Hello again! This article is second in a series I will be doing on improving competitive battling skills. Once more, the advice I offer is not for beginners but for players with a rudimentary grasp of the competitive game who want to improve from adequacy to a more advanced understanding of the game. I will exclusively talk about the ORAS OverUsed (OU) tier, as it is the most popular competitive tier and the one I know best.
This is the second part of my team building tips. Just like last time, while this article will not offer a comprehensive guide to team building, it will discuss several themes that separate mediocre teams from outstanding teams. Part 1 covers more general advice, while here in Part 2 I offer more hands-on advice.
The only disclaimer I wish to offer is that this is general advice. There will be exceptions to some rules that I present, especially because much of it has been simplified for the sake of brevity and readability. I believe this is useful advice, but it is only advice. Follow your instincts.
Choose your win conditions with offensive synergy in mind.
Win conditions are Pokémon that can win at the end of games. While most Pokemon can serve as a win condition in a given match, some Pokémon more consistently pose a threat to a wider variety of teams. Most teams are built around primary win conditions where the remaining Pokémon provide support in ensuring that the conditions necessary for an endgame victory (often a sweep) will be met.
It is critical that any team has backup plans in the event that one of its win conditions has a poor individual match-up with the opposing team. Let us use the example of a Mega Lopunny team to illustrate this point, built around its standard attacker set:
|EVs||252 Atk / 4 Def / 252 Spe|
|Nature||Jolly (+Spe, -SAtk)|
Mega Lopunny is very fast, making it easy to take momentum from an opponent’s sweeper. This is why Lopunny’s match-up against frailer offenses is so good: Fake Out allows it to Mega Evolve for free and instantly threaten most sweepers with its high-base power STABs. Against bulky offenses and balances, Lopunny can still threaten common glue Pokémon like Latios, Heatran, Ferrothorn, and Landorus-T and Garchomp if running Ice Punch. However, it is hard checked by Clefable, Slowbro, Hippowdon (and other Ground-types if lacking Ice Punch), and some Skarmory while being forced out by Talonflame, Rotom-W, and Azumarill if at high HP. Against stall, Lopunny threatens Mega Sableye but is otherwise limited because it lacks the power to overcome a stall’s defenses early- and mid-game.
This is where alternate win conditions that account for Lopunny’s poorer match-ups come into play. When forming an offensive core, it is critical that these win conditions actively punish an opponent for successfully defending against your first win condition. In Lopunny’s case, that means a Pokémon that actively punishes slow walls like Clefable, Slowbro, Hippowdon, and Skarmory will be a good partner. Let us consider Rain Dance Manaphy:
|EVs||4 Def / 252 SpA / 252 Spe|
|Nature||Timid (+Spe, -Atk)|
Manaphy is an excellent secondary win condition for a Mega Lopunny team. It naturally pressures all of Lopunny’s Ground-type checks, can muscle past most members of common stall cores if played carefully, and can sacrifice itself to weaken softer Lopunny checks like Rotom-W, Azumarill, Mega Scizor, and Talonflame. Manaphy is by no means a perfect fit—Clefable can beat it over time and Calm Mind Slowbro, particularly Mega Slowbro, will pose problems—but it provides the team with a unique but naturally complementary set of skills as a second win condition.
It is useful to consider whether your original win condition can offer that same support for your second win condition’s weaknesses. Lopunny also supports Manaphy, as it punishes the presence of Ferrothorn and easily steals momentum from the faster attackers that force Manaphy out, most notably Electric-types. Just as Manaphy can reverse momentum against Lopunny’s defense checks, Lopunny acts as natural Speed control that can pick off faster but frailer targets.
(Before it was banned, Hoopa-Unbound was a popular partner for Mega Lopunny because it threatened all of Lopunny’s checks and had a naturally good match-up with stall teams given its superb breaking ability, functioning similarly to how Manaphy is here.)
