Melee's wildest Marth seeks to be its wisest

August 23 2021

Melee's wildest Marth seeks to be its wisest

“My man said down tilt, down tilt, down tilt, down tilt, tipper,” Mang0 says on live commentary, after audibly groaning for around 5 seconds as Logan (known then as LSD) takes a stock off of a notable Peach main named Aura in what may be one of the weirdest ways possible.

“He’s weird,” Mang0 goes on to add, “he’s got a weird style. But it’s workin’ so I’m not gonna hate on it.”

Aura is one of several notable names Logan has taken a set off of in Melee’s Slippi Era (named after the mod Slippi, which gave the game vastly improved online play). Some other names include: Gahtzu, Colbol, Ben, 2Saint, Kodorin, Aklo, Moky, Lucky, SFAT, Ginger, S2J, and Hungrybox. That wild and weird style was a part of what earned Logan those wins.

“That [style] explains a large portion of why I was able to beat so many good players in such a short period of time,” Logan notes. “My playstyle was completely unexpected for Marth players. That kinda running forward and swinging playstyle, it’s not really one that any of the other top Marths do.”

Marth is a legendary character in Smash. He’s the series’ first ever swordie - a kind of mid-range archetype that’s unique to Smash - and he’s something of an icon. The game’s first great (Ken) played Marth and now the game’s next great (Zain) plays him too. It’s not easy to play in a way most people haven’t seen on a character as popular as Marth. But Logan does it by opting into up-close punishes and forward-pressure as much as they opt into careful spacing and keep away.

Much as this style has helped them claim big wins and rise up the ranks of Melee, it’s also a style that Logan looks to grow beyond. “I think it’s good but I need to keep it like 30 percent of my playstyle instead of 70 percent, basically. I’m making the new playstyle the dominant force but making sure the old playstyle works as a mix up.”

Moments like these are why Logan wants to refine their style. If they play the standard Marth style to its fullest, they likely win this game once they get the grab and the up throw. Logan knows that their unorthodox style can be costly. For a player looking to break into the top 10 of one of the most difficult games in the world, Logan sees that style as too costly. Something they need to grow beyond.

Troublesome as an entire style shift is, for Logan, this kind of growth is nothing new. At just 19 years old, if they have experience in anything, it’s experience in growing through Melee Not just a game or even a competitive scene, to Logan it’s a village that has helped raise them.

Growing up at the local

“My local scene was very, very supportive. They basically raised me,” Logan chuckles. “I learned a lot of my life lessons through attending Smash tournaments and that kind of thing.”

“The very first tournament I went to, there was a crowd chant for me. I was like, wow, I’ve never been this happy. I’ve never had people cheer for me like that and support me. Honestly, getting into the Smash scene young was really, really good for me.”

Grassroots to its core, with scant developer support at best, Melee relies on the community to survive and local scenes can quickly become tight-knit, like little villages unto themselves. Despite being one of the oldest esports still running, Melee also has a surprising number of players like Logan - who entered at a young age and played for years.

However, Smash’s newer iterations tend to attract a much younger audience, which inevitably leads to some teenagers splintering off into Melee. Logan went through the Project M pipeline, first getting into Melee’s sequel (Brawl), then Project M (a mod that makes Brawl more like Melee), then Melee.

It would be wrong to pretend that everything goes well in these villages.

In 2020, several community members came forward with evidence that big names in both Melee and the newer titles had harassed, dated, or groomed minors. While most of the community agreed to ban and eject the offenders, Smash still struggles on how to keep young players safe and how to self-police it’s scene in a world where neither Nintendo nor local law enforcement will provide real solutions.

If you step into any Smash scene and just listen for a while, you’ll learn there are many other little political issues that are a lot less ugly, but still plenty mean. Beyond the simple things like character or playstyle hate, cliquishness is rampant in a lot of scenes - as is a kind of casual condescension to entry level players. And at the very core, Smash is an odd and mostly unregulated social way station that becomes some people’s home, so the scene’s social outcomes can be both beautiful and terrible.

“I was bullied a lot,” Logan says. “I had a lot of communication issues growing up autistic and also so young. What people will do is they’ll have a negative character trait and then they’ll grow out of it, and then they’ll make fun of people who once had that character trait. [...] I think a lot of people kinda did that with me.”

“I had a lot of depression with Melee, when I was playing. It made it really hard to continue going to tournaments and I thought about quitting. I tried to quit multiple times but I kept coming back because I love the game.”

Despite the troubles, for Logan, the community was a place to grow, even the age disparities helping to create healthy mentorships.

