The final product with brief notes:
I made a tier list about a month ago while procrastinating on finals, and posted it to Reddit. A fair amount of discussion ensued, which I really appreciated. I thought a lot about the placings of every character, and this is the result. I promised an in-depth discussion on my decision-making process, so I will go through pretty much the whole list in detail. But first, I wanted to share a couple of images. The first is the list of changes from my first list to the second list:
The second is a matchup chart that I made for Fox through Ganondorf. Please, please resist the urge to take apart the matchup chart. I want to limit most discussion to the tier list itself – the matchup chart was used to inform the tier list. It was not the end-all deciding factor, as will be made clear, but it was useful to determine certain positionings. The thing about a matchup chart is that so many matchups are still undetermined and evolving, so there will always be debate over X vs. Y. In general, as the chart moves to the right, I became less confident in certain matchups, but I spent the most time on matchups that I felt were needed to break certain ties. So please, resist the urge. Also, you’ll notice that I used a points system – the points for X vs. Y plus the points for Y vs. X will always equal 0. I found this to be more helpful than the “6:4” system when comparing matchup spreads between characters. This system, however, is a loose approximation. For example, Falcon vs. Falco and Pichu vs. Falco might both be written as -10, but Falcon clearly has better tools for fighting Falco. So keep that in mind. Caveats aside, here is the chart:
What is a tier list? In the simplest of terms, a tier list is a ranking of best character to worst character. More specifically, ranking characters by how likely they are to win a match under tournament conditions given that the players are of similar skill and both have knowledge of the matchup. The last part is important. Without the last part, two mid-level players playing Fox vs. Samus may find that the Samus wins the majority of the time, given the fact that Samus does better vs. Fox than many other characters. But if both players are given sufficient matchup knowledge, we will still find that Fox wins the matchup. This phenomenon is also very apparent when we see upsets from Ice Climbers players.
This list is mostly based on my opinions on what each character’s strengths are, and how the matchups play out. I consider results and what I have observed in tournaments as evidence, but understand that matchup unfamiliarity and character scarcity can often skew results. For example, there is only one Jigglypuff player in the top 30, but we know that she is an amazing character.
I tried to make the list reflect where I think the meta is headed, as well, which requires a bit of extrapolation beyond the results we currently have. For example, I think Peach and Falcon will have more developed metas in the next couple of years, and I had to think hard about how to reflect that in the tier list.
In general, the more advantageous matchups a character has, the better we consider that character to be. I also give more weight to matchups higher up on the tier list, because they are bigger threats in a tournament setting, but occasionally have to decide whether one or two decent matchups in the high/top tiers with multiple bad matchups is better or worse than all matchups being slightly disadvantaged (for example, determining whether Samus > Ice Climbers or vice-versa).
So without further ado, let’s dig in.
Fox holding the number 1 spot is no surprise. He has one of the best projectiles in the game, the most number of options in almost every situation, the best shield pressure, the best out-of-shield options, one of the best recoveries, multiple kill moves and kill setups, and the highest skill cap in the game.
Falco has a lot of similar strengths, but lacks a strong recovery and is generally a bit easier to knock off-balance than Fox. He also may have a losing matchup to Peach and Marth. I believe that Marth has no losing matchups or one losing matchup (I am still not totally convinced either way on the Marth vs. Sheik matchup), but I don’t think it’s enough to put Falco over Marth. Some threats to Falco are Peach, Puff, and Samus, three characters over which Marth holds a distinct advantage.
Falco has arguably the strongest projectile in the game, giving him the ability to dominate neutral against most characters. As more players become proficient with powershielding, however, the effectiveness of lasers decreases. Powershielding literally lets a player turn Falco’s strength against him. I’m very interested to see how this evolves in the meta (Falco players may start ‘faking out’ with lasers by landing before the laser comes out to bait a shield and get a grab, while players against Falco may start eating a laser hit or powershielding more consistently in order to push Falco’s next move).