This is the beginning of a successful offensive core. It is still incomplete and needs support to reach its full potential, but the key idea is that you are building with the idea of making your opponent pay for stopping the first line of attack. Perhaps they switch their Hippowdon into your Lopunny’s High Jump Kick, but the necessity of this counterplay is forcing them to now find an answer for Manaphy. In this way, your team building anticipates how actual battles will transpire and plans how to stay on the attack as much as possible.
Finally, win conditions take on a different nature depending on the team style. Mega Lopunny and Manaphy can successfully underpin anything from a balance to a hyper offense, but a semi-stall might look at its win conditions differently. If I am building a semi-stall around Calm Mind Mega Slowbro, I might focus my build on outlasting some of its offensive checks like Serperior, Thundurus, and Gengar. However, even in this case, the need to avoid complete passivity remains. There are ways to penalize the opponent for bringing these Pokémon in, whether it is using Heatran or Ferrothorn to set up entry hazards or weakening them with a Pursuit trapper so Slowbro becomes a threat to kill them on the switch later in the game. The key is to stay aggressive and to be conscious of ways to advance your strategy as it relates to supporting your win conditions and making them support each other.
Remember counterplay for troublesome Pokémon and for the metagame at large, but do not undercut your own team to do so.
While “prepare for big threats” is obvious, doing so effectively requires more tact. First, it is worth mentioning that it can be easy to fall into the trap of so narrowly focusing on your own strategy that you can compromise the defensive integrity and offensive flexibility of your team. Especially when building around win conditions that offer poor utility outside of serving as a win condition, this can be an issue. (An example of one such win condition might be Crawdaunt. It hits very hard but is difficult to get in and set up, and it offers no defensive utility outside of Aqua Jet. When people say that a certain Pokémon is “hard to build around,” they are often referring to a Pokémon like this.) In these circumstances, Speed control and pivoting take an added importance.
Tactful counterplay means that the counterplay you choose complements the strategy of your team. Let’s say that I have decided to build a team around all-out attacker Serperior:
|EVs||4 Def / 252 SpA / 252 Spe|
|Nature||Timid (+Spe, -Atk)|
Serperior is an excellent win condition, and building an offensive core to punish checks like Tornadus-T, Talonflame, Heatran, Amoonguss, Mega Venusaur, Mega Altaria, and Chansey is critical to carry out an aggressive strategy in battle. However, all offensive cores take time to break down defensive cores, even against balances and bulky offenses. As a result, Serperior will inevitably be forced out by these Pokémon during matches. If your offensive core is sound and you play well, you will be able to come back with a more favorable position later in the battle, but Serperior will sometimes find itself against Tornadus-T or Heatran. You can anticipate these encounters in the team building stage.
That means having defensive answers to these Pokémon on top of being able to punish their presence. What that means in practice depends entirely on playstyle and strategy. Offenses tend to blend offense and defense in that their offense is their defense. Offenses succeed because they exert relentless pressure, so while their team defenses might be poor, an offense user is betting that they will do even more damage. That does not mean offenses ignore defense, a claim that is easily contradicted by the presence of strong priority or Speed control on these teams. Their defenses simply do not have the same longevity and require more frequent Pokémon sacrifice and other means of controlling momentum. The more passive a team gets, the more robust its defenses need to be (and tend to become anyway because most passive Pokémon are defensive).
Let us return to the case of Serperior. Its most common checks are Tornadus-T, Talonflame, and Heatran. It can also be forced out by any Steel-type if it has not gained a Leaf Storm Special Attack boost, which can happen on double switches. You might look through some options and notice that bulky Water-types can render these Pokémon ineffective. (The Grass-types can be handled with another team slot. Like with offensive synergy, no one partner will cover all of a single Pokémon’s weaknesses.) Some options include Slowking, Rotom-Wash, Quagsire, and Azumarill.
