Guide Drastic Improvement


Moonlight Pokémon
Nov 17, 2002
Since summer is gone and with it some of the major tournaments of the year, the smash community is going about its yearly tradition of reverting back to biweeklies. This is usually the time to bust out your videos and to see where you messed up to come back stronger next year. Or I could teach you all what I know best: fast, notable improvement.

This article is not a uniformly written piece. It’s not a collection of tips and tricks; without a firm background knowledge of the game, they’re not worth anything. This is intended to have ways to learn your own tips and tricks, and why they work. It is also intended to include some methodology on the proper way to learn. This is not an article like you read in school where you memorize it, verbally regurgitate it, and score points. I want to encourage you to take a specialized subject and extrapolate knowledge, expand on it, and apply self-taught lessons. These are high ideas, and my execution in writing may not match them; I’m not the best writer. You’ve been warned.

Why should you listen to me? Absolutely. Ask “why?” for everything. We’ll come back to this later. The short answer is that you have no reason to listen to me, but if you want to be better at this game, you’re going to anyway.

Introductory Recommendations for Players

Rule #1: You have to want it.

I think HugS said it best when you have to want to win more than your opponent. More than anyone in the room. More than the players that are newer than you and enjoy the game more. You have to have that deep drive like you need air when you've been underwater for 3 minutes and it starts to burn. Why you want to win can be specific to you, but it must be reinforced with a strong desire to be the best. And I don't mean your best, I mean the best. This desire is the basis of consistent growth that is essential to an expedited learning rate. The deep personal motivation is the sole basic requirement to really being good at this game, and you have to be honest with yourself about how much this applies to you. If this isn't you (and it certainly isn't me) then you're never going to be truly good at this game.

Rule #2: Pick your character, and stay with that character.

I don't care what anyone says, picking multiple characters hurts you in the long run. It's one thing to switch characters and to just focus on that character, but I'm talking about you people out there that can't decide between Fox and Marth, you will never be good at either if you try to excel at both. They are just too different and you will at some point see smash better through either one lens or the other. But more importantly, you can't have both. If you're worried that your character isn't good enough, you may very well be right and it's time for a change. But pick one character and run with it. It just hurts your focus to do otherwise.

Rule #3: Remove emotion from your play.

I spent a lot of years angry with this game. Mad at the characters, the game, my opponents, and myself. I know other players that spent the entire game screwing off trying to have fun with the game. Unfortunately, neither are useful when learning how to be good at it. This doesn't mean you can't have fun with the game, but it should still take a second priority to improvement if you actually want to be good at it.

Playing bad at smash really feels like the worst thing ever, and it's hard not to have some feeling about it. A long-term activity becomes an emotional investment regardless of what it is. I was in a car accident in January 2011, but I was over the crash and in an okay mood again maybe 20 minutes later. I compare this to Gettin' Schooled 2 where I played...awful. Probably the worst I've ever played in a tournament in my life. Throughout the day, I still beat very talented players and there was absolutely no sense of accomplishment even though I really respect those players and acknowledge them to be talented. It's nothing that my opponents had done, I was just too mad at myself to appreciate the moment. I had already lost. Don't let this be you.

Ultimately, you have to at some point realize that the only love that matters is the verb form; love isn't something you feel, it's something you do. The best way to really improve is to put whatever you're feeling aside and to just focus on the game for what it is and not through a lens of emotion. If you get angry or jaded or apathetic or just depressed, you've already failed as a player even if you win the match. It's okay to have a very mild emotional response to the game, and a "yeah that was cool" or "okay I lost that game but I can still do this" are fine. You should acknowledge and accept your emotions for what they are in a detached manner. But stop there. You can never let your emotions control you. If you can feel yourself losing your grip, deal with it immediately. Force yourself to calm down. Much like outside of smash, having an overly-emotional response to the game is a recipe for disaster. Here's an example:

Forget the match, notice the body language and interactions of these two players in their chairs. This set is highly stressful for both players. Neither of them is angry, and neither of them goes on tilt. Set them as your example.

Finally, remove all emotionally-tainted concepts that skew your impression of the game. To excel at the game, you must be able to evaluate every metric of success fairly to use it properly. The game does not judge your victory conditions, methods of execution, or any other arbitrary metric. The game only acknowledges victory and defeat. You must be the same way. We'll return to this concept later with evaluating mental state.

Rule #4: Play the game.

Play it a lot. Play it until your Gamecube dies. Play it until your melee disc fails. Play until your buttons fall out of your controller. Play with anyone you can get the chance to play with as often as possible. The more time you spend with the game, the more fluid you become even if you're not really doing anything. If you get the chance, play with better players. There is simply no substitute to experience. Do the driving, play some music when you play, bust out the Cheetos, whatever gets you playing the game with friends, rivals, or even people you hate.

Practice real sets and not "friendlies" or free play. Use timers, counter-pick actively, and play with players that are just as hungry and talented to win as you are. Grinding out tournament sets constantly makes you better at one thing: winning tournament sets. Practicing wall jump falcon tricks isn't going to cut it.

Don't leave tournaments early if you get knocked out. Find the best free player in the room and grind it out with them as long as possible with full sets. There's no way to improve if you're not playing at all.

Never give up in your sets, and never punt matches. Stay hungry for your chance, any chance to make a comeback to find the unlikely win. Never just fall to your death without some attempt at recovery, and never stop trying your absolute best in a match against anybody, not ever. When your opponents play you, make sure that they know that you have no idea what sandbagging is.

Just play the game.

Rule #5: When you lose, understand why you are losing.

Back to our old friend, the scientific method. Let's say you pick Falco, win some sets and lose some sets. You go home and spend the next week grind out combos. You go back to your next tournament and do about the same. Even if your results are consistent, you are still losing. Losing the chance to improve, missing the chance to use your time better, or just slowly losing out on gas money. The age of the Stupid Falco has passed (2001 to 2010) and you're still stuck there. Why?

Smash is made up of many, many interactions. Some are large and macro-scale and you should play to them, such as a Fox laser camping Peach. Some are very detailed and micro-scale, such as various shield mechanics. Regardless of what you're losing to, you need to find that hole in your game play and plug it before you can move on. So long as you have that weakness, it will cost you games when it doesn't need to. If you consistently find yourself losing priority on trades, that is an excellent early warning sign that you are being outplayed for one reason or another.

If you're really not certain as to why you are losing, take steps against it. Record sets of yourself against more talented players, and review their decisions. Ask other more knowledgeable players to review them in detail with you. Take a notepad to the tournament and annotate your play to yourself between sets. It alarms me that so many players have weaknesses or bad habits that they don't even know about. We'll be going back to the notepad idea more extensively later.

That said, you don't necessarily have to be correct with your evaluations in order to be useful or to help someone else get better. You can have some kind of well-thought-out discussion and come out with an incorrect conclusion but still form a basis for some future success so long as the other party is sufficiently open-minded and thoughtful.

Rule #6: Back to basics.

In our competitive games we have a lot of tricks and tools to make ourselves better players. Of course, not all tactics are equal. It's pretty clear at this point in the game that your strongest assets are anything that let you execute a plan. Anything that does not help you execute your plan, or anything that makes your plan worse is probably a detriment to you and you should just stop doing it immediately.

This encompasses vague and meaningless concepts like play style as well. Discard the notion of play styles. Consider that there are only two plays in any given instance: correct, and incorrect. Any time you make an incorrect play, it is a mistake. That means that even if you don’t get punished for it, your sub-optimal decision is noted and can be improved upon. As time passes, your mistakes will exit your game play to some extent. You must instead base your core upon the fundamentals and focus on the optimal lines of play.

You will find that going into a match with some predetermined idea of what you are going to do is much better than going in blind. This is your plan. Like any skill, developing a game plan can be learned and eventually mastered. Go into every match with a plan, and confidently execute your plan. If you find that your plan is not working mid-set, search your opponent for weaknesses. Stall and run away and find some way to buy time to watch your opponent and look for anything you can abuse, and then make that your new plan. Once you have established a plan that works for you, seriously hone those sets of actions in your sets.

For example, if your plan is to chaingrab the opponent, you have no excuse for dropping a chaingrab. Ever. You should know the exact percentage range of your chaingrab, and how to follow various DIs and what to do afterward. These are the things that will win you your sets, and are ultimately what you should spend almost all of your time mastering.

