Summary: 4 gate pressure, fast third base, only to be used against gasless FE. Hard to execute.
Due to early scouting issues, passive play in PvT can be very weak in the current metagame. The standard 1 gate FE that builds a nexus on 30 supply was designed to be used against Terran’s gas openers. In order to win against gasless FE builds, you need to either play greedier, or be so much better than your opponent that 30 supply deficits are completely manageable. The fast triple orbital opening in particular, especially when Terrans throw caution to the wind and follow it up with double ebay, destroys passive Protoss who don’t know how to play a proper attacking game. Sure you could play guessing games and randomly decide to build your nexus earlier than 30, or get lucky and scout your opponent on the first try, or 7 gate all-in every game, but none of these are reliable. This guide details a strategy, which when executed properly, allows you to combat these gasless FE builds while going for the 30 nexus opening (the safest FE build). Upon confirming the Terran did indeed go for a gasless FE, you will pressure their front with gateway units to slow down their midgame attacks while taking a fast third base to compensate for your relatively late natural. This build is extremely difficult to play so it’s not for low apm players, but when mastered allows you to avoid those situations where you’re down by 30 supply solely due to build order poker. If you can macro on 3 bases while kiting a bio ball across the map with blink stalkers, you’re ready to use this build! This guide can be very good for ladder as I assume the worst case scenario: you scout the Terran last on a 4 player map and don't see anything with the probe, and then there's a low ground bunker by the time you try to scout next with the first stalker.
The guide will be arranged in an unconventional layout, but I think it will make the strategy easier to understand. It will be less of a strict build order and more of a decision making tree on how to pull ahead vs Terran players who open with the fast low ground CC.
There are many references to MC's 1 gate FE throughout this guide, as you'll often have to switch to that build depending on what you scout. You can find it here: http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=294136
Step 1: The Opening Build
If you don’t already know the 30 nexus build, you probably haven’t played Protoss enough to benefit from this guide. Nevertheless, here it goes:
- 9 pylon
- 2 chrono boosts on probes
- 13 gate, scout with probe
- 14 assimilator
- Chrono probes again
- 16 pylon
- 17/18 core
- 19 zealot
- Stalker (chrono boost it) and warpgate research when done
At this point if your probe already found the Terran base, there can be some decisions you have to make. If you saw no gas and a low ground command center, you can just build a nexus immediately and make whatever changes you need to get the rest of the to build work. I recommend cutting the stalkers completely and using only 3 gates so you can get the third base up faster. If you saw gas, then you switch to MC’s 1 gate FE. If you got walled out, you don’t have enough information to decide yet. If you didn’t scout right on the first try, you probably won’t see anything important so just figure out the Terran’s starting position and run your probe the instant you see a marine. You must not lose the scouting probe, so babysit it whenever it’s about to approach a starting location and get ready to right click away the instant you see a marine. For reference, the first marine comes out at 3:09.
Step 2: The First Poke
If you already ruled out a gasless FE, you should’ve abandoned the build by now and switched to MC’s 1 gate FE. Some of you might remember me writing a blog explaining SuperNova’s genius build where he faked the gasless FE and tricked MC into doing this build. This part of the strategy is designed to detect the difference between a real expansion and a fake one when there is a bunker on the low ground. Here’s what you do if you haven’t confirmed or ruled out gasless FE yet:
- 24/25 pylon, send first zealot and stalker to Terran’s base
- Second stalker when the first one is done
- 30 nexus, keep the second stalker at home if you saw gas or pressure with it otherwise
At this point, attack with your zealot/stalker/probe. The stalker should be 1 cm ahead of the zealot and probe because it has the most shields, and is thus least likely to take hull damage. Right click the probe past the bunker and check for a low ground expansion (if they immediately target the probe, run the zealot past instead. A zealot and a bunker are both 100 minerals so it’s okay to trade the zealot for scouting information). Try to retreat the zealot and stalker before taking hull damage if possible. If you don’t see a command center, or lose the probe without getting far enough to see it, switch to MC’s 1 gate FE (usually 30 gate, 30 gate, 30 robo). If you do see the command center, make a pylon, sentry, and add 3 more gates while sending another probe to build a proxy pylon. Take your second gas and get ready to pressure!
The zealot and stalker distracted the bunker long enough for the probe to see the expansion.
Note that you can also play this build against 1 rax reactor FE, but it’s slightly riskier because they can get a faster cloaked banshee than the no gas opening.
Step 3: The 7:30 Poke
You’ve confirmed a no gas FE by this point, right? If not, read the last section more carefully! You should’ve already switched to MC’s 1 gate FE if you didn’t see the command center.
