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Counter-picking, Stage Strikes First?

Divade011 - May 18, 2018

An Exercise to Understanding Counter-picking.

This isn't something I really thought about before. In Smash we choose character first, then stage. But after the first game, we start choosing stage first, and then character. Kuroganehammer brought up the fact that hurts the loser, since the winner can just switch characters to nullify their choice in counter pick. Is this true? This implies that our current system favors being good with more than one character, perhaps a certain character and stage specifically, but I want to get into theoretical discussion. I'll tell each player’s character options, and go over what occurs if stages are first, or characters, and who actually has the most advantage in counter picking.

If you want to skip to the conclusions, I don’t blame you, I’m describing a chess strategy without a visual aid.


The Exercise 

For simplicity I will offer solo main, or main and secondary. I will not get into surprise secondaries, the players know the characters each other plays.

Case 1: No secondaries. 
This is easy, if no one changes characters, it doesn't matter what is chosen first, assuming you know the other has no secondary.

 Case 2: Loser has a secondary, winner has none.

Current rules:
So you lost, darn. Your opponent now can either ban your main's best stage for the matchup or ban your secondary's best stage. In either case you get a choice of character, and at least second best stage choice. 

Reversed rules:
Now, Loser must choose their character and the winner gets to make the most use of their ban. Loser cannot get their best stage, but still gets second best.

 Case 3: Winner has secondary, loser is solo main. 

Current rules:
Lets assume your opponent knows your favorite stage, so while they could ban that, they may have better options to force. If we look forward, Loser's choice is to choose the best stage against winner's main, but that stage may be a great option for Winner’s secondary. This may encourage you to pick a neutral stage of both matchups, rather than giving the opponent a chance to use their secondary on a better stage. You may get your second best stage, but at worst, winner's two characters have four different favorite and second favorite stages, and they can ban one, so you could get disadvantaged choices only. 

Reversed rules :
This time Loser knows Winner’s character, but Winner knows what to ban now. You will get second favorite stage. 

Last case is most complicated without getting into multi-pocketing. 

Case 4: Winner and loser has a secondary.

Current rules:
So you now have to imagine your four favorite stages, main against main, main against pocket, pocket vs main, and pocket vs pocket. Winner will probably ban the best stage for Loser on the main vs main fight. If Loser is confident he can handle Winner’s main on the second best stage they aren’t in the clear though. Is that stage a disadvantage if winner's pocket's loves that stage? (I. E. Your second choice is TnC, but they have a ZSS secondary.) What this can be boiled down to, is it is unlikely loser will get their favorite stage with either character. Winner may have diverse unfavorable stages depending on main/secondary, but if they don't, Loser will likely end up with a 2nd choice or neutral stage. This toss up is discussed to point it is not clear that the loser Will have an advantage, which makes sense when there's multiple characters to account for. 

Reversed Rules:
So all that character choice meta is practically removed. Winner knows Loser will get their second favorite stage for the matchup. Winner also gets the short end of the stick on choosing matchup. At best he has a character that is better against Loser’s main and Secondary, so he’ll get second best mu, but it’s likely he’ll get 3rd out of 4.

Before I write out conclusions, it should be noted that Stages aren’t a mountainous factor in beating players, but it can be enough to cause upsets. This exercise is not to say that Loser should have the most advantage, even if the winner has practiced with multiple characters. Nor is it a right to Loser to not deal with being screwed as far as counterpicking one's self. That may be what we want. My conclusion is what do these options of stage or character first provide? What do we want? (And then I’ll say what I want cause I want to.)

Stages picked first:

Case 1: Doesn't matter.
Case 2 Loser has Secondary: Loser will have advantage of 2nd best stage with one character, or best with the other.
Case 3 Winner has Secondary: Loser does not have a clear advantage because his stage choice can be used against them.
Case 4 Both have Secondary: Loser likely will have an advantage stage, or a neutral stage, but disadvantage is possible.

Stage First Conclusion

Looking at the options, this setup encourages the winner to have a secondary, specifically one that is very good on a specific stage to get a pseudo ban. Some characters are very good on specific stages, and that can scare the Loser from choosing that stage even though it would be advantageous normally getting essentially two bans and taking Loser to a neutral stage. Looking from the Loser side, having a secondary, without specificity, prevents that from occurring by having two options of “best stage” for the opponent’s main. Even with a secondary, there is no promise that Loser will not get pushed to a neutral or disadvantageous stage.

Characters picked first:

Case 1: Doesn’t matter
Case 2 Loser has Secondary: Character loses some advantage compared to the previous style, but still gets 2nd best stage. 
Case 3 Winner has Secondary: Loser now gets second best stage regardless of Winner’s character. 
Case 4 Both have Secondary: Winner gets disadvantage on choosing the matchup, and loser gets 2nd best stage. 


Character First Conclusion

When the Setup is switched, almost all the Pre fight meta is removed. It is much clearer that Loser will get a stage advantage. This setup makes stage specific secondaries less useful. This also can create a Tug-of-War if the skill gap is small, as stage selection is enough to make the loser a winner of the next match. This keeps solo mains from getting shot down in the meta from a pseudo ban of ZSS and TnC.

Digging Deeper

Why does character first give an advantage more consistently? It’s because the goal is to avoid the Winner from making a pairing of character and stage. When character is chosen first, Loser chooses for the Winner what his stage pairing is. When the stage is chosen first, there’s nothing stopping Winner from picking a character to pair with it. It’s hard to then choose a character that’s made to make that pairing unhelpful.

So what do we want?

Do we want to encourage Loser having an advantage for sure every match, creating this tug of war with more game threes and game fives? This could give a more honest answer that when a player wins twice in a row, it fighting skill, rather than counter-pick skill or benefit of stage choice, was a larger factor. They would win dispite having a disadvantage. This would also discourage players using multiple characters, especially ones that are, to and extent, carried by a stage. Do we want dedicated mains to be our diversity, or have more prominent players using more characters?

I know I’m not hiding my bias well, especially since I solo main a low tier character, so I’ll claim that I think switching our format would be better for the game and it’s players. Players will still be switching characters, but it will be because of the character matchup, and not so much the stage we play that happens to have a substantially lower ceiling. For now though, pick up that secondary, be it pocket cloud or DK or that secondary you just haven’t actually put the time into. This meta requires you to use a top tier and/or a secondary.

I’m sure some disagree, and I didn’t look into who originally made this decision, so let me know here or on twitter (where I’ll post this to) what you think about which ruleset works better.

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