Sunday, November 6, 2011

Week off

Hadn't played at all in a week until tonite so was a bit rusty. But did OK. Couple things I'm struggling with:

Robo in PvZ is not working out for me. I can't get any good timings that don't get easily countered. I seem to be doing much better with gateway armies and lots of pressure. I think I'd prefer to work on 6gate blink and then transition into robo/collosi.

PvT is causing me grief. I think it comes down to if I execute my build correctly, I absolutely need to attack when charge finishes. Even if I'm going straight into 2-base bunker defense.

Strangely I'm winning almost all PvP. I think my micro is finally getting passable. At least in a few specific cases like defending a 4-gate.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Season 4

Start of season 4 had me win my placement match, and as expected put back into platinum. However, I won 2 games to start and was immediately repromoted to diamond. I think what probably happened was that I would have been knocked down to plat a while ago if the ladder hadn't been locked and I had almost crawled my way back out to diamond. So once the leagues unlocked I got the tail-end of another plat stint.

Been really trying to stick to my plan. Collosi vs Z. Archons vs T. Blink vs P. The protoss plan has been the best, and I've been quite surprised how often getting blink asap makes the difference and wins me the game. My usual PvP build was 3gate-stalker-defend into robo asap with chrono'd immortal. By just changing the robo to a twilight and the immortal to blink I feel like I improved by PvP a lot. Terran chargelot/archon works well until ghosts are on the field, and then I need to do a better job at avoiding EMP. PvZ is still the hardest matchup for me to figure out. I really only win in the early game with timing pushes off of a FFE into zealot rush or 6gate. Or standard 3gate pressure. Collosi seem to get too easily countered. But maybe that's just PvZ. The zerg strength is being able to suddenly mass huge counter-units even though there's a delay before they have any counter. So as Protoss, I feel like you're always tech switching and trying to exploit the window during which zerg hasn't yet countered with mass corruptor/infestor/brood lord/ultras. Of course, I also just lose a lot to ling-roach all-ins. I do better when I always, always play as though an all-in is coming and be vigilant with my defense. My vZ build is also still the most unrefined, since I have 2 different openings and FFE is really confusing to me still with all the follow-up variations. Cannon rush, zealot rush, 6gate, early 3rd. I haven't really made up my mind what path I want to take to collosus. Maybe I should just try rushing collosi.

I am going to just keep working on these builds though. I do find what's interesting is that improving your builds helps your micro, since it frees up your in-game decision-making bandwidth to be used for unit control, which is really my biggest weakness. Nothing feels as good as winning a game where I know I had good unit control that made the difference. Or at least didn't suck so hard that I lose a game with a superior army.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Game plans

After giving myself a pat on the back for a good run, I hit the dreaded wall I was afraid of. Hard core. I dropped 9 games in a row one long night of terrible laddering and knocked myself all the way back into bottom of diamond. If it weren't for the locking of the leagues, I expect I'd have been demoted again. I don't know why I go on such streaks. I know I played a few games that night where I was doing OK but lost to dumb mistakes. And then I played a terran that marine-SCV rushed me. I held it off and still lost to just non-stop marines. I was raging after that and my bad run ensued. I think part of my game is just managing the rage. When I hit that rage wall, I need to walk away. I didn't even intend to ladder so long but I just kept going and going and it got worse and worse, like a train wreck.

I feel like what I need to work on are clear winning strategies. My set of openings is pretty good and gradually expanding. But something Day[9] often says is you need 2 things: an opening and a mid-game plan, in other words, how you plan to win. I don't really have that. My "plan" is really just:

1) have a bigger army than him
2) defend myself
3) prove my army is bigger by attacking his front periodically and forcing an engage

Almost all my mid-game decisions are ad-libbed. I have a few mid-game compositions I favor, and I usually just pick one as I see my opponent's early comp. Last year I ad-libbed my openings and I've gotten a clearer set of opening and early goals now, but I lack an over-arching game plan. I feel like my play would be a lot cleaner if I had a set of goals I was working toward after the opening plays out. Here are some of the possible mid-game plans I can play:

1) 2-base Collosi timing: 2 or 3 collosi with range
2) Blink and +1 timing
3) Chargelot Archon with +1 armor
4) Warp prism harass: Poke in a WP at any vulnerable point I can find, while turtling and expanding
5) Gateway army with 2-2 upgrades off double forge
6) FFE 7-gate

