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).