Summary of Apollo’s Zerg Tutorials REVAMPED

A year and a half ago, Apollo (AKA dApollo back then) posted the Working up from Bronze League tutorial videos, which I previously covered. A few months ago, he posted an updated version of “Tutorials REVAMPED” for changes in the game over that year. Although the game has changed again with the release of HotS, his style and basic builds are still sound. Since I have been focusing a lot on openings recently, I thought I would post  the build orders he’s using, his thoughts on reacting to various things, and how these might have changed with the release of HotS.

Zerg versus Protoss (or Random)

Let’s start with the basic build:

Apollo’s standard ZvP (Oct 2012)

  • 9 Overlord (to natural)
  • 12th Drone Scout
  • 15 Spawning Pool (for cannon rush)
  • 15 Hatchery (send @ 200 mins)
  • 14 Queen
  • 16 Zergling x2
  • 18 Overlord
  • 4:20 3rd Hatchery
  • 6:00 Extractor x2 (scout for natural gas)
  • 7:00 Roach, Evolution Chamber, Extractor x2
  • +1 Missile Attack, Lair
  • Macro Hatchery

A few notes here:

  1. Your first Overlord goes to scout and should hang out for future scouting.
  2. The Overlord on 9 goes to the natural to watch for a cannon rush.
  3. 12th Drone scouts means that 1 of the 2 Drones you build after your Overlord finishes should scout
  4. Apollo goes Pool first so that he isn’t screwed by a Pylon block, but if you don’t see a Probe scout, you can go Hatch first if you want
  5. If you get Pylon blocked at your natural, build your 3rd Overlord immediately, then move to build your first expansion at your 3rd base instead. Also bring an Overlord in case of a cannon rush there
  6. If you don’t see a fast expand from the Protoss when you scout, then you don’t need to get your third. As usual, stay 1 base ahead of your opponent
  7. If your opponent does cannon rush you, you can delay the 6:00 and 7:00 timings by maybe 30 seconds
  8. At 6:00, send the waiting Overlord in to look for Assimilators at the natural. If any are taken, then they are teching, not all-in.

Overall, this build is still mostly valid against Protoss in HotS as well. A few thoughts on this:

  1. The new, early threat from Protoss in HotS is the Mothership Core. Because it is an air unit, have a Queen at all bases and target it as necessary
  2. Protoss may also be more willing to poke early because the MsC can Recall the units out. As such, be prepared for light pressure, but don’t freak out
  3. There will probably be more Stargate openings from Protoss since that is also now a viable midgame strategy (and because people like new, shiny things).

Zerg versus Terran

Apollo’s ZvT is a little squishier, mainly because he’s much more reactive here, but the basic idea is Hatchery first and 4 Queens:

Apollo’s standard ZvT (Oct 2012)

  • 9 Overlord (to natural)
  • 12th Drone scout
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 15 Spawning Pool
  • 16 Overlord
  • 17 Queen
  • 19 Queen
  • Zerglings if you need them
  • Queen
  • 4:00 Gas
  • Queen
  • 5:30 Zergling Speed
  • 8:00 Evolution Chamber x2, Assimilator x2

Since this one is less-defined, let me explain more:

  1. The Overlord on 9 goes to the natural to watch for Bunker rushes.
  2. The Drone scout looks around for proxy 2 Rax. If you see it in time, go for the Spawning Pool
  3. 4 Queens is important because the primary threats from Terran are Hellions and Banshees, both of which Queens can deal with effectively
  4. If you see Terran go CC first, you can open 3 Hatch (like in ZvP) to stay one base ahead.

The openings here have changed more significantly with HotS. Specifically,

  1. Fear the Reaper! Apollo was worried about 2 Rax; you should worry about Reaper openings. Because Reapers are so dang fast, Terran players are more likely to build the Barracks at their ramp and race the Reaper across, so just scout for that. If you see an early Refinery, you should prepare yourself for Reapers. 
  2. Given the early Reaper play, I’m a fan of earlier gas, similar to what IdrA does. He sandwiches it around 18 supply when you’re waiting on Overlords.
  3. Also be careful of Widow Mines. They’re scary, and Terran players may use them to block your 3rd base. I’m not sure whether this requires a reaction, but just be aware.

