Implementing Pivots in Melee
Thu 8th Feb 2018 - 8:58pm
When I hear people talk about pivots in Melee, it is often accompanied by a tinge of uncertainty. It’s treated as some mechanic with few clear uses that only a handful of players are able to implement. The purpose of this article is to shed a bit of light on the usage of pivots, and hopefully inspire more players to get creative with their options.
What is a pivot?
To understand pivots, you need to understand the initial dash animation. When a character is on the ground and dashes in one direction, there is a period of time during which they are considered in their “initial dash.” During the initial dash, you can perform a number of options, such as a shield stop, a jump, a dash attack, or a dash in the opposite direction (dash-dancing is repeatedly dashing in the opposite direction during a series of initial dashes).
Once you have continued moving past the initial dash animation, you are in your “running” state. While running, your options are more limited. You can still jump and dash attack, but you can no longer pivot or dash-dance. You can shield, but you will carry your forward momentum and lose the ability to “shield stop.”
The key takeaway here is this: during your initial dash, you have access to a greater number of options. The pivot itself is not all that complicated – it is a turn-around that stops all momentum at any point during your initial dash. The pivot essentially puts your character in a standing neutral position, allowing you to perform any action that you would normally have access to while standing still. This means you can add neutral jumps (with your choice of drift), special moves, tilts, grabs, and smashes to your arsenal of options following an initial dash.
The only catch is that the pivot turns you around, so your actions will face the other way. In a game where the ability to dash backwards is so key to the metagame, however, this is not really an issue.
To execute a pivot, you must flick your stick in the direction opposite to which you were just dashing. There is some variation in how people execute pivots, but the flick method is my preferred option. Be warned, however, there is some variance in controllers that can affect the success rate of your chosen method. Experiment with multiple controllers and see what works for you. If you are having trouble, try searching "melee pivots" on YouTube and check out any of the great tutorials on how to execute this technique.
Pivots Are a Movement Option
I often get asked this question, “Who is better at pivots, you or Zain?” It’s a bit of a silly question, akin to asking, “Who is better at wavedashing, Leffen or Armada?” Pivots grant you access to more options, in the same way that wavedashes, double jumps, and shield drops do. You should be considering all possible ways to utilize these movement options and utilize them where applicable.
Let’s consider Marth’s dash-dance. He is able to control large portions of the ground on any stage using this technique, and it is a large part of what makes him a top tier character (especially when combined with his disjointed hitboxes). What space does Marth control, exactly, with just his dash-dance?
His most basic options out of dash-dancing are Dtilt, Fair, and grab. With Dtilt, Marth is able to safely cover a large swath of ground. Fair lets Marth stuff aerial approaches, and grab can convert a failed enemy approach into a heavy punish.
This gets much more threatening when you throw in wavedashes. With a wavedash, Marth is able to retreat or approach into a neutral position at will, at any point in his dash-dance, due to the ability to jump out of dash. This means Marth can feign a running approach and retreat with safe Dtilts, or use an aggressive wavedash to cross-up the opponent. And thanks to the ability to dash out of wavedash (pending your controller’s dash-back capabilities), you can effectively increase the range of your dash-dance.
Let’s add in a third-layer to this movement mix: pivots. With the normal dash-dance and wavedash movement game, Marth needs to create a certain amount of space before he is able to dash back in and whiff punish a move with grab. With a pivot, however, he can dash back and instantly grab his opponent out of his dash-back. Alternatively, if Marth finds himself dashing back a mite too late, and is threatened by Fox’s approaching aerial, a dash-back pivot rising Fair will instantly stuff the attack. These two options alone grant Marth the ability to immediately counterattack while micro-spacing, allowing Marth to get just a bit closer to his opponents.
Remember that pivots are inherently attached to your character’s initial dash, so the uses for pivots will vary from character to character. Pivot grabs and pivot aerials are generally easier to execute than pivot tilts as well, so your ability to utilize pivots in neutral will depend on those hitboxes.
