Hey all - This is where I am going to be putting all of my zerg guides (For both Wings and HOTS). I run the Zerg Help Me Thread (http://www.teamliquid.net/forum/viewmessage.php?topic_id=154642) and will be linking to this thread from there.
First, an introduction. I am a top 16 Grandmasters zerg (with as many as 3 accounts in the top 16 at once, peaking several times at #1 Grandmaster on the North American server). I have attended multiple MLGs and have many online tournament results. For details, check out my liquidpedia page here:
I am also currently playing HOTS with most of my time, finishing this stage of the beta at GM rank 5, as the #1 globally ranked zerg player. I will be spending the majority of my time playing the beta.
Wings of Liberty
Zerg Versus Zerg
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Before we even discuss build orders: YOUR FIRST 3 (THREE) Overlord MUST go across the map. Generally, your first overlord should head towards your opponent's natural, next one to your opponent's third (or some place near it that gives you as much vision as possible), and third one to the middle of the map. Future overlords can be placed at your own discretion, it may be a good choice to leave them near your base to avoid being picked off.
There are 3 basic openers that can be done in the ZvZ matchup: fast pool (6,7,8,10,11), standard pool into expand, and hatchery first. I will outline standard build orders for each opener below, and add general strategy tips below these over the next couple of weeks.
1. The fast spawning pool
I would discourage any of you from opening a 6 or 7 spawning pool. While yes, these builds CAN work, they have no follow up and are as all in as you can get. Therefore, I would encourage you to open up with a 10 or 11 pool.
VOD: http://www.gomtv.net/2012gsls4/vod/70585 (ST Life vs LG-IM NesTea)
Standard build order:
-11 spawning pool
-14 queen/6 lings
Here, you have a choice. You can take a gas (like Life does, plan on aggression, usually all in) OR you can take your natural hatchery.
Now, when your lings run into your opponents base:
-If your opponent opened 14 pool, start focusing down your opponent's building hatchery. The point here is to either force a cancel on your opponent's hatchery, OR to kill drones if your opponent pulls them to defend the building hatchery. Remember that you're looking to cause economic damage here to either help you when you all in later (if you took speed) or to get ahead as your take your own hatchery
The Trivial - After your harassment has been done, pull back to your natural. Generally, you will want to get a spine - remember that your opponent will have more larva than you and thus potentially more zerglings. 2 queens should be blocking your ramp, and when possible morph 1-2 banelings for defense.
Moving into the mid game - Remember that, if you killed more than 2 drones or canceled your opponent's hatchery, you are ahead. If you forced a drone pull but only got 1-2 drones, you are even with your opponent. If you forced a drone pull but did not kill any drones, you are far behind your opponent.
-If you are ahead of your opponent: I would suggest going for 2 base mutalisks. When the player that is ahead goes for fast mutalisks, it allows him to start a snowball effect that will result in a massive supply lead. Keep in mind that, as the mutalisk player, you will have far more time than normal to get your damage done before your opponent gets out infestors or mutalisks of their own (in which case you have a free win).
-If you are even with your opponent: Take your pick of strategy. I will add segments on how to play mutalisks, how to play infestor ling, and how to play roach/hydra/infestor at a later point
-If you are behind your opponent: This is a tricky spot. You can attempt to go for a baneling all in follow up and hope that your opponent over made drones. However, this is a situation that relies on luck for success. Going for a roach/baneling all in generally will not work - even if your opponent goes for mutalisks, they will have enough of an early lead to build defense and get their mutalisks out. I would suggest going for fast infestors here with burrow if your opponent takes a fast third - you can hope for some lucky burrowed infestor harass while at the same time have an efficient defense with well placed fungal growths.
The Standard 14 Pool
This is THE MOST standard build, and if you are looking to improve, this is the build to learn and master. It can be used in ANY situation, on ANY map and can defend ANY all in (if scouted) while also having the potential to keep up with any macro build from your opponent.