Zerg versus Zerg

The build:

Apollo’s Standard, Safe ZvZ (Oct 2012)

  • 9 Overlord (scout)
  • 12th Drone Scout
  • 15 Spawning Pool
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 14 Queen
  • 16 Zergling x2 (can be Drones if you see no threat)
  • 18 Overlord
  • 18 Gas (can delay if they haven’t taken gas)
  • 19 Queen
  • 22 Queen
  • 25 Overlord
  • ~4:40-5:00 Zergling Speed (or @100 gas)
  • Baneling Nest at Natural (or @ next 50 gas)
  • Spine Crawler (if you feel threatened)
  • Lair (when you have the gas)
  • 6:30 – 7:15 rest of your gases
  • Roach Warren
  • Evo Chamber
  • 10:00 3rd base

Again, some notes:

  1. Unlike the other matchups, you can send all of your Overlords out to scout. Specifically, you should form a line of Overlords between your bases since Zerg can’t shoot them down early
  2. After you get your Baneling Nest, the rest is somewhat flexible, and what’s above is a rough guide. Apollo isn’t very aggressive with his Zerglings, but if they are, you should have an Overlord outside their base to see it coming, and you can morph Banelings for defense
  3. Apollo does mention that he himself is willing to go Hatchery first, but probably just because he’s a boss at StarCraft. Pool first is safer since Zergling rushes do happen.

Fortunately, HotS hasn’t really changed ZvZ openings much. The important thing to note is that currently, midgame ZvZ is all about Mutalisks. Now that Mutalisks are faster (and Fungal Growth is a projectile, and therefore harder to land), the midgame is just having a better Mutalisk count and destroying your opponent. As such, you should get gas earlier since that is the limiting factor in your Mutalisk count.


You should watch Apollo because he teaches solid, clean play. I don’t blame you if you don’t want to watch 4 hours of him playing your race (or 12 if you play Random), but at least watch one or two openings so you can see the mechanics and style that he plays. His Zerg play is reactive, not proactive, and he relies on good scouting and clean macro to win games. His thought process explains how pros often seem psychic by just being aware, so don’t shy away from his WoL content. It’s still good.

EG IdrA’s Heart of the Swarm (HotS) Zerg build orders

(Update: check out my updated guide for playing Zerg for the maintained version of this post)

I watched IdrA’s stream from about 1 till 3 last night (my copy of HotS is being shipped). And I saw he was streaming again today while he was at work. Now, I’m home from work, and he’s still streaming. I think he’s pretty excited about the game.

This is great news for Zerg players everywhere, because IdrA is a great person to learn from. He commentates on his stream, generally does the same builds over and over, and plays relatively safely (greedy, but safely). He’s also pretty entertaining as long as you’re not to annoyed by his attitude. As such, I took the opportunity to copy down a few builds he’s doing.

Zerg Versus Protoss

First up are his ZvP builds. I think there are a lot of Protoss players on the ladder right now, at least from the sample I saw him play last night. Grubby and WhiteRa made it look good during the launch party, I guess. Anyways, IdrA uses a pretty normal 3 Hatch gasless build against Protoss (I wrote about Stephano’s ZvP awhile ago with this opening). The big difference in the early game in this matchup is the Mothership Core, and as long as you’re diligent about building Queens (at least for 4 for 3 bases), you should be okay. Or at least IdrA thinks so.

IdrA’s ZvP 3 Hatch

  • 9 Overlord
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 16 Spawning Pool
  • 18 Overlord
  •  Queen, Queen
  • Pair of Zerglings
  • 26 Hatchery (4:30ish)
  • 7:20 Lair, Evolution Chamber, Roach Warren

He also was also using a Speedling opening, which is kind of interesting. The early gas and speed definitely threatens the Protoss, and if they overreact, great. If they don’t react much, so be it: you have Speedlings and can punish them if they’re being too greedy.

IdrA’s ZvP 3 Hatch Speedling

  • 9 Overlord
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 16 Spawning Pool
  • 16 Extractor
  • 17 Overlord
  • 18 Queen
  • 20 Zergling
  • 22 Queen
  • 26ish Zergling Speed (out of gas)
  • 27 3rd Hatchery (4:45 – 5:00)
  • 27 Overlord
  • 3rd Queen
  • 6:00 back in gas, 2nd gas
  • 7:00 3rd gas, Lair, Roach Warren

From this, you have at least the usual options from Wings of Liberty (Infestors, mass Mutalisks, tech to Brood Lords, etc). One new thing is Roach-Hydralisk-Viper. Roach-Hydra-Corruptor was old school ZvP when Zergs though the matchup was impossible but couldn’t think of anything better. Instead of using mass Corruptors, this build goes for a fast Hive to get 3-4 Vipers. The hope is to engage before the Protoss player gets too many Colossi and use abduct to pick off the ones that they do have.

Zerg Versus Terran

In ZvT, the new thing to watch for is Reapers and Widow Mines, both of which can make an appearance early game. To ready yourself for Reapers, you can get early gas for Speedlings and go from there. Sorry this isn’t so detailed.

