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Published July 3, 2023

Late last year, I saw an episode of Fourside Fights, as I do every week. An especially controversial topic came up – which tournament would you rather win between The Big House and the Ludwig Smash Invitational? To my surprise, most of the panel went with Ludwig’s event due to the presence of more money and more visibility. I couldn’t believe the levels of shill power here. How broke is Smash that we’re already willing to say that an event with a bigger prize pot and publicity is more important than an annual classic? Insane.

To be clear, I still think that this is a totally unhinged opinion. But the fact of the matter is that every single event thrown by Mogul Moves – by sheer scope, ambition and, frankly, quality – has more than earned its place near the top of the tournament hierarchy. Any event related to this team is absolutely in the top echelon of the Smash ecosystem. It’s with great joy that I then introduce quite possibly my longest and most in-depth preview of a tournament in this column: my preview of this upcoming weekend’s Ludwig Ahgren Championship Series 5 (LACS 5).

Here’s how it’s going to work: the first thing to break down is the event’s Last Chance Qualifier. Because there’s so many people to look out for, I want to briefly mention 32 people who you should look out for within the LCQ. The next part of the column will break down each of the 12 players invited for the final part of the bracket. But rather than discuss the nitty gritty of all their head-to-heads, what I’m going to do is explain what a potential victory at LACS 5 would look like for each of them. Finally – and although it’s going to be really difficult to make a confident prediction without the structure of what the post-LCQ stages of the event will look like, I will nonetheless do my best to make my pick for who will win LACS 5.

The Last Chance Qualifier

The first obvious contender is KoDoRiN, who has maintained his spot right under the top 10 for the last year. After him comes Soonsay, someone who’s made multiple major top eights at this point in his career. Then come Fiction and Magi to close out what I imagine would be the top four seeds. Although neither of those two have great majors this year, both of them have beaten or boast favorable odds against multiple invited players, and they’ve seen success at regionals.

Another interesting group of four follows the above four. Let’s start with S2J. He has had a relatively quiet year so far, but he did finish in fifth place at Battle of BC via beating Trif, and it was just a year ago when we saw him beat Zain and Hungrybox. Spark has had his most exciting performances inexplicably happen outside the public eye, and he definitely seems like someone within any Top 25 list you could make today. Zamu literally beat Cody Schwab earlier this year and has performed incredibly at the regional level, and then you have a fascinating fourth person in Chem. Formerly No. 66 in the world, he’s made that rank look incredibly old with a recent win at the Nightclub: VIP over Aklo, Hax$ and Zuppy.

There’s four players I’d roughly consider to be in the next tier of entrants. The first one is SDJ, who has quietly looked like a Top 30 player within Texas. Then comes Mekk, who recently had strong performances at Tipped Off and Combo Breaker, and next would be Kürv, a Fox who has been as successful within his local scene as any other player could be without being Fiction. For that matter, I’d place KJH right next to him, as his Falco has started to catch up to his Fox in terms of obtaining notable results.

The next ten people after, however, are extremely hard to order. You have five “active and rising” players who are favorites to make it onto the summer rank ballot (Khalid, CPU0, Dawson, Casper and nut) and you also have a bunch of players who have finished in the annual Top 50 in previous years, but haven’t necessarily shown it via recent recents (null, Franz, Swift, Azel and Albert). Last are the ten people I’d consider wildcard regional stars. These are players who have shown the ability to contend with Top 100 talent – and who may have actually finished in the Top 100 for previous years – yet wouldn’t make a ballot for summer rank right now. That’s Asashi, Nickemwit, Free Palestine, KoopaTroopa895, Steech, Stiv, salami, Zeo, cliché, and mvlvchi.

The Invited 12

Let’s be clear: the last Ludwig event proved that Zain doesn’t have a bracket in which it’s impossible for him to win. With that said, some brackets are better than others. My guess for what a Zain victory would look like here would be some combination of a player from the LCQ, moky, Hungrybox, and Mango’s Falco (more on this later) being his opponents. His Ice Climbers counterpick could very well give him a slight edge over Jmook and Leffen at some point in the future, but for now, I’m going to say that his chances are better when he doesn’t have to switch between characters.

Cody Schwab might be the best pound-for-pound competitor in the field. The only opponent whom I feel relatively nervous about, as far as Cody’s long-term chances go, is Mango. Although there’s several different paths leading to a Cody win here, in my mind, it’s in unspectacular, yet convincing fashion. He trounces someone like Axe and Hungrybox, back to back, before beating aMSa twice. Frankly, he could run into Zain and I might still favor Cody.

