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Published August 7, 2023

After a bit of a break following GOML and the launch of the summer rankings, we have jumped right into the back end of the year. As the rankings themselves are revealed this week, we’re going to see how much of it holds up at Super Smash Con. What could be proven correct, and what could change in the second half of the year? We’re about to find out.

In today’s column, I’m diving into 32 people you should be looking out for at Smash Con. Similar to my columns on Fete and GOML, I’m going to be splitting this group into different categories of players Keep in mind that these are not necessarily the 32 best players here. They’re just the ones I decided to write about.

Massive Wild Cards

Every supermajor is going to have a group of players who are far stronger, pound for pound, than their seed might indicate. The eight players I’m writing about here qualify for that reputation. Whatever they lack in consistency or results, they have in potential. While they aren’t necessarily safe bets to take out a top seed, they’re noticeably scarier than the average player who might here at another major.

Let’s bring up some people whom I’m obviously very invested in. Melee Stats’ Moe has had a successful trip to North America, which has come with sets over Preeminent, JJM, and Dawson. It’s brought him from urban Donkey Kong legend into the fringe of Top 100 contention. There’s also Flash, whose sets over Salt and KJH show glimmers of similar promise, if not higher. ckyulmiqnudaetr is in a similar place, having recently defeated Soonsay at GOML and added to a year where he’s also beaten bobby big ballz and Kalvar. And who knows what JCAM will do here? He’s a huge potential breakout candidate, having not yet had a bit major performance in the States, but in terms of the eye test, he looks about as good as Chape did right before Chape finished last year on the Top 100.

After the Melee Stats Four, we have a pair of very strange players in Kevin Maples and ChuDat. They represent totally separate generations of MDVA and have taken distinct approaches to competing. While Kevin Maples has mostly stayed within MDVA, consistently winning tournaments over Top 50 players, ChuDat attends majors once every blue moon, and has made a career of randomly stealing sets from top players. Either of those players could make a deep run here.

To close out this group, I’m bringing up two people whose 2023 results could not be any more different: Morsecode762 and n0ne. Morsecode pulled off the upset of the year over Jmook, but wasn’t active enough to qualify for Top 50, while n0ne has attended events, but has uncharacteristically performed poorly at them. Something tells me these two players could make waves at this tournament or, at the least, be due for more activity and strong results over the next four months.

Safe Bets for Top 32

These are the players who can roughly be considered a clean tier of their own as active Top 26 to 50 players. Some of these people make it this high on the list because they consistently thrash the players beneath them, and some of these people are less consistent, but have shown sky high peaks. Regardless, these players have had strong starts to the year.

We’ll begin with the steadier players in New Jersey’s finest (not the DK), Mot$, and the hidden guardian of MDVA, Junebug (the DK). When you look at each of their results, it becomes clear that it’s rare to catch either of these two players sleeping at the steering wheel. Wins over them usually speak more the player who won rather than against either of those two. On that note, I may as well bring up Khryke, a player who’s taken sets from both and has quietly been the third best active solo Marth this year – second, if you really want to be a stickler.

Now comes the true wild cards. Instead of having the quietly strong baseline performances you’d expect from a Top 50 player, Bbatts has been all over the place. His results range from recently double eliminating Chem from Nightclub to finishing in 97th at Genesis. Mekk went from a similarly underwhelming showing at Genesis to shocking the likes of Polish, Hax$, Franz and Zamu later this season. KJH has been a little more reliable and shown some amazing promise with both spacies, but he’s coming off an extremely poor 65th place at GOML. Panda has somehow beaten Hungrybox this year, after constantly oscillating up and down in his results over the last couple years. That’s nothing compared to Skerzo, who went from finishing 1-2 at a New England regional to defeating Jmook and cementing himself as the most random player in the world.

Top 8 Contenders

These people all have a puncher’s chance of making top eight. What distinguishes them from the tier below them, however, is a greater ability to take sets from the best players in the world. With that said, none of these players have won majors, and I’d only give a nonzero chance of doing it to a select few. Regardless, they’re all Top 25 players.

