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Published October 30, 2023

Few Melee storylines are as exciting as the race for number 1. In every year of the game – or at least ones with annual rankings – this time of the year has always brought that into the forefront. Whether it’s The Big House, Smash Summit, or even tourneys like UGC Smash Open, around October or November, we typically have an idea of who the contenders are for the top spot.

For so much of this decade (the 2020s), Zain and Cody Schwab have been Melee’s definitive players No year has quite shown the gap between those two and everyone else quite like this one. As it stands, they are both tied apiece at four major wins. Even their head-to-head within this year stands at a dead even 6-6. How the hell do you confidently pick one of these players over the other?

In today’s column, I’m going to pretend like the year is stopping now. Let’s assume for a moment that Cody and Zain are totally done entering tournaments for the rest of 2023, and we will ignore what I’ve written to the contrary. What we have, up to now, is all we’ll be using to evaluate these two. Who has had the better year? Is it Cody? Or is it Zain?

Top-Level Head to Heads

How a player performs vs. their peers is one of the most important elements that go into their final spot on the list. This is especially true at the top-level, where winning majors is largely determined by having favorable matchups against each of the best players in the world. For the purpose of this column, I considered ten people capable of winning majors: Zain, Cody, Jmook, Leffen, moky, Plup, Wizzrobe, Mang0, aMSa, and Hungrybox.

If we examine Zain and Cody’s records against these groups of players, as of right now, Cody has the advantage. Not only does he have more wins (28 vs. 27) than Zain within this group, but he has fewer losses (12 vs. 13) while also tying Zain in the total number of sets they’ve played vs. the rest of the major contending field. Granted; it’s only one set, but it’s the one that gives him the edge.

NOTE: I have not counted Redemption Rumble or The Off-Season 2 within this data set. The circumstances around these events – at the level of competing for the world No. 1 spot – are nebulous enough for me, personally, to not believe they should be significantly factored in.

What’s furthermore noteworthy is something you wouldn’t necessarily notice in the numbers: the wealth of positive and even matchups Cody has vs. the opposition. Just within our group of ten, Cody has only one losing record, and it’s to moky in a 1-2 head-to-head. Against every other player within this echelon of play, he’s winning or even. The same can’t be said for Zain, who is down on the year vs. Jmook and Leffen.

Advantage: Cody.

Who Is More Consistent?

How you perform vs. the field also matters. This is the “consistency” part – you have to reliably make it to the best players first before you beat them. When it comes to this specific trait, Zain, who hasn’t missed a top eight since Genesis 6 in 2019, stands out as unusually strong. Examining every single notable event Zain entered this year, I could only find the following for non-Top 10 losses.

  • A functional exhibition set at a charity event to n0ne.
  • His Roy losing to S2J and Magi at Wavedash 2023.
  • His secondaries losing to Prometheus and Nurok at a Xanadu Legends.
  • MOM and Vintage defeating his secondaries at Dawnstar Day.
  • Prometheus and Wally defeating secondaries at M Series.
  • Two sets to Magi at RR (in which he was sandbagging); three counting a best-of-three tiebreaker vs. the Roy.

Needless to say, the contexts behind these sets make them highly dubious. I cannot speak for every single panelist, but I subjectively see them as basically irrelevant to his broader case for No. 1. As far as Cody’s concerned, I have a couple thoughts. On one hand, I think his sets vs. Morsecode762 and Zamu should not be significantly held against him (though they obviously count for those two players as resume-boosters) because he won the tournaments at which they happened anyway. Furthermore, I’m not of the impression that his Redemption Rumble performance, in which he both thrashed Zain, yet lost to Aklo and KoDoRiN, should be significantly factored in, even if I would reward the latter two for being able to defeat Cody in any capacity.

The same can’t be said, however, for his poor Tipped Off performance. Here, Polish and KoDoRiN sent him home early in what’s easily Cody’s worst performance of the year. Now to be clear: both players have shown that they are difficult to upset. The difference between them within this area is admittedly very small – but it is still noticeable.

Advantage: Zain 

How Do Their Major Wins Compare?

Everybody knows that Zain and Cody Schwab are tied in major wins. However, not every tournament win is equal. Is it possible to weigh their victories in  a way that gives one player the definitive edge over the other? Looking at this on a major win vs. major win basis, there’s no easy answer. Cody Schwab won The Big House, which is by far the biggest event of the eight the two have together, so you might be tempted to think he easily has an advantage. But one of his other major wins was Major Upset, which is still a relatively new event and a cut below the other majors.

It’s further complicated by the fact that Zain’s four wins have different shades of historical legacy and prestige. GOML and Smash Con, bare minimum, are at the level of prestige just below Big House – yet you could say the same for Shine and BOBC, both of which Cody won. Then again, what about Zain’s first place at Fete or Tipped Off? Where do those fall? Somewhere between Major Upset and BOBC?

Where I’ve personally landed is that Cody has the most important major but also the least important one. Meanwhile, Zain has more consistently won majors right under the level of Genesis and Big House. Would I rather have one bonafide ‘premier,’ two ‘big majors’ and one ‘smaller major’ or ‘two big majors and two decent majors?’ I want to say the former, but by a hair.

Advantage: Cody

How Have Each of Them Performed Throughout the Year?

The events each of the two have won aren’t the only things that matter – their performances at other majors remain important too. Below, I have listed out the majors in which both attended together, as well as picked who had a better event by placement. This is not to say that this should supersede head-to-heads; it’s merely a rough approximation for “who typically does better at majors?”

  • Genesis: Cody
  • Collision: Zain
  • BOBC: Cody
  • Tipped Off: Zain
  • LACS: Zain
  • GOML: Zain
  • Smash Con: Zain
  • Shine: Cody
  • The Big House: Cody

Judging strictly by how they performed at events where the other one was present, Zain holds a slim edge, 5-4. The last factor I’d mention: I did not include Major Upset or Fete in the above list. But if we treated those two tourneys as an ex-factor of sorts for comparing resumes (Cody going 3-0 vs. Hungrybox and Plup in two sets vs. Zain going 4-1 vs. Jmook, aMSa, and Hungrybox), I’d call it a wash or at least not significant enough to detract from Zain here.

Advantage: Zain


As you can tell above, this is a very close race. Each of the four categories I mentioned above offers an advantage to one of these two, but it’s not even by a particularly very large margin. Still; I did promise readers my opinion. Who has had the better year: Zain or Cody?

And this is where I will now do a MMM first: I’m breaking my promise. I have no clue. Hopefully they go to events for the rest of the year, because if they don’t, then s-f’s nightmare vision of a tie for the top spot may just turn out to be true.

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