I don't know. There's probably more. I don't really "play" these strats. They just kinda fall out of my mid-game ad-libbing. I need to pick a few to work on and just do them over and over. Collosi and blink are the 2 I do most often, but I mangle my priorities and timings because I'm not really "planning" to do them. Maybe I'll say PVP: blink, PvZ: collosi and PvT: archons and then work on discovering the timings and weaknesses of those hard-core. If my mid-game plan was better thought out in advance and refined, I wouldn't be spending so much time thinking about what to build and could spend more brain cycles on army positioning and defense.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A few Protoss axioms

I've been on a pretty good run lately, ever since that last post. I'm actually a little scared to ladder since having won so many in a row, my rating is getting into the high diamonds. And I will start to face serious opponents. I don't think much has changed in my playstyle, but I don't think in general that periods of winning are marked by change. They're marked by executional refinement. Change is always a losing streak and then once you start to master the change, you gradually start to win again.

Anyways, although I haven't changed much I think a couple things have been running through my head lately that are like Protoss mantras that guide my in-game decisions:

1. Build gateways to get safe. Get safe to tech.

2. Pylon placement is everything.

I think the first one might seem obvious but when I put it succinctly it helps guide my thinking. Like say you've opened 1GFE in PvT. Your 3 gates just opened and your income is kicking in. Now is when you need to answer the question: am I safe? Because you need to put down a building right now. Which building(s) you start depends on what the Terran is doing. Therefore you must already be on the way to do a scouting poke.

Pylon placement has won and lost me games, and I don't think it's something I give enough importance to. It's a high priority sure, but it should be even higher. Almost top priority in some cases. If you've placed 3 gates in PvP and you don't have a forward pylon anywhere on the map, you will outright lose to almost any robo play. I actually had this exact situation in a game just now. I open 3gate on Taldarim and clean out his forward pylon and feel fairly safe, and have already got 2 forward pylons of my own. When my gates open I push in a bit and see 2 sentries and 1 immortal amidst a smallish gateway force. Even though I don't have a huge advantage, the forward pylon means that any advantage, no matter how small, can be converted into damage. I pushed in as a 2nd immortal popped, but used zealots to chase them back and pushed into the base, with reinforcing stalkers joining. Since my opponent has to assume a 4gate, he pulls probes to defend. I back out slowly taking as many probes as I can, calmly putting a robo down during the push, and an expansion as I retreat. When he pushes I'm already way ahead with 1 colossus and 2nd nearly out. gg.

And it's more than just the one forward pylon. Where your backup pylons are is just as important once you need to retreat off the forward-most one. When you pylon the natural is important. When and where you put your early warning pylons around the map is critically important. Pylons overlooking cliffs are OH so important. So many times a pylon is placed as an 'oh shit, I'm about to be capped' reaction and you put it down as fast as possible. If you're slipping and your pylons go down at the last second you will never have time to think about where they go, which is more important.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Next morning

Got up. Played 6 games. Won 6. Mostly plat players. BNet was getting ready to dump me. Safe for now. I played OK. Was mostly zerg that rolled over to 3/6 gates. One terran with cloaked banshees that I completely shut down and felt pretty good. One P that tried to hidden pylon and I not only found his but planted my own and won straight up. Easy stuff though.

Terrible night

Just awful. I'm too depressed to even say much about it. I'm losing to dumb mistakes, and then going completely off the rails and trying weird random stuff after I make a mistake in the build I was attempting. Losing to a variety of cheeses I know I should be able to handle and pretty much losing to every zerg that knows how to make units. I'm actually sure I'd be demoted again if I kept playing.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Learning through loss

One of the things I think I notice when I look back at when I slumped was that it was a period where I was heavily trying to learn new things. I know I messed up a lot of games with my 3gate timings or my 1GFE. Or even when the build didn't lose me the game, just the act of doing something off my normal autopilot caused me to mess up other things. I'd like to hope that I came out ahead of where I was even though I had to lose a lot of ranking in the process. At the time I know I felt like really buckling down and trying to actively learn to play better would be more immediately noticeable. But I guess that was naive.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ok finally

Back in diamond after almost a month... Don't know why it took that long, but maybe it was a good thing. I look at my post from when I got demoted and cheese was still my biggest concern. That's not the case any longer. I'm holding off 6-pools, bunker contains, and 4-gates (sometimes). I under-reacted a couple times to 10 or 11 gate type 4gate rushes, forgetting to add sentries to hold my ramp. So obvious I know, but I've just got into the habit of not needing that early sentry. The things I worry about now are usually more subtle mistakes in timings and scouting. I still make a lot of stupid mistakes though.

