Tier 1 Units versus Tier 3 Units

There has been multiple instances (not necessarily recently) of people talking about how Tier 1 units should not be able to play and win against Tier 3 units. This is often in regards to the Ultralisk armor buff where they can now attain a total of 8 Armor through upgrades, and the Marauder’s attack being split into 2, causing armor upgrades to account for them twice over and thus reducing the Marauder’s effectiveness vs Ultralisks by about 50% as it was prior. I would like to get into why I believe Tier 1 units should be able to fight Tier 3 units and why it is good for the game.

First, let us define what a Tier 1 unit is and what a Tier 2 unit is. A Tier 1 unit is a unit that doesn’t require much or any tech to reach. Examples are: Queens, Roaches, Zerglings, Zealots, Stalkers, Sentries, Adepts, Mothership Core, Marines, Marauders, and Reapers. These units require 1 or 2 buildings to be constructed and are available quite early in the game. This is the only tier of unit in the game that contains units that require no gas (i.e Zealots, Zerglings, and Marines). These are what I view as Core units: Units that are important as they help shape and define how the early game plays out and, ideally, continue to have roles throughout the game.

Tier 2 units are units that have a prerequisite which has a prerequisite of a Tier 1 unit. For example, to build an Immortal you need a Robotics Facility, which also needs a Cybernetics Core. Tier 2 units always require a gas investment for their pre-requisite.

Tier 3 units are units that have a prerequisite which has a prerequisite of a Tier 2 unit. For example, a Disruptor has a prerequisite of a Robotics Bay, which has a prerequisite of a Robotics Facility, which has a prerequisite of a Cybernetics Core. These units usually have a significant time and Gas investment in them.

Under these definitions, we can make certain observations. For example, a Twilight Council is a prerequisite for a Templar Archives, which is a prerequisite for High Templar. Since High Templar are classified as a Tier 3 unit, then a Twilight Council is Tier 2 technology. The upgrades in the Twilight Council are meant to increase the effectiveness of Tier 1 Gateway units so that they have more relevancy and strength later in the game. Would it then be suffice to say, that a Zealot with Charge, a Stalker with Blink, or an Adept with Psionic Glaives be classified as a Tier 2 unit, since they were improved, inherently changed, to become a Tier 2 unit through Tier 2 tech? A Blink Stalker is strictly better than an unupgraded Stalker, so should a Blink Stalker be classified under the same tier as a unupgraded Stalker?

If we are to take this as true, we can assert that Chargelots, Speed Adepts, and Blink Stalkers are Tier 2 units, while Sentries, Zealots, Stalkers, and Adepts are all Tier 1 units. With this same idea, Marines with Stim and Combat Shield, along with Marauders with Concussive Shell, are Tier 2 units, while unupgraded Marines/Marauders, along with Reapers, remain to be Tier 1 units. Speed Roaches, as the pattern shows, are Tier 2 units, while Zerglings and unupgraded Roaches are Tier 1 units. With the case of Zerglings, once you research Adrenal Glands, they can be classified as Tier 3 units, since this upgrade requires Hive, which is a prerequisite for Tier 3 units and technology. Hyperbolic Boost doesn’t necessarily count under this definition since it is Tier 1 technology, though you can continue to make the argument that since Speedlings are strictly better than Zerglings, they are definitely of a higher tier. If you want to be really strict about it, you may be able to classify them as tier 1.5 units, or classify Speedlings as Tier 2 units and Cracklings (Zerglings with both Hyperbolic Boost and Adrenal Glands) as Tier 3 units.

This is a part of a great, and necessary, game design philosophy that has existed in RTS for years. Lower Tiered units can become better, essentially move them up the Tier tree, so that they remain relevant throughout the game rather than stay in only the Early Game and parts of the Mid Game. Without this idea, we wouldn’t have had the great TvZ’s of old where Marine/Marauder/Medivac could fight against Ling/Bane/Muta for long games with constant action.

So, where does this put these units’ relationships with Tier 3 units? As I’ve said before, Tier 3 units are units that have a prerequisite who’s prerequisite is Tier 2 tech. So, even by this logic, shouldn’t Tier 3 units be able to fight these still Tier 1 units, whom have been upgraded to Tier 2? You could maybe bring up the argument that upgrades from the Forge/Engineering Bay/Evolution Chamber should bring these once pathetic Tier 2 units into Tier 3, but those upgrades also affect the Tier 3 units, so in a sense you would then have to argue that Tier 3 units become Tier 4.

