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.

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1 Comment

  1. Why would you put a qualifier on Druggedfox as a sheik. Shroomed has played her for less time than he has, same with Plup. I also disagree with naming Shroomed as an innovator of Shield Drops. Shroomed does amazing things in neutral and with FH and drifts, but he plays more like M2K and Drephen, using advantageous reads over clean and guaranteed options. DFox, Plup, and Swedish have pushed the SD and Techchase game over all the others.

    Thank you for writing an article, but I disagree with your take on the modern era.

    Like

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