The important thing to recognize is what kind of strategy Serperior promotes as a primary win condition. It has only passive recovery and looks to kill things quickly. Quagsire seems like a tempting choice, as it shuts down Heatran, Talonflame, Dragon Dance Mega Altaria, and all of the Steel-types and fast revenge killers (Weavile, Thundurus, Mega Lopunny, Mega Manectric, etc.) that can force Serperior out. However, it is a poor choice despite the defensive coverage it offers. The reason is that it is extremely passive and will act as a momentum sieve. It only provides defensive utility. Even on a balance, it is a poor choice. Slowking is more intriguing because it has more of an offensive presence with Calm Mind.
Meanwhile, Azumarill is so aggressive as to actually forfeit much of the initial purpose of its choice: counterplay. It cannot switch into Talonflame at all and fears Lava Plume burns from Heatran. As such, it would only be a suitable choice on an aggressive hyper offense, where the Serperior user might double switch into Azumarill to do some early game wall breaking. But even offenses need defenses. As such, Azumarill alone will not be suitable defense against Talonflame because of its sweeping potential, though it might be satisfactory against a less threatening Pokémon like Heatran.
Rotom-Wash is usually a better choice because it is a more aggressive Pokémon, which fits perfectly with Serperior. It can switch into a majority of Serperior’s checks and counters and force them out, but just as important, its Volt Switch allows it to pivot and keep momentum, returning to the field either Serperior or another member of its offensive core, likely a stronger breaker that can break down the opponent’s defenses for a Serperior sweep. Notice how even though Rotom-Wash’s purpose is to provide defense for Serperior and its teammates, it actively contributes to the team’s strategy by pivoting to those Pokémon to give them more opportunities. While a Pokémon like Quagsire might stop a Heatran and then fire off a weak Scald against whatever might be coming in to abuse it, Rotom-Wash can Volt Switch right off of the switch-in, returning initiative to its user. It is all about team context. While Rotom-Wash might not always be the best choice depending on the other core members of the team, it usually snugly fits with Serperior.
Every serious team needs two things: Stealth Rock and Speed control
Stealth Rock is the most important move in the metagame because it taxes switching. For offensive teams and defensive teams alike, the extra damage that Stealth Rock brings is a major factor in adequately pressuring an opponent’s team. Its ubiquity is such that, when running Pokémon who are weak to Rock, hazard control usually becomes equally necessary.
A simple example of the immense utility that Stealth Rock provides is if I am using a stall team facing an offense. Given enough chances, a well-constructed offense will eventually break down any defensive core. Let’s say that my opponent has a Choice Band Tyranitar, which can weaken the likes of Mega Sableye and Chansey with well-timed Pursuits and can threaten nearly every Pokémon with a 2HKO or a near-2HKO. Setting up Stealth Rock immediately puts this Pokémon on a timer, which is to say that it gets a certain number of chances to seriously damage my team. If it runs out of chances before doing enough damage, my core will be able to hold.
For offense users, Stealth Rock makes it much easier to wear down defensive Pokémon over time combined with powerful breakers. This is the primary reason that Mega Sableye is the Mega Evolution of choice for stall teams: its ability to control the hazard game with Magic Bounce adds significant backbone to any stall core. When Stealth Rock is on the field, it can turn 3HKOs into 2HKOs or just give the player trying to break down the defensive core more leverage in adding pressure though double switching.
Regardless of the playstyle match-up of two teams, Stealth Rock is a huge advantage. This is also why it is important to pick your Stealth Rock setter wisely, as Pokémon that can set it up while bypassing or hindering common hazard control Pokémon (Mega Sableye, Latios, Starmie, Excadrill, Skarmory, etc.) make for especially effective support Pokémon. The intricacies of the hazard game will not be covered in any depth here except to say that it is important and your team needs to prepare for it if it is going to be successful.
