Competitive Pokémon is not about who has the hardest hitting Charizard. It’s a game of chess.
I’m Saiklex. I have been into Pokémon since it came out. I was getting into the TCG competitively for a year, until a week ago, I had the realisation of the obvious- I couldn’t compete in the TCG AND the VGC. So I’m abandoning the TCG, selling my Shaymin-EXes, and am now min-maxing my Pokémon.
But where did I start? There’s no one guide at how to get into the VGC, or competitive Pokémon in general, and the problem I found was many places had an entry level over (and sometimes under) what I knew.
So, this guide aims to be take you through the steps of getting good, but at the same time will have clear segments so you can read only what you need.
Where do I begin?
You begin online. The first thing to realise about competitive Pokémon is that you don’t start with Sun and Moon. You might never play competitively there at all! Online battle simulators are where you’ll invest a lot of time, at the very least in the beginning.
You’ll see some confusing stuff about formats, ladders, and all of that stuff. Format is the big starting decision- there’s a lot to choose from. Showdown offers formats all the way back to Gen 1, using only Pokémon, moves, and mechanics from Red, Blue and Yellow. Here’s a rundown of the less obvious:
- Ubers, OU (overused), UU (underused), RU(rarely used), NU (never used), PU (literally pee-yew) and LC (little cup) are all classifications made by Smogon, the main forum for competitive discussion. LC is exclusively Pokémon who haven’t evolved, and the rest are all battles of 6 Pokémon at level 100. Each Pokémon is assigned one tier that it’s in, based on viability (which is ever-changing, and also based on the other Pokémon in said tier), and it’s banned from being in all tiers below. More details can be found by searching for any one tier specifically, as they also ban certain moves and items in each tier.
- Battle Spot is the competitive arena found in the games- it’s a 3v3 match (4v4 if doubles), but you compose a team of 6, view the opponent’s team and then choose the Pokémon who’ll participate and their order. Special Pokémon, which includes some (but not all) legendaries are banned, and your team cannot have more than one of any Pokémon or item in it. ORAS Battle Spot also includes the rule that Pokémon can only be caught or bred in Generation 6 games, and SM Battle Spot does the same with Generation 7.
VGC stands for Video Game Challenge, and is the official format of the tournaments, concluding at Worlds every year (more on this later.) VGC 2017’s format is Doubles, with all the restrictions of the Battle Spot battles.
- Other rulesets will appear as Nintendo release special online competitions through the game, e.g. Battle of Alola, the first of such for SM, which allows usage of Solgaleo or Lunala. Info on these will be posted on the website as they come.
You don’t need to choose one and stick to it, but you’ll need to pick one for the time being to start the next step, which is…
Picking your fighters.
Teams with your favourite 6 Pokémon are not going to do as well as teams you handpick to synergise.
But where do I begin?! you may ask once more. This is where help becomes a little harder- this is obviously dependant on the tier you want to compete in, and I’m no expert on any of them, even the one I’m playing right now. However, I’ll cover as much as I can without giving you a team.
Pick a core and start from there.
One key feature of your team. Maybe one Pokémon, like a Leech Seed Celesteela, or a hard-hitting Tapu Koko. One mechanic, like Rain or Trick Room.
You need a crux to build upon. Teams with your favourite 6 Pokémon from the tier are not going to do as well as teams you handpick to synergise and cover all weaknesses.
If you’re struggling to think of something, my first piece of advice is to look at Pokémon ratings, either the official ones on the Global Link, ones for Showdown or one for a recent Championship.
What do all these numbers mean..?
If you’ve come straight from being the champion with your mighty level 100 Greninja and thought he was good, you’re wrong. Sorry.
A Pokémon is a set of numbers. To play through the games, the only ones you need to care about are level and the power of your attacks. To play competitive, you need to understand it ALL.
This may all seem trivial, especially if you’re punching in pre-written builds. However, I strongly recommend learning about all of this so you can tweak your Pokémon with confidence to make it as specific as you need to overcome all your weaknesses.
This section is also very useful for if you want to make your battle machines in-game, which is explained later on.
Stats: These are barebones numbers that modify all the characteristics of your ‘mon in battle. Each species has Base Stat values that set the initial modifier for each.
