Playing Against Economic-Oriented Openings

Recently, there are some posts on /r/AllthingsTerran asking how to play against three Hatchery before Spawning Pool (example) and Command Centre first (example). I will discuss how to play against economic-oriented openings in general here.

The general idea I discuss in this post is applicable to all races, and I simply use Terran as the example.

It is better to think economic-orientation as a continuum rather than as a dichotomy. That means, it is a matter of how economic-oriented it is, and not whether it is economic-oriented or not. The most common economic-oriented opening for each race is as followed,

  • Command Centre first
  • Nexus first
  • Three Hatchery before Spawning Pool

Most people immediately have the thought of, “ok, this person is being greedy, and I am going to punish her/him.” The thinking itself it not exactly wrong, but the framing of it may have pointed you to the wrong starting point. The word “punish” generally leads one to think of aggressive and/or all-in options as a reaction. This is evident in the title and description of the reddit posts. Using the example I have already linked at the start,

  • Title: [TvT] How do I punish CC first (on Acolyte)?
  • Description: “… How should I react to punish greedy CC first openers? If I don’t do any damage, he hits with a stim timing and has a lot of army…”

There is a persistent pattern in this train of thought, and I can dig up something very similar posted three years ago. The point is, whether you can “punish” the opponent is subjected to your opening. If you are already doing an aggressive opening, you have more potential to make adjustment to punish the opponent with attacks. In contrast, if you are doing a standard opening like Reaper expand, there is little you can do as a reaction to punish the opponent. Let say the opponent is doing a Command Centre first in TvT, and you are using a double Refinery opening with two Reapers. Your two Reapers are likely to do well by default, because your opponent does not have enough units at that time frame. Then, your Cyclone should be effective due to the fact that opponent’s Factory is not even active, and the two Reapers are picking off units. It is difficult for the opponent to even utilise the advantage of having an earlier second Command Centre. A follow up Banshee should also be difficult to deal with. However, if you are using a Reaper expand, opponent’s production and tech buildings are only slightly later than yours, and opponent should have more or less the same units by the time yours move across the map. Therefore, whether you can “punish” your opponent’s opening is based on your own opening, you cannot simply react to kill it by changing your build order. Think about it from your opponent’s perspective, if an economic-oriented build can be punished reactively by the most standard opening, then why will opponent still use it? The risk of such economic-oriented opening is its demise against straight up proxy opening (e.g., proxy Reapers), and hence, it further suggests you cannot “react” to “punish” it.

Then, what should I do against such openings? Although you cannot react to punish the opponent by making an attack, you can react by being even more economic-oriented than your opponent in your build order. I will use the same TvT example with Reaper expand versus Command Centre first. After you have scouted opponent’s Command Centre first opening, you can adjust your build to put down an early third Command Centre. Your opponent cannot reactively punish your early third Command Centre for the same reason you cannot reactively punish opponent’s Command Centre first. A simple way to do it is simply not take the second Refinery, and you should bank up 400 mineral quickly for a Command Centre. Here is how it should look like,

14 – Supply Depot
15 – Refinery
16 – Barracks
@100% Barracks – Reaper and Orbital Command
@400 mineral – Command Centre (@100% Orbital Command)
A worker scouted opponent’s economic-oriented opening
@100 mineral – Supply Depot
@100% Reaper – Reaper
@100% Reaper – Reactor
@400 mineral – Command Centre
@150 mineral – Factory
@75 mineral – Refinery
You move back to a 1-1-1.

The second Reaper is a nice touch, as it is a small investment that can deal a lot more damage than what it is worth due to opponent’s opening. This helps to neutralise the worker advantage an economic-oriented opening can have over a standard opening. This works against the three economic-oriented openings I listed above.

The build order block and convergent point concepts can help to understand this better. A standard first convergent point is to have two Command Centre with 1-1-1. The Command Centre first opening simply adjust the order of the buildings by having the Command Centre started before the Barracks, and this also pushes the Factory and Starport back slightly back. In other words, Command Centre first simply has two workers in production slightly earlier than a Reaper expand build, so it is not as crazy of an advantage as it may seem as you will get your own expansion anyway. Of course, the mining advantage will accumulate, but it takes time to transfer this advantage into actual production advantage. This advantage gets smaller as both sides are reaching the optimum number of workers. On the flip side of the coin, the disadvantage of having a delayed Barracks, Factory, and Starport is not as drastic as it seems intuitively, because the delayed timing disadvantage is attenuated by the map distance. Thus, it goes back to the point that it is difficult for a standard build to “punish” an economic-oriented opening by reacting. This essentially is just a shuffling of resource to put emphasis on different aspects of the game.

Generally, the different aspects of the game are units, tech (include upgrade), and economy, and these shape the rock-paper-scissors relative roles in the early and mid game. If you go for economy, you are weak against attack. If you go for attack, you are weak against defend. If you go for defend, you are weak against economy.

Attack > Economy > Defend > Attack

This basic understanding of the game explains why players intuitively want to “punish” an economy opening with an attack. However, as I have already explained, the difference between an economic-oriented opening and a standard opening is rather marginal for the “attack > economy” situation to occur. The situation can in fact turn into “defend > attack”, because the economic-oriented opening has the tools (i.e., units and productions) to defend against a reactionary attack that is rather weak and ineffective. This is the main reason behind the failure of a standard opening’s reactionary attack toward an economic-oriented opening’s defence.

The reactionary third Command Centre essentially turns this dynamic into an “economy > defend” in favour of the standard opening player instead. The earlier third Command Centre shifts the eventual third Command Centre forward, and this “out-econ” the economic-oriented opening. If both sides were to just macro up, the more economic-oriented build has an advantage. Further, the Command Centre first player is likely to be defensive by default due to the opening s/he picks, and the disadvantage of delaying other buildings for an early third Command Centre dissipates.

Then, why do players still use economic-oriented opening? The above arguments are based on the fact that the other player is able to scout the economic-oriented opening early enough. When you look at the build order I listed above, the timing when you have scouted the economic-oriented opening is early enough for you to make adjustments. If you were to scout it later, there really is not much you can do about the disadvantage you have with a standard opening. Thus, you see economic-oriented opening used more in bigger maps, especially those with multiple spawn locations (e.g., Whirlwind).

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2 thoughts on “Playing Against Economic-Oriented Openings

  1. Great post! This should help players of all levels to be honest. I often catch myself (Master) and even GM players losing due to choosing the wrong reaction to greedy plays when opening/going standard.

    In fact I’ve lost every game where I’ve tried punishing through offence. I will definitely try this now especially since I’ve noticed a trend. It seems a lot of the greedy builds I’ve faced often get more units out than standard by the time the attack commences (e.g. CC first vs 1-1-1 TvP).

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