The Shokz Guide, Starcraft 2 Guide

How to improve as Zerg

Hello, my name is RedFlash. I am a Master Zerg in Europe and I want to talk about how to improve your skill efficiently, whether you are bronze or master you probably don’t want to learn slowly, my goal is to try to teach you how to improve fast and effectively.

When I first started I was placed into bronze, it was tough for me but everybody was a newbie sometime so I dedicated myself to giving Starcraft II a shot. Since I suffered with ladder anxiety back in the day I didn’t want to mass play 1v1 on the ladder. Neither do I think the best way to learn fast is to mass play 1v1. The most important thing is that you watch your replays for things to improve on and use that for the next game. I’m not saying it’s wrong to mass 1v1, but you won’t learn as fast and efficiently if you don’t watch your replays to know what you could improve on.

Beginner Research List :
1. What race was best for me
2. What playstyle is best for me to learn and improve
3. How do I learn mechanics fast
4. How do I learn build orders fast

Why Zerg?

I learned that Zerg can be bad in the lower skill levels but they could be more rewarding in the higher leagues once you “mastered” it. This was back when Terran was favoured in win rates so at first I was a little bit doubtful about whether I should pick Zerg.

So since I knew that Zerg was more rewarding when “mastered” I decided to go with Zerg. I also learned that the macro game was the best way to go because you learn way more in my opinion. You get to improve mechanics, builds and scouting more. I’m not saying that Terran or Protoss isn’t as rewarding when “mastered” but this is what I heard when I was a newbie.

As for the mechanics part I watched Day9, Husky and PsyStarcraft as well as asking some helpful people in channels, I made some friends who observed my play vs players as well as vs AI.
I felt like practising vs AI was the most comfortable way for me because the AI usually attacked at the same time and I could pause whenever I wanted etc.

Zerg differs alot from Terran and Protoss, Zerg is the most unforgiving race in macro BUT if you are really good at macro with Zerg it’s a very strong race. If you got decent decision making and game sense Zerg gets even stronger since it’s a reactionary race. Imagine a computer would play Zerg and never forget creep spread, injects, know exactly when to make units and make the units to counter the opponent. You can see that the Zerg will crush the opponent yes?

Jaedong mentioned this and it’s true. If you play Zerg perfectly you are gonna win every single game. Stephano is one of the examples that can play Zerg so extremely good, but even he makes mistakes. I’m not very good with Terran or Protoss so I can’t really speak for them but my guess is that you can’t win vs a Zerg that plays 100% perfect, though everybody makes mistakes sometime, we are human afterall. For example, if Terran or Protoss plays 100% perfect, doesn’t that mean that the Zerg made mistakes?

Interesting… So how do I learn to play similiar like that?  - Watch Stephano and DRG, 2 examples of really great Zergs. I advice you to download replays from MLG winter arena and watch DRG there.

I don’t think you need to play alot of 1v1 to learn zerg, I would say watch Stephano and DRG then copy or modify their builds and learn the game by watching them and ask yourself “why did he do that?” When you feel you are ready, practise mechanics in 1v1/vs AI and perfect your builds. After you got that all set you are ready to play.


General Macro: Check your supply as often as possible so as not to get supply blocked, keep your resources low, build drones and remember to stay safe.

Drone count and Saturation: 16 optimal saturation for minerals only, 24 for complete saturation, 18 on minerals and 6 on gas. This is very important so make sure you transfer drones to expansions to keep them saturated nicely!

ZvP vs FFE you can usually go up to 60 drones before any attack arrives, unless it’s an early WG timing which you need to scout. You want to stop making drones at about 75-85 but maybe go to 90-100 like some people do to replace with spines later in the game.

ZvT you can usually drone until about 50 before a 2 base attack from the Terran approaches, you want to stop at about 75-85 drones max.

ZvZ it’s very hard to say because you have to constantly scout what your opponent is doing, so be careful with the drone production. I usually stop making drones at about 62-70 because I want alot of supply for my army to try come out ahead in the engagement.

