Top 10 Melee Sets of the Year
As 2022 comes to a close, I look back at everything and – for the most part – smile. It’s been a year of resilience for the Melee scene. Though we saw two circuits die, we also saw the evolution of the community in numerous ways, between the release of Slippi ranked, more big tournaments than ever, and, by all means, the closest race for No. 1. However, detailing all of them is a task I’ll handle in another column. For today, I want to bring it back to gameplay. What were the best sets of 2022?
In this column, I’m going to share my personal picks for this question. My criteria for this is going to be mostly subjective, but I am going to try my best to factor in “objectivish” things like the quality of gameplay, volatility, the stakes at hand, any external storylines heading into the set, etc. After listing a set, I will offer a brief explanation for what makes it special. I’ll also try to ensure that each selection stands out – in other words, I’m trying to pick sets which are “thematically different enough” from each other so I don’t end up with a bunch of aMSa or Zain sets. I will not always be perfect here, so just bear with me.
Before we go into the Top 10, I’d like to bring up some honorable mentions. These are not necessarily my “11 to 15” choices – they’re just ones that I wanted to shout out because you might have missed them. I’ve added a little “log line” for each one, sort of like they’re movies.
- 100 Grand vs. Chape at Mega Minnesota Monthly Melee – The secret defender of Minnesota takes on the king of South America in a wild, one-of-kind, final showdown of hidden bosses.
- ChuDat vs. Ben at Genesis 8 – A dormant old school Melee legend takes on a rising star in the stupidest counterpick war of the last five years.
- Logan vs. Ralph at Mainstage – Five straight barnburner games of high level Marth-Pikachu, where each player takes turns clutching victory from the jaws of defeat and vice versa. NOTE: This set was recorded on Slippi, but not uploaded anywhere yet.
- Lucky vs. Mekk at Shine 2022 – An otherwise guaranteed 3-0 victory takes the most pointless and most unexpected turn.
- Salt vs. Blue at Smash Summit 13 – A forgotten down-to-the-wire set that features a highlight reel’s worth of clips from both players: the equivalent of an And1 mixtape.
No. 10: SluG vs. Zain at Double Down
It would feel wrong to exclude SluG from this list and ignore the biggest victory of his year. At the time of Double Down, it was assumed that if his opponent wasn’t an obvious contender for winning a major, Zain would probably steam-roll them. This was the first set of the year that showcased the rest of the field beginning to catch up with Zain. Furthermore, it’s a definitive example for how Ice Climbers could still succeed at the top level without wobbling. In a year where so many mid tiers have seen unexpected success, SluG’s rise to the top level of play, as well as the circumstances behind it, especially elevates it. Though SluG taking Hungrybox close at Ludwig Smash Invitational is another great pick, I ultimately went with the showcase of him beating the best player in the world. Speaking of which…
No. 9: Jmook vs. Zain at GOML 2022
“2022’s breakout star takes on the world No. 1” is enough of a reason to watch this set. The crazy thing, however, is that the two had already played four times before. We had seen everything from the Zain demolition run at Genesis to Jmook thumping him out of Smash Summit 13 to the previous barn burner they had at GOML. With that said, it’s the loser’s set at GOML which is the best. In addition to the incredible level of Sheik-Marth displayed, I’d argue that it showed Jmook to be a bonafide supermajor contender. His sets at Genesis were pretty exciting, his victories were incredibly convincing, but the grit Jmook showed by pulling a third consecutive victory over Zain was proof he was the real deal and someone whose meteoric rise was a sign of repeatable success.
No. 8: Jmook vs. Wizzrobe at Ludwig Smash Invitational
Jmook-Wizzrobe at the Ludwig Smash Invitational is the best Sheik-Captain Falcon set ever played. It reminds me of what it was like to watch Druggedfox-Wizzrobe back at Tipped Off 11, and I think the quality of gameplay in this one is far more outstanding. The two take turns beating each other up in a set that feels like a Godzilla vs. King Kong showdown, between the ruthless tech chases, precise juggles, efficient edgeguards, brutal combos, and bursts of jaw-dropping speed. Not to mention, the out-of-game storylines too, with Jmook, the newcomer to the top level of play, getting pushed to the brink by an incredibly dangerous Wizzrobe looking to make his way back to where he was in 2021. I cannot wait for these two to play again.
No. 7: Hungrybox vs. lloD at Genesis 8
I know this seems like a joke, but I really mean it when I say you had to be there to experience it. Remember: lloD was owning the shit out of Hungrybox online, and Hungrybox’s offline streak vs. Peach had just ended five months prior. The community was actually starting to get on board with the idea of Jigglypuff-Peach “not being that bad.” In turn, Hungrybox had started to fully lean into playing like a Dark Souls boss. Genuinely, there was no better, no more absurd way to start top eight at the biggest supermajor of the year than Hungrybox-lloD. Even the aesthetics of the match are too great to not mention – Hungrybox has a bizarre mask-protesting trucker aesthetic going for him, and it contrasts with lloD’s prim and proper appearance on the other side of the CRT. Even when the gameplay appears to be lopsided, we’re still at the edge of our seats because lloD somehow keeps bringing it back too. Though the two technically had a closer set at Smash Summit 13, the anticipation we collectively had for this one was both totally warranted and very funny to see play out.
