Improvement Part 2: In-Depth Smash theory: Covering Options, Guaranteed Moves, Overspacing, and Following your Advantage
These are some of my ultimate theories to Smash Bros. that I have kept secret for 5-6 years, and this is also the way that I play to my personal strengths.
When I fight a computer Fox in melee, or a computer Snake in Brawl, as I beat them up and 0-death them in various ways, I always try to think of “what could a HUMAN do in that situation”…
More specifically, when I beat up level 1/4 Foxes in melee, and level 1 Snakes in brawl, I always consider when the Fox could Forward B back on stage (since they always will recover the same stupid way, I pretend that I’m fighting a human and always prepare to jab/tilt/fair their possible illusion option by PRETENDING they could do it and covering it ANYWAY… I’m crazy), or when the Snake could air dodge my attack (or Fair gimp me after Ally did that to me since Genesis). I make sure to cover the options a human could do. I don’t recommend this strategy because I’m crazy and it’s easier just to play friendlies vs a lot of different people at tournaments to improve but that’s the story of what I did to be honest.
Anyway, I consider these options since a HUMAN could do them (illusion/air dodge), and since I didn’t get to train against humans for the bulk of my Melee and the bulk of my Brawl improvement during my prime in both games (2007[for Marth]/2010[for Meta Knight]).
(Note: never play level 9s; they give you bad habits because of the weird, COMPLETELY UNREALISTIC [compared to a human player] way they are programmed).
When you do an attack, in Melee especially, there is as lot of hitstun. You can do true, inescapable combos in this game. If I get a grab with Marth against Fox on FD, I am GUARANTEED to get at least a 0-80 from center stage no matter WHAT they do if I do not make a mistake, although he can of course make it harder for me with various DI options.
The reason Falco and ICs are so broken (and easily number 1 and/or number 2 characters tier-list wise in each game respectively) is because once they hit you, they have a GUARANTEED KO or a GUARANTEED high % combo on you, if they don’t mess up. Players that don’t mess this up because they practiced them (Mango/PP, 9B/Vinnie/Esam) can KILL YOU off of them just because of 1 read (or in Falco’s case, risk/reward ratios that favor him). In the long run, or in endurance matches as far as ICs are concerned, these characters have the advantage at top level play BECAUSE of this strength. In both theory (and lately in practice) this is true, and is also my theory to smash and character potential.
Enough about this though, let’s talk about covering options.
Covering options is usually my starting-strategy for an opponent, especially against opponents who I have no idea how they play. I choose the overall safest strategy or simply the strategy that covers the most options. Note that not all characters have equal options. One of the reasons I think Olimar is so good is because of how many different options he has, and no way to cover them all at the same time, mainly because of the unique whistle move he has which can be mixed with B pivots, air dodge, and huge hitbox aerials (including a multi-hit nair which is a good mixup on a shield if they aren’t expecting it and leads to up smash often).
With MK, if they are above me, I will SH Uair, to beat them falling into me normally, or falling into me with an aerial, and then, to cover their possible air dodge option, I will have ready either a:
a) DJ Dair (which may footstool them which happens on frame 1 I believe. This is a good option vs Snake in my experience.)
b) Dair with no double jump (which combos into a tilt often). This and Bair are often good options in MK dittos I learned.
c) Nair (this can be good after a down throw vs an opponent at 0% to get a nice 19% nair off of them at the edge. Like I’ll down throw a snake at the edge at low %, then SH Uair, and react to see if my Uair hit, and if it does not and I notice that they air dodge, I will Nair for 19% + a tilt combo for more damage and positional advantage)
d) Bair (this combos into a 3 hit F tilt, and sometimes a reverse down smash but the reverse down smash isn’t guaranteed in MK dittos because they can DJ Dair you before it hits)
e) Fair (this sets up for a SH Uair -> Dair trap, so it’s more than a simple 3/6/10% from the initial Fair itself). Also if you are frame perfect like Otori, you can SH Uair into a Fair and autocancel it. I used to be able to do this consistently in 2010 but now I can’t. In fact I am the person that invented this. You can also charge down smash or F smash if you are pretty sure they will air dodge after the Fair but I usually go for the guaranteed frame-trap because guaranteed things are usually better).
f) Weak Nado (this is good for a bit of guaranteed damage sometimes but I usually will not choose this option tbh)
g) Air dodge -> grab. (this is great if I know they will shield. It works a lot vs Diddy or other characters that are hard to Uair->Dair but easy to grab since they like to shield a lot)
Dair is the usual option I’d choose for most situations, but I do all of these since there are pros and cons to each and it’s situational. That’s pretty much an in-depth guide of that aspect though.
Notice how many options I cover with this? I can cover most of their options and in some situations, all of their options. If I come up with a superior strategy good enough, there are some situations where my opponent absolutely cannot do anything no matter how good they are, since I am covering their options (note: it’s not nearly this simple, especially with things like Snake’s Bair which shifts his body and changes the timing, or Snake’s B pivot. I usually have to do 50 50 or 1 in 3 guesses since he has so many options such as those but not every character has all these options).
