Two days of Icebox picks, and The Guard is really showcasing why they’re a top contender in the VCT Challengers Stage 1 Playoffs brackets. After tearing apart top guns Sentinels yesterday, The Guard are capitalizing on their momentum, this time taking down Luminosity Gaming. The 2-0 victory may be the same result as their group stage matchup, but getting there wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed. The teams traded blows and many close rounds could have swung in LG’s favor, but in an interview with ClutchPoints, Jonah “JonahP” Pulice walks us through just how The Guard keeps coming up in the clutch and why they’re excited to face OpTic Gaming in the Upper Finals of the VCT Challengers Playoffs.

Good prep and decisive mid-rounds seal first map for The Guard

Regarding the key to their victory in this matchup, JonahP shared that The Guard had gone into the match with full faith that they would emerge victorious. “We just had to make sure we don’t make too many mistakes, because that’s the only way we would lose to them. We just played our game and closed it out ‘cos we know we’re the better team,” he said.

Despite the perceived differences between the teams on paper, the first map on Bind started out very tense for both sides. The Guard copped the pistol rounds, but LG’s bdog and dazzLe struck back in rounds three and four. Until the halfway point of the game, neither team could pull ahead with a clear advantage.

“At half-time, when it was 6-6, we were still really confident. Since we started on attack, six rounds on Bind is super good for us because our defense is really strong and we worked together really well,” JonahP explained. “We’re really good at staying calm and just focusing — taking things one round at a time.”

That focus kept The Guard in the match and allowed them to string together four straight rounds after conceding the pistols when the teams swapped sides. Luminosity, to their credit, had a great game plan and prepared several setups that gave them the chance to grab an advantage, finding early frags. Yet it was The Guard’s ability to be decisive and adapt mid-rounds, including one excellent flank from JonahP on Sage during the last round of the first half that allowed them to tie the scoreline up.

Here’s how he described the decision-making and calls during that play:

“In that moment, when Viper ult had [been used], we found ourselves all on site. It was pretty bad; we heard one of the players on the other team TP, so we knew if we just stayed on site and tried to play around the Viper ult, we would just lose the round because they would sandwich us.

“So valyn and I communicated together and double pushed through the Viper pit to flank elbow, and once we got to a certain point, valyn said that he was going to go back ‘cos there was no way they would expect us to do that. We don’t need two people there, so he let me flank and I was able to kill three of them.”

Taking the 13-10 win on Bind, JonahP put up an MVP performance with 286 ACS. Him, Sayaplayer, and neT all recorded over 20 kills that map. Moving onto their comfort pick in Icebox, JonahP opted into piloting Omen, unsurprising considering that teammate trent had revealed in an interview yesterday that their coach mCe really liked the agent especially on Icebox.

JonahP discusses Omen pick on Icebox

Giving us a bit of insight into the pick, JonahP revealed that the team has swayed away from Sage due to the new map changes. The small nerf to Viper’s walls and smoke orbs also made Omen a more viable pick, as The Guard wanted to have more smokes to try and control the space. “We decided on having the extra set of smokes. Cutting off mid or a lane at A or a rafter would help a lot, and we’re proving that it does [work well],” he added.

Icebox similarly started out dead even to 3-3, but The Guard quickly pulled away with the game after that. After LG secured round six, JonahP and team went on a six-round tear to end the half, 9-3. Even though they didn’t get the pistol rounds, they were able to clean it up and take the series, 13-5. A lot of that boiled down to several small, very close calls, where LG even looked to have given themselves the advantage, yet The Guard’s players came up with the clutch plays.

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In the first half, LG’s bdog found himself in a 1v2 on Jett, where he managed to snag the first kill to make it a 1v1 against the opposite Duelist in Sayaplayer. Knives out, bdog was in position to take the round, but Saya kept his cool and found the wrap-around to take him out. In another moment, The Guard were down on men, but trent pulled off a massive double Hunter’s Fury and found another frag to send his team one step closer to Iceland.

JonahP on How The Guard keep coming up clutch

On how the team could pull off so many clutch plays one round after the other, JonahP credits their calmness, confidence, and communication.

“We play super well off each other. Our communication is definitely one of our strongest [points] and that’s huge in a team environment. We’re just always confident no matter what — if we go down 4v5, 3v5, we always feel we have a chance to win because of our individual skill and teamwork.”

He also highlighted that their recent “good dominant results” on Icebox would “help [The Guard’s] map pool tremendously,” as teams would have to think twice about letting Icebox go through. At the same time, banning Icebox would open up the opportunity for the team to pick other strong maps that they’re confident on.

“I think teams won’t really know what to do, to be honest, ‘cos our Icebox is looking really good right now, after Sentinels [yesterday] and this game versus LG,” JonahP elaborated. “But our Haven is definitely our best map and our Ascent’s really strong, so teams are gonna have a tough time versus us, deciding what maps they’d want to play.”

Why JonahP is happy to face OpTic over Cloud9

That next test will now come in the form of OpTic, who earlier had taken down the so-called kings of NA in Cloud9, on what was C9’s map pick and one of their stronger maps on Haven. It will be interesting to see how The Guard and OpTic square up on that map or if a ban is thrown that way. The young team gets another chance to prove themselves as a top contender in the domestic scene.

The Guard is now just one win away from making it to the first international Master’s event of the year — set to take place in Reykjavik, Iceland. JonahP himself is looking forward to the upcoming Upper Finals matchup against another top-ranked team in OpTic. He revealed that past scrims with OpTic had given “mixed results” so they “don’t really know what to expect going into it.”

“But we’re definitely happy to play them over Cloud9. I’m not saying we’re afraid of Cloud9, but in our eyes, Cloud9 is still the stronger team even though OpTic beat them. We love the matchup and we’re excited to play against OpTic,” he concluded.

Catch the VCT NA Challengers playoffs upper finals series between The Guard and OpTic next Friday, March 25, 2022, at 1 pm ET / 4 pm PT.