TeamLiquid: Final Edits
Note: This article contains spoilers from the Fantasy vs GGPlay OSL Semifinal.
Though fairly untypical in TvZ, a well played mech can crush a zerg opponent in a suave, decisive fashion. In professional play, we’ve seen mech frequently used on Arkanoid, Katrina, and Baekmagoji, but last night we saw something revolutionary. Fantasy absolutely ape-smashed GGPlay 3-1, a defeat which displayed the most ingenious transitional mech play I’ve seen in the past 5 years. As innovative as Fantasy’s play was, I see many people misanalyzing or completely overlooking the key sexy aspects of Fantasy’s play. Consequently, I’d like to provide a strategic analysis article to highlight Fantasy’s inspired mech gameflow.
Typical M&M TvZ vs Typical Mech TvZ
Before we focus on Fantasy’s amazingness, let’s discuss a bit of the basic functionality of TvZ. With standard M&M, the terran has the opportunity to be aggressive and finesseful. Early gameplay begins by pressuring w/ M&M groups. Mid to late game has dropships flying around the map and groups of M&M patrolling the center to negate aggressive swarm play. In fact, the only time terrans regularly sit and turtle in their base is early-midgame: zerg has lurkers and terran doesn’t have vessels. The remainder of the time is spent being in zerg’s face until zerg finally crumbles. Zerg generally remains cornered, on the defensive, until the momentum from his gas expansions and hive tech can finally swing back and win near the end of the game.
M&M can work well in small numbers, yet still remain fairly fragile in large numbers (as misclicks w/ lurkers, swarms, and plague are all difficult to deal with). Because M&M is so aggressive, zerg players must be extremely careful when taking additional expansions. Even defending a 3rd gas expansion in the mid-game is a huge issue for a zerg player. Also, the best defense for terran expansions is to be aggressive: by remaining in zerg’s face, counter-attacking by zerg becomes too risky. Semi-open maps allow M&M to maneuver well without being so open that zerg can surround or counter attack too easily.
However, consider mech play against zerg. Mech completely reverses the traditional aspects of TvZ. Mech is significantly less mobile, as tanks/goliaths rely heavily on being in large groups (and tanks have to be sieged to be fully effective). In mech play, since units are so immobile, it’s difficult for the terran player to expand to corners of the map and try to avoid counterattack. Expansions must be well defended. Likewise, with this immobility, the zerg opponent has the opportunity to expand significantly more without worry. That said, mech armies become exponentially stronger in large numbers, to the point where 16 tanks + 40 goliaths + vessels becomes a virtually impregnable force. Consequently, mech focuses more on being a good “one punch” style army, an army which attempts to build up to a single, solid push and win. This contrasts sharply with M&M that aggressively pressures zerg all game long. Additionally, in tighter, more cramped spaces, a mech player worries even less about flanks or counterattacks and the strength of his army is further magnified. Also, mech is fairly costly, so expansions are a more necessary than with the finesse driven M&M play.
Mech History and Map Analysis
With this in mind, we begin to see why mech works on some maps and fails miserably on others. Katrina is a great example of a solid mech map. The expansions are placed in a way such that, whichever direction the terran player wishes to push, expoes are easily defendable. The 3rd gas is right outside terran’s front door. When terran pushes towards zerg, there are always at least 2 expansions along the way. Consequently, terran can essentially play like a giant blob, slowly gooping over all nearby expansions without good angles for zerg to flank. Once terran gets a nice solid big army, its time for that 1 punch win. Even should zerg take a huge number of expasnsions (which, as we’ve said, he can easily do), the strength of the terran army punch is simply too much. A simple example of this logic in action is Flash vs Jaedong
Notice how much Jaedong expands. Notice how many units Jaedong makes. Notice how little it matters. The entire game revolves around this slow, army blob by Flash. The push isn’t quick by any means, it’s simply unstoppable. In another example, consider Flash vs Savior from the October Proleague.
Flash spends much of the later stages of the game just expanding and defending. Mech is SOLID. Mech operates in that “slowly, but surely” type of way. (I think Savior violently misplayed this game, but that analysis is for another day).
