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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Competitive Pokemon 101: What Makes Up a Pokemon

So you've conquered the island challenge, trounced the evil team, blown away the Elite Four, and now you're the champion of Alola. You're the very best, like no one ever was, right? Wrong. Idiot.

The hard truth is that there is actually a lot more to Pokemon battling than those annoying people at the Pokemon Trainers' School from the first hour of the game let on, and that knowledge is imperative if you are ever going to make a Splash in competitive Pokemon. Fortunately, there are a ton of online resources to help you. I'm talking about me.

Right now I'm sure that you are thinking "Wow, ActionJ4ck, that's so generous of you to donate your time and energy to help me learn about competitive Pokemon! You are such a nice guy and I bet you're also quite handsome underneath that shaggy hair and down vest!"

Correct on both counts. But my roguish good looks are not the subject of this article. Instead, we are here to talk about competitive Pokemon. This will be the first of a series of articles on the subject, and today's topic is What Makes Up a Pokemon. So without further ado...

What Makes Up a Pokemon: An Introduction

It's no secret that some Pokemon are just plain better than others. Slice it anyway you want, but Landorus in it's Therian Forme is going to wreck a Pikachu nine times out of nine. And no, it's not just because of type advantage. Not all Pokemon are created equal, and there are numerous qualities that separate the champs from the chumps. The things that make up a competitive Pokemon that every player should know about are the typing, the stats (which are made up of several different things), the abilities, the movepool, and the items.

But don't fret. It's not necessary to have the stats and learnsets of every Pokemon in the Pokedex memorized to be able to compete on a competitive level. Just keep the essentials in mind and you'll be fine. To help put your mind at ease, we'll start out with the most basic of Pokemon concepts...

Typing and Why It's Important

It's pretty much the first thing they teach you about battling in Sun and Moon. Use Water-types against Fire-types, right?

Right.

You shouldn't have too many of one type, right?

Right.

A Ground-type Pokemon using a Ground-type attack deals more damage than a non-Ground Pokemon using the same move, right?

Right. That's called Same Type Attack Bonus (STAB) by the way, and it's a 50% boost. Important.

If you haven't been playing Pokemon all your life and don't have the type-advantages of each type memorized, then don't fret. Simply Googling "Pokemon type chart" will yield you more results than you could ever need. Just be sure that the type chart includes Fairy, which wasn't introduced into the games until a few years ago. Sun and Moon also made it pretty easy to know which move will be most effective against your current opponent because super-effective moves are now labeled when battling against Pokemon that you've already seen before.


Bear in mind, however, that it does not differentiate between a move that will be 2x effective, 4x effective, or if the opponent's Ability or held item grant it additional weakness/resistance. It's a helpful inclusion, but it's not foolproof.

There's more to think about than just simple type-effectiveness though. A good Pokemon trainer needs to think about which types do certain roles better. For example, let's say you want to make a defensive Pokemon and you choose an Ice-type. Well that's going to be a problem, because Ice-types are weak to Fighting, Rock, Fire, and Steel. Four weaknesses is pretty significant, especially because Fighting, Rock, and Fire are pretty common attacking types. So even though Avalugg has the Defense of a military base, it's still hard for it to survive a long time because of it's numerous type disadvantages.

Conversely, Ice-type is a fantastic offensively. In addition to being super-effective against Dragon type, which is resistant to many other types, it also works against Flying, Ground, and Grass. Meanwhile, it is resisted by Fire, Ice, Steel, and Water, three of which have plenty of other easy weaknesses to exploit.

The complexity gets compounded when you take into account that Pokemon can have up to two types. The two types can be very complimentary, or they can be redundant and create more problems. Let's look at an example.

