Hit The Ground Running #13 - Meter Management

Welcome back to the blog where even though I've missed a couple weeks, I'm still better at hitting deadlines than Capcom is!  This week we're going to talk about meter management, a concept that's important in all modern games but seems particularly important in SFV.  In SFV the player must effectively manage 3 separate meters, the critical art meter, the v-meter and the health meter which is commonly ignored in this type of discussion. 
 
I wanted to write this week's post because I haven't seen much discussion of meter management in our community so far outside of one of Daigo's stream discussions.  You can read Jiyuna's translation of his notes here, paying particular attention to the point listed as strategy #1.
 
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sofaot
 
The whole conversation here was really helpful to me when I first came across this as I hadn't given enough thought on how to construct rounds and how all the meters were connected before reading and hearing his thoughts. This discussion is about 2 months old and hasn't been expanded on much since then so let's go in depth and break this down a bit here.
 

Critical art meter

Let's talk about a few basic meter strategies that have popped up.  We'll start on the strategy Daigo discusses about using your critical art meter only to close out rounds.  As you've probably noticed just from 3 months of playing the game, meter builds quickly in this game and it's entirely possible to build a full 3 meters in one round as long as you have the right character.
 
The main benefit of this is that you're using your resources to take their resources away.  A character like Ryu, Nash or Karin—who all break 400 damage easily with their common combos into critical art—will have the other side naturally get less use out of their v-meter than in a round structured differently.  Daigo notes that this strategy will stop the other side from getting v-trigger twice in one round, but it's entirely possible that this strategy will stop them from even getting to use v-trigger once, especially if they're a 3 bar v-trigger character or if they had used an early v-reversal. 
 
This strategy also makes the decision process regarding meter easier.  Going into a round you know exactly how you're going to use meter as you gain it.  If you're approaching full meter with their health low enough, all you're looking for is a combo into critical art to take the round, or an opportunity to set it up raw as an anti-air or anti-projectile.  It's liberating not having to think about saving it for later.  In essence the decision is taken out of your hands, freeing some extra brainpower for other decisions. 
 
Guile also has a character specific strategy similar to this involving full meter and full v-trigger.  He can play to kill with critical art but if the opponent's health is lowered to around 100 damage or so he can start looking for the chip kill.  Bustah put together a video showing Guile full meter chip setups similar to what we discussed on the Guile intro post a couple weeks ago.  Some of these are even v-reversal proof so check the video out.
 

 
The downside is lower meter efficiency.  Since meter builds quickly in this game, at all times when you're saving meter, you are giving up the opportunity to build more meter, both on hits you create as well as on damage you take, meaning you're not getting as much utility out of your health meter as you could be getting.  So if you build up that third bar early in a round and decide to hold it looking for a kill, you could be giving up 20 or 30 seconds worth of meter building time. 
 
This is why an alternate strategy has sprung up regarding meter efficiency.  The theory behind this secondary strategy is to use meter as fast as you build it up, either with EX moves or by building the critical art and then immediately using it whether that happens early in the round or to close out the round.  Tokido is a top player I've noticed who seems to value meter efficiency very highly, even using his critical art in situations where other top players wouldn't, such as when he's behind big in a round.
 
The downside here is that after you use your resources, you've enhanced the other side's v-trigger meter and their critical art meter and put yourself in a situation where you're at your weakest.  In a situation where Ryu lands a full combo into a critical art, it's almost certain that a 2 bar v-trigger character will immediately have it and be looking to use it, putting you instantly on the defensive.  The plus side is that if you get hit, you'll immediately start building your bars back and it's unlikely that one hit from them will give them any kind of lead.  But momentum is tangible and giving it away could be costly.
 
A third meter strategy has popped up as well where the primary goal of the critical art meter is to seal away some aspect of the other side's gameplay.  Here's an example from the Karin vs. Ken matchup.  In this match, Ken's critical art meter seals away Karin's v-trigger meter.  If Ken is holding full critical art, Karin gets almost no utility out of her v-trigger meter in neutral.  As the video shows, any option Karin takes, even the “safe” retreat option, will lead to Ken's foot in Karin's face.
 

 
This strategy also is used against a player's neutral game.  The idea of a character like Necalli or Nash or Chun-Li holding meter against FANG is a solid one as these characters critical arts counter FANG's entire neutral game.  He loses the ability to cancel normals into non EX ryobendas or to use nishikyus in neutral against a good deal of critical arts.  So if the player can successfully win the first round without using meter, they have a huge weapon to hold against the FANG player in subsequent rounds, essentially starting the later rounds with a life lead. 
 
