by Gentleman Bones
The Spirits format is what most casual players assume is the point of training an amiibo. Teaching an AI while customizing its stats, skills, and training regimen is the closest many of us are going to get to raising a Pokémon, which is everyone’s dream. And it can be pretty entertaining, watching Little Mac land a forward smash for 80% on an unready opponent, or watch Ganondorf refuse to do anything except up-tilt and still win. But is there still a point to putting Spirits on your amiibo?
The truth of the matter is that the Spirits format was considered “solved” pretty early into Ultimate’s debut. A few shining beacons of skills appeared out of the available skill pool, and a heavily defensive meta formed that wasn’t entertaining to watch or play. Full Defense investment with skills like Super Armor began winning game after game, which resulted in matches of two characters no-selling every fully charged forward smash they could fit into their opponent. Watching two Bowsers slug each other with drop kicks for five minutes straight is funny once and never again.
Aside from problematic skills, the stat distribution system introduced a unique problem of its own. With most folks deciding there were only one or two ideal ways to build stats, and absolutely everybody building that way, it became somewhat trivial to utilize stats at all. If there’s one correct answer, and everyone knows what that answer is, is it even a game anymore?
I told you all that so I can tell you there are some solutions. A select handful of troublesome Skills have been banned, to keep them from overly centralizing the meta.
- Super Armor: There’s a reason I used it in my example up there. Not every character can capitalize on Super Armor, but high Defense heavyweights could ride it all the way to the finish line. Super Armor ignores any knockback worth less than 132 units. Using our above example, and based on some quick math, Bowser wouldn’t start actually reeling from raw forward smashes from another Bowser until around 170%. Unacceptable. Villainous. Not very fun.
- Slow Super Armor: With the same KB threshold as Super Armor, but now you move at a glacial pace both on the ground and in the air. If Super Armor made for sloppy bar room punch fights, Slow Super Armor made for sloppy nursing home punch fights. Effective and boring means it’s also banned.
- Autoheal: This one isn’t too terrible, and conversations have been had about unbanning it, but it’s another Skill that greatly benefits from full Defense investment. That leads to the same problems as before, even if it’s less boring. It also still tends to outperform generalist sets without rewarding creativity in Skill setups.
- Great Autoheal: As above, so below, only now you can’t pair it with Trade-Off Ability. This is only really great on a couple of characters, but it has that same problem with engendering passivity.
- Armor Knight: While it’s far from being boring, being not at all related to Super Armor, it’s absurdly potent for different reasons. Armor Knight trivializes every other stat increasing Skill, to the point that any time it’s legal there’s almost no reason to use any Skill sets that aren’t Trade-Off Ability + Armor Knight, which adds a 1.357x multiplier to all your attacks (along with the natural multiplier of having Attack investment), a 2.16x Defense multiplier (again, on top of your natural one), and at the cost of only moving 16% slower horizontally, which most characters won’t even notice.
With those five bans, a Skills-based meta became a little more stable, though stats were still a problem. A few solutions popped up for that. A Demi-Spirits meta was suggested by user Blank, where Skills can be freely used (aside from the bans) but feeding your Figure Player a Primary Spirit has been made illegal; thus setting everyone to -400/-400, which has no actual effect on a Figure Player’s strength. I’ll talk in a little more detail about that later.
It’s worth noting that Figure Players don’t use the same math for their stats that Primary Spirits do. The formula that FPs use looks like this:
Where x is either the Attack or Defense stat. They scale equally, meaning a perfectly balanced stat spread of 2100/2100 is your most efficient choice. Also keep in mind that Figure Players at Level 50 receive an additional bonus to their Attack and Defense of 1.3x, multiplicative with their stat bonuses.
To give you a better idea of what those numbers mean, take a look at this table:
By dividing 1 by the final result of the Defense formula, we get a multiplier we can apply to our opponent’s Attack, to give us a more useful measure of how much damage Defense actually soaks up. By dividing the Attack multiplier, obviously better when it’s higher, by the Defense multiplier (which is better when it’s lower), the quotient can serve as an effective Grade to measure the stat distribution’s efficiency with. This is a sample from a much larger table you can view in full here.
Now it’s worth pointing out that FPs don’t receive any consequences for having negative stats. If any stat is below 0, it is always treated as having a multiplier of simply 1x. In fact, a stat distribution of 8400 / -4200 (or its reverse) would far outperform a more traditional stat distribution, but it isn’t actually legal to obtain because of how gaining stats in Ultimate actually works. Dealing with an opponent with 8400 Defense would be a nightmare that nobody wants to deal with anyway.
I’ll also point out that I’ve only been dealing with stats as if you were utilizing all three Skill slots. Using two or fewer Skills does give you more stat points to spend, but Skills will outperform these raw numbers almost every single time, with an important exception: Do not use Special-Move Power. Do not. You would be better off with an empty slot. It only boosts your specials by 5%, while the 300 stat points it costs you could just be put into Attack to boost ALL your attacks by 5%, or both Attack and Defense by 2.5%, which is going to be better for you overall. Do not use Special-Move Power. It looks tempting but it’s a waste of your time and energy.
Let me leave you with this. Since the first question I usually get asked is “what Spirits should I use if I don’t want to use banned ones”, here’s a short list of my favorite general use Spirits.
- Trade-Off Ability: Granting you 1.18x Attack, 1.2x Defense, and 1.2x horizontal movement speed both on the ground and in the air, this ability is one of the best in the game and frankly belongs on every FP using Skills at all.
- Hyper Smash Attacks: Any Skill that does two things for you is already pretty good. 1.1x damage to all smash attacks, as well as increased charge speed, which only serves to increase your smash strength even more. This skill’s only drawback is that the Victini Spirit Battle is hands down one of the most difficult, so farming them can be a real drag.
- Shield Durability: By increasing your shield’s health from 50 to 70 and increasing how quickly it regenerates, this double duty defensive Skill can do some real work for you if you train your FP to utilize their shields properly.
- Landing Lag: Better on some characters than others, but if you have an FP of one of the slower characters in the game (like Mii Brawler), then this will help them stay hyper aggressive.
Aside from those, it’s important to understand your chosen FP’s attack types, including the obscure things like the Darkness attacks on characters like Robin, Ganondorf, and Ridley all being boosted by Fire & Explosion Attack ↑, or Pikmin attacks all being affected by Weapon Attack ↑. Do some research and run some tests to find out what works best for you. And hey, maybe what works best for you is just Instadrop Jigglypuff. That’s valid.
Despite the ups and downs, Spirits format can still be really enjoyable, and most people training Figure Players in the world outside our little competitive scene don’t care about bans anyway – including Figure Player side events at otherwise normal Ultimate tournaments, like Big House 10’s. Journeys and public amiibo Arenas are almost always going to have Spirit-using FPs running around, and most of the people that join the community have Spirit recommendations as their first questions. It’s worth understanding them and knowing how to optimize them. And I still enjoy this meta, what little I get to play of it.