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Published April 20, 2020

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What Does It Take For Samus to Win a Major? (Besides Playing Really Well)

With the Melee scene indefinitely put on halt, I’ve been using this column to write more about abstract topics. In today’s column, I’m going to explore the hypothetical I titled above. My baseline answer is “a lot of luck.” But I also thought the same thing for Captain Falcon and Pikachu. Both won supermajors in a two-week stretch last year. We live in strange times.

Before doing anything else, let’s give a brief overview of who’s gotten close. The first top result for Samus mains is HugS’ second-place showing at Evo World 2007. I’ve written about this specific run before, so the long story short is that in order for it to happen, HugS needed to survive through a ridiculous rule set (best-of-one and random stages) before Top 12. Needless to say, this is not something that holds any predictive value for a hypothetical major in 2020 or 2021.

More importantly for this specific topic, HugS had two strong showings in consecutive years at CEO Dreamland and Genesis 5, with the former being a fifth place finish and the later being a seventh place finish. For other peak performances from Samus mains, Plup’s Paragon Orlando 2015 and Shine 2017 fifth place finishes are good too, with the added benefit of him having beaten Leffen at both events.

The only other results I can think of are Duck’s fifth places at DreamHack Winter 2015 and EGLX, both where he beat, you guessed it, Leffen. In fact, the best result for Samus may not have come at a major at all – Duck won the relatively stacked regional Pat’s House 3, beating SFAT and a less experienced but still formidable Zain.

If you’re paying attention, you’ve already noticed a demoralizing trend. While impressive, these performances are limited in value by their lack of wins over multiple elite players. The most notable individual set for any Samus main is Duck’s out-of-nowhere 3-0 of Hungrybox at Canada Cup 2018, in which he was promptly 3-0’d right back afterward – and even that wasn’t at a major.

The other promising result is Duck beating Zain at an Aurora Blitz in mid-2018 after Zain’s breakout had already happened. But it’s not a good sign that Duck still finished in second place to Swedish Delight at the same event, which, in tandem with what I brought up before, leads me to my first point.

Point 1: There are so many roadblocks

I looked at the top players of 2019 evaluated each matchup in terms of how the “best” respective Samus player would fare. The results were honestly worse than I initially thought.

In Hungrybox’s case, the one set Duck took from him was an outlier in the last six years of the Michigan Samus main losing 11 sets before that – and this for someone who is his character’s “best” case representative against him. Versus Plup, Mango, Mew2King, Wizzrobe and S2J, picking Samus on the character select screen may as well be an auto-loss. I would easily take 15:1 odds on Hungrybox against any Samus player, and frankly probably worse for any of those five against them, even if there’s been a few close calls here and there.

The combined record at majors (not counting locals) is brutal for the Samus clan. Duck is 1-38 against this group, with a sole victory coming against Wizzrobe at DreamHack Winter 2015, and HugS is 2-37, with one of the wins being against Mango at Evo 2007 and the other one being a win against Wizzrobe at Frame One in 2016. Plup’s Samus was harder to find discrete records for as far as full sets with Samus are concerned, but his game count against the rest of the Samus-slayers is 5-24. There is no reason to think he would fare any better against any of these players, unless you think that Plup’s Samus would beat his Sheik.

It would take an unforeseen level of brilliance with the character to turn any of these trends into competitive ones, let alone positive ones. And even then, like tafo mentions above, a lot of the players who destroy Samus don’t tend to actively think about her very much. If they ran into a Samus main that beat them, they would likely adapt by developing the matchup from their end that much further.

Point 2: The “Favorable” Top Matchups Are Question Marks

Although there’s precedent for top Samus players beating Leffen and Zain, I am extremely skeptical of it carrying any predictive value. Leffen has lost all three complete sets in which he’s played against Plup’s Samus, but it’s been almost three years since. In those years, he hasn’t lost to a Samus main.

Zain’s case is a little murkier. His last set loss to a Samus player was the aforementioned Aurora Blitz set, but this was in between his Smash Summit 6 third-place and his Shine 2018 victory. The Genesis 7 champion of today is surely a different player than the one with a target on his back as the new kid on the block. For the sake of argument, I will say beating him is as “doable” as Leffen, but still difficult.

If I were to guess, aMSa is the best possible opponent. He has split sets with Duck in the last two years and, before beating him at Smash Summit 6, lost three consecutive sets against HugS in 2017 and early 2018. I don’t know how Plup’s Samus would do against aMSa in a best-of-five, but I’m still not sure how indicative any of those previous sets are of how aMSa would fare in 2020.  His fellow mid-tier hero, Axe, eliminated Plup’s Samus from Super Smash Con 2019 at 17th place. Before that, Axe practically went back and forth with Duck in recent times (beating him at The Big House 8, but going 0-2 against him in 2017 and 2-0 in 2016).

