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 counter whichever ones are seen as the "best"; this ranges from simply counterpicking your opponent's top-tier pick to weeding out a metagame that's become rife with Complacent Gaming Syndrome. With the advent of Downloadable Content, developers have a chance to invoke this if they want to shake up a stale meta by introducing a new character.
When lampshaded or required by the game, this is a Weapon of X-Slaying. This trope often overlaps with Not Completely Useless, This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman (especially when counterpicking), or Crippling Overspecialization.
- 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 on its own isn't enough to make a Pokémon top-tier, and some of the stronger threats it counters like Garchomp and Dragonite have held onto their OU placement despite it. However, even weaker Fairy-type creatures have advantages against the once-powerful Dragon-type.
- 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, though he is a good counterpick in Arena Assault against colorless bow users.
- In general, every top-tier threat in Arena has at least one character specifically made to counter them, either released later on or was already available, which can be made easier with inheriting skills and equipping certain Sacred Seals to create unorthodox builds. However, it also has the unusual effect of creating a chain of anti-meta game units because they usually become top-tier threats themselves. An example includes Brave Lyn, who was made to counter sword, lance, and axe units with Distant Counter either in their A slot or within their weapons (who are very common at the time) with Sacae's Blessing, suddenly became a big threat in Arena with 3 common builds for her* , so builds of bow users with high Defense but low Speed and Resistance equipped with Bowbreaker were created to counter all three of her builds, until dragons with post-2.0.0 breaths* with Distant Counter or refined Lightning Breath+ were much more practical to build, later becoming top-tier units themselves.
- Surtr, an armored green axe unit, with his weapon Sinmara and C-Skill Surtr's Menace, allows him to deal 20 damage (where the average HP of player units being around 40), and increases his stats and decreases the enemies if there are any of them within 2 spaces of him at the start of his turn. Combined with Steady Stance 4 (+8 Defense and decelerates enemy special buildup if the enemy initiates combat), Wary Fighter (neither the user or the enemy can have follow-up attacks if the user is at 50% HP or over, unless the enemy has a skill that guarantees a follow-up attack and is 5 Speed higher than the user), and perfect Mighty Glacier min-maxed stats, very few units can deal with him without assistance, even within units in high-tier positions, and as such he is used everywhere by enemy player teams. However, with certain skills equipped such as the B-skill Axebreaker* and the rare Infantry-exclusive Null Follow-Up* , many Glass Cannons or other Mighty Glaciers can take him on if they initiate and have specific weapons equipped, but Alfonse and Tobin, both low-tier sword fighters in Heroes, are the perfect counters for him on both phases with their upgraded default weapons and stats, with even a free A-skill and special slot to use to further their advantage:
- Alfonse with default 43 HP, goes to 46 HP from his refined Fólkvangr, and grants him extra advantage over other green units and +7 Attack and Defense during combat if he's at 80% HP or under, which, alongside Axebreaker, allows him to perfectly counter him on both phases of battle.
- Tobin with his default 46 HP, goes to 51 HP (49 with the exclusive refine) from a refined Armorsmasher+ (effective against Armored enemies), either with the exclusive refine to ignore enemy armor stat boosts, or a Defense refine to boost his defense further, alongside Axebreaker, allows him to deal effective damage against him in both phases of battle.
- 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.
- Speaking of Pikachu, in for 3DS/Wii U he's ranked 15th, yet have mostly even match-ups with the top three characters in the game.
- 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.
- Wrecking Ball was designed to break up defense-heavy team compositions which were becoming popular at the time of his release (specifically, "Bunker" styles that utilized shields from Tanks like Reinhardt and Orisa). In theory, mobile Tanks like Winston and D.Va could be played to get around these defenses, but would quickly die without team support. Wrecking Ball was designed to be able to get in quickly, wreck sufficient havoc, and then escape.
- Bayonetta 2: The online Tag Climax metagame is dominated by skilled Jeanne players who follow a certain pattern: they pick Verse Cards that lead to crowded encounters, bet the maximum allowed amount of halos to raise their difficulty and thus attack rate, and pick All 4 One as their weapon (thus allowing them to shoot at enemies during a dodge) and the Gaze of Despair as an accessory (which auto-taunts enemies, increasing their attack frequency and granting 50% more combo points on hit).
The end result is a crowd of aggressive, but relatively easy-to-read enemies that give lots of opportunities to dodge and get Witch Time, something Jeanne in particular benefits from because her Witch Time is harder to trigger but grants a better multiplier than any other character's. All 4 One's impressive attack frequency, Jeanne's boosted Wicked Weave damage, the stacked combo point multiplier from Witch Time and the Gaze of Despair, and the generally high skill of the players who use this setup make it impossible to match these results with anything else... unless you just pick Mighty Glacier Rodin, who can wipe any non-boss arena clean with a couple of Heel Stomps before Jeanne can even start her combo multiplier shenanigans. To add to this, he can also benefit from her Gaze of Despair multiplier even though he can't equip any accessories himself... and Tag Climax's shared Umbran Climax meter allows Rodin to use Jeanne's magic to turn into The Infinite One, making all of his attacks — including the aforementioned Heel Stomp — hit at full strength without needing to charge them. Whoops!
- The concept of "tech cards" in Collectible Card Games and Card Battle Games, referring to cards that are bad in a vacuum, but are extremely effective at shutting down certain dominant cards or deck types. Tech cards usually see play to deal with high-tier deck archetypes or to patch up a deck's weaknesses.
- The "magic bullets" from Decipher's Collectible Card Games in the 1990s. These cards would be useless or very nearly so by themselves, but could be played to counter or prevent the play of a long list of other cards. While this allowed Decipher to continue using "no banned cards" as a catchphrase, it wasn't worth much in practice unless you'd scouted your opponent's deck beforehand or made heavy use of the Q's Tent sideboard.