Rule #7: Make friends.

Since playing this game is ultimately a social activity, it makes sense to be social. You'll want to know the players in your area and make friends with them. Your friends will serve as a test group, moral support, effective feedback, and so many more roles. When you are stuck developing a plan, they might offer you one.

Make friends with better players at large tournaments or online. Talk to people that understand the game and can offer insight on how to improve. These players are talented for many combined reasons and will challenge you at every step both in and out of game. You'll need this kind of talent to toss around new ideas to build off of your old ones to constantly improve. At lower level play, it's a convenience. At higher levels of play, it's necessary to keep up with the best players. Even if you're the best player in the world, your challengers catch up to you quickly.

#8 Always do your best.

Blaming a lack of sleep or your exhaustion is not acceptable. Force yourself to be awake and still play at your best. Your ability to force yourself to go those extra rounds will make a lot of difference in the long run. I often see players break down after a certain number of rounds. This is not an option if you want to play at the top level. The better you are, the more rounds you’ll be playing, so get used to it.

Physical health and fitness is a frequently overlooked aspect of what makes a good player. Playing a complex game while you’re tired/hungry, staying in a stuffy venue with no air, and being around a lot of noise is exhausting, both mentally and physically. Force yourself to stay in the moment at all times. Never autopilot or glaze over, being at the top of your game for every match is very important when you want to succeed. Your opponents will get hungry, desperate, thirsty, tired, nervous, demoralized, angry, and frightened. They will play worse because of that, and you’ll see it. You will not, because you made the choice not to.

#9 Playing to win.

Accept now that you will stop playing to win. Playing to win operates under the assumption that winning is your ultimate goal. Under the premise of drastic improvement, the best thing you can do is to play to learn. This means that you may intentionally forego tournament victories or money matches in the name of long-term gain. This is a fantastic way to boost your performance and can sharply increase your rate of learning, which can be seen as a net gain over the short-term earnings. Playing to win is a secondary goal that you can forfeit. If you sincerely play to improve, your win ratio will speak for itself anyway.

The Importance of Theory

It is not sufficient to start at the basics of my theory; I have to start with theory itself first. Theory is a tool used to understand the game better. That’s all it does. It does not make you a better player. It simply gives you another way to understand the game. Smash theory is an invaluable tool to help you learn from the game or your peers in a common language of sorts.

Telling players how to dash dance does not teach them how to use aggressive movement to cut off options in the form of stage positioning, nor does it teach them how to finesse a favorable exchange with subtle placement changes. No one player could have pushed this game to the level of play it has today because communal learning has accelerated the rate of improvement. We still need years of experience and learning from friends and videos to get an idea of how to do it. All the theory of the neutral game does is describe what is happening in a common written language to be easily understood by many people. We all knew that running around Bowser lead to beating him but now we know why.

Similarly, learning how to crouch cancel, DI, L cancel, and wavedash do not teach you how to play. Let’s say you are hit with a kill move and you do not DI it and you die, versus the same scenario where you DI it and survive. No theory is needed to tell you why the DI offers a favorable method of interaction. Survival DI and frame data can be used to describe why it is favorable and offers some equally basic comparisons. It is often correct not to use survival DI, which is an active decision that needs to be made with help of prior experience and an understanding of the situation. It must be translated by your thinking brain and not by the theory of survival DI.

To be clear, you should realize that theory is not a strategy. It simply aids in understanding of a larger complex system of interactions that make up a strategy. Once you understand these systems of interactions on a theoretical level, you can prepare for or intentionally create those situations to give yourself advantageous interactions. You may have found out how to do this on your own through careful testing or seeing a repeating pattern in your play, but if you have a theory on those interactions presented to you, you get to skip all of the hard work and time that goes into individual progression. You are essentially given a better understanding of the game at a very discounted cost. Having the pattern presented to you as a shortcut to “seeing” profitable exchanges is the ultimate gain from theory. It is this speed of learning that leads to drastic rates of improvement.

The ability to improve at a much increased rate simply from communal learning is what makes the current metagame so potent; the older players were not worse players, less intelligent players, lazier players, or anything like that. They simply had fewer sources to learn from and had to put in a lot of hard work themselves. I was one of them.

Smash theory is often misunderstood because it is poorly translated into common language. The source of the theory may be either accidentally or intentionally portrayed incorrectly by whoever puts it out into the public, or the reader may fail to correctly grasp the theory for any number of reasons. When you see someone hyperbolize a generalization as The Solution or the end-all-be-all of strategy, this is the behavior you are witnessing. The excitement of the author leading to this hyperbole often leads the reader to thinking that application of the given theory should make them better players immediately.

Sorry, but this game is hard work and no amount of theory will make you good at it. All the theory should do is explain the interaction so that you can learn from it. It is there to save you time in your learning and to help you expand past your own limit on creativity. It is mutually beneficial learning. Nothing more.

Whenever you expect a theory to solve a given specific scenario, you have taken the theory too literally. In each case, you should use your dynamic thought process and intellect to process the situation in full to arrive at an equally complex and dynamic decision on how to handle the interaction. Theory does not teach you how to play, nor will it help you make a play in that situation. That level of complexity is well past the basis of a theory or what it should do. You can use the theory to gain a better understanding of the game, and then use your greater understanding, experience from past similar situations, your information in the moment, and any other relevant information to make that decision.

Theory is both the most useful and least useful aspect in learning how to play the game. On one hand, it creates many, many pitfalls, spreads misinformation and assumptions, and opens newer players to frustration. On the other hand, it accelerates your learning far past that of the most single prodigious player in a vacuum. It is an irreplaceable component of a refined learning process, and that’s why you’re here.

The Fundamentals

This game is like any other competitive system in that you are only good in a relative sense that relies on other players performing worse than you. Therefore, your goodness will always relate to that of your opponents. As with all competitive games, realize now that you should:

1. Never lose to yourself.
2. Never play thoughtlessly or “autopilot”.
3. Structure your learning capacity.

Playing with defined intelligence is more valuable than anything specialized that this game has to offer. You should spend a large amount of time working with mindful interaction with the opponent before you worry about anything else as a competitive player.

We must return to “why?”. Asking for a “why” assigns you the basis of some set of information. You absolutely must understand the depth and meaning of what you are working with to be able to expand and apply it for yourself. Why should I dash dance here? Why are Doc’s pills useful? NEVER assume that this information is obvious or fully understood or that anything is implied, as all pre-conceived notions justify excuses to overlook something else that might be useful. Be critical of anyone that dismisses something as entirely obvious, as that person is certainly doing you no favors by effectively disregarding some aspect to your inquiry. Don’t give yourself any justification to half-ass it either.

Instead of playing smash like a game, think of it as a system of interactions. Like other systems, it has a defined set of rules. Like other systems you can exploit them with an understanding of those rules to some extent, but you are still bound by the operations of the game. Smash is, fundamentally, a glorified "king of the hill". Because the game has limits, you must play to the limitations of the game. For example, you cannot jump indefinitely, you can only jump a set number of times. It is a limit of the game. I'd like to expand upon this in detail with two points:

1. What you can learn from this is that melee is a game based on what you can and cannot do. When you're killing an opponent, that opponent has no effective options to fight you back or to prevent losing that stock. Since a character with no options is effectively already losing in a given instance, you can maximize your effectiveness by giving the opponent no way to fight you back. Even if you only have one effective option, so long as your opponent has none, you are winning in that particular interaction. The overall goal is to minimize the ability of your opponent to meaningfully interact with you, and to maximize your ability to effectively interact with your opponent.

You can do this a few ways. The most obvious one is landing a combo or a chaingrab. This is time spent accomplishing your plan in which the opponent has no means to retaliate. Your opponent has few or no effective options to interact with your line of play. Another good way is to establish an effective juggle. So long as you can keep hitting the opponent and they cannot hit you back, it's still a "combo" for all effective purposes. This example has both chaingrabs and juggling (53:55):

Yet a third way is positioning. When you are constantly in a good position to attack, and your opponent is always in a poor position to defend against it, those hits are still relatively free ones. Here is a basic idea of what it looks like (1:20):

The fourth and last way I know of is to projectile camp. This one is a little less used because better characters tend to be stronger against it. But in the rare event that you get to fight a slow character, by all means accept your free advantage. Here is what this looks like (27:43):

In some cases, you can establish an advantage and maintain it the duration of that stock. In this case, your opponent is effectively dead; that stock has no use to them so long as you can maintain your advantage because they have no possible way to make use of their character. There are simply no options. So long as you do what you are supposed to, they are "already dead". You want to set up these situations as often as possible, as they are as close to a free win as you can possibly get.

