Zerg vs Terran
A Reactive Playstyle
by: Chris ‘Ostojiy’ Ostojic
To download the PDF version of this guide, click HERE.
INTRO AND NOTES
There has been quite a bit written about different builds/styles, however I find these goes obsolete quite quickly with patch changes and metagame shifts. I felt it would be best to talk a little bit about playing Zerg with a reactive style, or making most of your decisions based on countering what your opponent does. This is not to say that there is not a place for builds/timings, however within the context of writing a guide it seemed more appropriate to discuss how to effectively scout throughout the game and adjust your style according to how your opponent plays.
This guide is catered more towards players that have at least established very basic mechanics and a game understanding, however does cover some basic tips and tricks which will make a difference in everybody’s game. There are many guides/video tutorials out there which teach you the basics, and I felt my time would be better spent on more advanced thought processes which are outside the scope of many guides out there.
I have a lot of people asking me how to get better at a beginner level and the one thing that I find myself constantly repeating is to watch replays. This means pro-replays to learn builds/styles/counters but also your own replays to see exactly where you had gone wrong. As Zerg I find it is very helpful throughout watching your replays to keep an eye on the income tab and where you are relative to your opponent.
There is no overall “correct” number of drones in Starcraft, so watching professional replays will help you get a sense of where you should be in relation to your opponent (see section ‘How Many Drones is Too Many?’. This will help you decide when to attack and when to defend, a critical question in any RTS. Finally, it is important to embrace losses and not get upset over losing a game. Every single player loses to weird builds or bad luck, it is important to see every game as a learning experience and teach yourself not to lose to it again!
Try to keep in mind my ladder motto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xzpndHtdl9A
Remember that this guide is simply my opinion, and not to take anything for granted. I like to think that I understand the game well, but am constantly learning new things with every game that I play.
GL and HF, I hope you enjoy!
Playing Zerg vs Terran well usually requires great mechanics, which is defined generally as how goodyou are at injecting larvae, spreading creep, denying drops/multipronged attacks, engaging, et cetera. If the Zerg plays this matchup perfectly there is theoretically little that Terran can do. This is because a Zerg’s economy can grow fairly exponentially, and if left unchecked, can get quickly out of hand. Many good Terrans will therefore will play unpredictable and apply some form of pressure or play greedy (3CCs + 2ebays off 1rax/factory).
Zergs should be focussing on having solid mechanics as a core skill to the matchup. It is difficult to make a bad decision when the map is covered in creep and you can move speedlings across the map in seconds as well as see everything the Terran is doing. In the early/midgame, if the Terran is being greedy, Zerg can always outdo them thanks to inject larvae, or they can simply punish the Terran with some early aggression.
A player with strong mechanics and poor decision making in Zerg vs Terran will be better than a player with poor
mechanics and great game understanding. This however does not hold true to ZvZ or ZvP where you can straight up lose if you make a poor decision. Of course that is not to say Zerg vs Terran is simply a contest of who can click the fastest, however many players do not put enough emphasis on the basics. This guide aims to teach you how to make the right decisions, however the ability to implement these strategies comes largely with practice.
So let’s look a little bit more into this:
THE EARLY GAME (~0 - 8 MINUTES)
How to Open?
While there are openings that involve not going 15hatchery, I honestly feel that they are largely gimmicky and non-viable against smart Terrans. A 15hatch --> 15pool is much better than a 15pool --> 16hatch against a 2rax/hellion rush simply because you need to get the positional advantage in your natural as soon as possible. Some players like to open with a 6/10/15 pool to try and punish Terrans that open with a Command Centre first, however this is largely a coinflip strategy that takes a great understanding your opponent to pull off (or a lot of confidence).
When starting a game try to put your first 1 or 2 overlords in a position that allows you to see the natural expansion of the Terran (useful for scouting 1base all ins, counting scvs and watching for units leaving the Terran base) or around their main (useful for sacrificing and checking what tech has been built, how many SCV’s have been produced and how much gas has been mined out of a geyser). If you are not drone scouting it is often best to put your second overlord at your natural to scout for any sort of early bunker rush. Your 3rd and 4th overlords should be sent to the edges of the map to scout for drops in the mid/late game.
There are many times that I opt out of drone scouting against Terran in order to gain some additional mining time. Given that early Marine harass can be defended by pulling drones and can be scouted with overlords, oftentimes it isn’t a huge risk to not scout. Reaper and hellion harass are generally repelled with queens as long as your overlords give you a little bit of time to position them.
So why do we drone scout? Drone scouting can be effective with good micro it well and can force the Terran to pull off 2 scvs (1 to repair, 1 to attack) to deal with the first drone. Even top tier Terrans will slip up their micro and lose a scv to a scouting drone. For this reason I like to send out my 10thdrone, however it can also be beneficial to send your drone out timed in sync with your overlord scout arriving at the first base on 3+ player maps so you can be more efficient with your scouting.
When the Terran pops out a Marine you should run your drone away and sit outside their base, or take a watch tower to see if they will be applying pressure. Many Zergs make the mistake of simply sending their drone back to their base the second a Terran pops out a Marine. Oftentimes you will scout a second proxy barracks or some non-conventional 2-3 Marine pushes with this drone so it’s a nice way to feel safer.
In general, there are 4 standard openings that Terran can use:
Pretty much lets you expand safely, usually will be followed up with 2 gases into hellion pressure. Make sure if it is 1rax CC you keep your drone around until you see the CC go down (or on some maps you can use an overlord). You can drone safely once the CC has been seen, you just need to keep a heads up for what kind of tech is being followed up.
This build is pretty popular, especially on large maps where it is difficult to punish the Terran. If you scout it early enough you can go 3hatch before pool (3rd hatch and pool on 18 supply). It is important to see if the Terran is going 2 gases after the CC, 2 rax after the CC or if neither, most likely he is going into a third CC.
Scouting fast gases mean you will need to prepare for very fast hellions and he is quite susceptible to early Roach pressure. A 2rax follow-up from a fast CC means he will likely be pretty safe but you can drone heavily depending on the map size. A lack of gas or rax means you will want to scout well (easy to do since he won’t have hellions) and drone heavily behind it. Alternatively, you can try to punish him for being exceptionally greedy.
