Wednesday, November 2, 2011

EGHuk's Fast 3rd Base PvZ Strategy

I've been having a ton of success with this build since I saw and studied it a lot at MLG Orlando. It keeps Protoss even with the Zerg economy, and functions much the same way the old 3-gate expand build used to go - we're just starting with an additional base to work with. I feel like this build is incredibly flexible and probably the best safe macro build you can opt for right now. It's also fairly easy to execute.

The gist of the build is this:
Forge FE.
I make 1 zealot and send it straight to Zerg's main to scout.
make nothing but sentries, get +1 weapons and warp gate.
chronoboost probes a LOT. almost exclusively, in fact.
make a total of 6 gates, as if you were doing an all-in.

If Zerg scouts this, he'll cut drones and start producing units and spines in anticipation of the all-in. I've had Zergs overreact so badly they cancel the spire or whatever tech they have building, cut drones at 50 for several minutes, and make 6 spines. This is an added bonus but not at all necessary for success! If Zerg doesn't scout this or your zealot sees some greedy tech like mutas, you can actually choose to all-in here.

As soon as warp gate finishes, warp in sentries (up to 8-ish then stop) and zealots. Right around the 8:30 or 9 minute mark, when warp gate finishes, make the 3rd base. I like to push out at this timing to make Zerg think I'm doing the 6-gate all-in - make sure to include a probe so he'll buy it!

We have to rely on forcefields, cannons, and building placement to survive roach-ling aggression right now. Just like the 3-gate expand - except instead of trying to secure the natural expansion, we're securing our 3rd. Zerg has a 3-base economy to pressure, but we have a 2-base economy and 6 gates. To pressure the expo Zerg has to forgo drones, which is great for us, as long as we survive.

As soon as 3rd base is secure, make robo facility and twilight council simultaneously. This gives a ton of flexibility. Make an observer as soon as the facility finishes.

At this timing is when Zerg's tech will reveal itself. See a flock of mutas? Start blink and make a templar archives. See roach pressure? Start that robo bay! If Zerg hasn't made his presence known at this point, and you haven't pressured to check his army comp, just start the robo bay AND blink. No big deal. Get up to +3 weapons before beginning any armor upgrades. If he goes mutas, delay colossus production in favor of blink stalkers and possibly psi storm. The mutas won't deny our 3rd base because it's already up and running. Just prevent any major damage.

At this point we kind of just sit until we're maxed. Take a 4th AND a 5th base at this timing while you get aggressive (the main and natural should be drying up soon). The maxed protoss army is fearful as hell. You should have 4-5 colossus and a ton of blink stalkers with 8 full energy sentries; OR you should have a bunch of templar with storm, blink stalkers, and possibly some immortals. Whatever you have to do based on what Zerg is making. This is also when you can add a dark shrine and whatever other tech you want to. Assuming you got to this point relatively unmolested, you SHOULD win the game.

This build has some problems, of course. It's weak (like most Protoss builds) to huge infestor-ling attacks when you're securing the 3rd and teching up. It can be weaker to certain early all-ins because there's no stargate tech. The build also only works on maps with an easy-to-defend 3rd base. Building sim-city and cannons are an absolute requirement at the 3rd.


Check out Huk's PvZ from MLG Orlando! All their replays can be found here:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What I'm doing in each matchup:

So, for long-time readers of my blog (the very few of you, I really appreciate you guys!) I haven't really been writing much. I'm pretty much playing Starcraft II all the time now. It's all I think about, and it's all I really want to write about. So here's some more Starcraft II content - specifically, what my gameplan is in each matchup right now.

Protoss vs Terran
I love this matchup right now, as long as Terran doesn't do one of the zillions of strong and difficult-to-scout all-in builds. It feels like I'm going to win as long as the game goes past the twenty-minute mark, and Terran isn't going for a pure mech strategy. My gameplan is as follows:

-1 gate fast expand. I believe this is viable against everything Terran can do and sets up Protoss for a decent mid-game. If Terran does a fast 1-base tech, like a 1-1-1 build, 1-gate expand is the most ideal response, and if he does a fast bio expand, we're about even at worst. We only need to worry about bio all-ins with SCVs pulled, but that comes down to micro and it's not totally impossible.

