Monday, September 20, 2010

Photon Cannon Cheese Rush Guide

What You Will Need
A bold and adventurous spirit. A quick and discerning mind. The ability to laugh in the face of convention. And a willingness to sacrifice social validation and embrace your inner wild man.

If you possess these noble qualities, then you, too, can become a cannon cheeser.

Before we get started, my qualifications:

I have none. I am just a guy who plays starcraft. I am not good at the game. I am not bad at it either. When I play, I am a Diamond Zerg.  

If people tell you that cheese doesn't work, don’t believe it. Anyone can get got. And if people tell you that cannon rushing is all in, don’t believe it either. Cannon rushing is a crime of opportunity. The key to success is having proper information and knowing when opportunity is knocking.

When to Cannon Rush
Cannon rushing is a crime of opportunity. If you decide, a priori, to cannon rush someone, you have at best a 50/50 shot at it working. You can’t just say, “I’m going to cannon rush.” Instead, you have to scout their base and look for the opportunity. If you see it, you need to act quickly. Otherwise, you need to have a plan to transition to a normal opening.

In order to know whether or not to cannon rush someone, you need to ask a few questions.

Question #1: What race are you facing?
The race you are facing makes a huge difference in your decision to rush. In order of difficulty, the races break down like this:

Zerg - Most Difficult
The Zerg is the hardest race to cannon rush because of three factors: Creep, Units, and Spine Crawlers.

Zerg Problem #1: Creep
When you are cannon rushing, you want to build as few cannons as possible to destroy or cripple their base. Creep makes it difficult to build cannons near the main base. So, you often have to come at them from an angle or from behind. This is often difficult to do and depends greatly on the map.

Zerg Problem #2: Units
The early zerg units can kill the probe quickly. Zerglings are fast, and they can appear early in a game (especially if the zerg is going to rush you). Queens are ranged, and can also kill the probe quickly.

Zerg Problem #3: Spine Crawlers
FIXED -> Spine crawlers cost the same as cannons (100 minerals + drone vs 150) but they do more damage (25 +5 against a cannon vs 20 for the cannon). So, once the zerg gets them built, they can take out your cannon line pretty handily.

Terran - Difficult
Terrans are difficult to rush mainly because of the Marine. Because the Marine is ranged, it can take out the probe quickly. It comes out faster than a zealot. But, it is also weak, so it takes a long time for it to eliminate the pylon. Terrans are also difficult to rush because they can move their buildings. More on this later.

Protoss - Medium
Protoss is the easiest to rush against because you know exactly what they have at any given time. They have the same tools you do, so you have a better sense of their timing and possibilities. The initial unit, the zealot, is slow and can’t catch the probe. Their buildings are immobile and can't move. They have no ranged units early. Because of this, your best chance of winning with a cannon rush is against another toss. But it’s still not a given.

Question #2: What map are you playing?
Once you’ve looked at the race matchups, you have to look at the map. The big question here is scouting. On a 1v1 map, there is no scouting necessary. You know where the guy is going to be, so you can just haul ass over there and see what's up.

On larger maps, however, you have to find them. This rush works better the earlier you get it started. So, if it takes you a long time to find the opponent’s base, it might be too late to rush them. The longer you wait, the further along the opponent will be in development. That means that by the time you get there, your window of opportunity might be gone.

In addition to map size, there are also map specific features that you need to consider. Some maps are easier to cannon rush. Other maps allow for unique cannon rushes. For instance, on desert oasis, you don’t need to build the pylon inside the enemy base to cannon rush. So, it’s a lot easier to try it than on some other maps. These are all things to consider when evaluating the map.

Question #3: What are THEY doing?
The biggest factor that determines if you rush or not is what you do or do not see when you enter their base. No pylons? No Rax? Early pool? They might be rushing you. Did they see your probe and follow it? No more stealth option. Are they building a forge? They might be cannon rushing YOU.

With those things in mind, let’s look at the two main opportunities for cannon rushing.

The Opportunities
In general, there are two opportunities to cannon rush:

One, you slip into the base unnoticed. You are in stealth mode. They don’t know the probe is there. You build cannons, they don't find out about it till it's too late.

