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!


If I haven’t said it already, this website, Amiibo Doctor, focuses primarily on vanilla amiibo. While the reasons for that are myriad, I do make it a priority to keep an eye on what is coming ahead.

Today, Nintendo posted the official Super Smash Bros. blog’s daily update, which revealed some information about the Mii Fighters’ return. It would appear that Mii Fighters will no longer have custom moves, but that isn’t certain. This is what the English website says:

mii english

Notice that it says “a set of three specials for each type”. If you’re not reading carefully, you might think that it’s talking about each special move having three total choices, as was the case in Smash 4. But notice the word, coincidentally bolded for you, set. Choosing from a bunch of special moves is different than choosing from a set of three special moves: by choosing from a set of three special moves, it makes it sound like you are selecting what other games call a loadout of special moves, instead of having many single options.

Some people are pointing to the French version, which has different translated wording, to rebutt this possibility.

mii french

In French, it states that each Mii has three variants for each special move. You would think that having that statement would preclude the possibility of selecting a loadout, right?

Not exactly. If each Mii fighter had three loadouts to choose from (meaning all of his special moves from Smash 4 were carried over but grouped together as a loadout), then technically each Mii fighter would still have three variants for each of his special attacks. Those variants would just be grouped together as part of a loadout option, instead of being able to pick and choose individual custom moves.

If we zoom out for a moment, we see an interesting question that needs to be raised. Why would the Mii fighters have to choose from loadouts if they had custom moves? After all, if you could pick and choose individual custom special moves you wouldn’t need to be confined to the loadout choice. Yet it seems reasonable to conclude that, because of the presence of loadouts, choosing individual custom moves won’t exist anymore.

This means a few possibilities:

  1. Customs are being replaced by loadouts for all characters, so custom moves sorta return (this is somewhat possible)
  2. Mii fighters are the only characters that can have a custom move choice, and loadouts are the replacement for customs (this seems the most likely)
  3. All of this speculation is wrong and customs will return as they were before

Let’s talk about possibility 2 for a second. In a GameXplain interview with Bill Trinen and Nate Bihldorff, Nate discusses playing Palutena. He talks about how in Smash 4, he could never play Palutena because he was paralyzed by the choices he had to make, but with Ultimate he can now play Palutena because the choices “have been taken away from me.”

Click to 26:28 in the video, the actual line is at 26:38

It seems that, by the options being “taken away from” Nate, possibility 3 is absolutely wrong, and possibility 1 is probably wrong. This leaves possibility 2: the Mii fighters are the only characters that get to choose their moveset. This would make the most sense, as the Mii fighters are intended to be the customizable fighter (pun very intended) and removing custom moves for everyone but them would be unfair. However, the developers also wouldn’t want to go through the process of making 12 moves for 66 confirmed characters (792 moves total). Ultimate is already shaping up to be a massive game, and eight hundred moves would put undue burden on the development team.

There is a somewhat solid argument against possibility 2, though. It has been confirmed that amiibo from Smash 4 will carry over to Ultimate (I have my doubts as to how, and how effectively, that will work). If an amiibo with custom moves is scanned into Ultimate, what would happen? This theoretical situation doesn’t specifically negate any of the possibilities, as Ultimate could just ignore or reset the custom move data on the amiibo itself.

Again, none of this could be correct. Everything I’ve written here could change or be patched at some point. But if both Nate and the Smash blog are properly articulating their information, then we may be looking at a vanilla-only amiibo metagame.

That would be awesome.

Amiibo Science: Did you know? Amiibo taunt based on their level!

When training an amiibo, you’ll notice that they stop taunting after they reach a certain level threshold. While it depends on the individual amiibo, it’s usually in the 30s. Luigi is in fact, the only exception because his down taunt is also an attack, but he rarely uses it.

But if you take an amiibo and modify it using an NFC modifier like Powersaves, you can lower its level all the way down to level 1. It will still behave the same, but it will now occasionally taunt. The amiibo will also level up as normal. How cool is that?

