If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably already got some sort of idea of what VGC is about, but it never hurts to go over things!
VGC, which stands for Video Game Championships, is the name of The Pokémon Company International’s officially endorsed competitive format. Some of you may already be familiar with other aspects of competitive Pokémon, such as Smogon’s ever-popular formats, but VGC has some key differences compared to those; most notably, while VGC can be played online, the plethora of real-life VGC tournaments organized all over the world are the real draw for many players. TPCi have some short introductory articles here and here which are well-worth reading, but in this guide, I will be going over things in much greater detail.
Ever wanted to play the Pokémon video game against high-level opponents at the World Championships? Then keep reading!
In many ways, VGC is akin to having your very own Pokémon adventure: you travel all over the world to challenge trainers, and you get to have fun playing your favorite game to boot! Not much can beat the sense of joy from doing well at a tournament and making friends with people from all the corners of the Earth.
If that doesn’t convince you, I’d like to recommend watching one of the most famous VGC matches of all time: the 2014 Worlds Finals, where the unassuming-looking Pachirisu manages to stand up to considerably tougher opponents while offering fantastic synergy with its partner Pokémon.
Pachirisu helping Sejun Park become a World Champion is certainly one of the more memorable moments in VGC history, and if you fancy yourself a creative mind, perhaps one day you too will be capable of building a Worlds-winning team!
Hopefully, the people reading the article are already familiar with the most basic mechanics of a Pokémon game. If not, I’d recommend playing through one before proceeding!
The ruleset for VGC changes once per year, but some things are always kept constant: for one, VGC matches, unlike the vast majority of battles in the Pokemon games, are always Doubles battles. In VGC, each player has a team of 6 Pokémon (as one might expect!), and all Pokémon are set to level 50. But unlike in the single-player mode, where you can use all 6 Pokémon on your team in a match, VGC only allows you to bring 4 of them to a game. In live tournaments, each set will be best of 3 (BO3) rather than a best of 1. Additionally, a so-called item clause is in effect, which disallows duplicates of a held item on a team. And finally, there are timers you need to pay attention to: you must choose your moves before the turn timer runs out, and you have to win the match before your match timer runs out.
At the time of writing, the ruleset is VGC 2019 (VGC19 for short), which is unique among VGC rulesets in the past as it is split into three “series”, each with its own slightly different rules:
- Sun series, lasting from Sep 4, 2018 to Jan 7, 2019, allows the use of all Pokémon save for Mythicals – including up to two powerful Legendary Pokémon per team (so called “restricted” Pokémon) such as Xerneas, Kyogre or Groudon! – but disallows the use of Z Crystals, Mega Stones, the items Blue Orb and Red Orb, and the use of the move Dragon Ascent on Rayquaza.
- Moon series, lasting from Jan 8, 2019 to Apr 1, 2019, uses the same rules as Sun series, but now allows Z Crystals save for Ultranecrozmium Z.
- Ultra series, lasting from Apr 2, 2019 up to and including the World Championships in August uses the same rules as Moon series, but now allows the use of Mega Stones (including Ultranecrozmium Z, which is needed for Necrozma to Ultra Burst), Dragon Ascent on Rayquaza, as well as the items Blue Orb and Red Orb.
For comparison, VGC18 was also played on Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon and allowed all Pokémon save for Cover Legendaries and Mythicals. The format also allowed the use of both Mega Stones and Z Crystals. VGC17, played on Sun/Moon, only allowed Pokémon from Sun/Moon’s Regional Pokédex (again, save for certain Legendaries and all Mythicals, which were once more banned) and did not allow Megas.
Formats such as VGC19 are often referred to as “restricted formats”, as they allow the use of up to two otherwise banned legendaries. Formats such as VGC18 are referred to as “national dex formats”, and finally, formats akin to VGC17 are referred to as “regional dex formats”.
(Quick note: if you’re familiar with competitive Pokémon from Smogon or other sources, much of this part will be familiar to you, but I will nevertheless suggest for you to read sections 2.9, 2.10, 2.11 and 2.12.)
While Pokémon may appear to be a simple game at a glance, a surprising amount of complexity goes into each individual Pokémon. In this part, we will go over each one of these mechanics.
Types are introduced early in the single-player modes, and are an important part of what makes a Pokémon unique, but note that types are not necessarily balanced: for example, Steel-type mons have considerably more resistances than most types and can be difficult to break through. While the newer Pokémon games helpfully tell you which moves are super effective and not very effective against what, memorizing the full type chart is nevertheless an absolute must for an up-and-coming competitive player. If you haven’t done so yet, get started now!
As is also made apparent in the single-player modes, each Pokémon has dozens of moves it can learn, but it can only remember 4 at a time. Each move has a category (physical for moves which use the Attack stat, special for moves which use the Special Attack stat, and status for moves which don’t deal damage), an accuracy stat (with a dash being used to denote that the move always hits), and, if they deal damage, a base power. When moves deal damage in Pokémon, the amount of damage will vary depending on the so-called damage roll, which is a random factor between 0.85 and 1.0.
Choosing the correct moves for your Pokémon is key in competitive battling. One mechanic which helps you choose the right moves is STAB, which stands for Same Type Attack Bonus: a Pokémon using a move that is the same type as itself will receive a 50% boost to damage done with that move. For that reason, it is often desirable for an offensively-oriented Pokémon to have at least one move which is the same type as itself.
As a competitive player, you will want to avoid getting unlucky due to the RNG (Random Number Generator), and as such, moves with high accuracy tend to be favored over moves with low accuracy. The move Thunder may be stronger than the move Thunderbolt, but since the latter is more accurate, it is seen more commonly in VGC (save for when the weather Rain is in effect). On that note, RNG-related occurrences in Pokémon are generally referred to as hax; get used to seeing that word! There are many moves in VGC which are infamous for causing hax, with Rock Slide’s property of hitting both opponents combined with its high flinch chance being perhaps the most noteworthy form of hax.
There are, of course, exceptions to the rule of higher accuracy being preferred. For example, Groudon tends to use Precipice Blades over Earthquake despite it having poorer accuracy for two reasons: Precipice Blades’ higher base power, and it hitting only the foes on the opposite side of the field as opposed to hitting both foes and allies.
There are hundreds of moves in Pokémon, and you will want to memorize what most of them do so as to ensure that you’re never caught by surprise in a match!
Pokémon have six stats, most commonly abbreviated as HP, Atk, Def, SpA, SpD, and Spe. As one might suspect, Pokémon generally excel in certain stats, but are worse in others. For example, a Pokémon which has both good offensive and defensive stats is often balanced out by having a poor speed stat. Similarly, a fast and offensive Pokémon is often quite frail defensively. These unchangeable stat values are referred to as base stats and often dictate each Pokémon’s role in competitive play.
Pokémon using their Attack stat as a primary means of offense are referred to as physical, whereas those using their Special Attack stat are referred to as special. A good player has a decent idea of what each commonly used Pokémon’s base stats look like. Speed is an especially important stat to remember, and it is the only one where you need to memorize an exact number, because knowing in which order Pokémon will move in each turn is invaluable information.
In addition to the above, each Pokémon has one ability, chosen from a pool of one to three possible abilities. Abilities cannot be changed by conventional means, although there are moves which may affect or remove them in-battle. Mega Evolution also tends to change a Pokémon’s ability. An example of a very commonly seen ability in VGC is Intimidate, which weakens the physical attacks of both Pokémon on the opposing side of the field, therefore allowing the Pokémon on your side of the field to stay alive longer. Abilities can have a massive impact on the popularity of a Pokémon in competitive play: for example, Shadow Tag, which prevents your opponent from switching out, is a notoriously powerful ability (but is not available to very many Pokémon). Abilities which summon weathers or terrains are also very valuable and alter the state of the game in a big way.
Much like humans and animals, Pokémon have personalities, or Natures. From a mechanics perspective, Natures are quite simple: they boost a stat by 10%, but also lower a stat by 10%. Initially, they can seem like a bit of a double-edged sword, but since many Pokémon only use one of their two attacking stats, it is very common to use a nature which lowers the attacking stat the Pokémon will never use so that only the boosted stat matters. Hence physical attackers will often be Jolly (+Spe, -SpA) or Adamant (+Atk, -SpA), and special attackers will often be Timid (+Spe, -Atk) or Modest (+SpA, -Atk). Generally speaking, it is a good idea to use a Nature which increases the Pokémon’s strongest stat: fast Pokémon will want a Speed-increasing Nature to ensure they can outspeed or even speed tie other Pokémon, and more offensively oriented Pokémon will often want to increase their offenses further to nab more knockouts, etcetera.
You’ve almost certainly come across moves, abilities, items and the like which increase and decrease stats during your single-player Pokémon adventures, such as Swords Dance, but by how much do the stats increase or decrease?
When a stat-increasing move is used, the stat is increased by a certain amount of stages. Each stage corresponds to a 50% increase in the stat (or an increase of 0.5 in the multiplier for each stage, starting at 1.0), and competitive players often denote the amount increased with a number like +1 (for a one-stage increase) to +6 (for a six-stage increase), with +6 being the maximum.