Tonite I beat a zerg in a macro game with warp prism play. I think. The warp prism didn't actually do much. It just threatened the whole game to drop his mineral line and he kept about 8 roaches near by in case. Then when I launched my main attack, I warped in from the back and plowed through the front at the same time. It wasn't amazingly effective but I think the constant threat just meant I wasn't dealing with a full out offensive earlier in the game when I wasn't ready for it. And that's really the point I suppose. I'm going to try and get better with that.

Terran continues to prove much easier. I haven't lost to a terran in a while, still favouring my personal 1-gate FFE into 3-gate collosi.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Slowly improving

Right after the last post I went on a really bad run one nite that knocked me down off the top plat spot. Since then I've been slowly, steadily working up higher and higher. I'm currently way in front of plat, sitting in the top .5% of platinum players based on rating. Every game I lose now I think to myself that I would probably have been promoted if I won. It's a little frustrating having such a clear ceiling that you feel like you can't break. I'm still sure I'll break it, but it's taken way longer than I would've expected.

I can blame balance a little bit. Protoss has been in a bad spot lately. Patch 1.4 just hit a couple days ago and I've been having a little bit more success since then. Early terran is not quite as scary as it was it feels like. I've only had one PvZ that went long enough to have a lot of infestors and I won that, coming away feeling like the infestors were not as scary. Not sure how much of this is due to the patch changes. Ironically PvP is what's confusing me now. I think protoss is less fearful of the 4gate now with the patch changes making it so much easier to defend the ramp with sentries so protoss is a lot safer getting an early robo. At first I thought my 3 gate into robo was still a safe bet but now I'm wondering if it's not going to work just because so many of my PvP opponents will be going 2gate robo and have a heavier immortal/collosi count.

I might like to try a 3gate robo timing push with one warp prism to give vision and high warp-ins. If I have only 4 zealots in the army I can elevator them up then warp in. It might be better to contain and drop in the mineral line on maps where the ramp is far from the minerals though. Still thinking about it. Either way, I should definitely get in more practice with prism play since this is a weak point for me and I know it's becoming a critical part of protoss play.

For terrans, I've refined a 1 gate expand that squeezes out zealot-stalker-stalker-stalker before warpgate and works really well against early pressure that seems to be the common response to a 1 gate expand. Also puts me in a good position vs some of the stupid 1 base all-ins that are almost a certainty in any PvT. Holding off the wide variety of terran all-ins is still something I have trouble with though.

Zerg is still the thing except I've been trying a normal FFE on Shakura's or other maps that are really strong for it. Having some success with that as long as I can time my gateways well enough to get my pressure out early. Still need to practice this.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Old demons

I'm gradually getting back to the diamond league, after sitting on top of Plat for a few days now. And facing diamond-level players, I run into the same things again that I can't beat. Harass and cheese. I actually had 2 6/7-pools in a row one night and finally beat the second one. It did not seem easy since I lost my entire forge-gateway wall-in before finally holding it off. But I did it.

But now I'm facing my absolutely most frustrating type of loss: well executed harass. Three games in a row just now I had to deal with this and lost each. Two from zergs that rushed lings by any opening I left and one from a drop-happy terran. He had 3 dropships poking in on me from 3 different angles. I can keep up after a few harass attempts but I always just get worn down eventually. I don't know how to deal with it. I can't put pressure back on him because his base will always be locked down even though he won't have a standing army of consequence. I can't just leave units to defend or he will mass up and bust my front. Especially against zerg, I feel like it's an auto-lose if I sit in my base defending. All 3 times, I hold off a few attempts, start to lose more and more workers each time, till I know I'm way behind on eco, and I abandon all my bases and try to trade, to no avail.

Maybe I should mix in some air to give myself more mobility. Or over-produce gateways more, something I always avoid.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Back in plat

Don't know if it's laziness, or lack of practice, or if the leagues get better as players get better, but I got demoted. I find it hard to accept that I'm actively getting worse. So that's quite discouraging. Platinum is always the same. I win every game except for cheese, which is like half the games. I can't hold cheese yet to save my life. Any well coordinated early attack, really. I lack the control to get my units perfectly positioned...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Holding the 4gate

Been in the middle of a move so I've been exhausted and haven't played much, which has really hurt my game. Played a little after I got settled and lost a lot. It's ok tho. I feel like I'm learning from my losses. I wish I'd get more PvP though, because I really want to work on the 3gate defense. I found that I had to really rethink my defense since a well-executed 4gate was still giving me a lot of trouble. The 3gate defense is so finicky that there's little room for error. One missed pylon or one late warp-in and you fall irrecoverably behind, which means gg about 15 seconds later.

