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Published April 24, 2023

I’ve always loved talking about personal demons. Everybody’s got them. One of my favorite content pieces in Smash was the “who’s your demon” promotional videos for Smash Rivalries. In it, Yahoo Esports talked to all the players attending the event about who they considered to be their competitive demons. This concept of “demons” has especially become interesting to follow in the modern metagame.

Since Smash Summit 11 – what most people would consider the full, no stops, “return” to regular ranking seasons – we’ve seen “demons” and their “victims” suddenly flip roles often at unpredictable rates. Take a look at Zain and Cody Schwab. Zain went from being Cody’s career demon to looking totally lost to now being down in their last ten sets. Conversely, when I see Axe’s name in Zain’s projected bracket, I’m wondering if Zain lucked out. There’s numerous instances of this kind of volatility at the top level.

For today’s column, I want to look at players whom I’d personally consider the ten best “present” players within the current major landscape. I’ll be briefly diving into each of their current “demons,” as well as how they’ve halted them at different moments.  One thing I want you to keep in mind: a “demon” does not necessarily mean someone’s hardest opponent. To keep this interesting, I am going to try to solely focus on those which are unique to the players involved, and have some sort of established history. I am also trying my best to pick a different “demon” for each player.

Who is KoDoRiN’s demon?

KoDoRiN has looked Top 10 this year. Taking a broader look at how he’s done, he’s defeated Hungrybox, Cody, Mango, and Axe over the last twelve months. Most of you probably know that there’s one character at the top level who has remained a consistent thorn in his side: Sheik. As it stands, none of his sets vs. Jmook (0-4), Leffen (0-4), or Plup (0-6) have looked very close. To be fair, one of them was an especially bad beatdown at the hands of Plup’s Fox instead of the Sheik. At the same time, is there any big difference between 0-14 and 0-13? Probably not.

There’s no way I can’t put Sheik as his demon. But I feel conflicted about it. With all due respect to KoDoRiN, who is an amazing player, those three players are also cleanly better than him. Each of them are in contention for winning majors, and KoDoRiN, at this point of his career, is not. At the same time, however, that specific skill tier is the group of players that KoDoRiN is trying to break into. At the moment, he has one very obvious obstacle (or three, depending on how you look at it).

Who is Axe’s demon?

There’s only two players I would have ever considered to have made Axe look totally stumped: Armada and Hungrybox. Armada is no longer in the picture, so naturally, that leaves Hungrybox as the remaining person who I straight up don’t watch Axe compete against. Yes; it’s true that he technically does boast one set, but that doesn’t change what happened in the 20+ sets since. It feels completely illogical to answer this question with anything other than Hungrybox, doesn’t it? His sole existence has basically prevented Axe from winning multiple majors.

Keeping that in mind, when you actually look at what’s consistently halted Axe from winning tournaments over the last year, it isn’t Hungrybox. In terms of volume, it’s aMSa. After defeating him at Smash Summit 11, Axe has struggled quite a bit against his dear friend. Not only has he lost five in a row; he’s experienced nearly every flavor of a loss. There’s a snooze-fest 3-0 (Ludwig Smash Invitational), two close 3-1’s (Major Upset and Smash Summit 14), a heartbreaking 3-2 loss (Genesis 9), and, most recently, a groan-worthy “rotate losing characters” 3-0 (DreamHack San Diego). It’s enough to remind you of similar lows Axe experienced vs. Hungrybox over the last decade.

Who is lloD’s demon?

Following Armada’s retirement, it’s truly been a treat to see lloD continue to represent his character at the highest level on the big stage, showing things she can do and mastery of her tools in his own unique way. I will never forget the fact that he was two stocks away from winners side of grand finals at Super Smash Con. Similar to Axe, you’d think the go-to answer for this question would have to be Hungrybox. He did, after all, gatekeep lloD from the grand finals rematch at the same tournament. Furthermore, he has won all seven of their offline sets lifetime, with four of them coming in the last year.

