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Published November 28, 2022

Last week, I took a break from my usual coverage of current events to shine the spotlight on ten Melee community members. This week, I’m getting right back to our usually scheduled programming. We’re going to analyze the hottest topic in Melee right now: the race for No. 1.

The scene is in in unusual times. In addition to a Yoshi player being in contention for No. 1, we also have four other contenders. One of them “feels” like the favorite in spite of not looking as dominant as we’ve expected him to be. Another looked incredible for about five weeks, but has struggled since. A third one started the year with results that weren’t even top ten, and the last person has, by far, the worst internal head-to-heads of the group, yet attends far more than anyone else.

As the last month of the year dawns on us, I’m offering an in-depth look at the race for No. 1. I will be reviewing each of Zain, iBDW, aMSa, Mango, and Hungrybox’s years in great detail, both statistically and narratively. I’ll talk about what likely needs to happen for each of them to be No. 1, discuss some hypothetical scenarios that could complicate the final 2022 standings, and then – of course – I’m going to weigh in and order these five players right now.

NOTE: The following segment only includes results vs. players I’ve subjectively deemed notable – think of it like a “snapshot” of notable head-to-heads. This list also is focused on “headliner” results; not locals. I did that just to filter data for this column. Ahmad and Jflex – you guys are good; aMSa, your additional two sets over Aklo still “count,” but I didn’t include it for the sake of criteria.


Notable Winning H2Hs Notable Even H2Hs Notable Losing H2Hs
7-2 vs Hungrybox
3-2 vs Mango
3-1 vs Axe
3-0 vs KoDoRiN
3-0 vs n0ne
3-0 vs Soonsay
3-0 vs moky
2-0 vs Aklo
1-0 vs Wizzrobe
1-0 vs Fiction
1-0 vs Joshman
1-0 vs Krudo
1-0 vs Ginger
1-0 vs Polish
1-0 vs SFAT
4-4 vs Jmook
2-2 vs Leffen
1-1 vs Plup
1-1 vs lloD
1-1 vs S2J
1-1 vs Wally
3-4 vs iBDW
2-3 vs aMSa
0-1 vs SluG

Zain started the 2022 MPGR season off with a bang by winning Genesis 8 and Pound 2022 without dropping a single set. In that stretch of time, he laid a beating on Jmook twice, solidly beat Leffen in their much anticipated tournament showdown, thrashed Hungrybox twice, and came out on top over iBDW in one of the greatest Melee sets ever. There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Zain would be the favorite, by far, heading into Smash Summit 13. It’s funny to look back on now, because that was the last time in 2022 that I’d have favored any No. 1 seed over the field.

It’s not like it was all bad from that point onward though. Winning Shine 2022 and the Ludwig Smash Invitational was still great for Zain – he just hasn’t been the dominant number 1 of years past. One especially cool thing to note from his 2022 has been his ability to relatively overcome obstacles in his path. Who can forget how incredible he looked at Shine, where he finally beat Axe – a career demon – and then snapped a long losing streak to Jmook to win Shine? Besides, even his “lows” still involve him making top eight; and it doesn’t hurt that Zain still has the lead in major victories for the year, with four.

That last point warrants mention. Even though his head-to-heads at the top level are not particularly dominant, that might just be a byproduct of how tight the competitive field is right now. In all honesty, Zain has done “enough” already to have his year be considered the most successful one out of any player. If Zain holds steady, continuing to place deep into bracket, beating who he’s supposed to, and if none of his peers dominate, he’s got No. 1. Winning a circuit finale would basically guarantee it.


