Sixty-Forty #3: Sheik vs. Captain Falcon
Sat 14th Apr 2018 - 11:16am
For years, Melee players widely held that Falcon struggled significantly against Sheik, perhaps more so than against any other high-tiered character. And such players had good reason to think so; Sheik has excellent combo moves, dangerous edgeguarding options, and an overall oppressive neutral and ledge game which can shut down many of Falcon’s approaches and make him the subject to early kills, respectively. Add to these in-game threats the fact that, for much of Melee’s history, top Sheik mains like Mew2King have had little trouble dealing with Captain Falcon mains, and it is easy to see why this match-up has historically been viewed as a troublesome one for Captain Falcon.
However, the views of many began to change as Falcon mains such as n0ne, Wizzrobe, and S2J started taking sets off of notable Sheik players, including Mew2King himself. These players proved that Falcon can often do to Sheik the same things she does to him, boasting solid combo potential and reliable moves for getting in against Sheik. Of course, Falcon’s options tend to require a bit more commitment than Sheik’s, which is why this match-up is still in Sheik’s favor, even at the highest level. Nevertheless, Falcon has plenty of moves in his arsenal which, though sometimes risky, can do an excellent job dealing with and disposing of Sheik. In this article, I will analyze the ways in which top players tend to handle this match-up and determine each character’s best tools for fighting the other.
Sets Used for Research:
Sheik has a strong aerial approach in this match-up, as she can fall into Falcon with just about any of her aerials in order to start racking up damage (even up-air, although this is definitely the weirdest and most situational of her aerials to use as an approach tool). Her approach game grows stronger on stages with platforms, as she can mix platform drops/shield drops into her aerial approach. If she starts on the ground, a leaping neutral-air can be a decent approach option, and if she is trying to get off the ledge, back-air, forward-air, and an aerial needle throw can all be used to ensure a safe return to the stage.
Dash attack is a solid go-to as a grounded approach option as it covers a good amount of distance while also setting up for follow-ups. Sheik can wavedash in against Falcon and hit him with forward tilt or grab; conversely, she can simply dash in and boost grab. All of these options combine covering ground and dealing damage while setting up for further comboing.
Throwing out aerials like back-air, forward-air, and neutral-air allows Sheik to intercept Falcon’s approaches. In addition, Sheik can set up an easy approach by using neutral-air in the air, then falling into Captain Falcon should he position himself under her, thanks to the move’s long-lasting hitbox. Or if Sheik wishes not to wait for Falcon to come to her, she can jump back in neutral to bait an approach and then fall forward into Falcon with an aerial, making Falcon do the work of coming to her. On the flip side, Sheik can simply wavedash away from Falcon to play a sort of keep-away game, since Falcon struggles to make effective, noncommittal approaches.
Naturally, charging needles is a solid use of Sheik’s time in the neutral, and she can launch them in order to stop Falcon’s incoming attacks. An aerial needle charge can also make a good bait, as Sheik can cancel the charge into an aerial should Falcon try to punish her. If Sheik is feeling overwhelmed and needs to get away from Falcon, she can pretty safely run to the edge of the stage, dip below the ledge, and come back up with a back-air. If Falcon follows her to the ledge, he will be kicked away by Sheik’s back-air; he may not attempt to follow Sheik at all since Sheik is generally safer at the ledge than Falcon is. This being the case, Sheik can also stall at the ledge pretty safely in order to reset the neutral (of course, she’ll be extra safe is she Shino stalls). When on stage, forward tilt is a good anti-air which can bring Falcon’s approaches to a halt; up tilt can work similarly, though it is less optimal since only the second hit will stop Falcon before he gets to Sheik if he is approaching horizontally, making the proper timing a little weird.
If Sheik whiffs a move in the midst of one of her combos, it is good to spotdodge Falcon’s punish attempt, giving herself the opening to continue her own punish. On the flip side, if Sheik is being comboed by Falcon, she should seek to tech against the stage or a platform whenever plausible in order to throw off Falcon’s timing. And of course, Sheik should be ready to meteor cancel anytime she is vulnerable offstage, as Falcon has two meteor smashes in his down-air and his Side-B.