It is true, Tier 3 units need to have some inherent value that is higher than a Tier 2 unit since it takes additional Resources and time investment to be able to attain them. The problem is, if you make Tier 3 units strictly better, Tier 2 units become irrelevant and unused in the late game, and then it puts a heavy reliance on Tier 3 units. In Starcraft 2, Tier 3 units tend to be slow, but powerful and effective. Because of this, they can make really long and boring games where the map is split and both players are afraid to engage because, if the fight is unfavorable, these units take too many resources and too much time to recreate. On the other hand, Tier 1 and Tier 2 units tend to build very quickly and require less time investment and Resources, so players are less afraid to engage. They also tend to be more mobile, so you have an increased chance of getting more action on the map in multiple places at once.

Let’s take, for example, Patience vs TY Set 4 GSL Code A on Lerilak Crest. Outside of Colossus, Disruptors, and Storm (three rather mobile Tier 3 units), the game was mostly comprised of Tier 1 and Tier 2 units, with multiple battles happening across the map. Innovation stayed on Marine/Marauder/Medivac/Mine with Liberator support while Patience went for a Gateway army comprised of Stalker/Adept/Sentry/High Templar with Colossus and Disruptors added later for improved space control. But that’s the thing, the nerf to the Colossus has made it’s role more specialized, more situational. It’s made it less of a super reliable and mobile DPS unit into a space control unit that is used under specific circumstances. The Disruptor is more often used and can be more effective, it also fulfills the same role and only that role.

Compare this to Zest vs Taeja Set 2 GSL Ro32 Group A on Dusk Towers. It became a stalemate game where Zest went Tempest/High Templar/Chargelot and Taeja settled for Viking/Liberator/Ghost. This game ended up being super passive at the end, with both players afraid to take an engagement. The game basically ended at once when they engaged with both players losing most, if not all, of their army and Zest winning with a Chargelot re-max. This game was far less exciting than Innovation versus Patience, and a lot of this had to do with the map design that promotes passive play due to a really strong defender’s advantage and easily-accessible 5 bases. When a game goes into that sort of play, aggression stops and players become afraid to engage because it can end in an instant with one player super ahead. This comes from the strength of Tier 3 units over Tier 2 and Tier 1 units.

In TvZ, many Terrans fear the Ultralisk, as if they don’t have a Ghost Academy, sufficient Tech Labs on their Barracks, and a decent amount of Liberators made, their Tier 1 and Tier 2 units cannot fight the Ultralisk: it dominates lower tiers very handily. This forces Terran into going into a defensive Liberator/Ghost composition, which is a really slow, siege style composition that make engagements increasingly unlikely, and the game can either end with a good EMP on infestors and a few good Steady Targeting hits on Ultralisks, or if the Zerg can Fungal the Terran’s Ghosts and engage with their whole army.

This is where the focus on the discussion of the strength of units like the Ultralisks and Tempest vs lower tier units should be. They shouldn’t be able to dominate them, they should be specialty units created in certain scenarios to help engagements become favorable. Tempests should be a unit to help either force or deter a fight through their siege strength, not a massable unit able to be protected by Storms. Ultralisks should be a unit that is able to tank a lot of damage for the Zerg army, but not also just dominate any unit it gets into contact with. A good example of a well done Tier 3 unit is the High Templar. It’s a unit you really only want to make around 6-7 of, since massing them adds a weakness of your army not being able to destroy buildings, Psionic Storms are not stackable, and the fact that there are zone control units that can take them out easily. The direction we should go for is a good mix of Tier 1 and Tier 2 units that which is comprised both mobile units and space control units while mixing in a few Tier 3 units to help bolster certain weak aspects of an army; not a huge sky battle between the top capital ships that can end in an instant and requires little to no interaction from the players.


9 thoughts on “Tier 1 Units versus Tier 3 Units

  1. Interesting take. Right now zerg T1 is not viable late game. Lings/roaches are too ineffective late game (even with adrenal glands, T3 Terran/Protoss/Zerg have too many aoe options so zerglings are only good for hit+run tactics).

    So, if we nerf Ultras, what would be a good buff for Zerg to compensate?


    1. Ultras aren’t really seen in PvZ because of the current Immortal heavy meta. If David Kim continues to believe Immortals are too strong (which I agree with) and nerfs them, that may change.