IdrA’s ZvT gas opening

  • 15 Hatchery
  • 16 Pool
  • 15 Extractor
  • 18 Overlord
  • Queen, Queen
  • 6 Zerglings (somewhere in there)
  • 5:45 2nd and 3rd gas

I’m not entirely sure what the best way to deal with Widow Mines is yet, but I’ll update if I see something good. IdrA was not dealing with them well using Muta Ling, so at least probably not that.

IdrA is also using a 3 Hatch opening against Terran, presumably, if he doesn’t feel threatened early. I might write that up as well.

You can also go Roach-Hydra-Viper in ZvT as well because Blinding Cloud is extremely powerful against Bio and Mech. Abduct single Siege Tanks and Blinding Cloud clumps of them for great effect.

Zerg Versus Zerg

In ZvZ, IdrA asserts that it’s basically all about Mutalisks: whoever has more wins, and to do that, you need your gas before your opponent. I thought, however, that his opening was particularly interesting. Specifically, everything feels late to me, but having watched him defend a 6 Pool with this build, I believe it works.

IdrA’s ZvZ Mutalisks

  • 9 Overlord
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 17 Spawning Pool
  • 17 Extractor
  • 17 Overlord
  • Zergling Speed with the first 100 gas
  • Baneling Nest with the next 50 gas

I’ll be maintaining this post as well as I watch more IdrA and converge on some core builds. It’s possible that things will change quickly as HotS is figured out over the next few weeks. If so, you might see a few updates. Also feel free to give me feedback on anything I got wrong or could clarify.

Roaches and Hydralisks have a melee attack w/ no delay or overkill

No delay means that Stalkers can’t blink away. No overkill means that all of your Roaches won’t waste extra shots when you focus fire, say, an Immortal. Additionally, because it’s melee, it isn’t affected by Guardian Shield or Point Defense Drone and is packaged with a different animation. It does, however, still count range upgrades.

How did I not know about this? And I thought that the Roach surround was just to stop kiting. I now have a good reason to micro my Roach-Hydralisk balls even more than just getting them all in range.

Apollo’s analysis of a bad engagement

I happened to catch the last game between Bomber and Stephano in the GD Studio SC2 Arena this morning. Forgive me if I’m a little stale on the metagame, but Stephano’s style felt very similar to his ZvP. His third comes later and his tech comes faster, but he depends on heavy upgrades and just enough ling/roach/infestor to carry him through the midgame.

I agree with Apollo that he rushed into things and didn’t commit. When he goes into the last engagement with 4 Brood Lords, some Infestors, and a few lings and roaches, he probably could’ve come out much more favorably had he gone for it. Stephano does a great job running his lings by, and between that and Broodlings, he could’ve gotten a surround and let tank splash damage mop up the army.

In the end, though, the better advice would’ve been not to take that engagement. He might have noticed the lack of Vikings and felt that he had a timing there, but without his 4th saturated, he would’ve been safer getting a few spines and using that as an anchor for a push.

qxc mentioned something about this in the last State of the Game, but Zerg is really pushing to get to the late game as soon as possible, which is a little strange. Stephano especially wowed a lot of people with extremely effective Zerglings in the early and mid game. Perhaps he found that other players were locking down better, but constant pressure feels like the right way to play Zerg.

But this is all theorycrafting on my part. I’m just proud I played a few games of random 2s last night. It turns out that playing random 2s instead of Zerg 1v1 is much less stressful, and now that I finished Mass Effect, I might be playing more StarCraft 2 until I pick up another game.

Trying to play like Stephano

Replay Here

Like usual, I have managed to over-promise on the amount of free time I have after a major change. So far, I’m 2 weeks out of school and into working full-time, and I think I’ve only managed maybe 2 non-trivial StarCraft play sessions so far. I’m enjoying life quite a bit right now and have managed to do many different things, though I’ll try to stay dedicated to this game as best I can.

This morning, I played the linked game first. It’s a ZvP on Metalopolis, and it went pretty well. I tried out the Stephano style (described in my post here), which involves a quick gasless 3 base opening into spine crawlers in the midgame to get to Brood Lord/Infestor as soon as possible. My opponent opened Gateway first on the high ground, so I didn’t take my third immediately, but I did soon after. Overall, the game went as well as I could’ve hoped: I got to the late game quickly, had my initial, poorly balanced army smashed, fell back to the spine crawlers, and used my huge trust fund to put together the perfectly composed army. In short, it worked.

The game, however, was altogether quite passive. My opponent didn’t really ever put much pressure on me, and I should done a few more run-bys. I think that sort of play is more in my mechanics than the build itself: I just don’t have the multi-tasking and decision-making to execute run-bys along the path of my strategy.

