No Bullshit – How to play VGC

Waddup I’m Nicholas Ong, my life is a joke and honestly I don’t even know why I’m making this stupid guide, but it’s probably because of the fact that I honestly am starting to get sick of this game. RNG keeps screwing me over, and yes, I’ve been keeping track. You’d think I’d be jaded by now – and I am, so this is me feeding off what are probably the last drops of my passion for this moronic game, which is plagued by an equally moronic competitive player base. You could call this a preservation of my knowledge, a legacy to leave behind? Man, that was emasculating to type. To hell with it, if you’re willing to learn or seek new, objective perspectives on this game, then read on.

I’ll aim to condense the information in this guide as much as possible because I’m not a Kotaku sellout whose writings have ultimately no value. No glitter. I hate that nonsense – functionally useless and stains your hands.

Battle notation

Before we jump in, there is a system I’m going to use that you should know. As we all know, Pokemon is a very text-heavy game, and battle text is often pointlessly long. I’ve devised a system for battle notation that I’ll be using throughout this guide.

(Player 1) 1: Alakazam, 2: Whimsicott, 3: Audino, 4: Slaking, 5: Metagross-Mega, 6: Tapu Koko
(Player 2) A: Ninjask, B: Raichu, C: Togekiss, D: Kyogre-Primal, E: Marowak-Alola, F: Donphan

The above denotes the Pokemon used in the battle. 123456 for Player 1 and ABCDEF for Player 2. This will be shown at the beginning of every battle example I present, and this simplification allows for a shorter and easier to read battle notation system, a sample of which is presented below:

Game 1 Picks: 12(4*), EF(AD)
Turn 1: 2 switch 4, 1 Shadow Ball E, F Earthquake 14E
E switch A
Turn 2: A Protect, 1 Protect, 4 Giga Impact A, F Curse
A Speed Boost
Turn 3: A Baton Pass D, 1 Psychic F, 4 Truant, F Rock Slide 14
(* denotes an unrevealed pick)

Earlygame

(Required reading: http://web.archive.org/web/20160113143523/http://nuggetbridge.com/blogs/entry/790-theyre-eying-each-other-warily-team-preview-guide-ver2015/)

The earlygame is, simply put, the earliest stage of the game. It is imperative to note that this stage does not only start at Turn 0, which is a common misinterpretation, but right from the Pokemon picking phase of Team Preview. A poorly played earlygame can write you off for the entirety of the remaining game and, as such, is one of the most crucial parts of any game. This typically occurs between Team Preview to Turn 2.

Opening a game

Executing your earlygame turns can also be called “opening” a game. As previously mentioned, when aiming to play perfectly and safe, you should not be aiming to create a lead based upon any play that has less than a 100% chance to trade at least neutrally. The neutral position should be assumed, and looked to be extended upon only on the condition of your opponent’s failure to play as equally neutral. One might try to make a case for opposing offensive plays that aim to read, but the fact is that in a game with as little decisions to make as Pokemon – which has only at most 8100, which occurs during Team Preview – there will always be plays to cover these offensive options as well as any other option as long as you are on neutral or positive momentum.

Thus, in a game with only about 3 to 4 viable options per turn, the safest and most reliable win condition you can have is your opponents’ incompetence (which is actually stupidly rampant in VGC due to the whole love, friendship and uniqueness philosophy bullshit ingrained into every scrub over the course of the single player campaign). Game 1 of 2017’s Seattle Regionals Round 5 match between Zach Droegkamp and Gavin Michaels illustrates this principle well:

(Zach) 1: Ninetales-Alola, 2: Starmie, 3: Arcanine, 4: Kartana, 5: Tapu Koko, 6: Snorlax
(Gavin) A: Porygon2, B: Muk-Alola, C: Kartana, D: Arcanine, E: Tapu Koko, F: Gyarados

G1 Picks: 35(46), DE(AB)
T0: E Electric Surge, D Intimidate 35, 3 Intimidate DE

Zach’s picks are as close as it gets to perfect. A 35 lead covers everything bar BE (which Gavin later then adjusted to): EF loses to a potential quick Nature’s Madness + Flare Blitz E, CD loses to the same combination into C; most leads would need a switch to only trade equally at best. AB pressures well but a quick 5 switch 4/6 would nullify any offensive presence on the field the following turn. BE can be easily forced to a neutral 50-50 by suggesting a 5 switch 4 or 5 Nature’s Madness E while maintaining win condition trades with 3 Flare Blitz E.

