Starcraft 2 Guide to Zerg Micro, Macro, and Build Orders

Author: Nicholas

Hey, guys. Now, when I wrote the Zerg Scouting Compendium, the main reason was that I had been seeing a lot of posts about scouting, Protoss and Terran build orders, different Protoss and Terran builds, that sort of thing. So, I wrote a guide to cover that, and I would hope that helped quell some of the confusion surrounding those topics. Now, I've been seeing a lot of posts about Queen macro, base macro in general, our standard build orders, and the like, so I'll write another guide-type post to try and address those issues. Again, this will mostly be information from other threads on this forum, combined into one post for convenience.

The veterans should note that this will mostly be information for newer players, but it might be worth a read. You could always learn a thing or two.

If you haven't read the Zerg Scouting Compendium, I would recommend reading it. It's pretty good information, and very helpful for new Zerg players. - Scouting Compendium

In addition to that, Antpile wrote a GREAT guide on how to defend the Four-gate, which is Protoss's most common opener. Here's a link to that, I would also definitely recommend checking it out. Again, all the credit for that post goes to Antpile. - ZvP Four-gate guide

Disclaimer - Before I start this guide, I'm going to give everyone my personal opinion about the Zerg's standing right now in relation to the Protoss and Terran (Terran specifically). I do think that the Zerg could use a few minor tweaks, as we are lacking in certain areas. I won't elaborate on exactly what I think could be done, because that's not the point of this post, and I don't want a raging, pointless debate about balance going on while people are trying to ask questions. So, here's my official stance - while the Zerg could use a few minor changes, those don't become evident until you're at a very high level of play. For the intended audience of this post, that doesn't apply to you. So, let me say this. If you lose to Terran or Protoss, it was your fault. Accept that, move on. Watch the replay. I cannot stress this enough. Chances are, there's something you did (or failed to do) that caused you to lose the game. Find out what it was, and fix it next time you're in that situation. Don't bring your anger and frustration to the forums, because, to be honest, it makes you sound like a big baby whiner and nobody wants to hear it.

Now then, on to the main event.

For a newcomer to StarCraft 2, choosing the Zerg as your primary race is both a great decision and a bad one. Why? Well, the Zerg are unquestionably harder than Terran or Protoss when it comes to gameplay mechanics - macro and micro, mainly. However, in order to perform at all as a Zerg player, it demands a high level of skill, focus, and general knowledge of the game. Due to this, players that learn the game from the perspective of the Zerg are (in my opinion) eons ahead in skill development than someone who starts with Protoss or Terran. Like MacabreDerek says in his "Tale of Two Mentalities", "It's a tale of two mentalities, one focused on winning the game because of catching an opponent off-guard, and the one who is willing to learn the game and grow as a player." This is SO true for Zerg players, because I can personally guarantee that before you start to win games as Zerg, you're going to have to learn a hell of a lot about this game and you're going to have to be dedicated. However, if you pull through the ugly patch of your first fifty or so games, it pays off tenfold.

Okay. Now we're actually on to the main event.

We'll start at the start. With build orders.

Since the Zerg only have one production building (the Hatchery), their build orders tend to be a lot more vague than Protoss or Terran build orders. Since both Drones and army units are built from the same building, the actual build order you're using pretty much doesn't matter by the time you hit around 20 supply, because that's the point where you have to start adopting to your opponent's build. However, that first 20 supply is pretty crucial, so we'll go over the standard ones.

Every build order in the game is focused on one of two things - rushing, or setting up a strong economy and teching up. Zerg have some very strong options for both, so we'll go over them. Note that when I write build orders, I'll say things like "9 Overlord, 10 Pool". The numbers represent your supply level - at the beginning of the game, basically, this is your number of Drones.

Rushing build orders

The Zergling Rush

Ah, the Zergling rush. Probably the most standard rush the Zerg have, not to mention the most infamous. I'll post the build order that I personally use for this rush, and it works great for me.

