Some tidbits of vital knowledge
In this "guide", we're going to be talking about TvZ in general, and then more specifically, how you can abuse the living shit out of the very popular map, Fighting Spirit. Of course, I just want to reiterate that I don't consider myself to be an expert on the match-up, so this isn't going to be a very "high-level" type of guide, so if you play Terran and are familiar with it, then you can brush this aside.
So first of all, you may ask "Why TvZ?" and then "What do you know about this match-up?" and the first question can be summed up thusly: First, being racist in StarCraft is lame. Also, I know a lot of new Terrans who need to get up to speed on some modern strategies and just make life a lot easier for them, because honestly, all the match-ups in StarCraft are obviously difficult to play, but for newbs who play Terran, I feel like TvZ is the most difficult to figure out. As for my credentials, I have none. I know absolutely nothing. This is just me sharing my love for the game with you.
Disclaimer: Although I strive for accuracy, not everything I say may necessarily be true, so take everything I say from here on out with a grain of salt, merci.
If you break TvZ down, you'll notice a few things: The Terran typically builds a lot of marines, and the Zerg builds mutalisks or lurkers. What the Zerg player is doing is what other RTS gamers would call a "Tech rush", where they get a more expensive unit that does more damage than the typical tier 1 unit. This gives them a very small, relatively expensive army to attack with. Therefore, as Terran, you have two options: turtle really really hard (which would be going mech), or building a lot of inexpensive units to kill the Zerg's more expensive units, which would be our standard "bio" opening.
A few Terran terms you may hear:
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"bio terran": Basically anything that involves marines/medics and maybe firebats. Firebats are great if your opponent has a lot of zerglings, which, incidentally, zergs tend to have. Bio play is only strong if the units have their upgrades; stim/marine range, and then the engineering bay upgrades. Bio-based armies are cheap and can regenerate losses easily, are more mobile than the Zerg's army, and therefore, are extremely efficient. The low cost of the bio army makes it ideal against a more expensive Zerg army. Bio is good all the way up until the Zerg deploys defilers, and then require supporting units.
"Mech terran": An army that does not use barracks units, but rather factory units. Because the mech army contains a lot of tanks, it has to siege and unsiege constantly, making it less mobile than the Zerg army. Otherwise, mech Terran is incredibly strong, being able to kill a huge amount of Zerg units. The downsides to mech are that it moves very slowly, so you can be backstabbed easily if not careful. Also, the mech army, although way stronger than the bio army, is way more expensive. Rebuilding it after a loss takes a lot of time to recover from, and it takes a long time to build up to it in the early game. Mech terran cannot attack in small groups like bio terran can. If there are few units for mech, then it becomes very inefficient and can be overrun easily. When playing this style, it is necessary for Terran to build up a very large force before attacking for maximum effectiveness.
"SK Terran" This is a strategy that relies on bio units supported by a large number of science vessels, which I call the "vessel cloud". Most of the damage delivered is by the vessel cloud, which irradiates every expensive Zerg unit. This strategy has fallen out of favor in recent years because of the high risk of the vessel cloud being susceptible to plague. Also, this strategy requires a ridiculous amount of multi-tasking power, requiring the Terran to be constantly pressuring the Zerg, running back and forth across the map.
"Mech switch" This is the new alternative to playing SK Terran, because instead of using the gas to build a vessel cloud, the Terran starts building factories and eventually stops making bio units altogether and only makes factory units. This fulfills three basic roles: First, it allows the Terran to go mech, which is cool. Second, it makes up for that early game weakness that mech has. Third, it gives the Terran player the option to put pressure on the Zerg's front consistently.
The Zerg player could go "I AM ZERG, I AM THE SWARM" and try to build a million zerglings and hydralisks to overwhelm you (which can work if you play like a robot) but Terran has very efficient and have really strong synergy. What is synergy? It is when, the larger your army becomes, the more powerful it becomes, but on an exponential scale. So let's say you have an army of 150 food. Instead of being 50% stronger than an army of 100 food, it ends up being doubly stronger, and this especially applies to "Mech Terran", which we'll touch on in a bit. So as the tier 1 Terran army grows in size, the less efficient the tier 1 Zerg units will become. Therefore, more Zerg players prefer to get a small number of powerful units that can hold off small Terran attacks in the early game so that the Zerg can get defilers and/or ultralisks later.
