For the opening I chose rax expo ->1 rax ebay acad
For the overall style, we are doing a 3 rax midgame, and then going into a mech switch. And we are doing a 3 tank opening rather than a speed vult style.
The idea here was to do a quick first pass and then slowly add more nuance and detail. So I wrote the guide and then asked Letabot for questions. He is ok with me posting this publicly.
1 rax expo, ebay, academy, 3 rax, fac, star, science, 3rd cc inbase, 3 fac, armoury, 4th cc (at new main), 5 fac, 2nd armoury, 7 fac, 5th cc (at new nat), 9 fac (these 2 in new main), 11 fac (these 2 in main), 12 fac (this one in new main)
This is going up against Zerg doing:
3 hat spire
4th hat (at 3rd base)
5th hat (at main)
6th hat (4th base)
7th hat (at 3rd base)
8th hat (at 3rd base)
The main deviation comes from scouting a 2 hat opener. Instead of going 1 rax ebay academy, we instead go 2 rax then academy then ebay. This gives earlier scanners and earlier mass.
If its 2 hat lurker we can make factory after only these 2 rax.
If 2 hat muta, we can go 3-5 rax.
Some little tips:
-Get 9 marines then 4 medics.
-Start making the 2nd and 3rd barracks, then start the factory. When the barracks finish is when you make turrets. This is vs 3 hat muta. Make 4 turrets at the nat, 2 turrets at the barracks, and 3 turrets in the main near the main cc. Make 2nd gas after the turrets.
-Get +1 infantry weapons then +1 infantry armour
-Roughly 6 medics, 24 marines, 3 tanks, 1 vessel
-Now we are on 3 facs, make vults with mines then speed from all 3 facs. Make 12 vults. Place mines at the zerg intended 5th.
-Now we are up to 5 facs. Make a second machine shop.
-Going up to 7 factories now and 3rd and 4th machine shop. This is when we begin tank production in full earnest. Get Charon booster goliath range, and a handful of goliaths.
When on 5 fac, have 2 shops.
When on 7 fac, have 4 shops.
When 2 new facs at new main, they are both for tanks only.
When on 9 facs in the main, make a 5th machine shop.
When 3rd fac at new main, it is also tank only.
-Stay on 5 base for a tick. The strategy attempts to contain zerg on 4 base, and deny any attempt to take a 5th/6th. If the Zerg is able to, Terran is still fine, and is still ‘winning’. Make a couple of turrets at the neutral bases, and take a 6th base.
-Feel free to mix in 4 valks into the lategame army. Position them to defend vs a drop on the new main/nat. Bring them out if a muta or guardian switch is revealed.
-Aiming for around 68 scvs. No more than 70, no less than 60.
Above Ive concentrated on very rigid targets, and focused on buildings and production rounds. I havent talked about army movements or anything else.
Lets do a quick update on current styles and a bit of history too.
At the moment Flash is quite often happy doing rax expo->2 rax academy openings even vs 3 hat zerg openings rather than rax expo->ebay academy. This is absolutely fine. It gets 2 medics then 2 firebats. It forces zerg to make some sunkens before muta. It makes T safer vs massling attacks, as T can make firebats earlier. And you can still defend the mutas perfectly adequately and put a lot of pressure on zerg as he tries to take his 3rd base too. I think the ebay style is slightly stronger as you can go head to head with mutaling just a tiny bit better, and hit a little bit harder when zerg is setting up his 3rd base. Zergs have gotten really good at holding this pressure now though, getting just the right amount of lings and picking off small squads of mnm before they link up, and by using lurker egg blocks (start morphing 1 at the top of the ramp slightly before morphing the other 2 directly on the ramp) (or 2 above and 1 on the ramp). So maybe Flash is thinking its better to just force the early sunkens and continue from there.
