Just before the clock strikes twelve and we enter 2017, it’s good to take stock of the year that is coming to a close. For Smash 4, a hell of a lot went on in 2016, with tournaments gradually gathering steam until the explosive finale at 2GGT: ZeRo Saga earlier this month. As you could fill a top ten list with matches from single tournaments, this list has had to be limited to one set per tournament in order to represent the year as a whole. Some fantastic sets have had to be missed out, so please tell us your favorite matches in the comments below.
Genesis 3 – TSM|ZeRo vs Ranai
With 2016 beginning with ZeRo’s continued dominance of Smash 4, audiences were waiting for someone to come along and knock the king off of his throne. Heralded as the potential ZeRo slayer, Ranai’s journey through the Genesis 3 bracket saw him finally face off against ZeRo in Winners’ Finals in a real clash of the titans. While ZeRo did take an early 2-0 lead, Ranai’s mastery of the neutral game allowed him to wrench two games from ZeRo’s grasp, taking it to a historic game 5 situation on the Genesis 3 stage. With everyone on tenterhooks going into the final stock, ZeRo did win the day and keep his winning streak going. For a few months at least.
BEAST 6 – PG|ESAM vs iStudying
As the two stock versus three stock debate still raged, this set acted as the trump card for those who championed three stock. With Europe using a three stock ruleset, this series showed how that extra stock does allow for serious momentum shifts and that extra breathing room to adapt to an opponent. While initially overwhelmed by ESAM’s relentless speed, iStudying was able to get a read of him over the course of this long set, gaining a two-stock victory in game 5 and guaranteeing an all European final at BEAST 6.
GOML 2016 – MKLeo vs TSM|ZeRo
Get On My Level saw another young hopeful lauded as the one to defeat ZeRo. The hope of Mexico MKLeo finally got to face off against ZeRo in a Losers Quarterfinals match that also went to game 5. While his Meta Knight did not cut the mustard, Leo’s Cloud put in major work against ZeRo’s Diddy, clawing matches back from the brink of defeat. This match would act as a preview of Leo’s future success in 2016, showing his ability to take games from a major deficit and slowly grind down his opponent’s defence and confidence. While this set would go to ZeRo, Canada’s defender C9|Ally would eventually take his first Smash 4 tournament over ZeRo.
Smash ‘n’ Splash 2 – Ally vs TSM|ZeRo
Proving that GOML was not a fluke, Ally achieved a historic win against ZeRo, winning Smash ‘n’ Splash 2 from Losers’ side with a 6-2 victory. This was the set that caused many to question ZeRo’s status as world number one, with Ally running through ZeRo’s Cloud, Sheik and Diddy without much trouble. This set would mark ZeRo’s decision to phase out his Sheik in favour of Diddy, following the loss of many of Sheik’s 50/50s after patch 1.1.5. With the Summer of Smash coming up quick, it looked like the summer was set to be Ally’s time to shine.
CEO 2016 – dT|ANTi vs Zinoto
It’s fair to say that the Grand Finals of CEO 2016 was one that no-one was really expecting. With favourites to win like ZeRo and Ally failing to even make top 8, the field was wide open for anyone to take the champion belt in Florida. The result was a turbulent Grand Finals, with Zinoto taking a clean first set, 3-0ing ANTi and forcing him to dip into his bag of counterpicks to deal with the Midwestern monkey main. Rifling through his pockets, ANTi eventually landed on his Cloud and took three games back to back with the spiky haired swordsman. As will become evident with another set on this list, it’s no wonder that more and more top players started to keep a SOLDIER 1st Class in their pockets for special occasions.
Evo 2016 – Ranai vs dT|Dabuz
A Genesis 3 rematch a long time in the making, many were doubting Ranai’s skill after an absence from tournaments both home and away. With the Rosalina/Villager matchup being tough for Villager, due to Rosalina’s ability to nullify his projectiles with her down B, Dabuz was set to take this runback without much problem. How wrong people were as Ranai carefully picked apart Dabuz’ defence, splitting up the cosmic princess and her star helpful with immaculate usage of Villager’s non-projectile moves. It was a war of attrition, with game 2 almost going to time as both players constantly vied for control of the neutral. The set finally ended with a devastating axe-blow, with Ranai sending Dabuz tumbling out of the tournament. This set is a must-watch for anyone who plays a projectile based character and wants to learn controlled aggression.