Zach later loses the set to Game 1 midgame misplays and Game 2 RNG, but nonetheless commanded the earlygame of Game 1 due to simply maintaining his neutral position and only extending his momentum from suboptimal plays. He could have hard read BE as Gavin’s best option against his safest and went for 24, but it loses to a rogue CE and even EF, the latter of which isn’t even a bad option for Gavin.

Midgame

The midgame occurs after the usually neutral phases of the earlygame are over. At this stage of the game, suboptimal high-level mistakes in trading do not usually have their consequences immediately amplified like in the earlygame, but will rear their ugly heads in the lategame. This stage of the game is also where momentum can clearly be defined as being on the side of a player, but not enough to close out a game on its own just yet. The midgame usually lasts from Turn 3 to Turn 6-7 of a typical game, with longer games lasting to as far as Turn 12.

Board control

The Hearthstone Gamepedia wiki defines board control as “an unofficial term usually referring to a player’s ability to keep the opponent from building up minions on the battlefield, or ‘board’.” In Pokemon, having more board control than your opponent means having a higher trade potential than them at any given turn. Your control over the board is determined by two factors: turn order and pressure, the former of which is why being able to control Speed is a fundamental of any good team. Having a higher factor in any of the two gives you more options than your opponent on that given turn, giving you more board control.

Essentially, having more board control than your opponent in a given turn means having more options to advance the game in your favour than your opponent in that turn. Generally, having more meaningful options than your opponent to advance the game will eventually convert into a win for you, but this isn’t always the case especially in endgame metas (which I’ll explain later).

To truly understand how to acquire board control, we first have to look at its factors: turn order and pressure.

Turn order

When your Pokemon get to move first, you get more options than your opponent as you can get to:

– execute a setup before they can deny it through the means of statusing or fainting your Pokemon
– deny their setup before they can execute it by the same means
– deny neutral or positive trades by fainting your opponents’ Pokemon before they can execute said trades

Therefore, by denying options from your opponent purely through acting before they can, you create a disparity in meaningful, available options the moment you deny enough of their options, giving you more control over the board than your opponent. For example,

(Player 1) 1: Whimsicott, 2: Terrakion, 3: Groudon-Primal, 4: Sylveon
(Player 2) A: Thundurus-T, B: Delphox, C: Landorus-T, D: Metagross-Mega
(note: Gen 7 Paralysis mechanics are used in this game)

Picks: 12(34), AB(CD)

1 threatens a Tailwind before A can Taunt it to setup a Tailwind sweep with 34 at the back while denying an A Thunder Wave 2 due to the possibility of a faster Prankster 1 Encore A the next turn leading to a momentum stall; while an A switch C can’t punish a 2 switch 3 the following turn due to being faster (one the few times an advantage in turn order can work against you) with Intimidate. A can’t Thunder Wave or Taunt 1 either due to Gen 7 mechanics enabling a still faster Taunt punish or momentum stall respectively:

T1: 1 Tailwind, A Thunder Wave 2, 2 Rock Slide AB, B Psychic 2
T2: A switch C, C Intimidate 12, 2 switch 3, 3 Desolate Land, 1 Encore C, B Heat Wave 13
T3: 1 switch 4, B Protect, 3 Eruption BC, C Earthquake 13B (Player 1 endgame seal)

Pressure

The other influence on board control is pressure, and I daresay it is a bigger factor than turn order because it can actually override the latter’s influence on board control. Pressure (yet another loosely defined term that was killed by VGC buzzwording) is simply defined as the damage and setup potential you have at any given turn.

Damage potential is straightforward, and why pressure can sometimes override turn order; it doesn’t matter if you’re slower, as long as you’re still able to faint the opposing Pokemon before they can do so the next turn. The ideal amount of difference in turns to faint an opposing Pokemon to secure a damage potential advantage is at least 2 – e.g., 1 vs 3 hit KO. By fainting an opposing Pokemon, you remove potential win conditions, which follows onto the next component, setup potential, which is your ability to execute win conditions such as setups and endgame positions. These what-ifs and could-be options to win the game exert pressure on the field, thus creating board control.