No. 6: Hungrybox vs. iBDW at GOML 2022
This one hits all the right spots for classic Hungrybox sets. Ledge camping? Check. Salt in between the games from his opponent? Also check. Frankly though, it’s a legitimately fun Jigglypuff-Fox set. Contrary to what you might expect after Game 1, Hungrybox abandons the camping nonsense midway through Game 2, and plays great against the best Fox in the world. I must also confess something vulnerable here: after the reverse pop off, my brain melted so quickly that I lost my senses. I actually convinced myself that it was “not okay” and messaged a bunch of my friends about how iBDW needed to publicly apologize. It took me about a week to snap back to reality; to recognize how glorious this moment was how lucky we are for witnessing it. I’ve now done a total 180 on it. I’m so glad this happened. Bless both these players.
No. 5: Hungrybox vs. Jmook at Wavedash 2022
The last of the “Hungrybox wins” trilogy of sets in this column happens to be the best one. Though it’s easy to take Hungrybox wins over Jmook for granted now, the ones at Wavedash happened before the whole “11-1” thing. At the time, Jmook looked like he was slowly turning into a deadly opponent for Hungrybox, if not someone that could consistently take sets from him, sort of like how Zain grew into that role after initially slumping. Anyway, between the amazing gameplay from both opponents here, the fact that the winner would take the tournament, and the controversial decision to let Jmook and Hungrybox play out the final game of the first set with another controller – rather than anticlimactically giving the game win to Jmook – there’s much about these grand finals that remains memorable.
No. 4: Zain vs. Leffen at Ludwig Smash Invitational
I could tell you that every game of Zain-Leffen at Ludwig Smash Invitational goes to last stock, and it would still somehow undersell what it was like to see them play. It never truly feels like one player is in total control, and just when you think it’s starting to go one way, the other one damn near immediately takes over. I wouldn’t call Marth-Sheik explosive in the same way of something like Fox-Falco, but it nonetheless remains an incredibly “momentum” and “rhythm” based matchup with its own dynamism. Besides, how can anyone forget what’s on the line here? The quality of gameplay, the adaptations, the counter-adaptations, the counter-counter-adaptations make it an instant classic, but so does the fact that it’s coming in winner’s finals of the most stacked Melee invitational ever. In another year, this would be a great pick for No. 1.
No. 3: Mango vs. Hungrybox at Super Smash Con 2022
Throughout the history of Melee, no two top players have played more high-stakes sets than these two, and it’s no surprise that when they showed up in grand finals at Smash Con this year, it led to the event having the most live viewers of any grand finals in 2022. It’s an awesome set that doesn’t really particularly feel like “Fox vs. Jigglypuff” as much as yet another edition of a timeless mainstay for top level Melee. Also let’s be real. It’s more exciting when they have sets like these where both of them are playing great than it is when either Hungrybox is getting run over or when Mango’s getting triple-three stocked. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for this rivalry over the last year or so, and these grand finals are definitely in the running for best Mango-Hungrybox sets of all-time.
No. 2: Zain vs. iBDW at Genesis 8
Right after Zain-iBDW happened at Genesis 8, I turned to s-f and told him I thought it was the highest quality set of tournament Melee ever. Months later, I wrote that I still thought that way, and today, my opinion hasn’t shifted. Anyone who watches these matches and comes away with the idea that iBDW is a “lame” Fox is an idiot. He masterfully plays this matchup and looks like the terminator when he gets an opening on Zain, who after struggling early, starts to match iBDW blow for blow I previously called Jmook-Wizzrobe the equivalent of Godzilla vs. King Kong – so to follow up on the theme of bad pop culture references, I’m gonna describe seeing Zain-iBDW at Genesis as akin to watching two cyborgs tear each other apart. Watching this live was one of the most special moments of my life. I thought nothing would top it this year.
No. 1: aMSa vs. Mango at The Big House 10
There was literally zero chance I would have put anything else at No. 1. In spite of calling the prospect of an aMSa victory miraculous – even going as far to tell Zamu, Ambisinister, and Wheat that I thought considering aMSa’s chances of winning was a “formality” that same week – I remained more floored than annoyed when aMSa won and when I lost a hundred dollars betting against it for 20:1 odds. In fact, “floored” doesn’t adequately describe it. I felt sheer wonder. It was, and remains, an astonishingly world-view changing moment in time; like if Bernie Sanders had somehow won the 2020 United States election and single-handedly passed intellectual property reform that barred Nintendo from ever hurting the Smash community again. I doubt I will ever feel a comparable level of complete and utter shock that overcame me when I watched aMSa turn the previously unthinkable into a reality.
Honestly, it goes beyond the sheer fact of “Yoshi winning a supermajor,” which we ended up seeing three goddamn times in two months. The set itself is legendary as well. After aMSa takes two dominant victories in a row, Mango completely flips the script. He looks like he’s ready to reset the bracket and ride out another Big House victory, and suddenly, aMSa’s chances are starting to fade away. The way Scar describes it at the end is so perfect: at first it was looking like an anticlimactic and convincing win for aMSa, and then it suddenly turned into another potential Mango Big House win from losers bracket right before aMSa barely held on. I saw the set live, watched it again when I returned home, and had chills at how Toph absolutely meets the moment in his legendary call. You can hear the disbelief, amazement, and joy in his voice. This is all, mind you, after a pandemic that totally halted aMSa’s ability to have sets with the top level of competition, when it was reasonable to wonder if aMSa had missed his window for winning a supermajor and if the field had finally caught up to him.
I think many people tend to look at 2022 as the year for Melee in which a bunch of previously unknown people beat or became top players. While somewhat true, in my opinion, aMSa’s final set before he won The Big House 10 embodies something a little different that’s always defined Melee but especially been underlined in 2022: our resilience against all obstacles; a blind faith that with enough time and focused effort, eventually we will find what we’re looking for and be rewarded. It’s every Melee player’s dream; a truly unforgettable moment in the history of the community and the greatest set of the year. Cheers.