No. 3 Cinderella Run of All-Time: Taj at Genesis 2

The middle of 2011 brought the Melee community its most anticipated tournament in years: mid-July’s Genesis 2. Held in NorCal by the famed immortal group DBR, it had Armada, a competitively rejuvenated Mango, Dr. PeePee, Mew2King, Hungrybox and more of the best talent Melee had to offer from the United States, Canada and Europe.

Yet in attendance was someone who would later be remembered as the hero of Genesis 2: Tony “Taj” Jackson, a long-time Arizona smash veteran and Marth/Mewtwo extraordinaire.

Playing in the same region as Wobbles, Forward and Axe, Taj still boasted major top eight showings at Pound 2 and FC-Diamond, proving himself as a respectable competitor. Taj also once double eliminated Ken at a SoCal local in late 2006, defeating him in Marth dittos twice. Until that point, only Azen had ever beaten Ken in that matchup. Another fun fact about Taj: he and Forward were the first team to ever take a set off the vaunted duo of Ken and Isai in doubles, with Taj playing Fox in the set.

Following the golden age of Melee, Taj saw up and down results. Before Genesis 2, the last comparable event that Taj competed came at Pound 4, where he finished a lowly 49th place. Later on in 2010, Taj finished ninth at Don’t Go Down There Jeff, but most expected him to get somewhere around 17th or 25th at Genesis 2. Keep in mind that Marth hadn’t been doing well in the metagame, with the character’s best representative in Mew2King now mostly playing Sheik.

But for all his weaknesses and strengths as a player, one trait above all else defined Taj: his knack for ending Falco stocks at absurdly early percents. Combined with his tricky movement, which involved the use of unorthodox tactics like sticky walking and moonwalking, Taj made for a fearsome foe against many of his opponents.

Before bracket even started, Taj shocked many with one of the biggest upsets of the tournament by defeating Dr. PeePee in pools, 2-0. Over the last three quarters of a year, Dr. PeePee had put his name in for contention of best player in the world, due to his recent victories at Revival of Melee 3, Winter Gamefest VI and Pound V. Taj beating him came as a surprise, even if Dr. PeePee was sick through most of Genesis 2.

Already starting a ruckus through his massive upset, Taj earned himself a spot in Genesis 2’s final bracket. He dominated SoCal Falco DEHF in the first round of winners bracket, moving on to play Hax: one of Melee’s most promising young talents and a Captain Falcon notorious for being strong against Marth.

Keep in mind that Taj had previously bad experiences against Captain Falcon before, having also lost to ORLY in pools. Perhaps knowing Hax’s proficiency in the matchup ahead of time, Taj won, with Marth and Mewtwo.

Taj then had to play the SoCal Peach MacD in winners quarters, a rising player in California who previously took a game off Armada in Peach dittos. Taj won 3-2 before preparing for his hardest test yet: Mango. Even Mew2King, Marth’s premier representative for the time, had yet to figure the latter out, losing their previous set, 3-1. It was here that Taj’s legacy changed forever.

Mango started off against Taj as expected, zero to deathing him in less than 30 seconds. With his friend G$ screaming in the background over every hit he gained, Mango took yet another stock, still keeping his first one and locking down Taj with his movement and lasers.

However, Taj stayed resilient. Taking advantage of Mango’s natural aggression and cockiness in his play, Taj pounced on the few openings he gained, profiting off mistakes Mango would make off-stage or in predictable habits he noticed. Where Mew2King would desperately try to attack Mango out of lasers and shield pressure, Taj simply tanked the hits or ran away, biding his time and waiting for Mango to throw himself at him.

Even though Taj didn’t have as lengthy of a punish game, he didn’t need to. He just had to throw him off stage, where you didn’t have to be Mew2King or Armada to close out a stock against Falco. After capitalizing on a few mistakes made by Mango, Taj finally stole game one.

Mango took him back to the same stage, now playing more cautiously around his shield, shooting more lasers and fading his aerials backwards as he approached him. If Taj wanted to beat him, he couldn’t just sit in shield all game. By the end of the match, the first game looked like a fluke.

