I'm a former diamond T player from phase 1 of the beta. I saw many protoss players, including many of my SC2 friends, complain that T was over-powered in the PvT matchup.
I set out to prove them wrong almost 2 months ago; this strategy is the result!
This strategy is constructed from some builds I saw in the day9 daily during the beta, a build I saw White-ra do several times in his show matches against TLO in phase 2 of the beta, and some tweaking and refining I have done in YABOT and league games.
In beta phase 1 I was a diamond T player
In beta phase 2 I was a diamond P player with a 450 rating.
Since the release I have only lost 1 PvT match (as of August 1), and have won against terrans in diamond with ratings as high as ~670.
The General Strategy:
This strategy is an early game strategy, designed to get you to the midgame with an advantage over your opponent using stalkers and void rays. After that, I will leave you with some ideas to finish off your opponent, but it ultimately comes down to the situation and personal preference.
The goal of this strategy is to abuse the mobility, range and shield regeneration of very early stalkers, void rays, and warp gates to make it very difficult for the terran to attack you or expand, allowing you to expand, tech, or just win outright. It also allows for a fluid, easy transition into zealot/templar for the mid game, and tends to force the T to get an anti-armoured and anti-air mid-game composition, making your zealot/templar even stronger.
The key is to put constant, non-stop pressure on the T starting at about the 4:30 point, preserving your troops while whittling away theirs, and only engaging in a full battle on your own terms.
To do this, get stalkers quickly and send them to your opponent's ramp as soon as they spawn. You should aim to get them there early enough that only a couple of terran units are made. Push up their ramp and take pot shots at the marines/marauder, or their wall if they pull their troops back, and then just fall back and let your shields recharge; rinse and repeat. The key is to try to hurt as many soldiers as possible (since medivacs are a long way off), and to damage the wall so you can snipe scvs if he goes to repair. Keep reinforcing with more stalkers and do more harass.
Avoid making more than 2 gateways until you have a stargate. It is likely that your opponent's build will skew towards marauders and/or tanks since stalkers are so good against marines and hellions. When resources permit it, tech to void ray (I usually begin my stargate when I have between 2 and 4 stalkers). The void rays tend to start popping when I have approximately 6 stalkers and 3 warp gates. The void rays provide an alternative method of harass, can give vision of the ramp to your stalkers, and can shoot the SD's and barracks that are walling the ramp if they have chosen to put them there. It is so easy to micro your void rays when there are a bunch of stalkers underneath that outrange marines, or if the terran has their own wall blocking their way.
If you continue this harass, and avoid committing to close battles with the terran army, you should gain enough of an advantage to be able to safely expand or tech. Not only that, but you shouldn't lose many units if your micro is crisp, ideally leaving you with an economic and army advantage.
I will talk about specific build orders, tactics, and additional complementary units in the three sections below:
1. The Opening
2. The Harass
3. The Mid-Game Transition
1. The Opening:
There are a couple of openings that you can use which allow you to get that early stalker pressure, and transition into the void ray. You can go with a one-gate cyber stalker opening, which allows you to get your first void ray and warp gates out sooner - or a fast dual-stalker opening which allows you to put on a very strong, early harass in exchange for a slightly slower void ray.
Below is an opening that was accidentally popularized by day9 during the beta, and is the fastest way to get two stalkers out without horribly crippling your economy. Many people have tried to replicate the build, and I believe the general consensus is that the following is the most effective way to do it, or is at least effective enough to suffice:
16 build both stalkers
This opening is my personal favourite, particularly on maps like kulas ravine and scrap station. These maps have wide ramps, allowing the stalker harass to be more effective. However, this build has limitations on maps with small elevated ramps due to the effectiveness of bunkers in those scenarios.
One-Gate Cyber Build:
There are several one-gate cyber builds available for protoss. Some of them are discussed in the "general openings" section for protoss on liquipedia:
By going for a one-gate cyber build, the early stalker harass will not be as strong as in the dual-stalker build, but it allows for void rays and warp gates to be obtained earlier. It is often a better opening for maps/positions with short air distances, large rush distances, or small/elevated ramps.
2. The Harass:
Depending on the map, and your enemy's composition, you will want to do either a stalker-centric harass, or a void-ray-centric harass. All that really means is that you will either have a composition skewed more towards stalkers, or more towards void rays, as a response to what your opponent is doing.
