Protoss vs. Zerg Guide
The Protoss vs. Zerg Match-ups knows three variants with different popularity. As of now, the most common is Forge Fast Expansion (abbreviated to Forge FE or just FE). Minor variants are two Gateways (2 Gate) and single base Tech.
This page is concerned with the Openings of the PvZ match-up. Also look at Protoss vs. Zerg Timings.
Branch I: Fast Expansion
Note: Before you start a fast expansion, have a building setup in mind or know exactly how to improvise one. This build presupposes a certain map setup:
- Having a Natural with one sufficiently narrow entrance (choke point) to wall it off.
- Long enough traveling distance between your and your opponent's bases. A traveling distance is long enough if and only if:
- A Cannon that starts warping at your choke point as soon as Zerglings (without speed upgrade) leave their base finishes before the Zerglings bypass that choke point.
Initial Build Order
- 8 - Pylon at Natural Expansion (Positioning for buildings at Protoss Fast Expand Forge Walling)
- Scout with the Probe that built the Pylon.
From here on the build depends on what you can gather about the Zerg.
9 Pool or Overpool or no info (hungry variation)
9 Pool or Overpool or no info (greedy variation)
You have two choices to react to this. First is to either complete your simcity and add in cannons with probes to block his lings from running by or you can build a pylon in your main base and cannon up.
The first option is obviously better if you can pull it off because losing probes is fine because he is on a bad economic state as well. Then you can go on 2 bases and be far ahead economically.
It is therefore wise to always go forge first if you do not scout him first on a 4 player map.
3 Hatcheries before pool
- The number of Cannons you build depends on what scouting info you get. If the Zerg gets a full 6-8 Zerglings, at least two are needed.
- Against early Pool with Gas, you have to pull Probes sooner, as the Zerglings might have the Speed Upgrade.
Cut Pylon (Forge first)
Make Pylon (Forge first)
Cut Pylon (Nexus first)
Make Pylon (Nexus first)
- Cutting the Pylon allows you a faster Gas and therefore earlier Tech. If you go for a Stargate opening, this also means sooner scouting by Corsairs.
- Transfer roughly 1/3 of your main Probes to your expansion so they arrive at the minerals once it warps in.
- Build Probes continually from both Nexuses (hint: hotkey at 9+0 and press 'p' for production.)
- In this order and as soon as possible:
- Gateway (unless already placed)
- Cybernetics Core
Because of the number of All-in strategies the Zerg can use to break a Protoss' fast expansion, proper scouting is crucial.
- On a 4-player map, if you don't find the Zerg in your first try, its safer to build your Forge anyway at 10/11 supply.
- You may want to send that second probe to scout as well (in the opposite direction of the first one) to make sure you find him in your second try.
- A 9 pool or Overpool speed build is mainly aimed at denying the Protoss scouting information. In this case, send a second probe out before the lings reach your base and hide it somewhere in the map so you can scout with it later.
What to look for
While a competent Zerg will not let you see his tech before Corsairs are out, there are minor signs you can look for to get a general idea on what he is doing.
- Extra Zerglings - After his first six Zerglings pop, your probe should always try to see what comes out of his next eggs. If its more Zerglings prepare for an all-in.
- Third Hatch at Expo - If he places his third Hatchery at an expansion, he will probably be going for a macro game but that's not definitive so don't drop your guard completely.
- Third Hatch in Main - If the Zerg does not expand with his 3rd Hatch expect early aggression.
- Gas in Main - One of the most important things to look for; the speed at which he takes his main gas is indicative of how fast he will be teching to Lair. If he takes his gas early for ling speed, try to see if he pulls the Drones back to minerals once he has 100 or if he keeps them on.
- Number of Drones - A "normal" Zerg will want to pump pure Drones for a while after his first six lings. If you see a lack of Drones be wary.
- Gas in Natural expansion - A fast gas in the natural expansion means a gas-hungry build: either 2 or 3 Hatch Muta or 2 or 3 Hatch Lurkers.
