Thursday, September 2, 2010

PvZ Phoenix->DT->HT

Hey fellow Starcraft 2 Addicts

Its been a while since my last post. mostly due to the fact that I am looking for jobs, as well as have had nothing really exciting to post about. Before I get into the Strategy I am about to explain, I would like to give a congrats to HuK for winning MLG-Raleigh, and Morrow for winning IEM Europe. I would encourage you to check out They will be hosting a Starcraft 2 GSL and have streaming of all 6 days available for purchase, as well as VODs. personally, I will not be paying for a low quality stream or VoDs, since the price is a bit exorbitant for low income people, but I digress. If you do feel like spending the money, however, exceptional players like IdrA and TLO, as well as some amazing Koreans will be playing. If you have the time and money, definately check it out

Now, without further delay, lets get into this strategy.


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A new brand of PvZ.

Since the release of StarCraft II, I have seen a lot of posts from protoss players wondering about how to deal with muta/ling builds in PvZ. The crux of the problem is that, at tier 2, zerg will pursue one of two tech paths, each of which seems to have a completely unrelated counter to the other. Protoss almost needs phoenixes to effectively counter mutalisks, and a protoss player cannot compete against large hydralisk armies without either storm or colossi. I believe that I have found a build that enables protoss to deal with both possibilities. Better yet, this build also happens to transition very well into the late game and enables the protoss player to sustain A LOT of pressure on the zerg at all points in the game.

In a nutshell, the build that is outlined below is a 2-gate zealot pressure opening that transitions first into stargate tech (usually for phoenixes), second into chargelot/dark templar, and lastly into high templar. I’m not going to provide a detailed build order because a rigid build order is useless, for the purposes of this post, beyond building two gateways and your initial gateway pressure force. What you do thereafter is going to going depend upon how the game unfolds after the initial zealot pressure. The crux of this post is to discuss the transition into tier 2 after your expansion is up.

Though this post is going to have a lot of characteristics of a guide, I’m not entirely comfortable calling it a guide right now. The refinement of build orders down to a science isn’t there. However, I think that the basic concept behind the build is strong and important enough to present for further discussion and refinement.

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Besides, when you get this reaction from another player, you know that you’ve stumbled onto something good.


Before I set out the build, I want to describe its theoretical foundation. Given how dynamic PvZ is, especially in the mid to late game, you can’t really understand, use, and appreciate a strategy like this one unless you understand its basis. So let me explain what I was considering when creating this strategy.
1. Playing passively against good zerg will result in defeat.

So what makes high level PvZ games different than lower level PvZ games? Conceptually, it’s very simple: good zergs know how to punish protoss players that play passively by leveraging their inherent macroeconomic advantage. A basic tenet of StarCraft II (or most any other RTS), is that resources invested into your economy today means that there will be more money available for bigger, more powerful armies tomorrow. As you know, zergs build all of their units, including workers, from a common larvae pool. Unlike terran and protoss, whose potential worker production is predominantly a function of how many nexii or command centers they have, a zerg’s potential drone production is a function of available larvae. Basically, a zerg can dedicate all of his unit production capacity drones, whereas terrans and protosses cannot. A good comparison to the zerg’s drone production capacity would be a protoss player that could build probes out of his nexus, gateways, stargates, and robotics facilities. Because the zerg can crank out drones so much faster than a protoss, the zerg can make an initial investment of larvae and minerals into drone production early on to quickly create a superior economy to the protoss player. The zerg player can then turn this economy advantage into a superior army that the protoss cannot beat. This is the primary reason why passive play fails. A protoss player must put pressure upon the zerg in order to win.

Guess what? There’s a second problem with playing passively. Zerg can endlessly accumulate larvae while they endlessly accumulate resources. What this means is that if you sit in your base for too long and let the zerg get a 200/200 army, he’ll amass so much larvae that he can instantly rebuild his army after any battle. A protoss simply cannot match that production.

Most protoss players understand these concepts well enough and apply them in the early game by opening against zerg with some kind of early gateway pressure. However, most of those protoss players fail to apply those principles as they transition out of the gateway pressure and tech straight to tier 3: colossi or templar. Getting either of these techs online is very time-consuming and resource-intensive, which gives the zerg a very large window to either attack you or expand his economic advantage. The principle purpose of this guide is to show protoss players how to minimize this window by squeezing a little more juice out of the protoss’s tier 2 tech and by using dark templar.

