Protoss vs. Terran Guide
A Note on This Guide
The Protoss race is an incredibly versatile race, something that is reflected in their play style. Because of this, the PvT Guide has been written to abstract the discussion of the match up. Freed from the Early, Mid, Late game structure aims to allow for greater diversity in SC playstyle that moves to be the next evolution in StarCraft play. If a Protoss player requires more structure in their match up they can read the Terran vs. Protoss Guide which greater reflects the current SC playstyle.
This match-up has gone through many different variations throughout the years. This article will focus on contemporary PvT, with consideration given to builds that were previously used in their own articles. Most notably, the 2 Gate Zealot build used to be used extensively in Protoss vs. Terran to provide early game aggression. Since this build is used much less often, especially in the non-proxied version, there is almost no consideration given to it in this guide.
One of the reasons why Protoss is difficult to play in this match-up is that you need to adapt to what your opponent is doing. Almost every action that you choose to undergo is in response to some play that the Terran chooses to do. There are many different variations on every single step, and all of them can affect the decision that you make at every next step in the game. See Protoss vs. Terran Timings for more information.
The basic build order of this match-up for Protoss is the same as the One Gate Core build for PvP, with the same three variations.
The most common variation of this build is used to get the first Dragoon out as soon as possible:
- 8 - Pylon
- 10 - Gateway
- 12 - Assimilator
- 14 - Cybernetics Core
- 15 - Pylon
- 16 - Dragoon
This build is commonly referred to as a One Gateway Cybernetics Core. While this is the safest opening for a Protoss player it is possible for Protoss to open with no gateways and instead opt for a 14 Nexus. If a player is able to successfully implement a 14 Nexus they can transition straight to mid game play. Otherwise Protoss will be involved in one of three mid game options: expand, pressure, or tech play.
Branch I: Additional Gateways
This transition switches into two, three, or four gate dragoon. Depending on how many gates you choose to add changes how much aggression you need to have, and how "all in" your build is. The most common build is the two gate goon aggression. In this case Protoss will be able to pressure Terran uninhibited until Terran reaches Siege Tank tech, at which point Protoss will need to back off and either expand, or in rare cases continue with one base play and tech to a Robotics Facility or a Templar Archives.
Initial Build Order
The next step in this particular branch is fairly easy, where you add additional Gates. It is important to note here that a base that is maxed out in its resourcing can efficiently run three production facilities. Because of this running four Gateways is unsustainable and as such a four Gateway build is considered an "All-In" build.
The intermediate goal of a multiple Gateway build is to apply pressure on Terran and delay them from taking their natural expansion as long as possible. Ideally Protoss will transition just before their pressure is no longer viable.
Transition I: Expanding
Once Protoss' early game pressure no longer becomes viable Terran will move to take their natural expansion. Protoss' most viable move at this point is to match this expansion and take the match to mid game.
Expanding to a third base in this match up is very common. On lower levels of play, timing pushes from Terran through a 5-6 factory timing attack usually severely cripples Protoss or even kills them off. In higher levels of play however, timing pushes do not work as well due to the concept of delaying his push as well as getting your third base econ to your gateway count up to meet his timing push.
The subtleties in stopping a timing attack from Terran begin right from the very moment you scout him. If he does a siege expand and you opened with a 1 gate FE, then it is advisable to plant your third nexus expansion right away before your robotics. The timing of expanding in this manner is way before he gets out vultures with mines and it would be difficult for him to keep track of your expansion action.
It takes much practice and game sense to be able to time your gateways along with your third base econ. This is why it is important to be getting your macro and mechanics right. If however he manages to spot a strangely small goon count from you, a small push of around 3-4 tanks with a few marines and rallied vultures can be devastating. Which is why you must deflect as much scouting as possible.
The ideal situation is that you get around 7 gateways out along with zealot speed researched and you have around 1.5 to 2 control groups of goons with one group of speed zealots by the time he pushes out.
