This guide will explain how to take a faster, safer third base against Zerg, max out ridiculously quickly, and execute a powerful zealot/immortal/templar pre-broodlord timing all while teching mothership and taking a fourth base. The build combines tips and techniques I've learned from great players like rsvp, LeiYa (formerly known as puCKK), and Zeth, as well as some ideas I've picked up through practice. The result:
Why Zealots vs Zerg?
A lot of people think zealots are garbage vs Zerg, and that's true in many situations. Forcefields complement stalkers and colossi really well, and zealots don't do much good if you're already forcefielding Zerg's army away from your DPS ball. But the metagame has shifted toward Zerg building lots of spine crawlers, infestors and zerglings while they tech toward broodlords, and when Zerg gets out infestors, your sentries eventually die. At this point, you're left with a bunch of stalkers that are pinned in place by fungal and not enough colossi to clean up the hoard of zerglings and roaches that has surrounded your force.
My solution to this metagame challenge is to focus more heavily on zealots which provide adequate tanking even in the face of fungals and spine crawlers.
Properly supported by immortals and sentries, zealots are a very powerful solution to the Stephano-style roach rush because they're cheap and durable with a short build time, and your supply rockets up much more quickly than if you build stalkers. They're also resilient against fungal growth, and because they're so cheap, it's okay to throw them away to drain infestor energy. Since zealots are a pure mineral dump, you're also able to quickly tech mothership behind your push.
-3 gate + robo infrastructure
-Third base behind soft zealot pressure
-5 gate robo zealot/sentry/immortal production
-12 gate attack with chargelot/immortal/templar
-Tech mothership and air weapons behind attack
If you don't already know how to FFE, I'd suggest learning a more simple build first. I will note that the timings for this build work best off of 17 nexus, 17 forge, 17 gateway, 17 pylon, 18 cannon. Of course, that cannon timing will be too slow to be safe in some situations based on Zerg's pool timing and the rush distance. Adjust accordingly.
3 Gate + Robo Infrastructure:
The guiding principles for setting up your early infrastructure are (1) you want to hit a 7:40 warp-in timing to slow Zerg's economy, (2) you need 2 observers to keep tabs on Zerg's tech and army choices, and (3) you're going to be spending a ton of minerals and very little gas up until you have your third base operational. I recommend starting your gateway before your second pylon and your cannon to enable an early and effective pressure timing at 7:40.
Take your first gas after your cannon and your second gas after your cybernetics core. This is easy to remember because, assuming everything else is on time, this is the earliest you can afford them. You'll be staying on 2 gas until your third base is established and you're producing off of 5 gates and a robo.
Start a zealot after your second gas, start WG tech when the core finishes, and spend your next 50 gas on a stalker. Chronoboost WG research 3 times. Build a robotics facility with your next 100 gas, and then add 2 more gateways with your next available 300 minerals. Remember to hotkey your robo and gateways as soon as your start them because there will be a lot going on when they finish around 7:30 and you won't have time to hotkey them then.
Third Base Behind Soft Zealot Pressure:
Send a probe to Zerg's third base shortly before your stalker completes. Start a pylon near Zerg's third, and then send your probe back home. Meanwhile, start a sentry followed by +1 weapons after your stalker completes, and send the sentry along with a probe to your third. The sentry is sent to clear a zergling that will frequently be blocking your third base. Start the third base when you're able to. You'll have enough minerals by about 7:20, but it may be slightly delayed if there's a zergling blocking. Build an observer.
At 7:40, you should have 3 warpgates, a zealot and a stalker defending a proxy pylon while 3 more zealots warp in, a robotics facility finishing an observer, and a third nexus started. The game state should look something like this:
Note that this 4 zealot + stalker pressure can't deal damage unless Zerg plays extremely greedy. You can afford to sacrifice the zealots, but it's better to keep them alive. Simply walk your small force toward Zerg's third base and retreat as soon as you see a roach or a good number of zerglings. This attack is timed to hit before Zerg is likely to have zergling speed, so there's a good chance that you'll be able to get away with your full force. Also note that because Zerg will see your lack of gas, they're likely to overreact and cut workers much more than they need to.
Now Zerg is kicking himself for over-producing attack units and you can expect a counter-pressure on your third and natural. Make sure to start a pylon at your third right after or even before your nexus so that you can warp in cannons on time. You're aiming to form a 2 cannon, 2 gateway defense that looks like this:
Note that you want to leave open the choke that's closest to your natural so that your sentries have to cover the shortest possible distance to bounce between your natural and your third. Some people like to wall off the close path to form a hook that roaches have to walk around, but this just increases the distance that your sentries have to cover. You're going to be forcefielding this choke closed, so the hook will be there for the roaches anyway.
Start two more assimilators after your 4th and 5th gateways (blocking off the cannons at your third). At this point, you should have 2 observers. The first should be bouncing between Zerg's bases trying to identify Zerg's tech path while the second watches Zerg's army movements. The tech options you need to worry about are:
(1) no tech
(3) infestation pit
If the lair is complete and you see the roach warren jiggling but there are no additional tech structures, Zerg is probably planning to go for the Stephano-style roach max attack. Maintain constant zealot/sentry/immortal production off of your 5 gates and robo. Stay on 4 gas. Build a twilight council followed by additional gates as resources allow. Tip: keep 1 sentry in the choke in your natural to deny zergling run-by's. Remember to micro this doorway to let your immortals through with every production round. Research charge. You'll be fine.