Let’s begin with three players who haven’t quite nabbed a top echelon win, but could do so at this event. For Chem, I suspect his best chance would come against Leffen, just because we’ve seen Chem thrive in that same matchup. It’s tougher to say for Spark, but he’s recently played aMSa three times and mostly looked competitive, so maybe that’s not as bad as the set count looks. And after all this time, I still believe Axe’s best shot is clearly Zain. Even after a recent ugly loss to KoDoRiN, it seems silly to ever count out Axe in his best matchup.

Now we get into another interesting duo of players: one where each of them boasts at least one set over one of the top seven seeds over the last two years. There’s Zamu, who beat Cody Schwab this year, and Krudo, who beat Cody Schwab last year. Although it’s hard for me to imagine them repeating these specific feats in a major setting, I still think they have good chances of taking down top seeds. A Krudo-Mango set could potentially play out in interesting fashion, and I’m never discounting Zamu’s chances in a Fox ditto against anyone.

The last five people are unique because they have multiple sets over multiple players within the top seven seeds over the last couple years. Polish has beaten each of aMSa, Cody Schwab, and even Hungrybox within this time span and certainly seems like a scary out for any of the top seeds. Zuppy had a Collision run in which he beat aMSa and moky on the way to a previously unthinkable fourth place. Each of lloD, Aklo, and KoDoRiN are obvious names to see this far down a preview and deep into a major bracket. Though it’s unlikely, it’s not totally out of the question to imagine any of those three suddenly appearing in a grand finals on the right day.

Victims of The Curse of Ra

These trio of players are major contenders. We know this because they won majors last year. The problem is, they haven’t won a major in 2023. In each of their sections, I’m going to recap when they last won a major, what’s happened since, and how they can break their respective dry spell (the curse of Ra) here.

Out of this group, Hungrybox is the one I struggle to see overcome his slump the most. When he last won a major – Riptide 2022 – he beat a worse moky, he needed Zain to lose early, and he got his best matchup twice in Jmook. Although Hungrybox did, to his credit, beat Plup twice there, it’s fair to say that replacing Jmook and Plup with Cody Schwab and Leffen drastically hurts his chances, as does the fact that he’s just worse now, relative to the field. At the same time, Hungrybox beat Cody in his GOML 2022 win last year and he 3-0’d Leffen earlier at Genesis. I’ll never discount his ability to dominate an event when I least expect it.

A less-talked about dry spell has come to aMSa. He ended last year with an amazing Scuffed World Tour showing where he beat Jmook, Leffen, Mango, and Hungrybox to win, but he hasn’t put it all together since. If you’re looking for the biggest reasons for why aMSa hasn’t been able to win a major, there’s really just two of them: Cody Schwab and moky. Each of those two currently has a brutal eight-set winning streak over aMSa. Remember back in the Five Gods era when we’d immediately discount someone’s chances of winning a supermajor if they couldn’t beat one of Hungrybox or Armada? aMSa basically has that same problem this year. If he’s winning a major, he needs to dodge both, like he did last year, or he needs to figure out something new.

Mango is the last player currently suffering from a major slump. When he last won a major, it was at Mainstage 2022, where his Falco completely, utterly handled all the top Fox players. Now even though this does seem like a long time ago, the truth is that Mango secretly had a similar path to winning LACS 5 and blew it. Weirdly enough though, I don’t actually think this is the only path he needs to finish first at a major. His Fox is more than capable of beating peers like Hungrybox, aMSa, and even Zain, if Mango’s playing well. It’s just that we haven’t seen a performance from Mango this year that’s shown it. So, kind of like last year, and we saw what happened then.

Leading Contenders

Pretty self-explanatory by the title, these four players are the big favorites for the event. If someone hasn’t won a major yet in this group, it’s someone whose chances of winning a major clearly meet the threshold for being considered a major contender.