Speed control is simply the ability to reliably go first no matter the situation. Theorymon usually does not address scenarios where my opponent has a low HP but Dragon Dance-boosted Mega Charizard X and all I have to do to finish off the match is to kill it, but you can prepare for exactly those scenarios with smart team building. Speed control usually exists in the form of priority attacks (or Prankster Thunder Wave), but simply having fast Pokémon or Choice Scarf users also acts as a softer Speed control tactic.
Even stall teams appreciate Speed control, whether it is a Talonflame’s Gale Wings Flying STAB or something as weak as Mega Sableye’s Fake Out. Certain Choice Scarfers find homes on stall teams as fail-safes.
What is illuminating about the ubiquity of priority is that going first is as much a defensive concern as an offensive one.
Technician-boosted Bullet Punch enables Swords Dance Mega Scizor as a sweeper by allowing it to bypass the ecosystem of faster Pokémon in the OU tier. Despite this offensive utility, Mega Scizor teams have a built-in emergency check to several Pokémon in OU who Scizor normally cannot defeat but in some situations will be able to stop. In other words, priority is precious utility.
The necessity of both Stealth Rock and Speed control becomes obvious when examining what teams look like in their absence. Teams without Stealth Rock (or even unreliable Stealth Rock setters) struggle to consistently pressure all types of builds. Without being taxed for switching, opponents have much more defensive flexibility. Teams without Speed control can occasionally get run over by Pokémon who otherwise are not thought of as sweepers like Choice Specs Keldeo or even slower breakers like Mega Gardevoir or Mega Garchomp, to say nothing of their razor-thin margin for error against Speed-boosting sweepers and weather teams. All support is appreciated, but these support elements are nothing short of essential.
Miscellaneous utility can come in handy and should be included when possible or necessary
Sometimes players will lament that their team is great on paper but fails in practice. One reason for this might be a lack of flexibility, both by way of overly linear paths to victory (usually by relying too much on one win condition) and methods of counterplay with a small margin for error. One way to combat this issue is by squeezing onto your team what I am calling miscellaneous utility, or tactics that just have a knack for coming in handy. I will review some of the most important ones.
- Hazard Control (Rapid Spin, Defog, Magic Bounce): While hazard control is not a requirement, it is always useful to have if your team can afford its tendency to sap momentum from its user. Any stall team as well as teams running Stealth Rock-weak Pokémon like Mega Charizard Y or Mega Pinsir require reliable hazard control.
- Spikes: The other major hazard in OU is excellent for stacking damage and putting opponents on a much more punitive timer than Stealth Rock alone can. They make it easier to wear down infamously resilient Pokémon like Heatran, Ferrothorn, Slowbro, Hippowdon, and Chansey, and when paired with Pokémon who struggle to break those Pokémon, Spikes can be an excellent offense tool on top of their ability to shorten stall matches in the user’s favor.
Volt-Turn (U-turn, Volt Switch): U-turn and Volt Switch remove or reduce the margin for error on predictions. Safe plays lose their potential for being stopped by an equally safe counterplay. If I have my full health Rotom-W in on a Keldeo and their Rotom-W check is Mega Venusaur, Thunderbolt would give Mega Venusaur a free switch-in. However, if Keldeo is pressuring my team, a double switch might be too risky. Volt Switch gives you the best of both worlds, allowing you to strike Keldeo or maintain momentum against Mega Venusaur without any prediction required. Risky plays are often glorified, but the more you can avoid them, the more consistent your team will be. These moves are amazing.
- Regenerator: The common Regenerator abusers in OU (Tornadus-T, Slowbro, Slowking, Amoonguss, Tangrowth) are very difficult to take down. They allow their users to take risks with these Pokémon within reason. These Pokémon have a higher margin for error, and while that doesn’t mean they can be played carelessly, they give their users tremendous flexibility in threat control throughout a match.
