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Mental Checklist

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[e][h]Mental Checklist
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The "Mental Checklist" (acronym: MCL) is some kind of mental loop to train your Macro and your Unit Control. To a small amount your Micro is trained as well.

SC2 was released worldwide on July 27, 2010. During the SC2-Beta Sean Plott made a Day[9] Daily #162 "Back to the Basics" (June 8, 2010). The term "Mental Checklist" (acronym: MCL) was first described in this Daily, but it was used in SC1, too.

StarCraft, is the chess of our generation. StarCraft requires the dexterity of a pianist, the mind of a chess grandmaster, and the discipline of an Olympic trainee.

Knowledge about Micro and Macro is vital to play SC2 on a high level. All operations take place in real-time - commands are executed as they are given. This means a player not only benefits from strategical insight, but also from speed and multitask ability, measured by APM (actions per minute). The ability to perform specific actions in limited time is often referred to as Mechanics. The MCL is one way to complete all those actions/operations.

The key to great mechanics in SC2 is not about being "fast" as much as it is about spending attention in the right places at the right time - in the order that makes sense.


The goal is plain and simple: Get better Mechanics!

Before you start with the MCL you have to train using Hotkeys and Control Groups first. But most players use them from the beginning. If you do not ... start!

The real heart and soul of StarCraft and StarCraft 2 and any strategy game is timing and timing things well. Having things out coming quickly; having just enough defense at just the right time.
Day[9] (Daily #132)

In his first video Day[9] explains how important timings are. If you talk about "timings" you think of "timing push". Cloaked Banshees at 7:16 or four stalkers at 5:42 (4 Warpgate Rush), but Day[9] also means simple timings. If your Marine is about to be finished, it is "time" to build the next one. If your Queen gets 25 energy, it's "time" to inject Larva.

It's very important you do benchmarks all the time.
Day[9] (Daily #274)

The most simple way to do this: Check your food before and after an attack. Both players are at 100? Fine. You killed 10 Drones with Hellions? Even better. But even more important are simple benchmarks. If you play 1 Rax FE, you can have 50 SCVs at the 10-minute-mark. This is a simple benchmark. If you play against a Very-Easy-AI this should be no problem, if you practice enough.

This statement is often completely ignored by low league players. They will go to a forum and say: "Opening XY does not work anymore. When I attack my opponent with Roaches at 10:30, he was able to defend it."

A Master player who taught this strategy had 29 Roaches at 10:30, our low league player had 10. Benchmarks!

It's very important you create some kind of benchmark using the MCL. It could be your SCV count, could be your Inject (a Queen's energy).

... and today we are going to be doing one of my absolute my number one most important concepts in my eyes EVER ... and that is the Mental Checklist.
Day[9], Daily #360 ()

In lower leagues you see players watching fights, forgetting to macro at all. The MCL is a way to concentrate on things, where your concentration is really needed. You check

  • SCV is building ... good
  • Marine is not building ... bad

and we press A to build a Marine.

So you check your production and execute a command at the right time.

Day[9] compares his MCL to a video about workouts. To train the MCL is really hard and you should take a break, if you are mentally "out of breath". Train the MCL constantly! Repetition is very important.

Day[9] rules[edit]

Day[9] created "Newbie Tuesday". In his "Daily #194 - Newbie Tuesday: Drone Timing" he states: "Scout the front!". In other episodes, he often says "Constantly build Probes, constantly build Pylons ... Probes & Pylons, Probes & Pylons".

The first idea in the Mental Checklist: Keep your money low!
Day[9], Daily #132 ()

His rules:

  • Constantly build workers!
  • Keep your money low!
  • Do not get supplyblocked!
  • Watch the Minimap!
  • Scout (the front)!

The MCL is a tool to follow these rules.

The first one and the most important thing is ... scouting his front and making big judgements about what you see at the front.
Day[9], Daily #175 ()

If you never tested the MCL you should start with scouting the front.

You should have a fundamental understanding of Supply or what "supplyblocked" means. If not, see Definitions for further informations on "Supply Block".

Basic concept: Use hotkeys and control groups[edit]

To execute the MCL you have to use hotkeys and control groups. It is mandatory.

In this Newbie Tuesday, Day[9] focuses on one of the most important concepts for a player: his or her mental checklist of tasks that must be repeatedly completed throughout a game. To provide an example, Day[9] demonstrates exercises throughout the episode that can be used to help improve play.
Day[9], Daily #360 ()

(This was posted by Day9's team on ""[1])

A very simple way to execute the MCL is

  • assign your Nexus to "4"
  • check your probe production

and hit E if your probe is almost finished.

Day[9] suggest always to build a Probe via "4 E". Do not click on the Nexus and push E, always use "4 E". If you use Grid it would "4 Q" instead.