Did it help you to have these players who were older and more mature - did that help you to stay in the Melee community?

“Yeah, I wouldn’t have stayed in the Melee community if it wasn’t for like 5 or 6 people who would take care of me and support me, and just make sure that I was happy and healthy. It was really the support of my local city that helped me continue to play and thrive.”

growing up in South Carolina as an autistic, LGBT+ teen with anger issues, that support meant so much. “I went through a period where I was getting really angry after every loss. Even through that, they still supported me and helped me get help and that kind of thing.”

“It really meant a lot to me that people, instead of isolating me and banishing me for having negative traits, worked to support me and worked to understand me. I think it can be really easy to see someone get mad after losing and be like, ‘oh that person is so bad, let me avoid them.’ But like a lot of the time when people are sad or angry after losing, they’re hurting for different reasons and I had a lot of different reasons I was hurting for.”

This sense of community is also a big part of why Logan got the biggest break of their career - making it to Smash Summit 11. The Smash Summit tournament series is an invitational where a handful of the world’s best players get an automatic invitation, another handful qualify by placing highly at certain tournaments, and a final handful get in via voting.

(Who is Nick Yingling? More like: Who isn’t Nick Yingling?)

Logan got voted in. More than general popularity, the Summit voting process really comes down to community and campaigning. Both Logan and Nick Yingling were not Melee stars nationally but they were so embedded in their communities that they had the diehard support needed for a successful Summit campaign. For Logan, that wasn’t just the support of South Carolina’s scene but also the support of the strong LGBT+ section of the community and groups like Project Peppi.

For Logan, and many players, growth in Melee often runs right alongside growth as a person. It’s an experience that’s surprisingly common to the world of fighting games, where the game is deeply individual (1v1) and professionals aren’t as sectioned off. For most League players, it’s rare you’d ever be in the same bracket as a professional but in Smash, you could get placed in the same pool while being totally unknown.

In the FGC, it creates a genuine sense that any of the newest players could become a top player. Logan has long been on that quest.

Humble roots and weird fruits

In 2016, at 14 years old, Logan (then LSD) made it onto the South Carolina Power Ranking (PR). As a celebration of that, a community member going by Trey Weatherman put together a combo video from local tournaments.

The video popped off, reaching a surprisingly wide audience and doing pretty well on Reddit. One redditor replied, “I loved that kids are taking to the game. And no hate to LSD but do people not DI in South Carolina.”

To which one South Carolina community Melee player replied, “no we don’t.”

This is all to say that South Carolina’s Melee scene isn’t very strong.

(DI - short for directional influence - is the ability to partially control where your character goes after being hit. Good players will DI so that a lot of combos won’t work on them or so that they survive certain hits.)

Logan clearly had a talent for the game but in a small scene, it was hard to say just how much talent they had. More importantly, that small scene also shaped the way that his talent grew, making him into one of Melee’s weirdest Marths.

“I had to come up with challenges for myself to get better,” Logan says, “so, I would try to win only using a single move. I would try to win under weird conditions, etc.”

One of those challenges was playing other characters - something you can see Logan do in a lot of his old sets at locals. Curiously, this challenge was what gave Logan his signature reaction tech chases.

(To learn what tech chasing is, watch the first two and a half minutes of this video.)

“I was fed up with throwing Falco and getting nothing. So I was like, ‘There’s gotta be a way around this.’ I started tech chasing cause I was like, ‘well my reaction time is pretty good and I can reaction tech chase every character 0-to-death as Falcon. Why can’t I do it as Marth?”

Through playing Falcon, a character who relies on the tech chase, Logan found an odd seed most Marth mains wouldn’t notice. Through seeking challenge, Logan watered that seed until it bore plenty of weird fruit.

“I tried doing it as Marth and I was like, this is hard!” Logan continues, “but then I just kept doing it over and over again and I was like ‘Oh, this is good and no one knows about it.’”

Logan’s tech chases are one of the most emblematic parts of their game even now, as they’re reworking things. It’s something you can expect to hear about on commentary because it really is rare for a Marth to do this because Marth could choose to throw an opponent up and juggle them from below instead. Juggling usually seems stronger than tech chasing on Marth because juggling involves spacing further out from your opponent, - something a kind of mid-range character like Marth should love. Tech chasing usually means the opposite, getting closer to the opponent so you can react to whatever direction they roll.

(An example of Logan’s wild tech chases.)

For Logan, these tech chases feel better because they give a sense of control by leaving things up to execution. Where the juggle may take reading a defensive option or a landing pattern, the tech chase can often be mechanically perfected and done on reaction. In essence, Logan gets to turn the game into a single-player mode.

