2021 GSL Super Tournament 3 - QuarterfinalsStart time: Thursday, Dec 02 8:00am GMT (GMT+00:00)
Maru has moved one step closer to winning four major tournaments in a row, but he still has to get through two more rounds of competition. Solar has a reputation of being his personal punching bag, but their recent games suggest that Maru just might get KO'd on the swingback.
Meanwhile, Maru's former teammates Rogue and Cure can't be underestimated either, with both players bringing Code S championship credentials to the ring.
Semifinal Match #1: Cure vs Rogueby Poopi
This Super Tournament had a really stacked top side of the bracket, with all the code S winners of 2021—Rogue, Dark and Cure—joined by a Code S finalist and double Super Tournament winner in Trap. The resulting semifinals is an enticing showdown between two of the Code S champions, with current title-holder Cure taking on Season 1 winner Rogue.
Even though Cure is the latest Code S champion, reaching the semifinals of the Super Tournament was not an entirely expected result. Cure went from champion to group-stage fodder in a couple of post-GSL events—and not for a lack of practice, according to Cure. Given his poor form, it’s been both a surprise and somewhat redemptive for Cure to survive ByuN and Trap in the first two rounds of the Super Tournament. ByuN and Cure had played a lot of matches prior to their ST match, and came into it tied 5–5 in their last ten. Cure broke the tie with a narrow 3-2 win. Elite PvT player Trap was obviously a difficult opponent as well, even if Cure had won Code S on the back of his strong TvP, and even if Trap was one of the players he took down during his run. But Cure demonstrated his mastery of the match-up once again, and comfortably beat Trap 3-1.
If Cure wins this match against Rogue, it would complete an impressive trio of wins against top players of every faction. It would be a great way for Cure to shake off his brief slump and remind everyone that he is the Code S champion, possessing all the qualities that come with that vaunted title.
Rogue is also probably very eager to win this match. Heading into last season's Code S semifinals, he seemed like the big favorite to win the championship and match Maru’s title count at four. However, he lost by the smallest of margins in an epic semifinals series against Zest—one has to wonder how he would have fared against Cure had he advanced to the finals.
This unfamiliar experience of getting a high finish but falling short of the championship repeated itself for Rogue in subsequent tournaments. He he reached the finals of ASUS ROG Fall with statement series against TvZ specialist Clem (3-0) and frequent foe Dark (3-1), but could not defeat Maru in the grand finals (unlike Code S season 1). Similarly, he defeated SErral and Scarlett to reach the finals of DHM Winter, only to lose to Maru yet again.
Rogue's run so far has arguably been more impressive than Cure’s. He beat KeeN 3-0, which might sound like the expected result until you consider that many favorites (namely Dark, Trap, and Zoun) barely beat their underdog opponents 3-2. Rogue destroyed his weaker opponent the way you’d expect a championship favorite might. There was a much tougher challenge in the quarterfinals in the form of Dark. The two had fought several times in important BO’s this year. Dark was victorious in Code S Season 2 (3-2) and King of Battles 2 (3-2), while Rogue won in Code S Season 3 (3-2) and the aforementioned ASUS ROG (3-1). This time around, it was Rogue who came out on top, showing excellent form in a 3-1 victory.
My initial impression was that Rogue would win against Cure, and the data mostly bears this out. To start, Aligulac.com projects this match to be fairly close, giving Rogue a 55.31% chance to win at the time of writing. Both have very high Aligulac ratings in the match-ups with Cure at #3 in TvZ while Rogue is #4 in ZvT. While Aligulac rating factors in opponent strength, it’s still interesting to look at the raw win-loss records. Starting in October (which roughly coincides with the new map pool), Cure has actually been below 50% in TvZ win-rate with a 23W–27L map record. Most of his losses come against strong players like Dark, Solar, Reynor, Serral, and Rogue—that would be understandable, if he didn’t have so few wins against them in return. He’s also conceded upsets to players like Scarlett (in the DHW Winter finals) and Armani (a shocking 0-2 in the WTL), contributing to the perception (or reality) of a post-championship slump. On the plus side, he did beat Rogue lately in a smaller online showmatch, which I’ll talk about below.
Rogue has been steadier in ZvT with a 41W–30L (57.55%) map record. Like Cure, he’s received more punishment than he’s dished against strong Terrans like Maru, Clem, and ByuN (he did go blow for blow with Maru in the NeXT group stage with both players winning a BO3 series). However, he’s been more consistent against players on the tier below, beating the likes of Dream, SpeCial, HeroMarine, and MarineLorD. My conclusion from all these games is that Rogue only had real problems with Maru, ByuN, and Clem, while Cure was questionable against a broader swath of Zerg opponents.
The career head-to-head record favors Rogue 39W–25L in matches (108-88 in maps), while a more limited 2021 record still favors Rogue 9W–6L in matches. Their most recent encounter in a major tournament came in the Code S group stages, which ended up in a 2-1 win for Rogue (though, perhaps Rogue likes to think of it as a 3-0 since Cure got his only win with a successful proxy 2 rax). While those matches occured on the old map pool, Rogue did show superior ability in late-game situations, which might mean he has an advantage on this season's even larger maps.
The two also clashed just a few days ago in the Alpha X Brawler Club series of showmatches, with Cure winning 3-1 (VOD). Of course, these kinds of matches have to be taken with a grain of salt when played near a major tournament, but it was still interesting to see what each player’s ‘standard’ TvZ looked like (presumably, it will be what their GSL mind-games are based on).