If you have four probes queued up in both Nexus, that's totally fine.

E.g. you are a Protoss (applies for Terran, too) in Bronze and you have problems with your worker production. Take a look at Daily #360 "Mental Checklist: Exercises!". Move one of your probes in the middle of the map (Shattered Temple), walk around the Watchtower and check the progress bar of your Probe (production). If you are in Bronze, it's totally fine to have three Probes queued up your Nexus. If the progress bar hits 80%, you build another Probe. Too easy? Use 90%. Too hard? Use 70%. Do it over and over again, until you have 65-70 Probes and three Nexi.

Custom Game: 1v1 Terran vs Protoss (Very easy AI - Economic Focus)

Your opponent should be a Protoss, because you can scout a Protoss more easily than Terran or Zerg with a worker. A worker is faster than a Zealot (2.8125 > 2.25).

Daily #132 "Back to the Basics: The Mental Checklist"[edit]

Day[9] explains basic mechanics like assigning Control Groups and using Shift.

We re-examine the basics of the game that we often take for granted as our APM starts to increase. In particular we talk about what it really means to have good timing, how to use hotkeys effectively, keyboard and mouse exercises, keeping money low, and other staples of quality play.
Day[9], Daily #132 ()

The simplest way to execute the MCL is training only one part of it. You should forget about things like

and so on. You just check your production. After your checking, comes the reaction on your check.

Check your CC!

Your worker is at 80%, build the next one!

Check your Barracks!

Your unit (Marine, Zealot) is at 80%, build the next one!

If you want to make it more difficult, try to execute a simple 1Base-Build like 111 or 4Gate or 7RR.

Protoss need to train a Macro cycle called "Warp-In Drill"[2]:

Control Group: Select all units and use Shift + 1 or whatever you use as "Army Hotkey". E.g. you have 9 Zealots in Control Group 1. You warp in 6 Stalker, use Shift + 1 to add those Stalker to your Control Group. You use Chrono Boost on your Forge and your Robo and you build 2 Pylons, because you have 2 bases.

If you are able to do this for a complete game, which lasts more than 20 minutes, then you can take the next step.

Production shows one Immortal

Your Immortal is at 95%, build the next one!

Production shows two Immortals

One of the most important things Day9 says in his daily: Do not click on your Nexus! Use 4 and E instead. It's important not to think about clicking anymore or using SHIFT commands.

Zerg: Drone timing[edit]

Zerg players often have to choose between Drones and units (e.g. Roaches). Therefore "Check your worker production!" does not apply. But Zerg can check

  • larva
  • Injections

using two hotkeys.

Drone timing[3] is a complex matter and will not be explained here. But the MCL is a perfect tool for good scouting and therefore good Drone timing.

Daily #360 "Mental Checklist: Exercises!"[edit]

Daily #360 takes the MCL to the next level. It starts pretty simple, though.

We're going to revisit the mental checklist, but this time, in the context of exercises!
Day[9], Daily #360 ()

Day[9] begins with some simple steps.[4]

We'll be opening up a game, we are going through some exercises and we are going doing these exercises providing a skeletal structure. Providing like 50% in these exercises, because you'll hit some and you'll be like >Ok, I can't actually do that. That's to hard for me.< And if that's the case, that's fine. Just stop and don't advance forward. Just keep drilling that one thing over and over again.
Day[9], Daily #360 ()

It's very important to train your MCL like Day[9] shows in his videos and to slowly try it in 1on1 (Ladder, Custom Games). It's even more important to hit a wall, where "Ok, I can't actually do that. That's too hard for me." is written all over. You have to find your mistakes. Do not lie to yourself and advance forward, if you can't do the basic stuff.

If you are a player in the lower leagues, start with "One step at a time" (see below). More experienced players might want to try the first three basic steps:

  • Scout (or move army)!
  • Check your worker production!
  • Check your unit production!

Protoss can use the same training steps like Terran does.

The following examples are using Hotkeys and Control Groups:

  • assign your Probe (scout) to 1
  • assign your Nexus to 4
  • assign your Gate to 5

Or if you play Terran: 1 = SCV, 4 = CC, 5 = Rax.


Use no opponent or "Very easy AI"

Send a Scout-SCV anytime you want to. To scout around the Watchtower is more easy than to scout your opponent. Day[9] doesn't even play against an opponent. It's important to use a "Very easy AI", because any distraction (e.g. fights) is bad. On the other hand, scouting is an important aspect of SC2, so you might want to train it using the MCL. If you are Bronze, do not scout your opponent, just concentrate on the Day[9] rules and your MCL training.

The following scout timings might vary, depending on time, map or matchup. These timings are for educational purposes only.