You should check their gas for how much they have mined, if you see that it is more than 100 and they haven’t put down a factory maybe you should be prepared for some banshee shenanigans. Regardless, you should be sacking an overlord into the main as this build usually means the Terran is up to no good. Always try to see if they have put down an expansion or not as there are some scary 1base Terran pushes that with SCVs pulled can catch a greedy Zerg offguard. Usually if Terran is playing off 1base Zerg can clean it up fairly easily if they don’t make more than 40 drones.
Generally speaking, 1rax gas played into a macro style simply means fast hellions into a CC. Usually this is not the case since players that want a macro game will usually just open with a more greedy build. Fast starport (meaning dropped hellions or banshees) is a common followup so it is important to put overlords on the edge of your main. Spreading creep within your main is also very useful to defend against hellions and allow your queens to traverse. The important thing is to not drone heavily until you have scouted a second CC from the Terran player.
If they are mining it means they aren’t AFK at least. Try to count the SCVs and see if there are hidden barracks around their base. You can assume proxy 2rax until they throw down a CC first, but keep that scouting drone alive and put down a pool ASAP after your hatchery. Oftentimes players will try to hide a single barracks outside their base to apply minimal pressure and force you to overreact. Oftentimes it is best to wait until they pull SCVs off the mineral line to assume it’s an all-in.
Gasless openings are great economically but obviously do not allow the Zerg to apply much pressure without speedlings. The opening is strong because you get a lot of queens out, optimizing your creep spread and gives you a versatile early game defense. For macro Zergs that want to transition smoothly into the mid-late game this opening is strong as you get your drones our early and tech a bit later. If you opt for a gasless opening you get 4 queens very early, allowing the Zerg to spread creep as much as possible before the Terran can start denying it. Pushing creep early will give you a huge edge if the Terran opts to do a midgame push to deny your 3rd base (Protip: Drop 1 creep tumour in your main base and spread it to all of the edges so drops can be scouted + denied much easier).
The great thing about skipping gas is that you can put down your 3rd hatchery very quickly, so even if the Terran counters it by playing greedy they cannot match your production. You can even drop 3 gases at around 40 supply and do a Roach/ling/baneling attack which generally will roll a Terran that goes 3CC/2ebay by catching them offguard. It is important to switch up your styles a lot if you are playing the same person to remain unpredictable.
Protip: Don’t get carried away with your droning. There is nothing worse than losing to the flimsiest Terran pushing because you were too greedy to make a handful of lings to scout the map. When you play the Game of Drones you win or you die. If you don’t scout you usually just die.
Defending a 2RAX Rush
There are many times that I opt out of drone scouting against Terran and instead park my second overlord at the natural. The only super- early pressure that Terran’s can apply is Marines (reapers can be annoying but are easily countered by queens).
Scouting the 2rax lets you be more prepared mentally and you will probably make one less drone, but mathematically speaking you will usually not have much more on hand to defend with. If you are aware of your minimap and don’t make drones (Some maps you can scout your opponent’s CC with an overlord quit early), you will have a good chance of defending it.
There are many different ways to hold off a 2rax and some are more or less effective depending on how much the Terran is committing to the attack. If you scout a proxy-2rax early enough (and close to your base) you can pull about 8 drones and just attack the Marines as they spawn from the barracks. You may think it’s not worth it to lose the mining time, but if you can deny Marines from getting back to the Terran main you have essentially won the game. Pumping lings out will allow you to attack his main and continually deny Marine production.
Your best bet at defending a bunker rush is usually to pull enough drones + lings to make sure the bunker never gets up (or Marines never get into the bunker). If the barracks is proxied you will have to pull about 12 drones and target the bunker before any Marines/SCVs or risk having a repaired bunker kill your hatchery. The drones can be used to either follow the Marines and surround them (making sure not to target SCVs) or be pulled back. If the bunker has been killed I usually like to pull back and wait for Zerglings. Don’t bother making a spine or queens if you denied the bunker, pumping pure Zerglings will help you decimate his forces.
If the 2raxing Terran is going to put a bunker up out of range from your hatchery, you can just make a spine or two and pump lings. Once you have about 10+ lings you can easily surround the bunker. In this situation you should lead with a queen to tank the autoattack from the Marines.
If the Terran pulls a lot of SCVs, sometimes you are able to lose your natural hatchery and be okay provided you did not lose many drones. Spines outrange bunkers by 1, so if positioned properly can chip away at bunkers, however most Terran players will bring enough SCVs to make sure the bunker is repaired.
The main risk of a proxy 2rax from a Terran perspective is that if lings are able to slip into their base before Marines, there is almost no way to kill the Zerglings. If you are fortunate enough to get into their base, it is important to keep them alive and not engage large numbers of SCVs directly. Instead force him to pull off the mineral line and chase your Zerglings around while simultaneously denying Marine production.
The map is important to consider when planning your Marine defense, as some will let you get bunker walled (See Cloud Kingdom) and some will allow the Terran to walk around spine crawlers (Ohana backdoor rocks). You should take this into account before you play on any map and look at how the distance between your main/natural will affect how you opt to defend.
After a 2rax has been defended you must use lings/overlords to scout the map. Terran can macro (usually 2CCs right away), tech (2gases+1CC) or all in (4rax off 1 CC and pull all SCVs). The number of drones you can get away with making really depends on how many CCs they put down. Always remember that just because they put down 2 CCs does not mean that the 2 original barracks cannot still pump out Marines so don’t play too greedy! As long as you leave a ling outside their main you will usually have time to react and build lings.
Opening With A Gas As Zerg
Gas openings won’t allow you to get the same quick queen count and therefore creep spread as a gasless opening but it does allow you to put on pressure or threaten pressure. If you opt to mine only 100 gas early on for Zergling speed a 15hatch, 16pool, 17gas build can get queens out a few seconds later than a gasless opening and allow you to punish greedy Terrans. A gas before pool lets you baneling bust or do a quick mass speedling attack before the Terran can get hellions. The build is a little more versatile than a gasless opener because you get map control with quick Zergling speed and can scare the Terran into playing too safe.
