Maru is systematic in how he wants to play in different stages of TvZ. In this post, I am going to discuss how Maru approach the TvZ match up.
Although Maru just got knocked out of the GSL semi-final, he is still the best Terran in the world now. People attribute his defeat against Trap to his lack of diversity in builds and strategies. To me, it seems that he believed the build and strategy he was using was better than other “curve ball” options. This approach can be observed in his TvZ games, where he has a fixed set of builds and strategies. The table below shows a quick overview of Maru’s preferences in his recent TvZ games (in reverse chronological order).
*One Barracks got forced to cancel.
**The game ended early.
All vods below are timestamped to better demonstrate what I am discussing.
Proxy two Barracks and 16 Refinery Reaper expand are the only openings Maru uses. This is not a surprise, as almost everyone mainly uses these two openings in TvZ. Command Centre first is always an option, and you can also make multiple Marines instead of a Reaper to hunt Overlords (see vod below). Map does not appear to predict which opening Maru uses. The key takeaway is Maru does not do unorthodox opening.
Maru only uses 1-1-1 variations for his builds. Previously, we can categorise builds into 1-1-1 variations and 2-1-1, but 2-1-1 is pretty much dead since early 2017. Interestingly, Maru was the only one that made 2-1-1 work in 2018 when he won every GSL of that year. As shown in the table, the 1-1-1 variations are always reactor Hellions plus a unit from the Starport. Terran players have been doing this since forever.
Like many other Terran players, Maru favored Battlecruiser for his Starport tech two months ago. While the 1-1-1 options (i.e., build) are not limited by the opening used, the build used is clearly predictive of the composition. This is consistent with my conceptual article about build order blocks, whereby I mentioned that there is a natural fit between certain builds and compositions. As you can see from the table above, Maru always went for mech when he picked Battlecruiser. He preferred to use Viking or/and Liberator for bio.
It is worth pointing out that Maru rarely did a run-by with his Hellions to trade for Drones (see first vod below for an exception). He played the normal control style by parking the Hellions at the edge of the creep (see second vod below). Overall, judging from Maru’s openings, builds, and tactical choices, it is fair to conclude his goal is to minimise risk and progress to the mid game without being behind.
There is no doubt that Maru is adept at both bio and mech, but the data suggests he is moving away from mech to use bio more frequently. In the video below, Maru himself said that he believed bio is better than mech in TvZ now.
In TvZ, Terran usually get the third Command Centre before the second and third Barracks. But Terran can alternatively get the additional Barracks first for a timing attack with Stim, and Maru mixed this in occasionally. See below vods for examples.
For the standard third Command Centre before additional Barracks, Maru pretty much always does the standard +1/+1 move out with two Medivacs of Marines to clear creep. He then does one of the following attacks. The first kind, which has long been the standard, is to have another pair of Medivacs with Marines for a multipronged attack. The second one is to do a push with bio and two Siege Tanks (loaded in four Medivacs). The push is not to hit a timing with a specific upgrade, but it is to expend the few Siege Tanks you produce in the early-to-mid game transition period (see vods below). This is because the Siege Tanks are mainly produced as an insurance when you transition from 1-1-1 to bio production, and they have little value in mid game unless you do a big bio Siege Tank push with +2/+2 in the mid game. You can read more about this support tech switch in this article. Generally, Widow Mine is the preferred choice for aoe cover for bio, so you will not make more Siege Tanks in the mid game. Siege Tank is an option when opponent is Roach heavy.
The next stage of Maru’s plan is to counter opponent’s Lair tech choices. When Zerg goes for Mutalisk, Maru would defend on four bases and produce Thors. He then makes a push when he has secured at least four bases (see vod below). It is relatively difficult to gain value from drops against Zerglings and Mutalisks.
If opponent skips Lair tech (i.e., go straight to Hive tech) and stays on Zerglings and Banelings in the mid game, Maru would do multipronged attack with drops (see vods below). Queens and Spores are the only anti-air, so drop is a good option.