In the third game, Taj tried playing more aggressively, throwing out more aerials and dash dancing in a Ken-esque manner around Mango. This played into Mango’s game and effectively allowed the SoCal Falco to play more on the offensive as a response, with Mango gaining a three to one stock lead.

Mango once again felt comfortable in approaching, beginning to play once again at a closer range. Yet again, Taj clawed a comeback, taking another stock and reversing a situation near the edge of Battlefield against Mango. Game three was starting to look a lot like game one.

A tilted Mango ran at Taj, trying to end the game and assaulting Taj’s shield in the corner of the stage. But the Arizona Marth wouldn’t budge. Finally, Mango desperately threw a second forward smash, which Taj instantly shield grabbed with his back to the ledge. One throw off stage led to an infuriating stock loss at 31 percent for Mango and a 2-1 set lead for Taj.

“What the fuck happened?” asked commentator HMW out loud, to both jeers and cheers from a confused crowd. “Taj won and the projector went out.”

Following a brief 20 seconds of no gameplay, Mango and Taj went at it again with the lights turned on. This time, Mango mixed up both preemptive, defensive, retreating play with his trademark offense, either keeping Taj choked in the corner of the stage or attacking ahead of the latter’s position. This ensured that Mango wouldn’t get grabbed, leading him to roll over his Arizona peer with a resounding three-stock victory.

To start game five on Pokemon Stadium, Taj adapted. Instead of waiting in shield for Mango to throw out a move, he proactively neutral aired, catching Mango before he could attack. A few swings of Marth’s sword and a Ken combo later, Taj took a quick lead.

Taj’s sudden offense and callouts of Mango’s attack patterns caught the SoCal Falco off guard, as he once again hit Mango off-stage into an edgeguard situation. Perhaps scared of Taj’s edgeguard prowess, Mango didn’t jump, recovering too late and just under the stage to go down four stocks to two.

The SoCal Falco brought it back, not to be intimidated by the start to the final game of the set. Eventually, the two went to last stock, with Taj having a huge percent lead. But in one of the most out-of-nowhere ways to end a set ever, Taj then tanked a Mango laser shot too closely, throwing out a forward smash to send Mango off-stage. One simple edgeguard later and Taj had made it to winners finals, having defeated Melee’s two best Falcos to make it there.

”We got Taj in winner’s finals,” said HMW on commentary. “Ain’t that some shit?”

Years later, Taj said that heading into Genesis 2, he attended primarily to watch his friends Axe and Wobbles compete, while playing on the side. Having already defeated Hax, MacD, Dr. PeePee and Mango, Taj felt like he had nothing left to prove. Moreover, he dreaded the implicit pressure of possibly facing Mango again.

He picked Mewtwo in winners finals’ first two games, gathering a bit of golf applause from the crowd and occasional cheers when he did something well, but ultimately not being able to keep up with Armada, who, in contrast to Taj’s competitive reluctance, looked as focused as ever to win his first American major. In the third game, Taj switched to Marth, but Armada dominated him in a three-stock victory, with a final stitchface pull leading to Taj effectively quitting out of the set.

Awaiting Taj in losers finals was a red-hot and furious Mango, fresh off wins over Shroomed and Hungrybox. Out of respect to Taj, I won’t go into detail for what happened, but any longtime Melee fan knows that when discussing his run at Genesis 2, the Arizona Marth’s brutal end to the tournament can’t exactly be ignored.

Regardless, Taj’s run at Genesis 2 involved a longtime scene veteran showing that an old dog absolutely could keep up with a few of the scene’s greats for the time. It involved someone who took down two of the best players in the world years after many considered him to be well past his prime. In the post-Brawl era, Taj became the first ever “non-god” to defeat multiple gods at a major.

Today, Taj doesn’t play as much Melee in tournament anymore, though he’s still among Arizona’s best players under Axe. At his last national, Evo 2017, Taj finished a ho-hum 65th, but given his performance at Genesis 2, it’s safe to say that he’s already made his mark on the scene.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s