One Team Might Die
The regular season is rapidly drawing to a close, with the final round's playoffs quickly coalescing. On top of the ranking and secure in their consecutive playoffs streak are SK Telecom, currently sitting in first place at 4-0. KT and Jin Air are trailing, requiring consecutive blowout victories to secure their round playoffs spot. Without it, unfortunate turns of events might se last season's champions eliminated from playoffs contention entirely.
Business proceeded as usual this week - improving players continued to show their improvement, struggling players and teams continued to struggle. There were a few upsets however. The playoff picture (both for this round and the overall season playoffs) is slowly getting pieced together and this week might be a big tell. Before you give you the rundown of this week though, here's the highlights of last week:
DRG beats Maru but Jin Air's lineup proves too strong for Sbenu
Everything looked great for Sbenu in the beginning. DRG who's been silently improving over the past few weeks, put on another impressive ZvT performance against Maru with solid muta/ling/baneling vs bio play, eventually wearing Maru down and overwhelming him. Luckily for JinAir, everyone else came out to play and the remaining three matches were all decisive wins for them. First sOs shrugged off jjakji's constant aggression and eventually killed him with a maxed attack, then Trap put on a PvT clinic against Bomber. Scouting Bomber's factory build immediately, Trap had enough time to set up adequate defense at home and even take an extremely early third base. Bomber never found a way back into the game and even his SCV pull all in off two bases came too late to break Trap. Continuing the recent ZvZ trend in Korea, Rogue and Curious then played a long muta vs muta game. Rogue always seemed to have a little more freedom in the game however and continuous zergling runbys slowly did a number on Curious. Even though Curious kept the higher mutalisk count for almost the entire game, Rogue always found ways to counterattack and eventually forced Curious into a basetrade he couldn't win. JinAir improved to a 2-2 match record this round, but with matches against KT Rolster and CJ Entus over the next two weeks, they're going to need to stay clutch.
SKT drop a map... but still beat KT easily.
SKT have dropped their first map this round, beating KT 3-1 in the Telecom Derby. Fittingly, their old nemesis Zest was the first and so far only player to take a map off SKT. He continued his climb back to power by taking out another strong Terran in Dream. His teammates however couldn't do enough to grant him an ace match, as Flash was outplayed by Sorry in a mech vs bio game after some early overextensions. TY showed some good ideas but ultimately crashed against Classic's rock solid PvT. Stats' loss was perhaps the most telling of the night - after getting off to a bright start by cancelling Dark's gold base attempt and getting a very greedy third base up unchallenged, Stats moved out at the worst possible time - right into Dark's all-in roach/ling army. And as if losing four of his precious sentries wasn't enough, he then also forgot to put his zealot in the wall on hold position, granting Dark easy access to his main and natural where the SKT zerg found irreparable damage.
This means that SKT extended their winning streak and are now unbeaten in 13 regular season matches. Despite Zest's 4-0 record this season, the best of any player, KT lost 1-3 for the third time in a row and now find themselves in second to last place. This makes their match against Prime this week a battle for last place. What a world we live in.
Solar lives the Korean dream
Samsung Galaxy's Solar achieved double wins in one match for the first time since the end of 2013, giving his team wins over Bbyong, herO and CJ Entus. Sitting in second place with a 9-6 map record and a doable match against MVP this week, they're definitely in the running for a first Playoffs this season.
Two notorious mech terrans went at it in the first set, with Bbyong easily coming out on top over Reality. Solar then put up an almost flawless ZvZ performance against ByuL, shutting down and getting the better of him at every turn until he closed the match out with a decisive roach attack. The PvP between Hurricane and herO was perhaps one of the most entertaining of the week, with Hurricane working himself into an early lead by defending herO's blink aggression. herO however was fine to play a contain game as he took his third base. Instead of teching to colossi and expanding himself, Hurricane decided for a more all in route - teching to blink himself and adding on a Dark Shrine as well as gateways. herO seemed to have a good read on the situation, researching charge as a countermeasure to his opponent's blink/immortal army. Still, there was a moment where Hurricane could probably have won the game with a frontal attack if he had morphed archons. Instead however, he decided to split his DTs and look for probe damage. herO's only form of detection was an oracle that Hurricane desperately tried (and failed) to snipe with blink stalkers. herO eventually got an observer across the map, closing out the game. Game four saw another mech vs mech TvT between BrAvO and sKyHigh, this time with the Samsung terran taking the win.
Solar then came out in the ace match against herO, whittling him down with impressive roach/ling into muta play, all the while defending against herO's aggressive attempts at moving out with a strong blink stalker army. He eventually did enough damage to force an all in out of herO, and a strong infestor/hydra army was too solid for herO to beat.
Prime TRIPLE their map wins!
