How you should choose your competitive main in Smash 4

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#1
First things first: Tiers DO matter. But not for the reason that people think they do. Choosing a main isn't as simple as looking at the tier list and picking the top character.

There are 3 big things you should consider when choosing your competitive main for Smash 4. Striking a balance between all 3 of these is the key to both getting good and to not get tired of competitive Smash.


1. Choose a character that fits your playstyle

You have to have a character that clicks. It might take a few games with them to really get the playstyle, but it will definitely come with time. You need to put your time into learning characters, by watching videos and actually playing them. Maybe a character could be played in a way you never thought of, and when you try playing that way you fall in love with them.

Before Brawl even came out I knew I would main Snake. I watched video after video and his playstyle was intricate, deep, and intriguing to me. Then when I got my hands on him, we became an instant match as soon as I used his Ftilt. His spacing game with his tilts fit my playstyle perfectly, and executing his mindgames made perfect sense to me.

Usually, finding a playstyle that matches isn't as easy as that. But one key thing you can do now is watch a lot of videos and matches. If there is a character who captures your attention the entire time you watch them play, you could be looking at your future main. Do you love how Megaman spaces out his opponents in mid-range? Could you watch short hop Fairs from Marth all day? Enjoying a character is more than cheering when Little Mac gets his KO punch; its about the flow and movement of their playstyle. Getting excited at the nuances of how they work is a good sign.

There may be a player who uses a character in a really amazing way that gets you into them. Gimr's Jigglypuff might make you want to uptilt to rest. Zero's Bowser could make you want to dropkick people yourself. Nairo's Zelda may make you want to do teleport mindgames all game long. There are really unique playstyles out there but different pros can use characters in completely different ways. There are a LOT of ways to play Smash Bros.

Of course, things can completely change when you actually get your hands on the game or things change down the line. If I still played Brawl competitively, I don't think I'd still be on Snake. Watching people SDI out of his Ftilt was depressing and meant I would never be able to play him like I used to. His flow would completely change to me. So I would have to find a new main.

Flow changes with metagame. A character's playstyle can transform instantly when an advanced technique is discovered, like how glide tossing completely revolutionized Diddy play. Keep your mind open and don't lock yourself down.

2. Choose a character you can feel passionate about

My best friend is notorious for this. He won't play characters that he thinks look stupid. He played Brawl competitively for nearly 2 years and never once chose Diddy Kong because he hated the sounds he made.

Even if you play a character, if you can't feel like they are interesting or cool, the passion quickly dies out. Just because you're GOOD with Jigglypuff doesn't mean you can play the pink puffball for 12 hours straight and not get tired of hearing her say her own name. Passion and interest in a character is important to some extent.

Some people make this point the crux of their choice. They put the most emphasis on their passion for the character, which is fine, but then they go to the competitive level. In the years I played Brawl competitively, I had a list of the "best of" mains I had beaten. These people were legimately skilled players. I was able to beat the best Link, Lucas, Mario, Wolf, Samus, Ness, and many more. But the funny thing is, I felt like a lot of these players were actually BETTER than me at the game! They were simply being held back.

While thats fine that they were the "best" with their character, nearly every single one of those players quit the game pretty early. And thats because they ignore the last point.

3. Choose a character that you WIN with

Winning is fun. There is no doubt about it. Ganondorf mains in Brawl didn't have much fun even if they were incredible with him. Why? Because they would lose. A lot. Not because they were bad but because their character simply couldn't keep up. They simply could not have a positive win/loss ratio at the competitive level and that eventually caught up to them. Winning is important. If you still lose despite being an amazing player then you'll eventually just give up, because losing doesn't feel good at all.

But JUST winning isn't the only thing that matters. Metaknight syndrome, as I've dubbed it, killed the passion of a lot of players for competitive Brawl. They could no longer win with their characters (most likely because of Metaknight) so their solution... was to switch to Metaknight. And guess what? They started to win more and more. Then... they quit. Because winning was not the only thing that matters.