The stalker-centric build is stronger against a walling or marine-heavy terran. The idea is to get stalkers, with some sort of high-ground vision unit (the void ray), that will allow the stalkers to harass your opponent up a ramp. For my reasoning behind the void ray over the phoenix, observer and hallucinate, see here:
With the stalker-centric strategy, just keep constant pressure on the front, with the void ray (or maybe 2 void rays) poking around, and you should be able to expand or tech to blink/charge/templars safely. Make sure to keep everything alive! If the terran tries to push out at your stalkers, send the void ray to his minerals, and he has to choose between chasing your stalkers or losing his economy. Likewise, if he is chasing your void ray, just pull it back and put as much pressure on the front as you can safely do. He won't be attacking you if he is chasing a void ray around his base. Remember to keep macroing!
The void-ray-centric harass should be played the exact same way as the stalker-centric harass. However, you should reduce the number of stalkers you make to accommodate a constant void ray pump out of the stargate.
The additional void rays could win you the game - but remember that the intension of this build is not to outright win the game (although the opportunity seems to present itself enough). You should instead try to secure yourself a future advantage by killing some units/structures, skewing their composition, and keeping the void rays alive. Remember that if the terran knows you have void rays somewhere on the map, he has to play more defensive and has to account for them in his unit composition.
3. The Mid-Game Transition:
If you keep harassing and reinforcing your stalker army, you should find yourself in a safe enough position to try to tech or expand. Note that your opponent is stuck on one base and has no map control, so you are not under any huge pressure to expand. If you can instead get a tech or composition advantage, you may be better off than if you go for an expand.
I consider the mid-game core of any protoss PvT to be chargelots, templars and armour upgrades. It is beyond the scope of this guide to discuss why, but in short I find the cost effectiveness of the army, the mobility, and the fluidity of the transitions to be superb.
Below are a series of mid-game transition tactics that can be used to compliment the mid-game transition towards chargelots, templars and armour upgrades.
The stalker-void ray harass is extremely effective in keeping the terran from pushing out. The stalkers wear away at the army while the void rays keep the terran in the back of their base. However, it rarely goes completely as planned. As an additional fail-safe against a timing attack it is a good idea to get one or two sentries to accompany the stalkers. When I'm playing and I'm really in the zone, I will be harassing with the void ray and macroing while mostly just staring at their ramp. When I have to move the screen away I stare at the mini-map and keep my finger hovered over the hotkey to move back to my sentries. The moment I see them try to move down their ramp, I cut the front 1/4 or 1/3 of their army off with a force field. This allows the stalkers to clean up those units that are cut off, without having to worry about their army being larger than yours, or a better mix
Alternatively, if they do manage to break through your contain, you can respond by sending your void rays at their command center and mineral line. They will have to choose between calling off the attack to defend, sending some units back and proceeding with a weakened attack, or attacking and risking losing their base. If they choose to attack, warp in the sentries at your base and try to block them out of your ramp.
Fun Fact: According to day9, if you have 6 sentries, the combined energy regeneration will allow you to force field a small ramp indefinitely.
While a robotics facility is too expensive to get in the early game while going stalker-void ray, it is a critical structure to get for the mid-game in order to maximize your vision and your mobility because of two units: the observer and the warp prism.
Everyone knows about the usefulness of observers; enough said.
Warp prisms are a unit that I have rarely seen my opponents use. The best evidence that they are good and worth getting is White-ra. I have watched many White-ra replays, and he gets one pretty much every single PvT game that lasts longer than 12 minutes, and he does severe harass damage with it and templars.
I used to consider blink to be a necessary step between getting void rays and chargelots, as it allows you to use your stalkers that are already on the field much more effectively. However, I have been convinced both by reader feedback and my own experiences that there are some maps and compositions that make blink an uneconomical choice.
Blink is always useful for kiting bio-balls, blinking into their base after they push out, etc. However, it is often more useful to get charge and templars faster instead of getting blink. I tend to only get blink on select maps such as metalopolis and kulas ravine. These maps have bases that are easily accessible to blink stalkers from multiple directions, and long rush distances for my opponents to take before reaching my base.
Compare those maps to a map like steppes of war. Trying to blink up in steppes of war is like a death sentence since your stalkers are probably going to have to blink near the enemy army, and the enemy army can easily block the one escape route. After they mop up your stalkers, they can then quickly rush across into your base before you can replenish your forces with the short rush distance.
Now I know some of you want to get blink just because it is so damn fun. But is losing fun? NO!!! So don't get blink if it won't be as good as charge.
Several people have suggested that a carrier transition would be easier than a chargelot-templar transition, and if "easier" means that you don't have to invest as much money in tech structures and research, then I have to agree. Not only that, but my limited experience with carriers have suggested that they are cost-neutral against vikings, and we all know that they can decimate tanks and marauders.
