Normally I like writing about the more fun parts of the Melee community. I enjoy the storylines of the top players, the glitz and glamour and the larger-than-life aspects that make Melee much more than a hobby we all do for fun. With how much time every serious Melee player invests in this game, I enjoy depicting the struggles that go beyond the banal routine of daily life. In short, I enjoy making Melee seem important. However, when I set the proverbial pen down and step away from stories and tales, I do the same thing many of the rest of you do: pick up the sticks and figure out how to get better at this game.
To that end, today I’ll be focusing on a full read-out of Falco’s options on an opponent’s shield. I want to examine exactly what the bird is capable of from his ideal distance, one approaching Short Hop (SH) away as seen below.
In order to fully appreciate Falco’s on-shield game, I’ll be going into the nitty, gritty details. I’ll be using frame charts where applicable and discussing high-level theory. This isn’t going to be a piece for the casual observer of Melee, this is a piece for Falco mains (and those playing against one) to aid in understanding exactly how Falco’s offense works and where its limits are. To start, I’ll be dumping a lot of relevant information here and referring back to it later.
Aerial Frame Clock
Grounded Frame Clock
Doubleshine Frame Clock
Shinegrab/Upsmash Frame Clock
Landing lag begins
Last frame of normal landing lag
Earliest grab/upsmash input
Airborne, earliest Nair/Dair/Laser Input
Last frame of Nair landing lag
Last frame of Dair landing lag
Airborne, earliest shine input
Earliest Nair comes out
Earliest Dair comes out
Latest Laser input
Earliest Laser comes out
Fatest SHFF landing lag begins
Latest Dair input
Latest Nair input
Latest Dair/Nair/Laser comes out
Latest SH landing lag begins
List of relevant out of shield options:
Frame 2: All spotdodges are invincible
Frame 4: All rolls are invincible, Fox Shine, Doc Up-B, DK Up-B, Mario Up-B
Frame 5: Samus Up-B
Frame 6: Falco Shine, Puff Rest, Sheik Nair, Marth Up-B, Bowser Up-B, Pika Nair/Upair
Frame 7: Fox Nair/Bair, Luigi Nair, Sheik Bair, Doc Nair, Peach Up-B, Pika Bair, Fox/Falco/Luigi/Sheik/Doc/Mario/Marth/Falcon/Peach/Puff/Ganon/ICs/Pika Grab
Frame 8: Samus Nair, Fox Up-smash, Falco Up-smash, Sheik Fair, Marth Fair, Peach Nair, Puff Up-smash
Frame 9: Link Up-B, Falco Nair/Bair, Pikachu Up-smash
Falco’s Shieldstun while fully unstaled:
Shine: 5 frames
Strong Dair/Nair: 7 frames
Weak Dair/Nair: 6 frames
Laser: 3 frames
Let’s get started. For the sake of this discussion, we are assuming that the opponent will shield when you jump towards them because they have been conditioned to. What that does not say is that they will stay in shield for the duration of Falco’s offensive play, and it’s there that we must start.
Falco’s options on approach:
- Shoot a laser
- Throw out an attack (an aerial or shine)
- Tomahawk into a ground option, the most popular being shine or a dash backwards
The Laser Approach
When the opponent is shielding, the laser covers Falco’s approach but doesn’t actually open the opponent up unless the opponent tries to act. Laser would catch the opponent out of a jump or in an attempt to wavedash in and out of shield. Notice, however, that the laser would only be effective in doing this if the opponent was attempting to preempt Falco’s approach. If the opponent is waiting to react to something hitting their shield, then laser actually becomes the worst of the three approach options. Laser only puts the opponent into 3 frames of shieldstun, which means that the Falco would have to fire the latest, lowest possible laser in order to have a chance of punishing the opponent’s choice of move. In such a case, the quickest possible followup (shine) would still be too slow to cover the opponent doing a buffered spotdodge. So while laser does do a good job of covering and stuffing many attempts to act out of shield, it is reliant upon the opponent attempting to move before the laser hits their shield.
