Top Tier History: Sheik

If I told you that there was a time when Fox wasn’t considered the best character in Super Smash Bros. Melee, who else would you have guessed? It’s not a particularly big secret, but from the moment you play Melee, you can already tell that Sheik is different from every other character. And it’s not just that you can’t see her on the character select screen.

Understanding Sheik’s popularity requires looking at her counterpart: Princess Zelda. When Nintendo announced its upcoming title in Melee at E3 2001, the ability to play as Zelda, along with Ganondorf, added hype to what was already expected to be an even bigger cast of new characters to the smash series. Being able to use Zelda to transform into Sheik also highlighted the GameCube’s technical depth.

Remember that at this point, games like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask were critically acclaimed successes and massively influential games in the realm of 3D gaming. Being able to play as Link in the original Super Smash Bros. was fun, but in Melee, gamers now had three characters they could play from one of the most beloved franchises. After Melee’s release, it became clear that Sheik was more than just a cool feature.

The Queen of Melee (late 2001 to late 2005)
Notable players: Azen, DieSuperFly, Recipherus, Manacloud, Isai, Derrick, Mild, Chillin

Even if you’re completely new, you can tell that Sheik is a really good character. Out of everyone in the game, she arguably has the best “standing” frame data. This is hard to explain in full-detail, but essentially, she just has better hitboxes and moves than other characters.

In an era when directional influence wasn’t quite developed, her moves were simple-to-use and high-reward. Attacks like dash attack, forward tilt and her grab were solid combo starters – and her aerials were deadly finishers, as well as strong trading moves. Sheik also had a great projectiles (her needles) that gave her the ability to camp and abuse other characters’ lack of approaches.

Sheik was a character that could shield grab effectively, hit combos more consistently than other characters, camp them out, out-prioritize them and edgeguard better than them. Back then, out of shield options weren’t as developed, so even something as simple as Sheik’s crossup dash attack on shield was seen as high reward and low risk.

It’s to almost no one’s surprise that for years, Sheik was seen as the best character in Melee, finishing first in the first seven NTSC Melee tier lists. She wasn’t exactly ban-worthy, but many disliked how easy she was to use and thought of her as cheap – or more likely back then, used other colorful words to describe her.

On the East Coast, players like Azen, Derrick, Chillin (yes – that Chillin!) and Mild had decent success with her, while the West Coast’s Recipherus and The Doug were also notable, not to mention Isai, who also played Sheik. Within the Midwest and South, players like KishCubed and Joshu gave the character even more representation. In Japan, Captain Jack gave the character its best main in Melee’s early ages.

His play doesn’t look particularly flashy, but that’s because Jack used tricks, combos and strategies employed by every Sheik main today. Defining his influence on the metagame is a little difficult because similar to PC Chris’ impact on Fox, Jack was a better spacer, more consistent and, well, just better than most other Sheiks.

Although Sheik certainly had strong regional results to back her popular perception up, additional proof of her dominance also came from one of the greatest Melee upsets of all-time. At Tournament Go 6, the first great international smash major, the relatively unknown DieSuperFly became the first person ever to knock Ken out of a tournament.

The tournaments’ winners finals only seemed to further give credence to Sheik’s greatness. Both players, Azen and Captain Jack played Sheik against each other, with Azen infamously opting to chaingrab in the ditto despite Jack’s refusal to do the same.

Months later, Captain Jack won MLG San Francisco 2004, giving the character yet another title. Strong regional placings for yet another year kept Sheik strong – even as videos of players like Zelgadis and Bombsoldier ushered in a new generation of technical Fox and Falco players to eventually dethrone Sheik. Yet, the character still thrived.

Edgeguards and Downsmash (early 2006 to mid 2009)
Notable players: KoreanDJ, Drephen, DieSuperFly, Rob$, Omar, Aesis

Anyone familiar with modern Melee will tell you that when it comes to edgeguarding, Mew2King is the first name. But what if I told you there was a player known for aggressively going off stage before Mew2King?

It’s bizarre to see Mew2King on the receiving end of brutal edge guards, but KoreanDJ pushed Sheik’s combo game, both on and off stage. Most Sheiks like DSF preferred to camp or wait their opponents out, but KoreanDJ was proactive and far more in-your-face.

Though KoreanDJ didn’t travel as much as his contemporaries, the few results he had were both proof of his greatness as a player (as he played Sheik/Fox/Marth regularly in tournament) and of Sheik’s potential. Based on use through a tournament’s top eight, KoreanDJ is the last Sheik player to win a title (MLG Long Island 2007). By the time of his first retirement, you could have argued him as the best Sheik of all-time.

On one hand, KoreanDJ creatively pushed Sheik in ways that made her deadlier than ever. But on the other hand, another player showed that Sheik could be even more frustratingly simple than ever before.

When compared to KoreanDJ, Drephen doesn’t look visually impressive, but he was an extremely influential Sheik main that further affirmed how her tools were good enough to confuse and beat opponents with. Unlike KoreanDJ, who overwhelmed his opponents with aggression, Drephen forced them into favorable and simple “RPS” situations where he could downsmash, spot dodge or grab.

You could consider him the original “Borp,” but it’s also unfair to Drephen’s legacy to think of him that way. With wins over everyone in his region, as well as even Mew2King, Drephen was (and still is) a legitimate threat for anyone at a tournament and one of the smartest players of his time. He was one of the Midwest “big five” (along with Vidjogamer, Dope, Darkrain and Tink), also keeping Sheik alive and feared.

The success of both KoreanDJ and Drephen was great for Sheik because it showed that she had bigger punishes than previously thought. This kind of development was crucial for Sheik to keep up with characters like Fox, Falco and Marth, who each had better punish games now. Little did smashers know that even in the game’s dark ages, the former queen of Melee had even more coming for her.

The Dynasty (late 2009 to early 2012)
Notable players: Mew2King, KirbyKaze, Amsah, Lucien, Tope, Overtriforce, Ice

Mew2King played Sheik before as early as Evo World 2007, but in 2009, he began playing her more than any of his other characters, due to his belief that she was Melee’s best character. I mentioned before that KoreanDJ initially innovated Sheik’s combo game, but Mew2King was uniquely precise, ruthless and efficient in how he converted off hits.

Darkrain is an all-time legend. Unfortunately, this is one of his most memorable moments, due to it highlighting just how scary Sheik could be. Combining both KoreanDJ’s typical off-stage aggression with Drephen’s simplistic tech chasing and positioning, Mew2King was even more brutal and more deliberate in his punish game than any other Sheik before him.

As a sidenote: a couple of years ago, I spoke to a Connecticut Sheik named Spawn about whom his favorite Sheik players were. When asked, he simply told me “Mew2King” multiple times. He also added that because of the relative lack of information back then, it was fairly common for Sheik mains to download entire videos of Mew2King edgeguards and study them.

