TvZ: INnoVation’s Hellion and Cyclone Mech

INnoVation’s victory over Dark using a new mech style with Hellion and Cyclone has definitely got everyone talking about it. I will discuss how it works and some of the key defining features.

Background

Blizzard made it clear that they want mech to be a viable option in every match up, and Cyclone is redesigned with that in mind. After the initial release of patch 3.8, Cyclone has received some updates to its attack range. This is understandable as Cyclone has been struggling with identity crisis, and its role in mech is comparable to Roach’s. It is a high health point mobile unit that allows you to mass up as a key unit of the core composition.

Although some call INnoVation’s new mech style innovative, I think it is more of pun than it is truly innovative. Blizzard have made it clear when they were preparing for patch 3.8 that they want mech to use Cyclone and Hellion together in the early stage, and this combination was already used way back in 2015 when Legacy of the Void was released (my previous discussion). They even explicitly stated that,

This way, the Cyclone can combo well with the Hellion early-on in order to defend additional bases or to keep the opponent contained while playing a more aggressive style.

Indeed, unlike the “traditional” mech style, this new mech style is more aggressive, and does decently well to put the opponent in a defensive position. This style fits my definition of mech better than Artosis’, as I emphasize on the unit composition based on a continuum, while his is more of a play style.

Build order

0-2-0 (1-2-0)

The build is simple. You do a tech-oriented expand opening (e.g., 15/16 Reaper expand), and go for two Factories with Reactors. Thus, it is a 1-2-0 since you don’t have a Starport, but of course you can call it o-2-0 as there is a resting Barracks.

There are arguably two versions to this build: with Hellbat timing, and without Hellbat timing. Nevertheless, they are very comparable in build order early on. I will first show the basic one without the Hellbat timing.

14 – Supply Depot
15 – Refinery
16 – Barracks
@100% Barracks – Reaper and Orbital Command
@400 mineral – Command Centre (@100% Orbital Command)
@100 gas – Factory
@100% Reaper – Reactor
@100 mineral – Supply Depot
@75 mineral – Refinery
@100% Reactor – Swap Factory onto it for Hellions (a pair). Build a second Factory and use the Barracks to build a Reactor next to it.
@100% Hellions – Hellions (a pair)
37 – Supply Depot
Build Supply Depot accordingly hereafter
@100% Hellions – Cyclones (a pair)
@100% Reactor – Swap the second Factory onto it for Hellions (a pair).

This is the basic build order. You may be asking when to build Hellion versus Cyclone, is it one Factory for each? The answer is simply to favor the Cyclone, as your choice is limited by the gas requirement of Cyclone anyway. That is, whenever you have the gas, you make Cyclones, and you fill up your production cycle with Hellions when you don’t have enough gas. This is a simplified way to understand it.

After you have started the production for the third pair of Cyclones, you can squeeze in an Armory with the next available 100 gas for a Hellbat timing. See vod below, although the observer was not showing the production tab, you can tell from the resource expenditure. Just for illustration, I will continue the build order from above for the Hellbat version.

@100% Hellions – Cyclones (a pair)
@200 gas – Cyclones (a pair)
@100 gas – Armory

0-5-0 (1-5-0)

The build later converges to three bases with five Factories for production. I don’t want to write down the build order beyond what I have done above, because you will just put down the following buildings in this sequence when you can afford it.

  • Third Command Centre
  • Third and fourth Refinery
  • First Armory* (skip this if you already have one for Hellbat timing)
    • +1 attack upgrade before more Factory
  • Fifth and sixth Refinery
  • Third, fourth and fifth Factory (all with Tech Lab)
  • Second Armory

The main reason I don’t list the build order is that you will always face different situations and it is meaningless to memorise build order beyond a certain point. Let say, you lost quite a number of workers due to harassment (or just not-that-good-macro), you can no longer follow a perfect build order. This shows the importance of understanding convergent points.

Also, you should make two Hellions and two Cyclones in each production cycle when you are trying to set up your third base (I am not entirely certain about this detail). This should allow you to bank up the gas in time to put down three Factories, which would otherwise be difficult if you keep making four Cyclones as you prioritise it.

Opening

I used a 15/16 Reaper expand opening in the build order notation above for illustration, but you can use other tech-oriented expand opening for this build as I have mentioned earlier. You can use a Command Centre first into early double Refinery as well.

14 – Supply Depot
17 – Command Centre (@100% – Orbital Command)
18 – Barracks
19 – Refinery
20 – Refinery
@100% Barracks – Marine and Orbital Command
@100 gas – Factory
@100% Marine – Reactor
@100 gas – Factory
28 – Supply Depot
@100% Reactor – Swap Factory onto it for Hellions (a pair). Use the Barracks to build a Reactor next to the second Factory.
@100% Hellions – Hellions (a pair)
@100% Reactor – Swap the second Factory onto it for Cyclones (a pair).

