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Let's say you, the average fire mage get into a bit of a scuffle and find yourself in a duel to the death. Don't worry, it's not your fault really, but you don't really have a choice here. Now you, being a fire mage, know that you happen to be very well versed in the art of using fire, you may even say it's your lifeblood, your modus operandi so to speak. You know the intricacies of fire in and out. Your opposing duelist allows you to select between several locations to have the duel. You can choose the fiery volcano, the dry, arid, hot desert, or the bottom of the ocean. Which do you pick? The ocean of course!
Wait... what? This trope is when, for whatever reason, the characters insist on using the most illogical matchup possible, like using the fire hose on the water mage, or the ice princess in the volcano field. Now sometimes this may be justified if, say, the person, despite having a disadvantage has some other good reason to fight them. This may include wanting revenge, having an intimate knowledge of the opponent, despite being weak to his element (say, two water mages fighting each other, despite them being resistant to each others attacks), or just because even though they're at a type disadvantage they outclass the opponent in sheer strength and experience.
For it to be this trope, there should also be some better alternative; if the mage decides to use water spells on the ice elemental, despite having fire spells at his disposal, it's this trope. On the other hand, if the mage who only has water spells is forced into fighting the ice elemental, and has no other options or items that would be better to use, it's a poor matchup; however, since they were forced, it didn't require any ignorance or poor planning (except maybe bad life planning finding himself in a situation with an ice elemental) and is therefore not this trope.
This also may provide an excuse for writers to allow the character to overcome adverse conditions and show growth when they win a very difficult battle from their sheer disadvantage, but often comes off as a cheapened experience, since more often than not the audience is left saying, "well, that's great! But why didn't they just pick the other guy?" Especially when their hard counter (or the fool they accidentally sent in) is someone with a definite theme any blind idiot could divine like Poor Predictable Rock. If a team does this and during combat they realize their mistake, this may lead to an Opponent Switch.
Note that for Video Games, only list examples in the story, characters discussing or otherwise noting the trope, or notable exceptions, such as games where choosing to fight with the worst counter is secretly the best option. Otherwise every game with Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors will be on here, since with any game with type matchups, the player can deliberately make bad choices.
Anime & Manga
- In Marchen Awakens Romance, the characters have a habit of making fairly poor matchups in general. For instance, having the plant user fight the plant user in the final round of the War Games (to be fair, the others had their own grudge matches, and it worked out for revenge anyway). However, possibly the most blatant was picking Princess Snow to fight in the desert and volcano fields, while neglecting to use her either of the times they fought on the ice field.
- The Pokémon anime (or at least Ash) has a habit of doing this, occasionally drifting into the need of a Deus Ex Machina or plot powers to resolve the situation, despite the fact that, say, Pikachu is clearly not the Pokémon for a given situation. The first gym battle in Black and White even mentions this, saying that Pokémon isn't only about type matchups, but friendship and strategy and whatnot.
- Inverted in Bastard!!!!!, where the protagonist fights a fire elemental with fire spells, who comments on the stupidity of it, and how he should try ice spells... and then he turns the fire spells Up To Eleven and out heats the elemental, forcing it to swear loyalty to him.
- Subverted in the Saint Seiya Asgard saga: The local ice user actually trained in the volcano so he could "beat" it. And he's also a fire user as a result.
- In Dodgeball The Obi-Wan tells them to attack their opponent's strengths (rather than their weakness), because it's unexpected and the opponent will have planned defenses for his weakness but not for his strength.
- In The Beastmaster 2 the villain Arklon fights his opponent The Beast Master in a zoo, and even creates an earthquake that lets out all the animals. Dar fights him one on one so none of the animals get hurt, which doesn't make his choice of location any less stupid.
- The main character's older brother does this in A Hero Born, when the three brothers are competing in matches of their own choosing, by choosing the main character's strongest subject to challenge him in. It later turns out he was intentionally throwing the competition.
- In The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya always uses his left hand for combat, except for the fact he's secretly right handed.
- Except that he does that intentionally: he is so skilled that most opponents don't rate him using his dominant hand to beat them, and in the event he ever finds somebody who poses a real threat, he has a secret weapon: I Am Not Left-Handed.
- In Tales of Symphonia, characters in a battle will remark if you're using an element poorly suited to the situation, like if you're hitting a Water-elemental monster with the Aqua Edge spell. Star student Genis will even get a title if he does this enough times in a single battle.
- The first time you meet Edge in Final Fantasy IV, he's gleefully using his fire magic... on a fire demon made of fire. And he's surprised when it doesn't work well.
- In Pokémon games, you get to choose a grass, water or fire starter. Most players are aware of the type specialty of the first gym, which is usually the rock type. Now, before the fire starter started picking up the fighting type, it was the worst matchup for such a gym, even then it only became a Mutual Disadvantage, however some players consider it the best option for this very reason, since it forces you to level it up more at the start of the game and any later disadvantage can be overcome by a high enough level difference.
- In Justice League, one of the not!Wonder Twins tries to drown Aquaman due to not thinking straight at the moment.
- In the animated Teen Titans, when fighting Trigon, the team is forced to fight their Evil Counterparts. They each try and match them, to no avail, trying and failing for a good amount of time, until they finally reach a brilliant conclusion: switch who they're fighting so that they're, y'know, not fighting the one that can match their every move blow for blow.
- In an episode of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, the heroes are trapped behind ice, but never think to use fire, despite elemental typing pretty much being their only means of problem solving as it is.