That said, it’d be foolish to discount the efforts of other Sheik players within the post-Brawl era. From Europe, there was yet another Sheik played who ushered in a whole new level of success for the character, even in a version of the game that nerfed her follow-ups off grabs.

Most Sheik players develop their games around her insane grab game, but having experience in PAL, Amsah made the most of Sheik’s natural zoning tools, using her powerful forward air, needles and tilts to outspace his opponents. In fact, the video above is the last time Armada ever lost to a non-god and non-Leffen player.

Amsah’s impact on the European metagame came before him beating Armada at Pound 4. Before Armada became the best in Europe, Amsah easily held that title, winning eleven consecutive tournaments within the continent from mid-2006 to early 2009. However, I included him within the post-Brawl era of Sheik players because he paved the way for fellow European Sheik mains like Overtriforce and Ice, who also enjoyed modest success in this era, even if they didn’t have consistent results in the United States to back their skill up.

In Canada, KirbyKaze, a man who has been described as the Mango of Sheik players, brought new levels of creativity and innovation to a character that most people assumed that, like Marth, Mew2King had figured out. KirbyKaze was also noticeable because he was one of the most active Smashboards posters. Here, he frequently gave advice to other players, sharing tidbits of Sheik knowledge across a variety of matchups and theorycrafting how she should improve.

The Ontario Sheik broke out at Revival of Melee 3, showcasing a level of expertise and assertiveness that few expected the character was capable of. Though they aren’t as “optimized” as modern tech chases, KirbyKaze abused knockdown situations creatively and with more flashy tools than Sheiks before him. In particular, was his epic “dynasty” combo on Dr. PeePee, in which he finished a combo with an upsmash.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The upsmash was called the “dynasty” because of how similar her upsmash looked to throwing a “Roc-A-Fella Records” sign in real life. Throw your diamonds in the sky if you’re feeling the vibe, folks.

The North Carolina Falco main certainly had more consistent results than KirbyKaze, but both were still as extremely knowledgeable Melee minds, as well as possibly “future” gods.  Even if Dr. PeePee won the tournament, Sheik taking both second and third place was quite promising for the character.

Sheik was flashier, faster and cooler to play than ever before. She had both strong national results, but also great local representation with a variety of different play styles, whether it was the NorCal Lucien’s heavy emphasis on fundamentals and spacing or MDVA’s Tope, known as a deadly tech chaser for his time (and who also defeated Dr. PeePee in GENESIS 2 pools).

In fact, throughout this time, it was fairly common to think, as Mango did, that Sheik was the best character, given her track record of success against all characters – save for Jigglypuff. But soon, even that was questioned.

KirbyKaze beating Hungrybox is by far Sheik’s greatest accomplishment in the post-Brawl era. Since becoming a top five player, Hungrybox had never lost to a Sheik player at a national and the matchup was seen as a direct counter to her. For reference, Mew2King, by far the best player with Sheik at the time, said that beating Hungrybox with Sheik was impossible before this set.

For KirbyKaze to directly defy these expectations and prove all the naysayers wrong showed tremendous growth and potential for the character to grow even more.

The Fox and Ice Climbers Problem (mid 2012 to early 2015)
Notable Players: Mew2King, KirbyKaze, KoreanDJ, Darkatma, Tope, Flash

Though she still had strong regional representation, her meta unquestionably stagnated. In particular, Sheik now saw a whole new problem: resurging Fox mains inspired by tech skill videos online and Javi’s performance at Apex 2012.

Fox players were starting to abuse crouch cancel against Sheik, along with abusing her lack of effective approaches to effectively camp her out, as well as smartly pressure her, with better tech skill than before. Keep in mind that even in the previous era, Unknown522 was known to be a monster against Sheik, winning almost every set across that period of time against KirbyKaze.

Moreover, Sheik also saw another difficult matchup in the Ice Climbers, whose incredible ground game tools practically negated anything Sheik could do to them. Players like Chu Dat, Fly Amanita, Nintendude and Wobbles were especially strong against Sheik, making their presence at nationals as rising players a particularly difficult problem for her to deal with at the top level.

Sheik just seemed completely spent. Even with Shroomed flirting with maining the character, he didn’t seem committed to playing her, still bringing out Doctor Mario every now and then. Her best bit of representation still came from Mew2King, but with him playing more Marth now and using Fox for some of her difficult matchups, it was difficult to solo main the character to success, similar to how people saw Marth at the time.

For the most part, Sheik was still a really good character, but it’s easy to see why her brief flashes of brilliance were just seen as a brief flashes, rather than what her potential was. For a while, the above set was the gold standard for Sheik players to follow, but if you watch it, the play isn’t significantly different than it was in the years before, only the execution is significantly better.

Several people at the time wondered if Sheik could consistently beat Fox – and even her once favorable matchups were beginning to be seen as significantly harder for her than previously thought. PPMD showed that Marth-Sheik could possibly be even, while Falco mains like Mango rarely lost the matchup, even with Mango’s loss above. Many at the time wondered if Sheik had long-term viability.

Screen Shot 2017-02-24 at 10.01.04 AM.png
Not my photo – this was posted by a Reddit user name Okaioken!

Shield Droppers/Tech Chasers (mid 2015 to now)
Notable players: Plup, Mew2King, Shroomed, DruggedFox (temporarily), Swedish Delight, Laudandus, Android, Captain Faceroll, Santiago

Though Sheik struggled in her ground-game, her platform game became a new point of emphasis for her players to develop. Today, Sheik has one of the best shield drop and platform games, thanks to players like Plup and Shroomed.

In the above set, notice how threatening Shroomed is – even when he isn’t on the ground. Using a combination of Sheik’s strong aerial hitboxes, along with her excellent platform movement game, Shroomed escapes Mango when he needs to and demonstrates an aggressive use of Sheik’s needles, while also showing the power of her out-of-shield options. This is the first time Shroomed ever beat Mango in a full-set.

Even then, Shroomed only highlights a style of play a little more freestyle and reminiscent of what people thought of KirbyKaze’s Sheik. Today, Sheik has a far more “optimized” grab game, with more efficient tech chasing than players like Tope or Drephen ever had. Before switching back to Fox, DruggedFox showed the apex of how devastating Sheik’s tech chasing could be.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although I listed DruggedFox as a modern Sheik, this is mostly due to how his playstyle and efficient tech chasing influenced players like Swedish Delight and Captain Faceroll, who are seen as modern stars. DruggedFox was also an active poster on Smashboards and regularly gave his thoughts on how to use Sheik throughout the post-Brawl era. If you wanted, you could consider him a “Dynasty” Sheik, though I thought it was more fitting to list him here due to his ninth place at EVO 2015 and his epic Tipped Off 11 losers run.

It’s hard to envision Sheik winning a national on her own, but with players like Laudandus revolutionizing how she plays against even Ice Climbers, it shouldn’t be doubted. Moreover, as I mentioned with Marth and Falco, if the standard for a character being “viable” only came down to a character’s ability to win a national as a solo main, wouldn’t Fox and Jigglypuff be the only characters with the results to back them up in the modern meta?