Trading

Trading is the essence of a simultaneous turn-based game like Pokemon, and can be defined as the exchange of material between two players. This material can come in many forms from the obvious such as damage, Pokemon and setups, to the more subtle, yet as equally impactful such as positions and endgames. Trades can be defined as either neutral, positive, or negative, and surface or endgame. Defining a trade as positive or negative is easy enough: the player who netted more material than their opponent can be said as having done a positive trade, while their adversary suffered a negative trade. Yet, this positivity can sometimes only be surface-level, and the player who did a positive surface trade may have just traded endgames negatively. For example:

(Player 1) 1: Ninetales-Alola, 2: Darmanitan, 3: Magnezone, 4: Pachirisu
(Player 2) A: Absol, B: Excadrill (@Focus Sash), C: Garchomp, D: Zapdos

Picks: 12(34), AB(CD)
T0: 1 Snow Warning
T1: 1 Moonblast A, 2 Flare Blitz B, B Focus Sash, B Iron Head, Hail damage 2B
1 Switch 3, A switch C, B switch D

On the surface, this turn of events looks to have gone extremely well for Player 1. 2 for 1, a positive trade all around, right? Well, yes.

And hell no.

2 Pokemon for 1: positive surface trade
Losing your only answer to a C Earthquake spam sweep: disastrous endgame trade

T2: C Earthquake 23D, 3 Sturdy, D Heat Wave 3
2 Switch 4
T3: C Earthquake 4D, D Heat Wave (fail)
Player 1 WIN 2-0

Surface trading without accounting for losing endgame trades, or even worse, not even accounting for endgames at all, is what I consider “improper trading”. Do not be blinded purely by damage potential, and always account for at all times the manner in which you should close your games. Proper trading is often what differentiates high-mid from high-level gameplay.

Momentum

(Required reading: https://web.archive.org/web/20150730174504/http://nuggetbridge.com:80/articles/momentum-management-pokemon/)

Read the article above first. Go on, read it. Finished? OK, now you understand what momentum is, and how to acquire it. I’ll instead be covering two other aspects of momentum management: momentum stalling and momentum reversal, concepts that were briefly touched upon in the article but not explicitly stated nor expanded upon.

Momentum stalling is the act of trading neutrally with your opponent such that they do not extend their material advantage, with the aim of eventually accumulating it into a crucial turn where their material advantage is suddenly converted into nothing, due it to meaning nothing in that turn. This can usually only be executed when a lead is not too far ahead, through means such as pivoting and damage control (Intimidate, Screens) while maintaining tangible surface trades such as damage.

Momentum reversals are executed under very specific circumstances, using very specific moves: Trick Room, X Swaps, Haze, Sucker Punch, etc. You get the gist – moves that convert advantages from your opponent into disadvantages when played at the right moment, thus creating a “swing” in the momentum of the game. This was especially prevalent in the endgame meta of 2016, where my personal match between me and Amirul Husnii in Game 1, Round 1 of the 2016 Midseason Showdown Singapore demonstrates this:

(Nicholas) 1: Kangaskhan-Mega, 2: Smeargle, 3: Groudon-Primal, 4: Cresselia, 5: Landorus-T, 6: Xerneas
(Amirul) A: Smeargle, B: Talonflame, C: Ferrothorn, D: Kangaskhan-Mega, E: Xerneas, F: Kyogre-Primal

G1 Picks: 12(34), DF(BE)
T0: F Primordial Sea
T1: 1 Mega, D Mega, D Fake Out 2, 2 Flinch, 1 Low Kick D, F Water Spout 12
1 switch 3, D switch E, 2 Switch 4, 1 Desolate Land
T2: F switch B, E Geomancy, 3 Precipice Blades BE, 4 Trick Room (momentum reversal + endgame seal)
T3: E Protect, B Tailwind, 4 Gravity, 3 Precipice Blades BE
B switch F. B Primordial Sea
T4: 4 Skill Swap 3, 4 Desolate Land, 3 Precipice Blades EF, F Water Spout 34
T5: Amirul Forfeit
Nicholas WIN 2-1 (Amirul went on to subsequently win the next two games to clinch the set)

