Zerg vs. Mech Terran Guide
This page is concerned with describing the match up Zerg vs. Terran when the Terran opens with a Mech build and suggesting strategies from the Zerg player's point of view. One-base play with Factory or Starport-based rushes will not be covered in this guide.
A Mech ZvT is played when the Terran player chooses to use Factories instead of Barracks, as his main production facilities. The Zerg's opening, unless rushing, has no effect upon this choice.
The opening stages do not define this particular match-up, as the Terran player may build a Factory early in the game, but may continue his game-plan with a Marine-based unit composition; which is not covered in this guide. Likewise, because of the inherent freedom of style within this game; the Terran may open with two Barracks and end up making units from solely his Factories in the mid-game. But this last situation is a rather speculative one.
The match-up must be dissected in its entirety to be able to provide viable strategies for either player. Before going into the different phases of the match-up we will discuss which map features affect mech-oriented play.
Mech play is a Terran strategy, so it must cater to the Terran player's wants. It is well known that in recent maps, Destination is by far the map where the Zerg player is more likely to encounter this style of play. Sin Chupung-Ryeong and Colosseum II are other maps where mech is a common strategy; although both less popular than Destination. More recent maps have seen a decreased amount of mech play. So what did these three have, that made mech so popular in them?
You can notice that two of them are two-player maps. And watching a picture of them can tell you that they are narrower than four-player maps. This makes it harder for the Zerg to go around the Terran's army for a counter-attack. Also, the distance between the players' mains plays an important role: if the Terran were to play Mech on Colosseum II cross-positions, he would have many more technical disadvantages than if he and his opponent were on the same edge of the map. Most notably, his army wouldn't be "hugging" against the wall and as such flanking is easier for the Zerg. His attack timing is also delayed and allows the opponent an easier choice between counter-attacking and defending.
Also since for a two-player map like Destination, it made bunker rushing much more viable because of the certainty of where your opponent spawned. The bunker rush used by a terran when going mech is aimed not so much to destroy the hatchery of the zerg opponent but rather deal economic damage to him. Note that even if the bunker rush were to fail, it wouldn't put the terran behind much because the simple move of zerg using the drones at the natural to attack the bunker and to waste larvae on lings is already a form of economic damage. This is because a meching terran will usually open with a vulture that can easily handle lings in the early game and a zerg will suffer from a drone deficit.
Sometimes those maps are hard for Marine-based armies. Destination is usually criticized for that same reason. Notably because of the layout of the Natural which makes it vulnerable against Mutalisk harass, and because of the bridges in the map, which the Zerg can use to his advantage by placing Lurkers at the ends, naturally, the Terran player usually has problems cutting through those set-ups with a limited number of Tanks. Chupung-Ryeong has a vulnerable natural that makes two or three Hatch Lurker rushes very effective. Colloseum II has the issue of bases laid out as a funnel, which makes for Zerg both defending a new main and containing the Terran in his own base with Lurkers, easy.
However, when playing Mech, those disadvantages are nullified and sometimes even turn to the Terran's favor. Because of the defensive behavior of this style and the long range of Siege Tanks, bridges can be used as very effective paths from which to push into the Zerg's part of the map. With a large number of Tanks, containing a Terran becomes harder, and now the range advantage is firmly in his hands. Tanks and Mines also are much better at defending vulnerable naturals such as Chupung-Ryeong's than Marines; while Speed-Vultures can make use of those very same weaknesses for effective harass. Easily defensible positions bear no matter for the Terran as the zerg must absolutely face the Terran's army in the open. In this manner, ramps, cliffs, and all kinds of obstacles now turn to the Terrans favor. Such is the nature of a defensive and slow pushing build.
The Goliath's massive range coupled with well positioned Turrets to buy time, makes Mutalisk harass a difficult chore for the Zerg player. It should be noted that this does not mean that Mutalisks are useless. In fact it will be argued on a later stage of this article that they are one of the best units to use against Mech.
The pronounced advantages mentioned in the previous section make up for the inherent weaknesses of Mech play. Most notably its lack of mobility, which in turn translates to a lack of constant pressure toward the zerg, _at least in direct terms, since the mere notion of playing vs Mech makes many Zergs choke and fall behind in macro_, and the difficulty in defending against counter-attacks. Both are key points that the Zerg player must base his strategy on if he is to be a good player vs Mech.
Another big difficulty with Terran, particularly inexperienced ones, is the lack of scouting. Being based on Factories, the Terran usually has a hard time deciding when to place an Academy and in turn a ComSat Station. And even experienced players will never place it before a certain timing. This allows for very strong openings from the Zerg, based on that the Terran player can't scout most two-Hatch-based rushes and at the same time he must prepare to defend from them, even if the Zerg is not attacking. This is why two-Hatch-based openings are stronger than three-Hatch ones in this particular match-up. This guide will focus on both a two-Hatch rush and a two-Hatch macro build which fakes a Hydralisk rush.
