Zerg versus Protoss: Understanding Delays
With Heart of the Swarm beta right around the corner, the metagame of ZvP is still evolving. When I first thought I would continue these guides when the new expansion arrived, I now came to the conclusion that the game has evolved so much that releasing a new guide for the early game of ZvP, mainly the delaying aspects, was warrented. And while this guide revolves mainly around the Zerg's part of things, I have left in sufficient info for Protoss players to snoop off of as well.
Protoss and Zerg have been interlocked in being as annoying to one another as possible. Whereas one will manage to build a flowerbed of cannons in the Zerg's most darkest areas and smirk in a satisfied way watching those ants desperately wash up against the fence. The other will fly in to the Protoss' main and snipe a nexus, leaving only blink stalkers behind and the manical cackle whistling in the wind. The fight doesn't end there, after all, 'Teamliquid.net' and 'r/starcraft' for them are just more ladder maps to do battle on to train their Tears Per Minute statistic.
But outside of the large plays and rants, not many players or casters truly understand how much time a Protoss wins if he does a pylon block. While casters have the units tab and supplies to check how even the game is, a player doesn't have this kind of luxury. But in both of the cases, neither can see the hidden damage, how delayed a Protoss push is or how much larvae or drones the Zerg misses out on in the long run. This guide sets out to change that and to gain understanding in where the game can be at after early pressure.
Table of Contents
- Overarching logic
- Early game
- Examining the Protoss opening
- Gas steal against Protoss
- Gas for Zerg
- Zerg's first upgrade
- Underdroning and Supplyblocks
- Protoss builds and characteristics
- Post-early game delaying
Protoss and Zerg are very strong races when you let it do perfectly timed pushes or get bases up. Delaying them in whatever way will make them magnitudes easier to deal with.
With delaying you can make deadly timings blunt, or turn third bases only half functional. For example, imagine having delayed a Protoss push by half a minute, that is enough for a wave of Roaches to spawn. Depending on how many larvae you have, this will probably add up to more than 10 extra Roaches to help defend a push. On the flipside, you should not delay yourself either. Any supplyblock can delay you for as much as half a minute as well, thus delaying any Zerg units from spawning. Getting gas too early will delay any large dronecount, whereas getting it too late will delay your tech. There are many different tactics to delay and to prevent delay yourself, and I will try to name most of them over the course of this guide.
This is the time in the game where delaying is easiest for both players to execute and where it can have the biggest effect. It is pretty standard in the current metagame to delay the Zerg with hatch blocking with probes and pylons to force out Zerglings and later hatcheries, but Zergs have only barely scratched the surface on their end of the spectrum.
Probes 'n Pylons delaying
Probes are like mosquito's, everyone hates them zooming around. A good Protoss is going to be able to keep vision of everything until the Spawning pool finishes, and in the meantime block hatcheries and zap drones away. In general the probe is sent out after the first pylon, and on a regular two-player map will scout your base around 13 to 14 supply. On four-player maps the probe might not be able to get in during that timespan, which can allow you to be a little bit more greedy.
There are two major standard openings for Zerg in this match up, 15 pool and hatch first. Hatch first is a little bit more greedy and requires a dronescout and the second overlord at the natural to stay safe. While 15 pool grants you faster Zerglings, mapcontrol and can send the second overlord across the map. You can pretty much always go for a 15 pool opening without getting that delayed, but the Hatch first opening requires a little bit of luck.
When the Probe scoots in around the 12-14 supply mark and it doesn't immediately return, you can go for a 14 hatch if you draw the Probe away from the path between the main and the natural. Against any competant Protoss that scouts your larvae at that stage and returns back to the natural, you have to go for a 15 pool opener instead. If the probe doesn't arrive around that 14 supply mark, you can decide for a Hatch first or a 15 pool depending on your preference. The probe cannot be in the natural if you want to plant a Hatch first.
In the case of a 15 pool opening you send out the Drone at the 16 supply mark. This will give you some time to dance around with the Probe to try and get the Hatchery down. If a pylon is throw down, a single drone won't be able to take it out until way after it has finished. It takes roughly two and a half minutes for a single drone to take out that pylon, according to calculations based off of http://haploid.nl/sc2/faq.php that would amount to around 100 minerals lost in mining time, not an efficient trade off. A hatch firster that throws down the pool immediately after he was blocked would be delayed about one and a half to two minutes, while a 15 pool is generally only delayed by half a minute.
From a production based perspective, you lose out on four larvae every minute your hatchery is delayed. For a Hatch first opening, those eight larvae lost is devastating because your dronecount is delayed. But if not blocked, a Hatch first opening enjoys about an extra five larvae compared to the 15 pool opening. A nice little edge to build on.
A Protoss that also denies your third will need Zerglings to take care of. It takes a drone and a pair of lings around half a minute to kill the pylon, enough to warrent a cancel. But this type of play doesn't shoo the Probe away, which means a second pylon block could happen straight after the first was canceled, delaying your hatch for another 30 seconds. To effectively shut down any Probe shennanigans, four Zerglings are optimal. Those four Zerglings easily take care of pylons that are thrown down or to scare the Probe away, an extra 50 mineral investment that is well worth it.
Examining the Protoss opening
Protoss has many variations in their openings. But the most standard openings are the Gateway opening, Forge opening and the Nexus first opening. A Nexus first and a Gateway first opening can easily be abused by Zerg if he drone scouts, whereas a Forge first puts the ball in Protoss' court.
This is by far the easiest opening to play against in the early game. It delays pressure for the longest time of all the openings and you are pretty much free from getting cannonrushed before your pool finishes. Nexus first also allows for some really harsh natural blocks with a Hatchery, forcing the Protoss into a late forge and extra cannons to get rid of it. What the Protoss generally wants to do when opening Nexus first is go for Nexus - Forge - Gateway - Cannon.
Nexus first characterises itself by having their natural void of Probes for a long time. Since the collection of minerals takes even longer than a Hatch first opening, you can be pretty sure the Protoss is going to go for a fast Nexus strategy when you are going for your natural and still not notice a Forge building in the Protoss' natural. Because of the delay on the Forge, the only way the Protoss can hope to deny a Hatch first is to build a pylon there or to just keep on blocking with the Probe to stall for time, but that delays his Nexus as well.
