Published on May 27th, 2015 | by Zog


The Sardonic Hipster’s Guide to VGC 2015: Part One – “Playing to Win”

Alright, luv? Whatever decisions you’ve made across the span of your lifetime, it’s all led you to here: the Sardonic Hipster’s Guide to VGC 2015. I hope you’re proud of yourself. This is a two-part guide to my current take on 2015’s competitive scene. The second part is a teambuilding guide, and a hitlist of all the different threats your team has to cover if you want to have a shot at winning a tournament. This, however, is the first part: a concise opinion piece on what it means to “play to win” at Pokémon in 2015. Get ready for some harsh truths, special snowflakes. :^)

Live to win! ‘till you die!

If you’re playing to win, there is nothing more to it. You are playing to win: to knock out all four of your opponent’s Pokémon before they do yours. Nothing more, nothing less. And if you want the prizes, winning is the only thing that gets them.

When I’m physically playing Pokémon, winning is all that matters. Is that a healthy mentality? A lot of scrubs-I mean, people- would argue that it isn’t. But I say, yeah, why not? It’s a game, and it’s meant to be played properly. You can argue that playing Pokémon is about meeting people and hanging out with friends, but being honest I’d rather do that, and also win all of my games. Everyone plays their Swiss rounds, but if you win them, you’re coming back for more and getting loads of free stuff, so you might as well put the work in. If you want it hard enough, and you make a lucid, reasoned effort to be, you can and will be a winner.

So, how do you go about playing to win? The last piece I wrote was kind of about that, but in all honesty was mostly an excuse to crack some stupid Pokémon jokes. This time’s more about actually building a team and getting some results. The first place to start is with setting up the right attitude.

Obviously, you can’t win every time. Nobody’s perfect, and you’ll always have competition. What you can do is make yourself more likely to win than other people. There’s a lot to it, but here’s a few basic rules to start off with:

Rule 1: First, learn everything you can about the game.

Pokémon’s an information game. That means you have know all the basics, like your type charts and every common Pokémon’s base stats. Otherwise, you’re only handicapping yourself; losing a game to, say, not knowing Heliolisk’s base Speed is preventable and therefore entirely your fault. Learn how fast everything is and what moves Pokémon can carry. It’ll probably seem overwhelming at first, but play enough and you’ll get used to it. It’s not really that big of an investment once you get into the swing of things. Then, the most crucial step in becoming a high-level player is to know your damage calculations. The very top tier Pokémon players always know how much damage they should be doing. You might have to start out using a calculator, like Nugget Bridge’s lovely own, but if you get enough experience it’ll become easy to estimate damage. Once you know the game’s raw information, you can start getting into how to play with that information.

Rule 2: Be rational.

Are you here to win games, or are you here to go home with nothing? If you’re happy just playing games, that’s okay, do what you like. If you want to win them, then you have to be rational. That means if something isn’t working, accept that it isn’t working. Analyse everything and be sure of every decision you make. Be aware of cognitive biases (as beautifully described in Werford’s article) and be sure you’re playing to the highest level you can. For example, you might, say, sing the praises of Gravity Rain Kabutops, and cite many occasions in which it’s won you games. Fair enough. But be honest: if that’s happening, it isn’t because Gravity Rain Kabutops is good, it’s probably because you’re being vain and want to be known for being different. Which sure, people might talk about it for a few days. Good for you. Since Gravity Rain Kabutops is awful, you’re also not going to win, so I hope losing in Top Cut is worth it for you. Meanwhile, your sensible friend just uses something decent and earns a free trip to Worlds. You getting the gist this was something that happened? Yeah, I had to learn the hard way. When it comes to it, nobody cares about special snowflakes. I’m talking to you, Cryogonal, you snotty-nosed mug.

Rule 3: Be proactive instead of reactive.

