Note: TL Starcraft page contains build orders and guides from Starcraft Brood War. Despite different values, build orders in Starbow and Brood War are essentially the same, and many if not all carry over.
The general strategy of the TvZ early game is to create an advantage for yourself. This is done through Fast Expanding (FE). Zergs will have an issue of matching the efficiency of Terran units 2 base versus 2 base. Why? Because all of their power units are gas units (lurkers and mutas). This is why Zergs will always react on getting a 3rd gas to match you.
How can we fast expand? You can either 1 rax CC or 14CC to fast expand. Both are completely viable options. 1 rax CC (11 rax 16 CC if Hatch first; 11 rax 15 supply 19 CC if Pool first). If you opt for 14CC, "walling" is generally a safe bet against pool first builds.
After your command center is up, you can usually start thinking about how to adapt to counter the zerg. This is where your scouting SCV plays a huge role. Please pay attention to it and use it to scout if the zerg is either going 2 hatch or 3 hatch. In addition, you should also check if they are getting lair with their first 100 gas, or zergling speed with it. If you see speed first, put up a bunker and a semi wall at your natural right away. If you see a lair, you can play normally and proceed to the next step. By playing normally you generally want an infrastructure of 2 barracks (1 tech lab), 2 orbital commands, and one ebay for turrets and +1 upgrade. I will go over build orders later in the guide.
Approaching the midgame the zerg generally has 2 options. Mutalisks or lurkers. Either way, you should have one goal in mind here. Constructing your midgame push army as soon as possible without dying. The midgame push army consists of 3-4 tanks, 1 vessel, and a handful of marines / medics. Why is this army so powerful? The tanks with siege answer the lurkers and the vessel provides detection for you to push across the map. If the zerg does not have enough unit, they can just flat out die to this. As long as you’re careful, this is an extremely cost effective army because of your ranged attackers and you will always trade efficiently with it.
Let’s start with lurkers first. The first reaction to lurkers should be you putting down your factory right away. Siege tanks are good versus lurkers. After your factory is finished you should just tech up directly to vessels (make a dropship when starport is done first since going lurkers implies no spire), you can do some nice damage with a 7 marine / 1 medic drop here. Depending on how many lurkers the zerg is pushing for here, you may want up to 2 bunkers for defense as well. Going lurker first may also imply a zerg drop, so it would be fair to build a turret at each CC and place units / buildings at the edge of your base to spot 2cm drops.
Against mutas, there are two lines of play here and both have merit. You can opt for more barracks, (add to 3-4 barracks) and just kill the zerg / destroy their 3rd gas hatchery before lurkers are out. Or you can play standard and still build a factory (build it later than versus lurkers here, since you will need to have adequate defenses for mutalisks first). This raises a really important question – when should I build my turrets against the mutalisks then? Build them when the mutas are being made. If you really want to push for the razor thin timing windows, build the turrets as soon as the mutalisks pop from their eggs. This might feel quite dangerous to you, but if it is practiced well enough, you can definitely create some marginal advantages for yourself here. Using the 400-500 minerals from the turrets 30 seconds – 1 minute before means you’ll have SCVs or more marines that come out a minute before, such implications will have long term benefits for your economy.
In starbow, I realized that a great general timing to scan the zerg for spire progress is 7:00 for 2 hatch mutas, and 8:00 for 3 hatch mutas. I believe these are the fastest possible mutalisks timings. Even if you don’t find the spire, pay attention to the larvae / egg count. Seeing 3 idle larvae (spire done soon, waiting to make mutalisks) or 3 hatching eggs (mutalisks are being made, time to put up turrets). Why is this a safe assumption? Because zergs going lurker first need to make their hydralisk den approximately at 60% lair completion to research lurkers as soon as lair is completed. That means they cannot hide their tech. Therefore no hydra den + 3 larvae or eggs hatching at 7:00 / 8:00 implies mutas almost all the time.
When the mutalisks are in your base. Have one control group of marines / medics (around 8-10 marines/ 2 medics) on 2 separate hotkeys. One at your natural and one at your main. Aim for 3 turrets per CC. Add 2-3 turrets at your barracks near your ramp as well. It may seem like a lot of investment, but if you skip out on this you can take even more damage from the mutalisk harass. Once you have put up all of your turrets and found a zerg’s 3rd gas with a scouting scv, you have an option to move out to pressure the 3rd hatchery before lurkers. If you can snipe this, this is a huge deal. But do be weary of a counter attack from the zerg if you do decide to go this route. This is also only recommended if you added barracks and delayed your factory. When you do perform this attack and realize that you can’t go further, don’t push it. It means that you need to focus on the next part, the late game.
