The Concept of Build Order Blocks

This article introduces a concept that helps to break down how we digest and apply different build orders. This is applicable to all levels.

Introduction

All of us seek to learn the newest builds, but it can be difficult to digest new builds all the time. Most casual players have one build for each match up on ladder, and they sometime want to learn a new build. Many write down the notation for the build they want to learn and try to copy it as much as possible. While memorising the exact time to put down each building and what unit to produce in the correct sequence is the perfect way to go, it is a tall order for many of us. This approach becomes even more challenging when we want to learn multiple builds.

I want to introduce a concept, which I called the build order blocks concept, in this article to address this build order learning challenge. The fundamental idea hinges on the notion of breaking a build order into multiple small blocks. The obvious benefit of breaking down a difficult and long task into small parts is the ease of learning. But, more importantly, the knowledge of each small blocks is transferable when you learn a new build.

I wrote an article about this concept five years ago, and it is hugely influential to many build order discussions I have in TerranCraft. This article is updated with more refined considerations based on the Legacy of the Void changes.

Theoretical foundation

Before I get into the actual discussion, it is important to lay down the theoretical assumptions to the concept of build order blocks. First, this concept is intertwined with the concept of convergent points, which I developed to explain build orders better. A convergent point refers to a benchmark in terms of the number of production buildings you should have based on the number of mining bases you own in order to have an optimum production. The convergent point concept highlights how different builds converge to the same set of production structures. The build order blocks concept makes the same assumption, and hence, the blocks are consisted of the key convergent points.

Second, the build order blocks concept separates openings and builds. People often use opening, build, and build order interchangeably. Although there is no official definition for each, I have my own understanding. A build order is simply the notation of what you build. An opening is the set of precise notation you use at the very start of the game (e.g., 16 Refinery Reaper expand or Command Centre first), and the opening choice is decided before the game starts (i.e., independent to what opponent does). A build is a broad description of the strategic choice in the early game (e.g., Combat Shield timing attack). I had discussed the important implications of conceptually separating them four years ago in this article.

Third, the build order blocks concept assumes sequentiality. All builds start from the same known set of openings. That is, the opening block is always before the build block, and so on.

The major blocks

Every build can be broadly broken down into three main blocks:

  1. Opening
  2. Build
  3. Composition

The image above denotes the three main blocks. As suggested, you start with an opening, then you proceed to a build, and finally you put down the necessary buildings to reach the key convergent point (e.g., 3-1-1) for your desired composition (e.g., bio). I will add minor blocks to the above image later in this article to explain how the concept can be applied.

Opening block

As mentioned earlier, an opening is the set of precise notation you use at the very start of the game. It is also the first block of any build order. For example, a 15 Refinery Reaper expand is an opening:

14 – Supply Depot
15 – Refinery
16 – Barracks
@100% Barracks – Reaper and Orbital Command
@400 mineral – Command Centre (@100% – Orbital Command)
@100 gas – Factory
@100% Reaper – Reactor
@75 mineral – Refinery
@100 mineral – Supply Depot

If you were to write down all the Terran build orders you have seen for the past few months, you would see many of them use this opening. But, importantly, while a 15 Refinery Reaper expand opening was used in these build orders, the subsequent build order notations are different to one another. This suggests two key takeaways.

The first point is how the same opening can be a part of different builds. This means if you have learned a build order that uses a 15 Refinery Reaper opening for example, you can transfer that knowledge to another build order that uses the same opening.

The second point is that openings are closed to perfection for what they are designed for. You don’t see players do something different for the same opening intentionally, unless they need to react to something extreme early on (e.g., Cannon rush). If you were to delay the timing of the Refinery by one supply, it would be a 16 Refinery Reaper opening already. The subsequent notations do not just change, but the difference of one supply in timing for the Refinery has important implications for subsequent events. You can read this article where I highlighted the difference between a 15 and a 16 Refinery Reaper opening in a specific early game situation.

Build block

The build block consists of notations of the early game strategic choice. For example, your build can be a Siege Tank Banshee push, a Battlecruiser rush, a mass Widow Mine drop, or a Mag-Field Accelerator Push, you name it. Although each build has an optimum build order, the notation is relatively flexible compared to the opening block. This is because, at this stage, players are likely required to react to the opposition in some ways. For instance, you wanted to do a Reactor Hellion + Liberator build in TvZ, it is not uncommon to have a Tech Lab on the Starport even though building a Liberator does not require a Tech Lab. The rationale is to bluff the opponent, whose Overlord is likely to check the Terran production at that time. The Terran player could then show the upgrade in progress on the Tech Lab to fake that it is a Banshee build.

