Current TvZ Metagame and Hellbat

zerg

The newest patch revolutionalised the TvZ metagame. Well, at least the early to mid game. Despite the patch is still new, there are enough pro-level games for us to have an overview of how the new patch affects the match up.

I know. Hellbat. The most common word nowadays when you mention TvZ, and rightfully so. The match up was stagnant for more than half a year before the patch. I posted about how slow the metagame is moving at the end of last year, and what I wrote was still relevant until the latest patch kicked in two weeks ago.

Before the patch

I will throw this out there first. Before the patch, it was easier to argue that Zerg has an advantage in the match up against Terran than the other way round. Despite this has been voiced out by quite a number of high profile players, no one really points out what exactly is the problem. Indeed, it is not an unit-specific problem. Zerg just seems to overwhelm Terran with… Well, you know, Zerg stuff. Zergling, Baneling and Mutalisk.

Here is what Blizzard said,

ZvT
This matchup may have shifted slightly in-favor of Zerg recently. While we believe full army vs. army-play is fine, Zerg players seem to be getting to the later stages with an advantage more often than not. We’re investigating whether we can make a slight tweak earlier in the game to keep Zerg economy from scaling too quickly.

Economy is a plausible direction. Based on what I’ve watched, it seems that Terran is having a hard time to break even in terms of engagement. To put it more simply, it is hard to trade well with 3M + aoe of your choice (Widow mine, Tank or Hellbat) against Zergling, Baneling and Mutalisk. Of course, it’s not a game of prepare your army and face off each other. But there is always a big scale engagement at the Zerg’s fourth between 12:00 to 14:00, and the outcome of the trade has a big impact on the result of the game. In my opinion, Terran has yet to figure out a solution against the swarm of Zergling and Baneling. In other words, it is the aoe problem that I have mentioned at the end of last year. The Widow Mine patch was debatable, because the match up was approaching an equilibrium back then. The recent maps seem to elicit the problem, as most maps have wide lanes which favor Zerg. This is arguably the best map pool for Zerg since Heart of the Swarm.

Hellbat buff

It is hard to fix the aoe problem. Do you fix the aoe units? Buff Widow Mine? The problem is the snowball effect in TvZ. The advantage of one engagement will snowball till one side simply got owned in the last engagement. There is no easy fix. Just a minor stats changes to any of these units may off balance the match up because the effects are multiplied in each engagement. Therefore, I think Blizzard’s direction of adjusting the early game of the match up seems reasonable.

First of all, the Hellbat buff does not solve the aoe problem directly. It only changes the ease of access to the Hellbats in the early game, if you go for Hellions which are staples in the match up. However, like what Blizzard implied, the aim is to buff Terran’s early game to obstruct Zerg’s economy. This indirectly helps the subsequent big engagements that you always see in TvZ. At least that’s what Blizzard hope for. Apparently, The Hellbat buff turns it into the Hellbat timing attack into a win-right-there thing, or Zerg-is-prepared-and-lose thing. Of course I’m exaggerating a little. If the buff does not make the change looks strong at the beginning, it is likely to stand no chance when the players figure it out.

Current understanding of Hellbat timing

You can play standard and transform the Hellions into Hellbats for your +1/+1 stim Medivac 11:00~ish timing. For clarification, that is not what I mean by Hellbat timing in this post. Just to elaborate more, this was tested by the progamers once the patch was out, and the result was that it didn’t make much of a difference. Some tried to get eight Hellions for the push, but still, the improvement was marginal.

So, after some experiments, the Terran players have developed some timing attacks to specifically utilise the Hellbat transformation. I will only mention the few main ones because they are simply better than the rest. One thing is for sure. You need to use Hellbat with something in order to be effective.

Hellbat + Banshee

The high profile example is game 1 of Maru vs. Soulkey in GSL Ro8.

The other one is MarineKing vs. Curious in Proleague, and I had discussed about this before.

Maru’s hit at 8:30, while MarineKing’s hit at 8:00. The difference is explained here by Moashsc2. The general idea is the same: hit with Hellbats and the first Banshee.

In my opinion, this transits into Mech better than other variations because you already get the cloaked Banshee.

Hellbat + Medivac

This is perhaps the most abusive builds of all. You simply produce nothing but Hellbats and Medivacs. It was used in Proleague by Flash, and outside of Korea by Taeja. I did a write up previously. The initial timing hits as early as 8:00. The three Medivac timing hits at 8:30.

This build has so much room for micro since you can pick the Hellbats into the Medivacs. You can enjoy the micro of Taeja in his recent victory over Jaedong (game 1).

Hellbat + Bio

This is a MarineKing special.

This build opens up with a Command Centre first and hits at 8:00 with Marauders and Marines (with stim). The attack is a one way trip, because you aim to deal as much damage as possible against Zerg by trading your units.

Zerg’s reaction

Roaches.

The answer is obvious, but the execution is not. Look at how EffOrt held Maru’s Hellbat timing.

Some key things which EffOrt did.

  1. Early Roach Warren
  2. Early Overlord speed
  3. Third Hatchery after 7:00

The third Hatchery is delayed because of the investment in Roaches. The Overlord speed seems like a nice touch, as you need to know what is coming. More specifically, what is being mixed in for the Hellbat timing. It is unclear what will happen if Maru did not try to engage at the natural and tried to kill the third instead. On paper, Roaches kill Hellbat and Marines. But many Zerg players still got destroyed by the Hellbat timing over the last weekend. Therefore, there is still much room for improvement to figure out how this stage of TvZ can be played out.

Non-Hellbat builds

Recently, I managed to play Starcraft again (self-five!), and I picked the same macro build against Zerg to de-rust myself. I went for double Reapers into 3 Command Centre macro game build, and used no Hellbat oriented builds. I often lost to early Roach timings (partly because of my shit micro). Zerg blindly goes for early Roaches to prepare for Hellbat builds, even when no Armory was scouted. To be fair, given the popularity of Hellbats, it is a safe assumption that it’s coming anyway. Consequently, I adapted by doing a Hellion and Banshee opening to give myself better chance against Roaches (not Hellbat + Banshee timing). It worked out quite fine. The same build that Taeja used against Jaedong in Dreamhack (game 2). It seems to me that the Hellbat change also indirectly affected the choice of other non-Hellbat builds.

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2 thoughts on “Current TvZ Metagame and Hellbat

  1. I believe the main benefit of the hellbat buff was to open up the metagame a lot more. There were very few if any terran timings that can kill a zerg in the mid-game pre-hellbat. The 11:30 +1/+1 stim and 2 medavac push became simply a way to keep zerg honest and at least build some units while they were in fact ratcheting their economy to out-of-control levels where the muta-count would get too high to effectively combat as a terran.

    Meanwhile zergs could still do quite a few timings in the mid-game that could kill a terran all involving some combination of speedlings, banelings, and roaches.

    Now the meta is much more open with both sides having legitimate ways to kill the other in the early, mid, and late game. This makes for a much more interesting matchup with both sides having a good array of greedy builds and aggressive builds. It only seems narrowly constrained now as zergs figure out how to stop the hellbat push. Where I am at high masters, they already have and go mass roaches into a mass-roach push around 10:00. I blind counter their blind counter of the hellbat push by not building hellbats and turtling with tanks and upgrades as I build to a better army at 200 unit space.

    This is a tug of war that will naturally go the other way and then back against as people adjust to their perceived metagame. It is not enough just to have balance, there needs to be variety and the hellbat buff should lead towards a much more diverse metagame as zergs figure out how to stop the current timings.

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