You still go back to the 0-2-0 production on two bases. This is based on the fundamental concept of building blocks in build orders. Of course, you can add an earlier Armory for the same Hellbat timing. Thus, it is important to note that having a Command Centre first instead of a Reaper expand does not suggest that this is a different build. It is crucial to differentiate build orders based on strategic differences (i.e., the Hellbat timing or not in this case) or opening differences (i.e., 15/16 Reaper expand versus Command Centre first). In the three vods below, INnoVation uses a Command Centre first opening for this build, and it is mainly used on bigger maps like Whirlwind or in-base natural maps like Vaani Research Station, whereby the map allows you to cut corners for economic advantage.

Just to further explain why I used the term “tech-oriented expand opening”. You can do a Reaper expand or a Command Centre first, and focus on bio production by being more mineral heavy. For example, a 16/16 Reaper expand is bio-oriented, while 15/16 Reaper expand is tech-oriented. You can read more about the difference between these two in another TvP post I have written. Similarly, you can go for a Command Centre first, then put down three Barracks for a bio-oriented build. Thus, don’t get mix up in terms of how certain openings cannot be used for certain builds, even though I highlighted that it can be flexible in the last paragraph.

Discussion

Aggressive style

This mech style is more revolutionary than innovative, as it changes how mech is played or even “defined”. I am sure Blizzard are pretty happy with the look of it, as they want a more proactive mech style. In case you are new or you need a reminder about how turtle-ish mech was in Heart of the Swarm TvZ, you should watch the two vods below. They were executed by none other than the best mech player INnoVation himself.

The main reason for the turtle-ish play style is that mech cannot move out on the map until it has gathered its death ball army, as it will get swarmed and destroyed easily by the Zerg when it moves out. More often than not, Terran will not reach the stage of moving out with a death ball, as the timer is usually on the Zerg to prevent that from happening. Alternatively, as shown by the two vods above, Terran will just slowly consume the whole map and win the game.

You may argue that Terran have also shown that mech can play an aggressive style with Hellion and Banshee in the past anyway (which was popularised by Mvp in Wings of Liberty), so this is not exactly that revolutionary. You are not wrong, but that old style is only aggressive in the early game, and it trades Hellions for Drones while sitting back to defend from mid game onwards. Thus, the overarching game plan was to get to the death ball composition by setting up defensively. In contrast, this new style that INnoVation is playing resembles the mid game game plan of bio in general, whereby Terran is the offender while the Zerg is the defender in the mid game. This is possible because the new Cyclone works as a “Roach-like” unit, which is a reasonably mobile and high health point unit. It fills an important gap that the traditional mech composition does not have in the mid game. Further, its attack damage in the early to mid game period is formidable, which again resembles the Roaches in certain ways. It is this offender-defender role swap that truly makes this revolutionary, and this leads to the next point.

Mid game goal

The game plan in the mid game is to attack the most vulnerable base (usually the newest and/or nearest) of Zerg, and that is similar to what you do with bio. Of course, this mech composition of Hellion/Hellbat and Cyclone is relatively less mobile, and its attacking approach is more one dimensional as you cannot split up the units as effectively (bio can attack at multiple locations with drop). Nevertheless, the idea of constantly applying pressure and forcing Zerg to be defensive should be familiar to every Terran player who only plays bio.

This approach starts off with the first attack when you have the first and second pair of Cyclones. INnoVation almost always starts the attack when he has his first pair of Cyclone, as this is the “power spike” of this build. The second pair of Cyclones can then be rallied forward to join with the rest of the army. The key of the attack is to A-move forward and pull back (a.k.a. poke), and you slowly wilt down the Zerg as your army size increases with reinforcement. It can be costly if you over-commit and lose the army, see vod below (timestamped).

If you want to do a Hellbat attack, you should minimise your trade with “poking”. This is because your units scale a lot better once the Armory completes (another power spike), so it is better to circle around at the edge of Zerg’s territory for map control while you wait for that power spike. In the meantime, you can pick off some Overlords with Cyclone’s lock-on ability, and control creep spread. The first two vods below show how INnoVation was being patient and executed the Hellbat attack well by not committing to an attack before the actual timing (both are timestamped).

Just a side note, INnoVation was cautious about not simply rallying his production forward to group his army while he was waiting for the attack to commence. His rally point was at his natural in case of counter attack, and only send the units forward when he wanted to attack. The units that he already had out there were sufficient for map control purposes, so this is a nice move.

Below is an example (timestamped) of how not to execute the Hellbat timing performed by INnoVation himself. He simply threw his army away when he should have waited for the Armory to complete.

The above examples show you the key attack timing at the start of the mid game. When, where, and how to attack subsequently depends on the situation, and you can apply much of your general TvZ bio knowledge to it. It is very important to constantly apply pressure, because it can be problematic once Zerg have the luxury to transition into Mutalisks. The lack of anti-air with the 0-2-0 set up is a key weakness of this build, and let’s not get ahead of ourselves to think about using Cyclone to lock-on Mutalisk as an answer.

The effectiveness of the mid game aggression also indirectly affects whether Zerg can have Vipers, which is a unit that has been heavily debated regarding its role against mech. It is difficult for Zerg to set up for Vipers when they have to make units to defend against the attacks.

