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This guide discusses about the unit composition known as the Protoss Deathball. It is dreaded throughout Starcraft 2 for being nearly unstoppable once acquired, described by words along the lines of “scary scary army”. The general idea behind this strategy is to tech up quickly and get as many gateway and robotics units as you can to attack the enemy base with deadly force.
It is usually made of Stalkers, some Sentries, perhaps some Immortals, and a constant stream of Colossi. Zealots are optional, depending on the situation and the enemy race. Stalkera make up the majority of the composition, while Colossi are the strongest units. The immortals are for killing certain problematic units and the Sentries are used for Guardian Shield against ranged attacks and Force Field for certain uses like splitting up enemy forces or for slowing them down while you’re retreating. Zealots are also for certain units that are weak at close range, especially with the Charge upgrade.
Later in the game, they can be augmented with Void Rays to bring in that extra damage against tougher enemy units. If you can manage the micro, you can have them focus-fire on the big targets like Carriers, Brood Lords, Battlecruisers, Thors, Ultralisks, and so on. As the game drags on, you may then get a Fleet Beacon if you’re feeling crazy and get some Carriers for some DPS, or even a Mothership for the mass cloak, mass recall, and the vortex. This strategy is strong yet flexible, and the player can transition in and out of it.
The buildings needed here are some Warp Gates and one or two Robotics Facilities. The trick here is to build the deathball as quickly as you can while managing your economy to the point where you get a steady stream of units during the process. The problem is that you may not get a constant stream of units by getting buildings too quickly. You also need to research upgrades including Warp Gate Tech and perhaps the Extended Thermal Lance to maximize the deathball’s destructive potential.
There is no particular build order needed to get the deathball, but it usually comes from most builds that call for three or more Gateways, then a Robotics Facility. Some call for an expansion before the Robotics Facility, while some suggest after it. But the main issue here is the rate of resources coming in that you can use to make units as quickly as you can. If you have to wait until you get enough minerals and gas to warp in some units, then that’s not as good as having enough after the cooldown finishes. Therefore, the timing of buildings and probes is crucial to make it as seamless as possible.
The biggest advantage is that it is nearly unstoppable and can be modified according to your enemy’s unit composition. You add or subtract units however you wish, like add in more Immortals than Colossi to deal with Terran mech units and such. However, the disadvantage is that this strategy is susceptible to rushes at it takes time to come up with such a force. The reliance on robotics units also puts a significant strain on the economy, so it can be eliminated from the equation when you’re successfully harassed. It is also the most common way to win as Protoss, so you may need to diversify your strategies and not always rely on this.
Another disadvantage is that the differences of movement speeds and patterns between unit types. Stalkers typically move faster than Zealots and Sentries, while Colossi can get from point A to B more quickly in maps with plenty of obstacles since they can climb up and down the terrain. This means that you may have difficulty in keeping your Zealots up front and keeping your Colossi alive if you leave your army moving towards the enemy base unattended. This is an inconvenience that is usually remedied by good micro and use of control groups, putting slow units in one and fast units in another. Whatever your style of management may be, take note of these disadvantages to not have your units stumble on their own feet as they attack the enemy.
But the biggest weakness of the Protoss Deathball is that it takes time to build up. You need good macro to build up all up, from the amount of gateway units needed to getting the Robotics Facility and Robotics Bay to make the Immortals and Colossi. There is a lot of gas needed in order to bring in these units, so it’s definitely no rush. The best strategy against this is to harass the Protoss and keep him from building up that economy. The best way to stop a Protoss Deathball is to not let it exist in the first place.
The deathball is quite good in eliminating mobs of Terran infantry due to the Colossi, so the usual MMM Terran Deathball will get decimated. The first bit of danger comes with Siege Tanks, which can be addressed by Zealots with Charge upgrade and more Immortals, whose hardened shells can withstand the blasts from siege mode.
However, the biggest problem will come with Vikings, which can take down Colossi from a distance. Stalkers may not be enough to take them out as they’ll most likely be busy taking on ground units. If they have Blink, they can get right under the Vikings and shoot them down. But it would be better to back off from making the deathball at this point and mix in some air units like the Phoenix to address this problem. There may also be Banshees in the mix, so take an Observer with you just in case they cloak.
The use of robotics units is ideal against most Zerg players. More Zealots may be preferred, especially with the Charge upgrade to close the distance against ranged units like Roaches and Hydralisks. It may be a bit more problematic though if the opponent is particularly skilled with Banelings. The common characteristic of a Protoss Deathball is the clumping up of units, so you’ll be a very good target for those suicide units that deals deadly amounts of splash damage. You may have a better chance if you have good micro and most of your units are composed of Blink Stalkers.
Corruptors are also a considerable problem since they can take down your Colossi fairly easily and they can morph into Brood Lords, which are quite difficult to kill due to the broodlings. You may get Phoenixes at this point and make sure that your Stalkers have Blink to kill the Corruptors off quick while keeping your Colossi at a significant distance away from them. Void Rays are also good here as they can kill off Brood Lords when they do come.