The fact that an amiibo will behave the same regardless of level (excluding the taunting, of course) indicates something else to us. It indicates that the only purpose of having amiibo level up is to A. provide a clear indicator of the amiibo’s progress, and B. apply the amiibo-specific bonuses at a gradual rate. Again, save for the taunting, levels have no actual impact on the behavior of the amiibo.

If you’re a serious trainer, you may consider the effects of raising and lowering your amiibo’s level when you wish to teach it certain moves. Because its Attack and Defense bonuses increase as it levels up, but are removed if edited down to a lower level, one could lower an amiibo’s level to more effectively teach it which attacks to use. Theoretically, this would be a more effective teaching method because the amiibo would take significantly more damage, causing it to alter its behavior more than it would if it were level 50.

This is one of those neat little things that aren’t immediately obvious unless you poke around with amiibo. There’s quite a few!


Unnecessary Limitations

One of the longest-running issues in the Smash 64 competitive metagame is that there simply aren’t enough tournament-legal stages available for play (while Battlefield and Final Destination did exist in the game, they are only accessible through Gamesharks, which aren’t regularly available anymore). For the longest time, the only stage allowed was Dream Land, which is unarguably the least intrusive stage in the game. But the community had a problem: characters that performed better on Dream Land had the advantage. By not having any other legal stages, character choices that otherwise would have been useful options were left in the dark. The metagame was Dream Land-focused, and it showed.

The community solved this by compromising. Hyrule Castle, which is not conducive to fair play in certain areas, and Congo Jungle, which is really unconducive to fair play against certain characters, were eventually allowed. This balanced out the metagame and allowed for more viability, and frankly, more interesting matches.

Amiibo tournaments follow a similar issue. Most amiibo tournaments pick from two options: Omega stages, or Battlefield. Occasionally they will go with both. It’s understandable that the tournaments would do this because Cloud Nine, the current king of the amiibo scene, recommends that all matches are played on Omega stages, (let’s be honest, and no disrespect to anyone, the amiibo scene is quite a tiny kingdom).


The problem is Omega stages don’t have much on them. By definition, they’re flat stages. And as with Smash 64, characters that do better on this type of stage are going to do better overall, due to only having advantageous stages to play on. These characters include:

  • Little Mac (he was designed specifically to be excellent on the ground but not in the air)
  • Ness (amiibo would have to jump, shield, roll or dodge to avoid his PK Fire, and if they don’t jump he can dash grab them)
  • Bowser (especially in customs/nonvanilla, with his Dash Slam custom move that covers a lot of ground)
  • Marth/Lucina (Dancing Blade is a horizontal attack, as well as their mighty tipped forward smash)

There’s obviously a few more characters that would perform better on flat stages, but these are the most relevant to both the vanilla and customs/nonvanilla metagame.

So what can be done about this? Well, some tournaments haven’t only gone with Omega stages. CNAL I went with only Smashville, which was helpful but didn’t completely solve the problem. Some tournaments go with Battlefield on the first match, Omega on the second, and Battlefield again on the third. That is also helpful, but it too doesn’t completely solve the problem. Obviously these solutions are well-intentioned, and I can’t fault anyone for coming up with them. But there may be a better way.

Let’s expand the allowable stage list, and choose the stage with the game’s Random Stage feature. We should change it to:

  • Battlefield
  • Final Destination
  • Miiverse (even though it’s the same as Battlefield, Battlefield is such a useful stage that there’s little reason to not give it extra representation)
  • Smashville (Smashville is possibly the most balanced stage in the entire Smash series, as it neither favors platform-based characters nor ground-based characters)
  • Dream Land 64 (this stage is contestable, as it has a legitimate stage hazard that could interrupt play a small amount. This stage should be up to the individual tournament)

By having a much more diverse stage list, we solve the problem of most stages being advantageous for ground-based or platform-based characters. For platform-based characters, we have Battlefield and Miiverse. For ground-based characters, we have Final Destination or another Omega stage that the TO prefers.