Two, they see you, but they are a long ways away from having units (zealots, marines, lings). You are in rush mode. You try to finish your cannons and they try to stop you with workers. 

So, with these opportunities in mind, enter the world of the cannon rush.

Step 1: Send an Early Scout
How early? I usually go after building the pylon on 9. It looks normal, and it minimizes impact on my economy. If you get scouted and people don’t see the pylon, it immediately raises suspicion.

On the other hand, some toss wait till 14 to make a gateway, so if they see the early pylon, you can often chase their probe out before you put down the forge, and they will be none the wiser.

Sometimes on 1v1 maps, I send earlier probes. But, usually, 9 is early enough.

Step 2: Build the Forge
When you know where the enemy is, start building your forge at your main. 

Step 3: The Enemy Base
You should arrive at the enemy base with your forge under construction.

Now, you have to look for the opportunity. Once you get good, you will just have a feel for it. The main thing to note is if you think they saw you, or if you got in by surprise. 

Discovered Entering Base
If you are discovered entering the base, you have to make a choice. Your forge should still be building back home, so you need to decide if you want to rush or not. If you let the forge complete, you are committed. Even if you don’t build a pylon and cannons, you will be behind in teching, so you need to decide quickly.

Against Terran and Toss, it is possible to rush even if they see you doing it. You do NOT have to hide in order to successfully cannon rush someone. But, you do need to be decisive.

When I am deciding to do this, I usually look at how far along they are on their build. If the toss does not have a gateway complete, I usually continue. Same thing for the Terran... if the barracks is just underway, I will usually go ahead. Zerg I usually won’t rush.

If the gateways or rax are too far along, or I don’t feel like the time is right, then I scout like normal, possibly cancel the forge, and transition into something else. You lose a bit of economy, but it is recoverable. You won’t be using any CB during this part, so you can just CB probes if you decide to bail.

If I see no gateways, no pylons, no rax, or an early pool, I think cheese. I transition by letting the forge complete, building two cannons next to my nexus, and cranking probes. This lets you shut down all early rushes, from 2 gate to reaper to 6-pool, and it lets you emerge with a very solid probe count. More on this later.

Step 3: Build the Pylon
If you are not detected or followed, you are still in stealth mode. Congrats, this is prime time for cannon rushing.

If you have been detected, and decide to rush anyway, then it's time to build that pylon in his face! Position it to cause maximum psychological damage and distraction.

The cannon rush starts when you plant the first pylon.

Start the pylon BEFORE the forge finishes, when the forge is 1/2 to 3/4 done. You want them to finish at the same time. If the forge is completed at home, and you haven't placed the pylon yet, you are running late. The longer you wait, the less likely your rush will succeed.

Placement is crucial. I usually don’t target Zerg, but when I do, I target the mineral line. For Toss and Terran, I usually target the CC or Nexus.

I try to place the pylon OUT OF SIGHT and in a position that makes it as hard as possible for his ground troops (zealot or marine) to get to once it is discovered. You want them to have to run as far as possible and pass through the field of fire of your defense cannon in order to get to the pylon. You do NOT want them to be able to snipe the pylon without taking shots from the first cannon.

Step 4: First Cannon
If you are still undetected, put the first cannon right next to the pylon. You will need this cannon to hold off the initial defense. It is not critical that this cannon be able to hit the target. It just needs to protect the pylon. If you are lucky, you will remain undetected as the cannon gets 3/4 complete.

Don’t build too many of these.

The main goal is to build as few cannons as possible. If this cannon completes, you are WAY WAY closer to successfully completing the rush, as a single early cannon can just wreck just about anything that is thrown at it.

If you are building in his face, then position the cannon to cover approaching defensive forces AND hit the CC or nexus. You need to start doing damage asap. 

Step 5: Finishing Cannons
When that first cannon is 3/4 done, build two more cannons between the pylon and the nexus or CC. These are the cannons that will do the damage. They should be the first cannons your opponent sees, and they should be covered by the field of fire of the first cannon. You should have 300 minerals saved at this point for this purpoase. If it’s zerg, aim to hit the gas and mineral line.