If the Protoss doesn't pylon block your Hatchery, it won't really matter if he gets his Nexus up right after your Hatchery. You will have to look out for his next building, because if he sees no aggression will come in, he might decide for a quicker tech route and go Gateway before Forge. This is great for you since you can take an even greedier third base due to the lack of cannonrushing possibilities. Most Protosses however will stick to the regular follow up, Forge, Gateway, Cannon.
When your natural does get pylon blocked however, you decide to go for a Hatchery block in retaliation. Dropping down a Hatchery into the Protoss' natural and then taking a Spawning pool after to deal with the pylon in your natural. This play will throw off the Protoss' build completely and force him to go for a later Forge and two Cannons to get rid of the block. If the Protoss decides to be greedy and only build one Cannon, your Hatchery will finish up and spread creep out, delaying the Protoss even further. Getting a Queen out and putting a creep tumour behind his natural mineral line ( as far away from the cannon detection range as possible ) will put the Protoss in a completely all in position. But in the situations where the correct response of two Cannons made in the natural is executed, you can't get a Queen out in time. Canceling the Hatchery right before it finishes will have delayed the Protoss' Nexus by about one and a half minutes, which is still more than enough to pull the sting out of tight Immortal-Sentry pushes and gives you a return of 225 minerals immediately.
Hatch blocking is generally only really worth it against Nexus first because it messes up their original gameplan up by a lot. Against Forge first openings it is only really a nuisance and will delay your third base for too long to be worth the minerals invested.
This opening is easily the safest route to take. It can be built out in the natural and still provide the neccesary tech to protect your main against early pool builds, and gives Protoss a firm hold on their natural to expand on. It also opens up the possibility of a really early offense in the form of cannonrushes.
A typical macro-oriented Forge opening will go for a Forge - Nexus - Cannon - Gateway in that order. Switching the Gateway around for the Cannon helps the Protoss get a slightly faster tech up, but skimps on initial safety and is at risk at a Zergling runby. A startled Protoss will usually build a Cannon before the Nexus, which delays the tech and the economy by just a tad as a tradeoff to the extra safety against runby's.
Usually the Protoss will skimp on Probe production during the making of the first few buildings with his supply locked around the 18 supply mark, which is roughly a full mineral saturated base. This makes the counting of delay much easier, since according to liquipedia, a fully saturated mineral base gives 672 minerals a minute. We cannot be absolutely sure how delayed a Protoss is because it relies on how well the base was mining and on the mechanics of the Protoss. So for our sanity, rounding down to 600 minerals per minute gives us a much easier time to calculate the delay of aggression, as a second amounts to 10 minerals in that case.
For example, if the Protoss builds a Cannon before a Gateway, we can say that the Protoss has delayed his tech for about 15 seconds. This comes in especially handy versus Cannon rushes, which I will talk about in the upcoming section.
As a tech benchmark, I tend to imagine a Forge, a Cannon and a Nexus being built before the Gateway starts. In this standard kind of opening, the strong Immortal-Sentry all in can move out at 9:30. If a second Cannon is built before the Gateway, with a delay of 15 seconds, that would mean moving out at 9:45. Now this is a very interesting build to remember because it is one of the strongest timing pushes a Protoss can do, much like the 1-1-1 in TvP is. We'll bring that tidbit with us when we examine the delay Cannon rushes cause our Protoss opponent.
A Cannon rush has a lot of nuances to it, contrary to what most raging Zergs will believe. The inbase Cannon rush is an easy variant due to creep being readily available for Spinecrawlers to build. It is also the most all in of all of the possible Cannon rushes out there and relies completely on the Zerg not noticing it until it is way too late. This is where a 9 dronescout comes in handy, because you will notice the Probe at your side of the map much earlier.
This Inbase Cannon rush can be easy to deal with as long as you delay the advance of the Cannons with Spinecrawlers and get your natural up. Then once the Protoss has invested way too much in destroying the main, just transfer all your workers over to the natural ( including Spinecrawlers and any other unit you have built ) and defend that. This variant tends to come out so early that his economy and tech is delayed as well, so if you have a large ling force built up from the pressure you can go for a counter attack on his natural and make sure he just doesn't get that up.
Another variant is the third base deny Cannon rush. This also relies on the Zerg not scouting that it is there, because the Spawning pool is generally finished once that pylon goes down behind the third's mineral line. What I do to prevent these shennanigans is send my second overlord over to my third once my natural is secure. You should also always check behind the mineral lines with the drone before you make the Hatchery just to be safe. This is the least all in of all of the Cannon rushes because it tends to start after the Nexus or Gateway has already started, so the Protoss' economy or tech isn't as stunted as it usually is after a Cannon rush.
The most common and most micro-intensive Cannon rush out there is the one that focusses on your natural. It is mostly executed against Hatch first openings due to the later Spawning pool, but it can still be executed against Pool first openings as well since you have to rely on drone micro in both circumstances, albeit a bit longer against Hatch first.
A Cannon rush of this caliber usually starts while the Hatchery in your natural is already building as a reaction to a fast Hatchery. What I like to do in my Hatch first builds is the following:
Make three more drones
If I see a Forge at his front with my drone scout, send out two drones to chase after the Probe
Build a Spawning pool as soon as 200 minerals are reached
The Probe will usually be planning its dastardly scheme either behind the mineral line or right at the ramp. Your mission here is to stop it from blocking off anything like a Cannon behind the mineral line or a full block on your ramp. While you cannot stop the first pylon from going down, you can do a lot to delay the Cannon from going down. If the first pylon goes down in your natural, don't too greedy to send out an extra two drones, because the Protoss will capitalise that and turn your natural into Cannonopolis.
There are two different responses depending on the placement of the pylon. If the pylon is in front of your ramp, your first and foremost goal is to make sure he cannot wall off your ramp. You HAVE to keep a drone or two in front of the ramp to make sure that does not happen. If you allow it to happen, you have just given the Protoss a free win provided he isn't completely incompetant. Because the Cannon has to be placed out in the open, it is much easier to surround. That's why the real danger is the full block off, the pylons won't die regardless of what you attempt and if you prevent the Protoss from walling you off, rushing out a ton of drones and destroying that Cannon will make you safe. Just make sure that Probe never gets to actually wall you off and you should be fine.
