Phil's Protips Vol. 1

By Philip7086 and zerowing.
« Previous Article Home Next Article »

Hello, and welcome to the first volume of Phil's Protips! If you have always wanted to step up your battling game, but haven't had a chance to pick up a tutor from Battling 101 yet, this column is just for you! In Phil's Protips, I will be giving out some general battling advice that I would normally provide for my tutees, so hopefully you'll find these tips useful. Today's topic will be "Preparing for Battle"!

Protip #1: Know the Relevant Metagame

Although having general battling knowledge is useful when getting into playing competitively, it's not always enough. In order to build a potent team and execute your strategies successfully, it helps to be aware of what the common Pokemon sets and strategies are. However, in a game like Pokemon, the metagame is constantly changing due to new strategies always being discovered. If a new moveset or combination of Pokemon is good enough, others will start to imitate it until the metagame becomes saturated. Once that happens, people will start to think of new strategies that focus on beating what is popular, and the entire cycle repeats all over again. For example, the latest powerful combination of Pokemon is Taunt Toxic Gliscor + Wish Vaporeon + Scarf Tyranitar. If you are familiar with the current OU metagame, you are probably aware that a good portion of the top teams on the ladder utilize this combination. As awareness of this strategy increases, more and more people will start using it themselves until people start figuring out ways to easily beat it. It's because of this evolution that top notch players from 2008 who quit might find themselves struggling if they tried to jump back into competitive battling today. My best team from six months ago would be terrible if I unleashed it on the ladder today – teams and strategies just become outdated and obsolete. Before you spend hours building what you think might be the best team ever, it is better to build an average team and play on the ladder for a few hours to get a grasp of the metagame. With that knowledge, you will be able to build a team that's many times better than anything you could have made otherwise.

The reason this Protip is called "Know the Relevant Metagame" instead of "Know the Current Metagame" is because this idea is applicable to more than just different periods on the metagame timeline. I see a lot of people use a successful strategy in OU and just try to translate the same strategy to their UU or Ubers teams. Though this might work sometimes, it's not reliable. Every tier is completely different, so a viable strategy in one tier might not be ideal for another. For example, a Toxic Spikes + Substitute Pressure staller strategy might be great in OU, but it is not very viable in UU where there are grounded Poison-type Pokemon everywhere such as Venusaur, who is currently the most used Pokemon in the tier. Don't make the mistake of thinking that just because you're great in one tier, you'll instantly be good in another.

There are a few ways to get to know the metagame. A great place to start is to analyze the monthly Pokemon usage stats provided by DougJustDoug. These statistics will obviously be good indicators of what is currently being used. Of course, you cannot rely on reading those stats alone to determine what the metagame is like. Although Doug provides excellent information that is valuable to us all, there are some things to consider when evaluating them. First of all, realize that the stats take into account every team used on the ladder. This means that just as much weight is placed on someone messing around on an account with a CRE of 450 as someone at the top of the ladder. Because of this, the best strategies will not necessarily be represented by the top three most used Pokemon. Another thing to consider is how long a month can be in Pokemon. Just because something was popular from February 1st through the 25th doesn't necessarily mean it's popular in early March when the statistics come out. This is why, although Doug's stats provide great information, it shouldn't be the only thing you use to try and figure out the current metagame. The best method is, as I mentioned earlier, to go out and play for yourself. Don't be afraid to hop on the ladder and mess around to see for yourself what is commonly being used. It will not only get your battling juices flowing, but it will provide you with a primary source of information on what the current metagame is like.

Of course, sometimes it's not easy to get acquainted with a certain metagame. If you enter a non-standard tournament, how are you supposed to assess what the common strategies will be, aside from attempting to theorymon it? Well, a good starting point is to compare the tournament metagame with the closest standard metagame. For example, in Jimbo's FUK DRAGONS tournament, Salamence and Latias are banned. Although it is impossible to know for sure what kind of teams other people will make, you can make assumptions based off of standard OU. In OU, what would see more usage without Salamence or Latias? Well, first of all, Infernape loses one of its most reliable checks, which means that people will probably try to abuse Infernape. On the other hand, the absence of Salamence makes it significantly easier for stall teams to succeed, seeing as Mixmence is one of the biggest threats to stall. You can probably expect to see some stall teams in this tournament to take advantage of the lack of Salamence. After making comparisons to the closest standard metagame, you should be able to get some idea of what to expect in the tournament. It also helps if you have some friends who also entered the tournament and can play some practice matches with you. The more people you practise with, the better you can gauge how the tournament metagame will be shaped. However, the risk of this is that you could leak your own strategies, and may be matched up with your friends down the line.