Use things you made yourself, trust your own (reasoned) knowledge more than other people’s opinions, and generally be a Pokémon go-getter. “Hay you guiz what item should I use on my Talonflame” never won a tournament; get out and make some decisions, you baby. Think of it this way: if you can’t come up with your own Arcanine’s EV spread, nobody will ever love you. Being proactive also means using strategies that control the game. It’s all well and good packing Wide Guard Aegislash to protect against Charizard’s Heat Wave, but there’s nothing stopping it from just using Overheat and instantly ruining you. Likewise, it might seem like a cool idea to EV your Charizard to survive certain Rock Slides, but you still have to bear in mind Rock Slide will flinch you 30% of the time you survive it, meaning you’re better off just preventing any Rock Slides with, say, a partnered Ice Shard Mamoswine. It’s a typical example of a reactive play (EVing Charizard to survive) being a lesser option to the proactive play, which doesn’t give your opponent a shot at Charizard in the first place. Consciously give your opponent as little a chance as possible. You are Maggie, and they are the miners.

Rule 4: In a tournament, winning is all that matters.

Have I stressed this enough yet? The game doesn’t care what Pokémon you’re using, or if you’re being “fair”. That’s for scrubs, also known as losers. The game only cares about who KOs their opponent’s last Pokémon. So if you’re playing to win, the game’s opinion is the only one that matters. “At least I’m using something different“ – nobody cares. “I got haxed” – unless you’re James Green and went 4-1 to 0-1 after a consecutive 4 Ice Beams and 2 Draco Meteors missed on Brightpowder Garchomp, to this day the most sickening luck to afflict anyone in a VGC National tournament, nobody cares, and the bracket still didn’t care about that, because he lost the game. Play to maximise your odds of winning, and while there will be a minority of cases in which you couldn’t have done anything, learn to identify when you could’ve done better. Be the best you can, and don’t make excuses. Become a sassy Pokémon Spartan with a sweet cape, rippling abs, and a wonderful constipated grimace. It’s the cool thing to do.

Rule 5: Do whatever makes you most likely to win.

This is where things get more complicated. What I’m saying, is, whatever you’re using should be the absolute best, most optimal build you can manage. That means playing everything in your team to its best strengths, and having an answer to whatever you come up against. It might seem cool to run, say, Crunch Kangaskhan, but that’s never going to be the optimal move. For every game you win because you had Crunch, you’ll probably lose two to not having Sucker Punch. Likewise, prediction-based Pokémon like Bisharp, as well as anything with inaccurate moves, will do you in at some point and lose the game. Gimmicks never have won, and in all likelihood never will win, a tournament. You can make Top Cut, definitely, but what’s the point in making it that far if as soon as you get a bad matchup, it’s impossible to win? So don’t be “that guy” who brings a staple remover to a gunfight. You’ll only go 1-8 and ruin Mr Staple’s tiebreaker, his day, and consequently his life.

Rule 6: But don’t forget it’s all only for fun.

Some kids get their kicks shuffling on sticky floors, with a drink in one hand and a slack-jawed stranger in the other. Some people really like knitting, and baking cakes they don’t eat. Others enjoy sitting in a darkened room and typing out quotes from Bane from the newest Batman movie on the internet. Personally, I enjoy wrecking scrubs at video games. Whilst you could probably call my playstyle brutal and nihilistic, it’s also really enjoyable to me, and it works. Excluding one 3-3 at Worlds (editor’s note: and the most recent German Nationals), I’ve missed precisely two Top Cuts in 6 years of playing VGC, and had a great time at the tournaments I have cut. Is this the devious and Byronic dark side of Pokémon? Not really, it’s just game theory, which I happen to think is loads of fun.

“Playing to win” doesn’t make you a monster; an unholy fusion of Lance Armstrong, Don King and Beelzebub, a bicycled beast of twisted hair and gaping maw, clutching at stolen treasure and terrorising the innocent. That’s called poor sportsmanship, or Boris Johnson. Playing to win is looking at every match as a puzzle to be solved, and fighting as hard as you can to have the game say “win”. It’s not aggressive; to be honest, I actually find it pretty relaxing. Whilst your nan’s doing sudokus, I’ll get settled in, get t’ curtains drawn, snuggle up with a cuppa and practise some Pokémon. Then go to Nationals, wreck scrubs, and win a nice holiday. That’s the way to do it. I love this game, and VGC’s a nice hobby.

Anyway, that’s a basic summary of what I think it means to play to win. This year’s format, with its seemingly infinite amount of options, makes it easier than ever for that one weird team to get its lucky matchups all the way into a Top Cut, where it’ll get wrecked by somebody competent using something reliable. So, please, please, if not just for my sake, don’t go running in there with Ancient Power Air Balloon Heatran, or throwing Low Kicks into my Charizard, or spamming endgame Scarf Rock Slides and actually getting the triple flinch, or whatever. I’m fed up of having to put my losses down to best-of-one gimmicks and hax. So hey, think you’ve got what it takes? Play your best and see if you can beat me.