Cure won the first game using squads of Marines and Medivacs to his advantage, gradually out-trading Rogue until he was forced to surrender. The second game on Curious Minds went Cure’s way as well, as he won in a late-game macro battle. Rogue’s only point came on Glittering Ashes where he swallowed up the map far more quickly than Cure, enabling him to overwhelm the Terran with wave after wave of Zerg. Finally, Cure closed things out on Hardwire in another late-game contest, as he successfully limited Rogue’s economy and outlasted him on resources.
Rogue’s performance especially in the smaller cups is not a good indicator of his level in the GSL or World Championships, so I am not convinced Cure will be able to replicate that success in this Super Tournament match. After seeing Cure’s TvZ losses in recent major tournaments, and comparing them with how closely Rogue fought Maru in two finals, I would still rate Rogue more highly than Cure when the stakes are high.
Neither player needs this win to qualify for Katowice, but Rogue is probably more embittered by his recent second place finishes. I think he will be more hungry for a victory than Cure—or at least a chance to avenge himself against Maru—so I will trust him to advance.
Prediction: Cure 1 - 3 Rogue
Semifinal Match #2: Solar vs Maruby Wax
Maru and Solar's cyber-bullying saga is one of StarCraft II's most comical and sympathetic subplots, with the four-time Code S champion finding ways to torment the one-time SSL champion at every turn. Occasionally, it's quirks of seeding in tournaments like this that see the two face off—many other times, it's been Maru who has been hand-picking Solar as his opponent during the GSL group selections.
In large part, Maru seems justified in his confidence against Solar. For his career, he's 24W–9L against Solar in matches with a solid 52W–30L map record. Yet, at moments it feels like he's being recklessly overconfident against Solar. It's not like Maru is undefeated against Solar in the GSL—Solar actually helped eliminate Maru from the RO16 back in 2020's Code S Season 2 (alas, Solar was eliminated as well). Furthermore, Solar has picked up big, best-of-five victories against Maru in non-GSL tournaments such as NeXT and ASUS ROG Online—but that doesn't seem to earn him much respect in Maru's eyes.
Maybe it's moments like the infamous nuke at IEM Katowice that gives Maru a kind of irrational confidence against Solar. Once you've made a player commit what might be the biggest error in StarCraft II history, you have to believe that you're living rent free inside their head and soul.
Interestingly enough, Solar was actually winning that match before he got hit by the nuke. Not only that, but he later went on to partially rectify that mistake. In the previous Code S tournament, Solar outdueled the supposedly invincible late-game god Maru (VOD), beating down the same Thors and Ghosts that toppled Serral months later. However, Solar still ended up losing the overall series 1-2, losing to Maru's early and mid-game oriented attacks. That sort of result further reinforces the notion that Maru's confidence against Solar isn't just in gameplay—it's in the mental game.
At least Maru stopped being such a meanie to Solar in the very latest major tournament of King of Battles 2. The Alpha X hosted event decided to use a modified version of the GSL's group selection format, complete with the free "swap" for #1 seeded player Maru. With his first pick, Maru took MaNa, with Mana picking Solar in turn. One would think that was found money for Maru, getting Solar in his group without having to expend a pick. However, in a minor surprise, he actually swapped Solar away for Elazer—I guess disrespect for foreigners trumps disrespect for Solar. Still, considering that Maru swapped Solar into a group of death with Clem, Dark and Cure—which Solar did not survive—perhaps it was still bullying in the end.
To no one's surprise, Aligulac.com gives Maru a healthy 77.48% chance to win the match. The Team NV ace has been on a ridiculous TvZ tear in the last couple of months, with the match-up powering him to consecutive wins at ASUS ROG Fall, DHM Winter, and King of Battles. With multiple wins against virtually every top Zerg, he's even supplanted Clem at the top of Aligulac's TvZ rankings. The one fly in the ointment for Maru was his run in the NeXT Winter qualifiers, where he was eliminated with losses to Rogue, Dark, AND Solar. I suspect those two days of games were heavily responsible for some of Maru's balance whining in later tournament interviews—tournaments he went on to win by beating the same players, of course.
Maru's late-game wins against the likes of Rogue and Serral were what stood out the most in his recent hot streak, as that's where he separates himself the most from his peers. Sure, Maru is still excellent in the early and mid-game as well, but there doesn't seem to be anyone even close to him in late-game ability. And yet, Solar did win that one late-game duel against him in Code S...
Compared to Maru's god-like TvZ, Solar's ZvT merely falls into the 'very good' zone at #5 in the Aligulac rankings. But, at least going by the eye-test, I think Solar has the potential to be a far better player. I'm not exaggerating when I say that Solar in peak form is every bit as good as Serral, Rogue, or Dark. And I'm not just going on that one late-game victory against Maru—if you look at some of his other wins against Maru this year (, ), he can be dominant in every phase of the game. The problem for Solar is the same as it is with many other mid/high-tier pros—he's inconsistent in the most important tournaments. The level of play he showed in his one-sided 3-0 of Dream in the RO16 wasn't the surprise—it was the fact that he sustained that level for three consecutive maps.
In particular, my biggest area of concern for Solar is his defensive consistency. A big part of the reason he doesn't often get to play a Serral-esque front-to-end destruction game is because he frequently takes big economic hits. The most obvious example that comes to mind was his WTL ace-match versus Percival. With the intense pressure of a best-of-one ace match on his shoulders, Solar completely crumbled against mid-game Widow Mine drops and eventually lost to a player with one Code S appearance ever.
While I think the best version of Solar actually has a 40~45% shot at taking down Maru, I just can't rely on that player to show up in the AfreecaTV studio. On the other hand, we're currently seeing the best version of Maru nearly every time he plays StarCraft II. I'm predicting Maru to win, but hoping Solar can at least play well enough to get Maru to stop picking on him.
Prediction: Maru 3 - 2 Solar