Matchup Numbers

The Melee community loves debating matchup numbers.  We throw around terms like “60/40” and “hard 50/50” as if they are undeniably intuitive.  Leffen’s “60/40” Marth vs Fox matchup ratio blew up into a giant meme in the last year.  While I think few reasonable people think that Marth actually bodies Fox in a vacuum, Leffen’s analysis that having a free FD win in a BO5 skews a roughly even matchup from 50/50 to 60/40 makes a lot of sense, both intuitively and statistically.  Let’s explore some matchups and try to deduce what constitutes a winning matchup.  Take these matchups for example: Fox/Sheik vs Falcon/Marth, ICs/Sheik vs Falcon/ICs, Marth/Sheik vs Falco/Doc.

The consensus, which I agree with, is that Fox beats Sheik, and that the matchup is roughly 60/40.  Fox has neutral game tools that Sheik struggles to deal with.  Sheik has a stronger punish game but it’s very difficult to execute, and it’s not like Fox can’t hit hard himself.  Sheik has gimping tools but Fox can also get shine spikes.  It’s a stretch to argue that Sheik wins, so it feels safe to say this is at least 55/45 Fox, if not outright 60/40, with no qualifiers.

Falcon vs. Marth is one of the most debated matchups.  If there is a consensus, it’s that it’s even.  Realistically, it seems a third of people think it’s even, slightly more think Falcon dumpsters Marth, and slightly less think Marth dumpsters Falcon (I’ve been told that Druggedfox, whose knowledge I respect and trust, has said that it’s Falcon’s worst matchup).  It’s easy to understand why this matchup is hotly contested.  Marth wins the neutral and also has a strong punish game if the Marth can tech chase well.  When Falcon is near the ledge, his stock is in peril.  Falcon has a strong punish game that’s relatively straightforward in its optimized state: uthrow uair, uair them more when they’re in the air, reverse knee their up+b landing lag on stage.  Falcon also has neutral game tools that are frustrating to deal with, particularly his CC and side+b.  This matchup rewards cheese because both characters can get huge juicy openings off of gimmicky neutral play.  The gimmicks are just “real” enough and rewarding enough to warrant going for them.  I think this could be what Lovage described as a “60/60” matchup (maybe it was 80/80), trying to express that both characters have things that are really frustrating to deal with, and that both characters can blow up stocks if circumstances are correct.

ICs vs. Sheik has long been considered a terrible matchup for Sheik, something like 60/40 ICs.  Chudat literally never loses to Sheik.  However, Sheik’s path to victory is not strategically challenging.  Camp platforms, throw needles, shield drop aerial, and space aerials.  ICs don’t have good answers to these tools but the punish game is skewed drastically in their favor, particularly because of the popo chain grab, which can be used to buy time to set up for a wobble or even just to do massive damage on its own.  It seems despite the neutral game advantage, Sheik’s punish game disadvantage is enough for people to think ICs beat Sheik.  Modern Sheiks like Laudandus and Spark have changed the minds of some, but it still seems like not many people think Sheik wins.  Nonetheless, I’m actually hearing quite a few ICs players whine about Sheik.  Maybe this is a “hard 60/40” for ICs?  I’m really not sure.

Falcon vs. ICs has been considered Falcon favored since the beginning of time, something like 60/40 Falcon.  Falcon usually has to approach at some point.  Falcon definitely has the tools to beat the crap out of ICs in neutral, even on FD.  Nonetheless, there’s no “perfect” way to do this such that it’s risk free.  It’s not like Sheik vs ICs where you know what it’s going to look like if you win.  ICs obviously have a crazy punish game on Falcon.  Thus, Falcon wins because of his neutral game advantage and strong punish game, but he can’t usually find a free path to victory, unless he opts to platform camp and the ICs is bad at dealing with it (I personally don’t think this is very legit, though it does give easy wins against impatient players).  Maybe this is also a “hard 60/40” for Falcon? I don’t think many people would describe it that way.

Marth vs Sheik was historically considered 60/40 Sheik but some now consider it 50/50 or slightly in Marth’s favor.  Conceptually, Marth has better ground movement, better ground to ground tools because of his dtilt, and the ability to juggle Sheik.  Sheik has an easy punish game, a projectile, and great ledge guarding tools.  Much like Marth vs Falcon, it’s no surprise here why many Marth players complain about the matchup since the punish game is skewed against them.  Unlike Marth vs Falcon, this matchup doesn’t reward cheese as much, since neither character has as many opportunities to cheese nor as great a reward for doing so.  Thus, to lose neutral, Marth usually has to actually get outplayed by Sheik.  I don’t think I’ve heard any creative way to accurately describe this matchup.  Maybe a “60/40 matchup where you have to deal with a lot of bullshit” as Sheik?

Falco vs Doc is an awful matchup for Doc, probably commonly regarded as at least 60/40 for Falco.  However, Doc has a definite punish game advantage.  His gimp game is strong. Bair and cape are annoying to deal with.  Doc can chaingrab Falco.  Doc’s smash attacks should lead to kills.  Uthrow fair is a kill setup.  Yet, it’s still awful for Doc because Falco’s neutral game tools are super hard to contest.  If he’s spamming bair, utilt, or even just jumping on a platform, Doc has a difficult time opening him up.  The disparity in punish game doesn’t seem to skew the matchup in Doc’s favor because he has to significantly outplay Falco in neutral to get a meaningful opening.  Doc can touch of death Falco, but I’d still say this is an easy 60/40 for Falco.

Matchup numbers are supposed to be a concise way to express which character is advantaged but in reality, what they actually express is nebulous and rarely helpful.  There’s too many factors to compress into a simple number.  The idea of having two equally matched players in the first place is an oversimplification since different players have different strengths and weaknesses, which will be amplified or neutered based on the matchup.  HugS might not feel the effect of having a weaker punish game in a matchup as much as a weaker neutral game.  Conversely, Armada obviously had a strong neutral, but it was often his punish game that made the difference for him, so matchups where punish games aren’t as strong hurt him more.  And then there’s cases like Falcon vs Puff, where many people seemed to omit planking in the discussion, which is a strong tactic that people just chose not to use.  Shouldn’t that have been factored into the matchup number?  

Ultimately, matchup numbers are a loaded idea and are most often brought up in the context of johnning.  We all picked our characters voluntarily, and if a matchup is bad enough to use as a john, you should consider playing another character.  If you play a high tier, try to embrace the interactions of the matchup.  Being a high tier means you have the tools necessary to deal with the other character.  Melee players tend to be ignorantly hyperbolic when evaluating matchup numbers because they haven’t played fighters like SF4, where bad matchups are more common and way worse.  Even if something is really difficult to deal with, embracing this and countering it properly should lead to great satisfaction.  Pikachu has an awful grab, but Axe manages to eat Foxes alive for using utilt.  It’s only when you can embrace the strengths and weaknesses of every character that you can have the mental landscape and presence necessary to be in the moment and counter your opponent.

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