Hello! Today I want to talk about a topic that a lot of people ask advice for in order to improve their skill — Reading your Opponent. This guide is going to include how to pick lines of 3 and the levels of thought that go into it.
All of this is my own method and does not reflect the only way to win. Some people might even say this is over the top, but again, it’s just my own means of analyzing my opponent and their team. It’s just my way of formulating this process and nets me wins, so I want to share it!
Team Building Fundamentals
So there are a ton of things that run through my mind when seeing my opponents’ team and picking lines of 3. I could write a novel over this topic
and probably will by the time I finish writing this. Picking randomly pre-made teams doesn’t quite fit the bill for me (in a balanced format) and I make adjustments to any lines of 3 according to team I am facing at that moment, what they played in the last game, etc.
So first, before even delving into the strategies, let’s clarify the team-building aspect of all of this. (Assuming we are in a vacuum of an extremely balanced format). You can do a variety of things when team building. You can revolve a team comp around a gimmick strategy (Running a specifically locked duo or trio of Pokémon that have unique compatibilities when run together), baiting strategy (purposefully make your team weak to something in order to bait out a specific Pokémon and win the lead), etc. Those all can work, absolutely. However, that’s not my overall play style most of the time. You all know me for my balanced team guides, and that is the style I live by! When I describe this to people looking for team building advice, I commonly use the phrase, “Think of your team as a toolbox”. This basically means to have a team that you can cherry-pick multiple teams of 3 at a second’s notice to be able to address any opposing team. A baiting strategy or some gimmick usually runs things that you can’t really do that all the time. They rely on a strat and it can hit or miss. Most times the strat does not care what your opponent has. If your opponent downloaded you, and your gimmick fails, you are going to feel suffocated when picking lines of 3.
Also, something to keep in mind while team building (might be going off-topic, but this is important), keep in mind of Pokémon that can overlap roles. Having clear counters for things is fine, but eventually you might find yourself playing RPS. Using polar Pokémon with clear wins/losses is going to make it hard to pick safe swaps and can make some shielding scenarios better in a lead situation).
So take all of this from the perspective of both you and your opponent having equally balanced teams.
So while discussing the steps involved while making lines of 3, I want to introduce what I’ll call Palamon’s Taxonomy ^trademark ^pending
Level 1 – Reading the opponents’ team and picking counters
Level 2 – Assess what your team is weak against and plan to counter what you predict your opponent to use to counter you.
Level 3 – Take into account that your opponent is going to counter your counter plan and counter that. (Not the same as Level 1 in all situations)
Circulates back to Level 1
You can apply this level of thinking to anything involving the mind game aspect of PVP in POGO (or anything that can relate to this). (Team Building, Lines of 3, moveset variations, etc.) Using these levels of thinking is a good way to describe “what if” scenarios without exacerbating nitty-gritty specifics.
Picking Lines of 3
Okay! Now we are picking lines of 3. Using the same technique of using your team like a toolbox, consider good lines of 3 you have practice with. This is going to be critical if you are stumped on what to run. In-person tournaments can be stressful situations where you feel pressured to hurry up, so if you doubt yourself in those moments, have pre-made teams ready that you are comfortable with running in a general situation.
Let’s go over the steps of picking balanced teams of 3! (Learning by example is the most effective for me so I will include examples from the Cliffhanger and Sinister format – recent examples of team-building with a balanced variety).
First, look at what the opponent has
obviously lol. What do they have weaknesses in? What can you exploit? Find the crack that your team may be able to take advantage of. For example, in the Cliffhanger format, is your opponent running a Deoxys Defense/Sableye core team? If so, your Umbreon stands out immensely. If considering both of your teams were mirrors of balanced teams, and you had an Umbreon while they had a Sableye, that is a huge red flag that you could take advantage of. Sableye, of course, has its own strengths that can make it more appealing than Umbreon in certain situations, but again considering a mirror vacuum situation, it’s simple. Your prime Deoxys Defense counter beats theirs. Of course there is counterplay involved, otherwise, PVP wouldn’t be as flexible as it is. The other player, if experienced, will recognize this, and could possibly not even use Sableye, and bring in their charm user as their Deoxys Defense counter and Umbreon counter. So at that point, you can decide do you even use Umbreon (LVL 1 logic) or do you apply level 2 thinking and bench Umbreon for something else? Another example: In Sinister, is your opponent running 1 ghost, 1 steel, and no Cresselia/Lugia/Gardevior? Bring your psychics out. Of course, this also depends on more info about the situation, but this is just one way to understand what I’m meaning and expand on that in practice. And then, of course, there is counterplay to this in regards to what you/your opponent will lead with and have in the back.