Therefore, the Zerg game basically breaks down into five stages:
1. Zergling stage
2. Mutalisk stage
3. Lurker stage
4. Defiler stage
5. Ultralisk stage
- In the Zergling stage, Terran needs enough stuff to defend against Zerglings while taking their expansion. There are other fun little builds like 2-rax expo and 3-rax academy that you can do, but you can almost always defend pure lings with just one barracks using marines, SCVs and bunker(s). Most of the time, you don't even need a bunker. For example, if you see a 9 pool with gas with your scouting SCV, you'll know a bunch of Zerglings are coming, that is, unless you evacuate your SCV before the Zerg player starts morphing the lings and don't see them going 1-hatch lurkers. But let's say it's the 9 pool, because your opponent is from [PE] and they are going to attack with lings, do a bunch of damage and follow it up with mutalisks. You can just pile up your marines at the top of your ramp and have three SCVs blocking the entrance in front of the marines. Then, once you have like 5 marines, send an SCV to see how many lings are lurking on the outside. If there are like 200 zerglings, you can make a second barracks and take your refinery so you can get academy units, because it is rumored that firebats are good against zerglings. However, if there are like 10 lings, just wait until you have 6-7 or so marines, and move down the ramp to build a bunker and a command center.
This is basically your very early anti-ling defense. I put three SCVs, but the best is four, and you continue to add marines to the top of the ramp. Don't forget to drag a box over the marines and SCVs to group them together, and then hit "H" for hold, otherwise the SCVs will bug out when they get attacked.
Once you move down the ramp, placing your third supply depot is greatly helpful to keep your marine group from getting surrounded. You can also build a bunker if you feel like you want it.
If you scout a 4 pool or 5 pool, you might need to build a bunker in your main, just make sure it hugs your command center and is able to cover most of the SCVs mining the minerals, so don't make it at the top of the ramp. Then you can just get a second rax, take your gas and just go murder them.
Note that unlike TvP, you don't want to wall off your ramp, because Zerglings can get through it anyway (unless you're going with some factory opening, but we're not talking about that) and you don't need to rush to take your expansion if the Zerg player is being ridiculously aggressive early on. With Protoss, the P player can use their aggression to take an expansion with will make probes, but with Zerg, they can't make drones and continuously attack with only one or two hatcheries. This is because their larva has to be used for units to keep up aggression, and so their economy will suck. If their economy sucks, you don't need to freak out about building a CC on the high ground and being like "I just need to play this standard and get my CC at18 population or my whole build will be thrown off"
- I'm going to be more brief about the mutalisk stage. If the Zerg builds entirely unmolested by your forces, the mutas will pop out of their eggs at around 6:30 to 7:00 into the game. The difference between the times varies depending on which build order the Zerg picks. The 2-hatch opening for the Zerg allows them to be aggressive earlier, but delays the build-up of their economy. The 3-hatch opening is the opposite, giving the Zerg slightly later aggression, but the extra hatchery allows them to build up an economy quicker. To successfully defend against mutalisks, you need turrets, marines, medics, and both stim/range upgrades.
Since the Zerg player stacks up their mutalisks into one big muta-ball, there are a couple of AoE attacks to choose from: valkyries and science vessels. In my humble opinion, valkyries kinda suck as a good anti-mutalisk option, because once the Zerg starts building ground units, the valkyries become useless because they can easily get picked off by scourge, so they can't go off and harass the overlords. However, the science vessel is a wondrous flying god because it has the power to irradiate. Therefore, since one irradiate can kill all the mutalisks or severely damage the muta-ball, and can be used to detect and kill lurkers, it is imperative that you tech to science vessels in a timely manner.
You're probably like "duh." but I saw a guy get like 10 barracks and never teched up, and he couldn't understand why he lost against his opponent's mass mutalisk build. First, his micro made me cringe, because if you could list all the stuff not to do with your medic/marine forces, he did everything wrong, and his turret placement made me want to scream. Despite being terrible, he could've just won with one science vessel.
