Void Ray/Chargelot/Templar (vs. Zerg)
The Void Ray/Templar/Zealot PvZ style is perhaps the most innovative build that emerged after the release of HotS. The basic roots of the playstyle comes from the mass Skytoss builds of the HotS beta, and to a lesser extent from standard play in Brood War, where focusing on High Templar and Zealots after a Stargate opening is the norm. It was first refined by Woongjin Stars Protoss players and particularly sOs, who showed just how devastating it can be in the WCS Season 1 Global Finals as he made Soulkey, the best Zerg in the world, look confused and even sloppy in their Ro4 match. Since then, the metagame and builds have shifted and evolved, but the core ideas remain powerful today. Along with other notable players such as NaNiwa, sOs continues to focus heavily on this unit composition and enjoy great success with it.
A flashy and deceptive style in pure sOs fashion, it can be considered as a middle ground between hyper-aggressive 3-base Blink timings, and the slower, safe and methodical Colossus/Stargate builds that have been used in PvZ since 2010. Blink Stalker 3-base builds need to hit a powerful midgame timing or not scale well enough in the endgame against Zerg tech and production, and Colossus builds can be powerful but immobile, slow and exploitable by tech switches. The Skytoss/Templar style on the other hand can allow Protoss players to be take map control and play aggressively almost as fast as the Blink Stalker styles, without the need to commit to an attack and with an extremely powerful lategame. The price to pay for this added versatility is the need to utilize greedier and/or trickier openings, resulting in a third base that can sometimes be harder to defend from midgame attacks. Additionally, the heavy tech investment of this style results in a lower Sentry count, and therefore in less energy for Hallucination scouting. You also get to feel Bisu every time you beat someone which is pretty fucking awesome. From now on this style will be called The Bisu Build because every PvZ build with Zealots, Templars and flying units is the Bisu build anyway.
This guide will walk you through the early game (defined as the part of the game in which the Protoss player executes his favored opening that leads into this style); midgame (the portion of the game in which the Protoss is on 3 bases and has to react to the Zerg's decisions of either teching up to lair or hive tech, or going for a lair based bust), and lategame (once the Protoss tech investments fully kick in and he's free to take map control and a 4th base).
This style is very versatile, while being still extremely unexplored. As a result, there isn't a single, well defined build, but whole family of them that accomplish the same end game goal through very different openings. Nevertheless, every build shares a common structure:
- A fast expand, much like any PvZ build. This can be either Gateway FE or FFE.
- A tech opening, most of the time Stargate but Dark Templar builds can also branch into the Bisu build. The Gateway expo builds tend to open with a Stargate/Forge wall as opposed to 3Gateways and a later Stargate. It is also possible to open with a fast third into tech, but this style is so greedy we don't recommend it for ladder play.
- Tech based pressure in the form of Stargate or Dark Templars. Usually the Stargate produces a phoenix or Oracle mainly for scouting, but also for light pressure, and then switches to Void Rays. Naniwa sometimes opens with 3 or 4 Phoenix and heads into this style. A Warpgate-pressure based opening is viable but far less common.
- A third base as fast as possible, usually established and defended with a Void Ray or two and the Mothership Core. If opening gateway expand, you need a completed forge before this to simcity a Cannon at your third location.
- Void Ray production can come from one to three Stargates. The more Stargates a player makes, the more Void Rays he intends to build before tech switching to Zealot/Zrchon, delaying his Gateways, Charge and Psionic Storm as a result. Depending on the map and style, the standard numbers are 1-3 Stargates for 2-6 initial Void Rays (more as necessary if they are needed for defense). Some players (Koreans in particular) like trying harassment/Recall tactics with their Void Rays and the Mothership Core.
- A big tech switch into 10-14 gateways, avoiding stalker production and teching to Psionic Storm and High Templar once the third base income kicks in.
- The possibility to hit a 3 base timing once Void Ray production is complete and the Gateway tech is up. The 4th base is usually taken behind this move out.
