Vanilla vs. Nonvanilla

Using custom moves and equipment has always been a contentious topic in the amiibo scene. Most tournaments use custom moves and equipment (which is to say, a nonvanilla ruleset) and have used that for a long time. In fact, I am in the minority of an already tiny player base when I say that amiibo should not be given a nonvanilla loadout. Amiibo should be left in their vanilla form, which is to say they have no bonus effects, the default moveset for that character, and a 0-0-0 stat loadout.

While this topic may seem irrelevant, what with Ultimate only a few months away, now is actually the perfect time to address this. If yesterday’s post is wrong and custom moves return, we may have to have this discussion all over again: this issue divided the amiibo community and still does to this day. In this post I will lay out as fairly as I can the arguments for vanilla and nonvanilla amiibo training.

(Side note: nonvanilla and customs are interchangeable words. Customs is not to be confused with custom moves)



Let’s start with nonvanilla, because it is the more popular opinion. The usual arguments for nonvanilla tournaments (that I am aware of) are:

  • Matches are more interesting to watch as a spectator
  • The metagame is less defined because of the wealth of choices
  • There is always the possibility that some new amiibo loadout is discovered and it upsets the metagame
  • It makes some bad characters more viable

Before I rebutt some of these, let’s then list the arguments for vanilla tournaments:

  • Amiibo are more free to act how they were programmed and are trained easier over the long run
  • For some unexplained reason, amiibo can use different techniques when left in vanilla state
  • Counterpicks are more usable against the high-tier options
  • Grinding for custom moves and equipment is unnecessary, so it takes less time to get involved in the metagame
  • If amiibo truly can only win 72% of their matches or less and it’s not a problem with my statkeeping, then there is always the chance of an upset


Now that we’ve discussed the pros, let’s discuss the cons. Again, we’ll start with customs/nonvanilla, and not every argument is completely legitimate: I’m reporting what I’ve seen.

  • Players have to grind for custom moves and equipment to use, and the better bonus effects are incredibly hard to obtain (Lifesteal, for example)
  • The training of the amiibo doesn’t matter as much as the loadout they use. So long as an amiibo doesn’t jump they’ll be at least a contender, but the loadout determines victory.
  • Over the three years that Smash 4 has been out, the nonvanilla metagame has settled, rebutting points 2 and 3 from the above pros list. Most options have been exhausted, and the tier list is nearly certain at this point.
  • More good characters are made unviable than bad characters which are made viable.
  • There will always be an immediately obvious “overpowered choice”, regardless of the ruleset. (First Little Mac with a specific loadout, then just Little Mac, then Cloud, then Marth/Lucina, and after the recent Marth/Lucina nerf, most likely Bowser)

These are the arguments against vanilla:

  • It’s not as fun to watch (it sounds silly, but frankly this is actually a legitimate argument), and being able to attract an audience is crucial for the long-term survival of the amiibo metagame.
  • The trainer’s strategies are irrelevant beyond choosing the amiibo and to a lesser extent, how they are trained.
  • There is an immediately obvious “overpowered choice” in vanilla as well: Ness, who is only countered by Mario and Bowser as far as the data indicate at this time.
  • There is less potential for metagame upsets because loadouts don’t exist anymore.


While I’d like to leave the actual conclusion to the reader (that’s you, you lovely person), I will expound on what I think are the strongest single arguments against vanilla and nonvanilla.

The Strongest Arguments

For nonvanilla, the fact that the metagame has only been changed with ruleset modifications is certainly a killer. During most of Smash 4‘s existence, the only things hat altered the amiibo metagame were either new amiibo releases, balance patches and DLC, tournament ruleset changes, and of course the normal development of the amiibo metagame that we would expect from any metagame. However, we are at the end of Smash 4. The last amiibo came out a year ago, and the last balance patch was two years ago. To top it off, over time the metagame just got plain ol’ settled, to the point where a noteworthy tier list update consists of a handful of mid-tier characters being moved up or down a half-tier. This leaves ruleset changes as the only way to develop the amiibo metagame.

For vanilla, the fact that trainers cannot sway the success of their amiibo beyond choosing and training it is also a huge hit. After all, if you don’t have the strategic choice of a loadout and instead have to rely solely on the amiibo’s skill, you have less reason to try it in the first place. Training doesn’t have much of an impact in the long run, either: I have five Mario amiibo, and as far as I can tell they don’t fight in a very unique way. The results indicate that two of them rise far above the other three, but I can’t discern that without looking at the data that I have. So if a trainer were hell-bent on competing, they would have to train a few amiibo and then choose the best one, rather than making up for its failures with a customs loadout.

Did I do a pretty good job of outlining the pros and cons of these sides? Did I miss something? Let me know by leaving a comment!

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