“I have a lot of desire to control every aspect of the game. Uncontrollable aspects like un-reactable situations, situations where I have to make reads, is very uncomfortable to me and I don’t like it. [...] To the top players, what I kinda am is a punish-bot. I’m someone who’s really good at punishing but my neutral, gameplan, and consistency is behind theirs.”

This tendency, Logan notes, comes from the odd dynamics of being a big fish in a small pond, “I got that from basically being able to run over people in my local state. I’d just constantly go at them and approach 24/7 because I knew that eventually I would get a hit and just win.”

(You can see the early kernels of Logan’s play, as well as what they’re talking about, in this 2016 set where the game is mostly the players trading punishes.)

Fans and analysts talk a lot about the way a smaller, weaker scene can be a handicap (see NA League of Legends). However, more interestingly, scenes can also define the specifics of a player’s styles and strengths. Had Mang0 and Mew2King switched the coasts they were raised on, their styles might’ve been reversed too. The West Coast (Mang0’s scene) has long been known for its aggressive players and their creative combos while the East Coast (Mew2King’s scene) has long been known for more defensive, more methodical play.

Logan’s scene made them over-index not only on the punish game but on a particular matchup. This was because Logan wasn’t the only big fish in the pond. They had a rival.

“My goal wasn’t to make Top 100 or anything, my goal was to get better than my rival. My rival was also improving constantly, so I had to continue to improve and continue to improve to overcome my rival. My goal was literally just to beat that person consistently.”

Logan’s rival was a Puff main, hilariously named Smashbob Squarepants, who tended to be a step ahead - getting on the South Carolina PR and beating nationally ranked players before Logan did. Smashbob’s achievements would in turn spark Logan’s.

“They started getting better and better, they started getting top 100 wins so I had to start getting top 100 wins. I had to start getting top 50 wins. Really, having a rival was what inspired me to get better and better.”

That inspiration surfaces in their sets as well. In another 2016 tournament, Logan goes Fox in Loser’s Finals then when they reach Smashbob, they play a game of Fox then switch to Marth. In the first minute of that game, Logan takes three stocks off of Puff - something normally very hard to do because Puff isn’t very easy to combo.

One of the commentators says that Logan has a whole book full of notes on Puff and it’s believable. More than just punish game, Logan’s recovery and disadvantage look much more clean and considered. For a player as dedicated to the physical, mechanical side of the game, Logan’s rivalry with Smashbob was maybe the first thing to push him to build up the mental side of their game.

(Fun fact: Smashbob also edited Logan’s main combo video.)

Logan was so dedicated to competing with Smashbob’s Puff that they developed a specific way to count and follow player patterns in order to better predict their approaches.

“I would measure the game in beats. I measured every person in the amount of how many times they would fake out before going in. [...] Basically, most people have a number they feel comfortable going in on.”

“For example if someone fakes out twice and goes in the third time, their number is three. Usually people have two numbers they mix between and then when they’re trying to mix up they have an outlier number. When they know they’re getting read, what they do is they switch to that outlier number.”

(Some advanced tech: To actually call out these timings, Logan uses shield stop aerials. Logan will use fast SHFFL neutral airs (nairs) to gain space. When the opponent adjusts by going in to stuff the nair, Logan will use shield stopping to halt momentum, dodge the opponent, then use a late aerial to whiff-punish and set up a tech chase. In the time stamp above, Logan’s opponent catches the SHFFL nair and gets a kill but Logan responds with a shield stop, fair, into a tech chase.)

“I wanted to beat Puff really bad so that’s why I started doing this. Cause Puff is all about knowing when she goes in. I could not figure out for the life of me when she would go in so I was just swinging all the time. To figure out when she would go in I had to start keeping track of individual players’ numbers.”

Humble roots bore weird fruits and by the time they started going to national tournaments, Logan was an oddly aggressive, tech chase heavy Marth that was surprisingly good versus Puff. Good enough that Logan tells me they took a friendly off of Hungrybox back at CEO Dreamland in 2017 and started practicing with the game’s best Puff main years before making top 100.

(The practice would pay off for Logan right at the end of 2020, when they beat Hungrybox 3-2 in an online tournament.)

Learning how to beat humans

Even though they were good enough to train with Hungrybox in 2017 and good enough to top the South Carolina PR in 2018, Logan didn’t get a top 100 win until mid-2019 at Super Smash Con. Logan had an odd way of describing why.

