Greetings readers, and welcome to the team-building instalment of our competitive Pokémon battling guide. If you haven’t yet read the previous article, then why are you here? Go back and read it! In all seriousness, please consider reading the previous article “So You Want to be the Best? An Introduction to Competitive Pokémon”, because it covers the basics such as what competitive battling is, Smogon tiers, introductory Pokémon roles, and rules. You probably should learn to walk before attempting to sprint, and we are definitely going to be running a marathon here! A comparison I made in the previous article was that competitive Pokémon resembles a turn-based strategy a lot more than the A-button mashing, gym-leader pulverizing RPG that we all love, and this will become ever more apparent as we dive into the guide. It will cover advanced team-building including counters, checks, advanced roles, and covering weaknesses, along with example teams and explanations for Pokémon choices. If you don’t understand any of the terms that are mentioned in this article, then please feel free to skip to the PokéGlossary at the end, which will either explain it or, if it’s a particularly complicated topic, point you to a resource that can help you further.
Table of Contents
With the exception of the randomized formats, team building is undoubtedly the most important skill any aspiring PokéMaster can have. The outcome of every battle is at least heavily influenced by the Pokémon you decide to include in your elite squad. In recognition of that fact, this section will be larger than a Thick Fat Snorlax, so put on your Choice Specs, finish off your Leftovers, and don’t push that Eject Button!
Question 1: How should you build a competitive Pokémon team?
Answer: You don’t. You sit in a corner, cry about ParaFlinch Togekiss and lament the day you ever tried competitive Pokémon battling.
(If you are unsure as to what a ParaFlinch Togekiss is, you should firstly be extremely thankful and secondly not fret, because we will be including one in a later example).
That’s all for today readers, see you in the next one!
In all seriousness, team building is a complex affair that takes a lot of experience, and it’s important to understand that there is no “perfect team”. Due to the diversity of every Tier, even the least viable Pokémon can be used to some extent if played correctly… to a point, anyways. No, your “innovative” Focus Sash Flail Magikarp will not cut it in Uber tier. Aside from this obvious example, how is it possible to work out how viable each Pokémon in a Tier is without trying out all of them? Even Screaming Rowlet wouldn’t be sad enough to attempt that, surely?
Thankfully for us, a resource exists for this purpose. The Smogon Viability Threads (example) rank each Pokémon for every Tier on their general viability. To find them for the specific Tier you’re interested in, simply head to the Smogon Forums, click on the relevant metagame under Competitive Play, and the viability ranking thread will be at the top. These are constantly updated, and well worth a look when planning your roster.
Another convenient resource when thinking about specific Pokémon sets is the Smogon StrategyDex. This lists every Pokémon and gives useful information on each such as an overview, different sets, team suggestions, and how to use the Pokémon in battle.
When you are more comfortable with the Tier you are playing in and you want to cover specific threats, a very useful tool is the Pokémon Showdown Damage Calculator. This allows you to see how much damage commonly used Pokémon can inflict on yours and means that you can alter spreads accordingly. Usually though, you’ll want to copy the recommended spreads because they’re already optimal for the big threats in your Tier. Pretty helpful if you’re a lazy person like me!
If you want to know what the main threats in your Tier are, the prime resources are the Smogon usage stats. Select the relevant month and a very long, intimidating list of every battle format comes up. Click on the format you are interested in and you can see the percentage of matches that have contained every Pokémon. This allows you to plan your team around Pokémon that you are more likely to encounter, however it is important to remember that usage ≠ the strength of the Pokémon.
Team Types and Weaknesses
Every team needs a win condition – something that it threatens to do to wipe the enemy team. Does it try to set up one Pokémon with stat boosts to 1 hit KO the opponents? Does it bore the enemy to tears so that they resign tank through the enemy threats, and slowly wear down the opposition? Does it have too many hard-hitting threats for the adversary to deal with? In this section I will differentiate between these, explain the general template for each team archetype, and include an example.
Balance teams are exactly as the name suggests: they try to deal with as many threats as possible, with as balanced a team as possible. Typically, in Balance all of our Pokémon should try to cover a different role – thus dealing with as many threats as we can. A basic template that a Balance team should try to adhere to is: a weather setter (which should benefit at least one of your other Pokémon), a wall/stallbreaker, a pivot, a wall, a sweeper, and a Pokémon that can outspeed the vast majority of the tier (usually a Choice Scarf user).