With the pylon behind the mineral line, your drones have a different task at hand. In this moment, the pylon is the strongest point of the rush. Attacking the pylon won't do anything because the Probe will build a Cannon and a second pylon right after anyway. The weakest point is the Probe, at just 40 health, it only takes 8 drone slaps to die. Your main effort should be around trying to take out the Probe, or at the very least, prevent it from getting into range with the pylon to start making Cannons. Having four drones out in your natural and keeping the Probe at bay will delay that rush for critical seconds. Every little bit of time you save by preventing the Probe from getting into range gives your Spawning pool more time to finish. So try and keep the Probe out or even kill the Probe by whatever means possible.
If the Probe slips by your goalie drones, get a few of them behind the mineral line around the pylon to make sure he doesn't wall that space in. It's okay if he places a cannon inside the mineral line, but we shouldn't let him place one behind the mineral line because that again prevents our drones from surrounding it because of the stronger pylons. Once he starts building the first Cannon, don't be afraid to send out even more drones to help defend the rush. In general it is best to attack a building Cannon with four drones, because it kills it before it finishes up, which either forces a cancel out of the Cannon or prevents it from shooting at your drones.
In this stage, micro is everything. You want to prevent blocks behind the mineral line while keeping the Cannons from finishing with squads of four drones. If you have any opertunity at all to surround the Probe, do so to stop the rush cold. If a Protoss really wants to commit to a Cannon rush, he will most likely send another Probe out to make it more difficult to kill off the rush completely, but atleast you will delay extra Cannons from going down then. You are just trying to delay until your Zerglings are out, because once you can get out Zerglings, the Cannon rush is effectively over unless the Protoss already got a block off. You should not lose any drones to Cannons, and if you do let the Cannons finish behind the mineral line, cancel it at the last moment to drain out as much Cannons as possible and reexpand in your third and fourth. It isn't a great position to be in, but it's better than losing the hatchery and being stuck on one base with a late second base.
When the rush is done, you can evaluate the position of the Protoss. With the previous calculations, we can safely say that with each Cannon laid down, the Protoss is delayed by 15 seconds. And each pylon is roughly 10 seconds of delay on the overall build. Of course this isn't 100 percent accurate with all the cancelations going around, but the Protoss does delay all economy and tech while he is still Cannon rushing. This gives you a rough estimate of the timing of hardest two base all in to deal with in the current metagame, the Immortal-Sentry all in, and gives you a decent view of how much you can drone up in the next couple of minutes and still stay safe without much units at all.
A Cannon rush isn't often followed up by fast aggression, so building drones blindly for a couple of rounds is often a great idea rather than to accidentally build a few units that won't do anything but scout a little.
These openings are a lot different compared to the Nexus and Forge openings. Rather than being a highly economically focussed opening, these openings gets out faster and crisper timings and get tech out much, much faster to trade off for that economy lost. This on itself gives Protoss a very delayed third base and makes him rely on one or two base timings for quite a while.
By it's very nature, the Gateway opening forces the Zerg into a slightly more cautious playstyle with a later third to counteract the many different timing attacks that they possess. The Zerg shouldn't take a third quite as fast as usual until an expand is guaranteed to happen on the Protoss' side of things.
The Gateway openings have been coming back into style slowly, mainly due to Naniwa's GSL matches against DRG. Though the maps have steadily increased in style and have decreased the effectiveness of these openings, there are still a lot of viable Gateway openings out there. Though most rely on a timing attack to force the Zerg into making units instead of droning up the third completely.
The biggest weakness of a Gateway opening is a Hatch first style. Because this opening doesn't have a good way to throw hard pressure at the Zerg, the Protoss is almost forced to pylon block the natural to make sure the Zerg does not get that economy advantage.
One Gateway Expand
This is the most economical of the Gateway openings. There are two slightly different styles for this, either putting the Gateway out in front of the natural like a wall and go for a Nexus straight after. This style generally delays the Forge and Cannons in order to get that tech advantage together with the economic advantage. But this does open up timings for slow lings to be very effective.
The more common style is to get the Cybernetics Core straight after the Gateway with double gas, and then expand once the Protoss has about a Zealot and a Sentry or two out. In most circumstances the Protoss walls off with an additional two Gateways in front of his natural to make him less reliant on forcefields.
You are safe to take a third base if you notice this style, because if he decides to move out too far to deny it, you can surround the army with a lot of Zerglings. A Gateway first opening invests a lot in the early units, especially the Sentries. If he loses them, the Protoss has effectively been delayed in upgrades and other tech and cannot pressure anymore after that unless he is going all in. This allows you to get such an extreme economical advantage that the Protoss has almost no hope of coming back.
Three Gateway Expand
This is the safest expand build out there, because it is nigh impossible to stop the Nexus from going down unless the Protoss messes up completely. The downside to this is that it has a one base economy for even longer than the One Gateway Expand, and if it is not followed up by a two base push, there is almost no way to equalize the Zergs economy for the Protoss.
This has gone way out of style because of the mapsize increasing and the general increase in skill of the Zerg since a year ago. It is simply too uneconomical and relies too much on a transition to a two base all in push or massive damage dealt to the Zergs economy to be viable in long games that involve third bases.
Gas steal against Protoss
Protoss is much more reliant on gas in the early game than Zerg. As such, gas steals can have a tremendous effect into delaying a Protoss' tech pushes such as the Immortal-Sentry all ins that are the norm on the ladder these days.
A stolen gas will generally not impact the first two assimilators, as the second can be taken in the natural. There will usually be a delay of about 15 seconds and mining time lost because Probes have to be transfered to the natural, but the gas count is roughly the same. It is when the third and fourth geyser have to be taken that the Protoss will be in a bind.
In a regular FFE teching style Protoss, the first two assimilators are erected around the 4:30 minute mark. And later the second two around the 6:45 till around 7 minute mark. If a Probe zaps away at that Extractor, he will kill it after 3,5 minutes. That means he lost more than 100 minerals in mining time while still not having that gas freed up for the correct timing to line up. Protoss needs to send over a Gateway unit if he wants to go for quick tech, but that allows you to see what composition he is going for. If he sends out his first Zealot to kill it off, it will die in roughly 45 seconds, but keeps his door wide open and relies on a Sentry or a second zealot to do the defending. He can also not move out to clear his sides watchtower either.