PIvoting

Pivoting. Sigh. Yet another term that has been screwed by not only VGC buzzwording, but the entire competitive community as a whole. Pivoting is probably one of the most important aspects to know and master, but what exactly is it? We first have to look at what Pokemon are defined as “pivots”. Fast/slow Pokemon with Volt Switch, U-Turn, Baton Pass – Manectric/Rotom, fast/slow pivots respectively. Bulky Pokemon with many resistances that can switch in to take a hit and cause a momentum stall – Ferrothorn, defensive pivot. When Manectric pivots, it trades damage to the opposing Pokemon and potentially to the incoming, for the incoming’s position. When Rotom pivots, it trades damage to itself and the opposing Pokemon for the incoming’s position. When Ferrothorn pivots, it trades damage to itself for its position.

As you may have noticed, the common aspect here between these three forms of pivoting is the trade between damage and position. Therefore, pivoting is simply a form of trading that involves the trade of damage for position, which when done properly results in a positive trade. Yes, this means that even switching is technically a form of fast pivoting, with what we know as “sacking” actually being a slow/sacrificial pivot. In Singles, the act of pivoting alone can constitute a proper pivot, but in multi-Pokemon formats such as VGC, it needs to be followed up with another form of trading in the same turn to be properly executed, such as damaging the opposing Pokemon or setting up. This is why double switching is considered an extremely risky move in Doubles that requires prediction.

Pivoting is an extremely nuanced form of trading, and to make it easier to understand, here’s another game of mine that exhibits an extremely obvious form of pivoting, in Game 1 of the Top 4 match between me and Jonas Chow in the VGC Singapore Open 2016 (this is a 2017 format):

(Jonas) 1: Kartana (@Choice Scarf), 2: Celesteela, 3: Hariyama, 4: Marowak-Alola, 5: Oranguru, 6: Milotic
(Nicholas) A: Arcanine, B: Celesteela, C: Tapu Lele, D: Eevee, E: Smeargle, F: Krookodile
G1 Picks: 16(35), DE(AC)

Jonas and I had already played before in the last round of Swiss, and both of us had almost perfect information on each other’s teams and endgames. The Evoboost endgame was not lost to me despite the Scarf and Competitive/Adrenaline Orb because while I had to do (AC) to properly pressure 16, 4 and a rogue 2 endgame, I could make use of D’s Baton Pass to slow pivot into A the following turn to activate Milotic’s boosts one turn later, maintaining momentum with C Psychic (1 slot) to maintain my advantageous position. Thus, I trade damage on D for superior positioning on A one turn later.

T1: E Fake Out 1, 1 Flinch, 6 Scald E, D Extreme Evoboost
D Moody (++Defense, – Accuracy)
T2: E Follow Me, 1 Smart Strike E, 1 Beast Boost (+Atk), D Baton Pass C, C Psychic Surge, C Psychic Seed, 6 Scald C
E switch D

In this position (16CD), a C Psychic 1 and D Baton Pass A will always be a positive trade positionally; C Psychic (1 slot) faints anything bar 2/5, which A/A+C can pick up later. In the case of a 1 switch 5, the following turn will have C pressuring a Psychic 6, such that if 6 Scald A it’ll be slower than C Psychic, forcing 6 Protect, 5 Trick Room, which can be easily read into a C Dazzling Gleam 56, A Heat Wave 56 for an endgame seal. Looking back, I should have went ahead with C Psychic 6, since if Jonas read me that would’ve meant a 16(2/3/4) endgame. Luckily, he didn’t, but things didn’t go quite smoothly for me either:

T3: 1 switch 5, C Psychic 5, 5 Sitrus Berry, 6 Scald D, D Baton Pass A, A Intimidate 56, 6 Competitive, 6 Adrenaline Orb
T4: 6 Protect, C Dazzling Gleam 56, A Heat Wave 56 (miss 5), 5 Trick Room
T5: A switch D, 5 Instruct 6, 6 Protect (fail), 6 Scald C, C Psychic 6
6 switch 5
T6: Jonas forfeit
Nicholas WIN 3-3

In my opinion, Jonas should indeed have not forfeited as my Tapu Lele didn’t have Protect, but what happened, happened, I guess.