- HP is hit points, and you should know what these are by now. The points that get deducted every time someone slaps your Blastoise across the face.
- Attack and Special Attack are the modifiers that determine how much damage you do to an opponent. Attack is for physical moves and Special Attack is for special moves. This is shown in-game by the symbol that appears in the move description- orange star/red background is a physical move, and blue circles means it’s special. Most Pokémon sets will focus on one of the two move types.
- Defense and Special Defense measure how good your Pokémon is at taking physical and special hits respectively.
- Speed determines who moves first in a turn. Highest number wins.
IVs (Individual Values) are where it gets complicated. These are (mostly) hidden values that each Pokémon has set when you obtain it, one for each stat, and it can be an integer 0-31. Think of these as genes, unchangeable (mostly…) and determine how good your Pokémon is innately. Each IV point adds exactly one point to the overall stat when the Pokémon is at level 100.
EVs (Effort Values) are also semi-hidden values that change stats. These are gained by battling Pokémon in-game (more later). Each Pokémon can have 510 EVs maximum, and each stat can have 252 EVs total. Every 4 IVs contributes an extra 1 point to the overall stat.
Nature is something each Pokémon has which also alters stats. There are 25 natures, each of which either boosts one stat and lowers another by 10%, or is neutral (boosts and lowers the same stat). Most of the time you’ll want one that lowers the attacking type you don’t use and raises another stat.
And there you have it. These modifiers result in your overall stat. Knowing all of this is extremely useful to fine-tuning your team.
You’re a beginner. You’re not going to know what other people have that’s gonna mess up your Pelipper, or OHKO your Tapu. This is where to trial and error occurs, and also why we didn’t jump into getting your perfect IV Pokémon first.
To begin with, my suggestion is to either pick Pokémon who cover type weaknesses (always a good idea) or just have a look around for good partners people have suggested or used.
The thing to keep in mind is that your team is going to change. You might realise it has an overwhelming weakness to Fire type, or that it has nothing to deal with Fairy types, or that Rain teams just obliterate it.
You will undoubtedly change movepools, team members and might not even end up with a single member of your original team, as you’ll test it indefinitely- every match is a chance to learn new things.
One great practice is to use a damage calculator- there are tons out there, many specialised for one format. Knowing that if your stats are like this then Kartana can’t OHKO you, or it’ll only take this many rounds of Toxic to kill a ‘mon is great info.
Knowing your stuff
Once you’ve got an initial team you’re going to have to just use it. Play match after match, and pretty quickly you’ll know both what’s out there in the format in general, and what teams can ruin your day.
With this information, you’re ready to tinker, as I discussed earlier, but also to start learning what to do and when. Competitive Pokémon is not about who has the hardest hitting Charizard. It’s a game of chess. You’ll start learning early on what Pokémon will likely have which moves, who they’re going to switch into, and how their team is probably going to work.
Use this to your advantage. Porygon-2 probably has Thunderbolt that’ll wipe out your Gyarados? Swap into something resistant or immune. That Pokémon is going to chip away at you while stalling for the rest of the match? Give it something to have to deal with like poison or leech seeding. Think two steps ahead at all times.
If you keep hitting something that’s causing you to lose regularly, it’s time to rethink. Change a Pokémon’s stats, moves, or add something to deal with your weakness. Your team is never complete, even when you’re top.
Eventually, you will learn the ebb and flow of battles in your meta, and the more you play, the more you will both be able to predict your opponent’s moves and know which of your own options is the best one. The best advice I can give here is simply to practice.
Play the Game
…this is easy. If a little time-consuming.
If you’re sticking to Smogon tiers, or aren’t interested in the Battle Spot/VGC, here’s where you’ll want to stop. If you want to jump on your fresh Sun/Moon cartridge and obtain these awesome beasts you’ve meticulously crafted on your PC, this is for you.
Only once you have a solid, tested team, continue. Undoubtedly SOME things are going to change, but if you do this step first, and decide you’re gonna swap your whole 6-member roster out after getting it, you’re going to waste a lot of time.
You should now know all about IVs, EVs and Natures, or at least what they do to your stats. Here’s how to get them all good and proper just how mamma likes it.
