No. 8 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Hax at Pound 2016

How often is it that you’ve had your favorite hobby taken away from you? Chances are the answer is not that much, unless you’re Hax, New York City’s most recognizable Super Smash Bros. Melee player and one of the most enigmatic figures within the smash community. Before analyzing his run at Pound 2016, let’s do a quick recap of Hax’s practically Shakespearean career.

Early in the post-Brawl days, Hax was known as the young, up-and-coming Captain Falcon main, who was also thought of as just a tier below Melee’s best players. Although many argue over exactly how good he was, Hax was voted as the No. 6 Melee player of 2013. After announcing his switch to Fox, many people thought it was only a matter of time before Hax became the world No. 1.

Despite a few struggles with transitioning to a new character (including dropping down to No. 8 at the end-of-the-year SSBMRank), Hax achieved significant progress. He had won his first major tournament in Do You Fox With It, also winning sets over Mango, Mew2King and Leffen during the year. In one of his last notable performances of 2014, Hax battled Armada in thrilling winners and grand finals sets at Justice 4, even three-stocking him in a game.

On January 1, 2015, Hax announced that he was taking an indefinite hiatus from playing Melee. This was both due to his insomnia, as well as hand problems that sidelined him. Though Hax claims to this day that the latter came as a result of a “freak accident” from when he attempted to backwards waveshine a Jigglypuff after WHOBO (in the middle of 2014), keep in mind that Hax was considered one of the game’s fastest, most reactive and technical players.

While Hax was still a talented player, 2015 was certainly a down year for his perfectionist standards. Along with placing a ho-hum fourth at Super Nebulous 3, Hax finished only 13th at Press Start (partially due to playing a DQ’d Mango in losers), second at GOML 2015 and 17th at EVO 2015, not entering a major tournament for the second half of the year.

By the time Hax returned, he still needed time to adjust to the shifting metagame. The New York Fox main had a series of up-and-down performances over the next month, dropping sets to players like The Moon, DJ Nintendo and Swedish Delight (but also beating Westballz). Forget asking if Hax could return to his previous level of play – at this point, it was unclear if Hax could become the best in New York City again. With Pound 2016 coming up, Hax had his biggest challenge yet.

After making it through his round one pools and defeating DoH to start round two, Hax had to play ChuDat, who not only had home field advantage, playing in Virginia, but also boasted impressive wins over the last year and a half, even finishing seventh at EVO 2015. ChuDat also had quite a bit of experience against Fox, having Chillindude as a training partner for nearly a decade, along with players like Milkman and Redd in-region to play against. Hax held on to win the set, 2-1. His next opponent was SFAT.

Keep in mind that earlier in 2016, SFAT had top eight performances at GENESIS 3 and PAX Arena. During Hax’s time away from the game, SFAT had emerged again as a rising player knocking on the door of the Melee “gods.” This set between them wasn’t just a Fox ditto – it was a clash between two different styles of Fox players, with one whose stock was rising and the other who looked like he was on his way out of Melee.

Initially, SFAT looked just a step ahead of Hax, grabbing an early lead and maintaining it throughout all of game one. However, Hax adapted, three stocking him on Yoshi’s Story in their next game, once again looking like the 2014 star that everyone knew and loved. He then won a convincing game three on Pokemon Stadium to make it to winners quarters, where he faced Nintendude.

You might be wondering how this could even be considered an upset, given how thoroughly Hax destroyed Nintendude in this set. Remember that two years prior at Civil War VI, Nintendude eliminated Hax from the tournament, with the New York Fox main even trying a desperate Captain Falcon counterpick to defeat him. Their rematch at Pound 2016 isn’t just notable for displaying some of the highest level Fox-Ice Climbers play ever seen – it’s one of the greatest and most ruthless revenge sets ever recorded.

Now in top eight, Hax had to play his rival Mango, who at this point had a reputation for beating Hax with any character he wanted. Take their set at The Big House 4, in which Mango defeated Hax with Captain Falcon and Marth. Losing to his secondaries was humiliating for Hax, especially given that Mango and his more laid back Melee philosophy stood in sharp contrast to Hax’s opinionated, serious and methodical approach to improvement.

Though Mango played Marth again, this time, it wasn’t out of disrespect. Instead, as Hax said in his post tournament interview, this was a smart counterpick, due to Hax’s proficiency against both of Mango’s main characters (Fox and Falco, having just defeated SFAT and Westballz earlier in the year). Consider Hax’s recent struggles against The Moon. Moreover, Mango had been working on a Marth to bring out more frequently in tournaments. Their matchup was an eagerly awaited showdown.

Hax and Mango took turns destroying each other, with Hax taking a dominant game one and Mango returning the favor game two. Splitting games on Dreamland, the two then battled on Final Destination for game five, with Hax quickly going up three stocks to one. Yet just as the game looked over, Mango’s explosive Marth brought it back to a last stock situation, one which looked increasingly difficult for Hax to win.