One thing I've seen is building a zerg-style wall-in to make it really hard for attacking 4gate to get a good zealot surround and increasing the effectiveness of a stalker-heavy defense. Then if it's a full on 4gate, you can even just complete the wall-in with a 4th gate that you may or may not cancel. If your building placement is good, the attacking player should never be able to get enough vision to snipe buildings without you sniping his vision. You want to block the ramp itself but leave the edges open for your stalkers to get a good surround on the bottom of the ramp. If he does want to warp zealots on the high ground, you can just back off and let his stalkers beat on buildings while you dispatch with them. Best wall-in uses 2 gateways with the core protected back at base. It's something I want to try incorporating into my 3gate build.

Terran, I've just started playing on a 1gate FE which seems quite decent. You can squeeze out 3 stalkers with a very fast nexus before a normal 3 warpgate timing. So I'm essentially trading one zealot, 2 stalkers and a few probes for an expansion. I'm afraid it's weak vs a very quick 2gate push so I'll need to practice that.

Another big thing I want to work on having watched other streams is relying less on unit hotkeys. Until I'm actually pushing with my units, hotkeys are basically unnecessary. I have a bad habit of never selecting units by hand, like if they aren't hotkeyed they don't exist. That's partly why my multitasking and spreading are so bad. I just need to not hotkey so much and break that habit.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Frustration with army splitting

A long and frustrating night on the ladder. Looks like I went 5-16! I lost to all varieties of cheese: zealot rush, ling rush, cannon rush. Twice I played the same guy twice in a row. Once was a 4-gating protoss who I lost the first to due to a bad supply block but beat handily the next game with 3-gate into blink. The other time was a drop-happy terran. I beat him the first game with good map awareness to shut down his drops but then lost the second even though he did the exact same thing and I was ready for it, shutting down his first few drops and getting a big supply lead. Eventually he just wore away at me with endless dropping and forced me into bad confrontations.

The most memorable loss was a PvZ though. I started my 3gate but scouted an early 10-pool and stayed defensive. It was a big roach/ling rush at about the 5min mark. I held it off and expanded, trying hard to set up walls connecting my expansion. My scouting revealed a huge pack of speedlings roaming around so I stayed tight to my base. The game turned into collosi vs burrowed infestors, followed by brood lords on 4 and 5 bases each. He wore me away with better eco. But afterwards he messaged me and informed me that I had the game earlier if I just attacked. Watching the reply I held an enormous worker lead after the roach push: 32 to 14! But the speedlings kept me locked in my base and I never felt safe to move out, just letting him drone hard to catch up. I should have put down a cannon or two and left a few zealots guard and kept pushing.

I was raging a little bit by the end, having stayed up later than I should have and getting tired. I don't feel like I learned much. I just ran up against my diamond-level demons, losing to the things I know I lose to: cheese, multi-pronged attacks or threats of multi-pronged attacks (i.e. speedlings). Some of the games I lost to mistakes that I shouldn't be making. Those games I get much less frustrated with actually because I know what to improve and know that I can. The ones that frustrate me I feel like I have no idea what I can do to improve. Because I come out of them needing to do the same things I've been needing to do since day 1 and just can't seem to: split up my army and micro.

I felt terrible when I logged off but the now the next day, I'm not as hard on myself. I only barely failed to hold some of the cheese attacks and knew what to do but just executed a little late or sloppily. I can fix that. Some games I lost to build orders that I just have no answer for right now (one-base collosi all-in and one-base polt all-in) and I think I need to expect that in some cases till I refine my own builds.

So I'm left with the army-splitting problem primarily. How do I train myself to do that?

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Learning Starcraft II

I haven't been much of a blogger. But I do like recording and analyzing my thoughts on gaming. But instead of just using Google docs, I thought I'd resurrect the blog a bit to try and train myself to have regular periods of contemplation where I can record my progress and look back on what I've learned. So I'm going to start a diary of my Starcraft II play. My goal is to regularly write down my thoughts on the last few games. I want to capture at each post:

- What I've been trying
- What I've learned
- What I want to improve

I'm surprised there aren't more blogs like that actually. I'd love to see other players go through this exercise and maybe I just haven't been able to find them. There's lots of streams and replay packs sure, but SC2 is such a thinking game and it takes so many games to really learn or analyze a new strategy that I'd rather read the player's own post-game self-analysis than watch their 20 games.