This is why the tiers DO matter. Low tier mains usually have an unfortunately short lifespan in the competitive community (with a few famous exceptions of course). When I first chose my main in Brawl I told myself I'd ignore tiers. For other fighting games before that, I'd force myself to choose characters that were unusual, underpicked, and generally low tier just because I hated being a "tier *****." I found myself constantly frustrated when I tried to master my characters because they simply did not have the tools they should have to win. Could you be the next Mango and make Jigglypuff skyrocket up the tier list? Maybe. Don't give up on that dream by any means. But know that if you want to have fun with the game you eventually have to win.

Don't be afraid to give up a character that you simply cannot win with. I really enjoyed DK in Brawl, but I couldn't win with him the way I wanted to play him. So I eventually switched my second to Diddy Kong who I enjoyed and could still win with. If you find sticking to your "low" tier is leading you to win TONS of games at the competitive level, then you could be onto something! Maybe that character isn't low tier after all! But if you find that you just can't win... then maybe you're missing this last pivotal point.


The key to finding a main at the competitive level is finding one that you can click with the gameplay, that is interesting to you, and that you can actually win with. All 3 are equally important. If you have 1 of the 3, you can burn in a blaze of glory that dies out fairly quickly. If you have 2 of the 3, you'll play the game for a good while then just get bored. But if you can have all 3? You'll be a competitive Smasher for a long time to come.

Hope this helps some of you next week when you're trying to find your mains! Can't wait to see you all at a Smash 4 tournament someday.
 
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BRoomer
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#2
be wary about people telling you your character is bad. If you are serious about doing well at the game figure out whether or not your character is bad on your own. And then, and this is important, be willing to let them go if they prove to be bad. (kind of unrelated but nothing bothers me more than people maining a low tier and then attributing every loss to their character choice...)

Tier lists are neat and all, but they are never correct. At best they can only reflect the knowledge we have at hand and that knowledge is always expanding especially in a game like smash brothers. Figure out what works do it until it doesn'y anymore.
 
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#3
be wary about people telling you your character is bad. If you are serious about doing well at the game figure out whether or not your character is bad on your own. And then, and this is important, be willing to let them go if they prove to be bad. (kind of unrelated but nothing bothers me more than people maining a low tier and then attributing every loss to their character choice...)

Tier lists are neat and all, but they are never correct. At best they can only reflect the knowledge we have at hand and that knowledge is always expanding especially in a game like smash brothers. Figure out what works do it until it doesn'y anymore.
This. Very much so this.
 
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#6
Above all, it's a game, so have fun with it. I understand the importance of tiers, but I also understand the importance of just enjoying yourself. Choosing a character just to win seems very boring and monotonous to me. Not to mention, there's a vibe of a lack of dignity attached to that mindset. I'm not claiming moral righteousness just for sticking with characters I like, but I really feel like that kind of "win at all costs" mindset detracts from the overall experience.
 

AdaptiveTrigger

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#7
I like this post. Back in Brawl, I played Snake too (didn't play at a competitive level or go to tournaments though). I had a lot of fun with the character and learned a lot of fundamentals as a result. Unfortunately, I got criticized a lot by someone I played with for "abusing a top tier."

Since then, I dedicated myself towards playing low tiers and mid tiers in other fighting games just to prove to myself that I was skilled enough. Ironically, that same person who criticized me for abusing a top tier continued to criticize me even though I was intentionally going out of my way to use weaker characters. While playing online, I wouldn't be able to keep up with extremely experienced players using top tiers. Was I trying to prove something to myself or to the person who criticized me? I'm not entirely sure at this point.

Lesson learned at this point though. I don't intend to hold myself back anymore because of character choices. I will aim for characters that actually fit my playstyle and are strong character choices at the same time.
 
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Amazing Ampharos

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#8
Yeah, complaints that your wins aren't legitimate because you used a good character are really classic scrub complaints. Are they just admitting you're more skilled at using the character select screen to your advantage? It's actually funny because if you then try to talk to them about how terrible their character is compared to yours and how they shouldn't play such a limited, bad character (true or not), they'll get defensive and talk about how many good things their character can do... even if they were just whining about losing because your character is better. Somehow their justification will simultaneously hold contradictory positions and only clearly assert the claim that they're in some vague way better at the game than you even though they can't actually beat you. Just disregard these complaints or better yet be fueled by them; they're actually pretty funny when you stop taking them seriously.

