This month's Competitive Spotlight was written by Awesome_Typhlosion!
Congratulations! You beat the Pokémon League, and now you're the new Champion! But what comes next? After all, there's only so much fun to be had out of battling from running around beating up the AI. Enter competitive battling. Say goodbye to your Revives and soft resets, because this is the real deal. Today I'll be explaining some of the common factors about the Pokémon you'll encounter in competitive battling. Hopefully these guidelines will be useful when building your own team and when facing an opponent. Before I jump into discussing set archetypes, however, we need to define some terms. What is a set? And what is an archetype?
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I'll begin with the latter. Broadly speaking, an archetype is just a classification of similar things. It's like a genre of literature or a style of architecture. The word could also be used in regards to a group of characteristics shared by a class of objects. Take candy, for example. Candy is almost universally sweet and bite-sized, or at least small enough to be eaten rapidly. You could think of "candy" as an archetype for that certain kind of dessert.
Moving on, what is a set? You'll also see competitive battlers refer to this as a "build." When we use these words, we're talking about all the different variables and effects on an individual Pokémon that you, the player, can control and/or alter outside of battle. This includes things like your Pokémon's Nature, Ability, and moves. The basic formula for a set looks like this:
Nickname (Pokémon Species) [Level #] @ Item
This format consolidates all the information in a standard way that's easy to read quickly. It's worth noting that the level is assumed to be 100 if not specified, EVs are assumed to be zero if not specified, and and IVs are assumed to be 31 if not specified. So, to help you visualize how this works, here's an imaginary set from an in-game Pokémon. We've got a lvl 93 Charizard nicknamed Too Popular with random EVs and a perfect 31 Special Attack IV.
|Too Popular (Charizard) [Level 93] @ Charizardite Y
EVs: 64 HP / 167 Atk / 85 Def / 32 SpA / 113 SpD / 49 Spe
Brave Nature (+Atk, -Spe)
IVs: 0 HP / 17 Atk / 17 Def / 30 SpD / 12 Spe
As you can imagine, there are a few differences in sets between competitive Pokémon and ingame Pokémon. Take a look at this Greninja, which is at level 100 with flawless IVs. Also, its EVs are concentrated into just three stats.
Greninja @ Life Orb
Hopefully these two examples have helped you become familiar with the set notation used by many Pokémon fans, not just competitive battlers. Now that that's out of the way, it's time to move on to our main event: set archetypes!
For each one, I'll give an example of a Pokémon representative of that group, followed by a (more or less) short explanation of how the archetype functions and what its uses are. So without further ado, let's get into it!
Common Offensive Archetypes
|Infernape @ Focus Sash
EVs: 252 Atk / 4 SpA / 252 Spe
- Close Combat
- Stealth Rock
The names given to the different archetypes aren't difficult to understand; they're quite literal in most cases, and a lead is just that: it's the set that leads the battle. This will usually be the first Pokémon a player sends out at the beginning of a battle. A good lead has to be adaptable enough to deal with a wide range of other Pokémon, while at the same time being able to achieve the player's immediate goal to begin setting up the rest of the team in a good position.
Here, the primary goal of this Infernape is to use Stealth Rock. (I won't go into the details here of why that's a good idea, but suffice to say that it can be worth dedicating an entire teamslot.) To that end, the Infernape is holding Focus Sash, will allow it to still set up Stealth Rock against a faster Pokémon, or live to fight another day against a slower one. Endeavor gives this set the ability to do something else as well; this is known as role compression, which goes back to that idea of leads being able to handle a lot of other Pokémon. Once the Focus Sash has been triggered, Infernape can use Endeavor to severely cripple an opposing Pokémon, knocking them down to just 1 HP.
This can be an incredibly useful power against bulky walls. Overheat and Close Combat give Infernape the ability to fight as well if it needs to. Having one special attack and one physical attack makes it less vulnerable to Pokémon with very high Defense or very high Special Defense.
|Rapidash @ Life Orb
Ability: Flash Fire
EVs: 252 Atk / 4 SpD / 252 Spe
- Flare Blitz
- Wild Charge
- High Horsepower
A wallbreaker is a Pokémon with a very simple, fun premise: Deal as much damage as possible to as many opponents as possible, as quickly as possible.