So here's my first entry:

First of all, I regained my diamond status last night. Really not sure why I got placed Platinum to start the season, but it was an easy climb back into diamond. PvP is going well. I've been doing better getting a good read on when to one-base all-in, when to hold off a gateway push, when to robo, when to expand. Previously I was kicking myself for expanding too often when my opponent was one-basing. One game I scouted a heavy early zealot force and correctly anticipated a zealot-archon one-base play, which has been quite popular lately. I decided to try a one-base collosi-zealot defense and won. It seems counter-intuitive but my thinking was that even though archons counter zealot, collosi counters zealot harder, as long as I can get up at least 2 collosi. Thermal lance isn't as important so I skipped it for the initial battle in favor of a few more stalkers for dps. As I hoped, my zealots just lasted longer than his and I collapsed his meatshield. Not sure if I got lucky on that but I'll continue trying that defense.

Another thing I've been doing consistently well is holding off 2gate cheese. My first gateway always produces zealot-stalker-stalker and with chronos on this gateway, this appears to hold off a zealot rush. The initial zealot dies but the 2nd stalker creates a tough situation for zealots because I can split up the stalkers and make it very painful for the zealots to try chasing them down. Splitting up the stalkers is key.

One thing I think I need to keep working on is better 4gate defense. I'm still confident that I can hold off a 4gate with a 3gate but I recently lost a game where I tried and the problem is micro. I think you can almost ignore everything in this fight except for one thing: how many hits does each players' zealots get on the opponent's stalker. Every Z-on-S hit that you can land on your side or prevent on their side counts huge and I need to micro with this one goal in mind.

PvZ is up and down a lot depending on my opponent's skill level. My opener is always 3-gate pressure where I run down 2 stalkers as I warp in 3 zealots for a total of 4 zealots, 4 stalkers with another warpin of whatever I want close behind. My problem is that if this does well, it usually wins straight up. But good players hold it easily with a combination of lings, spines and queens. Fine, it's not an all-in and I macro up and am consistently in a better eco position after the push fails. But what happens then is I can't maintain pressure because of ling runbys so his macro goes through the roof and he passes me. Once infestors are on the field, I'm done. I have no idea what to do. Collosi, blink stalkers, templars, I've tried everything. Something I've seen in another stream that I want to really work on doing is catching the zerg army out of position. I need to be a lot more aware of how I can manipulate and anticipate his movement by pressuring the 3rd for example. If I can catch his army en route from behind the infestors can be cleaned up in no time. I just need to have much, much better army positional control.

PvT is doing well. I was really surprised to find that the 3gate stalker build above that I developed for PvZ works really well in PvT. Stalker-heavy builds seem counter-intuitive vT but early stalker pressure is really strong versus marines or FE bunker defenses and can straight up beat almost any terran tech cheese (rush to banshee, raven, or mech). Of course my expectation is usually a 2 or 3 rax defense to hold the ramp and then I expand and contain for a few minutes until drops become a threat. I usually think the 9 or 10 minute mark is when I need to pull back but I want to refine that based on the unit mix I see at the front (more marauders must mean later drops). Another variation on this build I'd love to have the guts to try is one-gate expand into 3 gate. I've seen it used in a lot of pro play and lost to the terran equivalent enough to know how strong this can be.

My problem is that mid-game I lose to 2 things: ghosts and drops. I need to be way more conscious of my map control, map awareness and drop prevention. Stimmed marauder drops, i.e. nexus snipes, just frustrate the hell out of me. Incidentally I lost a PvZ game last nite to heavy baneling drops on my probe lines and it's the same story... I don't know how to deal with a dropping player.

When ghosts are out I cannot, for the life of me, keep my army spread out to prevent EMP. I need to never ever forget the EMP threat and micro way better. Something I need to do better is pre-fight scouting, where you're set up for a big fight and you quickly scout your opponent's position and composition. Of course for terrans this comes as second nature with the pre-fight scans, but Protoss has to suicide a zealot or probe to accomplish the same. Poking with HT to try and feedback ghosts seems like a necessity but it just seems ridiculously difficult.

All in all, better scouting and better positioning are what I'm trying to improve. My mantra has been "Shape the defense" meaning I need to pick the correct shape of my unit formation depending on my opponent's composition. Ghosts require spreading. Drops require splitting. Infestors require flanking. Runbys require gap-control. I have a terribly ingrained habit of just one-grouping my whole army into a clump at my weakest point. If I could just break that habit I'd be way ahead but I quickly start slipping mid-game once my mind gets distracted with tech choices and macroing.