Someone emailed me a question recently indicating that they'd come here and seen what I've written and wanted to know something about Starcraft 2 strategy building.

While I did email him back, I still think that gaming.se is a good place for such questions so I've reproduced it here (I may have slightly summarized some of the things he said).

Lately I've been having a lot of trouble getting my economy going to the point where I can support a large army. I was wondering of anyone had advice on:

  • When to power drones?
  • How to best expand?
  • Knowing when to tech?
  • When to switch from powering drones to producing units?

I've included a replay so you can help analyze anything I might be doing wrong

I intentionally left the user's name out in case he did not want to be associated with the question, but he can always indicate it in comments.

  • We want a replay, we want a replay! :P
    – Ivo Flipse
    Sep 13, 2010 at 15:19
  • 5
    Nah tzenes it is no problem. I was the one that got in touch with tzenes, he was incredibly helpful. I was probably going to post this same question tonight actually. Thanks!
    – Robb
    Sep 13, 2010 at 16:42
  • 1
    @Wikwocket agreed. And the replay I will provide will literally showcase a lot of things done wrong that I know tzenes can address easily and clearly.
    – Robb
    Sep 13, 2010 at 18:50
  • 1
    Drone production is the biggest stumbling block I've had when playing zerg. It'd be nice to know when to stop unit production for the sake of more workers. Never could balance it out.
    – Jonn
    Sep 13, 2010 at 22:41
  • 1
    – Hello71
    Mar 20, 2011 at 1:44

2 Answers 2


I've added my comments on the replay at the bottom, but you can also find them on youtube.

So I think at the core of your problem is the question of: Why do I expand? and I can understand your frusteration. A lot of people will say: "Zerg should always fast expand," and if you take them at their word you might not understand whyearly expansions are so helpful to Zerg.

Powering Drones

There are a number of times when you want to power drones:

  • Drones vs Army
  • When attacking
  • Spare supply
  • Out of gas

Unlike their Terran and Protoss equivilents the Zerg can produce Dones at a much faster rate, the trade off being that they have to choose between economy and army. While the other races have to make this choice as well in mineral distribution, Zerg also have to make it in production. So Zerg players often alternate between powering drones and building units.

Ideally you'd like to hold off on building units as long as possible and then only produce them right before your opponent reaches your base. This isn't usually practical, but when discussing when to power drones it is useful. Unless you need units you want to be building drones and upping your enconomy. So the question of "When to power drones" is best answered by knowing the size of your opponents army. If you have an army close to your opponent's in size: Power Drones. Otherwise, you might want to consider building up your army or teching some counters to his army.

A really non-intuitive time to power Drones is while you're attacking. While you usually want to reinforce an attack at first, additional reinforcements will often arrive to late to be benefitial and are actually a waste (especially if they get caught). So if you're in the middle of a large assault and you've already built a wave of reinforcments, now may be a good time to power Drones as its unlikely your opponent will counter until he has handled your assault.

A more obvious time is when you have spare supply. Since most Zerg units take 2 or more supply, If you ever find yourself 1 supply short of cap, its a good idea to build a drone to utilize this supply (after you start an overlord of course).

Some Zerg strategies call for not-stop production of units: ie Mutalisks, in this case you want to build drones when ever you run out of gas. While you will want to build some overlords and Zerglings, you don't want to ever be in a situation where you have gas, but no minerals. To this end you need to build up more drones so that you can help saturate your expansions when you do expand.


So the purpose of expanding is twofold:

  • Provide more larva
  • Provide better mining

Back in Broodwars we only had as much larva as we had Hatcheries, so it was common place to get a large number of expansiosn largely for the production purposes. Since the advent of the Queen, this has become less necessary. A Queen provides the larva of 1.5 expansions. As a result if you have a Queen in your main, your expansion is only increasing larval production by 40%. By comparison, if you have an expo + main and no queens, then the queen is increasing your larval production by 75% (150% if you get two queens). So the key thing here, is that its the queen that really increases larval production, and if you're expanding and don't have one you're kind of missing out.

It was discussed how there is a soft cap on miners at about 16 (2 per patch) and a hard cap at 24. As a result expanding gives you more places to mine from, and even an opportunity to boost those extra 8. On the other hand if you are under 16 miners, expanding isn't doing much for you. As a result, expansions are largely a function of how many drones you have. If you're powering drones properly you usually find there is no time you don't want an expansion. However, if you're short on drones (for harassment or whatever reason) expanding isn't netting you much, so you should reconsider.

The statement: "Zerg should always FE," rises from early game Drone powering by Zerg players. If you find yourself under early pressure and you're not able to utilize that expansion, it largely was a waste. Sometimes, its important to ask yourself "why do I want to expand?" instead of "can I expand?"

So here were the specific things I pointed out for the replay:

Ok, I'm going to give you some very specific feed back (which I probably wouldn't do in an SE question).

So your scout your opponent going 10 Gate and you throw down a 14 pool. So far so good.

Then you wait till you have 300 Minerals before getting Gas. I'm not sure what the logic is here, since you don't end up using the gas. What was your plan? Early speedling? Roaches? Lair?

Next you get a 13 hatch. This one was also weird for me. Why wouldn't you get more drones? You weren't using your larva for much. Also, why no queen? Your spawning pool is up by now, and a queen is the larval production of 1.5 hatches (ie. more than the one you're building).