Knowing the metagame is important no matter what type of battle you participate in (except for randbats, of course :P). With a deep knowledge of the metagame, you can easily exploit common strategies, and should have a solid idea of where to begin when building your teams.

Protip #2: Don't Tie Yourself Down with Standard Sets

I always get personal requests to rate teams, and what I often see are six standard Pokemon thrown together. Don't get me wrong; sometimes standard teams are extremely solid and hard to take down—the reason Pokemon and sets become "standard" to begin with is because they're so damn good that they can often pull off what they are designed to do, making everybody want to use them. The problem is, standard Pokemon are the first things people prepare for when they build teams. I personally go down a checklist of common threats when I build teams and make sure I have answers for all of them. If you're only using standards, you can bet that I'll have a solution for anything you throw at me. However, if you use something uncommon like Shaymin, for example, I might not have a dedicated counter for it. It probably never crossed my mind when making my team to prepare for Shaymin. This could catch me off guard and make me have to compromise by weakening something important just to take Shaymin out (or in a worst-case-scenario, it might just sweep me clean!). Of course, using random UU Pokemon for a pure "surprise factor" is probably not a good idea. As I mentioned in Protip #1, know the metagame before building a real team. With deep knowledge of the current metagame, you should be able to find obscure Pokemon or sets that utterly destroy commonly used things without being dead weight otherwise. For example, earlier I mentioned a current trend in the metagame is to use Gliscor + Vaporeon + Scarf Tyranitar, which is a potent defensive combination. If you take a look, though, you will find that there is one (and probably more that I haven't thought of) Pokemon who can easily run through all three—Sceptile. Sceptile is faster than Scarf Tyranitar even without any speed boosts, and can OHKO it with LO Leaf Storm or Focus Blast. It can also destroy Gliscor and Vaporeon as well. You would be surprised at how many teams get caught off-guard by LO Sceptile these days, and it is a prime example of using metagame knowledge and creativity to produce wins.

Finding underused Pokemon who can destroy the metagame is often pretty difficult to do, though. Instead, it can be just as, if not more effective to use top OU Pokemon with some interesting twists to throw people off. Pokemon is a game of uncertainties. When two players go into battle, they usually have no idea what the other person is going to use, which is where prediction comes into play. However, if you are only using standard sets, you instantly handicap yourself by being easy to predict. People tend to make their first predictions based off of whatever knowledge they have. If someone doesn't have any knowledge about your team, they will make plays assuming the most common set for each Pokemon. This is where you can either stick to standard and just hope your opponent forgot to prepare for it, or punish your opponent for assuming something when you're really using something else. For example, if someone sees Lucario and they have a Gliscor on their team, their first reaction would be to immediately go to Gliscor, who is a solid Swords Dance Lucario counter. But what if the Lucario was actually an Agility Lucario with HP Ice? Now Gliscor is down, putting its team at a huge disadvantage. This type of strategy can work with an awful lot of Pokemon. Specs Vaporeon, Mix Flygon, Mix Metagross, and tons more can really punish an opponent for making assumptions and give you an easy advantage.

Please keep in mind, though, that you should not be using Pokemon which only work because of surprise value on the ladder. It is highly likely that you will see the same opponent multiple times, and you could easily end up losing every match after the first one. There's a difference between using non-standard Pokemon/sets and using gimmicks. The former works because people do not prepare for it, and will therefore always struggle against it unless they rebuild their team. The latter "works" because it can nab a quick surprise kill, but then the opponent will never lose another Pokemon to it again. Using gimmicks can sometimes be good for best of one tournaments, but it is generally an inferior strategy to using overall useful non-standard Pokemon/sets.

Also, don't take this Protip as me saying "don't ever use standard Pokemon!" I am encouraging you to use a mix of standard and unique things when you build teams. In fact, it can even take away from the effectiveness of your strategy if you use six non-standard Pokemon—after seeing a few, your opponent will probably stop assuming any of of your Pokemon are standard and adjust how they play accordingly. It is best to just throw random curve balls in your team here and there in order to really throw your opponent off-guard.

And so ends the very first volume of Phil's Protips! I hope you found them to be informative and helpful! Stay tuned next time for two more gems of advice from yours truly!

If those weren't enough, and you just gotta have more Protips, here are some personal Protips from the Pokemon guru himself, zerowing:

« Previous Article Home Next Article »