by Metric

(MIOM Note: This was written prior to HTC Throwdown)

Once the cheers and jubilation for PPMD’s triumph passed, many onlookers found the Apex 2015 results disquieting. We had witnessed Armada’s Fox, younger and less practiced than his signature Peach, eliminate three of the Top 6 and push PPMD to a second set before faltering. Many asked themselves if they had witnessed the metagame begin to move forward and leave straggling mains behind. Armada’s promises to keep Peach for certain matchups sounded more like a death sentence than as reassurance.

Peach wasn’t the only character wavering. Shroomed and KirbyKaze’s Sheiks played well at Apex, but not enough to offset the string of disappointments that preceded. Her results in 2014 were mediocre if you scrolled past Mew2King’s name and searched for her next best placings: two 17ths at The Big House 4, 17th and 25th at Evo 2014, 13th and 21st at MLG. Without M2K, she would have failed to make Top 8 at a super-major for an entire year. Her relevancy was at stake. She was absent from Armada’s endgame prediction, fifth on Mew2King’s list, and a damning sixth to Hax, who scoffed at her viability.

Sheik had stagnated, and people took notice. It had been ages since she won a major. Some looked to the future and questioned her potential.

One summer later, Sheik has reemerged as a contender at the highest level of competition. DruggedFox, Shroomed, and Plup commanded attention at CEO and Evo. It is not because they play like Mew2King clones; each looks unique, pushing the character in new directions and delving into potential he left underexplored. Revolution is underway. Mew2King remains unrivalled in his mastery over the edge, but he has much to learn from these other Sheiks, as they do from him.

Tech Chase Consistency

For years, the guaranteed down-throw tech chase on Fox and Falco has eluded Sheik mains. Try regrabbing off reads, and you might guess wrong. React too slow, and your opponent might tech in-place and shine, reversing your punishment into theirs. Nothing seemed foolproof. In this successful tech chase, to cover tech in-place Mew2King gambles and assumes a shine, dashes out of range, and grabs afterward. This could be countered by the Fox forgoing shine and opting to jump, spot dodge, roll, or, if they feel particularly confident, dair.

Typically we watched Mew2King drop the tech chase or settle for down smash after a couple grabs. His back-throws threatened greater peril than his down-throws. KirbyKaze was noted for his reactions, but he also made mistakes or sneaked in read-based up smashes. Some dismissed the zero-to-death tech chase as a dream. 

DruggedFox shows a complete commitment to the reactionary tech chase pays off. No need to fear tech in-place shine if you always grab in time. The average human reaction time is .25 seconds or 15 frames. To preempt Fox or Falco’s shine, it’s necessary to input grab by frame 18 of the tech-in place. Then the regrab is feasible for the average human, trivial for the average smasher, if they identify the chosen tech within the first three frames. Faster reactions extend the window of time for recognition, and recognition itself is trainable. Players can study tech animations until the startups look distinct, with features like split legs on tech in-place readily apparent. Instead of reacting to different shades of blue, they’ve eased the challenge by making it red versus green. Theory is transforming into reality. Even PAL johns are illegitimate, as proven by BrTarolg.

A consistent death touch is within Sheik’s grasp. Future Fox and Falco players might resign themselves to teching towards the edge and DIing the next grab offstage, into an edgeguard scenario. “Ground wobbling,” they mutter under their breaths.

Footsies and Stage Control


Footsies have rarely been a strength of Sheik mains. They’re comfortable fighting point blank and from afar, but they falter at this mid-screen distance where players tiptoe at the thresholds of their poke ranges. Movement, attacks, grabs, shields, or simply the possibility of these options can be used as threats or baits to earn a hit on the opponent trying to do the same. For Sheik, footsies often mean breaching past moves like Fox’s short hop nair or Marth’s down tilt, into a space where her tilts and aerials can reach. Outranged, though, Sheiks struggle to accomplish this goal safely. Mew2King is no exception. Rather than engage at this distance, he frequently forgoes footsies entirely by retreating to the edge and conceding stage control.

Mew2King defends the corner well with phenomenal close-quarters play. If they come close, he can reverse the situation and ensnare them at the edge instead. The problem is closing the gap if his opponent refuses to enter his comfort zone, especially if M2K is behind in the game. There is a stiffness to how his Sheik proceeds: a small run toward as bait, cut by a wavedash back. Grounded needles charged and tossed. Damage tacked on, but no progress in positional advantage made. And then he charges forward in a single extended lunge, rushing head on into his target, closer and closer until they’re on top of each other, at which point he tosses a wild punch with dash attack, grab, down smash, or a tilt. Whether he hits or he whiffs, someone is bound to get hurt.

The odds he wins the exchange may be 50/50 at best, often far worse, but the expected value is in his favor if his punish game outstrips theirs. Dealing 80 damage, 40 percent of the time, on average beats dealing 50 damage, 60 percent of the time. It is an approach that served M2K and many Sheiks well until other players and characters learned to punish just as hard.


Shroomed adopts a more proactive stance to fighting his opponents. He challenges their space by playing the dash dance game, dashing forward on their dash away and penetrating past their poking moves. His tilts and aerials deny people safe return to their previous ground. If they retaliate, he waits just beyond the tip of their hitbox and moves in afterward, or he times and spaces his own move to beat out theirs. If they withdraw, he pursues them further and incrementally wins control of the stage. After a few of these advances, Shroomed traps his prey under heavy pressure at the edge. Hits are easier to land when there is nowhere left to run.

