UltimateSSBMRank – The Race for No. 1

Greatness often comes in twos. The best of any field soar above their contemporaries, but the truly great overcome those that can consistently take them to the brink. If you’re spiritual, you might equate this to Yin and Yang. If you’d like a more scientific analogy, think of it this way: for each and every action, there’s an equal and opposite reaction.

Armada and Mango are the two greatest players in Super Smash Bros. Melee History. For smashers, they are our Magic and Bird; our Ali and Frazier; our Brady and Manning. Over the last decade, the two haven’t just raced against each other for the title of best Melee player in the world – they’ve battled for the number one spot in Melee history.

Combined, Armada and Mango have 35 titles. To put that in perspective, the only other player to have a double digit amount of titles ever is Ken (17), who finished No. 3 on my all-time list. Combined, the other modern “gods” of Melee (Hungrybox, Mew2King and PPMD) have 25 titles. Even if you added Leffen to that list, the number would still be less than Mango and Armada combined.

The titles already show enough, but when you take into account their years of dominance, no one else is close to challenging these two for the top two spots. Mew2King is the only player that has been elite for longer than each of them, but he doesn’t have the championship accolades that Mango and Armada have.

As time passes, if Melee’s scene is still alive, the nuances behind each decade of play will fade away for newer players. What we now think of as the post-Brawl, “documentary” and 20XX eras of Melee could be arguably narrowed down to one smash epoch from 2009 to around now: the battle between Armada and Mango for being the game’s greatest player ever. Whether you think one is better than than the other, they are inseparable rivals that tear each other down, yet lift each other to incredible heights.

Armada grew up in Gothernburg, Sweden, where individually standing out or branching off from others isn’t as encouraged as it is in America. Moreover, with only his brothers and few others in his local scene to play with, much of Armada’s training came from simple, repetitive grinding of his punish game against computer opponents. Remember that this was in the pre-20XX years of training, when it was even harder to practice tech chasing, edgeguarding, etc.

Conversely, Mango was raised in Norwalk, California – where he had access to play the best players in the world. For example, at the time of Mango’s entry into competitive Melee, Ken, the world No. 1, still attended tournaments within the Southern California scene. His best practice came with competing against others.

Of course, it’s not as simple saying that they are polar opposites, as both had their financial struggles growing up. As written in the Glixel profile of him, Armada’s father was a welder who supported a family of 11 children, while Mango grew up in a single-parent household under his mom – and has said before that playing Melee kept him out of gangs.

Because of their contrast in play styles, Armada has a reputation as a player who worked extremely hard to get far, while Mango is frequently thought of as a “natural” talent. But looking at their backgrounds, you could actually argue the opposite – or at least show that these generalizations aren’t entirely true.

In particular, the constant underrating of Armada’s natural talent (or even worse, “peak”) makes no sense. Although he didn’t get an opportunity to compete against the best from America, he still performed extremely well from 2007 to 2008. Often placing near the top of his locals, along with Calle W, Armada had excellent showings in the beginning of his career, as seen from tournaments like the Renaissance of Smash 4 (fourth) and Epita Smash Arena 2 (third) from mid-2007 to early 2008. If you define talent as natural aptitude, doesn’t Armada deserve credit for becoming a world class player in a short period of time, with little to no world class competition?

This is not to discredit Mango, who shocked nearly everyone by placing third at EVO World 2007 (even taking a set off Ken) and Super Champ Combo in the same year. Considering his rate of improvement in a couple and a half years of playing, it’s completely fair to note Mango’s talent, but the main difference between them was that Mango had the opportunity to travel to events like EVO, while Armada didn’t back then. That’s very little to do with any sort of talent gap between the two.

Fun Fact: in 2007, when he also split sets with Mew2King and PC Chris, the then-Jigglypuff main Mango had close or unfavorable records against players like DSF (2-6), Edrees (4-3), DC (1-3) and Romeo (0-1). With his losses to PC Chris and Cort late into the year, you could have even argued that Mango actually had a slight Peach problem. Think about all the levels of irony within that.

By the start of the post-Brawl era, Armada and Mango continued to play Melee, with each of them eventually reaching No. 1 status on their respective continents. Although many doubted Mango even after his legendary Pound 3 victory, an additional dominant performance at Revival of Melee – once again over the former world No. 1 Mew2King – cemented Mango’s status as the country’s best. Meanwhile, Armada had taken his first major tournament in SMASH ATTACK (the first tournament dropped by Amsah in years) and also won Epita Smash Arena 3. The two were set for a clash in 2009: enter GENESIS.

