Cool Things From 2019:by Wax
Classic (Shadow) Strides into the Sunset
Alright, I got my 'swerve' pick of INnoVation's WESG triumph out the way. This next retrospective handles a game that should be on everyone's list of favorite moments from 2019: Classic's Shadow Stride all-in to finish off Rogue in game five of the BlizzCon quarterfinals.
It was one of the year's most thrilling games to watch live, but the additional details gleaned from Classic's own VOD review and just analyzing the replay on your ownmake repeat viewings just as enjoyable. The VOD is embedded below, and the replay file is also available for download. I've sprinkled in the most salient bits from Classic's VOD review, but if you're a Korean speaker and subscriber to his Twitch channel, you can watch it for yourself here.
Game 5 begins at 58:40
Setting the Table: How We Arrived at Game FiveClassic entered this match as the sentimental fan-favorite, having revealed that the 2019 Global Finals would be his last major tournament before beginning his mandatory military service. It surprised some that he was attending at all, as he had been barred from travelling to March's IEM Katowice due to government regulations. With some help from KeSPA, Classic confirmed his Global Finals participation just eight days before the start of the tournament.
On the other hand, Rogue entered the match as the designated villain. After largely sucking for the first half of the year, he abused Zerg imbalance to win the final Code S tournament of 2019 and sneak into the Global Finals. And lest you accuse me of being overly harsh toward a progamer—that's not my opinion. I'm just barely paraphrasing what Rogue said in his infamously honest interview after winning the Code S finals.
Classic said his main practice partner for the Global Finals was his friend and former SKT teammate soO, with RagnaroK providing some supplemental practice. Upon arriving in Anaheim for the quarterfinal round, Classic also practiced with eventual finalist Reynor, a player on the opposite side of the bracket who needed some ZvP practice himself. We don't have direct information from Rogue, but we can assume he was practicing with Jin Air teammates sOs, Creator, and Trap.
Rogue advanced through the Ro16 group stages in Korea with wins over Protoss players Neeb and Trap. The big takeaway from those games (and Code S) was that he seemed nigh invincible if allowed to survive the early-mid game and begin to pick his opponents apart with the deadly Swarm-Host Nydus combo. On the other hand, Classic got off to a poor start in the group stage by dropping his initial match to HeroMarine. He would recover and advance in second place, defeating herO and winning the rematch against HeroMarine. Classic's punishment for slipping up and only advancing as a #2 seed from his group? A showdown with Rogue in the quarterfinals.
On to BlizzCon!
Throughout the year, Classic had shown a penchant for extreme trickery and deception against Zerg opponents. Rogue had already received a taste earlier in the year, losing a best-of-five to Classic in the quarterfinals of Code S Season 1. It was a series where Classic brought a different, finely-honed strategy in every single game, and fear Classic would one-up by playing seven unique builds in his 4-3 victory over Dark in the semifinals. Classic's galaxy-brain were well-established, so we had a inkling of how his series vs Rogue might unfold at BlizzCon. Here's a brief recap of the first four games:
Game 1 (Thunderbird) - Rogue Wins: Classic said he had worked a lot on his fundamentals and was actually willing to give straight-up play a shot in the first game. Unfortunately, he ends up getting utterly destroyed by Rogue's Swarm Host-Nydus tactics, which convinced him that playing macro games was out of the question for the rest of the series.
Game 2 (Acropolis) - Classic Wins: Classic's chicanery begins here, as he sends out a Probe to hide his Twilight Council, numerous Gateways, and a Robotics Facility in a little nook of the map. The ensuing Glaive Adept + Immortal all-in works beautifully, overpowering Rogue despite a surprisingly gritty defense.
According to Classic, he had come up with this strategy at the last moment, the night before the games. Part of the reasoning was that he had noticed Rogue wasn't a thorough scout, an important point which we'll be circling back to when we get to game five (where Rogue proves this is right and wrong).
Game 3 (Disco Bloodbath) - Rogue Wins: Classic goes for another Glaive Adept-based all-in, but fails to do critical damage after losing his Warp Prism during his first major attack.
Game 4 (Triton) - Classic Wins: Classic takes down Rogue with a Cannon-rush into proxy Robo + Batteries. This game is actually a close call for Classic, and he admitted to a few building placement mistakes compared to his practice games. Regardless, he survives long enough to get the 2 Immortal + Prism combo, which Rogue immediately GG's out after seeing.
Game 5 - World of SleepersAh, here we are, at the main event. Given that this was one of the most watched games of the year, I won't give a detailed play by play, but I'll delve into what I think are the more important details.
Classic opens with a fast Twilight Council and Dark Shrine after expand, rushing to get two Dark Templars into the Zerg base in the ordinary cheese portion of this strategy. That, of course, will set up the absolute-bats***-insane cheese portion of the strategy to come later. Enabling this entire strategy is a quick proxy-Pylon (Classic's 3rd) placed toward the top-center portion of the map—not SUPER close to Rogue's bases but covering about 70% of the distance.
