Hi folks! I got into DS about a year ago and I absolutely love it, but when I got started there were no up-to-date strategy guides. After playing hundreds of matches and obsessively analyzing everything (and extracting some tidbits from the pros I come across) I'm finally going to fill that gap. DISCLAIMER: I don't pretend to know everything. Obviously, everything in this guide is my opinion and not objective fact. These strats have worked for me, but I am still learning as well. I'm willing to discuss if you think I'm wrong or I've missed something! Also, this guide assumes Epic mode (the longest game mode, 80 wave spawns + sudden death). The guide will be laid out as follows:
- First, a few general tidbits of wisdom I've picked up.
- A basic build for each race that doesn't take into account what your opponents are doing, but will serve as a solid basis if you're new. That will include both opening build orders and sudden death (SD) compositions.
- A matchup-specific analysis of the early game (pre wave 40).
- Finally, endgame team compositions. This assumes 3v3 or 2v2 games on Epic mode.
- Tl;dr at the bottom.
Let's get started!
1. General Tidbits
- Gas whenever possible. This usually means the first thing you do is save 800 mins and gas. Then you can build 3-4 basic structures (almost always 3) and then you save for another gas. Then you can build about 4 basic structures before you have to save again.
- With all three beginning gas built, you don't have to think about it again until spawn 40 occurs, at which point you need to save for the next gas at spawn 41. After that one, begin saving for the fifth and sixth gasses when the refinery cooldown timer hits about 35 and 25 seconds respectively
- The caveat to that last point is, if your opponents are doing a rush and you're not sure you can hold it off, you only need to stay one gas ahead of them at at first so you can fight back. But if they haven't started gassing by wave 15, you should finish your three gasses anyway.
- Just because they got your silo early doesn't mean you lose. In fact I've found that whoever gets the silo early has only a slight correlation to the final victor.
- Kiting is an essential skill to hold off cheesers. You can even kite reapers, even though they're super fast, by pulling them DIRECTLY up (if you're on the left side of the map) or DIRECTLY down (if you're on the right side of the map) and then instantly teleporting back to base. (Press the T key and click where you want to tele). They should slide right past the silo and into the nexus turrets.
- When you use your booms, try to use them just as a fresh enemy wave is crossing the middle so that you end up ahead on units.
- Also regarding booms, pay attention to the way the battlefield momentum is shifting. Sometimes you can extend your life longer by booming a wave early, while you still have some units left, rather than waiting until the last second when the massive build-up of enemies hits your base like a tsunami and your newest spawned units evaporate instantly.
- Your chance of winning will be much higher if your team has at least one Zerg in it.
- Depth of fire is an important concept in this game. Depth of fire refers to the fraction of your army that is capable of all shooting at the same time. For instance if your entire army consists of melee units, only the front rank will be able to attack. If your army is entirely short-ranged, it’s not much better. But if your whole army has huge range, then the whole thing can shoot at once. So attack range is an important stat. It’s why siege tanks are so powerful in sudden death.
2. A Basic Builds for New Players (regardless of opponent)
- Terran early game: After 1st refinery, build 2 barracks and a predator upgrade. After your second refinery, build 2 more raxx and 2 marauder upgrades. After 3rd gas, build more raxx until you have 10-14, all with marauder upgrades. Get a monitor blimp. (Do this earlier if they cheese out a stealth unit. Note that ravens are NOT detection) Get a couple of widow mines. Then get a factory and a starport and pump out about 6 medivacs. Throw in about 2 hellbat bays. Then build a few more starports with raven upgrades which are important because of the point defense drones. Throw in about 10 or so cyclones. At this point it should be around wave 35, and you can build a couple factories with tank upgrades before early game ends.
- Terran endgame: After 6th gas, start churning out tanks until you have 12-16 tank factories. Mix in around 4 spartans and 4 goliaths. Build several more ravens and several science vessels as well. Stir in more cyclones and/or thors, ghosts or spectres to taste.
- NEVER build as Terran: wraiths. RARELY build firebats, medics, diamondbacks, vikings, liberators or battlecruisers.
- Protoss early game: After first assimilator, build one gateway and two adepts. I usually convert them to slow-mode. After the second assimilator, build 2 more adepts and 2 sentries. After 3rd assimilator, finish about a row of adepts and 4-6 sentries. Get an observer. Throw in two mothership cores and a few high templar, then build 4-8 immortals and some colossus. Get a tempest and a fade initiate around this time as well. If you have left over time before spawn 41 you can add a few preservers.
