Race to the Bottom: How to Ladder Hard and Fail

By RitterCat. Art by RitterCat.
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Picture this. You've laddered for a solid 13 hours. You've avoided the Scrotom combo of VoltTurning and U-Switching every way you look. You've defeated Terrakion in deathly close combat. You've broken the Multiscales of more Dragonites than you could even count. You've not just won the weather wars, but gone on to ransack their homelands. And finally, finally, you reach the ultimate pinnacle: the top rung of the OU ladder.

Many Smogonites aspire to this achievement, but only a few ever conquer it. The influence of the ladder on Smogon cannot be denied: ladder peaks are the most common signatures, just edging out Friend Codes and funny IRC quotes. And with top placing comes great prestige: in the lower tiers, it can give you a spot on the Council, putting the fate of a whole metagame in your hands. It can give you something fancy to put in the title of your RMT. But why this obsession with only the top of the ladder, the big #1? What about those lesser mortals who, no matter how hard they try, are proud when they reach 950? Why does no one aspire to be like them? They are some of our hardest-working ladderers, but by luck or design (mainly luck) end up at the bottom. As an experienced bottom-dweller, I will give you some teambuilding tips in this article that will ensure you a place among those who could have been mighty; this is how to ladder hard, but fail.

Use Theme Teams

He never grows up, travels around with other kids, and always defeats the evil group trying to beat him. No, not Peter Pan, but Ash Ketchum: forever 10, never a Pokémon Master. With his Pikachu that reverts to Level 5 every time it enters a new region and a penchant for shitty Pokémon that believe in themselves, he has enthralled small children by losing most of his battles. This theme continues as battlers make teams in his honor: the lower areas of the ladder are filled with Pikachu and Blast Burn Charizard. The main issue with using Ash-themed teams is that, in general, his Pokémon are terrible. Bulbasaur really needs to evolve to be of any use, whereas evolving still wouldn't help Buizel. Occasionally, Ash will appear to not be brain dead and use quality Pokémon, such as Infernape or Gliscor. Sadly, these are few and far between, and not nearly enough of a selection to build a team that actually wins.

Even with all these problems, Ash Horrible-Pun is the best anime character to base a team upon—not that this is saying much. The rest of the characters just don't have the sheer number of Pokémon (however horrible competitively) that Ash does. So basically, if [Insert Anime Character here] is your idol and you try to be like him/her in your battling, have fun losing.

Theme teams aren't just based off childish, pun-filled anime series, however. They can be based on whatever theme you can think of, from the standard mono-color / mono-type to crazy challenges such as "Pokémon in the second half of the Hoenn Dex that have the letter S in their name" or something similarly stupid. However, the overarching problem with all theme teams is restriction. Good teams have synergy between members and have ways to deal with many prominent threats in the metagame; theme teams, on the other hand, only have so many Pokémon to choose from that quite likely share a weakness of some sort.

Gladly, the mass of shortcomings that theme teams possess will let you rest safely in the knowledge that, if using one, your rating won't ever see the light of 4 digits.

Use Your Favorites

This teambuilding tip can vary in effectiveness at cementing yourself in the ladder's nether regions, as everyone has different favorites. For example, if your 6 favorite Pokémon are Tyranitar / Scizor / Rotom-W / Landorus / Terrakion / Celebi then you're fine, but a love for Mightyena and Loudred won't do you much good in OU.

Pokémon who are viable in OU are a small portion of the game, so it is likely that many favorites are not viable. It's also not very probable that your favorites are somewhere within the roughly 1/13 of the game that populates OU. Even in NU, where there are 210 or so Pokémon, it's much more likely than not that your favorites aren't in NU. The fact that most favorites are chosen on aesthetics alone compounds this, as the majority of OU is incredibly ugly: an orange, pathetic excuse for a dragon, a derpy frog, a washing machine and a squashed metal fruit infest the tier (notable exceptions to this trend are an evil desert rock dinosaur and a metal bug with lots of spikes).

Of course, any favorite, from Little Cup to Ubers, can sweep a team 6-0 if your opponent temporarily loses all sense of reality and randomly hits buttons until your Baton Pass chain is perfectly set up to your Pokémon of choice. Even Magikarp can sweep Uber teams like that. That is, during that one game in 50 when you come across someone who has a thing for randomly hitting keyboards. To work well, a Pokémon needs to be consistently good, and if your definition of consistent is one 6-0 sweep every 50 games, then your definition is wrong.

Sadly, this competitive failure of favorites infuriates the less intelligent denizens of the Internet, and often leads to illegible complaints that "smogon r st00pid, they dont let us yuse favrits!!!!!" That's just wrong, like the other internet habits of the complainers. We do let you use them, just if you do, you will lose. That's why tiers exist: not to denounce your love of Whiscash or Corsola or your weird Gardevoir fetish, but to provide environments where you can actually use your favorites to some success. UU and RU and NU and LC exist to make the game more diverse for a wider range of Pokémon.

