Competitive Pokemon has existed since Pokemon Red and Blue, with hushed whispers and children gathered around to watch two Pokemon trainers duke it out. Along with the games themselves, competitive play has evolved and changed, becoming easier and easier to access with each generation. This came to a head in Pokemon Sword and Shield, with competitive-ready Pokemon being the easiest to access in the series. Pokemon Scarlet and Violet have added to this, and now any trainer can round up a team of the best Pokemon out there.
A common complaint of competitive Pokemon, particularly fan-led meta-games like Smogon, is that the meta-game often revolves around a handful of Pokemon, with the rest falling by the wayside and seeing next to no use. While every Pokemon has its strengths, this is something you must accept if you want to get into competitive Pokemon, especially high level; some Pokemon are just better than others. That being said, fighting alongside your cherished partner Pokemon in spite of how “viable” it may be can bring a smile to any trainer — and bringing a creative strategy might just win you the battle. Competitive meta-games ebb and flow as players experiment with different builds — being patient may see your favorite enter the limelight as a viable Pokemon.
Pokemon hosts a wide variety of battle types: single battles, double battles, multi battles — the list goes on. Deciding what format you want to play can help shape your team, as strategies may not work in one format but be crucial in another. In official tournaments held by the Pokemon Company, double battles are the format used, though single battles are popular among fan-led communities like Smogon.
Familiarizing yourself with the rules and what Pokemon are allowed is recommended; some formats will ban the use of certain Pokemon, having deemed them too powerful to be considered fair game. Multiple formats have a level clause that sets the level of all participating Pokemon to level 50; this can save time on preparing a team as you won’t have to worry about training your Pokemon all the way up to level 100.
Know Your Enemies
One of the most important parts of competitive Pokemon are, of course, the Pokemon. As trainers battle each other, winning strategies become more well-known, and the Pokemon involved in these strategies become used more often. As a result, the meta-game begins to revolve around certain Pokemon — often running similar stat spreads, abilities, moves, etc.
While being able to improvise is important, knowing what Pokemon are popular and what sets they are running is vital. This way, you can develop sets that counter popular strategies, helping you secure the win. Of course, it’s also important to remain flexible — you never know when someone with a brand-new strategy will come in and knock you off your feet!
Good Team Composition
The first thing you need to do when creating a competitive-ready team is decide your team. This involves more than just picking six Pokemon and calling it a day; ask yourself what purpose you want a Pokemon to serve on your team. Should this Pokemon serve as an offensive presence? Should it be more defensive? Should it be a late-game sweeper, or a suicide lead meant to get up a crucial status buff for the rest of the team? These questions are what you should be considering when building your team.
It’s also important to consider team synergy, especially in formats like double battles, which can have multiple Pokemon on the field at once. Consider things like ability interactions; as an example, the Pokemon Tatsugiri has an ability called Commander. If an ally Dondozo enters battle, Tatsugiri will enter Dondozo’s mouth, sharply boosting all of Dondozo’s stats in exchange for the battle becoming a 2v1. Interactions like this can shape your team down to its core, and considering potential counters to your strategy is important as well. In reference to Tatsugiri and Dondozo, a popular counter is using Murkrow with the ability Prankster. Murkrow learns Haze, a move that nullifies all stat changes, which will always move before Dondozo thanks to Murkrow’s Prankster ability. This leaves Dondozo vulnerable to Murkrow’s partner, who can land a move unfettered by the stat boosts it received from Tatsugiri.
Preparing Your Pokemon
So, you’ve gotten a rough idea of what your team will be. Now is the time to actually build it. Assuming you already have the Pokemon you need, there are a few things you’ll need to consider. Using online team builders — like Pokemon Showdown — can help you outline your team before building it in-game.
Stats, Nature, And IVs
All Pokemon have EVs (Effort Values) that can be trained up to boost a Pokemon’s stats. EVs are dropped by every Pokemon upon defeat (Pokemon will not drop EVs if defeated in an Auto Battle), or you can use Vitamins to boost them. Vitamins are quite expensive, however. Your Pokemon can have a maximum of 510 EVs, with a limit of 252 EVs in one stat. You can put EVs into HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed. Typically, competitive players will do a min-max build for their Pokemon, pouring 252 EVs into two stats and putting the remaining EVs in one other. While popular, it may not always be beneficial; having a specific stat can help, as you may be able to survive a popular attack or knock out a popular Pokemon.
There is a second aspect to a Pokemon’s stats; its nature. A Pokemon’s nature will influence two of its stats, boosting one and lowering the other. While lowering a stat is sad, the benefits of natures cannot be understated. Often, a Pokemon will run a nature that lowers a stat it makes little use of, such as physical attackers using a nature that lowers their Special Attack. Natures can be changed by using Mints, which correspond to a certain nature. The Adamant Mint will effectively change the Pokemon’s nature to Adamant, boosting their attack and lowering their Special Attack. Mints can be found as items on the ground, but they can also be purchased.
The third and final aspect of your Pokemon’s stats are its IVs (Individual Values). A Pokemon’s IVs are generated at the Pokemon’s birth and can be considered its “genetics” — sort of. Your Pokemon have an IV value for each of their stats that range from 0 to 31, and they have a small but notable effect on your Pokemon’s stats. You can’t modify IVs directly like you can with EVs, but through the use of Hyper Training, you can set a Pokemon’s IV to its maximum value of 31 for a Bottle Cap. Bottle Caps can be bought for a modest fee or obtained through high-level raids. You can breed for specifics IVs by giving a Destiny Knot to a Pokemon whose IVs you want to pass down.
