TvX Reaper opening into Mine drops into bio

In my posts so far, I have emphasized a macro-focused, reactive style. I think focusing on macro is the best way to learn how to play, but nailing your build and keeping your money low alone isn’t going to win you games. To play reactively, you need to scout and know how to respond to what you see, but even more importantly, you need to micro to deal with it.

That’s kind of where I’m at in my development, and unfortunately, it’s not going so well. I don’t play particularly quickly, and I’m not good at switching back and forth between micro and macro. Repeating reactive, safe builds hasn’t helped me develop that, either, because not enough of my games turn to micro-intensive styles.

Since I’m playing Terran nowadays, I’m using Reaper openings now. I feel cheesy doing it, but it’s astoundingly good practice to micro 2 Reapers around your opponent’s base while executing your build. The build gets a quick expansion and uses Widow Mine drops and Hellion harass into the midgame to keep your opponent off-balance. That gives you the opportunity to transition into your favorite bio composition.

Even better, the opening generally works against all races. You may tweak things slightly depending on what you see, but good harassment is good. Things probably start to diverge around 6:00.

Here are the build orders from 2 games from Polt that he posted to YouTube.

Polt’s TvT Reaper opening against Mech

  • 10 Supply Depot
  • 11 Barracks (I think this was a mistake)
  • 12 Refinery
  • 15 Orbital Command, Reaper
  • 16 Supply Depot
  • 16 Reaper (lost a worker, sees no gas)
  • 19 4:10 Command Center
  • 4:25 20 Factory
  • 4:40 Reactor
  • 21 Supply Depot
  • 22 5:05 Barracks (poke in with Reapers)
  • 5:25 Starport (start Marine production), Widow Mine
  • 6:15 tech lab on Barracks, Refinery
  • 6:50 Medivac
  • 7:00 Barracks, Refinery
  • 7:30 tech on Stim
  • 7:40 1 Widow Mine drop (other Mine at opponenemt’s ramp)
  • 8:00 Engineering Bay
  • 8:30 Mine drop, sees mech, Siege Tanks
  • 9:30 push out with army, drop in back
  • 10:30 Command Center
  • Marine/Marauder/Tank/Medivac
  • 14:00 4th base

And the M4 Carbine against Zerg:

Polt’s TvZ Reapers into M4 Carbine

  • 10 Supply Depot
  • 12 Barracks
  • 12 Refinery (delay SCV slightly)
  • 15 Reaper, Orbital command
  • 16 Supply Depot
  • 18 Reaper (attack with both when done
  • 20 Command Center
  • 21 4:20 Factory
  • 22 4:30 Reactor
  • 23 Supply Depot
  • 25 5:40 Swap, Bunker, Hellion x2 (to 6, then Widow Mines), Tech Lab
  • 5:55 Refinery
  • 30 6:05 Starport
  • 7:00 Viking
  • 7:10 Stimpack
  • 8:00 Medivac, harassing with Hellions and Reaper
  • 8:20 Command Center
  • 8:30 Drop leaving with Medivac and 2 Mines
  • 8:50 Engineering Bay x2, Refinery x2
  • 9:10 Barracks x2
  • 9:50 Barracks x2
  • 11:00 Tech Lab x2, Armory, Barracks x4, moves out to 3rd base
  • 12:00 Factory

Just a few notes:

  • Feel free to lose the Reapers at your discretion. If they survive, you can watch for expos or take towers with them
  • Your money will get high when you supply is in the upper 20s before you can blow it all on Hellions. I think you can get a Bunker, earlier 2nd Refinery, and 2nd Barracks in that gap
  • An alternate build is to go for a quick 3rd Command Center around 5:00 with those extra minerals. See Reality’s build in TvZ (youtube, twitch)
  • There are lots of units being cranked out all along the way that I’m not noting in the build

Finally, here’s a game from yours truly against Protoss. My Reaper harassment works okay, and their Oracle harassment works even better. A few Widow Mines in my base and a poorly timed push from my opponent seals the victory for me. Overall, it was pretty gratifying seeing the new build work, especially in TvP, which I have recently been having difficulty with.

To recap, at some point, you need to learn how to micro while sticking with your build/macro, and trying out harass-heavy builds, like Reaper openings, are a great way to do that. Reaper openings are surprisingly versatile and can definitely lead into any type of bio build.

(edit 5/4/13: adding reference to 3 base build)

HotS beta: the perfect reason to practice

Thanks to a bad joke in a reddit HotS (Heart of the Swarm) beta key giveaway, I spent 2 or 3 hours this evening practicing StarCraft again. Yes, amidst all of the excitement of the new game, I didn’t play any games from matchmaking. I can explain, though, and this is really a good thing.