Creep: This is mainly important in ZvT because the Terran can’t clean it up without wasting a scan which equals a mule loss, if he chooses not to use a scan then he will be in a bad spot once the creep is at his base, also it grants you map vision and speed to arrive quickly to a location. Engaging a marine tank army with ling baneling can make so much difference with/without creep, but to be honest I wouldn’t focus that much on creep in the lower leagues because it requires alot of APM. I wouldn’t trade creep for inject.

Larva: As zerg you want to make as many drones as possible with the larva if you are going for macro play, you can say to yourself that every larva could be a drone so zerglings aren’t very larva efficient, but roaches and infestors are for example 1 roach vs 2 lings. Another good tip to manage larva for the army is to hotkey the eggs for your army so they will rally to your army. Stephano is a player who uses this very effectively, but be careful of drops sometimes it can be good to have a little ling squad ready to stop a drop.

Queens: I recommend the same amount as your bases for example 5 bases should be 5 queens. It takes 40 seconds for an inject from start to finish and it takes 15 seconds for a creep tumor. Use the backspace method but in lategame if you find them walking around everywhere on the map, press space and manually inject.


If you are going for a long macro game I recommend that you time your upgrades, but be sure to scout if the opponent has 2 bases or more. If he has only 2 bases it’ll be dangerous to tech to Hive.

Additional Upgrade Notes:
Lair takes 80 seconds
Hive takes 100 seconds
Infestation Pit takes 50 seconds which you need before you can go to Hive
Burrow 100 seconds
Ventral Sacs (Overlord drop) 130 seconds
Pneumatized Carapace (Overlord and Overseer speed) 60 seconds
Melee/Range/carapace 160/190/220 seconds

Build Orders

The key to improving isn’t all about build orders, people have got to Masters without build orders but they will certainly help you to Master League and to succeed more. Basically have at least 1 build as a starter for every matchup such as:

14-16 pool to 16 - 21 hatch (because you can get pylon blocked and need 4 Lings to deal with that) from there you can go the Stephano style 3-4 gas mass Roach and do what you want from there, or you can go 2 base Infestor or why not, 3 base Infestor with Spines and such for defensive, but remember to scout! Infestor is not very good vs 2 base Colossus all in. 2 gas 6:00, 3 gas 6:30, Roach Warren + Evolution Chamber 7:00 is standard.

14-16 hatch and 14-17 pool with gas whenever you want, earlier than pool or later than pool. Into Ling Bling Muta with for example double evo at 10 min with Baneling Nest. You can also go Infestor Ling (Bling) into Ultra or BL. Some people go macro hatch at 7-8 min before taking the 3rd, I think that is best because you won’t be able to saturate a 3rd before he comes to attack you.

14 pool 14 gas seems to be the most solid opening because it’s pretty safe against early 6-10 pools but you can take the risk and go 15 hatch as well, though it is a risk.

You can from there take off gas at 100 for only Speedlings or you can continue to mine gas and get a Baneling Nest for defensive or offensive purposes. Adding a Spine for safety is good advice, from there just survive and go toward only Roach with 2 evo or Roach Hydra 1-2 evo, Ling Infestor, Roach Infestor or Muta. There are so many builds but those are the most common ones.

Mindgames: If your playing a BO3 for example in a tournament, especially in ZvZ it can be good to vary your play so you don’t get blind countered for your macro play. You could go 15 hatch first game then 8 pool next if he went for a 15 hatch previous game, or just have the same build but different unit composition or a big timing attack etc.


Knowing the hotkeys for every unit and such is essential to make you better at this game, I use simple hotkeys such as 1-3 for army (1 for main army, 2 for Banelings to target Marines or Lings to evade Zealots, 3 for Infestor or Muta) 4 for all Hatcheries, 5 for all Queens, 6 for upgrades and 7 for creep Queens. If you don’t want to use 6 or 7 you can rebind the keys for your preference, for example the mouse buttons or similar.

Another thing you must learn is the unit hotkeys, D for drone, Z for Zergling, S to stop, H to hold position etc. This will come in very handy in alot of situations. I strongly recommend using the backspace method too even if you think you have perfect injects, it really helps. Rebind the base camera from backspace to space or something that suits you, I also rebinded patrol to Q (who uses P for patrol?..). As well as idle workers and shift between unit groups, I use them as caps lock and tab.