Transition II: Robotics Facility
Alternatively Protoss can continue to keep the pressure on by transitioning to Reaver play. Terran will be susceptible to Reavers at this point and this unorthodox play will most likely catch Terran off guard. It is important to note here however that this sort of play is a gamble in that Protoss will need to prevent Terran's natural expansion from being able to bolster their economy, else Terran will gain a severe economic advantage
Transition III: Citadel
Protoss can also transition straight to a Citadel of Adun before taking their natural expansion. As before, continuing with one base play can be gamble: Protoss would be wise not to get stuck being unable to match Terran in expansions.
Branch II: Nexus
Once Protoss' pressure is no longer effective they would be wise to move toward taking their next expansion. Once they move to do this they will be susceptible to Terran's pressure, which will usually come in the form of either a Vulture harass against the natural mineral line or a contain with Siege Tanks.
Initial Build Order
Depending on when Protoss takes their expansion they will need to adapt their unit production accordingly. Protoss will need be prepared to lay down more production facilities in order to handle the new resources coming in. Before that however they will need to be able to defend their expansion and prepare any new tech they will be running off of the new base.
- Defend the new base
- Prepare for enhanced production
- Choose the next transition.
Transition I: Citadel First
The most common transition, laying down the Citadel of Adun allows Dragoon Zealot play to be effective again against Vultures and Siege Tanks as well as being a platform for a transition to Templar play.
Transition II: Robotics First
Alternatively, after taking their expansion Protoss can move to place their Robotics Facility first. This allows for fast Observers to Protoss to reassert map control as well as serving as a platform for Reaver play or taking a fast Third on maps with an island Expansion.
Branch III: Robotics Facility First
This branch refers to getting your Robotics Facility as your next Tech building after your Cybernetics Core. It usually leads easily into Reaver harass, or getting Observers out quickly so that you can start to regain map control against your Terran opponent.
This build is very standard, and allows you to adapt to many different things that Terran may choose to do. However, if you choose to harass, this tends to limit your options to Shuttle + Reaver. Some things you might want to look at when choosing this strategy:
- Pathing distance between your opponents main and natural
- Size of mains (smaller mains mean that your Reaver has less places to land and do damage)
- Island expansions
Initial Build Order
After your Cybernetics Core, you should build a Dragoon, evaluate what your opponent is doing, and then build your Robotics Facility. You need to make sure you can defend against whatever your opponent chooses to do next. See Protoss vs. Terran Timings
- 8 - Pylon
- 10 - Gate
- 11 - Assimilator
- 13 - Cybernetics Core
- 15 - Pylon
- 18 - Dragoon (build continually from now on until you have four or five)
- 20 - Dragoon Range Upgrade
- 21 - Pylon
- 26 - Robotics Facility (when 200 gas)
- 29 - Pylon
- 34 - Observatory; build Observer when it finishes
- 37 - Nexus at Natural
- Continue pumping Dragoons / Probes + Adding Pylons
- Your Robotics will finish about when Dragoon Range is done at 33 / 34 supply. At that point you should have about 3-4 Dragoons and can pressure or contain the Terran.
- What you build when your Robotics finishes depends on your play style. Variations include getting Shuttle + Support Bay right away or even skipping Goon Range in favor of a very fast Reaver push.
Assuming that you just finished your Robotics Facility, you have several options. After an Observer, you can choose to regain map control, clearing mines and containing the Terran. After getting a Shuttle, you can break any sort of contain set up by the Terran player, and you can get a Probe to an island expansion to get an easier to defend third base. After a Reaver and a Shuttle, you can harass your opponent, and it becomes much much easier to defend against any sort of Terran push. In this match-up, you almost never see Reaver first, because the Reaver doesn't have any mobility without a Shuttle.
You're basically at this point looking to use your Robotics Facility to gain some sort of advantage going into endgame; either a large economic lead by defending another expansion, or giving your opponent a large disadvantage.
