Watching Puff Matches
Some foundational things that you can think/talk about watching puff:
1) Hbox is far and away the best Puff. Why is this?
The real, practical reason is that hbox’s high-level experience is insane. He’s been at the tippy top of the game getting more and more top-level experience at every opportunity for a decade. The tournament grind is first nature to him and he’s turned into an incredible competitor. Neither can be understated. No other puff is in the same dimension or will be for a long time. Every puff that has come close to top level with the exception of Mango (who obviously switched chars) has had to take breaks/steps back in order to pursue irl goals to the extent that the majority are at least semi-retired (including King, Abu, Soft, Tekk, Darc and 4%). As such, it’s not surprising for hungrybox to continue on and for other puffs to stagnate as that experience gap widens rather than closes.
Second, the player pool of puffs is small. This is likely due to a combination of how weird/subtle puff is compared to other characters, and frankly how mean individuals can be to new puff players. It takes some resilience to continue to play at all let alone play puff in what is not universally but can locally be an unfriendly environment. If less people play puff than falco then of course there are less high level puffs than falcos.
Thirdly, the fox matchup has a super high learning curve and is very trying. There have been tournaments in which I’ve lost to the first two foxes I’ve run into. As such, it’s to be expected for puffs to fall out of bracket earlier if they have consistency problems against the most popular character. I firmly believe, and our experience shows, that it’s not a terrible MU for puff, but it is an intense hurdle. More on this later.
Lastly, this year we have the super new faces in Legend and 2Saint rounding out top 100, but the experience/opportunity gap is even wider for new puffs. That gap is their primary barrier. It can be overcome, but it would take an extreme learning-trajectory. Enter: a barrier. Hbox has ALWAYS actively refused to spread his game-knowledge, so it’s fair to say that jigglypuff players have traditionally had absolutely pitiful learning resources. It’s been my goal to remedy this, and thankfully due to the move from smashboards to chats, the advent of 20xx/netplay, my blog/organization, and what other privileges that we broadly enjoy in 2018, hbox’s self-interest is no longer a meaningful barrier to the spread of high-level information. However, it was for long enough to make a big difference, and ultimately in order to close that incredible experience gap, new school puffs will have to make much smarter use of the new tools than the old-school players have or will.
2) What makes Puff unique? What makes her standard?
All characters are unique in some way, largely determined by their individual mobility. Many characters use their dash dance to space and play footsies horizontally. Other characters (think sheik/fox) use their FH to weave around an opponent vertically. Puff is interesting because she doesn’t exactly have either. Instead she has a weird hybrid between horizontal/vertical. Think about that for a second. Her mobility isn’t good enough to actually dash dance in the air, but it’s exactly good enough to space precisely around things (with prediction/reaction) horizontally in the air while slowly floating up or down. It’s a little weird to say, but puff’s neutral is like sheik’s FH turned sideways. Now, when you combine this with the multiple jumps, you get slow but extremely dynamic movement. It’s very interesting.
Puff has a few additional qualities that combine with her mobility in an interesting way.
First, she’s light. That makes her difficult to combo but easy to pop. Every character’s goal is to pop the balloon. Second, her ground speed is garbage. That paints a target on every single land she does. That being said, she can protect her landing spot with her amazing aerials or even with her deceptive crouch. And she has to do this in an unpredictable way or she gets popped. Third, she has multiple jumps. That means that she can go off stage with low risk. Yeah, that gives her extra edgeguarding tools, but more importantly having multiple jumps changes the dynamics of the corner. Because she can’t be bullied off the stage, the advantage of having stage control vs puff is not to edgeguard her, but to remove her capacity to land safely. Often times people feel like a defensive puff is giving them an obstacle course, that they have to dodge a bunch of safe bairs to get to the balloon. While that can be true it’s only half of the truth. Every time puff commits to a zoning aerial she has to fade away to keep it safe. And every time she fades away she gives up that much more landing space. If you punish her safe aerials indirectly, by pushing her into the corner or up in to the sky with an exposed belly, you’re actively narrowing down her landing range, and that much closer to sticking a nail in the balloon. And of course, if she moves forward instead of backwards then that drift is punishable (primarily OoS or vertically). Perceiving this task is of course the first step to completing it.
