Racing to Victory! Momentum Management in VGC

By chuckaboomboom. Art by Bummer.
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Momentum management is a fundamental concept in all forms of competitive Pokémon battling. In VGC, the fast-paced turns and the multitude of options make momentum exponentially more important than it is in singles. However, it also makes momentum much more difficult to evaluate. In this article, we'll explore what momentum management is and why it is so essential in competitive Pokémon, with a focus on VGC. We'll find out how to evaluate momentum during a game, how to gain it, and how to use it.

What is it?

A simple definition of momentum is: who has and who will have the most threats on the field? The player who has control of momentum has control of the game. Usually, this means that the player who can knock out the opponent's Pokémon has momentum, though this is not always the case. A player with momentum is in the driver's seat in a battle; his/her opponent is usually in a defensive position and has to respond to the player's moves. Momentum is decided as soon as the game begins. Once the leads are sent out, one player usually has a better matchup and, as a result, greater momentum. However, momentum is just as easily lost as it is gained. One prediction, one surprise, or one switch is all it takes to shift the battle in a player's favor and change the balance of momentum.

Why is it important?

Now that we know what momentum is, we should have a basic understanding of why momentum is so important. Having momentum allows a player to apply pressure and move into a better position. Basically, having momentum helps a player to win.

Suppose that we have a Hariyama at 80% health and a paralyzed Mega Metagross at 80% on our side of the field against a Mega Kangaskhan and Hydreigon. We have an Aegislash and a Clefable (not holding Sitrus Berry) in the back. Our opponent has a Cresselia and Sylveon at the back. Pretend that this is not Hariyama's or Kangaskhan's first turn out on the field, meaning that Fake Out is not active on either side.

Who has more momentum?

Clearly, our opponent has all of the momentum. Mega Kangaskhan can KO Hariyama with Return or Double-Edge, and Hydreigon can outspeed Mega Metagross and KO it with Dark Pulse. Things aren't looking good because our opponent is applying tons of pressure.

However, being the skilled VGC players that we are, let's predict that move. We are expecting a Normal-type attack going toward the Hariyama slot, so let's switch out Hariyama for Aegislash. We are expecting a Dark Pulse aimed at the Mega Metagross slot, so let's switch that out for Clefable. The turn plays out exactly as we expected. Mega Kangaskhan uses Double-Edge on Aegislash, and Hydreigon uses Dark Pulse on Clefable. Aegislash takes no damage, and Clefable takes minimal damage. Success! We've pivoted away from a bad position! Or did we...? The problem with this move is that it doesn't create any momentum. We might have predicted the correct moves from our opponent, but we are still in a position where we cannot apply offensive pressure. Mega Kangaskan can KO Clefable, while Hydreigon can threaten Aegislash. Even if Clefable uses Follow Me, it will be KOed by Kangaskhan's attack and Hydreigon will be free to attack Aegislash. If we make this move, we don't gain any momentum, meaning that our opponent still has us in a bad position.

Clearly, just switching blindly to take oncoming attacks doesn't work. Instead, let's try to create some momentum. What if we used Protect on Hariyama and switched out Mega Metagross for Clefable? Suppose we make that move. Our opponent's Kangaskhan attacks into Hariyama's Protect, while Hydreigon uses Dark Pulse on our Clefable switch-in. The next turn, we use Follow Me on Clefable, which faints from Kangaskhan's redirected Double-Edge. Hydreigon uses Draco Meteor on our Hariyama, which survives with a sliver of HP. It's now Hariyama's turn to attack, and we use it to KO the opposing Hydreigon with Close Combat.

If we make this move, we lose Clefable, and we'll most likely lose Hariyama next turn. However, we got rid of the only threat to Aegislash. Recall that our opponent had a Cresselia and Sylveon at the back. By removing the opponent's only answer to Aegislash, we've created momentum and can threaten our opponent in future turns by using Aegislash. (Of course, the opponent's Kangaskhan can use Sucker Punch on Aegislash, but it's not too much of a concern. Aegislash conveniently carries Substitute and is holding a Weakness Policy. Plus, we still have Mega Metagross!)

The example above shows how crucial momentum is. If we don't have momentum, we can't apply pressure and are forced to be defensive. By controlling momentum and gaining it, we can shift the battle towards a favorable position and find a win condition.

How do I evaluate it?

During the battle, we must be able to evaluate momentum to understand the flow of battle and understand our position. When measuring momentum, prediction and probability management are essential. Understanding what your opponent will do in the next few turns can have a great effect on momentum. Likewise, luck and hax in battle can completely change the direction of a battle. Prediction and probability management are the two broad ideas that encompass momentum. However, if we dig a little bit deeper, we find that momentum can be measured in four more defined terms: speed, potential speed, damage, and potential damage. In this section, some of the examples will be from single battles to facilitate easier understanding.


