TvP: A Stabilising Match Up

GSL and WCS are picking up pace, and IEM Katowice is running now. The recent games show some interesting new trends in the Terran versus Protoss match up.

Background

Terran versus Protoss is the most talked about match up now. Any discussion about the balance of it turns into a battle of “Terran whining” versus “Protoss claiming Terran whining”. Balance aside, it is clear that Terran and Protoss players are playing differently to what they did two months ago.

I want this to be a continuation of my last TvP article, so they capture how the metagame evolves. In that article, I wrote about how Terran shift away from the conventional Stim move out timing, and players hit earlier or later timings instead. The trend to move away from the conventional Stim timing sort of persists, but players are also experimenting other approaches.

Early game

At the end of the last TvP article, I said: “I don’t think TvP is as bad as many say, but the early game can definitely improve. Specifically, regarding the two points brought up by Blizzard, they are “considering attacking this issue from two angles, both by weakening proxy openers and making macro openers more robust.” I doubt proxy is an issue, as its popularity is at its lowest since its rise to prominence last year.”

Blizzard and I basically agreed that the early game was the main concern to many issues discussed about the match up. Blizzard’s answer to the identified issue is to increase the build time of Adept by three seconds in the last patch. This is a nerf to Protoss’ ability to use an Adept early on to delay Terran’s expansion. I believe this is an underrated change to the match up holistically, because it stabilises the early game and opens up options for Terran. This is evident by the fact that proxy strategies, which are the consequence of a perceived disadvantageous early game, are uncommon now. Terran players found the match up frustrating, because they often could not start the game on equal footing and play builds they planned at the basic level. Now, Terran can expand, and this stabilises the match up. We see many more expand versus expand builds now than what we had two months ago.

General approaches

Early timing

I mentioned in the TvP article that Terran opt for early and delayed timing. It appears that Terran have stopped using delayed timing but continued to use early timing. Overall, the early timing with Tank and Banshee is relatively easy to execute compared to other options Terran have for the match up, so it is not surprising that casual players use that often on ladder. The basic idea is simple, you do whatever opening that gets on two bases, and then you go for 1-1-1 with Banshee and Tank. This can be done with proxy openings too.

One reason the Tank and Banshee timing build stays is that it interacts well with Protoss’ Twilight Council first tech path, which is one of the most popular choices after one Gateway expand. Protoss get Blink research early and control the map with Stalkers while expanding to get a third. The Banshee and Tank timing hits before Blink is done, and this is one of the key considerations of this build. It is worth mentioning that Protoss have also made adjustments against this strategy. Robotic Facility as the first tech choice is gaining popularity as a counter to this push. Immortal’s range was buff way back in Wings of Liberty to specifically counter the old school one base 1-1-1 push, so it is an intuitive answer.

For the same reasons, there are other builds that are designed to hit a timing early. The Combat Shield with Tank timing is perhaps the most popular one. The two vods below are some examples. Special’s game is relatively straightforward, as it shows the build with a standard expansion build. TY’s started off with a proxy, and then he invested in anti-air against Stargate tech before he went for a Combat Shield timing. The reasoning behind the timing is still the same, as he simply delayed his Combat Shield timing in relative to Protoss’ delayed Blink.

Go late game

On the flip side, some do not plan to hit a timing and decide to go all out to defend instead. There is no clearly defined goals, as the aim is to simply expand  and out-play opponent in the late game. Unlike many Terran who tried and failed with this approach, TY is having success with sophisticated late game army in TvP (watch the series in vod below). The late game composition is mainly bio, Liberator, and Ghost. It is interesting that Tempest, which supposedly the counter against range Liberator, is not utilised as much after the nerf. I think it is still Protoss’ best answer against a Liberator-oriented late game army.

Back to “standard”

For a long time, Reaper expand into 1-1-1 (any variation) then 3-1-1 Stim move out with Medivac is the standard TvP build. This general framework is again the standard, and this has much to do with Terran being able to stabilise in the early game. While this is considered the standard, there is no particularly strong build that stands out. Specifically, the issue I highlighted in the last TvP article is not exactly resolved, and that is, Terran’s move out with Stim does not achieve much.

