There’s a reason you get your butt handed to you every time you try to play Pokémon Sun and Moon: you’re terrible at Pokémon. It’s not your fault: There’s a relatively unknown competitive Pokémon battling scene. It’s a hidden layer in these games many players never even touch. For many Pokémon fans, the primary arc of the game is more than enough — choose a starter, fight the elite four, catch a legendary or two and then you’re done. But if you allow yourself to be sucked in, there are complex systems, dedicated communities, and hidden mechanics for you to master.
There’s a lot more to training than you need to complete the base game: Effort Values and Individual Values, natures, power items, choice items, and berries, battle points, egg moves, hidden abilities, and complicated strategies you’d never even dream of on your own. And that’s without getting into new features in Sun and Moon, such as hyper training, z-moves and Poké Pelago.
If you want to take the plunge and excel in Pokémon multiplayer, we’ve compiled everything you need to understand before you start breeding, training and fighting competitively. Give it a shot and you’ll find more than just a totally different Pokémon game waiting for you; you’ll find a whole new way to experience Pokémon. Plus, you might even be able to win a match online someday.
Putting your team together
Choosing the Pokémon for your competitive team isn’t as simple as using your favorites and choosing Pokémon with complementary types. Popular competitive communities, such as Smogon University, use a “tier” system to group Pokémon together based on their competitive viability, related to their base stats and general viability in battle.
Pokémon are more than just the sum of their element types and attacks. In a competitive team each Pokémon will serve a specific function, from late-game sweepers to walls meant to stop opponents in their tracks.
Here are just a handful of the many common roles for competitive Pokémon teams:
- Sweepers: Sweepers beat an opposing team with high speed and either physical or special (or in specific cases a mixture of the two) attacks.
- Walls: Walls have high defense and are meant to take punishment and stay alive.
- Stallers: Similar to tanks, stalls stay alive for long periods using moves that defer damage, like “Substitute,” and healing moves like “Leech Seed.”
- Stallbreakers: Some Pokémon are meant specifically to break through stalls using moves like Taunt, which prevents Pokémon from using non-damaging moves.
- Baton Passers: Baton passers increase their stats and set up other bonuses, then use the move Baton Pass to transfer the benefits to more powerful teammates.
- Suicide Leads: Suiciders are meant to enter battle on the front lines and set up hazards like “Stealth Rock,” “Spikes,” and “Toxic Spikes” then get off whatever attacks they can before dying.
- Spinners: Pokémon who use the “Rapid Spin” ability to clear those entry hazards. Alternately there are “spin blocker” Pokémon who are meant to block spinners (for example ghost-type Pokémon who are immune to Rapid Spin because it’s a normal-type attack).
In general, when putting together a competitive Pokémon team throwing together all your favorite Pokémon isn’t the best strategy. However choosing one Pokémon around which to build a team isn’t a bad way to start; for example if you love Dragonite you’ll want to choose teammates that cover its type weaknesses and fill other roles (Dragonite is usually a sweeper thanks to its high attack), and Pokémon that can defeat specific threats to Dragonite.
No matter what you do, though, your team will always have weaknesses, and the only way to attempt to cover them is to know the game inside and out and try to predict what your opponent will do.
You can read about more roles and other terms on competitive battling site Smogon.
The Secret Stats of Pokémon
Once you pick your Pokémon, you have to get them ready to fight. That means making the best version possible for each of your chosen Pokémon.
There’s one essential quirk that Pokémon players have known about since the early days of Red and Blue: Any two Pokémon, even if they’re the same species and level (and in later versions, gender, nature, etc.), won’t have the same stats. While many players know this, many players don’t know why that’s the case.
All Pokémon have “Individual Values,” commonly referred to as IVs. These hidden numbers are like a Pokémon’s DNA: They determine a Pokémon’s visible stats, and are pretty much set in stone, though they can be enhanced in Sun and Moon. (We’ll discuss that more in the next section).
Every Pokémon has six IVs, one for each stat: HP (health), attack, defense, special attack, special defense, and speed. These numbers can go up to 31 or be as low as 0, and are one major factor that dictates how high or low Pokémon’s stats go as you level them up.
When you catch a Pokémon in the wild its IVs are usually random, but Pokémon hatched from eggs share some IVs with their parents (hence the DNA comparison — they’re genetic). That’s why dedicated players spend hours and hours breeding Pokémon to raise champion creatures with perfect (31) IVs.
You can easily check a Pokémon’s IVs at any PC, but only after you progress far enough in the game.
There are other factors that determine Pokémon’s stats: Effort Values and natures. Effort Values, or “EVs,” are why Pokémon leveled up through battling have higher stats than those leveled up with rare candies (another “mystery” to early Pokémon players). They’re earned when your Pokémon defeats another Pokémon in battle, either by making it faint or when you catch it. The type and exact number of EVs varies by Pokémon; for example, defeating a Caterpie gives you 1 HP EV, while defeating a Psyduck gives you 1 special attack EV.