- Protoss endgame: After 6th gas, build 12-16 tempests and up to 6 colossus. Get up to 8 high templar and a few more fade initiates. Throw down a few more sentries and more preservers (total of ~8 of each). A couple of void prisms can help also.
- NEVER build as Protoss: Mothership, or more than one stalker (for building prerequisites). RARELY build carriers or oracles. I usually don't ever build dark templar as well because usually they fail as a cheese and never more than one if I do. Rarely build scouts.
- Zerg early game: Open with two spawning pools (speedling option) and two roach warrens after first extractor. Then four more roaches after second extractor. Then upgrade your hive and build a slugalisk. Then alternate roach and hydra until you have about 6-8 roach, then straight hydra until you have 12-16 hydras. Also mix in up to 3-4 slugalisks, which are important for providing creep to your wave. For the hydras usually I do half hunter-killer upgrade, 1/4 normal and 1/4 ragelisk. Then throw down about 3 infestors. Then build a spire and upgrade it so you can build 1 swarm guardian. After this build four queens. At this point you can throw down one, but only one, corruptor spire, or some additional queens, hydras, infestors or ultras before 40.
- Zerg endgame: After 6th gas, spam swarm guardians. You should get at least 6. Also get 6 swarm hosts and 6 brutalisks. Don't get any more corruptors or any vipers. One Scourge can help (they're situational but relatively cheap at this point of the game). Get some extra infest and queen–by the end of the game you should have about 8 of both. With any left over time, build more of any of the units listed above. Your choice (personally I like more SGs or hydras).
- NEVER build as Zerg: Aberrations or banelings. Rarely build vipers, more than 1 corruptor or more than a few ultralisks.
3. Early-game Matchups: This section will have more detailed strategies that don't necessarily follow the basic builds listed above.
- TvZ: This is a tough matchup. Critical purchases are several ravens, spectres and hellbats. In early game, nothing can quite spit out DPS like mass terran bioball (marines and marauders). However, bio is extremely vulnerable to splash damage like fungal growth from infestors and acid splash from swarm guardians. Swarm guardians usually show up around wave 30-40, but your opponent will build infestors even sooner if they see you massing bioball. To counter this you need a few extra predators and also a few vultures. Combined, these units will help to absorb the fungals relatively harmlessly. This is especially important if your opponent masses hunter-killers because marines (without the marauder upgrade, just mass marines) are a good counter if you get your medivacs. It's also important that you get several ravens relatively early on. I usually toss out 4 ravens as soon as i finish 2 rows of barracks and 6 medivacs. I also get several spectres to try to break the second wave of zerg melee/short range units. If they absolutely mass lings and/or hydras at the expense of roaches, get several hellbats because with the high raven count they can really shred hydras (especially if the hydras are HKs). A few widow mines can also help break the tide. I generally do NOT start getting tanks until after 6th gas when I'm playing TvZ. If you are doing fairly well and have a zerg on your team that follows after you, then it could work.
- TvP: This is one of my weaker matchups, but I do know a few tricks. First, the bioball DPS is still pretty important. But they're vulnerable to archons, and berserkers do an amazing job of of tanking. So you need either hellbats or, preferably, widow mines to cut down the berserkers and a few ghosts to nuke the archon shields so they pop quickly. If my opponent does go the archon route, I usually get less bioball and more cyclone. If you do mass bioball, they will probably rush some high templar because their storms are so powerful against marines. To counter this, get ravens. Not even for the PDDs, necessarily, but because the ravens tend to blunder forward after they've used their abilities and high templar will waste storms on them instead of casting them on your bioball. Getting those storms to hit your ravens and not your marines can easily be the difference between destroying your opponent's wave and getting wrecked yourself. Unfortunately, vultures do not counter high templar in the way that they counter infestors because high templar are so slow, the vultures will be dead and the mines triggered before they show up usually. Finally, your opponent in TvP will inevitably start spamming immortals because almost everything Terran has (besides marines) is armored. It is important that you start your tanks early, around wave 30. You will probably be losing ground between waves 30-60, but as soon as you hit a critical mass of tanks (around 12 factories, but don't stop until 16) you will suddenly start winning. The sooner you hit critical mass, the sooner you can start winning your waves.
- TvT: I pretty much follow the basic build above for this. This is my least played matchup, so I have little to say about it other than bioball OP.
- ZvT: This is a pretty easy matchup because marauders and cyclones, two of terran's bread and butter units, are bad against HKs. When it comes to beating marine/marauder bioball, infestors are king. If they counter with vultures, enough speedlings can usually help to defeat the counter so your fungals still land properly. I usually get two infestors earlier than I would otherwise (after about 8 hydras, then back to hydras). This is to make sure that at least one fungal growth lands. All you need is one to guarantee you win the wave. Make sure you still get at least 12 hydras. Also make sure your first swarm guardian comes out before spawn 40. You don't need to get more than one that early. More than one is too vulnerable, and one is enough to absolutely decimate bioball by it self. If your opponent goes too heavy on the cyclones to resist SG and fungals, punish them with mass HK.
