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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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