There are multiple ways to check a Pokémon’s EVs, and training a competitive Pokémon means being extremely precise with how many and what types of EVs it earns in order to maximize certain stats.
There’s one other thing: Natures, introduced in the third generation (Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire), boost one stat while detracting from another. For example, a “jolly” nature Pokémon has higher attack and lower special attack; a “calm” Pokémon has higher special defense and lower attack. Some natures, like “serious” and “quirky,” are neutral and don’t lower or raise any stats.
Every Pokémon has a nature, and advantageous natures are another factor Pokémon breeders look for in a perfect competitive Pokémon. in Sun and Moon you can see nature on the second tab of a Pokémon’s summary. You can also see what stats a Pokémon’s nature affects by looking closely at its stat graph — the raised stat is tinted slightly red, while the lowered is blue.
What’s new in Sun and Moon
The IV/EV/Natures system is largely unchanged in Pokémon Sun and Moon. There are some new ways to enhance IVs and EVs, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
The biggest change is that it’s easier than ever to actually check these numbers. The games have traditionally kept these stats hidden, since only the most competitive players care about them and they’d only serve to confuse the average player.
In Sun and Moon there’s a character standing in the lobby of the Battle Tree who, once you’ve hatched 20 eggs, will update the PC with a feature that shows a fairly precise graph of Pokémon’s IVs. Meanwhile pressing the “Y” button on a Pokémon’s summary page reveals which stats have EVs invested in them (sparkling stats are maxed out, while the graph changes colors when a Pokémon’s total EVs are maxed).
How to breed and train a champ
The traditional method to make your Pokémon ready for competition is to 1) breed strategically for better IVs and 2) have your Pokémon defeat certain numbers of specific Pokémon in battle to earn precise amounts of EVs in certain stats.
Generally speaking, you’re shooting to breed a Pokémon with up to five perfect IVs — again, that’s 31. You can’t reach perfect IVs across the board because the majority of Pokémon favor one type of attack (physical or special). For example, Mimikyu has base attack of 90 and base special attack of only 50, so you want a nature that favors the attack stat (adamant or jolly), physical attacks, and EVs in the attack stat.
Serebii.net is a great resource for checking Pokémon’s base stats and seeing what’s higher, which in turn determines which stats and nature you want to breed for, which stats you EV train, and what moves you choose.
Once you’ve hatched a Pokémon with good IVs and an advantageous nature, the next step is EV training. It’s not as simple as going out and defeating a certain number of specific Pokémon and calling it a day; there are several factors that can make the process easier or, if you’re not careful, trip you up and cause you to accidentally give your Pokémon the wrong EVs.
There’s a surprising amount of math involved. Say, for example, you wanted to EV train a Mimikyu to have the highest possible speed and attack stats, making it what the community calls a “physical sweeper.” Each Pokémon can have a total of 510 EVs, while the max for any individual stat is 255. However, the stat only increases with every 4 EVs, so you want to stop at a multiple of 4 — ie 252 EVs is the max you should put in any one stat. So a physical sweeper Mimikyu will have 252 attack EVs (so it can hit hard) and 252 speed EVs (so it can attack before its opponents). Those add up to 504 EVs, which provides a noticeable boost to your Pokémon’s stats — generally over 100 extra points compared with a non-EV trained Pokémon. It also leaves 6 EVs left over, an inconsequential amount you generally dump into defense, special defense or HP.
Once you know what EV stats you want to boost, you can start training. You can start off by giving your Pokémon vitamins, such as calcium, carbos, and iron, which grant 10 EVs to a certain stat. You can only build 100 EVs with items, though. So if we were training our Mimikyu “sweeper” we could feed him carbos to increase his speed, but after using 10 of them, we’d need to turn to a different source to get the remaining 152 speed EVs.
One option is Poké Pelago, a new feature in Sun and Moon. You can leave Pokémon on Isle Evelup to build up specific stats. Each “session” lasts 30 minutes and grants 4 EVs in that stat. So if we left Mimikyu for 38 sessions of speed training would bring the stat to 252. Dropping seeds at the isle speeds the sessions up.
You can also use “power” items to increase how many EVs a Pokémon earns in battle, then going out into the world and hunting specific Pokémon that give the EVs you want. For example, beating a Spearow normally gives one speed EV, but while giving your Pokémon an item called a “power anklet,” the same fight would earn nine speed EVs (there are six power items, one for each stat. You can purchase them at the Battle Royal dome on Akala Island).