-Get up to 3 total gateways and a robo very quickly, then tech. If we try teching on only 2 gateways or lower in combination with a fast expansion, we're not being safe. We can only survive with great force fields, and a fast ghost push is deadly. And if we tech any later, we'll get run over by stimmed, healed bio with only unupgraded gateway units.

-Focus on upgraded gateway units until 3 bases. Opening fast colossus or fast psi-storm will leave us in a vulnerable and delicate mid-game, where a few EMPs, a few too many vikings, or a bad engagement will end the game for us immediately. Therefor I prefer going with fast upgrades and a lot of gateways. Our army can be reinforced faster, and our army size will be larger in general without relying on flawless micro to just survive. The faster upgrades also sets us up for a stronger late-game, and they're more mobile, allowing us to respond better to drops. I always get the charge upgrade for zealots before blink, as well as fast attack and armor upgrades from two forges. I also like to make some immortals, because they bolster a gateway army a LOT.

-Zealot-Archon in the mid-game. Against low to medium amounts of bio, zealot-archon is an amazing army composition that's difficult for Terran to kill. Conversely, Protoss has a hard time killing Terran with this army, because a good Terran will place buildings and bunkers to make the melee-only Zealots very ineffective close to Terran's base. This army is only meant to secure a solid economy in the mid-game in preparation for the last step.

-Double-robo colossus once on three-plus bases. I'm coming to the conclusion that it's hardly worth making colossus as a lynchpin of your army, unless it's from two robotics facilities from a strong 3-base gas income. Colossus one at a time is flimsy, and losing them means losing the game because they can't be reinforced quickly. It's also a gradual build-up, giving Terran plenty of time to make and upgrade his Vikings. By suddenly beginning colossus production two at a time in the late game, we catch Terran without many vikings on the field and we're able to reenforce the colossus much faster. Even if Terran has enough vikings, thanks to the great gateway and upgrade infrastructure set up in the mid-game, the colossus will thin out the bio army enough that the zealot-archon reinforcements will be enough to win the game. Because of Warpgates, Protoss has a production advantage against Terran in late-game and essentially gets a round of units a full 30 seconds faster after a huge engagement. It's important to take advantage of this.

Protoss vs Zerg
This is a hard matchup right now. Zergs realized how ridiculously overpowered Infestors are, and now we have to deal with them every game. Typically Zerg dictates how the game goes, with a roach-infestor or ling-infestor mid-game, including a potentially devastating timing attack, leading into very fast and numerous brood lords at the twenty-minute mark supported by infestors. The most effective style at the moment appears to be a very passive turtle strategy with a slow build up to a colossus, void ray, high templar army. Here's the general gameplan:

-A safe fast expansion. This one's a no-brainer, but also pretty difficult to pull off. Zerg has some strong all-ins they can do. I've been two-gate expanding and making two cannons at my natural to defend aggression.

-Tech quickly to blink or stargate to gain some map control. This will also pressure the Zerg a bit, and even potentially can kill a base if he's being especially greedy and unsafe. This prevents Zerg from making 80 drones before any units, and it also helps deal with infestors in the mid-game.

-Get colossus in time to defend a ling-infestor timing attack. I believe that two-base colossus is necessary now because of the threat of the infested terran + zergling timing attack. It's hard to not die to mass infested terrans without a splash damage option such as colossus or psionic storm, and psi storm takes too long to tech to. If Zerg attacks with infestors plus anything, we need to prevent the Colossus from being neural-parasited, so we have to have blink or phoenixes to snipe the infestors.

-Turtle on 3 bases. This is an unfortunate effect of heavy infestor play. Protoss can't leave their base with a big army once infestors are on the field in large numbers. All it takes is a fungal on the entire army and a massive surround with roaches or zerglings and Protoss loses the entire game. The only way to reach the late game is to not attack. We need to rely on stargate units, Dark Templar, or zealots to harass Zerg's bases and economy while we build up the death ball. Typically Zergs will aggressively try to kill our third and harass the economy with baneling drops at this point in the game.

-Make two stargates by the twenty minute mark. We need to pump out void rays in time to deal with the brood lord switch. A lot of void rays. I also like to add a mothership right as I reach max supply. The cloaking field and vortex can help a lot.

