Marth Mastery: Stage 1
Before we can discuss strategy or advanced techniques, we need to talk fundamentals. As a Marth player your fundamentals are everything. Mastering the core aspects of the game greatly benefits you, even more so than when playing most other characters. It is absolutely crucial that you be spot on with all of your basics; and among all things that could be considered "fundamental" to Marth, I believe that the two most important are: Movement and Spacing. Spacing is extremely difficult to master, and all but impossible to perfect. Good spacing requires good movement. Getting comfortable moving with Marth will be your first learning goal.
Although it's not wise to think that jumping is bad, try to remember that as Marth you are most threatening when grounded. As you may already know, Dash Dancing is the basis for all of your ground movement. It is performed simply by tapping left and right repeatedly on the analog stick while grounded. If your taps are done shortly after each dash and before the maximum dash distance is reached, then the dash animation will be canceled by a dash in the opposite direction. Dash Dancing is maintaining this state of constant dashing. With proper timing you can also chain together multiple dashes in the same direction, which is known as Fox Trotting.
During matches you will be spending much of your time dashing, but running is important too. If you tap, and then hold the analog stick left or right for a long enough period of time you will initiate a run. During your running animation your options are limited to: Shield, Jump, Grab, Running Attack, UpSmash, and Crouch. Crouching during a run will end your running animation, allowing you to use any of your standard grounded options, many of which are not possible during a run. This is known as Run Cancelling. Using a run cancel followed quickly by a Dtilt is something you should practice early.
There are different heights of jumps in Melee. If you press jump and release it quickly enough, you will do a Short Hop that is much lower than your full jump height. Marth is a generally "floaty" character, and falls rather slowly in the air. However, you can Fast Fall by tapping down on the analog stick while falling. Keep in mind that if you're trying to fast fall after a jump that you must tap down after the apex of your jump.
Spend some time moving around the stage. Start getting a feel for Marth's speed, jump heights, and general control.
Marth is largely unique in that most of his attacks are disjointed. This means that his hurtbox doesn't extend out as far as his hitbox when attacking. When this extended hitbox connects with a non-disjoint hitbox Marth will not be damaged, but in most cases his opponent will.
Most of Marth's sword attacks have multiple hitboxes that affect their properties. The basics are that the tip of the sword deals increased damage and knockback compared to the rest of the sword. The angle that the opponent is knocked away when hit is also affected. Hitting with the tip of your sword is usually the best idea, but intentionally getting a "weak hit" can sometimes be used to extend combos.
Marth's grabs have huge range, he actually has the longest non-tether grab in the game. Grabs and Dtilts are largely responsible for Marth's ground dominance. There are a few different types of grabs, but for now just know these three: Standing Grab, Dash Grab, and Shield Grab. Standing grabs are your "normal" grabs, done simply by pressing Z or R/L+A while standing on the ground. Dash grabs are done by pressing Z or R/L+A immediately after a dash input. Marth's dash grab has an unintuitive hitbox, and can actually be used to grab someone behind you! Finally, shield grabs are done by pressing Z or A while shielding. Shield grabs are functionally identical to standing grabs, and can be used to punish unsafe attacks on your shield.Standing GrabDash Grab
Once you grab an opponent you have two options: Pummel, or Throw. Each time that you press A or Z while holding an opponent will pummel them once, which is useful for adding additional percent to your opponent before throwing them. This can be risky, especially at lower percents, because pummelling too many times will allow your opponent to break out of your grab. The method for escaping grabs is explained in the Defense section later on in this Stage. To actually throw someone, press one of the four cardinal directions on the analog stick or C-stick. Each direction throws your opponent with a different trajectory. Which throw you should choose is situational and usually dependent on what character you're throwing.
Dancing Blade Basics
Dancing Blade, Marth's Sideb, is an interesting and somewhat complex move. Up to four attacks can be chained together during the move. The first attack is input by tapping left or right on the analog stick and B at the same time. The second attack can be input by pressing B while either tilting the analog stick the same direction as the first attack, or Up. The last two attacks can be input Up, Down, or to the side. Marth will be tinted different colors based on the stage of the move (Red, Green, Blue, then Red again).
The most useful application of this move is actually for recovering from offstage. You can gain significant horizontal distance by repeatedly using the first attack of Dancing Blade with a slight delay in-between.All possible Dancing Blade options (from http://ikneedata.com/)
Shield Breaker is Marth's Neutral-b, and as you may expect deals a large amount of damage to shields. Shield Breaker can be charged by holding B for a longer period of time before releasing it, and can also be done while in the air. It's primary use is as an occasional mixup to your regular attacks to catch your opponents off-guard, particularly when used in the air.