2. Zerg tech switches can result in instant defeat for ill-prepared protoss players.

Aside from granting zerg the macroeconomic advantage in worker production, the larvae mechanic also enables zerg to tech switch far more easily than either terrans or protoss. So you just killed off that pesky hydra/roach army with your zealot/stalker/sentry/colossus force. Great! Now ultra/ling and corruptors are flying up your ass and you don’t have a proper force to deal with it. Not so great! Zerg tech switches can be absolutely brutal because they often come with no warning. You won’t know what the zerg is building often times until his army shows up at your front door. Protoss has two ways to mitigate this danger.

First, aggressive protoss play can “force” the zerg down certain tech paths, making his force composition predictable. For example, aggressive 2-gate openings will force either massed speedlings, roaches, or banelings, thereby delaying lair tech units and faster expansions. Getting a stargate and building phoenixes will discourage the zerg from building mutalisks and force him to build hydralisks.

However, even aggressive protoss play can’t entirely dictate what the zerg builds. To further mitigate the risk of losing due to a tech switch, the protoss player should build a force that can deal with anything that the zerg throws at him. Fortunately, the protoss player has such an option, which will be discussed below.

3. Spire tech is the most effective and deadly ZvP tech.

Massed mutalisks create huge problems for protoss players. Good zerg players will use the mutalisks to keep an ill-prepared protoss player trapped in his base, giving the zerg unlimited map control, which he will then use to take bases and establish an insurmountable economic lead. Let’s face it: protoss ground-based anti-air sucks. Period. Stalkers simply don’t do enough damage against air units, and they are not mobile enough to keep up with mutalisks, even with blink, when you’re ready to expand beyond your natural. Phoenixes are the only, consistently effective answer to mutalisks that protoss has for reestablishing map control. This threat of mutalisks is one of the primary reasons why this guide advocates building a stargate as the first tech building after a core. By creating an early phoenix force, the protoss player can effectively raise the opportunity cost that the zerg faces in transitioning into spire. In other words, the zerg needs a larger air force than he otherwise might need to effectively the protoss. This dynamic effectively discourages spire tech altogether.

4. Protoss units are at their best in smaller engagements.

This may be the most overlooked characteristic of the protoss arsenal. Because of the general crappiness of stalkers and sentries in terms of raw damage output, and because of the diminishing effectiveness of melee units (zealots) in combat against larger and larger masses of ranged units, the protoss army is not as effective in 200/200 combat as either terrans or zerg. Colossi and storm help level the playing field, but the core gateway units that will form the backbone of the protoss army are very weak in large-scale combat by themselves. This fact two has important implications. First, a protoss player NEEDS either storm or colossi to compete against large zerg ground armies. Second, all other things being equal (like equal production and economy), army trading to reduce the size of each player’s army is a good outcome for the protoss. While 20 zealots will not do well against 20 hydralisks, 10 zealots will absolutely murder 10 hydralisks. The chargelot, in particular, is the king of the late game when the initial large armies have been destroyed. This dynamic further lends to the effectiveness of aggressive PvZ play.

5. Protoss is the map control king of StarCraft 2.

Leveraging warp in, proxy pylons, warp prisms, fairly mobile gateway troops, and very fast stargate units, protoss has all of the tools necessary by the late game to establish and command map control. The warp prism, in particular, may be the most important late game protoss unit. Sneaky warp prism usage can absolutely shut down an opposing player’s late game economy by attacking and harassing expansions. Yes, zerg are pretty fast on their creep highways, but even they cannot compete with the ability to instantly build units in any psi field. This hyper-mobility from warp in arguably makes protoss the strongest late game race. To fully leverage warp in, this guide advocates a strategy that emphasizes gateway units over robotics facility units.

6. Feedback makes it incredibly difficult for a zerg to maintain detection over a battlefield.

This one is self-explanatory. Zerg’s only mobile detection are overseers, and they have energy. They are big, fat, ripe targets for feedback sniping. Once the overseers are gone, the zerg has no detection, giving your dark templar free reign to rape face.


1. The Early Game

The real focus of this post is on Tier 2 and Tier 3. However, some discussion of Tier 1 is necessary on what a protoss player needs to do to position himself in the early game for what comes later. The protoss player should have one goal in mind in the early game: securing his expansion. There are a number of ways of going about this.

My preferred method is 2-gating, particularly when the zerg base is not too far away. The point of a 2-gate opening isn’t to the kill zerg early, though stupid zergs that go for a greedy fast expand build probably will die to your 2-gate opening. There are two main objectives when 2-gating. The first is to delay the zerg expansion. The second is to force the zerg to build roaches or zerglings instead of drones.

My preferred 2-gate opening is pylon on 9, gate on 12, gate on 14, pylon on 15-16, zealot on 16, and pylon on 18 => chronoboost 4 additional zealots out. Send your first five zealots over to the zerg base. Afterwards, start a 6th zealot for clogging the choke, start your first gas, and start a core. Getting the core is important at this point is important if the zerg reacts to your pressure with roaches. You’ll need the stalkers out ASAP to protect your zealots. Scouting on 9 is preferable so that you can check if the zerg is at a very far cross-position on a 4-player map. If he is, then you’ll want to skip 2-gating and opt for a fast expand build.