Next, Terrans were previously getting 2 turrets at the barracks and 2 turrets in the main forming a perimeter to keep muta ‘out’. Nowadays its more common that Terran makes the turrets much closer to the main cc so that if the mutas commit to attacking the scv then the turrets will be shooting and for Terran to get a 3rd turret at that location as well. Zergs were finding they could park muta in the corner of the terran main and get in some decent damage, with mnm finding it difficult to navigate the clutter of scvs mining and depots in the way. So yeah that’s a little thing that has changed fairly ‘recently’. (to be honest things like this go in and out of ‘fashion’ to an extent as well. Eg once zergs think that terran is always getting 3 turrets he will stop attacking there so much and then later in the timeline terrans will start cutting down on turrets again etc).
Next, the speed vult first style! This is a fun style where instead of getting 3 siege tanks with siege mode, you get 3 vults with speed first, and potentially run straight past the lurkers holding the ramp into the zerg 3rd and score drone kills or draw the lurker shots away from the ramp so the mnm can advance up and kill the lurkers. The move is sometimes attempted with just 2 vults, sometimes with 4. Terrans will often continue making vults after this move, around 5-8 then a tank or two then back to vults. Now firstly I want to say this is not a new build (I mean specifically skipping tanks and getting vults first). Midas was using it in 2010. Yes 2010. But it didn’t become a standard option until the last couple of years. You keep getting speed vults and get mines and continue into the standard mech switch, which has been standard since 2011.
The idea is that Zerg have gotten really good at getting to darkswarm to hold the 3 tank attack. So at the worst, T simply skips to the next stage, and at the best he manages to sneak the vults into the 3rd base and get an advantage by killing drones or distracting the lurkers so mnm can engage. This style works particularly well on ramps that have inverted main/nat setups (low ground mains and high nats). Indeed this was where Midas used the style, on aztec. Sea was using this style on Jade quite a bit etc. Zergs are now using a simple trick that helps prevent the vults getting in though. They keep 1 lurker unburrowed sitting blocking the ramp. Another option is just to keep some lings at the top of the ramp to block the runby. Its certainly an added worry for the zerg to look out for atleast.
The reason siege tanks are good at this timing traditionally (in the most stating the obvious way) is because they can engage lurkers safely and can attack sunkens safely. If zerg goes for the +1 armour 12 lurkers (mass lair) style to kill the 3 tank attack then siege tanks are more vital. If zerg goes for the standard faster hive darkswarm style to hold off the 3 tank attack then vulture style is more potent. So if Terran can reliably scout which method the zerg is aiming for then he could reactively choose whether to do vulture style or tanks style. However I don’t think its possible to accurately reliably scout. You can scan the timing of the zerg buildings but he could potentially switch after your decision point and this would be early enough for him to do damage that could be fatal.
Some Terrans might believe that through mnm control they can hold off lair heavy style without needing tanks. And infact by not having any tanks they can simply retreat from the position easily rather than ‘having to commit’ to defending the tanks somewhere in the centre of the map. Meanwhile the vults can just run around and cause havoc as the zerg is concentrating on using his whole army as one. And these Terran might say that if the zerg lurkers manage to push them all they way back into the nat, then this is the point he can start making tanks reactively. Well yes there is a point to be made there. I worry that without tanks you wont have enough muscle to really deal with lurkers when it properly comes to it though. And I worry that if you don’t get tanks then you never really threaten the zerg sunkens, so the drive for him to tech up to hive and darkswarm potentially is reduced. If zerg somehow knew you wouldn’t get tanks, he might even be able to make sunkens to defend his 3rd base for the extreme example. Obviously that’s not real but what I mean is, the mnm escorts the tanks and the tanks break down the sunkens, which forces zerg to tech to darkswarm. Its all well and good skipping a stage to get ahead but it isnt sustainable if looking for a standard axiom build order. So those are the reasons Ive recommended 3 tank style rather than the currently popular speed vult style. Just to be clear though, I think the speed vult style is viable, and is very powerful, and should be used sometimes.
Lastly, Battlecruisers are a minor thing now by the way, if you didn’t already know. This is thanks to Piano. He is one of the few current day terrans who doesn’t use mech switch as his standard tvz style. He tried it for a while but has since gone back to using 7 rax 2 stars, and gets some vessels, then dropships, then 2 battlecruisers to tank scourge shots, which helps dropships to land their cargo.