The order of turns during the battle has a huge effect on momentum. If we ignore damage, then the player with the Pokémon that can outspeed the opposing Pokémon has momentum. For example, suppose that one player has a Sylveon at 50% health against a Choice Specs Hydreigon locked into Flash Cannon. In this example, the player with Hydreigon has momentum. Hydreigon puts offensive pressure on Sylveon and can outspeed it, thus scoring a KO.

Potential Speed

The order of turns during battle affects momentum, but the potential order of turns during battle can also affect momentum. In our previous example, Hydreigon currently outspeeds Sylveon and can KO it, but will it be able to outspeed Sylveon in the upcoming turns? Suppose that Sylveon uses Protect, and its teammate on the field uses Thunder Wave on Hydreigon, thus paralyzing it and cutting its Speed. Who has more momentum now? If Hydreigon is paralyzed, then Sylveon outspeeds Hydreigon and can KO it with Hyper Voice. In VGC and other 2v2 formats, a Pokémon can utilize forms of Speed control to change the tide of battle for itself and its teammates.

When measuring momentum in battle, we have to consider not only the current Speed of Pokémon, but also their potential Speed. When a player has a Pokémon that outspeeds and can KO the opponent, then that player has a lot of momentum. However, in most cases, a Pokémon can't just simply OHKO the opponent. Speed isn't the only factor that affects momentum. We have to look at damage as well.


The amount of damage that can be dealt by Pokémon has a significant effect on momentum. Suppose that we have a Gengar on our side of the field against an Aegislash. If we only consider Speed, then we have greater momentum, as Gengar outspeeds Aegislash. However, Gengar's Shadow Ball cannot OHKO Shield Forme Aegislash. On the other hand, Blade Forme Aegislash can easily OHKO Gengar using Shadow Ball. In this example, the player with Aegislash has more momentum than the player with Gengar. However, the player with Gengar still has a bit of momentum. Gengar can take away 60% to 70% of Aegislash's health with Shadow Ball, severely weakening it. Thus, the player with Gengar still has momentum. It's just that the player with Aegislash has more momentum.

Potential Damage

The amount of damage that can be dealt affects momentum, but the potential damage dealt by Pokémon also affects momentum. Let's use our example from the last section. We have a Gengar on our side of the field against an Aegislash. Currently, Gengar will deal around 60% to 70% of damage to Aegislash, but what is its potential damage against Aegislash? Suppose that our Gengar is, in fact, a Mega Gengar. In addition, we have a partner Pokémon that can use Helping Hand. A Shadow Ball from Mega Gengar boosted by Helping Hand will OHKO Aegislash! In this example, the player with Aegislash does not have any momentum, as our Gengar has the potential to pick up the OHKO.

Potential damage can be difficult to measure during battle. From the last example, if we were the opponent using Aegislash, how do we know if the Gengar is a Mega Gengar? How do we know if Gengar's partner can use Helping Hand? One simple way to check is to just use King's Shield on Aegislash to scout the foe's moves. However, suppose that we used King's Shield last turn, meaning that we don't have a safe way to scout. Now what? As players gain more experience, they can get a better sense of what to expect from their opponents and their teams. The more "Pokémon IQ" you accumulate, the easier it becomes to anticipate potential damage from your opponents. Continuing with our example, players with a bit of experience will know that Mega Gengar is quite rare in VGC, meaning that it is probable that the opposing Gengar isn't holding a Mega Stone. However, we can't afford to be naive and rule out Mega Gengar completely. We would also have to examine the opponent's team and try to understand his/her thought processes during teambuilding to determine whether the Gengar is a Mega or not.


This is a broad category that overlaps with potential Speed and potential damage. Prediction affects momentum but is not something that can be accurately judged. However, it's still good to know that prediction does affect the balance of power in a game. Anticipating switches and Protects and responding to them allows you to keep up momentum and pressure against your opponents. Recall that the concepts of potential Speed and potential damage involve predicting how your opponent will change his/her Speed or damage output, so they are just specific forms of predictions, in a sense. As players gain more experience and have a greater understanding of the metagame, they come into battle with some "natural" or "inherent" momentum, as they have a greater ability to make good predictions and keep up pressure.

Probability Management

Probability is always a factor when measuring momentum. We could have Speed, damage, potential Speed, and potential damage all in our favor but still have all of that offensive pressure overridden by luck.

