Starcraft 2 Latest Trends in Zerg vs. Protoss (ZvP)

Zerg vs Protoss - Trends in Starcraft 2

As the Starcraft 2 metagame keeps evolving, players discover new ways of pressuring their opponents and countering their strategies and build orders.

Some recent trends in ZvP have changed this match-up slightly, leading to new patterns and new counters to the old patterns.

The basic trend in the Starcraft 2, Zerg-vs-Protoss match-up works somewhat like this: the Zerg player attempts to build a large enough economy to stream masses of units to whittle down the Protoss forces, while simultaneously reducing the Protoss player's ability to match that economy through continued harassment. Meanwhile, the Protoss player tries to maintain his own economy until he gets a large army of high-tech units that can almost always destroy his Zerg opponent in a single, big battle.

But how does this all come about?


Protoss Forge Fast Expand and Zerg Reactions

The Forge Fast Expand is one of the very popular builds for Protoss. This build order attempts to gain an economic "macro" advantage in return for giving up map control. The Protoss player cannot easily pressure his opponent in the early game, but can bust out a variety of different offenses once his economy starts rolling.

The most aggressive reaction by Zerg is to do a Roach-Speedling all-in, meaning that the Zerg player attempts to end the game one way or the other by stopping Drone production at 20 and building about 6 Roaches and Speedlings to knock down the Protoss wall-in and overwhelm any troops the Protoss may have managed to build.

The second most common reaction by Zerg is to take a third base, attempting to remain on par, or even get ahead of, the Protoss in economy with Zerg's unique ability to pump out workers in large numbers. This choice by Zerg results in a longer game, but one where Zerg is put back into reactive mode, and must choose the correct units to hold off a Protoss offensive.

Proxy Gates in middle of map.
Proxy Gates in middle of map. | Source

The Protoss 2-Gate Zealot Rush

Ah, the ever-popular Zealot rush. This Protoss build order is regaining popularity as Zerg is once again attempting Hatchery-first builds against the Protoss' propensity for going with the Forge Fast Expand. Zerg players, having learn to defend Cannon Rushes with just drones, are taking the risk of getting cannon rushed in favor of expanding even earlier than the Protoss. Some Protoss players are resurrecting the 2-Gate build to flip things back around and force Zerg to be more conservative.

There are two variants of the Protoss 2-Gate: the Proxy 2-Gate all-in, or an in-base 2-Gate opening followed by Core. Both of these Protoss build orders are meant to put early pressure on the Zerg such that the Zerg cannot build Drones and get an economic lead. On smaller maps where scouting is easy, Protoss players can actually move into this build order after they see a Hatch-first opening by Zerg. That is, Protoss does not have to already be pursuing this build, although an early start helps.

The Proxy 2-Gate variant involves Protoss building their first pylon and Gateways much closer to the Zerg base, possibly even right outside it! The Protoss player then Chronoboosts Zealots out as fast as possible, trying to overwhelm the meager defenses that Zerg attempts to throw up. Because the Zerg cannot possibly create Roaches this early in the game, Zealots are very strong against the slow Zerglings, and even do well against Queens and Spine Crawlers. The Protoss player's rush reaches its peak when 5-6 Zealots are out, since it becomes very difficult for Zerg to attack into this many Zealots without Zergling Speed (Metabolic Boost). In turn, the Zerg player attempts to keep Zealot numbers down by smart engagements, and eventually press the Zealots back such that they have to defend the Pylons powering the gateways or lose everything.

The Protoss Deathball and Zergling/Muta

The typical strategy by Protoss, which involves building a Gateway-based force of Zealots, Sentries and Stalkers, supplemented by Colossi with their powerful dual-lasers, has always been countered by Speedling / Roach / Corruptor. These two forces, when they collide, rely on good positioning by the Zerg player versus proper use of Force Fields by the Protoss player. Usually, the Zerg player must rely on reinforcements following the first engagement to stop the Protoss push.

However, recent changes in the Zerg's choice of unit composition have changed the match-up. Instead of relying on Roaches, some Zerg players are now attempting a mix of upgraded Zerglings and a healthy ball of Mutalisks to force the Protoss to turn around and defend his base from the lightning-fast Zerg units, or lose all his workers. If the Protoss player chooses not to turn around, he may lose a healthy number of workers and may STILL have to face the Zerg army as it nearly beats the attacking Protoss army to the Zerg bases. Large numbers of Mutalisks can actually fair pretty well against Protoss if the latter player has built too many Zealots to counter the Zerglings and doesn't build enough Stalkers against the Mutalisks. Once the Stalkers are dead, the Mutalisks can easily destroy all the other units.