Sheik is different from other top-tier characters in Melee in that she’s never really struggled to prove herself. Even when people began to sour on her, Sheik’s regional representation was still fairly solid. Today, her results are exceptional and well-documented within the top-echelon of play. To add another element to Sheik’s resurgence, her matchup against Jigglypuff isn’t seen as negatively as it used to be in the past.

If there’s anything you notice about Plup’s Sheik more than anyone else, it’s how fast he plays. Plup has better movement, discipline, patience and a more balanced skill set than his contemporaries. Though you could say his lack of beating Armada shows a weakness for Sheik, this is a standard that applies to pretty much every character or non-god player.

Though you might find people who disagree about how good she is, Sheik has a surprising amount of depth, showing that she’s clearly more than the “cheap” character she was initially seen to be. Whether it’s on her own or with a secondary for more difficult matchups, there shouldn’t be any doubts to Sheik’s viability in the current meta – and if history’s shown anything, she can never be counted out.

Top Tier History: Marth

Anyone who plays Super Smash Bros. Melee and has access to all characters will either find themselves in love with or infuriated with Marth. Somehow elegant, slightly effeminate and terrifying, he’s also one of the most hated and popular Melee characters. He’s both the bane of casual players, but also their easiest way to enter competitive Melee. Emphasizing fundamentals more than arguably any other character, Marth has been called by many, including Mango in the past, as the “spirit of Melee.”

Whether you agree with this statement or not is another topic – when I’ve mentioned this before to my college smash friends, it’s been met with both ridicule and skepticism, due to my own bias as a Marth player. Either way, it’s hard to understate his influence on the competitive Melee community.

Rolling C-Stickers (late 2001 to early 2003)
Notable Players: Ken, Eduardo, your friend who keeps spamming forward smash, etc.

The first thing you’ll notice if you play Marth for the first time is his ridiculous range. Unlike other characters that use their body for direct hits, he has a sword that consistently covers more space within its moves than any other character. Although Marth doesn’t have any outstanding hitboxes (like Sheik’s nair), due to the arc-nature of swinging a sword, his ability to swat anything in his path is by far his biggest strength.

Because movement hadn’t advanced to the point where opponents could whiff-punish Marth’s moves, the threat of getting forward smashed was something that everyone had to consider when playing against him. Keep in mind that using smash attacks was a huge part of the early meta.

Due to Marth’s ability to control space, most of the strategies based around how to beat him involved quite a bit of camping or using characters with projectiles. Effectively speaking, Marth initially started as a defensive character, used to preemptively wall out his opponents and punish them for coming close.

It’s impossible to mention Marth in the early stages of competitive Melee without bringing up his far inferior counterpart in Roy. The latter was extremely popular within the game’s initial years and still is among casual players. For any competitive player today, even comparing the two is pretty laughable, but in 2002, tier lists were anything but definite conclusions for Melee.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-5-37-41-pm
A comment on Neoseeker forums.

Marth was still seen as one of the better characters within Melee, even if he wasn’t quite on the level of Sheik/Falco/Fox. After all, Eduardo dominated his small regional scene in Illinois and Marth was popular across all levels. But in the next four years, that changed – and many wondered if he was secretly Melee’s best character.

The King of Smash (mid 2003 – mid 2009): 
Notable Players: Ken, Mew2King, Azen, EK, KoreanDJ, Tink, Husband

The King of Smash isn’t just a title for Ken’s dominance. If we’re talking about which characters actually ruled Melee, it’s hard to argue that this era was not predominantly ruled by Marth.

Ken’s use of the dash dance in particular revolutionized how Marth could be used to condition, bait and manipulate opponents. Since most of the Melee meta in its early ages was based around shield grabs, cross-up dash attacks and using projectiles to control stage, Ken’s use of movement to keep his opponents guessing illustrated a far greater understanding of Melee than his contemporaries. Marth’s movement and tools in the neutral game highlighted these strengths.

On the East Coast, Azen’s influence as a Marth player manifested itself in another way. His natural sense of spacing, guessing his opponent’s intent and knowing the innate risk-reward ratios behind specific in-game situations were enhanced by his Marth more than any of his other characters. Though it’s easy to look at Azen’s play and see it as someone spamming forward smash to win, keep in mind that the game hadn’t developed to where using such moves was significantly punishable.

Sheik was still thought of as superior based on the Melee tier list – and as shown through people who beat Ken, it’s not like Marth was unstoppable. But at the same time, think about Ken’s 4-2 Jack Garden Tournament victory against Bombsoldier. Facing an opponent with greater technical ability and a bigger punish game than anyone he might have ever played against, Ken adapted, showcasing how devastating Marth’s chaingrab could be. But if Ken showed a glimpse into how far Marth’s combos could be pushed, Mew2King went even further.

The video above isn’t just a showcase of what the top standard was for Marth’s combos in those ages. These are punishes and follow-ups that Marth mains still struggle with executing today. Claims of “2007 Mew2King” being the best player ever are righteously treated with a bit of skepticism, but any look into actual footage of his combo game proves that he was way ahead of his time.

Not only could Mew2King chaingrab both Fox and Falco with unbelievable consistency, he was also quite ahead of everyone else in the Marth ditto, in which he casually embarrassed his opponents. Consider it this way: if Ken invented Marth, Mew2King back then “perfected” his ability to convert off hits, off juggling opponents and going for low-percent kills off-stage.

Marth’s ability to finish stocks early, along with everything else Mew2King contributed, led to him being ranked second in what was supposed to be Melee’s “final” tier list on October 14, 2008. Yet based on results, you could have just as easily argued him as No. 1.

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 4.36.24 PM.png

This briefly continued even in an era when Mew2King didn’t even treat Melee as his first priority. Even Azen, playing mostly Marth, placed ninth at the Revival of Melee, despite not having played seriously for almost a year. In fact, when Mew2King lost to Armada at the first GENESIS, many thought of it as a fluky upset. Unfortunately, this loss, along with his inability to overcome Mango with any of his characters, was a sign of stagnancy to follow for Marth.

The Betrayal (late 2009 – late 2012)
Notable Players: Mew2King, Taj, PewPewU, Tai, Arc, G$

In 2009, Mew2King posted a topic on the GameFAQS Melee board, claiming that Sheik was the best character. At the time, Mew2King played both characters, but he eventually began playing a lot more Sheik. This played a big role in Marth’s decline.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-5-51-28-pm

Part of why Marth dominated in the past was because of how successful he was against Fox. But remember that Fox players were also in a bit of a decline for most of the post-Brawl era. With less top-level Fox mains, Marth players had lost what was their most historically favorable matchup. It’s no surprise that at a time when Fox struggled, so did Marth.

Early in the MLG-era of smash, it wasn’t uncommon to come across people that thought Marth also held a distinct advantage over Falco. But in 2009, top-level Falco players weren’t the kind of people you could just spam shield grab against. They now had shield pressure and movement that made Bombsoldier look like he barely scratched the surface of tech skill.