The other key aspect of the build block is focusing on adding the structures needed for the build. For example, you are already using the 15 Refinery Reaper expand opening as the base, and you want to use a Reactor Hellion + Liberator build. Since you want to produce a Liberator and Hellions with a Reactor, you know you have to put the Factory on the Reactor and also have a Starport. The 15 Refinery Reaper expand opening already has a Factory and a Reactor, so you just have to swap the add-on accordingly. Then, as your Factory is completed, you build a Starport. This is applying basic logic without getting into specific nuance of builds. The follow up notation from the 15 Refinery Reaper expand opening should be as followed:

@100% Factory – Starport. Swap the Factory onto the Reactor for 2x Hellions. Build a Tech Lab with Barracks
Constant Hellion production 
@100% Starport – Liberator
Build Supply Depot accordingly hereafter

The Tech Lab with Barracks is not a must, but Terran usually have one Reactor and one Tech Lab with a 1-1-1 set up. So, you can make additional changes on top of the necessary structures for the selected build.

The central idea behind the build order blocks concept is that you can plug-and-replace by switching a build block with another. Let’s demonstrate this idea by replacing the Reactor Hellion + Liberator build block with an early two-base push using Siege Tanks and Banshees block. The build requires Marines, Siege Tanks, and Banshees for the push. Hence, you need to have a 1-1-1 basic set up, with a Reactor on the Barracks, a Tech Lab on the Factory, and a Tech Lab on the Starport. The build order should look like the following:

@100% Factory – Tech Lab and Starport
@100% Tech Lab – Siege Tank
@100% Starport – Tech Lab and Refinery
38 – Supply Depot
Build Supply Depot accordingly hereafter
@100% Tech Lab – Banshee
@100% Siege Tank – Siege Tank
@100% Banshee – Banshee

The third Refinery is perhaps the only specific thing that you have to remember for this build, as other Terran builds usually only have two Refineries at this point. It makes sense because you are continuously producing gas heavy units. Thus, when applying this concept to learn new builds, you have to know the necessary structures to produce the units for the build (which is usually obvious), and then memorise the minor adjustments specific to the build if any.

Composition block

The third block applies the convergent point concept, whereby you add the structures to reach the next major convergent point (e.g., 3-1-1). The structures for the next convergent point is contingent on the composition you desire. There is a trend that Terran use ambiguous builds that can branch out to either bio or mech. I had dedicated the metagame build order post last month to highlight this trend.

Using the same example earlier, you can add either two more Barracks for bio (i.e., 3-1-1) or two more Factory for mech (i.e., 1-3-1). At the same time, you will get the necessary upgrade specifically (e.g., Stim for bio) and put down the upgrade buildings (i.e., Engineering Bay or Armory). The image below sums it up.

The minor blocks

The major blocks sum up the key ideas but simplify some details. The minor blocks shown in the image below help to clarify certain details.

Transition block

As mentioned earlier, when you want to move from the build block to the composition block, you add the necessary buildings to reach the key major convergent point. The best way to transition to the main composition varies according to the build you used. Let’s use the two builds I mentioned above as examples. For Reactor Hellion + Liberator, the best way to transition to 3-1-1 is to lift the Factory to build a Reactor/Tech Lab, then build two Barracks with one on the empty Reactor (previously used by the Factory) and the other next to the Factory (swap Barracks onto the add-on when completed). For Siege Tank and Banshee push, the best way to transition to 3-1-1 is to build two Barracks next to the two Tech Labs, and then switch them onto the Tech Labs for bio research.

If one has to memorise the details anyway, then how does this method help me? Of course, it is always better if you can get familiar with every detail. But I recommend working backward based on the general knowledge. For example, for the three Barracks of 3-1-1, you want one Tech Lab and two Reactors in TvZ, but you want two Tech Labs and one Reactor for TvP. These standard set ups should be used as the goal during the transition, and the build order should fall in place nicely.

Match up specific composition block

The match up specific composition block is essentially the later convergent points. After you have made up your mind what composition you want to use in the main composition block, you will have to put down more buildings to provide production needed for the specific composition you want. For example, in TvP, you can go for 5-1-2 with Range Liberator as your favored tech choice. In the same match up, you can also go for 8-1-1 for more a bio heavy multi-prong mobile style.

Other considerations

Natural fit

Although the concept emphasizes the flexibility of plug-and-replace with different blocks, there are some blocks that fit naturally with one another. For example, a 16 Refinery Reaper expand is a better fit than a 15 Refinery Reaper expand for the basic 2-1-1 build. The build requires two Barracks to produce a certain number of Marines early on for the timing, so the 16 Refinery Reaper expand, which has more mineral but less gas than the 15 Refinery Reaper expand, is a natural fit. Further, a 2-1-1 set up with Stim research completed transition naturally to a bio composition.

With that being said, you can still make some adjustments to use a 15 Refinery Reaper expand for 2-1-1. You can also transition to mech from 2-1-1, as demonstrated by ByuN here. But in my opinion, that is sub-optimal.

