A beginner’s guide to Pokémon VGC team building

You know enough of the basics to play and you know how to get your Pokémon in fighting shape. Now all you need is the right team of six to carry you to victory. Yet, with more than 700 different potential Pokémon to choose between, four moves to choose for each and multiple viable EV spreads — team building isn’t always easy. That being said, this guide will give you a handful of guidelines to follow that should help you get started.



Team building in VGC often starts with a single idea. Often, that means choosing a single Pokémon (or sometimes even a single move) and growing from there. Ever since X & Y introduced mega evolutions, many players tend to start there. Alternatively, since VGC 2016 allowed the use of two restricted, legendary Pokémon, that tends to be the starting point this year. Regardless, know neither situation always has to be the case. As the most powerful member of your team, a mega or restricted mon is often a good place to start — but it all depends on what your goal with the team is.

This brings us to the concept of a win condition. A win condition can vary, but it is always your go-to method of victory. Maybe it involves knocking out your opponent’s team with a single Pokémon (otherwise known as sweeping). Maybe it involves stalling until the timer runs out and winning by having the most Pokémon still around. Maybe it involves something more outside the box. Whatever it is, it’s a good idea to start with your win condition.

Now, throughout the article, we’ll be looking at a very popular team as an example — the team used by National Champion Chase Lybbert and created by Conan Thompson. This will hopefully help you understand the different considerations that go into making a team. As a final disclaimer, the logic that went into to justifying this team’s composition has been reverse engineered from the six sets themselves. Thompson may well have had different reasoning, while what you’ll find below is simply my take.

The core

Groudon and Xern

Anyway, the win condition on “The Big C” team is to use Primal Groudon and Xerneas to deal massive damage to everything. As mentioned above, the team’s two restricted Pokémon make a good jumping off point. Why Primal Groudon and Xerneas, though? Glad you asked.

Xerneas is inarguably one of the most dangerous Pokémon in the format thanks to its fairy typing and a little move called Geomancy. Two turns after using Geomancy, Xerneas has its special attack, special defense and speed stat multiplied by two. That’s a huge boost, but it seems fair because it takes two turns, right? Well, thanks to the Power Herb item, Xerneas can skip the waiting and get the boost in a single turn. On top of that, it already starts with great HP and special attack stats while boasting respectable defenses and speed. Basically, if you can get a Geomancy boost, you can win right out the gate.

Primal Groudon, on the other hand, is probably the all around best restricted Pokémon thanks to its insane damage output and fantastic ability, which makes it difficult to consistently handle . With an outrageous 180 attack stat and access to one of the best attacks in the game (Precipice Blades), few things can survive two hits from a Primal Groudon, let alone one. On the side, it has 150 special attack and a few solid special moves that match its typing.

To make matters better (or wrose if you’re facing down the wrong end of it), it’s Desolate Land ability boosts the power of fire type attacks and renders all water type attacks useless. Why does that matter, you ask? Well, as a ground/fire type, Primal Groudon is four-times weak to water type attacks. This ability thus keeps it virtually safe from its biggest check. On top of that, the only way to cancel the effects of Desolate Land are with Primal Kyogre’s “Primordial Sea” ability or Mega Rayquaza’s “Delta Stream.” However, in the same way that Desolate Land is checked by those two abilities, it also acts as a check for them. When used properly, a good Primal Groudon switch-in renders Kyogre nearly useless and a Mega Rayquaza far more vulnerable to certain attacks.

Finally, these two Pokémon have an amazing synergy together. As a fairy type, Xerneas is resisted by fire and weak to poison and steel types, both of which are weak to Primal Groudon’s ground-type attacks. Even better, Primal Groudon also resists all three types of attacks and has solid defenses, making it a decent switch in if you can spare the HP. On the other side of the coin, Xerneas’ boosted special defense helps it deal with Primal Groudon’s biggest threat, Primal Kyogre — which attacks with powerful special moves. Together, these two can be hard to take down.

The megas


While picking a mega-evolution for your team often falls under the previous section, it’s often the second decision made in VGC 2016. However, despite the fact that restricted Pokémon are very powerful, megas have proven their ability to keep pace. That means making the right selection is just as essential.

When choosing your mega, consider its role on the team. What threats does it check and how does it accomplish that? Popular examples from 2016 are mega Salamence and Mawile, which check Primal Groudon and Xerneas, respectively. Then there’s mega Kangaskhan, which has been a popular pick since its introduction in 2014 thanks to its high damage output and access to a variety of useful moves.