2. The relative goodness of a competitive game largely revolves on your ability to interact with the opposing player. You can also conclude that you can control your ability to interact with the opponent, and you have some control with your opponent's ability to interact with you. In almost any scenario, you want to maximize the ability to interact with your opponent's actions. You want to be able to make their options, decisions, and strategies as ineffective as possible. At the same time, you want to minimize any possible interference to your own ability. This leads to a natural evolution in skill sets, first finding non-interactive strategies and secondly learning to overcome them. Melee has very few non-interactive strategies, and those that do exist are rightfully considered degenerate.


The best approach to mistakes is to minimize them in every aspect, both on relative value and frequency. Basically, make fewer mistakes and less bad ones. Small mistakes are okay outside of a tournament setting, and trial-and-error methodology is a great basis for innovation. In tournament, small mistakes are absolutely unacceptable. You should take your mistakes and losses with grace to maintain a calm composure, but also acknowledge that they undermine all of your efforts. So, what is a mistake? As mentioned before, a mistake for the purposes of this article and your learning can be defined as “anything that is not the optimal line of play”. This will push your play such that you should always play optimally.

You must remain cautious when evaluating your line of play to keep your judgments honest to be able to learn from them. Most players do not structure their learning. Instead, they first try the game and they flail. They see that some behaviors have some marginal gain over others, so they flail a little more in some contrived way. However, it is still ultimately flailing. As a player, you are this entity trying to produce complex and optimized behaviors. You simply cannot do it effectively until you make yourself into more than meat and guesswork. So, what’s the next step?

Strategy Evaluation

The funny thing about developing new strategies is that people often fail at the most important part; honestly and sincerely evaluating what it is that you have created. Innovation is a good thing in that it drives the metagame forward and constantly forces players to be better. But if your new "tech" gets you killed, you're just out of the bracket faster. There are 4 main ways you should consider a new strategy, and they are differentiated based on the number of options your opponent has in reaction to them:

1. Guaranteed.
2. Limited.
3. Useless.
4. Dangerous.


This is the good stuff. These innovations are the ones that will net you free damage, maintain stage control, or give you some means of survival. It doesn't matter that your edge guard takes two full minutes. The kill is guaranteed. The game simply does not offer your opponent the ability to avoid this edge guard. These innovations are both clever and powerful because their inevitability is clear and absolute. The main thing that you need to realize is that the opponent has zero options. Building your game play with these tactics, and developing new tactics based on this principle will give you the strongest lines of play.


This is your basic mix-up. These are techniques that are based on situational advantage, but the opponent still has a small number of options instead of zero. If you can create these, you have a very good chance to trick or trap your opponent. It is absolutely necessary to base these around your positioning. Better positioning is the only definite way I know to make them more effective. Many of these are based on the difficulty to negate them, or are high reward and very low risk. Others are based on guesses or near-guaranteed traps, like Sheik's repeated downthrow and subsequent tech chasing Fox. Some are more defensive and are designed to cover you as a means of escape. These are probably the hardest innovations to find and use because they are so very hard to evaluate as useful or not. You must also evaluate whether they are strictly inferior to other options. Even if a tactic is viable, you should still abandon it if an alternative is unquestionably better. These tactics are also the basis for "mindgames" but are not the same thing. They simply vary with the situation. I'll go into detail with this later.


They are, well, useless. There exists something better you could be doing. Your innovation might trick someone, but for the most part your opponent has some options to deal with your set-up and "that doesn't actually work". I don't want to give a video example or dwell on this one for very long. It's usually just silly stuff like Fox trying to upthrow > upair combo Luigi. They're pretty worthless really.


These are tricks that give your opponents options rather than removing them, or they force you to remove your own. Simply put, they get you killed. These are strictly disadvantageous to use, and you should stop doing them immediately. Techniques like this are not just bad, they're so bad that they put you in harm's way or make it easier for your opponent. You should avoid these at all cost and get them out of your game play. These will cost you games.

Of the 4 categories listed above, you should focus on the Guaranteed strategies above all else. In the event that you want to try something that is not guaranteed, you should go for the Limited strategies only if they are very low risk. Otherwise, it is better for you to abandon your line of play and to re-position yourself to maintain an advantage. The reason for this is that choosing to give your opponent a way to interact meaningfully with you is certainly the worst thing you can do. Why would you willingly give your opponent any type of advantage at all? Instead, you should intentionally choose to not engage to further reduce possible interaction from your opponent. Here’s the flowchart version:

Can I do something guaranteed? Yes > do it.
Can I do something guaranteed? No, but can I do something nearly guaranteed instead with little/no risk? Yes > do it.
Can I do something guaranteed? No, but can I do something nearly guaranteed instead with little/no risk? No > Stop your strategy, re-establish positional advantage on the opponent.
Did you notice anything? Useless and Dangerous category strategies are not in my flow chart. You will not be using them. Ever.

This brings up a point of predictability. Is this style of play predictable? It can be, yes. You must accept that this is a lesser evil than the unpredictability that naturally lends itself to sub-optimal play (mistakes). If you become “predictable”, you should evaluate your strategies or your game play. It is possible that your strategies have holes that you are unaware of, or it is possible that you are aware of those holes but do not know how to fix them just yet. It’s also possible that your game play is just not tight enough. You can fix all of these things in the long run. It is okay for your opponent to know exactly what you are going to do so long as they are unable to do anything about it.

Structuring Your Learning

Up until now, much of this writing has been an attempt to put ideas into your head. That is not the case with this section. This section is about action. As you are reading this sentence, stop here. Stand up, like actually physically raise your body, stretch and reach as high above your head as possible, and then resume reading.


If you do not have the discipline to do this simple exercise, I can not help you improve at this game. For everyone else still reading, I am going to give you a series of instructions, and if you want to improve you will do them. While most of the learning for this game is based around trial and error, this will at least somewhat structure the process better to make learning more efficient.

Start Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube. Pick your One Character and go to any stage in training mode. At this point, pause and bring yourself to lucidity. Understand that your person is linked to the character on the screen. Walk, jump, and run. Experience movement in a way that is not mentally glazed. Operate briefly at your full intellectual capacity as you do this. Try a few of the moves like it is the first time you have ever played the game. You may stop after a few minutes. The idea here is to see the game in a way that allows you to evaluate your experience. You can repeat this exercise every few months if at any point you feel "stuck" in the game for whatever reason.

Now, go to a store and physically buy a new notebook and a new pen. Do not use ones that you already have. Get a notebook and pen that you enjoy, and get new ones. You'll be using these for a long time. You are to take this to all smash events with you, and from this point you will consider them just as valuable as your controller. These are mine, for example:

On the inside of your notebook, you are to write you name, alias, your One Character, and that character's over-arching strategy in your own words. Every time you play in a tournament set, a money match, or even grinded sets against a capable opponent, you will take notes. Yes, even if you're better than your opponent. Never give yourself an excuse to forfeit an opportunity to learn. You are going to write down the player's name, and the characters that they play. If you don't know who they play, just write that down instead. Then, write down your ideal stage strikes before you choose them, and then actually choose them based on your decision. Also write down why you chose what you did. You will also write down ban choices, counterpick choices, the character your opponent actually used, whether you won or lost, and anything else you noticed. Take notes between every game in the set, don't wait to finish the set to start taking notes.

When you take notes, you will also want to leave some space for when you come back to them later. You can do this a couple ways, and the easiest one is probably just to put one set per 1 or 2 pages and to leave blank spaces at the bottom of those pages. Another way is to open both sides of the notebook flat, and to take notes on the left side of the page while leaving the right side blank. However you go about it is up to you, so do something you feel that is comfortable for you and at least somewhat structurally consistent.

