Telecom power bled last week, with the Afreeca Freecs upsetting SK Telecom T1 under the leadership of Patience, and KT Rolster being forced into the ace match by struggling CJ Entus—including the comeback victory and ceremony of the President of Protoss, MC.
This round’s telecom war comes early, and after being shaken up last week, a win here is more important than ever, as the field of teams seems to draw closer and closer together. Everyone can truly beat everyone by now, and being a favourite doesn’t mean as much as it once did.
- Let’s start off with the Champions. It was yet another polished performance from Jin Air, with one small exception—Maru lost his first Proleague Round Robin match since 24 August 2015. Now granted; that egregious choice of date doesn’t highlight that the first match of the streak came in February, but it’s still a remarkable run of form. An 11 match win streak isn’t something we see every day, and although it’s not quite a Proleague record (Flash, as ever, trumps this one as well), it’s a laudable achievement. Still, it’s important to note that he was in similarly ridiculous Proleague form last year (20-5 in Rounds 2 and 3). That meant nothing when his form plummeted towards the end of the year, when Jin Air came home with silver medals. Starting well is one thing; ending the playoffs in similar form is another.
- That said, Maru’s slip-up against Super didn’t cost Jin Air at all. The team’s long time core pair of sOs and Rogue made short work of Patience and Symbol, while Cure’s beginning to really nail down that 4th spot, winning out over Billowy this time round. While Symbol’s far from a top tier competitor right now, Rogue’s ZvZ should be highlighted in particular here. He is unbeaten in 2016 offline ZvZ (6-1 record, dropping a map to Impact in the SSL), and his understanding of the matchup was on full display here.
- Onto the other in-form team of the moment; KT Rolster were certainly made to work hard for their win over CJ here. Everything looked set up for an easy 3-1 victory. Leenock predictably dropped the first map to herO, but TY, Zest and Stats were all big favourites against ByuL, MC and RagnaroK. Two delivered; one did not. Zest once more showed weakness, and it’s now three matches in a row that the GSL Champion has dropped. It’s probably far too early to judge him—let’s wait until he starts his pair of starleague campaigns—but for the first time in Legacy, a couple of cracks are starting to show.
- While KT look like they’ve made a roster of starleague monsters, and Jin Air are going from strength to strength, SKT’s fall doesn’t look like stopping any time soon. After dragging his team to a respectable position in Round 2, Dark let them down against Afreeca, losing both matches on the night. His first loss to aLive proceeded in much the same way as every TvZ in Korea right now—heavy harass focussed on denying a comfortable 4 base economy—while Patience’s variety of harassment choices (oracle / adept / archon drop / zealot warp ins) distracted Dark enough for him to land a killer engagement with his main army. There was also a surprising loss to Patience from Classic, who failed to convert his SSL form to Proleague. Now, SKT are already qualified for the season playoffs. While this round’s all about getting enough points for optimal seeding, it also means that they only have five more matches to prepare for the big clashes to come at the end of the year; it’s starting to become now or never time.
- In the mid-table clash of the week, Samsung edged out MVP 3-1. Three matches went the way of the overwhelming favourites—GuMiho came out on top against Hurricane, while Dear and Solar did similarly for Samsung over Seed and Pet. It all came down to a mirror match clash between Ryung and Reality; a 30 minute back and forth game that boiled down to a botched engagement by Ryung. Stimming in for one final engagement, Ryung landed his tanks in a choke point in front of his marine army, preventing them from doing anything in the fight. It would have been a painful loss for a player who’s been vital for MVP recently. 16 points currently separate MVP in 7th place from CJ in 4th, so there’s all to play for in Round 3. There’s no telling yet though how crucial this loss will be come the end of the season.
KT vs Samsung
TY <Frost> Dear
One of the most interesting parts of Starcraft in 2016 has been the evolution of PvT in Legacy of the Void. In particular, the scene has branched off in terms of the core AOE damage chosen in each composition. Some rush to storm; some have returned to the colossus following the recent buff. Some, of course, prefer to stick to gateway / immortal armies and end things in the early game. However, Dear is pretty much the sole KR pro who’s stuck with the disruptor play that characterised the matchup in the opening months of the game. That said, he played 6 games against terran in his SSL Challenge group on Thursday, none of which featured disruptor play (2-0 ByuN, 0-2 aLive, 1-1 jjakji). It’ll be interesting to see if that indicates a switch to a more typical PvT style, or was simply a break from his preferences.
Zest <Dusk Towers> Reality
Hmm. The best PvTer we’ve seen by far against a mid tier terran? A player who’s lost just one match against terran this year (albeit his most recent one against Maru), with a 29-5 map record, against a player who’s currently 3-3 in Proleague TvP? The reigning GSL Champion, against a player who’s made Code S just twice in his career? Chances are this one will go exactly how everyone thinks it will. Reality has been impressively solid so far in Proleague this year for Samsung, but when you’re going up against a player currently defining a matchup, you’re going to need a hell of a lot more than ‘solid’.
