Taking Advantage of Team Preview
New to BW, Team Preview revolutionized competitive Pokemon. The ability to see your opponent's Pokemon gives you information that would otherwise be left unknown. I'm sure all of you know the mechanics of Team Preview, but just to recap: you and your opponent see each others' Pokemon at the beginning of a battle. You can change the order of your Pokemon, allowing you to choose your lead based on the opposing team. Now, think on this: have you ever actually taken advantage of Team Preview? Really, think about it for a moment. Unless you're a highly skilled player, I'd place my bets that you have not. This is one of the major factors that holds players back. You can get information from Team Preview that will be invaluable throughout the battle. You can figure out how to accomplish your goals and what roadblocks your opponent might have to those goals. You can figure out the best course of action to remove these roadblocks. Team Preview is one of if not the most important parts of a battle. Remember that while reading this.
One of the major pieces of knowledge you can obtain from Team Preview is the playstyle of your opponent's team. Common examples include rain offense, rain stall, and sun offense, though there are many others. Determining your opponent's playstyle is the first step toward deducing what sets your opponent might be running. Before I talk about that, I'll answer a question you're probably thinking of: how do you determine playstyles? Well, I could go on and on about different ways to categorize teams, but basically you'll just want to check if your team does well versus your opponent's team or not. Once you get that down, you can figure out sets. For example, a Latias on an offensive team is more likely to be running a Life Orb or Choice Specs set. However, on a stall team, Latias often runs support or Calm Mind. This can help immensely with guessing sets of unpredictable Pokemon. If your opponent has a rain stall team with Jirachi, you can pretty much guarantee it will be running a specially defensive set or the rare Substitute + Calm Mind set. If your opponent has entry hazards and no clear sweeper and is using Dragonite, then it is likely a Dragon Dance set. In short, reading between the lines is key for using this information in practice. However, it is not always reliable, either. There is no reason your opponent cannot run a Choice Scarf Jirachi on a rain team even though the most common set is one of the Calm Mind variants. Just as a general rule, don't rely on your skills of deduction, as there is no way you can be sure that your opponent will have a given set just because of their team's playstyle.
Obviously, you're in a better spot if you know what your opponent has coming. If they have a Volcarona, it is going to try and set up with Quiver Dance. Make a plan to prevent that from happening. If your opponent has a Forretress it will likely be setting up entry hazards. Have a Taunt user or heavy hitter out ready to prevent hazards. If your opponent has a Xatu or Espeon and your strategy relies on entry hazards, you should try and remove that impediment as soon as possible. There's also some examples with walls. If your opponent has a Chansey and you have a ton of special attackers alongside a lone Terrakion, you'll know to preserve Terrakion. Vice versa goes with Skarmory. If you have a Kingdra and your opponent has a Ferrothorn, you need to remove Ferrothorn. Essentially, you want to identify your opponent's game plan and obstacles to your game plan, preventing and removing them, respectively. If you notice a Pokemon you're weak to on your opponent's team, don't just go "gdi I'm screwed." See the ways you can deal with that. For example, maybe you're weak to SubCM Jirachi. Let's say you have a Whirlwind Skarmory and Taunt Jellicent. You also have a mixed Salamence with Fire Blast / Outrage / Brick Break / Roost. You're going to want to predict Jirachi's switch-ins and bring in Jellicent to Taunt or Skarmory to Whirlwind. Essentially, you want to prevent it from setting up. Fire Blast isn't going to do that much in your opponent's rain, but you have some Spikes. You'll want to keep phazing Jirachi out until it is weakened to a point where Fire Blast can finish it off. Now, what if you hadn't identified SubCM Jirachi in Team Preview? You wouldn't have figured out what to do until it was too late. Even if you weren't sure what set Jirachi was running, you would know to do your best at scouting it. Simply identifying threats in Team Preview saved you the match; however, be sure to note this: don't rely on these educated guesses, because in the end they are just that—guesses. Your opponent could be running any set or a creative one of their own. Maybe they have different moves than are standard. Nothing is guaranteed. While in other games you might know exactly what each playing piece your opponent has is going to end up doing, you never know for sure in Pokemon. In chess, you know that your opponent's king can only move one space in each direction and that their pawn will not be able to attack your king head on. In Pokemon, for all you know, Jirachi could be an offensively-based Calm Mind variant, not the specially defensive one you were expecting. The best way to play is to assume that if your opponent's Pokemon can carry a move to hit your Pokemon, it has it unless you determine it doesn't via scouting. Figuring out which Pokemon you should focus on scouting out is also important in Team Preview.
