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, Highly Specific Counterplay and This Looks Like a Job for Aquaman (especially when counterpicking), or Crippling Overspecialization.
- Since the release of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, Quagsire has consistently been at or near the bottom of Smogon's tier list. However, it's known for being one of the best Kyogre counters around: its combination of a Ground-typing and Water Absorb ability allow it to No-Sell its most powerful Electric and Water-type attacks, respectively. Its other ability, Unaware, negates the opponent's stat boosts, allowing it to serve as an effective Stone Wall to sweepers even with its mediocre base stats.
- 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 will keel over to anything that does. While it's seen frequent analysis as a contender in Ubers, 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 bothNote . Both of Numel's types are also the exact two types that the resistant Steel/Fairy Klefki is weak to (Ground and Fire). Unfortunately, it still ranks pretty low on the viability list, since it's great at countering Klefki and horrible at literally everything else.
- Primeape is one of the best counters to Darkrai, particularly in matches where Dark Void hasn't been nerfed and/or banned:note not only is Primeape immune to Forced Sleep due to its Vital Spirit ability, but also resists Darkrai's Dark-type attacks, can deal super-effective damage with its own Fighting-type attacks, and can potentially outrun it with its natural base speed boosted by a Choice Scarf. While the tier is crowded by Psychic-types, which Primeape is weak to, it can use U-turn to strike them (and Darkrai) for super-effective damage, and safely switch out for a counter to these Pokemon. This is its only relevance in Ubers, and is an otherwise forgettable Com Mon that's overshadowed by nearly every other fully-evolved Fighting-type Pokémon.
- While Ditto was an Awesome, but Impractical Joke Character for the first few generations, its hidden ability, Imposter, brings it into this trope. Whereas Ditto once had to dedicate a turn to transform into its opponent, Imposter has it transform the moment it switches in, allowing for far more opportunities for safe, advantageous switches: it can absorb an incoming move with the opponent's ability, or copy a would-be sweeper's stat boosts and use it against them. Ditto's only trait that isn't carried over from transformation its is abysmal HP, keeping it a Master of None that's relegated to the bottom tiers by default; however, this versatility makes it viable in any tier, all the way up to Ubers.
- 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.
- The Pokémon Trading Card Game lives and breathes this in its card design. If there is any one deck or deck type that sees a large presence at major tournaments, there will be a new version of a Pokémon released a few sets later who can both easily counter these decks all by itself and have the versatility to fit into a wide variety of decks. A straightforward example is the answer to the "Durant Mill" deck securing top spots in tournaments, and winning many of them, was to release a card based on Heatmor able to One-Hit Kill any Pokémon named Durant for 1 Energy of any type. While it didn't stop the Durant Mills completely, many people did pack one of these Heatmor in their decks to use if any opponent tries the Durant Mill on them. Most of these Pokémon faltered if not up against these decks though, Heatmor included—if Heatmor's target isn't Durant, it does a pitiful 10 damage, the minimum nonzero amount.
- Fire Emblem Heroes:
- In the early days of the game, 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 units.
- 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 hernote , 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 breathsnote with Distant Counter or refined Lightning Breath+ were much more practical to build, later becoming top-tier units themselves.
- Regular Surtr, Legendary and Brave Edelgard are very strongest Axe Armor units in Heroes with their Mighty Glacier statline and ways to get extra attacks, and as such are a common sight in high tier competitive matches. However, with certain skills equipped such as the B-skill Axebreakernote and the rare Infantry-exclusive Null Follow-Upnote , many Glass Cannons or other Mighty Glaciers can take them on if they initiate and have specific weapons equipped, but the regular variant of Alfonse and Tobin, both low-tier sword fighters in Heroes, are the perfect counters for them 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, for different reasons (Alfonse with his refined Fólkvangr grants him extra advantage over other green units as well as and +7 Attack and Defense during combat if he's at 80% HP or under, and Tobin with his refined Armorsmasher+ or Jubilant Blade (effective against Armored enemies), either with the exclusive refine to ignore enemy armor stat boosts, or a Defense refine to boost his defense further).