“I’ve had this issue where I’m really, really good at the game but I’m really, really not good versus humans yet.”

It’s confusing to hear at first because Logan means this both literally and in a more figurative sense.

Literally, Logan spent a ton of time playing CPUs (the game’s AI) over and over. In the years before practice tools like Uncle Punch released, the game’s awful AI was the only thing to train on for players in a weaker scene.

Figuratively, Logan means that the humans they did face didn’t often force them to play the game beyond the mechanical level.

“I think the aspect that makes people good at reading people is the fact that they were always playing in an environment where they had to read other people. So the habits they built up, in terms of the moves they use, the movements they choose, are specifically built around beating other human beings. Whereas I never really had to do that very often.”

“I had the chance to play other people in my scene but I could run them over doing the same strategy over and over and over again because my punish was so good. Even if I was losing neutral to them I could just out-punish them so hard that I could win the set anyways.”

That might sound harsh - bordering on calling someone a bot. However, the fact is that you can reach a pretty high threshold in Melee by becoming great at the game’s technical, mechanical skills.

(For proof, see this 20 minute video explaining over 30 different techniques.)

In Melee there are techniques to make every facet of your game better - from movement, to punish, to defense. If you improve all these facets, the result is that you get much more off of a hit than the opponent and also take less from their hits (mastering DI).

What happens in South Carolina with Logan happens in many of Melee’s small scenes. They produce a single player who has the will to grind out an immense technical mastery against weaker players and CPUs. However, grinding out that neutral mastery is harder and these players get dismantled once they reach the top 64 range of a major.

In essence, this is what it means to learn how to beat humans. All that experience grinding tech skill against the CPU is now no longer enough.

(Because tech skill is so vital, there is a Pittsburgh player named Borp who has become something of a folk hero for his ability to win with very little mechanical ability.)

Before Slippi, Logan would find a lot of the human-to-human interaction they craved inside the history of Melee. They would pour over old school VODS, where there was a lot less tech skill.

“[In the old days] they didn’t have that much tech or anything, it was literally just how good you are at beating another player. So like, figuring out what made some players good in the old era has been really, really useful in getting better in the new era.”

The old school may also have related more to the young Melee player, who was playing in the time of the Smash Documentary, who looked up to Mew2King, and who practiced with old school pros like Mike G.

Despite the love and respect for the old school, Logan would truly learn how to beat humans through new technology. “I think the Slippi era is where I started to become more of a complete player because I didn’t have access to playing top 100 players before.”

With Slippi, Logan could play pretty much any competitor on the East Coast from his own home and play more top players in one year than in an entire career. With Slippi, South Carolina’s punish machine could now power past the practice tool and develop a style that was less robotic and more intuitive.

“The thing was, when Slippi came out and I was able to play rollback [tournaments], it just became so obvious to me that I was lacking some mysterious element that I didn’t understand. [...] What kind of happens is that the more you play top level players, the more you think about the game and the more your sense of comfort and discomfort grows in certain situations. Because your awareness goes up.”

Towards the end of 2020, Logan’s play became more fleshed out and his results showed for it. They had taken sets off of some of netplay’s biggest hitters as well as long-established players and the way that they did it was wild, unique, and also human. More than just long tech chases and hard punishes, Logan’s Marth now had more hard callouts and subtle timing mix-ups.

“This guy finds tips!” Mang0 yells as Logan calls out Aura’s full hop with a raw tipper forward smash. “He’s hit more tips than I’ve ever seen Zain hit in a set. I’m not even joking.

“Dude,” commentator, TO, and notable Marth main Crimson Blur chimes in “cause it’s like there comes a certain point where you stop F-smashing because you get punished for it so much because you miss. But then there’s another point where you got so good at it, where it becomes worth it.”

“It comes full circle.”


Wild to wise

Logan and Aklo are very much contemporaries in Melee. The two of them were both strong technical players who started in Project M and were gradually levelling up within their regions right before the Slippi Era. The two leapt up the netplay rankings in such perfect simultaneity that they’d face each other 12 times from the middle of 2020 to now. Their record is a mirrored 6-6.

More than just contemporaries, they’re foils. If Logan is the odd Marth out for holding in and tech chasing enemies to death, then Aklo is the odd Fox out for dash-dancing just out of reach, reading his opponent’s neutral for repeated openings. Where Logan’s play is physical and aggressive, Aklo’s play is mental and defensive.

Playing each other at Summit 11, tied up at 1-1 in a best of 5 where the loser gets last place in their group, Logan will take the momentum back by reading Aklo.

