The Fox vs. Marth match-up has been a hot topic as many top pros have expressed their opinions on it. Historically, people have thought that the match-up was roughly even, but with Fox’s recent struggles against Marth, Leffen speculated that Marth might be slightly favored in the match-up. On the other hand, Armada on his stream postulated that the match may be close to even with Fox winning on most stages except for Final Destination. Overall, people seem split on the match-up. In this article, we breakdown the 2017 data and dig deeper into the match-up with the facts..
For the scope of this article, we will look at data between the top 50 players exclusively from January 2017 to August 2017. There are some interesting data points of top 50 players vs non-top 50 players, but the data set becomes cumbersome to collect with brackets scattered all over the place and the general lack of VODs to confirm character, stage, and stock data.
To define player skill, I used the summer SSBMRank top 50 and placed players into three different tiers.
* Though Shroomed is ranked in tier 2, he is still transitioning into becoming a Marth dual main. I placed him in tier 3 for the time being.
In total, we have 92 top 50 sets where Fox and Marth was the primary match-up. Some sets were excluded if the players played secondaries. Only sets where Fox-Marth were played at least half the matches were counted.
In the 92 set sample, Fox had a 34-58 (36.9%) record against Marth. In current form, this doesn’t really tell us much, so let’s break it down further.
The data is still not ideal, but it gives us some better idea of how the players are doing across tiers. An important thing to note is that Mew2King is the sole tier 1 Marth representative, so the tier 1 Marth data will be skewed as he is incredible against Foxes. Across the board, Mew2King crushed all of the top 50 Foxes. In tier 2, the Foxes and Marths seemed to go even with Fox holding a 57% set advantage. The Tier 3 Foxes struggled all across the board against the Top 50 Marths, with an abysmal 23% winrate against similarly tiered Marths.
There could be many explanations for this. Marth mains get much more experience in the match-up than Fox given that there are a plenty of top Foxes everywhere and not as many Marths. Aside from Colbol, all of the tier 3 Foxes do not live near a top tier Marth. Even then, Colbol doesn’t play Mew2King in Florida very often. Though, I have to point out that it is 2017 and players should leverage resources to improve in common match-ups.
Furthermore, the top Marths all exhibit unique play styles, which make it even more difficult to prepare for them. Mew2King, PewPewU, and The Moon all play differently. Whereas Mew2King loves to throw 50-50s with a mix of different grabs and dash attacks, The Moon loves fighting for stage control and using positioning to force poor decision making while walling out his opponents with aerials and tilts to rack up damage and find juicy openings. Unlike The Moon’s stage control heavy style, PewPewU loves to use movement tools to outmaneuver his opponents. The difficulty from a Fox player comes in discerning which options are best. A gameplan that may work against Mew2King might crumble against The Moon. Learning a Marth player’s habits becomes a very costly lesson as a misstep can easily lead to an early death or a devastating grab combo.
However, I don’t want to give the impression that Marth dominates the match-up; The match-up is unique from both perspectives. Both Marth and Fox have solid answers to each other in the neutral game, and both offer the mobility and variety that rewards solid fundamentals, mixups, and reads. Fox players can also succeed playing different play styles as we see contrasting styles from the European and Norwalk style Foxes. Leffen plays very differently from Mango, but both utilize their strengths to find success. Top Fox players choose different options and play at different tempos, which can make it somewhat difficult for Marth’s to prepare for all of them.
Regardless, Marth is one of the few characters that has a neutral game that competes with Fox’s and has the added benefit of a lethal punish game. Other characters such as Ice Climbers have devastating kill setups, but lack the neutral game to consistently pose a threat to a Fox that knows their limitations. Unlike fighting Ice Climbers, Fox is forced to engage Marth with tough decisions that offer medium rewards, but also yields high risks.
With Marth’s strengths, it becomes understandable why players may be conflicted on who wins the match-up. Fox mains feel frustrated that their character feels like a glass cannon in the match-up. They can outplay Marth in several spots, but see their leads disappear quickly as Marth only needs to find one opening to take a stock. Yet, Marth mains could also feel frustrated in the fact that an “on-point” Fox can bulldoze them in the neutral game, making it seem like they had no control of the outcome, only hoping that the Fox messes up in some way for an opening.
In total, we have 261 logged games in the dataset with Marth winning 54.41% of the logged matches. Some sets are missing stage data because they did not have any logged data on Smash.gg or VODs online. This data is further broken down in Appendix 1.
Final Destination has always been seen in Marth’s favor with his powerful chain grabs that can zero to death Fox. Even when you take Mew2King’s data out of the sample, Marth still has a 68.4% win rate with a 13-6 game advantage. Mew2King has a strong combo game on Final Destination, but even then he doesn’t fully optimize the chain grab at all percentages, frequently up-tilting instead of pivot-grabbing a Fox at lower percentages. The Moon and PewPewU tend to pick other stages instead because of their inconsistency on chain grabs and followups.Though Marth has a strong advantage on Final Destination right now, this advantage could grow even larger if they continually improve off the grab.
