Countering the Protoss Fast Expand as Zerg

Starcraft 2 Strategy Guide --> Zerg vs Protoss Strategy --> Countering the Protoss Fast Expand (you are here)

Due to Starcraft 2's ever-evolving meta-game, some race versus race strategies change over time. Recently, fast expanding as Protoss against Zerg players has become extremely commonplace.

The general idea is that if Zerg and Protoss players are on equal bases, the Protoss player will be ahead. By securing an early expansion, the Protoss player puts the Zerg player in a very tough spot.

To make matters worse for the Zerg, on maps like Shattered Temple, it is very easy to put wall off your base with a Forge and a Gateway long before the Zerg player can react, especially if the Zerg opens with a fast expansion as well.

Alternatively, the Protoss player can go for a 3-Gate into expansion build, building up plenty of sentries to defend the base before the Zerg can access tier 2 units.

So what's a Zerg to do? Today I wanted to cover a strategy that I have seen used quite effectively lately across all leagues and even in pro-level games.

Conventional Wisdom - Typical Zerg Counter to the Protoss Fast Expand

Previously, conventional wisdom held that if the Protoss opts for a fast expand, then as a Zerg you take a third base; getting your third expansion up even before your first two bases are fully saturated.

The idea is that the Protoss player will not be able to attack you anyway as his technology will be delayed due to the fast expansion, so you are free to take a third base.

However, two things have changed lately that have significantly hampered the effectiveness of this strategy:

  • The Phoenix build time reduction and the rise of air units in Protoss vs Zerg.
  • Protoss players discovering that a 3-Gate into expansion can be a 3-Gate push into an expansion.

When a Zerg player takes a fast third base, the Protoss player now has two options that were previously not used nearly as often.

Three bases on a map like Shattered Temple where the third base is separated from the main means that air units will be highly effective. A few Phoenix and a Void Ray can bounce between expansions and dodge Queens (or pick off a solo queen or two), all the while taking out all the Overlords and Drones of the Zerg player.

Alternatively, when the distance between bases is short, many Protoss players will go 3-Gate into an expansion but instead of sitting back will actually push out on their three gate.

Protoss players can get a lot of Sentries off of 3-Gateways while simultaneously saving up for a Nexus. Three Gateways is actually quite adequate to apply serious pressure to a Zerg player who opts for a very early third base.

Two Base Zerg vs Two Base Protoss - A Viable Solution?

Recently a lot of high level replays have shown that two base Zerg is actually a viable counter to a fast-expanding Protoss player, assuming you opted for a 14 Hatchery yourself.

The idea is that Zerg players can get two bases fully saturated extremely quickly, much faster than a Protoss player can. Zerg players can also easily defend two bases from a Gateway push with a handful of Spine Crawlers, and can defend two bases from air with a handful of Queens.

This leaves the Protoss vulnerable in a very specific window of vulnerability to a Hydralisk push off of 2 bases. Hydralisks completely dominate Protoss gateway units and Immortals; the only two Protoss units which can handle Hydralisks are the Colossus and a High Templar with Psionic Storm.

The Zerg player can saturate two bases much faster than the Protoss player, allowing him to get out Hydralisks and even research the range upgrade long before the Protoss player gets Colossus technology, let alone researches Extended Thermal Lance or even builds a meaningful number of Colossus.

Just remember that a Robotics Bay, Robotics Facility, Extended Thermal Lances, and Colossi are extremely gas intensive. It takes a very long time for a Protoss player to turn these out off of two bases.

General Build Order and Strategy

Note that the build order for this build needs to be quite flexible and depends on good scouting. If the Protoss player opens 3-Gate into expansion, for example, you will want to throw down a few spine crawlers at your natural, whereas if the Protoss player opens with a Forge or a wall at their entrance, you can forgo the Crawlers until later.

What you will want to do is place an Overlord outside of the Protoss player's base in a position best to fly it inwards. At the 6:30-7:00 mark, you will want to fly the overlord into the enemy's base, sacrificing it in order to see what kind of technology they are going.

I recommend opening 14 Hatch, 15 Pool. Get out three Queens early; you will want 2 for Larva and one to spread creep. Spreading the creep early is extremely important as Hydralisks are dreadfully slow. Also, spread your Overlords around to safe areas outside the Protoss player's base. We will use these later.

Get 4 Zerglings for scouting and after that build nothing but Drones. If you scout that the enemy might try to push out on 3 Gateways from his fast expansion, then throw down three spine crawlers at your entrance. If you scout air units (from your sacrificed Overlord), you will want to build a few extra Queens. These extra Queens will also help spread the creep.

If you do not sacrifice an Overlord to scout Protoss technology at the 6:30-7:00 mark you are setting yourself up for a loss. You need to know what is going on inside the base so you can react accordingly. Stargate means you will want to bring your Overlords back home, build 1-2 Spore Crawlers, and train a few more Queens. If there are already a lot of Gateways up or worse, Gateway units on the field, you will need to build 3-6 (1.5 Spine Crawlers for each Gateway is a good rule of thumb).

At about 35 Drones, start harvesting gas and get a Lair. You will want to drop extractors at every base at about this point and get 3 Drones on each as Hydralisks are very expensive.

At this point also if you have not built Spine Crawlers yet, build 3-5 even if you do not scout any significant ground forces.

Keep producing Drones non-stop; you will want about 55 Drones. If you opt for nothing for Drones and stay on top of Larva injections, you can often hit about 55 Drones whereas the Protoss player will only be at 38-40, giving you a sizeable lead.

As soon as your Lair is done, build a Hydralisk Den and make sure you have about 30 supplies free. Get the range upgrade immediately and start producing Hydralisks out of all of your Larva.

Keep spreading the creep and try to get as close as you can to the Protoss player's base with it. Once you have about 15-20 Hydralisks, you can move out. Bring your Overlords into the missing portions of creep and start generating creep.

Once you have the "creep highway" set up, you can pull your Spine Crawlers down and burrow them just outside the enemy's base. This gives you a place to fall back to and a place to stream reinforcements to.

You can also slowly hop your Spine Crawlers forward and actually place them in a way where they can attack any wall buildings from a safe spot. Spine Crawlers have a range of 7, whereas Stalkers only have a range of 6, which makes this Spine Crawler wall extremely effective against T1 Gateway units.

At this point, you simply push in. Bring in an Overseer to help spot Stalkers on the high ground. If you manage to see any Colossus, be sure to manually focus it down; if you let the Protoss player get more than 1 Colossus or Extended Thermal Lance you were way too slow.

Once you have your Hydralisks out with no Colossi on the field, the rest of the match is easy. Be sure to continue to stream in Hydralisks from your main; an attack early in the game like this often leaves the Protoss player with little production facilities and unable to stand up against this continued pressure for long.


Naturally this works best on ramps with wide entrances to the enemies' natural expansion. Hydralisks with the range upgrade are not strongly effected by Force Field when no Colossus are on the field.

It also works best when you spawn close to each other. On very large maps with far spawn distances, taking a third base (and shortly after a fourth and fifth!) is an appropriate response to a fast expansion from a Protoss player.

Zerg Counter to Protoss Fast Expand Conclusion

The key strategy here is to defend yourself via Queens and Spine Crawlers early in the game, focusing wholly in Drone production. Once you saturate 2 bases, you can produce 15-20 Hydralisks and catch the Protoss player in a very vulnerable window.

The strategy relies on good scouting information. If you scout a fast expansion, you still need to collect information on whether the enemy is trying to tech up or if they are going to push out with Gateway units and react appropriately.