TvP: Metagame Exploration

The TvP metagame has been rather volatile recently, and this post highlights several key observations. I will also connect and update some of the points I had brought up in my previous TvP post.

Although I emphasize on the early game from the Terran perspective in that post, I have left several unanswered questions that extend beyond the early game.

  1. Lack of reliable scouting options in the early game.
  2. No well defined direction for build orders.
  3. Tankivac becomes more popular.

Scouting

The first two points are interlinked, and I have yet seen an “answer” from the recent games. Some readers have asked me about TY’s Reactor Hellion scout, which I have discussed in the earlier post. TY still continues to use this build, but others did not adopt it. He had used the Reactor Hellion opening against sOs in GSL game 2 and 3 (see vods below), and his early game approach remains a high emphasis on scouting. He is one of the few who still uses Reaper opening in this match up (see game 1 below).

Players now either send units into Protoss’ base to scout directly or use other indirect manners to scout. TY’s double Hellion is considered a direct approach, and others have also been trying to send a Scv in at a later timing to see if they got lucky. Another direct scouting tactic is to send a small group of Marines early on to Protoss’ side to gather information, and the units in Protoss’ base can help you deduce what might have been the tech path even though you may not be able to see the buildings. For example, aLive sent four Marines to Protoss’ base early on (see vod below).

Others continue to use indirect ways to scout like an early drop. As I have mentioned before, the 2-1-1 build with a Widow Mine drop was “soft”, and it is rare nowadays. However, players still utilise an early drop, but it is often done with a gas first opening.

The issue with scouting from Terran’s side may have led to a shift in metagame from the Protoss’ side, and this leads to the next point.

Oracle and options

I said in the previous TvP post that Protoss have a common solid macro build that go for one Gateway expand into Robotics Facility then Twilight, and subsequently follow up to put down a third faster than Terran. This has changed.

One Gateway expand into Oracle is one of the most popular builds now. Given that Terran are unlikely to see it coming due to the scouting limitation I have discussed, the Oracle is likely to kill some workers. Even if Terran take precaution, there usually won’t be enough units to cover both mineral lines. Further, if Terran use any of those indirect scout builds that uses a drop, the units are forced to stay in base to defend against the Oracle. Consequently, Terran will continue to play without any information, and this allows Protoss to have more options.

In the below vods, Protoss went for an Oracle build, then jump straight into a third Nexus before the second and third Gateways, Robotics Facility and Twilight Council. The Oracle basically pins Terran in base to allow Protoss to play in such greedy way.

The lack of information situation created by the Oracle build also allows Protoss to go for an aggressive option instead of an early third. Zest went for two base Blink aggression with a late third base (see vod below), and it requires a drastically different reaction to an early third follow up.

There are also other less common variations, for example, Phoenix or Void Ray follow up. The Phoenix follow up is strong against Liberator pushes and Medivacs (see vod below), and the Void Ray is another variable anti-air option on certain maps (see Stats vs. Bomber game 3 above).

There is more depth to the Oracle build. The build cuts Mothership Core and goes straight into a Stargate, and this allows the Oracle to reach Terran’s base by 4:00 (depending on distance). The idea to cut corner to get an earlier Oracle was also observed in Heart of the Swarm, whereby the Stalker was cut. Therefore, the Mothership Core production timing becomes an important telling sign of the Oracle opening, which then leads to mind game.

Protoss usually make an Adept as the first unit after the Cybernatics Core is completed, and then a Mothership Core. Hence, there is a time frame when Terran can have a Scv next to the Nexus to see whether Protoss are making a Mothership Core before the Adept appears (the production animation is different between Probes and Mothership Core). You can look at the second vod between TY and sOs above carefully, and you will notice that sOs intentionally make a Mothership Core when TY’s Scv is there during this time frame (time stamp to that moment). Once the Scv left, sOs cancel the Mothership Core, and put down a Stargate.

This indirectly shows the value of the Engineering Bay block between the natural Nexus and mineral line, because it forces Protoss to make a Mothership Core first.

