I’m glad to return Melee Science in article form with HTC Esports. We’ve been on a brief hiatus and I know that we’re all itching to bring more analysis content out there.
It’s been roughly two years since the last major updates to the Melee tier list and I wanted to give some of my thoughts on the 2017 metagame. Before we get into the tier list, let’s create a foundation for it. Here are some criterions that I use.
The central core of the tier list relies on each characters’ abilities and tools with what we know in 2017. “In 2017” is emphasized as the key point as we still have many characters that still need optimization and fine-tuning, especially the low and mid tier characters. With the knowledge we currently have, who has the best tools to succeed and who can win the important matchups against the top tiers, like Fox?
This is where theory begins to deviate. What are the actual results of the characters in 2017? How frequently do these characters hit the Top 32 or win events? Even with its faults, this metric can give us some idea of a character’s upper limit. To emphasize on my previous point, many characters are still unexplored, so it’s fair to pose hypotheticals such as, “if a top 5 player were to play a mid-tier character, how far could they get?”
In theory, characters such as Fox and Yoshi have powerful kits if people were to play at a tool-assisted level. How does this play out in practicality? Can a player realistically execute a waveshine back and forth against a Peach every time he lands a drill or an initial shine? We’ve seen people cite certain VODs where it looks like a matchup is “solved,” but we should also ask ourselves, how often a player can execute at that high of a level. Part of why we still see slower characters such as Ice Climbers in the metagame is because people are capable of making mistakes, so it’s important to factor execution errors even when we talk about high level melee. Even the best players will mess up a dash or miss an L-cancel.
There is never going to be an objective measure of a tier list, so anything that deviates will be because of my personal biases.
There’s already going to be some controversy here with how Fox fits relative to other characters. It’s a safe choice to put Fox at #1, but does he deserve his own separate tier? My rationale is that we rarely see people arguing that Marth and Falco are better than Fox. However, Fox is not as obscenely overpowered as Brawl Meta Knight; he has even matchups against the other top tiers, and Marth and Falco players seem to give Fox players trouble at higher levels of play. They have the tools to deal with Fox in the neutral game and can heavily capitalize on Fox’s mistakes. Since Fox is so popular, chances are that you will never surprise a player in a set with new tricks, and they will know how to combo your character better than any other. Still, he has the tools to camp, to move, and to punish quickly.
PPMD’s missing presence has been felt for these two characters in the past two years. Still, The Moon, PewPewU, and Mew2King have seen top 8 performances with rising stars like Zain and Rishi have also made waves at the summer majors. Many players have been hopeful of Marth’s potential and now we’re seeing a greater use of his tool kit in 2017. In particular, many Marths integrate pivots into the neutral game and in combos to find earlier kill setups, something that many believed was one of Marth’s weaknesses.
Mang0 has transitioned from a Fox/Falco dual main to a Falco player with a pocket Fox, and in PPMD’s absence, he has shown that Falco can win most matchups. He has yet to see a full set win on Hungrybox’s Jigglypuff or Armada’s Peach, but time will tell if it is possible. Nonetheless, Falco’s representation is a strange one. If Fox didn’t exist, Falco would see greater representation at the top. Understandably, most love the fact that Fox’s kill power pays off dividends against the slower characters as opposed to playing a more drawn out match by utilizing Falco’s zoning tools. However, his low top-level representation should not deter you from acknowledging his incredible toolkit.
Sheik has many strong tools, but also quite a few weaknesses, especially with dealing damage at lower percents against crouch cancelling. Today’s players are also better at dealing with Sheik’s strengths, understanding how to bait Sheik’s basic footsies, escaping from Sheik’s combos via utilizing smart DI to slide off of platforms. Other tools have entered Sheik’s repertoire, as shield dropping and ledgedashing giving her newer ways to find good hitboxes on opponents. In particular, Plup has demonstrated what a Sheik should look like moving forward, as he uses Sheik’s fast platform movement and massive hitboxes to create complicated walls for other players to deal with. With four of the top twelve players extensively playing her, Sheik is consistently just behind Fox in representation at majors.
Despite her high degree of success, it’s unclear how consistently Sheik can playin high-pressure situations. Tech-chasing remains a large question in viability as players continue to struggle in reacting to situations. This weakness could bottleneck Sheik, as players find it much more difficult to extend combos consistently without the worry of a spotdodge shine. Another troubling fact for Sheik players is that Mew2King, Plup, and Shroomed are dual-maining to deal with Sheik’s troubled matchups, like Fox and the Ice Climbers. While she remains steady at four on this list, she has the potential to move lower in the future, but that may take some time.
Peach and Jigglypuff are interesting. They have both won super-major events, but many claim that these characters are incredibly limited, so we’re left with one question: are these characters really that bad and do Armada and Hungrybox carry them? Or are these characters better than we originally thought? In general, I place a high premium on mobility, which the S Tier characters all excel at. Peach and Jigglypuff struggle against camping characters, and many more players are much more willing to abuse Hungrybox’s Jigglypuff by forcing him to make the first play.
Fortunately, Peach and Jigglypuff both benefit from having solid trades and punishes on the top tier characters, which keep their weaker matchups somewhat bearable. However, as players better understand the limitations of these two characters, their opportunities may come less frequently. For now, players are still prone to errors and Armada/Hungrybox can place just enough pressure with their presence to force out bad plays that lead into kills. I’m tempted to put both of these characters a tad higher, but I can also see them dropping in the future.