On the other side, the primary counter-pick for Fox may become interesting in future months. Dreamland has been long touted as the best stage for Fox because of its large space that allows Fox to pick his engages carefully. The large stage also makes it difficult for Marth to find early kills. The higher side platforms prevent Marth from confirming tippers off of tech-chases. If Marth can’t confirm a Ken combo or a tipper, then the Fox players can easily live to 150 to 200 percent. Even with these perceived weaknesses, Marth players have done decently well on Dreamland with a 55% win rate. The stage may not necessarily be the best for Marth, but Marth players may be experiencing “Mango phenomena” with Dreamland, where they do well on the stage because everyone counterpicks them to it all of the time.
The correct counterpick may shift temporarily to Fountain of Dreams against certain Marth players that struggle to combo and kill quickly. Players commonly perceive that Fountain of Dreams’ platforms may ruin Fox’s movement, but this may be a non-factor as Fox players continue to improve. If anything, the platform heights disrupt Marth’s options more than Fox’s. The trade-off on Fountain is the confined space and the higher ceiling, but living longer against Marth’s combos could outweigh these factors until Marth’s figure out how to correctly combo Fox’s into guaranteed kills.
Another tidbit to note is that Marth’s have done well on Battlefield in 2017. This seems to be the comfort pick especially for The Moon and PewPewU, who have a great understanding of how to maneuver the stage and follow up on the side platforms into long combos. Even Mew2King has seen success on the stage, going undefeated in the logged sample set. This should demonstrate that there is no reason for Mew2King to start Sheik on Battlefield anymore. It’s a stage that could go either way and it’s no longer accurate to say this is a bad stage for Marth.
Pokemon Stadium is a double edge sword in the match-up. On one hand, Pokemon Stadium can be seen as “Final Destination with tipper platforms” that greatly favor Marth’s dash dance, grab combos, and platform setups. However, Fox equally benefits on the stage with the space to maneuver, transformations that greatly favor him, and a low ceiling that allows for early up-smash kills.
Yoshi’s Story is an interesting pick for both players. Marth players often complain that it’s tough to reset the neutral game if Fox gains an advantage, but the same could also be seen with Fox if he gets caught under Marth’s pressure. Both characters have obscene tools on this stage. Fox can use his ledge-dash invulnerability to maneuver over half the stage and Marth can combo Fox in so many ways on the side platforms that lead into an early tipper or a combo setup that eventually leads into a down-air or an edgeguard.
If we were to extrapolate the 2017 data into Ikneeddata.com’s match up calculator, then we get the following results in the graphic below.
With the 2017 sample set, the simulations show that Marth will win 59.3% of the time in a best of five set and 54% in a best of three set. I have to reemphasize that the data set is still incredibly small, so take this with a grain of salt. Maybe, we’ll see this as a source of motivation for the Fox players to step it up to close out the year and we may see this shift back towards a 50/50 match-up.
The data gives some interesting insight to the match-up in 2017. Overall, the Fox players in the Top 25 (Tier 1 and 2) seem to hold their own against the Top 50 Marths, but the Top 26-50 (Tier 3) lack experience in the match-up and show they have much room to improve in the match-up.
The Fox and Marth match-up is one of the most storied and developed match-ups in Melee History. In the early years, Chillin figured out how to up-throw into up-air as Fox, and Ken discovered the chain-grab on Final Destination. Over the years, both sides have added new tools to their arsenal, and the framework for the match-up has shifted. Marth’s loved utilizing Forward-Smash and hitboxes in the earlier days to wall out Foxes, but Foxes became much more technical, allowing them to punish Marth’s laggier moves. The evolution shifted the match-up from a boxing-heavy match-up to a more movement-heavy match-up where Marth’s now look to dash dance and movement to setup proper spacing for a knockdown, tech-chase, or grab for a long combo. Foxes have collectively improved over the years in their movement and tech skill, thanks to the advent of tutorials and tools such as 20xx.
Yet, even after 16 years, the gameplans and execution from both sides could improve, and it will be interesting to see the arms race that develops between the two characters as we move forward into 2018. Pivots were deemed impossible a few years ago, but now we see Marth players implementing them into their gameplay, and Foxes now regularly ledge-dash in tournament. If Mew2King could overcome Armada’s Peach, then we may see how Armada develops the Fox match-up in the future too.
Counter-picking could also change especially from the Fox players’ point of view. Will they begin picking Fountain of Dreams earlier to test a Marth player or continue to pick Dreamland? In best of three sets, will Marths leave Dreamland open to pick? These are some of the interesting questions that players should experiment with in less serious sets.
Overall, it’s still tough to say who wins when both sides know the match-up. Are Marth players winning because the match-up is favorable or because they have much more experience than the Fox players? The sample size is small, but it seems at the very least that Marth holds a minor advantage, and I’d also say the match-up is 55-45 in Marth’s favor. Keep in mind that this doesn’t make it a “hard” match-up for Fox, but he will have to work slightly harder than Marth to win.
Can the Fox’s even it up by the end of 2017 or will Marth’s continue to widen the gap? Let us know your thoughts on this piece and the match-up by using the hashtag #meleescience.