- Trapping (Pursuit, Magnet Pull): Pursuit is a fantastic tool for removing Psychic-types, albeit one that should not be relied on too heavily. But claiming that this is the limit of Pursuit’s utility shortchanges its tremendous ability to pick off troublesome Pokémon or at least force them into 50/50s, even if they are not weak to Dark moves. An Amoonguss at 45% faces a choice if Choice Band Tyranitar meets it on the battlefield: flee and risk Pursuit, or stay and risk death by Stone Edge or Crunch. Meanwhile, Magnezone practically guarantees kills against Ferrothorn, Skarmory, and Scizor while also checking Clefable. When paired with certain win conditions, its ability to remove much of the hard work from breaking is greatly appreciated, though it is limited outside of performing this role.
- Contact Chip Damage (Rough Skin, Iron Barbs, Rocky Helmet): The ability to inflict chip damage when being hit by some physical attacks comes in handy in a variety of situations. Rocky Helmet Rough Skin Garchomp is popular for this reason: even though it only soft-checks many threats, it can support other means of counterplay so effectively that it almost always comes in handy. It punishes U-turn spamming and weak priority especially well. (Rocky Helmet Ferrothorn is often more underwhelming because of how important its passive recovery from Leftovers is.) Again, it is about widening the margin for error of your team and giving it multiple options when confronted with the vastness of the OU metagame as well as more specific battle situations that require that flexibility in a pinch.
- Sand Stream: Teams with Hippowdon or Tyranitar should take note of Sand Stream’s ability to come in handy at seemingly random times. The chip damage that Sand provides can often make the difference in getting a kill or not, and the ability to change the weather in match-ups against Rain teams and Charizard Y can be effective despite the difficulty in doing so effectively.
- Status Counterplay, ESPECIALLY Scald and Thunder Wave: Usually taking the form of Heal Bell, Magic Guard, type immunities, Natural Cure, or Poison Heal with Toxic Orb, having counterplay against status and especially the devil known as Scald will come in handy often. Very often. If your team is not prepared for Scald—and the wide variety of Pokémon that use it—you will quickly regret ever playing competitive Pokémon. Invest in counterplay to these tactics specifically and you will be very happy. As for Thunder Wave, does your team have Clefable counterplay that in some way accounts for its spamming of Thunder Wave? If you answered ‘no’ to this question, your team is not yet a serious OU team. Fix this problem and come again.
- Prankster: Thundurus and Klefki plug huge holes in team building because their Prankster Thunder Wave gives teams a fail-safe against every relevant Speed-boosting sweeper except Sand Rush Excadrill and Rock Polish Landorus-T. Thundurus is uniquely useful for frail offenses that do not want to invest in momentum-killing counterplay and would rather try to overwhelm opponents with Thundurus lurking in the back to prevent disaster.
Intimidate: Lowering an opposing Pokémon’s Attack with Intimidate is a great way to soft-check much of the physical metagame. This is a major advantage Landorus-T has and is one reason why it is so popular. (Notice that it also provides two immunities, U-turn, Stealth Rock, and contact chip damage if running Rocky Helmet—there is a reason everyone uses this Pokémon!) It is not reliable counterplay, but in a pinch it can swing a match, especially against boosters.
- Unaware: This is almost exclusive to stalls and semi-stalls, but Unaware is a great way to shut down sweepers in the team building stage. Quagsire and Clefable both offer great defensive utility as catch-all checks to boosters, though both can be overwhelmed and must be supported properly. They are tremendous assets in a variety of match-ups.
These are the only “miscellaneous utility” tactics I will cover, but there are others. The most important thing to remember is that anticipating situations that cannot be planned for will serve you well. No team will ever include all or even many of the tactics listed above, but having one or two of them can change the outcome of a game. Try to include them if you can!
This concludes my team building tips, at least for the time being. I hope that Part 2 and the articles as a whole were useful. Of course, turning advice into action and practicing what I have discussed here is the responsibility you the player, but this is a rewarding process. Finally, look out for future articles on the competitive game from both myself and other PCers. I look forward to covering in-battle execution in later instalments!
Edited by bobandbill, Jake and wolf.
Cover image by champagnepapi.