How to learn to play Pokémon

Hey there Hat Lovers,

I wouldn’t consider myself an elite player by any means, but I do think the topic of today’s article is something I can weigh in on. Since my two articles on maximizing your EVs (Developing Speed Tiers and Bulking Up), I’ve been wanting to add a disclaimer of sorts. A recent topic on the forums has inspired me to finally sit down and write this thing.

Doing well at VGC requires a combination of skills. First and foremost is an understanding of the game and the Pokemon you expect to play against. After that comes the ability to build a coherent team that accomplishes your goal of winning games. Last is the subtle development of player skill through experience; this impacts your success at all levels of play. Individual player skill is also something that increases as you have an understanding of the game, and is able to develop better when you have a coherent team and have the option of making winning decisions every game.

The most important part of your development as a player is to take these steps in order. It is really damaging for a player to avoid playing because they don’t understand how to do well. Today I’ll argue that the most important thing you can do is to just play, but hopefully I can guide players in how to learn better from their testing experience.

  1. Developing a base understanding (studying)

  2. Building a team

  3. Gaining experience

  4. Conclusion

For your development as a player, it’s best to take these steps in order. It is really damaging for a player to avoid playing because they don’t understand how to do well.

1. Developing a base understanding

These are the important questions folks

While this is obvious, if you don’t know what a Pokemon does then you’re going to have a very tough time figuring out what to do against it. Scott’s early 2015 metagame overview is the perfect place to start reading. This article has a list of 50 highly relevant Pokemon to competitive play. The first important thing to take away from this mammoth article is the speed tiers that Pokemon fall into. If you want to do well, you’ll want to be able to answer that most basic of questions: “Which Pokemon are going to move first?”

While eventually you’ll develop an intimate knowledge of specific stats on different Pokemon, it’s useful to approach speed from the perspective of: “Is it slow? Middling? Fast? Very fast?” If you can assign Pokemon to these general categories, then you’ll at least be equipped with a knowledge base to build and develop. After you have an idea of where Pokemon lie in these categories, you can start learning and memorizing how Pokemon interact in each category (e.g. Weavile is faster than Gengar).

The next important thing to take away from Scott’s article is what moves Pokemon generally carry, and thus learn what Pokemon will do better or worse against them. Once you know if Pokemon 1 is faster or slower than Pokemon 2, and you have a general idea of what moves each Pokemon has, you can predict how the scenario will play out. If Pokemon 1 is faster than Pokemon 2 and has a move that hits for super effective damage, Pokemon 2 is likely not having a fun time.

2. Building a team

Once you have an idea about how Pokemon interact with each other, you can sit down and try to work out a team for yourself. A successful team is a team that gives you a good chance to win every game. One of the best ways to construct this ideal team is to start with a couple Pokemon that have some core strategy (e.g. hit hard, set up, cripple opponent), and can generally deal with big threats in the metagame; three quick examples of threats are Mega Kangaskhan, Mega Salamence and Landorus-Therian. It’s not essential that they have an answer to everything, but starting with two Pokemon that really dislike seeing common Mega Pokemon, or common powerhouses, is a tough spot to put yourself in. While you could patch that up with your next 4 Pokemon, at that point the team is really more about them than your original 2.

Probably not the most appropriate analogy…

After you’ve got a capable two, figure out what Pokemon these two are not going to like seeing on an opposing team. Once you know that, you can make the jobs of your next two team members to deal with those threats. After that’s settled, you can round out the team with good defensive synergy and patch up any weaknesses to common Pokemon you may still have.

As an example of defensive synergy, team builders can generally include a core of Pokemon that interact well with each other, and can switch in to attacks with ease. The two most commonly cited cores are the “Fantasy core” (Dragon, Steel, Fairy) and the “FWG core” (Fire Water Grass). If your team has a combination of Pokemon that fulfill one of these cores, you’re likely (but not guaranteed) to have a decent team brewing.

Example Fantasy core:
So if you have a Hydreigon, Metagross and Clefable, then you have a Dragon type, a Steel type, and a Fairy type Pokemon. Hydreigon can take Fire Dark and Ground moves aimed at Metagross, while Clefable can take Dark moves. Clefable can also take Fighting and Dragon moves aimed at Hydreigon, while Metagross takes Ice and Fairy moves aimed at Hydreigon. Metagross protects Clefable by taking Poison or Steel moves well. These three complement each other’s typing very well, and all 3 have respectable bulk to be able to take resisted attacks with impunity.

3. Gaining experience

While this is a pretty broad category, I also think it’s the absolute most important one. Simply put, you can’t get better at the game if you don’t play it. For instance, nowhere above did I mention EV spreads. Complex EV spreads aren’t a recipe for success. Solid teambuilding and an understanding of what your opponent’s Pokemon can do are the raw ingredients for success. But one of the most significant advantages a player has is experience with their team. I always want to liken this to a left-handed boxer.

Really… I just like Hajime no Ippo

The majority of people are right-handed (citation-needed). In boxing, you take a stance where you have your dominant hand away from your opponent, and your off-hand in front. In a right-handed vs. right-handed boxing matchup, both boxers can use their lefts to deliver quick jabs, or strong blows to the body, while reserving the right hand for devastating punches. These boxers train their punches to be as effective as they can at the opportunities they’re likely to get. What really throws everything off is when they have to face a left-handed boxer. Suddenly, their trained punches are hitting elbows instead of stomachs, and there’s no good way to set up a finishing blow. Meanwhile, the left-handed boxer faces right-handers all the time, and knows exactly how to deal with a right-handed stance.

This principle is absolutely the same in Pokemon. You should always be the person with the most knowledge and experience playing your team. If you haven’t played enough to be comfortable with your team, and with how people react to your team, then you have failed to give yourself an easy “left-handed boxer” advantage. For the opponent, they only ever get one shot at facing you. For you however, you might face multiple people with common elements on their teams (Terrakion, Bisharp, Thundurus, Kangaskhan, Gengar etc…). You’ll likely find that when people have the option, they’ll lead with generally the same Pokemon as others when facing your team. To them, it’s the logical conclusion that Pokemon A and Pokemon B are good against your Pokemon C and Pokemon D. To you, it’s the expected outcome, and you can be armed with the knowledge of past experiences. You can already have a good idea of what conclusions they’ll come to, and make plays to counter them. Experience as a player is certainly useful, but experience with your team is what really pushes you from doing well to doing great.

This “left-handed boxer” principle is also at the core of doing well with gimmicky strategies.

4. Conclusion

The main reason I’ve written all of this up is because I often see people getting bogged down asking for good EV spreads or good move sets, before actually playing games. Playing games and gaining expreience is absolutely the most important part of getting better. Everything I’ve written above and more can be discovered by simply sitting down and playing for a night online. You can learn what Pokemon move before others, who OHKOs who, which teambuilding ideas work well and which don’t, and what your opponents are likely to do; all this from just playing games.

While this is a blog and we write articles, in a complicated game like VGC, articles can never supplement the real thing. To do better at this game, you need to develop an understanding of the game. And the best way to do that is to go out and play. Once you’ve done that, come back and read up on Complicated EV spreads.


Crawdaunt out



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