Help:Reading Build Orders

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A build order is a specific series of steps that one takes in the early game to achieve a specific strategy. By using a well-defined build order with every game, it allows you to play with a solid opening that is time-tested and approved for standard play. Also, using a defined order means that you can spend more time figuring out what the opponent is doing than planning which building to construct next.

All build orders dictate which actions to perform based upon supply and events.

The 6 Pool (HotS) / 12 Pool (LotV)[edit]

Let's start with the most simple build order - a 6 Pool (HotS) or 12 Pool (LotV). This is a build order performed by the Zerg race, and it's considered an all-in build because the build order specifically trashes your economy to gain an early military to wipe out the opponent. The build is characterized by foregoing drone production to get a very fast spawning pool with Zerglings.

Dealing with Supply (left side)[edit]

The 6 Pool begins like:

In LotV it would be:

The numbers on the left represent the amount of Supply currently consumed. So, at the beginning of the game, Zerg has 6 Supply consumed out of the total 10 Supply available to them. It's shorthand to write a build order without mentioning the maximum Supply. The important part of a build order is the action you take when you have the consumed amount of Supply because the maximum amount of Supply usually isn't important for a build order. However, the build order could have also been written:

  • 6/10 - Spawning Pool
  • 7/10 - 6 Zerglings

And it would have meant exactly the same thing. Writing out the maximum Supply is only necessary when the maximum Supply is an issue, such as using the Extractor trick with Zerg.

Dealing with Actions (right side)[edit]

Now let's talk about the text on the right side of the build order. The first line of the build order, "6 - Spawning Pool", is read as such:

"When you have 6 consumed Supply, create a Spawning Pool."

So, at the beginning of the game, send out your six drones to mine until you have 200 minerals. Then tell a drone to create a Spawning Pool. This will leave you at 5/10 Supply. Let's look at the next line:

"When you have 7 consumed Supply, create 6 Zerglings."

We only have 5 consumed Supply, though. Why is it now saying 7 consumed Supply when we only have 5 consumed Supply at the moment? The build order didn't give any specific directions to perform in between these two steps. The reason is that it's shorthand to write build orders assuming that you will create drones unless the build order states otherwise. If the build were written as:

It would mean exactly the same thing. Assuming that the player will continue to make drones between commands cuts down on the vertical size of build orders, especially in cases where they can go all the way up to 40 consumed Supply. Including drone production on the build order takes up too many lines and gets in the way of the strategic importance of the build order itself.

Dealing with Events (left side)[edit]

A build order can also define an action to perform when a certain event occurs by using the "@" symbol. The most common events defined are reaching a certain amount of minerals or gas or when a building is complete. Let's expand the 6 pool build into the next couple of steps:

The above states that after building 6 Zerglings, upon receiving 75 more Minerals and having them in the bank you should create an Extractor. Creating this Extractor would put you at 9/10 Supply. Then create 2 more Zerglings (10/10). Then cancel the Extractor which gives you the drone back (11/10).

Note how "@75 minerals - Extractor" is different from "10 - Extractor". In the former, you should save up 75 minerals before creating the Extractor. This is so you can create the Zerglings directly after making the Extractor and then cancel the Extractor immediately. In the latter example, you build the Extractor as soon as you have the minerals to pay for it (25 minerals). Then you save up 50 minerals to pay for the 2 Zerglings, after which you cancel the Extractor. In general, "@75 Minerals" version is preferred because it leaves that one extra drone mining while saving up the 50 minerals for the Zerglings. So, having events placed in the build order can greatly change how you as a player proceed through it.

Other notation:

This is a way of indicating a point based upon the progress of something in production as a percentage. The reason to express a timing in this manner, rather than Supply, is because many times production is timed relative to certain units or structures.

Early Pool (HotS) in action[edit]

Now that we've covered the three basic ideas of all actions regarding a Build Order, Supply, and events - let's see what this looks like in an actual game.