Also, just as a disclaimer, you need a valkyrie for the "Fantasy Build", and it works out nicely because you get an armory anyhow. But this isn't a how-to for the Fantasy Build.
- The Lurker stage is pretty straight-forward. You will need at least 3 tanks and a science vessel with your forces to take on the Zerg army when the lurkers come out. If you can use your marines to kite and kill some lurkers early on, it'll help you immensely when your larger push comes out. Typically, the lurkers will not be sent to take on your army directly unless you get overly-eager and wander too deep into Zerg territory.
This is also when you want to start putting mines on the map, before the defilers come into play.
This is a good lurker defense. A couple of bunkers at your bridge + a turret or two should prevent them from doing anything until they get defilers.
- Defilers will prevent any ground army from advancing unless you have a ton of science vessels or a ton of tanks, and for now, focus on getting a ton of tanks. When you push the Zerg army at this point, you'll typically have science vessels to see the lurkers, but you should scan ahead to see where the defilers are and irradiate them. If you get them all, you can cripple the Zerg so that it will be almost impossible for them to come back into the game. Of course, don't let your strategy hinge on "oh, I hope I get the defilers and just auto-win" because you need to have an extended game plan.
Your push should kill as much Zerg shit as possible while giving you presence on the map. You'll increase your map presence by placing mines in all of the key areas, and then more mines in other areas.
Once you do your push, you can play the next part two ways:
1 - Just take your third CC like a fuckin' boss
2 - Lay down mines first, then take the CC
Either way works just fine, but if you end up behind for any reason, like you weren't expecting guardians, or maybe you lost your first science vessel, or lost way too many medic/marines, then playing safe and putting down the mines first could be a lifesaver. If the Zerg hasn't done any real damage besides killing some marines and maybe a tank, then you're pretty much golden.
- Ultralisk stage!
Here's where the mines really come in handy - not only do you defend against defiler/lurker really well with mines, but you also can defend against ultra/ling with them as well. Ultralisks are surprisingly easy to handle once you have enough tanks, but of course, since tanks have a minimum range, you have to buffer the tanks with other units, and make sure the Zerg doesn't drop units on them. If the Zerg switches to guardians or something, just laugh in their face as the goliaths murder them.
You need to make sure your timing is right to deal with each stage of the Zerg's development. For example, let's say you forget your stim upgrade, and mutalisks come flying in and start killing your people and burning your crops. You'll go "Oh, I need stim" and by the time you have it, it will be way too late, and you could very well lose the game. Fortunately, it's not the last game you'll ever play, unless you're in some extreme situation where it literally is the last game you'll ever play. But for most people, you'll have the opportunity to play more games and amend such errors and you subsequent games.
Day has a podcast on this, so if you haven't listened to that, I highly recommend it. A trigger is a variable-based condition for you to initiate some sort of action, such as building a structure, or moving some units, or anything you can think of. For example, let's say, every game, you play TvP and go fake-double. When you start your tank in your factory, that is your trigger to start researching spider mines.
Triggers are important, because in the early game, there is very little variance, unless something weird happens. The variance increases as the game goes on, but typically, follows a very general pattern because there is a limit to what a player can do in StarCraft. I say this because in the early game, you can use your population count as a trigger, for example, "14/18 - Command Center" so your population is 14, and therefore, it means it's time to build a command center. Later in the game, you might have a population of 157 or something completely random like that, and you scan your opponent while playing TvT and see that they are building like 10 starports, and that is your trigger to build mass turrets or however you decide to defend against that sort of thing.
The point is, you can't watch a replay of some awesome Terran player and go "Oh, he gets turrets at 157 population, so when I play, I'll also get turrets at that time."
So, here are the general guidelines:
- 9/10 - Supply
- 11/18 - Send an SCV to go scout
- 11/18 - Barracks
- 15/18 - Supply Depot (Place this in your base, not at your natural, or I will literally slap you)
- 18/26 - Command Center
Building your Command Center is your trigger to immediately take your refinery, so the next step, obviously, is:
- CC starts - Refinery
- @100 gas - Remove SCVs from the refinery
- 22/26 - Supply Depot <- a lot of beginners forget this depot. Make sure you don't forget!