Julie and I were going to play HotS tonight since we’re both in the beta, but I didn’t know when she would be available. Not wanting to leave in the middle of a match, I instead just played some 1v1s against the computer, which is only available on very easy. This basically meant that I was practicing builds. Particularly, I have moved back into playing Terran recently, and with everything new in mech, I went mech.

After 5 games on different maps, I realized how much I needed to work on. Since playing with my friends a few weeks ago, I have been playing quite a bit of StarCraft: it’s all 2s and 4s, but still, I’m back to playing. It was rocky, and I had a sneaking suspicion that was macro was sloppy. Well, playing against a computer that doesn’t attack with more than 2 Marines was opportunity to focus on that alone, and it was bad. I

  • was not building workers constantly
  • was getting supply blocked a lot
  • was allowing my money to get really high
  • didn’t have nearly enough production buildings
  • forgot key structures

A few games in, I smoothed out a lot of this and was playing much smoother than before.

Repeating basically the same mech build 5 times was also a good way to learn to refine the build. As it turns out, a lot of my macro problems were related to minor hiccups in my play. Money can get high if I’m low on gas because I don’t know when to build geysers. Supply blocks happen because I tied up all of my money at the wrong moment. In the course of working on my build, I made some small tweaks and discoveries that really helped:

  • figured out when I needed to pay attention and not in the first few minutes so I could scout without forgetting a building
  • learned when I would hit gas shortage later and built refineries earlier for that
  • sequenced add-on building more optimally for the units I wanted
  • played around with the timings (absolute and relative) for Starport/Raven, vehicle upgrades, and another Factory for production

It’s been quite awhile since I have hammered out games against the computer, and I don’t think I ever quite did it for mech. The ironic part of this is that the focus on macro meant that I didn’t really figure out how to use the battle hellions or widow mines. That hopefully will happen soon.

Hopefully, I’ll also do some matchmaking as well. There are a lot of good things going for HotS right now that aren’t true for WoL (Wings of Liberty):

  • unranked matchmaking is less stressful
  • the metagame and balance are shifting rapidly, so expectations should be low
  • the novelty is just that much more exciting

I’ll report back on how that’s going if there’s anything interesting. In the meantime, let me know if you’re on the HotS beta and want to play. Preorders are now giving out beta keys for a lot of vendors, so they should be easy to come by.

Also, there’s a ton of good pro StarCraft happening until the end of the year. Specifically, the World Championship starts tomorrow night, and I’ll definitely be tuned in. It really looks like WoL has matured, and I’ll report on anything interesting I see in the games.

Done before even starting

I’m about 4 weeks out of school right now, and like every time before, I overestimated how much time I would have after a major shift in my life. I had many things I wanted to do, and a few weeks in, I have needed to cut various plans. Unfortunately for this blog, practicing StarCraft is one of them.

There are a few different reasons why. First, there are other things I would rather do. If you read my regular blog, you might be aware that I’m currently trying to write a book, and even just the research for that is pretty menacing (though a lot of fun). I also have had a chance to get back into playing RPGs, which were a staple of my childhood. I currently own 5 and have another 4 that I have yet to get through and hope to do so soon. Right now, I’m loving my 2 hours of Mass Effect a week, and I think that’s a healthy point to be at.

Second, I have actually drifted out of the game while having more free time. Particularly, I’m watching much less than I was during school because I don’t need to procrastinate anymore. Before, I knew I needed to be back to schoolwork soon, and it was easy to flip on a stream to relax for a few minutes. Now, if I want to do something possibly in-depth, I can.

Finally, practicing just wasn’t fun for me. Like anyone else, I have ladder anxiety. That in itself is nasty enough to deal with, but when I realized that I didn’t really want what was on the other side of practicing (in the form of laddering), it didn’t seem worth it to try to get past it.

After practicing for a few months, what would I have? Well, I would probably still only be winning 50% of my games because of the design of the ladder, so day to day, I wouldn’t feel any better. I’m sure I would be much better, but that talent isn’t particularly transferrable, and it would actually make it even harder to play with my friends, most of whom play only casually.

So this is largely the end of the spirit of this blog, which never really got started. I was waiting for the time to practice, but now I have the time, I don’t really want to practice anymore. Despite that, I’m fairly proud of my skill level and understanding of the game now. I’ll still be watching tournaments, browsing /r/starcraft, playing casual games with my friends, and maybe even updating this blog as I do those things.

But don’t let this demoralize you if you’re still practicing and working at StarCraft. This game has had a tremendous effect on me, and as I mentioned, I’m not completely dropping out. Feel free to comment on what I’ve written so far, send me messages to try to change my mind (I’m easy to find: @warstrekkid on Twitter is one of many online presences I have), and keep building probes and pylons.

