Opening Stargate in PvZ
Tue 4th Jun 2013 - 8:30pm
A lot has changed since the days of Wings of Liberty, and in the short time that Heart of the Swarm has been out, strategies have evolved as well. This evolution has come to include things that were generally considered “bad” by WoL standards and have almost become the “norm”, or at the very least, a genuinely viable alternative. One of those things that has changed are the openings for Protoss against Zerg.
In the pre Heart of the Swarm days, PvZ was such a static match up. Virtually every Protoss went Forge fast expand or Nexus first into Gateway pressure followed up with a Robotics Facility and Immortal production. Toward the end of WoL’s lifespan, the Immortal/Sentry all-in was seen in so many PvZs it became nauseating. And, in response to this Protoss opening, virtually all Zergs went for a fast 3 bases followed up by Roaches and Zerglings. This almost never changed – unless either player went for some kind of crazy all-in in the really early game. Thankfully, Heart of the Swarm has opened up a whole new avenue of opening for Protoss via the Stargate, which will be the subject of this article.
Before I begin, I would like to state that this article is geared toward lower to mid level players and will only cover some basic concepts and builds and what you should be looking for when executing a Stargate opening.
The first, and very significant difference, between opening Stargate and opening Robo is that the latter is generally designed to do serious damage or give you a very strong army, whereas the former is more about getting you ahead – accomplishing this by granting fantastic scouting information, harassment and keeping your opponent on the defensive. The first question we might ask is why is this the case? The answer is simple. Think about the units you construct from the Robo: Immortals, Colossus, Warp Prism (we will ignore the Observer), these units are damage machines. While the Warp Prism does not do any damage on its own, it opens up a multitude of aggressive options for the Protoss player.
Now, think about the units you can quickly construct from a Stargate: Phoenix, Oracles, Void Rays. With the exception of the Void Ray, these units are generally not game ending power houses, although they can provide immense utility. Opening Stargate against your Zerg opponent accomplishes a number of different things:
1) It forces the Zerg to stay in their base. By creating Phoenix or Oracles you are sending the message that if your stop paying attention, or move out of your base, you’re going to lose your entire economy. This sort of mental stress, especially to a lower level player can be significant.
2) You force reactions and creation of unnecessary units. You may force your opponent to create Hydralisks or additional Queens or Spore Crawlers when all they really want to do is make more rones and macro. Interrupting your opponent’s pre-determined plans can be frustrating.
3) Prevents scouting information. The plus side of opening with Phoenix is that it makes the Zerg player keep all their Overlords at home and protected by Queens or Spore Crawlers. This allows you free range of the map and makes a Zerg player give up something they are not used to losing – map control.
With these concepts in mind, we are ready to think about how exactly we go about beginning our Stargate build.
Going for a Stargate is a fairly expensive build and can leave you vulnerable on the ground which is why it is very important to practice it many times – it will certainly not feel natural at first and you will more than likely feel incredibly vulnerable the first few times you do it. There are a number of viable builds for opening Stargate, so I will not pretend, by any means, that this is the most viable one. It should also be stated that personal preference comes into play a lot, I almost always go Nexus first in PvZ, if you don’t simply use your own standard Forge first build.
9/10 – Pylon
17/18 – Nexus
17/18 – Forge
17/18 – Photon Cannon
17/18 – Pylon
17/18 – Gateway
18/18 – Double Gas
Chrono Boost Probes until Gateway finishes and then build a Zealot followed by a Cybernetics Core
Keep Chrono boosting Probes, when Cyber finishes, build a Stargate and begin Warpgate Research
Usually around the mid 20 supply to 30 supply range also build 2 additional gateways
The above build order is a very general guideline for a Nexus fist into Stargate build. I also like to throw in an extra Stalker after I throw down the Stargate to get some additional defense. The timing which we get our Mothership Core is not particularly the earliest but it is still early enough to be of significant help when dealing with some early Ling or Roach pressure.
Once your Stargate is up though, the question becomes, what do I make from it? This all depends on what you’ve seen and what your general play style. If you don’t spot a quick third Hatchery from your opponent, it is likely that they are gearing up for a strong 2 base all-in. In this case I would greatly recommend building a Void Ray or 2 with Stalkers and Sentries as your primary attacking units. The new Prismatic Alignment ability on the Void Ray makes it infinitely better against Roaches considering the bonus damage to Armored units it grants the Void Ray.
But let us assume that your opponent is playing standard. So, do you go with a Phoenix or an Oracle? Well, at the moment, I always feel that there is an element of a gamble with going for an Oracle. HotS doesn’t require an Evolution Chamber to build Spore Crawlers and Queens can do away with an Oracle with relatively little trouble. That being said, if you are able to catch your opponent off guard or out of position, Oracles can decimate a worker line in a matter of seconds. Proper positioning is crucial to successful Oracle attacks. You need to be able to move out of the way of Queens while still doing damage!
Generally, I prefer to go with the Phoenix option. When going Phoenix, it is important to mention that, ideally, you want to try and hide them until you have 4 or 5 and then go out onto the map with them. This number of Phoenix allows you to pick up 2 workers at a time and “one-shot” them both. It can make for very quick damage. And, as mentioned previously, the denial of map vision is a huge plus. Phoenix are extremely useful in picking off stray Overlords and even provide some decent utility in major fights as they can pick up valuable units, such as Infestors.
It is important to keep your Phoenix alive! Often times, the threat of damage can be more hurtful than the damage itself. Just knowing that there are 5 Phoenix flying around the map just waiting for your opponent to make a mistake or not pay attention can keep him pre-occupied with things he doesn’t need to be thinking about. Also, it essentially denies a tech path. In HotS, Phoenix got a buff to their base range bringing it up to 5, with the upgrade from the Fleet Beacon still giving +2 for a total of 7 range. Phoenix are now, essentially, a hard counter to Mutalisks. Few Zergs, after spotting Phoenix, will throw down a Spire and go for Mutalisks. Which is great, since dealing with the new faster Mutas can be really difficult!
So that’s that. This has been a general guide into the concepts behind why opening Stargate is valid and a viable build to get you there. I feel understanding the theory behind a build can be more important, sometimes, than the build itself. This article should provide you with the tools to execute and develop your own brand of Stargate play and I strongly encourage you to change the build and find out what works for you! Good luck, have fun!