Eventually, Mango managed to hit Hax off the stage, forcing him to recover at a lower angle. Mango came down and reverse up-B’d him as the final exclamation point to the set – only to drop too low and miss the ledge on his recovery. As both of their characters fell, Mango’s hit the bottom of the screen first, giving Hax one of the most bizarre victories in Melee history, along with revenge on Mango for their Big House 4 set. Hax was now in winners finals, with a puncher’s chance of taking down Hungrybox and perhaps even winning the tournament.

In hindsight, I don’t think even Hax ever truly expected to make it this far. Though he fought valiantly in winners finals against Hungrybox, he seemed to be running out of steam, still losing 3-0. By the time he and Mango were set for a losers finals rematch, Hax was both physically exhausted and mentally drained, getting swept in Fox dittos to end his epic tourney run.

As he wrapped up his controller and walked off the stage to end his tournament run, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name. Hax made his mark on Melee history, forever leaving Pound 2016 as its hero and having what is without question the high point in Hax’s Melee career.

For the rest of the year, Hax didn’t enter a major. By the end of September 2016, Hax released a particularly ominous blog post, in which he acknowledged the possibility of never playing Melee again and possibly needing to remove one of his tendons. All hope seemed lost for Hax to ever come back to playing the game he loved more than any other hobby.

If you’re a part of the Melee scene today, you know that Hax has returned to competing, but not in the way that people anticipated. Now sporting a new “B0xx” controller – part of a new wave of alternative Gamecube controllers – Hax has taken a clear step backward in his results, but still competes at a high level, placing highly at Nebulous locals and having taken sets from players like Crush, Syrox and Captain Smuckers. At EVO 2017, Hax even took a game off Hungrybox to start their set, before losing game two and having to forfeit game three due to a controller malfunction.

His chances of returning to where he was before seem low, both due to the innate difficulty in achieving such a goal and the ongoing controversy around the legality and ethics of using “box” controllers in tournament. But if Pound 2016 taught us anything, it’s that you can never fully count Hax out.

No. 9 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Sastopher at FC3

The Pacific Northwest is one of Super Smash Bros. Melee’s most historically slept on regions. Despite not having the same kind of star power as California, New York, Maryland or Virginia, the area sported a few top players of its own throughout Melee history. One of these players was Sastopher, a Peach main.

Remembered today as the man who sent Ken to losers bracket at Tournament Go 6, Sastopher’s legacy and greater accomplishments are often forgotten. Along with players like Rori and Kei, Sastopher was one of the best players within the Washington Melee scene, frequently placing highly at locals, but not traveling to as many larger events as his contemporaries.

In contrast, players like Ken, Azen, Isai and ChuDat became more well-known, not only improving their games, but getting tournament experience at supermajors and nationals. When FC3 was announced, nearly every single notable American player came in attendance for what would be a championship-level event. For the first time in nearly a year, Sastopher came to test himself against the Melee elite.

Not only were the members of each main coast attending (Ken, Azen, Isai and ChuDat) to battle the Midwest’s best, but so were the top representatives from other American scenes. The South had players like Caveman and Rob$, while the Northeast also had players like KrazyJones, PC Chris and DA Dave. FC3 also featured some of the scene’s greatest crew battles, which you can watch above.

If you held it relatively to other tournaments in smash history (not just Melee), FC3 holds up as arguably the most stacked singles tourney of all-time. This becomes more apparent when looking at the tournament’s pools, which were loaded in talent from all regions.

In particular, Sastopher’s pool is still remembered as “the death pool,” in which his opponents were Mike G, The Doug, Eddie, Ken and Azen. This involved the best of New York, California, the Midwest and MD/VA regions, giving Sastopher several different matchups, play styles and regions to confront. For a modern equivalent, this is like if a pool at The Big House had Armada, Mango, n0ne, Laudandus and MacD.

To everyone’s surprise, Sastopher emerged, winning every single set. His performance put the Pacific Northwest back on the map and highlighted him as a tournament contender. To put into context how surprising this is at face value, keep in mind that around this time, a rumor started about Sastopher losing to Azen’s Pichu in a friendly.

Though his pools showing was impressive, at the time, it was easy to dismiss them as not entirely legitimate. Keep in mind that this was 2005 Melee – top players frequently sandbagged in pools once they were guaranteed to make it to final bracket. For those practically guaranteed a way into bracket, these sets weren’t always competitively valid. Two years ago, Sastopher wrote that Ken went Samus in their FC3 pools set.

For another example, players like ChuDat were notorious for playing secondaries against players considered worse than them in pools. Even if they lost, those who sandbagged and still advanced were only punished via having a lower seed for the main bracket. In some cases, this is because they just didn’t care. In others, this was because they wanted to avoid certain players in bracket, leading to them deliberately playing worse in order to get more favorable matchups.

Either way, Sastopher’s wins in pools were not entirely as legitimate as bracket victories would be. Little did doubters know that Sastopher – now having won two straight sets over the world’s greatest Melee player – had more to prove.

To start Top 32, Sastopher had to defeat Tavo, a solid SoCal player and friend of Ken. After defeating Tavo, Sastopher then faced off against Dope, then considered one of the Midwest’s best players and one of the country’s rising Falco mains. Perhaps due to his experience against Falco players in his own region, such as Rori (who played Falco in addition to Pikachu), Sastopher clutched a 2-1 victory, moving onto winners quarters.

