A New Look at Mutalisks in Zerg vs ProtossThu 21st Jun 2012 - 7:21pm Category: Starcraft II
The Zerg vs Protoss match-up has undergone a significant deal of change since the release of Wings of Liberty. For a long time the hydralisk-roach-corrupter was perceived to be the only way to deal with Protoss armies head-on, but even with that composition many Zerg players found it difficult to trade efficiently (forcefields and Colossi make it rather bothersome). Then zergs began to do more all-ins against forge-fast expand builds, but such strategies are, almost by definition, overly risky. Then the ling-infestor style rose in popularity for a brief period of time shortly after the infestor buff to fungal growth.
Then Zergs began to realize that mutalisks were ridiculously good in ZvP (so good, in fact, that Blizzard introduced the Anion Pulse Crystal upgrade to boost phoenix range). The central idea was to keep the Protoss player in his base for as long as humanly possible while making a wall of spine crawlers and expanding across the map.
Mutalisks aren't very good units in a straight-up fight, but the goal of this style of mutalisk play was essentially to force a base race that the Protoss player couldn't win. I tried this style for a while, and I hated it, as I'm sure many other players did too. I couldn't get into the mindset required to commit to a base race, and even base racing requires a rather special set of decision-making skills without which you could find yourself in a world of hurt.
Gradually Protoss players learned to hit high templar/archon timings, and to position their static defenses around their bases with storms to back it up as they just pushed out, and the mutalisk base race style dwindled in popularity. Enter Stephano. He filled the void in the ZvP metagame by introducing his 3-hatch relentless roach/ling pressure.
This style has since become standard in ZvP. Stephano relies on upgraded roaches, and a massive swarm of low-tech units to pummel his opponents into the ground from multiple attack angles.
Stephano-Style ZvP Summarized
It is a very strong style, but I don't want to cover it in any detail for two reasons. Firstly, its been explained to the point of redundancy. And secondly, it has started to be figured out. Protoss players are growing wiser to the different attack angles the roaches and lings come from, and are learning to split their armies better to defend all locations at once. Here is where the mutalisks may make a re-entrance into the ZvP match-up.
In the most recent MLG (Anaheim, 2012), Dongraegu put in a stunning showing where he just steamrolled almost all of his opponents with ease. His mechanical genius was extraordinary, but he also debuted an adaptation of the ZvP matchup that I feel is well worth discussing in a world where Protoss players are becoming more well-equipped to deal with the Stephano-style roach/ling aggression.
It should be noted that the standard method of taking a third in ZvP is with immortals and sentries, as that unit composition allows for the most efficient defense against roaches. Sentries stem the flow of enemy forces as the immortals massacre any roaches that happen to wander within their 6 range. Dongraegu developed a way to incorporate mutalisks into the ZvP matchup that synchronizes almost perfectly with the standard Stephano opening.
This transition really starts when the lair tech kicks in after going for a Stephano-style opening. To briefly go over it, this means that you should have a total of 4 hatcheries (3 bases and 1 macro hatch), an evolution chamber, a roach warren, a spawning pool with speed upgraded, about 65 drones, 4 gases and queens for each hatchery to inject. When your lair tech finishes, the Protoss will either begin an aggressive push or take a third. If your opponent opts to take an expansion, it should happen before or within 30 seconds or so of your lair finishing.
Here I see the third being taken
If a third isn't taken by this time, assume a 2-base push and begin pumping roaches and lings in anticipation of it. If however, your opponent takes his third (you should always have a scouting ling there), immediately place your spire and take as many vespene geysers as possible (ideally, 6). Make lings if you feel that your opponent is going to apply some pressure, and start your melee upgrades. As soon as the spire finishes, make as many mutalisks as possible (it should be between 11-16), and fly directly over to the opponent's third.
I respond by placing my spire almost immediately after seeing third being taken
Protoss players would generally find it impossible to take and hold a third base without sentries, and because the current metagame is so heavily centered around roach aggression, immortals are a healthy part of the defensive third-taking composition. This means less stalkers than usual, and it also means that with only sentries and immortals sitting around, mutalisks are ridiculously strong.
As soon as your mutalisks go in (your opponent should have sentries and immortals with some zealots and maybe a couple stalkers at his third, if not, then attack with lings to deny it), begin target-firing all the sentries. Your only priority is to take out every sentry possible. It is alright to lose a couple mutalisks here and there, your only goal is to keep the sentry count woefully low.
Using the mutalisks to pick off sentries, notice the target firing
And again... The importance of killing these sentries cannot be overemphasized.
If you are successful in killing your opponent's sentries, then place a baneling nest and start mass ling production as you take a fourth. Transition to melee upgrades and get the centrifugal hooks upgrade for baneling speed. The only two ways a Protoss can really deal with banelings are to blink his stalkers as if he were splitting marines, or to put down forcefields. Because you've just killed all his sentries, he won't have many forcefields to spare, making ling/baneling/mutalisk almost abusively powerful.
With no sentries around, mutalisks and speedlings are very effective
If your opponent has blink, he will most likely split his stalkers to avoid splash damage from the banes, if this is the case then your upgraded speedlings and mutalisks should tear his stalkers to shreds. Stalkers actually have very low DPS, and if surrounded they simply get murdered by speedlings. If your opponent stays clumped up, he gets hit by the banelings, if he splits, the speedlings eat stalkers alive. This is also a very fast army composition, allowing for counterattacks to the main, natural, and third, as you tech towards broodlord infestor.
Broodlords are out
With so many bases and 3,000 resources banked, the final push ends the game
As long as you stay active enough, denying any harass or pushes from the Protoss player as he tries to come out, you should have enough breathing room to establish a couple more bases and tech up to an end-game composition. If your opponent tries to turtle, then you can abuse the mobility of your army composition and do as much damage to the bases as possible (as DRG showed in his games against Alicia at the MLG Anaheim finals, good run-bys can be lethal). Hope you've enjoyed this short guide, please leave any questions or comments below and I'll be sure to make note of them. Cheers, and stay tuned for the final installment of my ZvT guide, covering the late-game!