footing. Floaties win by capitalizing on a few small slipups per game, so even though Dreamland gives you more chances to mess up, it also gives you more time to pick your spots. FD can also be a good starting stage because it simplifies teamwork/combos. Since there’s no platforms to escape to, it really is mostly about maintaining your zone, thereby holding position and formation.
Yoshi’s is often neglected in teams because it feels too risky or chaotic. But maybe that’s what you want. Maybe you play Peach and you will get huge mileage off of pressing down on both sticks in chaotic situations. Remember that if you play double floaties against a team with a fastfaller, dsmashing everyone is probably going to come out hugely in your favor.
Stadium and Battlefield don’t offer a ton in terms of strategic advantages in teams. Battlefield’s top platform is a notable trait that you should consider when picking it, because lots of characters struggle to cover that space. Put thought into what each stage offers you before you pick it. I teamed with Vish at BH4, and we played against Eikelman and Bizzarro Flame. I suggested we ban FD during striking and he was baffled. Then I explained that, in singles, what you gain from the stage is lots of space to dash dance grab and do flowchart punishes. In doubles, we’re just making it easier for us to get team comboed and for us to get trapped in bad positions. We ended up striking to FD and it went exactly as I feared.
Picking stages based on some preconceived notions is usually the wrong way to go. Why are you thinking about some abstract notion of how it should be played rather than what’s going on during your actual set? Ask yourself why you lost the match and formulate a new game plan. If you lost because of easily fixable mistakes, maybe you should run it back, even if you have a theoretically better stage. While another stage might buff your character, you should consider the possibility that you are injecting new variables into the equation, and that your gameplan might not be relevant on this new stage. If you can’t tell me exactly why you picked a stage during a set, then you didn’t put enough thought into it.