Making 5-10 Roaches for an early push can be great against a player that decides to play greedy behind hellions. If they are going banshees this attack will usually put you behind. Always remember that any sort of early pressure that you apply can be followed up with standard macro. This means you can go straight into double evolution chambers, 4 queens, a third base and a lair.
I made 3 bases and a bunch of drones. Now what!?
Great job making drones. You are half way to becoming a Zerg master! Now…You should probably make units so you don’t die.
Don’t feel pressured to saturate your third base until your opponent has taken his own as overdroning is the best way to feel terrible about yourself when you lose. Optimal saturation is about 16 drones per base on minerals and 6 on gas. This is not to say that you can’t increase productivity by adding more, simply that the amount mined per drone decreases substantially after 16. Zerg tech is extremely gas intensive so in most games it is best to take your gases ASAP at your third (ASAP is assuming that you have reached optimal mineral saturation for that base).
If you scouted fast gases from the Terran, it’s usually a good idea to assume cloaked banshees and lay down a spore in your main and (potential) third base. A lot of hellions, 2 factories or a factory landed with a reactor pretty late is a sure sign that heavy hellion pressure is incoming. Roaches, spines and queens are a good way to tank damage from the hellions. Any sort of flashing techlab on a barracks should result in you making a baneling nest to defend against a stim or combat shield timing.
The most important thing about going into the midgame is to defend any 2base timings from the Terran and minimize drone losses from harass. Getting your tech (baneling speed, mutas or infestors) will allow you to be a little bit more aggressive. This is further compounded by the fact that oftentimes your creep spread will give you additional map control by the midgame.
Queens are incredibly versatile as they can tank damage, attack air, transfuse, spread creep, inject larvae and deal moderate damage to ground units. They are cheap and don’t cost larvae but the downside to making them is that they are slow on creep and even slower off creep. If Terran sees you massing queens they can play super greedy and you won’t map control to know what they are doing or the units to punish them even if you did. Still, I think up to 6 queens can be fairly standard for a Zerg that wants to transition into the lategame with a crapton of creep and defense.
The amount of use a single spine crawler can have when defending early Terran pushes cannot be understated. 2 Queens, 6 lings and a spine crawler can totally decimate a Terran push that would win against 2 queens and 16 lings. Spines can be transfused making them even more efficient. They can be moved and help you defend against drops in the mid/lategame so always a good investment to make. A single spine crawler can zone a Terran into awkward engagements and give you somewhere to easily make a surround.
Spores are situational but they build super-fast (30 ingame seconds) and can even root themselves quickly (6 ingame seconds). If you suspect the Terran of making cloaked banshees but can’t get into their base it is usually smarter to put down a spore or two blindly than risk losing 20 drones before the banshee runs out of energy. Again, these can be moved to the edge of your base in order to defend against drops later on in the game.
We’ve all seen games where a player just masses Zerglings and defends mass blueflame hellion + Marine pushes. That being said, you will usually lose and if you do win it’s usually because the Terran made a mistake and was surrounded on creep by your speedlings. They are very fast and deal great DPS but die quickly and are light units (die even faster to hellions).
Zergling only defenses can be incredibly effective with good creep spread, but it is oftentimes better to make a handful of Roaches if you suspect mass hellions. Generally speaking, skipping banelings/Roaches is a significant risk and should not be done blindly. If you see the Terran playing greedy or skipping hellions then you can get away with it.
In the end, Zergings are the staple unit of the swarm and should be used to counterattack the Terran whenever they move out. Worst case scenario of a well-executed counter attack is that it delays the Terran push. Best case – you kill their base! Almost every Terran player I have talked to cites Zergling counter attacks as a personal hatred.
It is always surprising how many times Zerg players (myself included) skip banelings and then lose to good Terran positioning or a few Medivacs that heal faster than Roach/lings can do damage. It costs you 100 minerals, 50 gas and 1 drone to get the tech and can make an incredibly cost efficient army on creep.
The threat of a solid baneling hit will repel a lot of Terran aggression. Although they can get kited by hellions they are still really good in combination with a Zergling pincer to hold the Terran units in place. Not always a unit that you have to make, but can be very cost efficient. Banelings are a good earlygame unit to use especially if you are playing catchup because of their potential cost-efficiency.
Roaches are great in Zerg vs Terran because so many Terrans rely on hellions as the backbone of their early game harrass. They are incredibly cost-efficient in small numbers, can allow you to be aggressive against the Terran early on. Speed Roaches in overwhelming numbers can catch your opponent offguard (pretty hard to be aggressive without them if the Terran makes hellions). Overall, if you want to transition into the lategame without taking too much risk of damage you should always make a few Roaches to secure watchtowers and give you map control. If the Terran is being super aggressive you can even use them in a Zergling/infestor (/ occasionally baneling) army to make the army super beefy. Moving in with your Roaches to tank damage and then surrounding with lings will help you avoid those situations where you lose 50 lings trying to engage a Terran army off-creep and kill nothing.
A very situational unit. You can use them well against banshees but rarely will they be made in high numbers. Their movement speed is quite low, especially off creep. Their redeeming factor is strong range vs air and solid damage, but very few players can use them effectively and it requires catching your opponent offguard.
Mutas are strong harassers and can be used to snipe units around the map or as a Terran reinforces a push. They require pretty good mechanics to use effectively and are quite squishy to stimmed Marines. I like mutas for a fast timing to punish players that go hellion/banshee with 3 CCs and don’t make any Marines, however feel infestors are usually a safer choice leading into the lategame. They are great for counter attacking and picking off drops and but you will lose some games due to their weakness in a straight up fight.
This unit is incredibly good at tanking dam age and cleaning up an overextended Terran force. In combination with infestors you can lock down bioballs and clean up with ultralisk splash damage. They are effective at pushing into a Terran defensive line (provided you can support with Zerglings and infestors) and ending the game. You should be careful of getting kited (easily countered by infestors) or bunch up against tanks. When using Ultras you should commit to an attack because pulling back can mean getting chased down by stimmed marauders.