In the vod below, MC made a Mothership Core then a Stargate, which is later than what is considered optimal. However, this becomes a mind game that Terran may not expect an Oracle to fly to their mineral line at a delayed timing after they have seen the Mothership Core timing. Based on my memory of MC’s Stargate habit, he may even plan to hide the first Oracle and attack with two at the same time later to catch opponent off guard. In this game, since aLive sent those Marines for indirect scouting (discussed above), MC used the Oracle to clear these Marines. In case you aren’t aware, it takes six Marines to battle one Oracle, and aLive only had four when he was retreating. A good decisive choice on MC’s side.

Mid game Gateway aggression

Apart from the fact that you can follow up with an aggressive attack after an Oracle build, mid game Gateway aggression has actually become more and more popular in general. Below vods are just a few examples.

I won’t go too much into the different style of aggressive options. More importantly, the combination of strategic flexibility to choose mid game aggression or an earlier third than Terran and the lack of reliable scouting from Terran is starting to tilt the scale of the match up a little in Protoss’ favor.

The strategic flexibility can also lead to other middle of the road options, for example (see vod below), Dear warped in Stalkers with three Gateways to attack at a timing without Blink and fully utilised the Warp Prism pick up micro (so beautifully done!). He basically played the game out like a normal game, but he shuffled the usual Twilight Council and third Nexus to a later timing.

Tank, Colossus and Cyclone

I will now go back to the third point that I brought up in the previous TvP post, and that is the usage of Tankivac. I will share a brief history of Tank in this match up, and you will understand how it has gone a full circle.

Tank is strong against Gateway units, and hence, Tank push in the early to mid game should be strong. Indeed, the famous 1-1-1 Marine, Tank and Banshee push way back in Wings of Liberty was a killer. Blizzard later increased Immortal’s range from 5 to 6 because of that, and Tank basically was not used in TvP any more. In Heart of the Swarm, Tank no longer required to research siege mode to siege, and it was the top choice against Blink Stalker build if you use an 1-1-1 variant. It has also been used on specific maps that allows Tank to be siege at a sweet spot. In the early Legacy of the Void days, some players had tried to include Tankivac into the main composition in the match up, but there was little success. Interestingly, players like GuMiho have started to use Tankivac to hit timings, and the results were mixed.

Recently, Tankivac has moved from being an early to mid game situational option to become a key part of the main composition. Like I had just mentioned, it was tested and dropped in the early Legacy of the Void days, but the trend is back.

In the vods above, Marine Tank and Medivac are the key units in the composition. This works extremely well if Protoss are using the standard Gateway heavy with Immortal composition, but it is hard countered by Colossus. You can watch the engagement in the game between Maru and Dear (time stamp of the battle). Protoss are basically one step ahead in the metagame. Colossus is also used against a standard non-Tank Terran composition (see the game between Dear and GuMiho that I have already linked above), and below is another example.

You can also read Artosis’ discussion on how Protoss counter Marine Tankivac.

While the Tankivac failed to impress again, Cyclone had suddenly become popular after the last patch. It is not just an option to counter early Warp Prism harassment like Disruptor drop (look at the vod earlier in this post between aLive and Trust), there is an opening designed for it. GuMiho loves it. If you look at the vods that involve GuMiho above, most are Cyclone openings. The most used one looks like this,

14 – Supply Depot
15 – Refinery
16 – Barracks
@100% Barracks – Marine, Orbital Command and Factory
20 – Supply Depot
@100% Marine – Tech Lab
@400 mineral – Command Centre
@100% Factory – Swap Factory onto Tech Lab for Cyclone

You can also open with Reaper and take an earlier second Refinery. The most common one produces only one Cyclone, and it provides indirect scouting information, map control and defence. He even made three in one game.

Since Oracle is becoming more popular, Cyclone opening may be a good choice in the metagame. Who knows whether Cyclone will become the “Reactor Hellions” in Heart of the Swarm TvZ.

As it stands now, I will say Protoss have a slight upper hand in the metagame, and it’s not noteworthy enough for a balance discussion. TY also had said in his GSL pre-game interview that he preferred to play Terran and Zerg (see vod below).

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