Here is an example of a Balance team in OU:
Toxapex has humongous defensive stats overall, making it an excellent mixed wall. It’s also able to provide a variety of roles in one Pokémon, packing Toxic for residual damage, Haze to prevent Pokémon from setting up on it, Recover for – yes, this is a shock – recovery, and Scald for some STAB-boosted damage. It is the first of our pivots, a type of Pokémon vitally important in a Balance team in order to have a switch in to the majority of threats.
Tangrowth acts as a great defensive partner to Toxapex, making up the defensive core of our team and acting as our second pivot. It has an awesome defensive typing in grass allowing it to check many common OU threats, and its Assault Vest allows it to tank special hits very well. It’s also a bush. Every team needs a bush, right?
Heatran checks Tangrowth and Toxapex’s counters and can set Stealth Rocks/Taunt enemy hazard setters, so is a good Pokémon to include here. In team building, it is good to think about covering types, but also possibly more important to cover specific threats for the Tier you are building against. Its Flash Fire ability makes it ideal to switch into incoming Fire moves. It’s also good to consider Pokémon that are made from literal lava. Who wouldn’t want a magma crab on their team?
Celesteela complements Toxapex well in that it can take on many of the Psychic-types in OU that can oppose it. It also squashes Fairy-types with Heavy Slam, and gives us a much-needed ground immunity due to Heatran’s 4x and Toxapex’s 2x weakness to it. Additionally, it adds to the residual damage our team is beginning to pack with Leech Seed, on top of our Stealth Rocks and Toxic Spikes poison. Bonus Info: in Ultra Sun/Moon, it’s codename was “UB-04 Blaster”. Why can’t GameFreak have left its name as that? Who wouldn’t want to yell “Go! Blaster!”?
Mega Diancie forms the first part of the offensive core of our team. It deals well with threats to the rest of our team in the OU metagame such as Zapdos, Mega Pinsir, Mega Charizard Y, and Volcarona, and hits extremely hard. Its Magic Bounce ability also allows it to say a giant “Nope, I think those are yours?” to enemy hazards directed at it, reflecting them back.
Our team lacks a fast, offensive sweeper outside of Mega Diancie, and Choice Scarfed Latias fits this role well. Psychic dragons that can fly at the speed of sound are apparently good at being fast. Shocking, right? It also gives us another much-needed Ground immunity, as our team suffers from several crippling weaknesses to it. Latias can also Trick its Scarf onto an opponent, crippling it by locking it into the move it uses on the same turn. This Latias set also makes for a potent revenge killer on weakened targets.
- Few ways to gain momentum. We lack users of U-Turn and Volt Switch for juicy free switches.
- Outside of Latias, our team is slow. This also presents problems when we try to gain momentum.
- We have no way to remove enemy hazards. Our Pokémon will have pointed stones shoved into their nether regions and sadly we’re not allowed to see a gynaecologist to have them removed.
- We lack a rock resistance. This means Tyranitar sets eat our team for breakfast. And lunch. Dinner too. Any meal, really.
Bulky Offense (BO)
No, not body odour. Bulky Offense. This team archetype focuses on generating momentum by pressuring the enemy team until it is weak enough for the sweepers to clean up. It generally consists of a lead, 1-2 wallbreakers, 1-2 sweepers, 1-2 walls, and 2 utility-oriented Pokémon. The difference between a Hyper Offense (HO, which will be covered next) and a BO team is that BO offers more utility and staying power, whereas HO is more purely focused on setting up its sweepers for its win condition. In this sense, BO is less clearly defined as to its win condition than HO and offers more flexibility.
Here is an example of a UU BO team:
Azelf is an excellent, aggressive lead due to its high base speed and ability to immediately generate momentum. It gives us opportunities depending on the opponent’s lead to set up Stealth Rocks, providing chip damage to help our sweepers. It can also Explode to annoy our opponent – I mean, give us a favourable 1 for 1.
Beedrill is our main offensive sweeper. Possessing excellent base Attack and Speed, a STAB modifier of 2x, some very hard-hitting coverage moves, and 5 stingers, Beedrill puts a ton of pressure on common UU Pokémon. It also maintains momentum with U-Turn, and can cripple item-reliant enemy Pokémon with Knock Off.
Blissey acts as both a special wall, and a staller. It also packs good utility in Heal Bell, which means it can heal status effects afflicting other team members. Blissey is also egg-cellent at taking the special moves which our team struggles against, particularly ice-type moves, especially by virtue of its strong defensive typing (Normal). However, Blissey is very poor at taking physical attacks, and should not stay in against strong physical attackers like Infernape. Blissey’s role on our team is to wear down the opponents using Toxic and Seismic Toss, so that our Sweepers can clean up.