Under normal circumstances, wearing a power anklet and defeating a Spearow gives a Pokémon 9 speed EVs, which means defeating 28 Spearows would max out the stat at 252 EVs. But there are ways to speed that up. The best method in Sun and Moon involves the new “call for help” mechanic: As soon as a Pokémon calls for help and summons an ally, all EVs earned in that battle are doubled. So by “ally chaining” — keeping a Pokémon at low HP without defeating it so that it continuously calls allies — you can drastically speed up the process.
With that in mind, this is what the process looks like: you find a wild Spearow, then get its HP low (and if you want, use an “adrenaline orb,” an item you can buy at Pokémon Centers that makes Pokémon more likely to call for help). When it summons another Spearow, defeat that Spearow, but leave the first one alone. At the end of the turn it may summon another ally; if it doesn’t, use another adrenaline orb (if there’s one active already it won’t use it up, but it will waste the turn, which is what you want) until it does. This way, with the power anklet on, you’re getting not nine, but 18 speed EVs per Spearow, and now you only need to defeat 14 of them.
You can Double the number of EVs again if your Pokémon have “Pokérus,” a “virus” that doubles infected Pokémon’s EVs earned. If you don’t have it, use Wonder Trade as much as possible (say, by trading away all the rejects you hatched while breeding) and you’ll eventually receive a Pokémon that is infected. It’s then easy to spread Pokérus to the rest of your Pokémon, and with Pokérus, a power item and ally chaining, you can max out a stat by defeating just seven Pokémon.
If you accidentially give a Pokémon too many EVs in one stat, you can use certain berries or buy items from certain stalls in the Festival Plaza to selectively reduce some EVs.
Here’s a good EV training spot for each stat from PokeTipsOfficial:
- HP: Caterpie – Route 1 – 1 EV
- Attack: Yungoos/Pikipek – Route 1 – 1 EV
- Defense: Roggenrola – Ten Carat Hill (Cave) – 1 EV
- Sp. Attack: Psyduck – Brooklet Hill – 1 EV
- Sp. Defense: Tentacool – Melemele Sea – 1 EV
- Speed: Spearow/Cutiefly/Delibird – Route 3 – 1 EV
Of course, the spread you want to EV train doesn’t have to be as simple as 252/252/6. We recommend focusing on training one or two core stats, but you can enhance your Pokémon to match whatever strategy you dream up.
What’s new in Sun and Moon
New features including Festival Plaza, Poke Pelago and ally chaining all provide new ways to increase and decrease EVs.
More importantly, you can now increase IV (albeit artificially) at the Hyper Training stall in the Hau’oli City mall. By trading in hard-to-find “bottle caps,” you can increase IVs for specific stats. The changes apply only to battle, though, and not to breeding; i.e. when used in breeding the Pokémon’s original IV numbers, not its hyper trained IVs, are passed down to the eggs.
Understanding Pokémon battles
Pokémon battles are, on their surface, simple. To compete at a high level, however, there’s a lot more to think about than type match-ups and spamming damage-dealing moves. In the original games, there were only five stats. Special attack and special defense were combined in one stat called simply “special.” Which stat determined a move’s power depended on the move’s type; for example, psychic-type moves used the “special” stat, while fighting-type attacks used the “attack” stat.
In Sun and Moon, things are more complicated. Every damage-dealing attack is now either “physical” or “special” (each attack has a clear icon that tells you which). Physical attacks use the attack stat, while special attacks use — you guessed it — the special attack stat. Meanwhile the defending Pokémon uses the defense stat to guard against physical attacks and the special defense stat to guard against special attacks. Type no longer matters, as there are physical and special attacks of every type.
This comes into play in battle in surprising ways. For example, Skarmory, a famously defensive Pokémon, has a much higher defense stat than special defense; knowing that, you can plan to use special moves against it to take advantage. The opposite is true of Blissey, whose special defense is high but physical defense is freakishly low, leaving it vulnerable to physical attacks. Knowing which type of attack to use in addition to what elements are effective against one another is crucial to competitive Pokémon battling.
There are other types of moves besides damage-dealing attacks. Pokémon players may be familiar with status moves that inflict statuses — sleep, poison, paralysis, freeze, burn, and confusion. Aside from confusion, these status effects remain even if a Pokémon switches out of battle.
There are moves that are invaluable in competitive play, yet basically useless within the Pokémon games’ story modes — so many casual players ignore them altogether. “Spikes,” “Toxic Spikes,” and “Stealth Rock,” for example, punish Pokémon with damage and status effects when they switch into battle. Computer-controlled opponents, even gym leaders and the Elite Four, rarely switch Pokémon, so these moves seem unimportant when playing through the story. In competitive battling, though, players frequently switch Pokémon when the match-up isn’t in their favor, and penalizing your opponent for it can force them to change their strategy.