Drones until 10
10 - Extractor (put three Drones on when it finishes)
9 - Drone
10 - Spawning Pool
9 - Overlord
10 - Drone (use him to scout)
11, 12 - Drones
13 - Zergling Speed upgrade (the Pool should finish around now, and this upgrade is CRUCIAL to the rush)
13 - Queen
14, 15, 16 - Zerglings
16 - Overlord

After this, mass Zerglings until the speed upgrade finishes. When it does, set your Hatchery's rally point to just outside your opponent's ramp, and send 'em in. If your first push fails, don't worry. This is supposed to happen. During the first push, run past any units or buildings you see - go straight to his mineral line. Take out as many Probes or SCVs as you possibly can. Continue to Spawn Larva with your Queen, and just continue to make Zerglings. Somehow, the 12 Drones seems to be enough to provide an endless supply of Zerglings, so you can go on like this indefinitely. If your opponent is walled off and you can't get in at all, you have two options - cut your losses, and try to play the game out, or go for a Baneling Bust. See below.

The Baneling Bust

This is a build that incorporates Banelings to take down your opponent's wall, so your Zerglings can stream in and take out his harvesters.

9 - Overlord
14 - Pool
13 - Extractor
15 - Overlord
15 - Queen
17 - Zerglings

At 17, just start pumping out the Zerglings. You'll need quite a few, because a lot of them will have to morph into Banelings. With your first 100 gas, buy the Zergling speed upgrade, and with the 50 after that, throw down your Baneling Nest. After that, stockpile gas so you can morph a lot of Banelings. Once you've got about 25 Zerglings, move them to your opponent's ramp. If he walled off with a Barracks and a Factory, you'll need to morph about 10 Banelings. If walled off with a Barracks and two Supply Depots, you only need 6. Send them right at a building, and make sure the Zerglings rush in on their heels. Proceed to his mineral line first.

The Six Pool

This build is kind of cheesy, but it's a rush nonetheless. It's really simple.

6 - Harvest until you can afford a Spawning Pool, then throw it down
5, 6, 7 - Zerglings

Move your first six Zerglings to his base and go straight for his SCVs or Probes. The idea is to get your units to his base before his unit producing buildings are even finished. If you can manage to wipe out his SCVs or Probes before he builds a unit producing structure, you win. If you can't, you'll probably lose.

Note - A lot of players tend to get disheartened if they don't win with a rush. If you take out his entire mineral line, or most of it, keep playing, because you're at a significant advantage. If he totally shuts you down, you're at a disadvantage, so you have to expand and get back to par as quickly as you can.

Economic Build Orders

These build orders are much more economically stable than the rushes, but are very open to early aggression, so scouting is EXTREMELY important. If you can pull one off, you'll almost certainly be at a large economic advantage over your opponent.

The 15 Pool

This is the build order I most commonly use. Its purpose is to put the Zerg player at an economic advantage early on.

9 - Overlord
10 - Drone (scout)
15 - Spawning Pool
16 - Drone (rally him to your natural expansion, and build a Hatchery when you can afford it)
16 - Extractor
17 - Hatchery (^^ this Drone)
17 - Overlord

After this, you proceed into whatever mid-game composition you need to counter your opponent. Refer to Antpile's post for information about stopping rushes.

The 14 Pool

This is IdrA's version of the 15 Pool build. I think the reason he uses it is because he likes to get Zerglings out early to scout, establish map control, and harass where he can. It's really just a matter of preference between this and the 15 Pool.

9 - Overlord
14 - Pool
15 - Hatchery
16 - Queen
16 - Extractor
18 - Overlord

There are more builds I could add, but already, I can tell this guide is going to be overwhelmingly long. I'll stop there, because those are the standard ones.

Now, we're going to move on to the really important part of the guide. Zerg micro and macro.

Zerg Micro

As most of you probably know, the Zerg's units are typically weaker than their Protoss or Terran counterpart. As such, it is essential to micro them properly to get the most use out of them.