Your Forge has to be started at latest once the pool is halfway done. In general, you place your Forge and as many Cannons as needed in order to prevent Zerg from running you over early. Think of Cannons as a sacrifice that allow you to take an expansion early in the game. But your real goal is to get a gateway, start teching and attack the Zerg.
Your goals are therefore:
- Make sure you don't die to an all-in (defined as a low-economy early game attack by the Zerg that, if deflected, puts him far behind). That means putting up just enough Cannons.
- Power your two-base economy with constant Probe production.
- Tech up and macro to the unit combination of choice.
- Aim for an attack timing with that unit combination.
Transition I: Stargate first
Compared to other openings like 2 Gate or +1 Zeal Speed, the Stargate first build improves Protoss' position in two major respects:
- You are not forced to be overly aggressive in early game, depending on dealing damage with your initial Zealots. Instead you are in stable position with 2-3 base economy.
- Once your corsair is out, you can hunt Overlords, and even more importantly, get intelligence on the Zerg.
It essentially flips around the roles: Zerg is forced to act, and he is more or less playing in the dark.
The most crucial phase is the time before your first Corsair finishes. In this timing window, low economy Hydra/Ling breaks usually happen and might catch you unaware (compare Bisu vs. sAviOr on Blue Storm from the EVER 2007 OSL ). Sneaking out Probes, keeping tabs on the Zerg, and adding an extra Cannon for safety can keep you in the game.
Once your Dark Templar are out, use them similarly as the Corsairs. They are not intended to kill the Zerg, they scout and control the map. If there is an opening, by all means slip one through, but don't rely on it. You have to use all this reconnaissance you get to find points to harass and to identify vulnerable phases in the Zerg's build, e.g. when he is overcommitting to expanding and powering.
More information in the Bisu Build article.
The build is here defined as a Fast Expand build that involves
- Building at least two Corsairs
- Using Dark Templars
The early Corsairs serve to scout and to harass the opponent's Overlords, hopefully forcing the Zerg to clump his Overlords in one or two locations or to get an Evolution Chamber and Spore Colonies to defend. You will use this advantage and take map control with small amounts of Dark Templar.
This build is usually followed by repeated Shuttle harassment in the form of Reavers, Dark Templar and/or High Templar. Due to the Overlords being clustered, DTs might find mining bases without detection. The Protoss should attempt to take at least as many expansions as the Zerg and gather a standard ground army of Zealots, Dragoons, High Templar and Archons, and adding Reavers once Dark Swarm enters play.
The build is meant to deal with Zergs who try to take expansions with Lurkers and few low tech units, fortifying them with Sunken and Spore Colonies (turtle), and then go heavy on upgrades, Hive Tech, and units.
More information in the Sair/Reaver article.
This build is here defined as
- Building up a critical mass of Corsairs
- Escorting a speed-upgraded Shuttle with your Corsairs
Corsair/Reaver goes by many names; Sair/Reaver and Splash Protoss are but two. A dedicated Sair/Reaver game evolves quite differently compared to a regular PvZ as it encourages the Zerg to take many expansions, and then it is up to the Protoss to shut each of those expansions down with Corsairs and Reaver Drops. It is a highly effective strategy on Island or Semi-Island maps but is also viable on maps with an easy third expansion. While Corsair/Reaver was used extensively on island maps initially, it was not until Nal_rA revolutionized the build and made it a viable choice on regular land maps. This build usually follows a Protoss Fast Expansion.
Instead of taking map control with ground units, you will continue Corsair production and build a Robotics Bay in order to harass the Zerg with both Reavers and Corsairs. Your goal is to have a group of Corsairs that can take out Scourges before they hit and a Reaver (or two) in a speed upgraded Shuttle. When going for Robotics tech first, the Protoss might take additional expansions with narrow chokes (or even below on a map like Reverse Lost Temple) or an island, taking advantage of the static defense that the Cannons, High Templar, and Reavers provide. Later in the game it is very common to switch to ground units such as Dragoons, Dark Templar, High Templar, and Zealots, but you will regularly still have a few Reavers. A paradigmatic map for this strategy is Andromeda, which once resulted in an hour-long dragged out game between Stork and GGPlay.
