Introduction

Typically considered Marth’s most difficult matchup, Sheik has become the bane of many a Marth main. Yet while I won’t deny the learning curve is steep, I vehemently disagree that Sheik is a bad matchup for Match. I won’t go so far as to say the matchup is favored for Marth, however – gun to my head, I think it’s 50-50 and the better player wins.

Background

First of all, my qualifications and background. I go by “Neighborhood P,” or just “P.” I live in SoCal, the most competitive region in the world, and have been ensconced in the scene since 2006. I am a formerly ranked player and a winner of our region’s inaugural Arcadian tournament (which included direct wins over WestBALLZ and S2J, before they became Smash superstars). I am a currently active player, on or near the cusp of getting ranked, and play – I’m not sure I have a main – Fox, Sheik and Marth at a high level. (Falco’s on the way!)

As far as Marth versus Sheik, specifically, I have played numerous high-level Marths in the matchup as Sheik, most notably Mango, at the height of his reign; NorCal’s KFC, and Bob$, and SoCal’s D.C. Nowadays I regularly practice the matchup against Little England’s Marth and against Sherigami’s Sheik. In case you haven’t heard of the latter two, Little England has beaten Kage (albeit with Falco) and Sherigami has beaten Zhu.

My experience against Sheik as Marth is voluminous, albeit not in tournament. That’s because I have typically preferred going Fox against Sheik. I always found it easier for me, not because the matchup is easy – I think it’s 50-50 – but because, as a former Sheik main, I was well-versed with what countered Sheik and I prided myself on slaying Sheiks.

Now I am going to start playing Marth against Sheik again. A few reasons: one, it’s my favorite matchup; two, I’m quite good at it; three, I feel like, at least here in SoCal, Sheiks have become weak against Marth due to lack of experience, whilst becoming great against Fox due to a plethora of experience. I am a counter-picker at heart.

Before we delve into the nitty-gritty of the matchup, take note of your mindset. Throw out everything you have heard about the matchup being Sheik-favored. All that serves to do is set limitations on your thought and expectations on your capability.

That said, I am not a great player, just a very good one. My execution and understanding of the game have limitations. Fortunately for the reader, I am more skilled at elucidating the machinations of high-level play than I am at flawlessly executing!

“It’s all about da grab game!” – DA Dave

Not to sound reductive, but in a nutshell, that’s all this matchup is about: grabs. This is precisely why I think Marth does well against Sheik: he has no trouble out-maneuvering Sheik and creating opportunities for grab. His gaudy grab range serves to almost completely stifle Sheik’s shield pressure. She cannot jab without eating a grab, an integral part of her pressure.

How does the Marth get grabs? Dash dance.

Rule No. 1: Stay on the ground and grab!

It is no secret Marth’s dash dance is the best in the game. The problem with jumping is not that Marth lacks aerial punch; it’s simply that you cannot grab in the air. Marth’s best, and only reliable, punish in this matchup is a grab.

In my opinion, the only time Marth should be jumping is to vary his movement, bait a whiff, and land with a waveland in order to retreat or pressure.  This segues right into…

[Neutral game]

You may be asking, ‘How do you utilize grab without becoming predictable?’

Who cares if you’re predictable? The most effective strategy is the one that you can’t stop even when you know it’s coming.

The neutral game for Marth centers completely around downtilt and grab. The tempo of the matchup is thus: Marth controls the ground via downtilt and dash-dance grabs anytime Sheik whiffs, shields or goes into the air.

At the same time, from Sheik’s perspective, she also must stay on the ground, as her grab is the key to her success.

Fortunately for Marth, his movement is superior to Sheik’s. His dash dance puts hers to shame, he controls significantly more space with his pokes, and he can abuse Sheik’s limited air mobility and air priority when she attempts to utilize platforms and short hops to garner a clean hit. Utilize shield pivots into empty short hops (interspersed with wavelands and defensive forward airs) to mix up your timings and zone in on Sheik.

At the low percents, beginning at 0%, Marth wants nothing but a grab. A grab at 0 percent is gold as it all but guarantees the following sequence:

Grab ?–> forward throw ?–> regrab ?–> pummel once ?–> uthrow –> follow-up. We will expand on this in a subsequent section.

