DreamHack Masters: Last Chance 2022by Poopi
After a series of wild results and even wilder games in the first two RO16 groups of DHM Last Chance, we can only hope that the next two groups will keep the trend going. Group C features the tournament's group of death, while Group D sees the last player with IEM Katowice stakes on the line go into action.
RO16 - Group C Preview: Clem, Dark, Solar, MaxPaxStart time: Thursday, Jan 13 2:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
Group C is special in DHM Last Chance for a couple of reasons. First, most fans would probably agree that it’s the group of death, with two of the top Zergs and arguably the best foreign Protoss and Terran. In fact, Group C players have the most total combined EPT points among all of the groups (Group A: 6568, Group B: 6844, Group C: 6958, Group D: 6416).
Another quirk of Group C is that it’s the only one without any major IEM Katowice stakes—Dark has a RO24 seed from winning a GSL championship, while Clem, MaxPax, and Solar have all guaranteed themselves RO24 spots on points. So for better or for worse, these players can compete here without the added pressure of thinking about IEM Katowice.
Also, as this is the last big test before the World Championship, it's our best shot of assessing the current power level of four players whose form can fluctuate at times. We'll see if Clem's recent TvZ struggles are still a matter of concern, and if the ever-improving MaxPax has gone up yet another level. We also have Solar, who can play championship tier SC2 at times, but can't always show it in the biggest events. Finally, there's Dark, who hasn't been able to clinch another first place finish since winning Code S Season 2.
The first match of the group will be a very familiar match-up for those who watch the EPT Weekly European cups on Mondays. Indeed, Clem and MaxPax are frequent foes, with the two going back and forth evenly as of late. Though Clem's tournament results suggest that he has been struggling recently, it's interesting to note that he's actually in insanely good form in TvP with a 78-22 map record (78% win-rate) in the last two months. On the other hand, MaxPax has just over a 50% win-rate in PvT in the same period with a 39-36 record.
The usual cup competition caveats apply here, with Clem racking up a lot of his wins against weaker opponents. However, the same could be said of MaxPax (though one might argue that the demographics of EU SC2 provides more Protosses to feast on), and Clem has taken quality wins against strong Protosses like ShoWTimE and Trap on top of lesser foes. The Aligulac.com formula, which takes the strength of opponents into account, still sees Clem as the solid favorite with a 71.39% chance of winning this match. Of course, Clem also has a massive head-to-head advantage at 34-11 in matches—MaxPax may be going 50/50 against Clem lately, but he was dominated by him for most of his early career.
While MaxPax has shown that he's on more even footing with Clem now, I still see Clem winning the first round. Most of his troubles have been in TvZ, and he should still be relatively confident in TvP against MaxPax. While Clem has shown some weakness to fine-tuned aggressive builds (notably against herO), he'll know to be more careful about that potential hole in his game.
The ZvZ between Dark and Solar will be a rematch from the recent GSL: Super Tournament 1 2022 qualifier, in which Dark sent Solar to the loser’s bracket with a 2-0 victory. Surprisingly, the two didn't play each other much in 2021, with Dark winning twice and tying in a WTL match. Despite Dark's recent success, this is a very difficult match to predict if we go by the numbers. The career head-to-head record favors the DPG Zerg slightly at 69-57 (54.76% win-rate), and Aligulac.com's predictive formula actually sees the match as virtually even with Dark leading by about half a percentage point. The two players also have very similar ZvZ records over the last two months, with Dark standing at 32-21 while Solar is 37-22 in maps. There's not much to glean from the specific opponents either, as both players beat up on weaker opponents and match up closely against fellow strong Zergs. Therefore, I'll go with my heart on this pick and take Dark to win, given his better track record in major tournaments. Personally, I want to see Clem face Dark, and both of them winning their initial match seems like the most likely way to get there.
If things go as I predict, the winners' match will feature Clem vs Dark in what's becoming a new classic. The two hadn't fought at all before 2021, but since then, they've faced each other in four BO5+ series and a handful of shorter bouts. Clem was hailed as the best TvZ player in the world for a large chunk of 2020-2021, but Dark's 4-2 victory over Clem in TSL7 was what began a slow erosion of Clem's reputation. Dark won despite being the underdog (which is a testimony to Clem’s TvZ aura around that period), and after that, Clem suffered previously unthinkable losses to players like Lambo and Denver as well. While Clem has remained one of the best TvZ players, he no longer seems unbeatable—he's lost to top Koreans like Rogue and Dark in major tournaments several times since.
Dark is 5-3 in matches against Clem with a 16-6 combined map record, and at this point, Aligulac actually sees Dark as a moderate favorite with a 64.38% chance to win. I can’t help but agree. Anyone watching the ESL Open Cups of these last few weeks would have noticed Clem dropping series against several Zergs who were supposedly below his level before, and he has a rather poor 29-24 TvZ map record over the last couple of months. Meanwhile, Dark has a 49-17 map record over the same period.