Moves will display different messages depending on how many stages the stat was increased: if the message says the stat rose, it increased by one stage (+1, or a multiplier of 1.5). If the message says the stat sharply rose, it increased by two stages (+2, or a multiplier of 2). If the message says the stat rose drastically, it increased by three (+3, or a multiplier of 2.5) or more stages. As an example, Swords Dance will display the “sharply rose” message when used because it raises Attack by two stages.
In a similar vein, stats can decrease if a Pokémon is targeted by a move such as Icy Wind or affected by an ability such as Intimidate. When stats are decreased, they are divided by a certain amount (remember the multiplier?). Having a -1 in a stat is equivalent to dividing by 1.5; -2 is division by 2; -3 is division by 2.5; and so on. Stat modifiers are temporary and will reset once a Pokémon is switched out.
Put simply, each Pokémon is born or encountered with a certain Individual Value in each of its stats; you can think of IVs as your Pokémon’s genes. The IV is a static number from 0-31 which offers a stat bonus to its associated stat. In most cases, you want your Pokémon’s IVs to be their maximum value in each stat – 31 – because this value offers the biggest stat bonus. Not too complicated! However, in certain cases, it can be beneficial to have lower stats. For example, if you’re using a team built around the move Trick Room, which reverses the turn order and causes slower Pokémon to go first, you may want to have a 0 IV in Speed on some of your Pokémon. Furthermore, IVs also affect what type a Pokemon’s Hidden Power is, which can come in handy for when you want a strong super-effective move, for example having a Fire-type Hidden Power on Tapu Lele to fight off Kartana and Ferrothorn.
Effort Values are considerably more interesting and complex than most of the mechanics we’ve gone over so far. Each Pokémon has a total of 508 EVs to distribute freely in its stats. There is not only a cap on how many EVs each Pokémon can have total, but also a cap on the maximum allowed EV investment in each stat: 252 EVs.
So what do EVs do, exactly? You guessed it: they confer stat bonuses! Specifically, for every 4 EVs you invest in a stat, you gain 1 stat point at level 100. Why at level 100, you ask? Well, imagine if you could confer a massive stat bonus to a level 1 Pokémon – since each stat is worth more at such a low level, the EV system would be quite overpowered! For that reason, both EVs and IVs are distributed based on each Pokémon’s level.
In VGC, we only need to be concerned with the stats at level 50, as all Pokémon are automatically set to 50 during VGC battles according to the rules. At level 50, generally the first 4 EVs in a stat will grant a bonus of 1 point to that stat, and thereafter you will gain a stat point for every extra 8 EVs you invest into it. As an example, having 4 EVs in Speed will net you 1 extra speed, whereas having 12 will net you 2 extra Speed. Any Effort Values between 4 and 12 will still only grant 1 speed and would therefore be wasted EVs.
So what does one do with EVs? If you’re using a Pokémon such as Tapu Koko, which is fast and frail, it’s not a bad idea to max out its Speed and Special Attack stats, with the remaining 4 going into HP. This is called an EV spread and is often typed out like so: 4 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe.
But what if we want to be more creative with our EV spreads? Let’s take an example: perhaps we want our Xerneas to survive a Sunsteel Strike from Dusk Mane Necrozma. To do this, we need the help of a damage calculator, a competitive player’s best friend! We can start by maxing out our Xerneas’ HP stat: HP allows you to take both physical and special hits better, and Xerneas may appreciate having the extra bulk when facing other Xerneas or other hard-hitting specially based Pokémon, such as Kyogre. But that’s not enough to take the Sunsteel Strike, so we will need to invest in Def as well. The damage calculator will show us that 140 Def EVs are enough to ensure we always take the hit. So far, our spread looks like this: 252 HP / 140 Def. Now we’re free to invest the remaining 116 EVs as we see fit: perhaps some in Speed, or perhaps some in Special Attack!
As you can see, EVs allow for a lot of creativity with each individual Pokémon: do we want a slower, weaker mon that can take hits? Or do we want something hard-hitting and fast? It’s up to you!
As mentioned previously, VGC employs the item clause, meaning each Pokémon on your team must hold a unique item and no two Pokémon may hold the same item. Here, I’ll go through items commonly used in competitive play and explain what they do. This section may be worth reading through as a competitive Singles player, as item choices differ between Singles and Doubles.
Z Crystals: Z Moves were introduced in Pokémon Sun/Moon and have been an important aspect of competitive play ever since. In VGC, Z Move users are often Pokémon which have ways to boost the powers of their Z Moves further, such as Waterium Z Ludicolo (which is often paired with a Rain-setter), or Pokémon who can make use of the unique properties granted by a Z-Move, such as guaranteeing a hit or turning a multiple-target move into a more powerful single-target one. Generally speaking, most teams will have at least one Z Move in formats where they’re allowed; since VGC doesn’t let you bring all 6 Pokémon to a single match, you may sometimes see teams with more than one Z Move, where the player chooses to bring a certain Z Move-equipped Pokémon depending on the matchup they face. This is a rare occurrence, however!
Mega Stones: in VGC formats which allow the use of mega stones, most teams will include a Mega Pokémon. In the vast majority of cases, if you see a Pokémon capable of mega evolution on your opponent’s team, you should expect it to indeed be holding its corresponding Mega Stone! Much like with Z Moves, some teams may have two Megas and bring one of them depending on matchup.
Pinch Berries (Figy, Iapapa, Wiki, Aguav, and Mago Berries): these berries received a major buff in Sun/Moon and all fill the same function of automatically recovering 50% of a Pokémon’s health once its health drops below 25%. Each berry differs very slightly from the others in that it will confuse Pokémon which have certain Natures, so if you’re planning on using a Pinch Berry, make sure your Pokémon doesn’t dislike the taste! Since the berries are so similar in function, they allow one to effectively “cheat” the item clause. Common berry users include bulkier Pokémon which are EV’d to survive key attacks, hence ensuring the Berry will activate (notably Incineroar), as well as Pokémon with the Gluttony ability, which allows them to eat their Berries after dropping below 50% rather than 25% health. Snorlax is perhaps the most famous example of the latter. Pinch Berries are sometimes referred to as Super Sitrus Berries, as they heal twice the amount a Sitrus Berry would.
Choice items (Choice Band, Specs and Scarf): Choice Band, Choice Specs and Choice Scarf boost the user’s Attack, Special Attack or Speed, respectively, by 50% (+1), but at the cost of causing a Pokémon to be locked into the first move it chooses. The Pokémon can only change moves by switching out and in again, which will let it pick a new move, or by losing its item somehow, such as by having an opposing Pokémon use Knock Off on it. These items can be high-risk, high-reward and promote a more offensive playstyle.
Assault Vest: Assault Vest, or AV, boosts the holder’s Special Defense by 50% at the cost of only allowing the use of moves which cause damage. If the Pokémon knows any non-damaging move, the item’s boost will not take effect. AV, notably, requires a Pokémon to not use Protect, which brings a certain risk with it; for that reason, many AV users are Pokémon which know the move Fake Out such as Incineroar or Ludicolo, as Fake Out lets them force the more threatening Pokémon to skip a turn meaning there is less need to worry about being doubled up on (though the vast majority of Incineroar opt for Pinch Berries instead). AV can also be used to patch up a poor or mediocre Special Defense, as is the case with AV Kartana or AV Koko. Also worth noting is that while all moves need to deal damage in order for AV to work, the moves do not necessarily need to be offensive in nature: for this reason, more support-oriented moves, such as Sky Drop or Icy Wind (where the side-effect is more important than the damage dealt) are good choices for potential AV users.
Focus Sash: Focus Sash ensures a Pokémon can not be KO’d from full health, letting it survive with just 1 HP instead. The item will not take effect if the Pokémon has taken damage. Sash is commonly seen on very frail Pokémon, such as Smeargle.
Life Orb: Life Orb grants a 30% boost to all damaging moves at the cost of sapping 10% of the user’s health each time a damaging move is used. It is occasionally seen on fast, hard-hitting Pokémon such as Tapu Koko.
Seeds (Electric, Misty, Grassy and Psychic Seeds): Seeds activate when their corresponding terrain is summoned to the field, and grant a stat boost depending on the seed: Misty and Psychic Seeds grant a 50% (+1) boost to Special Defense, whereas Electric and Grassy Seeds grant a 50% (+1) bonus to Defense. Seed items see use on bulky Pokémon with access to reliable recovery, such as Lunala, which can use Roost to stay on the field longer so as to not lose its Seed boost. Seeds can also be used to activate abilities such as Unburden, which is seen with Pokémon such as Accelgor, Drifblim or Hawlucha.
Weakness Policy: WP grants the holder a 100% (+2) boost in both attacking stats when first hit by a super-effective move. Since the Pokémon needs to survive the move in order to make use of the boost at all, WP is seen on bulkier Pokémon which are able to take hits well, such as Dusk Mane Necrozma. In some cases, players will use a combo where a Pokémon attacks its own partner with a super-effective move in order to trigger the WP boost. This was seen in VGC17, where the Metagross/Salamence combination was popular: Salamence would use Bulldoze to activate the Weakness Policy of the Metagross, giving it a big offensive boost.