-14 spawning pool
If your opponent takes a 14 pool or 15 hatchery, use your 2 early lings to scout out your opponent's base. I prefer to take a baneling nest on 50 gas and speed on the next 100 gas mined, however you can flip the order you get these 2 buildings if you wish. Enter a standard mid game!
If your opponent chooses to go for an aggressive spawning pool, there are several different deviations that you must memorize and react to depending on what you see. However, it is always standard to stop mining gas and/or cancel your extractor if possible, you'll need all the minerals you can get to defend and then recover to a favorable position.
-If your opponent pulls drones with his zerglings:
You MUST cancel your natural hatchery. Generally, your goal here is simply to STALL until you are able to get a sizable number of zerglings/queen/spine crawler. Be sure to also cancel any spine crawlers being built before your opponent's lings/drones get to your base - any delay helps! When your opponent's lings/drones enter your base, mineral walk your drones to your natural mineral patch, build a queen, and build lings. Try to sneak 1 of your drones behind your mineral line before hand to build a spine crawler. As a general rule, when your queen pops you can fight your opponent. You will have 8-10 zerglings, and more drones. Continue to rally zerglings and micro as best as possible (pull back lings/drones, ect). Keep in mind that it is IDEAL to engage when all of your minerals are spent - you will have as many units as possible at this point.
-If your opponent does NOT pull drones with his zerglings:
The goal of your opponent here is to cancel your natural hatchery. Once you see your opponent's zerglings crossing the map with your first overlord, immediately build an overlord and pump out lings as larva permits. Grab a queen after building your initial 4 lings. Generally, you will want to pull 4 drones with your initial 4 zerglings (2 drones for each extra ling your opponent has over you). Continue to build lings if your opponent does - your opponent SHOULD take a hatchery, however if he does not, block your ramp with 2 queens and grab a spine crawler (you will scout this with your first overlord). Be careful to not lose drones - if you don't lose any, you will be far ahead and in a winning position. See above for what to do if ahead/behind your opponent.
The Hatchery First
Generally, this play relies on a larger map OR the player having excellent micro skills to hold off early aggression. Realize that going for a hatchery first puts you in a vulnerable position to several all in plays - however, the early economic boost is always welcome
-16 spawning pool
-When spawning pool finishes, grab 2 queens. Again, I prefer to grab a baneling nest on 50 gas in order to play very safely, and then start zergling speed on 100 gas. However, this is a small touch that I may make a short write up about if anyone shows any interest (copied from Scarlett/Leenock).
If your opponent goes for a 14 spawning pool or 15 hatchery, play standard. Your pick of what unit composition you would like to build towards.
If your opponent goes for a 6-10 pool, you're in a tricky spot. You will have to cancel your natural hatchery if your opponent does not pull drones (only lings) and will be behind your opponent (although not so far behind that you cannot recover with a few nice plays). If your opponent chooses to pull drones, hide 2 drones behind your main mineral line (canceling your natural). Mineral walk your drones to your natural, and clog up the ramp to prevent further reinforcements. If you can stall until your queen and lings come out, you may be able to hold off and win. However, this is a tricky situation that relies on your opponent making a mistake in order for you to win the game.
Zerg versus Protoss
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To start, your first 2 overlords should move across the map. Your first overlord needs to check your opponents natural to confirm whether your opponent went for a gateway --> cybernetics build or a forge fast expand. Your first overlord should then move into the main base, moving to a place of safety immediately if your opponent is going for a fast stalker or just hanging out near the main nexus if your opponent did not. Your second overlord should go to some place near the natural (the point is that you see the natural gasses, or can move your overlord in to see them at a specific point).
Whenever I teach students ZvP, I tell them to remember 2 timings: 6:30 and ~10:00. At 6:30, the zerg player needs to scout the protoss with his 2 overlords - the main overlord moving into the main to attempt to see the tech buildings the protoss put down and the natural overlord moving into the protoss natural to see how many gasses the protoss player took.
