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Anti-Metagame Character

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A lower-ranked character who checks or counters someone higher on the tier list.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
TheOrbOfConfusion on May 14th 2017 at 10:53:23 AM
Last Edited By:
TheOrbOfConfusion on Apr 10th 2018 at 1:21:33 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

A subtrope of Meta Game that goes hand in hand with Complacent Gaming Syndrome, and often facilitated by Tier-Induced Scrappy.

In competitive games, an anti-metagame character is one that's perfect for handling a top-tier threat, even though they're placed far below them on tier lists. This attribute often goes far unnoticed thanks to the prevalence of Complacent Gaming Syndrome, and when discovered, it might attract a few players itching to get an easy win over popular top-tier users. However, even after an anti-metagame character's strengths are discovered, their placement will usually stay the same. This is usually because while that character can check or counter a few big threats, those threats have better matchups across the board and are generally safer choices.

An anti-metagame character is not just a character who is used better than an opponent's top-tier character — they have a clear tactical advantage that counters one or more specific top-tier characters and renders a decent chunk of the skill difference between players irrelevant.

The name "anti-metagame" comes from how these characters challenge the prevalent attitude that only top-tier characters can handle top-tier characters, which is common even in communities for games with balanced casts.

This could be objective if the game outright designed something to be a hard counter against something else that's otherwise unstoppable. When lampshaded or required by the game, this is a Weapon of X-Slaying.

This trope often overlaps with Not Completely Useless or Crippling Overspecialization.


  • Pokťmon:
    • Since the release of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, Quagsire has consistently been at or near the bottom of Smogon's tier list, yet it's known for being one of the best Kyogre counters around.
    • Shedinja will absolutely wall anything that can't hit it super-effectively or hit it with indirect damage, including Uber-tier Pokemon like Latios, Dialga, Palkia, Kyogre... and it's been bottom-tier since its debut.
    • Numel - an otherwise completely unremarkable NFE who doesn't even get that much use in Little Cup - gets a surprising amount of use in Anything Goes, the tier where everything is legal. This is because the AG meta is dominated by Klefki, whose strategy tends to revolve around inflicting both paralysis and confusion on the opponent, and Numel is immune to both. Note  Unfortunately, it still ranks pretty low on the viability list, since it's great at countering Klefki and horrible at literally everything else.
    • The Fairy type is this applied to an entire element! By Generation V, many of the metagame's top-tier threats were either Dragon-, Fighting-, or Dark-types or relied on using moves of those types... but come Generation VI, the Fairy type was introduced and revealed to be explicitly anti-metagame. It scores super-effective hits on those types while resisting all of them (in Dragon's case, it's immune to them), and it's only weak to Poison and Steel, neither of which were known for their offensive potential. The Dark/Dragon-type Hydreigon, which Smogon prized as having "no true counters," suddenly gained a double weakness to Fairy and a strong case of How the Mighty Have Fallen. Still, the Fairy type on its own isn't enough to make a Pok√©mon top-tier, and some of the stronger threats it counters like Garchomp and Dragonite have held onto their OU placement despite it.
    • The Dark-type was this in its introductory generation. Its attacks were all weak, they dealt special damage when most Dark-types (except Houndoom and Murkrow) specialized in physical damage, and the only Mechanically Unusual Fighter move it had at the time was Pursuit. The one saving grace it had was its immunity to the Game-Breaker Psychic-type, which was still a top-tier threat.
  • In the early days of Fire Emblem Heroes, Takumi emerged as the first meta-centralizing top-tier threat. His best counter was considered to be Male Robin, who despite not being particularly strong or fast has high physical defense for a mage and a tome that gives him a weapon advantage over colorless units like Takumi, who are usually immune to the weapon triangle. When the meta developed and Takumi fell out of favor note , Male Robin largely disappeared as well.
  • Super Smash Bros.:
    • The mid-tier Ganondorf is considered a hard counter to the top-tier Ice Climbers in Melee thanks to his better neutral game. Samus's powerful projectiles also grant her a dead-even matchup against Fox and Falco, who are notorious for ranking at the very top of the tier list and centralizing the metagame around them.
    • In Brawl, the Ice Climbers rank second out of 38 on Smashboards's tier list, but they're still countered by Peach from seventeen spots down. Meanwhile, Pikachu is considered to be the only character with an even matchup against Game-Breaker Meta Knight, although this is still debated.
  • Overwatch: Before she was released, Brigitte Lindholm was stated by Jeff Kaplan, the head of the development team, to be "meta-changing". Specifically, Brigitte is a Support/Tank Hybrid character that is built to counter the dominant "Dive Meta" which had taken over the game since early 2017.note  Brigitte's kit allows her to stun an enemy in one shot and her weapon is a flail that sweeps a wide area and is difficult to dodge, thus allowing Fragile Speedster heroes to be taken down easily. Said flail also allows has a long-distance attack that deals heavy Knockback, preventing diving Tanks from landing on the target they wish to kill. And to top it off, she also has healing abilities built into her Flail attacks as well as the ability to fortify one ally's health. These abilities are designed (in theory) to make a Dive composition less dominant and make room for slower, or more long-distance, compositions.