Having them fully upgraded pretty much neutralizes Marine damage and forces the Terran to make tanks and marauders. Therefore you can use them effectively by tech switching into ultralisks from a broodlord based army (Viking/Marines will be shredded) and vice versa (Marauder/tank armies are dominated by broodlords).
Besides being used for supporting broodlords from Vikings, corruptors can be used in combination with Zergling/infestor to clean up Medivacs. They aren’t good for chasing down drops because of their slow speed and thus have limited use until the lategamegame.
These are pretty much the ultimate siege weapon of the Zergs. You can hit great timings with them and do some timing pushes off of 3 bases or just play defensive and build up a massive deathball. They are slow so broodlord armies are vulnerable to counter attacks, but as long as you protect them in the air with corruptors/infestors and on the ground with good fungals a maxed army of broodlords requires a huge Terran force to destroy. The most important thing about using broodlords effectively is to not overextend since they cannot retreat and are very expensive to rebuild.
Anyways, I have outlined the units possible for Zerg early game defense. It is up to you how you want to use them, there are so many combinations that it depends on preference and amount of risk you want to take on. For me, early game defense usually involves 4-6 queens, 1 spine crawler, and however many Zerglings you want to pump out. If the Terran is Marine heavy you should consider some banelings and if they make hellions you should consider Roaches. This is not to say Roaches aren’t incredibly effective against Marine pushes (especiallypre-combat shield as it takes 3 hits to kill Marines vs 4) or that banelings are bad against hellions (extra damage vs light). The key to early game defense oftentimes lies more so in your ability to scout and spread creep quickly than your unit composition.
I think most Zergs will agree that upgrades are a lot of times the deciding factor in Zerg vs Terran engagements. This is because both Marines and Zerglings (staple units of both races) attack very quickly and don’t have much HP. Therefore (if you do the basic math) upgrades are going to play a huge role in determining who comes out on top. Dual evolution chamber with 1/1 (melee+carapace) before lair is generally considered standard. I don’t see many Zergs playing a ‘macro game’ with only a single evolution chamber. The evolution chambers also serve as a nice wall or funnel against hellion harassment in your natural!
Generally the fastest upgrade timing would be to start your 2/2 right as the lair finishes meaning your 1/1 has to start quite early. I don’t like to throw numbers in like 7:30 or 60 supply as they can cause more harm than good. Every game is different, it is better to learn how to make good decisions than being told what decisions to make.
As a general rule, while it may seem like a good idea to put off those upgrades in a game with many close engagements, you will regret it if the game progresses. One option is to try to reel back the aggression in order to get your upgrades out ASAP. The alternative is to ramp it up and end the game before the Terran passes you in upgrades.
Melee upgrades are great for banelings and Zerglings, however you really don’t want to skip out on carapace since it lets your units eat enough damage to get close. Without carapace your ling/baneling forces won’t be able to touch the Terran army, your drones will melt and infestors will be more vulnerable to snipes.
For mutas I think 1/0, 2/0 or 2/1 is the most cost efficient you can get as you are mostly harassing or sniping units with the mutas and trying to avoid full on engagements. Investing in carapace is only really good if you plan to mass mutas and engage the Terran army head on or want to help out your broodlords later on. Remember when going mutas that if you are opting to not upgrade that Marines become exponentially stronger against you as they are upgraded. The armour upgrades will eliminate the glaive bounce of mutas and attack with stim will mean you die that much faster.
If you want to upgrade your broodlords against Terran (rhetorically speaking, if you are making broodlords you want to upgrade them), carapace is going to be the most effective route. Vikings shoot twice meaning 1 carapace armour will reduce a Viking shot by 2 damage. Marines will do only 5 damage to a fullycarapace-upgraded broodlord. While attack is certainly a good upgrade to get (especially as it helps corruptors out as well) if you only have 1 spire you should be making carapace. Ideally, you have enough economy to support 2 spires and can create an incredibly powerful air army.
Overlord speed is cheap and generally worth it if you can afford it. For those Zergs that always forget that they rallied overlords with their army and don’t move them out of the middle of the map, it is usually worth it. Once you realize your mistake it is usually too late. It also lets you spread overlords very easily to spot drops so is a must have on larger maps.
Burrow can be incredibly useful and is a must-have for those that like to use infestors to their full effectiveness. You can baneling bomb, force scans, hide drones and units and best of all: ninja infestors all around the map. I don’t know many situations where getting burrow isn’t cost efficient; it’s simply a matter of what timing you want to upgrade it at.
Roach Speed is a must-have if you are going to keep making Roaches and you have a lair.
Tunnelling claws is really good against mech as you can set up some cool flanks and pop Roaches up besides tanks to draw friendly fire. I’ve done some burrowed Roach rushes for fun against Terrans, but realistically isn’t worth it against bio.
Baneling Speed is an upgrade that sometimes players put off or don’t get at all and in anaction-packed midgame can be hard to budget for. It just more than a single infestor. It certainly is not necessary for engaging stimmed Marines on-creep if you have speedlings to help surround them. The upgrade is a must-have for engaging Terran efficiently in an offensive fashion.
Infestor Energy is a must-have always when going infestors! (Be sure to not make your infestors until this upgrade reaches 30 seconds). Having a fungal ready when they spawn is essential.
Neural Parasite is only really viable against mech, and even then I think it’s usually inferior to infested Terrans because they can easily get sniped. If you can manage to grab a few Thors it can be very effective but I’m not a big fan against much else.
Adrenal glands has been defined by many game analysts as a ‘key upgrade’ by looking at math alone. Certainly if Zerglings were just attacking stuff the upgrade would be very critical but a lot of times it is better to upgrade ultras or make infestors to deal the majority of the DPS with your lategame army. Adrenal glands is good if you are massing lings or have the economy to afford it, I would generally put it after 3/3, and after Chitinous Plating if you are getting ultras. Don’t sell this upgrade short, it makes your lings do sick damage!