Here is a video example of me using an Uair trap strategy vs Ally from MLG:
Note how I fast fall the very next frame after my Uair, so that I can hit him, but he cannot hit me, and I continue to be in a favorable position for my next aerial, a Nair (in case the Uair does not hit him).
You probably don’t know this but Uair lasts for 2 frames (frames 2-3) but I usually use the mindset that it lasts for 1 frame. The theory behind this is that I:
1) First, get close to him to make sure he doesn’t have many options and stays in a bad position (obviously you should keep him in a bad position, so get as close to his position as possible while still keeping yourself relatively safe from danger)
2) Use an Uair to try to attack him (either BARELY HIT or BARELY MISS), but make sure you’re spacing it so he cannot retaliate.
3) In case he either air dodges my Uair, or retaliates with an aerial, I am ready. I robotically choose the option of fast fall (THE SAME FRAME OR THE FRAME AFTER I UAIR I DO A FAST-FALL) into a double jump Nair. This makes sure he cannot do anything.
THE IDEA HERE IS I CAN HIT HIM, BUT HE CANNOT HIT ME (or very difficult for him to). Yet, I keep him in a horrible position where he is in constant danger, and I am in almost 0 danger. I COVER HIS OPTIONS. THERE IS LITTLE HE CAN DO, AND THE RISK/REWARD RATIO GREATLY FAVORS ME.
Then I will throw in mixups, such as random shuttle loops (in any matchup I do this randomly because I am way too greedy and want to kill them).
But do you see the concept here? I take advantage of my situational advantage here (I am below them, and they are recovering) and get close to them to cover his options. The moment I put Snake in these positions to force his recovery, there are many different possible outcomes of what can happen since smash bros. has a lot of possibilties, but overall the situation obviously favors me quite a bit. There is no reason (if you care about improvement in the long-run especially) you shouldn’t take advantage of these situations. I have the advantage, so even when it’s not guaranteed, the situation still favors me and I should follow through with it. Almost any situation of being under an opponent favors the person on the ground; some matchups much more than others though obviously.
I will usually cover the stage-control options to start with. If I’m fighting other characters that are recovering at a 45 degree angle in front of and above me, I will often get close to them, DJ (double jump) Fair at a spacing that covers all or most all of their options (except another Marth’s perfectly timed Fair towards me), and if that fails and they manage to air dodge through me, I am ready to do a Nair to hit them before they can do anything else. This covers all the primary options except for double jumping over me (which can be read if I wanted), and air dodging away from me (which can be ready). Okay it also technically doesn’t cover falling straight down and waiting for me to fair and then Fairing me back in the face with olimar/marth’s fair, but I think that’s risky because if the MK randomly shuttle loops (and I do it a lot hoping to get lucky anyway and because I’m greedy), then you won’t be DIing it at all and you may just die from it as a result). So by doing this strategy, I can cover every option except air dodge away from me, and double jumping over me. But that’s not a big deal, and I am usually okay with this (even though I’ll try to read it sometimes and kill you for it). The reason this is okay is because even if you choose those options, I am still in an advantageous position. I have stage control in either situation, and you are still not in a great situation in either case. This is a very good starting style I often use. I will do my first aerial to BARELY hit you (or barely miss you but be sure I am fast falling so you cannot punish me anyway which is basically the same thing) and cover your options, and then I can learn your habits from there. If you love to double jump I can use that knowledge later in the match. If you love to air dodge away, I can use that knowledge later in the match. I am starting with a solid, reliable strategy, and then learning the way you try to react/overcome this strategy as the matches progress. This is both a nice starting style as well as good knowledge to gain to win the rest of the set.
I know that was a lot to read, but this is the basic concept between Brawl style of covering options. In melee it basically comes down to 0-deathing. You want to obviously get the hardest punishes possible though. Why settle for a small chain grab (Melee or Brawl) when you could get a large, guaranteed chain grab (besides the fact that it will make you obvious for fiending for the grab up until that point).
Otori enjoys using the concept of “overspacing”, which is a concept that I first learned from my friend Vidjogamer around 2007. This concept, with both Peach (Melee) and Meta Knight (Brawl) is you want to do your Fair slightly sooner than you think you have to, so that you stay safe, but you can still hit them if they try to approach you during that time period. It’s a really lame but effective way to play (but suspectible to projectile camping since you aren’t committing to move towards them much) making you hard to hit but still able to hit an impatient opponent. I stole Jesse’s concept here in 2007 with Marth by doing my dash dances and Fairs early and moving backwards (after running up close to my opponent), so I could not only keep them in a bad position, but I could make it so it was extremely difficult for them to hit me at the same time). With Meta Knight, you can do both an early Fair, early Uair, and early glide attack (especially this move since it lasts for several frames), if you aren’t sure how to time it. I use this concept as my main style for a long time. If ICs try to approach me in 2010 I would just full jump Dair slightly sooner than I thought I have to so that if they approached, it would hit them, and if they didn’t approach, it’s no loss to me it’s just some time wasted. This is an effective strategy to characters without projectiles since it’s hard for them to get near you, let alone punish you without being punished themselves. I usually use this as my main strategy but I use multiple approach mixups as well.
