There has been discussion about the TvP match up being in Terran favor recently. I am not going to discuss about the balance itself, but I want to highlight some signs that we are on the verge of a metagame shift.
As it appears that there will not be any major change to the current patch soon, the metagame is starting to stabilise. Although Blizzard have explicitly acknowledged that they are aware of the concern brought up by the community about the early and mid game in TvP, they appear to hold a position of “wait and see”. I am with them on this as it seems like Protoss are adjusting to it, and the players may figure something out without external intervention. I will discuss what the issue is, and some adjustments that Protoss have been trying.
Same old Terran
One may wonder what innovation has Terran come up with that causes this balance discussion to begin with. The thing is, Terran are basically doing the same thing that they were doing before the last balance patch. The mainstream build is the 2-1-1 or 3-1-1 that goes from a Widow Mine drop to a standard bio set up, and the first move out usually involves two to three Tanks with Medivac and Stim. I have discussed about the build in another post previously, and the build basically goes like this.
14 – Supply Depot
15 – Refinery
16 – Barracks
@100% Barracks – Reaper and Orbital Command
@400 mineral – Command Centre (@100% – Orbital Command)
@100 gas – Factory
@50 gas – Reactor
@75 mineral – Refinery
@100 mineral – Supply Depot
@100% Factory – Starport and Widow Mine
Constant Marine production and build Supply Depot accordingly hereafter
@100% Widow Mine – Widow Mine
@100% Starport – Medivac
@100% Widow Mine – Tech Lab and Barracks
@100% Medivac – Liberator*
@100% Tech Lab – Tank
@100% Barracks – Tech Lab, Engineering Bay and Refinery
@100% Tank – Tank
@100% Tech Lab – Stim, then Reactor on Starport
@100% Engineering Bay – +1 Infantry attack
Subsequently, you move out with your units when Stim is completed and a pair of Medivac is produced from the Starport.
You open up with a tech-oriented one Barracks expand like a 15 gas Reaper expand, then you go for a 1-1-1 into a Widow Mine drop. The actual execution of this first attack can vary based on map, opponent’s build and personal preference. Some like to drop with both Widow Mine, and have the Marines at home to defend. Others drop with one Widow Mine and six Marines, and have other units to defend. This does not only allow you to harass the opponent, but also to scout the opponent’s tech path.
Other minor variations like whether you make a Liberator or not does not affect the key check point of this build. Another common variation is to put down two more Barracks when the first Medivac is about to pop out, then you put down two Tech Labs on the Factory and Starport. Subsequently, you swap both Barracks onto the Tech Lab for a 3-1-1 convergent point and get Stim and Combat Shield on both Tech Labs. The variation affects the timing of the attack, but the idea remains the same.
You may be vulnerable to mass warp-in counter attack when you execute the Widow Mine drop, and this is where the Tanks come in handy (see vod below). Once you have got past this period and have a sizable bio force with the necessary upgrade, you can move out to attack with everything. It is this attack that Protoss find it hard to hold well. In other words, this is strong against the “current” or should I say “outdated” Protoss builds. That leads to the next point.
Outdated Protoss builds
Despite Protoss have a wide range of tech path in the early and mid game, they still have several common points. First, Protoss always take an earlier third base than Terran in Legacy of the Void, and it has been considered a norm. Second, Protoss composition is Gateway heavy, as Protoss tend to favor mineral heavy builds. This is consistent with the first point that Protoss take an early third by not being tech heavy. Third, Protoss prefer to be the defender, and aggressive builds are becoming less common.
When you combine these few points, it is not hard to see why the Terran timing with Stim, Medivac and Tank can be very effective. The third Nexus is a clear attack target and it is generally more vulnerable than the natural on most maps. The attack timing hits before Protoss have tech up to aoe units like Colossus, Disruptor, and High Templar, and the Tanks are very effective against a Gateway heavy composition. The fact that Protoss try to get ahead by placing stronger emphasis on the economy, Terran can comfortably move out at a favorable planned timing. Below vod shows how cost effective the Tank push can be,
Then, why this TvP discussion only arises now if both sides are basically doing the same thing? The changes to Tank definitely play a big part. For much of 2016, Terran is the race that has more questions than answers in the TvP match up (read this then this). I don’t mean it in a way that Protoss were favored in the match up, even though pros of both races have echoed it in interviews. The way I understand it is that Terran handled and adapted the situation better with more experience, and it has reached an equilibrium that the results of the push is considered even for both sides most of the time. However, the recent changes to the Tank have turned the results to be favorable to Terran. Consequently, it is Protoss’ turn to adapt to the situation.