That's pretty much all I know about PvZ right now. After this stage in the game, I've either won or lost depending mostly on my micro and timings and other factors. It's difficult for any Protoss, even on the highest levels, to win against Zerg right now.

Protoss vs Protoss
My gameplan in PvP is pretty simple, actually.

-Geiko's defensive 3-gate. This is a great build I use every PvP to be safe against 4-gate while teching. Reply on the comment if you want to see a video demonstration of this build, or check out my youtube channel.

-If he 4-gated aggressively, rush to blink and end the game. This is a push that ought to kill the opponent or at the very least give us a faster expansion, because his tech was much later than ours. At this point I transition to charge zealots and archons.

-If he isn't 4-gating, make a robo quickly. This keeps us safe from a Dark Templar rush and from blink rushes.

-Once we know we're safe from a blink all-in, make a twilight council. If he went for fast blink, I get my own blink and counter-push with immortals and blink. This ought to win the game if he expanded. If he didn't open blink, for example if he went robo as well, I research charge and tech to archons.

-Chargelot Archon Immortal mid game. This army beats every other army in medium army sizes. We basically win automatically if he went colossus or pure gateway.

And that's all I know about PvP. The late game is very unexplored by most Protoss players. I've been experimenting with a void ray transition but I'm unsure how good it would be yet.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Core Concepts of the Protoss Matchups

To celebrate my ascension to the almighty Diamond League (lol), I want to share some conceptual epiphanies I've had that drastically improved my play in various matchups. I feel like many players don't understand crucial and unintuitive specifics about PvX matchups, and this lack of understanding is all that holds them back from higher levels of play.

Protoss vs Terran
Scouting is the most important part of PvT, hands down. There are a few diverging paths the Terran can take, the largest being bio vs mech. Early game there are cloaked banshees and helion drops to worry about, and the way Protoss needs to respond to bio or mech in the late game are very different. Observer use will win or lose games against Terran, so it's important to get them. Countering bio and mech aren't difficult once you know the Terran has committed to them. So the most important building in PvT is the Robotics Facility. Observers, colossus, immortals. The other most important building in PvT is the gateway. I've noticed that it is just not tenable to have two-robo colossus or robo and stargate off of two bases. Gateway units are strong. Colossus are made of glass. They need to be in a supporting role, not a main role, within the army. Off two bases, there should only be a single tech building (robo, templar, stargate) with a collection of gateways and at least one upgrade building being used constantly. It's too fragile to add anything more until you're on three bases.

Protoss vs Zerg
Stalkers and sentries. Add immortals constantly against pure roaches, add Colossus against anything else. Build Dark Templar when you hit three bases. Be active with your army to force the Zerg to make units - don't commit unless the Zerg just isn't making units, at which point it's an easy win. Against an aggressive Zerg, defending a lot while building up and expanding will mean an easy win later in the game. Against a macro Zerg, they'll feel on the back foot all game long and eventually just die.

Protoss vs Protoss
This matchup is one I didn't understand for the longest time. I thought I could get away with a really technical build designed to hold the 4-warpgate rush and just win every game because I wouldn't die to 4-warpgates. The truth is that any counter-4-gate build is actually really weak against anything else.

PvP is based on the 4-gate attack. What this means is both players need to deal with the possibility of 4-gate. Neither player actually needs to do an offensive 4-gate, as often both will do a defensive build instead. But against a well-executed offensive 4-gate, there are only about three builds that will defeat it which aren't 4-gates themselves. The defensive 4-gate is probably the safest build with the best transitions after the 4-gate timing has passed.

After the timing for 4-gate has passed, or the 4-gate has been defended, the game can really only go in a few directions. The safest bet is to immediately make a robo and get an observer. The opponent can branch into a few tech patterns after the 4-gate. He can go for robo tech, which includes immortals or colossus. He can go for stargate tech, which usually means phoenixes. He can also go for twilight council tech, including blink, charge, and DT.