As you can see, the possibilities are almost endless, and every player can put his own spin on this style. The two most known users of the Bisu Build are sOs and Naniwa, so from now on all the builds reported will be theirs.
Here are some possible build orders used successfully in televised matches:
|sOs build from WCS Season 1 finals|
Note how greedy this build is. Gateway production only kicks in at around 12:30, making this build fairly susceptible to Lair busts. Nevertheless, if you want to play greedy and/or know your opponent will play passively, this is a powerful variation.
- sOs vs Soulkey VOD Set 1 on Whirlwind, from WCS Season 1 Finals
|Double Stargate sOs standard build|
A good trick to learn when opening with an Oracle instead of a Phoenix is to sneak around with the initial zealot to harass a Queen and make the oracle more effective. Keeping the Oracle alive is mandatory, as it is a scouting unit later on in the game, do not be greedy while harassing. Cutting the initial Void Ray count down to 4, and the Stargate count to 2, speeds up the Zealot/Templar transition by about a minute. This allows you to get Charge much faster; however, teching to storm against 3-base all-ins is still very risky. It also takes longer to go up to your desired high Void Ray count after getting your infrastructure going.
sOs vs Goswser, Frost (produces Void Rays as soon as he scouts the 3base allin)
- sOs vs Goswser Set 1 on Frost, from DH Winter (sOs produces void rays as soon as he scouts the 3base allin)
|Single stargate sOs standard build|
This build allows you to have an extremely fast Psionic Storm (done at around 12 minutes), in exchange for a much lower Void Ray count in the early game, and worse infrastructure (you stay on the one Stargate for much longer). As a result, the build is much stronger against Hydra/Ling, slightly stronger against Ultra/Ling, and weaker against Roach based builds and Mutalisks. In general, the higher production of Gateway units makes holding your third base a bit easier. Your Gateway units are noticeably stronger thanks to the faster upgrades. Finally, the lower early/midgame Void Ray count means they are only used as a defensive unit in setting up your third and protecting against roach/ling pushes; doing any kind of Void Ray Recall harassment is extremely hard with so few voids.
- sOs vs Curious Set 1 on Derelict Watcher, from IEM New York
|NaNiwa's Phoenix opening|
- NaNiwa vs VortiX Set 1 on Bel'Shir Vestige, from WCS EU Season 2
NaNiwa vs VortiX on Bel'Shir Vestige
This game shows how to brutally hard counter Ultralisk rushes with simple, solid play. It is important to note how NaNiwa remains calm against the Zergling harassment, knowing that VortiX's third was later than normal and his ling production meant his drone count is extremely low.
|NaNiwa's Void Ray build|
- Naniwa vs VortiX Set 3 on Derelict Watcher, from WCS EU Season 2
This build is NaNiwa's variation of the mass Void Ray opening. Notice how heavily he delays Gateway tech, in order to use his Stargates to secure his third. Despite being safer than sOs's original build, it is still very hard to hold off any Queen-based attacks; on the other hand, any timing or build including Roaches should be fairly easy to stop.
NaNiwa vs VortiX on Derelict Watcher 2.0
|NaNiwa's DT build|
The Dark Templar opening is a great complement to the standard Stargate play, because Dark Templars and Void Rays synergize surprisingly well in the early game, and it is easy to disguise your build as a Gateway pressure. As with 2/3 Stargate builds, you have the option to harass with the Mothership Core and Void Rays later on, which also gives you the ability to sneak in even more Dark Templars.
- sOs vs. Soulkey Set 2 on Neo Planet S, from WCS Season 1 Finals
The common theme within all these builds, other than the obvious endgame composition, is the cut in Void Ray production to ramp up Gateway tech. If you keep on making Void Rays your Gateways, Charge and Psionic Storm will all be too late. The adjustment made in each of these builds is to hit a desired Void Ray count (6, 4 or 2 unless you get attacked and need any unit possible to defend), cut production, tech up and go up to 8/10 Void Rays in your endgame army after teching up to Psionic Storm/Charge.
