TvT: A Match Up of Relativity and Framework

I rarely discuss a TvT build order, because there usually isn’t any. While there is no fixed build order in the match up, we can still follow a framework as the game plan. This post discusses the rationale behind the importance of having a fine tuned framework.

Readers have asked me about TvT, and how certain builds work. I notice that there is a common misunderstanding of how the match up works differently to others. This motivates me to write this post, and explain how this match up should be approached differently.

Relativity in TvT

Most of the time, you cannot enter a Terran mirror match up with a pre-planned build order in mind like you have for the other two match ups. This is because the decisions made in the early game and in the transition to mid game hinge on your relative position to your opponent’s. Let say, you plan to go for a 16/16 Reaper opening into Tank and Medivac straightaway, but you may produce Cyclone and Viking first if opponent goes for an early Banshee. You often diverge from your “build order” to accommodate opponent’s. Therefore, the general knowledge is to be flexible with your build and react accordingly.

Since flexibility is the main focus, players have noticed that the most flexible set up is to have 1-1-1 as the basic structure. The most common set up is to have 1-1-1 with a Reactor and Tech Lab, and build a Command Centre accordingly. You can choose to favor an economic approach by having the Command Centre earlier, or a tech approach to have tech units out earlier. The Reactor and Tech Lab allow you to swap around based on your build and your opponent’s build.

Accordingly, it becomes a game of figuring out opponent’s 1-1-1 set up based on their add-ons, and countering it. For example, if you see the Reactor is on the Barracks and the Tech Lab is on the Factory, and you saw a Tank early on, you know it is likely to be Marine Tank Medivac. Subsequently, if you know the Reactor is then swapped onto the Starport and the Tech Lab is still on the Factory, you know a Tank and Viking push is coming when you put the two pieces of information together. You may have to react and make Vikings and Tanks too.

I will give another example. Let say, you are using the above Marine Tank set up, and you scouted that opponent has the Reactor on the Factory. It is likely to be Reactor Hellion. If opponent goes for mech, s/he is likely to keep producing Hellions. It may be dangerous to swap the Reactor onto the Starport for Viking, and it is hard to move across the map with many Hellions controlling the map. Then, it may be wise to just move away from the plan of a Viking and Tank push.

I can come up with many examples, but I am sure you already get the point. The key is that TvT is a game of relativity, and you cannot follow a fixed build order most of the time.

There are some builds that appear to be more restrictive in terms of what it intends to do, but you still have to apply the same flexibility thinking. A good example will be the double Tank drop with Auto Turrets in Heart of the Swarm. Although it aims to do a drop timing, a simple cloak Banshee may in fact force the player to not carry out the build. On paper, the Raven is a perfect counter against Banshee, but it requires you to have the Raven and the Marines to stay at the base to defend. As long as the Banshee is not dead, you either don’t move out or delay it enough that it is not worthy. Then, the investment in the two Medivacs and maybe even the two Tanks can be better spent on other priorities like Stim upgrade. Therefore, against a Banshee opening, it is better to play it out like standard macro game without the drop, and the Raven opening becomes a good counter. This also explains why I highlight that it is much more difficult to follow a build order in TvT than in the other two match ups.


Although I argue that there is hardly any fixed build order in TvT, there is still a framework. I call it a framework, because there are check points and processes. The check points are the convergent points, and the 1-1-1 basic set up I mentioned above is one. When you put all the points I have brought up so far together, the only fixed things that can be pre-planned are composition (i.e., bio or mech) and opening.

Some newer readers may get confused now, as I said there isn’t any fixed build order, but there is fixed opening. I strongly recommend you to read my post explaining the differences between an opening and a build order. More importantly, based on the building block concept, how the implications affect our understanding of the game.

The current openings can be broadly categorised into the following three.

Reaper expand

When I say Reaper expand, many will think about the “standard” 16 Barracks 16 Refinery opening. However, the common Reaper expand in TvT nowadays is in fact 15 Refinery 16 Barracks gas first opening. This opening has the earlier Command Centre among the three openings. I will write a separate post to discuss this 15/16 Reaper expand in the near future.

Gas first fast tech

It is also 15 Refinery and 16 Barracks. Instead of getting a Reaper when the Barracks completes, you get a Marine and a Factory immediately. This allows you to have the quickest tech possible, and it subsequently branches out to countless options.