Super Smash Con 2016 – Noble|Ryo vs Abadango
This set shows just how important match up knowledge is in Smash 4. After taking game 1 with Mewtwo with little resistance, Abadango looked on track to take this Losers’ side set with a clean 3-0. Switching from one Fire Emblem swordsman to another, Ryo picked Roy to fight in game 2. With Roy being considered as the worst of the Fire Emblem characters and a possible contender for bottom five in the Smash 4 cast, this counterpick looked like desperation more than anything. Turns out the Melee veteran was just what Ryo needed, taking two consecutive games with some critical airdodge reads against Abadango. This forced Abadango to pull out a counterpick of his own, bringing Rosalina out to combat the blazing Sword of Seals. Another game 5 ensued, with it going to last hit last stock as both players flinching at any stray hit. Thanks to a lucky Luma hit as Ryo returned to stage, Abadango kept his tournament life, even if the match had shaved a couple of years of his life expectancy. Don’t sleep on a low tier, especially in the hands of a specialist like Ryo.
Shine 2016 – EVB|Dath vs eLv|Larry Lurr
From one Fire Emblem character to another, Dath’s performance at Shine 2016 made many rethink Robin’s position on the Smash 4 tier list. Especially against a top calibre player like Larry Lurr, using such a fast character like Fox, this Losers’ bracket match should have closed the book on Dath’s story at Shine. However, a lack of match up experience seem to handicap Larry, as he allowed Dath the space Robin so desperately needs to charge up her spells and set up traps with Elthunder and Arcfire. With some perfectly spaced forward airs to stop Fox’s forward momentum, Dath’s Robin tipped the scales in his favour, resulting in a shocking 3-1 victory for the Floridian tactician. As with the Ryo set, a combination of a skilled player and poor matchup knowledge can really chip away at a player’s confidence and momentum, leading to upsets like this.
Collision XIV – Tweek vs CT|Salem
A battle of the DLC fighters ensued at Collision XIV, with Brawl veteran Salem facing off against new school player Tweek in the grand finals of this tournament. The two had first faced off in Winners’ Semis, resulting in a 3-1 victory for Tweek’s Cloud but having clawed his way through Losers defeating DKWill, Nairo and ZeRo on his way to Grand Finals, Salem’s Bayonetta was ready to rock. Unlike their first encounter, Salem was able to bob and weave through Tweek’s stage control, often Heel Sliding straight into danger and taking a stock with one of Bayonetta’s infamous ladder combos. Some of Salem’s conversions were out of this world, taking Tweek all the way from the ledge to off the top of the stage in one flowing combo. While Tweek was able to gain some ground and take Salem to game 5 in the second set, the heel was mightier than the sword with Salem taking Collision XIV 3-2. Salem’s nerve held against Tweek’s, staying composed even when behind in the second set. This set shows just how explosive the Cloud/Bayonetta matchup can be, with each character being able to shift momentum in the favour so quickly. One slip up from either fighter can spell doom.
The Big House 6 – Mr. R vs RNG|Dabuz
The power of the Cloud counterpick comes into play yet again, in this Losers’ Quarters set between Mr. R and Dabuz. With his Sheik and even his Bayonetta failing to score a game against Dabuz’s Rosalina, Mr. R brought out his well-practiced Cloud to fight against the star princess. Taking two games with Cloud, Dabuz brought out his own counterpick, swapping controlling one minion, for Olimar’s miniature army of Pikmin. Taking an initial lead with the pint-sized spaceman, Dabuz was looking on target to blast off into Losers’ Semis but a clean Limit Climhazzard read put Mr. R back in the running. While nearly 100% down going into the final stock, Mr. R survived hit after hit, eventually winning with a well-timed Limit Cross Slash lead to send Dabuz packing. The roof almost flew off the Big House venue, with the crowd erupting in cheers for the Dutch competitor. Always have a Cloud in your pocket for those tense situations, boys and girls.
