Published on May 9th, 2014 | by Thage50
Building a Foundation in Pokémon: Part Two
If you haven’t seen part one yet, I recommend you check that out first, as a lot of the ideas from that article will be mentioned in this and later parts of the series. For those of you who read and enjoyed my article, thank you! Even if it’s just helping you internalize stuff you already know or getting you think about the game in a new light, I’m glad to be of some help.
Both teams and play-styles fall under three general archetypes: Aggro, Control, and Aggro-Control (or Tempo, which I’ve seen many VGC players refer to as “Momentum”). It’s important to recognize the distinctions between them so you can recognize what works best for you, but also figure out what your opponent is trying to do.
If you learn one thing from this article, let it be this: There is no single best strategy.
Whatever you think is “by far the best and it isn’t close” could definitely be what’s best for you to play. However, what you play well won’t necessarily be what somebody else plays well and vice versa. It’s important that you play what you enjoy playing and what you play well, and it’s also important to remember that when interacting with other people. You might not like their strategy, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad or wrong.
I’ve seen a lot of trash talk toward Talonflame from higher level players, but they seem to be missing the point. Clearly Talonflame has a niche, and to say that Talonflame is bad because that niche is not something you’re interested in is misleading. If you refuse to try something because suicidal leads aren’t your thing, you can either try to use it a different way (a mix of support/suicide or something that comes out of the back to clean up games) or you risk limiting yourself as a player.
You might think you’re the best Control player in the universe, but if you don’t understand what your opponent is up to and what they want to accomplish, are you really the best? Also, there are points where the metagame could become incredibly hostile to your archetype. If you don’t know how to build or play anything else, you’re at a significant disadvantage when you keep trying to jam the same strategy.
Above all else, it’s important to have a plan and stick with it. Diggersby and Ferrothorn might cover each other pretty well defensively, but they probably shouldn’t be on the same team since they aren’t part of the same plan. Diggersby is typically Choice Scarfed and Ferrothorn is an end game finisher that milks Leech Seed and those plans conflict with each other. Of course, you can build different versions of both of those Pokémon (like I suggested with Talonflame above), but those are the most common uses.
It is possible to blur the lines between archetypes a bit, but most of the time, you shouldn’t have such direct opposites on the same team because they’re trying to accomplish different things.
Traits: Fake Out, Feint, Rock Slide, Choice items, Focus Sash, priority, setup, Level 2, 252/252/4 EV spreads, speed control (Tailwind, Icy Wind, 1/2 Trick Room), aggressive switching, punishing opponents’ switches, sacrificing rather than switching
Overall, I would say that Aggro is the least popular archetype in VGC, but it’s not without its success. After all, linkyoshimario and mattj both performed well at Regionals with teams that I would consider hyper aggressive.
Aggro hasn’t been very popular because it’s linear and most people don’t like that. Preserving your options is important, as is being able to react to what your opponent is doing. However, Aggro has a lot going for it that most people don’t realize, or at least they don’t actively think about.
For starters, Aggro is relatively simple to play, at least as far as VGC goes. Your goal should be to apply pressure and keep it on. This means that, in a way, you are controlling the game even more so than a Control player could, as you’re limiting your opponent’s options. When you’re going after them, they are often more concerned with stabilizing than they are mounting a counter offensive, which is easily exploitable.
When you’ve put them in a corner, it limits the amount of ways they can react, especially when compared to what their options are on a stable board. Once they’re in a corner, it’s much easier to close the game because your decision points are much simpler.
Much of Aggro’s success depends on the opening lead matchups. Since Aggro doesn’t have a lot of good defensive switches, you can get yourself in a lot of trouble if your lead matchup isn’t at least equal. If you have a good lead matchup, it’s often correct to anticipate them switching, at which point you can make a logical conclusion to what they’ll switch to based on team preview.
Trying to nail their switch in is always a risky gambit, but Aggro doesn’t have a lot of other options. Most of the time, your Pokémon are frail and you won’t have the capability of playing a long game where you’re trading blow for blow. However, be aware that they might scout what you’re going to do with Protect before deciding if they should switch.
Another option is trying to switch into a better matchup (assuming you don’t have something that deals massive damage to what you think they are going to switch into). Again, this is a big risk since most of your Pokémon don’t have high defenses or many resistances, so they can deal you massive damage almost on accident. However, if they’re expecting you to Protect with that Pokémon, it might be a good time to take advantage of it with a switch.
The swings are pretty huge with Aggro, but if you can anticipate how they’re going to react, you’ll be in a good position.
