Four years ago, Armada retired. It was one of the most sudden announcements in community history, as he had recently won Super Smash Con in an all-time classic grand finals. By all accounts, Armada was a contender for world No. 1. Through his retirement, he effectively dropped out of the race entirely. On the old Melee Stats Podcast, Aiden said he thought of Armada beyond Melee; that Armada’s accomplishments placed him in the pantheon of esports greats.
A ton has changed in four years. Thanks to a community panel led by an extremely handsome man, as well as a miracle run to No. 1 in 2021, Mango is now typically considered the GOAT, even if by razor-thin margins. Hungrybox is in the discussion as well. Nevertheless, there’s constant talk about how good Armada would be if he came back. Though today’s column is going to inevitably explore that question, I want to do a few other things as well.
Firstly, I’ll talk about the closest thing we have to precedent for how another retired all-time great fared following a comparably long break from the game. Then, I’m re-examining what the Armada years were like from the standpoint of being around back when he played. After that, I’m going to talk about what’s changed in the metagame since he left and talk about some key differences, as well as how Armada would potentially adapt to them in the long-term. Finally, I’ll end this piece by making my best guess to the core topic. What happens if you drop Armada, from 2018, into 2022 Melee? Could Armada still be the best player if he returned in any long-term capacity?
When Was The Last Time A GOAT Retired For As Long And Came Back?
Ken was on top of the world in 2007. He ended the year as Melee’s first Evo champion and had literally nothing left to prove. Indisputably, he was considered the greatest player of his era. Five years later, he returned. Here’s what proceeded to follow at the next six big events he went to.
|Kings of Cali||33rd||N/A||Tai
|Kings of Cali 3||25th||HomeMadeWaffles
|SKTAR 3||25th||N/A||The Moon
|Pat’s House 2||17th||N/A||Eddy Mexico
|MLG Anaheim 2014||21st (lol)||Arc
NOTE: I’m only including irregular “big” events and not locals.
Ken left the game as a Top 5 player. By the time he came back, he was immediately competitive, though not winning, against roughly two Top 100 players. It took him three events to finally beat a Top 25 player. Using rough math, as well as the annual ranks of each year for basis, he went 2-9 vs. Top 25 players, 0-3 vs. Top 26-50 players, and 2-4 vs. Top 100 players in these six events. More or less, he came back as a player good enough to be ranked in most regions and went on to hover barely outside Top 50 for most of his dedicated return.
Using this as a 1 to 1 comparison for how Armada would do today, imagine that Armada goes to HFLAN. He gets absolutely thwacked by Abbe before losing to Sharp in loser’s bracket for 33rd. Over the next six tournaments tourneys he attends, Armada becomes a slightly different version of Wally: a “Top 50 caliber” player who has potential to beat Top 25 players on any given day if he plays great; perhaps the best player in the world if he’s playing especially amazing.
The idea of this happening to Armada, of all people, is hilarious. In all seriousness though, these expectations have to be underselling Armada. Although I could buy that the metagame changes from 2018 to now are bigger than the development from 2007 to 2012, I think much more highly of Armada’s foundation as a prospective returning competitor in 2022 than I do of Ken’s in his time. I’ll get into those reasons later. For now, I’m going to interpret this alternate universe as the bottom percentile of our hypothetical scenario. Maybe it’s one where instead of time traveling a 2018 Armada four years into the future, we drag Armada off the street right now, force him to play someone with no warmup, and watch him struggle to balance his speedrunning ambitions with being forced to compete in a game he refuses to practice.
That said, I honestly feel gross for entertaining this scenario. To make up for that, I’m going to share some numbers that highlight what he did so well during his time as a competitor.
The Good Universe
When Armada was around, consistency was his calling card. As the field grew more dangerous, Armada often seemed like the one player impervious to significant upsets, often keeping up with metagame advancements around shield dropping, ledge dashing, and combo game. For most of his time in the modern era, he basically only lost to the other four gods and Leffen. To fully grasp how mind-blowingly good Armada was against everyone else, I’ve listed out below his stats – from 2014 to his retirement – against every Top 50 All-Time player outside of those five players. Not Top 50 players of each year, mind you.Top 50 All-Time players. I evaluated his total wins and losses vs. this group of players to measure his win-rates, as well as the win-rates of Mango, Mew2King, Hungrybox, and Leffen within this same time span.
