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Published May 23, 2023

Five months out of the most competitive year in Melee history, it appears as if two people have broken ahead of the pack. Though I’m not willing to call this the case for the long-term, the facts stand out on their own: Jmook and Cody Schwab look like they’re atop the competition. With seven months left in the year it could be difficult for someone to displace one of these two as a leading contender for No. 1.

As it stands, the closest threat to each of these two players is the other one. Naturally, after Cody’s victory at Battle of BC 5, you might wonder which of the two has the advantage. So in today’s column, I want to explore a few questions: who’s No. 1 right now, who seems poised to finish the year at the No. 1 spot and – perhaps most intriguing of all – who could displace them?

Who Is No. 1 right now?

It’s difficult to separate the two from each other on the surface. They’re the only players to win majors this year and now they’re tied at two apiece. One funny note about this, by the way, is that neither player has dropped a major where the other one wasn’t in attendance. Is this necessarily the most surprising or informative statistic? Not really, as there’s only been four majors, but it carries great narrative power, so I’m sharing it anyway.

On a more serious note, it does seem like Jmook’s wins have significantly more magnitude than Cody’s. Winning Genesis 9 already gives Jmook a premier victory, and in a post-BTS landscape, the only other tournaments that can claim to have that level of prestige are The Big House and anything Ludwig runs. When you add that his other victory was Collision 2023 – a tournament that featured both Zain and Cody, among other major contenders like aMSa and, on a lesser note, Hungrybox – it becomes more impressive. Meanwhile, Cody’s two major first places are Battle of BC 5 and Major Upset. The first one is less prestigious than Genesis and the second was a smaller event that Jmook didn’t go to.

Magnitude of wins are one factor. Head-to-heads are another. At the top echelon of the 2023 ranking period, Cody’s head-to-heads have been quite consistent. Along with being technically positive vs. Zain (3-2, although one of the wins was at Redemption Rumble), he’s gone even with Jmook (2-2) and moky (1-1) while remaining undefeated vs. aMSa (3-0), Plup (2-0), Leffen (1-0) and Hungrybox (1-0). Though he has a loss to Zamu (4-1), as well as dropped sets to KoDoRiN and Aklo, I’m not too worried. The last two came at Redemption Rumble, which had a more casual environment, and the Zamu loss seems like an outlier within a large swath of events that Cody enters and usually dominates. Jmook has been more reliable vs. the field and seems invulnerable to anyone outside the top echelon, but it’s not like he’s utterly trounced everyone. On one hand, he’s done exactly that to Zain (3-0) and moky (2-0), as well as won his sole set vs. a rusty Mango (1-0).  On the other hand, aMSa’s continued to look hard (0-1) and Cody’s gone even with him (2-2). It’s impressive that Jmook’s a reliable lock for winner’s side of top eight and has trounced the reigning No. 1, but does it outweigh Cody’s head-to-heads in terms of spread and volume?

In last year’s controversial No. 2 debate of aMSa vs. Mango, I sat firmly on the Mango side. Although it was close, I think the highest echelon of play has to be primarily defined by the weight of tournament victories. I do not hold any of Cody’s losses against him, as they really seem like they came by virtue of him going to a lot of events in a short time span. At the same time, there is something special about winning Genesis and Collision together that’s difficult to top without another major in the picture. If you told me Cody was the best player in the world right now, I couldn’t necessarily disagree with you. However, if you told Jmook was currently No. 1 – a different question – I’d have to say it’s the right call.

Who of the two will end up No. 1?

In 2022, Jmook suffered a very obvious kryptonite: Hungrybox (1-11). Unsurprisingly, his latest stretch of wins have coincided with him avoiding his arch-nemesis. Now to be clear, I don’t expect Jmook-Hungrybox to be that level of soul-crushing moving forward. Simultaneously, I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect Jmook to magically turn it around and start beating Hungrybox on command. There’s also aMSa, who has been a total roadblock for Jmook (6-2 since 2022). I also want to bring up the insane wild card of Zain’s Ice Climbers. We’ve seen Leffen hard commit to a different character vs. Marth and outright win a tourney over Zain with it. If Zain could do something similar with the Ice Climbers vs. Jmook on counterpick stages, that would significantly reduce one of Jmook’s biggest strengths. Then again, it could totally flop.