If you spot the opponent going robotics tech, you want to begin colossus production and make only zealots. On large enough maps, you can expand after your first colossus or two is out, because his re-enforce time for his colossus will be a huge disadvantage if he tries to attack. Otherwise, 1-base colossus pushes will probably decide the game. Do not get thermal lance until you've committed to expanding and the opponent is doing the same. At this point, get ready for dozens of colossus and war of the worlds. Teching to mothership late in the game is viable for a colossus toilet, which will end the game. Against immortals and stalkers, this is the best choice, but if the opponent is going for colossus before you commit to it yourself, you can throw down a stargate. He'll have very little anti-air and you'll get map control at the very least, allowing you to expand and harass. Blink stalkers or immortals is a good followup yourself.

Against a stargate build, you want to expand and get blink stalkers. That's actually it. Defend the harass while expanding, and you ought to come out on top. Use observers to get high ground vision and harass with blink, too.

If you scout a twilight council play, robotics play is going to be fine. If it's blink stalkers, go heavy on the immortals and do a timing push. If it's charge, a 1-base colossus timing push ought to end the game. You'll have mostly zealots yourself, negating the benefits of his charge upgrade, and you'll have colossus. If he's making a dark shrine, make observers and expand. Perhaps a cannon at your natural, depending on the map. You should gain a commanding lead and be able to win with virtually anything. Pure zealot+stalker with upgrades is a fine choice.

And that's all I know about PvP. Early game is defensive 4-gate, then the mid-game transition is a sort of rock-paper-scissors game. Use the observer to respond to the opponent. Don't expand until you know he isn't going for a robo-based timing push. 1-base 2-colossus timing attacks will beat a good number of followups. Far too often I see opponents who get past the 4-gate timing, and then begin expanding while getting colossus AND getting range. A 2-colossus timing will actually kill that. It should be your standard followup until you see otherwise.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Development of a Build Order - Part 4

Day 4.

Experimented against Muta-Ling a bit more. I believe I definitely need to research hallucination to spot the spire in time. If I wait until my first few stalkers to push, a Zerg could have a good number of mutalisks and zerglings already on the field and force me into an early defensive posture. Now I need to determine when to begin researching hallucination and whether to chronoboost it. Gas is at a premium before I take my expansion nexus, because it is all going into sentries. Directly after the nexus goes down and I have 7 or 8 sentries seems to be the reasonable time to begin the research. I'll need to examine whether it has to be chronoboosted in order for a phoenix to scout the spire in time. I doubt it.

If I scout an early spire, I believe I can skip the robotics facility and put down a fifth gateway and push, which should win the game. If I can't succeed with the timing attack, as has happened because of scouting the spire late, I have to get blink very quickly. I have been making the templar archives off of two bases. I don't know if I can survive purely on blink until I get my 3rd base. I know that iNcontrol also favors dark templar to regain some map control, which is a solid idea, but the gas consumption conflicts with the high templar tech. It may be a better response than the high templar. I'll need to try it out in the future.

I did have one game against an opponent who made pure roaches with burrow. I was able to crush it with good forcefields, stalkers, and a single robotics facility making immortals. Once on three bases I added high templar, anticipating a hydralisk switch, but none came, and I walked in and killed his roaches. A large stalker army with some immortals and templar mixed in can dominate roaches, and forcefields help immensely as always. I also decided to push much more aggressively all game long, relying on forcefields to escape if he had too many units. This kept me economically even or ahead.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Development of a Build Order - Part 3

Day 3.

One notable game to report on today. It was a very nonstandard game, so the build and timings were not very helpful practice. My Zerg opponent opened with a fast roach warren off of one base, prompting me to put down a forge and cannon early. Upon seeing the cannon, the Zerg expanded, and I proceeded with my 3-gate expand normally. My observer was unable to scout much beyond two bases, a roach warren, a hydralisk den, and two evolution chambers. As I had seen a roach opening, I expected roaches, and began immortal production from a single robotics facility. I researched hallucination but never used it once, which was a big mistake. As I moved out to poke and scout the Zerg's army, he dropped a large quantity of hydralisks in my main. I cleaned up his army but many buildings were destroyed in the process. I figured we were about even, economically, because he had made so many hydralisks unprompted. I also discovered in engaging so many hydralisks without colossi that guardian shield makes an absurdly big difference. It is 100% necessary whenever engaging hydralisks.

