Starcraft, since it’s inception, has been heralded as one of, if not the, most difficult and multi-task intensive games out there. From the time of Brood War, when you could not select multiple buildings at once, had to tell each individual worker to mine, and can only select up to 12 units at once, macro has always been the major deciding force that made Starcraft difficult and multi-task intensive.
While Starcraft 2 made it easier with the inclusion of Multiple Building Select (MBS), auto-rally of workers, and (basically) unlimited unit select, the core aspect of the difficulty of Starcraft II comes from being able to balance your macromanagement with your micromanagement. I have always been the holder of the belief of macro first, micro second. APM comes from really fast macro (which comes from having a game plan: knowing what to do, when to do it, and remembering to do it), and then microing in between what I like to call the “Macro Cycle”. Here, I’m going to discuss what the Macro Cycle is, and how you can improve your ability to go through the Macro Cycle to make sure you’re never banking too many resources and constantly building Probes and Pylons!
What the Macro Cycle Is
I’m sure if you’re interested in improvement in Starcraft II, you have watched many streams from the first person perspective of a high level player. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that they cycle through their control groups very quickly and very frequently. While most attribute this to mindless spam to warm up their fingers so that they don’t have to ramp up their speed for the later game fast paced gameplay, which is most certainly true, there is another purpose.
If you watch Day9’s Mental Checklist 3 part video series, he discusses something that he describes as “The Tap”. This, “mindless spam” comes from the idea of The Tap. What Day describes is a process where you switch between your production control groups rapidly to constantly keep tabs on when your Robotics Facility/Stargate are building, when your Warpgates are off cooldown, when your Forges are done upgrading, and when your Nexus are building probes. The idea is if you constantly keep checking these essential elements of macro, you will be able to constantly produce units without over-queuing and spending your money as quickly, and efficiently, as possible.
This is just one part of the Macro Cycle, though. As you go through The Tap, you need to check other things. Whenever you’re cycling through these control groups, you want to keep tabs on the Wireframe at the center-bottom of your screen. This is where you see the selected structures and can see whether or not they’re in production. Once you go through a control group cycle, you then want to check your mini-map to see if there’s any suspicious activity happening that you’ll have to investigate or respond to. Your next step is to check the top right to see your available resources (minerals, gas, and supply) to see what you have money to spend on, and whether or not you need to build more Pylons, production, technology, or upgrades. You then start the loop over again by going through your Control Groups. As you practice this, you get faster and faster at it, to the point where you can add microing and controlling your units in between this cycle.
How Do I Practice the Macro Cycle?
If you check out the video I mentioned before, Day’s Mental Checklist, he outlines a very good exercise for each race individually (though you can apply the first part, which he uses Terran, to any race, but Part 2 does specifically address Protoss). I’m going to recommend checking out that video for a detailed and visual aid for how to practice the Macro Cycle, but here I’m going to give some quick tips that’ll help you along the way. Note, that these videos are from Wings of Liberty, so it’s important to note that new units have been added and the way Chronoboost works has changed drastically.
As a Protoss player, we have the added difficulty of having to look away from our army to produce Gateway units (with the exception of having a Warp Prism or a Pylon near your army to reinforce with). So when practicing our macro cycle, you don’t have the luxury of being able to stare at your units the entire time while macroing. So make sure you keep this in mind. This added difficulty, though, gives us a technique to help us avoid supply block. Let’s do some quick math.
Warpgates and Pylons
Let’s say you are playing a PvT. You are fully saturated on 3 bases, have 8 Warpgates, and a Robotics Facility, all constantly producing units. Every unit from the Warpgateis a 2 supply unit, so every 30ish seconds you will be warping in 16 Supply of units. Then, let’s take into account the Robotics Facility where, say if you’re playing a composition based around Adepts, Stalkers, and Storm, you’ll be making Immortals. Immortals are also 4 supply, and need to be built every 55 seconds. This means, every 30 seconds you’re building either 16 or 18 supply of units, depending on which cycle it is for the Immortal.
Now, let’s take a Pylon. A Pylon gives 8 supply and takes 25 seconds to build. So if you need about 16 supply every 30 seconds, then 2 Pylons will perfectly fit that. So whenever you warp in with all 8 of your Warpgates, you can build 2 Pylons, so before your next Warp-in Cycle is completed, you have free supply. But this doesn’t take into consideration for the extra 2 supply you need for the Immortal round.
Ideally, the way you would remedy this is when you do a Warp-in between Immortal production cycles, you would build 3 Pylons to get 24 supply. If you want to do this in the easiest way, every single production cycle you would build 3 Pylons to not be supply blocked. This ends up having the problem of getting too much free supply, so the best way to remedy this is to build 3 Pylons on one cycle, 2 Pylons on the next 2 cycles, then back to 3. So you would go in the order of 3 Pylons – 2 Pylons – 2 Pylons – Repeat.
