Note: this article was written on 11/10


With the end of the year drawing near, the annual ranks are just around the corner. A lot has happened since the beginning of the year as we continue to see people improve drastically. Who are the most improved players of 2017? Here are my five picks showcasing their key highlights and strengths.

As a disclaimer, I want to pick players that have never been at the top of Melee, so this list excludes players such as ChuDat, HugS, or Ryan Ford. Though they have done well to improve, they were once at the top in a previous era of Melee.


Conner “Cal” Daughtery

5.

SSBMRank 2016: Unranked

Main: Fox

Region: Ohio

The Red Bull Gods and Gatekeepers event couldn’t have come at a better time for Cal. The rapidly improving Fox had the opportunity to showcase his skills in the forsaken bracket where he seamlessly ran over NMW, Captain Faceroll, Bizzarro Flame, Drephen, and Azusa to win the bracket. The more impressive part of his run was how dominant he looked over the other top 50-75 caliber players. In some ways, it looked Mang0-esque in how he ran circles around Azusa in grand finals, only losing because he tried to style on his opponent too hard. Ohio natives will point out that Cal has been performing at a high level for a while, but it wasn’t until 2017 that he finally left his mark on the Melee landscape. He’s had some tough brackets at majors that have prevented him from repeating his run, but with better seeding, expect to see more from the young and confident Fox main.

Projected 2017 SSBMRank: Top 75-80

Avery “Ginger” Wilson

4.

SSBMRank 2016: Unranked

Main: Falco

Region: Michigan

Amsah, the Sheik main, described Ginger as a “mini-PPMD” with the way he uses lasers and zoning to lock down his opponents and patiently find his openings. When given the opportunity, Ginger demonstrated that he can put together solid wins as he did at The Big House 7 where he defeated both Amsah and Westballz. Earlier in the year, he also defeated Chillindude and MikeHaze to finish in 17th at Super Smash Con 2017. I have been most impressed by his ability to apply smart decisions to his incredible technical movement, and he’s a player that I’m very confident will continue producing top 30-50 wins and the occasional top 20 upset in the future.

Projected 2017 SSBMRank: Top 45-60

Armando “ARMY” Del Duca

3.

SSBMRank 2016: Unranked

Main: Ice Climbers

Region: Socal

If I were to be honest, I dismissed ARMY as a gimmicky wobbler. His ability to find wobbling opportunities off of the most random scenarios was impressive, but his neutral game was very one dimensional, as he fished for grabs in ninety percent of cases. This is less the case in 2017 where he continues to understand more of the game and implement smarter decision making. His more recent results are reflective of this; At the local level, he’s been taking sets off of top SoCal players such as Lucky and Westballz, and at the national level, he’s finished 17th at Genesis 4 where he defeated Ryan Ford, Darrell, and Ice. He also finished in 33rd at Evo 2017.

Projected 2017 SSBMRank: Top 60-75

Zain

2.

SSBMRank 2016: 66

Main: Marth

Region: Maryland/Virginia

Zain turned heads when he upset Plup last year at The Big House 6. In 2017, he demonstrated that those wins were no fluke as he added three more top 10 wins to his belt from ChuDat, Leffen, and SFAT. In his set against Leffen, he dropped the first two games, but looked completely in control of the next three, capitalizing on every mistake and dictating the tempo of the match. Most impressive about Zain is his willingness to add new tech to his repertoire where other Marth’s fear to tread. In particular, his use of tight pivots in skirmish situations nets him unique openings in the neutral game as a spacing tool and in the punish game as a tipper setup. He still has some work to do against some of the floaty characters such as Marth and Sheik, but he’s easily one of the best Marth’s in the world to deal with space animals.

Projected 2017 SSBMRank: Top 21-25

Crush

1.

SSBMRank 2016: 49

Main: Fox

Region: New England

It’s tough to give a player the most improved player award when he was already top 50 in the prior year, but this is really a reflection of how much Crush has climbed in the beginning of 2017 to Smash Summit 5. Perhaps what can best describe Crush’s ascent is his run at Too Hot to Handle. In his losers run, he defeated Swedish Delight, Gahtzu, Hugs, Druggedfox, and Plup to finish in second place. Interestingly enough, each player had defeated Crush in prior sets and he managed to get the revenge runback on each of them. Shortly after, he defeated s2j and Shroomed and took Mang0 to a close five-game set at Smash Summit 5. His style is controlled and deliberate, and he knows when to sprinkle in aggression to his gameplay when he notices specific habits. In some ways, you can describe his gameplay as a “mini-Leffen”, and his results will only continue to improve in 2018.

Projected 2017 SSBMRank: Top 20

Honorable Mentions

Medz (89)

Bobby Frizz (NR)

Rik (NR)

Trulliam (77)

Syrox (67)

Captain Smuckers (64)

Trif (44)

iBDW (NR)

King Momo (NR)

Spark (NR)

Several players on the list have improved significantly in their local regions, while also making some great upsets. Medz, Captain Smuckers, and Trif continue to establish themselves as veterans who are solid picks to make top 48 or better at the super majors. Syrox made great fans earlier in the year with his great performances and made a great case for himself as a top 30 players in 2017.

Other players such as Bobby Frizz, Rik, iBDW, Trulliam, Spark, and King Momo are still waiting for that breakout run, but they are all undoubtedly really strong players in their respective regions. Though they have made some upsets, they have the potential to make really deep runs and it boils down to finding the right mix of playing well and having the right bracket.

The Future (2018)

There is a rapid growing trend of netplay stars and also players from smaller regions improving independently of playing top players. Next year should continue to see the rise of players from MD/VA, Tri-state, and the Midwest regions. Top players looking forward to easy pools will become victims of more upsets as “unknown” players come out of the woodworks. Some of my early picks for SSBMRank 2018 premiers include Jerry from MD/VA, Darktooth from New York, and Chris Best from Norcal. Of course, there are countless others that have solid trajectories into the top 100.

Who do you think were some standout rising players this year? Agree with the list? Share your thoughts using the hashtag #MeleeScience.