Editor’s Note: I’ll go more into Mango’s Pound 3 run in a separate article. Long story short: after losing to Sensei, Vist and Plank in pools, Mango lost a set of sandbagged Link dittos to Silent Wolf in winners round one. He then went through a massive losers bracket run of beating players like Cactuar, Forward, Azen, Chu Dat, Cort, PC Chris and Mew2King (twice) to win what was supposed to be Melee’s final tournament. Quite literally, he beat every active top player in his path.

To this day, set one of GENESIS grand finals is often heralded as the greatest set in Melee history (with the most clutch moment of the post-Brawl era). Spectators back then witnessed Melee being revolutionized in a way that hadn’t been seen since Ken vs. Bombsoldier. Both Armada and Mango looked like they were playing a completely different game from everyone else, with their precise spacing, adaptations to each other and overall gameplay pushing the meta further than ever imagined.

From Mango’s perspective, this was his third consecutive title and hardest one to earn. Having already proven himself by easily dethroning Mew2King multiple times, Mango was upset by Armada in the initial winners finals set. It was like the Swedish Peach was a robot sent from outer space, just to give Mango a worthy challenger. In Smash History’s 2009 RetroSSBMRank piece, I wrote that “in one swift tournament, Armada had turned from a barely English-speaking Swedish teenage underdog into Melee’s final boss.”

Entering GENESIS with people calling him overrated, a fraud – and even someone who wouldn’t make it out of pools – Armada was a massive dark horse, making his way to grand finals through Lunin, Lucky, DaShizWiz, Mew2King and Mango himself. Because of Armada’s current reputation, almost no casual fan thinks of his GENESIS run this way, but had Armada won the tournament, it would have easily been the greatest Cinderella story of all of Melee history.

After a slight bump at Revival of Melee 2 (infamously losing to Kage twice), Mango returned back to being himself at Pound 4, while Armada lost to SilentSpectre and Amsah to finish a disappointing fourth place: his lowest placing at a notable tournament in three years.

But rather than once again going on a tear of winning tournaments, Mango got bored. Creating an alias of “Scorpion Master,” as part of an inside joke with several members of the Melee scene, Mango started fooling around at tournaments, opting to play Captain Falcon, Mario or Marth in tournament instead of Jigglypuff, Falco or Fox. Newer players might find this odd, but this was a time when tournaments were not as taken as seriously, since they weren’t as a big as they are now. Consider that Mango routinely whooped opponents in friendlies or money matches, like he did to Hungrybox after the latter won Apex 2010 without dropping a single game.

Although Hungrybox finished 2010 as its No. 1 player, per RetroSSBMRank, the justification for the ranking came down to tournament results. By popular perception back then, Mango was still thought of as the best player in the world. For many, this was more indicative of Mango’s skill back then, rather than his bad performances with secondaries (usually as “Scorpion Master”), like his 25th place at Apex 2010. This continued even after his loss to Hungrybox at Don’t Go Down There Jeff, while playing Fox – and even after he lost 2-0 to Cactuar (after actually losing game 1 while playing Falco) at Apex 2010.

Meanwhile, remaining virtually unchallenged in Europe, the Swedish Sniper still proved himself as a member of the world’s elite, finishing runner-up at Apex 2010 and Pound V. Thought no one doubted Armada’s legitimacy as a top player, his lack of a title certainly hurt how he was perceived. With GENESIS 2 coming up in mid-2011 and Mango planning to make the tournament his return to being Melee’s best, Armada had his work cut out for him.

Strangely enough, Armada stayed practically untouchable throughout GENESIS 2, getting his revenge on Dr. PeePee and Hungrybox en route to grand finals. With Mango’s solid 3-1 on Mew2King, both Armada and Mango were on path for a rematch of GENESIS winners finals, but Taj played spoiler, with the Arizona Marth upsetting Mango 3-2. Suddenly, Armada’s path toward winning a title looked a lot easier.

Most people don’t remember, but the first two games of winners finals were Armada’s Peach vs. Taj’s Mewtwo (and some even wondered if there was going to be a Young Link vs. Mewtwo game later in the set). By the end of Taj’s forfeit at the end of Game 3, when he finally tried Marth, Armada was 54-1 in games for GENESIS 2, with the one game he lost being a timeout to Hungrybox, in which he lost by one percent.

Unfortunately for Taj, getting mentally destroyed by Armada wasn’t enough. A red-hot Mango, furious at being denied a winners rematch with Armada, beat Shroomed and Hungrybox to replay the man who defeated his Falco in winners. However, this time, Mango was playing Fox. In the first game of the set, Mango dominantly three-stocked Taj. See what happens in the second game below.