Here, Sastopher had to play DieSuperFly, one of SoCal’s most promising players and a fellow Ken-slayer. Outside of his noteworthy Tournament Go 6 performance, DSF was still intimidating to play against, having placed second at MLG San Francisco 2005. Moreover, he also played Sheik: a character thought to be the best in Melee, as well as a strong counterpick against Peach, Sastopher’s character.

Yet Sastopher once again won in a tight 2-1 victory, now having reached winners semifinals. In it, he faced off against Caveman, who was the best player in Texas and one of the premier Doctor Mario mains of the world.

Caveman was in the middle of his best national performance yet, having defeated top players like DA Wes, Undisput3d and even Azen himself. Taking him down was going to be quite a challenge – and Sastopher came through, winning yet another close 2-1 set.

In winners finals of the biggest American tournament in Melee history, Sastopher was set for a rematch with Ken, the world’s best smasher. Having beaten him in their last two sets, Sastopher had a real chance to put his name in the pantheon of Melee players, but he lost 3-1. Waiting in losers finals was the East Coast’s last representative in bracket, ChuDat.

Their match was heavily anticipated, both because 2005 was Chu’s breakout year and also since Chu defeated Sastopher before at Tournament Go 6. Sastopher eventually won their runback, 3-2, but ended up placing second after a quick 4-1 loss to Ken in grand finals.

Little to no footage publicly exists for FC3’s singles bracket, but think about how important it was for the scene. Not only was there talent from every region, but FC3 also was the largest Melee tournament at the time, having 186 entrants.

Who could have ever predicted a little-known top player from another region to come into the event and defeat three of the game’s greatest players at one tournament? Even if Sastopher’s contributions sometimes get overshadowed by his individual victories, his second place performance at FC3 was the best showing by a Peach at a massive event until the Armada era.

To date, Sastopher has mostly retired from Melee, though he dabbled in Project M for a little bit. Last year at Shine 2016, Sastopher placed a respectable 129th in Melee, just below an exceptional and handsome Marth player who will remain unnamed.

He now works in Boston as a software engineer. Although it’s pretty much guaranteed that he’ll never reach the same heights again in his Melee career, Sastopher is currently attending Shine 2017. How cool would it be to see one of Melee’s ancient greats make a comeback?

No. 10 Cinderella Run of All-Time: HugS at EVO World 2007

Just barely old enough to drink, HugS was in grand finals of EVO World 2007, facing the game’s unquestioned greatest player of all-time in Ken. The two couldn’t have been any more different. Ken was a veteran used to the pressure of competing at the top level. HugS was in his first ever grand finals of a major. It was old school vs. new school on the biggest stage Super Smash Bros. Melee had ever seen.

At the time, Ken was coming from losers bracket, ready to put a crown jewel on what would likely be his final year of competitive Melee. HugS had already lost the first set of grand finals, but had a crowd of around a thousand people chanting his name, eager to see the SoCal up-and-comer take the crown from Ken.

A HugS forward smash later, the two were on their last stock, at zero percent each. One of them was about to win Melee’s biggest tournament ever. The man challenging Ken wasn’t Mew2King, PC Chris or anyone who most could have expected. He was a salmon-colored Samus main that often looked like he was playing Street Fighter and not smash. At a tournament that featured traditional fighting games, his success was ironically fitting.

How did he get there?

After finishing top ten in the MLG point system in 2006, HugS continued his solid streak of performances across 2007. Locally, he finished in the top eight of nearly every SoCal tournament he entered, but he could never defeat Ken. On occasion, HugS lost to players beneath him, like Mango, Edrees and EzynJay, but for the most part, he was an unquestioned No. 2 in his region.

It’s important to mention HugS’ rise because he wasn’t part of the old SoCal guard. Players like Ken, Manacloud, Tavo and Arash were unquestionably among the best in his region. To break through those players was an impressive feat – particularly because HugS also played a character who had only one previous top national representative (Wes) in Melee’s short history. HugS was both a representative of the new generation of players and a counterpoint to the commonly held belief that only top tiers could win.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It was also common back then for players to frequently split, sandbag or boast about how little they cared about tournament placings. HugS was remarkably different in his approach to Melee, often talking about how hard he worked or prepared for a tournament instead of making excuses for why he did or didn’t do well. Most of the previous generation of SoCal players were frequently content with their approach to Melee and trash talked newer players for being “tryhards.”

Nationally, HugS was on the cusp of greatness, defeating players like PC Chris, Dope, Chillin and Tink in 2006. Simultaneously, he also lost to players like JBlaze, DSF, Rob$ and Caveman. It was hard to gauge HugS’ potential, outside of him being just outside the the Melee elite. He looked excellent against Fox and Falco, but far more vulnerable against the likes of Marth, Peach and Sheik.

