Code S Ro32: Group E Preview
Group E: mouz.MaNa, Liquid`TaeJa, SlayerS_MMA, LG-IM_Mvp
Much like the Discovery Channel's Shark Week, GomTV has Foreigner Week™, dedicated to showcasing an endangered but majestic species. First up will be MaNa, who joins NaNiwa as a rare foreign representative in the world's toughest league.
Luck is a fickle mistress. mouz.MaNa was undoubtedly fortuitous to make it into Code S, getting an Up/Down seed, and then dodging a tie-breaker round in his group as the results of matches between his groupmates worked out perfectly for him. Then, just days after he celebrated becoming one of the few foreigners to make it into Code S, MaNa learned that he had been improbably drawn into a group of death, facing TaeJa, Mvp, and MMA. In any case, this is a chance for MaNa to prove himself. Whatever doubts people may have had about MaNa from his Up/Down group, success here will show that he unquestionably belongs in Code S.
Liquid`TaeJa, who having won ASUS ROG and MLG Arena, and having hauled Liquid through IPL TAC, is now being asked to go win Code S while he's at it. For better or for worse, that's the kind of pressure you have to bear when you're seventeen, have shown a ridiculous amount of talent, and are the hottest player in the planet. After reaching the quarter-finals twice in a row – before he turned on the jets in the international scene – anything less than the semis will be a disappointment for TaeJa this time around.
While most viewers will be wondering what kind of level MaNa is at, SlayerS_MMA also gives us much to speculate about. After a good finish at IPL4 in April, MMA dropped off dramatically, even falling out of Code S. This suspiciously coincided with his demotion the SlayerS B-Team, though it was never officially said to be officially due to his poor results. Then, he was abruptly reinstated to the A-team in time for the GSTL finals, where he looked as good as ever despite losing an epic, close game to FXO's Gumiho. All the while, he quietly made his way back to Code S through Code A, taking out HongUn, HerO, and viOLet in the process. Is that enough to declare that MMA is back to being the player we know and love? We'll see tonight.
Finally, there's LG-IM_Mvp, who recently lost 0 – 2 against Baby in WCG Korea and lost a OSL game to Flying. Normally, three games should be utterly meaningless, but because Mvp was so absurdly dominant at his prime, this insignificant downswing has been blown out of proportion (Mvp losing + Elephants winning = perfect storm). In all honesty, Mvp is pretty much exactly where he was at the beginning of the Code S Season Two, where he won the championship: diminished, but far from gone. There's not much to do here but repeat the cliché, because it's true. Mvp just knows how to win.
Around this time last year, Protoss was in the pits. It was the height of Terran domination and the heyday of the feared 1/1/1. MC's slump meant there were zero credible Protoss contenders in Code S, while PuMa made sure that no Protoss player was going to make any money abroad. In that period of strife, MaNa emerged with a serious claim to be the best PvT player in the world.
It wasn't an airtight case, but at least he had a case – which was more than anyone else could really say at the time. With a win rate in the high 60's against non-Korean players, MaNa was dominating European Terrans, and held the rare honor of being the only Protoss player to have a winning record against PuMa in his TvP prime.
One year later, the story has changed a great deal. As Protoss players are dominating the field in Korea, MaNa himself has dropped off after hitting his peak as an elite PvT player. As one of the top foreigners, he's still 'good' at PvT by most standards, but just 'good' won't be nearly enough against his championship class Terran group. Mvp and MMA are the two most decorated Terran players in Starcraft II history, while TaeJa has been the best Terran player in the past few months.
In MaNa's recent games against Korean Terrans, he's mostly had trouble in the early-mid game, where an assortment of early marine rushes, marine-hellion drops, and stim-dropship timings took him off his stride (check his TSL4 series against ST_Hack). However, when MaNa was able to get a stable start and reach the late game, he looked as strong as ever, lasering and electrocuting his way to victory with the best of them (this win against TaeJa at ASUS ROG is a good demonstration). It's all very relevant going into this group, as MMA, Mvp, and TaeJa are players who won't shy away from trying to get an advantage early. MMA and Mvp have long since known the value of unpredictability in tournaments, while TaeJa has consciously started using a lot more cheeses ever since losing to MC in the GSL quarter-finals doing only eco-builds.
In a recent interview with Khaldor, MaNa addressed some of these potential issues, saying how he's learned a lot more about how Korean Terrans play, and how he's figured out how to better deal with their precisely executed attacks. Fans of MaNa will be relieved to hear he's practiced with MKP, the most aggressive of the aggressive – although there's no word on what the record was like in practice.
It's easy to be pessimistic about MaNa's chances given the name value of the players in this group, but if you think about MaNa's PvT ability at his best, it's far from hopeless. What will matter most is exactly how much he improved in his short time in Korea, and if he'll have the composure to show that improvement as he faces the pressure of playing in Code S for the first time.
While MaNa ponders how he'll do against three players with a dozen or so championships between them, the Terran trio of Mvp, MMA, and TaeJa will mostly be concerned with each other (though they'll certainly be wise enough to keep something in mind for MaNa). It will be interesting to see how they'll try and get a one-up on each other, or if that's even possible.
Past a certain skill-level, there's very little skill difference between top TvT players, with players like MMA, Gumiho, Mvp, TaeJa, Ryung, TheStC, SuperNoVa, YoDa, Polt etc. all able beat each other on a given day. The group E trio does have some minor quirks in TvT – TaeJa almost never goes mech, Mvp is more likely to transition to sky, MMA takes the most risks – but overall it's very even. MMA did happen to have Mvp's number in the days of old, when MMA was ahead of the curve in terms build order rock-scissor-paper, but time has seen to it that everyone has the same playbook now.
TaeJa > MaNa
Mvp > MMA
Mvp > TaeJa
MaNa > MMA
TaeJa > MaNa
Mvp and TaeJa advance.
*The writer is forbidden by sacred oath from predicting against Mvp in the GSL.