You will do this every game. After each tournament, you want to go back and see what you've learned from each experience. You want your notes to do the hard stuff for you, which is to tell you what you're losing to. From here, you are able to correct your line of play to find solutions to any problems you found or to refine any aspects of your play that are not optimized. You may also be able to further expand on your notes after the set for more specifics. Here's an example screenshot since my handwriting and camera are both terrible:

Studying videos is similar, and you should still write everything down so that you can reference it later if you come across the same problem multiple times. I'll go through a specific example here to show you the process of how to do it. First, as you go through a video, isolate individual sets of interactions and study the video in chunks. Sometimes these are longer than others, but you generally want to both start in the neutral game and to finish when the match resets to neutral for whatever reason. For my example in this guide, I am going to analyze a conversion in the Sheik vs Marth match-up.

You can follow along in the actual match here (8:50):

In this example, Marth has a minor positional advantage when Sheik is knocked over. Sheik is able to escape the poor position with a roll dodge. The match is very briefly reset to neutral. Then, Marth reacts poorly to the roll dodge with a grab. The Sheik is able to react with a conversion in dash attack. Sheik is then able to maintain that positional advantage until she KOs Marth, and then the match resets to neutral. This is a very basic example that shows how non-reactive play from Marth allowed him to get hit by the opponent. While several solutions to this problem may be available to the Marth player, it is just as important for the Marth player to note any possible mistakes that were made in this particular instance so that they can be eliminated. From this point, the Marth player can experiment with new tactics to try, or to perhaps identify why it did not work in this situation. Over time, new trends may become evident, which can be used to further refine play decisions. Here's what it looks like when written out:

By writing everything down, you give yourself a clear means of comparison to eliminate bad things from your game play. Most improvement in competitive gaming is not through learning more new good things, but rather the elimination of bad things that cost you margin. As you search for solutions to increasingly complex problems, you may innovate more positive things to add into your game play, or your social network may suggest some to you instead. If you evaluate tactics as good and bad based on how they fit into the Strategy Evaluation section above, there are only 2 possible outcomes:

1. You improve your tactics, and subsequently your performance.
2. You are evaluating them or implementing them incorrectly.

As with other learned skills in smash, evaluation and implementation of techniques may take a while to get down right. That's okay. As long as you continually improve, you will have something to show for your work, and you will be able to refine them. Most players are unable to evaluate their tactics or to structure their learning, so this is one of the biggest advantages you can have.

Tight Game Play

To have the best possible play, your execution must be focused around those guaranteed strategies that I've already been over. If you can chaingrab, you chaingrab. If you can edge hog to guarantee the kill, just edge hog, and don't drop and shine them on the way down so they can tech it and come back. You're giving them an option when they didn't have one prior, just let them die. Now I'm going to cover techniques that give you the least amount of error. There are two major things you're looking for here:

Technical Precision- You really have no excuse for bad tech skill. There just isn’t one. You should have perfect spacing, never miss cancels, never have timing issues, etc. The actual definition of tech skill is doing exactly whatever it is that you want to do. The better you can wavedash from clutch positions, the better you can chaingrab or platform drop or whatever, the better you will do. You want this at 100% accuracy. You want your moves to hit precisely where you want to hit them, and you want to miss as little as possible. You want to know how long of a stride your character can dashdance. You want to know how far you can wavedash out of shield. If you don't, go practice until you do. Practice them until you hate them.

Mindgames- Why is this here? I wanted to specifically cover this rationale in detail from the Limited Strategies earlier. Think back to what mindgames really refers to; tricking the opponent. Tricking the opponent carries the implicit assertion that you can outplay your opponent to begin with. This gives your opponent an unnecessary means to interact with you, in which case you would do better to simply opt for a more secure strategy. Realize and accept that if you had to choose between being the smartest player ever or the most technical player ever, you would choose the technical ability. As a game progresses through its competitive life span, the window for what are considered "viable techniques" slowly decreases as people learn how to overcome them. Ultimately, the best and final skills are the ones that cannot be overcome. This is true for almost any competitive game. It is an observable and notable trend.

You may at some points in your game play have to undertake some kind of risk simply because nothing else is viable in that situation- not even abandoning your options to re-establish positional advantage (which should always be a consideration). These areas are questionable and require finesse to accurately identify, and may be best captured by the phrase “you have to guess”. Generally these situations come up rarely, they tend to be specific to a micro-level character interaction, and can still fall into the Limited category. Just be aware that they exist and that you should identify them however infrequent to handle them effectively in a tournament setting.

There is a common competitive mentality that the best way to win in almost any competitive game is constant reliable advantage over time. Thus, if you are winning, it benefits you to continue to press your advantage to seal your win. For example, you have 2 stocks and the opponent has 1, and you edge guard the opponent with a guaranteed but suicidal kill. You may have wasted your stock, but you have ensured your victory. On the opposite side, if you are behind you have a license to play riskier or more recklessly because you are forced to get out of a disadvantageous position. Knowing these 2 things, it apparent that you should want to exploit the first as much as possible. From the very beginning of the match, you should seek to gain any small advantage you can on your opponent, and once you have that advantage, you need to maintain it for as long as possible. Since we're playing to be the best we can possibly be, you need to press your strengths immediately. Realize that your win ratio has no determination of quality. You gain no additional benefit for a 4-stock over a very close game with the same result. Therefore, it is wise to use your resources mindfully like this (4:00):

When you go for some strategy to trick your opponent, you must realize that your opponent still has options and your strategy relies on you being able to trick them. So long as your opponent has options, your opponent has the chance to outplay you, and often will. We want to eliminate any chance of the opponent being able to outplay you by not giving them any opportunity to do so. You want to stick to those techniques with no answers. So long as the strongest techniques gain you the most advantage, it effectively means that mindgames can be categorized into one collective sub-optimal strategy, and that playing to them counts as a “mistake” and can be safely removed from your decision-making. There are exceptions to this, but they tend to fall into the “you have to guess” line of thinking and they are exceptionally rare.

Even though my "Limited" strategies above are mix-ups to some extent, they aren't really designed for you to trick your opponent, they are just slightly weaker substitutes to the guaranteed strategies. You still expect them to trap your opponent reliably more so than to trick them. So can you use mindgames on your opponent? Yes you can trick your opponent, but why would you? It is overall a deviation away from your best strategies. It is simply better to continue to do things that have no reliable answer to them and to press that advantage. The secret to tight gameplay is to play your game tight at all times, with minimal failure and no window for the opponent to succeed.

Technical Ability

There are two main aspects of technical ability that are worth writing about here. The first is consistency, which is an issue that plagues many players. Consistency issues are not the demon that players make them out to be. First, ask yourself if there is any way to simplify the action you wish to perform, or if a simpler, equivalent solution exists. Making the game physically easier to play will aid you greatly in a real tournament setting by reducing the amount of mistakes you make. Regardless of the answer, the only way to get better at something is to practice it. To death. The road to success is paved with many layers of cold, hard practice. Seriously, that's the answer.

The second issue is precision. An easy shortcut to practice technical inputs is to practice action into action sequences, and then perform that sequence as fast as possible. A good method to ensure that you are going as fast as possible is to set the pace to a metronome and adjust it as necessary to match the inputs. Perform the action sequence in tandem with the metronome active, and then increase the speed of the metronome to match the sequence until you cannot do it any faster. From this point, the metronome does the timing work for you, and all you have to do is perform the action sequence at a speed that matches the metronome.

There is one other main technical issue that leads to poor performance, which is playing bad. Playing poorly is indicates that you are playing much worse than usual due to unknown circumstances. If you are normally a good player but you are not playing well, your solution is actually a very easy one- step outside of the venue by yourself for about half an hour and do something that relaxes you. This can be listening to music, taking a nap, eating a snack, or just sitting and thinking stuff over. The important thing here is that you want to sort of "reset" your person back to a state of emotional neutrality, so to speak. Remove yourself from the chaotic tournament environment and just sort of relax, or maybe eat a healthy meal and get a bottle of water or something. But spend some time by yourself in a calm environment for a bit, and that usually fixes playing poorly.


It's a common notion for a fighting game that some decisions fall into two sub-categories: offensive and defensive play. Offensive and defensive play are generic terms necessary to shape other abstract ideas that this section covers. For lower level play, defense is typically the stronger strategy. Defender's Advantage is a real thing. But we're not interested in lower level play.

