HotS Zerg Strategy

NOTE: This guide is no longer up-to-date with Legacy of the Void. Instead, I recommend you visit the Zerg Build Orders section on Spawning Tool for strategies contributed by the community!

The Zerg are fast, and this leads to 2 basic ways to play. First, you can use your speed to attack your opponent in many places, keeping them under pressure until they make a big mistake. Second, you can use your speed to expand rapidly around the maps, gathering up resources and defending the bases all efficiently until you can instantly build your perfect army. Great Zerg players mix both of the these tactics (“aggressive” and “greedy”, respectively), but currently, Zerg players mostly rely on greedy, and that’s the style I’ll be explaining here.

The Zerg rely more heavily on their mechanics than any other race. Without constant larva injections, you won’t have the production capacity you need to build an army. Without creep spread, you won’t have map vision and control to expand greedily.

One thing to note about Zerg build orders: Zerg relies more on relative timings than precise timings or supply counts. It’s hard to know exactly where to fit units and Drones in, so instead, I have general timings down the road to shoot for.

If you want a single, safe, race-indifferent build to go with, here’s my recommendation:

ZvX Standard Opening

  • 9 Overlord
  • 12th Scout
  • 15 Spawning Pool
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 14 Queen
  • 16 Zergling x4 (each egg counts for 2)
  • 18 Overlord
  • 18 Extractor
  • Queen (at main)
  • Queen (at natural)
  • 4:45-5:00 Zergling Speed

Zerg versus Protoss (ZvP) (updated: December 27, 2013)

Since the release of Heart of the Swarm, ZvP has become much more interesting. Previously, Protoss only fast expanded into 2 base timing attacks, but recently, Protoss have mixed in more 1 Gate Expand builds and early pressure. There might also be 2 base all-ins, Stargate openings, or just macro into deathballs. All of this means that Zerg must be more flexible.

The Build Order

Conventional wisdom is that Zerg should stay 1 base ahead of their opponents. Since most Protoss will fast expand, you should get 3 bases quickly. Saturate all 3 bases while getting just enough units and Spine Crawlers to defend. React to Protoss aggression, but if you’re left untouched, this build is all macro up to 7 minutes. After that, you can use your favorite composition.

ZvP 3 Hatch Speedlings

  • 9 Overlord
  • 12th Drone Scout
  • 15 Spawning Pool
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 14 Queen
  • 16 Zergling x4
  • 18 Overlord
  • 18 Extractor
  • 22 Queen (at natural; transfer 4-5 workers to natural)
  • 26 Metabolic Boost @ 100 gas (pull workers out of gas)
  • 26 5:00-5:15 Hatchery
  • 26 Overlord, Queen
  • 6:00 Back into gas
  • 6:30 Extractor
  • 7:00 Lair, Evolution Chamber, Roach Warren
  • Macro Hatchery

Some notes:

  1. I prefer Pool first because it better defends proxy Gateways, Pylon blocks, and Cannon rushes. You can go Hatch first once you know the timings and are comfortable defending it
  2. Gasless 3 Hatch builds are more, but with early Zealot pressure becoming more popular, I think that Speedlings are a safer default build. If you want to skip Speedlings, your 3rd Hatchery comes down around 4:20, and take both gases at 6:00
  3. Play reactively and flexibly. Scout and be as greedy as you can (without dying). If you see an opening, do a Zergling run-by. If you see pressure, cancel your 3rd and drop Spine Crawlers
  4. Watch carefully for their 3rd base timing. If they don’t take it, it’s an all-in. If they do, either force a cancel or take your 4th.

Some of what you’re up against

  1. Sentry/Immortal all-in. They mass Sentries and Immortals off of 2 bases and attack before you get any useful tech. The Sentries trap Zerglings, and Immortals destroy the Roaches. You should macro cleanly off of 3 bases, bait preemptive forcefields, and position your army well. Get Hydralisks if you can
  2. The Protoss Deathball. Colossi, High Templar, Archons, Void Rays: whatever the composition, this single control group is meant to roll you in one big fight. Delay their bases, macro and get more bases, use Zergling run-bys and better mobility, and don’t engage the deathball unless you have to
  3. Oracle/Phoenix harass and Skytoss. Ward off harassment with a Spore Crawler and lots of Queens at each base. Hydralisks are great against air, but be careful of storms

What you can do

  1. Mutalisks. If they’re not ready, you can do a lot of damage by hatching a lot of Mutas at once. If you commit, though, keep the pressure on and macro hard, or else Phoenixes, Blink Stalkers, Psionic Storms, or Archons will let them get back into the game efficiently
  2. Roach/Hydra with Vipers or Corruptors. The primary threat to this composition is the Colossus, so get up to Hive for Vipers to Abduct them. Get good surrounds
  3. Swarm Host. Tempests have made Brood Lords irrelevant in this matchup, but Swarm Hosts are the new free unit option. Turtle and push slowly and efficiently with Locusts. It’s a boring but effective style

Zerg Versus Terran (ZvT)

Terran is more capable of early game harass than Protoss is: Reapers, Hellions, Widow Mines, and Banshees can all ruin your game. Fortunately, Terran is also less likely to disrupt your natural expansion, so you can safely go Hatch-first. Early gas and Zergling Speed will help you deal with the Reapers and Hellions.