Chitinous Plating or Ultralisk armour is cheap (150/150) and necessary to give those ultras the ability to never die to Marine fire by giving them 6 armour when fully upgraded. Always try to hold off engaging the Terran army until this upgrade is done because Ultras get much tankier with it.
Generally it is good to get most upgrades if you can afford them without dying. It may seem like a good idea to hold off your 3/3 or adrenal until the Terran makes his push however this will hurt you later in the game a lot just do it ✔.
Creep is one of the most important aspects of Zerg vs Terran that really isn’t that difficult to do if given proper attention. It gives you higher mobility and vision. It also makes the Terran uneasy about pushing until it is cleared (which also costs them a mule+stim+time). Best of all it costs nothing to make except godlike APM! A good Zerg should always have at least 1 queen adding creep tumours and spreading it in different directions. Ano-gas opening gives you optimal creep spread, and following it up with 6 queens is a little bit unfair for Terrans that were hoping to do a midgame push.
It is good practice to spread creep in your own base to scout and protect against drops (only takes 1 tumour). Another good tip is to have a Zergling or overload spotting on ramps so you can spread creep up there immediately. Try to push the creep tumours to all paths and make a lot of them to delay the Terran push even more. Creep is incredibly important for Zergs that are teching because it lets you make better engagements by surrounding the Terran army fast er and lets you scout where his army is. Most importantly it slows down the push as they have to clear out the creep before advancing.
If you want to get really cute you can drop creep with an overlord on highground or lowground and put it there permanently with a tumour. This lets you cover literally the entire map with purple goop however takes more APM than most players are willing to commit for a largely irrelevant return.
Even if your creep spread is bad, don’t feel like that’s an excuse not to try. Any amount makes a difference at any point in the game. Bring your queens from your main or natural and use up the energy they have accumulated from non-perfect injects on tumors then waypoint them back to the natural.
ENGAGING THE TERRAN ARMY
There are generally three Terran army compositions. I will briefly talk about how to engage each one of them.
Marine, Siege Tank
This is the most common Terran army composition as it gives the Terran the ability to abuse terrain and force the Zerg into engaging into a tank line. Tanks are great at soaking baneling hits and Marines shred Zerglings. As a Zerg you want to try and split your lings up to fight the tanks and move command your banelings towards clumps of Marines (genera lly not attack command unless the Marines are totally clumped).
Ideally you will fight the Terran player on creep with a good flank and catching him unsieged. Realistically this won’t happen often unless you do something to force him into overextending (I.E counterattacking the main or killing his expansions). Terran’s will usually slowpush on creep so sometimes you have to settle with a good pincer attack when he is unsieged and clumped up. The best way to do this is to alway know where his army is and put on a bit of pressure around the edge of his army. This will force him to siege up thereby slowing the Terran push or stim Marines to chase your Zerglings. Sometimes you will get lucky and catch him out of position making your banelings super-effective! Remember, engaging off creep is something that you want to avoid as much as possible. It is better to sacrifice a base and wait to engage the army than to engage poorly and lose your entire army AND a base.
With mutas it is important to target down the siege tanks while leaving your ling/banelings to fight off the bio army. You can shift-A-click the tanks with your muta flock, allowing you to clean up the bio easily with banelings. Be sure to move in your Zerglings first to soak damage as the mutas/banelings are expensive and you cannot afford to lose gas-units as cannon fodder. Hotkeying your mutas and ground army separately is a must in order to engage effectively.
Bio (sometimes played as bio + hellions)
Bio can be hard to fight against because it is so mobile. It is important to have a way of locking down the units so they are unable to kite your ground force. Fungal growth is the easiest way to lock down a bio clump, however a good flank from Zerglings in order to create a surround can work great as well. While you can play against bio without banelings and put the gas into additional infestors, you rely heavily on the Terran player not getting good positioning. The moment a Terran player begins to get behind mineral lines and snipe off your infestors is the moment you regret skipping your baneling nest.
When facing bio, it is important to be patient and try and wait for the Terran to attack into you. This forces their units to clump thereby making them more vulnerable to fungal growth and baneling hits. If you are running your army into a Terran bio army that is spread out you will be hard pressed to take the engagement. You don’t always need to flank a bio army, especially if you have infestors as they don’t have splash damage or long ranged units (you can just sit and let them get fungalled to death!)
Be careful about the medevac count as the Terran will have a lot of gas (from not making tanks) that they can put into their air force. If they gather a large number of Medivacs your Zerglings become somewhat ineffective and you will need a lot of infestors or banelings to actually fight the army. Remember that a bio-heavy army is capable of lifting off and dropping elsewhere if you don’t have anti- air. If the medevac count is getting out of control you can make a few corruptors (to be built into broodlords later) to go with your Zergling/baneling/infestor army. This will safe infestor energy as they don’t need to lay down infested Terrans or fungals to clean up the Medivacs.
Terran mech is incredibly strong because it is difficult for Zerg to trade cost-efficiently against it once they accumulate a ball. I h ave seen some Zergs just make Roaches/lings/banelings and overwhelm the Terran army at any cost however this can also fail quite badly to some concentrated siege tank fire. Despite the power of a mech army, Terran’s will lose games because of superior Zerg tech, economy and sheer force of numbers.
I prefer a style of Roach pressure into infestors and broodlords. The key is to delay the mech push as much as possible to give you more time to stockpile minerals and larvae, build infestor energy and tech to hive/broodlords. Constantly forcing the Terran to siege and unsiege is a great way to buy time and potentially pick off stray units. Burrowing your Roaches (with tunnelling claws) lets you do this without sustaining too many losses.
When engaging the Terran army it is ideal to get in close in order to draw friendly siege tank fire. Burrowed infestors throwing infested Terrans can do this, as can burrowed Roaches (or just running in) and Zerglings. You generally have 1 shot at engaging the Terran army and you HAVE to do enough damage to the mech ball that your reiforcements can clean it up. Make sure you engage the Terran ball from multiple angles as this will reduce the efficiency of tank splash damage and allow you to get a good surround.