If he sends over a Stalker, you know he is saving up his early gas for something ( +1 attack or a fast tech building like twilight/stargate ) . If the Protoss sends a Sentry you're in luck, since those take way too long to kill an Extractor and leaves room for Zerglings to exploit the wall. With this, you will always know what the second unit that spawns from his Gateway is, giving you insight in the Protoss' gas.
As a Protoss, the best way of dealing with a stolen geyser is to send over a Zealot to attack it together with a Probe. This kills the extractor in about half a minute. A Stalker and a Probe kill it at the same rate, but gives the Zerg information. It takes a lone Sentry about two minutes to kill the Extractor, which is neither fast nor hides information from the Zerg.
If the Extractor isn't being cleared, you know the Protoss isn't going for a large four gas tech play. And every minute that goes by after the 7 minute mark he will lose out on about 100 gas compared to a regular four gas style.
The gas steal works best against the Immortal-Sentry all in that normally moves out at 9:30, this is due to the fact that for everything to align properly, the Protoss has to take the third and fourth gas at around 6:00 if he wants everything to be crisp. With the average Gateway after FFE finishing around the 4:45 minute mark, even if he chronoes out a Zealot and goes straight for the Extractor to kill it off, it won't be in time to let the timings align 100% properly. If he waits for the second unit to start sending the Zealot over, it will already have done it's economic damage gaswise and damaged the strength of that imminent push.
Gas for Zerg
Zerg has no need for lots of gas in the early game, which is a stark contrast to the Protoss player that has to glue his vision onto the gas count and spam the E button for that first Sentry. This means that the Zerg player can delay his gas for quite a while. Considering that getting gas also means that you will lose a mining drone and lose mineral income on three others, it does effect your dronecount.
Basically, getting a later extractor is more economical but delays tech just a tad while an earlier extractor favours getting tech up sooner for a slight stunt to economical advancement. Delaying gas for a long time usually means getting up two extractors at the same time to get the tech at a reasonable time by doubling your gas intake.
The usual 60 drone Roach maxing 'Stephano' style gets up two extractors around the 6:00 mark. This is about as late as you can be with your gas while still droning up like a madman. Getting up an earlier gas around 5:00 means you lose 60 minerals from that morphing drone's mining time lost, and 120 more for the three drones that will be mining gas for a minute before the double extractor in the Stephano build goes online. While you get your Zergling speed upgrade done about a minute earlier, you will have effectively had about 180 minerals in mining time lost simply in that timeframe compared to the later double extractor. Meanwhile, the double extractor play stunts his mineral income a little bit more when his gas comes online, but he will have the extra earlier income to make up for that. A double extractor at 6:00 catches up to a single extractor at 5:00 around the 7:30 mark, and obviously speeds ahead afterwards, so an earlier single extractor basically revolves around getting that first 100 gas a minute earlier than normal rather than having a huge tech lead over the later double extractor style.
It is worth noting that you will probably want to have that gas up much earlier when you are facing a one base Protoss. If you start building a single extractor, your Zergling speed will finish roughly 3 and a half minutes after. Against a fourgate play that hits at around 7 minutes, your lingspeed won't be done if you start your extractor at 5:00. You will have to start it at the 3:30 mark if you want that Zergling speed done in time for a Fourgate play, which means you will lose out on 240 minerals compared to a double extractor at 6:00 if you pull the drones off of gas straight after Zergling speed starts. But to be fair, you are facing a one base Protoss, do you really need to drone up to extremes just to hold off that one all in attack?
I tend to be a player that takes gas earlier than most, but even I put limits on when I take my gas. For personal benchmarks, I never take my gas before I take my third Hatchery if I am up against an expanding Protoss. You delay economy too much for that slight extra bit of time that your Zergling speed is done sooner. Any gas under 20 supply is too taxing on your early game economy to be worth it. The only time you can justify that early of a gas is when you are up against a one basing Protoss player.
If you go Lair first to go for some kind of super fast and cheesy nydus network, you have to add an extra extractor before starting the Lair if you want to get that Zergling speed up while that Lair is building and don't want to delay your post-Lair tech. This kind of play does not happen often, but it's nice to know.
With those gas timings down, we can move on to what overall production requires. With three full extractors, you can easily support constant Roach production off of three bases. Four full extractors means those Roaches plus extra's, like another upgrade. You need five gas geysers to support Roaches with Infestors trickled in. Six extractors can support constant Mutalisk and Zergling production nicely. For Broodlord tech, you need 8 extractors mining to support the enormous death army production. You could do that kind of play off of 6 extractors, but it will make losing units much more painful because you will have almost no way to remake them.
Zerg's first upgrade
With the large armies that Zerg uses, upgrades make all the difference. While Protoss is usually the race that is known for upgrading faster and gets to a higher level of efficiency, Zerg has to make sure his army doesn't become completely worthless against the Protoss lasers and blades.
In ZvP, you are walking a razors edge for efficiency. You want your army to stay relevant to make sure that you don't have to overmake army and can focus just a little more on droning instead. As such, there are a couple of guidelines for getting upgrades.
This upgrade is a wonderful gain for Zerg, though in the early game it only affects Zerglings and Banelings. It adds only a single extra damage per attack, but this amounts to your Zerglings being 20% more efficient. Meaning, every five attacks of a single Zergling would output the same damage as six attacks from an unupgraded one. This upgrade is as close as you will get to Adrenal glands in the early game, but better ( Adrenal glands only makes Zerglings attack 18,6% faster ).
Once you reach +2 melee, your Banelings become vastly superior as well. Now with the ability to one-hit Probes, which turns a single overlord filled with Banelings into a mineral line eraser. A few seconds of not looking at the minimap and the Protoss is blown back into a great depression.
Deciding to go for the Melee upgrade is a double sided coin. On one hand you really want those Zerglings to kick ass, but on the other hand, you don't want them to die like a fly hitting an electric lamp whenever it fights a Zealot. Because of this, there are a couple of timings where you can take the Melee upgrade and enjoy the full efficiency of it.
- When the Protoss opens up with a Gateway opening and stays on one base for a long time. Because of the delay of the Forge and thus the Protoss' +1 ground attack, you won't have to deal with Zealots effectively always being costeffecient and can rely on the extra boost to damage to slay his army.
- When you have delayed your upgrades or when the Protoss has upgraded beyond anything that you can catch up to, the Melee upgrade atleast opens up a way to strengthen your lategame Broodlord army and Banelings will get more efficient.