This Rapidash set doesn't bother with any defensive investment, because it doesn't care about how long it survives. It also doesn't bother with status moves, preferring to attack immediately and to pack as much coverage as possible into its four available moves. Wallbreakers are generally used in the earlier stages of a battle, when they can surprise opponents with powerful or unexpected attacks. For example, Rapidash is in the PU tier, with Pokémon like Grumpig and Swanna.
These two are often used against Rapidash because of Thick Fat and a type advantage, respectively. However, a super-effective Megahorn deals over 50% health to Grumpig, compromising its ability to take more attacks later in the match. That "wall" has been "broken." Swanna is outright KO'd by Wild Charge: thanks to your wallbreaker, that's one less enemy Pokémon you have to worry about!
|Delphox @ Salac Berry
EVs: 4 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
IVs: 0 Atk
- Calm Mind
While all components of a Pokémon team should be important, the builds designated as setup sweepers are often the most crucial.
These Pokémon are meant to function as win conditions, or wincons for shorts. What this essentially means is that they are your key to victory, the factor that will allow you to win. Setup sweepers accomplish this by accumulating stat boosts in one or more ways--the "setup"--and then by relentlessly Knocking Out most or all of your opponent's Pokémon one by one--the "sweep". Because they aren't focused on their own defensive strength, setup sweepers need methods to keep them safe from opposing attacks while setting up and while sweeping.
Reflect and Light Screen support can be helpful here, as can Substitute, which has the added benefit of providing protection from status. The Delphox set here also utilizes Salac Berry, to make it faster than the vast majority of unboosted Pokémon, and Calm Mind, which gives its special-based STAB attacks the raw damage output necessary for a sweep.
|Scizor @ Scizorite
Ability: Light Metal --> Technician
EVs: 252 Atk / 236 Def / 20 Spe
- Swords Dance
- Brutal Swing
- Bullet Punch
A tank in competitive battling functions much the same as a tank in the military: an armored war machine that gives as good as it gets. Tanks, like setup sweepers, are meant to muscle past enemies of all kinds, and like this Mega Scizor, they may even use setup moves to do so. The main difference here is that, alongside its offensive capabilities, a tank prioritizes bulkiness over Speed.
It will certainly take a few attacks, but that's not as much of an issue when it's got the defenses to handle them. Thanks to its naturally high Defense backed by some EVs and its general lack of weaknesses, Mega Scizor makes a good tank because it can survive hits from a wide variety of physical attackers. It can Roost off the damage when necessary, use Swords Dance in between, and then fire back at its leisure.
Furthermore, thanks to the priority of Bullet Punch, Scizor can get around one of the usual pitfalls of tanks because even though it's invested in Defense rather than Speed, it will almost always go first.
|Ninjask @ Choice Band
Ability: Speed Boost
EVs: 252 Atk / 128 Def / 88 SpD / 40 Spe
- Aerial Ace
- Night Slash
After your wallbreakers and sweepers have attacked the opposing team, it's time for a cleaner.
They are differentiated from setup sweepers in that they don't usually have enough power to take on fully healthy Pokémon, and are usually among the last Pokémon sent out in a battle. This is the Pokémon that "cleans up" what's left; it's designed to KO several Pokémon in a row (or however many are left) once they've all been weakened by the other members of your team. For this reason, they generally need high Speed, to avoid taking too many attacks, and consistent damage output.
Ninjask, for example, is well known as one of the fastest Pokémon in the game, and a Choice Band increases its average Attack stat to acceptable levels. It's also got moves that each have decent coverage individually, so that it can afford to choose one attack to use against two or three remaining enemy Pokémon. Finally, U-turn allows it to be useful as a cleaner mid-game as well. Ninjask can come in, pick off something with only a little HP left, and immediately switch out to something else better equipped to handle healthy Pokémon.
|Mienshao @ Life Orb
EVs: 252 Atk / 4 SpD / 252 Spe
- Fake Out
- Knock Off
- High Jump Kick
When you've got a good team worked out that seems to be lacking something to hold it all together, consider using a pivot. This set can be a good Pokémon to send out when you're not quite sure what else to do, as it's designed to help you maneuver into a more desirable position based on what your opponent is doing.