Training (easy):

  • Try a simple BO, e.g. 1 Rax FE
  • Build a Depot at 10 Supply
  • Move your SCV to a Watchtower
  • Build a Barracks at 12 Supply
  • Jump to your SCV and take a brief look at it
  • Check your production (SCV)
  • Jump back to your base, if you have to
  • Jump to your SCV and take a brief look at it
  • Check your production (SCV)
  • Build an Orbital Command at 15 Supply

and so on.

Using a Shift-Command is not advised if you are Gold or higher.

Training (advanced):

  • Try a simple BO, e.g. 1 Rax FE
  • Build a Depot at 10 Supply
  • Move your SCV to your opponent and scout his whole base
  • Build a Barracks at 12 Supply

and so on.


Please read Terran for more basic instructions and easy training. The following scout timings might vary, depending on time, map or matchup. These timings are for educational purposes only. 2-player-map: Let's assume you want to scout after your first Pylon. If your opponent play Hatchery First, you want to play Nexus first, otherwise you want to play FFE.

Training (advanced):

  • Build a Pylon at 9 Supply
  • Move your Probe to your opponent
  • Scout his natural
  • Check your production (Probes)
  • Jump back to your base, if you have to (e.g. Chrono Boost)
  • Jump to your Probe and scout his main base (gas)
  • Check your production (Probes)

and so on.

Day[9] demonstrates in his video the ability to check the MiniMap and his money, while executing a build order. He jumps to his scouting Probe all the time.


The first and primary goal for Zerg are perfect Injects (spawn Larva). To hit an Inject right on time and have 0 energy afterwards is perfection, but if you have 3 or 5 it's totally fine. Your energy should stay below 40 at all times, if you train the MCL. Of course you sometimes need Transfusion, especially later in the game. But when it comes to training, stay below 40!

Every second your Hatches are not injected is a mistake. Play as efficient as possible! Keep your energy low!

Let's take a look at the following Control Groups:

Mental Checklist: Check your larva!

Keep in mind "The Backspace Trick" is often used to inject. Therefore you could assign your control groups like this:

  • assign one Hatch to 3
  • assign all Hatches to 4
  • assign all Queens to 5

While you are moving your Zerglings around, you hit 3 to check your injects.

Mental Checklist: Check your injects!

Progress bar is below 97%? Good. Move your army and hit 4 to check your Larva. No Larva? Good, back to your army.

The progress bar is at 97%? Use the "Backspace Trick" to inject all Hatches. If you prefer a different method, do it your way. Afterwards spend all your money, until no larva is left.

Move your army and hit 3 to check your injects, move your army, hit 4 to check your larva. You have one larva? Build a unit! Your larva count always should display 0.

97% is too slow for you? Try it with 99%. 97% ist too fast for you? Try it with 95% or 90%. Keep in mind the MCL is just a structural skeleton. Whatever works for you, to check your Injects and your larva is fine.

Note: If checking a Hatch for Injects is too complicated, you can put all Queens on a Control Group and check the symbol for "Larva inject". If you have trouble keeping your energy low, you can add an additional Queen for Injects. E. g. you have three Hatcheries and four Queens. The fourth queen is able to do additional Injects. This only works in LotV.

Advanced concept: Micro, Minimap, Money and Supply[edit]

No idle workers!

Players (Protoss, Terran) in lower leagues build a Pylon/Depot and forget to use this worker for mining. Blizzard even highlighted the "Idle worker" icon (Patch 2.x).

You can combine watching the Minimap and this icon. It has to be zero ... always!

Day[9] starts this exercise real fast. He suggests "we just wanna feel, what's that like for our eyes". He talks about the "resource eye balls" and where your eyes are spending time.

I'm gonna add two things, that you're gonna wanna cheat on. AND THEY ARE THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT THINGS ... DAMNED ... they're the MiniMap and your money!
Day[9], Daily #360 ()

To start with Minimap and money, spread out some units on the map, so you have a good vision on the complete map.

Like always, you should begin with one building at first:

  • Check (production)
  • Click (move army)
  • Minimap
  • Money

and make it real slow. It's totally fine if you need several seconds to complete each step, as long as you cycle through it over and over again.

Easiest thing in the world: Whenever you macro, look at the minimap.[5]
Day[9], Daily #252 ()

After you have successfully done that, try Day[9]'s cycle:

  • 4 S (Command Center)
  • 5 D (Rax, Marauder)
  • 6 A (Rax, Marine)
  • Click (move army)
  • Minimap
  • Money

To make it more difficult, Day[9] starts to execute it much faster. Then he looks at his SCV on the top Natural. He executes his cycle and checks his main and so on.

