Hi, everyone. I’m happy to present my Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time, with today’s focus on the sets ranked 10-1. Here’s a brief FAQ on this project and The Book of Melee.
What is The Book of Melee?
“The Book of Melee” is my upcoming book about the history of the competitive “Super Smash Bros. Melee” community. It follows Melee’s greatest players and leaders through their collective efforts to support the scene’s survival over nearly two decades. I began working on the book in late 2016, and am releasing it for electronic consumption on May 8, 2019. Physical copies are TBA, and currently only available for those who purchased the book for a limited offer on The Big House 8 Compendium. Purchasing a physical copy will be available at a later date.
What is The Top 100 Melee Sets of All Time?
This project is exactly what it sounds like: a recap of my top 100 favorite Melee sets leading up to my book release.
How did you determine the Top 100?
As detailed in my introduction and methodology post, I went through all of Melee history and picked my favorite sets from each year and major tournament. After creating this initial list, I chose to order and cut down what I had selected, based on both the criteria I listed in my previous post and personal taste. Before anyone asks about why “X” wasn’t on the list, chances are that it could have easily made the Top 100, but just wasn’t selected. There were a bit more than 120 sets that I initially listed.
More accurately, the final project could be interpreted as “Edwin’s Top 100 favorite Melee sets of all time.” But I’d like to think that the effort I took into pursuing this project, as well as writing a book about Melee history, would be enough for this list to be somewhat of an authoritative starting resource for any newcomer to the scene, and not just some guy’s opinion.
I’ve never heard of you! What makes you think you’re qualified to determine Melee’s best sets above anyone else?
I’ve been writing about Melee news and Melee history for almost three years. I can’t say that this list is really anything more than just my opinion based on a set of arbitrary criteria that I try to be fair with, but I hope it’s an entertaining and convincing read for anyone interested in Melee.
10. Leffen vs. Armada at Paragon Orlando 2015
This is the set that forever changed the Fox ditto punish game and the nature of the intra-Swedish rivalry. Leffen starts it off by bodying Armada’s Peach the hardest out of any opponent ever and then steamrolling Armada’s Fox in game two. Suddenly, in a manner similar to their epic BEAST V set, Armada came alive, four-stocking Leffen in game three in the Fox ditto. He nearly repeats the same feat in game four, and jumps out to a three to one stock lead in game five. But Leffen finally wakes up and manages to bring it to a last stock situation. By the set’s ending, both players immediately knew that they had played the defining set of their rivalry, and that it would be etched in stone as the greatest Fox ditto ever.
9. Mango vs. Leffen at Genesis 4
If there was a dictionary specifically made for Melee sets and you looked up the term, “slobber-knocker,” this is it: the ultimate Falco-Fox set. Featuring bedazzling punishes from both players against each other, sloppy, although entertaining flashes of brilliance, and a miraculous comeback from Mango in game four, it is nearly everything stellar about Melee distilled in its fastest matchup. This is a favorite among players and fans alike – and it features one of the funniest Scar yelps of all time.
8. PPMD vs. Armada at Pound V
Up until this point, the five gods of Melee weren’t quite an established part of the scene. Mango and Mew2King has their reigns of terror, but Mango was no longer competitively motivated and Mew2King had clearly prioritized his Brawl career at the time. Hungrybox had a stretch of dominance in 2010, but fizzled out relatively quickly in comparison to the top competitors. In Pound V grand finals, both PPMD and Armada were the two remaining contenders for world No. 1. Both hailed from weak Melee regions and found different paths to individual success, now each seeking their first supermajor win. The moment when the lights turn off in the venue – and you can hear the audible gasps and reactions of hundreds of smashers – gives me goosebumps to this day, as does the bair that kept PPMD’s tournament alive.
7. Mango vs. Armada at Royal Flush
Were it not for two other tournaments, this would almost certainly be remembered as the ultimate Mango-Armada grand finals. Their 15 games against each other should say enough. But most compelling is how different their circumstances are heading into the set. Armada was amid one of the most dominant stretches of tournament winning ever. Conversely, a slumping Mango had been a punchline for his lackluster performances leading up to Royal Flush. Some even speculated about a potential shift in priorities for him away from Melee competition and into his personal stream brand. To date, this is the most magical experience I have ever had as a smasher; to see 15 games of Mango-Armada live. If you look closely in the video, you can see me rush the stage at its conclusion.