Gliscor is the stallbreaker of our team, and a perfect example of a set-up sweeper. The strategy we want to attempt is to switch Gliscor in on an enemy wall or staller and use Swords Dance in order to start punching holes through them with Earthquake or Facade. Poison Heal and Roost also give Gliscor superb recovery, making it hard to wear down. No prizes for guessing who included Gliscor in their team that I am showcasing here!
Sylveon is the second wall of our team, this time of the physical variety. Hyper Voice deals damage through Substitute providing utility, and Wish and Heal Bell can heal other team members, giving Sylveon excellent capabilities as a cleric. It also packs staying power overall with its Wish-Protect combo. Pokémon like Blissey and Sylveon are essential in a Bulky Offense team to keep the sweepers free of status conditions like Paralysis, Toxic, and most importantly the Attack-hindering Burn condition.
ParaFlinch Togekiss. The “asshole troll” of the competitive Pokémon universe as dubbed by one of my friends, and for good reason: Serene Grace boosts the 30% flinch chance on Air Slash to a whopping 60% chance! Add in the chance of the opponent being immobilized due to Paralysis (from Thunder Wave), and you can see why this Pokémon single-handedly forces a huge number of rage quits in the competitive community. In our team, we needed a special sweeper that also serves as a win condition, and Togekiss fills this role almost too well, particularly after a Nasty Plot boost.
- Lack of coverage – we don’t pack a huge amount of different move types.
- No hazard removal, which makes Beedrill/Togekiss’ lives harder. More stones being forcibly placed inside rectums. Sad times.
- No Choice Scarf users, so potentially outsped.
Hyper Offense (HO)
Hyper Offensive teams are about giving your Pokémon abusive nicknames to make the enemy team tilted or even rage quit before the battle starts. Another bad joke? Sue me! In reality, Hyper Offense teams are much more about all-out attack than the more conservative and utility focussed BO and Balance teams. Reflecting this, they usually have a lead, 2 sweepers, a wall/stallbreaker, a setup sweeper, and a revenge killer.
Our showcase team here will be from the tier of our favourite taxi service – Uber.
Deoxys-S is the go-to lead for the Uber Tier, and for very good reason. Its blistering agility makes it the Usain Bolt of the Pokémon universe, with the highest Speed stat in the game. Stealth Rocks are a must on any team and Deoxys-S can reliably set them up due to its Focus Sash. Additionally, it packs Ice Beam for some coverage along with Magic Coat, a great example of a move with potential for bouncing. This is a technique where you predict the enemy to use a move like Taunt or Stealth Rock, and Magic Coat will ‘Bounce’ this back at them. Deoxys-S’ final move, Taunt, can be used predictively to prevent opposing leads from setting up their own Stealth Rocks.
Groudon has been a staple on Uber tier teams for quite some time. Its Primal form has a plethora of roles that it can fulfil well, and the set given here is merely one example of those: A deadly physical set-up sweeper. It can also opt for a more defensive role as a Stealth Rocks setter, but we already have Deoxys-S to achieve that end. One Rock Polish makes Groudon an immediate threat, outspeeding much of the Tier, while one Swords Dance means that not many Pokémon will be able to withstand an attack. Smogon’s StrategyDex starts their entry on this Pokémon by stating simply “Primal Groudon is the best Pokémon in the tier”.
Arceus will fulfil our special set-up sweeper role along with adding bulk to our team when it uses Calm Mind. It also has excellent staying power with Recover, and its Fairy typing due to its Pixie Plate gives Arceus superb defensive utility. The ability to check many Uber Tier threats, such as Yveltal, Mega Salamence, Marshadow, and Mega Sableye, is very welcome in our team. Once it has a Calm Mind or two up, the enemy team will have to pray for the PokéGod’s mercy!
Yveltal will act as an additional special sweeper and also prevents stall by using Taunt. It also possesses good recovery in Oblivion Wing, which restores 75% of the damage dealt to the opponent. As an added bonus, Yveltal has quite possibly the most terrifying Pokédex entry of any Pokémon: “When its life comes to an end, it absorbs the life energy of every living thing and turns into a cocoon once more.” Sadly, this doesn’t mean when this Pokémon faints the entire enemy team is wiped!
Solgaleo can switch in to resisted hits easily due to its Steel typing and hits Fairy types super-effectively with Sunsteel Strike as its main STAB. It also adds offensive utility with Toxic, giving it a way to residually damage walls. It’s also a Sun Lion that can run through Wormholes at light speed. Maybe a good pick for our team, no?