All of this being said, the reason these characters sit pretty in S tier is because they are mostly positive or even on every matchup, with one or two possible exceptions that may become less relevant as the meta evolves.
This was the trickiest part of the tier list. I initially had Peach in front of Puff in front of Sheik, and many have disagreed with me on that count. After careful consideration, my first decision was to put Puff in the first spot of A tier. Her Bair is such a strong tool, capable of literally shutting down most characters in neutral. Additionally, she easily holds the title for best off-stage game, which includes both edgeguarding and recovery. Her incredible aerial mobility, multiple jumps, and powerful aerials leave her with only a couple of losing matchups: Fox and Marth.
Most players would agree that Fox beats Puff, but may not be convinced on Marth vs. Puff. Let me try to change your mind if you are one of the latter. Marth has one of the best ground games in Melee, a huge disjoint, guaranteed kill setups on Puff off a grab, the ability to command center-stage versus Puff, a strong whiffed rest punish, and a very strong mix-up game in neutral. Also, when I refer to Marth’s guaranteed kills on Puff off a grab, I don’t just mean the pivot tipper Fsmash, which is what we all know and love. Depending on Puff’s DI off an Fthrow, Marth can cover every option with Usmash, wavedash Fsmash, pivot Fsmash, or wavedash Dsmash tipper. Additionally, Marth has kills off of Dthrow to add an even deeper mix-up. As for neutral, between Marth’s Dtilt on crouching Puff, Fair for an approaching Puff in air (though not if Puff is perfectly spacing Bairs), ability to dash under a jumping Puff, and powershielding aerials (the tool of the future), Marth has the upper hand.
Placing Sheik and Peach was the hardest part of the tier list for me. Peach’s metagame is still developing at a fast rate with the discovery of new tech and the further optimization of combos and usage of her tools. Sheik’s metagame developments mostly revolve around movement. Peach also has better matchups against Fox and Falco, with an incredibly strong punish and edgeguard game on Fox and a possibly winning matchup on Falco. Sheik has strong edgeguards as well, but the punishes are not as consistent. She may have tech-chases to death, but those tech-chases may or may not be reliable, and as spacie players improve, Sheik players will land fewer grabs.
Peach does, however, lose to Marth. Turnips keep her relevant, but Marth’s speed and disjoint and kill setups keep him winning. Some say that Sheik vs. Marth is even as Marths get better, but it is even at best. Even that is better than what Peach has. So both have one even-ish/winning matchup against an S tier, and both lose to Fox and one other S tier. Does that mean they’re even? Well, we have to look at the rest of the matchups too. So I did that. In kind of an arbitrary way. I almost hesitate to share this, because I know it will be hard to agree upon, but like the earlier matchup chart, I beg you not to take it too much to heart. In fact, if unexact science and arbitrary number manipulation gives you anxiety, please just skip the next section and I’ll describe my thought process qualitatively. Otherwise, bear with me. Here is what I did:
I arbitrarily assigned matchup points between -10 and 10 for every matchup. I tried to make the numbers for Peach/Puff/Sheik vs. character X relative to how the other characters did in that matchup. So don’t interpret that a 7 means the same in Peach vs. Samus and in Peach vs. Pika (even though I agree that it should, but this is not at ALL an exact science), but all three having a 7 vs. Samus means I think that they all do the same against her.
I summed every value and found that Peach and Sheik both end up with the same net matchup value: 4. Even if you tweak some of the numbers for both, the result will be in the same ball-park. So then I decided to find the sums of matchup values for Fox thru Falcon, and for Peach thru Falcon (in the order of this chart). The results were as follows:
Fox thru Falcon (S-A tiers): Peach (-19), Puff (1), Sheik (-7)
Peach Thru Falcon (A tier): Peach (-11), Puff (10), Sheik (3)
Once again, not an exact science. Can’t reiterate that enough. This just helped me organize my thoughts… but even if you tweak the numbers slightly, we see that Sheik has an advantage of at least 10 points over Peach in both categories. Additionally, Sheik generally wins the head-to-head (though recent events have led me to believe that matchup is getting closer to even).