Zerg micro is very different than Protoss or Terran, because both Protoss and Terran have a lot of key abilities (Force Field, Psi Storm, Guardian Shield, Grav Beam, EMP, Stim Pack, etc.) that they have to use during the battle. Zerg, however, have almost no abilities like that, save for the Infestor. As such, Zerg micro is largely dependent on positioning.

There are, basically, three facets to Zerg micro - control groups, retreating, and flanking.

Control Groups

Control groups are technically a big part of micro and macro, so I'm including them in both sections. Basically, I would suggest using your 1, 2, and 3 buttons for all of your army units. The way I set mine up are as follows - 1) Melee or tank units (Roaches, Ultralisks) 2) Ranged, fragile damage dealers and/or flying units (Hydralisks, Mutalisks, Corruptors, Infestors) and 3) Usually Zerglings, if not, Infestors.

Find your own control group setup that works for you. The idea is to separate your tanks and melee fighters from your fragile units. A lot of people might be wondering why I keep my Zerglings in a separate group, and I'll talk about that in the flanking section.


Now, the word retreating might lead you to believe that I'm talking about the entire army backing out from a fight. I'm not. I'm talking about retreating individual units from a fight, so that they stop taking fire momentarily and then can get back into the fight. The process I use for this is pretty simple.

The most common use of this tactic is when you're firing with your Hydralisks, Mutalisks, or Corruptors, though it also technically applies to Roaches. What I do is put these units in a control group, and send them to attack. Select the control group, and watch the portraits at the bottom. If one turns yellow, it's taking fire - select it, move it a few feet back, and send him back in. What this does is it moves the hurt unit out of the range of the opposing army, so they automatically target a new unit. After the hurt unit has moved back and forth again, select the control group again, and repeat. Make sure you aren't moving units that you already moved and are just low on health - a way to check this is to hover over the unit portrait, and the HP is displayed. If it's decreasing, select it and retreat.

Note that you will not be able to keep an entire army at full strength doing this. You can, however, save a few units that otherwise would have died, and every unit counts.


Flanking is extremely important to the Zerg, as their entire M.O. is to surround the opponent. This is the reason I like to keep my Zerglings in their own control group. Any unit that has a weakness to Zerglings (Immortals, Stalkers, Siege Tanks to an extent) will almost always be backed by units that can decimate Zerglings. As such, if you send them right through the front lines, they'll be decimated before they can even reach their target. This is where it becomes very important to fight your battles on creep. When you see your opponent's army coming, or you're moving out to attack, take your Zerglings (and any other unit you'd like to flank with) and put them off to the side, behind a chasm or rock or something. Then, draw your opponent's army to you with your tank units. The second he moves up to attack, send those Zerglings right up behind him. Now he's trapped, he doesn't know which units to target, and you're in a great position to win the battle.

Zerg Macro

The Zerg are a very macro-oriented race. However, surprisingly, Zerg macro is technically easy - the hard part is remembering to do everything you need to do. If you watch Day9, this will sound familiar. You need to establish a "mental checklist" for each game - the fundamental things that you NEED to be doing constantly. Once you establish this "checklist", run it through your head over, and over, and over, and over. My checklist is composed of the following questions. 1) Do I have too much money? 2) Do I know what my opponent's army consists of, and where it is? 3) Do I know how many bases my opponent has? 4) Are all of my bases saturated? 5) Am I buying upgrades? 6) Am I spawning larvae? 7) Am I continuing to spread Creep?

This may seem like a lot to handle, but when you get it firmly in your brain, it's really just second nature. For the macro section, I'll just briefly describe every point on my mental checklist. Why? Because I believe that if you do all of these things, winning will come naturally just because your mechanics were so great.


