TvP: The Timing of the Third Command Centre

There were many good TvP games in recent IEM Katowice. These games showed a shift in the timing of the third Command Centre.

Background

In almost every TvP macro game, Terran would reach a 5-1-1 convergent point with three bases. We can reach this convergent point using virtually countless different combinations of openings and builds. The most commonly used path is as followed:

  1. Reaper expand
  2. 1-1-1
  3. 3-1-1
  4. Third command Centre
  5. Fourth and fifth Barracks

Terran usually does a two base Stim and Medivacs timing using 3-1-1. The goal is to attack Protoss’ third Nexus. This is the baseline for most mainstream TvP builds, and I had written about the basic framework for this recently.

The third Command Centre is usually built when Terran pushes out with the army. This means, the third Command Centre is built after the second and third Barracks. While this is the most frequently used approach for a long time, players also mix in builds that put down the third Command Centre before the second and third Barracks.

Current trend

The TvP games played in Katowice recently show a clear pattern that players prefer to put down the third Command Centre before the second and third Barracks. There were 34 TvP games in the main event of IEM Katowice, and there were 31 games that involved bio as the main composition. In 24 of these 31 games (77.5%), the third Command Centre was built before the second and third Barracks. That means, players often do the same Reaper expand into 1-1-1, and then they chose to put down the third Command Centre.

Why? Having the third Command Centre is not revolutionary. I think having an earlier third Command Centre becomes popular now not because it suddenly becomes great, but rather players want an alternative to the standard 3-1-1.

Is the standard 3-1-1 bad? I think it is ok-ish. The outcome of the battle at the third Nexus with the 3-1-1 Stim and Medivac attack is reflective of the skill difference between the two players. This is because many interactions occur before the attack commences, and the better player would gain an edge before the battle begins. When the Terran is clearly a better player, the game could just end with the attack. In contrast, when the Protoss is the better player, the attack got shut down and Protoss could counter attack. When both players are close, the attack is held and both sides continue to macro. The current trend suggests that Terran players perceive this “break even” outcome negatively, as they want to move away from this paradigm.

This then leads us to the reshuffling of the two Barracks and the third Command Centre. Some may think that the current trend means Terran is not being aggressive and becomes economical. While this is not wrong, swapping the order of the two Barracks and the Command Centre may not be as different as some think. Let’s compare the two screenshots below:

The first screenshot is taken from an IEM Katowice qualifier game between Maru and Trap. Maru was using a standard 3-1-1, and the Stim upgrade is 3 seconds from completion at 6:30. In the second screenshot, which is taken from a ro12 game in IEM Katowice between INnoVation and ShoWTimE, INnoVation put down the third Command Centre before the two Barracks, the Stim upgrade is 10 seconds from completion at 6:30. This comparison shows that putting down the third Command Centre first does not necessarily mean you delay your Stim so much so that it is a completely different “build”.

Then what are the differences between the Command Centre before Barracks and Command Centre after Barracks?

Transition

Once you put down the second and third Barracks, you are committed to transition to mainly bio production. For the standard 3-1-1, the two Barracks are placed as soon as possible after you have 1-1-1. However, for the earlier third Command Centre, you have the option to delay the two Barracks by producing expensive units from the 1-1-1. The vod below is a good example of delaying the the second and third Barracks.

INnoVation produced Marines, Banshees, and Siege Tanks for an early attack. He then produced a Raven and more Siege Tanks. Because he consistently spent the resource on units, he did not have the mineral to put down the Barracks sooner. This resulted in later transition to bio production and Stim upgrade. As shown in the screenshot below, the Stim upgrade was only started not long ago at 6:30, so the difference with the earlier example is obvious.

