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Published October 10, 2022

Hey everyone – I’m back to happily eat the biggest crow I’ve ever had. After briefly considering aMSa’s chances of winning a supermajor and then quickly dismissing it in last week’s column, lo and behold, he finally does it. I even lost a hundred dollars and have to larp as a Yoshi fan for the next Melee Stats episode.

What can I say? I was wrong, as I have been so many times before with aMSa. He overcame the odds in a bracket that was frankly designed to be terrifying for him. Before diving into the rest of the column, I’d like to explain my reasoning for being so bearish. I remain convinced that it was indeed a miraculous occurrence – but for 50:1, something had to have gone wrong in my estimations. Let’s see what happened.

Error No. 1: Not Factoring Appearance Probability

The first thing that I have to note is the obvious: with no Plup to face in winner’s semifinals, aMSa undeniably had a better path to winning this tournament than I anticipated. I don’t say this to be a buzzkill. The caliber of play that Soonsay showed throughout the whole weekend seemed to indicate that he was playing around the same range as someone like Joshman – someone who defeated aMSa – did at GOML. But you have to admit that Plup being sick and not being here was huge for aMSa’s chances. He was arguably aMSa’s hardest opponent in the whole tournament and was projected to be in winners semifinals. Granted, if Soonsay was playing great enough to beat Leffen, Plup’s path to winners semifinals was nowhere close to guaranteed, let alone his own chances vs aMSa. At the same time, it’s still something I should have considered as a possibility.

Speaking of which, his other potential opponent, Leffen ended up not being in winners’ for long. I must confess that when I saw Leffen’s projected path to winners’ quarters (Zamu or Soonsay into Polish or S2J), I thought he had a minimal chance of losing early. Though the two have split sets this year, I was convinced that Leffen would be the favorite heading into a third matchup, based on their last set, as well as how Leffen had long been a roadblock for aMSa. After what happened last weekend, I have to re-evaluate my perception of Leffen vs. everyone. aMSa is included in that.

Error No. 2: Sleeping on aMSa vs. Hungrybox

Before this weekend, aMSa had never beaten Hungrybox at an open event. Hungrybox was up 10-3 in their career, with a daunting 6-0 record at tourneys ourside Summit. These sets weren’t particularly close either. I genuinely thought aMSa was a long shot, especially at an event like Big House. If you asked me before the set what his chances of beating Hungrybox were, I would have said anywhere between 20 to 30 percent. My call would have been a soul-crushing 3-1 Hungrybox win.

In reality, it was the inverse. Hindsight is 20/20, so I can’t be too upset, but simultaneously, I probably read too much into an external factor like the invitational format shaping the outcome of a set versus an open major environment. Regardless, the two have now split their last four sets. None of this, however, makes up for the biggest betting blunder I made for this event:

Error No. 3: Sleeping on aMSa vs. Mango

As much as I’ve read some hilariously dumb online comments about how biased I am as a Mango fan, there is a grain of truth to it. I tend to believe in him more often than not. The phrase “don’t sleep on the kid,” has seldom needed to be told to me. This weekend though, I made the opposite error.

When I initially looked at aMSa’s head-to-heads, I realized that his best shot at winning an event had to go through Mango. Mango, mind you, has won more Big House tournaments than anyone. He is the definitive player when it comes to pulling off miraculous comebacks and defying the odds at Big House. I always liked how Scar put it – when Mango plays Melee at his best, you start to question everything you know about it, and he looks like he’s unlocked a new game. Historically speaking, the only people to ever defeat Mango at Big House are Mew2King, Hungrybox, Armada, Leffen, and Plup. My tinfoil hat theory – what I thought would be my ace in the hole for a future Mango-aMSa set – is that the series’ typical marathon Sunday format leads to sloppier and more chaotic Melee than the standard schedules of other events. I have no way of proving this, so it is just empty conjecture, but if true, you’d think this typically lends itself to Mango’s strengths as a player.

Heading into the weekend, aMSa had been 3-2 in his last five sets against Mango, with none having happened this year. Before that, Mango had lost twice with the Falco and beaten him every preceding time. The only path I could envision aMSa having to win this kind of tournament was if he beat Mango twice. With that in mind, given the factors that I had previously established, I thought two things. First, it was unlikely that Mango would show up that late in bracket, but more pertinently, if he did, those numbers were not going to reflect what their chances were if they played again. I saw any matchup they had as a potential coin flip, not one where aMSa was favored. Ironically, this was the one time I did not follow the numbers. Instead, I trusted my gut, overthought it, and bet on the wrong horse.