Going back to the “Big C” team, Thompson included both mega Kangaskhan and Salamence on the team despite only being able to use one each game. Having the option to choose between two megas has been a popular trend during 2016, though. Since megas are more often used as damage support for restricted Pokémon instead of win-conditions themselves, the flexibility allows players to choose whichever option has a better match-up against the opponent.

On this team, Kangaskhan pairs well with Xerneas because of its access to Fake Out, which renders its target immobile on the first turn Kang is in play (while also dealing some damage). This helps Xerneas set up a Geomancy and go to town. Meanwhile, its high damage output helps soften up opposing Pokémon that might otherwise survive Primal Groudon’s Precipice Blades attack. And in either situation, because it out-speeds many common restricted Pokémon, it can take them down itself with clever play.

Salamence, on the other hand, is a solid check to Primal Groudon (and other physical attackers) thanks to its Intimidate ability and immunity to ground-type attacks. On top of that, its mega evolution is one of the most successful mixed-attacking Pokémon (uses physical and special attacks) thanks to aerilate, which changes normal type attacks into flying one.

This lets it hit physically defensive Pokémon on the special side with Hyper Voice and specially defensive Pokémon on the physical side with Double Edge. On top of that, it gets access to a number of coverage moves that can take down Pokémon that threaten it. But most commonly, mega Salamence uses Tailwind to give the team a quick form of speed control.

The support


The remaining spots on a team often come down to plugging the holes left after deciding on the first few Pokémon. Often times this means rounding out type coverage to allow for more flexibility, but that’s only the most basic use of support Pokémon. The best kind of support is the kind that helps achieve the win conditions — though that can be done in multiple ways.

A lot of the time, players use Pokémon that can inflict status conditions to help support their win condition. If, for example, your win-con can’t handle physical attacks very well, it’s smart to make ample use of the burn status, which cuts the attack of a Pokémon inflicted with it by half. On the other hand, some win-cons are slow, making paralysis’ ability to cripple speed a smart play. Or, you can try and force your opponent to sit around doing nothing with the sleep status. There are more status conditions than just those mentioned, but you can see how the option in general is appealing.

Alternatively, all some win-cons need to succeed is to move first. In that case, speed control is a powerful option. There’s Tailwind (which doubles your team’s speed for multiple turns), Icy Wind (which does damage and slows the opponent down) or Trick Room (which makes the slowest Pokémon go first and fastest go last for a few turns). Another option would be to by-pass normal speed entirely by adding Pokémon to the team with priority attacks.

On other occasions, you just need a Pokémon that will stop your opponent from doing anything tricky — so you use Taunt to force your opponent to attack. The main takeaway is that the support Pokémon tend to be where the diversity is found when a meta-game appears stale. Even if most people are using the same mega or restricted Pokémon, few teams boast the same solutions to the same problems. In fact, making subtle changes to otherwise standard teams (techning) happens regularly with support Pokémon.

On Thompson’s team, the two supporters are Cresselia and Smeargle. One tends to provide various forms of speed control while the other generally does its best to render the opponent useless through various shenanigans.

Cresselia, as one of the game’s all around bulkiest Pokémon, makes for a fantastic support Pokémon because it can stick around so long. On top of that, it has ample access to various forms of speed control and support moves. The flexibility afforded by it often allows you to attack first, attack harder and avoid being attacked at all. Plus its Levitate ability comes in handy against Primal Groudon’s Precipice Blades.

Smeargle, on the other hand, is one of the game’s all around most reviled Pokémon. This is due to a combination of its unique ability to learn any move in the game and its ability, Moody — which randomly boosts a stat two stages and lowers another by one at the end of every turn. The limitless move-pool makes it extremely hard to predict, and random Moody boosts can make it extremely hard to play around even after you’ve figured out its set. It always tends to make use of the move Dark Void, which has an 80 percent chance to put both of your opponents to sleep for up to three turns. There’s plenty else its capable of, but rendering an opponent useless is still the best support a win condition could ask for.

It’s not the power of your team, it’s how you use it

Real Big C

Once you have your win-conditions and the appropriate supporting cast, it might seem like your team is almost built. In truth, there’s far more work to be done. Actually, if you think about building a team like putting together a puzzle, picking the team members is like finding all the edge pieces. It gives you a framework to build off, but the details are still missing. Fortunately, those details can usually be filled in by answering a single question.