Thus, the pros and cons are:
+ Covers many movement options out of shield
- The worst option to actually hit the opponent’s shield, can be powershielded
The Aerial Approach
Before we can really understand when one should approach with aerials, we need to go back and address a significant question: why would you approach an opponent who will shield at the sight of an approach? Most importantly, we must recognize that shielding puts a character into a limited state of play. At the top level Melee is primarily based around movement, and so by shielding a player cuts away at their ability to move freely and at will. Getting an opponent in shield is great, but only if you punish them for putting themselves in that position, which is a tricky prospect. Out of shield options are fast, and many lead into combos or kills depending on percent. This means that a player should be looking to do one of two things when an opponent shields: either punish them for acting out of their shield, or punish them for sitting in their shield too long. The former is accomplished by reading, covering, or reacting to out of shield options, and the latter can be accomplished by either grabbing the opponent or whittling down their shield health until you can earn a shield stab.
The dichotomy in the latter goal separates Falco from his other top-tier companions. Fox, Marth, and Sheik all stand greatly to benefit from grabbing an opponent; against almost every character, those three can do something deadly off of a grab regardless of DI or percent. The risk/reward is so skewed towards grab that shield stabs actually become suboptimal for them by comparison. Falco does not have this luxury; all of his throws are DI-dependent, meaning if Falco is unable to condition the opponent into behaving a certain way once they’re thrown, he will be forced to make a hard read in order to capitalize. This means that grab becomes a conditional tool rather than a guaranteed kill or combo setup, and that means the ultimate goal of Falco’s approaches should not be to land a grab. Rather, Falco must fully balance the threat of shield stabs, grabs, and punishing out of shield options in order to take complete advantage of his offensive options.
Next, let’s move on to raw attacks in midair as an approach. For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to ignore the strange and suboptimal mixups, such as approaching SH Upair or two-hit Fair. They have niche uses, but more often than not they are suboptimal and should be replaced with our main attack options: Nair and Dair. We’ll cover shine as an approach in a short while. Nair and Dair are Falco’s best aerial approaches, and they each have different, important purposes. Dair breaks crouch cancelling and ASDI down, but has a couple extra frames of landing lag and is narrower, meaning that it’s more difficult to hit low on an opponent’s shield. Moreover, at low %s the opponent can jump into the dair and be free to act the moment they return to the ground, while Falco is still in landing lag. By contrast, Nair is dangerous to use against an opponent who is holding down, as even the strong Nair can be punished up to 60% by some top-tier characters. The tradeoff is that the horizontal hitbox and shorter landing lag make it significantly less risky to use on an opponent’s shield, and also pops aerial opponents slightly upwards which opens them up to combo opportunities.
It is here then, that we learn the uses of approaching with Nairs and Dairs. They accomplish a similar purpose as lasers; namely, disincentivizing actions out of shield, but they also carry a much higher reward if successfully landed. The risk of trying to act against an approaching aerial is high; failure to time or space perfectly might lead to being comboed or losing a stock. Furthermore, if either aerial hits the opponent’s shield, they will be stuck in more stun than against a laser, allowing enough time to shine and continue the offensive play. They will do more shield damage than a laser would, and so with prolonged offensive plays shield stabs become more of a possibility. The longer the play drags out, the smaller the shield gets, and if it’s at the point where the defender’s hurtboxes are exposed, stabbing their shield with either aerial is significantly more rewarding than stabbing them with a laser.
The downsides of an aerial approach are that it does not cover the preemptive movement options that laser does, and in fact many opponents will be looking to whiff punish aerials that do not advance deeply enough. In addition to struggling against movement options, percentage plays a huge factor in aerial approaches. Jumping out of shield against a low-percent dair in a Falco ditto is one of the best ways to earn a counter shine, and at lower percents, simply dropping shield and aiming to CC or asdi-down into an approaching Nair can net a huge reward off of relatively small risk. Moreover, whereas lasers allow you to autocancel on landing, providing you with enough time to retreat from an attempted out of shield option, aerials are forced into extra landing lag. If the opponent is looking to whiff punish an expected aerial approach, and you are factoring hitstun into your timing on your L-cancel (which you then subsequently miss), the opponent could get 18 frames (Dair with a blown L-cancel) to act. For reference, that’s enough time for almost every move in the game to punish.
