Stage Theory in Smash Ultimate

by Doc – Owner, Founder, Hunting for Excuses to Have Dream Land Legal

I am not a man who is easy to please, but if there’s one thing that gets my blood going in all the right places, it’s a well-crafted stagelist. A properly fleshed-out stagelist with all the right options gets me excited like few other things.

Unfortunately, the amiibo scene has historically preferred simplicity over quality, which leaves us with a Battlefield/Final Destination/Battlefield stagelist. Don’t get me wrong, this is at least an improvement over what the scene used to have, which was just Omega Battlefield in Smash 4, but… it’s still lame. Who wants to just see variants of Battlefield over and over in tournament? And who said that Battlefield and Final Destination were even fair stages to begin with?

Stage Favor

I’d like to introduce to you a concept called “Stage favor”. Stage favor is the broad idea that the different qualities of stages benefit different characters – be it through platforms, blastzones, the types of ledges or something else. Stage favor is the reason that human competitive rulesets don’t just have Battlefield and Omega stages – they may be good stages, but they’re still not free of stage favor.

One could make the argument that Battlefield (in human play, not necessarily in amiibo play) benefits characters that can make use of the platforms, while Final Destination is large enough that projectile camping is a very viable strategy. Other arguments exist, but the point is that regardless of which argument you prefer, they’re not completely fair.

The two most common types of Stage favor are Directional Stage favor, and Archetypal Stage favor, but there’s an infinite number of theoretical ways that a stage could benefit one character over the other in a matchup. Smash is a game with a lot of possibilities, and Stage favor’s infinite applicability reflects that.

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Directional Stage Favor

The most important type of stage favor for amiibo is Directional Stage favor. Different stages slightly favor, or in some cases heavily favor, certain directions of moves. Take a look at Warioware, one of the most horizontally truncated stages in the game, and compare its blastzones to Battlefield. (Stage images were kept at the same size for easy comparison.)

These images were generated and modified from the Stage Comparison tool at Tournameta.

As you can see, WarioWare’s horizontal blast zones are almost as far away from the stage as Battlefield’s magnifying glass zones are. However, their top blast zones are pretty close to each other – in fact, WarioWare’s celiing is a tad higher than Battlefield to accomodate for the slightly higher platform.

So if you’re on WarioWare, what direction should you try to KO with? Well, the opponent has to travel farther to die if you’re hitting them vertically, so using horizontal KO moves would be better on WarioWare.

This is an instance where stage choice matters, and matters a lot. If you’ve got a character like Link who really only kills vertically onstage (with Up Smash) or horizontally offstage (edgeguarding with Forward Air), then he’s at a disadvantage with WarioWare’s blastzones. After all, there’s not much offstage to edgeguard, and the ceiling is fairly high, so he’s out of luck when trying to KO unless he’s going horizontal.

In other words, WarioWare’s overall Stage favor is pro-horizontal kill moves, and anti-edgeguarding, anti-vertical kill moves.

Archetype Stage Favor

The other kind of Stage favor is Archetype Stage favor. Archetype Stage favor is when a stage shows favor to specific types of characters overall, like projectiles, swords, combo-based lightweights, or other types. Size and platforms are generally the biggest contributors to Archetype Stage favor.

Go back to the Battlefield and WarioWare comparison above. You’ll notice that, while the platforms and ceiling are at almost-identical height, and the lower level platforms are in basically the same place, the edges of the stage are different. Battlefield juts out quite a bit farther than WarioWare, and the “main body” of the stage is larger as a result.

This makes things interesting.

Imagine we’re Mii Gunner now. Mii Gunner’s Forward Smash is really long, and one of the most important moves in his kit, if not the most important. You could even argue that this move plays a flagship role in the top levels of the amiibo meta. It’s a big deal.

Suppose you’re the Mii Gunner, and you’re using your Forward Smash on Battlefield. This is what it’ll look like.

Pretend the periods are hitboxes, if you would.

Now, assuming those ten periods are the blasts from Forward Smash (use some imagination), we can see that Forward Smash covers a little under a third of the stage in theory. But what about on WarioWare?

Well, those ten periods cover a lot more of the stage on WarioWare. Bear in mind I took precautions to make sure that the sizes of the stages, the size of the Mii Gunner icon and the periods were all kept exactly the same between images, regardless of the final size of the image. So, if this is a somewhat to-scale depiction, then… Forward Smash covers a lot more of WarioWare than Battlefield.

Now, this clearly isn’t a perfect depiction of what I’m describing here, but it’s easy to see for yourself – boot up Smash Ultimate and compare Forward Smash’s relative size on both stages.

It’s pretty clear, then, that characters with larger melee attacks will do better on smaller stages. After all, they can cover more of the stage. And the inverse is true as well – characters with projectiles can control larger stages much better than characters without. There’s so much more room to run away and camp projectiles on Pokemon Stadium 2 than WarioWare, obviously.

So what do we do about it?

Avoiding Stage Favor

Well, there’s no perfect stage. Every stage, in some way or another, has stage favor to it – maybe its blastzones even slightly favor one direction of move or another, or a specific character over another. Perhaps its ledges are more beneficial to characters that can wall jump instead of characters that can’t. Even the existence of platforms allows certain setups to exist that favor one character more than another, especially when combo-based amiibo are involved. There’s a million tiny ways that a stage could benefit one character when another one isn’t benefited.

So let’s go for the next best option – having a diverse enough stagelist for amiibo tournaments so that the Stage favor evens out in the long run without using wacky stages. This means balancing big-ass stages with smaller ones, like balancing Pokemon Stadium 2 with Yoshi’s Story or Smashville. This means taking blastzones into account, not just stage sizes, so we have Yoshi’s Island and Kalos together.

I think I’ve pretty well solved this, to a degree. No stagelist is perfect, but if the ruleset and stagelist are combined, they may be able to make a pretty functional stagelist for amiibo tournaments. I’ve done my best to combine the two into a solid, smooth tournament ruleset that you can read here.


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