The following article lists a general introduction to Protoss vs. Zerg
- To read more about Protoss strategies in general, see also Protoss Strategy
Protoss vs. Zerg (PvZ) is one of the match ups with a multitude of possible strategies. Both races can use aggressive and rather passive openings, some of which enable timing attacks, others aim to provide a maximum level of security in the early and mid-game or prepare the best possible start into a long drawn macro-oriented late game. Since many modern Build Orders—especially the so-called Fast Expansion Build Orders—try and explain all of the concepts, beginners are often overwhelmed by the information. This article, therefore, needs to be understood in context of the openings described in the PvZ Build Order Article.
Units and Army Composition
Generally speaking, Protoss units are, in many cases, somewhat slower than their Zerg counterparts, have a higher damage output and more health points— all the while being more expensive and taking longer to train. Therefore Protoss army mixes try to optimize the specific features of their own units, depending on the strategy being used, as well as exploiting weaknesses of the Zerg army. This often forces both players to constantly react and adapt to their opponent's play.
The following list describes the roles of units during the game, as well as the ordinary combinations of units over time in the actual games. If read carefully, the compilation helps to understand the specific Build Orders.
The Zealot is one of the key units for Protoss. Regardless of the opening, Zealots will almost always be being trained throughout a typical game. Their counterpart is the Zergling, which is more mobile and more numerous for the cost. A rule of thumb suggests that one Zealot can kill three Zerglings without both units being microed. After the first minute, this equation changes a bit since Zerglings equipped with the Speed upgrade can fight Zealots easier. In fights between Zerglings and Zealots the Ground Weapon Upgrades and the Zergling Carapace upgrades play an important role. If the Ground Weapon upgrade is by one digit greater than the Zergling's Carapace they need one hit less to kill Zerglings, changing the equation heavily in favor of Protoss.
Furthermore, Zealots are being trained throughout the entire game. In the earlier stages until the mid game, they deal the damage. They counter smaller number of Hydralisks, especially after Zealot speed is researched. Once Zerg is able to obtain a critical mass, Zealots will be hard countered. Once a critical mass of Hydralisks is reached, Zealots will need additional support. Also, once the Zerg is able to produce Hive units (Ultralisks, fully upgraded Zerglings) Zealots usually fulfill the role of a meat shield, soaking up damage instead of dealing it.
The direct counter to a greater number of Zealots are Lurkers, as they are able to deal splash damage.
Dragoons, as opposed to other match ups, are usually trained quite late in the game. They are hard-countered by almost any ordinary Zerg unit, such as Zerglings and Hydralisks. Against small-sized units, Dragoons only deal half damage and therefore deal only full damage against Lurkers and Ultralisks. The advantage of Dragoons lies in their ability to attack both ground and air units alike.
- High Templar
High Templar are one of the most important supporting units in Protoss vs. Zerg. Their Psionic Storm upgrade is used to neutralize larger amounts of Zerg units within seconds. Usually the Energy Upgrade is researched as well, to enable High Templars to cast one more Storm, as well as spawning with more mana, allowing them to cast sooner. If their mana runs out after engagements in the open map, they are usually merged into Archons.
- Dark Templar
Dark Templars are usually only built to harass a Zerg base. Their use is limited, as Zerg has the option to detect them with Overlords. However, few strategies utilize this unit to counter an Ultralisk / Zergling mix in the late game, or rush a Zerg from the start.
Archons are an important unit in the mid-game and grow even more important in the late game. They can attack any Zerg unit and are especially strong against clumps of Zerglings and Mutalisks, due to their splash damage. In the late game Archons deal the most damage of a Protoss army, as they can one shot Zerglings if they have +3 Ground Weapon upgrades. Archons, however, are affected by Dark Swarm and will only deal splash-damage when attacking a Zerg unit that is underneath a Dark Swarm, and if the Zerg unit is burrowed while under the Dark Swarm, the Archons will deal no damage.
Corsairs fulfill two important roles. Initially, the first Corsair(s) is used to scout the Zerg base, at a period of time when no ground unit can safely access a Zerg base. Secondly, Corsairs, especially in greater numbers, can be used to maintain air superiority and kill Overlords quickly, thus simultaneously blocking the supply of Zerg and denying detection on the battle field.