Second, find 2 safe Pokémon – a safe swap and a potential lead. Sit down and mentally draw out matchups between your team and theirs. Count out each matchup as wins or losses for each Pokémon synced up with theirs. (Highly consider 2 shield scenarios when considering a potential lead and 0 or 1 shield scenarios for a swap/closer). Does your Haunter have 5 favorable matchups and one hard counter? That sounds like a good lead/safe swap to me. Picking these two Pokémon with the best statistical matchups is a good way to catch the lead or pull some shield advantage. You don’t have to decide which one leads/swaps right now; just which two Pokémon you have that statistically have the better matchups overall with their team.
With the hard work of my friend Celandro at Pokebattler, there is a new Matrix Simulator tool that can change the way you practice applying this step. I could write a whole spin-off novel on this tool but to keep it short – you can line up different teams of Pokemon against each other and see statistical matchups between each one while controlling various factors (shielding, IV’s, etc.). I have been looking over it this past week and it is a fantastic tool that can very quickly show you what Pokemon has the statistical advantage I am talking about. This tool only requires you to be a logged-in user and does not require a subscription (However, a subscription does offer many additional features, so play around with it first to see how it fits your personal needs. )
Disclaimer: Please keep in mind the Silph Rule of using online simulation tools while in a tournament
Now, this is the tricky part. This is where you get into the head of your opponent. The true reading process. This takes both a lot of psychological awareness and critical thinking. How experienced do you think your opponent is? Did they say this was their first tournament or do they have some experience according to their Silph status? All of this drastically influences how meta deep you go into your own game plan. The higher the experienced player, the more you are going to have to apply Palamon’s Taxonomy. If they are pretty new, you apply Level 1 logic and run your two safe Pokémon and a bodyguard for them most of the time. Even if you lose the lead, superior play can usually make up the difference and gross you the win. (For all of this, you HAVE to know every shield matchup your Pokémon has with the common condensed meta. It is a lot of work, especially in a cup like Sinister where baits can flip matches, but knowing these simulations is what makes the difference between a veteran player and a normal player).
Most times you will face experienced players. This is where you get to get into the mind games. What are your holes? What does their team have that has an advantage over yours? What are you going to do to prepare for that? Run this whole process from the perspective of your opponent. What level of logic do you think they will apply to defeat you? Will you call out their level 1 logic and apply level 2 logic and catch the lead and be prepared for the swap? Or will it be level 2 vs level 3 logic that you will anticipate? There are many things your opponent can do, so run the possible scenarios through your head. What will you do if they do this? What will you do if they lead/swap to this? If you mentally run the WORST CASE scenario matchups in your head beforehand, you are harder to be off-put and can adapt to the situation faster and with better judgment. So take those worst-case scenarios and pick one you will plan for.
Now that you have a situation that you will anticipate from your opponent, you now pick your lineup. You are leaning on that they pick that strat as a worst-case scenario, so if that happens, you’re ready. (Keep in mind too that the level of the player plays a crucial role in this as previously stated. Picking the worst-case scenario situation to plan around can often times literally be the opposite of what is going to happen against players that apply the next level of logic on you…or get lucky lol). Running the situation you chose, you can appropriately choose which of the two Pokémon you chose earlier as your lead or swap. Which one accounts better for what you predict to happen and/or has a statistical advantage over your opponent in the lead? Also, take into consideration winning switch priority vs shield advantage. (Is all case by case dependent, but some formats are more critical of winning switch priority than others) For example, in Cliffhanger, a charm user would oftentimes win you switch advantage, but could cost you shield advantage. Are you okay with that? What if they brought he best counter to what you have in the back and you are out of shields now? The same thing can happen in any format. Did you expend your shields on the lead just to have your pokemon in the back match up with the worst possible counter in the late game?
Pick your third Pokemon based on all of this information. Bring bodyguards to your predicted set. Even if that third pokemon gets hard countered, if it protects what you predict to carry you in this matchup, it is most times worth it. Whether you swap to it or leave it in the back is up to how the match plays out.