Anyone who knows anything about Melee will tell you that moky can win a major. He’s had a series of top three performances at large events this year, and at the level just underneath major, he won a regional over aMSa. The only players attending this tournament who are tall orders for him to clear are Zain and Mango, but he’s taken them very close before. The lopsided set history is not really indicative of how their next sets would necessarily go. I view moky right now in a similar fashion to Cody Schwab right before he won Smash Summit 12.

When Leffen wins an event, he usually looks like the best player in the world, and it isn’t even close. But that wasn’t really the case at LACS 5. Even though he technically avoided the losers bracket, Leffen looked weak at the midpoint of pools and he had dropped two sets. In any other format, he would have been out of the tournament, but at this particular event, his losses were a launching pad for him to put together one of the most entertaining and unexpected major wins of the year. Within this group of four players at Smash Con, he’s beaten all of them this year, which already gives him a great chance of winning. If he can just shore up the consistency against everyone else, the Evo champion could nicely cap off not just the most successful summer he’s ever had, but one of the greatest three-month stretches in fighting game history.

Most people would be thrilled at having just finished in fourth place at one of the biggest majors of the year – Cody Schwab wasn’t. When I talked to him at the hotel bar after the event, he said, “The last time I was this mad about losing, I beat the shit out of Zain; I’m going to do it again so he knows he can’t dodge me any more.” For what it’s worth, I don’t doubt his ability to do that; there was a brief stretch last year before Cody’s break in which he won Smash Summit 13, Double Down 2022 and Phantom 2022, beating Zain multiple times. I see no reason to doubt his chances of dominating this event, especially given his incredible head-to-heads within the top seeds.

Lastly comes Zain, the favorite to win the tournament and the obvious choice for No. 1 this summer. Given Leffen’s attendance here, as well as the fact that Zain currently had a very large target on his back, I don’t think Super Smash Con is going to be a cakewalk for him like GOML, but he’s taken sets from everyone within the top seven and his worst “legitimate” loss this season has been aMSa. Granted, he did lose to Wally last year at Smash Con, so you can never discount the possibility of Zain losing early. At the same time, it’s not something you would reasonably predict unless you were deliberately trying to troll someone or capture their attention.

My Prediction

I think Zain is going to lose early. For the sake of argument, I’m going to say that someone in the “Top 8 Contenders” group shocks him before top eight. Not only that, but either someone does this for Leffen also or Leffen drops out of the tournament, because he’s finally decided, after winning literal Evo in another game, that he’s going to take a break from Smash.

Here’s where that leaves us, more or less: a top eight featuring someone who replaces Leffen or Zain’s spot in winner’s semifinals, and the other side of winners semifinals, which, for the sake of argument, let’s go with Mango and Hungrybox since that would make the tourney more spicy. You can totally imagine something like a Cody Schwab vs. lloD winners semifinals in one half, and Hungrybox vs. Mango in the other half.

I’ll get to the losers bracket later; for now, let’s stay on the winners’ side. Unlike their other sets this year, Mango puts up a huge fight against Hungrybox and he 3-1’s him. Cody falls down 2-0 early vs. lloD before turning it around to clutch the set. Cody and Mango play out a tight winners finals where each of the games are close by stock count, but the flow of the set is in Mango’s favor for another 3-1 victory.

It’s hard to say what happens in the losers bracket, but my hard call is that we get a nice Cody-Zain showdown for third place. Zain is on fire, having basically left a wake of destruction in his path to loser’s finals, while Cody’s had a relatively quiet event before top eight, mostly just doing enough to beat everyone other than Mango. But here, my hard prediction here is that Cody crushes him. He takes the 4-3 set lead for the 2023 SSBMRank season and spoils the dream run, beating yet another MDVA player in front of the region.

From that point onward, Cody takes Mango close. In fact, he even wins the first set in dominant fashion. But at the end of the day, it’s last year’s champion who takes home the gold and defends his title. Mango wins Super Smash Con 2023, suddenly launching his name into contention as a dark horse for year-end number one.

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