Notes and Highlights from the MLG Winter Championship - Day 1

Winter Championship MLG Crowd

The first day of the MLG Winter Championship had some great match-ups and, if the rest of the competition maintains this quality, we should be in for a memorable weekend. With four HD StarCraft 2 streams for MLG Gold Members, there was almost always something good to watch. There were some technical glitches, particularly for some of the secondary streams, but the Central Stream was generally picture-perfect as Day[9], DJWheat, Tastless, and Artosis called the day's top battles.

Before I dive into another day of marathon StarCraft , I thought I'd write-up my first impressions of this championship tournament.

MarineKing: Confident and Cold

Things got off to an hilarious start as Korean Protoss player (and IEM Season 6 Champion) MC gently trash-talked his first pool opponent, Winter Arena champion MarineKingPrime. When asked about his chances against MarineKing, MC said in broken English, "He is the MarineKing, but I am Protoss President." As the crowd laughed, he made a serious point: MarineKing is the king of one unit, but MC has mastered the entire Protoss race.

Having watched MKP's finals against DRG , I was inclined to agree with MC. People who have seen more from MKP can comment on this better than I, but I came away from the Winter Arena with the distinct impression that MarineKing gambles that his physical prowess at the game can usually trump an opponent's strategic depth.

A different sort of MarineKing answered MC's opening challenge. MarineKing played a ruthless macro game that put MC back on his heels from the start. In an odd inversion, MC was the one showing incredible micro tactics, throwing back wave after wave of Terran attackers using devastating psychic storms. But MKP was indifferent to those losses, as he expanded across the map and built several more barracks and factories. By the time MC had thrown back one attack, MarineKing's next assault wave was assembled at the center of the map, and each time MC had fewer units to meet him.

The second match on Antiga Shipyard followed a similar pattern. He controlled the center of the map and inflicted early losses on MC that put the Protoss player badly behind. MKP used his center position to shift and feint , keeping MC guessing about his intentions and opening up opportunities to fight MC while his units were out of position. Again, MarineKing replaced his losses so quickly that MC never had a chance to break his hold on the center, and eventually his lead was insurmountable.

To be sure, it's dangerous to read too much into one match, and MC did not have a stellar day in his pool, dropping another best of three to the Terran Ganzi. But one of the casters, I think it was Day[9], was saying that MKP wants to take each individual Marine in hand and guide them. That might usually be true, but yesterday MarineKing was happy to send them off to die in droves, provided the exchanges worked in his favor.

The other big surprise, at least for me was the Protoss prodigy NaNiwa's rocky start in Pool B , losing 2-0 to Korean Zerg DongRaeGu. But worse than the score was the way he lost. His force-fields, so dominant at the Winter Arena, dropped late and usually in the wrong places. He never seemed to settle on a gameplan, never threatened DRG, and eventually lost both his matches. He lost 2-1 to HayprO before finally finding his feet against Evil Geniuses' DeMusliM. He showed flashes of his best play in those matches, and he'll need a lot more of that if he's going to get far in this tournament.

Polt v Stephano (Again)

The best games of the day were probably the three matches between Korean Terran Polt and French Zerg Stephano. This was a rivalry match between two superb players who fought at the Assembly Tournament a few weeks ago, and had another great series just last week at the Lone Star Clash , and their battle last night more than lived up to their reputations.

Their first two matches were 20 minutes and 15 minutes long respectively, each marked by several lead changes as the players ambushed and counterattacked one another. Polt won the first match after losing expansions and center control in a series of defeats, while the second match went to Stephano who drew Polt into a series of small skirmishes while building up more forces at home. Polt gambled on a series of drops to put pressure on Stephano, but Stephano had too many troops waiting, and the drops went disastrously.

The final match was a bit of a letdown, but one that proved Napoleon's adage that, "You must not fight too often with one enemy, or you will teach him all your art of war."

Polt seemed to metagame Stephano, gambling everything on an early rush that most players would have sniffed out but that Stephano, with his focus on fast tech-ups and a passive early game, wouldn't. When Polt's force of Hellions, Marines, and Marauders hit Stephano's almost undefended natural expansion, it was over. More than anything, familiarity and predictability broke the tie between Stephano and Polt last night.