Usually what happens is that the enemy sees the cannons building and sends some probes to hit them. As they approach, the probes start taking fire from the first cannon. At this point, it’s probably GG. But there are ways to respond, as noted below.

Against terran or zerg, you need to place the finishing cannons so that the marine or queen can’t hit them without taking fire from the first cannon. How to do this depends on the map and how the enemy builds. But carefully look at the field of fire for the cannon before placing it. It can mean the difference between success and failure.

Remember, these are the critical cannons. If they complete, the rush most likely succeeds. But normally it won’t be that simple. They will usually struggle and fight before they rage quit.

There are many responses to the cannon rush. Most of them are wrong. If you know what the responses are, you can deal with them and make it more difficult for your opponent to defend. Before you get started with the responses of the opponent, however, there are two things you need to know how to do.

Thing #1 - Probe Micro
When they attack your probe, run away. I usually run in a circle around the pylon or cannons that are building. There is no way that they can kill your probe unless your micro fails or they get a marine. Probes are too fast and their shields regenerate. So, as soon as they start to attack you, run the probe in a circle.

Do NOT run home just because they found you. You can do the rush even if they see you. Seeing it isn’t stopping it. Just don’t let your probe take unnecessary shots. Just queue up a big circle and let the probe run on its own while you do production back in your main.

Thing #2 - CANCEL
Do NOT let them destroy any of your pylons or cannons. Cancel your pylons and cannons before they die. If you do this, it only costs you 25% of the building cost, which is either 25 minerals for the pylon or 37.50 for the cannon.

You must learn to cancel buildings quickly before they are destroyed in order to maximize your chances of success, waste as much of their time as possible and minimize the damage of a failed rush.

Enemy Response Fail #1 - Pylon is Building - Send One Worker to Kill Probe
Some people try to solve the problem by sending only one worker to kill or follow your probe. One worker cannot stop anything. Probes are fast. If they send one worker to kill your probe, just queue it up to run a big circle in their base, and build the pylons and cannons as the other worker chases you.

Enemy Response Fail #2 - Pylon is Building - Send One Worker to Kill Pylon
If they send one worker to kill the pylon, laugh at it. It won’t do enough damage in time. They can’t stop you unless they commit more resources to the task. 

While their probe is attacking the pylon, use your probe to attack their probe. If they don’t pay attention, you will kill it. If they do, they might try to fight you. In that case, either kill them (if you are ahead on damage) or run around in a circle.

Enemy Response Fail #3 - Pylon is Building - Send All Workers to Kill Pylon
Some people overreact. They send ALL workers. Workers collect minerals at a rate of about 0.8 minerals per second. So, if they have sent 10 workers, that’s 8 minerals per second. If you can waste their time for 3 seconds, you pretty much break even when you cancel the pylon.

If they send all the workers to kill the pylon, start building another pylon. Just watch the first pylon and cancel it before it dies. Usually, I will build this second pylon far away to make sure their probes have to travel and waste maximum time.

If they are killing your pylons, you may have to bail on the strategy eventually. But you can really damage their economy by forcing them to stop mining. More importantly, you damage their mind set and their rhythm. Also note that YOU won’t have to stop mining while this happens, so you can use this time to start building probes and catch up.

Enemy Response Fail #4 - Pylon is Building - Send All Workers to Kill Probe
If they send all of the probes after your probe, just laugh and run their probes around (or even out of) their base. As Borat said, "They will never get this!" There is no greater comedy than watching a comet tail form behind your probe as it trails angry workers around the enemy base.

Enemy Response Fail #5 - Pylon Completes - Send All Workers to Kill Pylon
This is my favorite mistake. When the pylon completes, immediately start building cannons. If they send a ton of probes to kill the pylon, good. The main goal is to get your cannons to complete.

Most people think that if they can take out the pylon, the cannons will power down. This is true. But, once the cannons are completed, it is really easy for me to build a bunch of pylons and get the cannons to power up again. 

Anyone who has seen the Korean 4 warp gate knows that you can’t stop ALL the pylons from completing. One of them will finish. And when it does, the cannons will power up again. I have won many games like this. 