The range upgrade affects Roaches, Queens and Infested Terrans. It doesn't affect Hydralisks because you won't end up building them anyway, if you know what's good for your ladder rank. This upgrade does not have the utility that the melee upgrade has in terms of harassment or increase in efficiency, but does not suffer immensely when the opponent upgrades faster. Which means that it is never wrong to get the range upgrade, but there are times where the melee or the carapace upgrade is better.
Your main ranged fighting unit, the Roach, gets an additional +2 damage per shot with each range upgrade. This levels out the +2 armour that the Sentry's Guardian shield provides. So the upgrade is basically meant for that utility. Percentage wise, the Range upgrade gives the Roach an extra 12,5% efficiency. The upgrade does not provide much crucial extra benefits to the Queen or the Infested Terran. The +2 range attack does further increase your Roaches, but considering you will be delaying a melee upgrade or an extra carapace upgrade for it that will help you in the lategame, it is hardly worth it.
Defense upgrades seem less important than attack upgrades for the aggressive Zergs out there, but there definitely is merit to them. Although it's rare to see it as the first upgrade rather than range or melee, there is one instance where getting the carapace upgrade will do much more for you than the other upgrades would.
That timing is when the Protoss is getting his first upgrade and you decide to delay your Lair in favour of an upgrade instead. In that case, you will probably face a +1 ground attack Protoss for a little while before your carapace upgrade finishes. When a Protoss' +1 finishes, his Zealots will kill your Zerglings in two hits instead of three. So once your carapace upgrade catches up to the Protoss, you will gain an extra 33% efficiency compared to an unupgraded Zergling. That's an even better return than the melee upgrade! On top of that, it helps all of your ground units, including Roaches and Queens.
However, there is a slight caveat for the carapace upgrade, mainly that it won't get out in time for a really fast timing attack unless you go for a really quick gas, like immediately after you get your third. On top of that, the carapace upgrade will be largely negated once the Protoss' +2 finishes since your Zerglings will die in 2 hits again. It is only useful if you plan on using Roach/ling to hold a timing attack. After that, you probably don't need extra carapace upgrades unless you want to catch up to the Protoss and want to use Zerglings or Ultralisks in your lategame armies, which generally isn't a great idea anyway considering that Psionic Storm and Immortals fight these units nicely regardless of upgrades. Immortals negate a fully carapace upgraded Ultralisk ( +6 ) with +2 attack already, which comes out a lot faster than +3 carapace and the Chitinous plating.
Underdroning and Supplyblocks
Drones in the early game are much, much more significant than you might think. While sometimes situations get far too hectic to justify making drones, you might need to really consider this if you want to reach a new high in the early game.
As we have noted earlier, a drone mines roughly 40 minerals every minute on average. In a hypothetical example, you are making a single pair of Zerglings with your larvae. 15 seconds later, the next larvae finishes and is turned into a drone, about 20 seconds later, that drone finishes and starts mining. You will have effectively lost out on about 20 minerals of extra income. Now, you might say 'that's not even an extra pair of Zerglings'. And you would be correct, if it wasn't for the fact that you almost never just make one extra pair of Zerglings. In a panicking mindset, all you do is szzzzzz and want to turn as much larvae as possible into units to destroy the incoming threat.
If we use the exact same example except with five pair of Zerglings, you could deduce that that would be about 100 minerals lost in the long run if you made drones right after. But it's even worse, considering if you cleanse your hatcheries off of larvae, you will have to wait another 15 seconds for the extra larvae to spawn for more drones. Add another 20 seconds of dronemaking plus the beginning of mining and you will have lost roughly 140 minerals. This is the damage a single Zealot sent to your base does by just existing, let alone actually kill stuff, if you make units instead of drones. For simplicities sake, in that five pair of Zergling before five drones made, what happens if we just multiply the results to account for the extra Zergling wave? 280 minerals lost in potential minerals, gone down the drain without the Protoss doing more than just showing that he has units.
These are just examples of the kind of income losses you will see with underdroning. The actual numbers are far more complicated with larvae injects and hatcheries finishing at different times and are almost impossible to calculate in a simple manner. But it helps to have some kind of view on the actual damage done to your economy from underdroning.
A much simpler kind of economic damage is the one done because of supplyblocks. Since overlords take about half a minute to build, every drone you wanted to make but cannot because of that block results in a net loss of roughly 20 minerals. Five drones results in about 100 minerals lost and so on. Much simpler to understand, even more frightening when combined with making units to defend straight after rather than drones. Considering that unless you have been keeping up with your macro nicely and kept the larvae count down, you will also lose about 2 larvae per Hatchery just from that supply block, it really puts into perspective what good macro really entails.
'Just improve on your macro' is probably the most given advice around the Teamliquid forums, and it's not just because some of the guys there are lazy. It litterally can make all the difference in the world. A gold level player could have the most amazing unit control compared to a Masters level player, but still lose to pushes that the 'noob-control' Master player absolutely destroys without as much as just being spot on with his macro. Just vowing to practice on working out your supply blocks will make your life as Zerg so much easier once you get it down.
Protoss builds and characteristics
From the opening onward, Protoss will have to decide what kind of pressure he wants to put on or how he plans on defending an earlier third. Aside from pure Gateway pushes, Protoss players have three tech choices after the Cybernetics core finishes: Twilight route, Stargate route and Robo route. These all have characteristic needs resourcewise specific to that style. I will lay out timings below for builds to hit.
The fastest attack timings are part of this style. Gateway timings have the advantage of only relying on the Warp gate research, that can be chronoboosted, to attack much faster with an overwhelming amount of units compared to the techbased options. The strongest asset of a quick Gateway only attack is that it isn't as reliant on gas compared to the other styles. As such, they can perfectly support themselves off of only one or two gas, depending on what composition he wants to go for.
When the Gateway starts, the fastest Warp gate can be done is around 4 minutes after. For a Gateway opening, this means it can hit around 6:30 at it's fastest. So especially look out for this when you are going up against a one basing Protoss, that superfast Zealot-Stalker Fourgate hits around this time. Against a Nexus first or FFE Protoss, the upgrade finishes a little bit later at 7:30. But both of these timings can only be achieved if the Cybernetics core is constantly chronoboosted, something that is really easily spotted. It is worth noting that in both of these cases the Protoss can only support Zealots and Stalkers off of four Gateways due to the fact that he can't support four gasses without seriously stunting his mineral income.