It is very much worth eschewing “combo starters” in order to prioritize the grab; indeed, grab is the ultimate combo starter!

At low percents versus Sheik, there are only three moves I’m typcially using: grab, downtilt and forward smash.

As you get some percent on Sheik, forward air usage becomes safer. I, however, am not a proponent of using it aggressively. Avoid the temptation to short hop and land with a fair. Every mid-level or better Sheik in the world is waiting for this and will dash attack, grab or dtilt you.

I utilize forward air defensively, right as I’m landing, to ensure Sheik cannot sneak in with a late attack. More often, however it is even better to simply empty waveland back. You will be shocked at how many more whiffs you will create with a simple waveland back!

If Sheik is camping you, you simply waveland forward into downtilt in order to impinge on the space. Do not be threatened by Sheik charging needles. A well-timed forward B wipes away needles; even if you do get hit by them, they cannot combo* and they force Sheik stationary, making her an easier target for Marth’s zoning.

Let’s pass along the advice Fly Amanita told me when I asked him how to use forward smash properly. He said it should only be used when the opponent is in the air!

I will amend that to saying it can only safely be used when the opponent is in the air, getting tech chased, or is shielding on a platform and you are aiming for a shield poke.

I dislike forward smash and use it selectively.** Yet at the same it is extremely useful and should not be overlooked. It is one of the only moves in the game that knocks the opponent down at 0%. In other words, it cannot be crouch canceled!

Secondly, pivot forward smash is one of the best tools for punishing Marth has. We will discuss that more when we examine Marth’s punish game. It is one of the only moves Marth has to kill Sheik before she reaches insanely high percentages.

PPMD utilizes D-Tilt, Dash Dancing, Grabbing, and WD F-Smash in the impressive sequence against Mew2King.

Brief aside: downair is another move Marth can safely use at low percentages. It is particularly useful out of shield and in tech chases. Unfortunately, I am not good at fast falling it into the guaranteed follow-up grab. KFC’s Marth is impeccable at this and I believe it’s even possible to execute this at 0%, with Sheik unable to buffer a roll or spot dodge. Be a better man than me and learn how to do this!

 Stuck?

Here are a couple of approaches to try when you don’t know what to do anymore:

  • Run up and shield, made famous by Mango. Mid-level Sheiks will typically throw out a ftilt, and their spacing will be off.
  • Short hop waveland into down tilt
  • Walk

And here are a few evasive maneuvers you must master:

  • Wave dash in and out of your shield, at different lengths; there is no reason to be caught in your shield against Sheik. If she is short hopping, wavedash out; she doesn’t have enough aerial mobility to prevent this
  • If pinned to the side of the stage, full hop waveland onto a platform for evasive purposes, not for attacking. This is often an easy and free way to regrain center stage. But if you get cute and try to come down with a dair/fair/nair, you will almost always get punished.
  • Learn how to edge cancel dair when floating in the air. Once in a while it will come in handy!

Moves to avoid:

Forward Air, especially at low percent, can be exploited

Forward air: A terrible approach that is the number one reason Marths underperform at this matchup. It is a slow arc, does not protect below Marth, and is predictable. Sheik can safely dash attack through all but the latest forward airs. She can also run under Marth and crouch cancel dtilt, which typically leads to ftilt –> fair. Its primary use is defensive.

Dash attack: Too much risk, too little reward. Only use it when you are completely certain it is going to hit. This is almost always at low-middle (30-60%) percentages where Sheik is short hopping, whiffs, and dashes/Fox trots to retreat. I would rather aim a waveland/wavedashed forward smash, however, since if it tips, Sheik will be DI-ing away due to dashing away and will West Coast DI for an early kill. Same risk – you’re getting grabbed if you miss either option – better reward. The only difference is dash attack is easier to execute.

Forward B: Someone wake up Ken and tell him to stop sword dancing. If you can forward b, you can grab. This is only to be used when Sheik is >130%, as it can lead into an utilt for the kill.

Neutral air: As an approach it is terrible. One thing you never want to do is aggressively short hop nair. I see Marths do this way too much; you are not Fox or Falco!

