I'm also getting to be moderately good at it. I've won 154 of 269 games played, which is not amazing but I will absolutely take "better than average."
There are three "tiers" in the Battle League, with the Great capping at the lowest combat power of the three (1500), Ultra capping at 2500, and Master League having no cap. I think the theory here was that the Great tier would let people who haven't been playing long and don't have the most powerful Pokemon have a rank where they can compete. In practice, you're not going to have a competitive team unless you've been playing assiduously for a very long time.
Lots of people have been playing longer than I have, but I have been an avid player for a year and a half.
Last Friday, March 6, I banged my head against the Great League, trying to get in three wins to finish a special research mission in time for a Saturday event. I lost a few games disastrously, did some online research, and put together a new team, which lost somewhat less disastrously. After winning one game out of eight, I ended up whining to Terrycloth to lose a couple of games to me on Saturday morning (Terrycloth is a good friend. ❤️)
I thought that I might have risen to the level of my incompetence: I had made it to rank 8 of the pre-season Battle League, mostly on the strength of my Master team. The Battle League started Season One recently, and reset everyone's ranks. I thought I might do better in the new season.
I did do a little better, but still badly. On Saturday (March 14), I spent much of the morning once again researching the optimal pokemon for the Great League, scrutinizing my existing collection of pokemon, and taking notes to determine the most efficient and effective way to improve my team. I had some advantages:
* I have kept at least one of every pokemon I've ever caught (I have expanded my pokemon storage many many times)
* I tend to catch pokemon indiscriminately -- for xp or stardust or research missions -- so I've built up a lot of candy for most types of pokemon, even though I had no use for the candy stockpiles.
* I have a stockpile of both fast and charged training machines
And I had some disadvantages:
* I have been spending stardust to power up my Team Rocket counters and to purify shadow pokemon, so while I had *some* stardust stockpiled, I didn't have a lot, and I will need some to power up my teams for the Ultra and Master competition stages.
* I have generally retained only the highest or close to highest level pokemon of any given kind
This last is a disadvantage in the Great League, where the highest level pokemon of a given breed might well be too powerful to compete. For instance, I have 4 Swamperts accumulated from a Community Day event, and all of them are far too high in level for the Great League. I do have four low-level Mudkips (which can be evolved into Swampert), because they're shiny and I keep all my shinies. But I don't have enough of their candy to both evolve one and give it a second charged attack.
Being able to give every pokemon on your team two charged attacks is a significant advantage: it gives you versatility, if you can remember how and when to use it.
I read through a few "best pokemon for the Great League" lists, but my favorite was pokemon.gamepress.gg's "Great League Tiers", which ranks several dozen pokemon from 1 (worst) to 5 (best). My first attempt at making a team was "which of the 7 pokemon on this random listicle do I (a) have and (b) are of about the right level or can reasonably reach it?" This team had a serious weakness in that it had two pokemon that were vulnerable to Fight, and two that were vulnerable to Ground. So any team that used either of those had an excellent chance of beating mine, and Fight in particular is popular.
The Gamepress tiers were more exhaustive than any of the listicles, and were complete with write-ups on what moves to use for each pokemon and why. I could have outfitted my one Registeel for use, but went with Probonose instead -- almost as good, and I had plenty of regular candy with which to buy it a second attack. Investing 53 rare candy in the Great League is not appealing.
I am still bitter because I tried to power up an Altaria for use, but I pressed "confirm" on the last power up before it registered that it was going to 1501 instead of 1500: one point too high. 9_9 And it's 400 candy to evolve, which even I do not have to burn on another Altaria. -_-
My current team is Lanturn, Medicham, and Probonose. Lanturn is not ideal; in a perfect world, I'd have a flyer in that position. As it is, both Lanturn and Probonose are vulnerable to ground, so a team that leads with ground generally beats me. I also have some trouble with grass types, because I don't have anyone who's good against grass and one pokemon that's terrible against it.
One of the things I've learned is just how much difference it makes if you know both what your team's strengths and weaknesses are AND recognize the opposing team's pokemon and THEIR strengths and weaknesses. Not even just "this opposing pokemon is type X and weak against Y", but which moves the opposing pokemon will probably be using and even being able to guess which charged move they're using at a given time based on how long it takes them to charge it.
This is not as daunting as it looks, because the most competitive teams all draw on the same 30 or so pokemon, and if someone isn't using one of those pokemon, the pokemon is probably not a serious threat. Also, you can often guess the type of a pokemon by appearance. Sometimes not, though: a lot of players mistake my Lanturn for a pure water type and use electric against it. But Lanturn is a water/electric and is resistant to electric. Recently, someone tripped me up with a Flygon, which looks like a Bug/Flying, and is actually a Dragon/Ground, with the potential for a Rock attack. I did not recover from this mistake.
One particular thing I've noticed is that you rarely want to be the first player to swap out a pokemon. Even when my opening pokemon is bad against the opponent's opener, it's often better to just eat the first loss than to swap. This is because swapping is on a timer: if I swap first, my opponent can swap in response, and then I'm stuck in the new match-up. It's like switching from rock to scissors because your opponent has paper, only to discover your opponent has now switched to rock. You still lose, and your rock still has to face paper later.
It can be worth swapping first if (a) my current pokemon is terrible against my opponent's and (b) BOTH of my other pokemon are good against it.
The corollary here is that if your opponent swaps first, you generally want to swap in response. For one example:
* I open with Lanturn and my opponent opens with Azumarill. Azumarill is NEVER strong against Lanturn, and generally strong against both of my other pokemon.
* My opponent rescues his Azumarill with an Altaria. Altaria is relatively weak against Lanturn. But I should swap my Lanturn for my Probonose ANYWAY, because I don't want my Lanturn to get worn down by Altaria. I still need Lanturn to be healthy and viable against Azumarill when it comes back later in the match.
It's often tempting if your opponent brings out a pokemon that you have the PERFECT counter for to swap to your counter. But if they still have a swap available, they're just gonna swap it out after you swap the counter in. Don't bother.
Anyway, I am still not a Pokemon Go battle expert -- there are a lot of different types and I have nothing like all of the possible interactions and combinations down. But after months of doing Team Rocket battles and now the Battle League, I have a good start on it. It's weird because I found the trainer battles tedious and grindy when they were first introduced. The battle league has gotten to be enough fun for me that when I run out of battles for the day (and this takes a LOT of battles!), I go "Aww".
I am getting bored of my lineup, so I am forcing myself to figure out what my Ultra League lineup will be. Hint: it's gonna be expensive and I need to save my stardust for that instead of trying to beef up my Great League team. :D
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