A FFE or Nexus first into +1 Four gate attack hits around 8 minutes. This attack is normally used to put pressure on the third and force the Zerg to defend with Roaches, delaying his further tech and dronecount. This is the reason that the Roachwarren usually starts around 6:30, because it will be ready incase you need to defend against these kind of pressure plays.
Gaswise, a Protoss can support four Stalker warp ins every minute off of two gasses taken. So that means he will have to warp in Zealots in between the Stalker rounds to make use of his Warp gates. A full round of Sentries is super costly in these types of attacks, because they force the Protoss to make two rounds of Zealot warp ins either in advance or afterwards. This means that against tightly timed Gateway attacks, you will normally not face any Sentry count higher than 2 unless the Protoss tries to end it with that specific attack.
In most cases, the Protoss delays tech for quite a bit to do a timing attack like this. He invests into an army that hopefully forces out such a severe reaction unitwise or does so much damage that his tech gets the time to get online. If the Protoss is delaying the other two gasses for too long during the attack, a follow up attack will be much easier to hold.
There are two main routes for the Twilight based openings. Dark Templar and Blink Stalkers. Dark Templar can definitely be seen as a hit or miss opening, considering that all the Zerg has to do is have detection at a specific time.
The DT tech can only be afforded if the Protoss has two gasses operational. A really fast Dark Templar rush hits around 7 minutes off of a one base opening and can have a maximum of four Dark Templar out, this is without the Protoss even getting another unit aside from maybe Zealots. Against a Nexus first or FFE opening, the DTs hit around the 8 minute mark if they are rushed in a similar fashion.
Dark templar openings can chronoboost Probes out without needing to chrono on tech or anything. This combined with the faster gas taken might indicate that the Protoss is just opening economically. The most telling sign of a Protoss going DT's is the lack of sentries being warped in and a lack of the +1 ground attack being chronoed out.
After DT tech usually the Protoss goes for either a Chargelot Archon timing, or transitions into Archon-Immortal-Gateway units and gets up a slightly later third. It really depends on how much damage the DTs do when the Protoss should decide for a two base all in or a third base. Off of one base, if the DTs don't work the Protoss has no hope but to go for a Chargelot Archon timing off of one base, any other build is way too delayed to hit at a decent time against a good Zerg player.
Blink Stalker based openings tend to hit a little bit later. While the Protoss wants all of the Warp gates ready to warp incase of a DT opening, they usually want to get out as many Stalkers as soon as possible. One base Blink Stalker openings are stupidly easy to deal with if you hit your injects properly and flood with Zerglings. You can even take a +1 melee upgrade before they hit, so we won't deal with the timings for that terrible opening. We'll only discuss the 2 base Blink Stalker build.
Because the Protoss wants atleast upwards of 12 Stalkers before he hits, the attack usually arrives around 8:30 give or take. Later attacks won't have as much of a surprise and might have to deal with another round of units from the Zerg if the Zerg has scouted your build out. Blink Stalker builds usually have around 6 Gateways, enough to level out that initial gas bank and enough to have a safety net for macro mistakes. Four gas geysers can support continuous production of Stalkers from five Gateways. With chronoboost that means roughly a new flow of Stalkers every 30 seconds or so. This is the reason why you should never get supply blocked against these types of attacks, because the production can be so continuous that the Stalker count can quickly get out of hand. When you allow the Protoss to get a large group of Stalkers up and he microes correctly, it will be almost impossible to break him.
The upside of this is that once you've thinned out the Stalker count significantly, the Protoss won't have any other tech to fall back on. Keeping up on Stalker production from five Gateways is so gas costly that he litterally cannot afford any other tech bar from perhaps the +2 upgrade during the attack. It is a hard all in to hold if you aren't prepared with Speedlings, but once you killed off the push, the Protoss has almost no choice but to just keep building Stalkers or transition into other tech that will arrive way too late to be relevant against a fully saturated 3 or 4 base Zerg.
Air based styles are always a bit iffy for the Protoss. On one hand they give almost unprecedented map control for their investment, but on the other they lack the raw strength to withstand an enormous flood of units from the Zerg. Stargate plays that want to expand to a third often rely on delaying the Zerg in economy a lot or just keeping the Zerg occupied until his defense is set up at the third.
Gaswise, Stargate plays are extremely dependant on having as many geysers occupied as he can afford. Two gas geysers can support continuous production off of one Stargate, which leaves the other two geysers left for Gateway units and other tech. If the Protoss wants to go for any kind of double Stargate play, he needs atleast three geysers operational to support continuous Voidray production. Four geysers support two Stargate Phoenix production.
Common Stargate styles include the Voidray with +1 Zealot build that revolves around taking out the Zerg's third base, the two Stargate play and the one Stargate Voidray with 5 Phoenixes harass into a fast third. The first two are pressure builds, reliant on doing heavy damage to the Zerg while the latter is highly delaying focussed, making sure to keep the Zerg defending at his base.
Zealot and Voidray pressure
The two red lines through this build are the single Stargate, the +1 ground attack being built and that it doesn't need as fast of a third and fourth gas to be really effective. Usually two Voidrays are chronoboosted out while the Zealots charge up in the third, trying to take out the Queens and delay Sporecrawlers from going down while the Voidrays make their way over the map. The Voidray should be at your base around 8:30 while the Zealots are already tearing it up down there possibly half a minute sooner. If he wants a second Voidray out he will have to wait around 9:00 to move out with both of them, so usually the Protoss follows up with a Phoenix for faster reinforcements and Queen lifts.
The main goal for the Protoss here is to take out the third base, and if you manage to hold that, you will have a tremendous tech and economical advantage. Two Queens with a single transfuse on one of them will handle two Voidrays head on just fine. You should just build maybe a Spore or two at your third and build Queens at all three of your hatcheries. Whatever you do, do not lose a Queen to Zealots. Just micro them back while you wait for additional units to spawn to fight the Zealots for you.
Double Stargate play
A heavy tech build that needs every single drop of gas that it can get it's hands on. A Protoss that wants to do this play will need atleast three gasses up before 6 minutes to handle the production of two Stargates constantly, four gasses have to be up after the first two units have been started otherwise continuous production isn't attainable. Even getting the ground attack upgrade is too expensive for this build.