Screen Shot 2017-02-16 at 5.54.16 PM.png
Note: Mango beat Mew2King in both sets of grand finals at Pound 3.

As if that wasn’t enough, think about all the representation from other characters that traditionally give Marth a hard time. Captain Falcon players like SilentSpectre, Darkrain, Hax, Scar and S2J (later) were on the rise. You could also argue that the Sheik meta, pushed by Mew2King himself, KirbyKaze, Lucien, Tope and even the Netherlands’ Amsah made it difficult for Marth to succeed. That’s not even going into the reign of Mango – and later Hungrybox – showing how difficult Jigglypuff could be to fight.

For the first time, Marth looked like he had peaked. In the final tier list of 2010, he finished a disappointing fifth on the tier list – the lowest he had ever been since 2002. Yet in one of the most memorable bracket runs of the post-Brawl era, one old-school Marth managed to put together old-school tricks with new-school movement and combos. Enter Taj at GENESIS 2.

Usually when you hear about Taj, you think about two things: his Mewtwo or the notorious losers finals set at GENESIS 2 against Mango. The former is understandable, but the latter is unfair.

Taj was known to be particularly proficient against Falco, due to practicing with Axe’s Falco and being particularly good at edge guarding him. At GENESIS 2, Taj lost to ORLY in pools, but also turned heads with his dominant win over Dr. PeePee, while playing Marth. Even though Dr. PeePee was dreadfully sick at the tournament, it wasn’t as if this was a one-set fluke.

Making his way to top eight, Taj beat Larry Lurr (another Falco), Hax with Mewtwo and clutched out a long set with MacD. In winners semifinals, he faced Mango: a Falco that routinely made Mew2King look foolish and in the last round had four-stocked Mew2King’s Marth at the same tournament.

Mango’s talked about how this was the set in which he “got gimped twelve times” and lost. Either way, Taj showcased that Marth could still keep up with Falco at a top level, with a mix of hard reads in the neutral game, Mew2King-esque conversions off stage and slick movement to trick his opponents. Losing to Armada and Mango doesn’t change that.

To put in perspective how impressive his GENESIS 2 run was, Taj had previously finished ninth at Don’t Do Down There Jeff, `17th at Apex 2010 and 49th at Pound 3. His bracket run at GENESIS 2, no matter how favorable it was for Taj, was the first top three finish by a non-Mew2King Marth since Azen’s victory at Viva La Smashtaclysm. Clearly, there was more to be done with the character.

It doesn’t sound like much to note now, but at Rule 6 NorCal Regional – a tournament won by Mango after he threw a set as Fox against Bladewise in winners – a rising NorCal Marth named PewPewU raised quite a few eyebrows when he took the first game of a set off Mango in losers semifinals: the same Fox that made Taj quit mid-set.

Though he still ended up losing the set, the hype behind PewPewU was through the roof. In the post tourney thread, S2J wrote of the NorCal Marth’s play: “best fucking Marth that ever lived to play the game.” Others added to the hype, with Bob$ writing that PewPewU was “godlike” and “better than Mew2King’s Marth.”

Statements like S2J’s were almost certainly exaggerated, but it wouldn’t have been to crazy to think that PewPewU’s potential was extremely high. What’s noticeable with his Marth, more than with being “aggressive” or “defensive” is his willingness to skirmish. Even in comparison to Taj, who mostly used tricky movement to get his opponents to whiff moves, PewPewU was far more proactive, also incorporating shield stops in his game as early as 2012.

screen-shot-2017-02-16-at-6-06-39-pm

By the end of 2012, Marth was still struggling, but there was a glimmer of hope for the once reigning character – not to mention, Mew2King playing him a lot more again at tournaments like Zenith 2012. The years of stagnancy were contradicted at Apex 2013, in which Marth had his best performance in over half a decade.

The Unstoppable Secondary (early 2013 to now)
Notable Players: Dr. PeePee/PPMD, Mew2King, Mango, PewPewU, The Moon

It’s not entirely accurate to portray Dr. PeePee playing Marth at Apex 2013 as completely unexpected, given that he had tried playing him in tourney before. Additionally, PPMD was fairly active on the Marth forum in Smashboards, where he regularly gave advice to fellow Marth players. Either way, the smash world was shocked when his secondary managed to take a set from the world’s best player.

Prioritizing fundamentals like no one else did at the time, Dr. PeePee’s dash dance and ability to maintain stage control captivated spectators at the time. Trained by Cactuar, Dr. PeePee somehow managed to aggressively channel Marth’s positioning strengths while also being patient and aware enough to avoid overextending.

Remember that since his ascent to godhood, Armada had never lost to another Marth player. He had gone close with Mew2King, but still held an undefeated record against him and every other Marth. But at Apex 2013, Dr. PeePee posed a challenge to Armada in one of his historically strongest matchups, all while playing a secondary.

A month later at a special edition of a Xanadu weekly, Dr. PeePee decided to play all Marth, shocking people given that Mew2King was attending the tournament. In fact, when the two played the matchup at Zenith 2012, Mew2King beat him solidly in those games.

As anyone who watches this set can tell you, Dr. PeePee put on a clinic, revolutionizing the Marth ditto in ways that Mew2King hadn’t. Not only having far better control of Marth’s movement than the latter, Dr. PeePee maintained an extremely disciplined style that emphasized dictating the tempo of a match and using DI mixups to trick his opponents, rather than going for lengthy, Mew2King-esque explosions.

Perhaps more than anything else, Dr. PeePee’s sheer control of center stage seemed to negate what one of Mew2King’s biggest strengths as both a player and a Marth ditto specialist – his ability near the ledge. After getting swept in the first set of their rematch in grand finals, Dr. PeePee, to everyone’s surprise, stayed with Marth and defeated Mew2King, handing his Sheik the first loss it ever had to a Marth in a full set.

Dr. PeePee’s success with Marth was particularly exciting because it seemed to highlight that Marth could be pushed even further than Mew2King pushed him. He also showed that the character could deal with Sheik: his biggest nemesis. With a Marth player also taking a set off someone who was considered the world No. 1, suddenly the character was alive again, with many resources not just being put online for the character, but also players beginning to apply new concepts to Marth that even Mew2King hadn’t done.

It’s not like the character lacked any meta development over the post-Brawl era, but on June 7, 2013, frame data master and Austrian Marth player Kadano posted one of the most read and studied topics on Smashboards. In it, he covered different types of Marth tactics, along with ideas on how Marth could punish certain characters, including Jigglypuff, Sheik and Captain Falcon – three matchups Marth had struggled with over the previous years.

Much of Kadano’s guide provided the basis for what PewPewU later would apply in his game, including how to successfully use DI mixups off throws to dash pivot tipper forward smash Jigglypuff. Though a lot of the “technology” written by Kadano was based off what Marth players theorycrafted or did in the past, his guide gave Marth players a centralized location to view how to use their tools, leading to more character representation through 2013 and 2014 than in years past.

