No Joy for NaNiwa

Another first-round exit for Europe's top Protoss makes for one happy Bunny.

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Swedish StarCraft pro Johan "NaNiwa" Lucchesi was having trouble with Patrick "Bunny" Brix right from the start of the WCS 2014 season opener. NaNiwa was a heavy favorite, thanks to being the top non-Korean player in the world, and Bunny had never had any success in the European round of 32.

NaNiwa comes into 2014 with some high expectations, thanks to his appearance at the WCS Global Finals last year. Despite some avowed frustration with the current state of the game, he remains a favorite to challenge for a WCS seasonal title and make a repeat appearance at Globals.

A Different Bunny

NaNiwa did not waste any time in going right after Bunny in their first series, attacking the Danish Terran with a one-base Blink Stalker all-in. It was a decision that characterized NaNiwa's approach to the entire evening: win right now or die trying.

Despite being a serious underdog and battling illness, Bunny showed that he's become a much cannier, difficult opponent between now and his frustrating 2013 season. Under tough pressure from one of his region's best Protoss players, he executed a terrific defense, keeping the Stalkers at bay with a well-placed Siege Tank and screening it off from aggressive Blinks with a squad of Marines.

NaNiwa tried to force something to happen by Blinking on top of Bunny's siege line, but his Stalkers were too weak and absorbed too much damage to make the play work. It was the first miscue from NaNiwa, and a sign of things to come. For whatever reason, NaNiwa acted incredibly impatient and determined. When his aggression failed, as it did in his first game against Bunny, he'd left himself no exits.

He rallied quickly, however, maneuvering Bunny out of a strong position in the second game and forcing him into a fatal base race. By game three, NaNiwa's first day jitters were gone as he read Bunny like a book. Every single one of Bunny's plays encountered a perfect response from NaNiwa, and NaNiwa moved on to face Jang "MC" Min Chul in the winner's match.

Tossed by the Boss

The Boss Toss made swift work of NaNiwa, however. NaNiwa's early pressure in their first game backfired horribly as MC defended in the shadow of his Photon Overcharge, then used Force Fields to deliver the coup de grace. NaNiwa never found his way back into the game or the series.

With Bunny having won his loser's match against Artem "sLivko" Garavtsov, the two players were set for a rematch in the deciding round. Here, Bunny showed that he had done his Terran vs. Protoss homework, fending off NaNiwa's Blink play, his Dark Templar attack, and his Oracle harassment in quick succession. Bunny had played so perfectly that he was in a commanding position heading into the mid-game, and NaNiwa had lost too many resources trying different tricks to resist Bunny's bio advance.

NaNiwa bounced back with a crushing Game 2 victory, but it may have been a deceptive one. Bunny completely collapsed in the face of an early Stalker/Mothership Core timing, taking a bad position and making it infinitely worse with bad decisions. But that may also have convinced NaNiwa that he had Bunny's number, and he went to Game 3 looking for a similar win.

Blinked Out

The problem was that Bunny had learned from his mistake and prepared his defenses in an almost exact repeat of his and NaNiwa's first game of the day. Making matters worse, NaNiwa's second Blink into Bunny's base cost him his Mothership Core due to careless positioning. There was still time to back out, but NaNiwa seemed determined to reach a resolution immediately. Instead of withdrawing with a sizable army, he reinforced and then tried to storm through Bunny's line. Bunny had the firepower and position on his side, and easily broke NaNiwa.

It was another disastrous round of 32 for the mercurial Protoss, and a bit of a puzzling one. NaNiwa was oddly committed to getting fast wins on Stalkers, and in both his series against Bunny, his aggressive play tipped into recklessness. It's another strange chapter in a career with a lot of highs and lows. NaNiwa will surely hope to write a better ending when he competes at IEM Katowice in March.

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