Transition and composition

After you have reached the 0-5-0 convergent point, you choose to either produce Tank or Thor from the three Factories with Tech Labs. You make Tanks against Roach and Ravager based army, and you make some Thors against Zergling and Baneling based army (see the vod above between INnoVation and Losira). This is because Spire units usually are mixed into the Zergling and Baneling composition, so you want to make Thors, at least for precaution. If the situation has come to a state that Zerg have late game Spire tech, you need to put down Starports and transition for a composition that can counter that army.

Zerg’s response

As of now, based on the games between INnoVation and Dark, it seems like Zerg have yet to figured out an answer to this style. If you compare this to the famous 2-1-1 that defines the TvZ metagame this year, Zerg were struggling a lot harder against that than this mech style at the beginning, and it took a while for them to figure it out. Dark had shown a range of response against INnoVation: Zergling and Ravager attack after defending the first mech attack in game 1 and 2, Ravager attack at 3:30 in game 3 (this is probably not a direct response against this mech style, as he has to decide to do this build before he has any information. Also, this is an effective metagame build against the 2-1-1, which Dark had also pulled off nicely against ByuN), Roach and Ravager defence without Zerglings in game 4, and Zergling and Baneling defence in game 5. The point is, Dark was not well prepared for this mech style as it is new.

The first two games were more of a standard TvZ with a reaction style to response to a Hellion and Cyclone army. The fourth game was a direct response to INnoVation’s mech style specifically, as Dark invested his larva on only Roach/Ravager and not Zergling. The last game appeared to be another response attempt by switching Roach and Ravager for Zergling and Baneling, but the timing was not crisp.

More importantly, when you look closely to Dark’s opening choices in TvZ recently, he had been defensive with a variety of Pool-before-Hatchery openings. For example, Pool-Hatchery-Gas-Hatchery. I think this may be due to the fact that he has figured it out the optimal larva management with such opening against the 2-1-1 5:00 timing (watch his games against ByuN in Ro8), and this defensive opening is better than a standard Hatchery-Gas-Pool-Hatchery opening against multiple Barracks Reaper. However, such defensive macro openings are relatively weaker against this new mech build, and hence, I expect Dark to make adjustments in his openings in the future.

Just theorycrafting, Zerg may figure out the optimal way to hold off the first attack, and transition to Mutalisk. The 0-2-0 will have a difficult time against Mutalisk, and it is difficult to be aggressive in mid game when you have no answer against Mutalisk. This then changes the whole dynamic of how Terran plan to play the aggressive mid game. I hope ByuL advances to the final, so we get to watch a Bo7 TvZ on Sunday.

That face…

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12 thoughts on “TvZ: INnoVation’s Hellion and Cyclone Mech

  1. great content man, just got back into the game it had been a three year gap and i felt lost in the meta, between watching pros and reading your content im already back in diamond with three great race specific opening and builds.

  2. Meant to comment a while ago. Thanks for this breakdown of the build going up so fast. I was super curious about the details and you delivered plenty on that. I was wondering if there was any way you could start including SALT encoded orders for some of the builds you’ve posted. I’m sure it’s a lot of work, but for people like myself hoping to understand timings and such, it’s super helpful.

      1. While I understand your position, I think it’s worth clarifying that the value of what I’m asking about has less to do with the build order start to finish, as much as tight timing helps one understand the importance of how to get gas, when, how to anticipate supply depot needs during the initial stages of execution, and prioritizing certain units for production or tech based purely on the collection rates of minerals and gas.

        Example being: In a standard 2-1-1 timing, resources are very tight, and skipping one beat can cause a delay or complete whiff of the 5-minute milestone/timing. Maybe you’ll be short marines, or stim may not be done. It took really digging into replays and build orders for me to understand exactly why X had to come before Z for that particular build, and how a single change causes variance and forces adjustments.

        Since you go over openings a lot, with the expectation that convergence always occurs after, I mentioned SALT as a kind of ‘lazy’ out. I’d gladly take in any sets of information you have to offer regarding setup during the first few minutes, what’s possible, what’s crippling, etc.

        1. That is interesting, I should include it in the future if it adds value. Good point on how tight the resource is with the 2-1-1 5:00 timing. SALT may point out certain details that would have otherwise overlooked.

  3. Great content. I recently played with this build and it brings a lot of fresh air into my TvZs. As you mentioned, it is very important to only poke, never over-commit. As soon as you have your Armory you can sometimes just amove, which feels nice :). I wonder what we gonna do when they build mutas. Maybe build a lot of turrets and go for Thors without any tanks.

  4. I’m playing Starcraft since 2011 and I have no idea why I didn’t seen this page before. It’s amazing! Good job, keep posting more guides. Greetings from Poland.

  5. I wonder if there’s a way to make mech work against Protoss and Terran. I try a similar build, but mine is more of an all-in and a late CC to punish greedy Zergs for throwing down a third, and catch Terran off guard if they go mass Reapers or 3 Barracks, late Factory. It also works against Protoss unless they have an early Stargate or Robotics Facility – Void Rays and Immortals shut down Cyclones hard. Ugh.

    Well, nothing but to keep trying and experimenting.

    1. I don’t think all-in work well with Cyclone and Hellion, because there will be mineral banking up for transition as you produce constantly. I am not optimistic about mech in TvP.

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