However, I should be fair and point out how badly a great player like Flash can screw mech up. Consider his game against GGPlay on Medusa
Medusa is quite possibly one of the most terrible maps to go mech on. The only easily defendable expansions are the 2 natural expansions. Once Flash begins to push towards the center of the map, he’s committed either to defending his expansion + main choke, or pushing towards the zerg. As we’ve pointed out, with mech being so immobile, zerg has the opportunity to take the map uncontested and produce a mass army. In contrast to Katrina vs Jaedong, where Flash’s push could squeeze down tight alleys, Flash’s push on Medusa is in a wide open middle. Consequently, zerg’s big army can effectively crush the “one punch terran push” with openness to surround, flank, and counter. Moreover, since all the expansions are like spokes branching off the center, terran has a much slower time eliminating expansions one by one. Any decision to push an expansion runs the risk of leaving the middle wide open. Put plainly, DON’T mech on this map
That is, unless you’re a god damn genius like Fantasy
Fantasy’s revolutionary Mech Play
Fantasy concocted a brilliant opening which enabled him to mech on seemingly un-mechable maps by preventing typical zerg responses. The (rough) opening is as follows:
1) Wall in and gas on 12
2) Build a factory ASAP
3) When factory finishes, build the addon and begin a starport
4) When the factory addon finishes, begin producing vultures (up to 4) and upgrading mines+speed
5) When you can, get a CC at your expansion and start producing a dropship, get an armory for +1 attack upgrade, and try to sneak vultures in the front. Be sure to lay mines in front of zerg’s main if you can’t get in.
6) Add on a 2nd factory, drop harass w/ vultures + mines, build 1 valkyrie and start goliath-ing, your expo should be done by now.
You will have the overall look of main+natural+2 facs+starport making gollies. Upgrades will be on the way and you’ll be harassing zerg aggressively. Some brief notes:
Early game advantages:
-Negates ling allins (vultures+mines+wallin)
-Gives the opportunity to harass w/ initial vulture
-Gets a relatively fast expansion that’s quite safe
-Mines prevent scouting lings and discourage early hydra pushes
-The fast dropship not only allows for a quick scout, but also quick pressure that discourages zerg’s 3rd/4th expansion.
-vs Mutalisks the valk+goliath transition easily and holds well
-vs Lurkers the vult/mines+goliaths+harass negate an overly strong early ling/lurk push
-vs mass ground you have already delayed his expanding and can transition to tanks+mass army
The dropship vulture opening is the entire key to the build. The primary mech counters to zerg revolve around the ability to expand so much since mech is so immobile. (Refer to my post in this thread for some common counters). Vs M&M, zerg can be cute and do MASSIVE damage with a few amount of units (think how bad a few lurkers+swarm can rape a huge M&M+tank army). However, mech units are just big, and need to be outmuscled. There’s no cute way to kill mech. Having a lot of “stuff” is the key to killing a mech army. Since having a lot of expansions is the key to having a lot of “stuff,” many expansions = lots of zerg “stuff.”
The fast dropship prevents the zerg player from expanding too much in the early midgame, as he’s overly concerned about defending his main. Moreover, the harass slows down zerg’s tech, drone count, and messes with his focus. For the most part, zerg will have a hard time leaving his base until mutas are out, he kills the dropship, or he finally has all corners of his base well defended.
Suddenly, Medusa, which clearly sucked so hard for mech (with its openness) is perfect for early vulture harass. Zerg has his first 3 hatches spread (main, nat, mineral nat) so zerg needs to spend WAY more energy defending himself from all possible angles. As noted in the VOD below, by the time the vulture harass is finished, GGPlay is hardly in the position to start mass expanding as he’s spent so many resources just staying alive. Meanwhile, Fantasy is happily defended back at home and is even in base count. The evenness in base count immediately makes the transition to mech viable, as the primary danger (mass expanding) has been eliminated by vulture harass. If fantasy just early expanded and then went mech, zerg would have easily taken at least 2 expansions, screwing terran’s midgame play.
Cleverly, after the vulture harass, the combination of goliath+tank+valkyrie allows fantasy to prepare for mutas or hydras with relatively few units. Should fantasy have relied solely on factory units, a well timed muta counter attack could have been dangerous. Additionally, the vulture scout allows fantasy to adjust his unit composition more appropriately (we saw more tanks on Medusa and virtually no tanks on Autumn Wind.) Now that I mention it, the game on Autumn Wind is a great example of how well the build deals with fast mutalisks as well.
One might immediately ask “if the vulture harass is the key to this build, why not transition to M&M instead of mech?” The answer is that the mech transition is smoother. The valkyrie + goliath combination is key to holding off a quick mutalisk harass as the units are incredibly strong. To transition to valk+goliath, Fantasy only needed to add an armory and a factory. However, should Fantasy have decided to go M&M, he would have been adding on an e-bay, more barracks, then he would have needed the time to make lots of M&M, get an academy, make turrets (turrets will be more necessary with marine range+stim delayed) etc etc etc. Clearly, mech is the strongest transition from this opening.
Fantasy didn’t just “go mech,” he devised a completely unique, wacko opening that levels the playing field for a meching terran on those seemingly unmechable maps. The transition from ultra fast vulture+mine harass to a valkyrie+2 factory combo ensures that he’s safe from counter attack and ready to power hard for a big mid-game push. After 10 years of playing this game competitively, I’m just giddy that there are random new players like Fantasy still revolutionizing play in ways I least expected.
Cheers to you