Power Overwhelming: Immortal/Archon/Chargelot (vs. Protoss)
Protoss vs. Protoss in Wings of Liberty was primarily characterized as a matchup filled with all-ins or if the game actually made it to the late game – gigantic laser wars between mass Colossus armies. With the addition of the Mothership Core in HotS, expanding and staying alive has become easier, allowing for much more solid two-base play. Colossus can also now be dealt with using Tempests and -- to a lesser extent: time warp. As a result, the Immortal/Archon/Chargelot mid game has emerged dominant in this matchup due to its all-around strength and flexibility. Unlike Colossus or Void Ray compositions, Immortal/Archon/Chargelot is a quick, nimble force capable of putting on lots of pressure and securing tons of map control in the mid game while setting up a solid late game.
Immortals are absolutely key in the modern Immortal/Archon/Zealot composition. In WoL, Immortals were primarily to defend early attacks and to round out your composition when nearing max. With the “new school” compositions and playstyles in HotS, however, the Immortal's role has changed considerably. Colossus openers are now either delayed or skipped altogether, leaving the Robotics Facility open for Immortal production; in turn, with faster expansions and greater income, allow Immortal production early in the game without the risk of falling behind in the Colossus count. Immortals have a high damage output versus armored units, scale well with upgrades, have decent range, and do quite well against both colossus and Archons. Immortals actually beat Archons one on one. In short, they can be considered “a lot of power in a small unit”. This makes them the ideal addition to the classic Zealot/Archon mixture and a very powerful unit all game long.
It must be stressed that Immortal/Archon/Zealot is a mid game composition. The goal of using such a composition is to take a stable early game and transform it into an economically sound late game with plenty of map control and all the necessary tech to counter your opponent. As such, Immortal/Archon/Zealot(With Charge upgrade) should be thought of primarily as a transitional composition connecting the early game to a powerful late game.
This guide will cover how to play the mid game correctly assuming both players have an expansion, how to deal with other compositions, and how to smoothly transition into the late game. In the interest of space, “Immortal/Archon/Chargelot” will be abbreviated as “IAC” for the remainder of the guide.
There are several viable ways to play PvP in the early game depending on: which tech route you open with, how you react to your opponent's build, and how you plan to take your natural. Almost any build will work for setting up an IAC mid game. As long as both players expand, all you need is a Robotics Facility and Forge to easily transition into an IAC mid game. Since most builds converge to this point, any build ranging from a one-gate expand to a Dark Templar rush to a three-Gateway/Stargate pressure can lead into IAC.
Transitioning into the Mid Game
There are a few key ingredients to IAC that serve as the basis for your mid game. The order in which you get them is fairly dependent on the way you open up and how your respond to your opponent, but as long as you have all them, you can go IAC in the mid game:
- Forge for attack upgrades
- Twilight Council for Charge
- Templar Archives
Using this production and tech framework, you can do several aggressive variations by swapping the order of various units and tech. The most common among these are; Immortal openings, Immortal drops, Dark Templar drops, and Stargate harassment.
While IAC is a strong early and mid-game composition, some players like to open up very passively in order to set up a stronger timing later on in the game. The goal in using a passive opening is to develop all the key pieces of your mid game as quickly and as economically as possible.
Once both players have expanded and stabilized, you want to put down a Forge and start +1 attack as soon as possible. Depending on the situation, you may have to build an immortal or two to hold off pressure, but otherwise your Robotics Facility should be fairly idle while you saturate your natural mineral line. Delaying Immortal production allows you to get upgrades, Charge, and extra Gateways faster.
Charge and Templar Archives are generally started around the same time. When you reach two-base saturation, you'll start to pool excess minerals which you can use to build additional Gateways. Most players build three Gateways as they take the natural, then go up to a modest six once they reach two-base saturation and use minor aggression to secure the third. If you're looking to hit a strong two-base timing, you can instead opt to go up to eight Gateways and forgo or delay a third Nexus. Alternatively, players will sometimes add an extra gate after establishing their natural – a total of four – for additional safety against potential two-base all-ins. Almost all Chronoboost should be used on probes unless you need immortals and gateway units to defend an attack.