Leftovers: Leftovers restores 1/16th of the holder’s HP each turn. Since Doubles is more fast-paced than Singles, Leftovers doesn’t hold quite the same value. However, it still sees use on Pokémon which aim to stall out the opponent with residual damage. Pokémon with the move Leech Seed, such as Celesteela and Ferrothorn, are commonly seen with Leftovers.
Eviolite: An item which grants a 50% boost to both defenses, but is only usable by Pokémon which are not fully evolved. Few Pokémon can make good use of the item, but the most notable example is Porygon2, which has very impressive bulk thanks to Eviolite and saw much use in VGC17.
Safety Goggles: an item which makes the user immune to Powder-based moves (such as Sleep Powder, Spore or Rage Powder) and damage from weather. In VGC19, Goggles are generally used as a way to get around Amoonguss’ Spore and Rage Powder.
In older VGC formats, Sitrus Berry (restores 25% health once a Pokémon’s health drops below 50%) was a popular choice of item, but with the introduction of Pinch Berries, Sitrus is not seen as commonly anymore. Similarly, Lum Berry, which cures status conditions, is not seen very often nowadays, partly due to Pinch Berries being so splashable and partly due to the introduction of Tapu Pokémon which summon Misty Terrain (granting immunity to all status conditions) or Electric Terrain (granting immunity to Sleep) upon entering battle, making status less reliable.
If you’re coming into VGC from a Singles Smogon format such as OU, some of what you know may carry over, but Doubles are still a rather different beast. I recommend reading this Nugget Bridge article to get a basic understanding of Doubles battles: while old, most of the differences pointed out in it are still relevant today. (Save for Smeargle using Dark Void. Thankfully, we don’t need to worry about that anymore!)
It is also worth mentioning that certain moves, abilities and effects are considerably stronger in Doubles than Singles. The linked article mentions Protect, which is rarely used in Singles but very common in Doubles. If your opponent chooses to use both their Pokémon to target just one of yours, having the target of the two attacks use Protect to avoid taking any damage at all is a very strong play! It is quite common for beginners coming into VGC from Singles to forget to include the move Protect on their Pokémon, so always remember how important it is for Doubles battles.
The move Fake Out is another example of a move which is not too useful in a Singles battle, as all it does is provide some minor free damage. In Doubles, however, Fake Out lets you force one of your opponent’s Pokémon to skip its turn, which can allow your partner Pokémon to boost up or the like. This makes it a clear staple of Doubles battles! The ability Intimidate, which has been mentioned previously, is a good example of an ability which is stronger in Doubles than Singles as it will affect both of your opponent’s Pokémon in a Doubles battle rather than just one. As such, you can also expect to see it often in VGC.
Since Doubles has you sending out two Pokémon at once into battle, it is quite common to see players use combos of Pokémon which synergize with each other in order in order to sweep through opponents. Teams which incorporate weather are excellent examples of this: you may see opponents use a Pokémon with Drizzle or Primordial Sea (such as Kyogre) to summon rain, alongside a Pokémon with the ability Swift Swim (such as Ludicolo) to immediately have a threatening Pokémon with a doubled speed stat and Rain- and STAB-boosted Water-type moves. Learning how to make use of and play around weather, terrain and other field effects or combinations like these is key in VGC!
Another aspect of Doubles which you don’t see as much of in Singles is speed control. Put simply, speed control refers to anything which affects the turn order in some way or another. Classic examples are the moves Trick Room, which causes slower Pokémon to go first for 5 turns, and Tailwind, which doubles the speed stat of the Pokémon on your side of the field for 4 turns. Attacks which lower the opposing side’s speed, such as Icy Wind or Electroweb, also see plenty of use in VGC. Having both of your Pokémon move first in a match can easily turn the tides of the battle, so make sure to control speed to the best of your ability!
Now that we’ve covered abilities (among other things), you will want to know that Speed affects more than just turn order. For example, let us say two Pokémon with the ability Intimidate are sent out on opposite sides of the field. The game will display a message about each side being Intimidated – but did you know that the order in which this message is shown is reliant on the Speed of the Pokémon the abilities belong to? Among ability announcements, Speed will also affect the order Pokémon switch in.
For another example, let us say you are using a max Speed Tapu Koko against a Kyogre. Upon being sent out at the start of the battle, the Kyogre’s Drizzle activates first, and the Tapu Koko’s Electric Surge goes second. This tells you that the Kyogre is using a Choice Scarf to outspeed Tapu Koko, something it cannot otherwise do (without some form of speed control). Remember these Speed mechanics, and you will be able to gather more information about your opponent’s Pokémon!
If at any time you find yourself wanting to know what the most used mons in VGC are at the moment, there are multiple sites which you can make use of to find out, including VGCStats for tournament data, Global Link for in-game ladder data, or Pikalytics for both in-game and Showdown ladder data.
Knowing as much as you can about the commonly used Pokémon is key to becoming a good VGC player: you’ll want to know not only their typings, base stats (especially exact Speed), and abilities, but also their popular sets, which refers to every customizable aspect of a Pokémon. A set will include things such as Nature, moves, ability, EVs, and held item.
For example, in the VGC19 Sun Series meta, it is common for Kyogre to hold Choice Scarf or a Pinch Berry. The held item changes what Kyogre can do: with a Choice Scarf, it becomes faster and capable of outspeeding and potentially one-shotting Pokémon such as Tapu Koko (provided the Koko is not holding Scarf, Assault Vest, or Focus Sash), and can deal big damage to Xerneas before it gets a chance to move with Water Spout (a move which deals more damage the more HP its user has); if it holds a Pinch Berry, it gains increased survivability, letting it take hits such as a -1 Leaf Blade from Kartana or a +2 Moonblast from Xerneas and recover health back to potentially keep using more powerful Spouts. In Moon series, we may also see Waterium Z Kyogre: a Z-Water Spout always has a massive base power of 200 and allows Kyogre to use the move to deal big damage even at low health, potentially even KOing Groudon in Sun!
Merely knowing the item and base stats can tell you a lot about a Pokémon’s role on a team, but sometimes, that’s not all there is to it. Let us take a look at Yveltal: it is commonly used as a physical attacker, boasting an impressive base 131 Attack and having access to moves such as Knock Off and Sucker Punch. Items such as Black Glasses are often used to increase the damage of these Dark-type moves. However, with the popularity of Incineroar and its Intimidate ability, utilizing Physical attacks becomes more difficult, and to compound the problem, these offensively oriented Yveltal lack staying power. To solve these issues, some players instead choose to use Yveltal’s just as respectable Special Attack stat (also at a base of 131), and have it use moves which increase its longevity such as Snarl or Oblivion Wing, as well as the move Foul Play, which turns the opponent’s own Attack stat against them. The final move in the set may still be physical. These Special or Mixed Yveltal will generally carry an Assault Vest.
Let us now look at a more dramatic example of a Pokémon’s set completely changing its role on a team! Tapu Koko, which has been mentioned a few times previously, is often played as a fast, hard-hitting Pokémon, using items such as Life Orb or Choice Specs to boost its damage output and offensively-oriented moves such as Thunderbolt, Dazzling Gleam and Volt Switch, or items such as Choice Scarf to outspeed and threaten Scarf Kyogre. However, some players opt to give Tapu Koko an Assault Vest, which changes its role from a glass cannon to a more support-oriented Pokémon, able to utilize moves such as Sky Drop, Nature’s Madness and Electroweb to disrupt the opponent while gaining enough bulk to take an extra hit or two.
Spend some time studying common Pokémon and their sets, be it through pure memorization or through watching others play, and you’ll be ready to start winning your own matches!
By now, you’ve hopefully got a good grasp of the mechanics of competitive Pokémon and a solid understanding of the rules for the current VGC format. What’s next? Should you start playing straight away? Not quite yet! Before you jump into your own matches, I strongly recommend watching some experienced players. As with most games, VGC has tournament streams, laddering videos, and the like for you to enjoy.
Tournament streams are an excellent way to learn by watching the top players battle it out. On VGCStats, you can find not only usage stats but also links to videos of previous tournaments (when available; look for the little “Play” button next to each tournament name). Check out the Regionals or Nationals categories to view matches from larger tournaments!
Catching tournament streams live can be tricky, as they’re often advertised on websites such as Twitter or in Showdown chatrooms, which are difficult to search through. When TPCi organize their own tournaments, however, they’re generally streamed to the official Pokémon Twitch channel, so go ahead and follow that!
If you’re in the mood for watching YouTubers or streamers play games, you’ve got plenty of choices. Some examples of well-known VGC content creators are:
Cybertron (YouTube): Perhaps the most famous VGC YouTuber, Aaron has several big tournament wins under his belt and produces a large amount of laddering content. He explains his thought process well, making his videos good for beginners who want to learn how to play.
James Baek (YouTube / Twitch): A seasoned US player with multiple good placements at various World Championships, James has plenty of laddering videos on YouTube and streams regularly. His style of commentary is informative, hence he is also good for new players looking to learn.
Osirus (YouTube / Twitch): Lee is a UK player who is known for having top cut Worlds in 2014. He does the standard laddering videos and is also an active Twitch streamer, hosting tournaments for his community to participate in. From time to time, he will also accept viewer battles on Twitch, which is a good opportunity to test your mettle!