At Apex 2015, at the time the biggest Melee tournament of all-time, Marth finally broke through. Playing him in the majority of top eight and returning after a massive break from competing at national tourneys, PPMD gave the character its first big victory since Azen at Viva La Smashtaclysm.

It feels weird to say that this set is historical, mostly because it was just over two years ago, but it’s a good representation of how most Marths try to play against Fox today, while also showing just how valuable the character could be as a counterpick. Without Marth, Dr. PeePee probably doesn’t win this tournament, SKTAR 3 or Apex 2014. This isn’t going into how valuable Mew2King’s Marth was at both The Big House 3 and Shine 2016 – or even Mango’s Marth at WTFox 2.

As of late, players like Shroomed, Axe, DruggedFox and Colbol have had success experimenting with playing a lot more Marth  having taken sets off several top players in a variety of different matchups. Upstart Marth mains like Smash G0D, Zain, Nightmare, Reeve and Rudolph in the last two years also show a new group of mains  with varying play styles.

Earlier last year, I wrote about Marth’s worrying lack of strong national placings, along with his lack of successful “solo” title victories. Within a Reddit thread I posted about Marth’s troubles, PPMD wrote back, disagreeing with much of what I wrote.

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-11-08-19-amI’m not going to mince words here: PPMD’s response, along with every other bit of data that we have from 2013 onward, proved that my previous conclusion was full of shit. What I was particularly wrong about was the ambiguous implication that Marth struggled because of his placings, use as a situational counterpick over a serious main and Fox players getting more representation. For reference, Marth did extremely well against Fox and Falco within the Top 100 in 2016, per this excellent article by smash.gg’s Kelly Goodchild.

If anything, Marth’s now at least have examples of the character doing well in “unfavorable” matchups. Even if you ignore PPMD, players like PewPewU, The Moon, Smash G0D and Zain have victories over Top 10 and 20-level Sheiks. PewPewU, a rising star of the previous era, has also improved  his game plan against Captain Falcon, while also becoming the first Marth in years to take a set from Hungrybox.

Even worse, by the same data I used to suggest that Marth wasn’t as good as his perception, you could just as easily say the same for any character that isn’t Fox or Jigglypuff in the modern era (and maybe Peach).

He might not be the king of smash anymore, but Marth is currently thriving in the modern era, with many mains and being ranked third on Melee’s current tier list. In fact, players like the The Moon, the Crimson Blur and ZoSo have said before that they believe Marth could be the best character in the game. Time will tell if the Fire Emblem swordsman can return to the throne.

Top Tier History: Falco Lombardi

Last week, I wrote about how Fox became seen as the best character in Super Smash Bros. Melee. However, throughout the game’s history, he’s been complemented by his fellow top tier and Star Fox counterpart: Falco.

DISCLAIMER: Falco has obviously developed in more ways than I could describe! Per usual, please take what I’ve read as a general overview for his character, with embellishments. Outside of what’s been verified, any opinion I have about Falco certainly isn’t the final word!

Lasers and Forward Smash (late 2001 to early 2004)
Notable players: Justin Junio, Sultan of Samitude, DA Dave, Azen

If the original Super Smash Bros. and Nintendo 64 edition of Star Fox contributed to Fox’s popularity in Melee, it also helped Falco.For 64 players who liked the hitstun and range that Fox’s laser provided him, Falco’s lasers were a good recreation. Take a look at what MMassey’s Falco guide (from late January 2002) says about Falco’s blaster.

They make a pretty big deal about his Blaster (neutral
B), which is actually one of the best edge-guarding tools
in the game since you can just eat most characters'
second jump. They can't deflect it in midair (unless they
have such a move), and that means they'll need a good 
third jump to make it back. Sometimes the CPU will try to
use the midair dodge. When you dodge in the air, that 
counts as your third jump. Instant win for you if they 
can't make it. This  works best in one-on-ones, 
obviously.

The concept of short hop lasering (frequently attributed to Deadly Alliance’s Dave) wasn’t widely used yet, but from Melee’s inception, it was clear that Falco’s lasers gave him a tool to control space better than other characters. In the next paragraph of the guide, you’ll notice another of Falco’s immediately recognizable traits.

Falco was also blessed with the game's absolute 
fastest Meteor Strike; his aerial down+A, that drill 
kick. No matter what part of it you hit with, they'll go
down if they're at 70% or so with empty air beneath them.
Here's where balancing comes into play - Falco falls 
fast. There's a great chance you'll go down with your foe
if you jumped after them to land the spike, but they'll
be going down first. To Falco, that's pretty much all
that matters. 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a first time casual Falco player or Westballz – Falco’s downair is one of his biggest strengths. Even if it wasn’t quite developed as a combo starter or shield pressure tool, his downair was still seen as a really good attack. When you combine this with the strength of his projectile and shine, it’s clear that even in the early ages of Melee, Falco was viewed quite favorably.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I wasn’t able to find something I could definitely say was the first ever video of a Falco in tournament, but based on the level of gameplay seen in the above video, I’d guess that this was taken at some point in mid-2003 at a Midwest tourney.

Although tech skill among players hadn’t quite developed, Falco still saw success early on across different regions. Consider his representation within NorCal (Justin Junio and the Sultan of Samitude), the South (Rob$) and the East Coast (DA Dave and Azen).

As Falco did well for part of Melee’s early ages, his weaknesses were also highlighted. Along with having an easily gimpable vertical recovery, Falco being a lightweight and fast faller made him an exploitable character. Moreover, while Falco had strong grounded moves and aerials, he also wasn’t particularly fast on the ground, relative to someone like Fox.

Even if Falco still had good placings across the board, it was hard to tell whether someone who solo mained him could ever become the best player in the world. Most of his players played him defensively. Suddenly, that changed.

The Pillaring Era (mid 2004 to mid 2007)
Notable players: Bombsoldier, Forward, PC Chris, Dope, Rob$, Zhu, Helios

Forward is often credited with being the “godfather” of Falco – and for good reason. Along with being the first player to consistently shine waveland to follow up on platforms, Forward also was the best player in Arizona.

Unlike other Falcos, who frequently went for things like forward smash or back air after landing a shine, Forward also linked aerials to one another and was just more consistent in actually following up on a positional advantage. Keep in mind that back then, Falco was much more of a defensive character, due to being in a meta where taking risks was frequently discouraged.

Around August 2005 came the breakout of a little-known, but technically proficient Falco named Bombsoldier. If you’re an old-school player or somewhat familiar with Melee’s history, you’ll know of his legendary second-place performance at the Jack Garden Tournament.  Though there’s a popular misconception that Bombsoldier was a nobody – he was still one of East Japan’s best – his placing was still impressive, especially since the JGT featured the best of East Japan, West Japan and the United States.