Trust <King Sejong Station> BrAvO
Time to find out who the real Trust is. Is it the player who stormed through the first half of his SSL Challenge group, taking a 5-0 lead? Is it the player who crumbled in the second half, dropping all five matches played? Hell, is it the clutch protoss who out-thought sOs in the final, winner-take-all tiebreaker? Chances are, it’s some weird mixture of all of them. Nothing we’ve seen so far has given us any indication that he’s good enough to break into the top level of players, but he’s also shown signs that he’s not someone to ignore either. His PvT in recent times has been good, notably going 1-1 against GuMiho in that SSL group, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that he failed in his most important recent series—losing 3-2 to SpeeD in Code A. Expect to see gateway aggression here. BrAvO too is going through his own Schrödinger phase; is he the terran who was outplayed hard by Classic in Code A, or is he the terran who brought it back from 0-2 to 2-2 with a couple of clever plays? It’s going to be interesting to find out more about both players here.
Stats <New Gettysburg> Solar
There’s an argument that Stats is currently the best player in the world. Much like Zest, he is solid across all three matchups, while possessing one that’s currently miles better than anyone else (PvZ, to Zest’s PvT). Since his SSL Final loss to Dark, Stats is sitting on a 44-13 map record, with just three series losses (two to Maru and sOs in Proleague, and one to Bomber in the GSL qualifiers), a stretch that includes ten consecutive wins against zerg. Solar himself has an impressive record in the matchup (a Proleague win against Zest last month, for example), but most of those matches have come against weaker online competition. He lost to Stats 3-4 in the SSL Losers’ Final, and the KT protoss has only gone from strength to strength since.
ACE <Frozen Temple> ACE
Who the hell do you pick from KT? Zest is the GSL champion, TY the GSL runner up, Stats the SSL runner up and Cross Finals champion. Frankly, all three could probably beat anyone Samsung send out—almost certainly Dear, with the chance of Solar should they be confident in his ZvP. After his win last week, Stats probably still has the job.
TY > Dear
Zest > Reality
Trust > BrAvO
KT 3 - 0 Samsung
Jin Air vs MVP
Maru <Dusk Towers> Blaze
The roar was great last week, when Maru was defeated by none other than Super after a pretty weird game from the terran’s side. With that loss Maru's winning streak has been terminated and the aura of invincibility around him took quite the heavy dent. Still, the sheer mass of results that Maru's posted this year should mean that we shouldn't have too severe a kneejerk reaction here. Anyone can have a bad day, and the loss to Super should be counted as exactly that.
His next opponent may warrant a safer approach to the game however. Blaze is known for doing crazy stuff and upsetting favoured foes, so it might not be the right time for more experiments from Maru's side. The protoss hasn’t played a match yet this month, but he was able to beat KeeN and Journey in May. Sure, these two cannot be compared to Maru by any means, but it shows that the MVP player isn’t covered in rust—his psi blades are sharp as ever. Provided Maru doesn’t blunder the match should be his though.
sOs <Frozen Temple> Seed
If Blaze is considered a dirty player, we now get to meet his superiors: Both sOs and Seed are examples of very clever protosses, as everyone knows, so seeing them face off against each other should prove to be quite enlightening. And even though on paper sOs looks to be the huge favourite, there might be a chance for Seed here. The Jin Air toss didn’t have the best results in PvP recently, with losses to Classic and Trust resulting in his elimination from SSL Challenger. Of course he recovered quite well from this, beating Patience in SPL only a few days later.
His opponent’s PvP is also a matter worth discussing, because we don’t really know where Seed stands in this regard. His last PvP games he played against Dear in SPL—he lost both of them (the one last week, and the one two months ago). His last defeat at the hands of Dear also didn’t tell us all too much about his general form, as the Samsung protoss used an old fashioned force field block on the ramp to surprise Seed and take victory. Harassment-wise Seed had looked good, as he does most of the time. All the stats do favour sOs, but what do numbers mean to these two players?
Cure <Frost> GuMiho
Two super fast multitasking experts such as Cure and GuMiho should make for an explosive TvT pairing in what is MVP's best chance for a victory in this team duel. None of them has lacked opportunities to show their skills in the mirror, as both are frequent sights in online tournaments alongside players such as aLive and ByuN, making duels between these players quite common and quite even resultswise. This small, but stalwart circle of online competitors has also seen some success offline, with both Cure and GuMiho playing solid SPL seasons so far.