Wolfey (YouTube / Twitch): The 2016 World Champion, Wolfey often has a more humorous than informative approach to his videos and streams, making him entertaining to watch. On occasion, he makes videos a bit different to the standard laddering ones, which include this video on how to play around hax or this video of him coaching Pokeaim.
Ray Rizzo (Twitch): a 3-time World Champion from the early years of VGC, Ray is someone all VGC players should know about. He does the occasional laddering streams on Twitch, mixed in with other Pokémon-related content or other games.
Paul Ruiz (Twitch): The 2018 World Champion (and the first ever Champion from Latin America), Paul Ruiz has started doing laddering sessions on Twitch. He speaks both Spanish and English.
Jamie Boyt (YouTube / Patreon): Jamie Boyt is another UK player who is very notorious for using oddball Pokémon and strategies and doing exceptionally well with them, with one of his more memorable results including winning a regional using a Cottonee in 2016. His YouTube includes a laddering series and some very informative tutoring videos, with these tutoring sessions being available to his Patrons.
Baz Anderson (YouTube): our final UK player, Baz is a VGC veteran with some impressive Worlds finishes under his belt. Much like his fellow British player Jamie, he tends to use some unexpected Pokémon!
Giovanni Costa (YouTube / Twitch): a US player who was well-known for (among other things, such as good tournament finishes) using Eevee throughout the entire VGC17 season. He streams laddering on his Twitch every now and then. He also has a very well-produced YouTube series where he introduces famous VGC players, which is well worth a look!
MasterMark (Twitch): an active streamer from the US, Mark is a newer player who entered the scene in ’16 and recently top cut the Roanoke Regionals. Has a consistent streaming schedule.
PokeAlex (Twitch) [SPANISH]: A Spanish player who top cuts large tournaments with remarkable consistency, he produces a large amount of VGC content on Twitch, but only in Spanish (although he does speak English). If you’re lucky enough to speak the language, he’s certainly worth checking out!
All you need to start playing at this point is a team to use. Making a team of your own may seem very tempting, but I strongly recommend you copy a more experienced player’s team when you’re starting out. Teambuilding is perhaps the most difficult aspect of competitive Pokémon and, as such, being a good teambuilder requires in-depth knowledge of the metagame which a beginner will generally not possess. If you’re still not convinced, compare it to a TCG: when first starting out, it’s only common sense to use a popular, proven deck rather than building one on your own.
You might be feeling a bit disappointed that you will not get to use your favorite Pokémon, but don’t be! By using new Pokémon in competitive games, you may be able to discover new favorites.
So where can you find teams? One option is right here on Trainer Tower: besides just articles, we feature team reports of teams with notable achievements. Victory Road offers team reports of its own, as does VGCStats. Another way to find teams is the QR Code Rental Team Search, which lets you find teams whose QR codes you can scan to use them on the in-game ladder (make sure to look specifically for Doubles teams, and make sure the Doubles teams you find are right for the current VGC format – look for two Restricted Pokémon!). Plenty of YouTubers will share teams, so check out their channels if you haven’t already! Some older teams may be a bit outdated for the current meta, but hopefully, you’ll be able to find something you like.
Some refuse to use others’ teams as they find it lazy or unoriginal, but analyzing and trying out successful teams for yourself will let you understand the core concepts of teambuilding and help you see the pros and cons of each team as you use them. It’s a fantastic way to learn how to play! You may be eager to create teams of your own, but there’s no need to worry; there’ll be plenty of time for that once you’re more familiar with the game.
While official VGC tournaments will naturally require you to bring your 3DS and cart to play, the vast majority of players also make use of Pokémon Showdown, an online Pokémon battling simulator. One big advantage to using Pokémon Showdown is that teams and individual Pokémon are very easy to create and change, whereas getting an in-game team takes considerably more effort. For that reason, Showdown is an excellent place to test out various teams and figure out what works best for you.
To use Showdown, simply create an account and jump straight into the Teambuilder. Make a new team, set the format for it to the current VGC format (which can be found under the Doubles section), and feel free to click the Import button to copy-paste any fun-looking teams you’ve found. Since Showdown teams are often shared via the websites Pastebin and Poképastes, they’re often referred to as “pastes” for short. Do note that there is no way to generate a paste from a QR Code team! If you find a QR Code team you like, you can either try recreating it on Showdown yourself or skip this section and go straight to playing on cart.
Once your team is ready and validated, all you need to do is pick your desired format (VGC!) and press the big Battle! button to search for a match. Once a match is found, you’ll be thrown into team preview, where you get to see your opponent’s 6 Pokémon and choose which 4 you want to bring to battle (and in which order). Good luck and have fun!
At this point, you’ve hopefully tested out a few teams, be it through Showdown or QR codes. But QR code teams aren’t allowed for use in real-life tournaments, which begs the question: how do you make in-game teams?
In order to obtain your Pokémon legitimately, you will want to breed them. Breeding effectively requires a fair amount of preparation. For all future breeding and catching projects, you will want to be acquainted with:
General Breeding Mechanics: When two Pokémon are bred, the resulting egg will hatch into the same species as the female Pokémon. Normally, two Pokémon need to be in the same egg group to breed, but any non-legendary Pokémon can be bred with Ditto, which is an exception to this rule. If a Pokémon is bred with Ditto, the offspring will always be of the same species as the non-Ditto parent. The parents may pass on various things to the offspring, including moves, abilities, nature, and IVs, depending on which conditions are fulfilled.
Abilities and Hidden Abilities: We’ve gone over abilities already, however, many Pokémon have Hidden Abilities (HAs) which can only be obtained via chaining or by transfer from an older game. Your breeding projects will require you to have a parent with the correct ability to pass down. The female parent will have an 80% chance of passing on its ability, but male parents are also able to pass on abilities if bred with Ditto.
Egg Moves: Parents can pass on some of their moves to their offspring. Certain moves can only be learned this way, and they are known as egg moves. Before you start breeding, make sure to check whether or not you will need your Pokémon to know any egg moves. Either parent can pass on moves, so you won’t need to worry about their genders.
Ditto: the Pokémon Ditto is capable of breeding with all other Pokémon, save for legendaries or other Ditto. The parents will both pass on some of their IVs to their offspring, so ideally, you will want parents with good IVs; the most helpful is a so-called 6IV Ditto, where 6IV refers to a Pokémon which has a perfect 31 IV in each of the six stats.
How can you get a 6IV Ditto? There are two ways: one is being exceptionally lucky, and the other is requesting one over at this Reddit. These Dittos are not legitimate and technically hacked, but offspring of a legal hacked Pokémon is considered legitimate by most of the community. Read through the rules of the Reddit carefully, then request a perfect breeding Ditto!
If the thought of using a cloned Pokémon to speed up the breeding process doesn’t appeal to you, there are other options. First is chaining, which is described as in-depth here. Chaining will allow you to obtain Ditto with 4IV minimum, which, while not as desirable as 6IV ones, will nevertheless be very helpful. Next, USUM has a side-quest known as the Ditto Five, described in more detail here. You should catch these Ditto, as they have very useful IVs and Natures for breeding.
Synchronizers: Pokémon with the ability Synchronize have an out of battle effect which causes any Pokémon encountered to have a 50% chance of having the same ability as the Synchronizer, provided it is in your first party slot. An easy-to-obtain Synchronizer in USUM is Abra, which is catchable in Hau’oli. Synchronizers are valuable as they will allow you to catch Legendaries, Ditto, and soon-to-be parents with your chosen natures (with the latter two being able to pass them down to their offspring), so obtaining Synchronizers of various different natures is key.
The IV Judge: the IV Judge resides next to the PC at the Battle Tree. If you hatch 20 Pokémon, you may speak to him to upgrade the PC functionality with an IV Judging function, which allows you to check the IVs of your Pokémon (an absolute must for breeding). This function will denote a 31 IV with a comment of “Best” and a 0 IV with a comment of “No Good”. I recommend breeding up 20 Synchronize Abra of various Natures to start out, as you will need Synchronizers either way. Hopefully, some will hatch with useful Natures!
A Destiny Knot: when two Pokémon are bred, normally the parents will only pass down 3 of their IVs to the offspring, chosen randomly from both parents. However, the Destiny Knot increases the number of IVs passed down to 5 when held by one of the parents, making it an essential item for breeding. In USUM, the Destiny Knot is obtained by going south of Tapu Village and surfing further south to trigger a side-event.
An Everstone: if a parent holds an Everstone during breeding, it has a 100% chance to pass down its Nature to the offspring. It is most easily obtained by flying to Hau’oli City and battling Ilima at his house post-game.
A Flame Body/Magma Armor Pokémon: if you have a Pokémon with either of these abilities in your party while hatching eggs, the time (or technically speaking, amount of steps) it takes for an egg to hatch is halved. One easy-to-find Flame Body Pokémon is Magby, which can be caught in Wela Volcano Park.
A (Non-Ditto) Parent Pokémon: in most cases, you can simply catch the parent Pokémon out in the wild, but if this is not possible (perhaps because it is version exclusive or you need an older Hidden Ability), you can try trading over the in-game GTS or via a trading Reddit. The latter can also be helpful for completing your collection of Synchronizers if necessary!