If the protoss player took only 1 gas at his natural, play like he only has 2 total gasses. The protoss player is likely going for a fast third base or for a gateway all in.
If the protoss player took 2 gasses at his natural, play like he has 4 total gasses. This could be any range of possibilities - a sentry heavy three base (not common at all), double stargate, blink all in, or the ever common immortal sentry all in (Mavvie's guide to defend immortal sentry).
The next timing is at ~10:00, which students must remember. At this timing is when most 2 base protoss all ins will hit. If your opponent is on 2 bases and you have 60 drones, you should only be making units (this SHOULD BE at around the 8:30-9:00 for a professional, however it may be later if your macro is not spot on. That's OK -- learn what 60 drones looks like spread out across 3 bases and estimate while in game). As a general rule, do not stop making units until your opponent takes a third - yes, professionals DO sometimes drone, however as a GENERAL rule continue to produce units.
Finally, my last overarching piece of advice, is to always have a zergling behind your opponent's third base. Get in the habit of doing this - it will let you know if/when your opponent takes a third, in which case you may stop making units, and proceed into a macro game.
If your opponent goes for a forge fast expand:
-14 spawning pool
-Hatchery @ third after second queen in main*
*If your opponent pylon blocks your natural, move your drone to your third and another drone from your main to your natural (to see if the protoss cancels his pylon or not). If your opponent next pylon blocks your third, immediately build an overlord/queen/lings. Just be sure to spend all of your larva, and not stack up larva. Remember that your opponent is spending a significant amount of money on pylons, so it will be OK.
If your opponent goes for a gateway --> cybernetics core:
-14 spawning pool
*In this case, if your opponent pylon blocks your natural, DO NOT take your third. While some pros choose to take their thirds first anyways, I do not suggest it unless you are very confident in your micro/timings - one bad click and the game will be over to stalker pressure. Instead just build your queen/overlord/4-6 lings before taking your natural.
Remember to be careful of any kind of 4 gate scenarios - if your overlord (it will be your second one for 90% of maps) sees no natural expansion at the 5:30 mark, you're being 4 gated. Spine and ling up - don't be afraid to spend energy on transfuses if need be. Defend, and you will be OK (you can pull off gas after starting ling speed in this situation as well - it's all you will really need to continue defending, and any extra gas mined is just wasted resources).
****Between the 2 - assuming that your protoss opponent is on 2 bases - you should be taking 2 gasses at the 6 minute mark. At 100 gas, begin lair, a roach warren, and an evolution chamber. When lair is ~50% done, add 2 more gasses (bringing you up to a total of 4). With your next 100 gas, begin researching ling speed. When lair is done, you should have roach speed and +1 ranged attack researching as well. Don't forget to throw down a macro hatchery when money permits, this is usually put down in the main.
The Macro Game
So - you've scouted your opponent's taking a third base. First things first - assuming that your opponent does not have a warp prism harassing you, take any units you may have built in case of a 3 base all in and move them into an aggressive stance outside of your opponent's 3 bases. As you get better, you will figure out how to poke and harass your opponent without losing units to forcefield traps, ect.
At home, you should be taking a fourth base, adding a second evolution chamber (I like researching missile and melee upgrades, leaving armor until hive when I take a third evolution chamber), and droning up. GENERALLY, you want to OVERDRONE your fourth base a tad, in order to place down a spine crawler wall (but still be mining adequately). Tech to infestors, and build units to defend any pushes while teching to hive. Usually, players start their hives at around the 12:00-12:30 mark in order to have brood lords out in a reasonable time. I would discourage players from taking their hive sooner than this point - it leaves them vulnerable to certain 3 base all ins; as well as later from this point - players often get stuck in a low tech late game that simply does not work versus the monstrous protoss death ball.
