There’s a lot to consider when building your GO Battle League team in Pokémon GO. Whittling hundreds of Pokémon down to the allowed three can feel overwhelming. In addition to thinking about the type of Pokémon that will be most effective, it’s important to consider what role each of them will play. Identifying your lead Pokémon and safe switch Pokémon will allow you to develop a more nuanced overall strategy and may make it easier to choose the best three Pokémon for you.
Your lead Pokémon is the first Pokémon you send into battle—an important role because it sets the tone for the entire encounter. While it’s certainly possible to come back from an unfavorable matchup at the beginning of a battle, a good lead Pokémon can gain momentum for your entire team. As with every other decision when building your team, it’s important to choose a lead Pokémon that complements your broader strategy. A well-chosen lead Pokémon, with some luck, can help set you up for victory in the following ways.
Gaining an energy lead to unleash future Charged Attacks
Eliminating one or both of your opponent’s Protect Shields
Gaining the switch advantage, resulting in future favorable matchups for your team
Helping you learn about your opponent’s Pokémon and their available attacks
Now that we have a better understanding of some of the tactical benefits of the right lead Pokémon, it’s time to assess the qualities that you should consider when making your choice.
A good lead Pokémon has a wide number of resistances, decreasing the odds that you’ll need to switch it out quickly. Every Pokémon has a vulnerability to certain types of attack, but when you look at the Pokémon most frequently utilized in a specific league, like the Great League, you’ll begin to recognize patterns that allow you to identify Pokémon less likely to be vulnerable.
Understanding what you hope your lead Pokémon will achieve will help you make your selection. For instance, a worthwhile goal is to burn through your opponent’s Protect Shields. In that case, it’s important to have a lead Pokémon with a Charged Attack that powers up quickly. It’s also helpful to have two Charged Attacks—one that you can send off quickly and one that will deal significant damage, potentially forcing your opponent to use a Protect Shield. Baiting opponents—tricking them into using a Protect Shield against a Charged Attack with a lesser Energy cost—is an art form and worth mastering. Having Charged Attacks that can be used to bait opponents is another good quality of a lead Pokémon.
For example, Jellicent is a popular lead Pokémon within the Great League. Jellicent’s Water-type Charged Attack Bubble Beam is an excellent bait attack, given that Jellicent could also be sending off a punishing Shadow Ball that deals a lot more damage against most Pokémon. By using your Fast Attack until you have enough Energy to deliver Shadow Ball and instead choosing Bubble, you save Energy and force your opponent to choose between using a Protect Shield or potentially taking a lot of damage.
Knocking out your opponent’s lead Pokémon, or forcing them to switch it out, puts you in a position to choose which Pokémon to use against their second Pokémon, which is a substantial advantage. For this reason, many players choose a Pokémon with some bulk as their lead Pokémon, as choosing a Pokémon that is difficult to knock out makes you more likely to win this important first matchup. Of course, your lead Pokémon will have the advantage of two Protect Shields, which isn’t always the case for Pokémon you’ll bring in later. So, if you happen to have a Pokémon that needs a Protect Shield (or two) to maximize its effectiveness, you could consider sending out your less bulky Pokémon first.
Another common strategy is to run what is known as an ABB team. This means that your team is comprised of two Pokémon of the same type and one Pokémon that can take on any Pokémon that counter your two “B” Pokémon of the same type. In this scenario, the goal for the “A” Pokémon in an ABB team is to target the Pokémon that is the biggest threat to your “BB” Pokémon. So if your “A” Pokémon has a matchup against a Pokémon that isn't a huge threat to your “BB” Pokémon, you should swap it out.
New Pokémon and strategic shifts within the game can significantly alter which Pokémon are the most effective within the GO Battle League. This makes an adaptable strategy extremely important, including which Pokémon you use in your lineup and as your lead Pokémon. The Pokémon listed below are currently considered strong lead Pokémon within the Great League, Ultra League, or Master League. While it might seem strange that certain Pokémon perform well within one league but not others, this is determined by the Pokémon available within the other league. A Pokémon that excels in the Great League might not be able to reach a high enough CP to be competitive in the Ultra League. And a Pokémon that dominates the Ultra League might have a strong counter or better type option in the Great League that is not available in the Ultra League.
Jellicent: As mentioned earlier, Jellicent is a popular lead Pokémon at the Great League level. Its bulk, resistance to eight types of attack, and the Bubble Beam and Shadow Ball combo can offer a solid Hex against opponents.
Trevenant: Like Jellicent, this dual Ghost- and Grass-type Pokémon has a stout six resistances. While less bulky than Jellicent, it’s not easy prey on the battlefield. And, given the prevalence of Water- and Ground-type Pokémon within the Great League, its Grass-type attacks have the potential to deal a lot of damage.