I think it would all come down to your opponent's composition. Fortunately, because of the stalker-void ray harass, you should have an idea of what your opponent is making. If your opponent manages to get 1 or 2 vikings out with some tanks, and doesn't have many marines, it seems like it could be a good idea. However, it seems to me that if your opponent is able to deal with stalker-void ray, he probably already has the units available to deal with carriers supported by a weak gateway army.
Unfortunately, since I have only really used carriers in 2v2, I am stuck theory-crafting about them which I generally don't like to do. I would prefer to back it up with replays. If anyone has any replays of transitioning into carrier, send them my way - win or lose - and I'll post them in the replays section.
As an aside, I was provided with a sweet, awesome replay by Bliss (TL-aka sYz-Adrenaline). It shows a neat opening that he uses against Terran, which is a variation of the dual-stalker harass, but it doesn't transition into stargate tech. For that reason, I haven't included it in the replays section - but I have included it here for your enjoyment. It is definitely worth watching.
Weaknesses of the Strategy
Now, while I've only lost a few times - and often just because I was being an idiot - I have picked up on some weaknesses that this build has.
Weakness # 1 - Bunkers at an open ramp.
A large part of stalker harass is being able to shoot at units that cannot be healed, or shoot at structures that are on the edges and can't shoot back. Rather than wall off, some terrans opt to build only a bunker at their ramp. This means that there are no buildings which can be harassed from cliff edges other than the bunker which, unfortunately, can be repaired and does shoot back.
Response: I usually respond to the bunker by setting up a perimeter, getting a couple sentries to help contain at the ramp, and getting those void rays out as fast as I possibly can. The void rays can be used to help draw units away from the ramp and out of the bunkers, but if they find other ways to deal with your void ray harass you really can't do much damage. In that case, you should resign yourself to a contain, poke around to see what scouting info you can get, and macro/tech.
Weakness # 2 - Long rush distances.
Getting a few shots off with your first couple stalkers before they have to replenish shields is really important in gaining momentum for your reinforcing stalkers to build on. Unfortunately, if the rush distances are long, and your build order isn't perfectly crisp, your stalkers may arrive at your opponents base by as late as 5:00. At that point, the terran is likely to have a large enough force to deal with your stalkers somewhat effectively. Just like if the terran gets a bunker, you likely won't deal enough damage to give you a distinct advantage once the void rays come out.
Response: Prepare to contain rather than to harass with your stalkers, and get the void rays out quickly. Remember that any counter pushes have to go a long way to go back to you, so consider expanding earlier or getting blink.
Weakness # 3 - BANSHEES!!!
Banshees are the biggest "hard counter" to this build in my experience, since this build doesn't really allow for an easy transition towards detection. Common feedback that I hear from people is that they started trying to play with this strategy, were winning a lot, then they ran into someone who went banshees and mopped the floor with them. Fortunately, in order for the terran to get banshees, they need to divert a great deal of resources and time to the stargate, tech lab, banshee and cloak research. In every game I have played where my opponent has gone banshees, I have managed to break their front with the stalkers and void rays. If he chooses to defend with his banshees you have time to tech to detection and your void rays can keep destroying his base. However, a couple of my games turned into quasi-base trades as he sent the banshees immediately to my mineral line and I had literally nothing that was capable of dealing with them.
Response: Use your void ray to scout while you harass. You may be able to catch it early-ish and get a forge or robotics facility. Also, increase the pressure. Even if the banshee comes out and kills your stalkers, you still have void rays to continue putting the pressure on, so if you commit to void rays and use the brief timing window before the banshees come out to kill all of his anti-air, you could be pretty well situated to take the game.
Weakness # 4 - Reapers?
People seem to theorycraft that this build is weak against reapers - in particular people think the dual-stalker opening is weak against reapers. Fast stalker builds are the strongest anti-reaper rush build a protoss can do. Note that you get 2 stalkers out with the dual-stalker build at the same speed as if you 12-gated and went fast stalker. There are reaper rushes that can arrive before the stalkers come out - but that is no different than if you do any other build as protoss. If terran decides to all-in reaper rush with an 8 or 10 rax or something, I can lose a lot of probes and STILL have an economic advantage, and get those stalkers out to harass.