In late July, he finished a strong, but still underwhelming ninth place at Zero Challenge 3, his first major of 2007. Here, he defeated SilentSpectre and Edrees, but lost to Taj and PC Chris, who HugS had defeated a year ago. Just a week later at EVO West, HugS finished fifth, but only beat Mango, while also losing solidly against Mew2King and ChuDat.

No one – outside of maybe HugS himself – could have ever envisioned him getting second place at the biggest Melee tournament of all-time.

It’s also easy to forget another factor working against him: the sheer absurdity of EVO’s ruleset before top eight, in which players selected their character and played one match on a randomly selected stage. Although you could certainly argue that this helped HugS’ placing more than it hurt, keep in mind that he was also playing a mid-tier character in Samus.

When combined with the crazy stagelist used at the time, it’s a miracle that HugS even made it into top eight, let alone grand finals. Think of it this way: he may have been one Green Greens pick away from being sent to a stacked losers bracket. Nevertheless, at an event that featured nearly all of the Melee player elite, HugS managed to make it to top eight.

In winners semis, HugS played PC Chris, someone who had seemingly figured him out at Zero Challenge 3. While HugS seemed to hold an advantage over most Fox and Falco players he faced off against, he tended to lose sets to Peach, who PC Chris started to play against him. Not only was HugS playing a “god” of his era, but he had to overcome a personal weakness of his own.

Their first game was extremely close, lasting over five minutes. In the final closing seconds of the match, HugS whiffed a grab, only for PC Chris to hesitate just long enough for HugS to shield the punish. Seconds later, HugS landed a forward smash to go up 1-0.

On PC Chris’ counterpick in Final Destination, the two played another grueling match of nearly five minutes. Though HugS managed to bring his opponent to last stock, he was too far behind in percent to make a comeback. Game three was on. This time, HugS built an early lead and never let up.

HugS was now in winners finals, ready to play his nemesis Ken. But instead, he had to play another SoCal player who was having a run of his own: Mango. HugS not only had to beat a fellow SoCal rival, but he had to overcome someone who had already taken out Ken and Mew2King.

Like the older generation of players before him, Mango was far more laid back than someone like HugS, often boasting about not practicing but still having moments of brilliance in tournament. Mango also played Jigglypuff, a matchup that HugS, and many others at the time, hated playing against.

Nonetheless, HugS beat Mango 2-0, even defeating him on Dreamland, a stage in which people at the time claimed was extremely good for Mango. In the second game, HugS overcame a large percent deficit to clutch the set out with a final back air. The result was clear: someone outside of the traditional Melee elite was sitting in grand finals of the biggest Melee tournament ever.

Although HugS ended up losing the last game against Ken, think about his success for a moment. Had HugS outplayed Ken for one final stock, he would have became the first and only ever mid-tier player to win a Melee title. To this day, his EVO World 2007 run is still without question the greatest placing ever done at a significant Melee tournament that wasn’t by a top tier. Ten years later, HugS’ second place still doesn’t lose any of its luster.

Unlike other legends of Melee’s past, HugS has continued to write his own story. Still ranked within Melee’s top 30 in 2017, with a chance to be top 20 by the end of the year, one last major run for HugS isn’t out of the question, though he’s coming off 33rd at EVO 2017. But for my readers, I have but one question for you: do you still have faith that he can get back to the big stage?

No. 11 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Jiano at Pound 2

Pound is one of Super Smash Bros. Melee’s most iconic tournament series. Although it’s not as big today, back in the post-MLG era, it was one of the East Coast’s premier majors, playing a huge role in shaping player legacies.

Held in 2007, about a year after its predecessor, a Maryland tourney won by ChuDat over NEO, Pound 2 had more than three times as many entrants and a $5,000 pot prize. There were also quite a few out-of-region attendees at Pound 2, with notable players from New England, the Midwest, Tri-State and Florida competing.

Among specific players in attendance at Pound 2 were the returning Mew2King, the MLG Las Vegas 2006 champion in PC Chris, Drephen, Cort, Tink, Taj, Forward, DaShizWiz and, save for Azen, all of MD/VA’s heavy hitters. The time was ripe for one of these players to rise above everyone else or at least break out in the next tier of play. Yet contrary to what most people expected, one name rose above everyone else.

Jiano was a solid, but nowhere near nationally notable Captain Falcon from Kentucky. Back then, the Midwest was the land of five rulers: Darkrain, Drephen, Tink, Vidjogamer and Dope. If you weren’t a member of these five, you were either past your prime – or worse, nobody.

In fact, to start 2007, Jiano was actually ranked No. 13 within the entire Midwest. Had Pound 2 used only one large bracket (instead of two waves of round robin pools), you could have easily argued that he wouldn’t have been worthy of being seeded in the top twenty, let alone top ten of the tournament. For reference, Jiano finished 25th at MLG Chicago 2006, the last significant major he entered.

Given that Jiano wasn’t even in the top ten of the Midwest, had no remarkable performances of note and how he was playing at a premier tournament in one of the world’s most stacked Melee regions, placing something like 25th or 33rd would have been impressive enough. Jiano, however, had other ideas.