Discard any notion of offense or defense. Strategic approach to the game fundamentally requires that both of these ideas be integrated to the point where differentiation between them becomes misleading. All actions of higher level play fundamentally require aspects of both because it's strictly beneficial to manipulate your range of interaction with your opponent in your favor. At a theoretical level, purely defensive play by definition allows your opponent to keep proactive momentum at no risk, while purely offensive play by definition offers your opponent the choice to choose how to interact with you. These are modeling terms that don't really have any meaning. As we move away from the polar extremes to practical application, it is necessary that your opponent is subject to some risk when choosing to interact with you, and you must find some way to mitigate your opponent's means to interact with you when you choose to engage them.

Under the older ideas for offensive play, attacking the opponent is the worst thing you can do; "going in" can be thought of as synonymous to offensive play, which is to fundamentally overextend into your opponent in some way. This carries the implicit risk of allowing your opponent to have some means to interact with you for choosing to engage that player. This means you are giving your opponent the chance to outplay you, and... they often will. Defender's Advantage is a real thing.

Similarly, the older ideas for defense promotes reactive play. This is slightly better because you remove the implications and risks of extending into the opponent. Rather, you are expected to simply wait for the opponent to overextend into you to improve your range of options, allowing you an opportunity to outplay the opponent. And while this has some truth to it, it's also a flawed perspective because it disables your ability to remove options from the opponent to shape your desired game state during a match. Put another way it prevents the formation and/or execution of a plan, at least to some extent.

The best notion is to blend the two into a singular uniform strategy that allows you to maximize the positive aspects of both. And while this seems obvious from an observational perspective, framing during theoretical or strategical analysis allows for skewed but otherwise fairly informed and reasonable viewpoints. Since I can deliver these ideas to you as a writer, I'll just tell you that it is in your best interest to eliminate your polarized stance on the game, whether it favors offensive or defensive play. And while these terms may always be around, it is your job as a knowledgeable player to understand that they are at best nebulous blanket terms to describe a complex set of behaviors. Smash doesn't translate into English very well.

Blending the benefits of both requires that these complex behaviors be redefined. We need a way to execute a game plan without the risk implied under offensive play. I'm going to call this term aggression here for a lack of a better adjective. Aggression does not necessarily involve overextending into the opponent. Rather than using attacks to interact with your opponent, you want to use movement to always maintain the threat of being able to use attacks without necessarily offering your opponent any means to interact favorably with them. Because competitive games are heavily based in what you can and cannot do, you are able to expand your own options and reduce your opponent's options simply by choosing to position yourself in a way that, should the opponent engage you, you are able to favorably interact regardless of the circumstance. The resulting motion is inherently low risk for you, but is still threatening to the opponent. And here's what it looks like in practice (7:11):

By re-framing the complex set of behaviors this way, choosing to interact with the opponent goes from being the worst thing you can do to being strongly advantageous. Under offensive play, the premise is essentially "deal with this or you lose", but should your opponent actually deal with you, you lose instead. Turning the game into a coin flip is not where you want to be. Instead, proper aggression basically makes the same assertion, but should your opponent actually deal with you properly, it offers them little or no gain. This actually translates the best aspect of defensive play into your game plan, as you have effectively removed any way for your opponent to meaningfully interact with you when you choose to engage the opponent. Using aggressive movement to pressure the opponent captures the beneficial aspects of offensive and defensive play while eliminating the harmful aspects of both.

This idea not only refines and improves upon older ideas, it's also a unifying component to several of the other concepts mentioned prior in this article: You are to formulate and execute a game plan while minimizing or eliminating risk. You are to maximize your ability to interact favorably with the opponent while minimizing your opponent's ability to favorably interact with you. You are to choose when and how you engage the opponent and to dictate the flow of the match with stage control and positioning and use it to convert positional advantage into guaranteed or nearly guaranteed game states. You are to play to these characteristics to create continuous advantage over time. All of these things have been mentioned earlier at some point. This kind of play is not "easy" ideas by any means, but like any skill, it can be learned and eventually mastered.

This method of play is based almost entirely on movement and dynamic risk evaluation, so honing it takes finesse and experience. Applying this kind of play to practical situations quickly expands your ability as a player, both in terms of win ratio and the ability to beat more talented opponents while increasing the rate at which you can learn.

Character Selection

Now that we've covered the best way to approach the game, we can revisit character selection with a little more meaning.

When picking a character, you have to find a balance of something that you like and relative viability. The fact is, if you want to improve at this game, you need to stop playing anyone below Luigi in the tier list. It's more profitable for you to play and learn smash on a good character and to go back and to learn the bad character from a more talented and experienced point of view. Why is this? When you're learning the game, a bad character creates a limit to your ability; some characters are just always going to struggle against the better ones. That is the nature of the game, and there's nothing wrong with that. But it's going to be unreasonably hard to overcome that barrier at a lower skill level, and you're going to be stuck as a bad player indefinitely.

Character selection is an important portion of your performance. If your reason to not play a character is that you believe you wouldn't play optimally, that's a valid reason, but you have to own up to that before you can start thinking about getting better at the game. As a smart man once said, "Ego is a very effective way to dodge opportunities to learn." Be honest with yourself, understand that your character selection is handicapped by your familiarity, knowledge, or skill, and move forward from there.

If you're trying to pick a character in your head, the above two paragraphs have already cut the cast in half, and you should have only picked one of them. The final and most important aspect is that you must play to a character's strength. That is, you must willingly accept the character, and any means that the character has to afford a win as well as any notable shortcomings. No exceptions.

If you want to play Fox, you must accept that winning might mean camping with dashes, jumps, and lasers for 8 minutes per match over a best of 7 finals set. You must accept that your Sheik will do nothing but forward air against Ice Climbers, and you must learn how to properly do it. You must accept that your Samus is a much worse character whenever you jump for any reason. If you do not accept these things, the good and the bad, you will set yourself up for long-term failure. You will create bad habits, weaken your tech skill base, or any number of things that will cost you percentage points left and right.

Even tier 1 players can be scrubs. What's a scrub? A scrub as I've learned it is any player that knowingly picks a sub-optimal decision. It is a means of self-sabotage.

Curious methods of self-sabotage:
- Picking 25 out of the 26 characters that you don't play after reading this guide.
- Refusal to learn/use an optimal strategy for any reason.
- Anything else that unnecessarily lowers your chance of winning.

So why isn't it scrubby to stick to one character when you could switch to another? There's some conflict here, but remember that the idea behind this guide is improvement over immediate results, under the premise that your win ratio will increase long term. It is less scrubby to commit to excellence for the long term to maximize that long term win rate than it is to forego some lesser win rate in the immediate short term.


It's hard to know whether you have the advantage in teams or not. The best solution then is to formulate some strategy that creates advantage for you. Teams changes two major concepts from singles: stage control, and macro strategy. Stage control changes because you must clearly account for the other 3 characters rather than just your opponent. This means that some portion of the stage no longer allows free movement. Instead, it is often better to focus on controlling the area immediately around you and to reduce your movement. Macro strategy adapts to help you better manage everyone else on the screen.

I have a very easy and systematic way that doesn't make you better at teams or smash. Instead, the goal is to make your opponents much worse. 2 vs 2 is way too fair in my opinion, you want some kind of lead. You want to be unfair. You should treat every opposing team like Ice Climbers. Realize that "there's ****ing two of them" and use it as a source of exploitation. Your main goal is to change the 2 vs 2 scenario into a 2 vs 1 vs 1, where you and year teammate are still able to use teamwork, while the opposing team cannot.

First, you want to label each of the players on the opposing team in a very general way. One of them is the conservative player, and the other is the aggressive player. The conservative is the less dangerous character, the slower character, or the character piloted by the more conservative player. If you can't judge this based on some character/player combination, it's okay just to judge it based on character since the characters are still limited by the game fundamentally. Common examples of the conservative are Peach, Marth, Sheik, a single Ice Climber, Hungrybox, Armada, Mew2King. The aggressor is the more dangerous character, the faster character with better approaches, or the riskier player. Common examples of the aggressor include Fox, Falco, Falcon, PC Chris, Darkrain, or Axe. It's important to note that roles are relative and can be reversed, so your label is a general one. For example, Lucky is riskier than Mango when they team and Mango is more likely to play a slower character (Falco) than Lucky's Fox, so Mango is the conservative and Lucky is the aggressor on that particular team.

