Against most people I play against on Fantendo regularly, the rounds end with me winning quite often. You put up your best, charge at me with your might, and still lose your stocks relatively quickly. Your best chances of winning come from Athena's accidental self-destructs and poor thinking regarding Smash's physics. Why is this? Why does Athena happen to be so good at the game? ...Well, to be honest, I'm actually not that good. Several people can kick my ass and I know they can kick my ass, because I happen to have a lot of flaws in my playstyle: I rarely airdodge, I kind of fall for the same traps, and I'm just really unlucky against certain opponents. So what did I do to achieve the rich playstyle that I seemingly hold? Here's some tips that I follow myself and pray they help you in the long run.
Please note that I am not a Smash professional, and that I am not training you to be one.
Tip #1: Utilize your full moveset
I noticed that some people mostly tend to make use of their special attacks or their smash attacks. This alone is a very punishable strategy. Your ground and aerial attacks more often than not have powerful potential that you don't just quite tap into. Your special attacks are often projectiles with good priority or powerful finishers, and smash attacks often have good range and finisher potential. But here's the problem with people who overutilize these moves alone: they get stale and stop being decent finishers after they get abused so much. In addition, people with counterattacks or related moves can also take advantage of those moves and use them against them.
What players should do more often is use their other attacks, from ground attacks to aerials. Some neutral attacks (A on the ground) are pretty fast and can stop aggressive foes, especially if they have good range. Ike's jab, for example, comes out fast and has little end lag, allowing him to quickly follow up with attacks at low percentages. Some attacks also have strange utilities that really aid the character in battle, too! Mr. Game & Watch's down tilt (Holding down + A) allows him to launch foes horizontally or suddenly lift them high up into the air, which he can use to gimp recoveries. Characters like Cloud have long range aerials that come out super fast and Ness' aerial game allows him to dominate the match under the hands of a skilled player.
These attacks seem like they don't do much damage (unless your name is Bowser or Ganondorf), but they can help rack up damage and combo into each other significantly better than smash attacks or special attacks. Some special attacks should still be used as they help form the core of a character's moveset, but they should only really be used if the player thinks it's a good idea. Villager's tree is risky to set up and he can be attacked while he's doing this; waiting for an opponent to try and recover back to the stage is an excellent opportunity to slam them down with the giant tree, especially given its good launch power. Remember to space yourself out -- if you get too close with aerials sometimes, your foe can make you take plenty of hits.
Tip #2: Don't make your moves stale
By repeating the same attacks over and over again, such as smash attacks, one's attacks get stale. The more they use them, the staler they become, with attack power and launching power seeing notable decreases. They should try to put variety in their moves. If one move isn't working, then they should try another if possible. Using the same smash attack over and over again, hoping to catch the foe off guard, will make the move far less effective and make it a much worse killing option. Some characters, like Sonic and Meta Knight, don't have various KO options and need to keep their best attacks "fresh". If they're not fresh, then the character may take longer trying to kill the opponent's.
A move becomes fresh again after nine other attacks have been used, allowing it to recover from being stale and enabling it as a potential KO option (if said move IS a KO option). While waiting for the move to be fresh, the player can try to move to a different strategy until they feel that they should use their old move again. Putting moves impatiently into the stale category isn't advised, as all attacks have their own uses and weakening attacks that can actually help the player on can strongly hinder their ability to fight back. Moves don't even have to be totally fresh -- having just very slightly weaker moves all around is far better than having one or two really stale moves that can be helpful in gameplay otherwise.
Stale moves CAN BE good, however. Stale moves that have lowered knockback and KO power can actually be combo'd into other attacks, allowing for easy damage racking. It's mostly useful on fast attacks that quickly come out, however.
Tip #3: Be careful of end lag
Some attacks have very noticeable ending lag, most obvious in their smash attacks. These moves tend to leave the player rather vulnerable to attacks if they miss. And if a character fails to hit another with a laggy attack, the subsequent inability to move can result in them taking very strong punishments from wary foes. And players can be punished in all sorts of ways for failing to land laggy attacks -- they can be grabbed and thrown into guaranteed combos or hit with a quick smash attack guaranteed to kill them. Attacks that leave characters wide open to attacks (Cloud's Limit Charge, Ike's Eruption, Ganondorf's Warlock Punch) should also be used just when necessary, as they can sometimes lead the character towards certain death.
Tip #4: Some moves have INCREDIBLE priority
Every character has some kind of property that really aids their overall moveset, and not just in their special attacks. If one's character has some moves with powerful priority, then they should use them! Ganondorf's down aerial, for example, is an incredible stage spike and sends foes tumbling downwards at low percentages. Most characters have difficulty recovering from the absolute strength of this attack. Villager can pressure foes with his forward aerial, which is a slingshot that attacks from afar, and Ness' back throw is the absolute strongest in the game. Shulk, using his Smash Monado Art, can launch opponents really far with several of his attacks, making it easy for him to KO several opponents. Cloud has a very quick and powerful downwards smash attack, and Mewtwo's grab game is ridiculously amazing.