After making it to top 64, he started the run of his life. Initially defeating the solid Florida Marth QDVS, Jiano then played an even better Marth in Husband: a longtime scene veteran.

Although he wasn’t among the H2YL elite, Husband was no slouch. He finished fifth at Cataclysm 3 and ninth at the similarly stacked MLG Long Island 2007, having the experience and nerves to do well at large tournaments. Even if Jiano outplaced him at the Midwest regional Show Me Your Moves 7, this time, Husband was the one with home region advantage.

Nonetheless, Jiano ended up in winners quarters, having already garnered a bit of attention for defeating Husband. His next opponent was one of New England’s best in Cort, a Connecticut Peach who boasted numerous placings and set wins in his career. Among the people he had wins over were DaShizWiz, Wife, Cactuar, ChuDat and PC Chris. Fresh off fourth place at EVO East, Cort would have been reasonably expected as the favorite.

In hindsight, Jiano winning wasn’t necessarily a surprise. He had experience against Peach players in his region, like Vidjogamer. Cort had little Captain Falcon experience, save for perhaps KoreanDJ or PC Chris’ secondary Falcons. Either way beating Cort gave Jiano his best out-of-region victory, along with an entry into Pound 2’s top eight.

Suddenly, Jiano, someone who might have just been known as “the Midwest Falcon that isn’t Darkrain,” was in the top eight of one of the biggest Melee tournaments ever. His next opponent was arguably his hardest one yet: Chillindude829, one of MD/VA’s most vocal players, its biggest leader and one of its elite three.

Although his quality of wins and losses were fairly up and down throughout his career, Chillin had lately been on an upwards trend, having even defeated Isai in the year. If he beat Jiano and played ChuDat in winners finals, as many might have predicted, Chillin could have been in grand finals, ready to win his first ever supermajor. Instead, Jiano played spoiler.

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For someone who was considered “darkrain junior,” Jiano had made it further than any of his Midwest contemporaries. Having defeated Chillin, Cort and Husband, Jiano was now in winners finals, ready to play against ChuDat, MD/VA’s last standing barrier between Jiano and grand finals. To quote an MLG article from back then, “the winners bracket final was so unexpected that when told Chillin had lost to Jiano, ChuDat had to ask whom he played.”

Although ChuDat ended up winning their set, anyone who considers themselves a “smash historian” should absolutely watch the set online. After getting four-stocked in its first game, Jiano took game two, lost game three and made a three stock comeback in game four to tie the set at 2-2. In game five, Jiano once again almost overcame a significant deficit, bringing the set to last stock. Had he not missed an otherwise easy knee after a confirmed stomp on Nana, he could have easily won the set and made it to grand finals.

Though Jiano ended up losing 3-1 to Mew2King in losers finals, he had already vastly exceeded expectations. After quietly finishing the year, “regressing” to his average level of play from before, Jiano began playing more Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Wii games. Today, he’s known for his history of speedrunning Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

Looking back at Pound 2,  Jiano probably had the biggest disparity between his actual placing and how he was “expected” to do in bracket. It’s also interesting that in the post-Isai era of Captain Falcon mains, which included players like SilentSpectre and Darkrain, Jiano held the best supermajor placing by a Captain Falcon main. Until 2017’s Smash Rivalries, no Captain Falcon main had a better supermajor placing than Jiano’s third at Pound 2.

It’s easy to attribute much of Jiano’s success here to bracket luck, due to PC Chris, ChuDat and Mew2King being seeded on the same side of Top 64 bracket (due to ChuDat losing in pools, he gained a low seed). But either way,  getting third isn’t bad for a guy known more for speedrunning than smash.

 

No. 12 Cinderella Run of All-Time: KoreanDJ at MLG Orlando 2006

It’s not easy to break into the highest echelon of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee, let alone its top ten. Even those who make it there don’t always have enough consistency to remain a long-term threat.

Before MLG Orlando 2006, KoreanDJ was the kind of player who resided in the grey area between the elite and everyone else. He simultaneously had a target on his back as a notable player, but he also wasn’t consistent to the point where he could be considered a member of Melee’s vaunted elite.

With wins on the likes of Isai, PC Chris and Mew2King, KoreanDJ also had losses to people such as Wife, Rob$ and Chillindude. These weren’t anywhere close to bad players, but they were surprising lows relative to the kind of talent that many perceived KoreanDJ to have. On sites like GameFAQs and Smashboards, many of his biggest supporters used to half-jokingly claim that he was secretly the best player in the world. Think of him at this time like what Leffen was in late 2014.

Heading into MLG Orlando 2006, there were three big contenders: the longtime Melee king Ken, ChuDat and the MLG New York Opener champion in PC Chris. Lurking on the outside was Mew2King, the returning Azen and KoreanDJ: a wild card heading into the event.

Although MLG Orlando 2006 was a prestigious event, keep in mind that by modern standards, the golden age of Melee was still relatively small. Seeding was mostly determined by previous placings at MLG-ran events. For example, Azen was seeded below the top ten for this tourney, due to his lack of serious attendance at other tournaments. Melee also wasn’t at the point where its scene could have four-digit attendee majors.