Your Pokemon’s ability is one of its most important qualities. Abilities are passive effects that trigger under certain circumstances, and often provide a powerful boon. Your Pokemon’s entire build can often revolve around your ability. For example, the Pokemon Torkoal has the ability Drought. Drought will summon Harsh Sunlight for five turns when the user switches in. Harsh Sunlight is a weather effect that powers up Fire-type attacks, weakens Water-type attacks, and activates some abilities that rely on it. As a result of being able to summon a powerful field effect for basically free, Torkoal is a popular Pokemon among teams that rely on Harsh Sunlight. Another popular ability is Intimidate, which lowers the Attack stat of opposing Pokemon by 1 stage after switching in. Intimidate effectively improves your physical defense by 50% and can put a stop to strong physical attackers before they even begin.
Your Pokemon can have up to two normal Abilities, as well as a third Hidden Ability. Considering your Pokemon’s hidden ability is important, as some Pokemon’s best abilities may be their hidden ability. For example, Amoonguss has the hidden ability Regenerator, which heals the Pokemon for a third of its health after it switches out. While Effect Spore is not a bad ability, Regenerator is Amoonguss’s most popular ability because it gives Amoonguss a high level of bulk. Amoonguss’s typing, stats, and move pool afford it great defensive utility through moves like Rage Powder and Spore, and being able to heal substantial amounts of health by simply exiting battle is a vital tool to have. Changing your Pokemon’s ability is only possible through the use of Ability Capsules and Ability Patches. These two rare items drop from high-level Tera Raids, though Ability Capsules can be purchased for a modest fee.
Move Set Is King
Choosing the right moves is a must for competitive Pokemon. Don’t disregard moves that may otherwise seem useless to you; some of the best strategies involve niche moves that may not draw much attention to the common player. Status moves are popular as they can inflict status conditions that weaken or incapacitate enemy Pokemon, boost your stats, and more. While strategy may not be too important during the main game, it is something you will have to consider when choosing what moves your Pokemon has.
Do not feel limited to the Pokemon’s level-up moves. Your Pokemon can learn a wide variety of moves through various methods; evolution, TMs, and even breeding. You can pass along special “Egg moves” by giving your Pokemon a Mirror Herb, forgetting a move to open up a move slot, and having a picnic with a Pokemon that knows the move you wish to pass. Familiarizing yourself with your Pokemon’s entire moveset, from leveling up to Egg moves, is important.
Your Pokemon can only know four moves at a time. While this may seem obvious, some Pokemon learn so many good moves that it can be hard to choose just four; this was coined “four moveslot syndrome.” Sometimes, you may have to forgo a great move in order to keep your Pokemon optimized — some strategies just may not call for that extra coverage move.
Held Items are just as important as abilities, with some even mimicking the effects of abilities. Your Pokemon can only hold one item, but items can often turn the tides of battle in ways you may not expect. For example, a popular set of items are the Choice Band, Choice Specs, and Choice Scarf. These items boost your Attack, Special Attack, and Speed (respectively) in exchange for locking you in to the first move you use after switching in. While this may seem like a debilitating caveat, the Choice items provide such a massive power boost that Pokemon serving as wall-breakers run them anyway. Other held items can provide benefits like healing, boosting stats, preventing status effects, and more. Some popular held items are:
- Leftovers: You can never go wrong with Leftovers. This item heals a bit of HP every turn — on bulky Pokemon, this can mean the difference between being 2HKO’d or 3HKO’d.
- Sitrus Berry: Another potent healing item. This berry heals you for a quarter of your HP when you’re below half health, which can help bring your Pokemon back to a comfortable threshold of health.
- Covert Cloak: A new item introduced in Scarlet and Violet. The secondary effects of moves are important, and this item makes you immune to those effects. A popular move is Fake Out, a priority move that flinches the target, but it can only be used on the Pokemon’s first turn after switching in. Covert Cloak prevents you from flinching since Fake Out’s flinching is considered a secondary effect.
- Life Orb: Want to deal more damage? A Life Orb will increase the damage you deal by 30%; in exchange, you lose a bit of health after using an attack. With that 30% boost, you can push your Pokemon over the edge to knock out that annoying Toxapex or Blissey.
Be Wary Of Field Effects
An important aspect of battle is the battlefield itself. In Pokemon, there exist various field effects that can benefit and harm your Pokemon in different ways. As discussed previously, Harsh Sunlight and other weather effects can provide incredibly potent bonuses that can power up your Pokemon. Rain can activate abilities like Swift Swim, which doubles your Pokemon’s speed while Rain is active, allowing you to out-speed your opponent and get a hit in before they can act. Only one weather effect can be active at a time. There are also terrain effects such as Electric Terrain; these typically effect Pokemon that are grounded, and non-grounded Pokemon (Flying-type Pokemon or Pokemon that have Levitate) are unaffected. Like weather, only one type of terrain effect can be active at a time. Terrains can also activate abilities, like the new Future Paradox Pokemon’s Quark Drive.
Accept The Randomness
Something to keep in mind is that Pokemon, despite having a lot of rules that go into making it as complex as it is, is an inherently random game. Sometimes, you may have bad luck and miss a vital move. It’s important not to take these kinds of losses too seriously, as they can be largely out of your control. That said, it’s important to play as well as you can within what you can control. Keep a cool head, and try not to get too heated if your Focus Blast misses; remember, competitive Pokemon is a competition, and it’s important to be a good sport.
Resources Available To You
Not a lot of information relevant to competitive Pokemon is accessible in-game. There are a lot of things that the game doesn’t tell you, but websites do exist that catalog this information. Websites like Serebii, Bulbapedia, and Smogon are good resources to use when trying to train up a Pokemon to be the very best.
Next: Pokemon Scarlet & Violet: How To Get The Shiny Charm
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