When opening in a passive macro style, it's important to get quality scouting information. Make sure you have two to three Sentries for hallucination scouts and at least one observer (or a Dark Templar) poking around the map for vision. There are a few key things to be scouting for: -Your opponent's tech -The number of gateways -The presence of a third Nexus -The location of your opponent's army
Opening with Immortals
If you opt to continue Immortal production after expanding, you can set yourself up for several two-base timings with Immortal/Blink Stalker, Immortal/Dark Templar Archon, and Immortal/Warp Prism compositions. Against players who delay extra gateways -- or skip on immortals of their own -- these attacks can outright win the game. Opening with Immortals doesn't necessarily mean you need to commit to a timing attack. You are, however, potentially putting yourself behind when you favor Immortal production over faster upgrades and extra Gateways. As a result, you should try to use your heavy-hitting Immortals to force at least some economic or tech delay from your opponent. Often times, a feigned pressure or light poke with Immortals can force enough of a response out of your opponent to catch you back up economically while also giving you the time and freedom to get important tech up or take an earlier third base. Another form of useful light pressure is dropping immortals using a Warp Prism, detailed further below.
When opening immortals, you should spend most of your Chronoboost on them while saturating your natural a little more slowly. The natural gases are also delayed due to the minerals you're spending on immortals.
Going Immortal against Blink openings is usually considered mandatory. In these cases, you can set yourself up for very powerful two-base counter attacks with a handful of immortals and little to no extra tech. On the other hand, Immortals are useless against a Stargate player, especially one who is using Phoenix to harass. Opening with Immortals is strongest against a passive and greedy Robotics Facility player; it can kill outright players who opened with DTs, Blink Stalkers, or Gateway pressure and didn't do enough damage while you fast expanded.
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When opening with immortals, you have the option to do light harassment with a warp prism and two immortals. The primary purpose of this pressure is to force stalkers and slow down your opponent's economy as well as potentially killing off workers or outlying buildings. Sometimes it's possible to even pressure the natural with your army while dropping in the main to force your opponent to split up his army; if your opponent doesn't split the army well, it's possible to do some serious damage to either the natural or the main.
Most players will chronoboost out two immortals followed by a warp prism as soon as the robo finishes and immediately send the warp prism across the map to harass. When dropping immortals, you should look to abuse any terrain -- such as dead space between the main and natural -- or building placement, but always make sure to leave a retreat path so you don't get caught by a group of stalkers. Control is key when doing immortal drops. Losing the loaded warp prism can be game-ending.
Immortal drops are designed to punish non stalker-heavy builds. They are good against any kind of robo-based openings or DT openings. Immortal drops are also particularly strong against players going for early colossi. The low unit count and the extreme expenditure of gas on colossus tech makes it quite difficult to defend; for this reason, immortal drops are actually the standard opening in colossus wars.
Do not attempt immortal drops against a blink stalker player or a stargate player as both players already have enough anti-air defense to shut this down.
Dark Templar Drops
DT drops are often done by players opening Dark Templar, but a Dark Shrine can easily be added onto a number of openings. Most often, these later Dark Shrines are meant to punish openings without sufficient detection, but can still be used just for the added map control Dark Templar provide.
Most players tend to have a single Observer with their army or spotting in front of the natural and an Observer spotting somewhere on the map, making a Dark Templar drop in the main coupled with a Dark Templar runby at the natural a potential disaster for an unwary player. Dark Templar drops are also particularly powerful against Stargate openings that rely on oracles for detection since you can outmaneuver a single oracle. By using continued Dark Templar harassment, you force your opponent on the defensive, buying you time and safety to power your economy back at home. Dark Templars can take watchtowers from your opponent and freely scout the edges of the map for pylons. Using a Dark Templar to deny your opponent's third can also be quite useful, especially if they attempt to take a third behind aggression.