- Engineering Bay (This will be around 25 food)
The 100 gas is for the +1 attack upgrade for your infantry in the engineering bay. Note: I've seen some players take SCVs off the gas once they get their first 100 gas, then resume mining gas once they start their academy + additional barracks.
- Around 30 population - Academy (this will come after you place your engineering bay)
- Engineering Bay finishes - Research +1 infantry weapons
You should be in the low to mid 30s in terms of population. You'll want to build your academy and second and third barracks around the same time.
- Academy starts - Add two Barracks
- Academy finishes - Research stim first, then get your comsat stations
- Add another supply depot (max population will be 36, you'll want to get it around 32ish, but make sure you get all your other stuff, like barracks/academy first)
- Add two more barracks, population will be around 40/44
You will have a total of 5 barracks, and you can send your first force to attack when you make your first round of medics.
At this point, you will have to manage three objectives:
1 - Getting your turrets. Against lurkers, you will want one at your front, one behind your natural and one at the bottom corner of your base to prevent slow-drops. If you scan no queen's nest, then drop is probably being upgraded, that is, if the Zerg opened with lurkers. In the case of a mutalisk opening, you'll want to build around 3 turrets for command center, and then 2 in the middle to cover your other buildings.
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2 - Pressure! Your medic/marine attack will come at a critical point in the game where the Zerg has very few units, and no defiler, so if possible, you want to intercept the Zerg's third base from finishing. However, you don't want to send all your marines to kill it and then let your turrets all die. You mainly want to kill whatever you can, not try to force something to happen. If you can kill the Zerg's third, or force it to cancel, great! The biggest mistake many Terran players make at this stage is to over-commit to some attack and lose their medic/marine force. This is really bad, because you want to have some map presence, unless the mutalisks are being really aggressive, and you need your marines at home to ward them off until your science vessel emerges.
3 - Start teching to Starport. This means that as soon as you can, plop down a factory, and then a second factory shortly after. The first upgrade you'll get is Siege Mode, but then get spider mines shortly after. Ideally, you'll want your science vessel to be ready at 11 minutes into the game, so make sure you build each tech building immediately after the prior one finishes.
After you move out onto the map, you'll want to immediately take your third command center, because you need a lot of gas for your mech army. You'll also need upgrades for your mech units, so you'll need to get an armory and third CC. Fighting Spirit is an awesome map for doing this, because you have an easily-defended third base with vespene gas. You can also use this sort of strategy on Jade, Neo Electric Circuit, Sniper Ridge, Wind And Cloud, Bloody Ridge, and many more maps.
The secret (which isn't really secret) to successfully securing that third CC is to control one area of the map with medic/marines and the other area with spider mines. Eventually, you'll control both lanes and the middle with mines, but start with one side, and then paint the other side with mines.
At this point, you could just make a second starport, and continue making medic/marines and get a lot of science vessels, but you're a MAN, and you like to eat BACON and go MECH. So, lift off all your barracks and float them away. Ideally, you'll want to float one to both edges of the map, one to watch each entrance, and the fifth one you can float to the middle or into the Zerg's base.
Your initial factories will continuously produce tanks and vultures.
The shape of Fighting Spirit is kind of donut-shaped. The edges are all really easy to turtle, so most of the action will go through the donut at the center of the map. Generally, stuff will not pass through the middle of the map because it is kind of a choke point for a large army.
If you spawn cross-positions, you can send your push down either side, but I picked the top for this illustration. The other path you can and SHOULD block with mines.
Spawning on the same side (or left-right) your push path with almost always simply go right down the lane towards the Zerg's main base, and other side will be secured with mines
Spider mines must blanket the map at all times. This is not only to kill Zerg units, but to scout their movements and expansions. There should be one mine laid at each potential expansion that is untaken, and should be placed at the entrance of each Zerg base, and at the entrance of each of your bases, and then everywhere else in between.
Number of factories
After you cease producing infantry, there is no reason to continue upgrading from both engineering bays, so one of them can fly away to scout the map. You will need two armories, and you want to make damn sure you max out your vehicle upgrades as fast as possible. This is especially useful if the Zerg goes mass mutalisks or guardians, because their air unit upgrades will be either very bad, or non-existent, which means upgraded goliaths will make short work of them. Because you will be making so many tanks, you may see players try to break the tanks with mass air units, but you should have goliaths and science vessels anyhow.
