Q&A with Taj: The greatest Mewtwo, an underrated Marth, and a hidden boss that stays humble

Tony "Taj" Jackson is a Super Smash Bros. Melee player famously known for his Mewtwo.  In his heyday, he was recognized for his Cinderella run through GENESIS 2 on Marth, taking games off PPMD, Hax, MacD, and Mango to ultimately claim third place. 

These days, Taj is not as active in the competitive scene, playing mostly for the love of the game, but that doesn't mean he has gotten rusty. We sat down with the legendary Smash player to discuss his big wins against Top 100 players with his signature Mewtwo and Marth (and his lesser-known Link and Samus).

We explored why Taj may be considered a "hidden boss" of SSBMRank and discussed whether or not he will make a comeback, as well as got his opinion on Smash Ultimate and other Smash-like platform fighters.


You're famous for your Mewtwo, but do you feel your Marth is underrated?

I feel like when I was active, my Marth was definitely underrated. I've been kinda conflicted about the perceptions of my Marth and other characters over the years. But overall, my Marth just never really had as much screen time, so only the people that grinded sets with me really saw how much work I put in with Marth and Mewtwo.

On occasion, players like M2K reach out to me for advice on how to beat Falco and Ice Climbers (usually after he loses). I don't get too many people reaching out, though.


You've taken games off Medz (ranked 55th in 2017) with Marth, so it seems your Marth is still being underrated.

There aren't too many high profile recorded wins in the past two years due to inactivity. I think my biggest wins in tournament were against Colbol and a local against MedzMedz usually beats me.


Taj (Black Marth) vs Medz (Fox)


Your win against Colbol (ranked 25th in 2016) shows you're still the best at Mewtwo as well.

My Mewtwo is iffy nowadays, compared to Zoma and Leffen.

The Big House 6 - Taj vs. Colbol

Talk to me about your run with Young Link at Paragon Los Angeles 2015.  

Axe is more known for Young Link. The SSBWiki page is incorrect on that, I actually played Link. 

I wasn't entered at first, I took over Germ's spot since he couldn't make it. I played from start to finish, so I had permission from both him and the tournament organizers. I played Link in honor of him. I also went Captain Falcon when I was really drunk, haha. I didn't take the tourney seriously.

There's no recorded footage of my Link at Paragon, but there should be a few sets of my Link vs. Tai.


You managed to beat Tai (Ranked 90th in 2015) with Link and Dr. Mario; you have a lot of wins against Top 100 players. When was the last time you were ranked?

I was last ranked in 2013. I haven't been ranked due to inactivity. I often get hidden boss status or honorable mentions.

Taj (Link) vs Tai (Marth)

Any other surprise character picks we should know about?

Yes, I actually play a lot more Samus over Dr. Mario in tournament and friendlies.  I don't think I've ever busted her out for any high profile out-of-state tournaments.  Just vs. Tai and Axe.


Taj's Samus vs. Tai, who was ranked 80th in 2017.


Were there other games you were playing competitively?

I was a World of Warcraft FIEND. I didn't have too many tangible accomplishments, but some include running Rogue/Warrior (2v2 arena) to 2200 rating in Season 3. Also reaching Gladiator as the second highest Rogue/Warlock 2v2 rating in Battlegroup: Bloodlust. I also reached Gladiator rating in 3v3 Arena (Season 3) with Rogue/Rogue/Mage in a single night.

In Season 7 of Arena, I reached #1 double DPS, as Rogue/Mage for a good period of time until I got bored of teams that were dodging and selective queueing, and crashed the rating back down.

At BlizzCon fan events and tournaments, I've won against pro teams at the booths a couple of years and were runner-ups to Rank 1 players the last year I attended.

▲ Taj taking 1st at a 3v3 Arena open fan tournament at BlizzCon 2008.


There aren't any other games where I was certain I was top .01%, but I've played League of Legends to Diamond level and I like to think I was REALLY good at this obscure game called Mighty! Pang.


Is it safe to say you played WoW during your Melee inactivity?

I actually stopped playing WoW and SSBM competitively around the same time. I quit WoW during the first season of Wrath of the Lich King. Then I quit WoW again shortly after Cataclysm was released. I didn't play WoW again for several years until halfway through Legion.

If anything, WoW definitely dipped into my Melee practice time, but it wasn't why I quit.


In a different universe, do you feel you could have made it further with Melee if you went all in and got a sponsorship?