The drawback to heavy DT play is that they are very gas intensive, meaning the rest of your tech and unit count is generally diminished. This means that your Dark Templar harass must do at least one or more of the following:
- Kill several Probes
- Do a ton of damage in terms of delaying tech
- Delay your opponent from moving out until you have similar tech
- Or deny your opponent's third long enough to catch up economically
Like immortal drops, DT drops are very micro-intensive and require good control and multitasking. This means that losing the warp prism and DTs can put you very far behind. If you lose the Warp Prism, you lose a lot of your map control and ability to keep your opponent pinned.
While it is rarer for Stargate players to transition into IAC compared to twilight and Robotics Facility openers, it still happens with enough regularity to be worth noting. Most Stargate play in HotS revolves around getting an Oracle to harass then usually transitions into a one base timing, Phoenix harass, and/or macro Robotics Facility play. Stargate play can actually resemble passive Robotics-based expands in that they trade off the fast Nexus for early game scouting and harassment. Stargate openings are particularly susceptible to Blink timings, which is why the Immortal transition works so well. Since Robotics tech is a very intuitive and safe switch after a Stargate opener, transitioning into IAC on two bases is surprisingly easy.
Like Warp Prism harassment, Stargate harassment hinges on keeping your opponent defensive while scouting his build and reacting accordingly. Whether you open with a couple of Oracles or some phoenixes, Stargate harassment usually has to do some kind of damage and/or force out stalkers from your opponent in order to make up for your slower economy.
Taking the Third and Transitioning
In a macro game, most of the game centers around a single question: how do I take a third base? The third base in Starcraft 2 provides optimum income and allows the lategame to take form, making it structurally the most important part of playing a macro game. Just as the opening influences the way you take a third base, the third base dictates the way you open and how you will play the rest of the game out. This section will explain the general timings for the third base and how to defend it when going IAC.
Expanding Behind Light Pressure
The most common way of taking the third with IAC is using six to eight Gateways to pressure your opponent and deny their third base while taking your own. The most common number of Gateways is six – a safe/moderate amount – but some players go all the way up to eight Gateways to increase pressure. The purpose of this pressure is to poke around, delay or deny your opponent's third for as long as possible, and secure your own third expansion in the process.
The drawback to using army pressure to secure an expansion is that you open yourself up to counter-harassment. Often times, this comes in the form of warp prism or DT harassment once you've moved out into the middle of the map. To combat this, it's good to place a Cannon in each mineral line and/or leave your Mothership Core at home to defend any kind of counter attack. This is also a good time to sweep the edges of the map with a few Zealots or DTs for hidden Pylons.
Similar to army pressure, harassment-based options can deny the third base of your opponent long enough to allow you to secure your own. The most common types of harassment-based pressure include Immortal drops, DTs, Warp Prism harassment, and Blink Stalkers. While it may not delay your opponent's third base as long as pressuring with your army, this is a safer option against counterattacks. With most of your army staying at home, you can easily handle Warp Prism or DT shenanigans.
In certain situations, you can take earlier third bases before adding extra Gateways. If your opponent is going for a very passive build or is unable to put on any pressure you can take your third Nexus off of only three or four Gateways. All you are doing here is swapping the normal order of the third Nexus and of Gateways four through six. This can come up if you know your opponent cannot commit to a strong two-base push mass Void Ray style for example so you can almost always take an early third. This also applies if you took a very large economic lead in the early game. In cases like that, your opponent is unable to put on pressure and must either play defensively and hope you try to end the game too soon, or play greedy with a fairly fast third of his own; either way, your faster third will be uncontested.
You can also do this if you can deny your opponent's scouting; by the time your opponent can scout again, it will be too late to react to your early third. Taking the third early pressures your opponent into either committing to an attack or taking their own third as soon as possible. If you can deny scouting, they cannot reactively commit to an attack before your extra gates and defenses are up.