Notable Winning Records Notable Even Records Notable Losing Records
4-3 vs Zain
4-2 vs aMSa
4-1 vs Hungrybox
3-1 vs Jmook
3-0 vs Axe
2-1 vs TheSWOOPER
2-0 vs Plup
2-0 vs n0ne
2-0 vs SluG
1-0 vs Wizzrobe
1-0 vs S2J
1-0 vs Fiction
1-0 vs Polish
1-0 vs SFAT
1-1 vs KoDoRiN 1-5 vs Mango
0-1 vs Leffen
0-2 vs Aklo
0-1 vs moky
0-1 vs Krudo
0-1 vs Joshman

In terms of competitive results, iBDW’s had an up-and-down year (though mostly great). He started 2022 off by losing a regional in New York, having his heart broken at Genesis, and missing top eight at Pound. Then, the summer happened and iBDW started beating the brakes off nearly everyone he faced. June to July was pretty crazy when you look back on it; he won Smash Summit 13, Double Down, and Phantom, each without dropping a set. His “worst” performance in that stretch of time involved losing a very silly set to Hungrybox, being on the receiving end of Joshman’s career best performance, and still beating Mango. Had Phantom been counted for the Summer PGR, iBDW might have been No. 1.

I’m not going to re-litigate all of iBDW’s out-of-game circumstances here. What you need to know is the byproduct: he didn’t attend anything for a few months. Since his return, iBDW’s been a mixed bag. He did well at The Big House 10, had a mildly disappointing performance at the Ludwig Smash Invitational, destroyed a bunch of people through loser’s at Smash Summit 14, and then didn’t do so hot at Apex 2022. He’s still top five, but what will it take for iBDW to be No. 1; to look like he did in the summer?

Right now, he has two bonafide majors and one strong regional victory over Zain, so catching up by title count might be tough. But looking at what iBDW has right now for his head-to-head results, you have to admit iBDW’s been incredible vs. the best players in the world.  Other than Mango, who’s had his number over the last couple of months, he’s basically beaten everyone else in his tier. Although I could not tell you with a straight face that his dropped sets means “nothing,” what I will say is that if iBDW can maintain outright winning records over Zain, Hungrybox, and aMSa, while evening out his head-to-head with Mango, he could have an argument by having a greater win-rate at the top level than anyone else. Obviously, the most effective path to doing that involves winning at least one of the circuit finales and then having something like his loser’s run at Smash Summit 14 happen again.


Notable Winning Records Notable Even Records Notable Losing Records
5-1 vs iBDW
3-1 vs KoDoRiN
3-0 vs Axe
2-0 vs S2J
2-0 vs Plup
1-0 vs Leffen
1-0 vs n0ne
1-0 vs SFAT
1-0 vs Joshman
1-0 vs Krudo
1-0 vs Soonsay
4-4 vs Hungrybox
1-1 vs lloD
1-1 vs Fiction
2-3 vs Zain
1-3 vs aMSa
1-2 vs Jmook
0-1 vs SluG
0-1 vs Pipsqueak
0-1 vs Fizzwiggle

Mango’s 2022 initially looked like the worst hangover party for a No. 1 year (2021) ever. Not only did he fail to make top eight at Genesis; he did even worse at Pound before getting ninth again at Summit. He had a brief rebound at GOML and did okay at Phantom, but compared to the heights we’d seen from Mango just a year ago, it was dogshit. Now, losing sets to lloD, Fiction, KoDoRiN, or even Fizzwiggle on their own isn’t necessarily disqualifying. The more pressing issue was that many of the top five were consistently beating him. A Zain vs. Mango Falco set was basically like a guaranteed 3-0, iBDW had beaten him at GOML, and the Hungrybox sets were torture to watch.

You all know what happened next: Mango won Super Smash Con, took home the gold at Lost Tech City, and played the best Melee of his life to win Smash Summit 14. His other performances were nothing to scoff at either. Mango came within a hair of winning The Big House 10, did alright at Shine and had one of the most hard-to-pin-down seventh places you’ll see at the Ludwig Smash Invitational, where he was upset twice, but beat Zain and iBDW. One funny thing about this period is that it’s felt like a revenge tour, with him beating many of the people who previously demolished him. Were Panda to have a separate “Winter PGR,” it’s not out of the question that Mango could be No. 1. When I looked at his head-to-heads, I initially wanted to make a joke about how Mango’s potential journey to No. 1 involved iBDW being on his side of bracket, but in all seriousness, he’s been recently great against everyone else too.