To get the creative gears grinding, here are a couple more examples of how to utilize pivots in neutral.
Falcon has an amazing initial dash and his ability to mix up long dash-dances with aerials that fly across the stage can make him difficult to deal with for many characters. Some characters will try to close the distance and catch Falcon’s movement to discourage him from dash-dancing. For example, Marth may try to overshoot and use Dtilt to hit Falcon on his backwards movement during a dash-dance. Here’s how you can use a pivot to completely halt that option:
Marth is reading a dash backwards, but is instead met with a dash-forward pivot jump Dair, which is one of Falcon’s preferred combo starters. Another way to beat this Dtilt would be to change up your dash-dance timings and go for an approaching jump Dair. Both of these options are hard to react to, especially when combined, as the visual cues into the Dair are different.
One more example. Sheik’s initial dash is not as good as Marth’s or Falcon’s, but combining it with pivots opens up your ability to threaten the air around your opponent. Let’s say you dash toward your opponent – what next? Sheik may jump and Fair, or wavedash back, or crouch. Or you could pivot jump. Because a pivot jump is essentially a neutral jump, you can dash toward your opponent and choose any moment during that initial dash to jump away from your opponent, with your back facing them – this threatens Bair and offers you a possible neutral reset while pressuring your opponent. Let’s say you try it again – this time you choose to dash a little closer to your opponent’s shield, then jump towards them and cross them up with Fair. Or maybe you have been threatening them with run-up crouch or Ftilt, so they are demonstrating a tendency to jump out of shield – maybe next time you dash up, pivot, and jump Bair to stuff their jump.
These options I’ve described, like any option in neutral, should be measured carefully against what your opponent is doing and what you have already done. They are not magical answers to the scenarios I’ve outlined – I’m trying to show how you can utilize a new movement option to make your neutral more nuanced and maybe to create openings you were unable to find before. At the end of the day, it comes down to your own creativity and innovation.
Incorporating Pivots into Your Punish Game
Melee is unique from traditional fighters in that your opponent has the ability to influence their trajectory after each hit in a “combo.” For that reason, the burden falls on the attacker to execute the movement necessary to find each subsequent hit. Just as we utilize jumps, shield drops, and wavedashes to extend our punishes, we can implement pivots. The opportunities to extend your combos with pivots are typically rare, but it is valuable to have all options at your disposal.
The most famous example of this is Marth’s throw into pivot Fsmash against Jigglypuff. This was a key tactic utilized by Kevin “PewPewU” Toy when he defeated Hungrybox at APEX 2015. Although Jigglypuff is light and theoretically dies at earlier percents than most top tiers, actually finding setups to confirm into kills on her is quite difficult. The fact that Marth has, essentially, a 50/50 mixup that confirms into a kill on her off grab is key. In fact, for most Marth players, the inability to execute the pivot Fsmash on Puff is enough reason to not play the matchup at all.
Personal aside - Watching PewPewU utilize a rare mechanic to swing a matchup so much into his favor is what inspired me to research pivots so much. I realized that there was so much more to explore and spent a large part of summer 2015 practicing my pivots and looking for more ways to implement them. Most notably, that summer is when I discovered Marth could do this:
If you watch me or Zain play, you have probably seen this punish. The Uthrow into pivot Fsmash was a totally unused follow-up but is now becoming more prevalent. Now Marth can mixup Uthrow into aerial juggles with a kill setup that is very difficult to react to. If you DI in to survive the Fsmash, you put yourself at risk if Marth chooses to Fair. If you DI out in order to avoid getting juggled, you might just die at 70%, from all the way across the stage.
There is a great deal of room for creativity in Melee. I encourage players to experiment and innovate, not just with pivots, but with all movement options. Once more players have mastered this technique and come up with their own uses for it, I am positive we will see it more widely used in mainstream gameplay. To help get your creative juices flowing, here are a few more examples of pivoting that I threw together:
If you found this guide helpful, come up with some new uses for pivots and post them!