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Survival Of The Fittest: Learn How To Play Pokémon From The Pros

by Kevin Slackie on Dec 14, 2016 at 02:55 PM

The Pokémon franchise has been criticized for its lack of depth since its release in 1996. While the series is mainly marketed towards children, its simple RPG systems have become increasingly more complex over the years. The process of creating a team that's tournament-viable has changed as well, as competitive players tweak their Pokémon's stats to try to squeeze as much power out of them as possible. Since the official ruleset for Pokémon tournaments is different from last year, various Pokémon and Mega Evolutions have been thrown out entirely for new strategies. Here's the advice for playing Sun/Moon we received after interviewing some of the top Pokémon players in the world.

These Pokémon Need To Be On Your Team

With over 800 monsters to choose from, making a team of Pokémon can be daunting. Competitive Pokémon teams have strict rules, usually limiting players from using legendaries or other stronger beasts. With that in mind, these are the Pokémon that our pros believe will be on every team for 2017.

Tapus are powerful island defenders that can't be captured until later in the game, but each one brings a useful ability to the table. Each of these Pokémon can induce a terrain setting, which powers up their attacks for five turns. Tapu Koko is an electric/fairy type that has a ton of coverage while out-speeding most of the new roster of monsters. Tapu Bulu is a big, bulky grass/fairy that can take damage and dish it out. And finally Tapu Lele can easily clear out low-health teams with its high Special Attack stat that makes it "like a Latios with Choice Specs," according to Johnathan Evans, 2nd place winner at the Pokémon Video Game Championship, Worlds 2016. Tapus are all impressive in their own right, but they're not as good as the nigh-omnipotent Ultra Beasts.

Beast Boost is a new ability that is exclusive to Ultra Beasts, strong Pokémon that reside in another dimension. Beast Boost raises the highest stat of that Pokémon every time they score a knockout, which can "spiral games out of control very quickly," Evans says.

The Ultra Beast Xurkitree is insanely powerful, as it already has the highest Special Attack stat of any electric Pokémon (take that, Pikachu). This alien life form has a diverse list of moves it can learn, allowing it to protect itself from most Pokémon types. This fast special attacker is sure to create some impressive comebacks as it dishes out a ton of damage.

Celesteela, on the other hand, is a slow steel/flying type with attack stats to match its unbridled defense. Its ability to use Leech Seed to suck life away from the enemy while adding to its own also makes this monster a serious contender. This Pokémon is already causing waves in the competitive community, and many people worry it will lead to drawn-out mirror matches with no clear winner (see sidebar). Crazy strategies like this are being iterated on every day, but these two Ultra Beasts may be a staple for many tournaments to come.

Fine Tune Your Pokémon's Stats

Individual values are the stats that Pokémon are born with, and even different Pokémon within the same species will have different starting individual values. So while two different Pikachu may look identically cute and cuddly, one might have more power potential. Changing these stats is important because they determine how your Pokémon grow as you level it up. Before Sun/Moon, these values used to be hidden, and you'd need to use third-party software to learn your Pokémon's true potential. Now, not only are these stats visible in-game, but you can change them with a rare item called Bottle Caps. This makes creating your ideal Pokémon team much less of a grind.

Another important set of numbers to monitor are your Pokémon's Effort Values. These are the additional stat points Pokémon earn each time they level up. In the old days it used to be a slog to up these numbers, but now you can leave your team on Poké Pelago Island to train on their own. This makes it so you can maximize the strengths of your monsters rather than accidentally adding to their weaknesses. This is an amazing change according to Wolfie Glick, first place winner at Worlds 2016, because "nobody wants to go to a tournament where the players with less time have to use worse Pokémon." Mastering how to raise these stats is the first step to becoming a competitive Pokémon player.

Practice With Your Team

Practicing with your team helps you make sure they work well together and cover each other's weaknesses. The rules for Worlds 2017 limit the Pokémon you can choose from to just those from Sun/Moon, which means that their resistances and immunities to certain types will play a large role in team building. You don't just need to have every Pokémon type on your team, as most Pokémon can learn a diverse moveset that goes beyond their type. According to Markus Stadter, 3rd place winner at Worlds 2016, "being aware of those hard counters to Pokémon is very important" in order to secure victory. The amount of time you should spend practicing is up for debate. While Evans thinks the best way is to "play a lot of games, play against as many good players as you can," some feel differently. Glick believes that you need to play just the right amount, because "if you invest too much time, if you practice too much you'll find specific flaws to your team and... get pigeon-holed in your thoughts so you don't see the bigger picture."

Find A Local Tournament

While practicing at home alone is certainly a good start, eventually you should compete against other people and their strategies. The best way to find new ideas for your own Pokémon team is to go out and fight other, stronger opponents. While playing online can help you test out some strategies, getting feedback from other players can be more vital than playing games. "When you get into the community, you'll find you have a lot more resources to develop yourself," Evans says. "You'll have a lot more people to bounce ideas off of." Pokémon has been a social game since the very beginning, when you needed to trade monsters to complete your collection, so it's no surprise that playing against other people is so important.

Pokémon's 20th anniversary celebrations have given the long-running series more attention than ever. Pokémon Go was a phenomenon over the summer which probably helped catapult high sales of Sun/Moon. While it may seem intimidating to dig deeper into the world of competitive Pokémon battling, the tools and resources make it easier than ever before. has become an amazing resource, detailing the strategies used by Worlds winners and helping players find their local scene with a tournament locator. You can research the rules first to see if you're up for the challenge. This might be the easiest generation to dig into, so it's a great place to start if you want to get better at playing Pokémon. These tips should help you get better, either for a competition or just playing with your friends.