Got everything you need? Great! Let’s move on.
First, make sure you have a Flame Body or Magma Armor Pokémon in your party and that the non-Ditto parent has the egg moves and ability you wish to pass down. Breeding is very simplistic: go to Paniola Ranch and put two Pokémon in the daycare, one holding a Destiny Knot and the other (which has a Nature you want to pass on) holding an Everstone. One of the parents, ideally the Ditto, should have multiple perfect IVs so as to make better use of the Destiny Knot.
Run around in a circle until the cowgirl standing outside the daycare crosses her arms in a “thinking” pose – this signifies she has an egg to give you! Speak to her to obtain the egg. Eggs in Pokémon are hatched by having them in your party while your character moves around, so now you resume running around in a circle until you get another egg or one of them hatches.
Every now and then, check the IVs of the Pokémon you’ve hatched so far with the function in the PC. If the IVs are superior to that of the current parent, replace the parent with its offspring (making sure it has the correct held item) and continue breeding.
It is common for players to enter the small pen underneath the Daycare, mount their Tauros or Stoutland, and move their circle pad in a circular motion to hatch eggs, as this speeds things up somewhat. Breeding is a rather repetitive process, so you may want to multitask while doing this. It’s a good opportunity to watch some videos or perhaps a fun TV series; it’s up to you!
When breeding, keep in mind that most competitive Pokémon do not need to be 6IV. Many only need to be 5IV, as one of the two attacking stats is generally left unused (the exceptions are Pokémon using so-called mixed sets, but they’re quite uncommon). In some cases, you may wish to breed a Pokémon which won’t use either of its two attacking stats at all, in which case a 4IV is sufficient.
Congratulations! You’ve finally bred your first perfect Pokémon. Now you’ll want to EV train it. Each time a Pokémon gains EXP from defeating an opposing Pokémon, it will gain a certain amount of EVs in its stats, with the associated stat and amount depending on the Pokémon defeated.
To start EV training, you will once again need to prepare. Outside of an EV spread to work towards, you need the following:
The 6 Power Items: if held by a Pokémon, a Power item will increase the EVs gained in the associated stat by 8, which is immensely valuable for EV training. In USUM, the Power items can be found in the overworld.
- HP – Power Weight is found in the Resolution Cave.
- Attack – Power Bracer is found on Poni Coast.
- Defense – Power Belt is found in Royal Avenue by speaking to a Black Belt while owning the TM for Acrobatics.
- Special Attack – Power Lens is found in Poni Meadow.
- Special Defense – Power Band is found in the Poni Gauntlet.
- Speed – Power Anklet is found on the Poni Plains.
If you need more detailed locations, I suggest consulting Google!
A High-Leveled False Swiper: False Swipe is a damaging move which can never KO a Pokémon, instead ensuring it will survive with 1 HP remaining. This will be necessary for both catching legendaries (relevant in the next section) and for chaining (relevant for EV training), as low health Pokémon are more likely to call for help.
Adrenaline Orbs: these increase the likelihood that wild Pokémon will call for allies so that you can chain them easier. They can be bought cheaply at any Pokémon Center, so get a few dozens.
A Pokémon with PokéRus: PokéRus is a purely beneficial virus which doubles the EVs received by infected Pokémon. The virus has a chance to be spread to adjacent Pokémon in your party each time you enter battle. It doesn’t matter what you do during battle, so you can simply encounter wild Pokémon and run away until your project Pokémon has the virus. Since the PokéRus is exceptionally rare, you will almost certainly have to trade to receive it.
While the doubled EV effect granted by the PokéRus never goes away, the ability to infect other Pokémon will disappear from all Pokémon in your party once the 3DS clock hits midnight. Pokémon in the PC are not bound by this rule. For this reason, you always want to keep a Pokémon with the ability to spread PokéRus to other Pokémon in your PC.
Pen and Paper: to keep track of how many EVs you’ve accumulated in each stat.
Now that you’ve got everything you need, simply follow this handy guide to learn about how to EV train, as well as how to alter spreads by using Berries! Make sure to plant any EV-reducing berries you might need in Poké Pelago so that you can build up a good stock of them.
Here, it is worth pointing out that although you may be getting 36 EVs per 1-EV Pokémon KO’d in an SOS battle (assuming your Pokémon has a Power item equipped and PokéRus), often the amount of EVs you want will not be divisible by this particular number. For example, let’s say you wish to accumulate 164 EVs in a stat. How can you go about doing this?
Here’s one possible way to do it: first, divide 164 by 36. This gives 4,55 repeating and tells us that we can at maximum defeat 4 Pokémon using the aforementioned 36-EV method. 36 times 4 is 144, so we would be missing exactly 20 EVs. One option here is to give your Pokémon two EV-increasing vitamins in the corresponding stat before you start EV training, bringing its total up to 20 EVs, and then go about your training (it is necessary to start with the vitamins as they will not increase EVs in a stat once the EVs go above 100). Another option is to start by accumulating the 144 EVs normally, then run from the battle and unequip the Power item. Without a Power item, but with PokéRus still active, you will be gaining 4 EVs per Pokémon defeated while chaining, meaning you would need to defeat an additional 5 (20 divided by 4) Pokémon in an SOS battle to gain the remaining 20 EVs with this method.
Now that your Pokémon is fully EV trained, you’re almost done! In many cases, you will want to evolve your Pokémon. Usually, this will require leveling it up, which is easily accomplished by either doing the daily Battle Buffet, challenging the Elite Four, or chaining wild Chansey (a Pokémon known for giving out a lot of EXP upon being KO’d). There is no need to level your Pokémon further once it reaches the level required for evolution, as all Pokémon will be automatically (and temporarily!) leveled up or down to 50 in VGC matches.
Next, you’ll want to teach your Pokémon the required moves. This can be achieved by using a combination of TMs, the move relearner at the League’s Pokémon Center (in exchange for Heart Scales, received by eating at in-game restaurants), and Move Tutors. Move Tutors will require Battle Points (BP) to teach your Pokémon moves, so make sure to grind up some of these. You’ll need them!
Finally, it can be good to give your Pokémon PP Ups/PP Maxes to ensure you won’t run out of PP in an eventual stall situation. While PP rarely matters, there are some Pokémon which need it more than most. Pokémon with access to recovery moves such as Roost or Leech Seed are usually intended to stay on the field for as long as possible and will therefore appreciate having extra PP.
PP-increasing items are most easily obtained from the daily lottery at the Alola Tourist Bureau in Hau’oli. This lottery generates a Trainer ID and checks if the ID of any Pokémon you own (including ones in your PC) and matches it; if 2 or 3 numbers match, you will get a PP Up or PP Max, respectively. To get more consistent lottery results, you will want to have traded Pokémon with a variety of people so as to ensure the lottery has as many Trainer IDs to choose from as possible. This is most easily achieved by doing Wonder Trades – trade away 30 or so Pokémon and the lottery should be considerably more likely to reward you with PP Ups!
Legendary Pokémon cannot be bred, so how can you obtain ones with perfect IVs? The answer is Hyper Training, which allows you to increase an IV to its maximum in exchange for Bottle Caps (the game does help you out a bit here – all Legendaries will have a minimum of 3IV, so you won’t have to spend too many Bottle Caps to perfect its stats). But there’s a catch: Hyper Training can only be performed on Pokémon which are at level 100.
Since Hyper Training is largely relevant for Legendary Pokémon, make sure to read up on how to reach the Legendaries via Ultra Wormholes. Catching Legendaries is easily done with a False Swipe Pokémon, but if you’ve been following the guide, you should hopefully already have one! Make sure you use a Synchronizer to increase the chances of the Legendary having the correct Nature. If you find it has the wrong Nature upon capture, simply reset the game and catch it again.
Once you’ve caught your Legendary, you’ll likely want to EV train it (refer to the previous section). Only after you’ve finished EV training it will you start leveling it up to 100. What methods can you use to do this? One fairly simple method is Chansey chaining. Another alternative is the double-Plaza Rare Kitchen method, which requires more set-up but can also be quite effective. If you go with the latter method, you may want to take a look at efficient ways to farm FC for your Plaza. The choice is yours!
After your Legendary has reached level 100, you’ll want to ensure you’ve got some Bottle Caps. The easiest way to obtain these is the 2-Star Treasure Hunt trick: in Festival Plaza, find a VIP (or check out this Reddit) who offers the 2-Star Treasure Hunt lottery. Buy it for your Plaza. The first time you enter this lottery, it is guaranteed to reward you with a Bottle Cap. Now, simply replace the Treasure Hunt with any other facility, buy it back, and obtain another Bottle Cap. Repeat as many times as needed. Once you’ve got all your caps, head over to the mall in Hau’oli to Hyper Train your Legendary!
Now that you’ve finally got your team in-game, you may be wondering: are you ready to play in real-life tournaments? The answer is yes! Most local VGC communities will welcome new players, so don’t worry about whether you’re skilled enough to participate. Just go, and have fun!