If you can do this a whole game, you are in very good shape. If you are able to check the Minimap and the money constantly, you can take it to the next level. Combine the "checking part" with a "doing part". Check the Minimap, click on it, and move a unit. Day[9] moves a SCV in a small circle.

Now in your own exercises at home ... off the record ... what you'll be definitely doing is saying something like, I build ten Marauders in a row, while looping everything around the map - pretending attacks are going on here and there - and if I miss a single marauder, I restart. Pretty simple! You can make this even more complicating if you want, you can have 5 Marauder 6 Marine 7 Medivac.
Day[9], Daily #132 ()
Spread your Overlords and check the Minimap!

Day[9] uses the Minimap to remind himself on spreading creep or checking his Natural ("when do we expand?"). When he builds an expansion, he checks by clicking the Minimap, how far the building is ready and if he has to send workers to mine there.

I have noticed there are no minerals on the Minimap.
Day[9], Daily #360 ()

Make no mistake ... if you never used the MCL before, this is extremely hard. Do not try using three Control Groups right from the start. Using the MCL throughout a complete game is really, really difficult and needs a lot of practise. Do not underestimate it! Keep it simple!

Difference between MCL and APM spam[edit]

To spam APM is a very common among players in higher leagues. It is causing quite a few problems in lower leagues, though.

One thing, that is quite bothersome to me is, how regularly people say, how sad it is, that StarCraft and StarCraft II require only button clicking ... and he who clicks the fastest, always wins.
Day[9], Daily #132 ()

Think about this statement. If the player who clicks the fastes always wins, you could teach SC2 to a 9-year-old kid. Has the world ever seen a 9-year-old WCS champion, of course not. SC2 is an incredibly complex game.

You watch pros play, high level players play (...) and you just think fast is better, fast is better ... accurate is better!
Day[9], Daily #121 ()

Because APM spam focuses on quickness and not accuracy it is counter-intuitive when you learn SC2. One example: Spammers often forget about Worker Stack. Note: Worker Stack was more important in WoL and HotS - 6 workers at the start - than it is in LotV.

Stacking workers is not important until you are in Masters. But getting an extra boost in your economy is of course more important than APM spam. Some pros even do it on two bases. Worker Stack will help you to hit Timings and Benchmarks.

A good 4 Warpgate Rush would hit at 5:47, if all timings went well. 5:32 Warpgate Research is be ready, at 5:42 all Gates are transformed to Warpgates (10 seconds) and 5 seconds to warp in units. Some players cut corners and they do not build any units at all until Warpgate Research is done. It is important to protect your Proxy-Pylon with 1 Zealot and 2 Stalkers. Your Proxy-Pylon should be build at 5:10. In one of the videos below, the Proxy-Pylon is build after the 7-minute-mark[6].

(...) APM don't think of it as a measure of hand speed and skill. It's a measure of how much you are remembering to do.
Day[9], Daily #132 ()

If you train your Timings and Benchmarks and playing accurately, you will execute the 4Gate better and faster. It is important to focus on accuracy, not APM(spam). A high APM will come over time. It will automatically rise with your MCL-Training.

Logic dictates, that a 4 Warpgate Rush at 6:05[7] is better than at 7:00[6]. If spamming (APM) prevent hitting those Chrono Boosts or your other timings and benchmarks, you should simply stop spamming.

Day[9], Daily #132 ()
It is so, so, so, so important, that you do everything cleanly and on time and that you have a good timing with everything.
Day9 (Daily #132)

A high APM after a game at your Score Screen is worthless, if you fail your Build Order. The MCL focuses on perfect execution, on timing things well to establish a small lead, if your opponent is as good as you are.

(...) And all I talked about was the Mental Checklist. I was not playing really fast at all, but I was remembering to do things and I was doing them.
Day[9], Daily #132 ()

The difference between MCL and APM spam is real skill. To press 4, 5 and 6 without meaning is not difficult it all, the MCL is; to check your production, watch the minimap and your money and execute a perfect build is extremely hard.

One step at a time (Bronze/Silver)[edit]

To strive for perfection with the MCL will help in all leagues (even GM). But to learn everything at once is a common mistake in lower leagues. If you try to learn

and play a perfect Build Order, you will have a hard time learning SC2. It's like teaching Algebra to an eight year old. If you don't know how to calculate "1+1" you should not try "487+249" or even Algebra. The same principles apply in SC2.

If you are in a lower league you can use "TheStaircase" and MCL simultaneously. E.g. you are in Bronze or Silver. If you have problems dealing with anxiety, just create a new account on a different server. Do not try to win, try to learn/train the Mental Checklist. Do not take gas (check out "TheStaircase" or "External links" below) and just concentrate on your MCL.

Take one step at a time.


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