“What is this Pokémon’s role?”

Is the Pokémon’s role to get knock outs? If so, consider what its typing and move-pool allows it to knock out. Then, figure out which moves achieve those knock outs the most reliably. Something like reliability is subjective, though, since you may often have to decide between accuracy, power, spread and priority. It’s rare to get everything you want from a single move, so it often comes down to personal preference.

Once you have your moves, pick an item that enables it to do the most damage. Sometimes Pokémon need a speed boost — so giving it a Choice Scarf is the play. Other times, Pokémon are a bit frail, and a focus sash or assault vest helps them stick around a little longer. In other situations, Pokémon might need a little extra punch to get the knock-out — making a life orb the best decision. And, obviously, mega and primal Pokémon need the appropriate item that allows for such special evolutions.

Is the Pokémon meant to offer support? If so, figure out its options for speed control, status infliction and general disruption. Then, to narrow it down, decide what your team needs to support or disrupt the most. After that, pick an item that ensures you get the moves you need off. While assault vest isn’t an option for most support mons, a focus sash or sitrus berry can grant the extra longevity needed for a team member to do its job. Or, if your Pokémon is vulnerable to being disrupted itself, try a mental herb or lum berry — both of which delay an opponent’s ability to shut your supporters down.

Finally, it’s important to mention what many players agree is the most important move in the game: protect. While this move does no damage, its ability to keep your Pokémon safe for a single turn (barring a few moves that can negate it) makes it highly valuable. It isn’t always necessary on every teammate, but it rarely hurts to have it on most of your Pokémon.

Beyond items and moves, the last thing you have to consider are EV spreads. Unfortunately, that is often the single most difficult aspect of team building. Even players who have been around for a long time occasionally struggle when crafting them, since doing so requires a vast understanding of the meta-game.

Most of the time, players consider three things for every EV spread: what do I need to out-speed, what attacks do I need to survive, what Pokémon do I need to knock out and which of those three are the highest priority? The last question is arguably the most important because there are only so many EVs to go around.

Remember, it’s impossible for a Pokémon to do everything you might want it to. Sometimes you’ll have to sacrifice power for speed. Other times you’ll have to sacrifice speed to survive a hit. Those are tough calls that often force players to readjust after getting experience with the team. When in doubt, know that the Internet is a wonderful resource. Players often share and explain their spreads online, and there is nothing wrong with using someone else’s EVs if you can’t figure it out yourself.

With all that being said, let’s take one final look at Thompson’s “Big C” team to examine why his sets and spreads are so effective.

Groudon artGroudon-Primal @ Red Orb

Ability: Desolate Land

EVs: 140 HP / 236 Attack /4 Defense / 116 Special Defense / 12 Speed | Adamant nature

Moves: Precipice Blades, Fire Punch, Swords Dance, Protect

A rather straight forward set, the adamant nature and generous attack investments help Precipice Blades and Fire Punch hit as hard as possible. Swords Dance, which doubles the users attack stat, gives Groudon the opportunity to seize huge momentum on a turn when an opponent is forced to protect or switch. The HP and special defense investment help it survive against common threats such as mega Salamence’s hyper voice or boosted attacks from Xerneas, and it is guaranteed to survive an Earth Power from a max special attack Groudon from full health. Finally, the speed helps it move first under trick room against max-speed and neutral-speed primals while out-speeding them normally after an icy wind from Cresselia. Watch out for min-speed primals, though — you’ll speed-tie with them.

Xerneas thumbXerneas @ Power Herb

Ability: Fairy Aura

EVs: 252 HP / 140 Def / 68 SpA / 4 SpD / 44 Spe | Modest Nature | IVs: 0 Atk

Moves: Dazzling Gleam, Geomancy, Moonblast, Protect

With geomancy being the most important move on this Pokémon, Power Herb becomes crucial for its ability to get the boost in a single turn. Protect is obvious, and its other two attacks are rather straight forward. Dazzling Gleam spreads the damage around and Moonblast helps focus specific threats down and get around Wide Guard. The modest nature’s boost to special attack allows you to put more EVs into bulk, and the defensive investment helps it live multiple Precipice Blades and Fire Punches. It also helps it take attacks from mega Kangaskhan and mega Salamence a bit better. Speed also isn’t as important since geomancy already doubles it, letting it out-speed everything outside of choice scarf users, Tailwind and Trick Room.