Image source: http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/File:473Mamoswine.png

Mamoswine is an example of a Pokemon with fantastic offensive typing. Our giant furry deathball here is an Ice/Ground type. As I mentioned before, Ice attacks are effective against Flying, Ground, Grass, and Dragon but is resisted by Fire, Ice Steel, and Water. Ground, on the other hand, is effective against Electric, Poison, Fire, Steel, and Rock but is ineffective against Grass and Bug and totally useless against Flying. If you compare the two types, you'll notice that they can super-effectively hit many of the types that resist the other, and there is no single type left over that resists both of Mamoswine's STAB attacks. Mamoswine has great offensive typing and coverage.

Conversely, Mamoswine's typing leaves a lot to be desired in terms of defense. In addition to the aforementioned Ice weaknesses, this big guy's Ground-type adds weaknesses to Grass and Water while nullifying Ice's resistance to Ice. From a defensive standpoint, Ice and Ground are not complimentary and they leave our furry force of nature here vulnerable to a lot of different types of attacks.

So long story short, different types work better with different roles and some complement each other better than other. It's not enormously complicated, but it's important to keep in mind when evaluating the usefulness of a Pokemon. But now let's talk numbers...


There's More to Stats Than Meets the Eye

The basic principle of stats is easy enough. High = good. But to get into competitive Pokemon, we need to go a bit deeper and look at what factors make up those six numbers on the screen and what needs to be done to ensure they are as high as possible. The things that make up those numbers in the pictures below are Base Stats, Nature, IVs, EVs, and differences in these can cause even Pokemon that are the same species and level to have different stats.


Base Stats

Base stats are generally the best indicator of a Pokemon's potential. Think of them as the baseline attributes of a Pokemon, with the other things that I mentioned above functioning as modifiers on them. They are also exactly the same for every member of a species, so if there were no Natures, IVs, and EVs then every level 12 Turtonator would have the exact same stats. Though there is technically no way to view a Pokemon's Base Stats within the actual video game, a quick search on Bulbapedia, Serebii, or Smogon will help you find what you're looking for.

The well-known Mew is the perfect Pokemon to use as an example for how stats work. Mew base stats for HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed are all 100, so it's easy the changes we make.

Image source: Elite Trainer app for iOS

As you can see from the picture above, a Mew's Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed stats at level 50 are all pretty close to its Base Stats (100 each). HP is calculated a bit differently, but that's not really something we need to worry about. Just know that when you strip away Nature, IVs, and EVs, a Pokemon's stats at level 50 are roughly equal to their Base Stats.

As far as what "good" base stats are is a bit subjective, but I would say that Attack, Special Attack, and Speed Base Stats are good when they are over 105 and awesome at 130. HP, Defense, and Special Defense are usually good when they are over 85 and fantastic at 115. But it's a bit grey, so don't take my word as the law.

Rarely, however, will you find a Pokemon that has good stats in every category. Even if you do, there's a good chance that it's not allowed in a regulated Pokemon battle. What matters more than having "just good" Base Stats in every category is having a few great Base Stats in key categories. Let's use Mew as an example again. Mew has the very solid 100 for every Base Stat. Because of this, Mew is capable of filling many different roles adequately but does not excel at anything in particular. Gengar, however...

Image source: Elite Trainer app for iOS

has lower HP, Attack, Defense, and Special Defense and a lower Base Stat total. Despite this, Gengar is arguably a more useful Pokemon because his great Speed and fantastic Special Attack make it more ideally suited for the specific role of special sweeper (a Pokemon that moves fast and deals lots of damage using special attacks) than Mew is for any one role.

So to summarize, higher is obviously better with Base Stats, but it is also important that those Base Stats allow the Pokemon to excel at a specific role or task (roles in competitive Pokemon will be explained in another article).

Nature

You will likely have noticed your Pokemon's summary page displaying some sort of personality trait, such as Adamant, Bold, Naive, Sassy, etc. These are referring to your Pokemon's Nature. Nature is pretty simple. There are 25 of them in total and they provide a 10% bonus to a stat and a 10% decrease to a stat (excluding HP). It's not necessary to memorize the effects of every nature, though, as a Pokemon's summary page will tell you what effects its Nature is having on its stats.