While we are touching the subject, Mong sometimes uses a build where he keeps making mnm and goes up to 5 rax and gets higher (sometimes all) infantry upgrades and gets dropships. Then does a later mech switch if the drops get shutdown. He also experimented with getting a squad of wraith at this late game stage, particularly if zerg is using queens. But the wraith often get plagued and are inefficient.
Lastly on this point, Flash still quite happily goes 7 rax and 2 stars if he is going into the lategame with a big advantage, particularly if he has killed the zerg 3rd base or delayed it for a long time with just mnm. He was historically slow to adopt the mech switch too (see below).
Lets talk about the mech switch in general briefly too. It was showcased in 2010 and quickly its power was evident. There were problems in TvZ for terran. Zergs had become adept at holding 4 bases vs the incredible pressure put on by mnm, vessels and drops. They were holding the nats with lurkers under darkswarm, they were holding off the drops with scourge ling, darkswarm lurker, and they were holding off the vessels by making more defiler in time, and eventually plague the vessels, spore colony, a muta, or just more scourge. Once past this stage, Terran was finding the ultralisk followup with lings and darkswarm and plague was proving to be just a bit too strong. MnM with vessels were not getting the job done. It was back to the drawing board. Flash starting massing tanks in the lategame. But others took it further. What can stop lurkers under darkswarm? What hurts ultralisks? What isnt weak to plague? The answers are spider mines and tanks. The goal was clear, to get these units out quickly after the 3 tank 1 vessel timing, but the trick was working out how to make the transition. How far can Terran push it, how much econ can he safely claim, how many corners can be cut.
It took an amount of time to work out the kinks but by 2011 the mech switch was very common and in full swing. Many of the best terrans were using it regularly and most of the lower terrans too. And every terran had used it in some televised games. Sea was one of the main terrans to adopt it quickly and had great success with it. Id say he kind of lead the way with it. It continued to be used through 2012, it was absolutely the standard style. Funnily enough Flash was the exception here. He was the terran who pioneered getting mass tank lategame but this was always with constant mnm up to that point. He was the driving force behind different number of barracks eg 5 rax mnm midgames. But he was so successful at TvZ that he literally had no need to adopt a different style. He was very slow to adopt the mech switch style compared to every other terran. And that’s pretty unusual for Flash. In all 3 terran matchups Flash would happily innovate and lead and adopt new styles immediately. He was crushing everyone in all 3 matchups and didn’t technically need to adopt latest styles in order to do so, he could have won by just playing any old style he wanted really. So that’s what makes it an interesting little thing. Don’t get me wrong, Flash totally innovated and lead the way with many many TvZ things all on his own. And other times he would see someone do something once and instantly take it and improve it, as all good players should. And that’s not taking away anything from Flash. Usually naturally in all games the onus is on the weaker players to find new innovations. But Flash would innovate anyway, partly because he is very good player, partly because he seemed to have an insatiable thirst to explore the game, and partly (sadly) because he thought the fans were putting pressure on him to use more aggressive strats.
But with the mech switch he chose to be late to the party and why not, he was winning without it. But Flash was using mech switch regularly by 2012 (likely earlier) like everyone else. By the way, Upmagic and Midas don’t get enough love for their innovations.
On a different note;
AI is not bound by usual human constraints of keyboard controls. These are things like:
-12 units in a hotkey
-f1, f2, f3 locations
-human hand size, fingers reaching keys
The above things dictate strategy to some extent. AI are not bound by these things which opens up additional options. The optimal AI strategy is likely vastly different from a humans strategy.
Eg, an AI could open with 1 vulture vs Zerg and reliably depend upon the knowledge that it will kill infinite zerglings. A human can (and sometimes does) open in this way but its much riskier.
Similarly, a human often uses 11 muta 1 overlord, or 11 goons 1 observer, or 12 marines, or 24 tanks 24 vultures.
Whereas an AI can use 27 ‘squads’ of 1 zealot each effectively. Or 13 mutas perhaps. If the unit design allowed it, an AI could probably beat any human with just one unit potentially. For example, a reaver and shuttle PvT AI might be unstoppable, or a vulture to wraith TvZ AI etc. Or just worker micro and bunker rush/4 pool etc.