At around 7:30, you should have either 9 or 10 gateway units (I prefer 4 sentries, 2 stalkers, and 4 zealots at this point if I didn’t scout the FE in time to cut stalkers, otherwise just sentry/zealot is good) at the proxy pylon. Walk into the ramp, but don’t use guardian shield or force fields yet! What you see will influence the rest of the build.
- 1 or 2 bunkers, 8 marines or fewer: this is likely cloaked banshees followed by either the 2 base “1/1/1” with banshee/tank, or Sage/jjakji’s banshee thor build. Make a robo ASAP and try to do as much damage as you can with your units. Meanwhile at home, switch your strategy to whatever you do against the 2 base 1/1/1.
- There are already 3 bunkers: this is probably the fast 3 orbital build. You can continue with step 4, or if you’re super paranoid you can get detection. This is a bit tricky because fast cloaked banshees don’t actually have enough marines to fill all 3 bunkers yet so they usually stick with 2. If you do see marauder shots this early in the game with 3 bunkers, you can just build a nexus and a twilight council immediately.
- Mass marines with no marauder, or you got attacked by mass marines before you poked: this is gasless FE into 4 or 5 rax marine pressure. I haven’t seen this enough to know exactly what to do, but what’s worked for me so far is to just continue on with step 4 because zealots under a guardian shield will always trade effectively against un-upgraded marines. You might be able to just add 3 more gates and all-in because the stim research is so late, but I haven’t tried that yet.
- Marauder: this is most likely the standard build (3 rax then starport). This is your cue to continue with step 4.
This is a scouting poke only. You should not try to do damage yet unless you see something like 1 bunker with only a few units around it.
Step 4: the pre-Stim Poke
At this point you should still be following the guide only if you’ve confirmed no gas FE, and also confirmed that there are no cloaked banshees. You should build a twilight council immediately. Depending on how many bunkers you think the Terran has building, you can either attack after warping in a round of zealots (13-14 total units), or attack after warping in 2 more rounds of zealots (16-18 units depending on whether you lost the first zealot and how hard you chrono boosted probes). I like to be around 16 units for this because you need to cut probes or the twilight council to have more. Your attack should begin no later than 8:40, and retreat no later than 8:55, the time when stim usually finishes if they skipped concussive shell.
What happens during this attack is very important! Spread your units into an arc with zealots in front, guardian shield, and attack. After you’ve practiced the build enough, you should always be able to either come out ahead or even with it. There are a few different situations that can happen:
- Terran has 3 bunkers and SCVs ready to repair: You’re not going to break this with anything short of a 6 gate so don’t even try. Your job here is done. By forcing the Terran to spend his minerals on bunkers and pulling SCVs, you’ve already done enough damage to delay his midgame push.
- 0 or 1 bunker: with guardian shield, your zealots basically have +2 armor already and the Terran units can’t have stim, +1, etc yet so you can trade cost-effectively. Kill as many units as you can and retreat. This is the best case scenario because not only did you kill units, you probably forced the Terran to go up to 3 bunkers anyways in case you were doing a 6 gate.
- 2 bunkers: This is the hardest situation to decide what to do. You can trade cost-effectively if there aren’t repairing SCVs, or force a third bunker if SCVs are already there.
- Terran moves out before you attack: you should pretty much slaughter his army since he has no SCVs or bunkers to protect it.
Now you might be wondering, why is it good to force 3 bunkers? This strategy revolves around getting a very early third nexus, which costs 300 minerals when you consider that it also doubles as a pylon. 3 bunkers are also 300 minerals, greatly nullifying any attacker’s advantage your opponent gained from you expanding so early. If Terran spends those 300 minerals on 2 more barracks instead, then the midgame medivac pressure can be hard to deal with.
You came out ahead here, right? If not, take a third base and skip blink in favor of going straight for chargelot/archon, then remember to practice the build more so that the poke doesn’t put you behind. At this point you should’ve either forced multiple bunkers or gotten good trades when killing marines and marauders. Build the third nexus at 9 minutes (if you don’t already have it from making a read earlier), go up to 8 gates, and start chronoing out blink. At this point you should start warping in more stalkers. If you traded extremely well, you can pretty much do whatever you want (MC likes to get colossi, blink, and double forges at once) but otherwise move on to step 5.
MC is trading well here thanks to guardian shield
Step 5: Blink Harass and 3 Bases
If you’re still following the guide, then here’s what happened in the game so far: you went 1 gate FE against a gasless FE, poked with units twice and either traded well, forced extra bunkers, or both. Upon pulling ahead with the poke, you took a third base and got blink. Now you have a group of blink stalkers and you’re beginning to saturate your third. The situation might seem very game specific, but every Terran and their mother starts pressuring once they have medivacs so you can take the following steps to prepare for it.
