Starcraft: Disliking Terran vs. Zerg

I’m not entirely sure why I dislike playing the Terran vs. Zerg matchup so much.

I think it’s because it’s the only matchup that comes down to hard counters.  It’s weird, because you’d think Starcraft would be a game of hard counters.  Ranged beats melee, armored beats range, air beats armor, etc.  But it actually doesn’t work that way in practice.  Starcraft counters are soft counters.  Compare to Warcraft III, where the units are almost completely ineffective against their counters.  In Starcraft, a zergling beats a marine, at least until there are more marines and they are upgraded.  Then the zerglings are in big trouble.  And these relationships evolve throughout the game, players switching from counter to counter.

What’s weird about the Terran vs. Zerg matchup is that this doesn’t hold true. There’s a lot of great interplay in the early and mid game.  The zergling and mutalisk harass, the terran drops, the lurker hides.  All require great skill and tactics.  But the game inevitably goes to 2 units.  The Zerg is going for Defilers with Dark Swarm and Consume and the Terran player is going for Science Vessels with Irradiate to counter.  Marines and Medics with stim pack are just so strong against Zerg troops, that you need the Defiler’s Dark Swarm to succeed in numbers.  But Defilers are easily countered by Science Vessels with Irradiate, and even Burrow is no defense.  To top it off, Science Vessels destroy all the other high end Zerg units, even Lurkers and Ultralisks.

The lesson here is to not have super units that dominate the game or have easily covered weaknesses.  The Terran vs. Zerg late game is completely obsessed with these 2 units.  The matchup becomes about micro-control: the Science Vessels try to catch the Defilers in the open while they hide as long as possible.  It’s not soft counter focused at all, and it feels wrong.

What I especially find interesting is this doesn’t seem to have been the intention of the designers at all.  Guardians are supposed to be very good in this matchup, but in practice are rarely effective.  Queens and Ghosts are entirely unused.  Air is rarely seen in the late game.  The lack of usable alternatives traps the matchup between these 2 units.

People often ask me what I would change to improve Starcraft.  I think the game is very balanced, and the metagame is healthy.  But in the spirit of mixing things up, in the other matchups I’d still only try changing the costs of the underused units.  This particular matchup, however, needs more then diversification.  For you Starcraft lovers, here’s my current list of overall balance changes I’d be interested in trying incrementally:

  • Decrease the duration of Dark Swarm from 45 seconds to 12 seconds.
  • Decrease the range of Dark Swarm and Plague from 9 to 8.
  • Decrease the cost of Spawn Broodling from 150 to 100.
  • Decrease the range of Spawn Broodling from 9 to 7.
  • Increase the cooldown effect of Ensnare to a true 25%.
  • Decrease the cost of the Guardian upgrade from 50 minerals, 100 gas to 0 minerals, 50 gas.
  • Decrease the cost of the Devourer upgrade from 150 minerals, 50 gas to 75 minerals, 25 gas.
  • Increase the HP of Infested Terran from 60 to 200 HP.  (for fun!)
  • Increase the cost of Irradiate from 75 to 125.
  • Decrease the range of Irradiate from 9 to 8.
  • Increase the damage of Firebats from 16cs to 17cs.
  • Decrease the cooldown of Ghosts from 22 to 11.
  • Decrease the cost of Lockdown from 100 to 75.
  • Increase the damage of Wraiths from 8/20e to 20e/20e.
  • Decrease Medic armor from 1 to 0 and decrease their hitpoints from 50 to 40.
  • Increase the cost of Heal from 1 to 2.
  • Decrease the cost of Valkyries from 250 minerals, 125 gas to 175 minerals, 100 gas.
  • Decrease the cost of Hallucination from 100 to 75.  (again, for fun! Psi Storm is so popular already)
  • Decrease the cost of Scouts from 250 minerals, 125 gas to 175 minerals, 100 gas.
  • (Edit) Decrease the cooldown of Reavers from 60 to 30.
  • Increase the shields of Dark Archons from 200 to 300.
  • Increase the build time of Carrier’s Interceptors from 10 seconds to 20 seconds.

It speaks volumes how minor these changes are – few significant changes, with the biggest to the endgame counter units.  Crazier possibilities might be giving Queens Restoration to add a viable Irradiate counter for Zerg and giving Ghosts EMP instead of Science Vessels, swapping in Lockdown.

Maybe I’ll map edit these changes to try them out.  Would be fun!


7 thoughts on “Starcraft: Disliking Terran vs. Zerg

  1. Ever played Balanced Annialation mod for TA spring? The artillery in that game is basicly a big ‘I win’ button. The reason being that the defense is rubbish and costs almost as much to set up as the artillery itself.

  2. Guardian costs are a tricky thing, because in numbers they will decimate most ground forces when used as heavy support for ground. I agree with you on Dark swarm being too powerful if used right, but you can still feasibly counter them. Splash damage still gets through swarm so you can use bats+medics with sieged tanks. The thing about swarm is that it requires alot of micro attention, which leaves the user open to hindsights due to too much focus one the engagement.

    Wraiths are 150min 100gas. Scouts are much more powerful, so at the very least should cost 200min 125gas. 250min is a bit much to ask tho.

    I agree that ghosts and queens aren’t used enough, which is probably why they’ve been completely retooled for sc2. personally I’ve used them quite a bit. The one shot ko of spawn broodling is great against siege tanks when my ground troosp can’t get to them. Lockdown kills protoss and terran mechs/ships, but versus zerg the ghost really can’t do much beside nukes.