Medicham: Boasting a somewhat rare dual typing—Fighting and Psychic—and only three vulnerabilities, Medicham is extremely popular in the Great League. The qualities that make it a good Lead Pokémon are its available attacks: its Fighting-type Fast Attack Counter deals decent damage and generates a respectable amount of energy, enabling it to reach its Charged Attacks fairly quickly. Its Charged Attack Power-Up Punch costs very little energy and increases Medicham’s attack, making each of those Counters hit even harder.
Trevenant: It’s no accident that Trevenant is a popular lead Pokémon within the Great League and Ultra League. The same qualities that make it an excellent lead Pokémon with a CP of 1,500 or less still apply with a CP of 2,500 or less.
Swampert: The thing that really sets Swampert apart from other Pokémon in the GO Battle League is its sole vulnerability to Grass-type attacks. This gives Swampert an extremely promising chance of facing off against an opponent it’s not vulnerable to. Its Ground-type attacks work well against Fire-, Electric-, Poison-, Rock-, and Steel-type Pokémon, while its Water-type attacks hit hard against Fire-, Ground-, and Rock-type Pokémon, covering a lot of popular Pokémon within Ultra League.
Registeel: There’s no denying that this Steel-type Pokémon is a tank and an intimidating sight at the beginning of a battle. Its Normal-type Fast Attack Lock-On generates massive amounts of energy, which means you can fire off Charged Attacks quickly, pressuring your opponent to use their Protect Shields early in the battle.
Palkia: This dual Dragon- and Water-type Pokémon boasts an extremely high max CP, which is a must-have for any Pokémon in the Master League. But what really sets it apart is its two Fast Attacks, Dragon Breath and Dragon Tail, which deal substantial damage while generating energy quickly. Its Charged Attack Aqua Tail also powers up quickly, allowing you to fire off several Charged Attacks while your opponent is trying to send off one. Aqua Tail may not deal a ton of damage, but if played correctly, you might bait your opponent into using a Protect Shield.
Metagross: As a dual Steel- and Psychic-type Pokémon, Metagross is resistant to Psychic-, Dragon-, and Fairy-type attacks, all of which are prominent within the Master League. It’s a reasonably bulky Pokémon with a high max CP, allowing it to hold its own against plenty of Master League Pokémon. Its Steel-type Fast Attack Bullet Punch generates energy quickly, and it has a useful range of Charged Attacks to choose from, including Ground-, Psychic-, and Steel-type Charged Attacks.
Dialga: As a Steel- and Dragon-type Pokémon, Dialga’s only vulnerabilities are Fighting- and Ground-type attacks, making it an excellent lead Pokémon. It has all the advantages of a Dragon-type Pokémon, including access to a Dragon-type Fast Attack and Charged Attack that benefit from a same-type attack bonus, making it one of the most powerful Pokémon in the Master League. It also offers three different types of Charged Attacks: Electric-, Dragon-, and Steel-type. Trainers that teach Dialga a second Charged Attack and have the advantage of two Protect Shields can take on many Pokémon in the Master League.
You can put all the thought in the world into choosing a strong lead Pokémon, but sometimes you’ll find yourself in a bad matchup. If your Trevenant faces off against Shadow Nidoqueen, for example, you’re probably going to want to make some changes. That’s where a safe switch Pokémon comes in handy. If you stay in the matchup, you risk wasting Protect Shields, having your lead Pokémon faint, and giving your opponent an energy lead. Alternatively, you can swap in your safe switch Pokémon. This Pokémon can fly in to save the day when your lead Pokémon is in danger.
Like your lead Pokémon, a good safe switch Pokémon should have few vulnerabilities. This is especially important for safe switch Pokémon because once you switch your Pokémon, it will remain locked in place for a full minute. Switching Pokémon is risky; if your opponent has a decent counter for that Pokémon, they will make their own switch, giving them the advantage. A lot can happen in the minute you have to wait before making another swap. But sometimes swapping in your safe switch is the best play—be prepared.
It’s important to note that a safe switch Pokémon isn’t just a Pokémon that’s effective against your opponent’s lead Pokémon. For example, if your lead Pokémon is a Grass-type and your opponent leads with a Fire-type, odds are that if you send out a Water-type Pokémon they will counter with a Grass-type Pokémon. In this scenario, you’re no better off than you were in the beginning, and your opponent stands a decent chance of winning the battle with two matchups in their favor.
When choosing a safe switch Pokémon, you can make a list of the Pokémon you consistently find yourself facing and choose a Pokémon that performs well against that list. Often, the goal is not for that Pokémon to single-handedly decimate your opponent’s entire team—you just need a Pokémon that will hold its own against a variety of opponents.