VGC has 5 officially sanctioned tournament types: Premier Challenges (PCs), Midseason Showdowns (MSSs), Regional Championships and Special Events (Regionals/Regs and SPEs), International Championships (Internats or Nats), and the World Championships (Worlds). At each of these tournaments save for Worlds, you can earn Championship Points (CP) for achieving good results. Earning a certain amount of CP will net you an invite to the World Championships!
Here’s how each tournament type differs:
PCs: PCs are generally smaller, local tournaments which award just a bit of CP. They are short single-day tournaments excellent for players who are just starting out!
MSSs: despite the name, MSSs are not held “midseason”, but all year round. They’re the next step up from PCs and reward more CP. MSSs are also single-day tournaments which are generally held at a local level, much like PCs, but Regs will almost always offer an MSS on the second day for those who did not make it to day two.
Regs/SPEs: Regs are bigger two-day tournaments which award a large amount of CP and will often attract players from other states or countries. In addition, they award prize money to the top players. The players who do well in day one will advance to Top Cut, which is played on the second day. Those who don’t make Top Cut can instead enjoy playing in an optional MSS on the second day. SPEs are functionally identical to Regs and give out the same amount of CP, but do not award prize money.
Internats: the Internationals are held only once per year in each continent participating in the circuit: Latin America, Oceania, Europe, and finally North America. These are massive three-day events which attract a wide array of players from all over the world and award a huge amount of CP (often more than enough to receive a Worlds invite!) as well as money prizes to players who place well. Much like with Regs, those who do well on the first day will advance to day two, and those who do well on the second day will advance to the final matches in day three. Those who don’t advance can play side-events such as MSSs or PCs.
Worlds: the World Championships are held once per year and are the biggest, most prestigious tournaments of them all, spanning three days and including players from a large variety of countries. Only players above a certain amount of CP are invited to participate, and, as you might expect, Worlds offers the best prizes of all tournament types. Making it to Worlds is the dream of many a VGC player!
VGC tournaments employ the Swiss system, which you may or may not be familiar with from other games, such as TCGs or Chess (where it originated). If not, Swiss is a system which pairs you with players who have the same win-loss record as you. For example, if you win your first match, in the next round, you’ll be paired with a player who also won their first match; if you lost, you’ll play a player who also lost. The better you do, the tougher the opponents you face, and vice-versa. The amount of Swiss rounds in a tournament depends on how many players are in attendance.
The players with the best records will advance to a so-called Top Cut, the size of which also depends on the number of players (though as an example, Top 8 Cut is common for Regs-level tournaments, with only especially large Regionals having a Top 16 Cut instead). Top Cuts are single-elimination, meaning that if you lose once, you’re out. Be extra careful with your plays in Top Cut!
So what happens if two players have the same record? Then we look at the players’ resistance. In short, resistance refers to the difficulty of the opponents faced. If your opponents did well, your resistance will go up, but if they did poorly, you will end up with low resistance. Generally speaking, if you lose an early round, your resistance will go down, so winning the early rounds of a tournament can be key to getting into Top Cut.
In order to find tournaments in your area, you can make use of the official Event Locator. While a little clunky to use, it is generally sufficient. Most tournaments are, of course, also advertised elsewhere, such as on Twitter or Facebook, so make sure to check if there’s an FB group or the like for players from your area so that you can keep track of new events easier!
Larger events, such as Regs and Internats, are often announced well ahead of time and can be found on the official Pokémon website. These tend to have a limited amount of spaces available. I strongly recommend registering for them as early as possible. Registration is generally done online, with the site depending on the tournament organizer (Google is your friend here).
Going to larger, multiple-day events require more planning than going to locals. I recommend taking a look at my travel basics guide. You may also want to take a look at this guide to finding the ideal flights if you’re flying somewhere. Try to make friends with the people at your local tournaments and ask them if you would like to travel in a group to a Regional or Internats. The more, the merrier, after all!
As you may already know, laddering and playing in a real-life tournament is a rather different experience. One immediate difference you’ll notice is that real-life tournaments are played in best of 3 (BO3) sets, meaning you will need to win two matches to take the set. In a BO3 situation, you’ll have to consider how your opponent might adjust to your style of play as well as how you want to adjust to your opponent’s strategy in games after the first. Another thing you might want to do is conserve information: anything you reveal may help your opponent in later matches.
Since you’ll play each opponent a minimum of two times, it’s a very good idea to take notes on your opponent’s Pokémon so as to help you remember what they’re using for subsequent matches. Jot down relevant information about their sets, such as the moves, item, and (at a more advanced level) anything that gives away information about their EV spread or Nature. Here’s an example: let’s say both you and your opponent have an Incineroar. By looking at the order in which the Intimidate abilities are announced, you will be able to tell which Incineroar is faster (and therefore presumably has more EVs in Speed).
People often ask what to bring to a tournament, so here’s a quick checklist:
- A 3DS
- A copy of the most recent Pokémon game (Ultra Sun/Moon at the time of writing)
- A legal VGC team
- A 3DS charger
- A notebook and pen (for note-taking),
- A bottle of water
- (Optionally) something small to eat in-between rounds.
Remember to have a good time!
Now that you’ve been to a VGC event or two, you may be interested in becoming a part of the greater VGC community. While Trainer Tower is commonly seen as a VGC hub and Smogon is commonly seen as a more general competitive Pokémon hub, most of the VGC community actually resides on Twitter.
Making a VGC Twitter has multiple benefits: among other things, it will make it easier to find newly-announced tournaments as well as tournament streams to watch. It will also usually help keep you up-to-date with notable events, such as rule changes or releases of previously unavailable VGC-legal Pokémon. You may be unfortunate enough to happen across some drama here and there, but overall, the positives outweigh the negatives.
You may be wondering: who do I follow? Naturally, it only makes sense to follow friends you’ve already made at tournaments. Outside of that, following notable names in the community, such as commentators, tournament organizers, judges, previous World Champions, players you admire, and any YouTubers/streamers you enjoy watching is also a good idea. Have fun tweeting!
(Note: This section assumes you have a decent knowledge of each common Pokémon in the metagame as well as oft-used strategies, so I do not recommend reading it if you’ve yet to start playing.)
After spending some time playing VGC, many players find themselves stuck in a rut. How do you get better? In this section, I’ll cover ways to improve as a player.
As a newer player (or even as a more experienced one), you’ve almost certainly been in a situation where you lose by picking the wrong Pokémon to lead with. How can you prevent this from happening again?
A first step is to identify potential items and sets on the opponent’s team as soon as you get into Team Preview. For example, if you see a Pokémon capable of Mega Evolution that the team appears to be built around, you can safely assume it will indeed be holding a Mega Stone (unless the format does not allow it, as would be the case in VGC19 Sun/Moon Series). Most teams will have a Z Move as well, so after identifying any possible Megas, try to look for potential Z Move users. Many Pokémon will almost certainly have some aspects of their move-set set in stone: for example, you’ll very rarely see a Xerneas without the Power Herb + Geomancy combination.
Next, look at the team composition: does it tell you anything about the Pokémon on it? If your opponent has both a Smeargle and a Kartana on their team, you can generally surmise that, although both Pokémon can utilize a Focus Sash effectively, the Smeargle is considerably more likely to be carrying it.
Always be wary of any threats on your opponent’s team which restrict your choice of lead, such as Pokémon with Defiant or Competitive. Don’t risk leading with an Intimidate Pokémon into teams like those unless you’re certain you can deal with a boosted Milotic, Bisharp, or the like. Similarly, be wary of Shadow Tag; you don’t want to lead with two Pokémon which are walled by a Shadow Tag user.
For the second step, try to ensure you don’t auto-lose to any lead your opponent might choose. Going through every possible lead in the short amount of time offered to you during team preview is often difficult, so try to focus on particularly threatening leads: say your opponent has both the option of leading a Rain mode with Kyogre/Ludicolo as well as a “Protect the Xern” option with Smeargle/Xerneas on their team, you will want to pick leads which lose to neither of the two options.
Finally, in Wolfe’s VGC Academy video, he mentions a concept he calls the rule of two. In essence, it means you want to ensure you bring at least two answers to each of the Pokémon on your opponent’s team to the match (if possible). Make sure you don’t end up forgetting to bring your only Fire type against a team with a Kartana or Ferrothorn!
Win conditions are fairly self-explanatory: they’re what you need to win a match. A common mistake newer players make however is not keeping track of their win con.
Let us start with an example: let’s say your opponent has a Ferrothorn on their team, and your only Pokémon capable of hitting it hard is Incineroar. Early on in the game, you have the option of trading your Incineroar for one of your opponent’s non-Ferrothorn Pokémon. Do you make this trade? A newer player might be tempted to (especially if their opponent has yet to reveal that they brought Ferrothorn to the match), but a more experienced player will know to conserve their Incineroar so as to not lose to the Ferrothorn later on. In this situation, conserving Incineroar is part of the win condition.
A more dramatic mistake for the new player to make would be not bringing the Incineroar to the match at all. Hopefully, you wouldn’t be making this mistake if you’ve read the Team Preview guide in the previous section! In short, always think ahead and ensure you don’t let Pokémon which are key to winning in the late game drop in the early game.