Feedback: 26 replies

May 14th 2017 at 11:34:46 AM

Is this the game mechanics counterpart to the Hero Killer Mooks?

May 14th 2017 at 12:24:49 PM

Not really, but if it is, it has to do more with multiplayer games and how communities tend to view matchups and tiers. Since it's a form of reaction, I felt this trope should be YMMV.

May 14th 2017 at 12:25:58 PM

  • Empire Earth: In the Art of Conquest expansion, missile bases send expensive nuclear missiles that do enormous damage. They're only blockable by a relatively cheap, dedicated anti-missile unit.
  • Many card games have the ace be beaten by a two.
  • Poseidon Master Of Atlantis: Gods follow a strict hierarchy, with every god able to No Sell those under him and unable to do even Scratch Damage to those above. Zeus the Top God is normally undefeatable, but having the mid-tier Hera allows you to send him packing. Similarly, Aphrodite can defeat Ares despite being lower in the ranks than him.

May 14th 2017 at 1:22:57 PM

Another Pokemon example:

  • Numel - an otherwise completely unremarkable NFE who doesn't even get that much use in Little Cup - gets a surprising amount of use in Anything Goes, the tier where everything is legal. This is because the AG meta is dominated by Klefki, whose strategy tends to revolve around inflicting both paralysis and confusion on the opponent, and Numel is immune to both. Note  Unfortunately, it still ranks pretty low on the viability list, since it's great at countering Klefki and horrible at literally everything else.

May 14th 2017 at 1:45:12 PM

Pokémon again:

May 14th 2017 at 1:45:19 PM

Pokémon again:

May 14th 2017 at 2:36:14 PM

This could be objective if the game outright designed something to be a hard counter against something else that's otherwise unstoppable.

This trope often overlaps with Not Completely Useless or Crippling Overspecialization.

May 14th 2017 at 3:06:23 PM

Pach wouldn't fit this trope, since it wasn't used to counter anything specific and was just an example of Se-Jun Park playing well. He did something similar previously with an Eviolite Magmar that had Pokémon XD's Follow Me.

Numel's a good example. I wish I had knowledge of fighting games, since I feel like there could be a ton of examples in that genre.

May 14th 2017 at 11:39:43 PM

By the way, Tactical Rock Paper Scissors sounds really related to this.

May 16th 2017 at 10:33:56 AM

So... one might call this an Obvious Rule Patch personified? (Someone who's there just so that one dude at the top won't obliderate absolutely everyone?)

May 16th 2017 at 1:36:48 PM

Tactical Rock Paper Scissors and Obvious Rule Patch seem a lot more intentional than this, but they do make up some of the trope — I'm pushing for it to be a YMMV item because examples depend on how the community organizes the characters by viability and what rules they deem to be the standard for competition. Game creators themselves usually don't design a game with specific tier lists or matchups in mind, and even when they do, the community often finds ways to disregard them.