Standard hotkey setup vs Customized standard hotkeys vs Grid: It is mostly personal preference but I think people should always modify settings abit to suit their style. I have tried grid, darkgrid and other hotkey setups but I have to say that I just couldn’t get used to grid and from what I hear there is no difference at all; some say grid is better, some say it isn’t, it is personal preference. I use customized standard hotkeys.


When and how do I scout?
You can morph an overseer when lair is complete at about 8 min, suicide overlord at 7 min, scout gases etc. Evo around 7:00 is always safe vs DT/voidray/banshee 2 base, Evo around 5:00 is always safe vs DT/voidray/banshee 1 base.

Evo is 35 seconds build time and spore is 30 seconds build time. That means if you make evo at 5:00 you will have spore ready at 6:05 and DT timing is about 6:45.

Overlord positioning: Remember to spread your Overlords in the corners and other open airspace to spot drops and such, maybe not so important in lower leagues because it requires alot of APM and you might not even look at the mini map to spot it in time.

Always have 1 or 2 Overseers in action from time to time to make some ChangeLings and scout his army, expansions and such.
 Always try to have the watch towers in your control to see what’s going on.
 Have a Ling at 3rd and 4th so you know when he expands. 
Suicide a Ling at his army to see how much he has, Zerg is a reactionary race after all so you are vulnerable to attacks at times when you are droning.


The most common and dangerous timings would be these:

- ZvP: 4 gate, DT rush, 4 gate robo, 7-8 gate robo warp prism all in.

- ZvT: Hellions, Cloaked Banshee, 4-6 Rax all in.

- ZvZ: 6-10 pool and 12 12 Baneling all in etc.

Most of this is 1 base so you can see this by scouting the gas, sacrifice an overlord if your not sure or most importantly what if you do not see any sign of expand 5:10 and above? Then you should get suspicious and poke with an Overlord/Ling, maybe even throw down evo chamber with a Spore if you want to be extremely safe, however now with the new Overlord speed it should be easier to see without making a Spore blindly.


1 base

Standard 1 Gas 4 Gateway Rush - ~6:00-6:20 Can be very powerful even if you are prepared. The key is to not make more than 25 Drones usually.
3 Gate Robo: (6 zealots, 3 stalkers, 2 sentries, 2 immortals): 8:00-8:10 Mass Ling and some Roach
3 Gate Blink Stalker - 8:00+Just mass Ling and maybe a few Spines.
DT rush - 3 DT’s out at ~6:45 You should suspect this if you see no expansion
1 Gate Stargate - 1st Phoenix out at ~5:55 Make extra Queens and you should be fine.

2 base - Always poke with a Ling or Overlord to see if they are chronoboosting a warp gate or forge, this is important scouting information to see if he goes early attack or later attack etc. If he doesn’t have 1-2 gas at natural, expect gate units.

It’s 8:00 and warpgate isn’t yet finished, thats why I have 62 Drones, I haven’t seen him chronoboosting the cybercore so not until now do we want to be making units to see if he is attacking, taking a 3rd or teching. 7-9 gate Immortal sentry (warp prism) all in 10:00-14:00Don’t drone above 65, Infestor and Muta tech is dangerous, bait forcefields with Roach Ling and then flank and kill. Don’t engage in chokes. Colossus Timing ~13:00 Roach Corruptor or Ling Infestor Baneling drops.


2 Hellion reactor rush: 5:19
4 Hellion reactor rush: 5:49
Cloaked Banshee - banshee out at ~6:20 cloak finishes at ~7:20 - You should suspect this if you see no expansion
2 Port Banshee - 2 banshees out at ~6:35 You should suspect this if you see no expansion
Blue flame hellion finish ~7:00 - Poke with a Ling and you should get defensive Roach Warren at 6 min for safety incase Blue Flame Hellion or double reactor Hellion
3 Barracks Stim Timing Push ~7:00-7:30 Not very common but a defensive Spine, Queens and some Lings should be enough
Drop blue flame hellions in your base ~8:00 This can be painful if you don’t have a few Roaches out, that is why I recommend a 6 min safety Roach Warren
Gas before Barracks Hellions pop at ~4:30
2 Barracks Medivac Stim/Concussive drop/push ~7:45
2 tanks with siege out at ~6:30 If he doesn’t have a 2nd base, make Lings to defend his push, if 2 base, grab a 3rd and macro up.
Concussive shells finish at 4.45
Marine/SCV All-in ~5:00-5:20 - 2-3 Spines with Queens, Lings and Drones is enough but 1 Spine and Banelings Queens is enough too. Remember to scout.