      When it comes to ZvT, Ling Bane Muta still gets you pretty far into the late game. With the old Ultralisk you could finisj off a Terran once you had a decent lead. Liberators and Ghosts make that more complicated, but with the current pending Liberator nerf along with a subsequent Ghost nerf it may end up working out well. Marauders will still remain worse in LotV than in HotS which should also help out.


      1. So… you’re suggesting nerfing ultras with no buff to compensate?

        Muta is pretty dead in late game ZvT in LoTV. Liberators are too good with their AOE AA. Without any T3 incentives, the meta would turn into HoTS, where Zerg just simply stopped at T2 and it became a ling/bane/muta game all the time (except now mutas are way less viable due to libs).

        If you want to make T1 Terran more viable by nerfing Ultras, that’s fine, but something’s gotta compensate. ZvT as it is looks to be a fairly even matchup, a flat nerf on either race would break the balance.


      2. Are you sure it would heavily tip the balance? We can look at the math real quick here: Marauders do 26 damage with 3/3 versus armored targets. Factor in 8 armor on Ultralisks and the Marauder does 10 damage due to it’s attack being split in LotV. If you revert the Ultralisk back to HotS 6 armor, the Marauder would do 14 damage, compare that to the HotS where the Marauder would do 17 damage versus Ultras with each having maxed out upgrades. It’s still as if in HotS you gave the Ultra 9 armor and it only affecting the Marauder. Would you say that, in HotS, a 9 armor Ultra wouldn’t be strong? Obviously you would change Steady Targeting since it would no longer be needed for its intended role, and Liberators will one day (hopefully) be toned down.


      3. Yes, I’m sure it would. You can’t compare Marauders and Ultras in isolation in HoTS vs LoTV. LoTV has a much larger diversity of units, which changes the meta and unit compositions.

        We saw late game MMM in HoTS because that’s a really strong unit composition. The meta mostly stayed as Lair-tech Zerg ling/bane/muta vs. 3/3 MMM. And it was fairly balanced in that there was no overwhelming favorite in that matchup.

        In LoTV, Liberators absolutely nullified late game ling/bane/muta. There’s a window where mutas are good at defending drops, small number of liberators, and maybe do early scv harass. But once the liberator count goes to 3 or 4, mutas are useless. We see this in the Korean and pro-level tournaments, where a handful of mutas are created in the mid game, but they lose their usefulness in the late game. So, ultimately in LoTV the matchup would be ling/bane vs. 3/3 MMM+Liberators in the late game. That’s a pretty lopsided matchup if you ask me.

        Without strong Ultras, T3 only then provides zerg with adrenal glands (great for harass, not so great for trading in battles), vipers which are only useful as support units, and broodlords which suffer from the same liberator AOE problem as mutas/corruptors.

        So we’re back to full circle. If you want to make 3/3 MMM Terran viable in late game by nerfing Ultras then there has to be something compensate.


  2. nice work! but if I may you don’t really take care of the rock/paper/scissors concept. Ultra is powerful in the ground field because it’s meant to kill bio, so the other player has to create a counter to that unit so it’s not only a matter of Tier fight concept. But yeah nice article!


    1. I don’t think SC2 should be rock paper scissors. It should be full of soft counters: units that in a regular, straight up engagement should win, but in the scenario where the opponent has a superior positioning or micro they should win. Units like the Tempest, Immortla, Ultralisk, Liberators, and the new Ghost all act as hard counters to specific things, meaning that even with superior positioning and micro they should win every time; which can cause problems of the better player losing. You can never guarantee the better player winning when there’s Rock/Paper/Scissors elements in the game. Thanks for the read!


  3. you don’t make more than 6 high templar because storm doesn’t stack, HT are actually pretty good at helping kill buildings like planetaries because u can storm the scvs and prevent the repair.


    1. That’s the only instance that they are helpful for building killing. Again, they’re made to be a zoning tool over everything else and if the opponent doesn’t treat the High Templar Storm with respect they’ll take tremendous damage. I think no unit that is so expensive should be better massed as I said before since it puts so much pressure on your army surviving and ruins come back potential when it dies. Tempest, for example, when combined with High Templar should never die. But if the Terran is able to EMP the High Templar, the Vikings obliterate the Tempest in seconds and it’s GG from there and I don’t know why anyone would think that’s more interesting than watching MMM around the map versus Blink/Adept/Immortal/Storm doing the same thing.


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