Suppose that we have Landorus-T and Tyranitar on our side of the field against Hariyama and Rotom-W. All Pokémon are at full health, and both players are down to their last Pokémon. It is not Hariyama's first turn in battle, so Fake Out is not active. In this example, our opponent has a lot of momentum. Rotom-W can outspeed and OHKO our Landorus-T with Hydro Pump. Hariyama can OHKO Tyranitar with Close Combat. Neither of our opponent's Pokémon can be OHKOed by our own. The next turn of the battle just might be our last...

But wait! Hydro Pump from Rotom-W misses Landorus-T! We used Rock Slide with both Pokémon, and one of the Rock Slides causes Hariyama to flinch. However, it still looks like a loss, as Rotom-W can still outspeed and OHKO Landorus-T, while Hariyama OHKOes Tyranitar.

But wait! Hydro Pump misses again! Rotom-W did not hold a Sitrus Berry, so it faints to Tyranitar's Rock Slide, and Hariyama flinches again! At this point, Hariyama is in KO range from Landorus-T's Earthquake. Not wanting to risk any Rock Slide misses, we pick up the KO on our Tyranitar and the opponent's Hariyama, winning the game.

In this example, we didn't have Speed or damage on our side. We didn't have much momentum, but luck came into play. In competitive Pokémon, chance is always a factor in battles and needs to be considered. Probability and its ability to "steal" offensive pressure is an important factor when measuring momentum.

These broad categories provide a good list of criteria to measure momentum during battle. Most of the examples in this section have been simple with one Pokémon against one Pokémon. However, in VGC, it's 2v2 on the field, with each player having two Pokémon in the back. As a result, momentum becomes exponentially more difficult to evaluate. The ability to decipher the balance of momentum, conserve it, and gain it is one of the key traits of a skilled VGC player.

How do I gain it?

In the last section, we saw that prediction and probability management were fundamental in determining momentum. We also saw that momentum is generally evaluated with Speed, damage, potential Speed, and potential damage. We will now look at how to gain momentum in battle.

1. Utilize prediction

This is fairly intuitive, and there isn't much to elaborate on. Making predictions during battle, responding to your opponent's moves, and keeping up offensive pressure is important.

2. Utilize probability

Pokémon battles have an element of luck. Most of the time, players don't depend on luck to win, but it can be relied on as a last resort. Of course, good fortune isn't something that we can control, so we won't dwell on this idea too much. However, that's not to say that you can't put yourself in a position where you can use probability to your advantage. During battle, you can utilize chance if need be to gain momentum in desperate situations. This means that if you decide to use moves such as Rock Slide, Iron Head, Swagger, and Thunder Wave, you can give yourself a chance to use their side effects to gain momentum during battle. However, the inverse is also true. For example, if you're in a position where you decide to use low accuracy moves, then there might be battles where you miss a crucial attack, causing you to lose momentum.

3. Change damage

The damage output of Pokémon can significantly affect momentum. One way to pivot into a better position is by altering the damage output of Pokémon during battle. Damage received from physical attackers can be reduced if a Pokémon with Intimidate switches in. Additionally, support moves such as Will-O-Wisp, Charm, and Captivate can also decrease the damage that you receive. On our side of the field, damage output can be increased through the use of moves such as Helping Hand. We can also alter the damage output before battle even starts if certain Pokémon have a damage-boosting item such as Life Orb, natures that raise Attack or Special Attack, and EVs invested in its offensive stats.

4. Change speed

The order in which Pokémon make their moves can also affect momentum in battle. Thus, changing Speed changes momentum. Opposing Pokémon can be slowed down via moves such as Icy Wind or Thunder Wave. On the other hand, the Pokémon on our side of the field can be sped up via moves such as Tailwind or Trick Room. Similarly to damage, Speed can also be affected before the battle begins through natures, EVs, and items such as Choice Scarf.

5. Team Preview and leads

Although picking leads in Pokémon is always important, it is infinitely more so in VGC. The format's naturally fast pace combined with having only four Pokémon on either side means that the choice of leads has an immediate effect on momentum and offensive pressure. During team preview, players might be able to ascertain the general archetype (e.g. sun, rain, and Trick Room) of the opponent's team, and from this, players can choose to either use a passive safe-lead or an aggressive counter-lead. A passive lead means choosing two Pokémon that can cover the most of the opponent's lead options. This is low risk and low reward, meaning that this lead will not cause a player to either gain or lose too much momentum. An aggressive counter-lead means choosing two Pokémon that directly counter the opponent's predicted lead. This is high risk and high reward. If the prediction is correct, a player can begin the battle with a huge amount of momentum in their favor.