Still, recently, there was a notable day where Clem really shined in all four match-ups, when he very nearly all-killed team Korea in a holiday Olimoleague Invitational (wins over Maru, Trap, Dark, and Rogue). Though he was eventually defeated by a revived Maru, the match provided hope for Clem fans that he might be regaining his form. No, his results after that December match haven't exactly been positive, but perhaps DHM Last Chance will be where Clem demonstrates that he still has what it takes to beat every Zerg on the planet, and even challenge for an international title. But given his protracted struggles on the new map pool, I still project Dark to win if they were to meet here.
The remaining matches should be more predictable—MaxPax has had insanely good results in the PvZ match-up these last 2 months, while Solar has been 'merely' performing at his usual good level. Aligulac gives MaxPax a 58.78% chance to win, and considering his only major losses in the last few months have come against Serral (0-3) and Scarlett (0-2), I have to give him the edge. In a potential rematch between Clem and MaxPax, I think Clem will remain the favorite despite the rematch curse and come through in second place.
Clem > MaxPax
Dark > Solar
Clem < Dark
MaxPax > Solar
Clem > MaxPax
Dark and Clem to advance.
RO16 - Group D Preview: Serral, Cure, Dream, DongRaeGuStart time: Friday, Jan 14 2:00pm GMT (GMT+00:00)
While not quite the group of death, Group D is still pretty impressive. Serral seems to be back in great form lately, Cure is the reigning Code S champ, and there are two solid underdogs in Dream and DongRaeGu. The first three players are locked into the Katowice RO24, but DongRaeGu has some extra stakes to play for. If Zest is forced to drop out due to military service, then DongRaeGu can secure the RO24 'wildcard' spot with just a single win. The wildcard spot goes to the player with the most EPT points who didn't qualify out of their regional standings—Lambo currently holds that spot with 740 points, but DongRaeGu would improve to 751 points with just a single victory in Group D. Again, this is contingent on Zest dropping out as many fear—see our qualification scenarios write-up for more details.
Depending on how pragmatic DongRaeGu is, he might have focused his practice primarily on the TvZ match-up. His initial opponent is the fearsome Serral, which makes a first place finish seem extremely difficult. Serral has a sub-60% ZvZ win-rate in the past two months, but much of that is due to his drubbing against Rogue in the TSL8 finals. On the other hand, DongRaeGu is 14-15 in the same period, and has mostly lost when facing Code S-tier players like Armani, Dark, and Solar. Overall, Aligulac gives Serral over an 80% chance of beating DongRaeGu. Whether it's for the sake of advancing in DHM or simply getting the single BO3 win that could vastly improve his Katowice seeding, it might be prudent for DongRaeGu to focus on his best match-up of ZvT.
The second mirror match is a TvT that also seems quite predictable. Cure is very strong in the match-up, while Dream is average (for a Code S player at least) at best. Their head-to-head map record massively favors the latest GSL champion at 83- 22 (79.05% winrate), though it is noteworthy that Dream beat Cure twice during 2021 Code S Season 1 to eliminate him from the group stage. There's a chance that Dream manages to upset Cure once again, but it's a slim chance indeed.
In the likely winners' match of Cure vs Serral, I doubt that Cure will even be able to take a map. There's a huge discrepancy in Cure's match-up strengths, with his TvP looking dominant while his TvZ trails far behind. Outside of late 2020 when Cure was able to destroy Serral and Reynor in King of Battles using a novel, mass-Widow Mine drop strategy, the Terran hasn't been quite as big a threat at the absolute top tier of TvZ. He's even been slumping in the current map pool, and has an alarmingly poor TvZ map record of 21-33 in the last two months. He basically loses against the top Zergs in one-sided fashion, and even struggles against players a tier below like RagnaroK, DRG, and Solar.
Whether or not DongRaeGu has read TL.net or has just done the math himself, he probably knows he has a good shot at the Katowice RO24 by beating any or both the Terrans in his group. ZvT is easily the strongest of his three match-ups where he ranks 6th in the world on Aligulac.com, and he's favored against both Dream (62.99%) and Cure (54.82%) according to the stats site. I can see Dream or Cure taking a game off him with a well placed proxy or other early gambit, but I fully expect DRG to win both matches given the stakes and his proficiency against Terran. One could wonder if the importance of these matches could hinder DongRaeGu from playing at his usual level, but I do not think he is prone to choking. He was a championship-tier player in the past, and he hasn't really underperformed since his return from military service. A group with one super strong Zerg and two terrans not named Maru or Clem suits him perfectly.
Serral > DRG
Cure > Dream
Serral > Cure
DRG > Dream
DRG > Cure
Serral and DRG advance.