I moved to take a 3rd base while remaking my buildings. I forgot to begin my templar archives for a very long time, which was certainly what lost me the game. I didn't have storm researched until well after my third base was up, and I continued to try to engage hydralisks with charge zealots, which does indeed work very well. The rest of the game wasn't very relevant to my strategy, except that Zealot+Templar seems very viable against pure hydralisks. I simply didn't have enough of them, fast enough, and I continued to suffer from drops in my main, hurting my macro a lot. From watching the replay, my interpretation of the game state at all times was fairly good: the Zerg played aggressively with large numbers of hydralisks, and I thought (correctly) that we were economically very even, or I was ahead. This was true, and some Dark Templar harass actually brought me substantially ahead later in the game. What hurt me was my lack of production buildings, because they kept getting destroyed, and not enough high templars. The game was surprisingly close, but I simply couldn't quite catch up to my opponent's hydralisk army.

The game

Interesting fact: a single psionic storm brings the health of a hydralisk to 1 hp. This makes me think that as soon as Templar are on the field, I should switch from Zealot support to stalkers. Beyond that, this game has made me think about the ordering of the tech route I want to take. Early roaches should prompt me to go stalker+immortal first. This combination then prompts the Zerg into hydralisks. At this point I should already have psionic storm, which should be enough to beat virtually anything the Zerg can throw at me at that point. If, on the other hand, the Zerg opens with Hydralisks fast, I have to go for Zealot+Templar to open. If I execute this correctly, I hope it will be so dominating that the Zerg will need to get air units or roaches. Mutalisks are weak enough to high templar that I should be able to safely transition to blink stalkers. The most dangerous counter after fast hydralisks would be a very fast tech to brood lords, which require a large number of blink stalkers to counter, or void rays.

While my path from stalkers to immortals to a third base to templar seems reasonably clear, my path from zealots to templar to a third base to immortals does not. I'll need to work on rushing to storm and charge off two bases and trying to stay alive. An obvious problem here, as well, is knowing that a Zerg is going for fast hydralisks. If the Zerg began making hydras or just the hydra den early, but then made roaches or even mutalisks, I would be in some serious hurt, I think.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Development of a Build Order - Part 2

Day 2.

My practice partners were pretty busy today but I got a couple PvZ's in, between ladder and custom games. The rest was practicing the build order execution and some specific timings against an easy AI, as well as some testing in Unit Tester Solo.

In a platinum ladder game on Shattered Temple, I scouted roaches during my initial push coinciding with the observer. I did not use hallucination to scout. I went for double-robo immortals off of two bases upon seeing roaches. My 3rd base felt delayed and I was unsure of when to take it. I was surprised how much money double robo immortal uses. My opponent made roaches and zerglings and went for hydralisks later. The immortal and stalker combination seemed very powerful with decent forcefields. However, after perusing the replay I discovered that my opponent simply didn't make more than 40 drones all game long. I won by superior macro, not necessarily by the strategy. Still, I was able to discover some aspects of my build in a live scenario.


In a custom game against a diamond Zerg friend, I again poked at the front once my observer was out with my army. I scouted spinecrawlers and zerglings, making me suspect mutalisks. I then used my observer to scout to confirm the spire. I rushed for a twilight council for blink, as well as armor upgrades, while massing stalkers. My 3rd base again felt late - I took it while close to maxed. My templar archives also felt late - I didn't get storm before the game ended. Against good macro, I don't know if I would have won. The zerg didn't drone enough and didn't harass with his army at all, and a single push was able to win the game with good force fields and an excellent chokepoint engagement area. A goal of my strategy is definitely to be adaptable to roaches, hydras, lings, mutas or banelings, depending on my scouting, and I feel like I did that in this game. Still, I want to get a 3rd base sooner and I want psionic storm earlier. I'll focus on these points in the next few games.


In Unit Tester Solo, I wanted to find out just how powerful equal-resource armies of immortals and zealots fare against roaches and hydralisks. Immortals in decent numbers are ridiculous against roaches, as I expected. Chargelots against unmicroed roaches are actually cost-effective, which surprised me. Immortals are not terrible against Hydralisks in combination with stalkers, but it's not something I would want to stick with in a long game against mass hydralisks. A surprising find was how good sentries were against hydralisks. Sentries are actually an important damage dealer against Hydralisks, in combination with other units, but they die quickly to hydras like everything else. 8 sentries can actually kill 5 hydralisks.