There is one notable detail in the “updated” standard. Raven is slowly becoming a staple in the early game now. I read people mentioning that Raven is a good choice, because it keeps you safe from Dark Templar and you can kill Observer. Although Raven does provide these utilities, I don’t think these are the main reasons to get a Raven. Logically, we have Dark Templar and Observer in TvP since day 1, but Terran never want to invest in a Raven for these reasons. An investment in Raven for these mentioned utilities is not worth it.

I believe there are two main reasons, with one being more directly related to its utility and the other being a result of a greater phenomenon. The utility reason revolves around the eventual push that Terran almost always do with bio during a supposedly power spike in the mid game. Raven’s Interference Matrix and Anti-Armor Missile are strong tools in that situation. Watch INnoVation’s games in the two vods below.

I will discuss the other reason in the next section.

Dilemma of Starport

To explain the dilemma with Starport, I have to lay down the background of it. The units in Starport can be categorised into attack, defence, and others if you go for 1-1-1. Medivac, Banshee, and Liberator are attack options, while Viking is a defence option. Battlecruiser is an extreme case, and Raven does not have immediate value. Terran’s early game attacking/harassment options usually involve the use of the Starport unit (e.g., any type of harassment drop with a Medivac). If you have been following me, you should know that I mentioned multiple times that Terran do not have a good early game attacking/harassment option.

Widow Mine drop was the go-to option as it forced detection and dictates opponent’s army positioning, but this changed when Blizzard made Widow Mine visible when it was under cooldown in the redesign patch at the end of 2017. You can read about the history and evolution of Widow Mine drop in TvP in this article. Liberator is generally a bad harassment option by itself unless you have another attack elsewhere to stretch opponent’s attention and unit positioning. Despite its popularity for a short period of time, Banshee cannot really fill the role as a harassment option in macro versus macro games. All these factors suggest that Starport in general is not a good investment early game harassment/attack.

This also suggests that Starport is a defensive investment. Is it a good idea to get Starport simply for Viking as a defence option? Viking is used as a counter against Stargate (i.e., Oracle), and… probably that is it. You can argue that Viking can land and do the early timing with Tanks and Marines, but it is an inferior option for that purpose to warrant an investment for that. Then, if Protoss do not go for a Stargate tech early on, why do Terran want to put down a Starport? Therefore, Starport is an awkward choice in TvP early game.

Going back to the second reason for getting a Raven with 1-1-1, I argue that it is a result of Terran not having better ways to get value out of the early Starport. In game one of INnoVation versus Hurricane (refer to the vod above), Hurricane did not go for a Stargate tech, and INnoVation made a Raven but no Viking. INnoVation later moved out with standard bio with Stim and Medivac along with that Raven. The Factory did not produce units either. This build essentially is tech-ing early to Starport with 1-1-1 after expanding for nothing but a Raven.  Importantly, Raven does not have immediate impact, and its utilities with the later push are not great enough to justify such a big investment in the early game. Why should Terran not just put down three Barracks (i.e., three rax) first for a bigger bio force, which is going to be stronger than a small bio force with a Raven? This is because Terran cannot defend against different options Protoss have in the early game effectively if Terran have only bio with three Barracks (addressing a recent thread on /r/allthingsterran). This is evident from the way INnoVation played with the same build in the two vods above that he adjusted by making counter units (e.g., Viking, Cyclone, and Siege Tank) with the 1-1-1 set up defensively. Hence, 1-1-1 is like a defensive Swiss army knife.

Another benefit of Starport is to let Protoss know that you go for 1-1-1, which has the potential for an early all in with the popular Banshee and Tank timing. However, Starport is not a necessity of an early timing, and this is supported by the rise of the Combat Shield timing push I mentioned earlier. In game one of SpeCial versus MCanning (linked earlier in this article), SpeCial executed the timing with a 2-1-0 (i.e., no Starport).

This begs the question: Should Terran build a Starport early on?

