There are some obvious metagame changes in the TvZ match up, and they have generated lots of discussion. After much thinking, I believe the best way to illustrate how these changes interact with each other is to use the popular double Medivac Stim build as the anchor.
In case you are not familiar with the build I am talking about, you can read it in my previous posts (part 1 and part 2). The key reason I want to use this build as an anchor for discussion is that it simply defines the metagame of TvZ. Based on my informal statistics (too lazy to collect the data comprehensively), this build is used in more than half of the TvZ games played in recent tournaments. Therefore, it is natural that the changes occur in the metagame is revolved around this build, which makes it a good place to start the discussion.
I know many have pointed out the last patch that increases Queen’s anti-air range from 7 to 8 is the cause of these changes. While the patch definitely has a strong influence, there is more to the underlying process for the metagame shift. Further, based on what I have read on forums, many have misunderstood the rationale behind some observations. I will briefly go through the build, then discuss how a metagame move leads to a domino effect with the patch being the catalyse at the right time.
Basics of the build
It is a 2-1-1 timing that hits at around 5:00 with double Medivac and Stim Marines. What makes it so strong is that Zerg do not have a good answer for the mobility and the damage output of two Medivacs of Marines at 5:00. Terran can just trade so efficiently by picking favorable small battles through a series of drop and re-drop in different locations.
Zerg have been diligently scouting to ensure they don’t get caught off guard by this build by getting Overlord speed for scouting, but they often do not have an appropriate answer even if they have identified the build. While the build usually didn’t kill the Zerg out right at the higher level, there was little doubt that the exchanges were in Terran’s favor.
I have talked to some Zerg players a month ago to understand what Zerg have in mind to counter this build. PiG suggested that some top level players have been using a mineral heavy build and focused on Queens and Zerglings for defence. On the other hand, Zurgery has brought up an entirely different approach, which is to Baneling burst the Terran when they move out. According to him, it is a free win. Now that the metagame has developed, both of them actually had pointed out the current trends few weeks ago.
Counter attack from Zerg
At the top level, Zerg players can make barely enough units and position them well to not lose to the timing, but it is rare for the Zerg to come out ahead after the timing. Given that there is no break through on the defensive end, some have explored the alternative option of attacking instead.
However, as I have pointed out before in part 2 (see vod above), it is not that easy to hit a timing against this build. With that being said, there are successful examples with two base all-ins (see vod below).
The key to succeed with a counter attack against this build is the timing of it. If it is too early, the Marines with Stim can snipe the Banelings without speed effectively as you can see in the vod above between ByuN and Impact. Below are three examples of well executed counter attacks. The first two use a Zerglings drop with two Overlords, and the third is a Baneling burst at the front. Both hit when the two Medivacs are already across the map on Zerg’s side, and it is too late to turn around. That is the weakness of this build, because the Terran base doesn’t have enough units to deal with the counter attack at that time frame.
TLO has also tried to make many Zerglings to defend the attack first, then counter attack with Baneling burst. Judging by only one game, it doesn’t seem to work out well. Thus, like I have said, the timing of the counter attack is critical.
Reaction to counter attack
Terran actually have an interesting reaction to this counter attack trend, and many seem to misunderstand the purpose of this reaction. The reaction move is to not load the Marines into the two Medivacs and just fly out without any unit in them (see vods below). According to Zerg’s counter attacking plan, they will spot the Medivacs and time the attack. However, the Marines are in fact well stationed in Terran’s base to anticipate the counter attack.
I must stress that this “empty drop” move is not a mistake. If the player forgot to load up, he would quickly move the Medivac back to load the units. It is obvious in the vods below that the players intentionally do not load the units in. Also, if the purpose is to fake a drop to move Zerg’s units off position, the Marines would have moved out to attack where the Zerg won’t be. If you look closely to Maru’s game below, when ByuL’s Zerglings counter attack, he purposely hold position most of the Marines and only attack with a few Marines to sell the fake. If he used all those Marines to attack the those Zerglings, ByuL would know Maru didn’t load up due to the number of Marines.
Zerg have also made it clear that mass Queens is the future. The latest patch definitely has influenced the trend, but I wonder if it works when the range is back to 7. There is always this “after-patch effect” whereby people polarise the effects of the changes, and this has a lot to do with players are more willing to explore the specific changes. I won’t go too much into the bias of a new patch, but it is plausible that Zerg will do fine with the same style if the patch is reversed after players have improved with this new style.