Almost all of what I said about Mango defying the odds could be applied to aMSa, because from the very start, he had damn near impossible expectations and hype. He entered Evo 2013 as something of an urban legend and took a single game off Mew2King. For anyone else, it would be nothing. For aMSa, it was enough to make him Top 100 in the eyes of the community. That point onward, the pressure was on, and the next nine years became a Sisyphean grind.

Don’t get me wrong though. His trajectory, in spite of a few lows, was still unambiguously upward. At first, it was getting ninth at Apex. Then, it was beating Mew2King, outright. The placements continued to go up, the wins continued to accrue, but something always seemed to stop aMSa, and it wasn’t just Armada. It was multiple generations of top Melee talent and, most crushingly, a pandemic that completely restricted aMSa’s ability to compete with the best Melee players in the world. As the most competitive era of Melee ever dawned upon the United States and Canada, aMSa was relegated across the world. It wasn’t even his fault, and yet it really looked like the boulder had once again fallen down, as it had done so many times with aMSa.

But he came back, looking better than ever. He finished just outside of the Top 5 on the Summer PGR, and even got second at a major. The numbers remained so against him, and yet they were undeniably always improving – I just didn’t see it as anything other than a fringe possibility. The very thought of Yoshi winning a supermajor was so unthinkable; so earth-shattering to the core of everything we understand about Melee. The idea of someone so dedicated to his character that he would spend nine years of his life, traveling to more than 40 tournaments, just for the chance of being atop the mountain for a weekend was unfathomable. Truthfully, it still is.

And now, after so many years, aMsa has finally done it. He’s reached the top of the mountain and ascended into the heavens as the greatest Yoshi to ever do it – a living example of what it means to be a true competitor, to never give up, and to chase your dreams.

Now, normally I’d end the column here, but because I’m super excited and writing this in a frantic fever dream state on my phone, I’ve decided to do a “for fun” power rankings on the current race for No. 1. Keep in mind that this is taking the whole year into account, not just how each player is right now – feel free to interpret this as a “if the year ended right now rankings.”

8. Leffen

Let me start by saying I’m not one to complain about seeding. It’s an overwhelmingly underpaid task that effectively determines what will happen in a tournament. That doesn’t just mean shaping the potential outcome – whether or not you see Mango vs. Zain or Hungrybox vs. Axe is a byproduct of deliberate decisions made by seeders to create the most fair and exciting event possible. The way I see it, even “bad” seeding at the top level can lead to amazing things happening. Nobody would want to see a bracket where everything goes according to plan. Instead of being mean to seeders, you should be excited when upsets happen. In a way, they are responsible for it too.

With that said, I have to admit that Leffen at No. 4 for this event, primarily based off one spectacular performance at Battle of BC 4 was really questionable (though the seeders, unlike me, were not stubborn enough to bet $100 on it). Imagine my surprise when I heard some of my friends saying that they thought Leffen was outright going to dominate everyone again. Not only was he not active in the last four months; he had two other events where he definitively did not do anywhere as well. I can see why Leffen, of all people, could earn the benefit of the doubt, but as it stands, a third disappointing showing from Leffen is going to hurt with so few events in his annual resume.

7. Plup

Plup’s interesting, if not occasionally infuriating to follow, purely from the standpoint of being a selfish fan. He has a similar drawback with Leffen in that he lacks attendance at many large tournaments. It’s difficult to ignore missing The Big House and the Ludwig Smash Invitational as well. Plup would have to win multiple events in dominating fashion for me to think of him as a contender for best in the world.

What Plup has going for him, however, is pretty solid. His “worst” showing of the year, as I’ve mentioned before is deceptive, since 13th at Genesis came partly at the hands of Jmook as he broke out. Plup’s head-to-heads against Hungrybox, Zain, and aMSa are also great. Seeing as he’s finished Top 2 at everything that isn’t Genesis and has been more consistent, Plup probably has the slight edge over Leffen for the year, though it’s close.

6. Jmook

Jmook’s legendary rise has been the premier storyline of 2022. A large part of that has been his exceptional consistency. Save for a dropped set to Axe at Shine, Jmook hasn’t lost to anyone outside the top eight players this year. Heading into The Big House 10, he was my official Waiting for Game pick to win the tournament.

That did not happen. In fact, my initial fears about Jmook not having a “clear” path to winning came to fruition instead. He got the opponent you’d think he’d want more than anyone else in loser’s and…lost. Without winning events, Jmook’s spot on an annual rank is going to be extremely limited. Right now, Jmook is 10-16 vs. this group of players. Even discounting a 1-7 record vs. Hungrybox leaves him with a lukewarm 10-9.