Let me now try and talk things out qualitatively. I think the difference in placing between Sheik and Peach is almost negligible. Both characters are equally capable of winning a national, and both have very solid matchup spreads. Their ability to compete with S tiers at high level is approximately equal, though I would give Peach the slight edge. Sheik does better vs. the A tiers and wins the head-to-head, but notably loses to Ice Climbers in B tier, and Peach is one of Ice Climbers’ worst matchups. However, even as Marth vs. Sheik may be approaching a 50:50, so does Sheik vs. Ice Climbers, in my opinion. Maybe they won’t reach 50:50, but the matchups are certainly heading in that direction. And so Sheik’s evenly distributed, positive matchup spread, and her advantages over Peach and Falcon, put her over the very slightly over Peach.
And so I give the number five spot to Sheik.
But what is Falcon doing in this tier?! Why not B tier?
Falcon’s metagame is developing. And it isn’t just 20GX. He is perhaps the only character besides Fox that can keep up with Marth’s ground game, and has one of the most brutal, explosive punish games of our high tiers. His punish game off of a grab is still being optimized on Fox and Falco, and he has kill confirms off grab on Marth, Peach, and Sheik. I think Wizzrobe and n0ne really exemplify what I’m talking about in terms of Falcon’s meta evolution – Wizzy has shown us that Falcon can pretty much cover every spacie recovery option, and n0ne has shown us that Falcon’s combo game is still strong enough to keep him relevant with other high tiers. Falcon’s speed gives him the edge over Peach, he has an almost even matchup with Marth, and, in my opinion, a matchup that is approaching even with Sheik. Additionally, he beats every B tier character and below, notably Samus and Ice Climbers.
Phew. I hope I did a sufficient job in defending the positions of the A tier characters. I promise the other sections won’t be nearly as long as this one.
Ice Climbers, Samus, and Pikachu all have good neutral games, good punishes, decent recovery, useful projectiles, and some sort of advantage that puts them above every character below them.
Ice Climbers have an extremely intricate set of tools involving desyncs, and the ever-controversial 0-death Wobbling technique. Samus boasts one of the best matchups versus Fox and Falco, with top Fox players struggling in the matchup, even in 2016. Samus also has one of the best crouch cancels in the game, and one of the best out-of-shield options: her UpB. Pikachu is fast, has an awesome recovery, and possess one of the strongest off-stage games versus Fox and Falco. Pikachu also has the strongest uncharged Usmash in the game. Unfortunately, Pikachu suffers from low damage output.
I originally had Samus at the top of this tier, but I’ve bumped the Ice Climbers up. I decided that Samus’ less-bad matchup against Fox and Falco was not worth the positive (and approaching even) matchup that Ice Climbers have against Sheik. For the most part, Ice Climbers and Samus share bad matchupsbut Ice Climbers have one positive matchup in S and A tier while Samus has none. I think the difference in the placing between Samus and Ice Climbers is very small, but Ice Climbers’ matchup on Sheik and still untapped potential given their crazy mechanics, plus the x-factor of Wobbling (which is strictly the strongest punish in the game), gives them the slight edge.
I think Pikachu belongs in this tier because he presents a threat to high tiers comparable to the threats of Ice Climbers and Samus, but is a clear 3rd, due to his low damage output and lack of any clearly positive matchup in the S and A tiers.
The most notable part of C tier, in my opinion, is the inclusion of Ganondorf. I originally had him in D tier, citing a poor neutral and slowness. Upon further inspection, however, it is apparent that Ganondorf has some decent matchups in B tier and above. In fact, he arguably has some winning matchups, some as Samus and Ice Climbers. If not winning, then certainly close to even.