No one has ever literally murdered another top-level player in the middle of a set, but Mango came pretty close. His four-stock of Taj in the last game of their set was so convincing that Taj forfeited immediately afterwards, additionally being prompted by commentator HomeMadeWaffles to unplug his controller. It’s one of Mango’s most classic moments and it was arguably the highlight of GENESIS 2. In grand finals, Armada won a close 3-2 against Mango, where the both of them once again put on a show for the crowd, fighting for whom the world’s best player was. Once again, Armada’s punish game with Peach seemed to get even better, while Mango set the standard for rushdown Fox play.

The two were set once again for a rematch at Apex 2012 winners finals, especially given Mew2King and Hungrybox’s early entry into the losers bracket. When they played in winners finals, the final game count was a solid 3-0 for Armada, though each game went to last stock. Armada ended up winning the tournament over Hungrybox in a second set of grand finals, after the Florida Jigglypuff upset Mango in losers finals. Afterward, Mango went into a brief retirement-phase from the game, while Armada retreated back to Sweden.

Armada’s reign from GENESIS 2 to Apex 2013 is a hotly debated one. Skeptics point toward the relative lack of majors back then as proof of it being overrated. Moreover, outside of GENESIS 2, Armada didn’t have any truly dominant performances at the majors he won with other gods in attendance. At Apex 2012, Armada dropped a set to Hungrybox, while he dropped sets to Dr. PeePee at Smashers’ Reunion and Apex 2013. It wasn’t like he was unbeatable – but then again, given how separated Armada was from world-class training partners, this stretch of play could be argued as even more impressive.

Either way, Mango quickly returned to competing seriously, winning IMPULSE over his fellow American gods. As seen through wins at tournaments like FC Legacy and The Big House 2, Mango was still a top caliber player, but he found himself challenged by his former apprentice in Dr. PeePee. Though many of Mango’s fans believed that he could return to being the best in the world, his loss at Kings of Cali to Dr. PeePee (in both sets of grand finals) showed that Mango couldn’t just sleepwalk his way to victory any more. Moreover, at Apex 2013, Mango lost to a man he once held a mental stranglehold over: Mew2King, who double eliminated him. For the first time in years, Mango looked genuinely mortal.

Fun fact: Mango also has a loss to Bladewise in 2012, at Rule 6 Regional. However, the context behind this loss remains murky. Tafokints told me that despite playing Fox, Mango lost to Bladewise intentionally, just to beat Kels early in losers because he was sick of hearing about Midwest pride. Go figure.

Having proven himself over the last two and a half years as Melee’s best player, Armada retired, saying that he didn’t have the drive to compete any more. After his retirement,many were willing to crown him as the game’s best, but Mango was the opposite, not only criticizing Armada’s reasoning, but also claiming that he knew that he was better than Armada and wanted one more chance to beat him. Flying to BEAST III and winning the tournament (dropping a set to Ice), Mango also played a series of streamed friendlies with Armada, who TO’d, but didn’t play in tournament. Yet by the end of their session, it was pretty clear: even without seriously practicing any more, Armada outclassed Mango.

Mango started playing more, once again having reignited his competitive fire. Losing NorCal Regionals 2013 to Hungrybox, but winning Vindication, Zenith 2013 and IMPULSE 2013, Mango looked like the best in the United States, as well as a heavy contender for EVO 2013. This tournament was hyped up not only because it was Melee’s return to gaming’s main stage, but also because this tournament marked a brief comeback for Armada. For yet another time, the two were heading toward collision.

In a strange twist, they both met again, but in losers bracket. Due to Armada entering the tournament late, Armada had to play Dr. PeePee before top eight, losing their set. Meanwhile, Mango was upset early by Wobbles, the tournament’s underdog. But in typical Mango fashion, Mango had one of the best losers runs of all-time, defeating SFAT, Ice, Dr. PeePee, Armada, Hungrybox and Wobbles to win EVO 2013: what was seen as the biggest tournament ever. After winning EVO 2013,  Mango still competed occasionally, but spent more time with his newborn son and family, while Armada went back into retirement – before once again returning in mid-2014. The two faced off again at Super SWEET, where Armada triumphed 3-2. It was the first of many sets the two would have in the post-documentary era.

Here’s something that not many people know: although Mango ended 2014 as SSBMRank’s No. 1 player, this is because Mango ended the year winning three of the biggest events of the year: MLG Anaheim 2014, EVO 2014 and The Big House 4. By their head to head record, Armada actually finished slightly ahead in 2014, up 7-6, with victories at Super SWEET, a pools win at MLG Anaheim 2014, CEO 2014 and The Shape of Melee to Come 5.

But given Mango’s reputation as a clutch player who showed up on the biggest stage, these tournament wins for Armada mattered a lot less. Juxtapose the rise of Leffen, Hungrybox finally figuring out Armada’s Young Link and a lack of titles from late 2014 to the spring of 2015 – Armada looked like he was in a slump, while Mango looked like Melee’s GOAT when it counted.