Mega KangKangaskhan-Mega @ Kangaskhanite

Ability: Inner Focus

EVs: 4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe | Jolly Nature

Moves: Return, Fake Out, Sucker Punch, Power-Up Punch

Mega Kangaskhan’s Inner Focus prevents it from getting flinched by other Kangaskhan or faster Fake Out users, taking the mind-game out of mirror Kangaskhan leads. With that being said, Fake Out is one of its most important moves for its ability to render a single Pokémon useless on the first turn its active. That can help Xerneas set up with Geomancy, Smeargle get off Dark Void or Cresselia set up Trick Room. At the same time, since Fake Out often encourages players to protect on the first turn, Power-Up Punch can be used to get a quick and easy plus two boost to attack. And since you have that option, you can use Return to forgo Double Edge and its recoil. That sacrifices a bit of power but nets you more longevity. Sucker Punch, finally, gives it a way to touch ghost types and get off an attack against Pokémon that outspeed it. As for the EVs, since this thing is meant to hit as hard and fast as possible, everything is invested in attack and speed.

Mega MenceSalamence-Mega @ Salamencite

Ability: Intimidate

EVs: 84 Atk / 172 SpA / 252 Spe | Naive Nature

Moves: Hyper Voice, Tailwind, Double-Edge, Protect

Similar to Kangaskhan, speed is Salamence’s most important stat. But unlike Kang, Mence is a mixed attacker, requiring you to split the remaining EVs between attack and special attack. Since Double Edge hits so hard already and Hyper Voice hits both sides of the field, special attack gets a little more love. The former is also a 2HKO on almost everything that isn’t physically defensive and Hyper Voice is one of the best answers to Primal Groudon (outside of water and ground type attacks). Finally, since it doesn’t really need any other attacks, Tailwind gives you the option to play fast instead of only relying on Cresselia’s Trick Room or Icy Wind to help Groudon outspeed your opponent.

SmeargleSmeargle @ Mental Herb

Ability: Moody

EVs: 252 HP / 196 Def / 60 SpD | Bold Nature | IVs: 0 Atk

Moves: Dark Void, Crafty Shield, Wide Guard, King’s Shield

While most Smeargle run either focus sash or a choice scarf, that makes them easy to shut down with Thundurus’ priority Taunt. This set gets around that by using a Mental Herb, but that makes it much more frail. To counter that, King’s Shield is used instead of Spikey Shield. This works wonders against opposing Kangaskhan, which often like to Fake Out Smeargle on turn one. The resulting attack drop, when combined with its defensive spread, gives Smear the extra longevity it needs to wreak havoc. Its lack of speed investment also helps it under-speed most threats while Trick Room is up, though a speed boost from Moody still lets it fire off a Dark Void before getting attacked, most of the time. Speaking of that move, it’s this set’s center piece for its ability to shut down both of an opponent’s Pokémon. Crafty Shield is there to counter other Dark Voids from faster Smeargle, as well as shield partners from other disruptive moves such as thunder wave or encore. The last slot uses wide guard to force powerful spread attackers (such as the primals, Xerneas and Salamence) to use single target moves instead, increasing your likelihood of getting off at least one attack a turn.

CresseliaCresselia @ Sitrus Berry

Ability: Levitate

EVs: 4 HP / 12 Def / 244 SpA / 20 SpD / 228 Spe | Modest Nature |IVs: 0 Atk

Moves: Icy Wind, Psychic, Helping Hand, Trick Room

Forgoing the usual bulk, this Cresselia is capable of firing off quick icy winds to slow opposing threats down. However, since icy wind hits few things other than dragon/flying types very hard, psychic lets it chunk non-specially bulky Pokémon for solid damage. On top of that, its speed and special attack investment allow it to out-speed and knock out opposing mega Gengar with psychic after an icy wind. Trick Room is obvious and has been much discussed, but Helping Hand is a boon for every offensive threat on the team. It lets Groudon OKHO almost everything with Precipice Blades and ensures few things survive a boosted Xerneas. For that reason, it’s chosen over other common moves such as Skill Swap or Gravity.

And that’s everything! After reading those 3,500 words (you did read them all, right?), you’re ready to make a fearsome team of your own. Good luck, and happy playing!

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