At the same time, I’d rather be a contrarian again. Feel free to roll your eyes, but I’m going to pick Fox as lloD’s demon. If you look at his recent sets vs. “Top 25ish” Fox players, it’s not pretty. Yes; he has an Aklo win from Collision, but that was mostly over the Link. In the broader picture: moky, Zuppy, Joshman, Soonsay, and Leffen have all defeated lloD since October. During that same time span, he’s played Hungrybox once. If KoDoRiN gets a character as his demon, it’s fair to give lloD the same treatment, even if to a lesser degree.

Who is Hungrybox’s Demon?

It seems silly to state that anyone is a demon for a top three player of all-time. When I watch Hungrybox play Melee, I am almost always horrified that he’s intentionally throwing or making a match closer for content. Yes; I really believe this. No; I don’t think this is reasonable of me. Consider it trauma from Hungrybox-Zain in 2019 or Hungrybox-Jmook last year.

I’m breaking my ‘dumb hipster answer’ streak to give you a the clear choice for Hungrybox’s demon: Zain. There was a stretch when Zain had won seven offline sets in a row, and though it briefly looked like Hungrybox was on his way to even that trend out, since he beat him in pools at the Ludwig Smash Invitational, Zain’s been on a four-set win-streak. Cody has been tough too, but at least Hungrybox and him have consistently had nail-biters. These Zain sets, however, have rarely been close since the barn-burner at Apex.

Who is Plup’s Demon?

If you asked many people who they thought was Plup’s demon, they might say “Hungrybox.” But those who have been paying attention will know that Plup’s gone 6-3 with Hungrybox since Riptide in 2021. Some of you might bring up Fox since moky, Leffen, and Cody have all defeated him in their last sets. You may even say that Falco’s been a struggle because of Fiction, Ginger, and Magi all defeating him last year.

These aren’t bad answers, but Cody Schwab has done enough for me to see him as the definitive pick. Along with him winning the last seven sets over Plup, it has come regardless of which character Plup chooses. Moreover, the losses are a good mix of beatdowns and heartbreakers, each of them coming at critical points in their respective tournaments as well. The two recent sets at Major Upset happened in winners finals and grand finals. The 3-1 loss that ended in a four-stock happened in Genesis 9 loser’s semifinals, Cody eliminated Plup from top eight at Smash Summit 14, and before that, Cody won Smash Summit 13 in part to beating Plup in grand finals. And in case you forgot, Cody began this streak by winning winners finals and grand finals over Plup at Riptide in 2021. Worse than being been a dominant kryptonite; Cody’s shown up at the most inconvenient times to basically steal majors.

Who is aMSa’s Demon?

It’s funny thinking about who would count as a demon for aMSa because he’s been so dominant against notable people in the top echelon over the last year. Zain, Mango, Hungrybox, Leffen, Jmook, SluG, and Axe all have been on the receiving end of ‘not close’ head to heads. If it’s not those players, who else has consistently gotten the better of him? Believe it or not, I don’t think I can justify Plup – Mr. 25-2 – as my pick. aMSa and him have just played twice in the last year. By volume, it would be Cody, who’s defeated aMSa seven times in that same time span, more than anyone else. But I already used him for Plup.

Maybe it’s too soon, but my choice is moky. In addition to moky recently winning a tournament over aMSa, he’s been on a four-set win streak. The sole set aMSa won was the first time they played, when moky threw a critical game 3 at GOML through two inexplicable SDs. Since then, it’s been two beatdown 3-0s and both sets of last weekend’s grand finals.

Who is moky’s Demon?

The moky we’ve seen in 2023 is the best he’s ever looked. He’s continued his top eight streak well into the year, achieving a career high third place at Genesis and, as of last weekend, winning The Come Up over aMSa. Along the way, he’s nabbed multiple wins over Hungrybox, defeated aMSa both times they played, split sets with Cody, and beaten Plup. Though he was sent to loser’s early at Collision, moky also beat lloD and Trif there, which is notable considering how frequently moky used to struggle vs. Peach. If you had to weigh results from every active player this year, moky has a great case for having one of the five best resumes. Maybe four.