As a result, keep in mind that going into bracket from pools, KoreanDJ had to quickly play at his A game. In the first round, KoreanDJ had to play RockCrock: one of America’s best Ganondorfs at the time. Nonetheless, he won in a dominant 3-0.

Next, KoreanDJ played Rob$, a longtime Falco who placed top eight at FC6 and even defeated him at the same tournament. If KoreanDJ lost the runback, he would have had to play The King for 13th place and then likely the loser of Isai vs. ChuDat for ninth. With another 3-0, KoreanDJ advanced, ready to play his East Coast nemesis: Mew2King, in winners quarters.

To cue back to Wife’s not-entirely-accurate, but famous description of KoreanDJ as a “ball of hot fire,” KoreanDJ was heavy on overshooting moves and unrelenting aggression. Meanwhile, Mew2King played far more passively and around ledge, preferring to bait his opponents into committing first and then punishing them afterward. The two were different players, but also similar for improving around the same time.

KoreanDJ had been struggling against Mew2King. Though he beat him to start the year at MLG New York Opener 2006, he lost to him in losers bracket. Afterward, he lost three more sets against him at MLG Dallas 2006 and MLG Anaheim 2006. It would have been reasonable to expect Mew2King to win yet another set against KoreanDJ. Imagine everyone’s surprise when the New England underdog broke the streak and beat his Tri-State rival, 3-1.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In hindsight, it’s a pity that KoreanDJ’s Melee career wasn’t longer. Despite their different approaches to Melee, the two became relevant players around the same time and were known for their tremendous work ethic and deep edgeguards. Can you imagine how amazing a KoreanDJ appearance at Pound 3 could have been?

This is just my opinion, but had he kept playing along with Mew2King and the rest of the post-Brawl greats, KoreanDJ’s all-time legacy could have been even higher. Seriously – watch the video below, recorded in 2014, and tell me that KoreanDJ couldn’t have won that set in an alternate universe where he fully dedicated himself to Melee. Ignore the awful commentary.

Now in winners semifinals of MLG Orlando 2006, KoreanDJ had to play the ultimate test for any prospective smasher: Ken. Outside of New York Opener 2006, in which Ken lost to PC Chris, Ken hadn’t dropped a single tournament he entered in the year. In fact, PC Chris and ChuDat were the only players who managed to take sets against him in the entire year. Ken was like Armada, if he won even more and lost even less.

There are no videos I can find online of the set, but judging by everyone I’ve talked to, it’s one of the most important sets in Melee history. KoreanDJ’s 3-1 over Ken was the biggest accomplishment of his career. It elevated his status from a player on the cusp of greatness to now a threat to beat anyone in tournament. Sitting across from him in winners finals was Azen, who had never played KoreanDJ at that point in tournament.

This was a remarkable change from what most expected entering MLG Orlando (another Ken vs. ChuDat or PC Chris finals). In fact, had I not been restricted by my methodology for making this list, Azen’s performance at this tournament would have been near the top.

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Though KoreanDJ lost to Azen and ChuDat in the following winners and losers finals sets, his performance at MLG Orlando 2006 gave New England its best showing at a national ever. It also cemented his ascent to being a member of the Melee elite. Beating Mew2King and Ken at the same tournament at the time would have been a daunting task for anyone in the world.

KoreanDJ didn’t win MLG Orlando 2006, but it set the rest of his career in motion. He quickly became one of the three best players in the world, as he finished second at MLG Las Vegas 2006 and won MLG Long Island 2007 months later. Though KoreanDJ’s legacy certainly transcends just one tournament – and is still one of Melee’s greatest “what ifs” – his performance at MLG Orlando 2006 remains one of the scene’s most memorable moments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No. 13 Cinderella Run: Lucky at The Big House 4

The Big House series is one of Super Smash Bros. Melee’s most storied tournaments. In particular, The Big House 4 is one of Melee’s most important events. As the first major “grassroots” event to not run like a complete disaster in the post-documentary era, it has a huge legacy, but also one of the best underdog runs of all-time.

Lucky was a longtime mainstay in the Melee scene, having been known as Mango’s sparring partner, one of the best dedicated Fox mains on the West Coast and a combo video nut. But quite frankly, a large part of Lucky’s legacy among the public was being the equivalent of Mango’s little brother.

For every big win he had, such as his win on Mew2King in GENESIS 2 pools, Lucky had an equally frustrating loss. At this same tournament, Lucky lost to Kage and Darkatma, finishing 25th. Although Lucky still did extremely well within his own region at other tournaments, like Kings of Cali 4 in 2014, he lacked a true national breakout.

If The Big House 4 was going to be Lucky’s breakout tournament, it sure didn’t look like it on day one. After breezing through the first wave of round robin pools, Lucky won his first match of the day against Jolteon, but lost to Kalamazhu, a Peach who had his own underdog run at The Big House 4. Either way, at a tournament stacked with so much talent, Lucky found himself already in a hole.