No Expansion, YOLO All-in
Occasionally, you may opt for a two-base all-in instead of playing out the macro game…just remember which race you play! With IAC, you can go up to eight Gateways with optimal saturation on two bases (sixteen to nineteen probes on minerals, three Probes on each gas) and push across the map as soon as possible, warping in primarily Zealots and Archons. This is usually done in situations where you gain an early economic lead:
- If you get a much earlier natural Nexus (i.e. 1-gate FE vs. a Stargate expand) that goes unpunished
- If you defend pressure successfully while retaining your natural Nexus (i.e. defending Blink pressure, DTs, Stargate, or 3-Gateway pressure)
- If you deal substantial economic damage to your opponent in the early/mid game (i.e. using an immortal push to snipe your opponent's nexus or dealing massive damage with DTs)
This can also be done to punish greedy play as well. For example, a common scenario is going for a two-base all-in against a Colossus player who tries to take a greedy third. If you scout it early enough, you can make additional Gateways and hit a strong two-base timing that can demolish your opponent.
IAC is not necessarily the strongest army in Protoss vs. Protoss, but it's quite possibly the best mid game composition at the moment. Its emphasis on Gateway units and tech-light production make it a lightweight and versatile army. IAC works well in small and medium numbers, meaning it can overpower small tech-based armies. Additionally, IAC is very mobile and has the ability to attack or defend several locations at once, making it very easy to secure map control and keep your opponent pinned back or buy time for a better economy or tech setup. The combination of these two things make IAC the ideal mid game composition in many situations and maps.
One of the biggest drawbacks to IAC is that like any mid game composition it gets weaker as the game progresses. At higher supplies the sizes of Archons and Immortals prevent one another from attacking, making late game transitions to tempests or Colossus essential.
IAC is a very active composition and requires a lot of movement and map vision in order to build an ideal late game scenario. Compared to the more passive Colossus mid game, IAC requires more multi-tasking and is arguably more difficult to execute at the highest levels. Heavier multi-tasking also produces a tendency for more things to go wrong because your attention is pulled in more directions. That isn't to say that you have to be a certain level in order to use IAC but rather that more skilled players can get more out of the composition.
Specific Mid Game Scenarios
Playing a Mirror (IAC vs. IAC)
As in any kind of composition mirror, the positioning of your units is paramount. While not quite the chess game of Marine/Tank vs. Marine/Tank, IAC vs. IAC is still very dependent on unit positioning and map control. Most of the IAC mirror comes down to posturing with your main army while using a warp prism to pull your opponent out of position. While doing this dance, you're constantly trying to stay even or ahead in bases. Often times, you'll see players posture their main army outside the third or fourth base of their opponent while doing a massive zealot warp-in in the main base using the warp prism. When you do this, you're forcing your opponent to defend either his main base or his outlying bases. Good players will be able to use Dark Templar and Zealot warp-ins of their own to deal with the drop while defensively positioning their main army to stop any big attacks. A common mistake occurs when players pull their army out position and lose their nexus or won't have the proper defenses for a mass Zealot warp-in.
A common transition out of IAC is Colossus. In small numbers and on open ground, colossus get shredded by IAC; however, when you opt to transition into colossus after amassing a strong ground army, the splash damage helps you punch through your opponent's first line of units much faster. On maps with tighter chokes, like Bel'Shir Vestige or Yeonsu, more players opt for a Colossus transition; conversely, on open maps like Whirlwind, they'll tend to stick with IAC until the end game.
Players sometimes but rarely try to transition into Tempests. Transitioning directly into Tempests can be used as a preemptive countermeasure if your opponent opts for a Colossus transition. In a stalemate or split-map situation, they can also help you slowly gain ground and chip away at your opponent's defenses. There is, however, a fine line when transitioning to Tempests: if you transition too quickly without having the proper defenses up, you can be overrun by a larger IAC army.
