Minecraft Steve is known for breaking things. He breaks blocks in Minecraft, he broke the internet when he was announced for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and now, the character is breaking the balance of Smash Ultimate’s competitive scene.
Steve (along with alternate costumes of Alex, Enderman, and Zombie) joined Smash Ultimate’s roster in October 2020 and was instantly recognized as one of the game’s most mechanically complex fighters. The Minecraft crew rapidly soared to the top of Ultimate’s tier list, with the competitive community generally considering the fighters to be among the best in the game.
Steve’s unique playstyle forced opponents to play Smash in basically an entirely new way, having to take his block-building mechanics into account while balancing the dozens of other mind games and considerations already on the table during a competitive Smash Bros. fight. Talks of banning the character have been bubbling up for a while due to his huge damage and dominating stage control, but the conversation has taken a turn due to a brand new discovery that makes Steve an even more fearsome foe.
Recently, Smash players discovered a new, potentially game-breaking technique within Steve’s kit that’s already caused dozens of competitive Smash events to ban the character. While the scene hasn’t agreed on a final, community-wide ruling either way regarding Steve’s future in competitive play, Steve mains that have invested countless hours in the character are worried about what comes next.
“It definitely is nerve-wracking and stressful hearing about the Steve ban,” said Kevin “RockMan” B., an Alex main from the SoCal region who’s been active in the Smash scene for the last five years. “A lot of people are worried about the time and effort that they put into their character now seemingly going to waste. And for people who do coaching or have a YouTube channel based around the character, [they might] need to change what they do, with many feeling they need to leave the game since they don’t have a character that will resonate with them as much as Steve did.”
‘Phantom MLG’: The New Technique that’s Changing Smash Bros.
So what is this game-breaking technique? The Smash community is calling it Phantom MLG, and it allows Steve players to instantly cancel the hitstun of many attacks, which can then lead to punishing combos on an opponent.
To put it simply, Steve can ignore one of Smash’s most basic concepts with this input. Usually when a Smash character is hit, they experience knockback, leaving them vulnerable and unable to defend against incoming enemy attacks. Phantom MLG allows Steve to completely prevent knockback, letting him instantly retaliate with a combo of his own. Currently, Phantom MLG is only possible with Steve, giving him and the rest of the Minecraft crew a huge advantage over the rest of Ultimate’s roster when this technique is used properly.
Since this move essentially punishes opponents for even attempting to hit Steve at low percentages, it’s a total game-changer. If you want to see what Phantom MLG looks like in action, check out the video below.
Have you seen the Steve hitstun canceling clips floating around?
Did you hope they were fake?
Well sorry to burst your bubble!
Introducing Phantom MLG: pic.twitter.com/OJ2GIM5Env
— XCido (@XCidoClipDump) February 25, 2023
An imbalanced character has devastating potential for a fighting game community, a concept the Smash scene is all too familiar with. Meta Knight in Super Smash Bros. Brawl was notoriously overpowered, leading to widespread bans of the character.
Super Smash Bros. for Wii U had a big Bayonetta problem toward the end of its competitive life. Bayonetta was never banned from the game despite her evident advantage over the rest of the roster, leading to one tournament where fans left the audience in droves before the start of a Bayonetta vs Bayonetta Grand Finals. Banning a character is a situation the community doesn’t take lightly.
“Banning a character is always going to be unfair one way or another,” said Eric “ESAM” Lew, a highly-ranked Smash Ultimate Pikachu main. “I was part of the Universal Ruleset Committee in Brawl days back on Smashboards, I voted to ban Meta Knight knowing that a large part of the community played that character. You have to also realize that while banning a character sucks really bad for the people that play them, having a character that is obscenely broken be legal hurts all the other people that play, too. If everyone that mained Steve quit if he gets banned, I don’t know if that would be more than the people that quit because of Steve, if that makes sense.”
One tournament organizer who wished to remain anonymous said they believed a community-wide Steve ban is justified. But much of the community is still weighing all the options, as many Ultimate players are worried about history repeating itself with Steve.