The next step
There are many variations of Zerg attacks that could develop at this stage of the game, but without a strong economy, any attack they attempt will be very weak because mech is very good at defending against a lot of units, so even if they send like 18 ultralisks, they will probably still fail miserably. However, once you move out into the open ground, you may notice that, while still highly efficient, your army will take higher casualties than when defending. I'm not saying "never ever attack", but you have to attack smart. You don't want to get 12 tanks and then go "Yoh-loh!" before getting rolled. If you have a large enough advantage and the Zerg is weak, then go massacre them, by all means. In the late game, minerals become a lot more important to the Zerg, so they'll need a saturated 3rd and 4th base to produce a large enough force to combat your army. So if your Zerg opponent has 5 bases with a ton of drones, then you're going to be facing a massive amount of Zerg units, and if you attack, you may kill the first wave of units thrown at you, but more and more will keep coming and whittle down your army to nothing.
Ideally, you want to keep the Zerg's drone count low through the following means:
- Use your initial medic/marine attack to deny the Zerg from taking a third base early.
- Use vultures to kill drones. A dark swarm with two lurkers might be scary for marines, but vultures don't give a fuck, and can just run right through the dark swarm and into the drone lines.
- Use dropships to ferry medic/marine into the Zerg's bases. Don't forget to always scan the area you want to drop to, to make sure the Zerg isn't expecting you. Typically, the overlords that are used as spotters hang out around the edge of the map, so you may need to fly through the middle of the map and drop diagonally into one of the bases. If you drop the Zerg's third, and there is a nydus canal, always target that first and kill it, even if there are three sunken colonies at that base. Drops always work best when you are putting pressure on the Zerg elsewhere, because they will usually send a majority of their defense to protect the area where there is pressure, leaving a very meager defense for where you may want to drop.
Watch out for scourge, though.
When you take your third base, your next step, logically, is to take a fourth base. You'll want to take another main almost right away after you start putting mines on the map and getting your factories/armories. If you have any remaining medic/marines, you'll want to send them to the top of the ramp at that main, next to a turret. The entrance of that main :must1: be defended by mines, otherwise, the Zerg can just defiler-push into your fourth and shut it down instantly.
Build 2 factories at your fourth, both with machine shops, and have them both continuously produce nothing but tanks, just tons and tons of tanks, and rally them to the high-ground cliff overlooking the natural. Once you have a decent number of tanks, you can just freely take the low-ground expansion for a total of five bases.
This is what you want at each main.
Your fourth should have a bunker/turret at the top, and you can use a small number of marines/firebats/medics as well to block the ramp.
Defending the third base is pretty easy. I put like five tanks here, but you don't really need that many. As long as you have mines to spot the Zerg's movements, you can send reinforcements as necessary.
Once you max out your population, and have at least 2-2 upgrades for your vehicles (ideally, you'll want 3-3), you can gather up pretty much all of your mech units and move forward onto the map. If there is no opposition, just send your army right up to their entrance and start killing it. Although it might seem enticing to attack their main and kill all their tech buildings, what you really want is to cut off their income, so their army will stay too small to hurt you significantly. You want to push towards the Zerg's freshest expansions and either kill them, or kill a ton of units. Remember to scan the entrance for defilers so you can see it is possible to irradiate them, because the last thing you want is to get your army plagued.
While launching your big attack, you definitely will want to take a sixth base, and obviously, continue macroing, making lots of whatever you need.
Some Zerg counters
Against mass hydra: You really just need a lot of tanks and fight in a good position where the hydras can't get a flank. Keeping your tanks clustered close together is actually quite good, but you'll have to keep them safe from overlord drops or queens with your goliaths and science vessels. If overlords arrive to drop on the tanks, don't unsiege ALL the tanks. Just unsiege a few where the overlords are heading towards, and of course, definitely irradiate as many overlords as possible.
Against mass ling: There comes a point where the Zerg player might feel starved, but will have enough money to send groups of zerglings to attack, but this is easily dealt with if you just produce vultures and place mines on the map. It's not very efficient to A-move vultures into cracklings, so make sure you place the mines and then micro the vulture group. And don't blow your vultures up on your own mines.