There are many different styles to the double Stargate play, but most Protoss players prefer the cheesier mass Voidray version. He chronoes out two rounds of Voidrays and moves out with the four Voidrays. This usually moves out between 8:30 and 9 minutes and arrives at your bases roughly half a minute later.
Much like the Zealot-Voidray pressure, this build is designed to take out the third base and to transition into a hard two base timing attack. It is absolutely essential to know that Voidrays are moving out across the map, so if you aren't quite sure what your Protoss opponent is up to by 8 minutes, but has taken 4 gas, park a few lings around the edges of his base so you know when those air units fly out. If you get surprised by a Voidrays at your third and you don't have large amounts of Queens or Sporecrawlers there, its GG. You cannot hold your third and you might even lose your natural if the Protoss just bee-lines through your bases. If you do scout the air army moving out, you can Spore up your bases heavily.
This build relies heavily on the element of surprise, and when you know it is coming, it can do almost no damage. All you have to do is make sure your bases are defended well enough and that you keep building drones. If he moves out with two Voidrays and follows up with Phoenixes, just building a Sporecrawler or two at your bases and building more Queens should be more than enough to not make your bases die off at the very least. With 4 Voidrays you have to go a little heavier on the Sporecrawlers. Because 4 Voidrays can destroy a Sporecrawler and a Queen without much effort in a fight, you have to put two Sporecrawlers together if you really want to defend a position from a bruteforce Voidray attack.
If he moves out at 6 Voidrays, you have almost no choice but to reluctantly build that Hydralisk den together with the Sporecrawlers and Queens. His Phoenix count will be too delayed to make a difference against a large flood of Hydralisks and other tech will come too late to make warrent the investment into Hydra's. 10 Hydralisks should be more than enough to provide for mobile deflection of Voidrays, and since they cost 50 gas a piece, it's better to stop at a certain number to not delay your own tech just as much as he did.
Once you have your bases defended, you can simply transition into Infestors with the burrow upgrade. With your huge amounts of gas you should be able to pump them out in a huge wave and deal with any two-base Collosus follow up.
Stargate into quick third
This is a more recent style that tries to get the third up as fast as possible for the Protoss so that he can simcity it up and defend it with Sentries and Immortals. He won't kill you with this opening, he will simply seek to delay you in which ever way possible.
Usually the Protoss will roam the map with one Voidray and 5 Phoenixes. These units delay the fourth base from being taken and are an overal nuisance. These units will be mostly harassing your Queens and your Overlords, because lack of injects combined supplyblocks give the Zerg no way to quickly take advantage of that low unitcount third with a large flood of units. A single supplyblock caused by the air units can be all it takes for a Protoss to set up nicely at his third.
In general, Burrow won't be out in time to delay that third base due to the Protoss attempting to take it much sooner than other fast third builds. The only way to harass it is by moving in between the bases and trying to take out the Sentries. Though just taking a fourth quicker than usual might be a much better idea than just hoping the Protoss messes up in his simcity or forcefields.
With the three base Roach max build gaining the prevelance in tournaments, Protoss players have been responding with robo builds on their own to stay alive against the Zergs onslaught. The older styles of Robotics styles relied heavily on a two base timing push, while the new styles are much more about taking that third base at a reasonable time. In present times, there are a couple of styles out there that you will regularly see: Collosus two base push, Warp Prism play and the Immortal-Sentry style.
Two base Collosus
An older style of PvZ that has it's roots way back in 2011. Because it hits rather late and is mostly used to end the game rather than take a fast third it has fallen slightly out of style in the highest level of play. But ofcourse you will still encounter this build on the ladder occasionally.
Collosus are very expensive units. One Robotics facility chronoing out a Collosus takes up about one base worth of gas income, so technically the Protoss can afford 2 Robo Collosus. In that case though he won't have any gas for other tech and will have only invested into one large timing attack. One Robotics Collosus can support an extra four Stalkers every minute.
In either one Robotics Collosus or two, the Protoss will need four gasses to produce an army efficiently. They will also only push out once the Collosus number hits a certain point. It is way too costly to move out with a single Collosus because it doesn't kill the units fast enough. Once the Collosus number has been reached, the Protoss will usually stop producing them so that he can focus completely on Stalker production off of five Gateways.
With the Robotics Support Bay delaying Collosus production for about a minute, the fastest Collosus possible starts around 8 minutes. If he starts the Thermal Lance upgrade right away, that will finish around 10 minutes, in this time two Collosus will have spawned. Thermal lance usually isn't upgraded in a two Robotics style because that's 200 gas that isn't invested in getting Collosus out as fast as possible. So at around 10:30 you will face 2 to 4 Collosus depending on the amount of Robotics facilities he has built. If they push out even later, they won't be arriving in time to stop a well macroed 3 base Mutalisk style or really any well macroing Zerg. The Stephano Roach Max has basically neutered this type of play because the third gets up too late to go for a macro game and the push comes too late to stop the Zerg from making a ton of Roaches regardless.
Warp Prism play
This is the only type of Robotics play that can delay the third and fourth gas past 6:30 and still be on time with the timings. The Warp Prism allows for a lot of different tactics, but the most common is the Sentry drop. The Protoss either uses the Sentries and the warped in units to harass the Zergs mineral lines or he blocks off the ramp to the natural and kills off the base that has the least amount of reinforcements coming in. This is the reason why I like to put my macro hatchery up in the main, so that the reinforcements are about evenly distributed.
It is usually meant more as a delaying style rather than a straight up kill move. The most common way to transition out of this in the current metagame is a delayed Immortal-Sentry composition with a later expansion or later push.
'The Ret Slayer', the hardest timing attack that the current metagame has cooked up that still allows for a fast and safe third as well as a game ending timing attack depending on what the Protoss wants to go for. The Protoss gets out a Robotics facility after the +1 ground attack or a Sentry, makes three extra Gateways in his main and just pumps out Immortals.
This timing can move out at around 9:30 if it is really well timed, with two Immortals and about 8 Sentries and is either followed up by a Warp Prism to help with microing or another Immortal to reinforce. It relies heavily on Forcefields to catch parts of the Zerg army so that it can take out the Zerg piece by piece rather than all in one go. When it moves out it has access to about 12 Forcefields at this time, with an extra 8 Forcefields every 1 and a half minutes after that. When the Protoss moves out with the third Immortal roughly at 10:15, he will have access to those 20 Forcefields in exchange for having a slightly later push.