Prioritizing mechanics on the mental checklist

In Day[9] Daily #345, Day[9] suggests a process for improving mechanics: prioritize it at the top of the mental checklist at the expense of other things, see what it earns you, and slowly assimilate it into regular play. For Zerg, here are a few things I can think of that might work:

  • Creep spread
  • Overlord spread
  • Larva inject (as discussed in the Daily)
  • Expanding every 5 minutes
  • Never supply blocked
  • Army always split into 2 control groups
  • Constantly scouting
  • Keeping minerals below 400 at all times
  • Paying attention to alerts

Now anyone can be a StarCraft Master

If you haven’t heard, Blizzard has released StarCraft Master, a custom map with 30 challenges involving intense micro and knowledge of a few tricks. I beat it yesterday over the course of maybe 2 hours, most of which was spent on scoot-and-shoot and tank-pickup.

My review? It’s a lot of fun and helpful if you’re unaware of a few tricks. I clearly obsessed enough about beating it that I played it over the course of 3 sessions in one day for one of my heavier StarCraft days, though overall, I feel like I didn’t gain much from it. Having watched enough StarCraft, I mostly knew the tricks, and although cool, most of the micro is too intense to be worth the attention except in the most dire of circumstances.

But I definitely recommend it if you have the time. It’s not too stressful, and as important as macro is, I think the coolest and most fun part of StarCraft is the little micro stuff anyways (Brood War pimpest plays anyone?).

If you’re really looking for micro training, though, check out Darglein’s Micro Trainer. It’s generally well-done and a lot of fun to ramp up the difficulty on.

Back in Diamond for Season 6

Replay 1 Replay 2

Season 6 of ladder play has begun, and so have I. I just played 2 quick games, both of which went pretty well. The first ZvZ went along smoothly without any Zergling/Baneling play at the beginning. Transitioned into Roach/Infestor and rode that to victory. The second game was ZvT, where he tried some elevator play with Marines and Hellions, but I had plenty of Zerglings to deal with it. He made a few other mistakes (leaving Tanks unsieged and undefended), and a large flock of Mutas convinced him to tap out.

Watching the replays, my macro was not very good in either of them. Now that I’ve learned about the macro hatch, I’m getting a lot of larva, but I’m also not spending them. This happens sometimes from being supply blocked, but in general, I’m just not checking them often enough, so my supply and money go up and down, roughly in sync with when I’m injecting. Day[9] talks about the mental checklist of “making pylons, making probes”. I guess without specific production buildings, I need to do a better job constantly keeping my money low and building things.

I think it’s pretty popular for Zergs to want to work on never missing an inject: I think I might get to that only after I remember to use the larva I already have.

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.

Fun fact about my APM from Sc2gears

I installed Sc2gears a few days ago and took a look at the motley assortment of replays I have actually saved. I’ll be saving all of them now going forward, but for right now, there’s not much to look at. I’ll let you know if I learn anything important from my play.

Here’s one thing I did notice, though: APMs over time. APM (actions per minute) isn’t a perfect metric for how good someone is, but it’s okay. It’s not as important as some learners would suggest, and it’s not as useless as some pros would suggest. Fun facts about me, though.

I have a couple games from over a year ago. Back then, my average APM was 74, with an EAPM (effective APM: remove redundant clicks) was 61. Not great.

I played 2 games in the airport as I was flying back to the west coast for classes. That was at the end of my big spurt over break. My APM was 125 with an EAPM of 103.

I played 2 right after installing Sc2gears. My APM is at 114 with an EAPM of 91.

For what it’s worth, both games I played today were against the computer, 1 of which I let drag on for awhile at the end while I went for broodlords when I could have just won. Even so, both of the games at the airport were also against the computer.

Clearly even 3 weeks of inconsistent playing can be a drag.

Just a little rusty

I played 3 games last night after being off for 2 weeks, and it was a little rough. Julie and I play 2v2s together against the computer and can usually win against the “very hard” A.I. Last night, however, was harder than usual as I worked to get my fingers back underneath me. I was able to immediately setup into my new control group setup, but everything else was worse. I made a few poor decisions (not getting defense in time, teching too slowly) and couldn’t macro as well (missing injects, not spreading creep, and such). I wasn’t quite as sharp as I was right when I left, but I was still better than I was at the beginning of my winter break, which was a plus.

The most interesting change was coming back to my normal setup. While on break, I was playing on my physical Macbook Pro, with the built-in keyboard and 15-inch screen, and a portable optical mouse. My actual setup is a separate keyboard, 23-inch screen, and heavier optimal mouse. It was a little disorienting but ultimately not too much of a problem. I’ll readapt as I work the rest of mechanics up.