I'd add another big point here that some may not agree with but is super important to me. Make a big effort to avoid characters with hard counters. A hard counter is a match-up so bad that you're virtually guaranteed to lose if an opponent of reasonably similar skill pulls it against you. Think of Donkey Kong in Brawl; he was generally actually pretty good, but King Dedede just destroyed him with a pretty simple infinite chaingrab. The problem with characters who have any match-ups like this at all is that they can't really win for you in the counterpick system. If they're your only character, you just lose outright as soon as anyone figures out that you have no back-up and that they can just pull the match-up you can't win. Even if you have secondaries, think of the gamble. Game one is a double blind pick. Do you pick your character (who you probably have a reputation for picking) and hope the opponent doesn't pick your hard counter? Guess wrong and you go down a game. If you ever win a game, you then have to pick your character before your opponent. Are you up for risking that you'll get counterpicked and face the terrible match-up? Having to make these kinds of decisions makes winning sets on a consistent basis very hard!

Sometimes characters with hard counters have many good match-ups elsewhere and can make great secondaries to cover your main's weaknesses or just to use as counterpick characters (where you only ever pick them when you know what character the opponent is using already), but as mains, they add so much more anxiety and risk to your trip through a bracket than even a generally bad but more well rounded character would. Even worse, early on this might not be so obvious to you; if you lose a lot in general, you probably care more about average win rates than about your consistent ability to win, and if you have a weak reputation, people are way less likely to counterpick against you anyway. That's just setting you up to get invested in a dead end character; I definitely plan for this to be my primary motivation in selecting a character in smash 4. The first question I will ask myself for any prospective main as I figure them out is "can this character deal with all 50 other characters reasonably effectively?", and if I answer "no" for even one of them, I'm going to keep looking for a main.
 

AdaptiveTrigger

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#9
Yeah, complaints that your wins aren't legitimate because you used a good character are really classic scrub complaints. Are they just admitting you're more skilled at using the character select screen to your advantage? It's actually funny because if you then try to talk to them about how terrible their character is compared to yours and how they shouldn't play such a limited, bad character (true or not), they'll get defensive and talk about how many good things their character can do... even if they were just whining about losing because your character is better. Somehow their justification will simultaneously hold contradictory positions and only clearly assert the claim that they're in some vague way better at the game than you even though they can't actually beat you. Just disregard these complaints or better yet be fueled by them; they're actually pretty funny when you stop taking them seriously.
For me, the person I am referring to would always overplay the strengths of my characters while undervaluing the strengths of his own characters and vice versa for character weaknesses. My wins would always be the result of me "abusing a character" or "cheating" while his wins were always the result of pure skill. I can't offer advice, because this individual would just ignore me and become even more enraged.

In Brawl after playing with characters like Snake, Marth, and Lucario I ended up switching mains to characters like Mario, Link, Jigglypuff, and Captain Falcon. I'd struggle initially due to learning a new character and the fact that they are low tier, but he would see this as an opportunity to brag about his skills. Eventually I'd learn to win with these characters and somehow I was still coming off as "abusing" something. Hypocritically, I was even criticized for using strategies that were similar to the strategies he would use with his own characters.
 
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#10
Tier lists are quite odd in this community, what with all the "desired tier lists" and other such nonsense.
Then there are the folks who ask for tier lists to help them define how they should play, before considering that the tier list is in fact based on how others are playing.

Frankly people need to take the tier lists for what they are. A chart of the likely hood that a particular character will be chosen, and a brief summary of the averages of matchup info.

Most people forget that character X can be the highest on the tier list and still be crap in the matchup against character Y at the bottom. The worst part is that no one would ever know about that matchup if no one ever plays Y, because they are "obeying the tier list"
 

TTTTTsd

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#12
Tiers are SUPER important for matchups, character strength, etc. It's REALLY important to know if your character is weak or strong, and adversely, what you need to do with them. I'm playing Mario, Doc, and Luigi for sure regardless of circumstance, but if they end up being weak in the grand scope, I'll do my best regardless. Players like Boss inspired me to stick with this, he made Mario and Luigi WORK.