6. PPMD vs. Armada at Apex 2015
This particular matchup marked an evolution in the PPMD-Armada rivalry, which now had an established, but still thrilling and relatively new element of character counterpicking between the two. Between the epic shades of their Apex 2013 set in winner’s semifinals, fantastic play from Armada’s Fox in the first set of grand finals, PPMD’s Marth cooly holding off the same Fox in grand finals set two, is a story of resilience that reflected the community ensuring the survival of their seemingly doomed event. That the finale of set two led to the overwhelmed Apex 2015 champion – after half a year of disappearing from the national spotlight due to depression – holding his head in his hands, clutching his heart, and then rising to face an exhausted venue of delirious and excited smashers, is only fitting. It remains an iconic moment of personal and community triumph.
5. Armada vs. Mango at Genesis 2
It’s practically laughable to ever suggest it today, but in mid-2011, Armada was perceived as a choker. He had never won any American major. Following his devastating loss at Pound V, Armada nearly quit Melee for good before eventually returning at Genesis 2 – propped by community funds – to try one last time. And though Armada managed to make grands while dropping only one game, he still had one demon left to slay in his path: Mango, the man who had stopped his run at the original Genesis. This time, Mango played a rushdown Fox that had just brutalized Taj – the underdog hero of Genesis 2. The two went blow-for-blow for every game, and their goals were different, but similar. For Mango, Genesis 2 has sparked his competitive fire for the first time since Pound 4, and he saw it as a chance to take back what was rightfully his in Melee’s throne. For Armada, it was a chance at overcoming a history of heartbreak in America and finally proving himself as a man worthy of being a world champion.
4. Hungrybox vs. Armada at Evo 2016
Evo 2016 was Melee’s biggest “esports” moment ever, and it isn’t particularly close. Between the 2000-plus entrants at the event, its headlined and expected Hungrybox vs. Armada bout in grand finals and the hundreds of thousands of eyes watching from home, the sheer spectacle of these two arena-packed Melee sets makes them forever immortalized in our scene’s history. When you add in unforgettable commentary from Scar and Toph, the huge momentum shifts leading to huge uncertainty as to who had the edge, The Rest Heard Around The World to close set one, and the epic celebration from its victor at the end of set two, you really can’t ignore this set as anything less than scene-defining.
3. Mango vs. Taj at Genesis 2
When I first entered the Melee scene, one of the initial questions asked knowledgeable players was, “what set is your favorite set?” I’ll never forget the instant response of GameFAQS poster Habefiet: Taj vs. Mango. For years, I couldn’t put to words why, but I think now I get it. In the first set, the combination of Mango’s bursts of unstoppable Falco genius, Taj’s devastating bag of tricks off-stage and raw-as-hell hybrid of commentary/shittalk hybrid from HomeMadeWaffles make it instantly memorable on its own.
But it’s the second set – in which an angry and bloodthirsty Mango picks Fox, then rumored to the deadliest weapon in Mango’s arsenal and his newest experiment, against the man who struck the god himself down to loser’s bracket – that brings Mango-Taj from being an all time classic to being scene-defining. No other set comes close to embodying the brutal skill curve of Melee, arguably the game’s defining quality. In the set’s climactic moments, you not only see the world’s most terrifying player enter an untouchable zone, you see the thrill of Melee at its darkest and primal core. It’s a game where if you play the right way, you too can tear your opponent’s heart out, dominate them at will to the glee of thousands, and leave them with no option but to unplug their controller and never come back.
2. Mango vs. Armada at Genesis
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. This tournament spawned the start of Melee’s defining rivalry. Mango had grown weary of ruling his scene with no challenger, but little did he know that a Swedish teenager who played Peach and could barely speak English would shrug off every other American champion in his path and come knocking at Mango’s throne, let alone utterly dominate his untouchable Jigglypuff in their first tournament game.
It set the pace for a thrilling winner’s finals matchup of Mango’s Falco against Armada’s Peach. Watch the first set today and you’ll notice the exact moment where the largely American venue and commentators become desperate and realize what’s happening. With a foreign invader proving that fundamental assumptions the Americans held about Melee were wrong, Mango was the United States’ last hero. Eventually, he too fell.
