2021 GSL Super Tournament 3 - QuarterfinalsStart time: Monday, Nov 29 8:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
It feels like the StarCraft II gods are willing Maru to win his fourth major trophy in three months, placing him on the 'easy' side of the Super Tournament bracket while Dark, Rogue, Cure, and Trap are engaged in a fatal four-way on the opposite side. Still, when you consider how some of the championship contenders just barely survived to reach the round-of-sixteen, you can't take anyone's survival for granted in the round-of-eight—not even Maru's!
Quarterfinal Match #1: Dark vs Rogueby Wax
Dark vs. Rogue feels like a totally different match-up from what it was just five months ago. Back in Season 2 of Code S, Dark got uncharacteristically emotional after overcoming Rogue in the quarterfinals. While the two had a close overall head-to-head record for their careers, Dark had considered Rogue as something of a personal demon after getting eliminated by him in a number of major events.
However, since that key victory over Rogue in Code Season 2 (after which Dark went on to win the championship), the relationship seems to have changed to be that of equals. It's not just that Dark has gone 50/50 with Rogue in various major events—Rogue won in Code S Season 3 and ASUS ROG, while Dark came out ahead in DHM Winter and King of Battles—but the general demeanor they have toward each other has also changed. Dark no longer gives Rogue so much deference in interviews, while Rogue acknowledges that they're on more even footing now.
Headed into the match, both players seem to be in great overall shape. Honestly, that's something that goes without saying—it really only bears pointing out when either of the two Zergs aren't playing at championship level. Rogue recently took two second place finishes in major tournaments, losing to Maru in the finals of both DHM Winter and ASUS ROG Fall. Considering Maru's scorching hot form lately, there's not much to criticize about those second place finishes. As for Dark, his results look worse at first glance as he's failed to make it past the top four of major tournaments in the past three months, but that's largely because he's running into Maru and Rogue at critical junctures (King of Battles 2 was particularly brutal, where he defeated Rogue only to run directly into Maru). All in all, it seems safe to say Dark and Rogue are the same dangerous Zergs that we're used to seeing.
There's no telling how a match between these two players might unfold, as they've played every sort of match against each other in their multiple recent clashes. Whether it's early-game Ling-Bane knife-fights, Roach-bust vs defense, or all-out Muta wars, everything seems to be on the table with these two. As is often the case with two familiar foes who face each other often, they can also play some extra bizarre games each other, like two draws that ensued from Dark's extreme Zergling-Spine Crawler all-ins (, ). In most scenarios, I'd say the two players are virtually dead even—however, the one place I think Dark might have an advantage is the Lurker-Viper late-game. That common EU ZvZ scenario has rarely occurred between the two, and when it did in DHM Winter, Dark seemed to be far more proficient at piloting that cumbersome composition.
Dark is currently on an impressive 10+ match winning streak in ZvZ, and Aligulac gives him a solid advantage with a 61.47% chance to win. However, human opinion is more skeptical, with both Liquibet and real-money gamblers seeing this match-up as close to even. I'm going to side with my fellow humans on this one and say this one is too close to call… ...except that I'm forced to make a prediction for the sake of the preview. Thus, I'll break my internal tie by siding with the machine overlords, and say Dark takes this one by a narrow margin.
Prediction: Dark 3 - 2 Rogue
Quarterfinal Match #2: Cure vs Trapby Wax
Much has changed since these former teammates faced each other in the Code S semifinals.
For Trap, it's mostly been change for the worse. He's in the midst of a two-month slump after his loss to Cure in Code S, subsequently getting eliminated from the quarterfinals of DHM Winter, struggling to keep Afreeca afloat in the World Team League, and failing to qualify for two major online tournaments King of Battles or NeXT. It's a steep fall-off for a player who was once undoubtedly the #1 Protoss and a title contender in any tournament he entered.