Four Gateway + 2 Archon
More information in the 4 Gate 2 Archon Timing Attack article.
This attack is also sometimes considered a +1 rush, because you get the +1 Weapon Upgrades, ideally before the Zerg gets the +1 Carapace. This rush, with both Speed Zeals and Archons, is timed so that the Archons can help you defend against any sort of 3 Hatch Muta attack, while being able to hit the Zerg before his Five Hatch Hydra production kicks in. To allow this push to be successful, Protoss needs to be successful in scouting, because both Lurkers or a 4 Hatch Hydra can shut down this build fairly easily.
If you scout Lurkers, you can take the extra time while +1 is finishing to get an Observer, and still overrun Lurkers, especially if you manage to catch the Zerg before they morph.
Transition II: Citadel first
+1 Zealot Timing Rush
More information in the +1 Zealot Timing Rush article
The +1 Zealot Timing rush was the most popular variation of the standard Fast Expand up until Bisu defeated sAviOr in GOMTV S1 MSL. Typically, the Protoss only takes a single gas and upgrades +1 weapons as soon as his gas hits 100. As the Protoss income increases, he adds Gateways until he has 5 of them and upgrades Zealot Speed as soon as he can. The object of this build from here is to attack the 3rd expansion of the Zerg and hope to kill it or force the Zerg to invest heavily to defend it, thus losing out on the exchange.
Counter Openings to expect
Protoss Fast Expansion needs to be passive until your attack window is reached. Therefore Zerg has two alternatives: Try to grab as many expansions as possible. Or: Attack with low economy before your attack window is reached.
- All-in rushes. E.g.: Speedling rush, Hydra break, or even 2 Hatch Muta.
- Zergling Run-by
- Double Expand
- 2 Hatch before Spawning Pool
Branch II: Two Gateways
The two gateway opening is an aggressive build designed to assert map control and to exert early pressure on a Zerg expansion. Even when it cannot directly hurt the Zerg, it can still intimidate them, forcing them to spend larva on Zerglings and drones on sunken colonies, all of which slows the Zerg's economy.
Initial Build Order
Both the Placement and the Timing of Pylon and Gateways depend heavily on which variation you choose. The most common placement is at the front of your natural (which should allow you to narrow down your natural choke, as well facilitate expanding). For the individual details, confer the 2 Gateway (vs. Zerg) article.
The most common build order, that has no economic drawbacks, is:
- 8 - Pylon
- 10 - Gateway
- 12 - Gateway
- 13 - Zealot
- 16 - Pylon
- 17 - Two Zealots (if you keep producing Zealots, they should come out two at a time)
The goal with the two gate rush is to be aggressive, and force the Zerg to spend a) Drones on Sunken Colonies and b) Larvae on Zerglings. During the early game, the availability of both to Zerg is very low. By going 2 Gate, if you can force him to spend Larvae on Zerglings, you might end up economically ahead, even if you do not kill much.
Transition I: Nexus
Transitioning into an Expansion from a 2 Gate opening depends on:
- Scouting information gained by the first Zealots
- How much damage you did with them
- Where you placed your first two Gateways
For example, if you chose to place them inside of your base, you need a large number of Zealots to prevent Zerglings from running past them. If a Run-by happens, those Zerglings might destroy your natural Nexus or cause harm in your Main Base. If you placed them at your natural, you should be able to block the passageways and defend against larger numbers of Zerglings.
If you can get away with an Expansion, it makes any of your next technology choices much much easier, because your economy will be able to handle it.