In Smash, it is important to cover their options, and you usually want to keep yourself relatively safe as you do it. I gave some detailed instructions above to get you guys started, but there’s more than just that (but what I said above is -EXTREMELY- important concepts to master in my opinion). Getting the maximum punish (or a good punish) is very important. Since there is hitstun in brawl, and multiple moves (so many superior discoveries can be made for covering options) each one has different situations they can be used on.
I like to go for guaranteed attacks usually since they are reliable (especially since MK doesn’t have a super damaging move or great rewards damage-wise for hard-reads, it’s usually best for him to go the guaranteed route whenever possible even more so than a character like Puff in Melee, who would want to kill you off of conditioning/reading you and then getting a Rest or back throw gimp).
Let’s say I get a dash attack off with MK, there is a number of things I could do. Sometimes I cannot do anything before they can aerial me in the face, so I have to block. But if the % is higher, like maybe 40%, and if you hit with the end of the dash attack, you can do longer combos (Otori loves to fiend for these dash attack combos a LOT). Go for an instant attack (Otori also does this) whenever possible, so you can learn what legitimately works (this is a good way to practice in the long run is always go for the instant attack. If the opponent is able to aerial you before you can aerial him, then it’s not guaranteed and you may want to opt to block or dodge or roll the next time that situation occurs instead). Jump + Uair is 6 frames from the ground, and jump + Nair is 7. Ground up B is frame 5 but great range and invincible on 5, and reverse f tilt is 3 (this is good at low % after a dash attack. Ally often does reverse up B into a glide attack). Sometimes I will even dash attack -> reverse F tilt (one hit) -> Down smash, since all of that is a combo (or at least not necessarily a “true combo” hitstun-wise, but still inescapable. Inescapable is all that matters though).
Basically Dash attack is a good combo starter, especially if they are at mid % and if you hit with the end of it. Sometimes you have a guaranteed combo (mid/low%), sometimes you have a frame trap with SH Uair (~40%), sometimes you have a 50 50 off a shuttle loop which Rain does often (mid/high %), and sometimes you can’t do anything but block or dodge the aerial they fall with (0%). So don’t think of dash attack as just the damage it does, think of it as damage + [good] chance for follow up, which usually leads to putting them in a bad position and having a chance to reverse the situation off of that.
Experiment to see how big of a punish you can do. If it’s guaranteed that’s even all the more reason you should do it. Guaranteed is a pretty reliable and consistent style overall, which will obviously work on the biggest range of opponents since, you know, it’s guaranteed. Unless your character relies on a gimmick power hit (like Puff rest, or ICs grab), then guaranteed should usually be your preferred strategy. By doing this, you will have a solid style against ANY opponentlow, because no matter how good the opponent is, if YOU don’t mess up, you still have follow-ups that they cannot do anything about.
The theories of covering options, and getting the most out of your attacks, are very important concepts to smash. They might be the only 2 rules I follow or at least the most important two I can think of right now. If the opponent has no options or very limited options, there’s nothing they can do and as a result, a high chance they will lose because of it no matter how “good” they are. When you hit your opponent, you have both a hitstun advantage and usually a positional advantage. This can lead to guaranteed follow ups or simply a positional advantage, or both. There’s no reason not to follow up your advantage. When you hit your opponent, you usually have the advantage because of hitstun (some exceptions apply but not in these examples and not often). Sometimes you get a guaranteed follow up and sometimes you just get a nice positional advantage or favorable 50 50s. You should usually choose the safe route until you condition them otherwise and then you can for hard reads on their habits. This a solid, consistent style for smash in both Melee and Brawl. This is also a reason that in my prime, I was both very consistent and had a high skill cap and was good vs the widest range of people consistently. My style and approach to the game allows this. Keep in mind, above all else, this is a great way to improve. As you see what moves follow into other moves, you learn more about the game. Why just get 1 Uair when you can get 3 Uairs, into a Nair, fall with them and Nado all their landing options? (I do this often vs DDD/Snake from low %). It’s all pretty much guaranteed, so just go for it. Figure out how long your guaranteed (or nearly-guaranteed) string can get you. Over time, you will learn what’s the best, but this is probably the best way to learn and improve yourself for the long run. The concept of covering options is simple, it’s just what it says, make sure they can’t do anything, or greatly limit what they can do (and usually you should do this while keeping yourself safe).