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Exploiting the Colossus (IAC vs. Colossus)
As an alternative to IAC, many players do Colossus mid games, particularly on Bel'Shir Vestige and Yeonsu. The colossus player is vulnerable while he is getting his infrastructure up and building his colossus numbers and thus gives up map control while he focuses on defending. Your main edge against colossus builds is being able to take a faster third while transitioning to Tempests to counter his tech. Pressure the third base of the Colossus player while securing your fifth and sixth gases behind your aggression; from this point, delay the colossus player with warp prism harass, army pressure, and Zealot/DT runbys until you have Tempests out. Once you have the magic five Tempests, you can play defensively and start your own transition into double Robotics Facility Colossus. If you engage without tempests, a commonly-used flanking tactic is to drop two immortals behind the colossus with a warp prism and then warp in a round of zealots on top of your opponent's colossus. It is important to note that the Colossus player has the ability to hit a strong timing on three bases with four colossi. This timing hits a sweet spot where the Colossi numbers can overpower an IAC army without a critical mass of Tempests. To deal with this timing, you can either try to pin the Colossus player back with harassment and warp prism pressure to buy enough time for Tempests or you can consolidate your resources and focus on making your army as strong as possible and getting a favorable engagement angle. Engagements for IAC are best taken on open ground with a good concave and/or flank. This may, however, be harder on certain maps than others: Bel'Shir Vestige has a narrow third base with a difficult flank, whereas Derelict Watcher has a very open third base and plenty of open space for IAC to get a good surround.
If your Colossus opponent instead tries to take a greedy early third and play passively, you can pressure hard yourself with seven or eight Gateways. This can outright kill a Colossus player, or at least reset the Colossus count and deny the third base. In rarer situations, players with a Robotics Bay may be going for an all-in with seven Gateways and one Colossus without range. This can be defended with good scouting and mass Gateway units.
Early Immortal drops can slow down Colossus production immensely and keep your opponent pinned back and unable to take an early third, allowing you to take a strong economic lead, while also being very useful in defending common Robotics Facility-based all-ins. Colossus armies also lack mobility, making Zealot runbys and Warp Prism counterattacks very powerful in the mid game.
Dismantling Stargate Play (IAC vs. Void Ray)
Mass Stargate play is very rare compared to IAC and Colossus mid games. However, it's common enough to warrant talking about and requires a very specific response in order to deal with it. Much like Colossus play, Stargate play is very weak while building up the Void Ray count. During this time, Stargate players generally rely on good Oracle/Phoenix scouting and harassment to keep their opponent pinned back and unable to attack. For this reason, going blink before IAC is ideal. By using Blink Stalkers and very occasionally High Templar to kill off an oracle or some phoenixes and shut down your opponent's harassment, you can set yourself up for a powerful two-base pressure while taking a third and teching up to Storm behind it.
Once the harassment is shut down, go up to six to eight Gateways and pressure with about ten Blink Stalkers, two Archons, and as many Zealots as you can afford while taking a third. This pressure not only disrupts Void Ray production and potentially lowers the Void Ray count, but also keeps them off their third base. Take your fifth and sixth geysers behind aggression and wait for storm and four to six full-energy Templar. When engaging a Void Ray army, prioritize Storm on the Void Rays and let your superior ground army clean up your opponent's ground army. If you're completely unable to Storm the Void Rays, it's possible but not ideal to storm your opponent's ground army.
Void Ray players, much like Colossus players, can hit powerful timings with a handful of Void Rays. The best response, again, is to scout the Gateway count and start warping in Gateway units as soon as possible. It's important to bait out the Void Ray charge as soon as possible using blink stalkers or engaging on the map and falling back to your nexus. When you engage by your nexus, activate photon overcharge while buying time until the Void Ray charge runs out. It is crucial that you do not to engage the Void Rays until the charge runs out or is almost off.
Late Game Scenarios
As PvP is becoming more stable, more games have started to enter the late game. However, the late game is still isn't fully mapped out and there are no “reliable” transitions known as of yet; as a result, most players tend to stick to IAC augmented by Tempests or Colossi. This can make late game PvP can be disorienting and hard to understand, but the key components remain the same no matter the circumstances:
- Mining expansions
- Army composition
- Tech production ability
- Gateway count
The goal going into the late game is to have an advantage in one or more of these areas. IAC provides many opportunities to out-multitask and out-maneuver your opponent, making it a great composition to go from a stable mid game to a powerful late game with an edge. As always, happy zealoting!