Everyone has their own reason for picking their main. Armada has said he picked Peach because of her down smash. I chose Peach because I loved her dash attack. Some people even pick characters because of how “cool” they look, or because it’d be “funny.” Most people struggle with their character identity at some point in their Melee career, because they reach a point where they feel like their character is holding them back, or that their character doesn’t represent their playstyle well enough. Or, they’ve picked up too many mains and are trying to narrow down the number of characters they use in tournament, because they’re tired of doubting their character choice mid-set. I had a pretty lengthy conversation about character choice with a friend last night at the Cave, because I noticed that he, as a Marth player, tended to pick options not considered “normal” in Marth’s repertoire. For example, his panic options were to full hop or to hold shield, whereas I’m used to seeing Marth dash back in those situations. This led me to conclude a couple of pretty outrageous ideas.
Before I get to the outrageous ideas, however, I have a quick preface. The number one priority when it comes to playing this game competitively is what I call “Realistic Longevity.” Think about:
- How long you’d consider playing Melee competitively
- Reasons for terminating your Melee career earlier than what you determined in part 1*
- How much effort you’re willing to put into the game.
*Reasons for terminating your Melee career can include hand problems, personal life (such as school or work), or even reaching your goal (such as becoming PR’d, or Top 100, or even #1).
If your goal within your competitive melee career is short-term (such as become PR’d once), then my ideas regarding choosing your main might not relate as much to you, as my ideas are more geared towards someone who wants to be #1, or who wants to continually improve for the unforeseeable future. Either way, I think these are interesting ideas to consider, even for short-term goals. Okay, now for the fun part.
When choosing your main:
Character choice doesn’t matter until you’re good.
To be a top player, you need mastery of the following skills: Neutral game, combos, DI, movement, edgeguarding, recovery, matchups, interactions, spacing, drift, and many many more. If you have mastery over all of these skills, then you have a good “Game Sense,” which in turn gives you access to the final skill, which is “Adaptation.” Anyone can adapt mid-set, but only those who have mastery of all of the different skills of the game (and effectively have a good Game Sense) can adapt the most quickly and efficiently as possible.
All the characters in melee share these skills (even though they express these skills using different tools). You can attain a good Game Sense with any character. Sure, each character leads a different pathway to attain good Game Sense, but it’s possible with any character.
Once you have a good Game Sense, only then will your character choice start mattering, because Adaptation is the expression of your personality. Assuming you have complete control of your character, the changes you make to your playstyle throughout a set reflect your thought patterns, fears, empathy, understanding, passions, panic options, and ultimately who you are as a person. Different characters allow certain personalities to shine through better than others, so even if you have a good Game Sense, your personality might better be reflected with another character.
It’s hard to know exactly which character best reflects your personality without practicing each character and testing them individually in a tournament setting. However, people with good Game Senses are actually much faster at switching mains than those without, as Game Sense applies to all characters. For example, Yoshi was my worst character by far for many many years. Because I have a good Game Sense now, however, I’m able to learn Yoshi really quickly (at least relative to the rest of my characters), because I’m applying things I know with Peach to Yoshi. Also look at Plup, who probably has a better Game Sense than anyone, considering he does well with literally any character he touches.
So how exactly do you achieve a good Game Sense? How do you quickly achieve mastery in all of those skills that make up Game Sense? To achieve Game Sense the fastest:
Your first main should be a character that thrives off of your individual best skill.
This kinda contradicts what I said earlier about character choice not mattering until you’re good, but there’s an important distinction to make: You can attain a good Game Sense with any character, but some characters might take longer for you to reach that point than others. To most efficiently achieve a good Game Sense, you should hone in on what makes a character’s concept unique, as well as what makes you as a person unique, and if those two aspects match, then you’ve found your first main.
For example, your local Sheik player really likes techchasing, and they’re really good at it. They practice techchasing daily, and they can techchase anyone in bracket. Even though they rely on sketchy neutral wins to start their techcases sometimes (*cough shieldgrab*), they get a kill off of grab every time so they keep doing it.
If you look at a graph of this player’s skills, it looks something like this:
Their Combo vs. Spacies skill is much greater than the rest of their skills, which is as expected, considering that’s their favorite aspect of Sheik and also what they’ve spent time on practicing. For this Sheik player to improve and become a “top player,” they would have to work on everything else (by *cough* reading my guide *cough). The nice part is that a lot of the time, it’s much easier to improve upon something you’re bad at (such as “Grounded Movement” in this case) as opposed to something you’re good at (such as “Combos vs. Spacies”) because of how much room for improvement there is, and how your total understanding of one aspect of the character can help understand the others. (This, of course, assumes you’re willing to put in time to your bad skills). So, the Sheik player improves until their skillset looks like this:
Once they reach this point, they have a good Game Sense, which means they’re fully capable of mid-set Adaptation. At this point, if Sheik no longer feels like a good fit for them, they can easily switch to a different character (because the skills will translate pretty smoothly) that lets them adapt more fittingly for their personality.
So what happens if you pick a starting main that doesn’t agree with your individual best skill?
Let’s go back to my friend (the Marth player). He told me he picked up Marth because of Marth’s combo game and movement. Pretty good reasons to choose Marth, right? However, when I was playing against him, his instincts were to double jump and shield, as opposed to dash back. When I think of Marth, I think of a super smooth grounded character that is always juuuuust out of reach, and is always right there to punish you when you swing (and miss). If you aren’t taking advantage of his tools to do this (such as dash dancing, dtilting, and grabbing) and instead are using tools that don’t align with the *concept* of Marth (such as shielding, platform movement, and double jumping), then your skillset graph will look pretty bad, and your rate of improvement will be slow. I advised my friend to either pick a different character that better suits his instincts (such as Sheik, who thrives off of platform movement) or to ground himself (both literally and figuratively) within the concept of Marth.
Each character has several “best aspects.”
Again, people pick their mains for a wide variety of reasons. Armada like Peach’s dsmash, and I liked her dash attack. When picking your first main, all of the relevant characters have many different aspects that could attract you to them. Falco not only has an amazing punish game, but also a dominating neutral game with lasers and quick aerials. Marth not only has smooth movement, but also a commanding punish game and a terrifying edgeguard sequence. Jigglypuff has complete control of the air, as well as hundreds of rest setups. Whatever the reason is that you pick a character, just make sure that the character is good at what you want to do with them (i.e. don’t pick Marth because of his shield lul).
Learning new characters will help you achieve Game Sense faster.
Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, and playing around with each character can teach you things about your main that you didn’t realize before. I’m learning so much about Peach by playing Yoshi! You don’t need to main other characters to learn from them, or even play as them. Even thinking about other characters if often enough to get you to think about your own character from a different angle, and in turn, help you attain a good Game Sense faster.
Matchups don’t matter until the very top.
If your reason for picking up a secondary / new main is for matchups, and you haven’t attained a good Game Sense yet, then stop right there. Matchups change significantly depending on skill level, and they don’t even become that important until both players have a good Game Sense. Think about how all of the Gods could probably beat you with their low tiers. It’s easy to “better player” your opponent when you have a good Game Sense and they do not. So, until you have a good Game Sense, don’t pick up new characters for matchups specifically.
Pick a character that aligns with your instincts. Get really good at your favorite/best aspect of that character. Catch up with the rest of the skills of that character (often by even playing around with other characters). Then you have a good “Game Sense,” and you are capable of “Adaptation.” You’re now free to pick whichever character(s) you wants that best expresses your personality.
Thanks for reading! As always, let me know if you have any questions.
P.S. No this isn’t validation for me picking Yoshi.