Let's take a look at Life vs Lilbow

Watch the first three minutes - and keep your eye on his Supply in regards to the actions he takes:

Here's a representation of the actions he took up to 3:05 and a little beyond:

Assumptions in Build Orders[edit]

Unless the build order specifies otherwise, all of the following is assumed:

  • If a build order calls for a gas extractor, it's assumed that you put three workers on that extractor as soon as it's done constructing. Otherwise, all workers created are set to mine minerals.
  • It's assumed that you use your macro skills (Chrono Boost, Spawn Larva, MULE) to your own maximum advantage.
  • You make the decision on when to send a peon to scout the opponent.
  • You decide where to place units and buildings.
  • If you are told to produce a Nexus, Command Center, or a Hatchery, it's assumed that you expand by creating the building in a place where it can mine minerals/gas (most often at your Natural). It also assumes that when your hatchery is complete that you balance workers at your bases for optimal mineral gathering.
  • You determine the best time to attack or defend.

Advanced Topic - Optimization of an Idea[edit]

A build order is a lot more than a series of steps. It is, in the words of popular commentator Day(9), an optimization of an idea. Consider the 6 pool opening above. The goal for the build is to trash your economy to get an early army to wipe out the opponent. The idea behind the build order is just as important (if not more important) than the build order itself. If the idea is poor, then so is the build order. A build order may be poor if it is incapable of holding off popular Timings.

Changing Strategies in Gameplay[edit]

As you play through the game while using a build order, it is paramount that you do not forget the idea behind it. Consider the following:

You play a 6 pool opening. The first wave of six zerglings fail to do a significant amount of damage to the opponent. Now you are left with two possible choices - switch to a macro style build (create drones, queens, hatcheries) or continue attacking with zerglings. Which is the best option? When you are faced with a decision in the game, remember the idea behind the build order to guide you in the next step. With a 6 pool, the idea is wipe out your enemy with the army. So, the obvious answer is to continue attacking with zerglings.

If you ever change ideas in your strategy (going from an all-in to heavy macro play is a large change in ideas) you open yourself up to a timing attack - a specific window of time when you are inherently weak where the opponent can take advantage of you. By creating drones/queens/hatcheries to catch up from a failed all-in, you leave yourself open to attack by having little to no army to compensate. Also consider that the Terran opponent has likely been playing a much more macro-heavy game than you have (SCVs, MULEs) and you will be forced to play catch up for the rest of the game unless the opponent makes huge errors. If you lose the all-in, it's best to reinforce your defenses to try and prevent a timed attack and use the scouted information to adapt your unit composition.


A prime example of a person that did not change ideas during the execution of a build order would be Kwanro (Z) in his game versus Reach (P) (StarCraft Broodwar).

Although this is from Starcraft 1, the basic idea that Kwanro used is the same - get an early military to wipe out the opponent. He never left from this idea and because of this his build stayed strong throughout the game. Kwanro opened with a 5 pool (Starcraft 1's equivalent of a 6 pool) and attacked with zerglings. After his first attack did very well, he quickly got an extractor going for gas for the zergling speed upgrade to increase the effectiveness of his all-in. Then he expanded to his natural to increase his number of larvae so he could produce more zerglings. Because Kwanro was able to keep Reach from ever getting his cybernetics core, he was not able to get Dragoons for anti-air. Because of this obvious flaw in Reach's build, Kwanro built a Spire and Mutalisks. After the Mutalisks began attacking, it was the end of the game for Reach since it would be impossible for him to get any anti-air to fight the mutalisks.

Let's go over each decision he made and why he made it:

  • Early spawning pool - Fast zerglings to wipe out the enemy quickly
  • Extractor - Upgrade zerglings to speedlings for more effective attacks to wipe out the enemy quickly
  • Expand at his natural - Increase larvae to wipe out the enemy quickly
  • Build a Spire - Get mutalisks to wipe out the enemy quickly because Reach has no counter for it

Almost every decision he made never departed from his original strategy. He did create quite a few drones after expanding which actually departed a little from his original strategy, but he created sunken colonies (similar to Spine Crawlers) to compensate.

An important concept is Reach's reaction to this harassment. Because the build he used was not suited for blocking a 5 pool, he was forced to change ideas in his build order. Reach's original idea was to get an early gateway for attacking, but Kwanro's rush forced Reach to play defensively. Because Reach changed from offense to defense, so did his idea for his build order and this substantially weakened him. This changing of ideas is part of the reason why harassment is so effective - it forces the opponent to make changes that will weaken his own build.

In short, when reading a build order it is important to know the idea behind it and to only depart from the idea if it clearly cannot counter the opponent's strategy.