If you see a spire, plan to attack as soon as you can put together an effective force. Build a twilight council if you don't already have one and research blink when it finishes. Slam down 3 more gates and keep your forge chronoboosted. Pressuring Zerg can pin his mutas at home, denying the harass + mass bases engine from getting off the ground. If you scout the spire late or don't feel like you can put together an attack in time, play standard blink stalker defense into storm.
If you see an infestation pit, you can relax. You have time to tech charge, storm, double upgrades, and build out your 12 gate infrastructure. After your 4th and 5th gates, I recommend taking the gas at your natural and third, and then build twilight council and a second forge. My execution hasn't gotten there yet, but I believe that with good chronoboost, you can get +1/+1 off your single forge and then time that upgrade up with your twilight and second forge to start +2/+2 nice and early. Keep an eye on Zerg's hive timing. You have exactly 4 minutes between when Zerg starts his hive and the earliest point that Zerg can have broodlords.
12 Gate Attack With Chargelot/Immortal/Templar:
You want to attack at least 30 seconds before the earliest point that broodlords can finish. It's possible to be maxed or near-maxed at 14 minutes, so that's a good timing to shoot for. At the very least, you want charge and templar (with storm researching) before you attack. Your top micro priority will be feedbacking infestors. Forcefields and storms are good supplementary micro, but feedbacking is #1.
If you're able to hit 90 seconds before the broodlord timing, you can force additional army production which will slow the broodlord transition further. This can result in a loop where Zerg never has time to get broodlords, his infestors run out of energy, and you eventually just roll him over.
As you're attacking, keep in mind the infestor energy level. Frequently, the start of the battle seems to go in Zerg's favor, but if you find a point where you're able to disengage, you can back off to warp in a round or 2 of reinforcements and re-initiate the fight against now-depleted infestors.
Note that if Zerg hasn't started his hive by about 12 minutes, there's a good chance he's planning to be aggressive with his infestors. Having storm available to defend this attack will be very helpful, but it's not imperative.
Tech Mothership and Air Weapons Behind Attack:
Your attack will often be game-winning (Zerg typically prepares for a colossus timing, and this defense isn't optimal against the attack you'll be using), but you can afford to tech mothership and take a fourth behind the attack, so go ahead and do so. Assuming you can't just win with the attack, your goals should be to thin out the infestor count, kill off outlying bases, and delay the broodlords. Sometimes you'll even delay the broodlords enough that you have a mothership before Zerg has broodlords. This is a good sign that you're about to win.
With your mothership, you have the option to push again with your first vortex if you think you can finish the game. Alternatively, you can attempt an air transition. The ultimate Protoss army is about 6 carriers, a mothership, a bunch of archons, about 6 templar for storming corruptors, and maybe a few void rays.
You may be vulnerable during your carrier transition (not enough air to beat the corruptors, not enough ground to beat the broodlords), so keep in mind an estimate for how much time you have until Zerg can do a scary broodlord push. Storms and archon toilets can keep you safe against a low broodlord count, but you'll die to a strong broodlord attack if you get caught with an incomplete carrier transition.
If you're successful in thinning out his infestor count and denying some economy, your strongest option will often be to drop in multiple locations while threatening his forward bases with your main force. He'll have broodlords, but not an overwhelming number of them and little support on the ground. With your double forge midgame, your zealots and stalkers will have 4 armor, and broodlings only deal 4 base damage. Unless he has +3 melee, his broodlings will only deal 1 or 2 damage per shot which means you can easily handle his broodlords if you're able to engage them cleanly. He'll be low on fungals to prevent blink-unders, so all you have to do is pull his broodlords away from his spine crawler walls and engage. Be careful not to blink your stalkers in front of your zealots too soon. You're going to take damage surprisngly slowly, so you can be patient with the blink-under.
http://drop.sc/270374 (vs GM player ToXSiK, includes double forge, but I forgot to start my +1 on time, so that slowed my upgrades)
http://drop.sc/272891 (defending Stephano-style roach ling push on my third)
http://drop.sc/270345 (Scouted spire early, so was able to pin mutas home with gateway attack. Forgot to get 5th and 6th gas, so I was unable to transition to storm behind the push.)
(Will add more soon)
Zeth's 4 Gate Robo Into Third
Great Thoughts From rsvp About How He Plays PvZ
LeiYa's (Formerly puCKK) Stream where she's been kicking Zerg face with sweet 3-base zealot/immortal/templar attacks
Thanks for reading, and I hope this helps your PvZ. This style has definitely made a word of difference for me. My PvZ used to lag far behind my PvT and PvP, but with this build, it's right next to PvT as my strongest match-up. If you're interested, you can check out more high-level guides I've written:
[G] kcdc's PvT (a strong 2-base storm build)
[G] Late Game PvT