That's the dream, isn't it? I always wonder what it would be like if I had more resources to play, if I Iived somewhere else, or if I was born at a different time. If certain conditions were met... I probably would still be more active and maybe in the Top 50 range of the current competitors.

I absolutely do think that if I had more opportunities to travel, compete, and reflect on my performances, I would be a stronger player. Much of my success came from my own theory and athleticism. When I did get to play other top players, I improved dramatically after each tournament and set.


"Melee used to just be a bunch of friends cramming into a house and competing next to each other. Now, dedicated venues are pretty much mandatory,"


Have you ever considered an anaylst/coaching position? Or commentator?

I really enjoyed commentating, and I have talked to a few players about potentially being a coach, but it doesn't look like that is going to be a reality. It is definitely a path I would gladly take should the opportunities present themselves.


Do you feel Smash commentary styles have evolved now, compared to 5-10+ years ago? What are the pros and cons of it?

Commentary has definitely changed. We are all growing up, and the events have changed with us. We have large events and a wider audience. Expectations have varied so much. A vocal part of the community wants that same raw commentary with no filter. But the greater audience and producers of our events want to cater to the general audience.

Finding the balance that keeps our roots and while building our professionalism is the challenge. I think our scene is doing a good job at improving and reaching that balance. 


HMW commentating on Taj vs. Mango at GENESIS 2 (2011).


As for pros and cons, the pros are that we get more sponsors, support, and reach to a broader audience. The cons, are the limitations of what we can say and do on commentary. The greater appeal to the masses outweighs the louder loyalists. Melee used to just be a bunch of friends cramming into a house and competing next to each other. Now, dedicated venues are pretty much mandatory. There isn't anything wrong with this, it's just the evolution of our game as an esport.


You're still playing Melee here and there, but have you considered making a full-time comeback?  What would make you consider it if not?

I have considered coming back, and I enter some tournaments on a whim.  It is highly unlikely that I will comeback full-time.  I would need to either be so consistently good that I can sustain myself, or be popular enough to have enough people support my endeavor. 

I don't quite have the charisma for the latter, and the former is hard to do unless I go back to my 2006 Melee grinding, which is really hard to do nowadays.  I really love this game, and I'm at least still happy being a lurker and seeing my friends still killing it at the tournaments as players, commentators, TOs, etc.


What are your thoughts on Smash-like platform fighters?

I haven't played the other platform fighters yet, sadly. I never really felt interested in them. The exception was Icons, because of the people working on it. I liked Icons and I thought it had potential. It did have problems, but it was still early access and they had a target audience in mind. I'm sad that people were less open about the game's possibilities, but I hope it doesn't stop anyone from making the spiritual Melee successor that I and many others want.


▲ Taj's Smash-like platform fighter of choice is Icons: Combat Arena.


I think we all love Melee for a lot of different reasons. And I think that shows in a lot of the average person's criticisms. They don't like the Melee-inspired or Melee-echoed characters. For me, I don't mind them and I thought there was enough flair to make them distinct. 

But this is why people seem to really like Rivals of Aether and Slap City, though. They have mechanics that are noticebly different than a lot of the Smash games while maintaining a lot of the spirit. I'm ok with this as well, but Melee is so beautiful that I personally want more of it in particular, not just Smash games. Project M was cool, but even that didn't grab me enough to pull me from Melee. Whatever mad scientist pulls this off will have my 100% support.


Any thoughts on Smash Ultimate?

To me, Ultimate is like an updated version of Smash 4, which is closer to Brawl than Melee. I like those games, but they don't keep me playing like Melee does. Ultimate has some interesting changes that are splitting their community a bit. To me, it's not much different than the ledge trumping vs. edgehogging changes we saw in the previous versions. 

But no dash through is a really interesting change. On the surface, I don't like it because that was a staple mechanic of every platform fighter. Passing through an opponent was an option that allowed for more pressure and intimidation. Losing that really sucks.

They also gave diminishing returns on defensive roll/side step options. Both of these changes are more beneficial to ranged and zoning playstyles and greatly help heavy characters. It gives new strength to corner pressure. 

I want to see how the game changes with it, but I am also not well-versed in high level Smash 4. So I don't have much more insight into how welcome or unwelcome this change is. Historically, the speediest characters are often higher tier in Smash. Making heavies better was always difficult no matter what tools you gave them. A mechanic change is worth exploring for sure, but I'm not sure if this is the right one.

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