This could also be related to Weaksauce Weakness, Achilles Heel, and also Ensemble Darkhorse if the anti-metagame character does well enough against top-tiers that it becomes viable in its own right.

May 16th 2017 at 4:32:09 PM

A Weapon Of X Slaying can sometimes be used in this way, if X is popular at high levels of the metagame.

May 16th 2017 at 7:38:33 PM

^^ Doesn't seem like it. Tactical Rock Paper Scissors is only one factor that may play into the trope. This looks more like a subtrope of Meta Game, and related to Complacent Gaming Syndrome or Tier Induced Scrappy.

May 17th 2017 at 7:18:29 AM

^ You still gotta mention it in the description tho.

May 17th 2017 at 7:18:29 AM

^ You still gotta mention it in the description tho.

May 17th 2017 at 12:39:18 PM

  • In the early days of Fire Emblem Heroes, Takumi emerged as the first meta-centralizing top-tier threat. His best counter was considered to be Male Robin, who despite not being particularly strong or fast has high physical defense for a mage and a tome that gives him a weapon advantage over colorless units like Takumi, who are usually immune to the weapon triangle. When the meta developed and Takumi fell out of favor note , Male Robin largely disappeared as well.

Apr 9th 2018 at 3:17:09 PM

  • Overwatch: Before she was released, Brigitte Lindholm was stated by Jeff Kaplan, the head of the development team, to be "meta-changing". Specifically, Brigitte is a Support/Tank Hybrid character that is built to counter the dominant "Dive Meta" which had taken over the game since early 2017.note  Brigitte's kit allows her to stun an enemy in one shot and her weapon is a flail that sweeps a wide area and is difficult to dodge, thus allowing Fragile Speedster heroes to be taken down easily. Said flail also allows has a long-distance attack that deals heavy Knockback, preventing diving Tanks from landing on the target they wish to kill. And to top it off, she also has healing abilities built into her Flail attacks as well as the ability to fortify one ally's health. These abilities are designed (in theory) to make a Dive composition less dominant and make room for slower, or more long-distance, compositions.

Apr 9th 2018 at 10:58:45 PM

Tabletop Games

  • The Spy from Stratego is a Joke Character in the lineup, succumbing to every enemy piece that challenges him, even the lowly Scout. However, the Spy's saving grace is that he can take out the enemy Marshal, the highest ranking officer and most powerful piece on the board.

Apr 9th 2018 at 11:42:03 PM

So if I understand this correctly: An "overpowered/high tier" character has good matchups with every other character, except for this one?

Apr 10th 2018 at 9:01:10 AM

^ More specifically, it's if they have an even or poor matchup against someone who the competitive community views as having much lower overall viability.

Apr 10th 2018 at 10:17:41 AM

That reminds me of the description for The Greatest Style, in which the "best" style may simply be one that counters the dominant one of its time.

Apr 10th 2018 at 10:33:52 AM

Starcraft II: Immortals are made to counter heavy-hitting units like siege tanks thanks to their shields reducing any hit to 10 damage. Meaning that the best way to kill them is Death Of A Thousand Cuts via the basic unit of every faction, which don't deal a lot of damage but attack much faster.

Apr 10th 2018 at 10:47:38 AM

Also from Pokemon:

  • The Dark (or "Evil") types were introduced specifically in Generation II to counter Psychic Pokemon, which were Game Breakers in the first generation. While some types, like Ghost, were supposed to be resistant to Psychic attacks, the only Ghost Pokemon in Gen I were also Poison types, which were weak to Psychic. Because of this, Psychic attacks were completely dominant, with no Pokemon able to stand up to them. Dark Pokemon, though, are flat out immune.

Apr 10th 2018 at 1:21:33 PM

Exaggerated in an Indian folk tale in which a holy man looks for the most powerful husband he can find for his daughter (who used to be a mouse before she was turned into a human), but every time he asks he is told that there is one more powerful: the sun (his first choice) can be hidden by a cloud, who can be driven away by the wind, who can be stopped by a mountain, who can't stop mice from digging tunnels through it (the girl turns into a mouse again to marry the mouse king).

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