Upon moving on with your midgame push, you will start to have an influx of resources. Why? Because you’re done creating your tech infrastructures. Some things that you should be looking to build at this timing while moving out. A 3rd CC (in base and float it over), 5th and 6th rax + 2nd startport for SK Terran style, and a 2nd ebay for infantry upgrades. By doing this appropriately and not delaying it will allow you to consistent pressure the zerg.
This raises the question – SK Terran or Mech? My answer to that is how long do you forsee the game going? No matter what, mech is what you want in the very late game. SK Terran is strong but it won’t last you forever. You can challenge my statement here by saying a player who is very good at playing SK Terran can rely on it forever, but not against a zerg that knows what they are doing. This is because the unit composition (Vessel cloud + big MNM army has one glaring weakness – Plague). When one spellcaster essentially neutralizes your entire army, this composition becomes much less attractive. So I’m not saying SK Terran is a bad late game option, it is quite fantastic, but if the game is getting more and more drawn out, you will need to mech switch.
The hardest part about going mech late game is getting your infrastructure and your tanks up. Why is this hard? Tanks build slowly and you’ll have to endure many production cycles to get a decent tank army up, also – factories are expensive (200/100). So to do this without dying, I recommend initially adding 2 factories with your initial factory and researching mines. (Research as soon as you move out with your lategame push). You should have 1 fact researching mine + speed and 2 factories with no addons just spamming vultures. Use these vultures to mine the map. You can spam mines by queuing them with the shift key (useful skill toi have). You can still produce bio from your barracks at this point, because vultures are pretty cheap, but do use this opportunity to establish your economy (get a 3rd and 4th up pretty close to each other). Use the mines to control the map and put pressure on the zerg with your MNM + Vessels.
Tips and Tricks
- Initial scouting scv (11) should be sent in the direction that the overlord does not park themselves at.. confusing I know. But on fighting spirit, always scout clockwise.
- The timing to make the bunker is when you see the zerglings leave the zerg base, make sure you have a scouting SCV active in your opp’s base.
- Against 3 hatchery you can often force sunkens (Spine Crawlers) with a bio army. Don’t be too persistent on doing damage, because forcing sunkens IS doing damage (You kill 1 drone and make the zerg lose 125 minerals everytime)!
- Don’t take your second gas. Your second gas at your expansion should only be taken when your factory is complete.
- Aim for 2 orbitals, 2 rax, ebay. Healthy SCV production.
- Scan the zerg at 7:00 (2 hatch); and 8:00 (3 hatch).
- The zerg is weak when they switch from mutas to lurker tech, this is an opportunity to hit them as long as you have adequate muta defense at home.
- A very talented Starbow player once told me “Take care of your tech, and they will take care of you”. This is so true of your vessels, dropships, and tanks! Treat them like your girlfriends, with care.
- Your midgame push is very intimidating to the zerg, so aim for a good timing to have your composition ready. A good goal to aim for is 12:00. You should move out when your vessel is finished. This is a good timing to hit them before defilers are out.
- Mech flourishes in grand numbers. How you transition into mech should be a gradual process, but it isn’t something that should be ignored completely.
- Vessels are king. You can’t win TvZs in the long term without them. Regardless of the game state you should have at least 2 starports pumping vessels at all times.
- Get the vessel upgrade “Titan reactors” in the fusion core after 3-5 vessels are made. It is a great long term investment to have vessels with more starting and overall energy.
- Your irradiate priority targets are now defilers first, then lurkers and mutas.
- Always know what is your next goal during any stage of the game. The worst part about any strategy game is not knowing what to do and just attacking blindly without purpose. If you’re serious on getting better - be critical of yourself and analyze your losses, go through your thinking process and think about what was your mind state at that moment of the game.
- Build orders are general outlines, not fundamental numbers that you should abide by at all times. Relative timings are much more important than build numbers. For example. You get 9 pooled early on but you hold it off. Are you still going to take your gas on 21 supply? No, you might have been delayed and end up taking your gas later. Will you still scan at 7:00 against a 2 hatch build after getting rushed? The concept is the same. In those non standard situations, use the knowledge that you have acquired from standard games to help you map out what you should be doing next by looking at what is relative to you in the game - Ask yourself: what does the zerg have at that moment that indicates what I should be doing?
- Don’t force wins. Aim at creating small advantages over taking huge risks and winning. If you feel like you can’t win at a certain point in time, move on to the next stage of the game. Make sure you have a back-up plan and understand what the next stage of the game should be.