Although he eventually lost in grand finals to Ken, Bombsoldier’s Falco pushed the character in ways that people didn’t think was possible. It’s discussed more in-depth here, but the difference between Bombsoldier and every other Falco was remarkable. For example, most American Falco players preferred to run away, shoot lasers, run away and use single hits to conservatively follow up a shine.

Bombsoldier was different. In addition to mixing up consistent SHFFL aerials on shield with grabbing, Bombsoldier converted off hits harder than any other Falco. Even though he never replicated his JGT success, without Bombsoldier, Falco isn’t the combo-heavy character we think of today. You could argue that his innovation goes beyond Falco – it effectively showed that Melee was deeper than anyone expected.

In the same way that Zelgadis inspired countless Fox players to step up their tech skill game and push their character, Bombsoldier looked like he came from the future. Falco was still considered one of Melee’s best characters, but before Bombsoldier, it was hard to envision a Falco ever coming close to beating someone like Ken, let alone playing so quickly.

Before the world knew it, PC Chris, a then-rising Falco and Fox player from New York, defeated Ken twice at MLG New York Opener 2006. Here, he showed a mix of Bombsoldier’s punish game, Forward’s ability to keep pressure on his opponents and PC’s own style. By the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Falco was a far more aggressive character than he was in the past. You can check out one of the oldest written Falco guides on Smashboards here. Highlights include a lot of “teh.”

In early 2007, Zhu released a combo video that’s still today one of the most watched combo videos ever.

He wasn’t quite a top player yet, but Zhu had ideas for the character that set the basis for what the next era of Falco players would look like. These included, but weren’t limited to using tools like jab effectively to follow up hits, how Zhu held center stage against his opponents and his creative edgeguards.

The Long Reign (early 2008 to mid 2013)
Notable Players: Mango, Dr. PeePee, Zhu, DaShizWiz, Lambchops, Eggm

Melee was coming close to its end – and with it left a lot of the game’s premier players. But what if Bombsoldier didn’t maximize Falco? What if there were even more ways you could push his character?  Was there even more to Melee that the pre-Brawl players hadn’t figured out?

You can look at Lambchops as one of the forefathers in one particular area: his unrelenting use of lasers. When combined with his tendency to prioritize winning neutral-interactions and strong hits over going for guaranteed punishes, it’s easy to see how Lambchops, as seemingly crazy as his playstyle looks, was influential to other Southern Falco players.  His lasers were especially difficult to deal with because no one back then could consistently powershield.

Under his tutelage came the rise of another Falco player: DaShizWiz, who was one of Florida’s best players and had solid placings, but hadn’t broken out yet. That changed at FAST 1. Watch the game below, in which he three-stocks Mew2King: a man who many still thought was the best player in the world at the time. If you’re interested, you can also watch the full set, which is still considered one of the most exciting Melee sets of all-time.

DSW took Falco’s aggression, but somehow dialed it up to yet another level, calling out his opponents with strong hits, using Lambchops-esque lasers, extending his combos in creative ways. This doesn’t mean that some of the traits never applied to other players, but like Bombsoldier and Forward, DSW set the groundwork for the kind of Falco that people looked up to for inspiration.

As if lasers, tech skill, speed and extending combos weren’t enough, soon Falco began to grow in yet another way: aerial drift. Guess who also mastered manipulating Falco’s attack timings on shield, revolutionizing how the character could be used to both overwhelm an opponent and keep them frozen in fear?

From 2008 to early 2010, Mango’s Falco could have been argued to be around the same level, if not as good as his Jigglypuff. Somehow baffling opponents in how mercilessly fast it was, while still always being in a safe position to react to their options, his Falco was somehow both aggressive, while also being smart enough to avoid getting hit. His other characters were the same way, but Falco gave him a character with the kind of vertical speed that Mango could manipulate to dazzling effect.

Around this era was when people (especially Mew2King) wondered if Falco was the best character. Though Fox still technically stood at the top of the tier list, Falcos like DSW, Zhu and even Mango were routinely defeating other top Fox players of their time.

Falco was successful, fun, fast, exciting and seeing more development in his direction than any other character. You could argue that for a long time, his potential played a huge role in Melee staying alive (in contrast to the popular perception of Jigglypuff, though Falco certainly had his share of haters). While tech skill videos and good players existed for almost every relevant character, it’s hard to argue that anyone other than Falco saw as much of a jump in players, success and playstyle changes.

Dr. PeePee was notable before, but around 2011 was when his style of Falco became the standard for other players to watch. Emphasizing discipline in how to control stage, safely follow up on hits, dash dance and more, Dr. PeePee quickly grew into one of the world’s best players, as well as its best Falco main, winning Pound V and several other tournaments.

The set above used to be considered the greatest Falco ditto of all time. While some of the gameplay is outdated, take a look at how Dr. PeePee and Mango play the character. This is a good representation of what the highest level of gameplay looked like within the United States back then.

The Decline (late 2013 to now):
Notable players: Dr. PeePee/PPMD, Mango, Westballz, Zhu, Santiago, Squid

It’s not as if Falco hasn’t seen any development within this era. In fact, he started off fine, with Dr. PeePee/PPMD and Mango winning many tournaments in the “post-documentary” era. But even those two have needed to dual main (PPMD’s Marth and Mango’s Fox), if not play more of their other characters in order to win.

As time keeps passing by, it becomes harder to ignore that the once glorious bird has gone through a national decline. Even Westballz brings out Fox for certain matchups.

This doesn’t mean that Falco hasn’t developed at all. For example, Westballz is an example of someone who’s represented Falco well in the modern era. Along with pushing his punish game further than any other Falco,  Westballz has also revolutionized a new way of playing defensive.

It’s difficult to categorize anyone as a solely “defensive” or “aggressive” player, but Westballz deserves quite a bit of credit for having a stellar defensive game, along with his mind boggling punish game. Most people categorize defensive play with lasering or platform camping, but to this day, Westballz DI’s hits and converts off crouch cancel better than nearly any other Falco player.

There’s also reason to believe that Falco is due for another breakout. He still has good regional representation, with players like Santiago, Squid, Trulliam, Porkchops and more being highly regarded. If any of these players breakout on a national scale, suddenly the narrative of Falco being “unviable” changes.

The biggest problems for Falco, however, are Peach (particularly Armada) and Jigglypuff (Hungrybox). Depending on your perspective, these matchups are either solidly in those characters’ favor or simply underdeveloped from Falco’s perspective. You could even argue that the recent rebirth of Marth, Sheik and Ice Climbers has also hurt Falco. As Fox becomes more and more successful, it’s harder to tell: has Falco already been solved or is his recent lack of national representation just a result of his dwindling player base?

No one knows the answer for sure. On one hand, it’s difficult to deny that in the current meta, Fox simply does better in nearly every matchup. But on the other hand, this is only shown by recency bias. As PPMD mentions above, back in the post-Brawl era, those same results could have easily shown that Falco was the best character in the game. You could say that Fox has been more developed and has more players, but it doesn’t mean that Falco can’t win.