Grabbing is a solid go-to punish choice in this match-up, as Sheik has an incredibly strong grab game against Falcon. Depending on her positioning relative to the ledge, she can use either forward throw or back throw to force Falcon offstage, a position where Falcon struggles tremendously and where Sheik thrives against him. Up throw has some follow-up potential, although down throw is far superior as it can be used to set up shorter combo strings or complex tech chases. Sheik’s tech chases can be so brutal in this match-up as she has so many options for extending them, including jab, forward tilt, up tilt, down tilt, dash attack, up smash, neutral-air, back-air, and down-air, along with strong tech chase finishers in forward-air, up-air, and down smash (yes, I did just list almost all of Sheik’s moves; her tech chases can be incredibly diverse).
Sheik can use needles to rack up extra damage and to set up for crucial grabs. Similarly, Sheik’s jab can stop Falcon in his tracks and act as an additional tech chase initiator. Sheik can also start tech chases by forcing Falcon into knockdown off of a down tilt (hopefully you’ve noticed that tech chases are really important in Sheik’s punish game against Falcon). Sheik’s forward tilt has a plethora of uses, such as forcing Falcon off the stage, granting Sheik favorable stage positioning, applying shield pressure or punishing Falcon’s attempt to leap out of shield, and even setting up for kill moves, making it a valuable punish tool.
Whether Sheik throws it out raw or combos into it after a down throw or forward tilt, forward-air is one of her most effective kill moves. This move is particularly effective if Sheik uses it to catch Falcon out of his jump near the ledge, since he will be unable to Amsah tech the attack if he is already in the air when he is hit. In order to avoid becoming predictable with her punishes, as Sheik will admittedly be relying on this move to get a lot of her kills, it is good for Sheik to mix up her timing, waiting for different lengths of time after her jump before throwing out the forward-air. Up-air is a strong punish option anytime Falcon is above Sheik, and it is particularly useful for reading Falcon’s attempt to jump out of Sheik’s combos. Up-air, along with back-air, can also be used to punish Falcon for waiting at the ledge while Sheik is trying to recover from below the ledge.
Here we reach what is perhaps Sheik’s greatest strength in the match-up; her incredibly strong edgeguarding tools, which seem perfectly designed to combat Falcon’s rather linear recovery. Unless Falcon is high enough to do some sort of mix-up in his recovery, Sheik can rather easily follow his Up-B and hit him back off the stage. Once he is below the ledge, it often only takes a simple edgehog to take away his stock. Of course, Sheik has a plentiful supply of other strong options for keeping Captain Falcon offstage. If Falcon does land on the stage after Sheik has grabbed the ledge, she can punish him with down-air, forward-air, or grab into immediate back throw.
In general, back-air is a solid choice for intercepting Falcon’s recovery and keeping him from landing on the stage. Forward-air can work similarly, with the added benefit of having a lot of kill power off the side. Sheik can also edgeguard Falcon with neutral-air, either by dropping below the ledge and then rising with the attack, or by initiating the attack and then falling into Falcon. Needles are great for eating Falcon’s jump. If she uses needles to get rid of Falcon’s first jump she can then set up another edgeguard move in the time that Falcon is stunned. If she can get rid of his second jump, then he is basically finished already.
Down smash at the edge is a strong option which can send Falcon rocketing back off the stage. Forward smash can also do this, though only if Sheik is positioned away from the edge and Falcon lands on the stage in front of her. Sheik can execute a dash attack at the edge to potentially eat Falcon’s jump, making it another solid option for keeping Falcon off the stage.
Stage choice is not quite as crucial in this match-up as it is in some others. Sheik does perform well on Fountain of Dreams, as the platform heights allow for easy up tilt and forward tilt combos, and Sheik can wall jump here, allowing for easier recoveries (especially if Sheik fends off Falcon with a wall jump to back-air). In addition, the odd platform heights on FoD can interfere with Falcon’s aerial combos, and Falcon is especially susceptible when he is above Sheik on this stage. Beyond this, stage choice is largely up to personal preference for Sheik.