While you establish your third base, the most important thing is to create a Pylon/Gateway wall for a single Cannon. Often times Zerg players will look to produce a round of Zerglings to deny your fast third, and having this simcity up in time is key in defending that pressure along with the Void Ray and Mothership Core. At this point of the game your ground army will likely consist of only 3-4 ground units which would just die to the Zerglings, so you need to be in position with the Mothership Core and Void Ray(s):
This style requires careful reactions and scouting of the Protoss player's part as with most lategame-oriented PvZ builds. PvZ in HotS is a match-up of powerful hard counters and tech switches, so you always must be on top of your scouting through Hallucination and Stargate units. Here are the things to look for, but keep in mind that mastering this part of the game requires a lot of experience and game sense more than anything:
- The timing on the Zerg 4th. If he doesn't take one shortly after scouting yours, expect some kind of pressure to come your way, usually in the form of a Roach/Hydra, Hydra/Zergling, or Hydra/Queen push. Note that this isn't necessarily all-in, so you must account for the Zerg's followup as well. Be with your Stargate scouting unit(s)!
- The presence of 4 or 6 gasses, which has been a key scouting clue for a long time in this match-up. 6 gasses usually means some kind of tech (or more passive Roach/Hydra); less gasses very likely signals an impending attack. Similarly pay attention to your opponent's Drone count and saturation; if a Zerg stays around 60 drones he's looking to attack, while going up to 70 or 80 means you have more breathing room.
- Make sure to constantly check the Zerg's rally point, often between his natural and third. Since it is very easy for Zerg players to throw down every building, simply scouting his main base isn't enough to have a solid read. Keep tabs on his gas usage. If he did some kind of opening involving Hydras or Roaches and is now producing exclusively Zerglings, be on the lookout for a tech switch, possibly to Mutas. If he keeps up with his ground army, he will more likely transition into Swarm Hosts or Infestors. The only reliable way of scouting the Zerg's exact composition is simply to see the first batch of units being hatched and reacting immediately.
With that in mind, let's go over what your reactions should be against all the Zerg's possible styles. This is fairly straight forward zvp, but it is useful to keep them in mind anyway:
Lair-based timing attack
If you scout a bust coming your way, immediately cut Probe production (you should have a very high economy anyway, thanks to your fast 3rd opening). Depending on the branch you are following , you will need to cut your tech development and pump whatever units you have. This means that if you did a 2 or 3 Stargate opening, you need to make Void Rays while buying time for your Gateways and Charge to kick in. Do not try to get up to High Templar. With a single Stargate opening on the other hand you should try to get as many Gateway units on the field as possible, while delaying extra Stargates until later. In either case, warp in Zealot/Sentry as necessary, as Force Fields are key in surviving the most aggressive pushes. If he's doing a Nydus-based builds try to be active with your Stargate units to keep the Nydus from going up too close to your base. Do not try to dual tech to Templar Archives and Stargate until after holding his attack; in fact, in this situation you shouldn't even mine take the gasses from your third, as you need the minerals for Gateways and Zealots. This seems counter-intuitive because this style is extremely gas hungry, but it is mandatory for survival against committed attacks from the Zerg.
Against Mutalisk based builds, you need to make a choice on whether you want to get a good number of Phoenixes up and engage in the Mutalisk/Corruptor vs Phoenix/Void ray fight, or commit to a basetrade. The ideal scenario is when you did a Stargate-heavy variation and already have several Void Rays alive; in this case throw down a Fleet Beacon, get a healthy Phoenix count up and then use those and the Void Rays to zone the Mutas and Corruptors out. Meanwhile you should also have a powerful Zealot/Archon/High Templar army on the ground which you can use to deny his bases: his Muta/Zergling army won't be able to fight it head on thanks to your area of effect damage, and the Corruptors will be a wasted investment. In a less than ideal scenario when you either took some damage, took too long to read your opponent's intentions, do not have the sufficient tech in place or simply are caught off guard and out of position, you will just need to commit to a basetrade. He still can't fight you head on thanks to your Archons, Psionic Storms and Void Rays, so try to eliminate his bases as quickly as possible while either making Cannons to one of yours, or pulling Probes to hide new buildings as necessary. This is the most likely scenario that will occur in your games, but in general this should happen less frequently than with the Colossus/Phoenix/Blink Stalker play thanks to the early game investment in Stargates and your faster third. The final, and least likely scenario, is being far enough ahead that you can predict the Zerg's desperation Mutalisk switch, and catch him right before it kicks in with a Mutalisk switch. A great example of this situation is game 1 between sOs and Soulkey from their series during the WCS Season 1 final.