Now, let's return to talk about Classic's previous comment that he had noticed Rogue is not the most thorough scout. Rogue does send two Zerglings out to check the 'normal' proxy spots, but they don't happen to catch this Pylon. On the other hand, Rogue IS a dogged Overlord scouter in this game. His first speed-upgraded Overlord discovers Classic's Dark Shrine just after the initial two DT warp-in, allowing him to barely get a Spore Colony up in his natural in time to avoid taking any serious damage.
Looking at the timing on the Spore (4:24), Classic may have been able to focus down the morphing Spore Colony in Rogue's natural with his two Dark Templars, but instead he splits one off to check out the main (where a Spore has already been completed). This, Classic explained, was due to it being more important to scout out the main and learn about Zerg's Lair timing, instead of trying to squeeze out as much damage possible with the first two DT's.
Anyway, Classic ends up losing one DT at Rogue's natural, and it looks like Rogue is in good shape after having scouted and staved off a cheeky DT rush. Meanwhile, Classic has already started to transition to the off-the-rails part of his strategy, beginning Shadow Stride research while adding a Robotics Facility.
Now, it's very important to note that Rogue 100% suspects that Classic's trickery is far from over—he just doesn't know exactly what's coming next. As he's defending the first two DTs, he's already sending in two more speed Overlords into the Protoss main to see what might be coming next (4:45). In fact, he actually sees the Robotics Facility AND the Dark Shrine with the Shadow Stride upgrade in progress. Rogue's Overlord scouting is so thorough that he basically sees every single Protoss building, EXCEPT that initial proxy-Pylon.
In hindsight, Rogue had gathered enough information by the five-minute mark to deduce Classic's master plan: a massive warp-in of Dark Templars at a proxy-Pylon, a single Observer to provide high-ground vision, and Shadow Stride to sneak all those DT's into the Zerg main. And honestly, if Rogue was a detective sitting alone in his office, staring at his cork-board and connecting the various clues with thumbtacks and red yarn, he probably would have pieced it together. Unfortunately, he only had about one minute to solve this case, all the while playing one of the most difficult, multi-tasking intensive games of all-time.
Classic does everything he can to bolster his chances by sending in a diversion in the form of a Warp Prism and four Zealots (5:50) to 'harass' Rogue's third base. This conspicuously small number of gas-free units basically has no chance of doing any damage, and Rogue would surely have realized it was largely nonsensical attack. But the credibility of the feint doesn't matter—it's just a momentary distraction for the sake of distraction, occurring seconds before the real attack hits (this reminds me of Batman's smoke bombs in the first Bane fight, except I guess Rogue wasn't born in darkness).
At exactly 6:00, eight Dark Templars blink up into in Rogue's main. At 6:13, they strike at the Lair. At 6:28, the Lair is dead, and the Dark Templars are safely recalled home. In the words of RotterdaM, "I cannot believe what we're watching." Or, to quote the poet Artosis "OHHHhhhh HohohoHOho!" The crowd reacts similarly to Artosis, going wild in a way that makes Classic watch the English VOD of the game, just because it has better audio from the crowd (incidentally, Classic complimented the English casting crew for bringing great energy).
Meticulous till the end, Classic mentioned he wasn't entirely sure it was over after the Lair snipe, as Rogue's speedlings had delayed his third base for quite a while. And if it seems like he's in a rush to end the game after the Lair snipe: he is. Classic said he wasn't going to face Swarm Hosts again. As it turns out, three Immortals and infinity Archons are quite good against a pure Roach-Ravager army, and a few minutes after the Lair goes down, Classic absolutely annihilates Rogue's army in the game-ending fight.
Miscellaneous Info and Closing ThoughtsWhile things broke almost perfectly for Classic on the BlizzCon stage, Classic insinuated the strategy failed a decent number of times in practice sessions where the DT's encountered awaiting defenders. Classic reiterated on his stream, as he said in the post-match interview, that he wasn't sure whether or not he should really go for this strategy in game five. Yet, he also said it was a strategy he developed to "win one game, on one map."
Classic said the specific version of the strategy we saw against Rogue was one that had been refined over multiple iterations. Specifically, Classic insinuated that the addition of an Observer to provide high-ground vision was the final step, with early versions sending the DT's to jump over the gimmicky mineral-wall on World of Sleepers and walk their way up the ramp and into the Zerg main. That probably would have worked as well in this particular game, but one can imagine scenarios where it fails because Zerg is slightly more cautious. Classic also mentioned that Reynor had managed to stop previous versions of the strategy (he said they went around 50/50 in practice).
If I HAD to question one aspect of Rogue's play, it would be that he didn't look for the proxy-Pylon after getting hit by the two early DT's. The speed of the attack should have been a giveaway, especially considering this happened in the 'sane' portion of the game. I don't know that finding the proxy-Pylon would have shut down the DT attack completely (especially given how hard Rogue is duped in this game), but it would certainly have made things more difficult for Classic.
Ultimately, though, I'd rather give Classic praise for being awesome than nitpick understandable mistakes from Rogue (who probably beat himself up plenty after watching the replay). Few players say they are able to play at their usual, practice-situation level in a competitive match, but Classic actually elevated his game when the stakes were extreme. He completely vexed his opponent by pulling out an incredible, one-use-only, secret weapon in a major match, and gave us one of the most memorable games of the year. En Taro Classic!