Before going with build orders, we need to explain how to identify a Mech-based play, given that it is after all, a Terran strategy.
First, it should be noted that although 8-Barracks builds are common in maps like Destination, Chupung-Ryeong, Outsider, etc. and Mech is usually played in those maps. It's because small maps with few starting locations help 8-Raxing, not because 8-Barracks is a prerequisite of Mech play; likewise, an 8-Rax does not imply mech. Still, the reader should be wary of those kinds of builds in maps that favour them and can open 9-Pool as a preemptive measure.
From here on, scouting techniques are going to be based on 12-Hatch openings.
The most tell-tale sign is discovered with the first scouting Drone, usually best if it's the ninth Drone. Most Mech (and pseudo-Mech) builds will start with a wall and an early Refinery. Builds that aren't one base strategies will almost always follow up the factory with a Command Center, while usually researching Mines and building a couple of Vultures and few Marines for defense. The placement of the Command Center is usually on the Terran's natural with the exception of the Zerg opening with a Pool-first build. Both Mech and pseudo-Mech strategies are vulnerable to the same two-Hatch rushes. However two-Hatch macro builds will transition differently and in the case of pseudo-Mech it is recommended to get Mutas. The full-Mech alternative will be explained in the early game section.
In conclusion to the previous point, one base builds are differentiated from macro ones by the presence of a Command Center, easily scouted with a Zergling or the second Overlord. This guide is about fighting macro full-Mech builds. Builds that include a Factory and a Starport (for Vulture drops, and Valkyries) before a Command Center are usually only encountered when opening with a 2-Hatch Muta or any kind of 3 Hatch. Both of these, this guide does not advocate. Therefore, that Terran option will not be covered. In any case, That kind of opening is easily countered by early Hydralisks, which are included in both builds of this guide.
The first Overlord's final destination should always be the Terran's main (or its surroundings), coming from the sides or the back, not the front. In most maps, especially two-player maps, the Overlord can also scout a couple of good proxy locations en route to that destination. Usually those proxy locations are on the edge of the map which makes the Overlord safe from Marine patrols, so choose the edge of the map that leads you to the back or side of the opponent's base, this Overlord can be sacrificed later to gather invaluable intel, particularly if the Terran is sitting on a single base. The second Overlord should choose the edge of the map that takes it towards the exit of the Natural, and can easily scout for a building Command Center and in some cases for exiting units, although for the latter, Zerglings are always the best choice.
Differentiating pseudo-Mech (or fake Mech) from actual Mech is not hard. For one, pseudo-Mech is rarer than full Mech, so in the event that it comes to chance, it's a safer bet to guess Mech. Pseudo-Mech will also continue building Marines past the first four needed to fill the Bunker in the Natural, in contrast to Mech which will (or at least should) never build more than that. This can be scouted by a suiciding Overlord into his Barracks or a suiciding Zergling into his Nat, where it is likely that the Terran is rallying his Marines. If Marine information is inconclusive, you should look out for Vultures next. It is very unlikely that the pseudo-Mech Terran will be making many Vultures after placing the Command Center, especially Speed-Vultures. So that is also a good tell-tale sign. The timing of Tanks is also important. Full Mech will have much earlier tanks than pseudo-Mech. Of course, you can use as a last resort the Overlord that is near his main and sacrifice it for conclusive evidence. Neither Goliaths nor Valkyries should be used as proof of full Mech, unless their (Goliaths') numbers are very large, but by that time the Terran's intent should have been obvious for a long while, and our specialty build orders are of course useless.
Mech games usually last two stages: The build-up, which goes from the beginning to between the Zerg having taken his third and going for his fourth, and the big Terran push which is when most games are decided. Usually, longer (and even) games are only found in high caliber players of equal skill.
First we will describe a build focused on finishing the game early with a combination of Muta-Hydra.
Build Order One
- 9 Overlord
- 12 Hatch (see note)
- 11 Spawning Pool
- 10 Extractor
- @100 Gas - Lair
- @100% Pool - Zerglings (see note)
- 15 Overlord
- 17 Sunken Colony (see note)
- @250 Gas Hydralisk Den (see note)
- @100% Lair - Spire and second Extractor (see note)
- @100% Hydralisk Den - Hydra Range (see note)
- When affordable - two Hydralisks
- 21 Three Hydralisks (see note)
- 24 Two Overlords
- Save Larvae (see note)
- @100% Spire - 6-8 Mutas
- Move out with the Hydras after starting Mutas
- Hydra Speed can be gotten soon after.
- Keep making Mutas until Speed is finished.
