In gaming, a metagame refers to a set of commonly used strategies developed and employed by a competitive community. In competitive Smash, "the metagame" usually refers to the trends in strategy that appear in high-level play under tournament conditions, and these tactics are often the most influential. The metagame is not static; it evolves over time as players adapt to counter frequently used strategies, and new strategies are discovered or become popular.
For example, suppose Tactic A is effective and popular within a gaming community, and Tactic B offers advantages over Tactic A, but is considered a poor choice in most other circumstances. Some players may employ Tactic B in response to Tactic A, creating a shift in strategy. Tactic C, while usually effective, may be avoided because of its vulnerabilities to Tactic A. Eventually, Tactic A may become less common, as more players begin to use Tactic B to counter it. As a result, Tactic C may then return as a common strategy, or an entirely new effective tactic may be discovered, creating another shift in strategy. These shifts are examples of the way in which the metagame progresses and develops over time.
Users Of The Metagame
At the top level of play, "the metagame" can specifically refer to the habits and skills of the highest performing players. These players focus on employing strategies to win against the small number of other top players who compete with them, as opposed to the trends among players who do not perform as well as they do.
Changes in the Metagame
Routine analysis of the metagame has allowed the community to draw conclusions about the relative performances of playable characters in Smash Bros games, and publish them in the form of character tier lists. Each tier list changes over time, alongside the development of the metagame it references, and is updated as significant changes occur.
Changes in Smash 64
During the making of the first tier lists, Samus was usually criticized for being one of the worst characters, ranking 11th in the tier list, with only Link being lower than her. This was mostly due to her low representation in matchups, tournaments, and gameplay showcasing in general. Samus was also placed low due to being the only character that couldn't pull off any kind of zero-to-death combo. As the metagame became more advanced, Samus' representation in tournaments and high-rankings in tourneys became noticed. These various upgrades grew her from 11th to 8th, still ranking in C Tier, but being a steady and balanced character.
Originally, during the first tier-list, Ness was considered a high S-tier, ranking the 3rd best character alongside Pikachu & Kirby. Ness was famed for his aimable recovery and his double-jump-cancelling. He was also used for his combo-starters, powerful throws, and his great meteor-smash involving his down aerial. However, as the metagame slowly became more advanced, various characters were able to find ways around his attacks, such as taking advantage of Ness' start-up lag on PK Thunder, being able to punish him very easily by using aerials while he controlled it. His combos also became useless as most of his moves could be outranged by others. These various downfalls lowered him from 3rd to 10th on the tier list, dropping from S Tier to C Tier.
Changes in Melee
Originally, Mario was considered a high tier character, ranking 5th on the first tier list. He was mostly known for his easy gameplay style and simple but deadly combos and combo-starting moves. As the metagame became more advanced, many others characters were found to have better and faster combos than Mario had originally. These downfalls lowered him from 5th to 15th on the tier list, dropping from A Tier to E Tier.
Originally, Jigglypuff was thought of a mostly mid-low tier character, ranking 17th on the first tier list due to its lightweight class and usually hard-to-hit special moves. However, as most tournament players showed off Jigglypuff's moveset, Jigglypuff slowly went up on the tier list due to Jigglypuff's multiple jumps and easy-to-start combos. Jigglypuff was also known for its common Sing-To-Rest combo where the player could use Sing to put the opponent asleep, and then use Rest while they were vulnerable. These various upgrades grew Jigglypuff from 17th to 5th, growing from D Tier to A Tier.
Originally, Zelda was considered a high-mid tier character, ranking 6th on the tier list. Zelda was mostly seen as a good ground character, being able to use moves such as Din's Fire to reach opponents from a distance and also be able to reflect projectiles with Nayru's Love. She was also considered good due to her ability to swap out with Shiek, which was considered the highest ranked character at the time. However, as the metagame grew more advanced, the tier lists started to mark characters based on their individuality, lowering Zelda's original reputation for Sheik. Zelda also grew less great against air fighters such as Jigglypuff. These various downfalls lowered her from 6th to 22nd, dropping from A Tier to F Tier.