It's common knowledge that you have to keep your money low. A lot of Zerg players will find that they expand fast, and then have way too much money than they can use. First of all - make sure you're constantly building army units and Drones. If you can't make units fast enough to keep your money low but you aren't comfortable expanding again, there's nothing wrong with throwing a second Hatchery down in one of your existing bases for the increased larvae production. Remember to put a Queen on your new Hatchery if you do this. I keep all of my Hatcheries hotkeyed to 4 - you can hotkey them to whatever number you like, but it is generally a good thing to keep them all on one hotkey so you have one large pool of larvae rather than a bunch of little pools. If your money is still too high, buy upgrades for your units. Send units on scouting/harassment missions. Even if they die, it's ok - you probably took out something and you've got the money to replace the lost units, anyway.

Opponent's Army and Bases(Scouting)

All I'm going to say here is that scouting is extremely important and you should read my guide on Scouting for more information in that department.

Base Saturation

Again, this is a pretty simple concept. If your bases aren't fully saturated and you aren't in danger of any imminent attack, just pump Drones. It's worth noting that a fully saturated base will have a total of 30 Drones mining at once. (6 Drones on gas, 24 on Minerals) It takes three Drones to fully saturate one mineral patch or Vespene geyser - any more and you're just wasting a Drone. One thing to be careful of is to not get your Drone count get too high. With two or three bases, this isn't a problem. However, four fully saturated bases is a total of 120 Drones. That is WAY too many. I try to keep my Drone count from going over 80, to save room for my army. If you've got three fully saturated bases and expand a fourth time, I would just put three Drones on each gas and one Drone on each mineral patch.

Another thing to remember is the "Maynard Transfer". The Maynard Transfer is something you've seen before, but might not know by name. It's when you build an expansion, and you take some of the Drones from your main to begin mining the expansion right away. For your natural expansion, I usually send 7 Drones. Why? Well, a lot of players don't realize something about mineral saturation. It's always better to have 8 Drones at each base (one for each patch) than it is to have a fully saturated base and a base with one Drone. Drones collect minerals more and more slowly in direct relation to how many are on one patch - I.E., if you have three Drones and three patches, they will collect faster if you put them each on their own patch rather than putting them all on one. I'm not really sure why this is true, but I know for a fact that it is, so take heed.

One final note about Drones. If you get to the very very late game, you'll eventually have around three saturated bases. Once the bases start to run out of minerals, what are those Drones doing? Nothing! Use them to build as many static defenses as your funds will allow. This is helpful in two ways - it helps to slow down the enemy army so you can move your army to attack theirs if they attack one of your bases, and it sacrifices the Drone used to build it, so you gain another supply point to use for your army. Just make sure you don't go overboard and break the bank.


Another very simple thing to keep on your mind. You should constantly be upgrading any unit you plan on using in bulk in your army. If you've got the cash to spare, upgrades NEVER hurt.

Spawning Larva

This is one of the most commonly asked questions around the Zerg forums. "How do you keep up with spawning larvae?" It's actually really simple. Just remember to do it. There are a few different ways to hotkey your Queens, but I think this is the best. Put all of your Queens in one control group. I use 4 for Hatcheries, 5 for Queens. When you aren't fighting, you should constantly monitor your base to make sure there is still spawned larva. When it's time to spawn again, you just press 5, and then hold shift and press "V". Then, target every one of your Hatcheries on the minimap. It seems like so many people don't know you can do this, and it really makes spawning larvae a hundred times easier, because you can do it from anywhere on the map.

If you're having trouble remembering to spawn larva, here's a trick you could try. Take a sticky note, and write "Spawn larva" on it. Tape it to your monitor on the top right corner. That way, every time you look up to check your money or supply, you'll be reminded to make sure you don't need to spawn larva.

Spreading Creep

Spreading Creep, I would say, is the 2nd most important caveat to Zerg macro, just behind spawning larvae. The reason is simple - like I said in the micro section, a Zerg army relies so much on mobility and flanking, and the Creep bonus to speed is HUGE. The unit that I would say benefits most from being on Creep (save for the Queen) would be the Hydralisk, as it makes it so much easier to pull injured units out and stage hit and run attacks. In addition, Creep provides vision. That alone makes Creep SO, SO useful. You can scout nearly the entire map...without scouting! There are two ways to spread Creep - Creep Tumors, which are produced by Queens, and the tier 2 Overlord ability to generate a big pile of Creep below them, affectionately referred to as "pooping".