I may as well bring up how Mango consistently played spoiler to Cody in the second half of 2022. Cody basically got run over by a Mango-shaped freight train in this time, dropping seven consecutive sets. Most infuriatingly, these came at pivotal moments, like Mainstage grand finals, Smash Summit 14 grand finals, and The Big House 10 loser’s finals. Were Mango not in the picture, it’s quite possible Cody would have won these tournaments. Does that mean Cody will never beat Mango again? Of course not. I’m only saying it seems to be a problem when Mango’s around. Other than that, the only thorns in Cody’s side over the last year and a half have typically been in the Fox ditto, which I’ve documented before. He’s solidly beaten every other person.

I know I said this part would be more about who will end up at No. 1, so it may come off strangely that I’ve spent most of this section talking about one kryptonite per player. I did that because the presence – or lack – of those two people has clearly influenced their recent performances. I do not believe that past trends will always hold up 1:1 for the future, and they aren’t the only factor in play, but assessing each of Cody and Jmook’s trajectories inevitably involves accounting for where Mango and Hungrybox are headed. So with that in mind, a few things become clear.

First off, Mango’s currently at a low point, which simultaneously sucks for the scene and is nonetheless amazing for Cody’s chances, mostly for straight up avoiding him. Secondly, Jmook’s been lucky to not run into Hungrybox, but in a weird way, Hungrybox’s “half-slump, half-pivot to community leadership” has still ended up with Hungrybox making top eights. In fact, it seems likely that the two might be on the same side of bracket, just the way seeding at a major may work out. Finally, another thing thing I’d like to mention is the presence of either moky and aMSa in either player’s side of the tournament. In whatever order you want to put them, based off current trends, those two are likely winners semifinals opponents for either Jmook or Cody. Jmook seems to have moky on lockdown, but he struggles very hard vs. aMSa. Cody and moky seem like a coin flip (possibly slightly in moky’s favor) and we have no reason to view Cody as anything other than a heavy favorite vs. aMSa. For the long run, my gut’s telling me to go with Cody.

Will Anyone Play Spoiler?

It wasn’t that long ago when I thought Zain had 2022 in the bag. This was right before Cody won three big tournaments in the late-spring to summer period. Of course, that time was followed up by a fall and winter defined by another duo: Mango and aMSa. On that note, it’s worth noting the context behind their rises. Mango’s resurgence came by virtue of frequently playing spoiler to Cody and going Fox to much more success vs. Zain. For aMSa, he mostly beat Jmook, Hungrybox, Mango and Zain in this stretch of time. The only reason neither of those two ended up at the top spot for the year was ironically because Zain clutched out a final major win at the Ludwig Smash Invitational. I guess he did have it in the bag, just not when I thought he had it.

The point is, Cody and Jmook have defined the first half of this year, but it’s not impossible to envision other players challenging them. It only takes one or two months. In that vein, I’m going to pick some players outside of Cody and Jmook who, for the rest of 2023, could accomplish something similar to what Mango and aMSa did last year. To make my picks, I have to figure out who has promising matchups vs. at least two and a half of the following categories: Cody, Jmook, Cody-slayers, and Jmook-slayers.

I would regret it if I didn’t pick Zain, the reigning No. 1, to bounce back. He and Cody have gone back and forth, he’s been consistent as hell against the field, he’s introducing a completely new character into his head-to-head dynamic with Jmook, and though he’s continued to struggle vs. one Jmook-slayer, Zain has had the other one – an even bigger one – totally shadow realmed. I cannot tell you with a straight face that the Ice Climbers is going to work on the first attempt, and yet I remain intrigued by how it could come into play. Per Zain, he wants to use it as a stage counterpick, the area Zain’s most lacked consistency in vs. Jmook.

The second person that comes to mind may surprise you: moky. I predicted that he would win Battle of BC 5, and his ninth place finish has not deterred my faith. Although Jmook still looks quite difficult, watching the way their sets play out, I don’t think it’s totally hopeless. Furthermore, while moky’s looked more vulnerable in the Fox ditto than usual, I’m not particularly inclined to see recent losses to Soonsay, Zuppy, or Leffen as supremely meaningful. All the Fox players at the top echelon, even Cody, seem pretty volatile in the matchup, and moky’s long-term record of success stands out among them. I also think moky, like Cody, benefits from having the ultimate Cody slayer (Mango) not around, which helps his chances of making it far at a tournament. It helps that moky’s lately had the number of the two biggest Jmook slayers in Hungrybox (2-0) and aMSa (2-0) this year.

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