If an opportunity arises in a match, or you can force it, first isolate the aggressor. You want to keep the conservative on the "outside" of the match for as long as possible while you and your teammate 2 vs 1 the aggressor. The conservative is already designated in that he is less able to stop the two of you from killing his teammate. When the conservative player approaches, you want to hit him away or wall him out of the fight. Because this player is limited in approaching, you effectively limit the player of their own talent. The tools of the character are simply limited. The aggressive player is also in a bad position, stuck in a bad position or stuck in a combo, usually until KO. This player’s general aggression means that he is more likely to put himself in a 2 vs 1 position, and the teammate's conservative style means that he is less likely to try to stop you. This is the closest you can get to a "free kill" in teams, and it's the best you can reliably do until the kill resets the match to a neutral state. Here's a simple example showing what the positioning should look like, loosely speaking:

As you do this repeatedly, you want to force the aggressor to take stocks from his teammate. The conservative player is almost certainly much harder to kill than his teammate, and the loss of stock will definitely soften the team by hitting the player with weaker defenses repeatedly. For example, if Lucky has to use 6 stock and Mango can only use 2 of his own, that is already its own victory. You're also limiting whatever danger the aggressive character is to you, unable to effectively fight off two players. Ideally, the conservative player is so alienated that he is effectively not even on the same team as the aggressor but the aggressor is still a sinkhole for wasted resources (stock).

In some cases, I would even recommend keeping a hurt conservative player alive just to further disarm that player to buy you more time to destroy his teammate. For example, you should try your hardest to keep a single Ice Climber alive while you pin down his teammate. The Ice Climber player has two options: watch his teammate die and take his lives, or commit suicide to become a threatening character again. When the hurt conservative player approaches, make sure to toss him back out with a non-kill throw/move to further waste time that you and your teammate can use to kill the aggressor. This is the focus of the 2 vs 1 vs 1 method.

You are still fully expected to make the best use of teamwork yourself. This means that if you can help your teammate for any reason, you generally do it. You should pick a teammate with a character that offers synergy with your own. You should also save your teammate whenever possible, help with combo or kill set-ups, or cooperatively use the stage together.

As an aside, should both teams be utilizing this strategy, generally the one with the more conservative characters/players will perform better. This is because conservatively oriented characters are naturally more resilient to being put into poor positions. Since this method fundamentally requires exploitation of the aggressor, mitigating the aggressor role makes it less potent when used against you.

Here is the full video from the picture example so you can see what the 2 vs 1 vs 1 method looks like:

Dr. Peepee and Everlasting Yayhuzz told me in person that they had used the 2 vs 1 vs 1 strategy specifically for this set after reading this same article. So now I get to use it as my example. Hungrybox is the conservative player and Hax is the aggressor. Once you are able to see how it plays out, practice assigning the roles on opposing teams until you get a better feel for what you're doing. Once the strategy becomes familiar and comfortable, the results will speak for themselves.

Counter Picking

The CP system has been in place for a long, long time. It is finally being threatened as an unnecessary part of the tournament system. That said, we can still milk it for all it's worth until it gets removed, if it happens.

First, you should know your character's best stages for CP options, and use them openly. Have a CP list for each character the opponent could be. Yes, for every character. It's a minimal time investment with huge pay-offs later. Write it in a notebook and memorize it. Also, have no weak stages. Just don't. Be good at all of them.

Understand that each player gets to ban a stage. This means that when you are formulating your Plan, you'll want two stages ready for a solid CP choice, as well as one ban. This is important to note because if you feel that you have some definite advantage on two stages, your opponent banning one is essentially worthless. That ban no longer has any value. You want to minimize that tool of your opponent's as much as possible, so yeah learn to CP each character to 2 stages pretty much. On the other hand, you should ban your obviously weakest stage.

Finally, understand that when you ban a stage, your opponent cannot pick it. You still can. Some TOs are shaky on this, so clear it with them in private prior to the event. If you ban a stage, your opponent will consider it banned and choose a different ban. This is brilliant because you can ban your own CP options to "protect" them later. You absolutely must win the first game to properly exploit this point. Only ever attempt this strategy after you’ve already won the first game. In my example taking notes above you'll notice that this option was never even a consideration, since I lost the first game. However, should you win the first game, here is an example plan:

Match-up: Marth (me) vs Fox (opponent)

I, the Marth, won the first game.

Plan A:
-CP to Final Destination (first choice), and if it is banned by your opponent...
-CP to Yoshi Story (second choice)
-Ban Dreamland 64

At most events, bans are decided after game one and before game two and before any stage selection has been made. After you win your first match, you will be asked for a stage ban because loser picks stage first in slob picks. If you are unsure what the opponent will pick for his game 2 CP, then banning RC can be a good idea, or it can be a wasted ban. It is risky to decide. Instead, ban FD. While you are definitely risking losing game 2, you are also in a way securing that you will win game 3 and therefore take the set. You also get to pick your ban first because the opponent must pick a stage at that time. It then looks something like this:

Plan B:
-Ban Final Destination
-CP to Final Destination if you don't win game 2, win the set 2-1 in a secure manner.

Usually a cautious opponent will let you ban a stage first because it gives him more information when deciding what to ban for himself. In the event that your opponent decides a stage ban before you, you can stick to Plan A and take your second CP as per usual and waste that ban. Regardless of what the opponent does and at what time, it assures you to go into match 2 with the least amount of a disadvantage, and you also go into match 3 with the heaviest possible advantage. Since this is just another way to net free wins, you should abuse the ability to react here as much as possible.

Have a Plan A and a Plan B like I have above for every character. Having no "weak" stages and always having strong choices will hand you free wins repeatedly, even against players that are better than you.

Mental State

Early into this article, I wrote about not viewing the game through an emotional lens. That was more about keeping yourself objective as a player, and requires a deeper look after having covered many different sections of the writing to integrate some of the ideas previously mentioned. The subject of talking about mental states and emotion is probably a little odd coming from me. I'm typically very pragmatic and methodical in my approach to the game, or really any closed system of interactions. However, I started off just like most of you, where I figured the game had some mixed aspects of both the technical approach to the game and mindgames alike. Instead, over time I progressively moved away from the concept of mindgames, seeing them as fallible and weaker aspects to any given strategy. As a result, I developed what is a more procedural approach to the game with firm and predictable yields that allow continuous growth. It is no small accident that I am posting these theories of learning smash based on my previous experiences. However, it was an active choice I made to shape my mental processing this way, and I'd like to share some of these musings with you.

A lot of people subscribe to the idea that the emotional states from winning and losing are a disservice to you as a player. They then sort of amputate these responses in an attempt to be emotionless. This is somewhat of a trap that players get into and never get out of, and subsequently drop out of the game relatively quickly. If that is your modus operandi, I have to ask, what are you doing here reading this? Why even play the game? What's the endgame, the goal in all of this? Why even play? You have to have some kind of fun when you play, some sort of intellectual appeal, or you will lose interest quickly and waste all of your efforts. You can't fake it either. It seems pretty Disney to say "believe in yourself and all your dreams will come true!" but it's certainly more accurate than the opposite. You really should have some kind of goal and have a positive outlook that you have the ability to go in on it. There's a lot of merit in the whole "fake it until you make it" approach to problem solving, and improvement at smash is a pretty long and complex series of problems when you really get down to it.

Personally, the best mental framework I've come across so far is to love winning and learn from losing. But you do it in a smart way that doesn't give you opportunities to miss out on the bigger picture. Being able to turn both positive and negative experiences into something enjoyable really allows you to relax and step back and observe your situation and to evaluate what's in front of you in a way that is both healthy and engaging. You're able to feel good about every match, which is enough to keep you interested (and playing a lot). And really, when you sit down at the stage in winner's quarterfinals for ten minutes, what are you doing? Seriously, think about it.

I'll provide an unusual example:

Someone actually sent me this while I was writing. I think the usual response is that it's silly and all in good humor. That point isn't lost on me. But you know what else I see? That's some pretty fantastic technical play. I can appreciate the precision and effort behind it just as much as I can the silliness of the actual video. I would hope that you also come to observe your surroundings in this multifaceted way.