Build Order Clarification
An alternative to the Overlord and the 12 Hatch can be:
- 9 Pool
- 9 Overlord
- 12 Hatch
- 11-13 Extractor
This is impregnable vs. 8 Barracks builds. See the scouting section for more info. Then you will continue the build normally. 9 Pools can also work to kill the scout early, but that is not paramount. As this build tries to resemble a 2 Hatch Muta, for the Terran at least. The gas timing can be manipulated to allow for a certain number of Zerglings.
The build will assume that you made only a single pair. As it has been mentioned, killing the scouting scv very early is not paramount as this build resembles standard 2-Hatch Muta play vs Mech. Ling Speed is not needed for this build.
This will be shortly after the Natural Hatchery is done, the timing is not set in stone, but it allows for the Creep to expand a little while, to allow for a good placement while being fast enough to fight a Vulture.
Your supply count should be around 20 right before you place this. This is not an arbitrary timing, it works well to get Hydras just in time to block the ramp against more than a single Vulture, and it works vs 1-base strategies as well. Also, since this is a 2-Hatch build, it is recommended to place the Den so that it makes it hard for Vultures to go towards your main.
Just as a side note, by the time you're placing this, even with only 2 Zerglings, the scouting SCV should be dead.
Preferred over Speed as we will have only one upgrade by the time we attack.
For 24/27 with 5 Hydras total, By this time you should have around 8 Drones mining minerals in your Main and 4 mining minerals in your Nat, including the 6 Drones in gas, 5 Hydras, 2 Zerglings, it makes for 24 supply total. This is not a comfortable build if you're not used to sacrificing economy (or supply) for timing.
Larvae may stay on 3 idle for a little while, that's normal.
As soon as you send those Hydras, Rally your bases towards his nat and attack unrelenting. This is basically an all-in build which depends on you killing his natural at all costs.
Build Order Two
To be Continued....
Unlike regular Zerg versus Bionic Terran, there is no general consensus on which unit combination should the Zerg choose. Probably because Mech Terran is not very developed and relatively-speaking, not commonly encountered. This guide will advocate for a combination of Muta Hydra.
Zerglings can be good cannon fodders, if you take into account the huge damage dealt from basically every Terran unit, then it can easily be seen that Zerglings are always overkilled, this means that no Terran unit is dealing damage efficiently against Zerglings, so they are in hindsight your best option for your frontline charge.
Of course Zerglings have other characteristics, for example being cheap. But perhaps they are too cheap. Soon you will end up needing many more Hatcheries to keep your minerals down (and keeping a respectable control count), but Hatcheries are expensive and they take a long time to build, and as I have said (perhaps too subtly) before, the climax, the most important part of the match up is the first Terran push. You should never build up for a late-game scenario in mech. You should always aim for stopping that push. Do that, and you're guaranteed a good late-game position at the very least.
More on the previous point: Zerglings soon take up a lot of space, meaning both Hotkeys and actual “physical” space. The difficulty in managing your units increases drastically. As I have mentioned in the previous point, you want your Zerglings in the front line, yet you still want your other units following closely behind, and this causes a problem because Zerglings are faster than both Lurkers and Hydralisks and you will probably be resorting to tricks such as moving your slower _and hotkeyed_ units first, but then moving those masses of (unhotkeyed) Zerglings becomes a chore, and since the slower units are also relatively big, they may not make enough gaps for the Lings to come through effectively.
A possible use for Zerglings comes from the late game. If you have secured enough to afford Zerglings and their upgrades, due to the incapability from Terran to defend every of his bases efficiently, Crackling drops can be very effective.
In conclusion, if you are following this guide, do not bother with Zerglings. Neither of the builds in this guide require more Lings than the ones needed to kill the scouting SCV.
It takes a really queer Zerg to not make Hydralisks vs. a Meching Terran. This is the only unit that is regarded by everyone as a staple. And why shouldn't it? Hydralisks deal full damage to Goliaths and Tanks; unlike Zerglings, they have a good relation between size, cost, health and damage output so they are easily microed; they are the only ground units that can clear Mines safely; they are highly effective vs Vultures and Wraiths and they are low in the tech tree, which makes them the center of most builds vs. Mech. The only pain is that their HP seems like nothing in few numbers, but being Zerg, you should be pumping a lot of Hydralisks anyway so the attack (10 with no upgrades) should be enough for a few hotkey groups to do some damage.
Lurkers are big, expensive, not very mobile and they necessarily attack in clumps (that or they become increasingly difficult to control). Those are four characteristics that you should always avoid in this special match up. Their quality of needing scans or Turrets to be detected may help against newcomers, but any experienced Terran knows when to place his Turrets and his Academy.
