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In the transition from Generation 4 to Generation 5, two new types of battling were added: triple battles and rotation battles. Both permitted releasing 3 Pokemon onto the field at once; however, while triple battles had them all active on the field at the same time and were based on positioning, rotation battles had only one Pokemon active on the field at a time, and the other 2 Pokemon were in "reserve".
The most important mechanic of rotation battles is the rotation itself. Every turn, before either you or your opponent attack, you may rotate out to one of your Pokemon in reserve. This does not take up your turn, unlike switches.
Another major mechanic of rotation is related to stat-boosting moves. Normally, the effect of these moves wears off as soon as you switch out the Pokemon. However, in rotation battles, if you rotate out a Pokemon that has used a stat-boosting move, the effect remains until it is actually switched out. This increases the viability of Pokemon like Haxorus, who definitely enjoy being able to maintain any boosts they get till the time they get to sweep. This mechanic also applies for moves such as Encore, Toxic (the counter is not reset) etc.
Both of these major mechanics not only change several playstyles, but also inspire a lot of prediction and mindgames. An example would be this: you have a Tyranitar, an Excadrill, and a Landorus on the field, and your opponent has a Garchomp, a Thundurus, and a Starmie out. Sandstorm is active on the field. You have Excadrill active, and your opponent has Starmie active. Your Excadrill is Adamant, holds a Life Orb, and is at +2 Attack with Sand Rush activated.
Sounds like a sweep opportunity? Wrong. If your opponent rotates to Thundurus to use Hammer Arm while you use Earthquake, or if he/she rotates to Garchomp to use Earthquake while you use Rock Slide, your so-called sweep is finished.
Perhaps you might want to play it safer, and rotate to Landorus or Tyranitar. However, Landorus will not enjoy Starmie's Ice Beam, while Tyranitar is certainly not dying to receive a Hammer Arm from Thundurus. This is the beauty of rotation battles; they are a constant battle of minds. Risk management is the most important component of this battle style.
Additionally, unlike switches, Pursuit does not "chase" a Pokemon rotating out, so being "Pursuit-weak" matters significantly less in this metagame.
The current official rotation battle ruleset is that of Nintendo's Global Battle Union. One of the cardinal features is that you may choose 4 out of your 6 Pokemon at Team Preview for the battle, similar to VGC. This brings in the interesting element of "team prediction".
Due to the restriction on Pokemon, it is impossible to cover every single Pokemon in the game. Instead, rotation battles focus on team strategies and global effects. Additionally, since 3 Pokemon are on the field at a time, they have more room to use support moves.
Weather plays a pivotal role in the metagame. Since switching is rare and rotating in a Pokemon does not activate its ability, weather starters are usually in the active slot on turn 1 to activate their weather. Once weather is active, weather starters usually cannot do much, and are either switched out or kept inactive while a pair of sweepers do most of the work.
Other support options such as Trick Room, Reflect, Light Screen etc. are also seen, because they no longer have switch-related turn restrictions, providing an additional turn for sweepers to work with before they need to be refreshed.
With Stealth Rock an effective nonentity, sun sweepers get a major boost. Blaziken synergizes well with the mechanics, and can overpower an entire team after it gets in a Swords Dance if its weather is successfully activated.
With the decline of walls and the special mechanics, Volcarona rises in usefulness. It can accumulate boosts quickly and proceed to sweep, and with Morning Sun, it can heal itself against resisted attacks. Blaziken and Volcarona make for an excellent combination, covering a lot of the metagame between them.
Sun also has the likes of Venusaur and Lilligant for "quick sleeps", which can swing an entire game. Darmanitan's sun-boosted Flare Blitzes are definitely not going to be nice, either.
With no "Aldaron's Proposal" inhibiting it, rain can run riot in rotation battles. Rain has a huge selection of sweepers, whose synergy increases sharply with the mechanics. This makes predicting 3 out of rain's "4" extremely difficult.
The "Swift Swim trio", Kingdra, Ludicolo, and Kabutops can form a team with Politoed by themselves. With their ability to hit from both ends of the spectrum, they will keep an opponent's team on their toes. The prediction factor is amplified manifold when playing against rain teams, and don't be surprised if you mispredicted just once and lost the game.
The only weather with 2 inducers, Sandstorm has a huge bonus. Sandstorm has its own pick of sweepers, such as Garchomp, Excadrill, and Landorus. Excadrill particularly becomes a force from the Hall of Origin with the capacity to retain its Attack boosts for revenge kills and "sweeps".
Terrakion's Double Dance, set similar to that of Groudon, becomes a lot more potent, for reasons similar to those already given for Excadrill. Rock / Fighting coverage is an invaluable asset to teams, especially when it is backed by a 129 base Attack stat.
Tyranitar is no slouch itself, with a variety of sets it can run to aid its partners. Hippowdon is rarely seen, becaue of the offensive nature of the metagame, but Iron Ball variants to guarantee weather are not impossible to come across.
Trick Room is rarely seen in singles because it provides only 3 actual turns for a sweeper to function, and forces a switch right afterwards. It is also incompatible with setup sweepers due to its timer. All these change in rotation battles.
Before a Trick Room sweep, sweepers can usually get in a boost so that while they are on the timer, they can hit hard and "fast" to wipe out the opponent's team. Reuniclus is a common sight on such teams, benefiting by itself and also possessing the bulk to set it up multiple times for other Pokemon. Powerhouses such as Conkeldurr come into their own, and rule the roost. Well, for the 4 turns they get, at least.
Octillery is a huge winner from rotation battles. Moody was practically made for rotation battles, which allow it to utilize the plentiful boosts it will acquire through its Substitute / Protect strategy immediately or later and also avoid stray Perish Songs while keeping its boosts. Coverage issues can be covered by its teammates as well.
For many of the same reasons as Octillery, Smeargle makes it big in rotation battles. While it lacks Octillery's stellar offenses, this is compensated for by its powerful Stored Power. With a vast movepool, Smeargle's unpredictability can be utilized to good advantage.
Blaziken revolutionized the OU metagame, as evidenced by its usage before its ban. In rotation battles, Blaziken becomes so much better with the stat boosts / drops mechanics. Its only true full stop, Slowbro, suffers from a relative lack of offensive presence, and Blaziken's favourite partner Volcarona can beat it with a strong STAB Bug Buzz, possibly boosted.
Reuniclus is a less obvious winner from the mechanics. It has an important niche of being able to set up Trick Room and sweep under it. Reuniclus no longer needs to worry about Pursuit either, with that problem negated by mechanics. With the variety of options and the team support it possesses, it will make a slow, but large splash on the metagame.
In direct contrast to Reuniclus, Excadrill gains a lot directly from rotation battles. Walls in general take a dip in usage, and Excadrill can use this to its advantage. The Swords Dance set that brought it to fame works well in rotation battles, and Air Balloon is no longer necessary with Landorus available. However, Excadrill must always remain cautious while sweeping, as situations like the one mentioned earlier in this article can always crop up.
I hope this article has given you an idea of how rotation battles work, and some general strategies to adopt. While unfortunately no simulator supports rotation battles at the moment, they are a fun metagame you could try out on WiFi if you can!
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