StarCraft Soapbox: Thoughts on the Recent Balance Patch

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Terran players rejoice! Maybe…

After extensive trials on the test map over the last weeks, Blizzard has implemented a long-awaited balance update. The patch went live on Friday, 28th Feb (Saturday the 1st in EU).  There is one significant change to each of the three races, although this round represents a clear nerf to Protoss, particularly in the Terran v Protoss matchup.  The changes, and my thoughts on the patch, are outlined below.

Widow Mine, Starcraft II

Protoss

  • Mothership Core
    • Vision radius reduced from 14 to 9

Terran

  • Widow Mine
    • Sentinel Missiles now deal bonus splash damage to units with Shields, based on their distance from the target. Splash damage is now dealt as follows.
      • 40 + 40 vs. Shields within 1.25 radius.
      • 20 + 20 vs. Shields from 1.25 – 1.5 radius.
      • 10 + 10 vs. Shields from 1.5 – 1.75 radius.

Zerg

  • Hydralisk
    • Delay between attacks decreased from .83 to .75 seconds.

The nerf comes in response to the futuristic alien race’s dominance on the competitive scene and the ongoing community controversy about imbalance.  While these changes should offer some relief to Terran and Zerg players, it remains to be seen whether they’re significant enough to truly redress the balance. Here’s how the changes are likely to affect your game.

 

StarCraft II, Patch Update, Mothership Core, Protoss Nerf

The Mothership Core vision reduction is supposed to limit early scouting for Protoss, making information gathering altogether riskier and more challenging.  Obviously scouting is key in SC2, but it’s hard to quantify how damaging this will be.  It’s not as if Protoss will suddenly be playing completely in the dark, and the number of early game options at Terran’s disposal is still limited.  David Kim, Blizzard balance expert, indicated that this change is also designed to have an effect in large Mid/Late Game battles in TvP, where High Templars and Ghosts compete for vision for casting their respective spells.

Despite what you might expect, the sight nerf is unlikely to significantly reduce the effectiveness of Protoss Blink plays, where the MSC is used for high ground vision.  The range reduction is small enough that Blink plays will still be viable on most maps, albeit with an increased risk of losing the MSC in the process.  For many Terrans struggling against both 1-Base and 2-Base blink aggression, this may come as a disappointment. But before you take to the forums in rage, be aware that still in testing (read, not implemented in this patch) is a cool-down increase for Blink. This may be implemented further down the line, depending on whether or not the current changes are enough to knock Protoss back into line.

Blink Stalkers

The boost to Terran’s Widow Mine is the most surprising change and possibly the most significant. It has no bearing in any matchup other than TvP because it affects only units with shields. Shields, for those new to the game, are a defining feature of Protoss units and are normally one of their greatest assets. The Widow Mine received a nerf to its splash damage several patches ago in an attempt to reduce its effectiveness against Zerg. These current changes will not affect the TvZ matchup, but will encourage more use of the burrowing explosive vs. Protoss.

Before the patch, Widow Mines had limited efficacy in TvP. Other than defense against proxy oracles, their principal role was in an harassment play.  This involved a 1/1/1 build, teching up directly to Starport, followed by a fast Medivac/Mine drop into the opponent’s mineral line.  This had a chance of stealing probe kills and, if the Protoss player had no detection, delaying mining time.  However, if the Protoss reacted swiftly and appropriately, the entire play could be shut down without doing any damage. Because the 1/1/1 significantly delays barracks production, the Terran’s core army of Marine/Marauder/Medivac would then be much weaker, setting the Terran player significantly behind.

The increased splash damage will raise the threat of this opening drop play. Certainly, if it’s not scouted and reacted to, many more probes could go down, but its success will still be dependent on a sloppy Protoss reaction.  There may be some increased utility in fending off Stalker aggression, if widow mines are built in numbers for base defense.  However, any resources invested in the immobile mines mean a smaller mobile Marine/Marauder army to roam between bases.  A skillful Toss player will be able to exploit that lack of flexibility. There’s also a solid argument for getting a Siege Tank for defense if you’ve already got your factory up.

The real question, though, is whether this change will prolong the usefulness of Widow Mines into the midgame.  If the patch works as intended, we’ll see more Mines mixed into mid-game bio balls. The additional splash should reduce help counter massed zealots and with intelligent positioning the Mines could help cover the retreats of kiting Marine/Marauder.  Detection and elimination of Observers will become a priority for Terrans attempting to employ this style, either through a lone Raven with Vikings, or with liberal use of scans.  We may see Protoss mixing in the stealthy Dark Templar in order to eat up Orbital Command energy and protect their detecting units.

StarCraft II, Hydralisk, Phoenix

As for the Hydralisk alteration, it seems like a small change that may have far reaching repercussions.  The intention of the change is to give Zerg more viable anti-air options vs. Phoenix openers.  There’s no doubt this change will increase the damage output of the unit significantly, but given the fragility of the Hydralisk overall, there have been complaints that it won’t actually won’t do that much. Of course, even the smallest changes can have unexpected effects on the meta-game. A perfect case in point was the minor increase of Queen range that completely altered the face of TvZ at the end of Wings of Liberty. There’s the possibility, for example, that it may make Roach/Hydra more viable in ZvT.

In ZvP, one of the main concerns of the matchup, more than balance, remains the boredom factor of the late game.  Zerg players are often finding the only way to compete is through extremely passive Swarm Host turtling. This current patch does nothing to address that, even though many professionals think it’s the most pressing issue in the game.

While Terran players will complain that the patch doesn’t reduce Protoss’ aggressive options in the early game, overall, the changes seem like they will significantly weaken the dominant alien race.  Personally, I’m hopeful that this patch will open up new options in gameplay for Terran players and that Widow Mines will develop a more significant role in the TvP metagame.  I’m happy to see Blizzard implementing changes slowly and with caution. I’d prefer not to see them take too aggressive an approach to removing Protoss’ early-game ‘teeth’ if they can avoid it.  But time will tell. For now, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in the matchup.

About James Windeler

James first played games on his older brother’s cassette-loaded ZX Spectrum. He’s a StarCraft II aficionado and writer. He wishes his macro was better.