It is true that Dark Swarm makes them invincible (while burrowed). But by the time you reach that tier, the Terran won't be in his first two bases anymore, and containing him may be next to impossible. You may stall his attack if you wish, you may never stop him from expanding once or twice and then completely outmuscling you. Of course, if the previous is actually not true, such as you gained a big advantage in the early game and you can contain him, then Lurkers with Swarm may be the fastest way to finish the game. But as I have said before, focus on the first push, not on the late game, merely stalling it by placing impenetrable walls is doing exactly the opposite.
Ultralisks make every Terran unit work at its maximum efficiency, they all seem tailored to blast big things to pieces, and that's exactly what an ultralisk is. Zerglings are actually better as front line meat shields, because they're both smaller and more numerous, speaking of which, Zerglings are the obvious companion to Ultralisks and even with Defilers, you're just sending waves of cannon fodder against the enemy.
But the biggest issue is that this is a late-game unit. Obviously unfit to deal with the mid-game Terran push.
Mutalisks are in my eyes, the second best units to have vs. Mech. They do not have the killing power of Hydralisks, but they are easy to control, have amazing mobility and they are huge damage sponges since they take half damage from Goliaths, which allows them to take even less damage than Hydras.
Mutalisks will abuse the Terran's lack of mobility like no other unit in the game. They give you the option of countering the Terran when he comes out with his push. Something which he is very aware of, and the mere action of building extra Turrets or leaving a certain number of Goliaths behind can be enough to hinder his push noticeably.
They also force a combination of Goliaths and Tanks, Goliaths are expensive and bulky, they take up gas that would otherwise go into Tanks, and when gas is running low, Vultures are not in the least useful against Mutas. For these reasons, a Mutalisk-Hydra combo is the best one you can have for stopping the first push.
It's common to research the +1 air defense that become Mutalisk in real sponges against Goliaths.
Guardians have very limited use against a Meching Terran, they do not outrange Goliaths and unlike Mutas, they take full damage from their antiair. They are overall worthless but may work if somehow you could safely harass a mineral line that would otherwise be defended against Mutalisks.
Defilers are the unit of choice for late-game. And in some cases, for the first push, if the Terran takes too long to come out (in which case it's almost certain to be a Zerg victory). The reduced damage proves to be invaluable, and since Hydralisks under swarm are immune to Goliaths, they will eventually “replace” Mutalisks as the cannon fodders.
This refers to drops, drops are a mid-game replacement to Mutalisks, they are not as fast and they are much more fragile, particularly if the enemy's Goliaths are upgraded. Yet dropped Hydralisks are usually stronger than Mutalisks and can deal more damage in a reduced time.
However, unlike Mutalisks, dropped units will have a really hard time coming back to defend at a moments notice, usually those dropped units will never again be part of your main army, and your defense will have to do without them. They are a definitely viable option as they are cheaper than Mutas, but carry a bigger risk as well.
Unit Combinations Discussion
Now that we have outlined the strengths of every individual unit, we will now give recommendations for your mid-game and even late-game army composition.
Both builds on this guide focus on this particular combination. As I have outlined in the respective discussions of each unit, Mutas complement Hydralisks really well. After the first push is dealt with and if the Terran still poses a threat, the Zerg player can then replace Mutalisks with Defilers and dropping Overlords. Cracklings are also a good choice for dropping bases.
Besides all of the advantages mentioned previously, there is also the fact that this combination forces a well-balanced Goliath-Tank army from Terran.
This combination is all about numbers and minimizing the Terran's damage effectiveness. But is it really that good? Multiple groups of units suddenly become hard to manage; in part because of the 12-unit limit for hotkeys, in part because of the low resolution of the game which doesn't let you see too many units within a single screen.
Another issue is mobility. Despite having fast units, there are not many options for countering. Your units absolutely depend on numbers, Segmenting your army into small harassing squads is highly ineffective, which also makes drops a liability if you want to keep safe. Also, the bigger your army is, the more obstacles such as bridges, walls, doodads or your own units affect your attack. Your army needs Hydras in the front to kill mines safely, yet Lings are needed too to soak up damage. That's quite the dilemma.
Now comes the Terran's response, with your complete lack of air units, the Terran is not forced to make Goliaths, he can focus all of his gas on Tanks (and more Factories than usual), and most of his minerals on Vultures with the occasional Goliath.
The final issue is Hatcheries, with this style you will need a monstrous amount of them, and if you remember, this guide is focused on stopping the first push. Hatcheries cost a lot and take a lot of time to morph as well, it's tough to find the right timing for all of them to work effectively to stop the first push.
This results in combining the worst parts of each unit: their low attack, their ineptitude against harass and mines, and you just have two units that soak damage nicely, but nothing to go along with it.
Lurkers, Guardians and Ultralisks
Avoid any combination that involves any of these units, exceptions are given in the Lurker's discussion section (here).