The ability to adapt your strategy is just as important for safe switch Pokémon as it is for lead Pokémon. The Pokémon below are current top contenders in the leagues listed, but this may change as the tides of the game shift!
Sableye: This Dark- and Ghost-type Pokémon is an extremely popular safe switch Pokémon within the GO Battle League because its only vulnerability is to Fairy-type attacks. And, if Sableye does find itself facing off against a Fairy-type Pokémon, a Ghost-type Fast Attack or Charged Attack can still deal significant damage. Sableye might not emerge victorious, but, for a safe switch Pokémon, dealing damage and eliminating some of your opponent’s Protect Shields is a worthwhile goal.
Swampert: This Ground- and Water-type Pokémon is a viable safe switch Pokémon within the Great and Ultra Leagues. Like Sableye, it has a single vulnerability: Grass-type attacks. However, it also has the perfect Charged Attack to counter Grass-type Pokémon in the Poison-type Sludge Wave. Swampert’s Attacks are known for wreaking havoc across a wide range of Pokémon types, giving it a decent chance of holding its own against any Pokémon your opponent throws against it.
Drapion: As a Poison- and Dark-type Pokémon, Drapion is another Pokémon with a single vulnerability in Ground-type attacks. It’s also a Pokémon with Fast Attack and Charged Attack options that are highly effective against that one vulnerability. Ground-type attacks might be Drapion’s Achilles heel, but its Fast Attack Ice Fang and Charged Attack Aqua Tail give it recourse if it faces a Ground-type Pokémon.
Cresselia: This Psychic-type Pokémon has the bulk to take several Charged Attacks without fainting, while still sending off a few Charged Attacks of its own. It has access to four different types of Charged Attacks, making it difficult for opponents to know whether to use a Protect Shield. Ice Beam is highly effective against Giratina, and Moonblast is effective against Dark-type Pokémon, covering two of its three weaknesses. The Charged Attack Grass Knot can give you an edge against Swampert, making Cresselia a respectable safe switch Pokémon.
Walrein: If you’re looking solely at type vulnerabilities, Walrein might not seem like a good choice. This Ice- and Water-type Pokémon is vulnerable to Grass-, Electric, Fighting-, and Rock-type attacks. However, Walrein is bulky enough to withstand a few Charged Attacks while unleashing a few of its own, which might force your opponent to use a Protect Shield. Its Fast Attack Powder Snow—which Walrein can learn via an Elite Fast TM—offers high energy generation. Meanwhile, the Charged Attack Icicle Spear (which requires an Elite Charged TM) costs very little energy and can be used with an attack like Earthquake to bait your opponent into wasting Protect Shields.
Politoed: In keeping with the classic safe switch formula of choosing a Pokémon with few vulnerabilities, Politoed is only vulnerable to Grass- and Electric-type attacks. Given that Politoed has access to a Ground-type Fast Attack and Charged Attack, Electric-type Pokémon are easily countered. Politoed’s Ice-type Charged Attack Blizzard offers a threat to Grass-type attackers. In addition, Politoed boasts several Charged Attacks that power up quickly, making it a good choice for your safe switch role.
Mewtwo: This Legendary Psychic-type Pokémon tends to dominate the Master League, despite being vulnerable to Bug-, Ghost-, and Dark-type attacks, two of which commonly appear in the Master League. Mewtwo has an incredibly high max CP and a decent range of available attack types, so it can hold its own against almost any Pokémon your opponent sends out. Giratina might pose a threat, for example, but Mewtwo could respond with its Ice Beam or Shadow Ball Charged Attacks.
Snorlax: Given that Fighting-type Pokémon rarely appear in the Master League, bulky Normal-type Snorlax puts the safe in safe switch. Snorlax’s CP doesn’t reach the heights of many other popular Master League Pokémon, but its type and range of attacks make it a viable option. Its Fighting-type Charged Attack offers good coverage against Dark- and Steel-type Pokémon, while the Ground-type Earthquake deals serious damage to most Pokémon that face it without a Protect Shield. All in all, Snorlax is not a bad Pokémon to have in your corner when you find yourself in an unfavorable matchup.
Dialga: The same factors that make Dialga a strong Lead Pokémon in the Master League also make it a good safe switch choice. In fact, it can be difficult to choose the best role for Dialga, given its strength and versatility. Try Dialga as both a lead and safe switch Pokémon to see which you prefer.
Remember that the best safe switch Pokémon is one that works well with your broader team and strategy. Don’t be afraid to try different Pokémon to see what you like best.
For more Pokémon GO strategy and analysis, visit Pokemon.co.uk/Strategy.