Avoid getting grabbed!

That is Rule No. 2 for the matchup.

The only moves Sheik can reliably destroy you with are grab and dash attack. When you are grabbed, ensure you DI in such a way that avoids a dash attack follow-up.

*Except when thrown in the air, where they do combo into grab, even on your shield. Forward smash hard-counters this tactic.
** I am a major proponent of pivot fsmash, however, to maintain integrity in your dash dance.

[Punish game]

Here’s what you do once you get a grab!

Going back to the grab at 0%: at high-level play, a good Sheik will DI (directional influence) the forward throw down and away. If she does this properly, she has no landing lag out of the release of the throw and can evade. Most Sheiks, however, will buffer a spot dodge; if you’re playing a good Sheik and this works once or twice, give them credit, dash dance and bait the buffered spot dodge, and then regrab.

You pummel once after the regrab because it sets up for the magical uthrow –> utilt follow-up.

I specifically asked Mew2King about the uthrow –> utilt because, while it does seem to be guaranteed, sometimes it is not. When I asked him about it, he shrugged and said “It depends.” And he’s right.

This sequence works until Sheik is about 25 percent. (I am not Mew2King and I have not memorized percents! I have seen this sequence thousands of times and it is embedded in my muscle memory, which at this point is intuitive; sorry!)

At that point, Marth is better off baiting Sheik’s second jump and promptly following with a full-hop uair. From there, juggle Sheik with forward airs and uairs.

The counter to this: if the Sheik is intelligent, she will take a few hits, DI up and away, save her jump, and wait until she can safely double jump away. A patient Marth, however, has time to see this and stalk her landing. It is a rock-paper-scissors game at this point, however, although Marth does have an advantage. I typically bait a spot dodge and stalk with uairs; at the very least you ought to have forced Sheik to land on the ledge.

Keep in mind there is more than one way to skin a cat!

[Tech-chasing]

This is a major area where Marths go wrong and which leads to struggles in the matchup: they are not utilizing the tech chase!

Marth’s aerial combos on Sheik are very good, but they are not great, because they are not quite guaranteed. They also require a tremendously high learning curve in what is the toughest area of this game to learn: spatial pattern recognition.

I opt to tech chase Sheik out of throw as often as I do to up throw her. This has two major advantages: one, you maintain control and shut down her momentum. The psychological effect of this is that the longer you maintain control, the more likely they will panic and devolve into mindless defensive play, such as spamming spot dodges or recklessly attacking you with misspaced and/or telegraphed moves.

Secondly, you force Sheik to the edge of the stage, which is where Marth truly shines in the matchup. Depending on where you two are positioned when she is grabbed, you forward throw or down throw. If she does not tech, you dtilt or fsmash the missed tech. If she does tech, you dash dance regrab (or dair regrab). As you repeat this cycle and learn the player’s patterns, you can strategically place tipper fsmashes for surprise early kills to boot!

The element of surprise is vital because it forces poor DI from Sheik. This serves to make both the uthrow and fthrow/dthrow/bthrow options more effective. When you are trying to force poor throw DI, you do not pummel but instead throw her immediately.

Speaking of bthrow, you bthrow when she is at middle percents and will be forced onto a platform. This can easily lead to a tipper, and at the least to a guaranteed follow-up.

[Edge-guarding]

Once Sheik is trapped near the stage out of a tech-chase/grab situation, now is when you fthrow or bthrow. If Marth is facing away from the stage and the fthrow will not allow her to freely grab the ledge, you fthrow immediately. If Sheik does not DI away, she eats a tipper fsmash or a dtilt. If she does DI away, you have enough time to grab the ledge from her.

If you are facing towards the stage and a dthrow will not allow her to freely grab the ledge, that is your option. If she does not DI properly (which is away), you can turnaround dtilt. Her options are extremely limited at this point because if she double-jumps and/or tries to attack, she eats a tipper fsmash (or, occasionally, counter) and loses her stock.

Since she must wait and save her jump, you have time to grab the ledge. Now you can use an invincible ledge hop autocancel nair to prevent her from grabbing the ledge for free (“if she tries, the weak hit of the nair (not the sword but Marth’s body) will hit her.) and promptly continue the edge-guarding sequence.