In the past, we categorise mech into “standard” mech and battle mech, but players now combine both styles. Terran usually would first produce a mobile battle mech force with Cyclones and Hellions, and these units are used to control the map. Unlike the old battle mech style, the current approach transitions from Cyclones to Siege Tanks and Thors. If a Battlecruiser build was used, players can include Battlecruisers as part of the main composition. Specifically, players have the option to keep making Battlecruisers or stop at two to three. It is tough on Zerg’s side to know whether they should invest heavily in Corruptors. Maru played a very standard mech style in the mid game. The only note worthy point about his mid game with mech is his preference for continuous Battlecruiser production.
People always talk about the composition for late game, but I rarely hear people discuss how to transition to the desired composition. Maru does this very well. He would continue to produce the mid game bio composition to secure more bases and put down more late game production buildings (e.g., more Starports). Then, he would slowly trade away the bio by doing one-way-trip drops in Zerg’s bases. Maru replenishes his supply with the late game units he desires. See vod below for an example.
Regardless whether Zerg chose Ultralisk or Broodlord tech, Maru’s goal is to slow push the most vulnerable Zerg base. The difference is the composition used. Maru prioritises Liberators against Ultralisks, and he slowly adds Ghosts into the mix. His answer for Broodlords and supporting spellcasters is mass nuke. The rest of the army is mainly Vikings, Liberators, and a small group of bio. Maru would plant multiple nukes at the edge of Zerg’s territory, and his Vikings and Liberators are just there to support the Ghosts. His bio forces would do an attack on the other side of the map at the same time. The game is won by slowly denying Zerg from mining. See the vod below.
Zerg usually use Broodlord rather than Ultralisk against mech. Maru’s approach against Broodlord and friends (make it sound less scary) has changed in the last two months. Two months ago, he went full sky Terran with Battlecruisers, Liberators, and Vikings. See vods below.
However, Maru uses Thors, Liberators, and Ghosts against Broodlords and friends now (see first vod below). Mass nukes is still the centre piece of his late game strategy to slowly push down a Zerg base. Fully upgraded High Impact Payload mode Thors are effective against Broodlords. It may seem counter intuitive to not make Vikings against Broodlords, but recent games have shown how ineffective Vikings can be against Vipers, Infestors, and Corruptors (see second vod below). Maru’s approach makes sense, but I hate it as a spectator. Boring and slow…
It is ironic that Blizzard buff the range of Thor for TvP (and TvT), but its impact is only felt in TvZ now. Let me quote what Blizzard said for this change:
We’ve received feedback that TvP late-game still feels Protoss-favored. We believe that by further pushing the Thor’s anti-Massive role, we can open up other late-game TvP options, such as ranged Liberators and Battlecruisers.
Additionally, we’d like for Thors to be slightly more powerful at dislodging enemy Liberators, which we believe will reduce the importance of air control in TvT and promote mid/late-game interaction.
People were mocking Blizzard for buffing Thor’s range along with several things of Protoss when TvP was considered Protoss favored (for reference). Eight months have gone by since this patch went live, and I have yet witnessed how this Thor change matters in TvP. But of course it maybe due to my poor understanding of the game that I do not see the brilliance of it.
The other ironic thing about late game TvZ is how Ghosts are produced for nukes not snipe. The Steady Targeting (i.e., snipe) was designed to be the answer against late game Zerg units, but this ability is rarely used. This ability is difficult to balance, because it can be broken if it’s impactful. Nevertheless, I hope Blizzard looks into this ability when they release their annual balance revamp this year.
I’m going to end this post by addressing what people said about Maru’s defeat against Trap (refer to the start of the post). As you can see in this post, Maru essentially plays the same thing over and over again in TvZ. The criticism on Maru’s monotonic opening and build choices is essentially a criticism on the lack of diversity in Terran builds in TvP. Of course, you can always do different builds, but using something different for the sake of it does not automatically increase the likelihood of winning. The same criticism was given to INnoVation three months ago when he used more or less the same TvP build for a stretch of games. A friend who doesn’t watch StarCraft II often pointed out to me that every TvP game looks the same. Indeed, Terran players always use a Reaper expand into 1-1-1, and then they transition to 3-1-1 and power up on two bases. They move out when they have Stim, Combat Shield, +1 Infantry attack, and two Medivacs. It is unappealing for both players and spectators. I had discussed this issue in-depth six months ago. Unless there are some major changes or enlightening innovations, I expect to see Terran sticking to this framework.
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