By far the coolest find, however, was the effectiveness of zealots against hydralisks. Unlike roaches, hydralisks can't micro against zealots, and charge is a solid upgrade in this fight. Zealots are incredibly cost-effective against hydralisks, as long as no roaches are present in the fight. I'd like to start experimenting with staying alive against a hydra rush by using sentries and rushing to charge on my zealots while teching to psionic storm. I'd like to use a comparison to Protoss vs Terran here: in PvT, Marauders are weak against zealots and strong against stalkers, and they are the tank of the bio army - they absorb the most damage. The marines are good against zealots, while having very little health. In PvZ, Roaches are the tank unit equivalent to the marauder, except they are strong against zealots and weak to stalkers. Hydralisks are strong against stalkers and (apparently) weak to zealots, and have very little health. Both marauders and roaches can micro against zealots. And unlike marines, hydralisks cost a significant investment. I'm very excited about the possibilities here. It is also difficult for the zerg to transition from hydralisks to mass mutalisks, and the Zerg will not have enough gas to field both units in large numbers. Overall, reacting to a hydra rush with fast chargelots seems like a cool idea that I need to test more. Naturally storm will be necessary when the zerg has too many hydralisks, and when roaches are on the field, because the zealots won't be able to reach the hydras before dying.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Development of a Build Order - Part 1

I have a strategy I want to develop in Starcraft 2. The opening builds and strategies that I usually employ are created by professional players far better at the game than I. However I got an idea for a strategy, and this time I have no strict and specific build order to follow. I have to develop and test and hone timings on my own to discover if the build I want to create will actually be viable. I may need to abandon this build if testing proves it won't work. But without testing, it isn't Starcraft, it's Theorycraft. The next few posts on this blog will document the development and testing of this build, with replays and possibly commentary videos included.

"So what's the damn build already?!"
This is a Protoss vs Zerg strategy for the Protoss. The typical Protoss style which I use to great success is the Blink Stalker + Sentry + Colossus death ball, with a 3rd base Dark Templar/Archon transition. Extremely safe and well-rounded strategy. It's good against just about everything the Zerg can throw at it and transitions well throughout the game. But is this the BEST strategy against everything Zerg can throw at the Protoss? I'd like to find out.

In a nutshell, what I would like to develop is a strategy involving Immortals and High Templar. Immortals are one of my favorite units and I feel like they are criminally underutilized. With 50 damage against armored targets and a hardened shield, Immortals are serious threats to any armored unit. Typically we only see these in large numbers against Terran mech - Tanks and Thors - but both Marauders and Roaches are armored as well. With the standard Protoss PvZ strategy, the answer to Roaches is Stalkers and Colossi, neither of which is particularly strong against the Roach. Combined together, however, they can do OK. I want to do better than OK! I want to wreck roaches entirely. And with the Immortal in larger numbers than we ever typically see, I believe that is possible.

So the Immortal will be the key to defeating mass roach, but what about anything else the Zerg throws our way? Zerglings and Hydralisks are light units with high DPS which circumvent the Immortal's hardened shield. In the standard Protoss strategy, the Colossus deals with these two threats. If the Colossus count is very low because the Zerg keeps making Corruptors, Hydralisks and Zerglings can be devastating to the remaining Stalker army. It can be hard for a Protoss to deal with a Zerg who overmakes Corruptors and then masses Hydralisks. Alternatively, many Zergs will play with Zerglings and Mutalisks, or even Zerglings and Banelings. There just isn't a strong answer to large masses of Zerglings using a standard Protoss strategy. There are only ways to do OK against these Zerg strategies and eke out an economic victory. That's not good enough for me. I want to crush my enemies!

That's where the High Templar comes into play. Psionic Storm will melt Zerglings almost instantly. They soften Mutalisks substantially, and are a critical way to keep the Mutalisk count low enough for blink stalkers to deal with them. Storm deals with Hydralisks because they can't micro out of the storm easily, and don't have a lot of health. What storm is weak against is armored targets - the Roach, the Brood Lord, and the Ultralisk.

It is my belief that the Immortal deals with armored targets better and the High Templar deals with light Zerg units better than the more general-purpose Stalker + Colossus army. Now that I have this strategic concept, I need to fashion a gameplan around it. What are my goals with this build?