So what you end up with is a character that’s exceptionally flexible/slippery but that lives on a timer. A lot of the time her opponent can attack her indirectly by attacking her timer. Then… POP! That’s really interesting, especially in such an “accidentally good” game.
Puff epitomizes risk reward. As a general principle, higher reward plays in melee generally need a higher risk launcher or read to get started. In rest, we see this in the extreme. Rest brings a new level of dynamism by introducing the ultimate reward attached to the ultimate risk. In context, puff’s punish game gets rounded out with nasty deterrents ("Grab this crouch, I dare you.") as well as incredible rewards to risky reads, all attached to explicitly high stakes. This creates a palpable tension that would not otherwise be there and an incentive for both players to stay one step ahead. Yeah that’s hella stressful but it’s also hella cool.
Besides rest puff’s punish game is very standard. She has combos that require reactions to DI/techs, some that require reads on double jumps, etc. She can optimize her combos with move choice (pay attention in particular to when she uses upair and soft fair) and edgecancels. It can be lackluster, but it should be mentioned that even in those cases she can effectively apply the same incremental method used to punish her own jumps to steal stage away and anticipate a harder punish in the following exchange. This isn’t unusual in melee.
Puff’s punish game combines with her aerial-based neutral to create an extremely dynamic character with a wide range of potential. Just like fox, falco, or any other character she can play hot or she can play cold. She has rock, paper, and scissors.* As a result of all of this, Jigglypuff emphasizes adaptation. In this game, controlling the pace of the game, recognizing patterns, and seizing opportunities is essential to winning. I think it’s gratifying to see this principle play out so explicitly with this character.
* A while ago S0ft said “if you’re playing rock paper scissors, always attacking with scissors isn’t cool or aggressive, it’s stupid.” You have to use rock and paper to make scissors effective. I think that spectators forget that.
3) Some Puff vs Fox notes
• Watch how she (protects her) lands and how fox responds. This is foundational.
• Is fox lasering? If so, what is the reason? Is he doing it for damage or for incentive to move?
• Watch how fox uses his FHs. Is he trying to escape or is he trying to threaten her vertically? (This is also an opportunity for puff to read the FH and upair it. Generally, FH upairs are reads.)
• Look at how she uses the side platform as if it was a FH. She can now descend unpredictably!
• Is puff drifting forward during her ascents? Her descents? Both? Why is this?
• When puff stays farther away than 1/3rd BF she’s trying to react. When she goes inside this range she’s trying to predict. Watch how both players dance around this invisible line.
• Look at what she does differently when fox is under 40 vs over 40 (bair knockdown %).
• Look at what both characters do as she approaches her % landmarks. (50s=upthrow upair, 70s=jab upsmash, 90s=upthrow upair goes away)
• If Fox CCs bair then he is +9 minimum. That’s a free grab. But it’s harder for him to react to an empty land.
• Part of what makes this MU difficult for puff, particularly for non-hbox, is that fox’s horizontal speed is just barely manageable. Think about it this way; because grounded puff sucks she wants to jump or WD out of fox’s way to avoid an attack. That means she has to go through jumpsquat. That means she has to press jump 6 frames earlier than you even begin moving. Switching a drift direction takes a similar amount of time. In order to properly react to Fox’s movement, you have to be playing on point. If you aren’t focused enough to interpret and react on time then the MU gets so hard so fast. It’s a fine line that depends on good preparation, good execution, and above all a good mentality. That’s illuminating, no? As a direct result of the reaction speed required to maintain good positions, a good mentality is a prerequisite to playing this MU well. It’s not just maintaining your will to win, it’s maintaining a very high baseline task-focus required to get certain openings in neutral. That’s pretty cool!