If Melee history’s taught its fans one thing, it’s to never think the metagame is solved. Predicting Falco’s future is near impossible, but it’s undeniable that he’s played one of the biggest roles within both Melee’s growth and rebirth. How fitting would it be – if someday it’s on the brink of death again, only for Falco to save it?

Top Tier History: How Fox McCloud Became the Face of Melee

Anyone with a basic understanding of competitive Super Smash Bros. Melee knows that Fox is one of the game’s best characters – and its most played. His overwhelming speed, power, recovery, combo game and tools within the neutral game make him a formidable threat for both casual players and the best players in the world.

In a new series focused around how each character in Melee has developed throughout its meta, I’ll start with Fox.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although my basis behind much of what I’ve written below is fact, please don’t take my analysis as complete truth. As someone who isn’t a top-level player, I wouldn’t claim to know more about what PC Chris specifically contributed to the meta than a ranked Fox player – therefore, some of what’s written below is slightly embellished! 

The Post-64 Ages (late 2001- early 2004):
Notable Fox players: JR Castillo, Matt Deezie,  KishSquared, Masashi

As I’ve written before, the original Super Smash Bros. for the Nintendo 64 had a huge impact on how its sequel was played – but it’s also important to understand its influence on Melee Fox.

For example, in the first game, Fox had a powerful upsmash, uair, combo-starting tilts, aerials, a quick dash attack, formidable lasers, speed and a useful semi-spike in his down-B, which also acted as a reflector. Sound familiar?

When you combine Fox’s popularity in 64 with his own acclaimed series at the time, it’s obvious why even a casual Melee player back in 2001 could be thrilled at the prospect of playing as Fox.

Although his lasers no longer had hitstun, the addition of up and down throws led to strong mixups for Fox, as well as options to efficiently kill most characters. Along with also having a much better recovery, Fox was also complemented by Melee’s movement mechanics, which seemed to enhance his already loaded tool set. Take a look at the video below.

Isai isn’t known for his Fox, but this is one of the earliest recorded tournament videos of top-level Fox play. Notice how Fox’s full hop, speed and relative safeness of his aerials give Fox not only an advantage in his ability to interact with other characters. There’s not much of it in this match, but Fox’s laser also gave him a valuable camping tool, which players like Masashi and Matt Deezie frequently used.

Because grabs were not initially seen as lethal as they were in 64 (kill moves), Melee’s meta back then was centered around simple mixups – shield grabbing attacks from opponents, crossing up attacks on shield and going for strong hits (smash attacks, stronger aerials) as reads. Even on this basic level, Fox saw success across many regions, with players like JR Castillo, KishSquared and Masashi all being top-level players in their areas

Though Fox was still considered a strong character, he had his fair share of skeptics. Along with being a fast-faller, he was also technically demanding. If you played him, you could easily take a lot of percent or get KO’d ridiculously early. You’ve probably seen this post before, which had players like Mew2King and UmbreonMow arguing about Fox vs. Sheik.

In early 2004, Chillin became the first person ever to take a tournament set off Ken, defeating him in winners quarters of the first strong East Coast national tournament in Game Over. Ironically, the match was on Final Destination – later seen as an extremely valuable counterpick for Marth against Fox. If you’re familiar with the smash documentary, you’ll know this as a set where Chillin uses up-throw to up-air as a potent combo against Marth to success.

While Chillin’s success here showed that Fox had potential , for the most part, Fox remained inconsistent, if not worse than before. For example, at Smash 4 Cash in New York, no Fox mains finished in the top eight – and the same went for Tournament Go 6, the biggest tourney of 2004.

The only consistent Fox main might have been Masashi – and almost no one knew about how good he was back then, save for Captain Jack and other Japanese smashers. Outside of Ken sometimes bringing out a janky, dash-attacking, short-hop in place and dash dancing Fox to moderate success, the character suffered. Along with being combo food once hit, Fox also suffered from a Marth-heavy meta, in which he could get randomly forward smashed and die at early percents.

The Tech Skill Revolution (mid 2004-mid 2007)
Notable Fox players: Chillin, Zelgadis, PC Chris, Mew2King, KoreanDJ, Javi

Yet it wasn’t all doom and gloom. At some point in 2004, a man by the tag of Zelgadis, part of a crew called DBR, set the course for Fox’s meta with arguably the most influential combo video of all-time.

It looks basic now, but think about how revolutionary it was at the time. Zelgadis was doing things with Fox that had never before been scene. Almost no one back in 2004 could waveshine opponents (albeit with bad DI) consistently. Shined Blind had its fair share of skepticism, with many saying the video was faked, staged or done on weak opponents, but it also inspired Fox players to push their character to never-before seen limits.

At MLG San Francisco 2005, Zelgadis defeated Isai in losers quarters, proving that his skills weren’t just a gimmick. By mid-2006, Fox dominated the North American scene. Along with Ken winning MLG Atlanta 2005 while going practically all-Fox through his losers bracket, players like PC Chris, Mew2King and KoreanDJ were also giving the character much needed top-level representation.

For example, without Mew2King pushing Fox’s technical ability and his immense knowledge of frame data, we wouldn’t have had technical whiff-punish Fox players like Hax. Meanwhile, KoreanDJ brought a new level of aggression, frequently proactively calling out his opponents and putting them in favorable “50/50” situations, though his technical contributions weren’t as notable as Mew2King’s.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Obviously, you can’t generalize these two players in completely contrasting playstyles, but nonetheless, they are forefathers for different kinds of Fox players – albeit not quite Wife’s explanation of “computer” and “hot ball of fire.” Moreover, KoreanDJ also played Sheik (his more well-known main) in tournament, along with Marth.

While those two certainly were key in pushing Fox’s metagame, PC Chris was probably the most important of the three for the character.  Frequently showing Fox players how to use their entire moveset in different situations and above all else, PC also consistently showed Fox players how to preemptively position themselves far enough to hold a advantage over their opponents, but close enough to threaten them. This sounds extremely basic, but for newer players, PC Chris was essentially the Leffen of his time in how he emphasized fundamentals, which could be seen in all of his characters.

Soon, it became clear: Fox was the best character in the game. This was especially boosted by a ruleset where stages like Green Greens, Corneria, Mute City and more were still allowed – blatantly Fox-favored stages. Around this time was when the famous “No Items, Fox Only, Final Destination,” joke popped up about what competitive Melee was like (even though players like Ken and KoreanDJ were successful with other characters).

Screen Shot 2017-02-01 at 12.00.16 PM.png

Along with seeing success in the United States, Fox saw an unlikely innovator in Mexico: Javi. Even with him never traveling outside of his country to play Melee, Javi showed another level of technicality that was years ahead of what most players saw as possible or practical. Along with consistently multishining, Javi’s fluid movement was rarely seen among even the top level.