Smashville and Dream Land 64 are the in-between stages. Smashville is a ground-based stage until the platform comes back to you, which keeps it from focusing on one style of play more than the other. Dream Land 64 is large enough that it acts as a ground-based stage until someone is knocked vertically, at which point it becomes a platform-based stage. And by having the game itself pick the stage, we can ensure as fair a representation as possible of the stage types.

Changing the stage list also helps buffer against a less noticeable, but more lethal issue. The amiibo metagame is dead. Not many people come together to participate in vanilla tournaments (although there’s certainly a few people still doing it on some closed Facebook groups), and the nonvanilla/customs metagame has been settled for quite a while now. In fact, one could easily make the argument that only way to keep the nonvanilla metagame alive is by continuing to ban or nerf characters or equipment, just to keep things interesting.

By expanding the stage list, we are solving the problem of some amiibo being unable to perform as well. On top of that, we could protect and prolong the precious little interest in amiibo tournaments until Smash Ultimate arrives. Let’s get rid of the unnecessary limitations.


Amiibo Science: What could be possible with the Brain Transplant, and what we have done so far

In my last post, I detailed how to take the functional data of an amiibo and place it into a different character. Since then, I have taken some time to experiment with this method an uncovered some unusual results.

Before I dig into this, let me state something very clearly. Brain transplants are not a replacement for high-level training. If you didn’t train your amiibo properly before the transplant, it will still be a bad amiibo after the transplant. In fact, it could be a bad amiibo afterwards regardless of how well it’s trained! This is not a perfect science.

There are limits to brain transplants. Immediately after the transplant, the amiibo will use the same moves that it did as its old character: taking a Sheik (who almost exclusively jabs) and putting him into Mario will cause the Mario to use his jab incessantly. However, over time, the Mario will succumb to his new AI. The Sheik experiences will be diluted and over time will be replaced by the tendencies that a normal Mario would have (down-smashing very often). This is to say that brain transplants are not permanent.

If they’re not permanent, what use do they have?

Well, some of the previous tendencies of the amiibo will still be there. Even fifty matches later, Mario will still throw out jabs when it would be uncharacteristic for him to do so, just not as often as when he was a Sheik. (I’ve tested this, too. I stopped testing at fifty matches because the effects just wouldn’t go away.) Mario will still do what a Mario does and down-smash often, but he won’t only down-smash anymore.

If these tendencies remain in the amiibo after the transplant, then we could use them to make other amiibo better, too. I recently trained a heavy Mii Swordfighter, using a 3221 moveset. I taught him to use his neutral special and his forward smash. Being a Mii Swordfighter, he really wasn’t all that great. Swordfighters do well in vanilla, but they aren’t much compared to a human player.

When the Swordfighter hit level 50, I transplanted him into a Greninja. I didn’t expect much, if anything at all. Greninjas are obsessive about their up-smash and almost nothing else, so they have never been a useful amiibo in any capacity. The character itself lacks KO power, which leads to some particularly boring matches.

So after transplanting, I took the resulting Greninja and had him duke it out against progressively more difficult amiibo (a few of which I had trained, but most of which I had obtained from competitive amiibo trainers over the months that I was part of their little group). The transplanted Greninja is roughly a mid-tier amiibo now. This is compared to most naturally trained Greninjas, who are completely useless against other amiibo. Before this, Greninja was a strong contender for the worst vanilla amiibo possible.

(Granted, the transplanted Greninja still has the 3221 custom moveset for Greninja, but I don’t believe that has affected him much.)

Outside of the potential this has for vanilla training, there is also the possibility that this could rock the customs metagame as well. However, I have not been a part of that metagame for a while and am largely unfamiliar with the direction it has been going. Thus, I will leave it up to the readers to test out how this could play out.