Salamence prior to mega evolving possesses a useful ability in Intimidate, reducing the opponent’s Attack by one stage and allowing it to switch in on physical attackers more easily. After mega evolving, it’s Aerilate ability changes all Normal type moves it uses to Flying type moves. This is the reason we have given it Double-Edge, and additionally it boosts their power on top of STAB by 1.2x. It also possesses surprisingly solid bulk, but does have a crippling 4x weakness to Ice. On that subject, who the hell at GameFreak thought it would be logical for a DRAGON to be weak to ICE? In my admittedly limited knowledge of the subject, dragons breathe fire. Which melts ice. But I guess I shouldn’t question the developers that thought up the Ice Cream Cone Pokémon…
- No hazard removal, although we do have a way to Bounce them back. You thought I was going to make another joke here about pointy stones, didn’t you?
- Lots of Ice weaknesses – Salamence 4x, Yveltal 2x and Groudon 2x.
And that’s it for the types of teams! Or at least, I wish it was… For the sake of completeness, I am forced to cover the final, most hated team type of all. Stall.
Stall is the most disgusting defensive of the team types, relying much more on residual damage and outlasting your opponent than skill other win conditions. Typically, stall teams comprise of many more walls and pivots than other teams and like to have multiple Pokémon that can remove and set hazards. This is to inflict the maximum amount of bullshittery chip damage on Pokémon switching in on the enemy team. I will say that some of the most ingenious strategies in competitive Pokémon were first used on stall teams like the FEAR Level 1 Aron strategy, so if you want to play stall, go ahead! We won’t hold it against you. Most of us, anyway.
Onto our example team, this time from the RU Tier:
Umbreon is a staple of Stall teams, mainly due to its access to the Wish-Protect combo and bulk. It also has access to Heal Bell, curing the rest of your team of status conditions, making it a good cleric Pokémon. Leftovers adds to its ability to recover health and Synchronize gives the enemy Pokémon any status inflicted on Umbreon. It also functions as a good pivot against offensive threats because of its ability to heal itself.
Sableye is an excellent check to the physical attackers of this Tier, and prevents itself from being set-up on by using Taunt. Will-O-Wisp can cripple physical attackers by Burning them and we have recovery in our Leftovers and Recover. Its Prankster ability give its non-attacking moves priority, allowing it to almost always Taunt, Recover, or Will-O-Wisp the opponent before they can reply. It gains a 1000% damage boost if your Sableye is female, because diamonds are a girl’s best friend (DISCLAIMER: THIS IS AN – ADMITTEDLY POOR – JOKE. MY FIANCE GENUINELY ASKED ME IF THIS WAS THE CASE).
Golbat checks threats to our current defensive core like Pangoro, and Infiltrator allows us to hit Pokémon that set up behind Substitute like Comfey. Again, Taunt shuts down setup sweepers, Toxic adds a timer to enemy Walls and Brave Bird hits for decent STAB damage. We also have decent bulk with Eviolite (surprisingly, as Golbat sucks… literally.), and Roost can get rid of our Electric/Ice/Rock weaknesses for a turn while healing us.
Gligar is quite possibly the most useful Pokémon in the RU tier, as it fulfils a variety of roles in just one Pokémon slot. The ability to set and remove entry hazards, Knock Off enemy items, and have self-recovery means that Gligar can certainly provide a nasty sting to the opposing team. It has excellent bulk with its Eviolite and still has some good natural bulk if it gets Knocked Off.
Pyukumuku is another good answer to set up sweepers, as its Unaware ability allows it to ignore stat boosts on opposing Pokémon (from Swords Dance or Calm Mind for example). It also provides a much-needed Ice resistance for our team, as we have a severe weakness to it. Soak allows Pyukumuku to change Poison and Steel types to the Water type and thus inflict Toxic on them, too. Counter gives us the capability of KOing strong physical attackers with proper prediction. Pyukumuku has an extremely disturbing Pokédex entry: “It lives in shallow seas, such as areas near a beach. It can eject its internal organs, which it uses to engulf its prey or battle enemies.” I guess you could say that it has a lot of guts for a sea cucumber!