The circumstances behind a Swedish traveling all the way to California to compete in a game that wasn’t even the premier game in its franchise, could have only happened in an open bracket system, an integral part of Melee’s grassroots appeal. If you wanted a pop culture comparison, it’s easy to look at the Armada-Mango matchup as Ivan Drago against Rocky Balboa. But in reality, Armada was Rocky: Mango was Apollo Creed.
It all lead to a magical set two, where following Armada utterly destroying Mango’s Falco game 1, the American hero went back to his trademark Jigglypuff, knowing that everything lay on the line. For the first time in seemingly years, the overwhelmingly pro-American venue cheered for a Jigglypuff. Just watch the rest.
1. Armada vs. Mew2King at SSC 2018
Melee is in a weird place. The community isn’t quite in a dark age, but it’s well past the honeymoon period of 2013-2016, when nothing could stop its ascendance. Despite metagame has developed to new technical boundaries, we are a wearier and older population, unsure of our long-term futures in and out of the game. Smashers, for the most part, are cautious about the promises and riches of esports and greater visibility.
Despite what they may say publicly, our best players are no different. Just like us, they struggle to find existential purpose and a long-term way of maintaining their love for Melee as their lives inevitably change. Perhaps no tournament conveys the same mood of anxiety and soul-crushing existential dread than Super Smash Con 2018. Here, the bevy of top player dropouts, a soul-crushing 65th place from the world’s most popular Melee player and a public meltdown from the world’s best player almost marred what was initially promised as a thrilling national in the Summer of Smash.
Almost. These grand finals boast the most epic gameplay I’ve seen from two competitors, let alone two titans. Intense neutral, brutal punish games, adaptions from both sides, last-stock moments, pop offs, momentum shifts – you name it and this set has it in spades. Even the commentary, which centers a longtime god like Mango alongside scene veterans like Chillin and DJ Nintendo, fires on all cylinders with a mix of professionalism, grassroots authenticity, maturity, emotional tone-setting, and game insight.
There’s a strange beauty in the set’s conclusion. Armada, up two stocks to one in an otherwise back-and-forth game 10, instantly pulls away with a zero to death: an ending that could’ve been anticlimactic elsewhere, but not here. By the time he stands up and does his dorky victory salute at the audience, we are all cheering. None of us have any idea what was going through his mind.
Imagine what must it have felt like in that moment, to have celebratory confetti in your face, facing thousands of people who love you for everything you’ve done for them, knowing that this is it; to dream of ambitions outside of Melee; to fight doubts about if those ambitions will ever give you the same happiness.
This unique convergence of storylines, gameplay, entertainment value, and emotional nuance happened just last year. It’s a testament to our community’s resilience and growth over generations of players. The cherry on top is the involvement of two old-school legends, showing that as times may change, some of what we hold close to our heart will always stay the same. That’s why I picked Armada vs. Mew2King at SSC 2018 as the greatest set of all time: it embodies the principles that define our scene over two decades, and, above ell else, transcendent Melee.
Well, that’s it for the project, and for the countdown to The Book of Melee. You can now download a copy here, with the ability to pay whatever amount you think it’s worth.
Before I conclude this project for good, I want to thank all my friends and family for supporting my journey. While I’m working on finalizing print copies, I’d like to conclude this countdown with the final words of my book.
With the community facing a transitional period in 2019, it’s clear why people still play Melee after so many years. They play for the late-night matches in the middle of a crowded studio apartment on a work night, for those times when they tell their friends “I swear this is my last friendly,” for when they watch an Armada vs. Mango set in a packed theater with thousands of fellow enthusiasts who flew countless miles and paid hundreds of dollars just to play with each other.
They play for the magic of early 2000s nostalgia, for the timeless and unsolvable puzzle that is Melee, for the liberating jolt of adrenaline in a last-stock situation with a crowd screaming behind them, for the answer to a millennial existential anxiety, for the opportunity to carve themselves a legacy that no one—not even the game’s creator itself—can deny them.
The Melee community won’t last forever. But it doesn’t need to. The memories of the struggles its players have overcome reflect the primary reason they play, above all else: for freedom.