Suddenly in losers bracket, Lucky defeated Kason Birdman, Darrell and Gahtzu to make it to Top 32 from losers side. This wasn’t anywhere near unexpected for the veteran SoCal Fox, but with a bracket that featured players like Wizzrobe, Bladewise, Kels, MacD, Darkrain, Abate and Duck, Lucky had his work cut out from him.

First defeating the laser-happy Falco Zanguzen, Lucky then had to play another Tri-State veteran in DJ Nintendo. Starting off with a solid two-stock in their first game on Dreamland, Lucky quickly fell behind in game two, finding himself in down two stocks to four and close to KO percents on Battlefield. Lucky managed to claw his way back to last stock situation, but he couldn’t maintain enough explosiveness to come back.

In their last game of the set, Lucky and DJ Nintendo seemed to switch places from the previous game. Instead, with Lucky initially up four stocks to two – and neither side wanting to approach the other one – DJ Nintendo finally took Lucky’s first stock and gained a crucial shine spike on his second, evening up the game. But while a younger Lucky may have been tilted from this moment, at The Big House 4, the SoCal Fox maintained his composure and discipline. He solidly outplayed DJ Nintendo the rest of of the game and won their set 2-1.

Double two-stocking Colbol for 13th place, Lucky unexpectedly found himself against a god: Hungrybox. Though Lucky had experience against someone like Mango’s Jigglypuff back in the post-Brawl era, expecting him at the time to beat a god would have been borderline favoritism. Outside of Leffen, Hungrybox hadn’t lost to a non-god Fox at a national in years. Moreover, in their last two sets, Lucky had lost to the Florida Jigglypuff in heartbreaking fashion, both times bringing him to game five, but getting outclutched in the end. Was their third set of 2014 going to be the charm?

In their first game on Battlefield, Lucky took an early lead before Hungrybox erased the deficit via two rests, putting the game as yet another last stock situation for Lucky. Although I don’t have the data to prove it, I think even Lucky would tell you himself that this situation would have favored Hungrybox, who has made a career out of outplaying Fox players and making inconceivable comebacks against them.

Instead, Lucky got a quick upthrow into up air to close out Game 1. If you watch Lucky at this precise moment in this recorded set, you can see him move his face in for a quick celebratory adrenaline rush while pumping his right fist up and down. The next game in the set was on Dreamland: a stage thought to be Hungrybox’s strongest counterpick against Fox at the time.

Holding a solid lead over Hungrybox for most of the game, Lucky punished a desperate Jigglypuff dash attack with an upair out of shield, giving him a 2-0 lead over the world’s No. 5 player. To quote commentator HomeMadeWaffles at the time, “here’s where it gets real.”

Fighting Hungrybox to his last stock on Final Destination, Lucky closed out the set with an upthrow up air, immediately getting out of his seat, clapping his hands and hugging HugS right next to him. After giving the Crimson Blur another hug and giving two thumbs up in front of the camera, Lucky left the stage, having just achieved biggest win of his career. He was also now in top eight of the world’s biggest Melee tournament ever at the time, ready to play his rival Westballz for seventh place.

Although Lucky finished 2014 with a positive record on Westballz, the two had a respected, but certainly no-love-lost relationship with eachother. They were both up and coming space animal players that had relatively big egos and were constantly battling eachother at locals. After all, with Mango in the Midwest at the time, the two weren’t just fighting for better placings – they were seen as two possible successors to Mango’s throne of being the best space animal player on the West Coast.

Between the two, Westballz was the one who frequently got national recognition, being a fan favorite, having 3-0’d Mango in pools at MLG Anaheim 2014 and gotten fifth at SKTAR 3. This was Lucky’s chance to not only defeat his rival on a national level, but also continue an epic losers run at the biggest Melee tournament ever.

Lucky won the set 3-1, with a legendary ending of Game 4. To this day, Lucky’s reaction at the end of the set is still one of the most epic post-game celebrations.

Next up, Lucky had to play his best friend and longtime teammate Mango. I could give a million reasons why their set at The Big House 4 is one of the first sets you should show any Melee newcomer. Josh “roboticphish” Kassel, who accurately summarizes why this set is so amazing.

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While Lucky wasn’t quite able to overcome his “big brother” in Mango, his unforgettable set with him still leaves a lot to be impressed by. The Big House 4 turned Lucky from just a SoCal legend into a household name worthy of his own legacy.

As a result, this is why I chose to include Lucky’s run in my list, though you could argue for Kels/Kalamazhu at the same tournament or even Abate a year later. A year and a half after The Big House 4, Lucky had an even better showing at Get On My Level 2016, where he placed fourth. Nevertheless, when it comes to the legend of Lucky, perhaps his greatest tale is the one of his performance at The Big House 4.

No. 14 Cinderella Run: s0ft at Apex 2014

Despite Hungrybox and Mango’s success at the top level with her, Jigglypuff isn’t often considered a top tier character in the same way that her contemporaries like Fox, Falco and Marth are. While the post-Brawl era had a fair share of people claiming that Jigglypuff was overpowered or cheap, the fact remained that after Mango stopped playing her, Hungrybox was the character’s only representative at the top level.