NOTE: I didn’t include PPMD in the above charts due to his lack of volume. For what it’s worth, he went 29-5 in this time span against the same group of players, with a roughly 85 percent win rate. Furthermore, I didn’t filter this chart for secondary usage, as it contains such a minimal amount of sets within the hundreds of sets I counted. The gap is remarkable either way.
Amazingly, Armada was more dominant than these numbers show. Three of these losses happened in his final year of competing. Two of them came at the hands of Plup, a Top 10 player of all-time. Exclude those and the record becomes 161-1. Want to know the kicker about that one other loss? Up until Swedish Delight defeated him at Evo, Armada had won 157 sets in a row against players who finished anywhere between No. 11 and No. 50 on the Melee Stats All-Time Top 100. If Armada was playing someone, and they weren’t a supermajor contender, the term “one in a hundred,” was actually inadequate when it came to describing his opponent’s chances.
Zain is often called consistent. He’s no Armada. In 2022 offline tournaments alone, he’s accrued five losses outside the top five: one to lloD, one to aMSa, one to Plup, one to SluG, and another to Wally (to be as charitable as possible, I’m not counting a dropped local set to Ahmad where Zain played both Fox and Marth). Although he certainly attends more in a given year than Armada, we’re also comparing nine months of data to four years. Lest you assume he was merely a gatekeeper, Armada beat everyone else too. From 2014 to his retirement, Armada had winning records on every single of his toughest contemporaries. Below, I have listed out his ‘modern’ head-to-heads against his fellow gods and Leffen; five of the other best players of that entire era.
Here’s everyone else against each other:
When he was around, nobody was better than Armada. However, I don’t expect this to hold 1:1 if we were to force Armada out of retirement with no practice – or magically time travel his younger self into the present. Melee has significantly changed since he’s left the scene.
Everybody loves talking about how Melee’s changed – or not changed – over the years. They do it for different reasons. Mediocre players love to romanticize an older time where they’d be winning supermajors instead of getting triple kneed by their local Falcon. On the other hand, you have oldies who swear by their bones that these zoomer Melee players have no fundamentals; that no bag of tricks could be big enough to help them defeat 2018 Armada. Who’s right? I decided to peep the very last time Armada’s Peach played Leffen’s Fox.
From the very first stock of this game, you can tell that this was a different era. Leffen does something risky in the first stock that I recognize as “bad” – he upsmashes Armada out of a waveshine sequence at a percent that every Top 25 Fox today, let alone iBDW, knows is ASDI-down-tech and reversal territory. Funnily enough, Leffen outright lost a set to Jmook because of something similar this year – and in our above case, Armada gets a zero to death out of a subsequent situation. On a related note, I still don’t think anyone in 2022 hits as precisely and impeccably as Armada did in 2018. Not Wally, not Bbatts, not Polish, and not lloD. Kalamazhu is the closest, but because he rarely attends events, I’m giving the edge to Armada.
As big of a lead as this looks, it quickly evaporates. Leffen starts playing more defensively and dissects Armada for the next couple of stocks. For most of the next two stocks, Armada tries to gradually maneuver into a more favorable grounded position where he can whiff-punish Leffen’s landings, usually with a dash attack or downsmash. If he’s not doing that, he’s typically floating at a height that’s difficult for Leffen to directly contest and trying to get back to the ground. The openings he does get usually send Leffen to ledge or too far away to follow up on without taking a proactive risk. Armada never tries once to press an advantage there, likely because he’s worried about overextending near the corner.
One thing to note: when Armada does get edgeguard opportunities – the thing he did better than any other Peach of his era – he never tries to cover the ledge. It makes sense, because if he whiffed, say, a fair while floating at ledge height off stage, and Leffen made it back, he could lose a stock at low percent. At the same time, he misses so many opportunities for potential kills in this game. Moreover, notice how Armada’s losing his stocks. He loses three stocks by getting upthrow upair’d, sometimes out of his float. This isn’t to say that Peach players today never get hit by it; just that three times is a lot in the context of 2022 Melee.
To be clear, this isn’t the best match of Armada’s Peach. I selected it out of convenience. But back then, I remember watching games like these with awe and concluding that the matchup was solved from both ends. Let’s compare it to a top-level Peach-Fox game on FD from 2022; Game 3 of iBDW vs. lloD from LACS 4.