Zerg and Protoss Build Orders

Zerg's most common openers against Protoss are:

  • 11 Pool, 19 Hatch (safe, most often done vs. Forge Fast Expand)
  • 13 Hatch, 15 Pool (vulnerable to cannon pressure)

The two most common Protoss openers in PvZ are:

  • 3-Gate Expand (safe, and allows early pressure against the Zerg)
  • Forge Fast Expand (somewhat vulnerable to all-ins).

Protoss Counters to Zergling-Mutalisk

The Protoss counter to the Ling-Bling-Muta Zerg Strategy is to field units that directly counter those particular units, namely Stalkers with the Blink upgrade and High Templar with Storm, both of which can demolish Mutalisks. Zealots in the mix help to tank Zergling damage while the Zerglings evaporate to High Templar Psi-storms. Unfortunately, this forces the Protoss player to stay at home and defend, because Stalkers and High Templar are terrible at destroying buildings in a base-race scenario. When Protoss chooses this scenario, he must expand to match the Zerg economy until he can afford to leave a few defenders at each base, and build enough Photon Cannons that he can use the rest of his army to take on the Zerg base.

The key to the Protoss' success usually lies in small assaults using cheap units to keep the Zerg player from mass expanding. This harassment is usually in the form of Warp-Prism drops or warp-ins. Dark Templar may also make an appearance, forcing the Zerg to build fixed defenses and detection, lest they lose entire bases.

The Rise of Aiiur: A Safe Protoss 3-base

One of Zerg's objectives has always been to keep Protoss (and Terran for that matter) restricted to 2 bases, and gradually swarm their opponent under with massive 200-supply waves of units. However, lately Protoss has figured out that if Zerg goes with an early 3-base, and attempts to get to 70 drones before doing much offensively, that Toss can build some units to defend, and take their own 3rd base quite safely. If the Protoss does not throw away units attempting to harass the Zerg, taking their 3rd base becomes quite safe, and a 3-base Protoss has everything they need (including Chronoboosts) to keep up with Zerg production, at least to about 60-70 workers.

Meanwhile, a 3-base Zerg, most often used to defending a Protoss offensive at this point, cannot in turn put pressure back on a Toss player that hasn't reduced his unit count by pressuring the Zerg's bases. Meanwhile, Protoss is getting their tech and building their deathball.

At this point, Zerg usually only has a few choices:

  • Harass with Mutas and Zergling run-bys, attempting to slow the Protoss economy and tech while Zerg techs to Brood / Infestor (their own deathball).
  • Max out first and send waves of burrow-moving Roaches into the Protoss third (this only works if the distance between the third and natural are a bit longer).
  • Trading efficiently with the Protoss, while getting a 4th and even 5th base up. Note that the extra bases at this point are not required by the Zerg for anything except gas, but may force the Protoss to stop turtling and attack, giving Zerg the opportunity to trade efficiently on favorable ground, and whittle down the deathball (killing Colossi is especially important at this time).

What the Zerg does NOT want is for Protoss to hit max supply before the Zerg player can re-max on Broodlord / Infestor / Speedbane / Crackling.

Once Protoss starts banking minerals after hitting max supply, they can (and should):

  • start cannoning up bases (thus denying all harassment short of a major attack),
  • build more Gateways (allowing them to match the Zerg's reinforcement rate)
  • max-out their upgrades (even shield upgrades become valuable when you're banking resources)
  • use Warp Prism harassment (to deplete Zerg's bank and forcing them to rebuild bases and drones).

Stephano, Top EU Zerg Player
Stephano, Top EU Zerg Player | Source

The Dreaded 12-minute Roach Max

June 2012: Recently appearing from the pro scene was Stephano's 200/200 Roach-based 12-minute push, which Protoss have been having a terrible time dealing with, and are getting stuck doing a 2-base all-in build just to survive or die.

First, the build order:

  • 15Pool
  • 16Overlord
  • 16-18 First Queen
  • 18-20 Zerglings
  • 20 Hatchery
  • 19-21 Drones
  • 21 Hatchery
  • 22 Queen
  • 22 Overlord
  • 29 Queen
  • 31 Overlord
  • 42 Overlord
  • 42 Double Gas
  • 44 Overlord
  • 54 Roach Warren/Evolution Chamber
  • 58 Overlord
  • 70 Queen #4
  • 70 Lair
  • 70 3rd Gas, Overlords
  • 70 Roaches, 4th Gas, +1 Missile Attacks (and Zerglings)
  • 90 Roach speed and more Roaches (and Zerglings)
  • 110 Hatchery (4th Base)
  • 110 Roaches/Zerglings, Upgrades
  • 160 Hatchery (Macro hatch #2)
  • 160-200 Roach / Zergling until 200 supply

Protoss Counters to the Zerg 12-Minute Max

June 2012: The court is still out on this one. There is a lot of discussion amongst the Starcraft 2 community regarding possible approaches, but in short, the 12-minute Roach max is tough to beat. However, the following approaches are being tossed around, with some success:

Counter #1: An 8-Minute 3rd Base

The idea here is to get your third base up-and-running, with a wall of its own, protected by Sentry/Immortal/Zealot and a cannon, such that you are keeping up with Zerg's production during the 8-12 minute mark. The idea is to have an army, but use it to defend rather than risking it, and waiting until your Protoss Death Ball of Stalker/Sentry/Immortal/Colossii is ready. You won't hit max when the Zerg does, but instead of 80 supply behind, you might only be 40 supply behind, and with your better tech, this can be survivable.