The Late Game Engagement
Assuming that your protoss opponent is not going air-toss (carriers, mothership, void rays oh my! (have 6 brood lords to focus templar, rest of army should consist of queen/infestor/corrupter)), your army should consist of:
-~15-20 brood lords
(Keep in mind that you will be on ~50-60 drones at this point)
(Also don't forget about overseers - I like to get ~4 to be safe)
There should be NO FIGHT that you take that you don't want. Any fight you take you should be presplit, with infestors and queens under or slightly behind the brood lord wall to avoid feedbacks. Throw down a thin(ish) wall of infested terrans - remember you don't want to spend too much energy on this, only enough to take away some fire - and make sure that everything is attacking. In these fights, the zerg player is forced to manually select units and micro them away or forward for specific spells. Here is what the professional is doing in such a late game engagement: try to copy as much of it as possible, however don't be overwhelmed. As long as your units are presplit and you're spamming fungal/infested terrans along with some transfuse, you'll be OK (a few attempted neural's never hurt anyone either).
-1-2 burrowed infestors behind or beside your opponent's army at all times, dodging detection while also looking for a neural on the mothership
-Select forward infestors to throw down infested terrans, move to back of fight to conserve for later engagements
-Kite back with brood lords - Get into a rhythm, however only kite back brood lords that are under threat of stalkers. Generally, with good fungals, stalkers will only have 1 potential forward blink
-Corrupters focused on colossus - Generally, the mothership will be neuralled or can be chased down after the fight anyways, colossi are more important
-Constantly select 1 infestor and move forward for an attemped neural on the mothership - if you get it, instantly waste it's energy on vortexes on your opponent's army
-Whenever templar come forward, pull back queens/infestors and focus closest 3-5 brood lords on the templar
-Look for chain fungal growths - specifically on the stalkers - these are the most important part of the standard protoss late game that must die
Oh, and don't forget to expand - it's never fun running out of money.
Zerg versus Terran
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Overlord placement can be tricky, map depending. However, most maps allow players to move their first 2 overlords out across the map to helpful positions. For more information, I would suggest watching some player's stream for overlord placement hints.
Almost all builds in Zerg Versus Terran start off with a 15 hatchery. To deal with 2 barracks play, I would heavily suggest scouting on 15 supply with a drone. Both drones are generally from your main mineral line at the same time, one building the hatchery at your natural and the other moving across the map to scout your opponent. Alternatively, some players opt to go for a earlier scout, sent as early as 12 supply, because they feel insecure holding off 2 barracks play. Each player should make their own choice for each map, depending on how confident they are on holding off this early cheese.
The Basic Build
-16 spawning pool
-2 queens when pool finishes
If you would like to tech
-Speed @ 100
-At Next 150 gas, 2 evolution chambers
-Start 1/1. Get rest of gasses, expand.
If you would like to take a fast third
-2 more queens (queen 3/4). Move initial 2 queens after inject to front of natural to begin creep spread (Queen 3/4 will be injecting)
-Take third immediately when minerals available (should be ~ when Queen 3/4 are at 50-75% complete)
-Take 2 gasses at same time as taking third (do not delay)
-Generally, players gas progression is: Ling Speed, 1/1, start lair (2 more gasses), lair finishes (last 2 gasses)
I did not bother to put in exact supply counts since your build order will depend on what your opponent does. If you have to build more lings, delay these timings in order to get out more drones and not be mineral starved.
Defending the 2 barracks play
The very first thing you must do is IDENTIFY that it is a 2 barracks play. With your 15 scout, move into your opponents main base.
If you see 1 barracks building at the top of your opponent's ramp, it's USUALLY not a 2 barracks play (but still could be). Generally, your terran friend will take his natural expansion at the 3:08 mark - if you don't see this, start getting suspicious. Send a drone to the watchtower, just to check. Another clear giveaway is if your opponent sends more than 1 SCV to "scout." If so, you're PROBABLY being 2 barracks rushed.
If you see 2 barracks building, you've identified the build.