There is no precise timing for when you expand other than doing it when you have a decent force to defend the expansion. Of course, “decent” is a relative term that depends upon how many troops the zerg is building. Accordingly, you’ll need to keep tabs on what the zerg is doing by scouting semi-often.

If the zerg is committing to some kind of all-in, tier 1 roach, speedling, or baneling attack, then stay on one base, start your second gas, start your forge, and start a stargate as soon as you have enough gas. When the stargate is done, chronoboost out two void rays. If the zerg has a really big army at this point, consider throwing down a cannon or two to buy some additional time. Use the void rays to crush the zerg army at your base and then snipe the expansion that the zerg likely started. You should have an opening to take your expansion at this point.

On a side note, I build a forge before I expand to help guard against speedlings, especially on maps with open naturals. I also start my +1 weapons right away.

2. Transitioning into Tier 2 Aggression

Here’s where the fun begins. Assuming that you have just expanded, your tech path now is to build a stargate, immediately followed by a twilight council. When your stargate is finished, chronoboost a phoenix and immediately send it to the zerg base to see what he is doing. If you see hydra tech, cut phoenix production just long enough so that you have enough gas to start charge (chronoboost it) and begin a dark shrine. Afterwards, resume phoenix production until you have about 5-6 phoenixes. If you see spire tech or otherwise suspect muta/ling, thrown down a second stargate and keep pumping phoenixes. In both cases, begin increasing your gateway count as minerals allow. On a related note, your +1 weapons should be finishing about now. Go ahead and start +2 once your twilight council is done.

I’m not going to talk too much about fighting muta/ling. With chargelots and phoenixes being pumped from 2 stargates, you should have it perfectly countered and the zerg will probably switch into hydralisk tech fairly quickly.

So let’s talk about what happens when you have phoenixes and the zerg gets hydralisks. Now, when the zerg sees your phoenixes, he’s probably going to smile and start thinking , “hah! I have the perfect counter to this newb’s build!” Well, fortunately for you, he is sadly mistaken.

Assuming that you were proactive with timely starting your dark shrine and charge upon seeing the hydralisk tech being started, you should have a sizeable chargelot force, 5-6 phoenixes, a few dark templar, plus a few sentries/stalkers in support by the time that the zerg has enough hydralisks and roaches to be frisky. You should be fairly safe from attack with this force.

Once you have 3-4 dark templar, it’s time to go on the offensive, preferably attacking the zerg’s third if he has started it. Believe it or not, you should actually have army superiority at this point even though you do not have either colossi or storm. Why? Because the zerg probably will not have more than 1 overseer readily available, which you can easily snipe down with your phoenixes and sentry/stalkers. From there, just use your dark templar, mixed with your chargelots, to take down the zerg’s ground army. The trick is to mix the dark templar in with your main force of chargelots. This makes the dark templar hard to notice and target. Even if you lose everything except your dark templar and phoenixes in exchange for wiping out the zerg’s ground army, that’s ok. However, that outcome is unlikely unless the zerg has stayed on 2 bases and focused on massing troops.

After this initial battle, you should be taking your third and researching storm tech to prepare for the late game. Make sure that you sustain your phoenix force. Keep at least 5-6 at all times to discourage tech switches to mutalisks.

3. A New and Improved Tier 3 Protoss Deathball

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Let's play a game called "Pop Goes the Overseer."

Perhaps the best part about this build is that it cleanly and easily transitions into an army that is incredibly difficult for a zerg to counter. Your late game army will be composed primarily of chargelots, dark templar, phoenixes, and high templar, with varying numbers of sentries, stalkers, and archons in support. As at tier 2, the dark templar are the key to making this composition work. Utilizing your phoenixes and feedback from your high templar, any number of overseers will be dead at the beginning of any battle, giving your dark templar free reign. This means that, unlike stalker/sentry/colossus deathballs, you will be impervious to ultralisks (dark templar take down ultralisks VERY quickly). In fact, this composition is so effective that it is almost unfair. Just watch the replays below.

Because your army is gateway-based, you can really abuse your mobility with warp in as the game drags on and players have to take expansions that are further from their mains. If you can, remember to make one phase prism for this very purpose. Keep the pressure up on the zerg and make him earn every expansion. If you can, hit him in multiple places at once by sending your phase prism to one spot and your main army to another.

Lastly, don’t forget to use your dark templar to camp expansion sites!