2GGT: Abadango Saga – CLG|VoiD vs NRG|Nairo
Whenever these two met in bracket during 2016, it almost always ended the same way; Nairo snatching victory from under VoiD’s nose with the power of Zero Suit Samus in Rage. The momentum can shift so suddenly in the Sheik/ZSS matchup, with Nairo stealing stocks away with a mind-melting ladder combo after VoiD has spent a whole stock juggling him across the stage like a ragdoll. This set was no different, with Nairo sending VoiD to the skies with an up air combo at 10%. VoiD would finally get on the board after five consecutive losses at 2GGT: ZeRo Saga, so let’s hope he has cracked this player matchup in time for 2017.
Smashdown World – IMT|ANTi vs Glutonny
Moving back to Europe, Smashdown World saw Brawl veteran Glutonny defending the house from foreign interlopers. Fighting and farting through bracket with Wario, the Frenchman eventually faced ANTi in Winners’ Semis in a battle to face 2GG’s komorikiri. ANTi threw the kitchen’s sink worth of counterpicks at Glutonny, sending his Cloud and Mario into Wario’s gaping maw before settling on Zero Suit Samus for the final two games. It looked like the ZSS change was going to take it, before a careful up smash read sent ANTi flying into Losers’ bracket. Some of Glutonny’s setups were mad, setting up super creative jab locks and even guaranteeing Waft kills by extending the move’s hitbox with Wario’s Bike. ANTi would gain his revenge in Losers’, but this first match was a great showcase for not only Wario’s potential in Smash 4, but that of Europe’s player pool.
KTAR XIX – Samsora vs MVG|Salem
A battle of style and grace, this set saw Salem’s Bayonetta duking it out versus Samsora’s Peach in a duel for aerial superiority. Both characters have such control of the air, with Salem and Samsora dancing in and out of range with Afterburner Kicks and Instant Float Cancels. Both players look visually exhausted as the set goes on, varying up their aerial pressure and movement in order to catch the other off guard. A masterclass for just how technical Smash 4 can be at the highest level, this set is required watching for anyone looking to improve their mixups and shield pressure.
UGC Smash Open – SS|Mr. E vs NRG|Nairo
As we have seen throughout these sets, a careful counterpick can rattle your opponent and see you taking victory. In this match from UGC Smash Open, Nairo’s counterpick didn’t so much as rattle Mr. E, it threw him 20 feet into the air and dropkicked him through a brick wall. Picking Bowser of all characters to combat Mr. E’s Marth, Nairo’s no-fear approach to this matchup saw him flinging Mr. E around Smashville like it was nothing. This counterpick was so devastating, that Nairo even managed to secure a zero-to-death against Mr. E, something that shouldn’t even be possible when playing the Koopa King. When Bowser can kill you in three grabs and a player like Nairo is controlling that much power, it’s only natural to be intimated. Plenty of fresh new Bowser mains were created after this set and believe you me, expect more of this burly turtle in future tournaments, especially when you reverse 3-0 such a notable player like Mr. E.
2GGT: ZeRo Saga – MKLeo vs TSM|ZeRo
It took the whole year, but Leo finally did what many prophesized in 2016’s last major. While their last set at KTAR XIX was another 3-2 win for ZeRo, MKLeo finally made it count on the last big stage of the year. Fighting like a man possessed, MKLeo dismantled ZeRo in this Losers’ Semis set, picking apart his ledge traps and exposing ZeRo’s uncharacteristically weak neutral game. The man looked unstoppable, pulling off a zero-to-death in game 3 and upholding the Saga curse for yet another tournament. Similar to Nairo’s performance with Bowser, MKLeo single-handedly created a new legion of Marth players after his showing at 2GGT: ZeRo Saga.
2017 looks like it will be another banner year for Smash 4, with the 2GG Championship Series promising 12 more exciting Sagas, as well as a possible new injection of players with a Smash 4 remaster for the Nintendo Switch. It’s only getting better from here, so jump in feet first and get ready for double the chaos in the next 12 months.