Prime missed perhaps their best opportunity to steal a win this round, barely losing to MVP 2-3. And even though BboongBboong ultimately fell to Losira in the ace match, it was definitely the most impressive performance they've put up in quite some time. Sadly that's all there is to say about this match, it was quite a wonky and weird one. Maybe Prime can take their first win in what feels like a lifetime against KT this week? Creator isn't around to trouble Zest anymore, but if recent matches have shown, allowing Zest a win doesn't help KT too much. And even if KT can drag themselves to an ace match against Prime... there's always TANGTANG to fall back on.
herO: "LOL we won and they didn't even write anything about us."
Week 5 Previews
Overview: After CJ's surprising ace loss to Solar (of all people) in Week 4, the situation looks very familiar to the final week of Round 3 - only a few map points divide playoff contenders and cellar strugglers, going any direction is still very much possible. In this sense, the duel between CJ and Jin Air - who were able to recover from their atrocious start into Round 4 with rehab-wins against Prime and SBENU - might come to play a crucial role. The winners can solidify their position by essentially guaranteeing their playoffs spot, and prepare for the last weeks to come more comfortably. The losers will feel pressured to once again close the gap to the top 4, or see themselves falling down Vector Prime freely. A loss here, ultimately, could make or break the playoffs effort.
sOs <Cactus Valley> Bunny
PvT has been one of sOs‘ more stable match-ups in this shaky Proleague season, and his confidence should be at a high level after effortlessly holding off jjakji‘s aggression last week. Yet it is always dangerous when CJ‘s Coach Park sends out one of his lesser known players - and of CJ’s unknowns, Bunny is the one player we know least about. Where his colleagues Hush, Trust, RagnaroK and sKyHigh at least qualify for some tournaments from time to time (and randomly make top 4 in KeSPA Cups), we hear nothing of the Terran player. Is this a good or bad sign in this match though? His last recorded matches were in Leifeng Cup over a month ago, so we can safely assume that he’s been preparing for his next Proleague appearance since then. And with TvP being his best match-up anyways, sOs might be in for a surprise.
Rogue <Terraform> Bbyong
Jin Air's most stable element right now is probably their number one Zerg player, Rogue, although 'stable‘ might not be the best word to describe his tricky gameplay. His results speak for themselves though - he was able to win his last two SPL matches, including a very well played ZvZ against Curious last week, and slipped out of his StarLeague group in 2nd place. For a player without a slew of great tournament successes such as those belonging to sOs and Maru, Rogue is the most reliable player Jin Air could wish for.
And even so this means nothing for his next match. Facing one of the most notorious mech players of Korea, Bbyong, most bets are entirely off. Notorious for his history of refined builds and puzzling (and successful) Proleague plays, the Terran comes off of a three game winning-streak. The last Zerg he faced (Rogue's last opponent, Curious) was crippled by his infamous hellbat/banshee aggression and finished off by a mortal push with tanks and thors. Rogue needs to be prepared if he plans on living through this match on Terraform, a map that has proven to be quite favourable for mech play. Can he stop the metal tsunami, or will 'the-most-cost-effective-unit-composition-in-the-game-Tasteless‘ find its next victim, the latest in a long line?
Trap <Coda> ByuL
Trap has been hit-or-miss so far this season, embodied by his 7-7 stats and anything but notable for his reliable mediocrity. However, there is one thing the Protoss has been doing consistently in the last weeks: killing Zerg players. Not the easily dismissed kind, mind you, but specimen of quality such as Dark and Curious, who’ve been in great shapes themselves. Of course, Trap now faces another one of that lot, a GSL runner-up in ByuL. The CJ players‘ ZvP has been shaky since his crushing 1:4-loss against Rain, although he eradicated the greatest doubts with the triumph in his S2SL group against the KT Protoss duo of Stats and Zest. Stats and Zest belong to a different category, though, and Trap is a tricky player to go up against, especially when you don’t feel that secure in the matchup anyway - one unseen oracle (of the kind which Trap has made many) could throw ByuL off his balance, right into a pit of chaos. And, as sOs has made sure to show us over the years, that’s where Jin Air‘s Protosses thrive.
Maru <Echo> herO
It’s the 13th edition of Maru battling herO (with herO being in the lead 13 to 11 maps) - the 8th in Proleague (in this environment, Maru leads with 4 to 3 victories) - and it just never gets old. The Terran is in a bit of a crisis at the moment, his last four matches in SPL were losses and even his seemingly unbeatable TvP (hello MyuNgSiK) took some hits. And as if their fates were connected, Marus losses led to Jin Air suffering a number of one sided defeats. But while the team did recover in the meantime, the young Terran did not, and so the chances of success against herO look grim. The Smiling Assassin only lost one encounter to a Terran last month, but herO’s otherwise excellent PvT-record show that he still maintains reliability in the matchup. It’s not often that we say ‚Maru has to fight an uphill battle, but this TvP certainly is one of these rare occasions. Can Maru win his confidence back, or is herO going to send him and Jin Air even further down the ranking, to the point where the round playoffs might even slip out of their reach?