Basic manoeuvres

Here, I’ll go through some basic manoeuvres that every player should honestly have memorised inside out. They’ll require a slightly specific positioning to pull off, but they should all be easily achievable and usually part of the optimal play anyway.

Manoeuvring around Tailwind

Ideally what you’ll want when you’re going against an unstoppable Tailwind setup is to match it with one of your own or threaten a momentum reversal with Trick Room. If you’re somehow out of these options, here’s what you should do in different scenarios (conditions fulfilled after Tailwind setup turn):

To execute a guaranteed manoeuvre – that is, one void of prediction – one has to take note whether or not they can fulfil certain conditions the turn after Tailwind is setup, which relies on these factors: number of Pokemon, hits they can each take, cleanup conditions after Tailwind, and damage potential of opposing Pokemon. With these,

You have: 2 Pokemon, each can take 2 hits, all of them are single target and you need at least 1 hit on either opposing Pokemon to cleanup after Tailwind
Opponent has: 2 Pokemon, A has spread move that is the equivalent of 1 hit each
(Yours): 12
(Opponent): AB
T1: Tailwind setup
T2: 1 Protect, 2 Protect, A spread attack, B attack 1
T3: A spread attack, B attack 1, 2 attack A/B
T4: 2 Protect (Tailwind ends)

You have: 3 Pokemon, each can take 1 hit, either one of them can cleanup after Tailwind
Opponent has: 2 Pokemon, A has spread move that is the equivalent of 1 hit each
(You): 12(3)
(Opponent): AB
T1: Tailwind setup
T2: 1 Protect, 2 Protect, A spread attack, B attack 1
T3: 1 switch 3, A spread attack, B attack 3
3 switch 1
T4: 1 Protect (Tailwind ends)

You have: 3 Pokemon, each can take 3 hits, all of them are single target and you need at least 2 hits on either opposing Pokemon to cleanup after Tailwind
Opponent has: 2 Pokemon, A has spread move that is the equivalent of 1 hit each
(You): 12(3)
(Opponent): AB
T1: Tailwind setup
T2: 1 Protect, 2 Protect, A spread attack, B attack 1
T3: A spread attack, B attack 1, 2 attack A/B (sack one on field)
1 switch 3
T4: A spread attack, B attack 3, 3 attack A/B (sack one on field, Tailwind ends)
You have: 4 Pokemon, each can take 1 hit, all of them are single target and you need at least 2 hits on either opposing Pokemon to cleanup after Tailwind

Opponent has: 2 Pokemon, A has spread move that is the equivalent of 0.5 hit each
(You): 12(34)
(Opponent): AB
T1: Tailwind setup
T2: A spread move, B attack 1, 2 attack A/B (sack one on field)
1 switch 3
T3: 3 Protect, A spread move, B attack 3 (sack one on field)
2 switch 4
T4: A spread move, B attack 3, 4 attack A/B (sack one on field, Tailwind ends)

You have: 3 Pokemon, each can take 3 hits, all of them are single target and you need at least 3 hits on either opposing Pokemon to cleanup after Tailwind
Opponent has: 2 Pokemon, A has spread move that is the equivalent of 1 hit each
(You): 12(3)
(Opponent): AB
T1: Tailwind setup
T2: A spread attack, B attack 1, 1 attack A/B, 2 attack A/B
T3: A spread attack, B attack (fail) (sack both on field)
1 switch 3
T4: A spread attack, B attack 3, 3 attack A/B (Tailwind ends)

Manoeuvring around opposing Sleep

We’ll use Gen 6-on’s Sleep mechanics here, which is between 1-3 turns, 1/3 chance to wake up each turn, and is not reset when switched out. Usually, when facing an opposing guaranteed Sleep that you can’t stop means either one of three things:

1) the sleep inducer is Scarfed
2) the sleep inducer is bulky, and exerts little to no offensive pressure (Amoonguss etc.)
3) the match was long over and you should have just forfeited earlier you dummy

Oh, and about Breloom? It’s terrible, so if you can’t play around it maybe look at your awful teambuilding for answers. It’s also not even that fast to be a problem for proper teams anyway. That means we can break the opposition into:

(Opponent): SA
S: Sleep inducer A: attacker
(Yours): 12

Remember, before anything else always consider yourself as playing to wake up on the last turn of Sleep. Expecting the worst is the safest and best way to approach odds. The outs listed below are also made with this mentality, and as such are more to be treated like a flowchart rather than a pick-a-scenario kind of thing. Don’t try to play God.