Infestors are very powerful against mech however can be targeted down by siege tank fire so are difficult to use properly. Infested Terrans thrown on top of a siege tank ball can clean them up very quickly (especially if you’ve been upgrading missile attacks for your Roaches). Fungal growth can deal damage to a clump of hellions or tanks and slow the push allowing you to gain better position before engaging. Neural parasite is also a very good spell against tanks and Thors (if you control a big chunk of their army that is usually enough to cleanly win an engagement vs mech). You need to make sure your infestors are out of range of most of the siege tanks as a good Terran will target down them down as soon as you try to cast the spell.
If you are able to get broodlords out before the Terran pushes you will usually be able to hold it off fairly easily since rarely do they pre-emptively build Vikings. Even if they do have Vikings, infestors and queens can make great anti air, allowing you to invest all of your initial free gas into broodlords (and not corruptors). Corruptors can be useful later on, but really the focus should be on using fungal and infested Terrans to combat huge clumps of Vikings. Ravens out on the map mean you need to split your broodlords and corruptors in engagements.
Ultralisks can be used to fight against mech, but you have to be incredibly patient. Unless the Terran pushes out or you have a massive advantage, it is usually a bad idea to attack with them. As long as you wait for the Terran to walk out unsieged when trying to push or take a base you will be able to find a favourable engagement. The true power to Ultralisks in Zerg vs Terran is in the tech-switch where you go from having a ground-based army to one purely of broodllords/infestors. Terran will not be able to know for sure what you are following the Ultras up with so may be forced to try and counter both.
ZERG VS TERRAN THEMES
It is difficult lategame Starcraft because there are so many variables and factors that need to be considered. Therefore I will write the final part not as an endgame guide but more as thematic advice about the matchup. This is largely for lack of a better term.
Attacking vs Defending
There is always a difficult balance to find in learning when to attack and when to defend. Generally speaking attacking is effective to when hitting timing, denying their economy or taking advantage of an opportunity. Hitting timings is a more proactive style of Zerg, while denying economy and opportunistic attacks are much more reactive.
Knowing when and how to do a timing attack in the lategame is extremely situational. It is difficult for some Zerg players to make a full commitment to an attack, however if you are going to try to hit a timing it is almost always better to make more units than not enough. I will cover a scenario here which will give you an idea of a strong timing attack.
If I am a Zerg player that opened with 4 queens, am taking my 3rd base, teching up to lair and getting 1/1 I have a few routes that I can take. Firstly, I can play economically and look to take a 4th base. Second I can play to the lategame and start my hive as soon as possible. Another option would be committing to an attack on the Terran, generally hitting a timing to punish them as they take a third. These three
paths of ‘economy, units and tech’ are of course the pillars of StarCraft and found the basis for each decision we make.
A common timing on a Terran third is executed with muta-ling- bling, however can also be done with pure Zergling/baneling (upgraded with 1/1 or 2/2). The mutas are used to snipe tanks while forcing the Marines to kite backwards back with your ground army. There are a few common Zerg timing attacks that can be learned from watching current games and replays; giving an exact build order is not possible.
Generally it is hard to attack into a Terran that is not playing extraordinarily greedy unless you fully commit to making units. If you are droning, teching or expanding it may be sometimes be a good idea to m ake an attack if the opportunity arises but beware of a strong counter attack should it fail.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been caught with my pants down while trying to do too many things at once. As much as we would all love to expand, tech and apply pressure at the same time, not even the great Zerg Bonjwa’s can do this is an evenly matched game. The key to a strong Zerg attack is knowing when to stop droning and when to start making units.
This is called decision making or game sense and can really only be learned from playing/watching the game A LOT. Usually if you are seeing a Terran start to make a lot of production or take another base it is an opportunity for a timing. It takes a while to begin to make units from the new infrastructure or start getting a return from the new base so take advantage of these whenever possible (note that taking advantage might mean droning/teching rather than attacking).
Opportunistic Attacking and Economic Limitation
This is a tactic which is similar to a timing attack but different in the sense that you are attacking to either put yourself ahead later on (economic limitation) or take advantage of your opponent being too greedy. Unlike a timing attack you usually don’t want to commit to building units 100% but rather should focus on building up your own infrastructure while constantly scouting and looking for an opportunity to attack.
If you don’t want to play super greedy and don’t want to play super all in, you will generally look for this middle-ground of applying some pressure to deny Terran’s from snowballing and punishing them if they try. The key to this lies in strong scouting and acting on knowledge of Terran rushing bases. Even if they are taking a delayed expansion, you can sometimes apply light pressure and delay it (don’t commit to an attack, simply slow down how fast he can take it) to give yourself an edge.
Most theorycrafting states that in order to have a ‘standard’ game the Zerg should be one base ahead.
There are certainly exceptions and styles and don’t apply to this rule (Zergling+infestor into ultralisks in Zerg vs Terran is a good example since you are using superior tech/upgrades to take an advantage rather than economy) but generally Zergs trade more inefficiently than Protoss and don’t have mules to increase mining speed on a base. You can take the passive option of taking a fourth base as your opponent takes a third, or commit to building an army to deny taking a base. This works well when your opponent is playing greedy, but it is usually better to push your advantage and just take a 4th if they are playing extremely safe.
Probably the best way to deny Terran’s taking a quick third is to use mutas/Zerglings/banelings or pure Zergling/baneling (with 1/1 or 2/2 upgrades). Infestors are generally a poor choice as infested Terrans can get shredded pretty quickly from Marine DPS. Fungal growth is a better defensive spell in general, and in the midgame you won’t have accumulated that much energy for infested Terrans. When attacking into a Terran’s third it is important to spread your units and try to hit from as many angles as possible. Flanking avoids losing your army to siege tank splash damage and makes splitting/kiting much harder for the bio to do. Using a changeling to check out how much of an army they have and it’s positioning is a great way to avoid suicide missions.
How Many Drones is Too Many?
A lot of Zergs enjoy playing economy cheese, characterized by ‘when you play the game of drones, you win or you die’. While blindly overbuilding economy can be a coinflip, Starcraft is about taking calculated risks and doing what your opponent least expects. I don’t think you can say that playing a certain style is inherently better than playing others, however a mixture of different builds and styles is what makes a truly strong player. I will briefly cover how to play greedy, and how exactly to take advantage of the extra income!