About the Author

A veteran tournament player, Daniel "Zog" Nolan is proud of his no-nonsense attitude and silly sense of humour. When he's actually doing work, Zog likes to hide toy snakes in the wilderness (and other decidedly more lab-based activities) in the name of scientific progress. Follow on Instagram at dan_z_nolan and Twitter @Zoggykins!

56 Responses to The Sardonic Hipster’s Guide to VGC 2015: Part One – “Playing to Win”

  1. 13ulbasaur says:

    I’m only one paragraph in and I like it a lot.
    Great work as usual!

  2. Dawg says:

    Where is rule no. 7 “rock slide” – clearly not playing to win smh

  3. Nucleose says:

    I am happy about the content in this article but some off handed comments here and there really feel needlessly insulting. This article comes very close to being a strong explanation on what it means to play to win without sounding straight up rude at points. Really not my article style, I suppose. I’d love for this sort of thing with its important details intact to be something primarily featured for beginners but I also don’t like the way some of this information is presented when considering the viewpoint of newcomers. I might just need to sit on it, though.

  4. Tmac says:

    RIP Mr. Staple :(

  5. Nucleose says:


    Is telling me something I’m already aware of supposed to change my thoughts on the article? I’m quite aware of the intended tone of the article. I am specifically taking issue with that, and I don’t appreciate the snarky reply.

  6. Nothing like a Zog article to rekindle my hopes in life. Great read, and thanks for delivering it in a way that I needed to hear.

  7. GoldenEmp says:

    I love you, Zog.

  8. I found the article rather refreshing. Just like everyone else, I play because it’s fun, and the community is second to none in accepting every walk of life. But I do feel that if your not aiming to win, there really is no reason to go to official competition. I get kicks out of a tough match, and if I lose after fighting tooth and nail, I still had fun. But on the flip side, I am still aiming to win, and if the opponent isn’t up to par,or fighting with everything they have for that victory, it gets boring easily. Have fun, hang with friends, but when battling, go for the gold.

  9. droptimo says:

    “I’m fed up of having to put my losses down to best-of-one gimmicks and hax.”

    Are you sure you should be playing Pokemon, then? 😛 No matter how good you are, the RNG is going to do you in at some point. That’s just the kind of game Pokemon is, and (occasionally, not to the point of over-reliance) taking advantage of that fact is part of “playing to win”, IMO. But hey, what do I know, I haven’t even gone to a VGC event yet.

    All joking aside, though, great post, very entertaining. I’m looking forward to reading part two and learning more.

  10. Talon says:

    Appreciate the bluntness that you always bring to your articles. Really enjoyed the point on how being proactive mitigates the risks that being reactive often entails, it’s a trap myself and many other players often fall into. 

  11. IntensifyVGC says:

    Your writing is really good. Probably the most skilled author on this website. The adjectives turn me on :^)

    I love reading all the articles you write! Keep doing you broo <3

  12. fxelxy says:


    No, really Zog, thank you so much for this article. This really brings a little literary breeze into the sometimes too correct and calculated world of Pokemon.
    I really do appreciate you writing articles on here and I hope they keep coming!


  13. Crazyblissey says:

    “Gimmicks never have won, and in all likelihood never will win, a tournament”

    Did you see the Massachusetts finals?

  14. pookar says:

    “Gimmicks never have won, and in all likelihood never will win, a tournament”

    Did you see what won Massachusetts?

    since when is wolfe glick or perish trap a gimmick

  15. Aza9 says:

    Zog you are the man, and my favorite VGC player anything you write is hilarious.

    This is Mr.Mi

  16. an unholy fusion of Lance Armstrong, Don King and Beelzebub, a bicycled beast of twisted hair and gaping maw, clutching at stolen treasure and terrorising the innocent.

    That’s all it should say in your “About the Author”. Great article!

  17. Azazel says:

    @crazyblissey (quoting on mobile is a drag)
    Wolfe’s team definitely wasn’t a gimmick. Playing it firsthand and experiencing the raw strategy behind it showed that it was a very niche team that did a lot more than just click perish song to win.