However, the first half of 2022 is inevitably going to hurt his perception among voters. In part due to not making it far enough to play sets against the best players of that time, Mango has less impressive annual overall head-to-heads at the top level than people like aMSa and Zain. For a year-end rank, where every result is viewed independent of their specific time frame, that might play a small role in gatekeeping Mango from being No. 1. Then again, it’s also possible that panelists, like media voters for awards in pro sports, will like a good story. Mango winning another major would boost his whole return-to-the-throne narrative, as well as tie Zain for the lead in major first-places. Besides; none of his head-to-heads stand out as immediately bad, so I wouldn’t even say Mango has to “dodge” anyone. Winning a circuit finale and outperforming Zain at the other event would likely give Mango the top spot in a similar way that he finished No. 1 in 2021.


Notable Winning Records Notable Even Records Notable Losing Records
4-2 vs Jmook
3-2 vs Zain
3-1 vs Mango
2-1 vs Leffen
2-1 vs Wizzrobe
2-0 vs Axe
2-0 vs Fiction
2-0 vs Soonsay
2-0 vs SFAT
2-0 vs Krudo
2-0 vs Pipsqueak
1-0 vs KoDoRiN
1-0 vs lloD
2-0 vs Fiction
2-0 vs Soonsay
1-0 vs Aklo
1-0 vs Ginger
1-0 vs Magi
2-2 vs Hungrybox
1-1 vs Joshman
2-4 vs iBDW
1-2 vs moky
0-1 vs Plup
0-1 vs n0ne
0-1 vs Polish

Where do I even begin with aMSa? He’s gone from major top eight mainstay to being a two-time major champion. I mentioned before that Mango has a good case for being the No. 1 of the second half of the year, but in reality, he’s probably locked in a dead tie with aMSa. Speaking of which, Mango vs. aMSa is fun to look at.

Mango’s probably accomplished more meaningful victories in this half of the year overall, with two premier victories and a “lesser major” win at Lost Tech City, but aMSa has better head-to-heads. I do think The Off-Season is a bit of a weird event to evaluate, given a competitively illegitimate rule set in top eight, so I’m not going to say that it “counts” the same way as Lost Tech City does. At the same time, am I going to totally ignore aMSa going 2-1 vs. Jmook in otherwise fine sets? What about the first half of the year, where aMSa cleanly had better performances?

That might give him an argument over Mango, but it wouldn’t help for an aMSa vs. Zain comparison, even if No. 6 doesn’t look as “bad” as No. 11 does out the gate. Granted, considering where aMSa is now, his losses to Polish and Joshman feel like they happened at a time before “current aMSa.” If aMSa wins another major, we’re not going to care. In fact, I winning another major would likely give him argument for best head-to-heads within this group. Doing that at one circuit finale and then finishing Top 3 at the other circuit finale, assuming Zain doesn’t win, would give him three legit majors and potentially the best set records, but does he need four? Sidenote: I have to say that losing an online first-to-25 to Plup by the score of 25-2 does not make me especially hopeful for aMSa’s chances if those two play again.


Notable Winning Records Notable Even Records Notable Losing Records
10-1 vs Jmook
4-1 vs KoDoRiN
4-0 vs SFAT
3-0 vs Axe
3-0 vs lloD
3-0 vs SluG
3-0 vs moky
2-0 vs Wizzrobe
2-0 vs Fiction
1-0 vs Ginger
1-0 vs Magi
4-4 vs Mango
2-2 vs aMSa
1-1 vs n0ne
1-1 vs S2J
1-1 vs Pipsqueak
3-4 vs Plup
2-7 vs Zain
1-4 vs iBDW
1-2 vs Leffen
0-1 vs KJH