So if you do use your favorites in OU, do it with satisfaction, because you know you will inevitably end up in the deepest depths of the ladder.

Use Your In-Game Team

It beat all the gyms! It beat the Elite 4! It beat my rival! It even beat a Frontier Brain once!

No matter how illustrious the achievements of a team in-game, its success won't necessarily carry over to the competitive scene. With sufficient over-leveling and the fact that Trainer AI play worse than a stoned monkey with a mental deficiency, any Pokémon can win any in-game battle they enter. Sadly, on PO and PS! you play humans with IQ greater than a chair, all Pokémon are at the same level, and there comes into being this little thing called strategy. Suddenly, Butterfree is losing half its health to some mysterious rocks. Suddenly, people switch, double-switch and even Volt Switch! Suddenly, it's not a matter of you 4HKOing them before they 5HKO you. Competitive Pokémon is a battle of minds, a battle of strategy, of prediction and deep thought. In-game is Blast Burn spam. Competitive Pokémon involves assessing character and psychological warfare, planning battle-wide strategies and sacrificing Pokémon. In-game is beating a whole load of Bug Catchers. Competitive Pokémon is tactical. In-game is mindless button spamming.

Sure, people make competitive teams in-game occasionally, but what do they use them for? Battling other humans on WiFi and at VGC events. Other humans. Skill and strategy are only required when playing against people who can actually think about their actions; it is not needed to beat the Elite 4. All that needs is 4 attacks on six moderately powerful Pokémon.

So when you enter competitive play with your six cool-looking, E4-murdering, randomly-thrown-together Pokémon, you will be rightfully slaughtered and be sure to end up much lower than where you started.

When using the Teambuilder

This section is a short summary of common blunders made while actually using the Teambuilder to make your completely flawed team. If you manage to make all these blunders, then congratulations; your team will go so low it'll fall off the ladder.

Forgetting Natures

Natures are a vital part of Pokémon, providing that extra stat boost that can grant you those important OHKOs or 2HKOs. And even if you do put them in, giving a Pokémon an incorrect nature could be disastrous; a Modest Haxorus or an Adamant Rotom-W could help cement a placing with the lesser mortals below 1000 points.


Similarly to natures, without these your stats will remain quite weak, missing out on the kills that make the Pokémon effective. In-game, your EVs will be mishmash of random values for different stats, taken from the whole variety of Pokémon you fought and grinded against. Competitively, however, EVs are specialized to specific purposes, and if these purposes can't be achieved... down the ladder you go.

Forgetting Abilities

This can render many Pokémon useless or just less effective. I mean, who wants to use Chlorophyll Whimsicott or Inner Focus Dragonite? Who uses Overgrow Venusaur in sun or Blaze Blaziken in Ubers? Hopefully, you will be if you make this elemental mistake.

Forgetting Moves / Items

I probably don't even need to mention these, as it is so blindingly obvious that they are necessities for playing Pokémon, but you always need to take into account those who get outsmarted by a cactus, even though they can't read this article.

Building Your Team While Blindfolded

No matter how impressive a touch-typer you are, or how well you can predict where your mouse is on the screen, building your team blindfolded will lead to disaster. There are people who can complete a Rubik's cube blindfolded, but teambuilding blindfolded is an even greater challenge and definitely cannot be done in ~18 seconds. The major problem with teambuilding blindfolded, bar the discomfort of a blindfold, is that you can't see. Of course, if you are actually blind but manage to totally independently build a Pokémon team, you win. Not anything in particular, you just sort of win... everything. However, if you can see but teambuild blindfolded, you are probably an idiot and will wallow gloriously in the deepest depths of the ladder.

Get Your Pet to Build Your Team for You

You might be super busy with schoolwork, extracurricular activities, or certain Internet-based activities, but no matter how out of time you are, leaving your pet cat / dog / guinea pig / East-African fan-spotted death snake with a detailed list of your team and the teambuilder open will not amount to any progress whatsoever. They lack the co-ordination and dexterity to use a keyboard properly, and quite likely have boredom and attitude issues on top of that. They do not function well as workers, and do not work well at all in a co-operative team with their colleagues; really, they're not suited to any job, let alone the fiddly task of teambuilding.

Also, they can't read.


The bottom of the ladder is a glorious space to dwell, sporting so many hardworking—just unlucky!—users. If you follows my tips and make all the blunders, you'll be sure to live down there in the bottom rungs for many a year. Sitting on the bottom is just as worthy as sitting on the top; it's all just a matter of perspective.

So, I wish you good luck in your escapades building flawed, incomplete, ladder-failing teams, and hope to see you down here in the murky depths of this large and varied ladder.

Finally, don't forget to stay tuned next week to learn how to use great teams but lose, in my new article "Playing like a Paraplegic Giraffe: How to Use Good Teams and Fail."

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