Thus, we are given the pros and cons of aerial approaches:
+ Safe on shield, high reward on hits and shield stabs, risky to challenge
- Loses to movement (whiff punishing), more strict execution dependant on shield angling, size, etc., can be countered with crafty defensive play such as jumps or asdi-down.
As a caveat, approaching with shines is preferable in certain matchups (ICs being the most notable) but incorporates a natural downside: Falco must burn his second jump when he shines in midair. If the attacker’s platform movement is crispy and refined, this allows Falco to play hit-and-run tactics, wherein he approaches, confirms whether the shine is hitting the opponent or their shield, and then jumps to the ground or double jumps to get out of harm’s way. The biggest, most obvious benefit of this is that landing a shine is the surest way to get the best combo possible out of a situation; shine is the fastest move in the game and with good movement is very safe. Burning one’s double jump may, however, not be worth it in the end.
Opponents who angle their shields towards your approach force you to either attack their shield and risk failure, or to focus on the first method of punishing shield: punishing their out of shield option. This is where the tomahawk, or empty land, comes into play.
There are three main, important options out of a tomahawk:
Tomahawk grab punishes the opponent for holding shield on sight of an approach
Tomahawk shine punishes the opponent who tries to act once Falco has landed rather than waiting until he attacks their shield
Tomahawk dash covers both the opponent who tries attacking out of shield as well as one who tries moving.
Bonus: Tomahawk waveland can also take advantage of opponent with predictable and unsafe out of shield options, such as shield grab. As an example, Tomahawk waveland-back Fsmash is a high risk, high reward option that can kill an opponent early if you earn the correct read.
As you’ve probably already guessed, the biggest drawback of tomahawks is that they are ludicrously unsafe against preemptive attacks. Tomahawking against a Marth player who shields and then puts out a SH Fair when you approach is a fast way to lose a stock, and this says nothing about the damage spacies can do if given that opening. Tomahawks are dangerous as approach options...however this is paradoxically why they are so useful. If you condition your opponent to shield by approaching with lasers and safe aerials, and do not attempt to bait out or punish their out of shield options, then competent players will understand that they have nothing to fear by waiting in shield when you approach. However, this means that they are waiting for something which won’t come; a tomahawk in this instance will punish them for assuming they have a read on your habits, and may lead to a guaranteed combo starter or kill move. Tomahawks are thus high risk, high reward, but they are a necessary part of Falco’s mixup game on an opponent’s shield.
Their pros and cons then, are:
+ Disrupts opponent’s pattern recognition, can lead to a guaranteed and deadly punish
- Extremely unsafe on approach, must condition the opponent to wait in shield to be successful
Thus, we have our basic, 60-thousand-foot view of the rock-paper-scissors game of Falco’s approach. Approaching with a laser negates preemptive movement out of shield, but loses to waiting in shield for the hit or preemptive attacks out of shield. Approaching with aerials generally beats preemptive attacks out of shield, but requires tighter execution and generally loses to movement out of shield. Tomahawks lose hard against preemptive attacks out of shield, but win hard against movement out of shield or sitting in shield for too long.
To be fair, this view ignores many, many micro interactions that take place within each attack. Lasers can be powershielded or can become unsafe even when hitting an opponent, aerials can be stuffed by preemptive out of shield attacks if the opponent has the correct read and execution, and tomahawks are totally dependent on conditioning and understanding one’s opponent...something which isn’t what you’d call an exact science. However, a basic view is sufficient enough to understand what is and isn’t working in a given situation, and should provide the framework for understanding those nuances on your own. Next I want to look into what happens once Falco has closed the gap and can continue his assault at the point-blank range.
Part 2 - After the Shine can be found here