Despite dismal early reviews for Byleth, the protagonist from Fire Emblem: Three Houses recently added to the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate roster, one pro player's smashing success with the unwieldy character just upset everyone's tier list rankings.
Byleth just made waves in the competitive Smash Bros. community despite initial claims that the new character felt too slow to keep up with the Smash Ultimate’s speedy-top tiers like Zero Suit Samus or Joker. Not only did it only take a few days for gamers to discover that Byleth is particularly effective in the game's online quickplay mode, where poor connection gives them an edge, but Marcus "Pink Fresh" Wilson beat out the competition using only Byleth on Saturday. The victory took place at Just Tryna Smash's weekly competition called "The Grind."
The weekly tournament is hosted in the Maryland-Virginia region, and this latest iteration had 100 entrants, including well-known players like Zack “ZD” Darby and Joseph "Seagull Joe" Raucher. Pink Fresh triumphed against other seasoned players who expertly pilot some of the best characters in the game like Wolf, Fox, and Palutena. Pink Fresh only dropped one set (best of three games) the entire tournament, providing evidence that Byleth probably isn't as “doo doo” as some folks initially thought.
Pink Fresh’s victory was accompanied by another tournament win over the weekend from Lenardo “MKLeo” Perez, who went solo-Byleth in a local tournament in Mexico. MKLeo was ranked the best Smash Ultimate player in the world in the Fall 2019 season of the Panda Global Rankings (PGRU) and they just might be a pivotal player, alongside Pink Fresh, that helps put Byleth on the map in the competitive scene.
It’s early days for Byleth, so players are still developing strategies within the character's moveset, but here’s a breakdown of how Pink Fresh capitalized on their strengths to secure Byleth’s first U.S. tournament win.
Spacing with their quickest aerial attacks
Byleth’s kit is full of extremely slow, haymaker swings that Pink Fresh rarely used in favor of their much quicker and safer aerial attacks. Pink Fresh utilized a zoning playstyle where he would snuff out opponents’ approaches with attacks like Down Tilt, Forward Air, and Back Air. The strategy involves forcing the enemy into a defensive position where your attacks, or the threat of your attacks, limit the enemy's mobility options.
Pink Fresh played two matches against ZD, who played mostly Wolf but Fox at times. Both of these Star Fox characters require that the controller pounce opponents and unload oppressive combos, but Pink Fresh didn’t give ZD the chance throughout much of the tournament.
When Pink Fresh was caught slipping, he used Neutral Air as a get-off-me option and a landing tool. This aerial covers both of Byleth’s sides, is fairly quick to execute, and can be followed up with a Forward Tilt or Dash Attack to keep opponents a lance-length away.
That is exactly where Byleth wants their enemies.
Use Byleth’s explosive moves sparingly to secure kills
All of Byleth’s smash attacks and special abilities are sluggish but have the potential to deal devastating amounts of damage if well-timed and precisely placed. Pink Fresh knew that he could net some extremely early kills if he landed a Down Air, Side Special, or any of Byleth’s Smash Attacks so he only used them when he needed to.
Instead of fishing for his finishing blows by spamming them — which would have left him open to being punished — Pink Fresh created situations where ZD anticipated an aerial but instead got a smash attack to the face. This is a strategy known as conditioning that involves making an opponent anticipate a pattern in your movements and then punishing them with a mix-up, or a change in your game flow.
In Game 1 of the winner-side semifinals, Pink Fresh constantly recovered low with Byleth’s tether until the very end. In the above clip, ZD’s Wolf sends Byleth shooting towards the top-left blast zone, and he immediately tries to cover Pink’s low recovery but was met with a beastly Down Air attack that spikes him and steals his stock at 26 percent.
Ledge-trapping is the best strategy
That kind of surprise strategy occasionally worked for Pink Fresh, but the most consistent way he racked up kills was by ledge-trapping with Byleth’s Side Smash. The lance attack has incredible range and a sweet spot at its tip that can kill at mid-percents if spaced perfectly, similar to some of Marth’s attacks but with greater range.
Instead of trying to edge-guard ZD by jumping off the level and trying to interrupt Wolf’s recovery, he patiently waited on stage for the exact moment ZD went to grab the ledge. Every character in Smash Ultimate is vulnerable for two frames when they’re snapping to the ledge, which Pink Fresh abused by placing long-lasting hitboxes right when ZD lunged for the stage.
He did it twice with his Side Smash and once with Down Air during his winner-side semifinals set against ZD. This technique requires precise timing, spacing, and familiarity with how your opponent recovers to the stage, but Pink Fresh has seemingly got an early hang on how to consistently pull it off with Byleth.
The real question then becomes whether or not he can pull off wins this consistently, and how pros might manage to counter these strategies using other characters. For now, Byleth seems like a total beast in the right hands.
Byleth is now available in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the Nintendo Switch.