Six Corsairs can kill a single Scourge (or more if they are clumped) before they reach their target, if their Air Attack Upgrades are better than the Air Armor of Zerg. Seven Corsairs can do the same without an upgrade advantage.
While Scouts and Arbiters are rarely built in the match up, Carriers can be used in the very late end game to overcome stale mate situations. Generally speaking, Carrier strategies are somewhat risky, as they can be countered easier by Zerg than by Terran or Protoss.
Reavers are used mainly in the late stages of the mid-game to shield expansions from larger attacks. Their scarabs deal a crucial amount of damage to ground units and work under Dark Swarm. In other strategies they can be used to support the army or to harass the Zerg base.
Since every unit has a direct counter, a mix of several units are used to optimize the Protoss damage output. The following mixes are the most popular ones and are being ordered by their appearance, starting from the later part of the early game to the late game.
- Zealot / High Templar
Zealots counter Zerglings and Hydralisks in smaller numbers. In modern PvZ both units will be massed quickly enough to neutralize Zealots with or without Speed upgrade relatively fast. Therefore, High Templar are used to support a Zealot attack. Their Storm kills larger amounts of Hydralisks or Zerglings quickly enough to reduce their amount from critical to vulnerable. High Templar must be safe from being sniped before they can cast Storms. Additionally, especially against Zerglings, their Storms can be placed on top of the Zealots; the Zealots are then commanded to escape backwards from the Storm. Zerg can't react fast enough and the Zerglings will try to chase the Zealots and die in the Storm.
Zealots and High Templar are usually attacked by either very large amounts of Hydralisks and Zerglings, Zerglings and Mutalisks or Lurkers.
- Zealot / Archon
If Zerg opens with Mutalisks High Templar are of little use, as their Storm can be escaped by the airborne units relatively easy. Instead, Archons are used to counter clumps of Mutalisks. This mix is rarely used in modern PvZ, as Zerg most times uses Hydralisks. Archons suffer against larger amounts of Hydralisks in the same way Zealots do. However, an Archon/Zealot mix is still slightly more efficient as Zealots only.
Zealots and Archons are usually attacked by either very large amounts of Hydralisks and Zerglings, Zerglings and Mutalisks or Lurkers.
- The Deathball
The so-called "Deathball" is a mix of Zealots, High Templar and Dragoons. Usually, after the first attacks by Protoss, a player adds Dragoons with Range upgrades. All three types of units are clumped, making it harder for Zerg to snipe stray units and the important spell casters. More Dragoons also make Mutalisk harassment harder. From now on, Zealots are usually used to shield Dragoons from taking damage, while the Dragoons can siege a Base guarded by Sunken Colonies and Lurkers. High Templar are only used to cast storms against larger clumps of units and are the most important unit.
In the following minutes, the low mana Templar are used to merge Archons. Therefore, eventually the mix will mainly consist of Zealots, fewer Dragoons, few High Templar are more Archons in the late game.
In modern PvZ Corsairs are often added to the early stages of a Deathball, to deny Mutalisk Harass. Furthermore, one or more shuttles with Reavers might be used in the endgame, to make up for less High Templar. Reavers can also be used to siege Sunken Colonies in the late stages of a game.
The Deathball is efficient against anything Zerg can build. In later stages less Hydralisks and Lurkers will be used, instead Ultralisks will come into play. Engaging Ultralisks should be done with care. Attacking under Dark Swarm should be avoided, as Archons lose efficiency. Furthermore, Storms should always target Zerglings in this case, as Zerglings deal the damage, while Ultralisks soak up the fire. Storming Ultralisks is pointless in most scenarios, as their armor allows them to swallow much of the damage.
- Corsair Mixes
Corsair heavy strategies are one of the key aspects of modern Protoss vs. Zerg. As mentioned in the Deathball, in most scenarios Corsairs are used to shut down Mutalisk harassment (mostly against High Templars), as well as taking out Overlords. However, several strategies use them differently. Sooner or later Corsairs are too hard to micro properly and they lose their worth to defend against anti air. Their role as guard against Mutalisk harass is compensated by an increasing Dragoon and Archon count.
Corsairs can be used with Dark Templars in the later stage of a game, to harass Zerg bases (via drops) or to counter Ultralisk/Zergling armies, which don't have any detection.