Counter #2: Two-Base All-In

You can choose your method, but the idea here is to hit the Zerg at 8-10 mins with a higher-tech force than his own, before his massive number of drones has resulted in good upgrades and a maxed-out army.

Suggested mixes always include a Gateway army (Zealot/Stalker/Sentry) with either:

  • air units (Phoenix and/or Void Ray),
  • Immortals/Colossi, or
  • Archons.

The idea here is not to completely destroy the Zerg, but wreck his third base, thus destroying his high drone count, and either setting up a contain at a ramp, or continuing to pressure.

With this approach, the problem is timing and denying Zerg scouting - the Zerg cannot be allowed to start making units early to match your numbers, and then catch your army out in the open, or you will lose. Even if your "all-in" is successful, the result may not be a straight-up win, but rather a "reset" of the game where you move into an endgame with an equal number of bases to the Zerg. In which case, you face the coin-flip situation of Archon-Mothership versus Broodlord... so try to win before that.

Popular Protoss PvZ Builds

What's your favorite build order against Zerg?

  • Forge Fast Expand
  • Zealot Rush
  • 3-Gate Expand
  • 3-Gate Robo
  • Phoenix Harass
  • Void Ray Rush
  • Blink Stalker
  • Dark Templar Rush
  • 5 or 6 Gate Push
See results without voting

Popular Zerg ZvP Build Orders

What's your favorite (or current) build order against Protoss?

  • Spanishiwa (Ice Fisher) Gasless expand
  • Early Roach Pressure
  • Speedling Expand into Ling/Muta
  • Speedling Expand into Zergling/Roach
  • Hatch-first and counter
See results without voting

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Comments 7 comments

jackofspade profile image

jackofspade 4 years ago

From some match I watched a at MLG so toss get the dark shrine early not just for the cloaking but to build archon that rely less on gaz that the one created with high templar. very efficient vs muta/ling mix

northernwriter profile image

northernwriter 4 years ago Author

In a straight-up fight, yes - but you need the Templar (not Archons) to defend against Muta harassment, or else you're forced to throw up a lot of cannons. The idea of Ling-Muta is to keep the Protoss in his base, so the Zerg can expand freely, and if the Protoss moves out, Ling/Muta moves in and decimates the base. Ling/Muta is a high-damage, high-mobility combination, and excels at base races.

jackofspade profile image

jackofspade 4 years ago

not sure about the "ling/Muta moves in and decimates the base." like you said in your article a 200/200 protoss army easily beat muta/ling in a straight fight if it has a good amount of archon. You can always leave a archon and warpin some stalker against muta harass vs a archon they need to be really in large number to beat it.

But sure the high templar make sense in the late game, way easier to defend that with archon or stalker.

jackofspade profile image

jackofspade 4 years ago

just to clarify, The issue i think is that the muta/ling strategy is being so successful because the zerg uses the protoss' units inability to be extremely mobile on the map to their advantage which becomes a real issue the more you play it because you can pressure with mutas on the field in threat of being in a base race situation.

And from what a saw with some game a chargelot composition in the mid usually beat a ling/composition. What I meant is that the dark shrine make it easier to have quickly that composition than high templar due to there lower cost in gaz.

northernwriter profile image

northernwriter 4 years ago Author

Dark Shrine has all sorts of uses - including punishing Zerg players who skimp on detection, and it's REALLY good at denying expansions - just patrol a DT between expansion points, and even if the hatch goes down - a DT will kill it by themselves.

BabelFish 4 years ago

Personally I just zealot rush, why go to a late game where it's essentially vortex or die to BL+infestor? Zerg are predictable and greedy in tjis meta so lets punish them severely with good micro and a constant stream of zealots.

northernwriter profile image

northernwriter 4 years ago Author

All-ins are certainly powerful in all match-ups. However, once you get to a high enough level that Zerg players can consistently hold off a Zealot rush, your PvZ win rate is going to plummet. If you're having trouble with lategame, I suggest increasing harassment against the Zerg (Warp Prism drops with Immortals, Zealots, DTs) or Blink Stalker harass. Remember that the later the game goes, the more spread-out the Zerg player has to be. Harassment will delay his "deathball" and allow you to expand. Also - by lategame, you should be able to remax with Gateway units just as fast as Zerg can remax with Roaches - build a TON (and I mean 15+ Warp Gates once you start banking resources) and you'll see what I mean.

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