If you see no barracks building (and no gas), keep in mind that your opponent can be doing 1 of 3 things: proxy 2 barracks, proxy 1 barracks to pressure, and finally command center first. The proper thing to do here is to search with both your scouting drone AND 1 drone from your main for barracks play - if you can't find any quickly in the most likely spots - move one of your drones to a watchtower or a position in front of your base where you can see pressure coming.
OK, so now you've identified the 2 barracks play. Great - good for you - you should be OK. Keep 1 drone in front of your natural, checking for bunkers. Keep in mind that you don't want to over pull drones - you want to mine AS MUCH money as possible before sending all of your drones to defend. When you see the first bunker building, pull ~5 drones. 2 bunker rushes generally happen in STAGES:
2/3 SCV + 1 Marine versus ~ 6/7 drones. This is the initial poke by terran, aimed at getting up an initial bunker (if this bunker goes up, chances are you've lost the game). Here, your goal is to stick 2 drones on his marine, the rest killing SCVs. Ideally, your goal should also be to kill the building bunker, however, if you can't, stay calm and proceed to stage 2.
Multiple SCVs (depends how many terran pulls) + 4/6 marines versus everything. For this push, pull all but 2 drones from your main to your natural. Immediately when your hatchery finishes, build a spine crawler at the BACK of the base, so the terran player cannot snipe it before it becomes useful. IF you have the money, build a queen at your natural (depends on if you panicked in Stage 1 and over pulled drones + your drone micro in Stage 1 - how well did you pull hurt drones back?) Otherwise, pump out zerglings and wait for your terran friend to overextend. Generally, there is a timing when you have 8-10 zerglings (+ all of your drones) and the bunker is not done for the terran player yet that you may choose to use and try and break the terran player - you judge whether your micro is good enough compared to your opponents to see if you can exploit this timing. If you do manage to clean up the bunker/SCVs, forcing the marines back, you are in a winning position for the game, and move down to stage 4. Otherwise, your goal is to defend your spine crawler and get it into position, continually making zerglings.
This is the runbye stage. Generally, players try to run 8 lings by their opponents bunker in order to pick off or stop your terran opponent from reinforcing. Try to pick a path around the bunker that gives the least amount of hits to your terran opponent. This tactic is then transitioned into a 'crunch' manuever, where you now have ~6 lings on the other side of your opponent's bunker, and are able to pull everything in a more effective way to kill the bunker, ect. Try to engage when your hatchery is at ~400 health -- you don't want to engage TOO SOON, because that would mean losing out on a potentially larger force. However, keep in mind that your opponent may choose to just focus your hatchery when you engage - so you want some amount of breathing room to clear out your opponent's forces.
Assuming that you aren't dead, you've now held off the bunker rush. Even if you have lost 5-6 drones, remember that you have also killed an equivalent amount of SCVs from your opponent - plus you've had more mining time AND more bases! The MOST IMPORTANT thing to do here is to scout whether your opponent is expanding, gotten gas for a cheeky follow up all in, or is throwing down 2 more barracks for a follow up all in play. Generally, simply scouting whether or not your opponent has gotten another command center is most important - if he has, play normally (but keep in mind that your opponent will be able to poke with ~12 marines in a couple of minutes) with a huge advantage. If he hasn't, throw down spines (but keep droning), maybe get an extra queen or 2. Defend the all in (this should be relatively easy once you spot the lack of command center), and you've won the game.