The Nexus immediately after a 2 Gate rush, before any tech, is vulnerable to many counters. Without tech, both your scouting and your mobility are severely limited. By expanding you are therefore forfeiting scouting and map control for a certain period of time.
Transition II: Cybernetics Core into Stargate
One of the most common followups from a 2 gate is into Stargate. If the Zerg was forced to commit to Sunken Colonies and Zerglings, he will likely not be able to match your tech switch. While using corsairs to scout, regain map control, you should choose Robotics or Citadel tech, as depicted below.
Robotics Facility after Stargate
Going for a Robotics Facility gives you several different options. If you keep building corsairs, you can continue as with Corsair/Reaver. Else you can go for a Reaver/shuttle attack that is supported by Dragoons.
Citadel after Stargate
Putting down a Citadel of Adun after the Stargate can lead you into the Corsair/DT variation. More commonly, you get Zealot Leg speed and High Templars with Storm in case the Zerg responds with Hydralisks, or Archons if he chooses to commit to Mutalisks. In order to make this choice, gaining scouting information with your first Corsair is essential.
By going Stargate, you are giving up initiative and map control for the short period of time in between when your two gate rush gets deflected, and your first corsair comes out. This means that you are especially vulnerable if your opponent commits to an All-in during that period of time.
Transition III: Core into Robotics
Transitioning into Robotics Facility gives you slightly later scouting, but you can use Observers instead. This build counters 2 Hatch Lurker, if you manage to scout that strategy. You will have problems however defending against 3 Hatch Hydras and your Anti-Air will be weak for an amount of time. Getting a Robotics Facility might also be advisable as a follow-up on Maps with Island-expansions, such as Return of the King and Andromeda.
- 3 Hatch Muta
- 3 Hatch Hydra
Transition IV: Citadel First
Citadel first is the least common transition straight out of a 2 Gate, but it is one of the more common transitions after an expansion. Usually, if you go Citadel right after two Gate, it's considered the beginning of a 3 Gate Speedzeal rush.
Branch III: One Base Tech
Essentially, the desired Tech and timing happens faster than the fast expansion, only that you will have less money at your disposal. Blocking the ramp is vital to prevent death from early Zergling attacks and in order to hide your intentions. This build is only recommended as a surprise move or on maps where a Fast Expansion is out of question. In general, FE does the job of getting Tech along with a decent economy better. 1 Gate Tech allows you to tech faster, and be able to do more damage with whatever mid-game Tech you choose to go.
- Not get overrun by All-Ins or Cheese; This requires blocking your ramp.
- Get scouting information - keep scouting Probe alive!
- Get your Tech as soon as possible.
After your scouting Probe dies, you need to get the second one out immediately. A nifty technique is keeping the minerals in sight at your opponent's base and keeping a Probe in your base hotkeyed. Once your initial Probe dies, immediately send the 2nd Probe to gather those minerals, so it will slide its way across the map.
Transition I: Stargate Tech
This is by far the most common Tech path, as the Stargate allows you to scout the Zerg opponent, and see their choice of Tech. This also transitions well into Sair/Reaver, or Sair/DT or even Corsair/Carrier, depending on the map.
3 Hatchery Hydralisk 2 Hatchery Mutalisk
Transition II: Robotics Tech
Occasionally Robotics Tech first is used, e.g. on maps with short distances, using a few Zealots, about 2 Dragoons, and a Reaver as a timing push. However, this push is really outdated, and tends to be shut down fairly easily with good micro from the Zerg player. This also results in less scouting information, and forces you to apply pressure before the Zerg's Tech can kick in.
Sunken Colonies, 3 Hatchery Zerglings
- BeSt vs. Jaedong in an unorthodox game; a 1-Base Lurker strategy is countered by going Robotics first.
Transition III: Citadel Tech
Off one base, you only ever get to see 3 Gate Speedzeal, because it is almost impossible to get meaningful scouting information with a single base and Citadel Tech.