All of this information is worthless, however, without applying it to pick your lead and allowing the information to dictate your strategy throughout the battle. In the end, Team Preview is just another part of the game; you need to try and end it with an advantage over your opponent. There's a few terms I'll define for those of you who aren't familiar. The first is the term dedicated lead, which is, as the name implies, a Pokemon who devotes all of their abilities to leading. Usually, entry hazard leads will jump to the front of your mind when this term comes up. Pokemon such as Focus Sash Terrakion, Aerodactyl, and Froslass are a couple examples of them. Dual screens, while not that good in this metagame, are easy to set up against more defensive leads such as Ferrothorn. The breadwinner is Espeon, who has Magic Bounce to prevent Ferrothorn from setting up entry hazards. Espeon can become near-impossible for some teams to break. Azelf is another viable option, utilizing the great Speed it has to set up screens reliably. Now, there's also counters to these leads; fast Taunt users render all of them useless. However, a faster Taunt is less ubiquitous than it once was, especially with the departure of Tornadus-T. Teams with dedicated leads are almost always offensive, if not hyper offensive. Why is this, you may ask? Well, dedicated leads are generally fast Pokemon that can get their job done reliably. Offensive teams can seize this momentum to destroy their opposition. If you have a dedicated lead, picking your lead is easy, but if you don't, well, that's what is going to be discussed next.
If you don't have a dedicated lead, the goal is to end up with the best initial match-up. The player with the advantageous match-up on the first turn has an edge for the entire battle. Here's a few quick tips:
The other option you have is to just take the first steps toward achieving your team's goal. Set up that Stealth Rock. Baton Pass that Substitute. Spread that paralysis. Surprise KO that troublesome Pokemon with your unorthodox moveset. It's not rocket science; get the battle started. Look at it this way: Whichever player achieves their goal first wins. By working toward your goal right off the bat, your opponent is automatically a step behind. If your opponent is weak to one of your Pokemon, you should know to try and keep it alive.
What if you're seriously going for that good match-up, though. What if that advantage helps you more (it does)? You're going to have to take a gamble: What are the odds that your opponent will lead with a certain Pokemon? Assuming said opponent has a functioning brain, they're going to think a bit. This is a very advanced form of prediction. There are an infinite amount of match-ups possible. The only good way to do this is to use some example teams. What you'll see is exactly what is seen in Team Preview; the Pokemon.
Player 1 vs. Player 2
Using our playstyle checklist, you should find that the teams can be classified fairly easily. Player 1 has a balanced hail team. You should easily be able to see the gameplan of the team; Abomasnow sets up hail, which allows Kyurem-B to utilize a perfectly accurate Blizzard and punch holes, which allows Landorus (likely a special Rock Polish variant) to sweep. This is all made possible through a combination of reliable entry hazards and a spinner. The obvious Stealth Rock setter is Aerodactyl, but identifying the Choice Scarf user is a bit trickier. Landorus, Rotom-W, and Kyurem-B are all possible ones; however, from our previous analysis, it should be intuitively obvious that either Landorus or Rotom-W holds the Choice Scarf, with the odds slightly leaning toward the latter. Player 2 is running a sand stall team. Jirachi appears to be a SubCM or Wish + Calm Mind variant, as the team lacks any other offensive Pokemon, but it could be any set for Rotom-W and Kyurem-B both appear to be huge threats, and Forretress is going to have trouble spinning with all the Pokemon that can heavily damage it. Player 2 is at a pretty immediate team disadvantage. Hippowdon usually runs a defensive set with Slack Off, Earthquake, Stealth Rock, and a filler move. Forretress is of course going to be a physically defensive spinner that likely has one or both forms of Spikes. Of course, Forretress could be running Stealth Rock, but Hippowdon is much more likely to be running it in this scenario. Zapdos appears to be defensive also, probably some variant of SubRoost. Jellicent is obviously the spinblocker and is imperative for Player 1 to remove. Tangrowth always runs a physically defensive set. Player 2 needs to keep hazards up with his spinblocker in order to wear down Kyurem-B, so Hippowdon is a pretty nice lead. But wait! Player 1 has a dedicated lead in Aerodactyl, so he or she won't be leading with Abomasnow, which means getting sand up first will put Player 2 at a disadvantage. Instead, they should lead with something for Aerodactyl. What Player 2 knows is that their Jirachi is a Trick + Choice Scarf variant. Aerodactyl will likely Taunt to prevent Jirachi from setting up Stealth Rock, so Player 2 is in the clear. Even if Aerodactyl sets up Stealth Rock, it won't be able to do much else because Choice Scarf prevents it from switching moves. This is actually what both players do. Player 2's analytical thinking pays off, as Aerodactyl is crippled on the very first turn.
This is the type of thinking you need to have. Note that the players in the battle took less than a minute to figure this all out. It's exactly what you should do eventually. In the example, Player 2 took an educated guess and started the battle with an advantage. Now that you have this knowledge, go and try it out. In no time at all, you'll be winning games like crazy. This, my friend, is what differentiates a good player from a mediocre one.