I decided to post this piece on understanding build orders in blocks first, while I have a TvZ post queued up. That TvZ post relies heavily on the concept that I am going to discuss in this post. This post is about breaking down build orders into multiple smaller pieces for easier execution and adaptation.
Build order basics
I am sure everyone from Bronze to Flash (yes, he is in his own level) has heard of build order. It is basically a notation to build your buildings and units in an optimum way according to what you plan to do. Build order is so important that it is arguably the most “click-attractive” thing for a Starcraft content producer. Similarly, people google for decks to net in card games like Hearthstone. It is an effective and low risk way to improve by yourself. However, Starcraft is a dynamic game that you cannot expect to be left undisturbed, while you go through your build order from step one to ten. Thus, build order essentially serves as a guide, which helps to optimise your construction and game plan.
For example, the first Supply Depot is usually built at 10 supply and not 9 because the mineral lines up better. The Factory builds the Reactor at the same time the Starport is built, because the construction time lines up well to swap the add-on over. Therefore, beginners and even advance players find it intuitive and efficient to follow build orders by book.
Memorising build order
Intuitively, memorising a build order and executing it as perfectly as possible is the correct way to go. Indeed, we often see the replies in many “help-me” threads to advise lower league players to stick to a single build order per match up. The deliberate practice of a single build order certainly helps you in achieving goal of executing a build as perfectly as possible. A good way to put it is that,
A well-executed build is better than several poorly-executed builds.
However, things do not often go your way. So, for instance, you plan to do a Reaper expand against a Protoss, and opponent decides to one base all-in. What should you do? I am sure you will say, scout what is coming and build Bunkers accordingly. That is right. But what is the next step if the opponent does not commit but expand, because he or she saw that you are prepared defensively. What is your build order now? The resources are not aligned as well as you have planned at that point of time. This is where many lower league players kind of fall apart, and resources start to bank up.
This is what makes convergent points so crucial. I have previously written about the importance of understanding convergent points (part 1 and part 2). In every match up, there will be several convergent points. Whenever you are interrupted, you need to identify the next convergent point and work towards it.
If you take out your build order notebook and compare builds of the same match up, you will find the same convergent points across them. In line with the idea of using convergent points as the go-back place (hence, the name: convergent), a build order can be dissected into multiple small blocks for easy memorising and adapting. Further, this allows you to learn new builds much more easily.
This leads to my next point.
Breaking down build order
The first step is to identify the key convergent points. I will use a standard bio and Widow Mine composition in TvZ as an example in this post. Then, identify the key pieces in each. (Click on image to enlarge)
The above image shows three main convergent points. The second step is to put a small block before each convergent point. The first block is an opening. It can be a Reaper expand or Command Centre first. Most importantly, they converge to the first convergent point. I will use a Reaper expand as an example. See the next image, (I will not be extremely detailed in the build order, so I won’t mention about Supply Depot etc.)
The opening block allows us to move toward the convergent point 1. In order to move from the first convergent point to the second, you need to add the following
– 1x Command Centre
– 4x Barracks (Usually built two by two)
– 1x Starport
– 2x Engineering Bay
The second block needs to put down these buildings. You can do almost anything you want as long as you can converge to convergent point 2. You can do early third Command Centre, Banshee, Hellbat etc… The option you choose only changes the order you put down the these buildings. Let’s take a Cloaked Banshee option for illustration. In order to have enough gas for Cloaked Banshee, you need an early second Refinery. The choice should be decided when the Factory and Reactor are building, because this is when you start to float mineral. For Cloaked Banshee, get a second Refinery when the Factory is building, and start a Starport after the Factory is done. Look at the next image,
Look at the opening block again. I added the yellow text to add a second Refinery because we made a decision to get Cloaked Banshee. The next block after the first convergent point is simply getting the infrastructure for Cloaked Banshee. Subsequently, you just have to build the additional buildings when you can afford it. The same applies when you move from the second to third convergent point.
Learning different build orders
The point I want to bring across is that you don’t have to memorise each build order by heart. All you need is to put the right pieces together. Going back to what I mentioned earlier that it is advised to stick to one build order per match up. If you can get a decent understanding of just one build, you can easily use that build as a platform to learn other builds without starting from scratch. Let say I want to open with Command Centre first this round, like this,
Again, make a decision on what you want to do to bridge the first and second convergent point (i.e., second block). Let say, we want to do an early third Command Centre. So here is the build order accordingly.
Clearly, I left out some of the details like how to swap the add-ons between the first and second convergent point. The key point is that if you know how to do the add-on swapping for your “learn-one-build” platform build, you can apply it across other builds. Therefore, it is not that hard to have several builds up your sleeves, because you can simply break the different build orders down into different parts then put them together. I know that some may not be convinced of this method because there are minor differences to perfect the different builds accordingly. For example, you can delay your fourth Supply Depot if you do an early third Command Centre. If you can remember every build independently, great! If not, this is a good way to learn new builds. This is because you can intentionally train yourself to only learn one part of the build order, before you move on to the next part.
For example, you have already learnt Reaper expand into Cloaked Banshee (the first example), and you want learn the Command Centre first into early third Command Centre (the second example). You can actually stick to Reaper expand, and focus on learning the build order between the second and third convergent point (i.e., second block). Like this,
Many other minor details are the same across so-called different builds. Often, I see people asking for a build order that they see a pro-player did, and someone would write it down based on what he or she saw on vod, step by step. My way of doing it is that, I remember the information by different small blocks like I have shown above. It is just much easier to remember, say, “Command Centre first” block into “Cloaked Banshee” block. I am so seasoned with this method that I can digest the build orders by watching a vod once without taking notes. Of course, when I saw something new, I would need to spend a bit more effort to scrutinise the build. Even when I do, the “new thing” is only for one block. It is much easier to learn new builds this way.
Just a quick recap. The main advantage of learning build orders by block is that it is the ease to remember different build orders.
The other advantage is slightly advance and it is something I have been applying. You can change the build order blocks based on scouting information. My recent post on playing against Roach timing is a great example of memorising build order by blocks. In that post, I explicitly mentioned that you can open with any of the common opening (i.e., first block). Subsequently, based on the fact that you scouted no gas in the first scout timing (i.e., likely a Roach timing – confirm with subsequent scout), you can choose to improvise by choosing the Cloaked Banshee build order block (i.e., second block) for your build.
I will cite this post often in my future analysis posts, because it is a really good way to understand any build order.