6 Pool (6 lings): 2:09 Just A move your workers and pull back wounded Drones and mineral walk try to catch some Lings, 3 Drones kill 1 morphing Spine.
7 Pool (6 lings): 2:18 - Same as above but if he brings all his workers, mineral walk your Drones to natural and back waiting for your Zerglings to pop, then engage.
8 Pool (6 lings): 2:28 - Same as above
Baneling Rush (6 banelings, 6-8 speedlings): 4:30 Ling Baneling of your own or Spines and Queens
2 Base Mutalisk - ~8:00-11:00 Spore Crawlers, Queens and Hydra/Infestor
3 roach rush + Speedling Follow-up (estimated unit hatching): 4:00-4:30
3 roach rush + Speedling Follow-up (estimated arrival): 5:00 Defensive Spine(s) and Lings is enough
7 Roach Rush ~4:45-5:00Defensive Spine(s) and Lings is enough



Zerg micro is mainly about getting the surround, flanking and where you engage, DO NOT engage in choke points! Uphill is not something I recommend either, always make sure you have vision. Fighting position makes a huge difference and can be game ending for either.


ZvZ:Ling Baneling = You have Zerglings on 1 and Banelings on 2, if you see your opponent has Banelings, move and shift click a Zergling in your control group to remove it from the group thus trading a Ling for a Baneling which is good for you. 2 Banelings kill 1+ Baneling, 3-4 Banelings kill morphing Banelings.

Mass Ling = If you have a Baneling then 2 and a Spine can be enough but you would also need 4 Banelings and some Zerglings unless your opponent is half asleep.

If you don’t have Banelings then you should have some Zerglings to stay safe and 2 Spines with 2 Queens at the ramp.

2 Rax = Pull double or more amount of the Drones that he has SCVs, chase him and remember to kill the SCV with 2-3 Drones attacking the bunker, if he just kites you around then back up and wait for Lings but DON’T let the bunker finish!
A good tip to stay safe can be to make at least 2-4 Lings when pool pops to see what he is up to.

Incase the bunker(s) gets up you will need to make a ton of Zerglings, get your Queens down to the 2nd base and a Spine. The Queens should either be hitting the bunker from above or Tank the damage so the Lings and Spine can do the rest. Queens have 5 range now so it should be easier to deal with it.

Hellions = You can kill Hellions with Lings pretty easily as long as there is not more than 4-6, split your Lings in 2-3 groups and get a surround. Don’t have 30 Lings chasing 4 Hellions in same path you will just lose a ton of them.

Hellion Marauder = If you don’t have Roaches then I hope you have Spines, the Spines or Roaches should target the Marauders as a number 1 priority and Lings shouldn’t engage until Hellions are 4-6.

1 base fast Zealot + Stalker = You can try to trap the Stalker first because it is faster, after that even if you fail just engage the Zealot and pull back wounded Zerglings. If you don’t have enough Zerglings just get back to the base.

4 gate = Tease him to attack you so you get some free shots with the Spines then if you see he is outnumbered just attack and try pull back wounded Zerglings.
 If he has Stalkers then focus them first with the Zerglings but you always want to have support by Spines otherwise you die.


ZvZ: Roach vs Roach = Back/burrow wounded ones and don’t engage up hill or in chokes where you whole army is not participating.

ZvT: Ling (Bling) Infestor vs Marine Medivac Tank = Split your army in 3-4 pieces, try to have 1 burrowed Infestor throw Infested Terrans at the Tanks while your Infestors gets some nice fungals off, then flank with your army from all directions. If you have Banelings then you should have them as hotkey 2 and Infestor hotkey 3, Banelings should focus Marines only.