Final Destination is a bit of a double-edged sword for Sheik. While her approach is a little more difficult on FD, her neutral benefits greatly, as her needles become incredibly effective at controlling the ground space and she is often able to force Falcon into the air. In addition, Falcon struggles to retreat from Sheik’s tech chases here, and he is unable to mix-up his recovery without any platforms to land on. The platforms on the neutral version of Pokémon Stadium can be helpful when Sheik is tech chasing, and she can occasionally employ some shenanigans with her Chain on Stadium’s transformations.
Sheik lives a little longer on Dream Land since Falcon relies a little bit more on non-edgeguard kills. Still, Sheik enjoys the early down throw to forward-air kill confirms she gets on Yoshi’s Story. Sheik practically gains and loses nothing by going to Battlefield, making it a typical starter choice. In general, Sheik’s pick between these three stages will come down to how much space Sheik feels she needs and how she plans on getting her kills.
Generally, Falcon doesn’t have a terribly difficult time approaching Sheik, especially when platforms are available to him. Falcon can either leap towards Sheik or fall into her with any of his aerials in order to approach (when falling, it is good to make use of shield drops on stages with platforms). When coming off of the ledge, neutral-air is typically his go-to approach option. Raptor Boost is also good when coming from the edge of the stage, as it covers a good amount of distance and can be useful for setting up tech chases. Because of Falcon’s fast run speed, he can often afford to dash right in with a raw grab. He can also set up a grab by approaching with an empty hop.
Throwing out neutral-air in the neutral is a good way to catch Sheik’s approach, specifically if Falcon starts at a medium height and then fast falls onto Sheik if she comes in for an approach. Because of his superior speed, Falcon should try to stay moving at all times, and dash dancing is a good way to do so as he waits for proper openings to attack Sheik. He should also traverse platforms whenever possible, giving himself the opportunity to drop down on Sheik. As a bait, Falcon can dash in and then jump back, putting himself in a good position to punish Sheik with his strong aerials. Falcon can also bait Sheik towards him by Hax dashing at the ledge (although baiting Sheik towards him while he’s at the edge of the stage can be a dangerous wager).
Falcon should periodically shield in neutral and be prepared to grab out of shield after blocking Sheik’s attack. Crouching is another smart defensive tactic in the neutral, as he may be able to crouch cancel Sheik’s hits and get an easy punish. Falcon can also empty hop in neutral to bait a punishable move from Sheik. Though Falcon doesn’t have a great way of dealing with Sheik’s needles, he should at least space outside of her tilts before making his approaches.
Falcon has a quite a few solid defensive options for escaping Sheik’s combos and surviving her kill attempts. Whenever possible, Falcon should either SDI or simply jump out of Sheik’s combos. Air dodge can be used to get out of Sheik’s onstage combos, and if Falcon is being pressured at the ledge, he can try to roll towards center stage. If Falcon can read (or even react to) Sheik’s approach, he can jump behind her in order to punish her. And if Falcon is hit by Sheik’s forward-air, he should attempt to Amsah tech in order to survive.
All of Captain Falcon’s aerials can be useful tools for punishing Sheik. Falcon’s forward-air is one of his most notorious punish options against any character; against Sheik it can be used as a combo option, a kill move, or merely a means of gaining preferable stage positioning. Up-air is another option which has a lot of utility. It can combo and kill at high percents, like Falcon’s forward-air. In addition, Falcon can pull of unique conversions by L-cancelling this move and following up with another attack, delaying the hit, or even hitting with the back end of the hitbox. Down-air can act as a combo starter and is good for falling onto a Sheik who is trying to approach Falcon vertically. Back-air tends to force Sheik offstage and is a good option out of down throw or up throw, while neutral-air is a combo tool which can be cancelled into a grab or another move.
If Falcon can land a grab, he will typically start combos by using either up throw or down throw. Down throw can also be used to start tech chases. While Falcon’s quick dash speed allows him to tech chase rather effectively, his tech chases on Sheik are very grab-centric, with forward-air and down-air being his only other viable tech chase tools. As a result, his tech chases tend to be more difficult to execute, less diverse, and shorter than Sheik’s. Dash dancing is helpful for reaction tech chases, as it keeps Falcon moving and allows him to more properly follow Sheik’s movements.
