Pokémon GO Trainer battles in the GO Battle League typically involve two Trainers facing off with a team of three Pokémon each, called a battle party. In Play! Pokémon competitions, however, Trainers bring a team of six Pokémon in a “show six, bring three” format. So how do top Trainers prepare teams for these events? What is a good structure for a team? It’s a tricky process even for experienced battlers, but with a little help you’ll be ready to get started on building your own competitive team.
If you’re among the many players who battle in the GO Battle League but haven’t made the jump to Pokémon GO competitions, don’t fret! There are plenty of tips here for you, too. Learning about full-team construction is a great way to get a new perspective on three-Pokémon team construction. And who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to join a Pokémon GO Challenge event near you.
One of the best ways to improve is by carefully watching successful teams from recent Regional and International Tournaments. You can find recordings of these tournaments’ broadcasts on the Play! Pokémon: Full Broadcasts playlist on The Official Pokémon YouTube channel, and detailed information about the teams Trainers used on the Championship Series Event Results hub. You can get a good idea about the current battling trends from the more recent Pokémon GO recordings in that playlist. You can also watch to see what top-performing teams look like in the final rounds of competition and even view a winning team that is tried and tested at one of these events!
Kicking Off with Core Duos
When you’re first setting out to develop a new team, a good place to start is with a strong core duo—two Pokémon whose strengths cover each other’s weaknesses well. For example, check out the popular core duo of Swampert and Alolan Ninetales. Swampert’s Water and Ground typing leaves it with only one weakness—a double weakness to Grass-type attacks. This weakness is compounded because many of the powerful attacks that Swampert can learn, such as Earthquake, Hydro Cannon, and Mud Shot, don’t do well against common Grass-type Pokémon like Trevenant and Dragon types like Altaria.
That’s where Alolan Ninetales comes in. This Pokémon is capable of strongly answering Grass and Dragon types with Ice-type damage from Powder Snow and Weather Ball. On the flip side, Alolan Ninetales has dual Ice and Fairy typing, giving it weaknesses to Fire-, Poison-, and Rock-type damage and a double weakness to Steel-type attacks. All of these types are resisted by Swampert, and Swampert in turn is able to hit Pokémon of these types with supereffective damage. This synergy is what makes these two Pokémon a strong core duo!
There are many strong core duo pairs to be found in Pokémon GO. Popular pairs at the moment include the aforementioned Swampert with Alolan Ninetales, Galarian Stunfisk paired with Trevenant, and Medicham paired with Noctowl. All of these pairs work together to cover a wide range of opponents with very few overlapping weaknesses, which is why they are seen very commonly together on both teams of six Pokémon and teams of three.
Beyond your starting core duo, there are many common structures between teams. The majority of competitive teams within the Great League incorporate a triangle of Pokémon around the Steel type. This is because Steel is arguably the best defensive type, so Pokémon like Galarian Stunfisk, Registeel, and Bastiodon make for a strong backbone for a team. Conversely, most competitive teams will also incorporate an answer to these Steel-type Pokémon, such as Medicham or Swampert.
Of course, the action and reaction keep going. Since Medicham and Swampert put heavy pressure on Steel-type Pokémon, Trainers will look to protect their Steel types with Pokémon such as Altaria, Noctowl, and Trevenant. Trevenant and other Ghost types occupy a nice niche because they’re resistant to Fighting-type attacks and take neutral damage from Steel-type attacks. However, they can have a tougher time against other anti-Fighting-type Pokémon like Noctowl.
That said, each position in this kind of team structure has feasible substitutions that are seen regularly. Instead of Steel-type Pokémon, players may opt for bulky Normal-type, Ice-type, or Dark-type Pokémon that serve a similar purpose. The anti-Steel slot doesn’t absolutely require Fire-, Fighting-, or Ground-type Pokémon—just ones that have attacks of those types, such as Defense Forme Deoxys or Obstagoon.
In fact, we can combine this concept with our previous discussion of core duos. All three of the duo cores mentioned above form two sides of a triangle. In our first example, Swampert serves as an attacker and Alolan Ninetales serves as the Pokémon that protects against Steel-type attacks. In the second, Galarian Stunfisk is, obviously, a very durable Steel-type and Trevenant protects it against the many Medicham and Swampert featured in the competitive metagame. Finally, Medicham fits hard as an attacker and Noctowl is both anti-Steel-type Pokémon and an anti-Ghost-type defender to protect Medicham.
Building a Second Trio
What we’ve discussed so far features only three Pokémon, so a lot of it applies to both the GO Battle League and tournament play. Here we’ll expand on team construction to get more into the latter category.
After selecting a core duo and adding a Steel-centric choice, you have anywhere from three to five Pokémon, depending on whether your core duo is also a part of your Steel-centric trio. There should be answers to almost every common metagame threat on the team, specifically in the trio. Because of that, an easy way to finish the team will be to create a second trio, typically featuring Pokémon with different types. That way you can feature a wide variety of types while maintaining a good structure to your team.