- Through the first half of 2021, Damage Reduction skills were becoming extremely common on high tier units, and were very difficult for many players to deal with, overloading the game with very hard to kill tanks. Besides Altina, who has Twin Blades exclusive to her (and was free temporarily), there was a skill that could negate that damage reduction that players can inherit onto Bow units whenever it triggers, but it was only found on a single 5*-locked unit: Shinon. Without him, you had no way around it. Then in April 2021, Young Innes was released as a Tempest Trials unit (meaning that copies could be obtained without spending orbs) - with an extremely good statline for a free unit and a weapon that innately ignored damage reduction when damage specials are triggered, he was tailor-made to give free-to-play players at least some kind of achievable solution for the damage-reducing threats. Other sources of damage reduction-neutralization effects were released later on, with another inheritable special Lethality included (although exclusive to Dagger units), but Young Innes remains the most accessible one to all players to obtain and use.
- Fallen Edelgard was considered one of the most broken unit in the entire game at the time of her release in May 2021, as she is a Colorless Armored Beast with a skill kit that basically exploits her Mighty Glacier statline, to the point that she overshadowed the other three heroes she was released withnote . There are very few heroes who can hard counter her with ease, even among the high tier heroes, but one unit that can hard counter her and is easily available for players is Boey, who was considered one of the worst Green Tome units in the game, where with a combination of the unique refine for his Inscribed Tomenote , Triangle Adeptnote as his A skill, Quick Ripostenote as his B skill, and Atk/Def Solo 3 as his Sacred Sealnote , alongside a few merges, allows him to take her out on the enemy phase with ease, especially if he also inherits the premium C skill Pulse Smokenote 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.
- Speaking of Pikachu, in for 3DS/Wii U he's ranked 15th, yet has even to winning match-ups with most top tiers, including Fox, Zero Suit Samus, Sheik, Diddy Kong and even Cloud and Bayonetta.
- Mr. Game & Watch in Ultimate is a rather uncommon character, but despite this he is among the worst match-ups for several meta relevant characters such as Pikachu, Wario, Snake, Peach, R.O.B., Mario, Fox and Inkling, making him one of the best examples of this trope in the series.
- 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.
- Ultra Street Fighter IV has T. Hawk, who normally isn't anything to write home about, but has a good matchup against the top tier Yun. T. Hawk can reliably anti-air Yun's divekicks and is hard for Yun to anti-air himself, and Yun's low health means any mistake hurts a lot. Another example is Hakan, who many put in bottom tier, has a good matchup against the mid-high tier Balrog. Case in point Infiltration vs. PR Balrog.note
- Magic: The Gathering:
- The metagaming nature of decks tends to fall into three "categories" - Dominant, Counter, and Rogue, with this trope represented by the "Counter" decks. Despite steps taken toward balance with each block, there always arises one or two dominant "Tier 1" decks. As they become dominant, "Counter" decks are created with the specific goal of defeating the Dominant decks. As these two balance each other out, there then arises "Rogue" decks which will be beaten by the Dominant decks, but can defeat the Counter decks which are so specialized for countering the Dominant decks that they cannot adapt to the new threats posed by the Rogue deck.
- Due to "netdecking" (looking up the composition of tournament winning decks online and then building it yourself), it is extremely common in high-level tournament play that two extremely similar decks face off. Most players in these circumstances keep "silver bullet" cards strong against their own deck in their side-deck for just such matchups.
- Warhammer 40,000 is a tabletop game involving science fiction armies whose basic design has remained since the release of the 3rd edition rules in 1998. Although each armies strength ebbs & flows depending on new rules releases, errata'd changes and new editions, the common thread is that there is always an army which can be built to destroy Space Marines, who are the dominant faction in terms of sheer numbers of players. In 3rd edition it was the Eldar, who had very fast melee, and hard hitting accurate shooting units that were both capable of defeating basic Space Marine armor.