However, since then, there’s been little argument for who’s been better between Armada and Mango. In 2015, Armada had one of the most dominant years ever, finishing as the world No. 1, holding a 7-2 record over Mango and winning five titles, including EVO 2015. From the end of WTFox to before winners finals of DreamHack Winter 2015, Armada went 11-0 against fellow gods. Even if in a relatively short period of time, no one else in Melee history has ever had that kind of a winning streak against top five players of any time.

That said, even with Armada finishing last year as SSBMRank’s No. 1 (and likely this year’s too), Mango still has added quite a bit to his resume. Despite the occasional lackluster performance (17th place at HTC Throwdown and 13th at UGC Smash Open), Mango has titles in Press Start, Paragon LA, WTFox 2, DreamHack Austin 2016, SSC 2016 and The Big House 6.

His Press Start losers run, in which Mango started from losers after showing up late, is especially noteworthy as he went 60-4 in games throughout the whole tournament, beating players like Westballz, Hax, Leffen, Shroomed, Lucky,  Hungrybox, Axe and Fly Amanita. At the time, some argued that it was even more impressive than his Pound 3 losers run, given that Mango looked completely untouchable in his sets.

Even if he’s not quite the championship belt holder he looked like from Pound 3 to the end of 2010 (for many), Mango is still a contender. He may never be No. 1 again, but if he keeps winning titles, it won’t matter too much. Every major that he adds is another plus to his collection of unmatched title winning.

Armada and Mango’s rivalry is as fierce, if not hotter than it’s ever been in Melee’s history. Right now, the set count for all-time between them is 20-18 in Armada’s favor, but Mango has played for longer and won more titles. Moreover, given the shady circumstances behind 2008 and 2010, you could have easily argued those as two more years where Mango was No. 1.

Here’s the question you’ve been waiting for: who is the greatest Melee player of all-time between these two?

2. Mango

No. of years ranking in the Top 10 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 9 (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)

No. of years ranking in the Top 5 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 8
 (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
No. of years ranked as RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank’s No. 1: 3 (2009, 2013, 2014)
No. of titles: 19 (Pound 3, Revival of Melee, GENESIS, Pound 4, Revival of Melee 4, Impulse 2012, Zenith 2013, EVO 2013, Revival of Melee 7, Get On My Level 2014, MLG 2014, EVO 2014, The Big House 4, Press Start, Paragon LA, WTFox 2, DreamHack Austin 2016, SSC 2016, The Big House 6)

1. Armada

No. of years ranking in the Top 10 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 7 (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)

No. of years ranking in the Top 5 of RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank: 7 (2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015)
No. of years ranked as RetroSSBMRank/SSBMRank’s No. 1: 3 (2011, 2012, 2015)

No. of titles: 16 (GENESIS 2, Apex 2012, Apex 2013, Super Sweet,  CEO 2014, I’m Not Yelling, MVG Sandstorm, EVO 2015, Smash Summit, The Big House 5, GENESIS 3, Smash Summit 2, Canada Cup 2016, Smash Summit 3, DreamHack Winter 2016, UGC Smash Open)

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Mango’s argument for more titles doesn’t really hold up, since Armada wasn’t able to attend a lot of them. Due to living in Sweden and initially having little to no financial incentive to go out of his way to travel to America, Armada couldn’t challenge Mango at events like Impulse, Zenith and Revival of Melee.

It’s not that these events shouldn’t be counted for Mango – but they should be viewed in context. You could either hold Armada’s location against him or understand that his presence at any tournament inevitably affects its competitive value. If anything, Armada’s location actually makes his superior consistency against the rest of the field that much more amazing.

I asked Mango on his stream to make his case for GOAT, only to be told, “I think Armada has me for a little bit,” before being quickly reassured that “it’s super close right now,” and to see in three years where the two stood.

Either way, whether it’s Falco-Peach, Jigglypuff-Peach, Fox-Peach, Fox dittos, Marth-Peach or any other matchup that these two throw our way: just know that the two are game-defining players – and they’re definitively the two greatest players in Melee history.

8 Comments

  1. Being an armada and mango fanThis is the first article that I have read that I actually love and agree with 100%, but then again I am very biased with my son

    Like

    1. You’re so damn arrogant. You really think you deserve to be ranked the best of all time over Armada? You’re not even better than me.. You’ll never be the best because you’re too lazy and you don’t work hard enough.

      Like

  2. Loved the article but I feel like 2016 was pretty glossed over. I was expecting a section on Genesis 3 given the significance it has to the rivalry and this leading into G4, a mention of Mango’s perfect record in Fox dittos against Armada in tourney this year, or Armada’s back to back domination of Summit.

    Like

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