Defending Helion/Banshee Aggression
Perhaps one of the most common strategies used for aggression in the mid game is the combination of helions and banshees to harass the zerg while the zerg is still trying to establish an economy and teching up to lair. If the zerg player chooses to go for a 2 base tech build, defending helion banshee play shouldn't be a problem - the zerg will have speed lings out and lair tech soon to come in order to defend the helions. However, in general, WHENEVER you see a helion/banshee composition come out:
-1 spore per base (yes, even the main)
-1 spore between your natural and your third (helps when jumping between bases)
-I prefer to get 1 spine at my third (Helps if you under make zerglings, ect)
-Make ~16 zerglings AND 1-2 extra queens
Position zerglings to stop helions from entering your natural or third - They're there to prevent runbyes, NOT to chase helions. Basically, your goal is to defend without losing drones until either your terran opponent loses his units in a mistake or until you get lair tech out. Remember to split any zerglings - if the terran player dives with his helions, split the zerglings, pull the drones back, and move the queens/zerglings in. Queens should be focusing down banshees - they are the most dangerous units - while zerglings take care of helions. I am a player who prefers to NOT get up roaches unless I'm facing multiple factories, which requires that you not get caught out of position, and NOT chase helions off of creep.
The Standard Macro Game
I will add all in builds at a later time, however for now let's just look at the standard macro game. Options for the zerg range from what I have discussed above, however here we're going to go more in depth into the strategy of such compositions. Let me say right now - I will NOT be discussing roach/hydra play: it very rarely works if both players are of equal skill level and at relatively equal economic/army situations, period. So, for now, let's focus on what compositions zerg can have in the mid game: Infestor ling or mutalisk/baneling/zergling. I will leave out roaches for now - however note that many players get at least a few roaches to help versus early game helions and to supplement their mid game army.
The Mutalisk mid game
Generally, this style is filled with harassment, multitasking, and counter attacks. As the mutalisk player, you would rather cut off an army in the middle of the map, wait to macro up a LOT more units, then crush it. Drops shouldn't be too much of a problem, and can be swatted aside easily. In engagements, target groups of banelings at marines and mutalisks to focus down tanks (or, if it's a mech composition, stick to the counter attacks until you have teched to brood lords). In general, your goal should be to overwhelm, and capitalize on any terran mistake or opening that allows you to swoop in and kill a base/get an excellent engagement.
The Infestor mid game
This style requires the zerg player to be very conscious of positioning. Being caught out of position just once can cost the zerg player the game - resulting in one/two lost bases or several infestors lost. Remember that yes, while infestors are strong, they rely on being pocketed in a safe place out of enemy fire. Remember that, when using an infestor based composition, your goal should be COST EFFICIENCY, not necessarily overwhelming your opponent with units but having good trades with your opponent that allow you to pull ahead after each engagement. Also keep in mind that it is usually NOT good to fall into the "infested terran trap." Be careful not to blow all of your infestor energy on infested terrans - generally, this will be for a kill move at an opponent's base where he cannot simply retreat and wait for the infested terrans to time out (because his base would die). Also, keep in mind that fungals can be VERY powerful, even against mech compositions. If you can take engagements slowly, doing as much damage with fungal as possible before the fight even happens, you will be much more successful.
The Late Game
Currently, I would like to dissuade you from going for an ultralisk composition and sticking to it. While it can be very effective to go for ultralisks, then switch to brood lords, it is usually NOT effective to stick to ultralisks as the game goes later and later (unless you have a big lead, then it really doesn't matter what you do). Therefore, I will now go over what composition your late game army should look like:
-6-8 brood lords
Keep in mind that you don't need as many brood lords in ZvT as you do in ZvP. The main threat to your brood lords is vikings, and tank splash combined with fungal takes care of marines easily (the marines will be held back, not able to get to the brood lords like stalkers can). Be sure not to be caught out of position, as this is how most players will lose their games. The other major threat is drop play - make sure you have 10-15 lings and 2-4 banelings supplemented by spines and spores at each of your outlying bases, but be careful to watch for dropships that run past these defenses to an inner base that may not be as well protected (spores and maybe leaving 1 infestor can take care of this). Other than that - focus your fungals on clumps of units, be careful not to waste all of your energy on infested terrans, and don't rush into anything you're unsure about - take the late game slow. Happy hunting
Heart of the Swarm
You can post anything in here - Zerg questions, suggestions for future build-guides, questions about what I've written, ect. Keep in mind that this is a first draft - I will be adding to it over time and include VOD links, replays, ect.