The goal is to force her to upb onto the side of the stage so you have enough time to hop on and tipper fsmash. To both do this and protect the ledge, you simply wait for her poof and then you stand up – not roll or get-up attack – and follow-up from there. When timed right this prevents her from sweet spot up-bing to grab the ledge.

Let’s say you hit her off with a strong attack but, at her current trajectory (a bit above parallel to the ledge, around 90-100%), she can double jump and upb comfortably to the stage.

Control her space by threatening her with aggression. If Sheik thinks she can innocuously recover, you need to back air her in the face.

If you (Marth) are standing on the stage near the ledge and Sheik is in stun, rather than wavedashing and grabbing the ledge, you wavedash off, timing a back air to hit her right as she double jumps. You then up-b and she cannot recover.

Back air is the safest way to do this, but forward air, shield breaker and even up-b* are useful and, at times, necessary.

The threat of back air ideally forces her to alter her trajectory so that she cannot land too far into the stage for you to have time to tipper her back off. If you do not have enough time, you can ledge hop nair in such a way that it will send her back off, albeit with not as much knockback.

As a mix-up, you can also stand up, make it look like you’re going to fsmash, only to grab and forward throw her, baiting poor DI and landing the tipper fsmash for the stock. Or you can reverse Dolphin Slash, too.

[DI]

We have discussed Marth’s offensive options, but inevitably you will get grabbed (rarely, of course!) or hit.

What does Marth do when he gets hit by Sheik?

First of all, the grabs. When you are grabbed at zero to low percent, Sheik has a pseudo chain-grab if you DI away. At zero percent I do not believe there is a way to get out of it without eating utilts. Around 8-20% you can get out of it by DI-ing up and away, and starting a fast fall right at or near the apex of your jump. I apologize if this is vague: it is a very difficult, advanced maneuver and I am not always successful with it!

There was one player I played, Knivez, an old-school Fox main who was ranked in SoCal’s Top 5 back when I first started playing. He quit around 2008, but I played him for a few sessions after that, before he got too rusty, and he was almost exclusively playing Marth. To this day I have never seen better DI from a Marth than his. It taught me that with proper DI, Marth can get out of most combos with minimum damage, ready to forward B or fair his opponent for even the slightest of over-commitments.

He got out of this pseudo-chain grab / back-breaking combo tree with aplomb, and the above direction is precisely how he told me how he did it. I pull it off inconsistently but I can confirm from my own experience that it works! Experiment!

In any case, the primary goal is to avoid getting dash attacked out of a grab, or DI-ing a ftilt so poorly that you get dash attacked. Dash attacks on Marth at low-mid percents often link one into another, so it is vital you avoid this! It is Sheik’s harshest combo tree!

In general, you want to force Sheik to ftilt –> fair. Accept these hits, DI them properly, and then you will be free to grab the ledge. Sheik does not have a follow-up. Marth is better on the ledge than Sheik is, so it’s not too challenging to proceed from there. Disadvantageous, yes, but not as disadvantageous as when you pin her to the ledge.

How do you DI them? In general, if you are unsure how to DI, smash/ASDI up. This ensures that whether it is a fair or a ftilt, you are DI-ing in such a way to minimize the follow-up. If you are caught survival DI-ing (up and in) and they ftilt you, then you eat another ftilt. Many times it is completely ambiguous and you are forced to DI up. The same applies to her utilt. Make sure you smash DI!

If it is not ambiguous, DI up and away.

Once you become adept at DI-ing Sheik’s combos, you learn there’s not much to be feared. She cannot maintain control after she ends the combo tree, unlike Marth.

[Recovery]

Watch your side-Bs! Every good player is trained to, after knocking Marth off the stage, to wait for him to side-B and then jump off the stage and hit him. Fox will shine spike you, Falco will back air you, and Sheik will throw a needle.

Marth’s recovery is mind-numbingly amazing and it is very simple to maximize. Save your double jump. Go low. Forward B to buy time, counter needles, and prevent Sheik from hanging on to the stage. Then you up-b for the sweet spot or to land on the stage!