Changes in Brawl
Originally, Olimar was considered a high-mid tier character. He was criticized for his small size and lightweight status. Along with that, most of his attacks involved his Pikmin, which were easily killable and often leaving Olimar time to recover them if they died. However, strategies with Olimar slowly rose up. The discovery of his disjointed smash attacks were good and his Pikmin recovery was super fast is he got KOed. He was as utilized for his camping abilities, as his Pikmin could do the damage for him as he camped around the stage. These various upgrades grew him from 18th to 3rd, growing from C Tier to A Tier.
One of the most famous top-tier characters in the history of Smash. The metagame in Brawl mostly and almost always circled around Meta Knight. He was often known for his special moves which provided recovery, gimping, scrooging, and edge-guarding options. He was mostly known for his Shuttle Loop move which was a great recovery move that could recover Meta Knight from being spiked by using the move and going into glide. His Mach Tornado move was also known for its spammable status and good shield-breaking techniques that could easily trap a player. Another tactic was his Infinite Dimensional Cape that could be utilized by mashing the C-Stick after his Down B, making Meta Knight invisible until the C-Stick was let go, which was banned in official tournaments. Meta Knight is one of the few characters that was often thought of as too powerful and was considered being banned from tournaments. Though Meta Knight was considered the 1st of the Tier List for every single change, he has gone back and forth between S Tier & SS Tier, finally ending the list with SS Tier.
Zero Suit Samus
Originally, Zero Suit Samus was often thought of as a low-mid tier character due to her second form as Samus mostly weighing her down. However, Zero Suit Samus was often found for her fast movement, edgeguarding game, and ability to stun opponents with her down-tilt attack. These various upgrades grew her from 21st to 9th, growing from D Tier to B Tier.
Mr. Game & Watch
Originally, Mr. Game & Watch was considered a high tier character, ranking 4th on the Tier List. He was often known for his Judge move which could have great KO potential if it hit a 9 and also his Chef move which stopped reckless or fast opponents. He was also utilized for his Bucket move which stored in projectiles in case characters could try camping. However, one of the main reasons for Mr. Game & Watch's downfall may have been his lightweight status or the fact that characters such as Meta Knight, which didn't use projectile moves, became more powerful, leaving his Bucket move useless against Meta Knight. These various downfalls lowered him from 4th to 16th, lowering him from A Tier to C Tier.
Changes in Smash 4
Originally, Wario was considered a high-mid tier character, ranking 21st on the Tier List. He was often known for his Chomp attack which had almost no startup lag and had good range. He was also known for his Wario Bike which was a good stage-sweeping option and it could also bury opponents with his custom move, Burying Bike. He was also good with his custom move, Rose-Scented Waft, which could plant the Lip Flower on opponents heads. However, with the banning of custom moves and the more wary players got, most of Wario's moveset became predictable in certain matchups or situations. These various downfalls lowered him from 21st to 41st, lowering from D Tier to E Tier.
Along with Mewtwo's release as a DLC character, he was often criticized for his nerfs from Melee and long absence. Most criticizing came from his big hurtbox and almost random lightweight status. He had worse combo-starting moves and even worse frame data during attacks. However, in various updates, Mewtwo was buffed greatly to modify range, frame data, damage and weight. Mewtwo was also represented more often in tournaments after the buffs. These various upgrades grew him from 37th to 10th, growing from F Tier to A Tier.
Due to Marth being around longer, he was often criticized for his heavy nerfs from Melee & Brawl with lower frame rates, less damage, less easy combos, and less grab range. Along with this, Lucina was very similar to him. Due to requests, more patches for the game came out, greatly buffing Marth and Lucina's range in attacks and power along with greater frame data. Along with another update, which only buffed the two even more, this gave Marth and Lucina a great reputation in battle. These various upgrades grew Marth from 41st to 11th, growing from G Tier to A Tier. As for Lucina, these various upgrades grew Lucina from 47th to 14th, growing from H Tier to B Tier.