6. Getting a KO

Rather than explaining a way in which we can gain momentum in battle, this point explains a situation in which we commonly lose momentum in battle. It is an extremely surprising and ironic thing, but in a lot of cases, you will actually lose momentum when you KO an opponent's Pokémon. Of course, this doesn't mean you shouldn't KO Pokémon. How else do you win? However, when you KO a Pokémon, you might actually lose momentum because you are essentially giving your opponent a free switch. Suppose that you had a Landorus-T and Mega Charizard Y out on the field on turn one. You have a great lead matchup, and you immediately pick up a double KO on your opponent. Things are looking great, and you're up 4-2! But suppose that your opponent had a Choice Scarf Politoed and Ludicolo in the back. You've just given him a free switch into his two rain abusers. If the two Pokémon remaining can't handle Politoed and Ludicolo in rain, then your opponent can sweep through the rest of your team. The simple act of KOing both Pokémon gave your opponent so much momentum that he won the game.

However, suppose that we KOed only one of the opponent's Pokémon (assuming, of course, that the other Pokémon wasn't a threat to our lead of Landorus-T and Mega Charizard Y). Then, our opponent wouldn't have been able to bring in both Politoed and Ludicolo, giving us an easier time. We could also pick up a KO with Landorus-T and switch out our Charizard so that we can gain momentum later against our opponent's rain sweepers by changing the weather. In this example, picking up a double KO caused a significant loss in momentum.

What do I do with it?

We now know what momentum is and how to gain it, but what do we do with it? In physics, you can convert potential energy into kinetic energy. In a similar sense, you can convert the momentum that you have into quantitative damage or KOs, taking you one step closer to victory.

Let's examine momentum in the 2014 Japan National Finals match between Tony and Barudoru.

The battle begins with Barudoru sending out Garchomp and Rotom-W against Tony's Mega Kangaskhan and Zapdos. Immediately, Tony seems to have more offensive pressure. Zapdos usually carries Hidden Power Ice, and Kangaskhan can use Fake Out to cause either one of Barudoru's Pokémon to flinch.

On turn one, Tony's Kangaskhan Mega Evolves and uses Fake Out on Barudoru's Rotom-W. Barudoru's Garchomp responds with Rock Slide, leaving Zapdos with 60% HP and Mega Kangaskhan with 80% HP. Zapdos proceeds to use Agility. This is a big surprise, as Agility is never seen on Zapdos. It certainly gave Tony more momentum, as Zapdos's potential Speed just changed. However, there were some other, more subtle consequences for Barudoru's team. Garchomp's potential damage against Zapdos was reduced. This is because Zapdos can now use Roost to heal itself and remove its Flying typing before Garchomp uses Rock Slide, meaning that Rock Slide will no longer be super effective. Furthermore, Rock Slide will now land after Zapdos makes a move, meaning that Garchomp's attack can no longer make Zapdos flinch. This was a great turn one for Tony. He built upon his strong lead matchup and gained even more momentum.

Tony's momentum peaked on turn two, when Speed, prediction, and probability were all on his side. On turn two, Barudoru switched out Rotom-W for Mawile, whose Intimidate reduced the Attack of Tony's Pokémon. Barudoru used Protect on Garchomp, most likely fearing an OHKO from Zapdos's Hidden Power Ice. Tony's Zapdos used Thunderbolt on Barudoru's Mawile switch-in, landing a critical hit and promptly OHKOing Mawile. Tony's Kangaskhan used Return on Garchomp, which was blocked by Protect.

This was a pivotal turn for Tony. He predicted Protect from Garchomp and acted accordingly. Tony had so much momentum that he had every single one of Barudoru's options covered. From Team Preview, he knew that Barudoru's other team members were Talonflame, Salamence, and Gardevoir. A Thunderbolt from Zapdos would have put Rotom-W, Mawile, or any of Barudoru's other team members into KO range from another attack by Zapdos or Kangaskhan. Due to the fact that Tony seemingly predicted Protect from Garchomp, he most likely doubled up into the Rotom-W slot, meaning that Rotom-W would've probably fainted if it didn't switch out. Probability also came into play here, as Tony was lucky with a critical hit on Mawile. Tony managed momentum very well right from the start of the battle and proceeded to win the match.

A more detailed turn by turn analysis of the battle can be found here. It's an excellent article and very insightful. I would encourage all players to check it out.


For any aspiring VGC player who wants to improve their game, being able to understand and manage momentum is key. In this article, we've explored what momentum is and why it is important. After grasping an understanding of the basics, we then looked at how to evaluate and gain momentum. Finally, we pulled all of the concepts together and figured out how to utilize momentum in a Pokémon battle. In physics, the formula for momentum is P = MV, where P is momentum, M is mass, and V is velocity. In Pokémon, the formula is RI = P, where P is momentum, because having momentum during battle means R.I.P. for your opponents.

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