DreamHack Masters: Last Chance 2022by Wax
With the IEM Katowice qualification scenarios mostly sorted out, DreamHack Masters: "Last Chance" isn't quite the dramatic affair that fans hoped it would be. Still, there are still Katowice stakes on the line for a handful of players who might change their fortunes with a miracle run deep into the playoffs.
RO16 - Group A Preview: Rogue, Zest, TIME, ElazerStart time: Tuesday, Jan 11 2:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
The key person of interest in this group is Elazer, who is one of the three players at DHM Last Chance who can improve their starting position at IEM Katowice with a deep run (read more here). A top two or higher finish will see him overtake ShoWTimE (and possibly MaxPax) in the European standings, letting him bypass the dangerous RO36 play-in stage and start in the more prestigious RO24 group stage (raising his minimum prize money from $350 to $2000). The difference between the RO36 and RO24 is a massive difference in a game that's as volatile as SC2, so Elazer has quite a lot riding for him in this event—and that's not even mentioning the prize money and prestige of DHM: Last Chance itself!
While Elazer has had a pretty middling 2021/22 season so far—a top six finish at DHM EU: Summer was his best result—he did come through in the clutch to qualify for this event. His final qualifier match saw him take down ShoWTimE 3-2, forcing the German Protoss to scrap for EPT points in the next few ESL Open Cups.
Realistically speaking, it seems very unlikely that Elazer will get the top two finish he needs to improve his Katowice seeding, but an RO8 berth does seem like it's in play—if still difficult.
The first match-up is a tough one for sure, as he faces one of the hottest players at the moment in Rogue. The two-time IEM Katowice winner seems to be rounding into form just in time to challenge for an absurd third world championship, having won two of the most recent majors in GSL Super Tournament 3 and TeamLiquid Starleague 8. You might think Elazer is totally dead when you think about the combined 7-3 thrashing Rogue gave Serral in the latter rounds of TSL8, but that result is a bit misleading in the context of this particular match against Elazer. Compared to players like Serral or Maru, Rogue is more clutch than he is dominant and he can be surprisingly vulnerable to players who are weaker than him on paper. In the past few months he's lost to Lambo (NeXT group stage) and Cham (World Team League), and been pushed to the verge of defeat by Scarlett (DHM Winter). Conversely, Elazer's high-variance ZvZ has allowed him to pull off huge upsets from time to time, such as BO5 wins over Serral and Reynor (TSL #5 and #6) at a time when the duo seemed invincible in Europe. Again, Rogue is definitely a tough opponent for Elazer, but it's not as bleak a proposition as if he had drawn a #1 seed like Maru—I think he has a puncher's chance (interestingly enough, Elazer is one win, one draw against Rogue in all-time results).
Similarly, Elazer is surely the underdog against Zest as well, but Zest's extreme inconsistency makes him a much more beatable opponent compared to another #2 seed like Cure or Dark. Remember, Zest recently had a one month stretch that was soooo bad that some fans (including me) were convinced that he was tamping down his StarCraft II activities in order to prepare for military service. That disaster stretch even included a 1-2 loss to Elazer in the lower bracket of TSL8. While Zest can sometimes look like he has the best Queen-walk defense in the world, that TSL8 series showed the ugly side of Zest where he looks ready to fold against the slightest bit of pressure. Even though Zest has started to play better since mid December, once again racking up ESL Open Cup victories, you have to wonder if this will be yet another international tournament where he crashes out early. The current version of Zest rarely gets any middling results—it's almost always a top four finish or a first round exit—and Elazer can hope this time it's the latter.
Even TIME—the one group opponent who is relatively even with Elazer—has been caught at a relatively opportune moment. TIME's TvZ is what really earned him recognition outside of China, barely losing to Serral in a tough five-game series when the Finnish Phenom seemed invincible in the match-up. However, losing in a shock upset to Cyan in the finals of DHM China: Winter seemed to motivate a crazy short-term transformation for TIME, as he turned his TvP into his best match-up in a matter of weeks. The thing is, his TvZ seems to have suffered slightly for it. TIME enjoys playing an aggressive style reminiscent of both Clem and a younger version of Maru, but the slightest loss of speed and multi-tasking can turn audacious attacks into disastrous defeats. Aligulac actually sees Elazer as a slight favorite at the moment, which seems like an accurate assessment given their recent form (I'm guessing Elazer's recent 2-0 upset against Clem in the ESL weeklies took him over the top).
Predictions: After the last couple of months of StarCraft II, I have to pick Rogue to advance in first place—even if I know he has a history of inconsistency. However, I can't really give Zest that same benefit of the doubt and lock him in as second, especially with his inexplicably poor run of games in November-December. That makes second place in this group very hard to predict, with any of Zest, TIME, or Elazer capable of advancing if they're in better form on the day.