Remember Genesis and Collision? Jmook’s path to victory at this event would look awfully similar. That means no Hungrybox, no aMSa, and a bunch of Fox players. To name names, Jmook’s best path is probably something along the lines of Leffen, moky, Mango, and, for now, Zain. It took Leffen’s Sheik a set to defeat Zain’s Marth in a tournament, so maybe Zain’s Ice Climbers will need something similar.

Of the current field, there’s no doubt in my mind that moky is the best active player who hasn’t won a major. I am not willing to say that he can’t ever defeat Jmook, Zain or Mango, but I can confidently say that his probability of winning would skyrocket without them. Who replaces those three could be any combination of the Fox players (Cody, Leffen and Joshman), aMSa and Hungrybox.

It’s funny that aMSa, by the earth-shattering standards he set for himself as the reigning No. 2 in the world, has had a “disappointing” 2023. In any other period, this would be considered a career-defining stretch. Despite him losing to Mango at Tipped Off, I still have to believe aMSa would benefit from the presence of Mango, possibly Hungrybox as well. You can take your two picks of Zain, Jmook, Leffen and perhaps a resurgent Axe as other favorable draws.

A Mango first-place finish here isn’t too different from what happened at Tipped Off, where his Falco pounced on the Fox players. However, there will be two key differences. The first one: he doesn’t play aMSa in winners’ quarters; he plays Zain. The last and most important change: instead of getting totally chopped up in Marth-Falco (1-5 since Smash Summit 11), Mango picks Fox  (4-1 in the same timespan) and beats Zain in a game-five clencher. What happens next? He has an all-Falco rest of the bracket, where he wins four sets against any combination of the following players to win the event: Axe, Leffen, moky and Cody.

Though Hungrybox seems more mortal vs. the field than usual, he still has been a safe bet for top eight. If he makes it to winners’ quarters, you could definitely see an early showdown with Jmook going Hungrybox’s way. Assuming that happens, it’s then a matter of seeing if Hungrybox can accomplish any order of winning a coin flip vs. Mango, continuing to even out his rivalry with aMSa and maybe push the head-to-head against moky back in his favor. A Hungrybox in winners’ side of grand finals vs. Jmook coming from loser’s is, by far, the most favorable ‘winners side of grand finals’ draw out of the top eight here.

Now we get into the group of players whom we’ll need to be creative for, starting with Axe. Along with surviving a groups phase of the event in which he’d need to make it to winners’ quarters, bare minimum, Axe would likely need another player from the LCQ or the bottom end of invitees to also have a breakout – preferably one whom he has a good history of defeating (like Fiction). From that point onward, I think his best chances involve any order of Zain, moky, and Jmook as far as top seeds go, and possibly an LCQ player. Many of these are functional coin flips, but in all honesty it wouldn’t look that different from Axe’s last major win; just fewer spacies.

Imagine that Salt ends up in the same pool as Axe, someone from the LCQ, and a top seed who might drop a set to two of those players while perhaps still being difficult for Salt. Were something like that to happen, there’s a nonzero chance that Salt wins at least two sets. That could lead to her having a relatively high seed in the final bracket. Like Axe, she would most likely need to have another LCQ breakout player in her winners’ bracket path, but she could also defeat Trif or Joshman, who have nonzero chances of making it that far also. Among the top seeds, it’s tough to say where her best odds are, so my guess is that Salt, in a world she’s playing lights out, turns into mini-Wizzrobe. In the timeline where she actually wins this tournament, “mini-Wizzrobe” defeats Jmook, Hungrybox, and quite possibly Cody Schwab in some order to win her first ever major. Whether or not this is likely is another question.

Not only is Joshman the hottest free agent in the game; it would be such an extraordinary rise to the top –  an epic climactic peak for his Smash career so far and a first for his continent if he somehow won LACS 5. Like Axe and Salt, he’d need a few other upsets to turn the group stage of the event on its head and lead to a situation where he’s in winner’s quarters. From there, I think any combination of a breakout LCQ player and the top Fox players (yes, even Leffen) could lead to Joshman in winner’s finals. If he can get there, we know it’s possible for Joshman to defeat aMSa again and maybe he finally snaps his losing streak vs. Jmook. In any order, this would be enough for him to win the tournament and make history.