It is, however, worth considering doubling up on Pokémon of a particular type. This has been a popular tactic throughout Pokémon GO’s time in the Pokémon Championship Series, with two Steel types or two Ghost types at the forefront. More recently, Water, Flying, and Fairy types have risen in popularity. These teams usually thrive by putting pressure on opponents that do not have a strong answer to their attack types while also maintaining the strategies we’ve already discussed. Having two of a given type also allows for easier creation and more choices for the three-member battle parties.
Generally, when finishing up a team, it’s important to compare your choices against the current competitive scene—this is another instance where watching recent matches comes in handy. For any given Pokémon you expect to face in battle, your team should have at least two comfortable or positive matchups, preferably more if possible. This gives your team the best chance of winning against a wide variety of opponent teams of six. While the boundaries of a “comfortable” matchup varies from player to player due to their skill and knowledge of matchups, it should become fairly straightforward where the answers to common competitive picks reside on your team after some practice and study.
Example Teams of Six
To give examples of this construction method in action, let’s go over two teams that have achieved success in the Pokémon GO competitive circuit and why they were made that way.
Last fall I participated in the Peoria Regional Championships, finishing second. How did I go about creating a team that was prepared for success?
It started with a strong core duo in the form of two of my favorite Pokémon for GO Trainer Battles: Tapu Fini and Galarian Stunfisk. Tapu Fini protects Galarian Stunfisk from Fire types, Fighting types, Ground types, and other Water types, while Galarian Stunfisk protects Tapu Fini from Electric types, Poison types, and a good portion of Grass types.
My first Steel-centric trio was Galarian Stunfisk, Primeape, and Cofagrigus. Along with Tapu Fini, these Pokémon covered a large portion of my expected opponents and felt especially strong against the condensed metagame at the time due to their specific Charged Attack options and matchups. Now I could sit back and take a look at potential weaknesses. With my four Pokémon so far, I was very uncomfortable against Trevenant and not super happy with my Azumarill matchup. I needed two Pokémon to round out my team that could beat Trevenant, at least one of which could also handle Azumarill.
So, my second trio incorporated Lickitung and Altaria to complement Tapu Fini, forming a secondary trio I could bring in as necessary. This allowed a balanced team of six with no type overlap across Pokémon, which generally is my personal preference for competitive play. Additionally, I felt strong against most common threats with those six Pokémon. While there were outliers I felt extremely weak to—namely Wigglytuff—I felt confident that I would either not encounter them or that I would be able to maneuver around them by playing certain matchups in ways I had practiced. My targeting of common threats, such as Galarian Stunfisk, Altaria, Medicham, and Sableye, felt stronger than most teams due to the decisions I had made in selecting Pokémon for certain roles. My core duos across the team, as well as my triangles, were potent and, most importantly, Pokémon I was comfortable using in Trainer battles.
Using these common aspects of team building in Pokémon GO, I created a team that I felt confident playing, had reasonable play against all meta threats, and had additional targeting towards the core metagame threats. That is the end state I would expect of a Trainer looking to properly build a team of six Pokémon for Trainer battles.
Second Team of Six
Now let’s look at recent Knoxville winner Reis2Occasion’s team. He used two common cores on his team of six: Alolan Ninetales paired with Swampert and Galarian Stunfisk paired with Trevenant. His team featured the common triangle of Galarian Stunfisk, Swampert, and Trevenant, but then notably had a quite unusual second triangle. Alolan Ninetales and Azumarill both provided Ice-type coverage while also providing type coverage similar to what other teams get from a Flying-type attacker and Fighting-type attacker, respectively. From there Noctowl rounded out the team of six.
With this team he was able to play against the most popular competitive Pokémon, having multiple strong answers to the top five most common at the time—Galarian Stunfisk, Medicham, Noctowl, Lanturn, and Trevenant. He had multiple strong core duos to weave into battle parties of three and he had experience playing them. While he did double up on two types with Water and Fairy, his picks were diverse in their playstyle and matchups while being strong against Steel-type and Fighting-type Pokémon, respectively.
Hopefully, at this point you should be comfortable building a team of six Pokémon to use in Trainer battles. However, as mentioned in the beginning, reviewing successful teams will always be valuable in developing your own team. Don’t feel bad about using someone else’s tried and tested team; the recent Oceania International Champion Yacobervitch used the exact same team as the Toronto Regional Champion MagicMayson and was clearly successful with those six Pokémon. Or start with a successful team and put your own twist on it!
And be prepared to make changes as Pokémon picks and strategies change. That’s the essence of the metagame—constant tweaking to make sure you’re ready for your next battle while understanding the fundamentals behind your choices. My team from October is not one I would use in the current metagame, but the skills I used in constructing it will carry me for years to come.
Best of luck in your Pokémon GO Trainer battles—may your teams be strong and your confidence high! For more Pokémon GO analysis and strategy, visit Pokemon.com/Strategy.
Ana “NHoff” Hoffman
Ana “NHoff” Hoffman is a contributing writer for Pokemon.com. She has been playing Pokémon GO since its release in 2016 and playing Trainer Battles competitively since the early days of the feature. She loves battling with less commonly seen Pokémon (like her favorite, Sandshrew) and enjoys draft formats. You can find her on Twitter at @GoddessNHoff and in-person at a Pokémon GO event near you!