ZvP: Roach Ling vs Immortal Sentry = Bait forcefields and try to snipe a Sentry or 2, kite his Zealots with Roaches then wait for him to come and then you flank from all sides, focus fire Immortals with Roach.

Roach Corruptor vs 2 base Colossus = Try get some free shots with your Corruptors if he has blink and blinks to your Corruptors you just attack with the Roaches so he can’t retreat. If you feel like you will lose your army just do your best and back the Roaches abit all the time so the Colossus can’t contribute to the fight.


Late game is mainly about positioning, minerals and gas are limited so use them wisely.
 Do your best and position your units to be as efficient as possible.
Infestors are so good late game because their abilities do not cost any minerals, try to keep them alive and life will be easier for you. 
Another good thing is Spine Crawlers, they can be so cost effective it is definitely worth buying if your floating over 3000 minerals. I almost forgot… Infestors, more infestors!

Really infestors is so good lategame, you can: Harass expos, fungal main armies, all without losing any minerals/gas!

ZvZ: I’m amazed if you ever got to this stage, Broodlord Corruptor Infestor Queen is the key here but not too many Broodlords and only use Corruptors if your opponent has Corruptors/BL too. Also make sure you have got some Spines to be safe against any Ling/Roach run by. Infested Terrans and Hydra is no threat to your Broodlords because Broodlings and fungals are pretty good together.

ZvT: Ultra Ling Bling Infestor Queen vs MMM with Tank = You just need 4-5 Ultras to Tank the damage, Ultras are not damage dealers, but also use the Infestors infested Terran ability to Tank then fungal and engage from all directions. Banelings target Marines (not Marauders) and Queens heal Ultras.

ZvP: Ultra Ling Bling Infestor Queen or Broodlord Infestor Queen vs Protoss deathball with/without Mothership = Your Broodlords should be spread against Mothership to avoid Archon toilet, get some free shots and fungal parts of his army and force him to engage in a bad spot. If you have Ultra composition then engage from all directions and Ultras go first to remove forcefield, fungal and throw alot of infested Terrans.


Gaming Gear: Will gaming gear promote me from Diamond to Master and increase my APM? Mechanical keyboards and a good gaming mouse that fit you will definitely increase your APM. Note that some koreans including Flash do not use the most high tech Keyboards out there, yet he is very talented.

Positioning: Make sure you sit comfortable and don’t hurt your back or wrists because you are sitting in a bad position. Also if you play alot, make sure to stretch at times.

Day 9 covers this subject very well in his blog here.

Early game: Spamming APM in the early game can be cool, sure. It’s also good for warming up your hands and another thing is to rally your Drones to the closest mineral fields. 2 per mineral field and then split them to the empty mineral fields so they don’t run around like crazy. Sometimes you have to click them to the mineral field 3-4 times but that’s okay.

Mid game: Try thinking of the future, oh I’m going to build 2 evo chambers at 8:00, oh I’m going to take a 4th at 11:00 for example. You can harass with Mutas, Infestors or a little Zergling run by? This will rapidly speed up and improve your game thus increasing your APM.

Late game: Are you slowing down because you don’t build more Drones or upgrade? DON’T, remember to spread the creep again. ALWAYS ALWAYS spread creep. Late game actually brings you the choice to drop with Speedlings which can be very effective especially in ZvT. Also you can try Nydus Worm which is pretty good if he’s camping with Tanks you can go Nydus at his top expansions then get out, a good map for that is Shakuras Plateau.

Watching Replays

More GG, More Skill.

If you don’t know why you lost, watch the replay. Don’t waste your time whining about any imbalances or such, sure it can be frustrating to lose a game but take it with a grain of salt, try to find the error and learn till next game. Commonly faults are lack of scouting, bad macro, didn’t know timing (scouting), over droning (scout), positioning (micro).


  • TaLuS

    Very bad english but I like the timing infos!

  • Khol

    Extremely well written article as far as content. Definitely one of the most meaty and helpful of the Zerg articles I’ve read. All of the information was practical, relevant, and current. Definitely bookmarking this.

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