Code S Ro16: Maru and the Group of Lifeby Destructicon
Last week, the GSL combatants had a chance to show off their strategy gaming abilities outside of StarCraft II during the round-of-sixteen group nominations. Now it's time for them to get back into the game and see how all of their machinations and manipulations will play out.
Group A - Maru, Patience, Solar, ZestStart time: Wednesday, May 23 9:30am GMT (GMT+00:00)
The GSL group nominations can work out in any number of ways depending on how the participants choose to play it. When they're more practical-minded, we tend to see balanced, 'normal' groups across the RO16. When a handful of players choose bravado over common sense, then we might see a dreaded group of death. This time around, the groups leaned toward the side of parity... ...with the exception of Group A.
Maru must be feeling quite proud of himself and the way he set up the entire RO16. As the reigning Code S champion, it was standard practice for him to gobble up the easiest available opponent in Patience with the first pick of the draft/nominations. But after that, everything else just fell into place without a hitch. Patience selected Solar, a player Maru has done quite well against in recent months with his masterful TvZ. While Solar’s subsequent choice of Zest could have proved to be bothersome for Maru, we must remember that Zest’s big-match PvZ has been dismal as of late. There's a good chance that Maru gets to advance with a clean 2-0 record against Patience and Solar, bypassing Zest entirely. Furthermore, Maru possessed the #1 seed's swap right, so he could easily have traded Zest away for an easier opponent if he felt he posed a problem. However, Maru felt confident enough to leave Zest in his own group, and instead used his swap to improve his Jin Air teammate's chances. Overall this looks like an amazing group for Maru, nearly guaranteeing him a spot in the quarterfinals.
Patience is stuck between a rock, a hard place, and a Maru. The players at the group nomination made it clear that he was the weakest player remaining in the RO16, and now he faces the reigning GSL champion and the current strongest player in the world. While Maru’s TvP is statistically his weakest match-up at 52-40 (56.62% win rate) since the 4.0 patch, it's still quite strong considering the caliber of opponents he's had to face. After all, he beat Stats 4-2 to win the GSL Code S championship, which might be the only 'stats' we need to consider. On the other side of the group, Solar also presents a formidable challenge for Patience. The last time we saw Solar play ZvP in the GSL, he went toe-to-toe with Super Tournament Champion Stats in an eventual 2-3 loss. The only silver lining for Patience in this group would be a PvP against an ailing Zest, but he’d still have to defeat at least one of the other two players to advance,
Solar had a pretty bumpy road to the RO16, losing his first RO32 match 0-2 against KeeN before clawing his way up from the losers' bracket by defeating TRUE and then getting revenge against KeeN in the decider match. It pretty much reinforced what we’ve come to expect of Solar this year—he's a strong player who can show us top-tier play, but he lacks the consistent, clinical play needed to reach the later rounds of a tournament. Solar's chances against Maru seem slim given their previous encounters this year, but he seemed content to contend for second place during the group nominations. His ZvP hasn't exactly been amazing, but it's not like Patience and Zest are PvZ savants. Once again, let Stats be our stat: Solar's last big ZvP match was a 2-3 against Stats in the GSL Super Tournament. If Solar prepares well and doesn't underestimate his non-Maru opponents, he should be able to advance.
While we know Zest has the potential to rise back through the ranks and win big tournaments again, 2018 isn't shaping up to be the year where it happens. While Zest has had RO8 appearances in Code S and and IEM PyeongChang this year, Zerg pros Dark and Elazer were able to eliminate him with surprising ease. Of course, Zest's 1-4 group stage exit at IEM Katowice was the ultimate warning signal, as he beat only Nerchio in a four-Zerg group. The previous GSL Super Tournament capped off a disappointing run of tournaments, with herO defeating Zest 3-1 in the RO16. Zest has managed to get through the Code S RO32 twice this year, but it feels like he's barely scraping by, displaying none of the impressive play we’ve come to expect from him in past years. Zest doesn’t even look impressive in PvP, a match-up in which he has traditionally excelled, while his PvZ just looks downright hopeless (he's had a solid string of PvZ results in online tournaments, but Zest fans should be wary about hoping this translates to the GSL). We have no doubt that Zest CAN bounce back, but this is one of those situations where we're not going to call it until it actually happens.
Based off the overall forms of the contestants, it feels like Maru and Solar are a lock-in for making it out of the group in first and second place respectively. Maru just dominates weaker opponents right now, and he almost hand-picked this group to be weak. His TvZ is out of control, he could very well benefit from Solar eliminating his biggest threat in Zest. Solar, while shaky, has looked the strongest when playing at his best, and should be better than his Protoss opponents.
Maru 2 – 0 Patience
Solar 2 – 1 Zest
Maru 2 – 1 Solar
Zest 1 – 2 Patience
Solar 2 – 0 Patience
Maru and Solar to advance.