But back to smash. Even if you made mistakes while you played, whether you won or lost you can make note of them in a kind of detached manner that serves you to stay calm and on point over the length of the tournament. If you feel bad about the game for whatever reason, you're probably doing something wrong and you'd be best to mentally sort of pull yourself aside and get yourself together. Got devastated by a combo mid-match? That little recovery platform has you covered for a few seconds, it's okay to use it. Not feeling it after a rough Game 1? By keeping notes after every match as mentioned before, you get a similar sort of quick reset that pulls you back into an active but emotionally neutral thinking pattern. All players make mistakes at every level. Especially You my dear reader, now that You know how to look for them. Just keep in mind some players will occasionally hand you a win, and do your best not to return the favor. A more interactive match where you scrap it out and emerge victorious may feel more rewarding, but it really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. A win is a win and that's what you showed up for.

As a general summary, enjoy playing whether you win or lose, really consider what you're observing, and take small but active steps to keep yourself focused on your end goal. Practice and study, just like every other discipline/skill. Never settle, and don't let yourself plateau or become complacent or contented. Always be learning and growing and put in the hours. There's no 'trick' to being great; you just have to be smart and work hard.

Bad Players

It would be wise to judge the skill of others and yourself with some moderation. Try not to think of players as good or bad. Instead, they are only players, and those players make good or bad plays for one reason or another.

Everyone seems to have some misguided hatred towards bad players. In reality, bad players are necessary to any competitive gaming community. Without bad players, there can be no good players because skill in competitive games is relative. You can be an awful player and still be the best player in the room, and suddenly you're the "good" player. Instead of casting judgment on these players, you should love bad players as you would a pig before you slaughter it for bacon.

Bad players add a major impact for tournaments; attendance. Bad players comprise the majority of tournaments far and away. More importantly, they add to the prize money. When you play bad players in tournament, secretly thank them in your head for being bad. Without their relative badness, you could not be on your own pillar of relative goodness. Their lack of ability is what fills your wallet. Do not be mean to them as it serves only to push them away from tournaments, effectively lowering your long-term revenue. When you play them in a set, accept your free win, receive your due amount of bacon, and move on.

No Johns

If you've been playing smash seriously for 6 months, no doubt you've heard the phrase "No Johns". It originated from an east coast player aptly named John, famous for complaining about the game. No Johns was a response from the other players that got tired of the complaining and didn't want to hear it. After a certain point, you really don't care if the complaints are legitimate or not, you just don't want to hear it. It's your problem, not mine.

No Johns has since translated into a philosophy of sorts. When you hear someone say No Johns, it means they don't want to hear your weak garbage. It's not that they are disrespecting you or dislike you, and it's not a personal attack. It's a brash way of telling you to get your act together. It is placing your responsibilities into your own hands. At the end of the set, you and you alone are accountable for your performance. So naturally, there are two responses to No Johns:

1. You get upset and dislike being invalidated.
2. You accept responsibility for the outcome, and you deal with it.

Having responsibility for your own fate is one of the greatest gifts in the universe and I encourage you to embrace the ideology of No Johns with open arms. You being solely 100% responsible for yourself is an incredible situation that can not be overstated. It means that you are entirely in control of what happens. There is no excuse and no rationalizing that will allow you to skew your reality. No random factors are at influence, and no one else can be held accountable. No one else is responsible for your tournament performance and no luck is involved. Did you place poorly from staying up all night before the tournament? You have the ability to choose to get better rest next time. Did you lose a match-up you really wanted to win? It's on you to get better at it.

This translates outside of smash too. Are you unhappy making minimum wage? Being fat? Can't travel as much as you'd like? No Johns, it's on you to develop your career, diet and exercise, and to find new ways to get around. And while it's a lot of work, you can do it whenever you want. It's putting your life into your own hands and giving you the opportunity to shape the outcomes of the events in your life.

Don't wait for your conditions to change and don't give yourself any excuses to wimp out. Be honest about what you want and do whatever it is that you want to do. Do what you love to do, what you are waiting to do, what you've always wanted to do, and don't wait. You may find out that your inner desires aren't feasible and can't actually happen in reality. But don't waste time now only to find that out later. Deal with the things that restrain your ability and do what you want in spite of those limitations. Postponements are almost always excuses that unnecessarily hold you back. Limitations and constraints never held back anyone who really wanted to do something. No matter what happens, at least you'll know to yourself that you gave it your all and you will always be satisfied with yourself. If it's the only thing you take away from reading this entire article, it's this:

Never complain and never explain. No Johns.

Closing Thoughts

This piece would not have been possible without the learning experiences given to me by good friends and 10 long years of travel. I'd like to take this time to thank people that have been pivotal to helping me along the way:

Jason Zimmerman (Mew2King)
Charles Meighen (Cactuar)
Jesse Morse (JesiahTEG)
Sami Muhanna (druggedfox)
Kevin Nanney (Dr. Peepee)
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Smash Journeyman
Dec 15, 2010
the ct smash ludus... or ecsu when im at school
how do i play with friends and players who are afraid to play with me
begging doesnt work simply asking them doesnèt work, and even trying to moneymatch them doesnt work
step one: find someone who is better than you by using smashboards and ask to play
step two: play

Also a great read, i learned alot of things that i can apply to myself.


Smash Champion
Dec 21, 2004
Austin, TX
Good post. I'm still not sure about whether focusing on only one character is necessarily a better idea than having a secondary. I suppose in practice it may be too difficult to fully learn more than one character.

Dr Peepee

Ancient Light
Sep 29, 2007
Raleigh, North Carolina
Great read, and I hope it is received well. That's a very solid tournament mindset that I am personally doing my best to get back into.

I feel like I should say more but I can't think of anything so I'll be back in here later lol.


Smash Master
Apr 15, 2008
Dallas, TX
Good post. I'm still not sure about whether focusing on only one character is necessarily a better idea than having a secondary. I suppose in practice it may be too difficult to fully learn more than one character.
The only player to have played successfully with multiple mains (iirc) is m2k, and to a lesser extent mango. It only works with m2k because the three characters he mainly plays (marth shiek fox) essentially let him have a positive matchup no matter who he's playing. The fact that m2k is the only one good enough to have done this should say why it's not the best strategy for becoming good at this game.


Smash Lord
Mar 5, 2011
The only player to have played successfully with multiple mains (iirc) is m2k, and to a lesser extent mango. It only works with m2k because the three characters he mainly plays (marth shiek fox) essentially let him have a positive matchup no matter who he's playing. The fact that m2k is the only one good enough to have done this should say why it's not the best strategy for becoming good at this game.
You could probably also note that he didn't practice all of them at once.

When he mained Fox, he stuck with Fox for a few years.
Then switched over to Marth.
Then he played some Shiek.

Now he uses a combination of all 3 (though I think his Shiek is getting the most attention right now)


Smash Lord
Aug 13, 2009
if you get a little more historical, pc chris, koreandj, and azen all stand out as exceptions to the one character rule

but this is in the past, it doesnt seem to be and very well may not be viable anymore for anybody
Mar 30, 2011
Bad players.

Everyone in this seems to have some misguided hatred towards bad players. In reality, bad players are the best thing for this community. Without bad players, there can be no good players because skill in this game is relative. You can be an awful player and still be the best player in the room, and suddenly you're the "good" player. Instead, you should love bad players as you would a pig before you slaughter it for bacon.

Bad players add a major impact for tournaments; attendance. Bad players comprise the majority of tournaments far and away. More importantly, they add to the prize money.

When you play bad players in tournament, secretly thank them in your head for being bad. Without their relative badness, you could not be on your own pillar of relative goodness. Their lack of ability is what fills your wallet. Do not be mean to them as it serves only to push them away from tournaments, effectively lowering your revenue. When you play them in a set, accept your free win, receive your due amount of bacon, and move on.
You made somebody feel bad.


Smash Master
Mar 10, 2006
Far far into the stars
all very good points but I think PC Chris had some quote where you have to have fun with the game or you will hit a wall
I think he covered that in Rule #3. You can't love anything, in any way, shape, or form, if you don't enjoy it to at least some degree.

The only time i personally ever stop having fun with the game is when i let my emotions get the better of me. I start calling things gay and hating on characters for doing what they are supposed to do. Like fox shine spikes or marth dtilts>fsmash. Instead i should realize that i'm being dumb putting myself in those situations or falling for baits.