Play out Match #1 (or 2, 3 if coming back to this step)
In this step, you are collecting information you obtained in the first game in order to prepare for match #2 (or whatever the next match is). Did you win/lose? Was your prediction correct? (Usually should be the more you practice this) Or was it the complete opposite? What did they lead/safe swap to/have in the back? What level of logic did they apply? (This is fundamental to recognize). Was it targeted at your team using level 1 thinking, or level 2 by considering what you would bring? Or even level 3 by thinking of going past that and countering your level 2 logic?
Take a stab at what you think they will do in the next round and return to step 3. Your two safe pick pokemon are still statistically the safe picks, but keep in mind if your opponent recognized this and made those picks useless.
Some common strategies people utilize after Match #1:
- Leading the same lineup that won them a game (especially if they tried something else in game 2 and lost).
- Sticking with the same team throughout the whole round.
- Applying level 2 thinking vs your team.
- Applying level 1 thinking vs the team of 3 you brought in and won with.
This all, of course, relates back to how skilled your opponent is and over time you will practice being able to accurately call out what level of logic they will apply.
(Rinse and repeat this step after every match with the same opponent)
A lot of what I said is indeed hypothetical and may be hard to apply to real-world situations, so I will showcase my last winner deciding match in the last Cliffhanger format tournament I participated in to show how I applied this process. It also showcases what level of thought my opponent utilized because regardless of what strategy you are running (unless you run a gimmick/bait or just pick randomly for some reason), you do in fact apply some level of thought into what you pick and apply one of the levels of logic without even realizing it.
My opponent ran: Cliffhanger Team
(Ice Shard + Surf/Skull Bash Lapras)
My team: Cliffhanger Team
(Rock Slide Defense Deoxys)
Okay, so first, assess the situation. Defense Deoxys has positive matchups with Medicham, Lapras, and Lanturn. Sableye has positive matchups with Medicham, Jirachi, and Lanturn in 1 shield. Bastiodon has positive matchups with Jirachi, Togekiss, Sableye, and Lapras. Clefable has positive matchups with Togekiss, Sableye, Medihcam, Lantern with shields, and Lapras.
At the same time at looking at these positive matchups, I am also keeping in mind the bad matchups that mirror image the positive ones. (Defense Deoxys has positives with Medicham, Lapras, Lanturn; but not Togekiss, Jirachi (iffy), and horrible vs Sableye).
Lanturn and Golbat were going to sit this one out due to their statistical matchups and because the ones I mentioned above can fulfill roles that I would want them to do but better in this particular matchup.
So let’s walk through the steps:
- Step 1 applies here because I am using Deoxys Defense and he has Medicham. They have their differences, but to have my anti-tank beat his is huge. (Same logic with the Umbreon/Sableye example). The same actually applies with my Clefable but to a lesser extent since Clefable can outrace Togekiss in any 1 on 1 scenario.
- So for my first match, I am definitely bringing Defense Deoxys and Clefable. They partner very well together and now I can move to step 3.
- What are my worst-case scenarios? What breaks my Defense Deoxys/Clefable core? Well, Lanturn in the late game is always potent, especially without me running a grass to hard counter. So I will have to try to conserve shields in the late game or try to preserve my Defense Deoxys as much as I can. However, Clefable has some similar roles as Defense Deoxys so I don’t have to be too conservative with preserving Defense Deoxys if it means losing shield/switch advantage. Jirachi could pose some threat to this. Jirachi has some nice statistical matchups with my team. Lapras is generally a fantastic safe swap/lead in Cliffhanger. (Recognize common safe swaps in every format. Sinister example – are they running Dusclops? There is a high chance they will safe swap to Dusclops if they lose the lead, so you can prepare for that). So I will count on a Jirachi or Lapras swap/lead as the scenario to plan around.
- I will recognize level 2 thinking from my opponent and run Sableye as my lead to catch Jirachi (also nice matchups in general due to versatility, but mainly for Jirachi). Worst case scenario is I meet with a Togekiss and I can safe swap to Clefable (will have to be very fast). Even if his Togekiss manages to take down my Clefable, his Togekiss will be low and that is one less counter for my Defense Deoxys (will have to worry about Sableye in the back for this situation).
Now that we have our plan, I will discuss the results of each match in a summary form. (Step 5 is applied in the assessments after each match)
I lead with Sableye with Defense Deoxys and Clefable in the back. He leads with Medicham and has Lapras and Jirachi in the back.
