Blizzard recently announced that Cyclone is reverted to the pre-patch 3.8 version in another balance update. This is a bold and worrying move.
Cyclone’s armor was reduced from 1 to 0 in the original yearly balance update proposal. One month later, Blizzard took a completely different approach by essentially “re-designing” the unit. This drastic change in direction in such a short period of time is worrying because it shows Blizzard do not have a clear idea what they want to do with Cyclone.
The issue can be broken down into two parts. The first is the identification of problem, and the second is the proposed solution to address the identified problem.
The problems identified in the original proposal and the update are different.
Original proposal: “Currently in TvT, Cyclones can trade very efficiently against most other early-game options. Removing 1 armor makes Reapers and Marines much stronger against Cyclones while not affecting Cyclone strength against units like Marauders and Siege Tanks. This should make them less effective to mass early on, but they’ll still have value if mixed with other units. Cyclone effectiveness versus Zerglings and Queens will also move in the Zerg player’s favor, so we’ll be watching closely.”
Update: “In patch 3.8, we changed the Cyclone into a front-line unit that could provide early-game firepower. While the meta has shifted back-and-forth since then, the frontline Cyclone did its job well, but there are concerns that early-game Terran strategies, especially for proxies, have become almost too varied for opponents to handle. At the same time, there is still room to give Terrans a way to trade against opponents in the mid and late game without going all-in. Additionally, just before 3.8 came out, we started seeing more innovative uses of the Cyclone in pro-level matches. For these reasons, we want to experiment with reinstating the pre-3.8 Cyclone.”
While both highlight Cyclone’s early game efficiency as the fundamental concern, they are pointing at different consequences stemmed from this early game efficiency as the problems. The original proposal pin pointed that Cyclone’s efficiency dominates other options in the early game, especially in TvT. In contrast, the update brought up Cyclone’s efficiency contributes to the variance of proxy builds, which is implied as a negative state to the match up. Further, the two points are addressing two different match ups, whereby the former primarily concerns TvT but the latter specifically limits to TvP.
The mentioned phenomenons somewhat echo my sentiments on these two issues. In this article, I highlighted the concern that Cyclone dominates TvT early game so much that other options are hands down inferior. Although we identify the same problem, we propose different solutions. I will talk about this later.
In this other article, I lay out the different perspectives of the TvP proxy metagame, and I identify creating information gap underlies the strength of these proxy builds. The information gap creates uncertainty as to what Terran do, and Protoss have to prepare to different plausible threats. Blizzard and I observe the same phenomenon and identify the same challenge Protoss face. However, we disagree on the implications. Contrary to Blizzard’s stand that proxy builds are “almost too varied for [Protoss] to handle”, I perceive it as a metagame outcome of the asymmetry in the “standard” TvP script. If both are correct, then Blizzard are focusing on the symptoms, while I am more concerned of the causes.
Some have asked me why Blizzard single out Cyclone for the variance of proxy builds. Put it simply, the proxy play style is a lot less effective if there is no Cyclone. Out of all the plausible proxy variations Terran can do, Cyclone (specifically Reactor Cyclone) requires immediate reaction, and it means Protoss have limited time to confirm the build before they react. If Protoss do not scout the proxy early enough, they cannot deduce Reactor Cyclone out of the plausible variations. It is the plausibility of immediate threat that makes proxy builds shine. This is comparable to the range of proxy options Protoss could do.
A straightforward fix to the TvT issue is to tweak Cyclone’s stats. Blizzard’s answer is to decrease the base armor from 1 to 0, while mine is to increase the supply from 3 to 4. The rationale behind my proposal is mainly aimed at mass Cyclones (link to the same article if you haven’t read my arguments for it). I acknowledge that Cyclone can be dominating over other units in the TvT early game, but I have reservation in decreasing its strength individually. This is because Cyclone plays an important role in defending against early pressure (read more about it here). With that being said, I think decreasing the armor from 1 to 0 is something worth trying, as it seems like a reasonable change for the observed problem. I am uncertain how this change affects TvP in the early game, because the decrease of one armor may not be that big of a difference against Stalker and Adept. This then leads to the latest proposal Blizzard introduced.
In the latest update, the current Cyclone is removed from the game to address the TvP proxy metagame. If the intention is to remove the variance of proxy builds, this change is very effective. This of course also addresses the TvT problem, because the current Cyclone no longer exists. However, I am extremely concerned with the heavy handed approach to resolve the two problems. It occurs to me that there are two different issues that may require two different answers.
I believe a huge majority agree that Cyclone is too commanding in TvT early game, so the discussion should revolve around what is the best way to address it. However, the issue with TvP proxy metagame is still up for debate. First of all, it is a rather new metagame trend, and Protoss players are coming up with interesting ways to deal with it. For example, Protoss players are testing with stealing one gas in Terran’s base to prevent Terran from tech-ing up for the proxy. It is so new that Blizzard themselves did not even consider it in their original proposal a month ago. The other worth noting thing is that the strategy appears to be limited only to the top end pro players, so this suggests Blizzard are balancing the game with a focus on the top end players. There is nothing right or wrong about this, as it is a matter of design philosophy.
More importantly, Blizzard may have overlooked the big picture when they narrow down on the symptom and not evaluate the cause. My understanding is that the proxy strategy is to mess up the “standard” TvP script, which seems to be considered unfavourable to Terran by the top players like Maru and TY (read the last section of this article for the basis of this argument). Assuming there is a hint of truth in this assessment, the latest change may have removed the existing solution from the arsenal of top Terran players. The new (or the old) Cyclone is good in its own way, but it fits a very different role in the early game. It is unclear how the lock-on reliant Cyclone fare in comparison to the existing one, because many changes since patch 3.8 are balanced with the current Cyclone in mind.
Another factor that does not get discussed enough is the fact that Protoss have to react by defending against a Cyclone attack creates an important strategic dynamic for the match up. There is a pre-determined priority player or race in every non-mirror match up due to race asymmetry. The priority player is determined by whether the other player must react defensively to her or his attacking choices. Imagine this, two players decide to do an all-in or some sort attacks, and these two builds cross path in a weird way. If the players do the same two builds repeatedly, they eventually realise one side has to defend against the other side because one’s attack is stronger than the other’s attack. In other words, even though one player wants to do an attack build, s/he must make adjustments to be the defender as the other player can “out-attack” her or him. Protoss have the priority against Terran in the early game before the current Cyclone was introduced. Terran must defend if both sides choose to attack early on, but Cyclone creates an interesting dynamic that these pre-determined relative roles become more fluid.
Blizzard have a history in providing options for different play styles for each race. Oracle is a good example. Oracle was originally designed in Heart of the Swarm to tackle the issue that Protoss had to be the defender early on in Wings of Liberty due to their lack of offensive options. Hence, it seems to me that the current approach is rather heavy handed. To make the match up even less dynamic, other Terran offensive options are nerf in other recent patches. For example, a combination of Stalker buff and Widow Mine nerf in patch 4.0 has hugely decreased the effectiveness of Widow Mine drop in TvP. It seems to me that Blizzard are doing the reverse of what they did when they introduced Oracle to improve the strategic limitation of a race in the early game. This is likely to accentuate the corner cutting issue in TvP I had discussed previously.
All in all, Blizzard are spot on with the TvT situation, and it is a matter of testing if they want to adjust the stats. However, I believe Blizzard’s analysis on the TvP proxy situation and their proposed solution have much room for improvement. I often agree with Blizzard’s observed problem but sometime disagree with their solutions. In this case, I disagree with their analyses of the situation itself and their proposed solutions for the identified TvP phenomenon.
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