Still, a win is a win, and afterwards, I managed to go 4-1 playing random on random 2v2 ladder. Even better, I won with all 3 races. Playing random and playing multiplayer are both much less stressful than laddering 1v1 Zerg, and I recently have considered playing random again to deal the my ladder anxiety that has largely kept me out of the game for the past 2 weeks. The most important thing, I think, is that I just play more, so we’ll see if I can muster up the will without changing the conditions.

Stephano late game transition ZvP

Whenever we’re talking about interesting, innovative Zerg play, it always ends up being about Stephano. A lot of that has to do with his success and the desire to emulate his playstyle, but it does often seem like he’s just ahead of the curve. Particularly, he was asked by Nony on the last State of the Game about what problems he had in ZvP, and his answer: none. In fact, he said that Protoss needed a buff. Who else has ever claimed that their own race was imbalanced?

Anyways, there’s a lot of fascination with his play. I just discovered a new blog, Zergology, which has a really good primer on Stephano’s Roach midgame push ZvP. And Day[9] recently had a Daily about Stephano’s late game transition. I’ll reiterate the main points of that, then throw together the build order from it. But really, you should get it straight from the horse’s mouth first and watch the Daily.

In essence, the plan appears to be to get to late game as soon as possible, which is Brood Lord-Infestor-Spine Crawler. To do that, Stephano just drones for the first 8 minutes (while Protoss is hiding behind a FFE), goes relatively Roach-light in the midgame while getting Spines up early, stays with Infestors, then gets Hive just before the Protoss deathball would hit around 17-19 minutes.

Here are the rough build orders from the 3 games that Day[9] showed:

Stephano ZvP Game 1

  • 16/2:00 Spawning Pool
  • 16/3:00 Hatchery
  • 24/4:30 3rd Hatchery
  • 45/6:00 2 Gas
  • 60/7:00 Lair, Evolution Chamber, Roach Warren (in time for 8:00 Warp Gate)
  • 7:30 Zergling Speed
  • 8:15 starts building an army (16 Zerglings, 5 Roaches)
  • 8:30 3rd & 4th Gas, Roach Speed
  • 9:15 4th Hatchery
  • 9:30 Melee attack upgrade
  • 9:45 Spine Crawlers
  • 10:30: Infestation Pit
  • 11:50: Infestors started, last Roaches built
  • 13:00 Spine Crawlers (in time for 17-19 minute deathball)
  • 15:00 Hive, double Spire

Stephano ZvP Game 2

  • 15/2:00 Spawning Pool
  • 16/3:00 Hatchery
  • 24/4:15 3rd Hatchery
  • 54/6:30 triple Gas
  • 7:00 Roach Warren, Evolution Chamber
  • 8:00 Zergling Speed
  • 8:15 4th Hatchery, +1 Melee Attack
  • 9:00 Roach speed, Spore Crawlers, army started
  • 9:15 Infestation Pit
  • 10:00 10+ Spine Crawlers
  • 13:30 Hive, double Spire
  • 15:00 Corruptors

Stephano ZvP Game 3

  • 15/2:00 Spawning Pool
  • 16/2:50 Hatchery
  • 23/4:20 3rd Hatchery
  • 46/6:00 double Gas
  • 63/7:00 Lair, Roach Warren, Evolution Chamber
  • 70/7:30 3rd Gas, Zergling Speed
  • 70/8:00 army started
  • 100/9:00 +1 Melee attack, 2nd Evolution Chamber, 4th Hatchery
  • 9:30 Roach Speed
  • 10:00 Infestation Pit
  • 10:30 4 Spine Crawlers, no more Roaches
  • 12:00 more Spine Crawlers
  • 14:00 Hive

I think smart players would tell you not to worry too much about the exact build orders, but when you don’t have the time to invent and learn these build orders, it can be hard to understand what other players are doing without something concrete, so hopefully it helps you to learn this style.

One caution, though: Stephano did lose 2-1 ZvP to Inori to get knocked out of the MLG Winter Championship earlier today, and Idra promptly beat Inori 2-0 right after that. I didn’t watch the games, but maybe Stephano doesn’t have the matchup perfectly figured out as he thought.

Transitioning into mid-game ZvZ

Replay 1 Replay 2

ZvZ has quickly become my least favorite matchup as it’s by far the most stressful. You can develop big advantages and disadvantages within the first few minutes in Zergling/Baneling engagements from things as little as looking away to macro and coming back to see a baneling pop in the middle of everything. Personally, my hope is just to get out of the early game not tremendously behind, but that is difficult.