Espeon is the final member of our team and is the only offensive presence that we have. Calm Mind gives us the opportunity to set up on enemy Pokémon that struggle to break Espeon, particularly special attackers. Hidden Power Fire gives us coverage, while Psyshock provides a STAB move that targets the opponent’s Defence stat. This makes Espeon an ideal wallbreaker for specially defensive Pokémon. Magic Bounce provides utility, giving Espeon the opportunity to deflect opposing hazards back at the enemy team. Our Timid Nature and Speed investment allows us to outspeed a fair portion of the Tier, which is crucial in allowing us to set up a Calm Mind before taking a hit. Finally, Morning Sun provides the recovery that is extremely prevalent in Stall teams.
- As with most Stall teams, this is very passive, and if played incorrectly can be set-up fodder for enemy sweepers.
- Pyukumuku is our only Ice resistance.
- Has essentially no way to gain momentum.
This is a (relatively) concise list of the most important competitive Pokémon terminology, but it is by no means exhaustive. If you don’t understand a term fully, or find one that isn’t included in this glossary, then I highly recommend using Smogon’s glossary and checking out their definitions.
- Physical: This means utilising the Attack/Defence stats. Attacks that are physical are generally easy to identify, as they tend to make physical contact with the opponent. An example of a physical attack would be Ice Punch.
- Special: This similarly means that the Special Attack/Special Defence stats are the focus. All attacks that do not make contact with the opponent are special. An example of a special attack would be Psychic.
- STAB (Same Type Attack Bonus): If the type of the move the Pokémon is using is the same as the Pokémon itself, it gains a 1.5x power boost.
- Hard Switching: This is the act of recalling your Pokémon without it having been KO’d or switching via a move, and sending out another.
- Check: A check is a specific Pokémon that, when it can safely switch in (such as via a KO, a move, or other circumstance, not by hard switching), forces the opposing Pokémon to either be KO’d or switch.
- Counter: A counter is the same principle as a check, however this Pokémon can switch in freely (by hard switching, or via a KO/move) and force an opponent to choose between switching or being KO’d.
- Pivot: A Pokémon who can safely switch in to many opponents, typically possessing solid defensive stats and resistances to entry hazards, with the intention of switching out the next turn.
- Entry Hazards: These are set by moves like Stealth Rock, Spikes, and Toxic Spikes, and either damage (Stealth Rocks + Spikes) or poison (Toxic Spikes) the entering Pokémon.
- Spinner/Defogger: A Pokémon that uses Rapid Spin or Defog to remove entry hazards.
- Phazer: A Pokémon that uses moves like Roar and Perish Song to either directly or indirectly force the opponent to switch.
- Set-up: A Pokémon capable of using stat boosting (or similar) moves to fulfil its intended role more effectively. For example, Lucario can use Swords Dance to sweep more effectively. Pokémon like this are typically referred to as ‘set-up sweepers’.
- Stall/Wallbreaker: Pokémon designed to either punish stall or crush walls by various means. Stallbreakers tend to have helpful immunities and moves that allow them to set up on stallers. Wallbreakers tend to have both Special and Physical attacks and very high offensive stats.
- Revenge Killer: A Pokémon purely designed to finish off weakened enemy Pokémon. They are generally fast and pack a Choice Scarf or priority moves like Ice Shard. An example of a revenge killer would be Weavile.
- Effort Values (EVs): Effort Values are stats on top of a Pokémon’s base stats that can be earned through battling certain types of Pokémon. For example, if your Charizard knocked out a Pidgey, then your Charizard would earn 1 Effort Value for Speed. 4 EVs = 1 Stat Point. The maximum number of EVs a Pokémon can earn is 508. Typically, it’s best to stick with the recommended spreads when building a Pokémon unless you are very experienced at it already, as they are already optimized against the Tier’s threats.
Final Word and Credits
Thank you for taking the time to read this guide. It certainly would not have been possible to make without the Raging Monkeys’ Social Media team. Special thanks go to ShiinaBat for editing and being an excellent sport with my jokes about her beloved Stall, Screaming Rowlet for allowing me to take jabs at him during this article (and his BO team submission), and my fiancé Vyxea, who gave me endless motivation to finish this guide. I also would like to credit the original makers of the example teams, as although all explanation is from myself (and in some cases I have edited spreads to my personal liking), they are the ones that built the teams in the first place. Links to the original Smogon threads can be found below which contain importables to Pokémon Showdown if you wish to use the teams yourself.
Disclaimer: these may not be the most up to date teams, although they have all been made since the release of Pokémon Sun/Moon. They were merely used to display how to go about team-building, and how team archetypes work.
I would also like to take this final opportunity to once again advertise the Pokémon tournaments that we hold regularly on the Raging Monkey’s server. They are very casual and great fun to participate in, so please don’t be shy!