5. Mango

It sounds so unbelievable and yet so obvious that Mango would be back in the top five as a contender for being the best player in the world. With a supermajor win at Super Smash Con, a Lost Tech City title, and a valiant second place run at Big House, where he beat Zain and iBDW (twice), Mango is looking better than ever. Only three players have won more than Mango this year, and his chances against his peers are trending quite nicely.

What holds Mango back is his dreadful start to the season. He ended up winning each of his run backs with lloD, Fiction, and KoDoRiN, but the more concerning part was him constantly losing to Hungrybox, Zain, or anyone else in this group. It does seem like the Mango of October is different than the one in the spring, so I could be just being harsh. On the other hand, annual ranks are different than how people are at the moment. A 9-12 record vs this group is puts a hard stop on how much higher I can put him for the year.

4. aMSa

I’m writing this in total bewilderment – aMSa, right now on an annual rank, would be the fourth best Melee player in the world. Not only did he outright win The Big House 10, but his head-to-heads this year are downright better or on par with his peers. Stray wins among overall losing records to Hungrybox, Zain, and iBDW offer areas of pause, but what about a 2-0 record vs. Mango and a win vs. Jmook in their only set of the season? The fact of the matter is that there’s nobody in the world he cannot beat, and apparently it’s more doable for him to defeat multiple of them in a row than I thought.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that aMSa from Double Down onward straight up looked like the best player in the world. Granted, that stretch followed up the worst performance he had all year at GOML, where Joshman and moky knocked him out of top eight. All hype aside, for a year-end evaluation, this has to be considered, and the bar for being top three is just so high.

3. Hungrybox

Now we get into the people who have won three big events each, and who better to lead into this group than the guy who’s been around the longest? Hungrybox winning GOML over iBDW and Jmook certainly stands out as one of the most memorable tournament wins of the year, and his loser’s runs to win Wavedash and Riptide were certainly noteworthy as well.

That said, I do think that Zain continuing to be a roadblock for him and iBDW once again beating him is a problem for Hbox. In my opinion, to be No. 1, he needs more first places at events like GOML and not just stacked regionals that happen to feature top eight players we know he can beat. In other words, Hungrybox’s title count looks good from afar, but if you’re close enough, you’ll notice little mouse ears on two of his trophies. Were the ranking season to end here, Hungrybox’s big wins would look significantly worse than the two guys ahead of him.

2. iBDW

Pound for pound, there’s nobody who dominates the top level like iBDW. His beatdown of Zain last weekend was honestly so wild to watch – it’s the first time since Zain’s rise to being Top 10 that a Fox player has beaten his Marth in three consecutive sets. With additional positive records over Jmook, aMSa, Plup, and Hungrybox, there’s basically nobody in iBDW’s path that I think he should be worried about. He is, bar none, the best player in the world by meaningful head-to-heads, as he boasts a 12-6 record against the top eight.

I do think though, that if the year ended right now, I would not pick iBDW to be the world No. 1. He is the best player in the world at the moment; he is probably the player, given recent results, who has the highest likelihood of ending 2022 at No. 1. However, I would not personally weigh him winning Phantom, Double Down, and Smash Summit over Zain’s achievements this year. Speaking of which…

1. Zain

I know it seems like eons ago, but it wasn’t that far back when we thought Zain was on track to finish No. 1. Not only did he win the most important major of the year (Genesis); he did it without dropping a set, following it up with winning Pound, that time beating Leffen also. His head-to-heads are not as strong as you’d think, and he is tied for big event wins with Hungrybox and iBDW, but when you’re vying for No. 1, there is a difference between the type of tournaments you win. Here’s what you have if you’re a Zain fan right now: he won the biggest open tournament of the year, immediately won the next big major, and then won another major – if not an outright supermajor – in Shine. Nobody else has won multiple comparable tournaments of such size and prestige.

I had to think about it with iBDW for a bit, because I would seed him higher than Zain right now. But while that may be the case – and the head-to-heads certainly indicate that iBDW is on path to surpass him – remember, the prompt is about evaluating everything we have for the year. Zain out-performed iBDW and Genesis and Pound. iBDW did better at Summit. The two then went to different events, but Zain’s Battle of BC 4 showing is unquestionably better than iBDW’s The Function 2, as was his GOML. Granted, iBDW did better at every event the two entered together afterward (Double Down, Phantom, Big House), but this period also involves three months where iBDW entered nothing and Zain won a major. As a comparison of “resumes,” Zain’s has an advantage. The question is, for how long?

With Ludwig Smash Invitational, Smash Summit 14, and at least one of Mainstage, Smash World Tour Championships, and the Panda Cup Finale coming up, Zain will have to win at least one and maintain some level of consistency throughout the winter to strengthen his case for No. 1, let alone win or do well “enough” at the smaller events he’s going to. Can he do it?

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