Yoshi, Luigi, and Doc don’t have any matchups that are definitely winning in B tier and above. They may have some even matchups, but none that I would go so far as to say are positive. What they do have, however, is enough tools in neutral, and enough ways to end a stock, to keep them relevant in the meta. Yoshi has an extremely high skill cap with his parry tricks and double-jump cancels, and one of the best crouch-cancels in the game. Luigi has the longest wavedash in the game which allows him to have a very strong ground game; he also has fast, powerful aerials that combo and kill. Doc has a decent combo game and a decent neutral with his pills, but suffers a bit from his poor recovery and slowness.
Despite Ganondorf’s few positive/even matchups in the high tiers, I put him below Luigi. Ganon may have the edge here and there, but when he loses, he really loses. Characters like Fox, Falco, and Puff completely shut down his neutral, and some characters like Sheik and Marth will have an easy time abusing his recovery.
Luigi goes approximately even with Samus, Ice Climbers, and Pikachu. He may have an advantage over Samus and Pikachu, but those matchups are very underdeveloped right now so it is hard to say. He still loses to A tiers and S tiers, but in many cases possesses the tools to deal with more scenarios than Ganon does. Ganon doesn’t need to land many hits to get Puff or Peach or Fox to kill percent, but if he never lands a hit, then it doesn’t matter. Luigi can match or surpass some high tier characters in speed, and has a pretty reliable punish game.
I know some people will be upset that Doc is below Luigi and Yoshi, but hear me out. Doc’s meta has staled, unfortunately. There is a significant dearth of Doc players, and we haven’t seen any big changes. Doc has some very reliable kill setups, such as jab->Dsmash and throw into Fair, and his neutral is relatively decent, but he lacks the little bit of advantage held by the three characters above him: Luigi’s speed and ability to keep pace with fast high tiers and control of the ground, Ganondorf’s actually positive matchups, and Yoshi’s unique defensive and punish games.
C tier is kind of weird in that all four of these characters bring some sort of unique strength to threaten the high tiers, and don’t have a whole lot in common (except for maybe Luigi and Doc). That is why, despite everything I’ve said, the order doesn’t matter too much when deciding which character to play. If you play one of them has a solo-main, you’re bound to run into a difficult opponent under tournament conditions anyways. Looking forward, I would love to see more Ganon players master the B tier matchups and cause some upsets. I would also like to see more Yoshi players step up besides our Japanese friend aMSa. As for Doc, I think he is still a relevant threat to high tiers, but so many players have given up on him that we hardly see Doc players anymore. The strengths are still there! We just need more people to pick them up and use them.
This is my “has decent neutral OR decent combos OR okay neutral and combos” tier. Mario and Young Link are, in my mind, very close for the top spot in this tier. I bumped Mario up one spot from the last list because his neutral and combo games are more consistently relevant than Young Link’s strengths, which are camping and a neutral designed to counter floaty characters. Like I say in my brief notes, Mario is much like Doc, but with less kill potential and less edgeguarding potential. As per his design, however, he is relatively balanced overall when it comes to combos, recovery, speed, neutral, and so forth. His inability to confirm kills easily means that Doc outclasses him, and makes his high tier matchups that much more difficult.
Young Link can put up a fight against Peach and Puff, but I think his threat has diminished significantly as the meta has evolved. He is still a light character with one reliable kill setup (bomb into Dair, or Uair at very high %) and can be abused on certain counterpicks.
Link, as I mention in the notes, is the last character on the list with a decent neutral. He has a disjoint, and two good projectiles: bombs and his boomerang. He has some decent recovery tricks, but the tricks fall flat when an opponent knows the matchup. He is stronger than Young Link, but not nearly as mobile, which makes him less of a threat to floaty characters. In my opinion, the increase in strength, in this case, is not worth the loss in mobility by Young Link.
