A Casual Stroll Through Competitive Pokemon – Part Two: Battling

Yesterday, we went into quite a bit of detail about how to build a competitive team. Today, we’re going to discuss how to use that team in an effective way.

Competitive battling works a whole lot differently than just playing through the Pokemon games. Your opponent isn’t going to use Screech four times in a row, they aren’t going to just sit there when you use a super-effective attack, and they won’t have three less Pokemon than you or Pokemon that are significantly lower leveled. You have to fight smart, to know how to stay one step ahead of your opponent. This post is all about how to do that.

Whether you’re battling on Showdown or using the actual Pokemon game, you’ll get a glimpse at what Pokemon the opponent is using. The battle starts there – not when you each send out a Pokemon, but when you choose which Pokemon to send out. Take a look at your opponent’s team. Find some common weaknesses, and recognize which one of your Pokemon can capitalize on those weaknesses. Also see what Pokemon on the opponent’s team counter that weakness. What Pokemon do they have that represents a huge threat to your team? And which Pokemon do you have that can stop that from happening?
You want to identify these things because they help you plan your strategy. If you only have one Pokemon with the ability to stop one of the opponent’s Pokemon from sweeping your whole team, don’t let that Pokemon fall. Plan to eliminate the Pokemon on the opponent’s team that stop you from being able to sweep up the rest. Knowledge is power in this kind of battle, so identify your problems early and be ready for them throughout the fight.

Now it’s time to choose your first Pokemon. But who should you send to lead the way? There are a few different options here. Hazard-setters can set up entry hazards early game to prevent your opponent from switching willy-nilly. Pokemon with U-Turn or Volt Switch can deal some early-game chip damage and switch out for something more advantageous. A Pokemon with Fake Out is a solid lead, as you can see what the opponent is going to lead with and flinch them turn one without worry. Scarfers with lots of coverage can threaten the opponent right away, as can wallbreakers. Be careful, though – if you open with a frail Pokemon and the opponent opens with the perfect counter, it can steal your momentum away in an instant. You can also lead with counters to these strategies – open with a ground type to stop an opponent from using Volt Switch, or a Magic Bounce Pokemon to reflect hazards back at the enemy. Another strategy is to lead with a certain Pokemon as bait, and then switch into something that resists the move they bait out.

Switching is one of the most important aspects of a competitive match. It’s your main method of defense – switching in a Pokemon that resists or completely ignores the opponent’s attack gives you momentum during combat. Of course, if you switch constantly, you’re going to put yourself into a situation where you’re never taking the offensive. Your switch patterns can also become very predictable, allowing the opponent to figure out what you’re going to switch in to and attack you accordingly. You’ll also have to be careful when switching if stealth rocks or other hazards are on the field, as they’ll weaken your Pokemon and chip you down the more you switch.

When switching, your walls are going to be one of your most valuable assets. They soak up damage, heal the damage off, and allow you to control the battle until you can switch into something more advantageous for you. If you lose your walls, it’s going to be much more difficult to overcome the opponent, as your other Pokemon can’t take nearly as much punishment. Do not let your walls fall. Work hard to preserve them and you’ll have an advantage over your opponent.

Hazards are important to be prepared for, whether or not you intend to use them yourself. There are four types of hazards: spikes, toxic spikes, sticky webs, and stealth rocks. Spikes deal damage to any Pokemon that switches in, except for Pokemon with flying type or the levitate ability. Spikes can be placed up to three times, and they deal equal damage to any type of Pokemon that switches in. Toxic spikes can also be layered, but only twice, and rather than dealing damage they inflict either the poisoned or badly poisoned status. Poison type Pokemon can switch in safely and absorb toxic spikes. Sticky webs do not deal damage but instead lower the speed of your Pokemon by 1 stage, down to 66%. That doesn’t sound bad, but having all of your Pokemon significantly slower can be a huge advantage for the opponent’s team. Finally, stealth rocks deal damage based on the Pokemon’s typing – more damage if they are weak to rock, less if they resist it. They can hit even flying and levitating Pokemon and only have to be placed one time. Having a Pokemon with Rapid Spin or Defog to deal with these hazards is important, but when do you switch it in? Generally, you want to send in your spinner against a Pokemon that it has an advantage against. This will force a switch and give you an opportunity to spin the hazards away safely. Be careful – if Defog is your method of eliminating hazards, watch out for Pokemon with the Defiant or Competitive ability. Defog lowers their evasion, activating their ability and drastically increasing their attack power.

If you just click your strongest attack over and over again, your opponent will get an advantage over you. They’ll switch carefully and put you in a position where your attacks will be harmless. So you need to think one step ahead: what will they switch in to? What can you do that will give you an advantage in that situation? Of course, making a bold prediction and getting it wrong can have serious consequences, so how do you know when to predict?
First, you have to weigh how much of an advantage your prediction will actually give you. What’s the worst case scenario? As an example, I recently had a battle with someone where I was all set to win – my Pokemon was faster than his (it was a male avatar so I’ll assume the player was male) thanks to my choice scarf item, and I had type advantage. I was a little unsure if I could kill in one hit, though, so I did some predicting. I thought my opponent would use Fake Out, a move that only works on the first turn. I gave my choice scarf to the opponent, hoping to trap them into a move they couldn’t use. Instead, the opponent went for a super effective attack. My choice scarf made them faster, giving the opponent a match that I had otherwise won. So don’t predict unless you need to.
There are plenty of middle-ground plays you can make instead of making a bold prediction. Consider using a move like U-Turn to deal some chip damage and then switch out. Or you could use Knock Off to eliminate the opponent’s item, a relatively solid choice no matter what the opponent switches in. A status-inflicting move like Will-o-Wisp or Thunder Wave can cripple any opponent that comes in – unless of course they are immune to the move. These plays may not always put you in the best situation, but they will often be superior to making a wild prediction.

I mentioned in the last post that knowing the meta is very important to competitive battling. Meta simply refers to the typical strategies used by competitive players. As you play, you’re going to want to take note of the meta. Notice which Pokemon tend to use what moves, and what strategies work together in an effective way. There are a number of Pokemon that have moves super-effective against Pokemon that would ordinarily beat them – whenever you encounter such a situation, remember it so you can be prepared in the future. Maybe a certain Pokemon managed to sweep your team because you didn’t know it was dangerous. As you see these things, remember them: every bit of knowledge you have can be used as a weapon later. While not every player will use every Pokemon the exact same way, more often than not people will play according to the meta. Knowing how to deal with it will make you better.

I hope this helps you with your beginning competitive Pokemon endeavors. As you grow, you’ll learn your own techniques, and you may find that some of my advice doesn’t work for you anymore. That’s okay! I’m new to competitive myself and certainly don’t know everything there is to know. But hopefully this will give you an edge as you experiment with competitive battles for the first time.

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