There are some interesting metagame changes for TvP in these two months.
Based on what I read on r/allthingsterran recently, Terran players are struggling against Protoss. This particular thread illustrates the public opinion decently well. I even had a Terran opponent asking me at the start of a game for my opinion on TvP (see image below). Just to be clear, I do not think there is anything specific of Protoss that is overpowered in the match up. Nevertheless, it seems that Terran have more questions than answers in comparison to Protoss.
Before I get into the main discussion, it is important to lay down what the current main builds are, because the builds used provide information on what players think about the match up. Broadly, the current TvP builds can be categorised into the followings:
- Reaper expand
- Early third Command Centre
- Cheese (e.g., Reactor Cyclone)
- Single Reaper
- Proxy near base (i.e., fake proxy)
Reaper expand is considered the most standard opening for a long time. It branches out to several options. The two current most popular sequences are 2-1-1 and Cloak Banshee. Interestingly, although proxy builds are considered unorthodox conventionally, their popularity has never been higher than now.
I will discuss the current understanding of the standard builds, and how this leads to proxy metagame.
Standard macro builds
2-1-1 and Cloak Banshee builds have two commonalities. First, both open with Reaper expand. While Reaper expand is no doubt a good all-rounded opening, it is very predictable. Protoss recently use various early aggressive openings to take advantage of Reaper expand. They can delay their Nexus by chronoboosting a Zealot and a Stalker to attack Terran’s natural when the Command Centre is building. The other more popular option is to proxy a second Gateway. Terran cannot defend on the low ground, and they are forced to cancel the Command Centre. Then, Protoss will position Stalkers at the bottom of the main ramp to delay Terran expansion. It is particularly difficult for Terran to know what Protoss are doing after the exchange as a result. The vods below demonstrate how these two openings interact generally.
Second, both 2-1-1 and Cloak Banshee builds are passive before 5:00~5:30. This allows Protoss to cut corners at ease. You can have a quick look at all the Reaper expand versus one Gateway expand builds professional games in August, and you notice Protoss often put down the third Nexus at around 4:00. At the same time, Protoss can spend the resource on upgrades rather than units. This is comparable to Zerg being given the luxury to make Drones and not Zerglings in the early to mid game transition. It is not an ideal situation for Terran.
Why do Terran not use builds that are more aggressive during this 4:00-ish time frame? They did a few months ago. The classic 1-1-1 with Medivac variations hit at around 4:15. For example, the mass Widow Mine drop build, which was popular three months ago, drop four Widow Mine in the main and have two Hellions run by at the natural at 4:15. The attack timing is determined by the Starport timing, and Protoss use other ways to push back the Starport. For instance, Protoss can invest in more Gateway units early on to apply pressure at the natural, and this forces Terran to get a Cyclone instead of tech-ing straight to Starport (1-1-1). See below vod for an example. It is a game from last season GSL four months ago, and this explains why “previous meta” shapes the “current meta” in such a way that Terran do not use the classic 1-1-1 variations.
Maru’s build choice is key to his dominance in the match up last season. His builds (e.g., 2-1-1 with Cyclone) allow him to defend against early aggression and hit a later timing when Protoss are transitioning from the early investment. However, as mentioned earlier, Protoss adapted by taking an early third Nexus as a counter.
Overall, Protoss are ahead of Terran in squeezing out advantages in the build orders. In other words, the “standard” TvP script is not in favor of Terran. This leads to the current proxy trend.
Proxy builds are usually used sparingly and they create an element of surprise to catch the opponent by surprise. However, recently, proxy builds in fact have become the norm. There were eleven TvP in GSL Ro16 recently, and Terran built their early production buildings outside their base in most of these games. These are the builds used:
- Maru vs. Neeb (16-Bit) – Proxy Barracks for two Reapers (Factory in base).
- Maru vs. Neeb (Lost & found) – Proxy Barracks for one Reaper and Marauders (Factory in base).
- KeeN vs. Stats (Blueshift) – Reaper expand then Factory.
- KeeN vs. Stats (Acid Plant) – Reaper expand then Factory.
- TY vs. sOs (Acid Plant) – Proxy Reactor Cyclone.
- TY vs. sOs (Dreamcatcher) – Proxy (near base) 1-1-1.
- TY vs. Stats (Lost and Found) – Proxy Reactor Cyclone.
- TY vs. Stats (Blueshift) – Proxy (near base) Barracks for one Reaper (Factory in base).
- TY vs. Stats (Catalyst) – Proxy (near base) Barracks and Factory.
- KeeN vs. sOs (Blueshift) – Reaper expand then Reactor Factory.
- KeeN vs. sOs (Catalyst) – Proxy Barracks for one Reaper (Factory in base).
Why is proxy the norm?
Proxy builds mess up the script, which is not favorable to Terran as of current understanding. Put it in another way, Terran rather want to roll the dice than to play in a disadvantage manner.
All proxy variations have one common point, and that is to favor early tech over expansion. This is drastically different to the standard Reaper expand. As mentioned earlier, there are three types of proxy builds. The proxy Barracks with one (or two) Reaper and have a Factory built in base is what I like to call the “baseline” build. The other proxy variations are based on this build. This is how the basic build order looks like:
14 – Supply Depot
15 – Barracks (proxy)
16 – Refinery
17 – Refinery
@100% Barracks – Reaper and Orbital Command
20 – Supply Depot
@100 gas – Factory
This then can branch out to many things (vod linked):
- Marauder follow up and Cyclone
- 1-1-1 with 4x Hellion drop
- 1-1-1 with 2x Cyclone drop
- Two Reapers then 1-1-1 4x Widow drop
A simple way to look at this seemingly “random” build is to perceive it as a Reaper expand then put down a Factory. The difference is that you invest on the second Refinery early to get your Factory before your expansion. Similar to Reaper expand then Factory, you have a wide range of options with a 1-1-1 set up, or you can even go for a Reactor Factory for Cyclones. The timing of whatever variation you choose is clearly earlier than the same variation you do with a standard Reaper expand. This forces Protoss to react to what Terran could possibly do, and this shifts the initiative to the Terran’s side. This is the opposite of the standard script whereby Protoss have the initiative to dictate how the early game is going to play out. In short, the proxy build shifts the early game initiative from Protoss to Terran, and both sides delay their expansions.
The cheese proxy takes advantage of Protoss assuming that it is the default proxy build after they scouted no Barracks in Terran’s base. If Protoss are unprepared for the Reactor Cyclone, they are pretty dead. Conversely, the near base proxy takes advantage of Protoss over-prepared for the proxy. This set of proxy variations is the current Terran build choices in the metagame.
Using proxy to solve the disadvantage of standard builds is something new to me. Instinct tells me the proxy metagame is unlikely to persist for too long, because Terran should eventually have one to two builds that they are confident in for this metagame. Ideally, it is a build that can force Protoss to invest in other things instead of a Nexus at 4:00, and it has to be flexible enough to deal with various early aggression. It is possible that Terran still go for early tech but with the buildings in their base. Alternatively, we may see the metagame goes in a full circle, and Terran go back to the standard Reaper expand into 1-1-1.