Proxy

Does this concept apply to proxy strategies? You can think of proxy as a range of openings that involve building the buildings outside of base. The specific notations of the various proxy openings are well refined. The type of proxy opening you pick is going to limit what build you can do subsequently. For example, if you go for three or four Barracks proxy, it leaves little room for a subsequent build due to their all-in nature. In contrast, a two Barracks proxy is designed to apply pressure while you tech up in your main base, and this opens up build options that involve the standard tech tree (i.e., 1-1-1).

Sub-blocks

There are some relatively complex builds that have “more than one” build. My last article is a good example, whereby it uses a Widow Mine drop then a Siege Tank + Raven push. You can still apply the build order block concept by having sub-blocks (green box) like in the image below:

I didn’t list the full notation in the composition block for parsimony reasons.

Generalisability

This concept is applicable for Protoss but less so for Zerg. Protoss has a range of openings that can branch out to different builds too. You can take a look at these two builds written by Gemini, whereby they use the same 16 Gateway 20 Nexus opening:

The same logic applies. You know that you need a Robotic Facility for Disruptor drop, so it is clear what is the first tech building you put down. Similarly, you put down Twilight Council as the first tech building for a Blink build. Both builds reach the same convergent point of having three Gateways, Robotic Facility, Twilight Council, and a third Nexus.

Summary

The concept of build order blocks breaks build orders into small meaningful blocks that help players to learn and apply build orders. The major blocks are as followed:

  1. Opening
  2. Build
  3. Composition

The central tenet of the concept is the plug-and-replace nature of these blocks. You can replace an opening or a build with another. Subsequently, you converge to the key convergent point of the selected composition. Once you understand the concept, you should find it a lot easier to digest a new build you come across. You can break the build down to the major blocks, and this allows you to identify the key features of the build. Your ability to change up your build in game should also improve, as you can replace your planned build block with another build block by putting down the required buildings.

Ending words

Every academic wants to add knowledge that can be built on by others. My contribution to Starcraft is these two intertwined concepts:

  • Convergent points
  • Build order blocks

I want to be clear that I did not create the “convergent points” and the “blocks” per se, but I simply provide a systematic explanation based on observation from countless number of games. I develop the concepts.

I know this is the second and last post of this month, and it is rare that I post only two articles. I spent much time polishing this article. It is extremely hard to express an abstract idea in a clear, simple, and concise manner. Picking the suitable examples is also a challenge.

The other reason for publishing fewer articles this month is that I traveled a little around Sydney with my parents after they attended my graduation ceremony. I received my completion letter in December 2018, but the graduation ceremony is in June 2019. Anyway, I saw a double rainbow for the first time in my life near the Bondi Beach. In awe.


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10 thoughts on “The Concept of Build Order Blocks

  1. Crazy article(in a good way), honestly concepts are pretty clear, and i think this will not only help to understand new builds, but come up with builds of the spot, i will definetaly reread this article in future

  2. Hi, great article!

    I was interested if you apply your methods of breaking down builds in to hierarchical blocks to the area of scouting.
    For example, you mention it’s less useful to memorize builds by timings or supply counts as they are not resiliant to change in reactive gameplay. Likewise, i would think it’s also less useful to memorize timings of scouted buildings because they don’t adapt to the changes in opponents builds to due their reactions.

    There seem to be parallels in builds with scouting and I was imagining some advice like, when scouting the “opening” block of an opponents builds the timings are Ok to know (I check HP on buildings), but it’s less important as the game goes on. And when scouting the “build” or “composition” blocks its more important to look for their convergence points, etc. I’m not sure if this is that applicable as you could argue you can infer an opponents build by the composition of units, but hopefully i’m conveying the idea.

    I was hoping you could write an article on similar concepts you use for effective scouting beyond just timings. Maybe talk about the different critical information you look for in some TvX matchup and what the appropriate response is. I think knowing a build is only half the game. Yes, it’s very important and can get you to maybe masters, but only because very few people can execute builds well. I think the harder more skillful task is to respond appropriately to the information you see when scouting. I find myself making much more mistakes in this area of the game. Sure I could improve my builds, but more so it’s because I’m trying to force some composition (bio) to work again their counter.

    Thanks

    1. I have never thought of applying this concept to scouting. You really got me thinking now. I will certainly take this on board if I were to write a scouting article in the future.

      The challenge in writing an article about reaction is to take into account of the build oneself is using. This implies two things:
      1. Reaction is more accountable in the opening stage than later, because there are several common openings to provide the base for an article (see: https://terrancraft.com/2019/05/09/tvp-securing-expansion-at-the-natural/)
      2. For later stage, it would be practical to give more general direction as to how to react to certain things. I can write something up if there is a specific common build in the metagame. For example, Zerg were studying hard how to counter 2-1-1.

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