Against ultra/ling: Mostly tanks and mines will do the trick, but have a large number goliaths is pretty necessary (or turrets) because this style of Zerg play generally leads to mass drops.
Against a doom-drop in your main: Actually anticipating this is probably one of the hardest aspects of playing the late game TvZ. A doom drop usually contains cracklings and defilers, and then also lurkers and ultralisks. First of all, the timing of the drop and location are important. If you have floating buildings and mines on the map, you should be able to spot it fairly easily. A doom drop typically will move around the edge of the map, and you should be ready for it the moment you see that the Zerg has overlord speed. First, no amount of turrets on God's green earth can stop a doom drop, but they can weaken it by taking out some of the overlords. The drop is going to happen, you just have to accept it. However, the drop might work against the Zerg player if you defend against it properly. The only buildings you will need to lift off are command centers that are mining. All the other structures will act as physical barriers, creating choke points for the Zerg units to run through.
As soon as you see the overlords approaching, irradiate as many of them as possible. When the overlords move into position to unload units, move the science vessels away. The overlords might be carrying a defiler that is hotkeyed, and will instantly plague your vessel cloud if you just sit there. If the overlords try to drop on your tanks, and there is no air defense for some unexplained reason, then start d-matrixing the tanks. If you have tanks spread out on the low ground, and some further back, then the drop will just get annihilated, even though it kills some tanks.
In terms of priority, you want to irradiate the defilers first, then lurkers, then ultralisks last. DO NOT irradiate an ultralisk if it is in your SCV line, because the irradiate will kill your SCVs.
If you have goliaths nearby, send them to back up the turrets in the path of the drop. Any nearby tanks should be moved close enough to blow up anything that comes out of the drop. Although I said turrets can't actually stop the drop from happening, you still need to build a ton of turrets anyhow to kill overlords and weaken the drop, and to kill scourge that will try to snipe your science vessels.
If the doom-drop occurs while you are attacking with your maxed 3-3 army, do not go back. There is no turning back. You may have to sacrifice a base, but you can retake it later if it's worth doing so. The reasoning for this is that your army will be so strong that the Zerg will not be able to break it unless they have a full army to throw at it, and because so many Zerg units are tied up in the drop, they won't be able to adequately defend their expansions that you are killing.
Against mass mutalisk: Type "lol ur bad", then start irradiating.
Against Hydra/Guardian: This is a fairly expensive Zerg composition, so it's very strong if you don't have enough of one unit or another. However, since it takes such a long time to build up a significant number of guardians with hydras (not to mention a shitload of gas) you'll want to actually have less tanks than you normally would, but they should stay clumped, because guardians don't do splash damage. If you don't have enough science vessels and mines, you could lose the engagement entirely. The science vessels should focus on the guardians, and the tank/mine/goliath combo should stop the hydras from doing too much damage. Whatever guardians are left can be cleaned up with goliaths.
Against mass queens: If you scan mass queens, or scout this somehow, start researching EMP at your science facility, and then you can take out all the queen energy. Also keep in mind that a queen will certainly die once irradiated, but your top priority is to keep them away from your tanks with goliaths and science vessels.
Against hydra/queen: This combo is becoming more and more rare, but can be very strong if you keep your tanks clumped too tightly. Even though tanks are very effective against hydras while clumped, it is best to spread them out to mitigate the damage the queens can do.
Against small attacks: This refers to a little attack like a group of lings, or maybe a lurker/defiler drop with two lurkers. This is pretty straightforward; save your SCVs, lift the CC, clear the area out, then land the CC and resume mining.
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Light vs Action on La Mancha
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Flash vs Zero on La Mancha, one of my personal favorites
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Sea vs HoeJJa on La Mancha. This map has more area to defend than FS, so it's cool to see how Terran players are able to use pressure to control the map to take a third base.
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Mong FPVOD (late game play)
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Mind FPVOD (no mech switch, instead, the science vessel transition from +1 5 rax... and I know it's 4 barracks)
I will find more VODs soon. Your homework is to watch all the TvZ you possibly can in replays and VODs.