Q: What inspired this build?
A: I developed the build backwards. While playing against a friend, I stumbled onto the effectiveness of using dark templar while sniping overseers with feedback. From there, it was just a matter of figuring out how to get to the point where you can field the tier 3 army described above. More importantly, I hate 4-gating and refuse to play that way in any matchup other than PvP (where I have no choice sometimes). This build, unlikely 4-gating, is inherently badass and fun to use.

Q: Where are the colossi?
A: Honestly, I don’t like colossi that much for the same reason that many other players don’t like them: they’re boring. More importantly, however, I think that colossi are too easy to counter at higher levels of play. Zerg have gotten very good at exploiting the time that it takes to build 3-4 colossi to get a huge economic advantage. Also, zerg are very good at getting enough corruptors to absolutely shut down colossi. For these reasons alone, I prefer high templar and storm tech.

Q: Can zerg counter this?
A: I’m rated at about 1050 in diamond league. Once I get into tier 2, I basically never lose to zerg when I use this build. I think part of the problem is that most zerg haven’t seen this type of build before (all they see is stupid 4-gate play or colossus-centric stuff) so they don’t know how to respond.

Q: Do infestors counter this?
A: There are a couple of games included in the replays where the zerg gets infestors. The infestors don’t really make a difference.

Q: Won't roaches counter this?
A: Not necessarily. Roaches will give anything that is zealot/chargelot reliant a lot of problems. However, you can easily adjust your composition to deal with roaches by adding some sentries, stalkers, immortal, and/or void rays. All of these are readily available units that you can build on the fly.

Q: Won’t the zerg be able to kill you before you get high templar if he brings multiple overseers?
A: I don’t think so. Each overseer is a very large investment. Think about it this way: for every overseer that the zerg builds, he will have 2 less hydralisks in his army. Thus, 3 overseers roughly equals 6 hydralisks. That’s a very significant investment. Specifically, it’s an investment that a zerg will not make unless he knows that there are dark templar on the field. Even if the zerg does build those three overseers, he will have a significantly smaller hydralisk force. This means that your chargelots will be more effective against his ground forces (see principal #5 above). In short, early dark templar, when combined with phoenixes and chargelots, create a very ugly mid-game Catch-22 for the zerg.

Q: So what are you going to do when zerg learn to burn all of the mana on their overseers?
A: I’ll counter by either getting faster blink on my stalkers, increasing my phoenix count, or adding a void ray or two to burn down the overseers faster.

Q: Your Tier 1 discussion sucks because....
A: As I explicitly state in the discussion of the build, what happens at Tier 1 isn't important. This build is about the Tier 2 and Tier 3 transitions. These transitions are triggered once you secure your expansion. How you get to that point is up to you. I included my 2-gate opening as a preferred method of getting the expansion up. If you think that you have something better, go for it. I personally don't believe that there is a 1-size fits all Tier 1 build order PvZ. FE, 2-gating, and 1-gate core all have their uses depending upon the map and proximity between bases.

Q: When should I get my robotics facility?
A: I usually forego the robotics facility until after I have templar tech online. Observers aren’t that critical in PvZ when you already have phoenixes. The phoenixes can scout what the zerg is doing. You only need observers if you think that the zerg is looking to abuse burrowed/tunneling roaches. That said, it is nice to have observers to kill off creep tumors.

Q: I can't make this build work!!!
A: Yes, this can be a difficult build to use. Anything that involves phoenixes requires practice and finesse. Keep trying it and you'll eventually get the hang of it.

Q: You don’t even have phoenixes in half of your replays!!!!
A: Yeah, those are my earlier games when I was still tinkering with the build and focusing upon getting storm out faster. However, I included those replays anyway because they have good late-game demonstrations of how the build operates at tier 3 (sans phoenix, of course).

Q: Dude, the zergs in your replays suck....
A: Unless you’re like 1100+ Diamond, the zergs that you’re playing aren’t much better (I’m sitting at about 1050 right now). That said, I reviewed all of the replays and noticed that I fairly consistently had more workers than my zerg opponents. The two-gate opening, in particular, often resulted in me having a nearly 10 worker lead early on. Nevertheless, the point of this isn’t to highlight how good (or crappy) of a player I am. The point is to showcase a very strong PvZ build. Because, in MOST of the battles, the army sizes were fairly similar (I had trouble keeping my minerals down at times), you have a good opportunity to see how effective the build is. Besides, I want players who are better than me to take the ideas from this post and expand upon them. That's the whole point of this post.

Q: [From Joe Zerg Player] I hate you for posting this.
A: Hey, let’s focus the hate on terrans.  


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With patch 1.1 coming, we need to give zergs something else to cry about!