- Forward Smash: Fsmash is one of Marth's primary killing moves. It has long range, an active hitbox on frames 10-13, and huge knockback when tippered. The recovery time after using Fsmash is reasonably short, but it is punishable and often looked-out for by good players.
- Down Smash: A tipper Dsmash has huge kill potential. It actually has more knockback than even an Fsmash. The forward slash of Dsmash hits quickly, having an active hitbox on frames 5-7. The backwards slash hitbox is active on frames 20-22. Dsmash has some interesting uses, but is difficult to use correctly and extremely punishable if missed.
- Upsmash: Upsmash is a strange move. It's difficult to tipper opponents with, highly punishable, and extremely situational. It's not a bad idea to avoid using this move completely until you are able to recognize the rare situations in which it's useful.
Basic Aerial Attacks
- Forward-Air: Fair is one of Marth's most important attacks. It's fast, combos well, and has wide-ranging utility both offensively and defensively. Among your aerial attacks, it is also the safest and least commital option.
- Up-Air: Uair is primarily a combo tool, used to keep opponents above you by juggling them in the air. It also is vital to your ability to pressure opponents on platforms above you.
- Back-Air: Bair is a potent Edge-Guarding tool, and although generally less useful in Neutral than other options it still has it's uses.
- Neutral-Air: Nair is the only aerial attack of Marth's that hits multiple times. Among other things It's useful for walling out opponents in neutral, as well as for pressuring them on platforms.
- Down-Air: Dair is a terrific killing move, and even a good option in Neutral. Landing a tipper Dair will cause your opponent to be Spiked. Setting up situations to spike opponents off-stage is important to your Punish Game.
Marth's dash-attack is a useful for reaching opponents otherwise out of range during combos. It has long range, and will often knock down opponents to set up great punishes. Dash-attack is also easy to over-use though, be wary of this.
Utilt, Ftilt, and Dtilt are done by pressing A while holding the analog stick slightly Up, Forward or Down respectively. You may initially have some trouble with accidentally jumping by tilting the stick too far Up when inputting Utilt, but it is vital to be consistant with inputting these. Utilt and Dtilt in particular are two of Marth's most useful attacks.
Try out all of your attacks, both grounded and aerial. Put special emphasis on gaining consistency with inputting Utilts. Experiment with all of your Dancing Blade options. You should try to get a good feel for the range of each of your attacks as early as possible. A good place to start with this is to practice landing tipper Forward Smashes on a stationary CPU in training mode.
The most obvious defense you have is your shield, which can be used to block attacks (excluding grabs). Slightly depressing either L or R will activate your Light Shield, as opposed a fully pressing L or R for your regular shield. When hit while in your light shield you will be pushed further away from your opponent, but your shield will also take much more damage.
Your shield decreases in size steadily as you use it, and also decreases in size when hit by an attack. When you aren't using your shield it will slowly regenerate to it's initial size. If your shield gets small enough it will break, leaving you completely vulnerable for a period of time. The length of time you're stuck in this state can be decreased by repeated controller inputs, AKA "Mashing".
Mashing is how you escape grabs, or decrease the amount of time you're stuck in vulnerable states such as when your shield is broken or when grabbed by an opponent before being thrown. While you can use buttons to do this, it is generally better to simply rotate the analog stick as quickly as you can. If you decide not to use the analog stick just keep in mind that you shouldn't use the C-Stick. Regardless of what method you choose, you should use either only buttons or only the analog stick to mash, not both.
Tapping the analog stick or C-stick Left or Right while using your shield will initiate a roll in that direction. During the majority of the rolling animation you are invulnerable. Rolling is useful, but bad rolls are highly punishable by good players and should be used sparingly and carefully. Try to avoid building a habit of rolling too often.
Similar to rolling, a Spot-Dodge is done by tapping Down on either the analog stick or C-Stick during shield. You could think of this as a sort of "roll in place". You gain temporary invulnerability, but without moving your character. This is used to dodge predictable or slow attacks/grabs. Just as with rolling, it's important not to overuse Spot-Dodges.
Marth's Down-b is used to counter incoming attacks. If an attack hits marth during the first portion of his counter animation he will disregard all knockback and counter-attack towards his opponent. This is a move that is used pre-emptively when predicting an attack, and missing it is extremely punishable. Countering is another example of an option that should be used sparingly.
End of Stage 1
Congratulations! You've reached the end of Stage 1 on your journey to become a Marth master. This Stage focused on the basics, and was designed to give you a good start on understanding how to play Marth. If you feel like you've gotten a grasp on what was discussed here then you're ready to begin Stage 2; where among other things you'll begin to learn some of Melee's many advanced techniques.