The downside here is that you have even lower meter efficiency and get less out of your meter than with either of the other strategies discussed here.  If you're holding meter to counter something, the goal is NOT to use it except to finish off the final round, just to threaten the other person into playing suboptimally, which you're betting is worth giving up damage and meter efficiency for.  You're essentially telling the other side “I'm betting that you can't beat me without this certain part of your gameplan, and I'm anteing up my whole meter to prove it”.  So this isn't for every match, but it's something good to have in your back pocket, especially if you struggle against FANG.
 
So which of these strategies is optimal?  It's difficult to say and I personally believe this is a question that doesn't have a simple answer since so much of it depends on character choice and game situation round to round.  For example, some characters simply can't play to hold meter until the end of the round.  A character like R.Mika will only end up with full meter by accident; the value she gets out of using EX shooting peach for corner carry on the end of all of her combos is too much to pass up.  And some characters give up too much in neutral by trying to hold onto meter until the end. 

A character like Chun-Li has no reversal without meter and giving up juggles and/or punishes with EX lightning legs is generally not worth it, especially since her confirms into critical art are low damage anyways.  It seems like the characters most suited to using Daigo's meter strategy are characters like Nash, Ryu, Karin and Necalli, characters who are seeing some of the best results early on.  This is probably not be a coincidence. 
 
Even having said that, it's important to practice a variety of different meter strategies with your character, even sub-optimal ones because you may run into in-game situations that go a little bit off script.  One drill I like to do with online play is to use the 2 out of 3 online format to practice different strategies.  In the first game, I'll try to play for meter efficiency and use my meter for EX moves.  Then maybe in the second game I'll try to save up meter as a deterrent to cut down the other player's fireball game.  Learning to be proficient in multiple styles of play can only help you in the long run.
 

V-trigger meter

Managing the v-trigger meter is slightly more difficult given that it doesn't carry over round to round.  This makes the meter more likely to be “wasted”, yet even if you use v-trigger every round it can be possible to not be getting the most out of the meter.
 
Each character whether low health or high health has their full health bar equal about 4 bars of v-meter.    Meter is also gained from crush counters, blocking hits and using v-skills meaning that in a back and forth round that goes down to the wire, the meter expectation is even higher than 4 bars, maybe as high as 5 bars for characters who use their v-skill in neutral.  This may seem somewhat counterintuitive given how players are playing the game right now.  There just doesn't seem to be that much v-meter used in a normal match.  Where does it all go?
 
Just like with the critical art meter, all gains made while the meter is full are essentially wasted.  And like we talked about above, some players are specifically play to end rounds with big combos to keep the other side from using their v-meter at the end of a round.  But even having said that, on pure efficiency theory alone, many players are getting less than their fair share from the v-meter, especially 2 bar v-trigger characters.  It may not always be practical to play for 2 v-triggers in the same round, but playing for an early v-reversal and then v-trigger or early v-trigger and then a late v-reversal would allow the player to get more out of their resources. 
 
This is the key decision regarding the v-trigger meter.  How do you best balance your use of both to get the most utility out of the meter given to you?  The decision is much easier for 2 bar v-trigger characters as opposed to 3 bar v-trigger characters, but even 2 bar v-trigger characters don't seem to be getting the most out of their meter right now.
 
In fact if you watch tournament play as of right now you'll see many players who play 2 bar v-trigger characters who either never use the v-reversal or only use the v-reversal when they're on the verge of stun.  In my opinion this is leaving money on the table.  The use of v-reversal tactically outside of emergency situations might be the most underused system mechanic in SF5 as of now.


 
This is the Daigo vs. Arturo Sanchez match from Daigo's stream about a month ago.  You've probably already seen the match but it's one of the more interesting sets of SF5 that I've seen and not just from a memeing standpoint.  We all got a good laugh out of the Artur0-5anchez joke and the various diamond, Taco Bell and sponsorship gags.  But this is a really interesting set on closer look just due to how Daigo uses his meter and how he almost completely eschews the use of v-trigger. 
 
This is a 14 round match and Daigo only uses v-trigger ONCE, in a third round situation of a match he looked to be losing.  Instead he chooses to use his meter on tactical v-reversals.  Lots of them, 12 by my count.  And this isn't even a situation like with Alex where v-reversal leads directly to an offensive setup.  Ryu doesn't really get anything out of a v-reversal in this match.  But Daigo used the v-reversal for many different reasons here.  He uses it a couple times to hold the corner and not let Arturo fight out of his pressure.  He uses one to lower his stun.  And he uses many to stop Arturo from getting setups.  Virtually every time Daigo has meter and Arturo goes for the fireball, slide into throw/gale/counterhit setup, Daigo v-reversals.
 