It’s a shame that this was the first set I found, because this isn’t exactly the most clean game of Melee. There’s a sequence where iBDW tries a comeback drill by the corner and dies at 15 percent, as well as another one at the end of the game where lloD tries to do an aggressive fair from the corner and misses the ledge. Nonetheless, the matchup looks very different. Rather than picking specific spots for, like, three moves, lloD is using the entirety of Peach’s tool kit and proactively seeking out ‘favorable’ scrambles instead of forfeiting positions in exchange for a better one. He’s getting openings off things like falling nair into jabs, using more shield pressure, and is actually chasing down iBDW instead of trying to win ‘clean’ openings. There’s no stocks lost to upthrow-upair either.
I want you to watch this game from iBDW’s perspective too. His punishes are way more deliberate and percent oriented. Furthermore, rather than taking the first opportunity for an advantageous juggle or stage positioning like Leffen, iBDW is looking to combo Peach horizontally into a more disfavorable position. He also sharks the end of Peach’s float more aggressively than Leffen, uses crouch more deliberately, and, in classic iBDW fashion, up airs Peach on command when she’s above him and near the end of her float.
This is just one matchup breakdown. I don’t have the time to go through Armada’s Peach vs. Falco, Marth, Sheik, or other relevant characters and compare them to modern day Peach against those characters – let alone dive into how Peach fares on stages with platforms nowadays. But I’ll say this much: along with punish game and defensive game developments around slide-offs, as well as more developed platform and ledge games, the biggest thing that’s changed has been the value of “scrambles” at the top level.
Because of optimized out-of-shield games, shield pressure advancements, and the threat of crouch, broadly speaking, the micro-game carries way more importance today than it used to. It’s far more developed and hard, if not detrimental, to avoid. Situations that used to be “safe whiff punishes” with juicy reward are now high-risk potential reversal scenarios and functionally mixups. Occasionally, it may be more beneficial to play them like the latter. In the past, you could take them for granted as part of an opening or, conversely, avoid them, but nowadays, entire game plans are built around interactions like being hit onto a platform, onto the ledge, being hit with a move before it sends your character into tumble, etc. That’s without getting into how a combination of UCF, controllers with 1.0 dashes (POST-PUBLISH NOTE: this also applies to any kind of “input” for things like DI), and the prevalence of savestates have become accessible to the entire field. Everyone’s corner game, combo escapes, recoveries, ledge play, and reversal recognition has gotten better.
With all due respect, these are the kind of metagame advancements that hurt someone as risk–averse and as centered on pristine positioning and deliberate grounded play like Armada. He would need to adjust. Well, sort of.
How Does 2018 Armada Do vs. The Top Players of 2022?
If you dropped Armada straight from 2018 into 2022, with no warmup, I truly believe he’d still outclass the vast majority of top players. Briefly looking through the group of 20 to 50, there’s three people I could possibly envision as his first challenges: Salt, Axe, and Pipsqueak. Salt, in addition to being the fastest Captain Falcon player I’ve seen in my life, has looked very strong vs. Peach, and plays a style that may catch someone who isn’t active in 2022 off guard. Meanwhile, Axe, who’s gotten incredibly close to defeating Armada before, just 3-0’d lloD in the same matchup, is way better than his current world rank indicates, and is also a better player today than he was in 2018. When it comes to Pipsqueak, all I’ll say is that he has one of the most “modern” styles in the scene. Without being ingrained in the current metagame, anyone could face a real challenge vs. him.
However, with all three of their nonzero chances acknowledged though, I’m still taking 2018 Armada. The worst case scenario vs. Salt still involves Armada’s Fox, whom I’m not convinced couldn’t adapt mid-set and implement some “Armada” version of the Zuppy gameplan. When it comes to Axe, the matchup looks that horrendous when the Peach does what Trif did in their 2021 Smash World Tour Championships set (or what Armada has done in 90 percent of his sets vs. Axe). I sat on it a little more, and you know what? I’m not willing to say that 2022 Pipsqueak is significantly better than 2020 iBDW or Fiction, both of whom got slapped around by an out-of-practice 2020 Armada.
The next tier of players is interesting. My heart said, “Armada runs that shit to the bank” vs. most of the Top 20. My brain said that too. But I also thought, “it’s been four years. Could he really beat Polish and Krudo?” To find an answer, or justify my immediate response to it, I reached out to Polish and Krudo.