At the end of 2013, in the first ever edition of SSBMRank, only two Jigglypuffs ranked within the Top 100: Hungrybox (No. 5) and Darc (No. 45). Heading into Apex 2014, what was then the biggest Apex ever, no one could have imagined that a Jigglypuff outside of Hungrybox and maybe Mango’s rusty Jigglypuff had a chance of making it to a top eight. How unlikely would it have been for anyone to predicted an unranked Jigglypuff main to suddenly burst into the top eight of Melee’s biggest stage ever?

S0ft wasn’t a nobody in the scene, being one of Georgia’s best players, but having been playing Melee at least since the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, s0ft didn’t have any extremely notable major performances. In addition to placing 33rd at Revival of Melee, he also finish with the same result at Apex 2013. Unless you were from the South, chances are that you didn’t even know who he was. Apex 2014 changed that.

For his Round 1 pool, the Georgia Jigglypuff wasn’t even necessarily projected to make it out. Hax, now transitioning into maining Fox over Captain Falcon, was the heavy favorite, but s0ft also had other killers in his pool. Players like Vudujin, NamiNami, Rat and D1 (yes – that D1) were considered legitimate threats to make it out as the No. 2.

At this point, Hax was being heralded by the East Coast as its newest savior. Though there were quite a few skeptics of Hax’s switch to Fox, he had as many supporters say that this was the first step en route to Hax eventually becoming the best player in the world, as he was already ranked No. 6 with Captain Falcon.

In hindsight, this is certainly ridiculous, but keep in mind that the title for being the Melee No. 1 was wide open. Between Mango taking care of his newborn son, both Hungrybox and Dr. PeePee in relative slumps, and Mew2King on a tear of winning smaller tournaments, Apex 2014 was the perfect time for Hax to grab the mantle and ascend to godhood. S0ft, however, had different plans.

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Making his way to winners finals of the pool, s0ft clutched out a last stock victory against Hax in the first game, before promptly getting four-stocked game two. In their last game, s0ft lost a three to one stock lead before making a hard read on Hax’s recovery and landing a forward smash to take the set. In SSBMRank history, it was the first time a member outside of the Top 100 defeated a player in the Top 10. Many at the time were impressed by s0ft, but expected him to get quickly eliminated from Round 2 pools.

After defeating Harriet, s0ft found himself playing against Ice, Germany’s best player and then thought of as one of Europe’s most promising players. Some at the time even dubbed him as “the European Mew2King” due to his amazing punish game and proficiency with Sheik (then his main) and Marth.

Dominantly winning their first game, which included what has to be the worst rest punish of all time by Ice, s0ft lost a heart breaking second game against Ice’s Fox, missing an upthrow to rest on Pokemon Stadium. Nonetheless, s0ft solidly two-stocked Ice again on game three. Suddenly, the unranked player now had wins over the world’s No. 6 and No. 13 player – and now he had to play Mew2King in winners quarters. He was the only player left in winners bracket that wasn’t ranked within the MIOM Top 100.

Though he got three stocked to start the set, s0ft managed to bring Mew2King to last stock game 2, just whiffing a grab near the left side of Fountain of Dreams and getting promptly sent to losers. Here, s0ft played Ice once again, but this time he had to prove that the results of their first set weren’t a fluke. To make matters more complicated, Ice had Armada in his corner coaching him, while s0ft had Hungrybox.

While the first game was close, s0ft managed to turn it into a two stock after a quick empty jump in front of Ice’s shield, after which s0ft quickly up aired the top of Sheik to convert into a rest. Within the first half of their second game, s0ft went down two stocks to three, before once again clutching yet another rest and evening it up, eventually leading to a last stock situation. Although s0ft’s cheeky spot dodge rest didn’t net him the initial KO he needed to move into top eight, another rest gave him and the South a victory.

Now in top eight, s0ft had to play Colbol, a Fox with plenty of experience playing against Jigglypuff due to Hungrybox being in the same region. To the surprise of many, s0ft took the first game, before losing the second and third, ending his greatest tournament run ever and one of Melee’s most remarkable journeys.

After his Apex 2014 performance, s0ft continued to travel and attend major tourneys, though he never quite lived up to the lofty expectations that came from it. He had decent regional performances and attended enough tournaments to qualify for MLG Anaheim 2014’s final bracket, but he also never placed top eight at a significant Melee national again, even finishing a disappointing 49th at EVO 2014.  By the end of 2014, he was ranked No. 64.

You could look at this say that it proves s0ft’s Apex 2014 as fairly lucky, but keep in mind that s0ft was not even expected to make it out of pools to start the year. More than half a decade after he started playing, he was able to upset players considered massive favorites over the vast majority of professional players, let alone unranked ones. Ending the year as a Top 100 player was more than what was expected from him. His Apex 2014 showing is forever notched into Melee’s history – and arguably the “documentary” era’s first true underdog run.

EDITOR’S NOTE: S0ft unexpectedly contacted me immediately after I posted about n0ne’s run and indirectly guessed that he would be next on the list. Most of the information and assumptions I’ve written here came straight from his account!