It's time to up the difficulty level of some of the builds I'll be featuring. There is in fact more to this game than just macroing up with the most basic units while doing basically nothing else on the map. One of the most rewarding styles to play in PvP are phoenix openers due to their inherent multitask heavy nature, and with PvP having stagnated a bit with the removal of the disruptor, I think it's time to feature a more proactive build. Zest brings a well crafted and versatile opener to the table that meshes very well with a stargate opener. This build that I'll be outlining can be used for any PvP style you wish up until the tech structure is put down, so even if you don't want to go stargate or phoenix, then take note of how Zest opens this game because it's a great way to get an early edge over your opponent: A fast sentry.
Link to Zest vs sOs game: http://sc2replaystats.com/replay/6216953
Before I get into this build I need to note that this is mostly a modification done by me. Since the original replay that had Zest doing this build ended up in a phoenix vs phoenix battle, I was only able to copy the initial steps from him. The rest of the build was formulated from outside research on other stargate openers that I've seen and the overall trends of how this matchup operates as a whole. I'll start off by talking about the phoenix opener and how it naturally transitions and plays while then talking about phoenix vs phoenix itself separately since it deserves it's own section. I'll also include the original Zest replay along with my own replay executing the listed version so that you can see both.
This build starts off normally just like any other PvP build. You start to wall off the top of your ramp with your first pylon and gateway to keep adepts from shading up while going for double gas behind it. You then get your 2nd gateway and scout with that probe followed by a cyber core right when your first gate finishes. Since this build isn't aggressive in the early stages, there's no reason to save chrono for a double chrono on the gates right away, so Zest chronos again on 18 supply after his 2nd gas goes down. The rest will be saved for phoenix later. Once your cyber finishes you'll be getting one stalker and one sentry. Usually you get either two stalkers or two adepts to scout/pressure or defend/scout for proxies. This variation gets a sentry first which leaves you with a very fast hallucination to be able to scout entirely what the other player is doing. Never feel like you can accurately know when they're going for stargate, DTs, blink, or robo? Well this is your answer. This hallucination scout is guaranteed to see exactly what the other player is doing before it can get to your base. The only things it won't see are a proxy of some sorts but you should know that's happening based off your probe scout so you can choose to alter your first units before that if you wanted. I'll talk about it a little more in the phoenix vs phoenix section, but Zest (and sOs since he did the same thing) hallucinates an oracle instead of a phoenix as a small mindgame.
This hallucination scout can alter how you will follow up with your build so the next steps can vary depending on what you see but this is the general idea and framework of how you should play it out. Once your stargate finishes you'll get three phoenix one after the other and all chronoboosted. If you see that they're going for fast blink with the hallucination then you'll need to get the robo as soon as possible (same for DTs, along with an oracle if you want to be super safe) and cut phoenix production and get extra shield batteries. Considering all things are normal you can afford a Robo at around 4:00 which would use up the gas required for your fourth phoenix. You can choose to make the fourth phoenix a little later if you want or you can just stick to three. If you do three then you can just do all the following steps slightly earlier while sacrificing the extra lift potential that a fourth phoenix gives you. From there you should be getting your natural gasses and a forge around 4:20-4:30 and an Immortal out of the robo to keep you safe vs any fast 2 base stuff they might do. If you see them playing particularly passively then you can skip the immortal for later to get faster tech. The Twilight Council follows at around 5:20 to start going towards charge and archons.
Once you have two saturated bases (44 probes) it's important to pause for a moment and analyze what the other player is doing. This is a major diversion point for a lot of builds that you'll need to take into account if you want to get the best edge going into the mid game. At this point they could be throwing down a lot of extra gates in preparation for a two base attack or they could have already expanded or gearing to expand. If they only have like four gates with their tech and forge at this time then they're most likely about to expand, in which case you can deny their probe moving out to take that expand as much as possible while you take one yourself. If you see them putting a lot of gates down and getting a larger army compared to yours, then you'll want to delay your 3rd and get more gates and units out yourself.
Regardless of what happens, you'll eventually be getting around eight gates by the time your 3rd is done with chargelot/immortal/archon tech and a forge upgrading to +2 weapons.
Phoenix vs Phoenix
Phoenix vs phoenix is a special beast. With both players opening for a stargate, it's inevitable that at least one will go for a phoenix before or after an oracle. Due to this, the other player must then respond with their own phoenix. It then becomes a nuclear arms race of phoenix because once someone loses the phoenix count then they will inevitably lose the game due to lifts. Unless the other player has an expert read on the situation to properly transition out of phoenix to not allow the other phoenix player to snowball with lifts. This is where analyzing high level phoenix vs phoenix gets tricky. A lot of what goes into high level phoenix vs phoenix is mindgames and in depth reads that don't happen at lower levels, even normal GM games. So I'll mention some of the stuff that Zest and sOs do in this example game and why they do them as small additions, but also talk about the overall theme of phoenix vs phoenix as the bigger picture.