I went into my bathroom and said “Magic mirror across the sink, can Trif win this tourney, or should I rethink.” It responded, “famed is thy knowledge and retaining of facts, but hold for now, you are smoking crack.” But in all fairness, Trif’s chances are not really far off from someone like lloD, who was two stocks away from winners’ side of grands at Super Smash Con. Assuming he makes it to winners’ quarters via an excellent group stage showing, I could see him defeating Leffen again. After that, maybe he draws Axe, who upset another top seed, in winners semifinals before running into some combination of Mango’s Falco and Cody Schwab. Both of them have been caught  looking vulnerable in the Peach matchup before, and Trif boasts a history of prowess in both spacie matchups. On a gut level, I want to give this less than a one percent chance of happening, but you can totally envision it, can’t you? No? Oh well.

What Will The Final Bracket Look Like? 

Without any insight as to what the actual group stage of the event will look like after the LCQ, it will be very difficult to predict who will actually make the bracket and who won’t. As a result, we have no idea on what actual matchups will happen, which is a shame because that’s one of the most important determining factors as to who actually wins the event. It appears we are, in a sense, shit out of luck.

However, we aren’t totally helpless. What we have, in place of the final bracket, is a series of head-to-heads between the Top 12 which could come in handy. We also have four leading contenders among the LCQ entrants (KoDoRiN, Soonsay, Fiction and Magi) who may possibly play a role in shaping what the final 12-player bracket will look like. More or less, that’s sixteen people whose results vs. each other over the last two years may give us some kind of basis for predicting the rest of this event. Without being sure as to who will play who, what I’ve done is collected each of those 16 players head-to-heads against each other over the last two years. I gathered their total amount of wins, losses, and sets played against each other, also calculating their win-rates in the process. I wasn’t sure what to do next, so what I ended up moving forward with was subtracting the minimum win-rate (12.5 percent from Salt) from the maximum win-rate (65.1 percent, from aMSa) and rounding up to determine the number of sides on each die I would roll for a player: a D53.

The best way I can explain it is that this “D53” roll effectively captures ‘how good’ each respective player is performing against a “Zombie Group Stage Opponent.” Their win-rate times 100 became the added ‘buffer’ on the roll to capture their ‘baseline,’ to account for favorability from stronger players. Remember: without knowledge as to who is actually playing each other, or the actual structure of the final bracket, I had to figure out some arbitrary way of determining who would play who and where. By no means do I think this is particularly “sound.” Keeping that in mind, we ended up with the following results.

We’re going to move forward with the assumption that the red coded players are eliminated, the yellow coded players start in loser’s bracket just outside top eight, and our green coded players begin in winners quarters. Each of the 12 who aren’t eliminated are seeded accordingly with their respective “D53 + WinProb” number.

NOTE: Magi unfortunately does have a slight advantage here in having four extremely shenanigan-filled sets vs. Zain, but because we were using so many sets for every player, as well as D53s to determine how roughly well they were playing, I did not think this would play too big of a role in shaping the final bracket or determining the actual winner of the event. 

An Update To My H2H “Methodology”

I had a lot of fun writing last week, even if I acknowledged some of the constraints behind how I projected head-to-heads. However, after I published my column, dear friend of Monday Morning Marth and Melee Stats member ycz6 reached out to me and let me know of an error in my methodology: that I was actually giving an advantage to players in a head-to-head in which they were actually losing.

Reading my column again, I also noticed that the way I handled projections vs. the field was very convoluted and confusing. Therefore, I’ve made some adjustments. We’re going to move forward with the following rules:

  • Each player is, at baseline, assigned a die whose sides correspond to how many times they have beaten their opponent over the last two years (since Smash Summit 11) plus 1. We’ll roughly treat these as their “odds” to win the set. 
  • In a head-to-head roll, the player who has the higher score will advance in the bracket. 
  • Ties favor the player with more sides on their die, with one exception – if the “advantaged” player rolls a 1 (fumbles). 
  • In the case of a player never having beaten their opponent, they only require their opponent to fumble. 
  • In the rare occasion of a player technically having a losing record vs. their opponent, but having won their last two sets, their next set together will be treated as a coin flip, where each player will roll a D20, with ties breaking toward the player who won the last set. 
  • In another occasion in which a player’s head-to-head may not adequately give us enough information to judge their probabilities of beating each other (due to insufficient data or shifting trends), additional factors will be considered and explained before odds are given. These matchups will be asterisked and bolded accordingly. 
  • For the sake of keeping calculations and head-to-head tracking simple, I will not be updating dice rolls if there is a rematch of a particular head-to-head in the same bracket. Each set will be treated as its own. 