Swarm Hosts are probably the greatest threat to this style. You desperately need Colossus, but skipping a midgame Robotics Facility means it will take a lot of time for that tech to kick in. Against this tech you need to buy time by moving out, harassing him with Zealots and denying his bases, while buying time for your Robotics Facility play to kick in. Never engage straight up before you have a good number of Colossi or you catch the Swarm Hosts out of position. Instead, move out as soon as you are able to, force him to Burrow his Swarm Hosts in one place and then swing to attack another. Keep this up until you have about 3 Colossi, at which point your army has a better shot in a straight up fight. Take a 4th and try to stay even or ahead in economy, otherwise the Zerg will simply overpower you. This is the only situation in which teching to Colossus is recommended before extreme late game.
Note that Swarm Hosts tend to be more popular on smaller, easier to control maps. On these maps, this style is also less viable: ideally you would like to have a big map where you can abuse the mobility of Zealots and Void Rays, and buy enough time for your greedy play to kick in before you can be threatened. Remember that rushing for ground based tech like Swarm Hosts exposes the zerg to Void Ray/Recall harassment, so if you don't see any Hydralisk production move out with your skytoss units and see if you can deal any damage.
This build is perhaps the most powerful macro style to deal Zergling/Infestor/ultra. Not only do you have a great deal of tech in place to counter him, you will also have a powerful economy to respond accordingly. Additionally, his lack of anti air makes him weak to Void Ray/Recall maneuvers, and his reliance on Zerglings makes his army very easily killed by your Zealot/Archon/Templar. Against this style, your greatest enemy will be the Infestor, which can lock down your Zealots and High Templar before they can do damage and outright shut down your Void Rays. Make sure to be on top of your micro, prioritize feedback over Psionic Storm and Recall as necessary. You can play quite aggressively once you have your third base secured and fortified, and move out when your Gateway production kicks in. If you can't hit a timing before around 14/15 minutes when his Ultralisks come out (NaNiwa vs VortiX), tech to double Robotics, Immortal production and take a fourth. As usual, be on guard for any tech switch.
Again, the greatest threat to your army is the Infestor. As written above, stay on top of your micro and your army should come out on top of any fight, especially as the game goes on and your army becomes more gas-heavy. Be on the lookout for Mutalisk switches.
Compared to Colossus based builds, this build is stronger against Mutas and Ultras, and weaker against Swarm Hosts. Against Lair-based busts, it really depends on the Zerg and Protoss builds. If you went for the 3 Stargate style and the Zerg does a Hydra/Queen timing, on a map with an open third, defending is almost impossible. On the other hand, with perfect play it is possible to defend most Roach/Hydra all-ins even off a failed or partially failed Dark Templar opening with solid play (NaNiwa vs TLO, NaNiwa vs VortiX on star station). If you come out ahead of the early game and the Zerg tries to all-in you, holding on will be trivial (sOs vs Soulkey on Neo Planet S, VortiX vs NaNiwa on Derelict Watcher).
Your goal upon reaching lategame is to trade away your zealots and go for an almost unstoppable deathball consisting of Void Ray/Archon/Templar/Immortal. Eventually you will always be forced to give away your low tech Gateway units, and Zealots are better for this compared to the Blink Stalkers and expensive Sentries used by Colossus builds. Upon taking your 4th throw down one or two Robos and begin heavy Warp Prism harassment while also using your Zealots for runbys on isolated expansions. As long as the zerg player doesn't build Swarm Hosts you should be able to skip Colossus and rely on your Psionic Storms/Feedbacks as area of effect damage and support of your expensive skytoss units.