A simple, easy rule to follow is to build 1 Pylon per mining base you have every production cycle to not get supply blocked. As you improve, you’ll see patterns like the 3-2-2 Pylon one I described for 8 Warpgate, 1 Robo production I outlined earlier. But this will ridiculously improve your macro just because you’ll have more stuff faster than your opponent than you did before.
The most important thing is to remember to build these Pylons right after the Warp-In and before you go back to look at your army or do something else so that you do not forget to build them and having to miss an entire warp-in.
One common issue you can see with a Protoss player is that they are either floating too much Gas or too many Minerals when macroing. This often times has to do with the amount of technology the Protoss player is choosing to invest in, along with their chosen unit composition. Standard unit compositions like Chargelot/Archon/Immortal and Stalker/Adept are chosen due to their relatively even distribution of Minerals/Gas to produce them. You want to pay heavy attention to how Gas heavy or Mineral heavy your unit composition is. If it’s really mineral heavy, you can afford to invest in some faster tech to get stronger units. If it’s really gas heavy, you’re going to want to be aggressive or do some sort of timing attack to make sure you’re not getting behind from lack of tech. The biggest mistake is to invest into a lot of tech when your army itself is already gas intensive. This will make your army too small, and your tech not advanced enough, as you will not have the resources to balance the two. Study common unit compositions used by high level players and try to understand why they work by looking at the unit costs and how much tech they’re devoting to and when to have a better understanding of how you can spend your resources not only quickly, but efficiently!
So, When Can I Micro?
This ends up being probably the most difficult part. My common advice is not to micro until your macro is so solid you are finding down time where there’s no macro to do in your play. Those are the times that you want to micro. The times when you have Pylons buildings, units Warped in, and your Nexus/Robo/Stargate all queued appropriately, and no money to spend. There are times when you need to forgo these (such as when your units are sitting under a Liberator’s siege, or a Disruptor’s Purification Nova hurtling towards your army), but for the sake of improvement, prioritize your macro over these situations, and take the losses as they come. You’ll improve faster by having strong macro over having strong micro, and the strong micro will come a lot easier once your macro is strong. The worst feeling is devoting full time to an engagement, and even if you take it well, end up having 2,000 Minerals and 1,300 Gas in the bank, while your opponent focused on macro and already has another army that you need to go through.
Bonus Macro Tip 1: Chronoboost Management
Now, this isn’t actually part of the Macro Cycle anymore like it was in Heart of the Swarm and Wings of Liberty, but it’s very important to have a good, standard way of managing your Chronoboosts so that you’re not spending too much time resetting your Chronoboosts. My best tip is to, in your head, set which buildings will be chrono’d by which Nexus. So, for example, have it in your head that your main will only every Chronoboost your Robotics Facility or your second Forge. Have your natural only ever Chronoboost your Twilight, Robotics Bay, or first Forge. Get really accustomed to these rules, and manually re-assign each Nexus’ Chronoboost without having to do a bunch of screen jumping to reset them. The easiest way to do this is to use your Wireframe to select individual Nexi. Another tip that can help here, is that when you have all of your Nexus selected and Chronoboost a building, it will use the nearest Nexus to Chronoboost that building.
Bonus Macro Tip 2: Building Placement
This is actually really important when it comes to having good macro, and it may not be obvious at first, so let me explain. If you have a standard game plan for where you want to put each building, you’ll spend less time thinking of it, and more time doing. Know where you want to place each Pylon before the game and in which order to build them. Know where you want to put your Warpgates, Robotics Facilities, Stargates, Forges, Twilight Council, Templar Archives, etc before the game, so when you need to put them down, you don’t need to look around and find a good spot, you’ll just go to that location and put it there. The more time you’re spending thinking, the less time you’re spending playing the game.
- APM comes from your macro: knowing what to do, when to do it, and remembering to do it.
- Have your Nexus, Production (Warpgates/Robo/Stargate) all control grouped in a way you can comfortably cycle through them repeatedly to keep checking them, along with constantly looking between your Wireframe (bottom-middle), Mini-Map (bottom-left), and Resources (top-right). The only time you should be looking at the main screen is either when microing (because you saw an incoming engagement on the Mini-Map or need to reposition your units because of a change in game state) or when you have to put down more buildings.
- When going through production cycles, build 1 Pylon per mining base after every warp-in to make sure you do not get supply blocked. As you improve, you’ll find more efficient patterns like the 3 base one I illustrated above.
- Only micro when you have no more macro to do during that cycle.
- Manage your Chronoboosts by selecting individual Nexus or using the functionality of, when selecting multiple Nexi to Chronoboost, it’ll prioritize and use the closest Nexus with Chronoboost off cooldown.
- Know before the game where you’re going to build all of your structures so you’re not thinking about it in game.