DK has better combos and kill setups than any character below him, and a decent out-of-shield option in his UpB, which keeps him in this tier. His neutral is not very good. His best aerial is Bair, which makes approaching a bit difficult (but if you watch my DK from the Prime Low Tier tournament, you’ll see that he can use pivots out of dash-dances in neutral to set up approaching Bairs!!). Additionally, because of his enormous hurtbox and normal-sized shield, he cannot block very many hits before getting shield-poked. This puts him below Mario, Young Link, and Link. His juggles, Bair walls, UpBs out-of-shield, and cargo setups keep him in this tier.
Game&Watch’s crouch-cancel Dtilt, Fair, Dair, Nair, Dthrow, and jab give him enough tools to stay at the top of this tier. Unfortunately his shield is garbage and he’s extremely light.
Mewtwo made the biggest jump on this list, increasing four spots. This was one of my oversights in the last list. His Dtilt is great, he has the best projectile of any low tier, one of the best recovery, his teleport has no landing lag, and he has some interesting movement options. Plus, apparently he has an okay matchup against Peach due to her inability to catch him. He also has two kill throws, of which there are very few in Melee.
Pichu is fast, has some combos, a couple of decent kill moves, and an okay neutral. Unfortunately, Pichu suffers from Pika syndrome in that Pichu has no damage output… except to himself. His small size is an advantage, making him hard to hit. Additionally, he has one of the best recoveries of the low tiers, and recovery is a huge factor when considering how much of a threat a low tier is. He has reliable Uair juggles (even if every Uair only does a few %) and a decent dash dance. But his tech-roll is virtually non-existent, and he dies in three hits.
I know many Ness fans will be upset that he is placed below Pichu, but his absolute garbage recovery is enough to put him there for me. His Fair is good, and he has a kill throw, but his neutral is not great – most characters can just dash-dance until Ness does anything, and then punish.
Zelda’s Fair, Bair, and Dsmash are her best moves. She has no ground speed, however, which limits her ability to actually play neutral. Instead, she relies on the player making reads to land Fairs and Bairs, and relies on her opponent making a mistake. Her recovery goes very far, but with any amount of matchup knowledge it is very punishable. Fun fact: Zelda’s standing grab is just as slow as her dash grab, and so she is the only character in the game whose dash grab is always more optimal than he jump-cancel grab because it gives slightly more range for the same number of frames.
Roy has a disjoint, a great Dtilt, and some kill moves. He hardly reaps the benefits of his disjoint, however, due to the sweetspot of his moves lying on the inside of his sword, forcing him to space close to his opponent for any meaty hit. There are some wet noodle combos involving sourspots, but DI away is, most of the time, sufficient to escape. Roy and Zelda are very close on this list – they have a couple of strengths, but so many weaknesses. Zelda has one or two more useful moves than Roy, however, and a longer (better?) recovery, putting her above Roy.
Another major oversight of the first iteration of this list was putting Bowser above Kirby. Kirby possesses the “fence of pain,”, aka his Bair wall, and some decent tilts. Bowser’s only redeeming qualities are UpB out-of-shield, a command grab, his ledge get-up, and the Yoshi’s Story counterpick (on which he gets a no-impact-landing ledge-jump under 100%). Ban Yoshi’s versus Bowser, however, and you can pretty much run around him all day.
Kirby might look better than F Tier on paper, but for some reason he was not blessed with any aerial mobility. You can use all of his jumps and pretty much end up where you started, and, for some reason, if he gets hit out of his UpB, he loses all of his jumps. Kirby can tech-chase out of Dthrow, and has some swallow-cide shenanigans near the ledge, but nothing that gives him the tools in neutral or to sufficiently punish other characters. Therefore, he remains in F tier.
That concludes my tier list post! I am sure I forgot something somewhere along the line, so I’ll make a note of any significant edits I make in this post. Please let me know your thoughts. Once again, I haven’t really been satisfied with any tier lists for Melee I’ve seen, community-voted, panel-dictated or otherwise, so I hope this list satisfies others like me (and more). Also, if you like what you read, consider following my WordPress (find the follow button on the bottom-right of the page).
Thanks for reading this far, I know it was a lot. Until next time!