As you can see above, this Pokemon's Nature (Lonely, as can be seen by pressing right on the D-pad) is increasing its Attack (colored red) and decreasing its Defense (colored blue). Please note that 5 of the 25 natures increase the same stat that they decrease, so they are effectively neutral and the Pokemon's stats will not be highlighted. The Mew and Gengar shown previously each have the neutral Bashful Nature.

While it's not vital to know the effects of all 25 Natures (we have loads of online resources will help us with that), it would be convenient for you to remember that the 4 most common Natures are Adamant (+Attack, -Sp. Attack), Jolly (+Speed, -Sp. Attack), Modest (+Sp. Attack, -Attack), and Timid(+Speed, -Attack). You may have noticed that they all have a negative impact on either Attack or Special Attack. That's because most competitive Pokemon will be using either only physical attacks or only special attacks, so subtracting from the unused stat is the most logical choice. Speed, Defense, and Special Defense, on the other hand, are almost always better to have than not have.

So let's say we want our Mew here to be a fast, physical attacker. We'll make sure it has the Jolly Nature to boost its Speed stat and lower its unused Special Attack.

Image source: Elite Trainer app for iOS

While 10% might not seem like a massive boost, don't forget that it will often make the difference between knocking an opponent's Pokemon out with 2 hits and getting knocked out yourself because you needed to land at least 3 hits.

Individual Values (IVs)

Individual Values are one of the important mechanics that the Pokemon games don't tell you much about. Basically, each Pokemon has a number between 0 and 31 randomly assigned to each of its stats, giving them 6 IVs in total. The number for each IV is added onto its corrosponding stat in a way that's proportional to its level. So a level 100 Pokemon with all 31 IVs will have 31 added to each of its stats. A level 50 Pokemon with the same IVs will have 15 or 16 added to each stat. It's a lot simpler than it sounds, and if you prefer to keep as much math out of your life as possible then just remember that higher is better.

Image source: Elite Trainer app for iOS

It is generally advantageous to for a Pokemon to have perfect IVs (31 for each stat), but there are a few exceptions. The most common exception is for trainers who want their Pokemon to know the move Hidden Power (that move that changes type based on the Pokemon using it). Since Hidden Power's type is actually based on the combination of even-numbered IVs and odd-numbered IVs your Pokemon possesses, competitive battlers will try to give their Pokemon a combination of 30 and 31 IVs so that they have the desired type of Hidden Power. Here's another common example: the move Foul Play uses the opponent's Attack stat to deal damage rather than the user's. As such, if a Pokemon only uses its Special Attack and not its Attack, many trainers would prefer to leave the Attack IV imperfect so that an opponent's Foul Play attack will deal less damage. For the most part though, trainers will try to get Pokemon with 5 or 6 perfect IVs. Also, like with Nature, there's generally no need to have perfect IVs for both Attack and Special Attack if the Pokemon is only going to use one of those stats.

So now you might be asking yourself "Well how do I know what IVs my Pokemon has and how do I get Pokemon with good ones?". That gets a bit tricky. IVs are (sort of) invisible to players during normal gameplay. In Sun and Moon, after you have hatched 20+ eggs, there is a male NPC at the battle tree that will unlock the ability for you to "judge" Pokemon in your PC box. They won't give you the exact number, but rather just descriptors for each stat. They are as such:

Best = 31
Fantastic = 30
Very Good = 26-29
Pretty Good = 16-25
Decent = 1-15
No Good = 0

I can't be positive, but I think it has the face of a champion.

You can also search online for a Pokemon IV calculator that will calculate a Pokemon's IVs for you, but keep in mind that you must know the Pokemon's stats, nature, and EVs (see below) in order for the calculation to be accurate. 

As far as how to get Pokemon with perfect IVs goes, the short answer is a combination of SOS battling, breeding, and Bottle Cap trading. The long answer is going to be in the form of some articles that will be posted at a later date. You don't want to read that stuff right now. Trust me.

Now here is our sample Mew with a Jolly Nature and some good IVs. It's looking a lot better than when we first saw it, right?