The moral here is focus on what kills you... a pylon can’t shoot you, but a cannon can. It’s easy to build pylons: they are cheap and they complete quickly. Cannons are more expensive and take more time. Without the cannons there is no rush. So don’t let the cannons complete.

Defending the Rush - Early Detect
So what do you do if someone rushes you? The best way to defend the rush is to know that it is coming. If you find a probe hanging out, keep tabs on it. If it starts to build pylons, use the rush defense outlined below.

Defending the Rush - What to Do
If someone is cannon rushing you, take 4 workers and kill whatever they are building. If the pylon is already up, leave it up. Just kill any new things that get built. Don’t chase the probe. You won’t catch it. Just continue to tech and force the rusher to cancel everything.

At 4 workers, you are only losing 3.2 minerals per second, so every time he cancels, it costs 25. You have 8 seconds per pylon before you go negative, and you can usually stop it faster than that.

*Added for Clarification*
If he builds 2 cannons at once, send two groups of 4 workers, one to each cannon. If he builds 3 cannons at once, and you don't have enough workers, then queue up the first set of workers to hit the 3rd cannon. With all the workers, queue them up to return to mining when they are done so you don't waste time.

He should not be able to build more than 3 cannons at once because the rush happens so early. When I do this rush, it usually goes down before 4 minutes. You will either be firing on their nexus at 3 minutes and something, or you will be canceling and transitioning into something else. The later they try the rush, the better off you will be. Regardless, just keep killing anything he tries to warp in.

Eventually, he will either run out of money or you will have the tech to stop the rush outright (ie, marines, zerglings, zealots). The main thing is DON’T get hypnotized by the probe or the pylon. Just take 4 workers to kill whatever is building. 

Defending the Rush - Cannons Up
If the cannons are up and they are hitting your base, that’s very close to a GG. But there are some things you can do.

For protoss, it pretty much IS gg. Your only hope is to rush whatever zealots and forces you have to his base, and then hope you can base trade faster. But usually you won’t be able to because he will have cannons there by the time you arrive, and your only recourse will be to nerd rage and call him a noob.

If you have the cash, you can try to expand. But that's usually just delaying the inevitable.

Zerg can fight back by getting a spine crawler up. Although you will take a ton of damage, spine crawlers have great range, and they can eventually push the cannons back. Because of creep, cannons can’t really get close to the main hatch anyway, so spine crawlers can help fend it off.

You can also try to use the queen to snipe the pylon if the toss has mis-positioned it. But, that's unlikely. Because of the creep, I rarely rush zerg with cannons unless there is a map like desert oasis that is prone to outside pylon rushes.

Terran has the best response options for anti-cannon rushing. The first thing you can do is move your base. Take ALL of your scvs and move them to your natural, then fly your command center over there. You can begin production again almost immediately without losing a thing. And since your barracks are already building, you can start cranking rines to go smash his base with.

Because of the placement of ramps, its difficult for a cannon rusher to sneak in between you and your natural. They usually have to go to the far side of your base where they can hide. So this line of retreat is usually open.

If the natural is not open, you can fly the CC to another expansion and just move the workers there. You can even move the CC to the OTHER side of the minerals sometimes, depending on the map and the angle of the rush. The main idea is that you GTFO when the rush starts and move to a new base.

If you can’t move and the cannon placement is bad, you can sometimes get the marine to snipe the pylon without the cannon hitting him. Do that if you can, then reinforce the marine. If you can snipe the probe, do that too. Terrans have the best shot at eliminating the probe because marines are ranged, so take advantage of it. But don’t rely on it. Good cannon placement usually makes this option mute.

Step 6: Responding to Rush Defense
If someone defends your rush, then as a good rusher, you need to be able to respond. These are things you can do if you see them defending.

Build Few Cannons
The most important thing that you need to understand is you want to build as FEW cannons as possible. I usually go for 3. The more cannons you build, the farther behind you will be if and when the strat fails.

If you make him run away, you are not necessarily ahead. He might have more minerals banked and a higher worker count. This is your chance to pull back to even. It's going to take him some time to get productive again. So, use that time to get your economy up. In particular, I like to expand into their base as soon as they run.