Also beware of Infestors since deathballs are easy to use Fungal Growth on, and they can also control your Colossi with Neural Parasite to kill off most of your army before having it taken out. There are plenty of challenges posed by the Zerg against your deathball, but you can count on upgrades and micro to keep that to a minimum.
There is never a good but straightforward PvP matchup since you have to be a bit more clever if you want to win. Usually, the first person who rushes first wins, so it’s a game of speed for those with less skill or imagination. However you may want to see it, the deathball is not a preferred method to win against a fellow Protoss since it can be a 50/50 situation at best. More harasses and other tactics are required to better ensure victory in this case. However, there are situations where the deathball would be good.
A particularly good unit composition against a Protoss opponent with an affinity for Sentries is a Charge Zealot-Archon combination. The latter can bust down force fields since they’re massive units, then the former can rush in while the Archons tank and deal splash damage. Enemy Colossi and Stalkers will quickly die off if not taken out immediately, so you may win if you can pull this combo off in a situation where you’re being played for a fool by his good use of Sentries, whether it’s at the entrance of his base or getting your army split up in the middle of the map.
The simplest solution here, or with anything that is considered “overpowered”, is to not let the player get it in the first place. If the Protoss does not get the economy needed to build up, then the deathball is out of the question. In fact, it’s as easy as not letting him get gas since the Protoss are so reliant on it for their tech. Use that knowledge to your advantage.
The biggest threat is the Colossus, so making some Vikings is an apt countermeasure. Take note that since they’re all bunched up most of the time, Siege Tanks are very good against deathballs. However, positioning is crucial since they’ll die if they are within easy reach of Charge Zealots and Colossi with the Extended Thermal Lance upgrade.
Missile Turrets can also deter Colossi and detect cloaked units such as Observers and Dark Templars, making them vulnerable to attack. If you’ve taken out any Observers, you can then use cloaked Banshees to add in some damage. However, your best bet in defending against the Protoss Deathball is not meeting force with force, but by the positioning of your troops and the upgrades you get. Marauders with Concussive Shells can significantly reduce the deathball’s DPS, while your Marines can kill them off quickly.
But if you can really help it, harass the hell out of the Protoss to slow down his economy. You can use Hellions to do this, then get out quick when his units come in to stop you. You can then build up an MMM ball that you can drop behind his base to kill more Probes, then pick up and fly away when defenses come in. After that, rinse and repeat until you have enough forces to push. The game here is constant pressure.
One word sums up the Zerg strategy against the deathball — expand. The good thing about the Zerg is that you can grow so fast in such a short amount of time that you’ll reach 200 supply way before the Protoss do. If you scout him right, you’ll know that he’s building up the deathball. That is where you keep sending Speed Zerglings to harass his mineral lines and keep him on his toes while you take expansions and build up your own forces.
Banelings are particularly great against the deathball, since it’s just a big mass of units. Like everything else in your army, you can make more Banelings quickly once you have that strong economy. Since your buildings and units don’t cost as much as that of the Protoss, you can make a lot more of them and scare the hell out of the Protoss. Whatever the deathball kills off before you drive them back can be easily restored.
Again, the biggest threat is the Colossi, so get Corruptors when you can. They can kill them off easily when focused, so make it a point to flank the deathball with your flyers to take down the Colossi. Once you got them, it’ll be a hell of a long time before he can make more. That is when you decide to either retreat if you don’t have enough forces, or push forward if you’ve successfully killed off most of his forces. He may replenish them with more gateway units, but you should be able to take them if you have higher-tier units like Hydralisks and Brood Lords.
As with any mirror match, the main factor for victory is positioning. Various things like what units are in the fight, where the units are before and during the battle, what upgrades have been researched, what abilities are being used, and so on affect the result. There have been numerous cases of smaller armies taking down larger armies due to various reasons like the use of Guardian Shields and Force Fields, having more +1 upgrades researched in the Forge, having more of one particular unit type, and even where the Colossi are standing during the fight.
This is where your micro comes in as you need to move your units around to keep them in the fight as long as possible. If you see anti-air units hitting your Colossi, you select them and move away. You should make use of your Sentries to block off choke points with Force Fields and protect other units from ranged attacks with Guardian Shield. You can also blink Stalkers to higher ground and bring Zealots to the front. Take the terrain to your advantage to fight off an enemy deathball so you’ll still have a chance.
Many players who don’t play Protoss get frustrated by how overpowered that race seems due to the deathball, but that’s the wrong way of looking at it. The Protoss Deathball may be a powerful strategy, but it can be beaten with preemptive strikes, as well as proper assessment and addressing of the situation. If you scout out the opponent making a certain number of Gateways and a Robotics Facility, start considering your defensive and offensive options to fight against a Protoss Deathball.
As for Protoss players out there, this unit composition is a malleable piece of clay that can be sculpted into different shapes. With constant practice and complete understanding of this strategy, you’ll be able to create a masterpiece consistently throughout your games. If you are to lose a game, at least you put up one hell of a fight before you go down and type “gg”.