Multiple Barracks Reaper

Multiple Barracks can be either two or three Barracks, and the goal is to gain an advantage early with the Reapers. You still expand and tech up after that. Of course, it is possible to win with just Reapers occasionally.

Offender versus defender

The order of the three openings above is in the order of having lowest to highest initiative based on the concept of offender versus defender, which is extremely important for TvT. The concept suggests that one player usually has the initiative to attack due to the opening s/he picks, and this results in another player being the defender. In Heart of the Swarm, the rule of thumb to know who has the initiative is who has the earlier Starport and the first air unit produced. The general concept still applies in Legacy of the Void to a certain extent.

If you go for a two Barracks Reaper, you can be almost certain that you have the initiative and you are the offender. Perhaps the only exception is opponent uses a three Barrack Reaper. If it is a mirror build, the one who doesn’t move across the map has the advantage of rally distance. On the other hand, if you go for a 15/16 Reaper expand, you can be almost certain that you are on the reactive side and are the defender.

Knowing whether you are the offender or the defender is an important step in developing a framework.

Developing a framework

If you know the main metagame openings and their subsequent options based on deduction, you can have a pre-planned framework help you decide what to do in the game. A framework is basically a guide that tells you, “if opponent does this, I do this.” It is essentially having multiple build orders based on the same opening, and you pick a build order according to opponent’s openings. The examples I used at the beginning of the post is based on this rationale.

I will use 15/16 Reaper expand as an example. As the name suggests, the opening has a Reaper and expands rather early. This gives you the perfect ground to develop a framework. You have a Reaper, which provides you scouting information to decide what to do. You expand early, and that means you have to rely on being able to pick the right reaction to get ahead.

Let’s use the vod above as an example. Dream was using 15/16 Reaper expand, and Bomber was using double Barrack Reaper. This means Dream is the defender and Bomber is the offender. Dream scouted the opening with the standard Scv scout, and he already had a pre-planned build order continuation against such build. First, he built his Command Centre on the high ground, and this reduces the area he needs defend. Second, he gets a second Reaper and a Hellion, which are the best units against multiple Barracks Reaper. Importantly, he does not diverge away too much from his main build order, which is to expand and get 1-1-1. Third, he then picked a 1-1-1 variation that is strong against a multiple Barracks opening. All these decisions are based on the framework that, if opponent is going for a multiple Barracks Reaper, he will defend by doing this and that.

I will discuss a more detailed framework for the 15/16 gas first Reaper expand in another post.

I also want to use this opportunity to be critical about some of the feedback given to players asking for help against multiple Barracks Reaper. I often see players being told that they should react by building more Barracks in order to counter opponent’s multiple Barracks Reaper, especially on maps that are favorable for that opening. Logically, if the answer is to mirror it as a reaction, why not I just do the build myself in the beginning? If I am forced to either mirror it or lose, the same should apply to my opponent when I am doing the build. I would rather be the one who does it as planned than the one who reacts, because my Barracks will complete quicker and I am ahead if we do the same thing. Consequently, there is no reason to not do the build by default.

If the above is true, there won’t be a discussion about how to play against the build and how to react anyway, because everyone does the same thing. Thus, logically, there should be a better reaction to that, and this shows those who made such suggestion do not have an optimal framework figured out for the opening they are doing.

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6 thoughts on “TvT: A Match Up of Relativity and Framework

  1. Great post. Always had a problem understanding TvT and now you;ve brought the right vision. Now I’ll look at this match up differently and learn better. The thing is, though, that developing a framework will take some time… but if the core idea is correct, results will come. Thanks. )

    1. Yes, you’re spot on that it takes time to develop a framework. It requires one to have decent knowledge and apply it, and also make necessary adjustments to metagame.

  2. I have a really hard time holding 3 rax reaper with 15/16 reaper expand, especially if they proxy some of the barracks. They always have more reapers than I do before I am anywhere near getting a hellion out. If I try and pull scvs they just target fire my reaper and then kill the scvs afterwards. By the time the hellion comes out most of my scvs are dead and they have enough reapers to two shot the hellion.

    1. It’s normal to sacrifice some scvs, as you will produce quicker than your opponent after you stabilise. It’s definitely hard against proxy 3 rax on certain maps. The goal is to sacrifice some workers and buy time for hellions.

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