Scenario 1a: the Sleep inducer is Scarfed (single target)

You’ll want to have two Pokemon of equal offensive pressure, and can take at least 2 hits from each attacker. One might make a case for differing pressures to Protect the higher priority target whilst attacking with the lower one but the thing is that this is ultimately a play that relies on prediction, and the opponent can just not choke and do Sleep higher pressure, attack lower pressure anyway. The fact that one of the opposing Pokemon is a Sleep-locked Scarfed user so you can burn your first turn of sleep with little to no repercussions in terms of trading at least neutrally since you have your other Pokemon on the field to pressure on the Sleep inducing turn.

T1: S Sleep 1, A attack 1/2, 2 attack (1: 1/3 turns done, 2: healthy)

If you can only take 2 hits, 2 attack should almost always be into S. Only when you can take 3 hits can you maybe 2 attack A, but only if eliminating A would prove a bigger endgame trade than eliminating S first, which often won’t be the case. Anyway, 2 hit-scenarios basically force you to roll and pray:

(2 hits) T2: S Sleep 2, A attack 1/2 (1: 2/3 turns done, 2: 1/3 turns done)

Never, ever Protect in the case of a 2HKO situation. You’ll only reset the scenario under perfect plays and continue to trade down. Only when you can take at least 3 hits AND A attack 2 on the previous turn can you roll for:

(3 hits, T1 A attack 2) T2: 2 Protect, S Sleep 2, A attack 1/2 (1: 2/3 turns done, 2: healthy)

Then roll 1 (of course, if you have a back Pokemon just switch out but we’re assuming worst-case scenarios here):

(3 hits, T1/2/1+2 A attack 2) T3: S Sleep 2, A attack 1/2 (1: 3/3 turns done, 2: 1/3 turns done)

The above of which can also be applied to T1 A attack 1 -> T2 A attack 2 scenarios:

(3 hits, T1 A attack 1) T2: 2 Protect, S Sleep 2, A attack 2 (1: 2/3 turns done, 2: healthy)

Scenarios that have A attack 1 on both T1 AND 2 while not having 1 wake up are the absolute worst case. By then, you can only reset the scenario:

(3 hits, T1+2 A attack 1) T3: S Sleep 2, A attack 1 (2: 1/3 turns done)

With 2 Pokemon on your side, this is normally it for you. However, should you have a back Pokemon, you can definitely get an attack in with 2 this time should the opponent not choose to switch S out due to already having a Sleep turn in this reset scenario (don’t get your hopes up though they probably will anyway after Sleeping your back Pokemon).

Scenario 1b: the Sleep inducer is Scarfed (double target)

This scenario is technically dead due to G7 nerfs to Dark Void, which previously only saw play from Smeargle and Liepard. However, fringe events like the World Cup might still fall back on older formats (especially 2016) so this is still worth a look at. In this case, the outs are still strikingly similar to how you should handle a single-target Sleep inducer, except that Protecting is strictly out of bounds. You might think that Protecting will spread the odds over different turns thus making them easier to manage; while the former is a fact, the latter is an extremely common misconception that I still see being carried over even in high-level play.

For any variation of this scenario, you’ll want both your active Pokemon to be able to faint the Sleep inducer or its equivalent, such as Taunting, Imprisoning or Sleeping it. In all cases, you’ll want to go all-out against the Sleep inducer with both of your Pokemon as long as it is on the field. If it switches, the incoming will potentially eat damage, so you’ll also want to position yourself such that any attack from 1 or 2 can at least do a neutral surface trade on any given wakeup turn.

For 2HKO scenarios, just go all out into the Sleep inducer slot. You can only roll at this point, and better start looking at your teambuilding if you didn’t get Speed-tied.