Jab is another move frequently employed in Falcon’s punish game against Sheik. He can use it to start combos, to jab reset in the middle of his combos or tech chases in order to keep them going, to stop Sheik in her tracks and thereby reset the neutral, and even to push Sheik offstage if he can land the Gentleman hit. Down tilt works in sort of the same vein, helping to start combo strings at low percents and resetting the neutral at high percents. Dash attack is another option for forcing Sheik to the ledge; down smash and forward smash, though rather situational, can do the same, while also acting as potential kill moves.
By grabbing the ledge and forcing Sheik to land onstage, Falcon leaves Sheik vulnerable to numerous punish options, including forward-air, down-air, falling up-air, or even back-air if Falcon leaps ahead of Sheik instead of attacking directly after coming off of the ledge. Falcon gets a lot of his edgeguards with falling back-airs. Forward-air is also useful for edgeguarding Sheik, whether it be in the form of a weak knee into up-air, a reverse knee, or a dropzone knee offstage. Down-air at the ledge, though sometimes tricky to time correctly, is incredibly rewarding if Sheik fails to meteor cancel. It can also be used to meteor smash a Sheik who challenges Falcon aggressively at the ledge, giving Falcon at least one tool to counter the ledgeplay which Sheik typically excels at.
Up tilt, forward tilt, and down tilt can all be used by Falcon in different situations to push/keep Sheik off of the stage. Dash attack, if timed correctly, can be used to catch Sheik right at the ledge and force her far offstage, often without a jump. Edgeguarding can sometimes be dangerous for Falcon because of his lackluster recovery. As a result, when edgeguarding offstage, Falcon should know when it is best to use his second jump to go for a second hit on Sheik, and when it is best to jump towards the stage in order to recover.
Falcon can make do on any of the legal stages, so the playstyle of the individual Falcon player is key when it comes to determining stage choice. Falcon can traverse Battlefield’s platforms solidly and the platforms allow him to mix up his recovery, besides which, the stage is overall neutral. Though Fountain of Dreams is typically held to be Falcon’s worst stage, there are actually quite a few benefits he gains from the stage. His down-air can hit Sheik from above FoD’s small platforms, making it a devastating and often unexpected combo starter. In addition, the ability to wall jump aids in his recovery, as do the close platforms on which Falcon can edge cancel his Up-B’s. He is also able to control the air space quite well due to how close together everything on the stage is.
In addition to the recovery mix-ups granted by every triple platform stage, Dream Land gives Falcon a lot of room to run around, making it somewhat more difficult for Sheik to predict his approach and catch him. The potency of Falcon’s down-air gives him an edge over Sheik on Pokémon Stadium’s transformations, while the positioning of the platforms on the neutral form of the stage allow Falcon to more easily incorporate edge cancels into his punish game and approach.
Yoshi’s Story obviously gifts Falcon with wall jump recoveries and early kills, as well as platforms which greatly contribute to Falcon’s combos. Final Destination is a more complicated pick. While Falcon can struggle to get in against Sheik, Sheik struggles to approach as well. Sheik is unable to mix up her recovery on FD (although Falcon is also unable to do so). Falcon does have a lot of space to run around though, meaning both Falcon and Sheik have boosts to their neutral that are somewhat negated by nerfs to their approach and punish game on this stage.
Perhaps the reason that Falcon mains have struggled for so long in this match-up is that, though Sheik and Falcon theoretically have equally viable tools for combating one another, it is easier to mess up as Falcon than as Sheik. While Falcon has solid tech chases, it is easy to make an incorrect read or miss a reaction and mess up the whole sequence. While Falcon can solidly edgeguard Sheik, he can be edgeguarded even harder if Sheik turns the situation around. While Falcon is good at getting in against Sheik and racking up damage, getting grabbed just once could result in his demise.
With a combination of near perfect play from Captain Falcon, and perhaps some noticeably imperfect play from Sheik, this match-up is not too bad. However, Sheik’s oppressive neutral tools, calculated punish options, and simplistic edgeguards all make this match-up nightmarish if Sheik is playing at her fullest potential. Though the growing success of top Falcon mains in this match-up does give us reason to doubt Sheik’s dominance, the slight superiority which Sheik boasts in just about every aspect makes this match-up rather difficult for the typical Falcon.
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