Anger and negative emotions are the only thing that makes this game not fun at times. So if you try your best to just relax and play the game. You're almost guaranteed to have fun. It is an old as hell game. No one really is new to smash anymore. You play it because you enjoy it.


Smash Champion
Feb 4, 2007
West Chester, PA
Mow this is awesome. Very insightful, and I agree with basically everything you're saying. Keep the updates coming. These are great reads.
Jan 10, 2007
Espoo, Finland
all very good points but I think PC Chris had some quote where you have to have fun with the game or you will hit a wall
Losing is never fun

Getting ***** time after time is never fun

So you have to play more seriously and focus

And if you still keep losing you most likely

get pissed, discouraged, depressed & eventually lose interest


you improve and start winning

The reason people play melee is not because they find getting *****, combo'd, read and beaten fun. The reason people play melee is because they find ******, combo'ing, accomplishment and winning fun.

Or does someone, when this addiction kicks in and you feel the lust to play, be remembering those moments of defeat? No they are remembering the moments of accomplishment and success.

**** this game


Moonlight Pokémon
Nov 17, 2002
I'll work on this more tomorrow. I'm just not feeling it for the time being. If anyone else has some subject you want me to cover, I'll try to work it in.


Smash Apprentice
Feb 20, 2011
Atlanta, GA
Great read.
I actually have a little bit to contribute to this though, as a Magic: The Gathering player.

In high levels of competitive play, we have something we call "Bruce"
OP touched on it, but I really, really enjoyed this article forever ago when I read it and it's not something I shall soon forget.
It's explained rather thoroughly in this article:

(It's long, but read it, it will significantly improve your gaming mindset)
I should probably explain a few words from it so non-magic players can better understand the article
PTQ- Pro Tour Qualifier
mulligan- If you draw a bad hand in Magic, you can put it back and draw a new one at the cost of drawing one fewer cards. (Ex, you draw 7, hands sucks, mulligan, draw 6)
Two land hands- hands containing one land, two lands, zero lands, 6 lands, or 7 lands should nearly always be mulliganned.
Resolve- the actual definition of the word, just in the game (the verb, not the noun)
mana screwed- having too many or not enough lands in your hand or from your deck. Shouldn't happen if you just mulligan a bad hand, shouldn't happen if you don't Bruce.

tl;dr, read it. Read it. Seriously.

tl; still dr, Don't ever call Johns, or anything close to johns, even if your entire body begins to turn to sodium. And not just Johns, but you have to have a NEED to win to win.
The winner of a match is usually decided by who NEEDS to win more.

I've managed to kill some of my Bruce. I think it's hardest to keep him inside when you lose to someone you shouldn't have lost to due to variance (Which happens less in Melee than Magic but still) and you get really pissed off that you lost and then the next game I Bruce all over the place and I can't win anymore. Playing anymore games after that lost one means I've already lost. I have to justify my loss by rematching him and beating him.
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Smash Legend
Aug 31, 2005
Jarrettsville, MD
I've Bruced myself by using a secondary so when I (inevitably) lost, I could just tell myself "Meh, it would have went differently if I used my main." Definitely not letting that happen again. Great article.


Smash Master
Feb 12, 2006
Losing is never fun

Getting ***** time after time is never fun

So you have to play more seriously and focus

And if you still keep losing you most likely

get pissed, discouraged, depressed & eventually lose interest


you improve and start winning

The reason people play melee is not because they find getting *****, combo'd, read and beaten fun. The reason people play melee is because they find ******, combo'ing, accomplishment and winning fun.

Or does someone, when this addiction kicks in and you feel the lust to play, be remembering those moments of defeat? No they are remembering the moments of accomplishment and success.

**** this game
getting ***** is the best part about this game


Play to Win
May 19, 2009
Great read.
I actually have a little bit to contribute to this though, as a Magic: The Gathering player.

In high levels of competitive play, we have something we call "Bruce"
OP touched on it, but I really, really enjoyed this article forever ago when I read it and it's not something I shall soon forget.
It's explained rather thoroughly in this article:
First place I saw that was The Hustler, when Bert tells Minnesota Fats to stay with Eddie because he's "a born loser." Later, Eddie johns about how he was drunk and Bert says that he had "The best reason in the world for losing."

That movie is like the smash bible from 38 years before 64. Best ever.


Smash Lord
Mar 6, 2007
This was certainly an interesting read. Sure, it is stuff that most of us already know... but it is always good to be reminded of. The personal context helps as well, and I would like to see this aspect embellished on in future chapters.

A bit of constructive criticism...

Regarding "Bad" Players - I realize that you are claiming that they are good for the community, but there is a negative connotation to the title phrase "bad" players. Could the same "bad" players also be called "newer" players or "learning" players? While this article does apply to everyone in the community, I think the concept of "improving" implies an inherent skill deficiency. In other words, it reads as if you are insulting the very players you are trying to help. The entire section seems a bit out of place and venomous. Perhaps it is because I still, to a degree, consider myself a "bad" player. I don't like the idea that someone who beats me in a tournament is looking at me in terms of dollars and cents. I have entered as many regional and national tournaments as possible in the last four years not with the goal of winning money (or losing money), but with intention of supporting the underground smash community. I feel a certain obligation to not just attend the tournament, but to actually enter. The wording of the "bad" players section makes my notion feel a bit foolish. I realize that you are writing this in a stream of consciousness style, but if you were to rework this piece, I would just be aware of the negativity of that one particular section.

Enough of my ramblings...

I don't know where you are living now, but you should drop by Pittsburgh sometime. We still play every Friday, and we'd be glad to get some games with you.


Fresh Eskimo
Mar 31, 2011
Cleveland, OH
how do I become a good player if my friends improve much faster than me, even though I'm trying really hard to get closer to their level? It seems like the skill gap between me and some of my friends just keeps getting bigger even though I practice the game constantly and look for ways to fix the problems I find with my playstyle? When we started out, I was always the worst, but I've never been able to get anywhere close to my friend's level, and it makes me really depressed. When I practice against them it just feels like I can't do anything anymore. I get 4 stocked nearly every game and I don't feel like I'm getting any better. In 2 years I've won less than 20 games against them.
Jan 2, 2005
LA, CA near Santa Monica
I really liked it overall, except the "bad players" section; I think its important to remember that improvement is so radical in this game that the player you call terrible now could eventually grow to be the best player in the world...I read PP say once that you should always appreciate everyone's take on the game, and try to learn off that.

But thats fine. I understand that after going to tournaments for so long the bad players who never amounted to anything can blend together, so their importance to personal improvement can be forgotten. My bigger issue is the title. I don't know why you named it "drastic improvement" when, in reality, even with the greatest discipline and adherence to these policies, growth in skill is super gradual. Or, more accurately, there is so much to learn in this game that becoming truly great takes years, or as I prefer to measure it many can't expect to be as good as the greats with a small fraction of their total playtime. It simply isn't realistic.

So I say the best advice is to stay disciplined, but realize that its a grind. Its a long journey. Thats why its rewarding.

Thats why its worth taking.


Play to Win
May 19, 2009
how do I become a good player if my friends improve much faster than me, even though I'm trying really hard to get closer to their level? It seems like the skill gap between me and some of my friends just keeps getting bigger even though I practice the game constantly and look for ways to fix the problems I find with my playstyle? When we started out, I was always the worst, but I've never been able to get anywhere close to my friend's level, and it makes me really depressed. When I practice against them it just feels like I can't do anything anymore. I get 4 stocked nearly every game and I don't feel like I'm getting any better. In 2 years I've won less than 20 games against them.
Try not playing Pichu.


Smash Master
Apr 27, 2010
Brooklyn New York
Getting ***** is the best way for Drastic Improvement. I used to be at the bottem getting ***** by peaches, marths all of that then I pushed my self. And now I'm the best in my country.

Like what Chris brown said... Look at me now.


Smash Master
Feb 19, 2009
Getting ***** is the best way for Drastic Improvement. I used to be at the bottem getting ***** by peaches, marths all of that then I pushed my self. And now I'm the best in my country.

Like what Chris brown said... Look at me now.
Like J.Cole said Who dat, who dat ;)