ZvT standard opening

  • 9 Overlord
  • 12th Drone scout
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 16 Pool
  • 15 Extractor
  • 18 Overlord
  • Queen, Queen
  • 6 Zerglings (somewhere in there)
  • 5:45 2nd and 3rd gas

Some of what you’re up against

  1. Marine/Medivac/Tank. As I write this, the metagame has shifted to more Widow Mines than Siege Tanks, but I think Tanks are coming back. This midgame composition was intended to fight squarely with Muta/Ling/Baneling.
  2. Marine/Marauder/Medivac/Mine (AKA the “Carbine” for M4). I don’t think this is exciting, but it can happen.
  3. Mech. Not quite as common, but still possible.

What you can do

  1. Muta/Ling/Baneling. Mutalisks have only gotten better, and Zerglings are the mineral dump. This is still worth playing.
  2. Roach/Hydra/Viper. Roaches used to be the strategy against mech, and since this mixture seems to work against bio and Tanks as well with gratuitous use of Blinding Cloud, this has become quite the all-purpose composition. At least until Terrans figure out how to fight it.
  3. Ultralisk/Infestor. The progression is Zergling/Baneling -> Zergling/Infestor -> Ultralisk/Infestor/Zergling. Great at mopping up bio; not so good against mech (Thors and Hellbats)

Zerg Versus Zerg (ZvZ) (updated 5/31/13)

Once upon a time, ZvZ was aIl about Mutalisks. Whoever had more wins, and to get more, you needed to get gas quickly. Before you get there, however, you might need to deal with some Zergling/Baneling trading, and maybe even early Pools. Thanks to a patch, however, Mutalisks die in 3 shots from a Spore Crawler, so things have opened back up again.

The Build Orders

You might get 6-pooled on any map, but fortunately, maps are big enough that you can safely aim for a 15 Pool yourself, scout for the pool timing, and get your own Zerglings out in time.

Apollo’s Standard, Safe ZvZ (Oct 2012)

  • 9 Overlord (scout in a line to opponent)
  • 12th Drone Scout
  • 15 Spawning Pool
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 14 Queen
  • 16 Zergling x4 (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)

The primary followups to this build are a lot of Roaches, mixing in Hydras or Infestors as necessary. Here’s what a Roach/Hydra build looks like. I recommend you open with the build above for the Zergling speed, but this is a gasless opening.

Revival’s Roach Hydra
  • 9 Overlord
  • 15 Spawning Pool
  • 16 Hatchery
  • 15 Overlord
  • 15 Queen
  • 17 Zergling x2
  • 22 Queen
  • Evolution Chamber x2 (to wall)
  • 6:00 Extractor x4, Roach Warren
  • 7:00 Lair
  • 7:15 +1 Armor
  • 7:45 +1 Ranged Attack, Roach x5
  • 8:20 Roach Speed
  • 8:30 Hatchery
  • 10:00 100 Supply
  • 10:20 +2/+2
  • 11:30 Hydralisk Den
  • 12:50 Hatchery
  • 14:00 Infestation Pit

Some notes:

  1. The relevant timings start around 6:00. Before that, you should use the opening above
  2. The Hatchery in this build is greedy at most levels of play, so feel free to delay that

Despite the buff, you can still go Mutas. Below are some rough timings for a build like that. If you have control like IdrA, you can go Hatch first and use amazing Drone micro in case of cheese. If not, feel free to stick to a more standard opening like above.

ZvZ Mutalisks

  • 9 Overlord
  • 15 Hatchery
  • 17 Spawning Pool
  • 17 Extractor
  • 17 Overlord
  • Zergling Speed (first 100 gas)
  • ~5:00 Baneling Nest (next 50 gas)
  • 5:45 – 6:00 Extractor x3, Lair
  • 7:15 Spire
  • 9:00 Mutalisk

Some notes on Mutalisks:

  1. If they also go Mutalisks, you should get +1 armor for your Mutas because it helps with the bouncing glaive. If they don’t go Mutalisks, get +1 attack for the extra damage
  2. Stay very active on the map with the Mutalisks, but be very careful with them. Try to prevent their 3rd from going up if you can. The hope is to get a lot of damage in before Hydralisks come out

Some of what you’re up against/What you can do

  1. Everything above
  2. Roach/Infestor. Very similar to Roach/Hydra, except you get Infestors
  3. pre-Lair Roaches busts. If you scout it, go for Lair ASAP, and spend your minerals on Spine Crawlers and Zerglings.
  4. 6-Pool, 8-Pool, 10-Pool. Not recommended, but learn how to defend and buy time with your Drones until your Zerglings are out.


In the beginning, I mentioned the “aggressive” and “greedy” styles of play. The builds above definitely think greedy, and aggressive will fit in their later. Until then, the key is good scouting and reacting quickly. And the key to knowing how to react: “Matchmaking”, then “Play”

Other Helpful Posts


7 thoughts on “HotS Zerg Strategy

  1. One tip for zerg against terran; you can easily defeat a banshee attack with a queen, but only if you have an overlord nearby. If they are all tucked away in some corner or out scouting the map, it is way too easy to pick up drone after drone with a single banshee.

    • Great question! The short answer is that we probably won’t be writing up another set of guides like this as we don’t quite have the confidence to do it. However, we have added a new section to the site

      where people are sharing build orders and guides for different matchups. Hopefully you can find what you’re looking for there!

  2. freaking useless read for zvt. everyone just opens 2 reapers into 4 hellions into 2 libs into 2 medivacs (1 tank + marines.) Unless you have god like micro while keeping with your macro then you might as well altf4 against any terran doing this.

    • Sorry for misleading you! This guide was intended only for HotS and hasn’t been updated to LotV. I updated the title and header to make that more clear. Sorry for any confusion that may have caused!

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