Image source: Elite Trainer app for iOS

Effort Values (EVs)

This is probably where things get the most complicated, but bear with me because we are almost through all of the stat stuff. When your Mew beats a Geodude, it actually earns more than just experience points. It also earns Effort Values (EVs). Every Pokemon, once defeated, gives out some combination of EVs. If your Mew beats a Geodude, for example, your Mew will earn 1 Defense EV. If it defeats a Flygon, it will earn 1 Attack EV and 2 Speed EVs. The in-game stat boosting items like Protein, HP Up and Clever Wing also grant EVs.

So what do EVs do? Like every other thing in this section, they contribute to a Pokemon's stats. For every 4 EVs a level 100 Pokemon has in a given stat, that stat will increase by 1. This bonus is proportionate to a Pokemon's level, however, so a level 50 Pokemon needs 8 EVs to see a change in its stats.

Image source: Elite Trainer app for iOS

Now it might seem like a great idea to just make your Pokemon battle everything haphazardly in order to get as many stat boosts as possible, right? Wrong. A Pokemon can accumulate a maximum of 510 total EVs and each individual stat can only hold a maximum of 252 EVs. This means that you could increase two of a level 50 Pokemon's stats by as much as 32. It's very important for creating a competitive Pokemon, and the topic of the best methods for EV training will be discussed in a later article.

You'll generally want to max out the EVs of a Pokemon in a way that will complement its role. Our Mew, for example, is going to be a fast physical attacker, Therefore we are going to pour all of its EVs into Attack and Speed while giving that leftover 6 EVs to Defense to help defend against most priority moves. Combining this EV spread with the nature and IVs mentioned above means that our Mew here can run circles around one that was not competitively trained.

Image source: Elite Trainer app for iOS


Stat Stages

Okay, this is the last thing about stats and it's pretty easy. Everybody has been hit with a Growl attack at some point in their Pokemon career. It gives you the message that your Pokemon's attack has been lowered or something to that effect. That's referring to the Pokemon's Stat Stages. These are temporary bonuses/reductions that are wiped clean when a Pokemon returns to its ball. This one might take a tad bit of math.

When you send out your Pokemon at the start of battle, all of its stats have a stat stage of 0, meaning they are multiplied by 2/2, otherwise known as 1. So no change. When a stat stage increases to 1, 2. 3, 4, 5, and 6, the stat is multiplied by 3/2, 4/2, 5/2, 6/2, 7/2, and 8/2 respectively. Conversely, when a stat stage decreases by 1, 2. 3, 4, 5, and 6, the stat is multiplied by 2/3, 2/4, 2/5, 2/6, 2/7, 2/8. You can probably see the pattern here.

Moves that "sharply" raise a stat stage are pretty common in competitive Pokemon. These are moves like Swords Dance or Agility and they raise their associated stat stage by 2, effectively doubling that stat. Though doubling a Pokemon's Attack stat may make it seem invincible, don't forget that stat stages are reset as soon as a Pokemon returns to its Pokeball and a stat stage cannot be raised by more than 6. Regardless of these limitations though, stat stages are important and the right Pokemon using Swords Dance can really change the tide of battle.


Abilities Can Make a Pokemon

If you've played the Pokemon games, then you are certainly familiar with Abilities, so much so that I can probably keep this brief. Though most abilities are useful to a Pokemon in some way or another, some Abilities go a lot farther towards benefiting their holder and can be what really allows them to make a dent in competitive Pokemon. A good example would be Blaziken. It's Hidden Ability, Speed Boost, grants it a +1 to its Speed stat stage (see above) at the end of each of it's turns. This Ability complements Blaziken's role as a sweeper because it makes it harder and harder to land a hit on it as the battle wears on.

Other Abilities are less useful. Blaziken's other possible ability, Blaze, will increase the strength of its Fire-type attacks by 50% when down to less than a third of its HP. It's such a situation-specific Ability that it generally won't benefit your Pokemon. Though most abilities aren't specifically disadvantageous, some are better than others and when a Pokemon has a weak Ability (like Blaze) it can kind of be seen as a waste of an opportunity.