This build is especially strong on maps that have a longer reinforcement path to the third, for example Ohana or Tal darim, because it allows the Protoss to easily forcefield out reinforcements while it targets down the third. It is almost imperrative for the Zerg to have a macro hatchery up to have constant Zergling and Roach production flooding in.
Many zergs on the forums disagree on how to hold off this type of style. Some say Infestors, some say Baneling drops ( which come out too late for a 9:30 push unless you went for a 5 minute gas and went Lair before Zergling speed ) while others prefer to rely on counter attacks with Roach/Ling and go for an eventual overwhelming amount of units. Though personally I go for a Baneling Drop style, it is a pretty hefty investment and for regular double extractor at 6 minutes that most people use it doesn't come out fast enough. There are many different forum posts on the Teamliquid forums discussing this build's in and outs, so go read up on the subject on there if you have trouble dealing with it.
As for the fast third playstyle, it is nigh unbreakable with proper Forcefields when you are only using Roaches and Zerglings. So it is much prefered to instead take a fourth and tech higher rather than go for a timing attack. It is too much of an investment to try and break that third right now, so either go for a Mutalisk transition or a slow move up to Broodlords.
Post-early game delaying
Now that you have a sense of what kind of delays happen in the early game in this match up, it makes a lot of sense to start looking at the other types of delays that can happen later in the game. Economic delay is much easier to explain considering the factors are more linear than delaying a large push, so I will start off with that.
Creep on an expansion
It isn't uncommon for a Zerg to creep up a future base in advance of the Protoss taking it. The creep forces the Protoss to wait until it has fully dissipated before he can start that Nexus. This delay can be up to a minute if an overlord was allowed to fully creep up a base according to this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQ_oRMVlGlY . In terms of mining time lost, the Protoss might be delayed for as much as 700 minerals. But more importantly, he won't have that additional 200 gas now that he would have had if he started that Nexus and assimilators a minute earlier.
This type of play however does rely on having a hefty bit of time of overlord spewing before it becomes as effective as mentioned above. So if you want to do it against the Protoss' third, you need to make sure the Protoss either goes for a 2 base aggression play. Stargate openings shuts this kind of delay down hard, so it's generally not recommended to try a speed overlord creeping play against it.
Burrowed Zergling on an expansion
A Zergling burrowed underneath a Nexus placement will either force an Observer to fly over to take care of it, or delay the Protoss until a pylon finishes and a Cannon is made to start shooting at the burrowed Zergling. This delays the Nexus for a little bit longer than a minute, giving roughly the same result as the overlord creeping.
This style of delaying however relies on the Protoss not going out with an Observer and the army to clear the Zergling out before he expands. And with the abundance of Observers in the lategame, this delay becomes gradually more ineffective the longer the game goes on. It shines most against Stargate openings due to the delayed Robotics facility, forcing the Protoss to build the Cannon to get rid of the Zergling there.
Patrolled Zerglings at the third
This kind of play tends to be much stronger in lower leagues compared to the higher leagues, since low level players don't tend to clear out a third with units, instead just sending out the Probe to build the Nexus. It can certainly delay, or atleast annoy, the Protoss a little bit. But mostly it gives the Zerg an easy way to get a timing on the Protoss' third going up rather than being a true delay focus.
If you can't do a burrow or creep delay on a Protoss' third, patrolling a few Zerglings will give you atleast a way to still be annoying while scouting at the same time as well. Who knows, you might get lucky and take out a Probe and delay the expansion a bit. In the worst case scenario, you will know that a Protoss is expanding to his third.
Taking out expansions
When you kill off an expansion, you delay mining from that base for over 100 seconds. That means about a net loss of 1000 minerals and around 300 gas lost in possible mined resources. The same kind of economic delay is bestowed on you when the Protoss takes out an expansion of your own.
The contaminate ability is often overlooked by Zerg players, but it does have it's merits. Getting it on an important tech building will delay the unit or upgrade building inside for half a minute. It does not get any more straight forward than that.
This is mostly useful against Collosus based timing pushes, as the Protoss usually decides on his Collosus count to move out. For example, moving out at three Collosi built rather than moving out at minute X. The delay of the push means you have an extra 30 seconds to build units and prepare for that imminent push. Delaying an upgrade with it gives the same effect, but most upgrade related timing attacks occur before Contaminate can get into play without too much economy being wasted on the earlier Lair tech.
Much later, getting it off on Stargates or even the Nexus while it is constructing a Mothership can become absolutely critical due to the nature of the Vortex ability not being online straight away once the Mothership has spawned. Delaying the possibility of a Vortex for an extra thirty seconds can give your Broodlord flock an interesting timing to attack without having to be scared of being Archon toileted to death.
Counter attacks and drops
It is almost impossible to quantify the time that you can win from counter attacks or drops because they are so dynamic. If the Protoss has to walk back half a map to defend his bases he will obviously be much more delayed than a Protoss that was already in his base to begin with. While the numbers are impossible to know upfront, it is worth noting that these kind of plays can shave minutes off of timing attacks depending on how annoying you are and how long your attack keeps going.
The best thing about this type of delay is that, aside from drops, counter attacking can almost always be a viable option to delay the Protoss. So there is no reason to not add them to your play right now.
I realise that this guide might be a lot more boring considering it doesn't recommend how to fight or what unit compositions to aim for. But I hope that at the very least it cleared up delays in this match up fully and helped you understand the significance in the little things.
While these little things might get dwarfed in the long scheme of things compared to bad engagements or being out of position in terms of importance, it's nice to know the kind of damage you can do by just having your opponent slowed down.
I'll use this space to ask to donate to the makers of SC2Gears and drop.sc. They do a lot more to the community than I do and have supplied the SC2 community with invaluable free replay analysis tools and uploaders. While it is usually the players and tournaments that get the spotlight, these products deserve an equal amount of appreciation. As always, you can donate to my paypal: firstname.lastname@example.org, if you want to support me for making these guides as well.
To finish off, thanks for reading and good luck on the ladder, and see you guys in or after the Heart of the Swarm beta!
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