2021 GSL Code S Season 1 - Semifinalsby Poopi
In any other season, one might think the tournament was already over once Rogue won his semifinal match. The legendary Zerg is a perfect 7-0 in grand finals, with two Code S victories included among his triumphs. But the second semifinal match features two players who are fully capable of breaking this streak, one of whom is looking to set a historic record of his own.
Semifinal Match #2: Maru vs TrapStart time: Thursday, Apr 29 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Once again, the mythic G5L trophy is almost within Maru's grasp. The GSL's ultimate prize was first made ahead of Code S Season 4 finals in 2012, dedicated to the best Terran of Wings of Liberty, Mvp. Unfortunately, the King of Wings fell short of victory in that grand final (which ended up being the coronation ceremony for an entirely different kind of "legend"), and the the G5L trophy was left to collect dust as Mvp switched his region to WCS Europe for the latter half of his career. Only when Maru won four Code S tournaments in a row in 2018-2019 was this artifact recovered, put up as the holy grail in the grand finals of Code S Season 3 in 2020. But 2020 was TY's career year in the GSL, and even Maru was forced to submit before his mastery of TvT. But just one season later, Maru has come ever so close to challenging for the G5L once more.
Maru must have been pretty happy to see both Trap and Rogue struggle against Terrans opponents in the playoffs, with his former Jin Air teammates being the only obstacles he has left to overcome. Rogue barely beat Dream 4-3 to claw his way into the finals (with Rogue even calling it luck), keeping his undefeated record in offline BO7 matches intact, while Trap had to play a full five games against INnoVation to advance to the semis.
While most fans would probably rate Maru as being a level above them at the moment, it should be noted that Maru did have more trouble than expected against Hurricane. Before the RO8, one would surely have picked Maru vs Hurricane as the one most-sided match-up. However, Hurricane clutched out one game against Maru, winning in a comeback victory no less (Dream actually took the most dominant victory of the RO8). And while Maru's TvP looked very strong in his three victories against Hurricane, he declared in the post-match interview that he actually played pretty poorly by his standards. But in spite of this typical Maru humility, he still seemed quite confident for his RO4 match against either Trap or INnoVation, already looking ahead to playing Rogue in the finals.
But before we can think about Maru vs Rogue in a battle between the G5L and an 8-0 record in tournament finals, we have to consider the formidable opponent that awaits Maru in the semifinals. You can be sure that Trap will try his best to redeem himself for his disappointing performance at IEM Katowice 2021, and earn himself a third shot at winning the Code S trophy. Lest we forget, Trap had a very dominant run headed into the World Championship. He closed out 2020 by winning NeXT Winter against Dark, and then took down TY and Stats on his way to the Super Tournament 2 (2020) championship. He kept his momentum going in early 2021, beating Serral in the finals of DHM: Last chance and then Zoun in the first GSL Super Tournament of the year. Many fans saw him as a strong title contender for Katowice after this very impressive period of domination, but alas, StarCraft 2 is an unpredictable game where the group stages of Katowice can be deadly even for the best players in the world. Trap was eliminated from his IEM Katowice group in 5th place, losing to everyone but Dream. We never got a chance to hear from Trap about what exactly went wrong at IEM Katowice, but it fell into a sadly familiar pattern of high hopes followed by a disappointing end.
Despite this setback, the Afreeca Freecs player did not become disheartened and has bounced back in GSL Code S. He looks to win his first Code S title ever, after previously recording two 2nd place finishes in 2019. Trap did not have to go through Code A to get into Code S, since he won the previous GSL Super Tournament in which the top 4 players were granted Code S spots. He topped his Code S RO16 group 4-0, beating Armani and sOs in the process, reaching ro8 with relative ease. Trap was in control during each game but the 2nd one versus Armani on Jagannatha, where resilience and experience let him grind out a comeback win after spending most of the game on the backfoot. However, his RO8 match versus INnoVation was much more difficult, with Trap forced to concede two games to powerful two-base timing attacks. In the deciding fifth game, INnoVation went for relentless aggression off of 3 bases, gaining the supply advantage for long periods of time. Trap matched this aggression by defending cost effectively and harassing his opponent with Zealot Warp-ins. Eventually, Trap's composed defense triumphed over INnoVation's furious offense, with the Machine having no plans beyond 1/1 upgrades and three bases. A last ditch attack attack from INnoVation briefly put Trap in peril, but he survived on the strength of Psi Storms in the end.