The mentality of all Reaver builds is to have to Reaver do more damage than it costs. The cost includes not only the 200 mineral shuttle and the 200/100 Reaver, but the difference in time between the 37 Nexus here and the much earlier Nexus from 1 Gate Range Obs Nex, or even 1 Gate Range Nex. This build can (and should) be modified to include one or two Zealots to include with the Reaver in the initial Shuttle, and the first target for the Reaver is always the mineral line. However, if the Shuttle remains alive while getting the Reaver into the base, as it should when employed properly, tanks become a high-priority target as well. If you manage to kill three or four Tanks for two Zealots and a Reaver, then you may very well be able to finish off or shut down the Terran natural with your Dragoon force waiting outside. Think about cost and benefit, Reaver and Dark Templar builds (actually, most builds in general) always boil down to cost/benefit. Keep in mind that if the reaver fails to do any real damage against a Siege Expand build the Protoss will be significantly behind and without making an adjustment to their build, can easily lose to a Timing Push.
Transition I: Shuttle first
Getting the Shuttle first allows you to both get an easy island expansion, as well as defend against any push break, using Zealot Bombing.
Terran may move to Wraiths in order to negate the effectiveness of a Shuttle build.
Transition II: Observer first
Getting an Observer first out of your Robotics Facility allows you to regain map control with your Dragoons, and check your opponents Factory count to see what kind of push you should expect.
Expected Counter Strategies
Comsat to take out your Observer, Turrets, a push that comes before your Observer comes out.
Transition III: Nexus
The most common transition, Protoss can move to take their next expansion once their Reaver build is no longer viable. Protoss can expect at this point to meet pressure from Terran in the form of either a Vulture harass on the mineral line or a contain with Siege Tanks.
Branch IV: Citadel first
Protoss will begin making use of the Citadel tech either by:
- Teching to Templar
- Getting the Zealot Leg Enhancements upgrade
Transition I: Templar Archives
Getting Dark Templar is a common form of harassment. Protoss will move to DTs in order to disrupt Terran's resourcing or slow down any sort of push that Terran may be attempting. Dark Templar rely on the surprise factor and try to secure an easy win, in case there isn't a sufficient number of Missile Turrets and Comsat Stations. One variation drops the Dark Templar (DT Drop), one gets Dark Templar to secure map control and to expand with their protection (Fast Expand.)
With both variations, Vultures are a key enemy. Mines can kill the Dark Templar and skipping the Robotics Facility (in case of the expanding variant) means you get detection later.
Turrets, Comsat, (Siege Expand into Two Factory + Ebay + Academy)
Transition II: Zeal Speed
Zealot Leg Enhancemenst allow Dragoons and Zealots to combat the Terran Push.
From DT tech, the route to Arbiters is very short. Therefore, continuing to Arbiters is highly recommended, as described in the DT Drop article.
Final Transition: Endgame
There are two endgames in PvT. The first is Zealots and Dragoons supported by Arbiters against the Terran Push. Protoss can make use of the Recall and Stasis ability in order to circumvent the Terran Push and directly attack Terran's expansions.
The second is a switch to Carriers against Terran Goliaths. This build is most viable if you can hide your transition to Carriers, as the Terran will be unable to create enough Goliaths in time.
Branch V: Cheese/All in rush
These tactics are tactics meant to outsmart an opponent by the use of unexpected plays that are very risky.
Some of the most commonly used Cheese tactic is hidden/forward buildings (most commonly just the gateway); where the first pylon is warped close to the opponent's base and the gateway at the said pylon. This reduces the rush distance, allowing a quick attack. Though it is most common to rush with just zealots, many players have climbed the tech tree outside of the base even to dark templars (e.g. Bisu)
3 Gate all in is a tactic where the player does not climb the tech tree beyond the cybernetics core and attempts to defeat the opponent using units from 3 gates.