As for Cure, Trap was one of the many obstacles he overcame on his way to finally winning the Code S championship. Unfortunately, a slump has also followed for Cure, and his results have fallen off in a variety of online events. While I originally thought he was just taking a well-earned break after expending all his mental energy on winning Code S, his post-match interview from the previous round of the Super Tournament revealed otherwise. Cure said that he had continued to practice hard because he wanted to continue his momentum from winning Code S, but that his confidence had been shaken due to the unexpectedly poor results.
Both players have talked about their inability to adapt to the current meta as part of the reason for their struggles. Given how closely matched the top ten players have been for the last year or so, it does seem plausible that major changes would lead to such major slumps. Then again, Maru is currently on a ridiculous hot streak while simultaneously complaining about everything Terran (as he typically does), so perhaps there's more to it.
In any case, this could be a good bounceback opportunity for both players. While Trap isn't quite the dominant PvT player he was earlier this year, he's still #2 in the Aligulac.com rankings for the match-up at the time of writing (he's fallen to #3 in PvP and #5 in PvZ). Similarly, Cure still holds onto the #3 position in the Aligulac.com TvP rankings, despite his ratings having fallen across the board. Also, both Trap and Cure seemed to consider the PvT their currently most playable match-up during their interviews.
Build-orders and early mind-games were vital to Cure's GSL championship run, and his brainy ways helped him defeat Trap 4-1 as well. Whether through dealing direct damage or using the threat thereof to get in his opponent's head, Cure always seemed to find a way to start with an advantage. Personally, I think 4-1 was one of the more extreme possible outcomes for the match, having as much to do with bad luck on Trap's side as it did with sick reads from Cure. Trap is the best player in the world at punishing the Terran player if their early game gambit fails, and the series could easily have gone the other way if Trap was more fortunate.
The overall head-to-head record favors Cure by 26W–19L in matches, including a 3–1 record after their Code S semifinals match. Aligulac's formula favors Cure with a 54.25% chance to win, which is fairly in-line with gambling sites which say this match-up is a 50/50 toss up. That's my personal sentiment as well, as I see this match-up swinging either way depending on who gets more early-game build-order advantages (that's a nice way to say this could be all about build order/scouting coin flips). I'm going to give Cure the slight advantage here because of his lead in recent head-to-heads, but I'm far from sure about the outcome.
Prediction: Cure 3 - 2 Trap
Quarterfinal Match #3: Zoun vs Solarby Poopi
Zoun was one of the huge favorites of the first round who had to pull off a reverse sweep to advance, overcoming a stiff challenge from Ryung. On the other hand, Solar came through with flying colors against Dream, advancing far more easily than most expected (I even predicted him to lose) with a 3-0 sweep. Will any of this information be of use in predicting a totally different match-up?
Zoun is no stranger to advancing after narrowly averting elimination. Indeed, in his Super Tournament 2 run, he won every match by a 3-2 score, including two reverse-sweeps against Dark and sOs. Versus Ryung, he showed that survivor's instinct again by adapting to his opponent on the fly, which was key to ultimately winning the match. When you add the fact that this next match is PvZ and not PvT, my conclusion is that Zoun's RO16 performance doesn't give us much reason for concern.
On the other hand, it's encouraging that Solar managed to 3-0 a good TvZ player like Dream. I think he was somewhat unlucky when he was eliminated in the RO16 of the previous two Super Tournaments this year, losing by a close 2-3 score to INnoVation in Season 1 and drawing a difficult first round match against Rogue in Season 2. Historically, Solar has been a player who makes deep runs in Super Tournaments, so regardless of his persisting issues in GSL Code S, at least he seems to be getting back on track here.
If we can expect both players to show up at full strength, who will come out on top in this PvZ encounter? Though Solar has already proven me wrong once, I think that Zoun is more likely to win this encounter. PvZ's have become hard to predict in this 2-Stargate vs Queen-walk meta, but if we set September as the arbitrary start date for that trend, Zoun has been very good and consistent under current conditions. He has an impressive 27W–10L record in matches (72.97% win-rate) in this period, with a solid respectable 66W–39L map win-rate as well. He's gone back and forth with the likes of Rogue and Dark, and his 'worst' losses have come against solid players like Lambo, RagnaroK, and Rattata (formerly Vanya).