After confirming his semifinal bout against Maru, Trap made it quite clear in his post-match interview that he had struggled against Maru in practice (both needed to prepare for PvT in the RO8), but also said that he had been worrying too much recently compared to the times when he had played better in the past (another recurring theme with Trap). In fact, Trap even predicted that it would probably be Rogue or Maru lifting the trophy this season, saying he was happy enough to reach his goal of getting into the top four. It seemed like a curious bit of mental control, downplaying his chances to allow himself to play with a relaxed mind—ironically giving himself a better chance to win.
While such a blatant lack of confidence could be worrisome for Trap's fans, I do not think that he will get crushed by Maru in this match. Having a more relaxed approach could benefit Trap’s play a lot. He credited his initial breakout in 2019 due to a change in mindset, and his dominant streak leading into IEM Katowice was made in tournaments with smaller stakes than the absolute top tier events (such as Code S or IEM Katowice). Also, while Trap's improved PvZ was the highlight of his multi-championship streak, it's not like his world-class PvT regressed in that time.
Both players are in tremendous form, and are Korea's #1 ranked players for their respective factions according to Aligulac.com's ratings. The two players are perfectly tied in head-to-head matches, having won nine matches and 26 maps a piece. Aligulac's prediction formula gives Maru the tiniest of edges with a 50.3% chance to win, a direct reflection of their similar ratings in the TvP match-up.
Trying to do a deeper dive into match histories is always tricky with Maru, as he is famous for playing almost solely in major tournaments and their associated qualifiers. But even taking that into consideration, it's still extremely impressive that Maru has yet to lose a single TvP match in 2021, putting up a 12-0 match record with an insane 26-2 map score (only Hurricane and PartinG took maps off of Maru). Maru played a lot of TvP this GSL season, both in code A and its qualifier, but did not have to show any special builds or tactics (proxy-Starport drops are basically a standard build). For the most part, his opponents were a level below in the match-up, allowing him to comfortably beat them with regular macro games.
Trap, in contrast, is 'only' 26-17 against Terran over this same period. Besides his shakier record, it's notable that Trap has also been particularly vulnerable against ByuN—an occasional strategic collaborator with Maru. This does not bode well for Trap, but thankfully for the Afreeca Freecs Protoss, he dominated Maru 3-0 in their last GSL meeting at December's Super Tournament 2. We know that Maru isn't immune to letting the team-kill mind games get to his head—infamously, he gave up a disastrous upset to sOs in the quarterfinals of BlizzCon 2018 after an otherwise dominant year. Even Maru's composure could be shaken if Trap manages to get under Maru's skin early in the match.
On the other hand, their most recent clash in the NeXT Korean server qualifiers ended in a 2-0 win for Maru. Obviously, neither player revealed any special strategic cards ahead of their Code S match, but Maru's quality of play revealed why Trap is right to fear him. There was no such thing as a 'safe' position for Trap in that short series—every time it seemed like Trap was in position to play out a macro game, Maru smashed through the Protoss defenses and ended the games at will.
I do believe that Trap will be a fierce opponent for Maru. Nevertheless, Maru has displayed impeccable macro games time and time again in this GSL. That, combined with Trap's own lack of confidence due to practice results, suggests that Maru has too much of an edge in the BO7 format. In my opinion, Trap coming in as an underdog and playing with a more relaxed mindset will help him play at his top level, but it will not be enough to overcome the challenge at hand. If there is one player capable of breaking Rogue’s invincible streak in grand finals, it's a player who is also capable of claiming the coveted and elusive G5L trophy. This is Maru's time to shine in this GSL dominated by the former Jin Air superstars. This is Maru’s story.
Prediction: Maru 4 - 2 Trap