Traits: Defensive switching, status, Intimidate, resistances, rarely setup, Level 1, a finisher (think Aegislash/Ferrothorn), specific EV spreads to solve problems
Whoever said there is not a lot of switching in VGC lied to you. Anyone who doesn’t use defensive switches to their advantage is lacking a significant tool in their arsenal. As I mentioned earlier, you don’t specifically need that option to be successful, but if you’re trying to play a more well-rounded team, it’s definitely something you should incorporate.
In this Gen, “Control” might be something of a misnomer. Time stalling isn’t exactly viable due to all the heavy hitters out there, and gaining complete control isn’t something that’s likely to happen. Instead, the Control teams aim to set up a favorable board position through switches and by not making any high risk/high reward plays. In that sense, Control is getting even closer to blurring the line between it and Aggro-Control.
I think the important distinction to make between the two is that while both Control and Aggro-Control are looking for an opportunity to turn the corner and start hitting hard once they’re in a favorable position, Control can take its time more often. Their better late game typically comes in the form of defensive tanks that can heal themselves, such as Leftovers Aegislash and Leech Seed Ferrothorn. It’s not uncommon for either one of those Pokémon to win 3v1 once the threat to them has been eliminated.
If you think you have a handle on the metagame and are able to play a solid defensive game, then Control is probably what you should be playing.
Traits: Basically anything from Aggro and Control
When you start to blur the lines is when it gets kind of tricky. By some metrics, Aggro-Control is schizophrenic. You have controlling elements and aggressive elements, yet it somehow combines to form a cohesive package.
Most teams in this category play out like a normal Control team. If there’s an opening for your setup Pokémon, you take it and try to start sweeping. If you’re not running anything requiring a setup, you’re just looking for an opportunity to turn the corner and get aggressive, even quicker than a Control team would. Aggro-Control doesn’t typically have the late game that pure Control does, so the sooner they switch gears, oftentimes the better.
So how can you tell the difference? Ray’s team from the Virginia Regionals looks much more controlling than his Massachusetts Regionals team, despite the presence of Aegislash. With Wigglytuff’s Competitive (even if he rarely used it) and Kangaskhan’s Power-Up Punch, it’s much easier for Ray to get ahead and stay there than with his Virginia team.
Aggro-Control is the most dangerous archetype to play against because it’s the most difficult to figure out what their plan is on any given turn. By the time you figure it out, they might already have you pinned.
While those three are the basis for any team building, not everything fits neatly into three little boxes.
Traits: Two teams, two mega stones, misdirection
An Aggro-Control team will have multiple possible plans with teammates that all work well together, whereas a Mashup features two distinct teams that are almost never mixed. Building a great Mashup might be the key to succeeding in best-of-three and possibly succeeding at VGC in general. If it’s possible, why limit yourself to only one plan?
Chinese Dood’s team from the Seattle, WA Regionals is a great example of a Mashup that works. Not only did he have semi-Perish Trap angle, but the rest of his team didn’t support Raichu/Gengar. If he was paired against something that could handle a Perish Song opening, he had a “normal” team to keep his opponent guessing as to what he’d lead with.
When you’re playing a Mashup, you have an information advantage that your opponents can’t do anything about. If play skill and information about potential move sets are equal between the players, even the slightest bit of advantage is huge.
Traits: Full Trick Room, Full Perish Trap, Shell Smash, Belly Drum, Dragon Dance, Curse, etc
“Setup or lose” is not a valid strategy. However, it’s how most people learn VGC. If you copied Ray’s team, you might not know what to do in certain situations, nor what certain Pokémon are capable of. If you’re focusing on setting up a sweeper, you’ll eventually learn what certain Pokémon can do to stop you. From there, you can go about fixing your problems until you have a handle on the format.
For people that have been around the block, it’s not too difficult to sniff out a setup strategy, and most good teams will find a way to stop it. That said, it’s still important to recognize what your opponents are trying to do. These strategies are prevalent on Pokémon Showdown (more so than on Battle Spot) and I’ve found it useful to practice on there from time to time in order to familiarize myself with new, different strategies. The element of surprise can win a few games, but it’s your own fault for losing if you’re not well-educated.
Again, I just wanted to say thanks for all the positive feedback from Part One. You guys rock! This community is among the best I’ve seen, especially at being welcoming to new players. Of course, there are some exceptions, but that’s going to be the case no matter where you go.
Here’s something to keep in mind though: It’s incredibly important to have variety and foster all types of players as a community. Even though I think most people do a good job, we could still be more respectful to all players. It can be easy to forget about the big picture, but growing the community presents many opportunities for all of us.