Transition into Gateways
If the person runs, they usually can’t run far. By this time you are behind on probe count and tech, but the disruption your harass caused probably evened that out. What you need to do now is get units. You should have a nexus full of chronoboost. So, build gateways and CB some zealots.

I usually build the gateways by the cannons, and then rush down and smash the natural. If they aren’t at the natural, I scout for them. But I usually keep the gateways with the cannons. A lot of times there are left behind buildings in their main. Just destroy those as you start to churn out some zealots.

Expand to their Base
Once I have enough minerals, I take their base as my expansion. You already have static defenses up in the form of the cannons and you already have gateways, so the expansion becomes my main. This is how you get back in the game economically.

It’s effective. Plus, it’s salt in the wound: All your base are belong to us. Literally.

This is also great because people who get rushed usually target your original main. Because of that, I usually just cannon it up a little and treat it as an expansion. I love the surprise when they march into it, fight through the cannons, and realize that there was nothing there.

Step 7: Nerd Rage
If you have followed along diligently, you have learned the ways of the cannon rush and successfully rushed someone. Prepare to receive your reward! 

Nerd rage is a confection sweeter than honey, an ambrosia of the gods. Savor it. There are many ways to enjoy it. Be magnanimous in victory. Offer tips. Comfort him. Talk shit. The options are endless. Stockpile witty sayings and pithy remarks that you can use to rejoinder the vitriol that will be heaped upon you.

Some typical quips:

Loser: “You $@#$%#@$ noob! I will kill you! You SUCK!!!!!”
Loser: “I bet you are in the bronze leage you !@$!$##! loser”
Loser: “You @%$#!$ cheeser, that !@#$ will NEVER work again!”

Feel free to respond in the way that amuses you most.

There may come a point when you start to feel bad about cheesing. Don’t. Terrans don’t feel bad about playing their POS overpowered race. So you shouldn’t feel bad about cheesing. It takes a lot more skill to do a cannon rush than it does to do 3rax 1A GG.

And yes, anyone who says cheesing doesn’t take skill obviously isn’t very good at it. 

Anyone can cheese a noob. But to cheese platinum and diamond level players, you need a bit of skill. A sliver of luck. And a touch of grace. If you learn to recognize your opportunities, you will have a viable opening that can end games quickly and crush your opponent psychologically. And who doesn’t want to do that?

Think About It
Stealth aside, the reason this rush works is because of two factors. The first is build timing. I can build a pylon and a cannon faster than you can complete a gateway and boost out a zealot. Even if the zealot gets out, he can’t kill the cannon or the pylon alone. It takes a long time. You will have to use workers.

The marine is in the same boat. But, because he is ranged, he is more difficult to handle. But only a little. He can take the probe out. Still, he can’t kill a pylon or a cannon very fast, and it becomes a race. Unfortunately for the defender, it is a race in which I know all the correct decisions, and you probably don’t.

Therefore, you will be analyzing while I am still in book. This gives me an advantage. The chances of you calculating the right response and not making a mistake are slim. On the other hand, I know exactly what to do based on your decisions. So, I can react instantly.

The second reason it works is pressure. Building stuff in someone's base puts them on tilt. If they make a mistake, they lose. If they don’t, I simply cancel my stuff and walk away. Total investment is usually less than 100 minerals on my part for a failed rusher. 

I will be behind in probe count, and slightly behind on tech. But not that much. I have a forge and a nexus full of CB, and I can often make that ground back up. On the flip side, the disruption, both economically and psychologically, that it inflicts on my opponent is often be worth it.

There are two ways to win in chess... playing the board, and playing the opponent. This opening is designed for people who like to play the opponent. 

One of the positive side effects of this line of thinking is that if someone tries to cheese you before you cheese them, you have a great chance of winning. You will know that the enemy is cheesing when you enter their base. At some point, you will realize they have NOTHING. At that monent, your ears should perk up.

Fortunately, having an early forge lets you defend almost all of the early rushes you will face.

Zerg Ling Rush
Build two cannons by your nexus. You will crush 6 pool or any other zergling rush. Just make sure to use the cannon nexus and forge to block off 3 sides of the main pylon. Or, build another pylon at the base. If they can’t get a surround on the pylon, they are toast. Use probes to attack when they enter the line. I often repel this attack without losing a single probe.