IVs are, as explained, 6 random values from 0-31. Nearly all the time we’ll want a 5 IV Pokémon (that is to say, a Pokémon with 5 perfect 31 IV values) in all stats except either Attack or Sp. Attack, whichever isn’t used. These can be checked at judges in the game, or in Sun and Moon, on your PC with the Judge function (post-game).
Getting perfect IVs used to be hell to do. Since XY, however, this is easy. If a little time-consuming. Here’s how.
Daycare centre. Desired Pokémon. Ditto/male Pokémon from the same egg group (each Pokémon has 1-2 hidden groups which it can breed with). Eggs.
Breeding passes down lots of things. It passes down 3 IVs, randomly picked from each parent, too! From XY, however, giving one of the Pokémon a Destiny Knot changes this to 5 passed down IVs. Handy! What makes this even better is that Ditto with several perfect IVs have become very easy to find.
Of course, legendaries and non-breedable Pokémon won’t benefit from some of these things, which is where you need Hyper Training. For the cost of one Bottle Cap in Sun and Moon, you can max a Pokémon IV in one stat if it’s level 100.
Right now, however, getting a Pokémon to level 100 is very tedious in Sun and Moon, plus you still need to sort out everything else, and so the following is very relevant.
The breeder’s mascot. Having good Ditto means you can breed perfect Pokémon of any species very swiftly. We just need to get them, and here’s how.
XY: Friend Safari. Find someone (/r/friendsafari) who has a safari with Ditto in, and go in it. Every single Pokémon in there has at least 2 perfect IVs. Catch a ton. We need enough Ditto to cover all 6 stats, which is obviously doable with 3 Ditto, but you won’t be too lucky at first.
ORAS: Dexnav. This beauty enables you to catch Pokémon with guaranteed 3 perfect IVs pretty easily. Unfortunately Ditto is more complicated. He only lives on a Mirage Cave or Island, which are only obtainable at random from Streetpass and disappear after a day. Once you’ve finally got one though, catch as many of those bad boys as you can that have 3 stars in the “Potential” section of the Dexnav. Increase your chances by chaining with it- catch, kill or run from a chained Pokémon and then immediately search for it again (use repels to make sure you don’t encounter other Pokémon).
SM: SOS Chaining. Go to Mount Hokulani, find a Ditto and make it call for an ally (false swipe to 1HP, use adrenaline orbs, then kill the ally). After a while, the chance of them having perfect IVs goes up and up, capping at 4. Really, really useful, as you don’t need many to cover all bases. (Really neat trick for doing this just by mashing the A button)
Perfect! You’ve got some great Ditto!
Before we begin breeding, we need to make sure the offspring have the right nature. Holding an Everstone, a parent will pass down their nature. So, make sure you’ve got the right nature before you start breeding.
To control which nature a wild Pokémon has for this, get a Pokémon with Synchronise (Abra is in SM and available in Hau’oli City) and the nature you want, have it first in your party (alive or fainted) and catch the Pokémon you want to breed. It should (50% chance) have the same nature as the Synchronise Pokémon.
You need to have the right ability on your Pokémon, obviously. This is either easy or hard, depending on one thing- is it Hidden?
Hidden abilities were introduced in Generation 5 and are an extra ability that a Pokémon cannot obtain by normal means. How you obtain them differs from generation to generation, but this is the crucial part- Hidden abilities have to be bred down from the desired Pokémon. It also only has an 80% chance of being passed down.
Other than this, a Pokémon has either one or two abilities. The bad news is, again, there’s only an 80% chance of inheritance of the mother’s ability. The good news is that there’s an item to swap it to the other (not-Hidden) ability, the Ability Capsule. In Sun and Moon this is available to purchase with Battle Points.
The final preparation before breeding- some moves can only be learnt by a Pokémon by breeding with another species- these are called Egg Moves. For example,Mareanie can only learn Haze by breeding with other Pokémon in the Water 1 egg group who learn it naturally, such as Masquerain.
However, these pass down normally after that, so you only need to transfer it to one Pokémon and then that can be the new mother/father to the rest of all your results.
Hurray! The mundane bit!
Now you have to start the process of acquiring that perfect IV Pokémon, since everything else just transfers directly down with little to no problems once set up. The process is iterative and simple.