When you perform this properly, there is actually nothing Sheik can do to edge guard Marth. She can’t needle him, she cannot jump off and hit him because she must respect Marth’s forward air/forward b or risk getting stage spiked, and she can’t trade a neutral air with his up-b because Marth has saved his jump and forward B and forced her to roll from the ledge.

The only exception is the “Marth killer”: light shielding right at the edge of the stage in order to grab the ledge when Marth up-bs. Yet there is a counter to this, too!

It is possible to angle Marth’s up-b to net a more horizontal trajectory. There are multiple horizontal trajectories! Unfortunately I am not great at it – many years ago I used to be good at it but it has since waned – and do not completely understand it. It is something to the effect of, during a few frames of the up-b, the placement of the analog determines what trajectory Marth rises. It can be very subtle or glaringly obvious. In any case, at the highest of levels it is completely mandatory.

One reason is because it prevents Sheik from grabbing the ledge in the first place, because the horizontal angle reaches her more rapidly than the standard up-b angle. Another reason is that it allows you to barely land on the stage when you would otherwise just miss it, or fall susceptible to the Marth killer.

I am making it one of my highest priorities to learn this and I suggest you do the same, aspiring Sheik slayer!

[Ledge]

I ought to put this at the beginning, because the ledge is by far the most important part of this game!

Maintain your ledge invincibility! Do not get up and do anything without invincibility!

Learn from Mew2King, master of the ledge. Do what he does because he does it for a reason.

One of the main things he does that few have reciprocated is the simple stand-up from the ledge. He says it is because Marth is vulnerable for a very small amount of frames after this animation. Then you are free to dash, and when Marth dashes, his head lowers, making him tougher to hit and often sliding right by attacks.

After this, learn the Hax dash re-grab with Marth.

Then learn how to waveland from the ledge.

Finally, learn how to jump up and land at the edge of the stage as innocuously as possible.

The ledge game is a game of rock-paper-scissors. Marth always has the strategic advantage against Sheik. The downside is, if you over-commit, you are getting edge-guarded and will likely perish. Choose wisely!

The goal is to reach center stage, of course.

Here are the tools in your war chest that you ought to be able to comfortably execute:

  • Stand up; dash
  • Ledge dash
  • Roll
  • Ledge hop autocancel nair
  • Hax dash re-grab
  • Jump up, land, counter
  • Jump up, land, forward smash
  • Jump up, land, assess

This is all you need. One of these options will work, I guarantee it! If you are repeatedly getting outplayed from the ledge, you are not incorporating one or more of these options.

For example, you have wavelanded from the ledge successfully. The Sheik has adjusted and is now ftilting your waveland. Now you simply jump up, land, and tipper fsmash the whiffed ftilt.

Or the Sheik is short hopping, waiting for you to come up so she can forward air. You jump up, land, and counter.

The Sheik is crouching near the ledge. You ledge hop autocancel nair. If it hits her shield, you buffer a spot dodge, which will beat a grab since your nair is lagless.

And so on.

When you have Sheik on the ledge, we revert back to the basics: down tilt and grab. Do not forward smash!*

You simply wall her out. Jab and forward tilt are also acceptable.

*If you are proficient with pivot fsmashes, you can utilize pivot tipper fsmash to hard counter a whiffed ledgedash –> ftilt

[Conclusion]

Properly played, Marth exerts more control over the matchup than Sheik. His openings lead to sustained control, leaving Sheik playing from her back foot more often.

Marth goes wrong when he prioritizes high-lag moves such as short hop aerials and forward smash. Marth wins when he suffocates Sheik with his superior movement. Prioritize ground-based dash dance, spaced grabs and well-timed downtilts to slowly corner Sheik, forcing her to spot dodge and take to the air.

Learn how and when to select which of the four options out of Marth’s throw: all four have great, selective use. Practice and incorporate advanced techniques such as pivot forward smash and horizontally angled up-bs. Patiently master Marth’s ledge options.

Most importantly, prioritize avoiding hits, specifically grabs and dash attacks, rather than focusing on creating openings. Do the former effectively and the latter naturally sprout forth. This is the key not only to this matchup, but to high-level play in general.

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