1. A safe fast expansion
-I want to win a game of any length using this build. The units I need to make require a lot of gas. I'll want three bases reasonably quickly both to get the economy I need for the units I want, but also to stay even with the Zerg's economy.

2. Immortals in time to fight mid-game Roaches
-If we scout Roaches, we need to be able to create out Immortals in time. This means a reasonably fast Robotics Facility.

3. Ability to scout the Zerg's tech in time to determine my Templar timing.
-What the Zerg is doing determines whether I start to go mass Immortal or High Templar off of two bases, and when to start getting Templars. I need to scout what Zerg does soon after taking my natural expansion.

I now have a very basic set of goals that my build needs to meet. As a general framework, we're looking at some kind of reasonably fast expansion to open. I'm going to elect for a 3-gateway Sentry expand, which is a standard and very safe Protoss expansion build. I feel that forge fast-expanding is too map-dependent and too risky at this point in the development of my build.

Upon taking my natural expansion, I need to scout the Zerg's tech, or optionally to force the Zerg's tech. There are four ways to do this:

1. Hallucinated Phoenix
-For the reasonably small cost, we can research hallucination and send fake Phoenixes across the map all mid-game long. This is a versatile and long-term scouting solution, offering more uses later in the game.

2. Observer
-We could build an observer to scout the Zerg with. The problem I foresee is that this is a slower scout method and we want the observer to be with our army. We also may want to utilize the Robotics Facility for Immortals early and often.

3. Poking the Zerg army
-Poking at the Zerg army will force him to make units and show what units he's building. This is a strategy we ideally want to do all game long to control the Zerg's economy. The issue with this method is that the Zerg can hide tech, like Mutalisks or Hydras, until it is too late to spot.

4. Forcing Roaches with a Zealot + Sentry attack
-I like to think of this as the Huk method. Upon expanding, we want to attack with pure Zealots and Sentries and a proxy pylon. Against a Zerg making Zerglings or small numbers of roaches, this attack can actually win the game, but our ultimate goal is to force the Zerg to make large numbers of roaches. The timing will hit the Zerg before Mutalisks come out. The issue with this method is how risky it is. Forcefields have to be perfectly placed and the Zerg can blindly kill the Protoss by building a lot of units early.

I'll need to test all of these methods, but my goal is a tactic which will determine what the Zerg is doing and give me time to respond via 2-base Immortals or High Templars. What timings I need to learn to defend specific midgame Zerg attacks I will have to discover through testing. The next question is when and how I will take my third base. With the standard Protoss style, the key timing is when the first Colossus is produced, because it immediately gives the Protoss some amount of safety. Without Colossus, it seems like a key timing will be the completion of Storm research, perhaps the completion of forge upgrades, or the beginning of double-robo Immortal production. This is something I need to discover through testing.

So now I have a basic framework for a build order, based on the goals of my desired strategy. 3-gate Sentry expand, some method of scouting, a robotics facility, and then a response to scouting - either double-robo Immortal or High Templar and Storm. After one of these responses, at some point, we need to take a third base. Once taking a third base, we can complete our Immortal + High Templar gameplan. Potentially we can move onto stargates or Dark Templar. This is when we might get Archons out, as well. This is the build order I intend to figure out through testing and playing with practice partners. Stay tuned for the next post, detailing my testing and experiences developing and refining this build order further.

Any diamond-level Zerg player that wants to assist this process by acting as a practice partner should message me on! My ID is "GomJabbar", my character code is "678".

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Evolution of Starcraft II

Ever since the beta, I've been rabidly following the Starcraft II pro scene. The game has been changing on an almost weekly basis, and not often due to patches. As new strategies are figured out, the strategic landscape of the game alters drastically. Here's a look back at the landscape for a perspective on the present and future of Starcraft II strategy.

Early in the beta, protoss play favored almost entirely four gate and three gate robo. Immortals were huge and Colossi were rare. Void ray rushes were very strong, and Terran would go for lots of early marines as a precaution. Expansions didn't really happen much. I don't recall ever seeing a fast expansion from any race but Zerg. Zerg had very few problems getting a fast hatchery up safely. Terrans basically always opened with a reaper or two against every race. Roaches were the primary (and sometimes only) unit in the Zerg army. Mutalisks were basically unseen. The game felt pretty balanced at the time, although mass roaches were very very strong.

