TvP: Unsettled Early Game

I have been trying to figure out what the main metagame TvP builds are, and I notice that there is a lack of consensus on how to play it out in the early game. This post explores these observations.

Background

The mid game for TvP is slowly moving back to the Wings of Liberty and Heart of the Swarm days, whereby Terran will move out when they have Medivac, Stim and a decent number of bio units. Clearly, some factors have changed in the mid game now, but I won’t go into it in details in this post. I want to discuss how unsettled the early game is based on the build orders used recently.

Protoss basically have one solid macro build now that every player goes to (not saying it is the only build used). It is one Gateway expand into Robotics Facility then Twilight Council, and put down two more Gateways and a third Nexus (I simplify it). Of course, Protoss have quite a number of choices with these infrastructures, but the core is very clear.

On the other hand, Terran do not have a clear build order, even though the convergent point is obvious to everyone. That is, no matter what build order you use, you will converge to the 3-1-1 on two bases. In contrast to Protoss, which start off with a rather similar build order and diverge from there, Terran have more diversity early on for “standard macro builds” before converging. You may think that, haven’t Terran been like this in Heart of the Swarm? That is not wrong, but the blue print was much clearer back then. Terran usually open with Reaper expand or Command Centre first, and then choose either to favor bio heavy (e.g., three Barracks) or tech oriented (e.g., Widow Mine drop) build orders. It wasn’t like this in the early Legacy of the Void period, because the match up was defined by the fact that Adept can two-shot Marines and Scvs.

Before the Adept patch kicked in, the goal in the early game was to survive and the build orders were generally defensive (e.g., TY’s defensive 3CC build). However, as the metagame slowly shifted away from this, the newer build orders are a lot less defensive. Consequently, Terran now have more flexibility in the early game before converging back to the standard 3-1-1 convergent points.

This post-Adept period leads to the popularity of the 2-1-1 build orders.

2-1-1

The Legacy of the Void economy allows you to kind of go for both bio and tech at the same time with different 2-1-1 variations, which can be considered the “standard” now.

The above vod is the prototype of the 2-1-1 build order, which basically is a Reaper expand, then gets a Factory and second Barracks. Subsequently, you start Stim upgrade like any classic bio heavy build order does, and tech up for a Widow Mine drop at the same time. On paper, it looks like a solid build, as it gives you flexibility and moves towards the mid game convergent point smoothly. However, there is a lack of strategic goal, and it does not allow Terran to come up ahead at any stage of the game. Moreover, when you compare this to Protoss’ “standard macro build” that I mentioned earlier, Terran do not deal damage early on (unlikely to kill more than two Probes with the Widow Mine drop), and there is no threatening timing against Protoss’ earlier third Nexus. In short, there is a lack of potential. Therefore, this prototype build was dropped quickly, and this lands us to the current unsettled early game.

Consideration and adaptation

Reaper

Reaper expand has long been the go-to opening for all match ups, and it shines the brightest in TvP due to its scouting ability. However, interestingly, Reaper opening has slowly lost its popularity in the Legacy of the Void TvP  match up. One key reason is the Pylon Overcharge that two-shot a Reaper, and hence, good Pylon positioning can zone out the Reaper.

This is evident in the recent Korean pros’ games that use the standard 2-1-1 build order, as the Reaper has been replaced with a Marine. See vods below.

Just to be clear, although Reality did not get an earlier second Barracks (i.e. 2-1-1) and put down two Barracks together later in the third and fourth vod below (versus Super and herO), the rationale remains the same.

Scouting

Scouting is particularly important in the early to mid game for the TvP match up, because you need to know the tech path Protoss pick. The range of options Protoss have requires Terran to react differently. Thus, Terran need to have a scouting alternative to the Reaper, and this is usually done by having the minimal investment in a drop.

As I have stated in the previous post, Terran have taken this scouting issue into account in their build orders and the 2-1-1 single Medivac drop actually fills a “soft” scouting role now. The reason I think it is “soft” is that the Medivac moves in later than you want to scout the tech path. Furthermore, you are unlikely to deal notable damage with just a single Medivac drop without any distraction elsewhere. Thus, I come to a conclusion that it is a “better than nothing” move given the current understanding of the match up.

TY’s 2-1-1 variation is rather interesting, as it emphasizes a lot on scouting (see vods below). He would open up with 16/16 standard one Barracks expand with a Marine instead of a Reaper (same as the recent 2-1-1 variations I just mentioned above), and swap the Factory onto the Reactor for Hellions. These Hellions will then be used to force their way to scout Protoss’ base. In line with the game plan to scout with the Hellions, he focuses on bio production and other reactive options, instead of a “soft drop”.

In fact, the build is quite well thought out. In the above vod against Trap on King SeJong Station, he cancelled his Missile Turret after the Hellions have scouted Protoss’ tech path.