The best advice that I can give you in terms of Abilities is use common sense. When evaluating an Ability's worth, think about whether or not this Ability complements what this Pokemon is going to do, under what conditions this Ability will be useful, and how often this Ability will benefit you.


Movepool: How We Use Our Tools

Of course, all of the aspects mentioned above are useless if the Pokemon doesn't have the moves to back it up. A diverse movepool allows for flexibility and makes your strategy less predictable. Let's look at Mew again. Mew is unique in that it can learn almost any TM and Tutor move in the game, essentially giving it the ultimate flexibility. Even if you know that an opponent's Mew is offensively-oriented, it's very hard to predict whether it will hit you Fire Blast, Knock Off, U-turn, Thunder Wave, Seismic Toss, Sludge Bomb, etc.

Lycanroc's Midday Form, on the other hand, is pretty limited in its learnset. The attacks that it learns with a high base power can be counted on one hand. When a Midday Lycanroc enters the battlefield, you can be pretty confident that it's going to be using Crunch, Brick Break, Stone Edge, and maybe Accelrock or Sucker Punch.

When deciding on which four moves to assign to your Pokemon, you should obviously be thinking about what role its going to be filling. Offensive-oriented Pokemon should generally have at least one powerful STAB move to use as a default attack. The rest of the attacks should usually be dedicated to hitting as many types super-effectively as possible or with attacks that will be strong against a common opponent. For defensive Pokemon you'll usually want them to have a way of recovering their HP or stalling out their opponent.


Held Items Make the Difference

And finally, we have held items, which are actually quite a bit more important than you might think. Though most of the items that you receive during the main story of Sun and Moon aren't generally useful in competitive Pokemon battling, the Battle Tree offers a nice selection of held items to boost your Pokemon's usefulness. While it's not necessary to learn the effects of every held item in the game, the following are the most common/useful for competitive Pokemon battling:

Choice Band - Raises Attack stat by 50% but locks your Pokemon into only using the first move it uses. This is ideal for fast physical attackers that need a good Attack boost.

Choice Specs - Raises Special Attack stat by 50% but locks your Pokemon into only using the first move it uses. This is ideal for fast special attackers that need a good Special Attack boost.

Choice Scarf - Raises Speed stat by 50% but locks your Pokemon into only using the first move it uses. This is ideal for powerful physical or special attackers that need a boost to their Speed.

Life Orb - Raises the holder's damage output by 30% but makes them lose 10% of their max HP each time they attack. You'll want to stick this on Pokemon you want dealing lots of damage but don't want getting restricted by one of the Choice items mentioned above.

Flame Orb/Toxic Orb - This gives the holder Burn and Badly Poisoned status, respectively. While this may not seem like a good thing at first glance, Pokemon with Abilities like Guts and Quick Feet can actually benefit from getting an automatic status condition.

Leftovers - Restores 1/16th of the holder's HP at the end of each turn. You'll normally want to stick this on a defensive Pokemon to help it stay alive while it whittles down opponents.

Assault Vest - Raises the holder's Special Defense by 50%, but only allows attacking moves to be used. This is a bit tricky to use, as its meant for offensive-oriented Pokemon that you want to have a better Special Defense stat.


Conclusion (Finally)

Are you still reading all this? Seriously? I'm impressed. You are truly a sponge. Though the information that I've hastily thrown in your direction probably feels like a bit much, fear not. Practice makes perfect and you will acquire all the necessary knowledge in due time. Feel free to come back to this article or other helpful online sources when your memory gets fuzzy or when you feel ready to tackle the more advanced facets of competitive Pokemon battling. In the meantime, I hope that you have enjoyed reading thus far and just know that you can always turn to your friendly neighborhood ActionJ4ck.com for further guidance. If you have any questions or concerns go right ahead and leave a comment down below or shoot me an email. I almost sometimes read them.

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