In the end, I'm going to give Elazer the nod due to the stakes involved—he might not make it all the way to the finals, but I think he can survive for at least another few days and make ShoWTimE sweat it out until the very end.
Rogue > Elazer
TIME > Zest
Rogue > TIME
Elazer > Zest
Elazer > TIME
Rogue and Elazer to advance.
RO16 - Group B Preview: Maru, Reynor, HeroMarine, RagnaroKStart time: Wednesday, Jan 12 2:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
Another player who can promote themselves from the RO36 to the RO24 of Katowice is RagnaroK. Unlike Elazer, RagnaroK might 'only' need a top four finish to squeeze into the RO24, though he'd need a few other results to go his way.
The Alpha X Zerg had a very disappointing 2021 campaign where he only qualified for a single Code S tournament, having been halted by Hurricane and sOs in two Code A matches he arguably should have won. However, RagnaroK finally started to come alive in the last quarter of the year, showing us some of the skills that made him a Code S regular in the past. In individual events, he made the top eight at NeXT Season 2 (narrowly losing to Zest in the RO8) and finished top four in TSL8 (eliminated with two losses to Trap). He's been strong in the World Team League as well, winning TL.net's regular season award for best Zerg. He's a major reason why Alpha X has a top four playoff seed, taking care of business against weaker foes and forcing 1-1 draws out of top-tier opponents. RagnaroK put in yet another impressive performance in the qualifiers for DHM: Last Chance, taking out Has, Trap, and Solar to earn this final opportunity.
While RagnaroK did stumble lately as he failed to earn a GSL Super Tournament 1 berth (losing to Bunny, Classic, DongRaeGu, and Trap), he still seems to be in much better form than he was for most of 2021.
I would have liked RagnaroK to advance if he was in Elazer's position, but he's drawn what I think is a much tougher group. His opening match against Maru looks especially grim, with Maru currently standing as the undisputed best TvZ player in the world. One of RagnaroK's quirks is his penchant for playing entertaining, close-seeming games against Maru that invariably end in losses (Maru is 18-1 against RagnaroK), so I expect more of the same here. I wouldn't be surprised if RagnaroK actually took some mid-game leads, only to be painfully grinded down by Maru's turtle style.
A match against Reynor is a more interesting proposition, with RagnaroK having defeated Reynor recently in TSL8. RagnaroK actually said he lacked confidence in his ZvZ, but the lack of pressure and expectations let him prevail in that particular match. It's hard to tell exactly where Reynor's level is right now—he definitely fell off in the latter half of 2021, managing only top six finishes in DHM EU Fall and Winter while getting top 6 in TSL8 and top 16 in NeXT Season 2. However, we should all remember that Reynor also seemed like he was slumping headed into last year's IEM Katowice tournament, but a few weeks of intense practice (including the famous 1v4 archon games) transformed him into the eventual World Champion. That run has earned Reynor that rare quality where you can never count him out regardless of his form, and I'm very curious to see how he'll play at DHM Last Chance. If the version of Reynor that's still being preheated shows up, however, he could definitely be upset by RagnaroK again.
The presence of HeroMarine is one of the big reasons I think RagnaroK has a poor chance of making a miracle run. With Clem struggling as of late, there's a legitimate case to be made that Big Gabe is the third best player in Europe and playing some of the best StarCraft II of his career (you could even make the case for second best, but I'm not ready for that fight yet). Not only is he mashing his peers in ESL weekly cup competition, but he made two eye-opening runs at ASUS ROG Fall and King of Battles 2 as well. While those tournaments are a few months removed compared to the very latest events in NeXT or TSL8, his group stage wins against Koreans like herO, Trap, Zest, and RagnaroK, combined with big BO5 wins against Europeans Clem and Reynor made it feel like HeroMArine was playing on a new level. That is to say, for a player who's infamous for always beating the players he 'should' beat, and always losing to those he shouldn't, a fringe Code S player like RagnaroK might fall firmly into the 'should' category at this point.
Prediction: If Reynor is still below his World Championship level, then it's a no-brainer to pick Maru to advance in first place. While I debated briefly between HeroMarine and Reynor for second place, I still have to go with Reynor in this spot. Even though he's temporarily diminished, and though he gives up upsets to HeroMarine now and then, he still wins the majority of their clashes.
While I can still see a RagnaroK advancement path through HeroMarine and Reynor, I just don't like the odds enough to predict it.
Maru > RagnaroK
Reynor > HeroMarine
Maru > Reynor
HeroMarine > RagnaroK
Reynor > HeroMarine
Maru and Reynor to advance.