  18. Sprocket says:

    Sirlin’s book should be required reading for anyone who wants to play competitive games. Doesn’t matter whether it is Pokemon, Smash Bros, Street Fighter, chess, or baseball.

  19. Simon says:

    @crazyblissey (quoting on mobile is a drag)
    Wolfe’s team definitely wasn’t a gimmick. Playing it firsthand and experiencing the raw strategy behind it showed that it was a very niche team that did a lot more than just click perish song to win.

    I think that by “a lot more than just click perish song,” you mean a lot less. As in he didn’t do or click anything until the 45 seconds was over. Pretty sure Wolfe had less average moves per game as someone who went 0-x and got 4-0d in two turns every round.
    All jokes aside, this was a good read that I really enjoyed.

  20. fourganger says:

    If Game Freak ever make a Region based on the UK, they need to include a gym leader or elite 4 member based on Margaret Thatcher.

    That’s my main takeaway from this article.

    Brilliant as always.

  21. JanobiiChan says:

    Absolutely brilliant. Very refreshing read, more people need this article! :wub:


    Rule 3: Be proactive instead of reactive

    I actually went over this in brief in my own report still in the workshop and I’m glad someone else has picked up on it. There’s a lot of players who simply share EV spreads between each other and expect to do well with them despite the fact it may not actually benefit their own team. It’s fine to gain inspiration from other EV spreads and have particular benchmarks but stealing the entire set without any justification will not make a proactive player

  23. Billa says:

    Give this man a cookie

  24. PaedosInSpeedos says:

    “Consciously give your opponent as little a chance as possible. You are Maggie, and they are the miners.”

    This sort of shit is why seeing you have another article out makes me genuinely happy. The content’s good stuff too, I think a ‘harsh reality’ approach was the best way to go for a topic like this.

  25. SHUTupNrocK8 says:

    I like each and every point, it’s a great article, but unfortunately, RNG is still a huge part of the game and there’s no way to say how it will affect you or your opponent in the match. There could be none, you could be crit’ed 5 times, flinched 3 times in a row, and so on. It’s still a part of the game. Losing solely because of it isn’t the players fault, it’s just a part of the game that can not be controlled. There’s a huge emphasis on skill and knowledge, yes, but also a portion of luck for both players.

    Thanks for the article, I’m looking forward to part 2 :)!

  26. EstiloDM says:

    I’ve readed and enjoyed this article probably more than I’ve should.
    I think the least I can do is to contribiute with the best feedback I can.
    Where do I start?

    Playing to win is looking at every match as a puzzle to be solved, and fighting as hard as you can to have the game say “win””
    That right there. I’ll be attending regionals for the first time of my life in 2 days -well I started playing VGC in this season afterall- and I’ve just attended 2 premier challenges so far as well. And I have improved a whole lot from the first one and the second one, mostly because I changed my mentality as the season goes on. I was the kind of guy running Weakness Policy Donphan with King Rock Fling Ambipom -with barely decent success- but aside being “creative” I wan’t winning much. So, I said to myself… “I just don’t wanna be someone else using top 6 most used pokemon, but I don’t wanna be a loser using cool pokemon/sets” I could define my own style to be a bit like yours. I love having absolute victory, specially agaisnt “scrubs” but I like it when all the win was my own, meaning I did build my team from the scratch, EVs, strategys, etc. To make long story short. My play to win mentality was almost non existant at the begining of the season, until I attended real events I realised my playstyle is the one I described.
    As for inmidiate results, your article has given me second thoughs about the team I’ll take to Lima regionals in Peru. The team is not common, but at the same time has won me games, many games, even a small unofficial online tournament. Featuring pokemon like Roserade. However I don’t know all my calcs yet. So if anything I’ll leave my own quote:
    “If I’m going to be suprised in a match, I rather have those suprises on my opponents end rather than my own sets and being like, Will I survive that attack? Will I KO that pokemon?”
    I can’t stress enough how much I liked this article really. Thanks!!


  27. Picklesword says:

    There are many things in here that I disagree with. Rule 3 just has a good chunk of them.

  28. Crazyblissey says:

    since when is wolfe glick or perish trap a gimmick

    How is perish trap not a gimmick? It’s probably the best gimmick out there, but it’s still a gimmick

  29. mattj says:

    Everything this man writes is golden.

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