In the A- tier, we have mixed opinions. Captain Falcon’s fast mobility gives him some promise, with players continuing to refine his overall game he may potentially see jump into the next tier, as S2J, Wizzrobe, and n0ne continue to churn out results. For example, Wizzrobe defeated Hungrybox on multiple occasions and S2J was one hit from sweeping Armada, proving that Captain Falcon can defeat the toughest opponents and take a super-major, even if it’s highly unlikely.
Ice Climbers are very polarizing to talk about because of how good they are at capitalizing on mistakes through wobbling. In theory, most of the top tier can abuse the Ice Climbers’ weaknesses by never interacting with them, but we still see even the likes of Mew2King and Mang0 succumb to their brutal punish game. Even at the highest level of players, the Ice Climbers will remain a relevant character, and at low to mid levels, Ice Climbers may be in the S-tier with how unforgiving they are to play against.
Tier B is where characters begin to see some big hurdles at majors. Duck and HugS have pushed the Samus meta in 2017, but Samus has a hard time dealing with most of the top tier cast. Fortunately, Samus has doable matchups against Fox and Falco, and a decent matchup against Marth, the top tier characters in the game. However, Samus struggles against Sheik, Jigglypuff, and Captain Falcon, often ending the runs of the top current Samus mains. Some speculate that Samus can do more to win the matchup, but currently the matchups seem near unwinnable at the very top.
For nearly a decade, Axe has single handedly carried Pikachu into relevancy. Most players may have a skewed perception of Pikachu as a character because Axe receives nearly all of the character’s stream time at majors. Pikachu has plenty of decent tools to work with: a solid approach with his nair, disjointed hitboxes(like forward tilt), and great punish game - especially on fast-fallers. However, Pikachu tends to struggle against more grounded playstyles, especially from Foxes and Sheiks. He also lacks solid kill setups on many of the floatier characters. Fortunately, matchup unfamiliarity still plays in the hands of the Pikachu player.
The characters in this tier have glaring weaknesses that make them tough to compete with the top tier characters that have a solid understanding of the match up.
Luigi in the top of the B- tier seems a little optimistic, but he has a solid punish game and abusable neutral game tools to work with. He’s hampered by characters that can camp, but with his wavedash, aerials and smash attacks, Luigi has just enough horizontal mobility to find opportunities in most matchups. Players such as Swedish Delight and Plup have flirted with Luigi before at events, and it would be cool to see what other top players can do with him at tournaments if they find their mains to be a little stale to play.
aMSa has pushed Yoshi very far with a decently refined punish game and utilization of Yoshi’s parries and other unique tools. His generally solid results in America have not been quite matched in Japan where the other top players have developed gameplay to deal with Yoshi. Yoshi has a difficult time approaching other characters and struggles to find the first hit. Defensive players have an easy time dealing with Yoshi’s options in this regard. Platform movement help add some unpredictability for Yoshi, but that can also be heavily telegraphed. Multi-hit moves generally nullify Yoshi’s defensive game and moves such as Fox’s drill can be a huge pain to deal with.
Doctor Mario and Mario both continue to fall out of favor in 2017. Both versions of Mario struggle in dealing with the top tier in the neutral game. A lack of vertical mobility hurts them and Shroomed specifically switched characters because of this weakness. The Marios have decent tools to deal with opponents when they can create pressure, but their weaknesses to camping prevents them from becoming relevant at the top.
A key point to note is the fall of Ganondorf. In the Apex years, we saw Kage pull upsets against the top 15 players and even Mango in his heyday, but we haven’t seen anything terribly notable from Ganon in over a year, other the occasional win against the top Samus players.
Young Link and Donkey Kong have some fun strengths and can fit certain niches in the metagame. Axe recently had some success with Young Link against Hungrybox at Super Smash Con, taking two games in a row before losing the crucial game five. Young Link’s mobility is an underrated asset as he can play a decent zoning game with projectiles and also catch his opponents with decent speed.
Donkey Kong suffers from mobility issues and having an awful shield, but still can do well as a niche counterpick character on Final Destination against fast-fallers with his devastating grab combos and against Tafokints.
At this point, we are splitting hairs on the ordering of these characters. The order could also quickly change if players make discoveries in matchups and technique. A top 10 player could decide to pick one of these characters up and easily boost the perception of the character a handful of spots on the tier list.
I have some faith in Game and Watch as a decent character. Game and Watch can poke with decent aerials and punish with a decent punish game. Strangely enough, he has okay matchups against some of the top tiers such as Captain Falcon and Jigglypuff. The character has some promise and hopefully players like Qerb will have the opportunity to travel to more events in the future.
Every character in Tier D will struggle with huge weaknesses in their toolkit. There are some fun things that you can do with them, and they may have a chain grab on a top tier character, but the top tier characters can destroy them without much counterplay.
07 Captain falcon
08 Ice climbers
13 Doctor mario
16 Young link
17 Donkey kong
18 Game and watch
Melee has been around long enough that the tier list will largely stay the same barring any big innovations, so what will we see in future? I see mobility becoming even more important to a character’s success. Players are much more willing to camp their opponents when the matchup dictates it. This is evident as slower characters such as Ganondorf have stopped churning out upsets as they did a few years ago. However, characters with strong punishes will always remain relevant as we see Jigglypuff and Ice Climbers continue to pull upsets and make deep runs even though they are limited in their movement options.
The mid-tiers (B Tier) may see the gap between them and the top tiers change based on a few factors. Leffen points out that these characters are heavily underdeveloped. Can players continue to push Yoshi, Mario, and others to new limits? Even if they do, does it even matter or are their weaknesses too much to overcome?
Which character do you think will see the biggest change in the next year? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below our using hashtag #MeleeScience!