Happy Holidays to everyone in the Melee community! On Saturday, Hax took home the gold at New Jersey’s Garden State Smashdown, while over in the United Kingdom, Professor Pro won 20OxOxmas over Frenzy. In other notable regional news, on Sunday, Shippu won Reimeisai over Sanne in a gripping 15-game barnburner between the two rivals over multiple sets.
— ikewa (@ikewadesu) December 22, 2019
2020 Breakout Picks
To continue what I did in my last column, I’m going to highlight non-2019 MPGR ballot players too look out for in 2020. Unlike last week, in which I chose character representatives for Fox, Marth, Falco, Jigglypuff, and Peach, this week, I will be focusing on the best Captain Falcon, Sheik, Ice Climbers, Samus, and Dr. Mario players for next year.
Captain Falcon: Panos
When I first saw Panos play, I thought of him as “mid-level Gahtzu.” But over the course of 2019, he’s been one of Tristate’s most promising players. Based on the Summer 2019 New Jersey Power Rankings, Panos is No. 8 within his state. In the first part of the year, he actually finished No. 4, but I’d attribute this to his region being uniquely deep with players around his skill level (more on this later).
When you look at the results, Panos is clearly a borderline ballot-level player. Just this month, he 3-1’d a returning Stango at No Jawns. This is fairly impressive when you take into account that that Stango double eliminated Gahtzu – the player I just compared Panos to – earlier in the year at Fight Pitt 9. It’s not just a recent trend either; throughout the whole year, Panos also has wins over Squid, Ryobeat, 2saint, Slox, and Leighton: all MPGR nominees. Having individual wins on these players doesn’t necessarily equate to him being as good as them, but in terms of showing his potential peaks, they are promising.
Panos Tutorials: Creating DI Mixups with Pivots and Shield Stops pic.twitter.com/u2vcj0wQKh
— TG NBR | Panos (@PanosSSBM) November 12, 2019
Panos, like many other players who just barely missed the cut for 2019, also has consistency issues and losses to other mid-level players in his results. But his records against those kinds of players still trend positive, and I really think one or two breakout majors where he makes Top 32 is all he needs to flip his national perception. In fact, when you look at some of Panos’ local records and compare them with other Tristate players who made the 2019 MPGR bracket this year, it’s really not too far off from a ballot-level player like Ryobeat.
I would go as far as to say that Panos is in a similar position to where the latter was a year and a half ago in terms of boasting strong regional trends, an occasionally low floor at locals, and ho-hum national performances. When it comes to evaluating Panos’ long-term trajectory, I’m not dissuaded by a losing record or stray losses here or there to high-level Arcadian/regionally ranked players. If he’s active next year, I expect Panos to make a splash.
HM: Reesch, Vista, Matteo, Captain G
Juicebox has been a longtime ranked player within MDVA. I first knew of him years ago because he struck me as similar to Junebug around that time – not in style, but as a regional Sheik player that I expected to auto-win against mid-level Marths. Off the top of my head, I remember him at one point having three wins against Zain in 2017. It certainly doesn’t hint at what to expect if the two played now, but it’s still impressive for the time. If you have followed the Mid-Atlantic scene for a while, chances are that you’ve seen Juicebox at a Xanadu or seen his name in a bracket for The Cave.
His rise has been slow, but steady for the last few years. In Feburary 2016, he finished No. 16 and he has been climbing upward ever since. The fact that he’s been hovering around the bottom half of Top 10 since a year and a half ago isn’t indicative of stagnation as much as much a testament to two factors: his impressive consistency within a hihgly competitive field and how good the people above him are.
As of right now, Zain, Jerry, bobby big ballz, Milkman, and Bob-omb are the only players ranked above Milkman in MDVA. That’s someone who could potentially win a supermajor, two near-guaranteed Top 100 players, a former Top 100 player, and someone who could be a ballot-level player if he had more out-of-region activity. All factors considered, being ranked No. 6 in this region is really good, especially given that Juicebox is ranked above MoG (No. 8), someone who made the ballot.
What stops Juicebox from gaining ballot-nominee status are his national performances. They don’t scream “Top 100” this year, but Juicebox has a high ceiling that’s shown through having wins over Rishi and Polish. He has strong records in-region and also attends a lot. When you combine that with his steady rate of improvement, he’s a great pick for 2020.