In spite of having far more matchup experience in the Peach ditto, as well as recent accomplishments, Polish was convinced Armada would trash themself in the ditto, as well as most of the Top 10, let alone everyone else. They cited having “no discipline” and Armada “for real, just being way better” as proof. I pressed them a little bit on this, calling it an insane opinion to have. It wasn’t long ago when Polish finished in third place at a major. How could they undersell themself so hard? Polish then told me, “Maybe Smash World Tour me could win.” You read that right. Maybe a version of a player who beat iBDW and Hungrybox in 2021 could beat 2018 Armada.
On the other hand, Krudo told me that he thought he would defeat Armada. He said the speed of modern Melee would be hard to adapt to on the fly, even for someone like 2018 Armada. In those conditions, he said Armada would be more manageable than 2022 lloD. However, he added that he thought Melee was entering a slightly over-represented Fox/Marth/Sheik arms race. In his opinion, most people were still bad versus Peach. I asked him to clarify, and he said it wasn’t impossible to imagine an in-practice 2018 Armada running over anyone who wasn’t Top 5. Even then, Zain clearly isn’t as dominant vs. Peach as he could be. All in all, Krudo said he’d win, but added a big stipulation to it, which somewhat brought me closer to my initial thoughts.
With that said, I still have to pump the brakes on 2018 Armada vs. 2022 Zain, iBDW, Jmook, Hungrybox, Leffen, Mango, Plup and Wizzrobe. All of them, more likely than not, are going to destroy him. That’s not something to hold over him; it’s what happens to anyone when they spend time away from playing the game at the top level. If anything, it’s wild that I’m still entertaining the idea of Armada – literally transported four years into the future, without warning – as a Top 10 player in his immediate return. The more interesting question, however, is what happens, if Armada comes back, loses, and sticks around.
What if Armada kept playing?
For many of you, what I wrote above may sound sacrilegious. I may as well make you more mad. I don’t think Armada would be playing as much Peach if he stuck around. He’d main Fox, only keeping the Peach around as it’s needed for the mid tier matchups. Armada was never one to stick with “losing” strategies for too long. This is the same guy who lost two sets of Peach-Jigglypuff and quickly moved onto greener and more Young Link pastures. And that was before he had that happen again and went Fox. One or two losses with Peach against a strong player, and he’s jumping ship.
In some ways, Armada’s Fox is a byproduct of its time. It doesn’t respect the threat of moving out of crouch in neutral, relies on down tilt a bit too much, and is still whiff-punish heavy. Nonetheless, the punish game from his Fox is monstrous and creative, as is Armada’s move choice and use of Fox’s entire toolkit. Those are skills that transfer further to modern day Melee with Fox far more than they do with Peach. You don’t have to look too far from today’s very own iBDW for a model of what the ‘best case’ for an Armada-type approach to Fox would be. They’re not exactly the same, but compare how Armada’s Fox dismantles Hungrybox’s Jigglypuff in their last set ever with how iBDW smacks him around at Genesis 8. I asked my dear friend and resident Fox nerd Ambisinister what his thoughts were on this topic. He responded, “we get iBDW ten years early if Armada enjoyed Fox even a little bit.” Ambi went so far as to say that he thought Armada hating Fox held his Fox back a lot because Armada didn’t want to play it unless it was necessary.
I gave my best answer for how good a “zero practice, first try at tournament Melee” Armada would be. How about a fully dedicated Armada over the course of a year? If I were to summarize it, you’d be foolish to doubt that he could be a contender for best player in the world, but you’d also be deluded to not envision some greater challenges. Here’s how I see his long-term shots at each of the definitive players of 2022.
- Newsflash: Zain would be hard. It wouldn’t be impossible for Armada to beat him with Peach, seeing as Wally – my most ‘disfavorable’ interpretation of rusty Armada coming back – was able to do it. However, if Zain beat the Peach solidly enough, we’re entering Fox-Marth territory. That’s a very comfortable place for Zain and one I’m not betting against him for.
- I originally thought iBDW would beat the Peach and destroy him in the Fox ditto. Then I thought about it a little more. No chance an in-practice Armada wouldn’t be utterly horrifying, with either character. Although iBDW has had Leffen’s number, moky’s sets versus iBDW show that he’s not invincible in the Fox ditto. Moreover, Armada’s punish game is still in another class of Peach than what iBDW is used to. My gut tells me Armada goes on to to be a threat with both characters, holds a solid advantage for a while, and then iBDW, in similar fashion to how he eventually overcame Zain, goes on to trade sets with him.