After that you proceed to make Zerglings. I can sort of understand this move, early gate + early gas + cyber = 3 Gate timing push. But you don't have speedling upgrade (you never put anyone on gas) and you only have 13 drones harvesting, which is not enough to support an army. What's more you transfer 3 of them. This is kind of confusing for me. You didn't get a queen, so that extra hatchery isn't for more larva, and you have less than 16 drones so that extra hatchery isn't going to mine you any more minerals, so what did you build it? Much like your Extractor you seem to be building it just to build it. I think you have a plan, but your missing a lot of the details, such as: "Why do you want to expand?" "Why do you want early gas?"

Next you get spine crawlers. This is just a timing thing, eventually you'll learn the timing for these and you'll realize your getting them early. A better idea would be to run those 4 Zerglings you have up to his base and see how many units he has. You'd see 1 Zealot and run away (4 Zerglings can beat 1 zealot but its not worth it). You'd leave 1 Zergling in front of his base and the other 3 at the tower. This way you'd know when he moves out, and you can even run up and down his ramp to get an idea of his force size. Once you see his force build up, then you'd throw down the spine crawlers. Its a timing thing, it takes some getting used to. In this case he would have moved out with his 2 Zealots and you would have countered with 10 Zerglings and netted some easy kills.

The bigger problem is that you spent 2 drones on spine crawlers and still only have 13 workers (compared to your opponents 17). I realize having 2 bases usually connotes an economic advantage, but if you don't build workers you're still going to be behind.

So when he finally does push you realize your mistake all a long: you didn't scout that ledge. There was no reason for you not to, you just kinda forgot. You do do a decent job of taking out the sentries first, but then you attack the Zealots. ALWAYS try to get your Zerglings on Stalkers. Zealots 3 shot Zerglings, Stalkers take 4 shots; but here is the key thing, Stalkers can shoot your Zerglings while they're attacking the Zealots. The Zealots have to walk over to your Zerglings first.

When he makes this push you have 18 Drones to his 17. This might sound good, except that he's had 17 drones for the last 4 minutes. You've only gotten over 13 drones about 60 seconds ago. So his economy is MUCH stronger than yours. Its a debt you can't recover from in time.

If I had to sum up what went wrong here, I'd say: You stopped building Drones.

Knowing when to power Drones is a tough thing, but until you get to at least 20 supply, the only reason not to power drones is because your opponent is rushing you. I usually don't build my first Zergling till 22.


  • More Drones Earlier
  • Get your Queen ASAP
  • If you get an Extractor, have a plan for it (usually 14 Gas, 14 Pool gives you 100 Gas right when your Pool finishes).
  • If you don't plan for Gas, don't get it right away (14 pool, 16 expand usually means 0 gas till ~22 drones)
  • Scout!

I hope this helps. Let me know if you want me to look at some more replays or if you have any questions.

  • 3
    I feel this Q/A is one of those that should receive a LOT of attention.
    – Robb
    Sep 14, 2010 at 16:17
  • Is there any build where not getting a queen is an option?
    – wds
    Sep 16, 2010 at 9:15
  • @wds I've played with a couple delayed queen builds and they only work if you don't have early pressure. If your opponent goes for a standard 4 Gate, 3 Rax, or 14 Hatch you can get away with skipping your queen and rushing an early lair. You'll still end up expanding around the same time, but you just don't have the larva to fight off any sort of aggression.
    – tzenes
    Sep 16, 2010 at 17:29
  • 1
    See also: Drone Timing Oct 11, 2010 at 3:10

This depends a lot on the Matchup and what the enemy is doing. For Example in ZvZ you would want to delay your expansion because it would be too vulnerable against the enemy banelings (ZvZ always starts with mass-zergling/baneling which makes that matchup incredibly annoying).

The most important point is to scout what the enemy is doing. To check what he has you can run a single zergling up his choke, usually players mass their units there so a single zergling can see his whole army.

  • If he techs (You see a factory or only 1-2 gateways), expand, build workers and get a lair up.
  • Terran with multiple barracks and only one or even no tech lab (Mass-Marines) get a lot of banelings and then expand.
  • Toss with 4-gate: Get ~10 Roaches, expand, get lair, add hydralisks.
  • Terran Starport with tech lab (banshees): Get lair for an overseer, add some queens and then expand.
  • Toss Stargate: Expand and get a few (1-3) additional queens (queens kill void rays if you transfuse your queens correctly, i killed 4 void rays with 4 queens recently and only one queen died) and there are usually only ~3 phoenixes for harass, so he can't lift them all up and kill them).
  • When your main is fully saturated: Expand.
  • When the Enemy expands: Expand.
  • When in doubt: Expand.

Unless you scout some sort of all-in or a strong pressure build order, a mostly safe point to expand is between 20 and 25 supply, but on big maps many tend to expand already at 15 (fast expansion) while on small maps the expansions are often delayed to about 30-40 supply.

You can usually expand and before the expansion is finished you should have enough minerals and gas for a lair, so you should use that and do it both. It's also a nice thing if you can build the queen for the expansion at the closest hatchery while the expansion is still building up, this saves some time (but the distance must not be far because the queen is so extremely slow off-creep).

About stopping drone production: Don't. The only time where you should use all your eggs for units is when you spot the enemy advancing so you can bolster your defenses, otherwise always use a part of your drones to boost your eco. The only exception is when you already have 70+ drones (I think day9 had a game with ~100 drones recently in his cast).

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