General PvP Strategy
PvP (Protoss versus Protoss) play is highly dependent on a player's initial build order, scouting, and tech choices in comparison to the other player, because both players are building along the same tech tree. This means that one player's tech choices must either be surmounted or completely subverted through the use of another (or the same) branch of the tech tree than (as) the opposing player. In general, builds based around the Robotics Facility beat Twilight Council builds, which in turn beat Stargate builds, which beat Robotics Facility builds. However, it is by no means a build order win.
Due to the mechanics of the Mothership Core, aggressive builds such as the 4 Warpgate Rush have fallen out of favor, with more players opting for either a choice of tech past the Cybernetics core (for example, a Stargate build for Oracle harassment), or a fast expansion behind some pressure like a Stalker poke, using their Mothership Core to defend until they have a sufficient force of Gateway units. However, early aggression does come from Blink play, since Stalkers can quickly bypass the range of the Nexus when the attacking player brings their own Mothership Core for vision.
Unit Roles and Counters
- Gateway units are essential throughout the game in PvP, and are sometimes very effective against certain high-tier units. The exceptions are the Colossus, which is highly effective against all Gateway units, and the Archon.
- Zealots are extremely effective meat shields for a PvP army due to their relatively high HP and low cost compared to other units. They also have decent DPS that can be improved by Charge. Often, when making gas-heavy armies (such as with Archons and Void Rays), Zealots can be used as a mineral sink, with a warp cycle of Zealots being used to harass the other player's economy while incurring little to no opportunity cost.
- Stalkers can kite Zealots indefinitely so long as the Zealots do not have charge. However, mass Stalkers are directly countered by Immortals. Both of these weaknesses are somewhat mitigated by the Blink ability. Stalkers make excellent harassment units when combined with the Mothership Core for vision and Time Warp to slow opposing forces.
- Sentries are extremely effective for defensive purposes early on, but lose their effectiveness as the game continues. Therefore, defensive builds try to minimize Sentry use. However, having a few Sentries for use of the Hallucinated Phoenix to scout is useful for the duration of the entire game.
- The Mothership Core starts out as a great defensive unit for fast expansions, with its Photon Overcharge ability able to contribute a good amount of damage to any defense. It is also a great offensive unit when combined with Stalkers, since it can both use Time Warp on Zealots or Immortals, give vision to higher bases (and thus the ability to Blink around the Overcharged Nexus, and Mass Recall to return harassing troops to their base once the job is done.
- Phoenixes can be used to disable Immortals and other Protoss ground units, as well as to attack Colossi. Phoenix harass on workers however can be deterred by a single Photon Cannon protecting the mineral line. Stalkers will bring these units down, although good positioning can win you a battle due to their fast movement speed and ability to use graviton beam on problematic units.
- Oracles can typically inflict massive damage on an unprepared player. An Oracle can kill a Stalker in a one-on-one fight, assuming it does not run out of energy, and thus, without sufficient defense, can force the defending player to cast Photon Overcharge on their main Nexus.
- Immortals fare extremely well against Stalkers and deal massive damage against Colossi if they can get in range. With their Hardened Shield, an Immortal can tank up to 26 Stalker hits and 12 Colossi attacks. Note that Colossi do 20 damage to the shield due to their double attack, as well as damaging the other units near the Immortal, and thus against a force of several Colossi, Immortals' shields become nearly useless.
- Colossi are often the defining unit in a PvP match until both players amass a sufficient air force. They are fragile, however, and must be protected from units that can take advantage of their slow movement speed and vulnerability to air attack. A single Colossus has 350 hp and will require about 25 shots from a Stalker to kill it. A Tempest will always kill a Colossus in 5 shots without any air attack upgrades, and will always kill it in 4 shots with +3 air attack, regardless of the Collosus's armor.
- Void Rays dish out heavy damage to Robotics Facility units, and can hold their own against small to medium groups of Stalkers with Blink due to their Prismatic Alignment ability doing bonus damage to the Stalkers' armor. They are quite weak against Phoenixes, however, so when both players opt to build Stargate tech, focusing on Phoenix production to establish air superiority is preferred.
- High Templar are fairly common since Psionic Storm does plenty of damage against other Protoss units, which tend to clump, and are generally kept together to maximize their own damage. They are also powerful against air units, especially Void Rays, which usually travel stacked on top of one another, and take time to spread out.
- Dark Templar have a lot of potential early in this match-up and even throughout the game. Players often neglect to acquire detection early on in the form of Photon Cannons, and Observers are sometimes skipped in favor of an early Immortal, or any that have been made are out scouting. Against a Stargate build, Dark Templar are particularly effective, since the enemy's only readily available detection will be in the form of the Oracle's Envision ability. Well placed Photon Cannons can limit or even spoil their effectiveness, but lone ones can be destroyed as well. Having Dark Templars in one's main army can also be effective if the enemy player does not often bring an observer with his forces.