Try what your character has! You may be surprised!
Tip #5: Reading attacks
You know, this may be tough to explain. Often times when I play Smash, I notice opponents using the exact same attacks and strategy before. They should mix it up! Repeating attacks makes them stale anyway, and opponents can be "read". Let's say that I'm Ike and you're Pac-Man. If you kept using your side special (Power Pellet) to return to the stage, I'd learn to counter your attack or punish you with a very strong forward smash. This is because I became accustomed to your strategy and have developed mental ways to handle it. I also think to myself: will they attack me with their down aerial? I should shield it. Will they come at me with a dash attack? I'm going to grab them and lead them into combos. Will they utilize a smash attack? Time to counter!
There are several ways to read a foe's attacks, and the easiest way to figure out how all this works is to pay attention to the opponent's strategy, and then the player should take advantage of it. If they keep repeating an attack, they should punish the attack. If they think the foe will pull off a smash attack, they should stay away and then go in for the kill before the foe has a chance to react.
Tip #6: When people use competitive smash terms, they often reflect casual play too
Words like "edgeguard", "spacing", "punishing", "juggling", and "gimp" sound like they're strictly competitive terms, but they should be kept in mind even in casual fights. Often, the players who just go straight in without knowing anything about their opponents' strategies and perform random moves in hopes of gaining success are the least likely to succeed. No, damn it. Strategy is important.
- "Edgeguarding" is simple: It simply means trying to prevent your opponents from grabbing the ledge. When your opponent is off stage, you're edgeguarding if you're actively attempting to keep them from recovering. You're also applying "pressure" when you're attempting to block them off, which forces them to try and find alternate ways to get back to the stage or they won't get back up on the stage. Down tilts (Down + A), downwards smash attacks, forwards smash attacks, etc. are just some moves that can be used to keep opponents off the ledge you're at. Characters with poor recovery are the least likely to succeed against edgeguarders, especially if they're heavyweight (Little Mac, Ike, Ganondorf, Cloud, and Captain Falcon are just a few that can be easy to edgeguard against).
- "Spacing" just describes both your awareness of your opponent's actions and your ability to counter or avoid them. This is almost essential to fights, you should find out what your opponent does and react accordingly when they're going to use those strategies. Keep space between you and the opponent and only go in when you know they're vulnerable. Even if they seem vulnerable, they might know something about themselves that you don't! If they're paralyzed from a shield break, are asleep, or just tripped, you're in a pretty damn good position to attack them. Remember that I say you should space yourself from your opponent, you don't want to be too far off! If your opponent becomes vulnerable, the time it would take you to get back to them may be enough for them to recover!
- "Punishing" is literally just taking advantage of a mistake your opponent made. Let's say I'm Bowser and you're Sonic. You use your shield to block my jab, but then I use my Down+B (Bowser Bomb) to break your shield in one hit! I capitalized on a mistake you made, so I would get to punish you with my deadly forward smash. Try to look out for mistakes your opponent has made -- and capitalize on them when you can! Smash attacks or powerful neutral specials are generally pretty good at punishing mistakes.
- "Juggling" basically means keeping your opponents in the air without letting them return to the ground through up tilts or aerial attacks, although it requires a continuous chain of attacks and it ends if the opponent safely returns to the ground. Some characters can escape juggling, especially if they have moves to let them teleport away or if they have counters to reflect attacks from below. This is quite effective, however, for opponents with high falling speed (Captain Falcon falls real fast), and juggling them in the air is easy especially if you have long ranged attacks.
- "Gimping" literally just means destroying opponents' chances of making it back to the stage. This can be done by disrupting recoveries (like absorbing Ness' PK Thunder ball), often by weak moves that would normally not KO opponents (like Ness' PSI Magnet). Reflecting moves like Mario's Cape can be used to disrupt good recoveries like Rosalina's, meaning that very few opponents have a lot of surefire ways of avoiding getting gimped. Gimping is something important to know because it can disrupt recoveries early.
There are many more competitive Smash terms, and if you come across something you're not familiar with, I can tell you about it and if it actually matters in even fairly decent competitive matches. I only mentioned these five because they can matter in actual casual play, but there are plenty of competitive terms that can also apply to common play too. I win a lot because I take a lot of this stuff into consideration when I fight.
So uhh I also want to say that I'm not picking on anyone who fights me. A lot of people I fight are actually pretty damn good at the game as is. It's just that I notice their shortcomings and I don't want to come off like I'm just some kind of elite Smash player beacuse I'm really not. I hope that this guide (which I sort of feel is incomplete) can help and improve one's play in Smash.
NOTE AGAIN: This is not a professional Smash guide.