Fantastic, we won the lead. He quickly swaps to Lapras and I swap to Defense Deoxys. His Lapras goes down and he swaps in Medicham. My Defense Deoxys does a considerable amount of damage but falls. (Defense Deoxys carried me in this match). I swap in my Sableye, Medicham falls, and out comes Jirachi, which Sableye finishes handily. Clefable was not shown.
Okay, we pretty much called it down to the letter. Lapras was his safe swap and he left Jirachi in the back for the statistical matchup. He brought Medi to protect his Lap and Jirachi from Bastiodon. Makes sense. Now we figure out what to do for Round 2. I applied the common strat to just run the same line again. This is in a way level 2 thinking but applied in a level 1 way. (Since we showed that and opt to run again — is most predictable. Levels of thinking can adjust after every match because you can now apply it to what they chose and go from there; while taking into consideration all of the factors such as if they lost/won, how useful each pokemon was to them, etc.)
My opponent ran Medicham to bodyguard but very quickly realized the step 1 advantage of my Defense Deoxys over Medicham, so we can highly anticipate it to not be involved in the upcoming matches.
I lead Sableye with Defense Deoxys and Clefable in the back. He leads Togekiss with Lapras and Sableye in the back.
Okay so the worst case scenario has occured and we recognize the level of thinking he applies based off the first match. I quickly swap to Clefable. We win the charm down but he spent a charge move to do so, so we used a shield to win Switch Priority. Lapras comes in and Clefable takes a shield with Meteor Mash. I pull in Defense Deoxys and he expertly ducks a Psycho Boost onto his Sableye. This is bad. I swap in my Sableye to mirror but lose due to energy disadvantage. Sableye takes me down and he swaps Lapras to finish my Defense Deoxys off with a Surf.
We lost the lead and he is no longer bringing Jirachi or Medicham. We planned for this, but like previously said, superior play can make up the difference and that is exactly what he did by ducking my Psycho Boost into his Sableye. He recognizes that Togekiss is good against my Sableye/Defense Deoxys core and at this point, I have a couple of options:
- I can run the same thing and not waste a Psycho Boost on the Sableye and try to win it out again.
- I can apply level 3 thinking (which is slightly closer to level 2 thinking while in match 3) and run Bastiodon instead of Sableye. Have him think I will run the same thing and counter that. I have high recognition that he might lead Togekiss again. He didn’t run Jirachi or Medicham last time because of how much my choices of Clefable/Defense Deoxys/Sableye threaten it. Swapping Sableye for Bastiodon maintains the Jirachi matchup, and gains a Lapras, Sableye, & Togekiss advantage. We gain risks to Medicham and Lanturn (which we are predicting he won’t bring due to our previous matches. Bastiodon is also a naturally perfect bodyguard core duo with Defense Deoxys.
I lead Bastiodon with Defense Deoxys and Clefable in the back. He leads Togekiss with Lapras and Sableye in the back.
Perfect. He quickly swaps to Lapras. I could stay in, but if Lapras is his best counter, it can be safe to assume that he has Sableye in the back. So I bring in Defense Deoxys to align the positive matchups. We both expend all shields (which is fine because I know having switch advantage with no answer to Bastiodon on his end will carry me). I win switch priority and unload a Rock Slide on his Sableye. Clefable comes in and we both quickly fast swap to Togekiss and Bastiodon respectively. Togekiss goes down and Sableye gets sat on by Bastiodon to win us the round and ultimately the entire tournament
As you can see, this strat applies statistical analysis and a large amount of dedication to understanding your team and their matchups in the meta of whatever format you are in. Like I said, some people may think this is excessive and can find success in running any team of 3, but this is how I apply logic to my matchups and how I maintain a very high win rate and am able to catch leads a majority of the time. Some people may just have a hard time doing this because indeed 90% of PVP is a mental game. And that’s okay, just try to keep in mind the levels of thinking I discussed and try your best to identify what you think is being used against you and how to counterplay it.
I know that was a lot,
people who know me definitely know I can throw down some walls of text but I hope this guide helped you and can add a new layer to PVP that makes it a bit more understandable to put into words/thoughts!
If you aren’t in already, here is a link to the Go Stadium Discord where you can interact with a global community dedicated to PVP in Pokemon Go!
Thank you to everyone who stuck it out this long to read this and good luck the Silph Arena!