For 3HKO and onwards scenarios, there is no one single optimal out to follow (this is how powerful double Sleep is). Instead, I’ll list them by wakeup turn.

1 wakeup T2, 2 wakeup T?
T1: S sleep 12, A attack 1/2 (1: 1/1 turns done, 2: 1/3 turns done)
T2: S sleep 12, A attack 1/2, 1 attack S (1: healthy, 2: 2/3 turns done)
If 1 attack S not OHKO/equivalent:
(T1+2 A attack 1)/(T1 A attack 1/2, T2 A attack 2/1) T3: 1 Protect, S sleep 12, A attack 1/2 (1: healthy, 2: 3/3 turns done)
(T1+2 A attack 1)/(T1 A attack 1/2, T2 A attack 2/1) T4: S sleep 12, A attack 1, 2 attack S (2: healthy)
(T1+2 A attack 2) T3: S sleep 12, A attack 1/2 (1: 1/3 turns done)

Only when you have absolutely no options left can you stagger Sleep turns, as in the case of T1+2 A attack 2. However, Protect 1 is also a good option if the 2’s endgame pressure is large enough to guarantee an A attack 2 on T3 if you have a back Pokemon, but then again you’re still risking a T3 A attack 1 into T4 S Sleep 12, A attack 2 anyway if your opponent reads you. So, a viable alternative but nevertheless still one with a bigger risk.

1 wakeup T3, 2 wakeup T?
T1: S sleep 12, A attack 1/2 (1: 1/2 turns done, 2: 1/3 turns done)
T2: S sleep 12, A attack 1/2 (1: 2/2 turns done, 2: 2/3 turns done)
(T1+2 A attack 1) T3: S sleep 12, A attack 1 (2: 3/3 turns done)
(T1+2 A attack 2)/(T1 A attack 1/2, T2 A attack 2/1) T3: S sleep 12, A attack 1/2, 1 attack S (1: healthy, 2: 3/3 turns done)

Why not 1 Protect for (T1+2 A attack 1) T3? Simple – it’s punishable with T3: A attack 2 -> T4: S sleep 12, A attack 2. You’ll get 2 attack S on T4 anyway so don’t try anything fancy unless you can guarantee your prediction.
Not listing double 4-turn wakeups here since it’s just basically A attacking the same slot for worst case and either one targeting S.

Scenario 2: the sleep inducer is bulky, and exerts little to no offensive pressure (Amoonguss etc.)

Honestly this would be almost impossible to churn out a list of outs for since the variations on this are way too complex, but generally you’ll want to do this:

T1: all out
T2: stagger if non-win condition Pokemon gets put to Sleep, otherwise all out
T3 onwards: all out

You can stagger even turns from T3 onwards if you somehow have at least 2 hits on both, such as A attacking a Protecting 1/2 on T2 while you staggered the Sleep turns, then attacking a different target from T1 on T3. Otherwise, your safest would just be to go all out.

Lategame

I’ll be extremely honest here – I honestly don’t know how to conceptualise and properly explain lategame manoeuvring. Everything I’ve learned so far on this part of the game has been pretty intuitive. As such, I won’t be going anywhere near deep into this part of the game because I’m not a disingenuous fake-ass who deliberately misinforms others and withholds information despite fronting a reveal-all facade to heighten their standing in the “community” while purposefully maintaining an information advantage over those who they are supposed to teach. Screw you. You know who you are.

What I do know, however, is that the lategame unveils itself when momentum on either side of the player has become large enough to become a win condition on its own. Through mistakes in the midgame from improper trading and momentum mismanagement, choices available to the losing player become exponentially fewer as the turns go on, culminating in turns with multiple 50-50s in the same turn presented to turn around the game, or in the case of the player with more pressure, close it out.

As such, playing to win towards the lategame is extremely risky, and thus you would usually want to have your endgames sealed in the midgame. A good player knows to begin to stall momentum in the midgame, when he recognises that opposing endgames are being fulfilled while he is losing, to set up the lategame. Likewise, he should know how to read into these attempts at momentum stalling and grasp back, firmly and intently, board control to prevent lategame 50-50 scenarios when on the winning side. The lategame begins when the midgame ends, starting anywhere from turn 6 to 12 of a proper VGC game.

