Game Changing: A Scouting Guide to TvZ

Commander! Welcome to Bombs’ guide to scouting Terran vs. Zerg! In this article, you’ll learn how to identify Zerg builds in the early and mid game, as well as how to counter pretty much anything your opponent might try. Although it’s not strictly necessary, research has shown that you remember things better after writing them down: I’m gonna ask you to get paper and a pen and start taking notes on the most important points I mention here. It’s time to see the enemy through his own eyes!

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When to Scout Banner

The most important aspect of early-game scouting is proper timing. You must always send the SCV out right after you start building your Barracks. This is the optimal time to scout Zerg, because it’s early enough to see what your opponent is up to and answer properly without sacrificing too much economy. If you wait to scout until after your Barracks is complete and he’s doing 1-Base Baneling Bust, you might just be dead!

Scouting SCV

Keep it standard in TvZ to always scout right after you start your Barracks!

SCV Scout Banner

The first thing you must understand in TvZ is that most Zerg players will follow a standard macro build of Hatchery, Gas Extractor, and then a Spawning Pool. More than any other race, Zerg relies on out-producing its enemies via the larvae mechanic. Accordingly, your opponent should start building their second Hatchery at 0:55in-game time. Your SCV will arrive at the Zerg natural base by 1:30, which means his expansion should be about 50% done!

Standard Z Macro Opening

Smart Zerg players will rarely diverge from this opening in TvZ. Remember, if your SCV arrives at the Zerg base by 1:30, you should see an expansion Hatchery around 50% finished and a Spawning Pool at 30%. If you spot both those buildings, you are perfectly safe for the early game! Now let’s look at some different things that you might encounter instead.

Situation 1

You get to the Zerg base by 1:30, and his expansion is below 50%… Your SCV gets to the main base and you see a Spawning Pool done: what does that mean? The opponent must have gone Pool First for the building to already be complete. This strategy focuses on making 6 – 8 Zerglings early game, dodging the Reaper, and arriving at the Terran natural to deny the expansion while Zerg macros. You should see Zerglings passing your SCV if the opponent pursues this build: react by stationing your Reaper in front of your natural, to protect the SCV building your Command Center!

Example Situation 1

Situation 2

You get to the Zerg base without your SCV spotting an expansion. As you enter his Main base you see a Gas, and a Spawning Pool (pumping like a heart, which means Zergling Speed being researched). You click on his Gas to find that he gathered more than 200 Gas (A standard Vespene Geyser has 2000 Gas when game starts), and right after that you see a Baneling Nest that just started: what does that mean? The answer should be obvious! The opponent focused 100% of his resources on getting troops ASAP, the Metabolic Boost research boosts his Zerglings’ effectiveness, and the Baneling Nest makes it clear: this is a 1-Base Baneling Bust. I strongly suggest you make 1 – 2 Bunkers and a Factory, if you defend this you should be very ahead in the game already in economically speaking.

Example Situation 2

Situation 3

Your SCV reaches the Zerg base, but sees no expansion. Inside the Main, you find the Spawning Pool already finished but no Gas taken! This means one of two things: the Zerg opponent either expanded in the gold bases or did a Proxy Hatchery close to your base and will attempt a Zergling + Spine Crawler All-in, so play safe! To hold a Proxy Hatch attack, you’ll have to constantly build Marines without Reactor, get a Factory right away, put a Bunker down, and rush Siege Tanks ASAP!

Example Situation 3

Zerg has a lot of potent all-in options, but we can condense the early-game advice to one line: if the Zerg is on one base, play safe!

All these tips should definitely give you a deeper understanding of how to scout Zerg in the early game; now let’s discuss the midgame!

Reaper Scout Banner

In TvZ you should almost always open with a Reaper right after your Barracks finishes. This works best when the Zerg is playing a Macro game, so you should adapt based on what you see with the SCV. Say you spot a 1-Base Baneling Bust: do you still really want a Reaper? Nope! Reapers not only require a lot of micro to be effective, they also take much longer to produce compared to Marines and the Reaper will delay your Factory due to the 50 Gas consumed. Against Zerg all-ins we want quantity, as many troops as we can assemble. To hold a Bane bust, we need Marines, Bunkers and Hellions!

Let’s talk a bit about how to use the Reaper. I always see students building the Reaper, but then using it much more to harass instead of for scouting. I suggest that if you want to harass that’s fine, but your end goal should be to never lose the Reaper. Lose the Reaper, lose the game. Make no mistake, Commander!

The Reaper has a few incredibly important objectives, which are:

  • Checking Zerg third base
  • Checking Zerg main or natural base for fast Lair
  • Checking Zerg drone count
  • Retaining map control, so that you can spot and buy time to deal with any all-in

A Reaper is capable of producing unparalleled amounts of information, and synthesizing all these tips can be the difference between winning or losing a game. What do we need to know to put those capabilities to work?

The first thing you must know is that the Zergling Speed upgrade will finish at around 3:20 in a typical game. This is when they will send their 4 – 8 Zerglings out to snipe your Reaper and get their third base, so around 3:20 it’s very important that you keep your Reaper close to cliffs to jump and dodge if necessary! Assuming that you can keep it alive, send that Reaper to check Zerg third base by 3:40, Zerg should start building their third base by 3:20 – 4:00 max.

Second is positioning: Try to keep your Reaper in the front of the Zerg natural base. A Macro Zerg will make just a few Zerglings early game, then afterwards will mass Queens and build his economy. There’s generally no reason to make more than 4 – 8 Zerglings, because building them unnecessarily will be sacrifice a lot of larvae and hurt unit production. Queens are usually be enough to hold early aggression, especially in conjunction with a single Spine Crawler which can be Transfused.

Reaper Positioning

Zerg will only make more than 4 – 8 Zerglings (or any other type of troops) before ~3:40 for one of a few reasons:

  • Zerg suspects Terran is committing to very early aggression
  • Zerg plans to commit to a 2-Base All-in (Baneling Bust, Mass Zergling, and Roach/Ravager)
  • Zerg plans to set the game tempo with some minor aggression transitioning into Macro

So if you see more than 8 Zerglings (I’m talking about 14+ before 3:40), the opponent is preparing for a mass Zergling attack at your natural for sure!

Third and finally: if the Zerg doesn’t have a third base by 3:50 max, he can only be doing one of three things:

  • 2-Base Muta
  • 2-Base Nydus
  • 2-Base All-in

If you can’t find a third base by ~4:00, you should immediately go to his main base and look at his Hatcheries. If you see that he is researching Lair, you can at least narrow down the possibilities to 2-Base Muta or 2-Base Nydus.

Missing Third Base

If you lose the Reaper, you can instead scan Zerg’s bases to see what he is doing and answer properly. A 4:00 Lair is very early – in the Standard style, Zerg will build two Evolution Chambers and a Roach Warren or Baneling Nest around this time, and get upgrades before teching to Lair.

After reading this guide I highly recommend that you start watching the replays of all the TvZ games you play using what I explained to you here. Fully understanding the possibilities available to your opponent will speed up your scouting abilities vs. Zerg immensely!

That’s it, Commander! With this information, you should be able to interpret the intentions of your Zerg opponents and claim an advantage in the matchup! Those of you who took notes on this article will also better remember the most important details in the heat of battle. That wraps up my Game Changing Scouting Guide to TvZ! Thanks for reading and please share with your friends!

Over and out!

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