It’s hard to say whether or not he was on the level of other world-class players back then, but judging by videos, he was certainly more technically refined, also playing with a semi-claw setup. To this day, many wonder how good Javi was in the golden age of Melee – with some even asking if he could have been the best player in the world. Not many knew at the time how truly good he was, even with his videos online.

Post-Brawl Struggles (late 2007- early 2010)
Notable Fox players: Mew2King, Jman, Lucky, Cactuar, Zgetto

Fox continued to be seen as the best character in the game, but he struggled to win big tournaments. Though he still did well, the Fox meta among top players initially stayed stagnant, mostly due to the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which took the attention of many Melee players. This inevitably affected motivation from players like PC Chris and KoreanDJ to keep playing, given how the national scene was now splintered.

Moreover, the rise of Falco, as seen from players like Mango, Zhu, DaShizWiz and Dr. PeePee, gave Fox players another problem. Not only did they have few ways back then to get around lasers, but Fox was also at a perfect combo weight. If you missed a grab back then and got spot-dodged, you were almost guaranteed to eat 40 percent or lose your stock from a shine. Even if most still agreed that Fox was the best character, it was common to hear people talk about Falco as his counter.

With other character’s punish games (like Falco and Jigglypuff) being pushed against Fox, holding position became emphasized more, with players like Jman, Lucky and Cactuar becoming premier names for their character. Though stages like Green Greens and Corneria were still legal, Fox players instead usually opted to go places like Dreamland and Pokemon Stadium, stages where Fox could always run away, while still being able to KO his opponent.

The Tech Skill Revival (mid 2010- early 2014)
Notable Fox players: Mango, Lovage, Unknown522, Javi, Eggm, Leffen, Silent Wolf

Despite Fox’s struggles, his potential kept his mains hopeful. Soon, players like Lovage and Silent Wolf were not only among the best in their regions, but they pushed Fox’s technical skill in a way that hadn’t been seen since Mew2King in 2006. On the East Coast, Eggm had an out of shield game that was way ahead of his time.

New advancements in shield pressure, his punish game and his ability to scrap up close with his opponents gave Fox players more motivation to push their character. By the end of 2010, a Fox main in Jman finally won a significant tournament in Don’t Go Down There Jeff. Strangely enough, the grand finals of the tourney was a Fox ditto against Lucky.

Even if many players disagreed with each other on how to use Fox, he was once again slowly starting to rise up. In early 2011, Nicolas Ramirez posted a video that’s still looked at as one of the greatest highlight videos of all-time.

Dark wasn’t a top-level player, but he showcased things with Fox that looked tool-assisted. Similar to Shined Blind, Perfect Dark both invited acclaim and controversy in the quality of skill shown, but one thing for sure: the potential was there for Fox to become a whole new beast.

By GENESIS 2, Mango had not only announced his return to competing, but the world was also hyped to see his new Fox, which he planned to debut at this tournament. After having his Falco sent to losers by Taj, Mango defeated Shroomed and Hungrybox, thoroughly dismantled Taj and played a close five-game set with Armada. Throughout this stretch of play, Mango showed a brand new rushdown Fox that wasn’t just for show – it had the potential to take sets from anyone in the world.

Of course, Mango wasn’t just any rushdown Fox. Similar to how his Jigglypuff and Falco played, his Fox illustrated how correctly manipulating aerial drift and movement could make opponents look silly. Even in grand finals, when he lost, Mango frequently mixed up his attack timings on Armada’s shield and do moves that were technically “unsafe” but meant to throw off his opponent’s rhythm. This was different than other aggressive Fox’s, who instead would usually just grab on shield or try to overwhelm their opponents with moves.

At the beginning of 2012, the Melee scene had one of its most legendary Cinderella-runs at Apex 2012: Javi’s first American tournament. After initially losing a close ditto to Lovage in winners, Javi tore through KoreanDJ, VanZ, Lovage in the runback, Hax and even Dr. PeePee, before losing to Hungrybox. Imagine that: a guy from Mexico holding a controller in a strange way defeating a god in tournament.

Other Fox players started to break out in 2012. Unknown522, a Canadian Fox whose play tafokints once said convinced him that he could never beat Fox as Sheik again, became a dominant name in the scene, taking Hungrybox to the brink at The Big House 2 and winning a set over Mew2King at Revival of Melee 5. While Mango still played Falco, his Fox replaced his Jigglypuff as his other most-played character. In Europe, Leffen also asserted himself as a name to watch.

In 2013, Fox saw yet another wave of success. Along with Mango winning EVO 2013, came a whole new wave of Fox players. As part of 2013’s SSBMRank, eight of the top 20 players listed Fox as one of their characters. This spawned something you could consider great or terrifying.

20XX…Hack Pack Era (mid 2014 – now)
Notable players: Leffen, Armada, Mango, Hax, SFAT, Ice

When people talk about “20XX,” they’re usually referring to a future when everybody mains Fox. This might seem like reality, given that players like Ice and Armada now play Fox.

However, you could also argue that our era is defined by a different kind of 20XX in the 20XX Hack Pack: a Melee mod created by Achilles. Helping people practice parts of Melee that they realistically couldn’t on a vanilla setup (tech chasing, escaping Falco shield pressure, powershielding, etc.), the hack pack – and the advent of Netplay, emulated Melee’s unofficial online mode –  has transformed Melee’s metagame far more than any single resource ever.

Because Fox is still seen as the best and most popular character, this has inevitably impacted him the most. Take a look at the Fox ditto below and then try to compare the two styles, “optimized” and deliberate, to Isai’s Fox from Snexus 2.

Forget 2003; the difference between this Fox ditto and even one played in 2014 is astronomical. Top level Fox play at this point has advanced to where as time goes by, watching Leffen, Armada, Mango or even SFAT and Ice play is leagues above watching Fox’s of the past.

Not only are conversions off hits far more brutal than ever before, but Fox’s game off the ledge has completely changed how people play against him. Being cornered against any character is bad, but in today’s era when Fox could win a last-stock situation with invincible ledgedash-upsmash, he is far more terrifying than ever before.

Does this mean that Hax’s prediction of “20XX” is true? It’s tough to say. While the results and quality of play show that he’s the best character, players like PPMD and Leffen have talked before about how the last two year’s of Melee’s meta have been “stale.” This is reference to aspects of Melee like consistency, execution and “optimization” being prioritized over new ideas. Some people still think that characters like Falco or Marth could be argued above him.

Fox’s success could just be a result of improvement resources, like the hack pack, being available for all players. It doesn’t definitively prove that other characters can’t “catch up” as much as it shows that more competitive players happen to play Fox.

At the top level at least, they both have a point: even with Fox’s widespread popularity, the current ranked No. 1 and No. 2 players (Armada and Hungrybox) primarily play two other characters (Peach and Jigglypuff). But what if this changes? What if Fox really that much better than everyone else?

Only time will tell what the future holds for competitive Melee’s most iconic character.