Weakness # 5 - Subtle Timings
This weakness isn't determined by what your opponent does, but is somewhat of a restriction that the strategy places on you. When playing this build out, it often comes down to some very subtle timings. If you look at the replay of when I lost to Foo, my stalkers don't arrive at my opponents base until about the 4:55 mark, 5 seconds after his marauder popped out to compliment his marines and only just before concussive shells is researched. Note that the ideal time to arrive is around the 4:30 to 4:40 mark, not only because their army will not be as large, but because key research such as concussive grenades are that much further off allowing you to do more aggressive harass. The same goes for tanks and vikings - it is possible to get the void ray there before they get siege or a viking if you delay and harass with stalkers, or power to the void ray more quickly. In several of the replays where I win, the stalker harass forces the starport to be delayed, or I power to a quick void ray to beat out the starport completely. However, getting the void ray there sooner doesn't work as well if you haven't whittled down their marines - so you have to find a balance.
Response: First and foremost, make sure your build opening is very crisp. Harassing with an early probe can buy you some precious seconds, but don't do a sophisticated probe harass if it means you might forget to put probes in gas, or build your second pylon. Then, stick to the plan. Don't be overly aggressive with your units - try to keep them alive - and harass where you can.
Weakness # 6 - Marine-Ghost?
Marine-Ghost is a strong build that the terran can do to break a contain and get an early timing attack on you. That being said, if your opponent goes marine-ghost it is still completely up to you to dictate just how effective that marine/ghost attack is - my opponents tried going marine-ghost against me several times in the beta and I won every time. A quick look at the advantages you have over marine-ghost are as follows:
Marines get ravaged by stalkers in the early harass. In most of the games where my opponent tried to go for marine-ghost, I broke through his wall before the first ghost was finished being produced. Stalkers out-range marines, and have a shield that regenerates. If your opponent doesn't wall, but places a bunker, you can see if it is possible to run your stalkers past the bunker. Its simply a matter of running your stalkers around the base kiting the marines (he will, of course, unload the bunker) and then the next couple stalkers can come and deal with the bunker, or join the stalkers already in the base. If you are in doubt as to whether a kiting mission will work, you should probably play it safe.
In a contain you should never clump your units or sentries together. Make a loose concave around the bottom of the ramp, keeping your units away from his cliff, and separate your sentries. He will need to use multiple emps, and even then if he targets the sentries (and you don't get a force field off) your stalkers will still be fine.
Kiting the Bio Ball
Note that when your opponent pushes out, he is still at his base and has to travel a long way to get to yours. You can kite his marines, using the stalker's increased range and movement speed, to wear them down as they go, positioning the injured stalkers so that they don't take fire - or just sending them back to the base to regen. If the marines stim, even better! You can just separate your stalkers and send them in different directions. Even if you lose 1 or 2 stalkers, forcing him to stim long before he reaches your base means that he will be arriving with a weakened army.
When he pushes out, you can send your void ray to his barracks or his minerals. If the void ray charges up fully, it will be able to kill every marine and ghost that spawns with ease. It should be easy enough to charge up when the enemy's army is busy trying to deal with your stalker harass. If the marines/ghosts decide to go back, you can chase them with stalkers and simply move your void ray away.
If he decides to continue with the attack, you gain a micro advantage. You don't need to micro a void ray that is sitting over your opponents critical structures, you can just leave it to destroy things and check in on it occassionally. This allows you to focus just on the bio ball and your stalkers. Your opponent, on the other hand, has to micro his bio-ball and somehow try to deal with a void ray destroying all his stuff.
Note: Listed ratings are at the time I posted the replay.
This replay shows how a slight error in timings can compound over time to, possibly, put you in an army size or composition disadvantage if the terran go for an early game timing attack. Things went wrong starting from the stalker harass, which arrives at ~4:55, and it just goes down hill from there. Compare the army that met my stalkers at 4:55 to the army that would have been there had I arrived on time at ~4:40. Perhaps I should opt for a 1-gate cyber build on scrap station.
1. Scrap Station: Gnial vs. Foo - 400 Diamond
Just like all of you, I want to make my game and my strategies better. If you have any suggestions, general comments, or relevant replays, send em my way!
I will keep this updated and respond to comments as much as I can - but do note that I am going on a 5 day holiday starting Wednesday, August 4. Don't worry - I'm not ignoring you.
This strategy provides a solid way to get you into the mid game. Not only do you feel safe with a fairly large army and map control, but it provides you with various opportunities to win the game outright in the first 12 minutes. If your opponent builds a reaper first, builds too many marines early, doesn't get enough marines, goes hellions, or tries a fast expand, you are pretty much guaranteed to come away with a significant advantage. Not only that, you get to use two of the most fun units in the game - stalkers and void rays - and you get to do lots of fun micro.
Happy hunting Protoss