Looking at their respective TvTs, GuMiho should be granted the advantage over Cure. The Jin Air terran has lost the better part of his recent mirror matches, whereas his adversary comes out with a positive record. It has to be noted that GuMiho frequently lost to ByuN and Ryung this month however, showing that there are certainly weak points in his play. We should expect a game with high tempo and a lot of harassment from both sides. As both are excellent multitaskers no one should crumble to pressure early, so there’s a good chance we’ll see a drawn out game full of twists and counters. GuMiho has the slight advantage, but not by a large margin.
Trap <Overgrowth> DeParture
Echoing Cure and GuMiho in this regard, both Trap and DeParture have put together solid SPL performances so far, even though only Trap has contributed a positive score to his team, while DeParture is sporting a negative record. Against protoss however, this isn’t the case. The MVP zerg is 3-1 against toss players, proving that his oftentimes very clever, aggressive playstyle is effective on this level of play. His opponent is not a pushover though. Trap has steadily worked on coming back from obscurity and his efforts have really paid off so far, making him a stable part of Jin Air's line-up.
We should look forward to interesting strategies from both sides on Overgrowth, a map notorious for its’ possibilities of cheese for zerg players. And DeParture is one such player, who really likes to work with early gold expansions and nydus pushes. Of course Trap has his way of countering such gambits: His famous oracle and play is no less effective on Overgrowth than on other maps, and the battleground offers a range of proxy locations. This one should be quick and dirty, and Trap should know that.
ACE <New Gettysburg> ACE
Let’s not kid ourselves; if Jin Air has to rely on an ace player, it’s going to be Maru. He’s excellent at every match-up and he’s a favourite against anyone MVP might be able to field. So who would have the best chance to take this beast down? Probably GuMiho or Ryung in a TvT. Or, as New Gettysburg is still unexplored for the most part, someone with a really clever cheese. MVP certainly don’t lack the mad minds to think up on something.
Maru > Blaze
sOs > Seed
Cure < GuMiho
Trap > DeParture
Jin Air 3 - 1 MVP
CJ vs Afreeca
ByuL <New Gettysburg> Patience
It’s hard to trust ByuL here for CJ Entus, with his form being as average as it is at the moment. He only narrowly defeated Creator in Code A—a player who hasn’t been in good shape for ages now. The zerg still secures a victory here and there, but he is not as reliable as he was. Patience himself proved that two months ago in SPL, when he beat ByuL.
The protoss has been doing well for himself and his team recently, taking huge wins against Classic and most importantly Dark last week to upset SK Telecom T1. Additionally he secured his Code S qualification with a dominant win over Symbol. And to boost morale a bit more he also finished off SoulKey 3-0 in TING Open Season 2. Online or not, to handle a former GSL champion this way must feel pretty good. So even though ByuL is the more accomplished player after his great last year, Patience definitely has the advantages on his side for the moment. Of course the battleground provides an unpredictable aspect to this game: We haven’t seen much of New Gettysburg yet, so both sides might well know something the other doesn’t.
Bunny <Dusk Towers> Curious
Bunny seems to be the new gatekeeper to Code S, as his Code A opponents continue to be befallen by misshaps and have to give up their spots (Life in S1, TRUE in S2)—so Curious should better be careful, lest he suddenly become ill on the day of their match.
Otherwise this game is a hard one to predict, as neither player has been in best shape lately, especially when it comes to the match-up at hand. Bunny’s last TvZ was the Code A series against TRUE, which he lost 2-3 in the end. Curious’ last match vs terran was an 0-2 against GuMiho in the SSL. Dusk Towers leans slightly in favour of terran historically—and none-too-subtle whispers are speaking of terran being favoured against zerg in general at the moment—, but overall Curious is the more reliable and experienced player, so the edge should go to him. It’s a small one though, and Bunny is a guy capable of surprises.
herO <Overgrowth> Bomber
herO and Bomber have already met twice before in the last two months, making this their third duel in a short duration of time. Unfortunately for Bomber, herO appears to have a strong grasp around the reins and can’t be affected by the craziness the terran player brings to the field of battle. The CJ protoss won 2-0 in the SSL qualifiers and took him out in Proleague two weeks before that. In fact herO hasn’t lost a series at all to Bomber over the course of their careers—with their first match happening late in 2013. So the historical advantage definitely has to go to herO, who currently also leads the win rankings of SPL.
With both players in full tournament mode—herO has SSL Challenger next week, Bomber Code A—they are probably fully concentrating on practice at the moment, making this match a test for them both before the important individual matches. As they are in pretty good form already we’re surely in for a treat to watch. Since the first two matches are in favour of Afreeca this map is extremely important for CJ, following the paradigm of “no herO, no win”, which proved to be true over and over.