Projected Winners Quarters

  • Mango vs. Jmook (3-1)
  • Hungrybox vs. Trif (0-0)*
  • aMSa vs. Cody Schwab (10-2)
  • Zain vs. KoDoRiN (5-0)

In our timeline, Jmook (rolls a 2) looks a little sloppy vs. Mango, but Mango goes Falco the whole set (rolls a 1), counterpicks Yoshi’s twice, and, more or less, the two repeat what happened at Battle of BC 5. There’s no pop-off from Jmook this time; maybe Mango does the patented eyebrow raise after the set.

Hungrybox and Trif play for the first time in this decade, and because we don’t have any data,  I had to make a subjective call here as to their odds. Hungrybox is 5-0 over lloD in the last two years, and while he was technically 1-2 with Polish in sets of Peach/Jigglypuff, the one loss convinced Polish to go Fox and never look back. To be fair, we have seen Trif grind the ever loving shit out of Peach/Jigglypuff with Solobattle, so maybe it’s not impossible. At the same time, I can’t imagine that Trif has a better chance than lloD. For now, I had Hungrybox roll a D6 and treated Trif as needing a fumble in order to win.  It didn’t happen, so Trif is given a quick, merciful death by Hungrybox (rolls a 5).

The last two sets in our winner’s quarters simultaneously go as expected and keep viewers watching. Cody Schwab (rolls a 4) survives a down-to-the-wire scare from aMSa (rolls a 3), and Zain (rolls a 6) trounces KoDoRiN with a double three-stock into BM DontTestMe appearance game three, where he wins. Just kidding on that one; it’s a triple three-stock with the Marth.

Projected Ninths

  • Mango vs. Soonsay (1-0)*
  • Trif vs. Leffen (3-1)
  • aMSa vs. Magi (4-0)
  • KoDoRiN vs. Joshman (2-2) 

Mango and Soonsay have only played once in the last two years, with Mango winning. However, I don’t think anyone would view this matchup as a coin flip. Mango, as I’ve written about, has trounced Fox players within the Top 10, let alone Top 25. We’ve seen him drop a set to Pipsqueak before, but I cannot imagine that Soonsay has a significantly better chance than Cody (D3 vs. D9) or moky (D5 needing a fumble). The most favorable interpretation, other than Pipsqueak, who won their only set, might be Aklo, who Mango survived two recent game-five scares from. For now, I treated this like if moky ran into Mango, and in our timeline, Mango barely holds on to survive a scare (rolls a 2).

The European clash is an interesting one. If we went all the way back before the pandemic, Leffen basically thrashed Trif on command. That, of course, changed when Trif and him split sets late last year. With that in mind, however, I still have to favor Leffen for the long run. I stuck with the head-to-head count in the last two years. In our bracket, Leffen quickly moves on (rolls a 3) and Trif gasses out early (rolls a 1).

aMSa and Magi have played four times in the last two years. None of those times have been particularly close. Save for a sudden scare vs. Kacey at the Trail Invitational 3, aMSa has made utter mincemeat out of the Falco players he’s run into in that same time span. If anything, sticking to their head-to-heads might actually underplay how unlikely it is for aMSa to lose here. Turns out, he doesn’t (rolls a 5).

The final, and best, of our ninth place matches goes to the limit. KoDoRiN and Joshman are each playing on fire, with Joshman even picking Sheik for Final Destination and winning a game, but KoDoRiN (rolls a 3) barely survives Joshman playing out of his mind (rolls a 3). The commentators go crazy and call it the set of the tournament so far.

Projected Sevenths

  • Mango vs. Leffen (3-0)*
  • aMSa vs. KoDoRiN (5-0)

It feels awfully strange that we’re in a phase of the Mango-Leffen rivalry where Mango has beaten him six times in a row. Not only do I wonder how much of it is due to Leffen’s change in career priorities – I somewhat pine for the days when this rivalry used to be back-and-forth.. Frankly, having seen the sets, I don’t think Leffen is worse vs. Mango’s Falco than Cody, whom I have as a 3:1 underdog vs. Mango. I have thus made a pretty big exception in determining odds for this one – I decided to have Mango roll a D5 and Leffen roll a D3. Maybe I am hard capping here, but I really just don’t buy Leffen having anything lower than a 40 percent chance of defeating Mango. That said, it ended up not mattering too much. In our timeline, Mango plays like utter garbage (rolls a 2), and Leffen somehow outdoes him (rolls a 1), so Mango moves on in similar fashion to their Smash Summit 12 set.

Do I even need to say anything more for aMSa vs. KoDoRiN? Like aMSa vs. Magi, this is a matchup where the already favorable odds that aMSa has by our methodology actually underplays what a drastic advantage he has. This is the same player who is currently on a four-set win streak vs. Zain. I would go as far as to say that this is KoDoRiN’s worst possible opponent in the whole tournament. aMSa fittingly sleepwalks (rolls a 6) through KoDoRiN.

