Starcraft 2 - Trickery and Manipulation

Starcraft 2 Strategy Guide --> Tricks and Manipulation (you are here)

While you want your APM to be at least as high as your opponent's, different players will inevitably fall on different parts of the APM spectrum.

Just because you have a lower APM than your opponent does not you are doomed to lose the game. While your opponent is likely getting more out of each unit and being more efficient at their base and with their macro, you will be forced to rely on strategies to win games. Fortunately for you, I will be sharing some of those methods with you in this article!

One of my favorite methods for winning games against more seasoned players is outright trickery and manipulation. When I say this, I do not mean cheese (i.e. all-in builds with no hope of transitioning should the attack fail) but rather providing false information to my opponent, deceiving him into thinking I am going a certain route while in reality I am doing something entirely different at my base.

Here is an example of one of my favorite strategies: in Terran vs Terran, go for a Banshee rush with Cloaking, with a reactor on the Factory for possible Hellions. Any good Terran will scan your base at about the 7 minute mark to check for Banshees.

I cancel my Banshee and cloaking, swap the Factory for the Starport, and start pumping Siege Tanks and Vikings. It costs almost no resources to make the switch, and Siege Tanks and Vikings are the backbone of TvT and have no real counter in that match-up.

Upon getting scanned, I also wait about 15 seconds and scan my opponent (or use a Reaper for scouting). The reason I do this is because you have to see if the opponent is responding or not. Your opponent may assume you are going to tech switch after scanning.

Look for an Engineering Bay or Missile Turrets; this means they are preparing for Banshees and have invested resources and time into defending my rush, so even if I switch out, they will still lose time and money.

Most of the time, players will prepare for the Banshee rush, delaying an expansion and instead working on getting out a Viking and a few turrets for detection.

Meanwhile, you can switch over to getting your expansion and building up a large Tank and Viking army; by the time they realized what happened you are already well ahead.

There are different types of deception and build swaps you can use in all the race match-ups. This type of strategy is popular even at the professional level of play.

Note that this works best in Gold League or above. Players in the bottom two leagues do not reliably with the information they get from scouting.

After all, players have to be looking for a particular build and know the "appropriate" counter; players in Bronze and Silver leagues will not know the basic builds in the game and may not even scout at all.

Feigning a Banshee rush in TvT in the Silver League may have no effect on your opponent, so if you are a lower ranked player be sure to work on the fundamentals (mastering popular builds, perfecting your opener, scouting, keeping up on your macro, etc) before trying out these types of techniques.

Here are some examples of switches you can do for all race match-ups:

As a Protoss Player:

The most versatile switch the Protoss player has is between the 1-2 Gateway Fast Expand build and the 3+ Gate timing push (4-Gate, 2/3 Gate Robo, 2 Gate + Stargate - the options are varied):

  • 1-2 Gateways is an effective way to get out just enough units in order to take and defend your expansion. This is a solid alternative to the Forge Fast Expand build. You can get out Sentries (to save minerals for your Nexus) in order to defend your base and put up an expansion.
  • 3-4-Gateways is an effective way to pressure an opponent early in the game.

The only difference between the two is 1-3 Gateways. As a result, you can easily switch between the two based on what your opponent sees to put out some serious pressure.

The most effective way to use this depends on the race you are playing against.

Versus Zerg players, a great strategy is to make the Zerg think you are expanding, only to drop down an extra Gateway or two and put out very early pressure. Many greedy Zergs try to snag a very fast third base against a Protoss player who opens with an early natural expansion. While Zergs can do this against the Forge Fast Expand, it is very risky against a Gateway-first build. You can turn on the pressure after the Zerg takes their third base with great success.

Versus Terran players, one good option is to open with Gateway aggression while secretly going for a Stargate. This is popular among pro-level players as it does take a good deal of practice to pull off. What you do is use 1-2 Gateways to produce Stalkers along with a Mothership Core and act like you are rushing the Terran player. This will make the Terran want to get bunkers and defense up at the entrance to their base.

While the Terran is focusing on frontal assault, you can secretly work up to an Oracle and come in from behind for major mineral line damage. When the Terran pulls back to attack your Oracle, you then have a great opening to attack with Warp Gate units at the front entrance!

Another great fake you can use as Protoss is to fake Chrono Boost a building when an enemy is scouting. For example, you can Chrono Boost your Twilight Council and the opponent will assume you are going for Blink Stalkers. Meanwhile, you could not be researching Blink at all and instead opting for High Templar or Dark Templar.

As a Protoss player, the easiest way to prevent getting tricked is to get out an early Observer so you can keep constant tabs on the enemy player.

As a Terran Player

Terrans have the easiest time switching their builds around given that Reactors and Tech Labs are interchangeable.

As mentioned previously, faking Banshees against Terran and then switching into Tanks and Vikings works well.

Against Zerg players, one of the most effective strategies is to open with Hellions or Hellbats out of a Factory with a Reactor attached, while secretly building 2 Starports for Banshees inside your base. Given that these two unit types require very different defense options, this is strategy is commonly featured in high-level games.