As Jiyuna points out on commentary, Daigo has a strategy in this matchup.  In the neutral, there's a rock/paper/scissors type minigame where Daigo believes Ryu has an advantage on Dhalsim.  If Ryu sweeps when Dhalsim sticks out a medium limb, Ryu gets the crush counter (and extra v-meter, which is important) and a jumpin setup.  Dhalsim's counter to that is a heavy kick which beats the sweep.  Ryu's counter to that is jumping; if he jumps the heavy kick he either gets damage or pressure, both of which have big value.  Dhalsim's counter to the jump is doing nothing and waiting to anti-air.  Ryu's counter to THAT is dashing and advancing slowly, eating up real estate.  And Dhalsim's counter to THAT is medium limbs and now we've looped back to the beginning. 
 
Instead of using his meter on v-trigger, Daigo is using his meter on v-reversals, to get back to this neutral minigame where Daigo is betting that he has an advantage over Art.  As the match result shows, Daigo is correct.  His meter usage keeps the match in this situation he's comfortable in and eliminates Art's setplay opportunities.  But to employ this strategy he has to give up denjin mode which is very powerful for a 2 bar v-trigger.
 
This set is notable because it's a strategy you don't see very often, almost never in North American sets when Mika or Laura aren't in play.  Ryu has a particularly good v-reversal and Daigo's strategy has crush counters built in to build meter faster so it doesn't apply to every player, every character or every match situation.  But it's something to consider as an overall point.  Are you using the v-reversal enough?  At this point in the game most players concentrate too much on v-trigger when there are other options available.  If Daigo had played to save his meter and play for v-trigger, Arturo surely gets more rounds and probably a few games.
 

The Facts in the Case of M.Bison

Up to this point we've been mostly talking about the critical art meter and the v-trigger meter as separate entities.  And for most characters that's mostly how they work, decisions made regarding the critical art meter don't affect decisions made regarding the v-trigger meter.  M.Bison is a little bit different though since his meters work together and he has a difficult time building v-trigger meter on his own outside of taking damage and crush counters.  Because his v-skill is mostly irrelevant in many matches, he has some of the lowest meter expectation in the game.
 
To make up for that, his v-trigger was designed to be amazing but with limits.  While other 3 bar characters can get to v-trigger early (it's not uncommon to see Necalli or Birdie get there with half life or more), Bison will almost always only get there when he's near death.  It also requires a good deal of meter to be scary.  Without extra critical art meter to cancel specials into each other, Bison's v-trigger loses effectiveness.  He still gets some benefit out of it in combo extension, dash shenanigans and making the slide safe but the damage is why everyone's afraid of him.
 
So if Bison has to use extra critical art meters in neutral, like using EX scissors, or EX psycho blast as a way to get in, this lowers the efficiency of his v-trigger, meaning that the strategy using the v-trigger meter can and should change.  He would get a better utility out of his v-meter by using tactical v-reversals both for defense and for offense.  This is true in reverse also.  If Bison is forced to use v-reversals for defense, this means his chances of getting to v-trigger are much lower; it's unlikely that a character with such low meter expectation will live long enough to get and use 5 bars, so his meter becomes more useful for critical art and EX moves.
 
As Ultradavid noted on commentary this past week at Combo Breaker, this is possibly one of the reasons that Bison has begun to struggle competitively and has dropped so precipitously in most people's tier lists.  This extra level of meter management is an additional headache for Bison players that other characters don't have to go through.  The lack of flexibility definitely hurts him in some matchups like the Mika matchup where he's forced to burn v-reversals and can be pushed off his gameplan into a less optimal strategy.
 
For now meter flexibility seems to be an important and underrated part of Street Fighter 5.  The characters who've seen the most early tournament success are those with the most flexibility who can use a variety of meter strategies both with the v-trigger meter and the critical art meter.  The characters with the least success are locked into more restrictive strategies with fewer outlets for player creativity.  This presents an opportunity to improve for players who aren't satisfied with their character's performance up to now.  If you can improve your game surrounding meter usage, you may be able to make some key breakthroughs and improve your overall game.
 

 
That's all for this week.  If Ibuki drops sooner than expected we'll talk about her but if not, next week's topic will be the character crisis many big name players seem to be experiencing right now and if it's time to switch characters.  Thanks for reading!

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