The King returns?
Anyone who has been watching the Hot6ix cup knows that MarineKing played nearly flawlessly against both herO and Stats two weeks ago. His micro was as crisp as it had ever been, and his macro was on point. More noticeably, he played extremely safe games against both players. Against Stats, instead of the usual CC first, he opened with a gasless expand and a reaper expand, and he managed to outplay a Stats who tried a blink stalker all in as well as a macro game. Instead of trying fancy strategies against herO, who has displayed PvT prowess in the previous months, he held off a blink stalker all-in by the skin of his teeth, and then defeated him in a macro game in a very similar series.
How did he come out of nowhere? In the past few months, he has been quietly lurking in qualifiers and online tournaments, remaining unnoticed due to his moderately poor performances against Zerg and Terran. The Olimoleague tournament and Leifeng cup, MarineKing's main source of games, paint a fairly accurate description of how he has struggled in the other match ups, trading series with players such as SuperNova, Symbol, and Impact. While none of these players are horrible, they have taken turns in either making MarineKing look like a fool or barely losing to him. It makes one wonder why the pitfalls he has encountered in TvZ and TvT have not transferred over to his games against protoss.
If MarineKing continues to focus exclusively on TvP, he could get to the finals, or lose to SoulKey. However, the King currently stands on a narrow protoss throne. Since we've only seen one angle of his TvP, a very safe, macro style of play, it could be that he is dissected and devoured quickly while using the same style of play.
PartinG ways with Rain, Flash and TY
PartinG was unlucky enough to run into an unstoppable Bbyong train before getting knocked out in a stereotypical PvP series by Zest. Fortunately, Rain, MarineKing's previously designated opponent, dropped out of the tournament in order to comfortably attend IEM San Jose, and PartinG took the opportunity in order to defeat TY and Flash, earning his spot in the RO8.
The lack of VODs or replays against Flash and TY make it difficult to determine what sets those games apart from the ones against Bbyong. Did PartinG figure out his weakness against the highly aggressive strategy and improve on it, or did his opponents play and lose with a completely different style? Either way, I don't believe MarineKing knows either, so he's left with the same guess. PartinG's recent and very similar PvT BO7 series against Flash and Gumiho suggest that PartinG's blink-heavy style hasn't deviated very much as a result of his match against Bbyong.
On the other hand, PartinG is famous for a very strong, HT-focused macro game, something MarineKing has not been very tested in this tournament. If he arrives with the ability to use both playstyles in this series, he could be a very serious threat. Additionally, his weaknesses are a lot more obvious than his strengths, so he could show up with hidden, prepared strategies if MarineKing attempts to abuse these weaknesses.
Prediction: MarineKing 3-2 PartinG
Zest vs Soulkey
Chinks in Zest's Armor
When Zest lost to soO in the semi-finals of the GSL last season, we saw a glimpse into his future and past. While it was easy to dismiss Zest's loss to an over-aggressive style that he wasn't prepared for, the exact same thing happened at the WCS Global Finals against Life. Zest quickly fell two games behind due to intelligent, unrelenting aggression before eventually losing in game 5 after failing a desperation cannon rush.
This isn’t a one-time occurrence either. Zest has been losing to highly aggressive play for months now. In Code S, Cure chiseled at the rock-solid wall Zest had set up with his blink/robotics facility opening until he had created an opening large enough to climb through. In a famous game on Foxtrot Labs during IEM Toronto, TaeJa found every little weakness in Zest's setup and abused the map design to make an incredible comeback.
These losses, combined with a loss to Solar in the IEM San Jose qualifiers, leave a sour taste in Zest's mouth. While all of these players have proven themselves to be top-level, you can't help but feel that Zest could have learned something between these matches and come up with a way to strengthen his supposedly solid defense.
Where did Soulkey go?
Soulkey's recent play has been as mysterious as MarineKing's, except without as many weekly and daily cups to determine where he stands. After being knocked out of Code S, he did nothing for two and a half months besides lose in qualifiers as he determined whether he wanted to continue playing the game. Eventually, he decided to remain in SC2 as he very narrowly edged out a qualification spot over primarily terran players. However, he hasn't won a single series outside the Hot6ix cup since Reality got knocked out of Code S, and his only victory against protoss is against Crank in the qualifiers.
Soulkey’s future got brighter when he 4-0’d his Hot6ix RO16 group, defeating two terrans in sKyHigh and Flash. Against them, he displayed both macro games and baneling busts, and he showed incredibly tenacity to make several comebacks. He also showed aggressive tendencies that were reflected in his only other televised match this month, against YongHwa, where he lost 2-1 in games that all started with a 14/14. In theory, he could find and exploit Zest’s tiny weaknesses with this aggressive approach in enough maps to defeat him, but he is an underdog in this series.
Prediction: Zest 3-1 Soulkey