What you do is open with a Barracks into a fast Factory, and place the Factory with a Reactor at the entrance to your base, allowing the Zerg player to scout it. Produce 4-6 Hellions and send them in to harass.

Meanwhile, at your base, drop 2 Starports with 2 Tech Labs and build 2 Banshees and then move in. Given that a Banshee easily beats a Queen in 1v1, 2 Banshees can quickly take out any anti-air that may be present.

Hellions force the Zerg player into producing Spine Crawlers or Roaches, both of which cannot attack air units. This build is especially effective at maps which have a large opening to hit the natural expansion or a wide ramp into the main base; these situations force the Zerg player away from massing Queens and instead into Roach/Spine Crawler defense.

As a Zerg player the only way to stop this is to add Spore Crawlers or get a Mutalisk out; oftentimes there is not the resources around or the technology required given the diverted resources to prep for the Hellion push.

Against Protoss players, feigning attacks as a Terran player is not always easy given that Sentries often make early pushes against the Protoss base nigh impossible. Perhaps the best fake in this match-up is to feign 2-Barracks aggression, feigning an attack and while the Protoss is on the defensive, secure your natural expansion with a few Bunkers.

The easiest way to protect yourself from this sort of manipulation as Terran is just to scout regularly. You can use a Reaper to scout early in the game, and use scans regularly later in the game. Sometimes sacrificing a MULE for a scan can save the game. Knowing what the enemy is doing is priceless.

As a Zerg Player

If you are playing as Zerg, you have an advantage in terms of reconnaissance over other players. You can easily control the map and flow of information early in the game via Zerglings with speed, allowing you to pick off scouting workers with ease.

With that said, it is much more difficult for a Zerg player to provide false information. Zerg players can theoretically cancel their Hatcheries and expansions and move into aggression, but it is a much bigger risk for a Zerg player to do this than

The easiest and most effective form of deception as Zerg is to build expansions but use them as Macro Hatcheries. For example, if you take an early third base as a Zerg player, your opponent may expect you not to attack for awhile, as you theoretically would be working on Drones to saturate your new bases.

However, instead of making Drones, you could use the extra Larva and production capacity offered by having a fast third Hatchery to make a wave of offensive units like Roaches or Hydralisks. If you go from having virtually no offensive forces to suddenly possessing 12+ Mutalisks or Roaches, you can often take your enemy by surprise.

Alternatively, if you did not build that Hatchery at your third, but instead added in a macro Hatchery right inside the main or natural expansion, it would not be very surprising if you went for early aggression.

You can help cover up this strategy by transferring most of your workers to your natural and third base from your main. When the other player scouts out your third base, he will see a ton of Drones mining there and assume that you have no units and have gone for a very economical opening. Oftentimes the reaction to this discovery is the other player focuses on economy, technology, or even tries to take a third base of their own.

Meanwhile, keep any Roaches, Zerglings, or Banelings you have made hidden and inside your base. Little does he know that you have almost no Drones harvesting at your main and instead are sitting on a very large army. Use your Overlords to see if he takes the bait.

If you see him cut unit production and go for economy, once you get a reasonably sized army you can push out. This works exceptionally well versus players of all types.

Another strategy in late-game Zerg is not so much deceptive as it is taking advantage of game mechanics and makes Zerg very hard to beat in late-game play. It works against all races as well (though particularly versus Terran and Protoss). Here is how it works:

Once you have multiple bases running in late-game as Zerg, what you can do is get access to all technologies and units in the Zerg army. Save up a lot of resources and larva at your Hatcheries.

Next, try to trade armies with the other player; use Fungal Growth and Banelings to force the other player into a battle.

Once you trade armies, or at least put a good, use all your larva and banked resources to produce a new 200/200 army of whatever counters whatever your opponent has. Other races simply cannot rebuild in the same way Zerg can.

For example, if you are playing a Terran player who was using mostly Marines and Tanks, if you managed to tank out most of the Marines via Fungals and Banelings, you can mass up 100s of Zerglings or a dozen Ultralisks; with only a handful of tanks left on the field, the rest is easy. Of course, Hellbats would make this difficult, but in this situation, you could always go right into air, quickly getting out a large army of Mutalisks, Corruptors, and Brood Lords.

To prevent his from happening to you as a Zerg player, you absolutely have to know what the enemy player is doing at nearly all times. You can easily do this by positioning Overlords outside of the enemy player's base and sacrificing them for scouting.

Against all races you should do this at the 6-7 minute mark. Zerg's ability to produce a lot of units off of 1-2 Hatcheries allows them to be incredibly reactive; the 100 minerals lost on an Overlord pales in comparison to the amount of money you make simply by knowing exactly when to cut Drone production.


By manipulating the control of information in the game, sending false signals of information to the enemy, and by scouting regularly, you have a significant advantage over your opponent, especially in the higher leagues.

Try out some of these strategies and I am sure you will be surprised at just how effective they can be.

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