You might be tempted to note that the trio of Fox players breaking out near the top of 2020 (Fiction/iBDW/Hax) could give Samus a much better shot, especially if they take down some of the “autoloss” caliber players. But if our player faced one of these “second-tier” Fox players, is it really true that they’d have an advantage?

iBDW’s only notable sets against Samus players were his last two serious sets against HugS (1-1) and he has never played Duck. Fiction lost his only two sets against Duck since 2018, but is 5-0 against HugS at majors across his career and beat Plup’s Samus at Apex 2014. Hax is such a radically different caliber of player in 2020 than he was in 2018 or 2017, when he was convincingly swept by HugS and Duck, so as far as we’re concerned, there’s no way to assess how our player would do against him.

To make matters more complicated, SFAT, a Fox just considered under them in performance, has actually been more positive on Samus  in recent times than you’d think. His last loss to one was at Pat’s House 3 to Duck, but 2018, SFAT turned the corner and beat Duck in both sets they played, as well as went 3-0 in sets with HugS. This wasn’t just a matter of recency either – across his career, SFAT was 8-5 against Duck and never played Plup’s Samus at a supermajor .

There is, however, a glimmer of hope. The one tourney I could find of SFAT and Plup’s Samus competing against each other came at NorCal Validated near the beginning of 2017. Though Plup played both Sheik and Samus, he came out slightly ahead in Samus-Fox games in grand finals.

Point 3: What The Bracket Looks Like

Samus mains have basically six players in bracket that range from requiring a miracle to win to being autolosses (Hungrybox, Mango, Mew2King, Wizzrobe, Plup, S2J). Alongside that, they have five huge question marks in the top ten that are, on average, coin flips.

At this point, you might be getting mad because you’d think, “well what if the Samus player was just that much better; then all this hypothetical bullshit doesn’t matter.” First off, sure, that could happen, but for the sake of argument, I don’t want to delve into what doesn’t have comparable precedent.

Part of anyone’s chances of winning a major realistically will come down to the kind of bracket they receive. This is impacted by their seeding, which as we detailed above, is what we have as a “best case” scenario to be as favorable to a hypothetical Samus main as possible (some combination of Duck and Plup). Given all of this, let’s assume our player gets something along the lines of a 14th seed.

Samus representatives tend to be a lot more “steady” in their performances than other characters, but if we wanted to get gritty with bracket projects, making it to Top 32 isn’t as free as you might think, even for “Pluck.” Although they’d be favored, the prospect of facing players like Free Palestine, who scared Plup off Samus at Shine 2018, or even a non-MPGR player like Solobattle already makes this a non “guarantee.” And in winner’s first round of Top 64, they could easily struggle with someone like Michael, Colbol, or NMW.

To be as favorable as possible, let’s assume that “Pluck” is good enough to make it to Top 32 at 85 percent of the supermajors they enter. But come winner’s round of 32, they will most likely have to play another Top 50 player. Who they have to play is hard to predict but could make or break their bracket. The best shot for Samus is most likely going to be a spacie or Ice Climbers player. The worst shot is a near “autolose” like Swedish Delight or KJH. And even if those two aren’t there, someone like Captain Faceroll, FatGoku or Gahtzu might take their place.

“Pluck” still has two more sets to make it to Top 8 from winner’s side. If they are the 14th seed, it means that in this timeline, they have to likely play two of the following: the third seed, sixth seed, tenth seed, 23rd seed and 30th seed. To put in real terms, this means “Pluck” needs to beat two of Mango/Zain/Mew2King/Shroomed/Spark/KJH (replace the last three with whomever you want). I don’t know about you, but in a Genesis-caliber supermajor setting, this is probably where our hero falls to loser’s, where the chances of winning the tournament functionally will become zero.

If they miraculously stay alive in winner’s bracket, they still have to win three sets to win the tournament. Doing so would require an unprecedented amount of cinderella runs from other players or wins over anywhere from one to three top seeds. In terms of what the bracket structure would have to look like in terms of seeded results vs. actual results, the latest version of in-person Quarterly Rapport in New Jersey is probably what the seeding results would like. That’s not happening at a major.

Given all of this, the best chance for “Pluck” is probably at an invitational-style event like Smash Summit. There are simply too many variables at an open event to account for, and they probably hurt
“Pluck” more than the competition.

If I were to guess what the bracket looks like, it probably needs some or all of the following: two wobbling Ice Climbers players making deep runs into bracket by beating the “autolose” Samus-slayers, “Pluck” beating them, one or two top players dropping out of the tournament, and then the set of “Pluck’s” life coming against some combination of Leffen, Zain, Axe, aMSa, and a Fox player. Doing the math right now is way too difficult, intuitively, I’m gonna say this has a one percent chance of happening.

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