The problem with Ultralisk in the TvZ match up has been heavily discussed in the previous weeks, and I believe there are more things we can look at instead of just nerfing Ultralisk.
The general consensus is that the TvZ match up is one-sided in Zerg’s favor once the Ultralisks are out. The main concern revolves around the fact that Terran do not have good counter plays.
Ghost is supposed to be the counter with its strong single targeting ability, but it has not worked out that well.
Marauder was previously the answer to Ultralisk in Heart of the Swarm, but it has been nerfed.
Is Ultralisk a problem in TvZ? Yes.
The recent games suggest that Terran players are struggling with Ultralisk. ByuN, who previously held the ID of “GhostKing” and was famous for his innovative use of Ghost in TvZ match up before Legacy of the Void, has problem using Ghost against Ultralisk in IEM, GSL and SSL.
ByuN had also experimented other options like Widow Mine, Liberator and Thor, but none seems to work out any better.
Initially, I wanted to reserve my comment on the Ultralisk problem because Starcraft is a dynamic game that goes beyond rock-paper-scissor hard counter. For example, Terran can hit a timing before Ultralisk is out. Further, there are many other units that affect the battle interactions at the same time, and it is difficult to be conclusive. However, given how well balanced the state of the match up is before Ultralisk appears, it indirectly points out how much Ultralisk has an impact on match up.
/u/DemoniacMilk on Reddit has made a good point that Chitinous Plating may just be too strong. To be honest, I never knew the difference is this huge before I read that post, and it seems to me that some minor tweaks are indeed needed for the game to progress in a positive manner.
The question is, how do we solve this? What direction should we look at?
The community generally points out two Terran units: Ghost and Marauder. And the central theme of the discussion revolves around whether Terran should build a tier-3 unit to counter another tier-3 unit.
People need to realise that the races are designed in an asymmetrical manner such that it is not a simple tier-1 versus tier-1, tier-2 versus tier-2 and tier-3 versus tier-3 game. Zerg is the race that has the best tech switch mechanics, but is slowest in getting access to tech. In contrast, Terran is the race that has the quickest access to tech, but has the worst tech switch mechanics. When you put these two factors together, it is extremely hard to balance.
If you ensure Terran’s tier-3 unit (or at least hard to get unit) to be strong enough to deal with Ultralisk as a counter, it may result in a quick tech build order abuse. Terran can just tech straight into these units on one base, and the other races may not have a strong enough counter with their tier-1 or tier-2 units. On the other hand, if the Terran tier-3 unit is not strong enough, it is not worth the trouble to tech switch into it. This is exactly what happened in Heart of the Swarm.
The interesting thing about the current interaction is how useless Ghost is in TvZ outside of its intended counter role against Ultralisk. You need to have sufficient number of Ghosts to deal with the Ultralisks, and let say you manage to reach that number and even kill off the Ultralisks. They are now pretty useless against Zergling and Baneling, which is basically the tech switch advantage of Zerg. In other words, Ghosts are basically a close to even trade with the Ultralisks at best by the time the Ghosts died. Personally, I really like the racial asymmetrical design, so I believe making Ghost more useful in the general unit composition of TvZ may be a worthy direction to explore instead of how to make it work against Ultralisk.
With the asymmetrical racial design in mind, should Marauder, which is a low tier unit, be nerfed to provide incentive for high tier unit to be produced? I am leaning towards the side that Marauder should still be a viable option against Ultralisk, but it should not trade too efficiently. It is not a big balance issue to have Marauders being able to take down Ultralisks, because they are weak against Zerglings which bring us back to the tech switch issue. There may be room for some number tweaking in such a way that Marauder can be used against Ultralisk, but Terran need to tech switch before it gets overwhelmed eventually due to relatively cost inefficient trades.
Direction for changes
It is extremely hard to make changes to one match up, and not affect another match up.
I have been thinking whether Marauder tweaks will affect TvP. However, interestingly, the effectiveness of Marauder has changed in TvP in Legacy of the Void, as Protoss’ unit composition has changed. Terran has adapted to this by adjusting the bio composition to be more Marine heavy, and this gives more room for minor Marauder changes. I will discuss about the current TvP metagame in the next post.
In the last post, I mentioned about how Tank and Medivac combination may affect the TvT in a negative way, but at the same time it has become an important part in TvZ (which makes it difficult to balance). The recent community feedback post has also pointed the same thing, and suggests that something has to be buffed in order to offset the nerf/removal of Tank and Medivac combination. I believe this provides an opportunity to balance the Ultralisk issue. Something in the Terran arsenal can be buffed to handle the Ultralisk as a tradeoff to nerf/remove Tank and Medivac combination.
I will just give an example, which probably is a bad idea, but it shows the direction I am exploring. Ghost can have a strong single targeting ability (Ghost being Ghost) that has splash aoe effect around the target. The aoe effect may not be damage (psionic slow or something), but the idea is to provide Ghost with more utility in TvZ. Aoe effect is perhaps the most important thing in TvZ in Starcraft II, and this also explains the importance of Tank and Medivac combination in the match up. This can make Ghost more usable in the normal TvZ composition. The focus should still be the strong single targeting ability, so that Ghost can not completely replace the Factory aoe options. In other words, it will not be effective to use the ability to single target a Zergling or Baneling, and aoe should not be more effective than the Factory aoe options. Also, it should not be able to target air unit, so you cannot destroy Mutalisk ball.
In fact, if Ghost is included the main bio TvZ composition, this may give room to make changes to the Factory units for Blizzard to make mech work.
On top of all these, the ease of control should not be overlooked as a balance option, which Blizzard has previously used. Way back in 2013, the Overseer was buffed as a way to help Zerg against Terran by making it easy to control with the Mutalisk ball against the 4M. In my opinion, it is one of the most brilliant changes in the game, and it has almost singlehandedly balanced the TvZ match up back then.
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