Thanks to Larvae Inject, Zergs can grow their economy exponentially, meaning that if both players were to agree to a NR20 match (no rush 20 minutes) a Zerg player would always have more workers than a Terran or Protoss player. Therefore, the standard ‘passive’ play is considered to drone as heavily as the Terran will allow you in the early/midgame, and having as many drones as you can make in the endgame without dying. This is the traditional reactive style, however should be switched up with more aggressive build or fighting unit heavy supply compositions in order to remain unpredictable. It should be noted that the D key on my blackwidow keyboard is the only one to be marked up, it is a bit scratched up from franticly being pressed.
65 > Drones
Making fewer than 65 drones in the late game does not necessarily mean you are playing all in, however it does mean that you need to play aggressive and deny your opponent’s economy to draw the game out. If you haven’t fallen behind, having an economic disadvantage generally means you invested into army or tech which can help you realize an advantage in other ways.
The great thing about Zerg is that if you kill off an army or have a strong advantage, you can easily transition from 55 drones to 75 by clicking 3 buttons. Having a lower drone count lets you nicely saturate 3-4 bases, however doesn’t have much added efficiency beyond that. The higher amount of aggression is suited nicely towards smaller maps (Cloud Kingdom, Ohana) since its harder to get away with greedy builds on these maps.
Although one generally thinks that an ‘under 65 drone’ composition is suited towards more aggressive play, it can be crucial in the endgame to maximize the power of your deathball. Having 50 drones with 5k banked is almost always better than having 80 drones with 10k banked since your army is going to be able to trade much more efficiently. As it currently stands, due to the strength of the infestor and broodlord (2 and 4 supply respectively), a 200/200 Zerg composition is generally very supply efficient. This means that by cutting 50 drones out of your endgame supply composition you are allowing for 25 more infestors (or 200 infested Terrans )! Oftentimes when building your deathball you want to have enough that you can roll the Terran army with ease.
65 – 80 Drones
It is generally accepted that 65-80drones is the most standard number, allowing you to have a strong economy while not playing too greedy. I wouldn’t say it is better to aim for this number, it is important to fluctuate in between different drone counts depending on what your opponent is doing. If they are being super passive and defensive, I would err on the higher side of this
count. If your opponent has yet to take a third, I would be hesitant about passing the 65 mark. At the same time, if they are taking bases at an accelerated rate you want to either punish them by playing aggressive with a low drone count, or by playing even greedier than they are with a high drone count.
80 < Drones
Making over 80 drones in a game can be viable, however because it eats up so much of your supply in the endgame, there is a huge risk due to the weaker army composition that it creates. You can use the additional drones to say ‘hey I don’t really care if you have a stronger army, I don’t need to trade efficiently and since I’m Zerg I can just remax instantly”. This style certainly works, however is suited to larger maps with many potential bases to take such as Tal’Darim Altar, however eventually you will run out of bases to mine so not always a viable strategy. It can also backfire miserably if you come up against a deathball that you just can’t kill. It does however let you implement a ‘300 supply push’ where you attack and as your army is dying you simply remake it and attack again! Tech switches (ultras broods or broods ultras) work great with a strong economy to support it since an army of marauders or Vikings now become fairly obsolete as well.
The other situation in which making over 80 or even as many as 100 drones can be effective is a situational timing. Against passive play (usually mech based) it can be great to take 5 bases and fully saturate them all while you are building up your hive tech and upgrading like mad. Of course you need to scout and make sure that you can get away with this, but the great thing about having 100 drones is that you can always lay down 15 spine crawlers with that additional income you have generated to buy time to produce an army. Keeping this number of drones into the endgame is generally a bad idea since it means a much weaker army. If you have a large amount of resources banked and the map is getting mined out there is no reason to fully saturate 5 bases, instead focus on trading efficiently by producing larger armies.
Endgame Strategies and Engagements
The key to endgame Starcraft is keeping your cool and knowing when and how to engage. This tactic separates the mediocre progamers from the great progamers and is incredibly hard to discern under pressure. Playing a 40 minute game can be incredibly stressful, however to be successful you have to shut up that voice telling you to just attack and get it over with. Always try to make sure you have your upgrades fully completed (if you have the bank available). Air upgrades and missile attack are often neglected, however improving your broodlords and infested Terrans/queens will make a huge difference in lategame engagements.
Generally speaking, a broodlord army is better to be defensive with. In the ideal world you will only attack by moving a huge group of queens, infestors, spines and spores under your huge air army (virtually unbeatable, however the same can be said of battlecruiser/raven/ghost). Practically speaking, this will almost never happen, since you will be forced to attack or will be attacked before this can happen (Terran has killed your bases, Terran is being too greedy). When you are forced to attack you should never simply A move. Spreading your air army out is critical against Thors/ravens. Splitting infestors helps them not get targeted down or EMP’d since they are key to successfully trading in almost every engagements.
Base retention and management of your opponent’s economy are critical in lategame Zerg vs Terran. Drops and sneak attacks from the Terran can easily cripple your economy if not dealt with quickly. It may take some time to realize the damage that losing bases can have to your economy (especially if you have a significant bank), however it is generally good practice to rebuild drones for every one that is lost and leave units or build spines/spores at every base to protect it. The worst scenario that can happen as a Zerg is to lose so many bases that you are forced to make an engagement (since you are mining so much less than your opponent, every second you wait puts you further behind). With any lategame army, the Terran defenders advantage can be significant due to siege tanks and a well split army. Terrans that are left unchecked can produce a myriad of orbital commands and leave a tiny SCV count to simply mine gas. This is a Zerg nightmare since the Terran can now make a 190 supply army of ravens, battlecruisers and ghosts.
Overall I would say lategame Zerg vs Terran comes down to managing the economies of both yourself and your opponent and then making the right engagements. As long as you are able to retain bases and expand to new locations on the map while keeping the Terran under control you are able to force him to act as the aggressor. If you fight well by spreading your air units, retaining your infestors and flanking with ultralisks/Zerglings you should have no problem against even the most fearsome of Terran deathballs.
