First to take the stage were Maru and Stats. Coming into the match, Maru’s woes against Protoss were well documented, with his struggles against Has in the qualifiers still fresh in the memory, while Stats had also suffered in the matchup with recent losses to INnoVation (yesterday in the Ro.16), and TY (at GSL Cataclysm). The early game proved to be the defining aspect of the series. Maru won the one game that reached the truly latter stages on Echo, but Stats managed to convert early leads into set victories elsewhere, with simple stalker pressure on Overgrowth allowing him to transition to an overwhelming colossus force, while oracles and void ray busts did critical damage on Vaani and Habitation Station.
The second semifinal was a clear underdog story. INnoVation was only a day removed from authoritatively defeating a superior Protoss in Stats, whereas Trust had squeaked out of this group in second place. All signs pointed to a lopsided defeat, but the upstart Protoss sought to defy popular opinion. He failed—INnoVation put on a TvP masterclass. His mastery of the matchup was apparent as he repelled stargate and dark templar play with relative ease as he displayed a wide variety of tactics en route to victory. Widow mines, liberators, cyclones and bio featured prominently as INnoVation harassed efficiently, hit crisp timings and cheesed effectively on his way to a 3-0 victory and an appearance in the next round.
Next up, we saw a battle between two of the great zergs of HotS in soO and ByuL. Famed for their combined seven silver medals in Korean starleagues from 2013-15, both appear to be well on their way to regaining that vaunted form.
Early aggression was again the tale of the series as ByuL opted for early pools on multiple occasions. soO, famed for his bulletproof early defence in HotS ZvZ, dealt with these attacks with varying success, successfully repelling one on Newkirk Precinct, losing on Habitation Station, while taking a page from his opponent’s book to steal a quick win on Whirlwind too. After splitting the first four games, the duelling zergs moved to a decisive fifth game, the first of the day. On Echo soO once more favoured aggression, attempting to punish ByuL’s choice to go hatchery first. The effort would prove futile, however, as ByuL managed to hold the attack to earn a spot in the semifinals.
Finally, we got to the main event; a rematch of the BlizzCon Finals between Dark and ByuN. While that match was decided almost entirely off ByuN's early reaper aggression, it was a completely different story here, with all games spiralling towards the late game. An absolute clinic in muta-ling-bane ZvT from Dark steamrollered his opponent on Daybreak as he leveraged his superior economy into an endless bane train that smashed through ByuN's marine-heavy composition, but we saw the opposite on Vaani Research Station; early hellbats bought enough time for ByuN to parade push a constant stream of bio-mine to victory. It seemed that we were in vintage 2014 TvZ territory, but Dark turned the clocks back even further with a roach-ravager rush on Overgrowth, again stunting ByuN sufficiently that the terran was unable to stop the follow up max.
Echo was a return to classical 4M vs muta-ling-bane though; another glorious display of TvZ that made us wonder how we put up with a muta-less matchup for most of the year. Backstabs from Dark tipped the balance in his favour, reducing ByuN to 20 workers, but the relentless stream of 3-3 marines took their toll, and after the Team Expert terran managed to secure a fresh mining base, he gradually ground Dark out of the game. It all set us up for a climactic showdown on Newkirk Precinct, as much for the bragging rights as for the semifinal spot on offer, and neither player disappointed. Infestors were crucial, as Dark abused the new burrow cast mechanic to great effect. Fungal after fungal landed as Dark secured a 4-base setup while teching to ultralisks. One last fungal on ByuN's entire ghost pack proved the final straw; as banelings vaporised his army, the terran was forced to tap out. After conquering his BlizzCon foe, Dark now rides on to face his ex-teammate INnoVation.
Writers: Mizenhauer, munch