- I can’t front: by set two, Armada goes right back to whooping Hungrybox. If Leffen can dominate Hungrybox with no real practice for the last three years, and with months of no serious Melee practice between sets, Armada’s beating him as badly with enough experience.
- No mincing words here: Jmook would be one of Armada’s hardest opponents. If sets vs. Plup, Swedish Delight, and Shroomed near the end were any indication, I see no future in which the Peach isn’t discombobulated. Furthermore, Jmook’s history vs. iBDW (1-1), Plup’s Fox (1-1), Leffen (1-0), and Mango’s Fox (2-0) does not bode well for the Fox.
- It feels disrespectful to act like Leffen wouldn’t be among Armada’s most difficult opponents. His entire rise started with defeating Armada, and near the end, he had his number in the ditto. Leffen continues to be a consistent thorn in Armada’s side, if not an outright kryptonite.
- The history of Armada vs. Plup can be summarized as lopsided until Plup got “good enough,” and then the two mostly took turns beating each other up. This is a weird case where the meta advancements have mostly moved toward Plup’s strengths and away from Armada’s in spite of Armada dominating him in their last two sets, which makes it hard to guess how it would have gone. I’m going to say Plup continues to take sets, but that the ambiguity between whether he goes full Sheik, full Fox, or swaps between the two probably gives Armada the edge.
- I’m not sure about Mango. The last three years of their rivalry showed all different colors of the rivalry; in 2016, the “sloppy counterpick war era,” Mango had his number (7-3, Mango), but in the Fox-Peach year of 2017, Armada kicked his ass (7-2, Armada,), and the two went back and forth in Falco-Peach sets in 2018 (2-1, Armada). Considering the one time Mango consistently beat him involved a bizarre counterpick war, is it possible that could happen again? I doubt it. If Armada kept playing, there’s no reason to think it wouldn’t have at least been a coin flip.
- Hot take: if Armada tried playing the Peach ditto against lloD, he would get annihilated. Not only is lloD far more in practice, both overall and in this matchup – he’s basically moved Peach in a totally different direction than the one Armada led for so many years. Armada would be playing against a character he has no experience fighting against with the same character, but worse. Ironically, I’m going to say that Game 1 is so bad and in lloD’s favor, that Armada starts going Fox, a character that defeats Peach no matter how she’s developed. He then begins beating lloD, and never looks back.
- I legitimately can’t explain this, but I feel in my heart that Armada would actually do quite well against KoDoRiN – as in convincingly win, maybe losing one or two sets every now and then. Am I not being fair? I know KoDoRiN split sets with lloD and that he beat iBDW. Furthermore, Armada near the end was splitting sets with Mew2King’s Marth, which is worse in a vacuum than KoDoRiN today.
- aMSa and Axe might beat “fresh off the street” Armada, but they’re getting run over in any kind of long-term capacity. In general, if you aren’t Axe or aMSa, there’s zero chance you’re beating a serious Armada with anyone below Captain Falcon on the tier list.
- Of the three Falcons, Wizzrobe is the one with the best shot at being a long-term worthy rival. Armada continues to overwhelmingly beat the other two, with maybe S2J sneaking a set here and there every blue moon.
- I am skeptical that any of n0ne, Fiction, Ginger, moky, Aklo, or Joshman could force Armada’s hand away from his Peach.
No one can deny Armada’s dominance at the top level. It’s a testament to his legacy that even four years later, we’re still talking about him. Rather than view his accomplishments as a relic of the past, we view it as a possible indicator for what more he could have achieved if his heart were still in competition. In fact, I’ll outright say it: if Armada had stayed active in 2018, he would have finished the year at No. 1. Save for Leffen, he was defeating everyone else that year, and Leffen didn’t have the same balanced matchup spread of Armada. Had Armada kept competing in 2019, he would have been a contender for best player in the world then too. Every single year in which Armada remotely cared about Melee would have been one in which he was a contender for best player in the world. There’s zero doubt in my mind that Armada would have maintained his status as the greatest player ever if he were active. Maybe he still is.
But ultimately, his career, from start to finish, is what we have today. Everything else is fun speculation and admiration for one of the best to ever do it.