First, you need to start getting charge and additional gateways the instant blink finishes, and then chrono boost charge as much as possible while using the extras on probes. Poke with the stalkers as soon as you have blink and see what the Terran has. If he still doesn’t have medivacs, it’s probably a double ebay build so build 2 forges immediately. If he does have medivacs and is trying to push with them, it’s safer to go up to 8 gates, get a templar archives, fifth and sixth assimilators, and start massing chargelots. You should already have probes in position to see drops so this push is the Terran’s only way to attack! Slow it down as much as you can with your stalkers by picking off units and blinking away. If the Terran gets to your base in time to win the game, you probably need more practice with the build. Either manage the pre-stim poke better, control the blink stalkers better, chrono boost blink and charge more, remember to add more gates, or all of the above! The moment Terran lets off the pressure (or you crush it with chargelots) and retreats to secure his own third, you have complete control over the game.
Here's where you use blink stalkers to delay his push even further.
Step 6: 3 Saturated Bases
Has everything gone according to plan so far? If so, you should have 3 bases saturated with about 70 probes, chargelot/archon tech, and 2 forges. Meanwhile Terran has given up his attempt to kill you in order to secure his own third base. You have the advantage if Terran played standard, but if the Terran went for a triple orbital build then the game is even. From here you should be comfortable and can play the mid-late game however you want, but I’ll give my recommendations.
Chargelot/archon beats anything Terran can have at this stage of the game, so you have map control. As soon as Terran retreats, you need to put pressure back on him immediately by chasing his army and setting up a proxy pylon to threaten his third base. By now your infrastructure should consist of 2 forges, 10 gateways (because zealots and templars are very cheap relative to their build time), and a robo or 2. You are in prime position to take a fourth base and start pumping out double robo colossi, but since you are swimming in minerals and gas at this point, why not attack at the same time? You have chargelots, blink stalkers, and archons, but your opponent does not yet have the 10 ghost, 10 medivac, 3/3 bio deathball so it will be very hard for him to hold his third. This also buys you time to set up drop defenses as you’ll be on 4 or 5 bases very soon.
After weathering the storm in the midgame, I have a massive army, 4 bases, 3/3 upgrades on the way, and am transitioning into colossi.
The specific steps I have listed give you the safest way I have found to play the fast third base style, but if you want to take risks to strengthen your position, there are many ways to change it up. Here are some I can think of:
- You can play this way with a nexus first as well, which gives you some extra resources to do other stuff while pressuring. I haven’t learned the build yet but I heard it’s safe against any reactive Terran opening (i.e. not proxy rax or proxy reactor hellions).
- If you see no gas and guess that your opponent is opening gasless FE, you can build the nexus earlier than 30. This is good against the metagame because no gas almost always means a fast expansion on current maps, but if they do go for a marine/SCV cheese instead, you really need the 2 stalkers. If you’re a no-name player and you’re playing a progamer in a tournament, it is pretty much a 100% chance that no gas = fast expansion.
- Any FE vs FE scenario – while the guide is aimed specifically at playing safe vs gasless FE, you can play the same style against other Terran builds as long as they involve marauders and expanding. The only problem is that it is difficult to tell whether gas openings will expand or stay on 1 base. 1 rax reactor FE probably plays out the closest to gasless FE. With other Terran openings, you often can’t tell whether the Terran is expanding or not, or whether he’s skipping concussive shells for faster stim, but you can still try guessing his build or get lucky scouting. You’ll have to adjust the timings to take into account the different times when gas openings finish researching stim.
- MC’s style – instead of getting a fast blink, MC likes to do the pre-stim poke and then decide whether he wants a robo or twilight council first. By delaying the twilight council, he squeezes out 1-2 more units. I don’t have his micro so I want blink and charge as soon as possible to be safe.
- You can take a faster third, possibly even before 8 minutes. This is risky because your pressure is weaker so you rely on Terran overreacting to the threat. The upside is that you’re obviously in a better situation economically, which helps against builds like triple orbital + double ebay. If you see 3 bunkers though, it’s not risky.
- You can get storm in addition to, or instead of archons. This makes it harder for Terran to defend against your 3 base aggression, but I don’t know if it’s safe against medivac pressure.
- I usually make 4 sentries so I can’t use any sentry spells during the 7:30 poke or I’ll have nothing left for the pre-stim poke. If you make more sentries, you can be more liberal with FF/GS usage. If you feel comfortable cutting the stalkers, then it is easy to get more sentries.
- If you’re not confident in your mechanics and always forget to chrono boost charge, you can make 2 twilight councils to be safe. It sounds stupid and I actually discovered it on accident, but it’s only 150/100 and really reduces the chance of charge not being done in time for the Terran’s midgame push.