Banning a character is always going to be unfair one way or another
“An imbalanced character creates a lot of frustration for other players, as it could feel like they’re being beaten unfairly,” said Sam “SBF” Brooks-Franklin, an Ultimate player who’s been competing since 2015. “In the context of this new Steve tech, players are abusing an exploit which no other character has access to… And as a result it is a very unhealthy mechanic. This is because Steve is widely regarded to be the best character in the game — with the character having already previously been in discussion to be banned — and now he’s been given an additional tool which makes the character even stronger and [more] polarizing than he already is.”
While some believe Steve should just be banned outright, some Steve mains are trying to salvage their character by suggesting only banning the Phantom MLG tech itself, rather than the entire character.
“The middle ground of ‘ban the glitch and not the character’ is one that comes with its own complications, as it is very difficult to monitor it,” RockMan said. “So despite what I may feel, it’s ultimately up to what the Smash Ultimate tournament organizers wish to do with Steve.”
Those complications include the impracticality of reviewing a lengthy match to verify if Steve used the tech, and players hesitating to report the move if there’s any uncertainty.
Honestly I think a Steve ban is the way forward. Whilst the current ‘verifying rule’ could be valid, TOs just don’t have time to review what could be up to a 7 minute game
And w/ how inconsistent multihits are anyway, feel like people might not report if they’re just unsure
— PXL | SBF (@imSBF) February 28, 2023
The concept of only banning the tech, not the character, will be put into practice within the next week. Collision 2023 is the next major Smash event that’s scheduled for March 10-March 12. We spoke with the tournament organizer, FinallyRJ, about how next week’s event will handle Steve in light of this week’s discourse. He told us that Collision has banned the Phantom MLG tech, but has not banned Steve from the event.
“I believe that Steve is, undoubtedly, the best character in the game,” FinallyRJ said. “However, this being said, being the best doesn’t constitute being removed. I try to take approaches that are non-destructive first and I believe that removing a character from play is a destructive choice for those who’ve invested time into learning the ins and outs… There have been strong arguments that the [Phantom MLG] tech can be managed within an event setting. We believe we have enough staff to test out this theory.”
If an opponent believes a Steve player illegally used the Phantom MLG tech during a Collision match, the player must save a replay of the battle and bring it to the tournament moderators for review. If it works, this could be the way forward for larger events, but smaller events with fewer crew members could struggle to review individual matches in a timely manner.
Players remain unsure about a ban
Still, Ultimate is a better-balanced game than Smash for Wii U before it. Even though Steve has long been considered a top tier character, he’s not dominating tournaments as much as Bayonetta did back in the day. This has some players unsure of if a ban is necessary at this time.
“Right now, I think it’s hard to say if Steve should be banned because of this tech,” SBF said. “Whilst it’s potentially game breaking, Steve is not overly dominating the metagame and we have not had any big tournaments where Steve players have abused this mechanic to win… I’ll keep an open mind for now as I’m interested to see if these new rules at big tournaments do actually prevent the usage of the tech though.”
RockMan and a handful of other Steve mains are attempting to go straight to the source: Nintendo. Players are contacting the Smash publisher through the company’s support line in hopes to receive one final patch specifically for this glitch.
This is one of our most recent chat that one of our members have with Nintendo Support
If more people manage to send reports we can try that Nintendo do something
It’s better to try to do this than do nothing
Just take 10-15 minutes to fill a reporthttps://t.co/lwzgMweoAo https://t.co/5GW1BFsPAn pic.twitter.com/2vS85lavYp
— BLZ | Many (@ManyManit4s) March 1, 2023
But given that Smash Ultimate received its last-ever combat balance update back in 2021, a fix for this issue seems like a longshot. However, Nintendo’s statement at the time of the final patch did state that, “This is the last update related to the balance adjustment of the game, except for dealing with problems,” so it all depends on if Nintendo views this issue with Steve as a problem worth solving. If the problem never gets solved, it seems Steve could break the hearts of those who have invested so much time competing with the character.
“I do hope that with more experimentation the glitch does not appear to be as impactful as it once was, or tournament organizers can find a way to monitor if this does occur in tournaments and provide a proper adjustment to it,” RockMan said. “But I and many others are fully prepared to either change the character we play, or drop out of the competitive scene entirely.”
Parts of these interviews have been edited for clarity.
Logan Plant is a freelance writer at IGN