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Hello, everyone, and welcome again to Phil's Protips! For those of you who haven't read my column before, these articles are designed to teach players how to perform their absolute best in a battle. So far, we have covered "Preparing for Battle" and "Playing to Win", so if either of those topics interest you, feel free to check the older issues out! For the rest of you, this volume's topic is "Figuring Out Your Opponent". Keep in mind that these tips will assume that you are familiar with all the previous ones, and sometimes build off of them, particularly Protip #4: Identify Your Important Pokémon. Enjoy!
No, I don't mean go and spy on your next tournament opponent to see what he plans to use and then counter-team him. In fact, I generally advise against counter-teaming, because that can potentially lead to disasters. I can tell you many stories about people who have attempted to counter-team in the past and paid the price for it. In fact, I think I have seen counter-teaming go wrong more often than I have seen it work... but I digress. What I mean by "scout" is, bait an opponent into giving up their team's secrets in the middle of the battle. A lot of players (especially at higher levels of play) use surprise tactics to net themselves a free KO. This strategy is particularly common in tournament play, because you only need one win to advance and don't have to worry about playing an opponent who knows your team from previous battles (like you often do on the ladder). For example, players sometimes use Expert Belt Tyranitar to fake holding a Choice Band or Choice Scarf. This strategy is used to trick people into thinking they're safe to set something up on what they believe to be a Choice-locked Pursuit, and then punish them for it with a different super effective attack. There are a lot of Pokémon who are known for this type of "Choice item bluffing", such as Shuca Berry Heatran and Expert Belt Jirachi. That is why it is usually a better idea to try and scout what type of Pokémon your opponent is really using. This can be easily done by baiting your opponent to reveal a potential surprise attack. For example, let's assume an opposing Tyranitar just KOed your Rotom-A with Pursuit while you were trying to switch out. You can bring in Scizor to try and U-turn against Tyranitar, but what if it is an Expert Belt variant? To test this out, you can bring Scizor in and then just switch him directly out. If Tyranitar switches out with you, then it is likely that he is holding a Choice item, because most players will instantly jump at an opportunity to Fire Blast an unsuspecting Scizor. Of course, there are SOME players who can sniff out your bait and switch out with you, just so that you lower your guard later in the match, but at that point, it just comes down to mind games.
Surprises are not limited to simple item bluffing, though. Sometimes people will utilize unorthodox moves to hit common counters hard. A good example of this is Heatran using Hidden Power Grass to hit Swampert. The solution to figuring stuff like this out is, again, double switching. If you bring Swampert into Heatran, it is often better to just immediately switch out right away to see if Heatran is packing Hidden Power Grass or Toxic than to stay in and try to Stealth Rock or use Earthquake. Some of the best players are known for never trusting their opponents to use standard sets, and always testing the waters before making a big play.
Knowing to scout is good and all, but the true art is picking which Pokémon to scout with. You can often put yourself in win-win situations if you have the right Pokémon to help you prod your opponents. Let's use the Heatran versus Swampert example again to illustrate this. So you switch your Swampert in against an opposing Heatran who just used Fire Blast, but you want to know if it is also packing Hidden Power Grass. It would be useful to switch in something like Bronzong in to take the Hidden Power Grass, but think about it—what if Heatran DOES use Hidden Power Grass? Now you have a Bronzong versus Heatran, which does you no good still. Also, think about what type of Pokémon like to come in on Swampert. Pokémon like Skarmory and Shaymin love to switch into Swampert, and Bronzong does badly against both of them (especially if Shaymin is packing Leech Seed or Hidden Power Fire). So scouting is good for figuring things out, but to really make use out of it, your team has to have the right tools to begin with. If you had, say, an Infernape to switch in to scout that Heatran, it would be perfect. Infernape can come in easily on Hidden Power Grass and threaten back with Close Combat. Infernape also beats many common Swampert switch-ins like Skarmory, Shaymin, and Celebi. In summation, scouting can definitely help you keep things alive and expose your opponent's secrets, especially if you can set up a win-win situation from it. If you don't have the perfect scouting switch-in, it's not a terrible thing, because you can then at least play around your opponent until you get the opportunity to KO. All in all, it is still a very valuable strategy to add to your arsenal.
People love to keep a Pokémon or two hidden so that you don't know what to keep alive in order to beat them. Anytime you're in a close match, and there is still one unknown Pokémon on your opponent's team, you can bet that it's either A: a useless Pokémon that can't do anything to all of your Pokémon, or B: your opponent's last chance at beating your team. I always like to assume B, because I'm paranoid like that, and you're always "better safe than sorry". Luckily for you, it is sometimes possible to guess what that last Pokémon is in order to stay prepared for it. Of course, this isn't an exact science, and it basically works on the assumption that your opponent isn't a moron and knows how to build a theoretically good team. Unfortunately there is no way for this article to encompass every team possibility without turning into a five hundred page novel, but I will try to outline some of the key things to look out for. The first way to go about predicting your opponent's last Pokémon is to figure out what your opponent is weak against with the five that you've already seen. Once you figure that out, you can probably bet that his last Pokémon is a counter, or at least a check to said weakness. For example, let's say all you have seen from your opponent's team so far are Celebi lead, Lucario, Choice Scarf Heatran, Gyarados, and Tyranitar. Judging by that lineup, you can see that your opponent is weak against Agility Metagross, and also has three Pokémon who are weak to Fighting- and Ground-type attacks. Judging by this, you can derive some likely candidates for your opponent's last Pokémon. Rotom-A is an obvious choice here for the immunities to the common weaknesses, and the ability to counter Metagross. If you only have one Pokémon left who can beat Rotom-A, you should probably try to keep it alive. Other things to look out for include general weaknesses, not just weaknesses to one particular Pokémon. For example, if a team looks very weak against Dragon Dancers, their last will probably be a Choice Scarf Flygon or Jirachi. Scenarios like this also help you predict what type of item your opponent is carrying. If you have seen no checks to Dragon Dance Tyranitar on a team, and then Jirachi comes out, it is likely that the Jirachi is Scarfed. Likewise, if a team looks very weak to stall, the last Pokémon on the team might be something like a stat-upping Pokémon who can heal, such as Calm Mind Suicune or Jirachi.
Again, for this estimation to work out, your opponent has to have decent team building skills. If your opponent is just using six random Pokémon thrown together, you will never be able to guess what their last is. Also again, even if your opponent makes logically sound teams, this is still not an exact science. However, with practice you can really get good at narrowing down the possibilities, and you're always better off with SOME idea rather than none. This technique has helped me clutch out quite a few matches in the past, and hopefully once you get the hang of it, it will help you out too!
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