I died to cloaked banshees. Help!
Read the guide again! You’re only supposed to do this against gasless FE. If they had a low ground bunker and you couldn’t get the probe or zealot past it, you can’t rule out gas builds yet.
My opponent opened gasless FE and I still died to cloaked banshees! What now?
Don’t forget the 7:30 poke. If you want to be safe, build the robo the instant you see no marauders and no mass marines.
I saw no gas and assumed a fast expo, but the Terran actually had maka raxes and marine/SCV cheesed me. How do I defend this?
You took a risk building the nexus earlier than 30 supply and got punished for it. If not, then your stalker micro needs work. You can try buying time for free stalker shots by walling off your ramp with pylons, but other than that you just need to kite marines better and learn to surround stuff with probes.
What if my opponent went for a 2 base ghost timing?
I haven’t seen this once since the EMP nerf, but it is conceivable that you’ll run into one eventually so I’ll theorycraft an answer. You need to split your units outside of the opponent’s natural anyways so that should soften the blow. As you’re retreating before stim finishes regardless of the build, you can always run back to your base. Since the build doesn’t have enough free supply or minerals to be constantly chrono boosting probes, you should have plenty of nexus energy to spam on your 4 warpgates.
I suck at multitasking. Can I still use this build?
Yes but you’ll have to skip the blink stalkers and go straight for chargelot/archon. Drops become harder to defend because you give up map control, but you’re swimming in minerals anyway so you can make cannons.
What maps are good/bad for this build
A good map should be large so you have more time to blink-kite the medivac push. It should have an easy natural so Terrans actually use the gasless FE. If there is an easy gold base, that’s very good for you because you’ll definitely take your third before the Terran does. Daybreak and Antiga Shipyard are examples of good maps for this style. I can’t think of any popular maps with an easy gold base, but when I used a less refined build in the past I liked Shattered Temple.
A bad map for this build has an open natural, so Terran uses openings other than gasless FE. Therefore you should probably practice your 1/1/1 defense and immortal timing attacks instead on such maps. Tal’Darim Altar is decent due to its size but annoying because the rocks slow down your third base by a lot.
How do you defend against drops without observers?
The pre-stim poke should make the Terran not want to leave his base until he has 4 medivacs. By this time you can be blink-kiting his army across the map. Also you have some probes around the map for vision. Later on you do have observers, though a Terran is unlikely to drop when there’s a maxed chargelot/archon army at his doorstep.
I didn’t see a CC so I built a robo, but it turned out the CC was in his main. Is this supposed to happen?
If the CC is still in his main by the time you sneak a probe past his bunker, his economy is probably not strong enough to punish passive robo play anyways so you’re fine. This guide is aimed at the low ground CC builds that can get to 100 supply in 10 minutes flat. You can make double forge builds work here, as well as 2 base colossus with sentry drops.
I am a Korean progamer with 300 apm. How can I play this strategy even better?
I don’t expect any such players to be reading this, but I’ll give an answer anyway for those of you who want a goal to work toward. For mere mortals, the blink kiting consists of picking off a unit and then blinking everything away. If you wanted to play perfectly though, then you should still focus down units but blink back individual stalkers and run them away from the battle so you can kill more units. There are Code S players who aren’t comfortable microing like this so it’s probably not feasible for anyone reading. I’ve only seen HerO control his units like this consistently, and he certainly wasn’t macroing off of 3 bases while doing so.
Me vs KungFuEeyore: http://drop.sc/112442
I saw 3 bunkers very early so I took my third nexus a minute earlier than usual instead of attacking. He played the game exactly how I wanted him to so it was no problem taking a 5th base 14 minutes in and rolling over his stuff with chargelot/archon from 12 gates.
Me vs vVvStarkad: http://drop.sc/112441
I was about to do MC’s 1 gate FE when I saw his gas opening, but then I scouted his 1 rax reactor FE just in time to continue with the 4 gates. I didn’t have charge in time for his push because the map distance was so short, so I traded badly on the ramp. Nevertheless, I had a huge economy and rolled him.
Me vs LaGTtFaith: http://drop.sc/114603
I made some mistakes losing units early on and we both blind countered each other based on the previous 2 games so it's not a perfect replay, but he is the best Terran I've beaten so far. If we didn't know exactly what to expect from each other, I would've had to build 2 stalkers in case of a 3 rax cheese and he would've had to make more than 1 bunker in case I was doing a 2 base all-in.
Oz vs Jinro: http://drop.sc/97233
This is what the build looks like when executed perfectly. Oz got lucky with his early scouting and saw Jinro’s second barracks, so he took the third nexus earlier than usual.