Furthermore, other strategies allow larger Corsair numbers to support Reaver harassment. In the very late game Corsairs can be used to support a Carrier fleet.
Protoss scouts with various units vs. Zerg. Obtaining information is especially important in PvZ, as each Build Order can theoretically be countered by slight adoptions of Zerg. Since Zerg units are generally more mobile each change in a Zerg's behaviour needs to be anticipated and countered faster than vs. Terran or in the mirror match up. The longer Protoss plays blindly against a skilled Zerg, the higher the chances are that he will miss timings or fails to excel with his strategy.
One of the first Probes, usually the seventh Probe overall, is being used to scout. Keeping this unit alive while spying on Zerg is crucial, as it helps to prevent timed aggressive attacks (all-ins), as well as creating a plan for the upcoming minutes. If the first Probe dies without gathering a minimum information, a second one is usually sent out.
In modern Protoss vs. Zerg the second unit to scout the map is the Corsair. It is usually built in a time frame, in which Zerg can't deny flying units from trespassing their bases. Additionally, the Corsairs can harass Overlords, thus blocking the supply of Zerg.
If Protoss does not use Corsairs, he will most likely prepare a mid game attack with a strong timing. Scouting a Zerg transition into the late game is therefore less important, as the success (damage dealt) by a timed attack determines the outcome of the game - or phrased differently, a Zerg has to need to react faster than the Protoss.
If no mid game attack is prepared and no Corsairs are used, Protoss can use single Probes or few Zealots to scout. Both ground units can usually not access the fourth expansions of Zerg, as well as their main base. This makes Probe and Zealot scouts less efficient. Observers can access any base easier, but are usually built relatively late.
It is more likely that Protoss relies on his army to scout the map in the later stages of the mid game.
In the late game Protoss scouting is limited again. Usually the entire army is moved over the map to either defend own undefended bases or to check for Zerg expansions. Scouting expansions while Hatcheries still morph is important, as they can be attacked easier compared to already fortified expansions. Knowing about the Zerg's army composition and its movement, as well as knowing about the number of Hatcheries is more important than in earlier stages. The more Hatcheries are training units, the more Gateways Protoss needs to counter.
There are a few general rules which always hold true.
- Ground Weapon Upgrade
Zealots kill a Zergling with two instead of three hits, whenever their ground weapon upgrade is one number greater than the Zergling's carapace (armor) upgrade. Protoss will thus always try to be one upgrade ahead if possible. Furthermore, Archons one shot a Zergling regardless of their carapace upgrade, if the third (+3) ground weapon upgrade was researched.
- Air Weapon Upgrade
Corsairs are usually countered by Scourge. Six Corsairs can kill a single Scourge before they hit, if the air weapon upgrade is by one number greater than the Zerg's air armor upgrade. Seven Corsairs can kill a single Scourge, regardless of their upgrade. Hence, the six upgraded or the seven Corsairs without upgrade are usually referred to as "critical amount". Theoretically, more than one Scourge can be killed this way, since Corsairs deal splash (area of effect) damage. However, engaging a greater amount of Scourge should be performed carefully.
- High Templar Mana Upgrade
Psionic Storm is a very important spell in PvZ after the early game. It is the first viable option to fight a greater number of Zerg units. However, without further upgrades High Templar can cast a maximum of two Psionic Storms before their mana is too low. Researching the Energy Upgrade is thus rather important. In addition to the increased maximum amount of mana, Templar will spawn with more mana when trained, enabling them to cast their first spell significantly earlier.
- The following paragraph gives one example of how modern PvZ is usually played and which concepts/strategies are often used. The example has to be understood in the context of this entire article, as it tries to combine all ideas mentioned before, as well as giving an overview how special timings are developed to adapt to the game flow.
In modern Protoss vs. Zerg most Protoss players open with a Forge Fast Expansion Build Order. The underlying idea of opening with a Fast Expansion in general is to be universally safe against aggressive openings, while preparing an economical advantage in the mid game.
Generally speaking, a Fast Expansion allows a Protoss player to focus on Probe production, thus mining more resources than off one Nexus only. This automatically means that Protoss sacrifices the ability to produce Zealots in greater numbers early on. Placing Photon Cannons, Forge and Gateway correctly shield the Natural Expansion from early Zergling attacks. The concept of defensive building placement is called Sim City or walling and can be read up in the Protoss Fast Expand Forge Walling article.