Moves that increase your stats, like “Swords Dance” and “Dragon Dance,” may also seem unnecessary within the game, but can convey important advantages in competitive play. That, in turn, makes the moves “Haze,” which neutralizes any stat changes, and “Roar,” which forces your opponent to switch Pokémon and nullifies their stat increases, have unique utility in competitive Pokémon battles. A move like “Baton Pass,” which can transfer stat increases to another Pokémon on your team, can also surprise opponents and set your team up for a sweep.
Each Pokémon also has an ability that can affect battle, and most Pokémon can have multiple abilities, including “hidden” abilities that don’t occur naturally on wild Pokémon (though you can get Pokémon with hidden abilities to appear using ally chaining).
And then of course there are held items, which range from simple berries to items with complex effects like “choice” items, “focus” items, and countless more.
There are far more battle mechanics than any one guide could cover, and being familiar with as many as possible is crucial to success in competitive Pokémon battling.
What’s new in Sun and Moon
The new Pokémon games have some changes to certain statuses. For example while the reduction to “attack” isn’t changed, being burned now causes less damage per turn than it used to. And paralysis reduces the paralyzed Pokémon’s speed less than it used to (from the previous half to just a quarter now).
Now in battle you can easily see temporary changes to stats by tapping the Pokémon’s icon on the bottom screen. This opens a new screen where you can see increases or decreases to individual stats, plus other factors that are normally invisible, like any entry hazards (spikes, stealth rocks) present and unseen status changes like confusion, being “taunted” or “tormented,” and more.
And now in addition to weather changes like sunny, rain, sandstorm, and hail, there are terrain changes that have taken on a new importance: grassy terrain, misty terrain, electric terrain, and the new psychic terrain. Each has its own unique effects worth learning about.
Learning the Rules
Competitive communities have rules beyond the “tier” system, but understanding tiers is crucial. Pokémon with high base stats, like Dragonite and Mewtwo, are in higher tiers (“overused” and “uber,” respectively). Lesser-used Pokémon with poor stats and shallow move pools are in “rarely used” or “never used.” Tiers don’t mix — you don’t want to put Pokémon from multiple tiers on your team because the lower tiers can’t compete with the higher ones (hence the tier system). Overused (OU) is the most common tier for battling and includes the most popular non-legendary Pokémon.
There are other rules, generally called “clauses,” that many competitive communities agree on amongst themselves. These rules exist for two main reasons: 1) so that certain strategies don’t become dominant, and 2) to remove some of the luck involved in Pokémon battles. On Smogon, the most popular competitive community, these clauses include:
- Evasion clause: Bans moves like Double Team and Minimize.
- Freeze clause: You can’t freeze two Pokémon on your opponent’s team at the same time.
- Sleep clause: Same, but for sleep.
- OHKO clause: One-hit-kill moves like Guillotine are banned.
- Species clause: No duplicate Pokémon on a team.
- Self KO clause: You can’t use moves like Self-Destruct or Destiny Bond, which kill your own Pokémon, if you and your opponent each have just one Pokémon left.
- Item clause: No duplicate items.
To be clear, all these tiers and clauses mean jack squat when you’re battling friends or playing random matches online. If you want to participate in one of these communities, though, these are the rules you’ll need to follow. Nintendo and The Pokémon Company also have their own rule sets for official tournaments, which usually take place in double battle format (two on two). From the planning stages to actually battling, being familiar with the rules of the community where you intend to play is a must.
Testing ’em out
There’s a lot of time that goes into creating a competitive Pokémon team, but luckily there’s a way to test those strategies out before committing. Using apps called battle simulators, you don’t need to dedicate hours and hours to breeding and training just to test out various Pokémon and strategies to see how you like to play.
The most popular of these (unsurprisingly, as dictated by Smogon) is Pokémon Showdown. Run either in your browser or as a downloadable app, Showdown completely simulates the Pokémon battle system, while letting you easily tweak everything from a Pokémon’s IVs to its abilities and moves as simply as clicking around in a menu.
Like many competitive gaming communities, Pokémon battle strategies and the consensus around what Pokémon to pick change frequently. Here are some sites and communities we suggest if you’re looking to learn more:
- The Smogon forums have boards for new players to ask questions and boards where experts debate strategies and tiers.
- Nugget Bridge is a similar community that focuses more on double battles.
- Serebii has detailed databases of Pokémon, moves, items, and anything else you might want to look up.
- Bulbapedia is the biggest Pokémon wiki.
- Pokémon Showdown is a popular battle simulator, while Pokémon Online is another popular alternative.
- A team builder like this one can help make sure your chosen Pokémon cover each other’s weaknesses.
- The Pokémon subreddit is good for more than just memes.
- For Pokémon Sun and Moon specifically, the Pokémon Sun GameFAQs board is another good place to ask questions.
If you’ve read this far, then there’s a good chance you’re about to get into competitive Pokémon breeding, training and battling. Although it seems daunting, it’s worth it, and you’re about to get more out of Pokémon than you ever thought was possible.
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