Defying conventional knowledge, Mech is on the rise in the match up against Protoss in the pro scene. This has potential to be the greatest metagame change ever in Starcraft 2. I want to discuss several interesting aspects of this revolution.
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Mech suck in TvP. Well, at least this is true before the last GSL Super Tournament. It was a common knowledge that bio is superior to mech in TvP, and pro players rarely used mech against Protoss. There were some one-off examples, but they usually failed horribly.
Why didn’t mech work in TvP? While there was a consensus that mech didn’t work well in TvP, people often cite different reasons. In my opinion, the different reasons come down to two key factors:
- Protoss have several good units against mech at different stages.
- Terran could not compete Protoss in the late game.
Immortal is the kryptonite of mech. Disruptor technically out-range Siege Tank. Zealot warp-in with Warp Prism is effective against an immobile mech army. Tempest is a good answer to turtle mech. High Templar is pretty good against mech. It feels like using a Bulbasaur against a Charmander.
When Terran go mech, it is almost certain that the game goes into the late stage. Carrier is Protoss’ go-to option in the late game against mech. The vod below (a Heart of the Swarm game between Bbyong and Zest) demonstrates how one-sided it is.
There was a short period of time in the early patch 4.0 of Legacy of the Void when Terran were using mech against Protoss. The patch increased Stalkers’ damage and decreased their attack speed proportionally, and that made Stalkers overpower (read more about it here). Disruptor was redesigned to detonate upon contact with a unit, and that was very strong against Terran in the mid game. Terran players were desperate enough to gave up bio and gave mech a try. Terran usually opened up with Reactor Cyclone, because that was the most proactive style that transition well to a mech composition. While the use of battle mech (i.e., Cyclone heavy) in the early game appears to give a strong start, Terran inevitably transition to a “standard” mech composition with Siege Tank as the focus. As a result, the previously known limitations of mech against Protoss were not resolved, and Terran players quickly dropped mech and went back to bio again. I had discussed about this in a previous article.
Then, why does mech work now?
If you asked people right when Maru won his fourth GSL title a month ago whether mech works in TvP, most would say no. I am one of these people. This is because I immediately draw on my previous understanding of mech in TvP. Along the way, I make an assumption that mech is mainly Siege Tank and Hellion/Hellbat oriented, because that is what I had seen for so many years. Further, as mentioned earlier, Terran tried battle mech already, but it did not work as well as Terran hoped.
Impact of Cyclone
Contrary to this series of careless assumptions, the current mech does not resemble what we have seen before. The current mech is Cyclone oriented. The current Cyclone is of a different design to the one when Terran tried to incorporate Cyclone in early patch 4.0. The old Cyclone is a frontal unit that essentially an a-move unit, while the current Cyclone has more finesse and relies on lock-on and micro. We have already witnessed how the differences of the two Cyclone designs play out differently in TvZ, but are the differences sufficient in overturning the longstanding deficits of mech in TvP?
There are two note worthy differences between these two Cyclone designs. First, the old Cyclone wants to get close to the opposition, while the current Cyclone wants to maintain a distance from the opposition. The old Cyclone is like Hellbat and Zealot, whereby it is effective as long as it is attacking something. It is down to Protoss to kite the old Cyclone when Terran want to engage. In contrast, the current Cyclone wants to lock-on to Protoss’ units and pull back. Protoss is now the one who wants to close the distance to take the Cyclone down. This change twists the notion that Protoss have good units against mech on its head. Immortal was particularly effective against mech in the past, because it beats the old Cyclone in a head on battle. It is also strong in breaking a defensive mech with Siege Tank. However, the current Cyclone does not have to engage directly with the Immortal. It simply lock-on to whatever Protoss units then maintain a certain distance. Below vod is a snapshot of how Terran want to engage with Cyclone.
Second, the current Cyclone does not become trash in the mid game like the old Cyclone. Transitioning to an effective mid game army was the weakness of the old Cyclone (for reference). The current Cyclone reduces the reliance of Siege Tank and Hellbat in the mid game, and hence, it indirectly minimises the problem of unit effectiveness I mentioned earlier. The proactive style of the current Cyclone also forces Protoss to match Terran’s unit counts, so Protoss cannot just tech to the best anti-mech composition they can possibly get straightaway. Game 4 between Maru and Stats in the recent GSL Super Tournament demonstrates these two ideas well through out the game (see vod below).