The two main characteristics to look for in a good pivot are the ability to take a hit if necessary while switching, and providing some utility to the team outside of just switching so that it doesn't lose momentum. Mienshao has several independent traits that come together to make it a premier pivot. One of the most important is Regenerator, which keeps it healthy by restoring HP every time it switches (helps with the first characteristic!).
U-turn is a given on this set, because it accomplishes the actual work of allowing Mienshao to pivot. Its utility comes from Fake Out and Knock Off, which cripple the opposing team with chip damage and loss of items, respectively. Finally, if you need Mienshao to mount its own offense for a turn or two, you can fall back on its ridiculously strong High Jump Kick. [/list]
Common Defensive Archetypes
|Torkoal @ Leftovers
EVs: 252 HP / 4 Def / 252 SpD
- Stealth Rock
- Lava Plume
At first glance, this might look quite a bit like the Infernape we saw earlier.
While it's true that both that set and this one place an emphasis on using Stealth Rock, and both leads and setters are good at doing so, that isn't necessarily the primary goal of either one. Setters are responsible for setting up temporary field conditions that directly aid your own team. These include things like screens, terrain, Trick Room, or in the case of this Torkoal, weather.
Here, Torkoal's number one goal is to make the weather Sunny Day so as to support a sun team. Because these field conditions only last a certain number of turns, usually less than the duration of a full battle, setters have to be able to do their job multiple times in a match (unless you use multiple setters). To that end, they generally have to be bulky, and as you can see Torkoal has all its EVs placed in its defenses.
Setters also want to help their teammates make the most of the limited time available to them. That's why a self-sacrifice or a switching move can be useful, to get your setter out of the way quickly. Even though I've decided to class this as a defensive archetype, the line is a bit blurry here, and you'll often see these on more offensively-oriented teams.
|Crobat @ Flyinium Z
EVs: 252 Atk / 4 SpD / 252 Spe
- Super Fang
- Brave Bird
The main purpose of the Spinner archetype is to keep your side of the field clear of entry hazards, whether by removing them or by preventing them from going up in the first place.
It takes its name from the move Rapid Spin, which used to be the only way to accomplish this, although there are now other methods as well. Spinners can often be role-compressed with other archetypes, as it often takes only a single move or Ability to perform their task. These include the aforementioned Rapid Spin, but also Taunt, Magic Coat, Magic Bounce, or, in the case of Crobat, Defog.
Aside from just clearing entry hazards, Crobat also features several tricks to keep them from going up again by taking out the Pokémon setting them up. The combination of one or two Super Fangs (which will have perfect accuracy after an evasion drop from Defog) and a Supersonic Skystrike is excellent for KO'ing even the tougher Pokémon that typically use entry hazards.
If not, U-turn provides easy access to a better matchup and the ability to use Defog again at a later time.
|Gourgeist-Super @ Leftovers
EVs: 252 HP / 4 Atk / 252 SpD
- Leech Seed
- Seed Bomb
If the primary goal of offense is to knock out enemy Pokémon, the goal of defense is to avoid being knocked out, and that's exactly what a wall does. This, I would argue, is the definitive defensive archetype.
The premise of a wall is to be an insurmountable barrier for opposing Pokémon; it does this in three ways: receiving small amounts of damage from attacks, having a way to recover health, and chipping away at the opponent's HP with passive damage. The first part is why good walls need to have naturally high defensive stats. Will-o-wisp also helps in this regard by cutting the target's Attack in half, which is why Gourgeist's EVs have been concentrated into Special Defense. Of course, this doesn't do you much good if your wall is being worn down by repeated attacks, which is why they almost always have a recovery move of some sort. In this case, it's Synthesis, but Gourgeist also recovers additional HP from Leftovers and Leech Seed, meaning it can get back quite a lot of health in one turn.