Zerg can now either try to keep up economically (adding more Drones and Hatcheries) by taking a third base, or try to break the Protoss Natural early on. Zerg has more Larvae spawning from two or three Hatcheries, he/she can try to train Hydralisks, Zerglings or other units to try and exploit a lack of Photon Cannons or proper simcity. If Zerg chooses this aggressive option, Protoss has to adapt. Possible adaptions can be found in the "Protoss Counter to Zerg All-ins" article. However, if Protoss opened with the conservative Forge Fast Expand, he has no way to effectively pressure Zerg until the mid-game, as a low number of Zealots will be countered by Zerglings easily.
If Zerg used his production capabilities to add more Hatcheries, usually by taking a third base, both players prepared for a mid-game set up in a way that their Drone/Probe count allows them to both train fighting units and open further tech trees. The transition out of the economically oriented early game into a stage, in which fighting units matter more, is often referred to as mid game. Almost all strategies try to prepare a well designed army composition, which is universally efficient (meaning regardless of the opponent's behaviour).
For the mid game transition Protoss usually prepares a larger attack with Zealots in a time frame Zerg has no units to challenge them in the open map. Furthermore, Corsairs are being built to both scout and take the air superiority. Zerg usually responds by adding Hydralisks to his or her army. In lower numbers Hydralisks can not fight Zealots with Speed upgrade, while Zerglings are weak vs Zealots with better Ground Weapon upgrades. As a consequence Protoss has a timing window in which he or she controls the map and which allows him to try to attack Zerg bases. With a greater number of Hatcheries, good Sim City and further technology these attacks can be blocked by Zerg, due to reinforcing troops and units like Mutalisks and Lurkers. The timing of Zealot attacks hugely depends on the Zerg's mid game transitions.
The role of the army of each player are influenced by the overall strategy. Usually both will try to raise expansions, while being able to train units, without being too vulnerable to the opponent's attack. Only in optimal scenarios one player might have the opportunity to actually kill a careless opponent right away. Taking expansions while denying the enemy from expanding is the underlying concept, which dictates the mid game. Generally speaking, Protoss tries to be one (Gas) mining expansion ahead of Zerg; furthermore, keeping a Zerg on less than three gas mining games is considered to be optimal, as his late game army compositions need four running Extractors.
Typically, if the Zerg defends a speed Zealot harass, or other form of mid-game aggression with little damage dealt by the Protoss player, the Zerg will re-take map control or at least be able to challenge a Zealot/Templar army in the open map. Protoss usually utilizes the time frame during their initial Zealot attack to take an expansion while the Zealots stall a Zerg attack. Additionally, a Templar Archives is added during the Zealot harass and High Templar are trained. The High Templar's Psionic Storm (storm for short) can counter larger Zerg troops and secure Protoss' expansions, but can also be used offensively in the mid-game. Shortly afterwards Dragoons with Range upgrade are added to the army, to create the so-called Deathball. If both players players performed equally, Protoss will now be on three bases, while Zerg takes a fourth. This marks the end of the mid-game. Usually both players fortified their expansions with Photon Cannons and High Templars or Sunken/Spore Colonies, Lurkers and a standing army of Hydralisks and Zerglings.
In the end game Archons are added to the Protoss army, while Zerg will rely on Hive units such as Ultralisks, Zerglings with additional Attack upgrade and fewer Hydralisks. Both players will try to take down the opponent's bases, expand or try to deny expansions. Protoss theoretically could transition into a Dark Templar / Corsair or Corsair / Carrier army compilation, to counter the lack of Zerg air units. Zerg on the other hand can attempt Doom Drops or small attacks with Zerglings and Defilers.
- Breaking Lurker Contain
- Article describes how to break out if Zerg sieges a Protoss base with Lurkers.
- Content: Match Up from a Zerg's perspective. General knowledge can be extrapolated, in order to understand the context fully.
- Content: Basics of PvZ, slightly outdated
- Content: Basics of PvZ, slightly outdated
- Content: Basics of PvZ, slightly outdated
- Content: Basics on unit mixes for PvZ
- Content: Basics for one base play