At the start of the set, Logan rushes in on Aklo a lot, which Aklo punishes heavily by waiting of reach then coming in to punish. Logan adapts by using a lot of short hop aerials and SHFFL nairs to take space while being harder to hit. Aklo adapts by waiting for Logan to use a SHFFL nair, then jumping over the hitbox and hitting Marth.

Down one full stock in a crucial game 3, Logan catches Aklo’s pattern and makes a read.

Logan full hop nairs, catching Aklo coming in from above before Aklo can put out a hitbox. From here, Logan gets a tech chase which ultimately leads to a clean stock. The shift in momentum leads them to take the game and then the set.

For Logan, their Summit 11 performance was all at once a departure from the old, a rebuilding into new, and a strong statement on where they are now.

“At the beginning of the tournament, I was just doing that hold forward strategy and just getting blown up for it.” Logan went 1-6 in games overall on their first day at Summit. “I had a lot of talks with players like Mang0 and iBDW and they really exposed the fact that that play style doesn’t work.”

“At first it was really hard. ‘Maybe I just can’t do it’ - that kind of thought came into my head. Basically what I did was I basically started playing the game from scratch again. I would think about every little movement I do before I do it. Instead of just spamming moves and hoping that it hits the opponent.”

(Ginger, one of Melee’s headier players, regularly argues this point. Any and all top players MUST think - and think a lot.)

In the rest of Summit, Logan went 8-10 overall. “I think Smash Summit was a good demonstration of what my gameplay can be,” Logan concludes.

Had Logan not gotten perhaps the worst bracket luck possible, that scoreline could’ve been a lot better too. They were 7-7 heading into the bracket proper but then got placed against Axe in the first round of the lower bracket. Maybe the best Marth-slayer in the entire history of Melee, Axe has a mind boggling 70-0 record against top 100 level Marth players since his last loss to a Marth all the way back in 2013.

(According to Melee historian Pikachu942.)

Not knowing how to fight Axe’s character (Pikachu), Logan still managed to take a game. Such is Axe’s reputation that even taking a game impressed most people. Looking back, Logan sees a world where they could’ve taken more.

“I think if I kept it together and played the way I did in the Pokemon [Stadium] game [I won,] I literally could’ve reverse 3-0’d him. It’s a testament to the difference in composure between Axe and me. A player that’s been playing in majors for years and years and then me, who’s been playing in majors for not very long.”

Staring down that 70-0 record, you could safely write that down as undue optimism on Logan’s part. However, this self-belief is necessary at the highest levels of Melee and the lessons Logan pulls from it are very real. Developing composure, becoming more consistent, measuring each move - they see this as the way forward

This sense of consistency and ironclad mental game has become so big for Logan that they’ve found a new player to look up to: Drephen.

Possibly one of the most consistent players in Melee history, Drephen is a veteran Sheik main who has reached top player status in the 2007 and 2021 metas. Drephen does it all with effective but seldom flashy gameplay that relies on heavy conditioning and read-based neutral.

“I really think Drephen is the smartest player to ever touch a Gamecube Controller. The first time I played Drephen it was like an eye-opening experience. He’s just doing the same things over and over again and he’s just beating me.”

“Then it’s like, well why am I getting hit by it? I had to rethink my entire playstyle. I evolved from that. I got a lot better from playing Drephen the first time. I wanna be like him, I wanna understand how he gets those crazy reads on people.”

However, as Logan wisens into new molds, it’s not to abandon the wild style of Marth that got them to where they are. They aren’t looking back purely in an effort to emulate. Instead, they pull from the old school - and from Drephen in particular - in order to be unique in a way deep enough to be timeless, to be feared across metas.

So there’s a real mental damage to the way that he plays.

“Watching Drephen it doesn’t seem as scary. You play him and it’s like a demon. It’s actually scary how he plays.

It is really easy to miss something like that, the mental factor that his neutral plays.

Yeah, there’s a lot of players that you don’t understand why their play is working until you play them. He is the pinnacle of those kinds of players.”

Is that something you aspire to have as well, then?

“Yeah, I love it. I love how unique his gameplay is.”

In this way, Logan has no plans on being a Drephen clone. Or an M2K clone. Or a Zain clone. Or any clone at all. Logan instead wants to be a top 10 player through the core they have already built for themselves - through the reaction tech chase, through measuring habits closely enough to number them, through a litany of old school ideas that this new school Marth wants to bring full circle. Through a wild move made at the wisest moment.

Writer // Austin "Plyff" Ryan
Graphics // Yasen Trendafilov

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