Now, a lot of people like to use their Overlords to make "Creep highways". Basically, you spread your Overlords out between your bases in intervals, and have them all generate Creep. Personally, I'm not a fan of this method. The only time I'll use Creep highways is to connect my bases until I can put a Creep Tumor there. Now, let's talk about Creep Tumors.

Creep Tumors are little...things that generate a relatively large circle of Creep around them when placed. They are placed by Queens, and every Creep Tumor has the ability to generate one more Tumor within its vicinity. Basically, this means you could take over an entire map, in time, simply with 25 of your Queen's energy. However, that takes too long. Now, when I make my first Queen, I like to make a second Queen as soon as possible for two reasons - early anti-air, and spreading Creep. I'll use that Queen to place a Creep Tumor at every exit to my base, and then use those tumors to spread all around. Honestly, I think spreading Creep is downright fun. Nothing says Zerg domination like a minimap full of purple, oozing biomass. That's how I remember to do it - it's like a little mini-game in the middle of every game I play. When a Creep Tumor reaches a fork, and I can't spread both ways, I'll go one way and use my Creep Queen to place a new Tumor on the other side. Please, please don't underestimate the usefulness of Creep. It is HUGE. Also, note that Creep Tumors can generate down (and I think up) cliffs, and across chasms.

Now, we'll talk a moment about the Overlord's Generate Creep ability. There are two basic uses (other than the Creep highway), in my opinion, for this ability. One of them is hiding tech. If you really don't want your opponent to see that you're going Mutalisks or Hydralisks or what have you, you can generate a bit of Creep on some random spot on the map, then build your building there. Note that if they randomly scout that building, it'll go down easy and your production will be crippled momentarily, so be careful when using this. The second use for Generate Creep is expansion prevention. Now, if you read the Scouting Compendium or you're like me, you send your first Overlord directly to your opponent's natural so that you know when/if they expand. When you hit tier 2, go ahead and have him generate some Creep. That way, when they try to expand and they kill your Overlord, the Creep remains for 30-45 seconds. That's enough time to organize a force that can shut that expansion down immediately, or slow it down at the very least.

Now, one last quick, but very important note. Don't get supply blocked. I don't have the room in this post to go into a whole detailed explanation why, but it is VERY, VERY important that you don't get supply blocked. If you've got a lot of extra minerals and you aren't in imminent danger, build Overlords in advance so you don't get the dreaded "We must spawn more Overlords" just as your opponent is pushing out at you.

For any players that don't know all the acronyms, I would highly recommend viewing Duban's guide called the "Dictionary of SC2 Terms". - Every acronym you could need.

In addition, I would recommend also reading the other guides Duban wrote. They're all great, and very helpful for new players.

I know that there's a lot of fluff in this guide. A lot of it is common knowledge. However, with the release of SC2 being so recent, we'll have new players constantly joining our ranks, and I wanted to make a good post for them to refer to. So, my apologies for it being so long - there was actually a lot more stuff I wanted to add, but my hands just can't type anymore right now.

And, as usual - Live for the Swarm, brothers and sisters.


Mike said...

what do u build between 9 and 14 for example in above 14 pol?

Anonymous said...

If it doesn't specify, you would be building drones.

blake said...

man, NICE guide.
I'm not a total newbie, i babbled in sc1 many moons ago.
but this guide has really helped me cause i've always liked zerg but as you've said here:
"..Zerg, you're going to have to learn a hell of a lot about this game and you're going to have to be dedicated. However, if you pull through the ugly patch of your first fifty or so games, it pays off tenfold..."
all i needed was someone to tell me that to stick with them. i thought it was just me, but i know they are hard to pick up. hence why so few play as them.
i've taken a lot away from your guide and i hope i can become better because of it. i'll keep plugging away.

thanks again.

Anonymous said...

absolutely awesome post, my macro is good but the micro tips are aws, ty