Meanwhile, Solar's win-rate is barely above 50% in the same time frame with a 32W–25L match record and a 89W–75L map score. Like Zoun, Solar has wins against strong players like Trap, ShoWTimE, and Neeb, but has also given up losses to lower-ranked players like Has, herO, MaNa and even EastToss (#163 in the world). Overall he is looking more vulnerable in the match-up than Zoun, and not quite as scary.
In terms of head-to-head record, Zoun is once again favored. Solar may be ahead in all-time head-to-head matches with with 44 wins and 38 losses against Zoun, but Zoun has actually won their last five encounters with a combined map score of 11W-3L—with all those wins coming after the map pool change and well into the current PvZ meta. Solar has racked up most of those career victories back before Zoun hit his 2021 level, which makes me confident that the head-to-head record will skew toward Zoun, sooner or later.
All in all, I agree with Aligulac.com that Zoun is the favorite, with the stats website giving him around a 61% chance to win. However, Solar can peak very high when he's playing well, and I find PvZ really hard to predict these days due to the all-or-nothing nature of Queen-Walk vs 2-Stargate. Therefore, I will be conservative with my score prediction, trusting Zoun to get his frequent Super Tournament scoreline of 3-2.
Prediction: Zoun 3 - 2 Solar
Quarterfinal Match #4: Maru vs herOby Poopi
Maru versus herO would have been a close match in most of the years prior to herO's military service.Their head-to-head record attests it: Maru barely edges out herO at 25W–24L in maps and 12W–12L–1D in matches. Of course, the majority of these matches happened before herO went to the military. herO has not yet returned to the ranks of the top Protosses, while Maru has only improved his TvP in herO's absence. Given how easily Maru handled Classic—another top Protoss who recently returned from the military—it would be very optimistic to hope for herO to do much better and win the match.
The glimmer of hope for herO is that one draw in the head-to-head record, which is his only match against Maru since his return. That occurred recently in the World Team League, where Maru won the first game easily by running circles around him with bio on Blackburn. It looked Maru was about to win game two on Hardwire on as well, but got overzealous in his constant attacks against Protoss bases defended by Shield Batteries and ultimately lost enough of his army to let herO launch a game-winning counter-attack. Given the high-stakes nature of this WTL match, we can assume Maru was trying his best—if perhaps also underestimating his opponent. However, taking a map off Maru and beating him in the BO5 are on whole different levels of difficulty.
Aligulac.com predicts Maru to win with 80:20 odds, which befits his #1 spot on the TvP rankings. Ever since his 1-3 loss against Trap in Code S season 3, Maru has put up an excellent record of 12W–2L-1D in matches (85.7% win-rate) and 29W–10L in maps (74.36%). Most of those matches were solid wins against foreign Protosses, but he did manage to take out Trap in convincing fashion in a recent WTL ace match. If one was looking for a flaw, it's that his loss to herO isn't the only outlier defeat on his record—he also lost a shocking ace-match to Prince in the WTL (part of Team GP's miracle run where they've been vastly outperforming expectations), and went 1-3 against Harstem in the TSL#8 EU server qualifiers.
In the same period, herO also has an impressive and encouraging record with 21W–11L–1D in matches (65.62%) and 58W–34L in maps (63.04%), albeit against arguably weaker competition on average due to herO's frequent competition in smaller cup competition (arguable, as Maru's recent TvP draws in major tournaments haven't been the hardest). herO's 2-1 victory against Clem in TSL8 confirms that he is not afraid of playing dirty to win matches, and his retro Phoenix-Glaive Adept all-in demonstrated exactly why Maru said he was wary of herO's "weird" style during his Super Tournament interview. I fully expect to see similar, devious tactics from herO against Maru.
Yet, after being a little bit conservative in my prediction of Maru vs Classic (another player with a great strategic mind), this time I will predict Maru to win this match without dropping a map. He's looked to be in complete control in every TvP he's played lately, and I have to bow to his seemingly invincible form in all match-ups.
Prediction: Maru 3 - 0 herO