In the vod below against Hush on Dusk Towers, TY actually didn’t spend the gas on the Reactor first, but on the Factory. He could still swap the Factory onto the Reactor, but chose to make a single Hellion and produce Marines with the Reactor on the Barracks. Later, he cancelled the Hellion and made a Tech Lab with the Factory, after his Engineering Bay at Protoss’ natural saw the timing of the Mothership Core. The timing of the Mothership Core basically signals that Protoss did not get a tech building before the Mothership Core, and this allows Terran to deduce away some early aggressive builds. With that being said, it is still possible that TY messed up his build order.

In the vod below against Trap on Frost, TY used a gas first Reaper opening, which I think is due to the map, and the timing of the Factory is earlier than the 16/16 Reaper opening. Thus, I think he planned to swap the Reactor onto the Factory for Hellions, which are good for scouting by sending the Reaper into the Protoss’ main via the ledge and the Hellions into the natural. However, the Engineering Bay at the Protoss’ natural saw that the Mothership Core was going towards to his base, so he had to react to the Pylon Overcharge push accordingly by not swapping the Reactor onto the Factory in order to make more Marines.

Other builds

The above build orders mainly fall under the umbrella of 2-1-1, and there are others that don’t. More importantly, it is hard to categorise the builds used, and this shows a lack of consensus on how to approach the early game.

I have previously covered the two base Tankivac push, but there are other even more tech heavy builds recently. For example, Maru was using an one base all-in Tank build against Hush in the vod above.

Gas first tech opening into expand has also become more popular too. This type of builds generally goes for an early Widow Mine drop, which provides more scouting information than the “soft” drop I mentioned earlier. Further, a Hellion is usually sent to Protoss’ main to scout, and the timing is usually early enough to scout the tech buildings.

Consistent with the idea that there is no consensus on what to do in the early game before the convergent point, Terran have also tried to proxy tech buildings, while they build up a bio force at base (see vods below).

Some have tried to move back to something more orthodox. In the below vod, Bunny used a 16 Barracks 18 gas expansion build, which is equivalent to the old school 15 gas expand opening in Heart of the Swarm. While the opening is comparable, the 16/18 opening focuses on bio production early on with the tech buildings being delayed.

Maru has also tried a Reaper expand and take Scv off gas build (see below vod). It gives him the mineral to put down the Engineering Bay for mineral block and an early third Command Centre with two Barracks.

My opinion

The seemingly unsettled early game for Terran in the match up is down to the lack of consensus on a build that has the right balance of scouting and potential. In Heart of the Swarm, the Reaper opening is perfect for scouting when you know when to sacrifice it. The standard three Barracks and its variations have good potential in hitting a timing, or delaying the third Nexus. Similarly, the Widow Mine drop build also has potential to deal economic damage. Terran have yet to find such sweet core builds yet.

Perhaps the thinking process to find a solid core build that fulfils the discussed considerations has been holding back our innovation, as we do not think outside of the box to seek a new paradigm. GuMiho has been quite innovative with his Tank push approach, and it is showing sign that it may actually shift the metagame. Even when he isn’t using a tech heavy build, he converges to a Tank push timing in the mid game (see vod below). Therefore, his approach is actually challenging our assumption of the mid game Medivac, Stim and bio move out convergent point. This may open up new build order ideas.

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9 thoughts on “TvP: Unsettled Early Game

  1. Wow! Only found this blog. This post is great! That is what I have lucked in order to understand LoTV better, thank you a lot, will read your blog more closely and take notes. Amazing work!!

  2. I was also impressed by your blog. I agree with most things. The “lack of consensus” as you often said is, imo, the reason why it is so hard vs protoss. You cannot copy pros anymore like in HotS but react to situations but if you don’t get the scout you have to play blind. I am thinking of going back to something like tech delayed 3rax style. Because at lower masterlevel cheeses throw me off so often that my followup with stim etc. is bad if i do like a WM drop Also WM drops seem to have so many hard counters that i don’t like it.
    But well thx for the nice read and the vods.

    1. Agreed, that it’s hard to copy, you have to scout, know how to react and adapt the core build accordingly. About 3Rax style, I think, it’s somewhat weak right now – because if first push doesn’t do good damage (often doesn’t), – tech is delayed and Protoss anyways stays on 3 bases… I was looking through all available replays and there is one – TY vs Trap or TY vs Hush – with ebay block into 2 hellion scout and 3rax-factory-sp. This build seems solid and also “reactive-reliable” although a little hard to learn (macro definetely is harder than in a 2WM-build…) What are your thoughts on this build?

        1. The sad thing is that there’s no “go-to” TvP build right now, and the best advice is to go for what’s the most comfortable for you. If you don’t like a drop opening, look at the build I have linked you in the other comment.

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