The Beginner’s Guide to Starcraft 2 Part VI: The Anatomy of a Build Order


The process of learning a build order as a beginner has been pretty divisive among the members of the Starcraft community. Some players will argue that there is no need to follow a build order when starting out and that keeping your income high and your banked resources low is a much more important skill to have.

While I agree with the sentiment, I find that following a build order offers a more structured introduction into the game. Build orders offer a guide that new players would follow. It gives them a little bit of an idea on what is happening.

If you’re an absolute beginner, you might be wondering, “What exactly is a build order?” A build order is a list of buildings, units, and upgrades to produce and research, written in a specific order. Build orders are often made with a specific objective in mind ranging from getting you into the mid-game with a healthy economic backbone to the more aggressive timing attacks designed to exploit a specific timing window. Basically, build orders are a recipe for your play, like chess openings.

Most build orders in Starcraft 2 are written in a certain way. Here’s an example build order taken from

Hyun’s 12 Roach Opener Build Order

  • 15 – Hatchery
  • 17 – Extractor
  • 16 – Spawning Pool
  • 17 – Overlord
  • @100% Spawning Pool, start 2 Queens
  • 28/28 – start Roach Warren and 3 Overlords
  • @100% Roach Warren, start 12 Roaches
    • 52/52 Supply
  • Attack your opponent when all 12 Roaches finish (@6:15ish), as you drone up and produce Overlords to fully saturate both bases at home.

The first thing you will notice is that each step of the build order is written with a number. Build orders are based on your supply count. That means that when a build order mentions

  • 15 – Hatchery
  • 17 – Extractor

that simply means that at 15 supply, you build a Hatchery and then at 17 supply, you build an extractor. When following a build order, the supply is reached by constant worker production unless otherwise stated. Taking our example once more, 15 – Hatchery means that you built nothing but workers (and Overlords, of course) until you reach 15 supply, before building a Hatchery.

Sometimes, you’ll see percentages, specific supply counts and other instructions.

  • @100% Spawning Pool, start 2 Queens
  • @100% Roach Warren, start 12 Roaches

Percentages refer to the percent a building construction is at. With this example, we start our Queens as soon as the Spawning Pool is done (ie. 100%) and we start our 12 Roaches as soon as the Roach Warren is done.

Often times, build orders will contain special instructions such as time stamps, gas counts and supply counts. We simply follow along these instructions as well. For example, our build order mentions

  • Attack your opponent when all 12 Roaches finish (@6:15ish), as you drone up and produce Overlords to fully saturate both bases at home.

We simply follow along the instructions the build order provides. We attack as soon as our Roaches are done, which if we have done everything correctly, should be at around 6:15 in game time. As the attack happens, the build order tells us to continue to produce workers until we saturate our bases.

Build Pros and Cons

Like I’ve said, most if not all build orders are made with a specific goal in mind. It’s going to be up to you to weigh this pros and cons when it comes to deciding what build order to use, if at all.

Whether or not you should follow a build order will also be up to you. Following a build order will net you more wins faster (especially if you choose an aggressive build order), however will lead you to gloss over important facets of Starcraft II, which may lead to problems as you climb the ladder.

Build orders are the easiest way for you to get into a game. They offer a structured approach to play, and present a plan and a course of action. That means that as a beginner, you wouldn’t feel as lost as you go around mucking on your own. Build orders give you an idea on what to do and when to do it. For some people, especially people new to RTS in general, this is a godsend.

However, relying too much on build orders can hamper improvement. Keep this in mind especially if you intend to climb the SC2 ladder. Build orders are like training wheels. If you rely on them too much, you won’t be able to experience the joy of biking without them.

In order to avoid falling into this trap, I recommend thinking critically about build orders. Questions such as, “Why are they structured like they are?” and “Why should I build my Roach Warren at this supply when I can build them much earlier?” are good questions to ask. Once you start asking the why questions, you’ll start asking the if questions. “If I build the Roach Warren earlier, what would happen? If I built it later, what would happen? What happens if I only use 6 Roaches for my attack? What happens if I use more than 12?”. Then start to experiment. Try and answer your own questions (although don’t be afraid to ask too!). This will lead you to understand why things are the way they are, and sometimes allow you to modify your build orders according to your needs.

Build orders are tools. They are there when you need them, if you need them. It’s important to know what they are used for. It’s more important however, to know why. 

Further resources:

Next up: Aggression, All-ins, Cheese


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