In a format such as VGC19, it is especially important to realize that getting early knockouts isn’t always a good idea. Let’s say your opponent has a Tornadus on the field. The Tornadus is definitely going to set up Tailwind, but you could double up on it with both of your Pokémon and KO it straight away. Not a bad trade, right? Wrong! With the Tornadus down, your opponent has a free switch-in and could choose to bring in a hard-hitting Pokémon such as Kyogre. A Water Spouting Kyogre in Tailwind is quite difficult to deal with! Rather than knock out the Tornadus, it may be better to either attempt to stall out its Tailwind or simply set up your own speed control in response (while ensuring Taunt doesn’t ruin your day, of course).
Giving up too early is another issue players may have to overcome. Let’s look at a VGC17-inspired example: your opponent has a half-health Torkoal in Sun, and you have a chipped Alolan Ninetales with the moves Blizzard and Protect which will be KO’d by a Flamethrower from the Torkoal. There are two turns of Sun left. Is it possible for you to win this game? The answer is: yes! First, stall out the sun with a double Protect (a ⅓ chance) so that freezing is possible. Next, attempt to hit (70%) and freeze (10%) the Torkoal with a Blizzard. Once the Torkoal is frozen, pray it doesn’t thaw and keep throwing inaccurate Blizzards at it. Sometimes, hax is the win con!
Of course, your chances of winning a match from a situation like that would be astronomically small, but so long as there’s any chance to win whatsoever, a good player will know not to give up. Here’s a somewhat amusing example of a player making a comeback from a game which appeared to be lost, simply by getting exceptionally lucky. (Now you know why they say “Where there’s a Rock Slide, there’s a way!”)
When faced with a tough matchup, less experienced players are likely to blame the loss on poor matchup luck and end the set feeling there was nothing they could’ve done. Whilst luck certainly matters, there’s usually a way to win even the toughest matchups. To become a better player, it is very important to make game plans for each type of matchup.
For example, let’s say you find Xerneas teams intimidating to face. What can you even do against a Geomancy-boosted Xerneas? At times, it may not be possible to stop the Xerneas from boosting, but it’s always important to get into the head of the opponent: they likely know how powerful their Xerneas is once boosted and will do everything to ensure their Xerneas can set up Geomancy in peace, often by supporting it with a Fake Out-user such as Incineroar. If you sense they’re going to switch into Incineroar, figure out a way to stop it from doing its job! Perhaps you could go into a faster Fake Out-user of your own, or perhaps you could KO it on the switch-in while the Xerneas Protects. You could even put two Pokémon that threaten Xerneas onto the field, to ensure a single Fake Out won’t save it. There are many options!
That said, there will be some cases where your team truly does lose versus certain matchups. Before you scrap your team, consider adding a tech to deal with the matchup. Let’s once again consider an example: your opponent is using Yveltal/Kyogre with a Lightning Rod Togedemaru, and your team struggles to deal with it as your Koko’s attacks are absorbed by the ability. The team you’re using also incorporates a Groudon, but the pressure from Yveltal and Kyogre makes it harder than you thought to deal with that Togedemaru! So why not try using Discharge on Koko? This allows you to bypass the Lightning Rod while dealing respectable damage to both Yveltal and Kyogre.
Some top players even go as far as to flowchart their teams’ matchups turn for turn, which is certainly key to their success! Next time you’re preparing for a big tournament, try making a list of common lead combos or archetypes in the format, and then try making a game plan for each and every one of them.
Pokémon is different from games such as TCGs in that the game itself doesn’t tell you how much damage your moves will deal. In order to see how much damage a move can potentially do, players use damage calculators. Any time you’re playing a game on ladder or any time you find yourself wondering about how much damage a Pokémon might deal to another using a certain move, make use of the damage calc and try to keep the percentage of damage dealt or taken in various situations in your memory.
One thing which separates the best VGC players from more casual ones is knowing your calcs. You should aim to always know with certainty whether your Pokémon can survive certain attacks from your opponent or not. In the same vein, you will want to know whether or not your Pokémons’ attacks will be OHKOing or 2HKOing your opponent’s Pokémon. Calcs are learned from experience and by memorization, so there are no easy shortcuts to take here.
Relevant to damage calcs are EV spreads, which we’ve gone over before. How does one think when making new EV spreads? Let’s try with an example: say we want to make an EV spread for an Assault Vest Kartana.
When making a spread, it’s good to start by considering threats to our Pokémon (in this case Kartana) by using defensive calcs. Kartana will generally not be able to take any Fire-type attack, but we can EV it to survive key resisted hits despite its poor Special Defense. Notably, we would want to take a +2 Moonblast from Xerneas or a Water Spout from Kyogre. Next, we want to look at offensive calcs, or in other words, we want to think about which Pokémon we want our Kartana to be KOing. Again, Kyogre is would be an obvious go-to. Finally, let’s look at what we want our Kartana to outspeed. Here, Xerneas would come to mind. Now we’re ready to start making a spread! Open up the Damage calc and follow along!
Let’s start with the Speed stat. Timid Xerneas reaches a Speed of 166, so our Kartana should have at least 167 Speed. We need to use a Jolly (+Spe) Nature with 180 EVs to reach this Speed stat. But wait! Xerneas has a base speed of 99. Would it not be just as well to ensure we outspeed Pokémon with a base speed of 100? There’s little harm in investing some extra EVs to do so, so we add 8 more EVs to Speed and end up with 188. We’ve now used 188 EVs out of 508 and have 320 EVs to distribute as we see fit.
Next, let’s look at offensive calcs. Thankfully, it looks like Kartana doesn’t need any additional investment in Attack to OHKO Kyogre with Leaf Blade, so we don’t need to invest anything in particular into Attack just yet. (Double-check this by using the calc yourself!)
Finally, we have defensive calcs. Let’s try what we usually do and invest 252 EVs into HP. That leaves us with 68 EVs, so let’s put those into Special Defense. Can we take a max SpA Moonblast from Xerneas after Geomancy with this spread? Sadly, it seems to be a roll! The Xern still has an 18.8% chance to OHKO. Can we do anything to change this? As a matter of fact, we can! Because Kartana already has very impressive physical bulk with a base Def of 131, we don’t need to invest into HP to improve its general bulk: we want to focus on its much poorer Special bulk, so we start by investing into SDef instead. This changes our calc considerably, and it turns out we need only 196 EVs in SDef and 4 in HP to ensure we take the hit from Xerneas. Now we have 120 EVs left to distribute.
These last EVs can be distributed according to personal preference: perhaps we’ve decided that some general bulk would be nice after all, and choose to invest more into HP, or perhaps we want a little more Atk. Regardless, it is important to remember to always invest in an odd number of stats: if we do not do this, we’ll be wasting EVs!
Assuming we chose to invest in Atk, our final Jolly AV Kartana EV spread looks like this: 4 HP / 116 Atk / 4 Def / 196 SpD / 188 Spe.
We’re just about ready to get into teambuilding, but before we do, let’s take some time to discuss different types of teams. Teams are built differently: some may promote a Hyper Offensive play-style with fast, hard-hitting Pokémon which have the downside of being unable to reliably switch into attacks and reposition. Others may be built around a wall such as Ferrothorn, with the game plan revolving around removing any threats to it so that it can slowly stall out the opponent with recovery and residual damage from a move such as Leech Seed or Toxic. However, in a format such as VGC19, the Restricted Pokémon make it difficult to escape heavy-hitters. That said, it’s still possible to win by removing your opponent’s answers to a certain Pokémon.
Oftentimes, you will face teams made up almost entirely of Pokémon which are common in the meta, which are on occasion referred to as “Goodstuffs” teams. These teams don’t tend to have a set-in-stone game plan, and instead try to adapt to the opponent’s strategy by making use of their versatility. Again, this is less relevant for VGC19 as the meta is very centralized around the restricted Pokémon and anything that either supports or counters those well. On the flipside, there are teams which center around executing an unconventional, unexpected strategy, often including more niche or seemingly suboptimal Pokémon, which the community likes to refer to as “meme teams”.
You may have encountered teams which aim to use set-up to win, using Pokémon like Smeargle to redirect attacks from a Pokémon which appreciates its protection, such as Xerneas. Or you may have encountered Trick Room-based teams, which aim to set up Trick Room so that the slow, powerful Pokémon on the team can go first (for example using Dialga as a TR-setter). If the team contains only slow Pokémon which require Trick Room to be effective, we may call it a hard Trick Room team. We can also use weather, such as Rain for Kyogre or Sun for Groudon, to describe a team; the possibilities are endless!
Certain combos of Pokémon can fit onto a variety of teams and don’t require the whole team to be built around them, such as Mimikyu with Snorlax or Politoed with Ludicolo in the VGC18 meta. In this case, the team is referred to as having different modes (eg. a MimiLax mode or a Rain mode), which the player can bring to a match as they see fit. For comparison, a team with Politoed and Ludicolo but no other Pokémon which directly interact with the Rain would be considered to have a Rain mode. Conversely, a team consisting of Pelipper, Ludicolo, Swampert, Ferrothorn, Kingdra and Thundurus is a hard Rain team, built entirely around Rain. In a restricted meta such as VGC19, we don’t see this terminology used as often as such modes will always be a part of any team seeking to effectively utilize its restricted Pokémon, with some common combinations including Smeargle/Xerneas, Kyogre/Ludicolo, Groudon/Venusaur, or Dusk Mane Necrozma/Tapu Lele.