Again, compared to Colossus/Blink Stalker play this is a slightly more favorable situation against air based zerg armies featuring Vipers or Broodlords, because you have more easily access to their counters in the form of Templar, Void Rays and Tempests, but less favorable against Swarm Host play, because you need to buy time, avoid his army and make something happen until you can switch into colossus. Adding a Mothership for the cloaking field can also be useful this late in the game. Remember that against the popular “free unit” armies of Swarm Host/Broodlord, Immortals are a wasted investment so as usual stay on top of your scouting. Luckily, at this point you should be able to do so through harassment and pressure rather as well as any leftover Phoenix, Oracle or Sentries for Hallucinations.
A useful tip is, when you have a huge economy, to build a very high amount (4/5 at least) of Robotics Facilities and Stargates. This makes handling any possible Zerg tech switch much easier.
The History of Void Ray/Chargelot/Templar in PvZ
The Origin: Void Ray/Colossus Compositions
The roots of the more modern Void Ray/Chargelot/Templar style can be traced all the way back to Void Ray/Colossus compositions used in the early parts of WoL. The basic idea behind the composition was that Colossus could melt everything on the ground while the Void Rays could clean up anything in the skies, effectively mopping the floor with any Zerg army. Unfortunately, Protosses found themselves under too much pressure to reliably get this composition from Roach max all-ins and more deceiving Muta builds; the emergence of Broodlord/Infestor was the final nail in the coffin for kill this style in WoL. However, with the changes to various units brought with HotS, Void Ray/Colossus has seen a resurgence: Protoss players could play greedier than ever with the Photon Overcharge ability and rely almost entirely on their new and improved Void Rays to take out most aggression. While still somewhat viable, this more rigid, defensive composition has led to the development of the more versatile Void Ray/Chargelot/Templar composition.
Void Ray/Chargelot/Templar relies on splash from the other side of the tech tree and puts a far greater emphasis on Gateway units. As a result, it is a much more flexible and often times more aggressive style. From its original conception in the early stages of HotS, it has grown tremendously in depth over the course of 2013.
The Early Days: Mass Void Rays
The very first Void Ray heavy builds emerged during the beta and in the first few weeks of HotS release. Notably, Squirtle and Creator employed this style heavily during the first matches in the first season of GSTL. These builds differed notably from modern styles because they focused extremely heavily on non stop Stargate production, only teching to Chargelot/Templar very late into the game.
The very first series featuring a more modern style was sOs vs Soulkey in the WCS Season 1 Finals. These games, though unrefined compared to the games we see today, showed the first solid game plan, which has remained roughly unchanged cine then:
- Open up economically
- Use void rays to secure a third
- Add on charge and a lot of gateways
- Get storm to defend versus later attacks
In these games, sOs opted for a much later Charge/Templar tech switch in favor of getting lots of void rays off of three Stargates. sOs took his third incredibly early off of only one Void Ray and his Mothership Core, while investing in +1 Air attack and shield upgrades. Once he reached a solid number of Void Rays he cut Stargate production and focused on getting a Chargelot/Templar composition to back up his Void Rays.
However, as with most things in StarCraft, this playstyle was solved. Unfortunately for sOs, it was actually solved in only one game by Soulkey. Taking advantage of the ultra defensive, mass Void Ray style, Soulkey went up to five bases almost instantly and began to get mass upgrades on almost no units before unleashing a massive wave of double upgraded Mutalisk/Corruptor. Other zerg counters were discovered too: ling/hydra attacks designed to deny the third base, Roach/Queen/Nydus attacks, Hydra/Infestor attacks, Zergling/Infestor attacks, etc. Finding their Void Ray armies in shambles before their area of effect damage and Warp Gates kicked in, Protoss players were forced to find an answer.