MC <Frozen Temple> Super
The Boss Toss made a worthy SPL comeback last week with a victory over none other than Zest and of course a ceremony to celebrate afterwards. With ByuL struggling, CJ really needed someone to help herO carry the team, and MC might just be the person to take up the challenge. To beat Zest in your first Proleague game for years is a strong statement indeed, and it should give MC a lot of confidence going into the game against Super. The Afreeca player made quite the waves himself last week by defeating Maru and thus terminating his win streak, but his PvP is surrounded by question marks.
He did beat some foreign protoss players this month, but was also handed two defeats by Billowy to even things out. With a mixed group in SSL Challenger coming up for him he also won’t be able to fully concentrate on PvP practice. So even though he’s in a better form than MC in general, his PvP definitely offers weaknesses—and we all know MC: If the guy sniffs out some hole in your play, you’re done for. He should take this one to the ace match.
ACE <Frost> ACE
The ace match will probably have Afreeca asking ‘who can beat herO?’. The protoss will most certainly be CJ's ace player come rain or shine. He is their most reliable member, is in excellent shape and has won several ace matches for them before. So who might Afreeca send out against him? It may be aLive, who’s been kicking ass lately but isn’t fielded in the regular roster. Perhaps to prepare for a TvP on Frost? A gambling man might place Patience in the ace position, to see what he can do once more, or one might try Bomber in a rematch. I’ll give aLive the best chance to beat herO though.
ByuL < Patience
Bunny < Curious
herO > Bomber
MC > Super
herO > aLive
CJ 3 - 2 Afreeca
SKT vs KT
INnoVation <King Sejong Station> TY
It’s actually been ages since we’ve seen a televised INnoVation TvT. The last one came back in March—a loss to Maru—and since then, he’s only played three more (two wins in the GSL qualifiers over Ryung and an amateur terran, and a loss to jjakji in the SSL qualifiers). It’s a bit uncertain where he stands at the moment; with his poor TvP and disappointing TvZ recently, it’s hard to give him too much credit here. In contrast, his opponent tonight has established himself as one of the premier TvTers of Legacy. He sports a 19-3 record in the matchup for the year, with just two losses to Maru and Bunny (both in Proleague). His GSL destructions of Cure and Dream (4-0 and 3-0) are still pretty fresh in the memory, and he should be favoured to add to his record tonight.
Classic <New Gettysburg> Stats
Since his return to form in April, Classic’s PvP has been his best matchup (10-3), including wins over sOs, Zest and herO. He’s still prone to the odd blip (see his loss to Trust in the SSL, or his Proleague loss to Patience last week), but it’s a sign that he should once again be regarded as a top contender in any tournament. That said, Stats’ form has been equally good—a 21-5 record for the year so far—including just two Proleague losses (to herO and sOs). One of the most interesting part of the rise to form of the various protoss stars of HotS—Rain, Zest, herO, sOs, Classic, Stats—was watching them constantly battle for supremacy in the mirror matchup; tonight, that fight kicks off once more.
soO <Frozen Temple> Losira
At times, Losira seems like he’s been signed only to annoy all of KT’s fans. He’s a player who’s been poor in Proleague (0-4 for the season against sOs, Creator, Maru and Journey), while his winrates for 2016 make you question how he ever made it to the GSL playoffs. His 2-11 record in ZvT and 8-9 record in ZvP hardly inspire confidence, while the fact that his best matchup is ZvZ at 4-4 probably tells you all you need to know about the quality he’s shown this year. Unfortunately for him, chances are that soO will dent that stat here, leaving him with sub-50% winrates in all three matchups this year. soO’s ZvZ prowess has been one of the few constants that the SKT squad has managed to transition over from HotS, and he should be far too good for Losira here.
Dream <Dusk Towers> Zest
From WoL to HotS, one constant of Dream’s play was his solidity against protoss. While it wasn’t as flashy as his TvZ, he was similarly destructive in TvP when the mood took him, such as against PartinG in IEM Katowice 2013, or his 4-0 demolition of herO in the SSL last year. Much like his play overall though, that consistency in TvP has abandoned him completely. Wins over Seed and herO in GSL, and Dear in Proleague, gave him a great start to the season in February; since then, he’s lost all three he’s played (0-1 herO, 0-1 Trap, 0-2 Hurricane). It’s not ideal preparation for Zest, is it? There’s every chance that Dream will fix his game and return to championship contender status; that probably won’t start here though.
ACE <Overgrowth> ACE
Again, KT can choose pretty much any of their triple team threat here. Dark’s current status is unknown, but I doubt SKT are the type of team to save him for a surprise ace pick (they’re in too much trouble to gamble like that anyway). INnoVation’s protoss weakness makes picking him suicidal, and with Classic’s success in both PvP and PvT, he’s probably the best choice.
INnoVation < TY
Classic < Stats
soO > Losira
Dream < Zest
SKT 1 - 3 KT
Time until Proleague