- ZvP: Open with two spawning pools and two hive upgrades. No standard Protoss opener beats mass speedling. They will probably mass archon, dark stalker and berserkers. If they go adept sentry immortal instead, punish them with mass HK. The moment you see a colossus come out, drop your 1 corruptor or some brutalisk. Then get back to your hydras. SG pre-40 is less important but still useful for stacking with your team. If they do go archon, dark stalker and berserker, you'll need ragelisks. How many ragelisks depends on how many archons and berserkers. I never get more than 8. I also like an ultralisk or two because they hold back the berserkers, which is important because if the berserkers charge into your hydra line, psi storms will start dropping on them. If you do get ultras, get at least one queen per ultra. The ultras also help to soak up the dark stalker shots since they are heavily armored, and you'll need about 8 hunter-killer buildings to bring down the stalkers. You can also counter psi storms with a pair of brood lords because the broodlings will bait out the storms. Again, it is crucial that you get brutalisks the instant a colossus appears. Colossus and storms are the primary ways that Protoss players deal with hydra swarms.
- ZvZ: In general, ZvZ is all about the hydras and the Swarm guardians. Open with two spawning pools and two hive upgrades (before 2nd gas). No standard zerg opener beats this (even banelings usually fail). Don't get roaches until after 2nd gas. Then, watch your opponent to see if they are massing roach or going straight to slug + hydra. If they mass roach, only get 4-6 roaches of your own and then absolutely spam HKs and you will shred them. If they go a balanced slug + hydra + roach build, get a balanced mix of your own and a few infestors then go straight for swarm guardian. Make sure you get a lot of queens to keep it alive under the brutalisk barrage that your opponent will probably throw down. I usually avoid ultras in this matchup. Also, if your opponent tries to counter your swarm guardian with mass corruptor, get ONE corruptor of your own to help with distraction, then get several more infestors and laugh as they all infest the enemy corruptors.
- PvT: Ironically, this is another tough matchup for me. Archons are theoretically good against bioball, but ghosts and predators can ruin that. Lately I’ve been having success with an adept/sentry/mothership core/high templar strategy. Adepts are technically weak against marauders, and marines pump out dps like crazy. However, the sentry guardian shields sharply reduce marine DPS, and the mothership cores cut it down even further. Since bioball is so weak against splash damage, adding a few high templar and colossus to the mix will nuke them pretty hard. You might need to add some air units or fade initiates to clear out the ravens so they don’t bait out your psi storms. With that done, I start spamming immortals because the terran will most likely counter with cyclones. Immortals are also good at curbing early siege tank buildup.
- PvZ: I open with gateway/cybernetics core/archon for my first three builds. It slightly delays your gas, but archons OP in this matchup early. They shred roaches and hydras, especially with berserkers to tank, in the early stages. After second gas, I just drop two archons usually. Then after third gas, get about 8 archons and some berserkers. Also 2-4 mothership cores. If your opponent is spamming roaches, start throwing down immortals. If they’re doing a more balanced build, start getting dark stalkers instead. Dark stalkers are just NUTTY good against basic hydra and ragelisk. I usually get about 10 of these into zerg, but it depends how much roach and how much hydra they’re getting. You gotta chomp through the roaches before the DS can really start to shine. Either way, also get a few high templar. At around wave 30 you should be dropping colossus and preservers to keep them alive. Swarm guardians aren’t as scary for you as they are if you’re playing TvZ, but it is still worth dropping a Fade or a Tempest when you see one come out.
- PvP: It’s ALL about the sentries. Open with a few adepts, and then alternate adepts and sentries until you have a row or so of adept and at least two rows of sentry, especially if your opponent is massing archons or immortals. Throw in a few immortals of your own, and some colossus. The mass illusion spam from the sentries will body-block the opposing units, and allow your colossi free reign. I used to believe that mass immo beat the adept/sentry strat, but it turns out my opponents simply weren’t building ENOUGH sentry. If you see your opponent doing this strat, I’m told that doing the same strat but swapping out some of the adept/sentry for additional colossus and some carriers, as well, will counter it. I can’t confirm from first-hand experience though. Also, in PvP mothership cores aren’t super crucial but you can still get a couple. They’re decent against adepts but almost pointless against immortals IMO. This is because the bubbles don’t last long enough relative to the immortals’, well, immortal lifespan to have a notable on their overall output.