Based on the three common points I mentioned above, Protoss have made some changes to their builds. The most common adaptation is to tech up to Colossus on two bases, then get a third Nexus in the meantime. I won’t say it’s a perfect answer, but it is obviously a reasonable adjustment based on the metagame. Below two vods are some examples of that,
In the two games above, Protoss did not get a Twilight Council for Gateway unit upgrades and spend the resource to tech straight to Colossus. This is rather uncommon in the previous patch, whereby the most standard PvT build is to get a Twilight Council after the Robotic Facility. Another approach is to rely on being aggressive to indirectly defend against the timing attack from Terran. This is usually done via heavy Warp Prism harassment or Blink Stalker, and Protoss tech to Colossus or get a third behind it. The purpose is to indirectly defend against the timing attack from Terran. The vod below is an example of that,
In sum, the first approach is to delay the third base by teching straight to Colossus, and the second approach is not be passive and wait for the push to come to you.
Another way of looking at it is that, Protoss choose two of three choices: (1) third base, (2) Twilight Council upgrade, and (3) higher tech (usually Colossus). Protoss do not have the resource to do all three at the same time. Previously, Protoss always pick the first two together, and the metagame is shifting as the players are experimenting different combinations.
Terran (minor) adjustment
Terran have also made some adjustments accordingly, but they are rather minor. When I say adjustments, I don’t mean completely different builds like Command Centre first and proxy, because the former is mainly due to the map pool and the latter is more of a “mixed-in” option.
Like I have mentioned earlier, there are two main attack timings: (1) Widow Mine drop and (2) first bio push with Tanks. The minor adjustments are done to these two timings. The first one is restricted by what build Protoss picked, and there is more room for adjustment if Protoss go for a standard Robotic Facility first tech. For example, INnoVation opt for a Cyclone instead of two Widow Mine, and drop it with four other Marines for the first timing. This can easily throw Protoss off if they are expecting a Widow Mine drop. Below vods are some examples,
Of course, if Protoss go for Oracle, Widow Mine is obviously a better choice. I am particularly impressed with how Maru gets the best out of the Widow Mines when opponent is being passive. In the first vod below, Maru basically did the standard Widow Mine drop with six Marines, but he also moved his second Widow Mine across the map. Usually the second Widow Mine will be in base to defend against plausible attacks, Maru walked that Widow Mine all the way to Protoss’ natural mineral line. Under normal circumstances, this is as good as donating that Widow Mine to the opponent, but the drop in the main syncs well with this move. It is not only a surprise as Protoss usually only expect a single drop at that timing, but it stretches the player’s attention that will result in good harassment damage done in either mineral line.
The second vod below has nothing to do with what I am discussing here, but I just want to share it anyway. Maru sent one Marine to bait the Protoss units away from the mineral line as he was about to drop his units there. This is based on the same rationale that you want to draw opponent’s attention away from the drop to maximise its effectiveness. His execution was slightly off though, as the drop was not happening at the same time.
Going back to the topic, another adjustment by Terran is to skip Tank production altogether, and go straight into a two base 5-1-1 all-in with Vikings to counter the Colossus trend. It hits at a timing that Protoss Gateway units do not have upgrade like Resonating Glaives and Blink, as this is the opportunity cost for Colossus and third base. Below vod is an example.
On the verge of a metagame shift
Those discussed observations above show that both sides are figuring out different ways to get an advantage based on the “standard” style developed in the last patch. I won’t say there is a metagame shift just yet, but I think we are on the verge of one. For instance, Protoss may use a two base Colossus build to pressure Terran and a third behind it. On the other hand, Terran may bring back the classic Scv pull with Vikings that we have seen in Heart of the Swarm. A metagame switch from Protoss to Terran taking a quicker third may completely change how the early to mid game transition plays out too.