HM: DrLobster, JNaut, Pleeba, and Fable. I didn’t include Foxy Grandpa or Jmook because I have no clue how often they would travel outside of their region, but by all means, those two would be easily Top 100 or ballot-caliber players if they attended more.
Ice Climbers: SluG
Although you could choose any regionally ranked Ice Climbers player, the easy pick for me is SluG, the successor to Stango’s once uncontested throne in Philadelphia. It isn’t just that he is great at wobbling people – if you ask anyone who pays attention to his in-region results, he solidly wins locals without wobbling and sometimes wins them by playing Fox, similar to Michigan’s Quang.
On his SSBWiki page, SluG has Drephen and Jerry listed as notable wins for him, with his 17th place at Royal Flush being the first result recorded for him. This undersells how impressive his resume has been since. SluG travels to nationals and has yet to replicate the same caliber of a run (mostly because he usually gets something along the lines of 49th or 65th, losing to Top 50 players). As far as results against Northeast opponents go, SluG trends positively. Alongside his win over Stango at No Jawns, SluG also has a lifetime winning record against lint, as well as a win on Tiramisu earlier this year. It’s worth noting that as the No. 1 in Philadelphia, he is also ranked above No. 3 Nagy, who made the ballot this year and had his own strong resume.
If you can consistently attend and win locals in a region with ballot-level players and heavy local/regional “grinders” – all despite not always utilizing your character’s biggest threat – you have my vote of confidence.
HM: Papa, PudgyPanda, Frostbyte, Jonnyfight
One of the most interesting regional head-to-heads I’ve ever seen is between Missouri’s Travioli and Champaign’s Zamu. The latter is a near-Top 50 caliber Fox player who won a tournament over Trif and is exceptional against fast fallers and recent secondary Sheik. The former is a seemingly innocuous high-PR (No. 2) Samus in St. Louis – yet he’s the one with a heavy winning record in their head-to-head. I’m not sure I have all their results against each other recorded, but within the Melee Stats Podcast server and the private one, I searched their names and came up with six results since June of last year. Each one of them, Travioli won.
Travioli has a lot of promising regional results that collectively show that he’s trending high. Last month, he won a tournament over former Top 100 player Bobby Frizz, also beating Reesch and his in-region nemesis Vista. He also has wins on players like Rik, PRZ, and Shinobi. Some of these victories don’t sound like they mean too much individually, but all together, they’re very good for someone who isn’t on the ballot this year.
I have to admit that one of the biggest factors in stopping Travioli from being included on that ballot is that he keeps running into Zamu at regionals and beating him. At some point, when you just have a favorable head-to-head, another additional victory can only mean so much. But I have no doubt that Travioli will continue to thrive against other fast fallers – and with a quickly improving Sheik secondary to cover unfavorable matchups, he should be a player to look out for.
HM: Goomy, Rattigan, Artelind, Silver
Dr. Mario: Palika
I should probably disclaim the fact that Palika went to my school, the University of Connecticut, when I TO’d there. When I first met him, I thought he was an annoying mid-tier complainer who knew all this random information about Dr. Mario and abused gimmicks. I used to jokingly refer to him as the “level one boss of UConn”: a competent player who could be eventually figured by anyone if they tried. Many times I tried convincing him to switch to Sheik instead. But his insistence on character loyalty always stood out, even though I and several others gave him shit for it.
Well, I’m glad to say that he was right and we were wrong. Palika is the closest challenger to Franz for the title of best Dr. Mario. Though Franz has way more impressive national results, if you look at Palika’s records within the Tristate and New England region, he isn’t too far off. He is currently ranked No. 6 across New England, just below Slox, Joyboy, Kalvar, lint, and Tiramisu: all nationally ranked players or ballot-nominees.
Honestly, I have no idea how Palika does it. I could not envision playing Dr. Mario and having to play one, two, or all three of Warmmer, Thumbs, and lint every week for years, and not want to quit Melee forever. Alongside his wins against them in-region (and having two sets on Kalvars), Palika also has a positive record against Panos and sets over Nicki and Leighton.
For what it’s worth, he also defeated Wally and JBash, with the latter standing out as amusing because of JBash’s previous victory over Shroomed at Genesis 6. From personal experience of enduring long rants in car rides about how frustrating it was to play Dr. Mario when his best player quit him several years ago, I can only imagine how great it must have been for Palika to beat someone whom his former hero failed to beat with a top tier. Think about how thrilled he’ll be with a breakout national in 2020.
HM: Liberate, Flatline, Skullbro, Q?