More grounded, conservative alternatives also exist. KirbyKaze forces people to respect his zoning with f-tilt as he walks forward and encroaches on their territory. From the opponent’s perspective, an attack risks a counterattack, their current position will become vulnerable to f-tilt, and a retreat surrenders space. What these Sheik tactics share is the principle of approaching the opponent and contesting stage control. For too long have people pigeonholed her as a defensive character. Maybe she ultimately will lean on defense more than offense, but players are beginning to demonstrate that her aggressive options hold merits as well. 50/50 swings no longer suffice, and Sheik, like the rest of the cast, must work for minor gains in neutral and construct positions with favorable probability.

The Unrealized Heights of Platforms

Many Sheik mains are frustrated by her aerial mobility and high short hop. They hate her vulnerability to juggles, or they covet Fox’s freedom to approach with nair. Platforms are an alluring solution. They provide a means of escape, solid ground above a Marth or Fox sharking for uairs, and they offer hope in a new angle of assault: autocancelled needles or wavelanding off into aerials. Sheiks commonly ban or strike Final Destination in most matchups because these options are stripped away.

However, jumping on a platform historically has functioned as a bandage to Sheik’s woes, not as a cure. Aerial needles fire at a fixed angle. Their horizontal range stretches as she rises and shrinks as she falls. To fight a grounded opponent directly, she either slips off the platform’s side or stands still to fall through, and her hitboxes fail to protect the area directly below—including the dair, which exposes her foot. Platforms constrain Sheik to rigid delineations between the zones she threatens and the zones where neither needles nor aerials reach. Players who excel at the platform game, like Flash, aren’t free from these confines; they operate well within them. Opponents can still exploit this weakness, sneaking into her blind spots.

Shield drops might be the cure.

You’re shielding on a platform. Move your control stick downward. Too fast, you sidestep. Too slow, your shield tilts. At the right speed you fall through the platform, free to act. This is the shield drop: a technique universal to all characters. Once an emblem of technical prowess, a feat achieved by the elite, it has grown increasingly common at mid and lower levels of play.

Most are introduced to the shield drop as a means to counterattack while standing on a platform. Wait for their aerial, or even Marth’s up tilt from below, to touch your shield. Then descend with a shield drop and hit them back. In his match versus Westballz, Plup gets stuck on the left side platform. He’s forced to block, but squeezes out of shine pressure with a shield drop.

At its core, though, shield dropping is a movement technique, and as with all movement techniques it has applications in both punishment and neutral, both defense and offense.

Plup returns to the platform after his escape. He runs forward, drops down, and throws out a fair that, before 2015, didn’t exist. Falling through a platform while running is impossible; from that initial platform position, intuition built through years of experience screams that aerial can’t happen. But what can be performed is the following sequence: running, stopping your run with shield, shield dropping, and then using an aerial, whether a fair in neutral or an uair mid-combo. The zones Sheik threatens have widened. Her possibilities have opened.

Zhu watches Plup leap onto Battlefield’s top platform. He reacts to Sheik dipping into Falco’s full hop range and launches his nair. It’s a trap. Where Plup once was, nothing remains, and Plup’s shield drop bait has created an opportunity to punish a whiffed aerial with a rising bair. It’s a tactic we’re familiar with when it’s presented horizontally, on the ground: dashing back and forth to provoke an attack, evade it, and punish. Shield dropping gives birth to a second, vertical dimension—a dance from height to height. The extent to which this can be pushed, as we have pushed dance dancing, is underexplored.

Moving Forward

No one can describe with confidence what Sheik’s metagame will be like once a single person incorporates and optimizes the skills of several unique top players. It requires time and effort. Her shield pressure, needles, and comboing also need updating. The revolution goes on, for anyone who believes.

It could have started sooner. People have discussed reactionary techchasing for ages; Axe utilized shield drops years before its boom in popularity. And yet, in 2014 Sheik was stagnating, and in 2015 players are innovating.

We’ve been here before. From 2009 to 2012, Marth was lagging behind. His most prominent players had vanished, with the exception of Mew2King and Taj, and the newer ones struggled. Marth mains lamented his match ups against Falco, Puff, everyone. Threads on Smashboards asked if Marth could ever become top tier again, or they argued he was a worse character than Falcon and Peach. Meanwhile, Kadano compiled advanced applications of Marth’s frame data, and PPMD and PewPewU reinvigorated his metagame. At Apex 2015, Marth emerged as champion of a major tournament for the first time since 2007.

At the same time, it was a mediocre tournament for Falco and perhaps the omen for a dismal year. The summer has passed, and the MIOM Top 25 contains one pure Falco main and two dual mains. Zhu, one of his most beloved users, is switching to Sheik. It’s a far cry from what people predicted in 2013. Years of lackluster results by Fox players had caused many to suspect Falco was the best, until Mango’s Fox dazzled at Zenith and Evo. Now in 2015, Falco is limited by poor run speed, his shield pressure is easily counterattacked, and everyone SDIs out of combos or powershields lasers.

Is Falco falling out of the metagame?