  3. Good points. I think the Guardian cost would be ok because the in both ZvP and ZvT the counters are both common and already regularly in play for mutas (irradiate and corsairs). Additionally, the lower scout and valkyrie prices gives both defenders another good option. I’d like to test it for a bit more. But it’s good for every unit to feel awesomely good in certain situations! I believe the aggressive cost here is offset by guardian’s glacial speed, long build time, and long tech time. Plus, this is still technically only a 25% discount – you still have to pay the mutalisk cost. Maybe to offset and give scouting opportunities I’d explore increasing the build time too. IMO fast tech to guardians is risky these days, this takes some of the edge off. And if you aren’t doing fast tech, it’s unlikely the cost here will matter too much.

    Scouts are actually almost equally powerful to wraiths. They have double the health and a little bit more air damage, but half that health is shields (always full damage) and they have less range(which makes them difficult to dance). Plus they have upgrades to speed and sight vs. the wraith’s more useful cloak. The reality is that corsairs are cheaper and just generally better for most strategies anyways. I would play around with the cost more on second look, but more to differentiate it from corsairs. Maybe 200/125 as you suggest, but beef up the scout’s stats and advantages accordingly.

    Looking back over these changes, these are possibly too aggressive for the most-likely case. These would be more for if I could only do one set of changes, rather then the more gradual patches I’d do to tweak the balance while letting the meta-game adjust and tune.

    For example, having played with reavers more as well, I’m not sure I’d halve their cooldown. I still think the cap from reaver scarab build time makes a lower cooldown more interesting, but maybe 60->45 would be enough.

    I actually did try modding to try these out, but it was too tricky to set up consistently. The new strategies with the cheaper units was more interesting though, and presented some new threats. Scouts and guardians didn’t seem particularly over-costed, but I don’t think I got enough plays.

  4. More on your stuff on Terrans, I think to a certain extend, every terran unit was designed with a specific shortcoming (low health infantry, slow attack artillery, disproportionate ground/air attacks for goliath, wraiths). This was probably intentional, since in most terran games combined arms is a must. Wraiths in numbers will decimate carrier groups and mutalisk swarms, but must be given ground support due to its low ground attacks. In smaller armies the terran need for micro and combined arms is more pronounced because it doesn’t have any one-size-fits-all unit (like goons for toss or hydras for zerg).

    Scouts have 14X2 air plus 1X2 for each upgrade, making it 17X2=34 for max damage (armor counted twice), this is rivaled only by the goliath max (10+6)X2= 32. For anti-air purposes this is pretty damn powerful. The ground attack game is similarly weak since toss can count on its heavier ground troops to do the real damage. Shields are weaker than armor but can’t be discounted, especially since they can also be upgraded. Scouts will match wraiths in speed with upgrade, and the lack of cloaking serves as a perfect balance between the two

    Reavers are perfect enough as it is. Reaver drops are a staple of my toss game, usually complemented with a stormer and a zeolot (to draw enemy fire). The combination is hard to stop from getting into most economy lines. The idea of reavers is a short series of powerful attacks, followed by a cooldown when it has to rebuild its ammunition. Any faster for scarabs and reavers would become unstoppable due to its range and power.

    The problem with my arguments of course is that theory crafting and real world results are often really different. I agree that late game Dark Swarm+lings is a prominant strategy, but it’s evidence of a specific strategy requiring a specific counter, and in the end it’s really up to the individual player skills to determine the winner.

  5. All good points. That’s why testing and playing would be so important, something I’m doing from the gut here. On reflection, it’s important to also call out the places where I’d specifically be watching in playtest:
    * Does the TvZ matchup use more units or fewer in the mid-game? The late game? Does this translate into new strategies? Are Ghosts, Queens, Devourers, and Valkyries competitive in TvZ?
    * Are the old TvZ strategies still viable? Is Dark Swarm still used at 12 seconds or 15 seconds (I’d imagine so, particularly with consume and less threat of science vessels)? Irradiate? Medic and Marine? TvZ should still “feel” like TvZ.
    * Does the cheaper air game overshadow the ground game either through tech build variants or the mid-game (particularly in the ground-oriented TvP), or do they add variety in the late game to the existing corsair/muta-style air play?
    * Is the 25% faster Reaver cooldown noticably better on the shuttle-offensive and not just improving the defense? If so, does the high risk and skill of Reaver play justify this difference?
    * Are firebats too good against zerglings? Can they be 18 (since for consistency they should be 9×2) and kill zerglings in 2 hits from the start?
    * Are there any unexpected degenerate strategies that emerged, and should be balanced against?

  6. After watching some TvP on the carrier-focused Katrina, how about these changes to make massed carriers more interesting?

    * Carriers move 15% slower
    * Goliaths move 30% faster

    I quite like the idea of fast goliaths. Not only does it add more counter risk to the cliff-using (and still powerful) Carriers, it provides a nice speed counterpoint to Vultures, possibly creating better uses for mech in both TvP and TvZ. It also is interesting with Tanks, where the Goliaths will naturally move out in front when they push.

    Quite possibly a good Machine Shop upgrade option, actually, if the game allowed it.

    I’ve also been examining the Reaver cooldown, and I still like it as a defensive option. I think the key is that the rate of cooldown at 45 over 60 is still slow enough that tanks at 75 can get a shot in before the Reaver can get in 2 and then get picked up, so tanks should still be good on TvP defense. If in practice it’s too easy for Reavers+2 Zealots to take out 2-3 tanks, then that’s another story.

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