4. Endgame Strats
Endgame is all about siege. That means any very long-ranged unit that can attack ground targets, preferably with splash damage. This includes siege tanks, colossus, tempests, swarm guardians and swarm hosts. If your siege consists of tempests and swarm guardians, the opponent will often try to beat them with mass air-to-air fighters like vikings, liberators, corruptors and vipers. To defend your precious siege, you do not buy air-to-air fighters (corruptors, vikings, libs). Instead you depend on your tempests to tank the air damage. Tempests have an enormous range and they will draw the opponent's more short-ranged fighters forward, into the range of your high templar. High templar are the most effective anti-corruptor/viking/lib weapon in tandem with tempests. Since air units tend to bunch up more than ground units, this means a few well-placed psi storms can decimate their air capability and allow your anti-air guns (several fade initiates, brutalisks, or spartans are very important) to mop up the rest along with the tempests. Then THEIR colossus/swarm guardians are vulnerable. This does NOT work if you have more than a couple of air-to-air fighters of your own because they will delay the enemy air units from being drawn to the back and your high templar are more likely to burn their storms on other targets, like broodlings. Regarding how many tempests to buy, tempests have very poor DPS for how much they cost. They're only meant to draw aggro and tank. This means you only want as many tempests as you need to make sure that none of your SGs die to vikings, other tempests, or the like. This requries carefully paying attention to how much air-to-air your opponent is buying. A good rule of thumb is: always have a few more tempests than they do. Generally this means around 20. If they're massing vikings or corruptors, add a few more to stall while the high templar do their thing. But you do want to build as many colossus as you can get away with, because like SGs, they really pump out the damage. A proper tempest/colossus balance can tip the scales of SD one way or the other.
Are tanks good in SD? I honestly believe that terran is the weakest race and is detrimental to a team's chance of success in the final round. That is not to say that tanks are not a powerful unit–they are probably the single strongest unit in sudden death, except for one crucial weakness. They take up a lot of space, and they body-block a lot of your army, keeping it and each other out of range of the enemy. In 3v3s having one terran can be nice, but in 2v2s terran is not a good choice. Flying siege, on the other hand, can bunch up without unit collision and all fire at once which makes air siege inherently superior to ground siege. For this reason PZZ (or PZ in 2v2s) is my favorite composition because you can base your final build around SG, colossus and tempests which stacks up very nicely and pump out DPS like crazy. If you are fighting a heavily ground-based enemy team composition, it is important to throw in several swarm hosts because they can delay the enemy ground forces while your flying units pick them all off after having destroyed their anti-air capability. Your ground units will usually all die long before the opponents' tanks are all gone, but do not worry! That is what the hosts are for. With no air left, their detect is usually gone as well which means the tanks have to slowly destroy the swarm hosts via splash damage. They will continually redeploy and siege up and waste a lot of time while the SGs and tempests pound away at them.
If you DO want to go terran in 2v2s, then you have to adjust your final build so that you have sufficient anti-air capability. Try to get as many cyclones and goliaths as possible. Have your ally build tons of brutalisks or fade initiates. Don't bother building any air siege if your ally is zerg because there will be no tempests to protect it and, as stated before, vikings and corruptors will also fail at that role due to high templar on the other side. However if the opponent is ALSO lacking a protoss player, this can be a different story. That's an extremely rare occurrence though. If you are playing TZ vs. PZ in 2v2s, you will probably lose unless your opponents make a misstep (such as too many tempests, not enough colossus/SG). You will have to capitalize on this with maximal anti-air capacity to have a shot at actually bringing down what air siege they did build. Also make sure your zerg player has tons of swarm hosts instead of swarm guardians because those guardians would instantly die to tempest fire. One nice thing about TZ is that if you spam tanks properly after the 6th gas, you will almost inevitably build up a massive stack of them and force out boom after boom between waves 65-80. If you played well in the beginning you may even force out some specials and get yourself a mineral advantage–or even win pre-SD! Speedlings, roaches and ultralisks are great at zooming out after a terran wave to catch up and protect the tanks so that you can build a huge stack of them. Don't get cocky about forcing your opponents to boom between 65-80 with your tank stack however. They still have an inherent advantage in SD because of tank body-blocking as previously mentioned.
TL;DR Always vote epic. Gas, build 3, gas, build 4, gas. Build until the end of wave 40, gas at the end of 41, build ~1200 worth, gas again, build ~1500 worth, gas again. Build siege weapons and high templar for end game. Meta shifts periodically due to balance updates.
Thanks for reading!
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