- Breed your Pokémon with a Ditto with some perfect IVs
- Check the offspring
- If an offspring is better than the parent Pokémon by having more perfect IVs than it (and has the Hidden ability if required), swap it in
- If all the perfect IVs of the Ditto are now on the offspring, swap the Ditto with one that has different IVs
- Continue breeding and swapping the parent and Ditto until you get the perfect Pokémon.
Note that, especially in XY, sometimes it becomes better to breed two of the Pokémon instead of one with a Ditto once all the IVs are on at least some Pokémon, e.g. if you end up with two Pokémon that have 4 perfect IVs, and between them they have all 5 (or 6) that you need.
You’ve done it. You’ve got THE perfect Pokémon. One more step.
Remember EVs? Gotta do those. Pokémon gain EVs by fighting other Pokémon, capped at 510 overall and 252 per stat. You should have values you want to reach.
Each Pokémon gives out a set EV type and amount by defeating them (sometimes more than one type). Magikarp gives 1 speed EV. Oricorio gives 2 special attack EVs. This would take forever if you had to kill 252 Magikarp. Of course you don’t.
There are many, many ways of increasing EVs fast.
Vitamins: Each stat has a corresponding Vitamin that gives 10 EVs, but can’t push it past 100. They’re available to purchase in all the games and found in the overworld too. They are HP Up, Protein, Iron, Calcium, Zinc, Carbos. They increase HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense or Speed, respectively.
Power items: Available for Battle Points at the battle facilities in the game (Maison, Tower, Tree), these add 8 extra EVs (4 in Gen 4-6) of a specific stat (regardless of the yield of the defeated PokémBon). They are Power-Weight, Bracer, Belt, Lens, Band, Anklet. They increase HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense or Speed, respectively. There’s also a Macho Brace which just doubles the gained EVs.
Pokérus: A virus that’s transmittable from Pokémon to Pokémon but extremely rare to obtain. This doubles all EVs gained in battle, including Power Item EVs. Transmitted by having a battle with the infected and the not-yet-infected. However, once the system clock reaches midnight, unless an infected Pokémon is in a PC, it is ‘cured’. This simply means it can’t pass it on- it still gets the benefits.
Hordes: Gone in Sun and Moon, but in Gen 6 this is the quickest way to grind EVs. 5 Pokémon and a move like Surf can net you 25 of a stat if you’ve got the Power item- 50 if you’ve got Pokérus to boot. Note that the EXP. Share also shares EVs.
SOS Chaining: Explained in the Ditto section, this feature in SM has a hidden bonus- while chaining, every EV gained is doubled. Stack that with a Power item for 18 EVs every Pokémon defeated- 36 with Pokérus. Note again, EVs transfer with EXP. Share.
Super Training: Only in Gen 6 again, but this was a useful feature that required playing mini-games or using punch-bags to raise EVs.
One final thing- to check EVs, in Gen 6, it’s on the Super Training page, in Gen 7, go to summary and press Y. It’s only a graph, but it gives you an idea- plus there’s indication for when a Pokémon is maxed out, and has maxed a stat.
Now you’ve got your team. It’s here. It’s ready. You’ve played online countless times, on your PC and 3ds. You want to compete.
First thing to know is that the VGC is restructuring, it changed up things this year with Internationals, and next year they’ll be shifts too. I’m not sure what’s going on.
However, I can tell you where to start.
There’ll be League Challenges local to you in comic book shops or other venues regularly (hopefully) which you can find using this tool. You’ll earn Championship Points (and possibly prizes!).
You’ll want to enter Regionals, and Internationals, whenever they’re on and you can go. These put out even more points, and have no entry requirements in terms of playing before!
However, having enough points CAN reward you Travel Awards to the International tournaments. We’ll post on the site every time new info appears on these- at the time of writing, the next one is 4th – 5th of March, held in Sheffield, the Ponds Forge International.
Then, finally, each year there’s Worlds, held at a different place every time, that requires an invitation to attend. This invitation IS gained by having enough Championship Points. This is the big one. Start preparing now.
Thank you so much for reading all to the end! This is all available online in some form or another, but I thought I’d gather it in one place.
Good luck to you all, and come battle me on Showdown- my username is Saiklex, and I’m prepping for Worlds right now.
If you liked this and would like more article features, please use the Mew emote buttons below to tell us your feelings, or tweet to us!