Three things are required to play a reactive style well. The first is scouting. Drone scouts, overlord sacrifices, overlords on ramps, changelings and random speed Zerglings are all great ways to gather information about your Terran opponent. The second key to success is knowing what to do once you have the information. The third is simply your ability to execute the required strategies. I hope that this guide has helped you with the first two, however the third comes with time and practice. Knowing the response to what a Terran is doing instantly is also something that requires an immense amount of practice. While the metagame shifts with time, the fundamentals of StarCraft do not.
Appendix A – About Ostojiy
Hello, my name is Chris ‘ostojiy’ Ostojic I am currently studying business at Western University (Canada) and dabbling in the art of professional gaming. I played Starcraft: Brood War since 2005 as a Protoss player and Starcraft II as Zerg since the beta. The main reason I switched to Zerg is because I love the versatility of the race and the ability to switch between strategies quickly. I am the captain of Western’s Collegiate Starleague team. other enjoyments include long walks on the beach and candlelit dinners.
I have been able to reach the top ladder ranking in North America many times in the past with a strong winrate because of my consistency and ability to understand my opponents. I don’t think my mechanics or game understanding has given me as much success in my career as my ability to react properly to my opponents. This has given me exceptional results in the ZvZ matchup where predicting your opponent and extrapolating on a little bit on information will let you know how to tech and drone and ultimately win.
Despite putting up less than stellar results at LANs, I feel like I continue to develop as a player every game. The importance of being in the right mental state for matches cannot be understated and there is so much that needs to go into being a successful progamer beyond just StarCraft. I have always struggled with nerves at LANs, especially against Korean
players, however hope to improve my offline results in the future.
I hope this guide is helpful to both the experienced player and those just starting to learn the game. It is designed to be as accessible as possible, while still being useful to those at a more competitive level of play.
Appendix B – Tips and Tricks
Here is a list of small things which can make a huge difference in your gameplay. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Burrow a Zergling at EVERY base that your opponent could take. It will force them to burn a scan or 240 minerals for just a measly 25.
- Even better you should burrow a Zergling and drop creep with an overlord. This forces the Terran to kill the overlord --> try to land the command centre --> realize it won’t land and have to scan and kill the Zergling.
- Don’t walk your entire infestor squad forward to attack. Hotkey them separately; just select the group and then F-Left Click in order to fungal. This will make your infestors walk forward one at a time and prevent them from walking into a Terran deathball.
- Anytime you see Thors it is a good idea to upgrade Neural Parasite as which a single neuralled Thor can turn a battle in your favour.
- Usually you want to move-command baneling armies rather than A-move them. This means they both absorb damage and get closer to clumps of enemy units, there are few situations where A-Moving is preferable (except when they are clumped up).
- Ultralisks aren’t too fast so preventing kiting by locking down the Terran army is key. Combine them with Zerglings to wrap around the army or infestors to fungal in order to maximize their effectiveness.
- Drone-scouting for proxies (or even using an overlord) will win you more games than you think! If you don’t want to do this, consider keeping a close watch on your natural and any scouting SCV shenanigans.
- Always scout for hidden bases if you have freetime. Waypointing a Zergling around to every base takes about 2 seconds and will prevent Terran from sneaking a base.
- Generally speaking, breaking down destructible rocks on a map will favour a Zerg player. Terrans like to abuse positioning with siege tanks, so the better spread you can get the less damage the tank splash will do.
- Extra drones can always be made into spine crawlers to free up supply. Overdroning can be a good thing if you want to set up a line of static defenses.
- If you feel like being extra-fancy you can do the good old 220/200 supply trick where you begin to morph drones into buildings, build units to remax and then cancel the drones. This lets you pass the supply cap!
- Burrowing units that are inevitably going to die is a great way to make the Terran burn a scan. It can be incredibly frustrating if they have 45 energy and have to wait 5 seconds, or sometimes they will forget your army was even there.
- In the lategame, bringing queens from all your bases with your army gives you lots of transfusions for ultralisks and broodlords. You can build new ones to begin injecting again.
- Always remember to send a queen in the lategame to respreads creep that a Terran killed. You might not think it is worth it at the time but if you losing creep spread on the map you will get hurt a lot as the game gets later.
- If you have a feeling your opponent is going banshees, or saw them start a gas very early and make nothing but hellions and Marines it may be a good idea to put down a couple of spore crawlers in your mineral lines. Even if they don’t go banshees you can uproot the spores later to defend against drops.
- Patrolling a handful (6-12) Zerglings at your outermost bases can make defending drops much easier. Usually they will kill the Marines 1 by 1 as they unload and force the Terran to turn around.
- If you want to be cute with your creep you can use an overlord to use its ‘poop creep’ ability on the highground and place a tumour there if it is in range. On a map like Antiga Shipyard you can get creep in your opponents base and force a scan!
- Never underestimate the power of a lategame 16 Zergling drop, nydus worm, infestor burrow or Zergling runby. If your opponent is distracted you can kill off a lot of their infrastructure and seriously throw them off their game.
- If you can’t get a good fungal growth at the time, pull your army back a little bit and force the Terran to chase you. This should clump up their units and make them an easy target for your spells.
- Changelings are your friend! Scouting around the map is super easy and they are usually not targeted down.
- Putting down spore crawlers to zone out drops is oftentimes worth it, especially on maps such as Antiga Shipyard where the bases are located on the outside of the map. As a general rule, the further out your bases are from the centre of the map, the easier they are to drop.
- To be extra safe against drops leaving a handful of Zerglings and a couple of banelings is a great way to defend a base without having to construct 6 spine crawlers to protect all angles.
- Don’t forget overseers in the lategame! A single cloaked ghost could EMP all your infestors, its always safe to keep a single overlord with your army.
- If you are sitting in the lategame with a lot of resources it can be good to find ways to spend. Adding another spire to upgrade faster or adding spines/spores around the map may help immensely and don’t eat up any supply.
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