One reason why is that I’ve found that a lot of Zerg are pretty greedy and go hatch first in ZvZ. And at my level, it’s really hard to avoid losing outright to Zergling/Baneling aggresion. I played 3 games at lunchtime, and in both ZvZ games, my opponent went hatch first, so to avoid falling behind with my 14 gas 14 pool opening, I went for it. In both, I managed to kill the hatchery, but the rest unfolded very differently.

In the first, I expended a lot, but managed to destroy his expo. I tried to expand behind it, but I forgot the bit where he needed to build up a lot to fend off my aggression. I wasn’t properly prepared, and he sniped it without me canceling. At that point, I was pretty flustered, fell way behind, and soon lost.

In the second, I managed to destroy his expo, then immediately fell back with my own expo and into a defensive position. He tried to go for a big roach push soon after, but since I was playing defensively (knowing I had my expo up for longer), I fended it off easily and got the win later on.

There were many other lessons along the way, but I was particularly glad to see that I had instantly learned from the previous game and managed to make the adjustment. Hopefully I can keep it up: both today and yesterday, I have played 3 ladder games, going 3-3 over the span of them. I think Day[9] offered the New Year’s Resolution to play 3 ladder games everyday. I laughed it off given my typical schedule, but given how often I peek in to watch a full game on a stream, I probably have the time for it. I’ll of course keep you updated here.

The Macro Hatch is not to be underestimated

I once read somewhere (probably reddit), “I’ve never built a macro hatch and later regretted it.” I’m now a believer.

I’m traveling at the moment, and the best thing to do on planes and in the airport is to practice SC2 against the computer. I usually play against “very hard” and don’t have any problems, but today, in either my first or second game, I played a ZvT and lost. So I played the matchup again and was close to losing. Basically, the computer comes with a marine/marauder push around 6 minutes, then comes again around 9 minutes. I usually barely fend off the first attack with my 14 gas 14 pool 20 hatch opening, but I was taking a lot of damage. The 2nd attack was the real kicker as I would just be settling into my economy when it came.

I tried defending with banelings for the 2nd push, which worked well enough, but I felt like it was very early to be committing so much into it. After losing one 4-5 games in, I figured I needed a different approach. That time, I dropped a macro hatch right around 7 minutes. I can’t understate how much of a difference it made.

In the 2 games I played with the macro hatch, I just had more stuff. More drones, more zerglings, more money. I could tech faster while keeping a high zergling count for defense. Instead of trying to scrape together a defense for the 3rd push, I was desperately trying to keep my money low and oversaturated my main and natural expansion while getting ready for a counter.

I’ll need to play around with the timings on the macro hatch, since I have now only played about 4 games with it. Regardless of where it ends up in my builds, it’s a good reminder about how important of a resource larva are to Zerg.

Working with Ultralisks

“I go ultras when I’m really far ahead and I want to lose”

– Destiny

Since FruitDealer in GSL1, ultralisks have been a really sad story for Zerg. I don’t think I’ve ever seriously built them, and I haven’t been impressed with them in pro play. I just caught Jjakji v. Nerchio on Daybreak in the IPL Fight Club (game 5, maybe?), where Nerchio stuck with ling/infestor/ultralisk, and it was very sad.

The commentators really hit the point correctly in that ultralisks don’t work on a map with narrow paths: they block each other too much, and lings can’t slide by either. Jjakji really compounded the problem by building Orbital Commands and PFs everywhere to further constrain movement. Instead, Nerchio had to fight up ramps, through chokes, and into sniping ghosts and the mass of the Terran army.

Another problem I noticed, in this game and the last one on Shattered Temple, was that Jjakji was always retaining his medivac count. When Artosis was streaming and reviewing his play during the holiday season, he really focused on the point of chasing down and killing medivacs after engagements. Marines and marauders are comparatively cheap to medivacs: make Terran players rebuild those medivacs and tighten them up on gas a little bit. It was just sad to see double fungals go off on huge clumps of marines and fail to kill any of them because 8 medivacs were ready to heal them up.

What does give me hope is Zerg using better mobility in these circumstances. One thing Nerchio did really well was small ling counter-attacks and run-bys, and he actually cleared out Jjakji’s buildings in his main. That sort of mobility, from the speed of units, overlord drops, or nydus play, can help Zerg avoid those unfavorable engagements in the middle.

The best inspiration about this type of play comes from Mystic, who pulls Chita in every direction in this ZvP on Metalopolis. He can be everywhere at once, dodging the Protoss death ball and saving units by retreating into Nydus Worms. The game is a little old, but it’s truly phenomenal and was an early inspiration for me on how cool Nydus play can be.


Casted by HD