However, I do agree tiers shouldn't dictate who you play. It's important to enjoy the game, and while losing can suck even if your character is weak, it just makes winning and hard work more satisfying if you truly enjoy that character. Granted, I doubt I'll run into this issues with the Mario Bros and Doc this time around, but you never know...
 

Weavile's Wrath

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#13
I lucked out; apparently all of the characters I was thinking about maining have turned out to be pretty good (:4dedede::4greninja::4sheik::4robinm:), save for poor :4myfriends:, who I've heard is still not that great. That doesn't mean I won't be fighting for my friends though.:estatic:
 
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Raijinken

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#14
I always preferred the "Pick your favorite and be salty about how much they suck" approach, myself. Then again, I am not pro.

And I'm still hoping balance patches happen. Wide tier gaps are a terrible, if expected, thing for competitive games.
 
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Crome

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#15
I play characters I like, for better or for worse. If I ever decide to be very seriously competitive I might pick up a high tier. But right I'm not gonna trust any of the early tier lists.
 

Ridel

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#16
I love being aerial focused and having a projectile to work with and being relatively light, unfortunately Jiggs does not have one but I still use her anyways cause she is still fun to play and is relatively high tiered (in Melee). When I started playing Brawl I used Olimar and Dedede the most, both acted felt similarly to Jiggs but I ended up making Dedede my primary and shoving Olimar in the back despite him being a heavy weight. For this game Rosalina is looking to completely cover my play style being, light, has a glorious projectile, and has a decent air game with a huge N-Air that almost acts like a wall.
 
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#17
It's a little difficult trying to decide which of the demo characters I like the best as none of them properly fit my playstyle, although Link feels pretty good and I'm getting decent with Mario. I'm okayish with Villager, but can't seem to get used to his offstage game even if Pocket abuse comes pretty naturally. I feel like Little Mac may end up being my thing, because he seems to play quite similarly to my standard Brawl playstyle in that he's one of the few characters who can still reliably use "roll behind and counter" as one of his standard punishes, and he also has a few combos that feel pretty similar to other games I've played in the past, specifically Tales of Symphonia. Falling NAir x2 > jab combo seems to be a legit combo, and up-angled FSmash or a jab finisher seem to sometimes combo into Rising Uppercut. His combos also seem to be pretty low-tech compared to other characters, despite his blistering speed.

I'm still gonna try to play Lucario though, since he's one of my favourite Pokémon and does have some pretty cool things going for him in Smash 4.
 

Remzi

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#21
The knowledge of top level play of most mid tier and lower from my experience is nonexistent, so just play who you win with and like using, so yes, good post :).
If there's anyone qualified to speak on this topic, its this gentleman! Hoping to see your Ike again in Sm4sh.
 

BSP

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#22
The first question I will ask myself for any prospective main as I figure them out is "can this character deal with all 50 other characters reasonably effectively?", and if I answer "no" for even one of them, I'm going to keep looking for a main.
If you care about winning at all, even a shred, you need to ask yourself this before you decide which character to put the most time into.

As far as taking tier lists into consideration, I think the bottom half of Brawl's was pretty accurate even from the get-go. The only exception I can think of is Sonic, and he only got to lower mid tier at best.

The game is deep, yes, but it isn't rocket science. It's not hard to figure out what you just can't handle with a character. For me, in brawl, that was Mario v MK. I pretty much couldn't do anything safely, and had to rely on gimmicks to even take a stock, unless I was just much better than my opponent. Do not main a character with unwinnable MUs.
 

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#24
Excellent post. Great advice for any aspiring competitive player.

I used to main characters that don't fit one or more of the three principles. I used to main :sonic: in Brawl due to hype alone. As my friends got better, I did much worse and learned that he didn't have my ideal playstyle. I switched to :kirby2:, but he too failed. I finally settled on :marth:, backed up by :wario: and :pikachu2:, because they all accomplished all three goals.
 