When making a team, first you’ll naturally want to consider what type of team you wish to build. If you want the team to center around a specific strategy, include the Pokémon necessary for the strategy to work straight away, then fill in the gaps in the team as needed. If you want to build around a specific Pokémon – which is almost certainly the case when restricted Pokémon are allowed! – focus on giving it teammates which can take care of its threats.
While not strictly necessary, most (though certainly not all!) teams in the VGC19 meta will want to have the following:
- Two Restricted Pokémon: Your restricted mons are what you build around! There are plenty of combinations of restricted to choose from, but most teams (though not all) opt for one of Groudon or Kyogre so that they have some control over the weather. Next, Xerneas is a very popular choice for a second restricted due to its fantastic signature move, Geomancy, but restricted Pokémon such as Yveltal, Lunala, Solgaleo, Dusk Mane Necrozma, Ho-Oh, Dialga and Zygarde also see use, with most others being niche picks.
- A Mega Pokémon (Ultra series only): Purely due to the sheer strength and utility offered by Megas.
- A Z Move User (Moon and Ultra series only): Much like with Megas, Z Moves are often too powerful to pass up.
- Incineroar: In Sun and Moon series, Incineroar has proven to be a very versatile Pokémon that fits onto just about any team. The fantastic support provided by its Intimidate, Fake Out and U-Turn is hard to pass up, and Incineroar comes with a fantastic Fire/Dark typing to boot. While successful VGC19 teams without Incineroar exist, they’re few in number.
- Speed control: Most teams benefit greatly from being able to use Trick Room, Tailwind, or even both of the moves, as these are the most reliable options for speed control. Some make do with speed-decreasing moves, such as Icy Wind and Electroweb.
- A Tapu: Though not as important as in VGC18 or 17, having a Tapu on your team will allow you to control terrain easier. In addition, Tapu Fini or Tapu Koko are also helpful against teams that make use of moves which cause Sleep, such as Smeargle’s Lovely Kiss, Venusaur’s Sleep Powder or Amoonguss’ Spore, and Tapu Lele’s Taunt can also help combat these to an extent.
Now, let’s have a teambuilding example! When building a team, I recommend making use of a teambuilder which points out any potential weaknesses in the team to you.
Let us now attempt to build a VGC19 Sun series team. For better or worse, this is one of the easier formats to build a functional team in as the format is highly centralized.
We start by choosing a restricted: Let’s say we expect our next tournament to have a lot of Xerneas/Groudon teams and therefore decide to use Ho-Oh (which comes with the added bonus of learning Tailwind, giving the team some solid speed control). What should our second restricted be? Groudon’s Sun may help boost Ho-Oh’s attacks, but on the other hand, Ho-Oh is a good partner to Kyogre as its Flying/Fire STABs helps eliminate Grass-types which trouble it. Both are viable options, but let’s choose Kyogre.
With Ho-Oh/Kyogre decided on, we need to think about what the team’s goals are. Ho-Oh is a Pokémon that often wins by outlasting the opponent rather than netting quick KOs, being able to take hits from Pokémon such as Xerneas, Incineroar, and various Grass types with relative ease. What would its biggest threats be? Opposing Kyogre immediately spring to mind; We want a good way to deal with it, as a Water Spout would simply OHKO our poor Ho-Oh. We’ll add Ludicolo to help answer opposing Kyogre and to use alongside our own Kyogre.
Next, we’ll want to have some extra insurance against Xerneas, as any team in the format does. With Xerneas being the massive threat it is, having multiple ways to hit it hard is essential. So let us add Kartana: its Steel STAB lets it deal a good chunk of damage to Xerneas, and as a bonus, its fantastic Grass/Steel/Fighting/Dark coverage allows it to deal super effective damage to most of the meta. Having another way to hit other Kyogre certainly helps, too!
Now, let’s take a look at what our team appears to be weak to. Electric-types may pose a problem, as both of our restricted are weak to Electric and our only resist to the type is Kartana (a not so reliable resist when it comes to specially based moves). There are multiple ways to patch up this weakness: one option is to add a Lightning Rod Pokémon, such as Raichu or Togedemaru. As Tapu Koko is the most common Electric type in the format by far, another option would be to add a Tapu Lele to remove Koko’s terrain. Lele would also help the team by giving us a potential Taunt user, which helps deal with support-oriented Pokémon such as Smeargle and Amoonguss. Let’s choose Tapu Lele.
With one final slot left on the team, let’s slap on everyone’s favorite wrestler cat: Incineroar! Incineroar gives the team Intimidate and an additional Fake Out user, something that’s always appreciated. With Intimidate, Ho-Oh can even survive some 4x effective Rock-type moves from Pokémon such as Groudon, helping increase its longevity.
And so we end up with the following team: Kyogre/Ho-Oh/Ludicolo/Kartana/Tapu Lele/Incineroar. All that’s left is to figure out EVs and movesets!
We’ve all been there: you’re about to win the game, provided your opponent doesn’t get that lucky flinch, crit, burn, freeze, etc. Sadly, the RNG happened to be with your opponent that day, and they ended up winning the match instead of you. It’s difficult to not get upset when you get haxed, but don’t immediately resort to blaming the game! In many cases, it’s possible to play around the luck elements present in Pokémon.
If you haven’t watched Wolfe’s video on hax yet, I strongly recommend doing so, despite his examples being from an older format (VGC16). In short, there are multiple ways to minimize hax: one, as mentioned in the video, is to play to 100% win conditions. For a very basic VGC18-inspired example, let’s say your opponent has a no-bulk Kartana with exactly a third of its HP left, and you have a low health Mega Charizard-Y in Sun. Your Charizard knows the moves Heat Wave, Overheat, and Solar Beam, and can only survive one attack from the Kartana. Which move do you pick? Heat Wave and Overheat may seem tempting, but these moves are not 100% accurate. The correct choice is actually Solar Beam, which will deal more than a fourth of Kartana’s health despite being 4x resisted thanks to Kartana’s poor Special Defense stat (dealing a minimum of 34%). In this example, Solar Beam would be a 100% win condition whereas Overheat will only net you a win 90% of the time.
The second way to avoid hax pointed out in the video has to do with how you build your team. Although I mentioned it at the start of the guide, try to include more moves with 100% accuracy rather than less accurate moves. Continuing with the Mega Charizard-Y example, it often runs Heat Wave and Overheat (both of which have less than 100% accuracy), but Flamethrower can be a viable option over one of the two moves.
Speed is also a key stat for avoiding hax; if your opponent doesn’t get a chance to move, they can’t hax you, after all. For that reason, slower teams which switch around a lot are more susceptible to hax. But that is not to say these defensive teams are bad! On the contrary, teams with good bulk which allow you to reposition yourself with ease are often more consistent than hyper offensive teams, since they don’t rely as much on getting reads right. Reliable speed control is one way for these more defensively-oriented teams to come out on top.
Since we’ve gone through hax, I’d like to mention a related concept: tilting. Tilting refers to becoming increasingly frustrated with a sport or game (in this case, Pokémon) and playing worse as a result. Understandably, hax will often cause players to tilt. While not written especially for Pokémon but a rather different game (Overwatch), this reddit post explains the concept of tilting in-depth and also gives good advice on how to handle it. It’s well worth a read!
If you find yourself tilting often while laddering, be it due to hax or repeated losses, there is a very simple solution: take a break. Even a short 15 minute break can be enough for your brain to calm down and start thinking rationally again.
But what if you feel yourself going on tilt in a tournament setting? Taking a break isn’t an option in that case. So what can you do? Obviously, untilting works differently for different people. In my case, I find spending some time talking to friends in-between rounds helps. I also like to briefly step outside the tournament venue and go for a short walk to get some fresh air; this often helps me refocus and stop worrying. Try various methods, and you’ll hopefully find something that works well for you!
Competitive Pokémon Websites and Communities
- Pokémon Showdown: The online battling simulator.
- Play! Pokémon: The official website for Pokémon events.
- Trainer Tower: The currently most popular hub for VGC.
- Victory Road: A previously Spanish-only VGC hub which now has an English version.
- Nugget Bridge: The previously most popular VGC hub. The site was sadly targeted by a hacker and never quite recovered. Their Beginners’ Articles may be of particular interest, though not all are up-to-date.
- Smogon: The competitive Pokémon website.
- Stunfisk: A newbie-friendly reddit for competitive Pokémon.
General Pokémon Websites
- Serebii: For news and information on all things Pokémon.
- Bulbapedia: The most well-known Pokémon wiki.
- Pokémon Forever Teambuilder: A great team-building tool.
- Reddits: trading, request-a-Pokémon, breeding Dittos.
- VGCStats: Tracks Pokémon usage in real-life tournaments.
- Global Link: Tracks usage on the in-game ladder.
- Pikalytics: Tracks both in-game and Showdown ladder usage.
- Limitless: A database of VGC players and events.