The concept of build order blocks can be applied here to understand how the different “builds” work (see figure below). We know that the differences occur after Terran has 1-1-1, so the opening block and 1-1-1 block are the same. The add-ons on the buildings could differ according to the tech option you choose, but it is secondary. After 1-1-1, we want to put down the third Command Centre when we can afford it. Hence, the timing we put the third Command Centre down is contingent on the resource we spent with the 1-1-1 structures. The timing of the third Command Centre is usually around 4:45 (before 5:00). Next, we want to put down the second and third Barracks when we can afford them, and this again depends on how much we spend with the existing 1-1-1. Lastly, you converge back to 5-1-1 on three bases with two Engineering Bays.

The optional spending block between 1-1-1 and third Command Centre is essentially your build. You can do the popular Widow Mine drop into Raven and Siege Tank, and you put down the third Command Centre when you can afford it (see the two vods below).

Of course, it is never about just executing your desired build, as you have to react to the opponent too. Nevertheless, you still follow your plan by putting down the third Command Centre when you can afford it. For example, in the vod below, Maru was planning for a Widow Mine drop, but he cancelled his Medivac for a Viking after he saw the Stargate tech. He subsequently put down a third Command Centre and then two Barracks.

What is really interesting is the optional spending block between the third Command Centre and the two Barracks. Game 1 and 2 of INnoVation versus ShoWTimE demonstrate a good contrast of transitioning late versus early. In game 1, INnoVation continued to produce units from the 1-1-1 structures even after he had started building the third Command Centre. In game 2, however, he transitioned to bio production by putting down two Barracks quickly after he started the third Command Centre. This suggests putting the third Command Centre down before the two Barracks gives you better strategic flexibility than the standard 3-1-1. You can choose to transition quickly or invest further in your production in this period. The latter implies you want to prolong the harassment period.

Players’ preference to get the third Command Centre before reaching the 3-1-1 convergent point seems very consistent across different builds. In the first vod below, Maru was using a 2-1-0 Combat Shield timing attack, and he built a third Command Centre before adding more Barracks or a Starport. Normally, as shown in the second vod below, Terran would follow up with the third Barracks and a Starport. This converges back to a 3-1-1 set up before the third Command Centre. Therefore, there appears to be a consensus that getting the third Command Centre before the two Barracks is the better option now.

Other details

In the standard 3-1-1, there is only one Engineering Bay in the build order, and you line up your +1 Infantry Attack for the timing. However, when you put down the third Command Centre before the two Barracks, you put down two Engineering Bays after the two Barracks. The “timing” is to line up the +1/+1 upgrades with your other bio research (e.g., Stim). Players had figured out since Wings of Liberty that it is optimal to have only one upgrade building (i.e., one Engineering Bay) when you power up on two bases. Conversely, when you power up on three bases, it is better to have two upgrade buildings. This is why the standard TvZ builds always build two Engineering Bays at the same time, as it is common to put down the third Command Centre before the second and third Barracks.

To transition to bio production quickly like INnoVation did in his second game against ShoWTimE, you have to place your first Barracks on a Tech Lab. The first Barracks by default is on the Reactor, and it is normal in TvP to keep producing Marines from the Reactor Barracks and research Stim on the second Barracks. Thus, it is unorthodox to lift the first Barracks and place it on a Tech Lab for the transition. Your Stim research would be notably delayed if you simply keep producing Marines with the Reactor Barracks.

Implications on the metagame

The recent games suggest top level Terran players believe the standard 3-1-1 allows them to come out even at best. After the attack at the third Nexus is neutralised, Protoss would start a fourth Nexus, while Terran had yet saturated the third Command Centre. Hence, it is logical that Terran is searching for alternative strategies. I brought up this issue with 3-1-1 multiple times in the last two years (for example). Moving the third Command Centre before the second and third Barracks indirectly lengthens the harassment period in the build up phase, and this may in fact have a better opportunity to do damage to Protoss than a standard 3-1-1 timing push.

The TvP games in the second half of 2019 suggest late game is almost inevitable, and this has not changed in 2020. Focusing on economy development instead of powering up on two bases is a logical development. We should see more harassment based strategies in the match up in the near future.

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This article is translated and posted on scboy.com by 绝迹.


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