Mid beta, we had the first big tournaments, the HDH and finally the Razor King of the Beta. As I recall, during or right before the HDH roaches were changed to 2 food, and roaches fell drastically out of favor. Mass hydralisks and baneling busts because very popular. Terrans were still opening with reapers and moving into helion or banshee harass in most matchups. TvT was in a lot of flux but tank-viking was not around yet. TvZ was almost always Terran doing a large one-base tank-marine push after lots of initial harassment. Protoss began using colossi, as White-Ra demonstrated their effectiveness in the HDH.

Late beta, in the Razor King of the Beta tournament, strategies were very similar, but Tester introduced us to a strategy IdrA still considers to be unfairly strong: double-pylon walling at the bottom of Zerg's ramp, with a cannon behind it. This opening is still used today, but will be weakened in the next patch (as of this writing). Tester also demonstrated his masterful forcefield use in the King of the Beta tournament, in combination with colossi which were quite popular. TvZ had not changed much, with opening harassment into a timing push off (typically) one base. TvP was considered in Terran's favor, with mass marauders being just too strong for many protoss to deal with. Tanks were also viable against Protoss at the time. ZvP, 2-gate zealot rushes were common, forcing early roaches. Muta-ling was also very popular due to the rarity of protoss air. Only Nony (Liquid'Tyler) was known for his phoenix harassment. Ultralisks, all through the beta, were considered useless and not used.

Early release, introduced to the world during Day[9]'s midnight launch party for the game itself, came Zerg's most hated strategy: 5-rax reaper. Terrans discovered that they could continue to make reapers and get a quick nitro pack while expanding, forcing roaches instead of drones and pressuring like crazy, and transitioning into a huge marauders push. Zergs struggled to figure out this opening, and after some time the very best Zergs could hold it off some of the time by rushing to spire, using extra spinecrawlers, or getting very fast speedlings and employing impressive micro. MorroW won the IEM tournament against IdrA with this strategy. But it took a mid-game patch to truly put an end to such a strong Terran opening. In TvP, mech was out of style, with mass marauders versus mass colossi being the norm. Banshees were still popular but helions weren't used as often.

Mid-release, the GSL began. With a patch, nitro pack required a factory to be built, and reapers essentially disappeared overnight. Even so, Terran harassment openings and timing pushes were widely considered overpowered against Zerg. IdrA pioneered the use of mutalisks in ZvT, with muta-ling-baneling showing its strength - provided Zerg could get past the early game. This is about when I first recall seeing forge-fast-expands from Protoss, and other fast expansions from the other races. Macro games became a little more commonplace. ZvP, roach-hydra versus stalker-colossi was the norm. Phoenixes shut down mutalisks, so muta-ling fell out of favor.

Most recently, we had GSL2 and GSL3. Foxer was the name of the game, demonstrating the power of raw marines and micro. No one knew marines could beat banelings with proper spreading and kiting. Thanks to this huge shift back toward marines, which had been seeing some disfavor, Terrans are again able to counter mutalisks by keeping them alive against banelings. Tank-marine or marine-thor are now the dominant Terran strategies, but macro Terrans are still the minority. In the finals of GSL2, Foxer again shook up the game by winning several games with marine-scv rushes, which became commonplace in GSL3 and on the ladder. Zergs are still having difficulty dealing with this attack. In PvZ, phoenix openings are becoming very strong, forcing hydralisks and transitioning into colossi. Zergs once again feel under the gun. In GSL3, oGsMC revolutionized PvT with brilliant forcefield micro, early stalker and zealot rushes, and the return of early void rays in professional play. Many people feel TvP favors the Protoss now. Macro games seem to be very common now, even with Terran players.

As we move into the future, we can look back and see what drove the changes to the game and to strategies. Patches were always a response to a change in gameplay brought about by the players themselves. The perceived balance of the game constantly changes due to these player discoveries, and in the absence of any patch. Already we're seeing more and more long and exciting games in every matchup, and we're bound to see more as strong early attacks are ironed out of the game, thanks to player discoveries like new micro techniques or better building placement (as Jinro showed us against Fox.Moon on Scrap Station). Starcraft 2 has only been out a few months, and I can't wait to see how the game develops next in 2011.