On the topic of demons, the first person that came to mind was Mango. He’s not around right now though. After Mango, I considered Zain, but I already mentioned him before. I don’t want to pick Jmook because he’s practically everybody’s demon right now. Truth be told, it was Hungrybox in 2022, but moky has lately turned that around. As a result, I’m in a bit of a pickle. Perhaps I’m grasping at straws, but I’d like to see moky break his three set losing streak to KoDoRiN. It seems like the two have ‘swapped’ spots as respective rising stars beneath the primary supermajor contenders, with moky’s results looking much stronger lately. Yet KoDoRiN technically has the head-to-head edge against him, having eliminated moky from Double Down and Genesis 8 in fairly soul crushing manner. The last time they played before that (offline) was when KoDoRiN beat him in similar fashion at Smash Summit 11.

Who is Zain’s Demon?

Whenever Zain has a demon, he usually has shown the ability to eventually get over them. One of the more inspiring elements behind Zain’s rise to prominence has been his ability to get over multiple hurdles: Hungrybox, Axe, Plup, and S2J being four big examples. Basically every time Zain has struggled with someone, he’s eventually taken a set or earned the upper hand. The Ludwig Smash Invitational is a great example of this, as he won the tournament through beating people who all defeated him earlier in the year.

Going back to my boring pick route, it’s got to be Jmook. Zain has lost three consecutive sets vs. him, all coming this year. Furthermore, in their last ten sets, Jmook’s won a whopping seven of them. No one other than Jmook has been as consistent of a menacing presence for Zain; not even Cody or aMSa. Speaking of which, there’s one final thing I feel obligated to mention here – something that I can’t technically verify, but it’s so crazy and funny to think about that I have to share it, even at the risk of ruining my credibility: I have heard rumors from a trusted source of a “DontGrabMe” or “DontRestMe” counterpick in the works for specific stages vs. Jmook. Will it legitimately happen at a major? I’ll believe it when I see it, though it’s insane enough to share with my few readers.

Who is Cody Schwab’s Demon?

It’s hard to find someone with as strong of a matchup spread within the active field as Cody. With first place, second place, and third place finishes at each of the majors he’s entered this year, Cody’s consistency separates him from every player in the world (except for one we’ll get into later). In fact, I would go as far as to say that based on pure head to heads, nobody since April 2022 has done better vs. everyone else as Cody. In a field without Mango, you might even be wondering what the problem has been for Cody. How have we not seen him just blitz through everyone?

Pointing to a 1-2 record with Jmook seems like a cheap answer when the two were similarly back and forth in 2022 (3-2). I’m not sold on him finally losing to Zain for the first time in months either. As a result, I’m taking the easy way out and picking Aklo. Nobody else in the current major-attending field has beaten Cody three times in a row over the last year or so. Granted, one of them was at Redemption Rumble, which was more low stakes, and the other one happened at The Function 2. Would the Apex one transfer over to a major environment for another time?

POST-PUBLISH: For someone reason, I accidentally referred to Apex as a regional. I have no idea why I did this.

Who is Jmook’s Demon?

We entered January 2023 as the approximate 420th month in which Sheik had failed to win a major. We’re now about to leave April 2023 with two Sheik main majors, and the guy winning them looking like the best player in the world. Without a doubt, Jmook’s cemented his place in Melee history as the greatest solo Sheik of all-time. He’s been trouncing Zain, turning his head-to-head with Cody around, has the lead over moky, Plup, lloD and Axe – who else does he need to beat to prove that he’s the best in the world?

There’s one answer: consistently defeat Hungrybox. In 2022, Jmook sat at a paltry 1-11 record with Hungrybox. Though it’s hard to compare with previous years, I would go as far as to dub it the worst annual head-to-head of top echelon players. That’s not hyperbole; it’s more painful than any iteration of Mew2King-Hungrybox, Plup-Hungrybox, Plup-Armada. Mango-Wizzrobe might have been brutal, but much of it happened before Wizzrobe was briefly in contention for winning majors. Regardless, we now enter the middle third of the year knowing that there is one very obvious pick for best player. I suppose it’s fitting that like almost everyone else, he has a glaring nemesis.

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