If we’re being fully truthful, no one in the top five has had the greater comeback story than Hungrybox. There were moments during the pandemic where Hungrybox, straight up, looked in danger of not being the best Jigglypuff. When LAN returned, he had one great showing before then losing two consecutive sets to Polish and continuing to get smacked down by people in the top tier. I gave him a two-percent chance of winning Genesis.  Though Hungrybox has suffered upsets here and there since, that’s come with the territory of entering – and winning – a lot of events. With GOML, Wavedash, and Riptide wins in his trophy case, he’s below his peers in terms of “weighted” majors; yet they’re still meaningful indicators that Hungrybox could win any event he enters…as long as Jmook is there.

Not to beat a dead horse, a ton of Hungrybox’s success in 2022 has been predicated off just utterly tearing this man’s heart through his chest. That head-to-head you see up there is just as impressive as it is somewhat frustrating. In the three big events Hungrybox has won this year, he’s gone 6-0 vs. Jmook at them. Unless he figures out something more consistent against Zain and iBDW, or turns a corner on Mango and aMSa, Hungrybox’s success is tied to Jmook being on his side of bracket or Jmook getting rid of the people Hungrybox struggles with.

Maybe this is harsh of me, but that makes me weigh Hungrybox’s success with a grain of salt. In my opinion, Hungrybox needs win both circuit finales in dominant enough fashion to even out his relative poor head to heads within the top five. It sounds really difficult until you remember the fact that it’s Hungrybox we’re talking about; the same guy who did something similar to end 2017. For God’s sake, this is Touchdown Juan; the float GOAT. I’m not sleeping on him.

Quick Conclusions

It does seem like Hungrybox is the clear No. 5 here. Because so much of his wins have been predicated on one player’s fate, I think Hungrybox has got to show something different in the last month of the year. I’m not claiming it’s impossible for him to dominate everyone, win both circuit finales without dropping a set, and prove me wrong. It’s not even that out of the question to imagine him winning those events in the same Jmook-heavy way that he had for his other wins this year. I’m just saying that that’s a lot to expect.

The next three spots are quite close between iBDW, aMSa, and Mango. By weighted title count, Mango’s had the highest highs, as well as the lowest lows. By head-to-heads, iBDW has the best matchup spread among the top level of play, but he has the worst individual “kryptonite” out of all of them, and it doesn’t help that this player is a fellow contender for No. 1. If you want a mix of both, aMSa’s trending as high as any has done in the second half of the year, though he hasn’t actually been that much more consistent than the other two when you look at it.

My heart is telling me it goes Mango, iBDW, and aMSa for the No. 2, No. 3, and No. 4 spots, because Mango has the most to gain from tying Zain for the lead in legitimate major wins, iBDW has the best head-to-heads within the top five, and I’m still not used to the idea of aMSa being favored to make winner’s finals at every event he goes to. However, if the year ended this very moment, and we had to weigh everything equally, I’d probably go aMSa, iBDW, and Mango in that order. I’ve heard Mango on his stream bring up the fact that Phantom wasn’t a major, and while I’m inclined to agree with him, this was also an event he literally attended, as well as en event that iBDW beat Zain – the guy who double eliminated Mango – twice at.  Are we going to pretend like this means nothing or that it’s totally irrelevant? With that in mind, I also think it’s a strange position where Mango “feels” like he is the closest to No. 1 out of those three in spite of maybe having a worse year-end resume right now. I don’t know. I can’t order these players confidently.

Speaking of which, Zain clearly has the top spot right now. In addition to leading everyone else in major wins, there’s basically no one in the world who is ‘unbeatable’ for Zain. Even his upsets get typically followed by him making top eight anyway. Were there another player who consistently dominated during Zain’s “slump” for as long as it lasted, it would have been much scarier.  Honestly, if he did “well” at both of the circuit finales without winning, he could still leave the year at the top spot, as long as none of the other four won. My guess is that he wins one major and makes top eight at the other to finish the year at No. 1.


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