Late game army
Another reason why mech fares better than before is that the late game army battle between Terran and Protoss is no longer one sided. Battlecruiser got buff and Carrier got nerf. Battlecruiser was so bad, but it is now an option in the late game. A good example is game 5 of the last GSL final between Maru and Classic (read more here). Carrier is no longer the automatic win condition against mech.
I know that the spotlight is on Cyclone now, but there are some interesting alternatives with Banshee. Banshee oriented mech builds usually do not mass produce Cyclone, because the two units do not complement each other well. It is not just difficult to micro Banshee and Cyclone together in a group, Banshee does not fit well with Cyclone’s movement when it uses the lock-on ability. It is probably too difficult to split the two and micro effectively for both. Furthermore, Banshee do well with pushes after early harassment, and this general usage does not fit well with Cyclone’s “no big head on battle” style. It is not surprising that Banshee builds usually are Siege Tank heavy and focus on harassment. GuMiho is particularly fond of Banshee, see vod below.
Protoss are surprised by mech. Maru versus Stats in the recent GSL Super Tournament is the first time I see the new mech in TvP (vod). Maru started with a rather normal strategy using bio in game 1, but he used mech in the next three games. It was quite clear that Stats was caught off guard when he played the new mech for the first time in game 2, but I’m very impressed how quickly he adjusted in game 3. His answer to Maru’s Cyclone oriented mech is Stalker and Disruptor. I have not come across other notable games that show how Protoss react to the new mech. There are other mech games recently, but Protoss either are not aware that Terran are going mech (example) or Terran are not doing the Cyclone oriented mech (example). As of now, I doubt Protoss have a well polished answer.
The challenge is to figure out what composition Terran want to go. Terran almost always go for 1-1-1 with Reaper expand, and this production structure sets up for virtually anything that involves tech. Terran can make Raven, Cyclone, Viking, Tank, Medivac, Widow Mine, you name it, and there is still no certainty whether that is going to be mech or bio. One can only be certain when two more Barracks or Factory are put down for a 3-1-1 or 1-3-1 standard convergent point. Even when you know Terran go mech, you aren’t sure whether it is turtle mech or a proactive version with Cyclone. Protoss’ composition should be different against the two styles.
The perception of mech in TvP shifts from unplayable to doable in a month. Some questions remain. Does mech work because of the surprise factor? Is the trend of mech going to continue? What is the best composition for Protoss?
Since the thought that Terran could go mech is in the mind of Protoss now, I believe a big part of the surprise factor is gone. With that being said, there is an uncertainty factor as to what composition Terran are going for, and that favors Terran for sure. More importantly, if surprise contributes to the recent “alright” results of mech, it got one wondering how well it is going to do if Protoss are elaborately preparing for it. I highly doubt mech is going to replace bio, but I consider the revolution a success if it is used in one third of the games.
I think whether the trend is going to continue depends more on Protoss than on Terran. Terran have basically lay out the cards, but Protoss have not shown a consistent pattern as to what they believe is the optimal response to the new mech. I was a little surprise that TY did not use mech against Protoss recently, because he is a player whom I expect to be more adventurous with composition. TY was the pioneer for sky composition back in 2016 and one of the early adopters of the current battle mech in TvZ. I wonder if this indicates his verdict of mech in TvP.
Quite a number of you asked me for a mech build in TvP. I don’t think there is a mech build per se, because the most effective “mech” build is to use an ambiguous build to keep Protoss guessing. My personal favorite ambiguous build is the one Maru used in the vod below. He used a typical Widow Mine drop build then researched Mag-Field Accelerator upgrade for a Cyclone and Marine push. The upgrade is a staple for mech, but it also can be used simply for the push with a bio transition (for reference).
Overall, I am cautiously optimistic about the current mech. I don’t expect it to be the main thing, but I believe it has a place in the match up. Can’t wait to see more players try this composition in the pro scene.
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