Projected WSF

  • Zain vs. Jmook (4-7)
  • Hungrybox vs. Cody Schwab (2-8)

Now we get into the matchup I’ve wanted to see for the last three months: Zain, with the addition of his new Ice Climbers vs. a now suddenly mortal Jmook. I have to view Jmook as still having an advantage, just because we haven’t seen the ICs in tournament yet, so I kept in line with my methodology. Surprisingly, however, Zain (rolls a 5) comes out on top vs. Jmook (rolls a 2). If I were to guess how this translates into gameplay, I’ll treat it as a 3-1 where the Marth plays on fire and, where after Jmook makes a potential momentum-shifting comeback for Game 3, “DontTestUs” is revealed in horrifying fashion in Game 4 to dominate him.

Hungrybox had an extremely fortunate draw in winners’ quarters. Unfortunately for him in our timeline, he ends up immediately running into one of his worst opponents in the whole tournament. Cody Schwab (rolls an 8) totally handles Hungrybox (rolls a 2), who doesn’t even play particularly bad and is thoroughly defeated.

Projected LQF

  • Mango vs. Hungrybox (7-5)
  • aMSa vs. Jmook (8-2)

I have bad news for Mango fans. He runs at Hungrybox in the corner for 12 times and is upthrow rested, back thrown off-stage, or tricked into SD’ing off-stage, with the last eight times coming on Yoshi’s Story (rolls a 1). Hungrybox literally kills him each time (rolls a 6). You’ve seen this happen before, so no need to go into further details.

The other loser’s quarters match is somehow even uglier. aMSa (rolls a 9) completely steamrolls Jmook (rolls a 1). It closes out the worst combination of losers’ quarters matches in the history of the game. At least Hungrybox beating Mango in seven minutes was kind of funny. Jmook announces that he’s not attending Fete or GOML a day after.

Projected WF

  • Zain vs. Cody Schwab (7-8)

The matchup everybody has been waiting for during the entire event finally happens in winners’ finals. Cody Schwab (rolls a 9) completely devours Zain (rolls a 3) in a dominant 3-0. It looks like their Redemption Rumble set, and this time, Zain doesn’t have the benefit of being able to tell people he wasn’t trying. The set becomes the new model Fox vs. Marth set.

Projected LSF

  • Hungrybox vs. aMSa (5-7)

Hungrybox vs. aMSa joins a trio of sets that have been extremely entertaining so far. In the end, Hungrybox (rolls a 5) nudges out aMSa (rolls a 4) with a last-stock Rest on aMSa’s counterpick. He leaps out of his seat, slams his fist against the table, and does a literal victory lap around the venue, yelling “yeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh” before heading back to fist bump aMSa, clutch his heart and prepare for his loser’s finals set with Zain.

Projected LF

  • Hungrybox vs. Zain (11-2)

Zain (rolls a 6) destroys him (rolls a 2).

Projected GF1:

  • Cody Schwab vs. Zain (8-7*, not accounting for what happened prior)

Many times in Melee history, the best sets happen where both players aren’t playing “good” or “bad,” but a little bit of both. This is one of those sets. Cody starts off playing hot, two-stocking Zain to start their rematch, then barely clutching out a game on Final Destination again (rolls a 3), right before Zain turns on his clutch gear to pull off an incredibly unlikely reverse 3-0 with multiple large comebacks and reset the bracket (rolls a 4). Zain gets out of his seat at a crazy game five ending where he hits his first clean zero to death of the entire set, and it comes on his last-stock, and punches the air before settling back down into his seat. Cody, totally deadpan, nods his head in approval and stares blankly ahead before Zain and him start striking stages or discussing the next set.

Projected GF2:

  • Cody Schwab vs. Zain (8-7*, not accounting for what happened prior)

The next set is nowhere near as suspenseful or exciting as the last one. Cody (rolls a 7) comes out the gates in the new set swinging, and Zain runs out of energy, winning a game on Final Destination, but getting handled on Cody’s counterpick and out-clutched in a close, but not-close game four (rolls a 3). Cody Schwab wins LACS 5.

Final Projected Standings

  • 1st place: Cody Schwab
  • 2nd place: Zain
  • 3rd place: Hungrybox
  • 4th place: aMSa
  • 5th place: Mango / Jmook
  • 7th place: Leffen / KoDoRiN
  • 9th place: Soonsay / Trif / Magi / Joshman

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