The image above shows how unprepared Zerg were against this build way back when it was starting to get popular. There were four to five Queens, and some Zerglings. This is drastically different to what Zerg have been doing recently. Look at the image below for comparison. Zerg do not stop making Queens once the Spawning Pool has completed, and there are usually seven Queens when the timing hits.
As you can see from the image above, Solar had 23 Zerglings and 7 Queens to defend at 5:00. It has no problem in holding the timing as the Terran cannot realistically trade efficiently, and that nullifies the main strength of this build. The Queens focus fire on the Medivacs (and transfuse each other), while the Zerglings do what they do best. The Terran units are forced to load up and move away, because the health of the Medivacs are in a way the “timer” of this build. Terran cannot stutter steps and trade with the Zerglings well if the Medivacs are forced to have minimum involvement in the skirmish (see vod below).
I believe Solar’s general style is perhaps the best one right now (see vod below). Like many Zerg players, he does not stop making Queens after they have defended against this timing. The general game plan is to be defensive and expand, then tech to Ultralisks straightaway. The Queens are good for defensive style, as they provide a good range attack behind Zerglings and Banelings in a more direct battle. Further, they provide the anti-air that is much lacked if Zerg do not go for Spire in the mid game and opt for Roach and Ravager (which is the metagame choice a few weeks ago).
It is interesting how a buff on the basic defensive mechanics of a race can potentially promote a late game approach in general. This reminds me of the Queen buff in Wings of Liberty, which people often cite as the reason behind the infamous Infestor and Broodlord era. I’m not say the current situation is imbalance or even close to the Wings of Liberty change, but the innovation process is comparable in a certain way.
Two Tanks push
Another interesting observation to the metagame is the two Tanks timing, which is usually a follow up “sub-timing” of this double Medivac Stim timing build. The match between INnoVation and Snute is the best example of this (vod is already linked above). INnoVation just executed the basic double Medivac Stim timing, and then followed it up with another push with two Tanks. Here is the build order,
14 – Supply Depot
16 – Barracks
16 – Refinery
@100% Barracks – Reaper and Orbital Command
@400 mineral – Command Centre (@100% – Orbital Command)
@150 mineral – Barracks
@100% Reaper – Reactor
@100 mineral – Supply Depot
@100 gas – Factory
@75 mineral – Refinery
@100% Barracks – Tech Lab (@100% Stim)
@100% Factory – Reactor and Starport
Constant Marine production and build Supply Depot accordingly hereafter
@100% Starport – Swap it onto the Reactor of the Factory and produce 2x Medivac
The above is the basic build order of the build, and you load up the two Medivacs with Marines for the timing. As I have discussed in part 2, the common follow up is double Engineering Bay for +1/+1, because of the mineral and gas ratio. Subsequently, Terran will load up another single Medivac of units to have a multi-pronged attack along with the first two Medivacs.
The new Tank timing takes into account of the mineral and gas ratio, and spends the gas on the Combat Shield, Tanks and Medivacs. This is the build order continuation,
When able – Widow Mine
@100% 2x Medivac – Refinery
@100% Widow Mine – Tech Lab
@100% Stim – Combat Shield
@100% Tech Lab – Tank
@100% Tank – Tank and 2x Medivac
Regroup and move out when the two Tanks and two Medivacs are ready.
You can transit into a standard macro game by putting down the third Command Centre and double Engineering Bay (e.g., INnoVation vs. Snute above), or go for a two base all-in convergent point of 5-1-1 by building three more Barracks (e.g., Maru vs. ByuL). Moreover, if you compare some of the vods that use such Tank follow up timing, there are some minor differences. For example, ByuN put down an Engineering Bay for the +1 attack, and align it with the follow up Tank timing (ByuN vs. Solar game 1).
There are two metagame considerations embedded in this “sub-timing”. First, it is strong against mid game Roach transition, as you can see in both INnoVation’s and ByuN’s games. As I have mentioned above, Zerg have figured out that the best way to defend against this build is to get mass Queens and Zerglings. Subsequently, many will want to move back to their usual mid game Roach and Ravager composition after defending the initial timing, and there is this small window that the Tank push can be effective. Below vod is another example of this trend.
The second metagame consideration is the reaction to the counter attack potential of Zerg. If Terran want to fake a drop and have the Marines stay in base, the early investment on the Stim and Medivac loses its value. The Tank attack provides an alternative timing check point for the build.
This double Medivac Stim build is less effective than it was. Solar’s style opens up a new trend in the metagame, and we may see new builds in the coming months. The mass Queen style should become a core of TvZ now, as it aligns well with the late game approach and is also effective against other Terran builds (see vods below).