As implied by the /r/allthingsterran thread I linked earlier, people perceive Starport as a mandatory progression from Factory, and you either go for three Barracks (i.e., no early Factory) or 1-1-1. I believe much of the defensive value with a 1-1-1 set up comes from the Factory, so Terran could in fact just tech to Factory but not Starport. Bunny’s three Barracks build with early Factory is a perfect demonstration of this conjecture, whereby it is essentially a three Barracks standard build but mixes in an early Factory for defence. In the same vein that early Starport has low value, proxy Starport is another way to maximise the return on investment of an early Starport with 1-1-1. In the vod below, Cure put down a proxy Starport for a Medivac to bait Stats’ units to go to the main, while Cure could run his Hellions into the natural. The Starport flew back to Terran’s base after making a single Medivac, but Protoss would expect more follow up attack from the investment of a proxy Starport (e.g., a Liberator). Nothing was produced from the Starport when it was travelling, so this implies that Starport production at that stage is not a must.

Other interesting stuff

There are a few other worth mentioning things. An obvious one is the popularity of Colossus in the mid game. The changes to Terran’s mid game timing attack approach also force Protoss to adapt their own power spike time frame. The previously popular Gateway heavy mid game with High Templar tech is cycling out of the metagame in favor of Colossus. The Phoenix and Colossus mid game is gaining traction too. The various early timing builds are designed against Twilight Council builds, so it is logical that Protoss opt for other tech choices such as the Stargate.

Mech units are becoming a big part of the Terran late game army. Liberator, Siege Tank, and Thor are taking more than half of Terran’s army supply, and the bio is sort of the “support” ironically. The game one of TY versus herO in a vod I linked above is an example of Tank and Liberator with bio in the late game. The vod below also shows Thor being added into the mix.

Thor is still in a weird spot in TvP. If Terran go for a more conventional bio composition, Thor doesn’t seem to fit too well. One of the reasons is the investment needed for mech upgrade. A way to circumvent it is to adjust the army composition. uthermal used Marine and Tank with Thor in TvP by upgrading mech attack too (see vod below), the heavy Tank count aligns well with the investment on mech upgrade. But Thor seems rather redundant for the composition.

Overall, it appears that match up is rediscovering its “standard game” after the patch stabilised the match up to allow Terran to expand normally.


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10 thoughts on “TvP: A Stabilising Match Up

  1. As always, interesting read, thanks Max. I saw people complain a lot about zealot being too strong and suggesting removing impact damage from charge and/or increasing cost of the research. Personally I think charge should not be changed (since it will affect pvz/pvp), the main issue is that zealots are very tanky especially if protoss have upgrade lead – which is always the case. Maybe decreasing nexus start energy to zero could be a nice change, so maybe protoss economy/upgrades would be a bit less ‘snowball-y’. Just for the reference my main race is protoss, though I enjoy playing terran quite a bit too.

    1. Chargelot is my most disliked unit since HotS. It is most powerful when you just a-move in an engagement. Warp-in Zealot with Warp Prism in Terran’s main in late game is very effective and requires very little attention. Compared to Stalker, Marine, and Zergling, it is not an unit that better players can differentiate themselves well. I don’t think there is an elegant way to address this issue.

      Changing the starting Nexus energy is a big deal, so it exponentially nerf everything a little. The debate on things like Chronoboost etc. is so hard to address, because these things can be categorised as basic racial asymmetry.

      1. I agree, from that point of view charge should require manual cast, have bigger cooldown or have a drawback just as stimpack does. Warp & forget thing is just really silly, you can never do that with terran drop. Or even with other units that protoss can warp – adepts deal next to no damage to structures and should be ‘microed’ to hit workers, stalkers are more expensive and volatile units, warping them would be more of a commitment, plus the deal much less damage.
        I do think thou that in current state zealots are very similar to zerglings in a way they are utilized for harass or to setup surround, and protoss players rely on that a lot, especially in the lategame.

        1. A draw back like stimpack! Wow such a good point.
          In my eternal quest for absolute truth. The zealot balance come from the production time 18 for 2 marine with a reactor and 27 for one zealot. So I run some test with LoTV unit tester and marine over power zealot.
          So after 90 secondes of production marine over power zealot like a snowball (with a inversely proportional curve) for the rest of the game. If you add upgrade over time, The gap is growing in favor of terran.

          Then come the chronoboost effect. I would need more test to see how it effect in game with the economy and production time in the balance.

    1. If you look on aligulac’s TvP winrate chart you’ll see that it has indeed improved a bit compared to what it was before.

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