- Archons make short work of all Gateway units (with the exception of the Stalker) due to their bonus damage against Biological units [not to mention the splash damage as well], naturally spread out your forces due to their size (which is useful when fighting against the Colossi's lasers), are able to tank damage, regenerate whilst retreating, and can still put a dent into any non-Biological unit. Their splash also deals well when the other player masses Void Rays, although their size and short range limits the amount of Archons able to attack a Void Ray force. The Archon is also difficult to micro because its attack is slow and it is unable to move for a time after the attack's damage has been dealt.
- Tempests are common counters to Colossi (which count as Air units and thus take the full 80 damage from the Tempest shot), which would otherwise devastate a ground-based army, as well as each other, since they are massive units. Players tend to have the critical number of Tempests in their army in order to 1-shot key units, since the units cannot be retreated after they are shot.
- Carriers see limited use, but do a good amount of damage when the player has an lead in air attack upgrades against the enemy's armor upgrades, since they gain (and lose) 16 damage per Interceptor volley per upgrade advantage (or disadvantage). Against Carriers, one should opt to Chrono Boost armor upgrades to cripple their usability.
- +1 Weapons upgrade will allow a Zealot to kill a Stalker and Zealot with one less hit and a Stalker to kill a Zealot with 1 less hit. Immortals with this upgrade will be able to 3-shot Stalkers instead of 4 shots.
- +1 Armor upgrade will allow a Zealot to sustain 1 more attack from a Stalker and 1 more attack from a Zealot. Same applies to the Stalker.
Protoss Builds vs. Protoss
General Openings and Build Orders
General information - Scouting is key in this matchup. Protoss players have the widest variety of Proxies available to them of any race, and can do serious damage if left unscouted. Since the three main tech branches counter one another, it is also useful to see if a tech switch is necessary.
General information - There are, generally, two ways to expand in PvP: either by reacting after scouting an opponent's tech (for example, by opening Phoenixes and expanding with an Immortal against a Blink Stalker player) or by having a designed Fast Expand build. These builds can be slightly riskier and greedier, but they are extremely popular and can hold off most builds with correct execution.
The 3 most popular FE openings are:
- 1 Gate Fast Expand into Robotics Facility into 3 Gateways
- Dark Templar Expand
- 2-3 Gate Stalker/MSC pressure while expanding behind it
All 3 of these builds can hold non-All-In aggression by letting the Nexus tank some damage before using Photon Overcharge on it to let production or tech kick in. For example, 1-Gate FE should be able to get an Immortal out and even hold a delayed 4 Gate. On the other hand, against a hard 4 Warpgate Rush or 10 Gateway opening you will have to cancel the Nexus. These builds, however, are easily scoutable.
General Protoss Compositions and Responses
- Stargate tech, e.g. Void Rays
- Against a player going heavy Stargate, go for a 2 base timing push off of 8-10 Gateways when Blink and +1 Ground Attack finish. You won't have Psionic Storm or Charge yet, but you should have 2-3 Archons. If that doesn't work, or the other player turtles too hard, then you can deny them the opportunity to get their 3rd base while getting your own 3rd up, and tech to Storm. Have your Blink Stalkers out on the map, threatening backstabs if they try to move out. There's not much harass that you can do during the mid game while they're turtling on 2 bases/establishing his 3rd, but once it gets to late game you'll want Proxy Pylons and Warp Prisms to flood Zealots into one or more of their bases as soon as they move out.
When engaging the opposing army, lead with Blink Stalkers to bait or get a few free shots off, or maybe snipe a Void Ray, then go in with the rest of your army. You want to try to target fire Void Rays with Stalkers but it can be hard sometimes, especially as the armies get bigger, so you can instead focus on trying to Blink back and save Stalkers instead.
- Twilight Council tech, e.g. Blink Stalkers
- Maps dictate the effectiiveness of this strategy. Maps that have locations where the neutral low ground and a main base share a cliff, such as Yeonsu, allow a Blink-Obs or Blink-MSC player to pressure an expanding Robotics Facility player. On these maps, it is known that Blink is strong, so Stargate play is very risky, and Dark Templar play can be a strong calculated risk. Robotics tech is the go-to safe option, and Blink-Obs play is extremely common either as a delayed expansion play or for dedicated pressure.
On maps where a Blink-Obs player cannot blink into the main without engaging the natural first, such as Daybreak, Blink play is gimmicky at best and usually relies on a Blink timing as soon as 7-10 Stalkers are out and Blink is finished. Robotics play is very common here, so Dark Templar builds are rare and cheesy. Stargate play is therefore common.
The most popular mid/late game style currently is to go for an Archon/Immortal/Zealot composition. Other army compositions like Immortal/Void Ray or Colossus armies are usually used for strong timing attacks, before your opponent can get the correct counter composition. High Templars with Psionic Storm researched are mixed in if the opponent opted for a Void Ray-heavy composition.
If a PvP game goes on long enough, both players will usually tech to the Mothership and the Carrier. Post Patch 3.8.0, Tempests are rarely seen in late game PvP as the supply nerf (6, up from 4) to them made Carriers the more attractive option. However, to counter the dominance of Carriers in late game PvP Blizzard released Patch 3.14.0, which increased the Tempest's Kinetic Overload (anti-air) damage from 30 (+14 massive) to 30 (+22 massive).