The first preliminary step of phoenix vs phoenix is actually identifying that it is phoenix vs phoenix and gauging the initial phoenix lead. This is where the fast hallucination scout comes into play. Sending out the oracle instead of a phoenix of your own does a few things: Firstly, it tricks the other player into thinking a very fast oracle is coming their way and might make them pull probes. Secondly, it forces a player who went phoenix first to show their phoenix. They will see that fake oracle and be drawn to it immediately since they see the free win coming straight towards them. Thirdly, if the other player went oracle first then it allows you to see that even if they don't send their oracle directly to your base. How do you do that? If you were making phoenix nonstop since that stargate finished and he has a similarly timed stargate, then he should have the same number of phoenix as you. If he doesn't, that means he made something else before those phoenix. Zest arrived to sOs' base and saw an oracle in production with no phoenix waiting for him, which means that there is already one oracle out on the map somewhere. After waiting sometime for it to arrive to his base, you'll see him fan out his phoenix in every possible direction to find it since sOs was trying to mindgame him by hiding it in the corner. This then leads us to the four (more like five) primary steps of phoenix vs phoenix that need to be attained.
When you notice that the game will be going into phoenix vs phoenix it's important to put a second stargate down as soon as possible. Like I said, it's an arms race of phoenix so you want to put all resources into getting as many phoenix as possible at the start. Since in the example game sOs was behind in phoenix from the start by opening oracle, he had to immediately throw down his second stargate. Zest had the luxury of waiting a little bit before throwing his down since he knew he already had the phoenix lead off of the hallucination scout. From there you can maintain constant phoenix production off of two stargates while you get your natural gasses up as soon as you can to go into the next step.
Since it's very risky to send your phoenix across the map (and follow up hallucination scouts can be easily denied) you often times end up playing phoenix vs phoenix completely in the dark, which is why so many people dislike it. Because of this, there's nothing stopping one player from quickly teching straight into DTs to catch the other phoenix only player off guard. If you can afford the gas, then going for a robo is best obviously but otherwise a forge with cannons will suffice if you really want to commit to staying on phoenix. Going for robo usually indicates that you want to try and transition out of phoenix after a while. This is something that's very difficult to do properly and can easily bite you in the ass if you don't have the proper defenses set when you reveal/the opponent finds out you stopped going phoenix.
This upgrade is vital for phoenix vs phoenix wars and is the first power spike of the match up outside of trying to out micro with a one phoenix lead. A lot of lower league players I've seen tend to forget about the importance of this upgrade and instead go for a faster third stargate since all they know about phoenix vs phoenix is the arms race. However, going for phoenix range is almost always an instant game winner if you get it before your opponent, so long as you micro properly. Once you have constant phoenix production and can even start to afford to queue phoenix in both of your stargates, you should then save up for a fleet beacon and bank all your chrono for the range upgrade. You might end up behind a phoenix or two or give up your phoenix lead, but the pay off is definitely worth it and a necessary step in phoenix vs phoenix if you aren't going to transition out. This is past the point where the Zest vs sOs game goes because Zest initiated a transition out of it by going into blink and hiding his phoenix in the corner of the map so that he could suicide them for probes when he noticed sOs out of position and then trade them off for as many phoenix as possible so that he could safely stabilize with the amount of blink stalkers he had. Like I said, you can try this if you'd like but it's very difficult to gauge and time properly without you kicking yourself in the ass.
It's important to be sending out hallucinated phoenix scouts as much as possible and trying to click on their phoenix and checking to see if they have range done by hovering over their attack box on the UI. If you have it and they don't, then go balls to the wall.
If you can't abuse the phoenix range timing window then the next potential window is with +1 attack. Again, you should be sending hallucinated phoenix scouts as much as possible to check to see if they have +1 or not. After you went for phoenix range you should have taken a 3rd. You can expand relatively quickly with phoenix vs phoenix since they won't really have anything to contest it so any extra minerals you have should go towards expanding and getting more gas. After that the next thing to go for is +1 attack on your phoenix and a third stargate. Once your third base is saturated then you should make as many stargates as you can afford. Usually like four or five. If you can force a fight while you have +1 and an even phoenix count then you should. You can do this again with +2 attack if you get it fast enough.
The last timing window you can hit with phoenix vs phoenix after a +2 timing is the mothership timing. If you can get your mothership out before they do or before they notice, then you can force an engage while they don't have detection. This can be difficult to hit since they'll most likely have cannons spammed around at this point, but if you can catch them out on the map or find a spot to harass without cannons then you can use this to great advantage. When you're going for your own mothership remember to get an oracle as well so that if they have a mothership that you won't autolose yourself. If you can't win with this then you'll need to transition into carriers, and at that point it's literally just who has more carriers and who shift clicks better. In carrier vs carrier you should never A move and ALWAYS shift click their carriers. You can win carrier vs carrier fights with less carriers if you shift click properly and your opponent doesn't.
Throughout all of this getting at least some gateways up with the remaining minerals you bank to do chargelot/DT harass on any attempted expansions by your opponent and setting up cannon fields around your own expansions is also advised.
I hope that suffices as a crash course to phoenix vs phoenix and how to use a simple sentry first hallucination scout to heavily alter the way an entire game of interactions goes!
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