Note: I used this to defend against Zerg rushes in SC1 on Bloodbath. If you haven’t played it, it is a map with a VERY short rush distance. This always worked. Just build a tight base. Don't spread your structures out. 

Terran Proxy Rax
Terran proxy rax rush loses to 2 cannons by the nexus or wall off on the choke point. Just cannon up at your base the cannon rush them at theirs and when they run, take it as an expansion. 

Terran Early Reaper
If you see the early reaper, just build two cannons - one in your mineral line, one on top of the nexus opposite it. This keeps the reaper from hitting probes or sniping your nexus or buildings. 

Positioning is key. The reaper will try to find an area not covered by cannon field of fire, so place carefully. Never build your cannons at the choke point, because the reaper will laugh at you.

Protoss Proxy Rush
You win this match up by building 2 defensive cannons at your home base and an extra pylon, then continuing with the cannon rush at his base. Alternate building cannons at home and away, as the longer it takes, the more zealots he’ll have.

When you enter his base and see NOTHING (no pylon, no gate, no buildings), you know the proxy rush is on. Cannon up at your main, then beat him with cannons at his.

Protoss Cannon Rush
This is all about speed and knowledge. If you see the forge in their base, scout your own base immediately. If he has not built any cannons yet in your base, build a defensive cannon. Don’t build this one near your nexus... build far away it to shut off his angle of approach. 

Most cannon rushers have not taken the time to study the opening, so you can beat them the same way you beat someone with an in-your-face rush... with superior knowledge.

If the cannons are already warping in, hope to god that he doesn’t have a defensive cannon already up. Then, take 4 probes and kill whatever is building. Use 4 probes for EACH thing he builds... so if he builds 2 cannons, use 8 probes total. If you run out of probes, queue the groups up to hit the incoming cannons. While you are doing that, you will have to decide if you can still cannon rush him, or if you need to cancel and start teching.

All In Build
There are variations of the cannon rush that you can use and try. One of them that is funny is the enemy base forge. To do this, you run to the enemy base with your first or second probe. You build a pylon right in their face. Then, you build a forge right there next to it in their base. Once it finishes, you buy cannons.

It sounds stupid, but unless they react correctly, they will lose. They will NOT have a gateway or rax started, and they might not even have a pylon or supply depot. Anyone who tries to build a defense to this loses. There is no way they can get any cannons, zealots or marines to help them in time.They need to send 4 workers to kill everything you build, not target the pylon, not target the probe.

I don’t like this build because if it fails, you die. Not only do you lose they pylon, you lose the forge too. There is no way to recover if this doesn’t succeed. On the other hand, it's extremely exciting to attempt, and when it works, NOTHING generates more nerd rage. The change from curiosity to annoyance to panic is priceless. I recommend trying it for cheese connoisseurs.

And if you can do this to a terran, then so much the better. You will be doing everyone a public service.


  1. This is a good way to cheese. Not so effective int he upper levels though

  2. Showing my DAILY support I REALLY need yours aswell!

  3. Wow, now that's a wealth of information. I hate getting cannon rushed lol.

  4. ...and this is why I don't play video games anymore. Too complicated, to be good you have to be so infused with the game it almost guarantees no reality life. :/

    nice post tho.

  5. i'm playing zerg and a protoss usually don't dare to cannon rush a zerg. but my is terran and if he didn't notice it fast enough, he just move his base to another location and we win :D

  6. I read a good portion of it and will be testing it on my brother. >=)

  7. you know if they get a probe out and build an expansion while your cannons are attacking his main he can start over and destroy your main before you finish off his original base, and it wont affect his economy one iota.

  8. While watching GSL(Global Starcraft League) the commentators mentioned how well it works against zerg when you build two pylons at their main ramp(blocking it). Then building a cannon behind it so it can't be attacked by lings and stops the expo at their natural. What is your take on this?

  9. blocking off the main, is just to contain the enemy so you are able to drone up, and take map control, while pressuring the enemy to build an army reducing worker count. this works very well on zerg delaying their expo

  10. while those mentioned on GSL is to contain, these cannon rushed in the guide above is to end the game through cannons, without anny follow up army