Finally, the combination of Will-o-wisp and Leech Seed provides the passive damage. What this means is that the opponent is taking damage even without the wall directly attacking it. Walls are usually focused on keeping themselves healthy, so passive damage is their main way of defeating enemies.
|Chansey @ Eviolite
Ability: Natural Cure
EVs: 252 HP / 252 Def / 4 SpD
- Heal Bell
- Seismic Toss
"Um, excuse me? This is just another wall."
Well, looking at the similarities between the two sets, you're not far off. Both walls and clerics don't focus on attacking and are meant to be difficult to Knock Out. The difference is in how they are used. A wall is largely self-contained, whereas the point of a cleric is to be a team player by keeping your other Pokémon healthy. To that end, a cleric must have at least one of Wish or Healing Wish and Heal Bell or Aromatherapy.
The first two moves recover the HP of Pokémon other than the user, while the latter two cure the status conditions of all Pokémon on the team, not just the user. However, if most of your team is still in good shape, a cleric can function just fine as a wall too. That's why most of them have Protect, so they can get a free turn to receive their own Wishes and thereby heal themselves.
|Skarmory @ Shed Shell
EVs: 252 HP / 252 Def / 4 SpD
- Brave Bird
I know I said that archetype names are often self-explanatory, and here we are with "phazer," which is giving me those red squiggly lines because it isn't even a real word. Bear with me.
Phazers get their name because their primary objective is similar to that of the move Haze. For this reason they became known as pseudo-Hazers, which was eventually shortened to p-hazers and then to just phazers as we see today. But what is that primary objective? Well, setup sweepers are some of the deadliest enemies defensive teams could face. In just a couple short turns, too quickly for defensive Pokémon to do much back, they could accumulate enough boosts to rip through anything and everything in their path.
Haze users and phazers exist to stop this problem by removing boosts. Obviously Haze is the most direct way to go about this, but phazers accomplish it by forcing the target to switch out in some way, thereby removing all their stat boosts. Phazing moves include status moves like Whirlwind, damaging moves like Dragon Tail, or moves like Perish Song that make the target want to switch out.
There are two main perks to phazing versus hazing. One is to completely disrupt your opponent's strategy by bringing a different Pokémon onto the field, possibly one suboptimal for the situation. The second is forcing your opponent's Pokémon to take extra damage from the entry hazards you've set up. Skarmory's Spikes allow it to capitalize on its own phazing ability.
|Umbreon @ Leftovers
EVs: 252 HP / 4 Def / 252 SpD
- Foul Play
- Baton Pass
A defensive pivot shares many characteristics with an offensive pivot, as they both set out to do more or less the same thing. What sets them apart is how you make use of them.
Where an offensive pivot tries to change the direction of the battle by making your opponent do something, a defensive pivot like this Umbreon should be equipped to respond to what your opponent chooses to do. This makes Foul Play very handy, as it can turn a physical attacker's strength against it without Umbreon having to lift a finger. Toxic punishes switches by causing chip damage, and Moonlight is a quick, reliable way to keep Umbreon healthy from the attacks being thrown at it.
Finally, you may be wondering why this set has Baton Pass even though it can't boost any stats to pass. This situation is called a dry pass, and it functions as the pivoting move. Even without any stats, a dry pass on a slow Pokémon can be incredibly useful because it's like switching at the end of a turn. Your bulky Pokémon can shrug off a hit and bring in something else ready for action on the next turn.
All models courtesy of PkParaíso
And there you have it! This list of archetypes is hardly official or comprehensive, but I thank you for coming on this journey with me. I tried to avoid using too much competitive jargon, but if there's something you didn't understand or you'd like to know more about, please don't hesitate to discuss it in the comments, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can. Once again, thanks for reading; good luck and have fun!
Thank you for writing this fantastic article, Awesome_Typhlosion! And I hope this helps you all out when composing teams! Do you have a favorite Set type? Maybe a least favorite? Let us know in the comments below!