Evolution of the Style: Less Stargates, Faster Tech
In the normal progression of playstyle evolution, Protoss players took the existing Void Ray/Chargelot/Templar playstyle and began cutting corners and getting greedier:
- Instead of three Stargates, Protoss players started making two, and eventually all the way down to one Stargate;
- Instead of the “safe” six Void Rays before tech, players started cutting at four, going as low as two or three initial Void Rays with some builds;
- Instead of committing heavily to air and shield upgrades, Protoss players began investing into ground attack upgrades earlier and earlier;
- Third Nexus timings came earlier and earlier with fewer units used to defend it.
The immediate consequence of all this corner-cutting was faster tech in the form of Zealot charge, Psionic Storm, and earlier Gateways, all of which allowed Protoss players to better defend the mid game timings plaguing the original playstyle. Altogether, this period is characterized by Protoss players using intelligent greed based on scouting and timings to secure a safer position in the mid game versus Lair-based attacks and allowing them to step into the late game more comfortably.
More Evolution: Mid Game Attacks
The development of the newer, more refined gate expands allowed Protoss players to play more aggressively early in the game and force responses out of the Zerg. Passive Void Ray playstyles also became more common and easier to exploit, so Protoss players decided to take a more aggressive stance in the early and mid stages of the game. Ultimately, the rise of these early pressures allowed Protoss to interrupt the Zerg economy just long enough to neutralize the power of later attacks that were plaguing the more passive playstyles.
With the ability to shut down almost all Zerg scouting with scouting Phoenixes and walls, Protoss began to exploit Zerg's lack of information with several attack timings. Many interesting Phoenix-based attack timings and Oracle openings evolved as a result. In conjunction with gate expands, several hybrid tech/Warpgate pressures, such as Oracle/3-gate pressure or early Dark Templar plays, were also developed or perfected, as is the case for the Dark Templar build. The purpose of these pressures was to allow Protoss to deal economic damage by forcing the Zerg to use larva and potentially shutting down the third base while equalizing in economy and tech. With the ability to do so, Protoss players were able to step into the mid game with slightly delayed – but much safer – void ray and/or twilight tech.
The Finished Product: Void Ray/Chargelot/Templar
In its final form, Void Ray/Chargelot/Templar encompasses a great many builds and styles. It is possible to open Dark Templars, Phoenixes, Oracles, Warpgate attacks, or even just plain Void Ray macro styles and still transition smoothly into this composition. It is a flexible, powerful, and versatile mid game composition in comparison to its older iterations and has several points in which different openings can converge on. However, StarCraft is turning wheel: the meta game shifts and slides constantly as counters, counters to counters, and even counters to those counters are discovered. As Zerg players figure out timings and progressively step into the future of ZvP, Protosses will once again have to adapt and find new ways to exploit their opponent's weaknesses. Luckily, Protoss has a time-tested composition that's likely here to stay. Happy zealoting!
- NaNiwa vs TLO Set 2 on Frost, from DH Winter
- NaNiwa vs Leenock Set 3 on Polar Night, from DH Winter
- NaNiwa vs Life Set 2 on Bel'Shir Vestige, from DH Winter
- San vs HyuN Bel'Shir Vestige, from ASUS ROG Summer
- San vs DRG Set 3 on Newkirk Precinct, from ASUS ROG Summer
- HerO vs HyuN Set 2 on Whirlwind, from IEM Shanghai
- NaNiwa vs HyuN Set 4 on Frost, from IEM New York
- NaNiwa vs Life Set 5 on Yeonsu, from IEM New York
- sOs vs Soulkey Set 2 on Neo Planet S, from WCS Season 1 Finals
- NaNiwa vs Jaedong Set 3 on Star Station, From WCS Season 2 Finals
- NaNiwa vs Targa Set 1 on Polar Night, from WCS EU Season 3
- NaNiwa vs Targa Set 2 on Derelict Watcher, from WCS EU Season 3