Hitzel

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#25
The general gameplan is to pick a character you like and can do well with. If it seems like your character isn't going to be good in the long run go ahead and pick up a secondary to work on over time as a backup. Make sure the secondary is a character you enjoy playing/learning AND is a character you know is strong enough to compete.

In games like Marvel, Halo Wars, Street Fighter, etc I picked up secondaries just in case but never needed them. In other games I've turned to my secondaries as they become more useful than my original mains. The important part is that I was playing characters that I enjoyed and I was enjoying putting in the work to do well with them.
 

thundah

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#27
Picking a competitive main is actually easier than it seems. Play style and winning is important, but it's really passion that picks it. I lost with peach for so long in melee before I could dominate. But I really enjoyed the move set, so I kept on learning until I figured out how to win. there's always a way to win.
 

Boshi PV

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#28
I feel that when it comes to choosing a main in any competitive game, the only thing that matters is how that character helps your play style and vice versa. Experimenting with a lot of characters and finding ones that feel natural to you is what ends up making me grow a bond with that character, sounds corny but that's how it worked for me. Find your charcter by finding your playstyle. Once you know how you want to play you can find a character that can best suit the needs of your style. Tier lists are all well and good but if X character is high tier but you can't use him/her effectively then you most likely have no business maining that character unless you really want to devote yourself to that character for whatever reason, but when you take that route growth comes at a slower rate.

TL:DR as long as a character is fun, play em.
 
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AgentHX

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#29
I love this post, especially point 2. If you're not interested in a character, you just won't have fun playing with them, no matter how good you may be with them. Great points all around. This is stuff everyone should consider.
 

Renanri

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#33
I just like to make my favorites work. I will make Ganondorf and Ike work for me! I swear it!
This this this. Given, all of my mains are already considered to be "good", even if any of them will eventually be considered to be in the lower tiers, I intend to make them work. What's interesting about Sm4sh is that it's in a very balanced state in my opinion, skill seems to be even more paramount in this game. I'd love to see how the community can make tier lists! (Hopefully with careful contemplation...)
 
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#34
I'm planning on double maining this time, or at least training up a strong secondary from the start. I don't want to have to deal with any ridiculously bad matchups this time, like Marth in Brawl. I fully intend on maining someone viable this game, but I'll decide for myself whether I think that's the case instead of counting on someone else's first-month opinion. Double maining will also help me hedge the risk that I end up picking someone unviable.
 

Jack Kieser

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#35
I think all of this just proves that Tier Lists aren't actually that helpful. You know what IS helpful?

Matchup Charts. They actually help you make informed charater choice decisions by showing you a bunch of data all at once and quickly pointing to relevant information (hey, this character has FIFTEEN 65-35 matches, I wonder what that's about?).

Hey, we should get on that. :p
 

Renanri

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#36
I think all of this just proves that Tier Lists aren't actually that helpful. You know what IS helpful?

Matchup Charts. They actually help you make informed charater choice decisions by showing you a bunch of data all at once and quickly pointing to relevant information (hey, this character has FIFTEEN 65-35 matches, I wonder what that's about?).

Hey, we should get on that. :p
I'm a fan of matchup charts, I second this notion! :4pacman:
 

Weavile's Wrath

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#37
I think all of this just proves that Tier Lists aren't actually that helpful. You know what IS helpful?

Matchup Charts. They actually help you make informed charater choice decisions by showing you a bunch of data all at once and quickly pointing to relevant information (hey, this character has FIFTEEN 65-35 matches, I wonder what that's about?).

Hey, we should get on that. :p
While tier lists are often similar to what a matchup chart has to say, I like matchup charts so much better. More concise at giving raw information. I don't think we should forgo tier lists though, just give the charts the spotlight.
 

Delzethin

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#38
It's also worth mentioning that you want to also have at least a couple secondaries with different playstyles than your main. If you're up against a character that counters your main, you'll want to be able to fall back on someone who doesn't also get countered.
 

FloatingMew

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#39
I rather play who i like even if they are low tier and the odds of winning are low. Tiers do matter to a extent. But they shouldn't pick who you play.
That's why I play Zelda and my brother plays Ganon in Brawl.

If i'm right, they are bottom two on the list but we have fun competitive matches against each other.
 
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