Maybe I’ll update this part once I’ve really conceptualised the lategame as it is, but this will do for now.

Endgame

By now, you would’ve probably noticed I’ve been emphasising endgames a lot. Like, a whole lot. But what are endgames? Why are they such an important aspect of playing the game that I’ve been bringing the term up in almost every concept I’ve discussed?

The word “endgame” can mean different things, yet in context are easily understood and distinct. The endgame is a moment of the game that can happen at any time, and at any given turn. It is the moment when condition(s) are fulfilled – such as fainting X, getting boosts on your Pokemon, being in a specific position against your opponent – that void absolutely all of your opponent’s options. From that point onward, no matter what they do, as long as you strictly follow a series of variable options, they will have no chance to get back in the game bar misses or crits, and will definitely lose.

These scenarios, also called win conditions, are what you should be striving to achieve when you execute your trades. When a game is full of improper trades, it is usually referred to as “messy”, and players of these games throw away many otherwise easily achievable and key endgames that would’ve sealed up the game earlier, leaving only endgames that surface during the last few turns of a long game. These are the games in which you as a spectator often moan at suboptimal turns, and where commentators tend to note that “can go to any of the two players until the very last turn”.

The actions that you make to fulfil an endgame are what I’ve referred to throughout this guide as endgame seals. Executing endgame seals and then following up with the proper one-way route to winning the game is a key skill to master. Some Pokemon, and combinations of Pokemon, are more adept at creating these endgame seals than others, due to their endgames being relatively easy to fulfil and spanning across multiple scenarios. These Pokemon are also referred to as endgame Pokemon, duos, or simply, endgames.

A common misinterpretation is that Pokemon on their own can be called “win conditions”, but this is simply untrue. Getting reeeaaaal sick of buzzwording. Think about it, would you call a certain chess piece, on its own, a win condition? No? Why? Because win conditions are the certain positions and scenarios in which that certain chess piece is in, that leads to a win. God’s sake it’s in the word: “condition”. Stop this bullshit, seriously.

Anyway, endgames can be also split into the parts of the game that they occur in:

Earlygame seals

Earlyendgames work best in the opening stages of the game by accumulating an insurmountable lead that is impossible to catch up to. Examples of these include the notorious T1 cheeses of many metas: Smeargle-Xerneas, Evoboost, Mimikyu-Snorlax, Liepard-Mega Medicham etc. These endgames usually accumulate that lead by boosting or incapacitating, then using that to exert enormous offensive pressure that if not properly dealt with, will be insurmountable.

Yet, dealing with earlyendgames is extremely easy. Most are easily stopped by opposing Taunts, Fake Outs, boosting setups etc., and can be covered by charting out of them in proper teambuilding. As such, it is extremely inadvisable to rely on earlyendgames or even have them on your team at all. They require no prior setup, but it is also this perk that leads directly into why they perform poorly at high-level play: because they require no prior setup, it means they also do not have the necessary pressure and momentum to properly leverage on in perfect play scenarios (see: bringing queen out with underdeveloped pieces in chess). Seriously, don’t even think about having earlygame cheeses they’re really bad.

Midgame seals

Midendgames, like their name implies, shine in the midgame by trading with extreme efficiency over a wide number of scenarios, accelerating the midgame and snowballing momentum into a guaranteed win. These are also sometimes referred to as “pins”: Landorus-T-Mega Charizard Y, Garchomp-Zapdos, 2017’s Salamence-Metagross, Excadrill-Mega Salamence etc. These Pokemon usually make up the offensive core of a team in teambuilding.

Positioning is key to preparing midendgame seals, and Game 3 of the Finals match between Theron Ho and Matthew Roe in the 2015 Australian Nationals shows just how important that is:

(Theron) 1: Gengar-Mega, 2: Kangaskhan-Mega, 3: Sylveon, 4: Bisharp (@Life Orb), 5: Terrakion, 6: Thundurus-I
(Matthew) A: Amoonguss, B: Aegislash, C: Salamence-Mega, D: Excadrill (@Focus Sash), E: Rotom-W, F: Tyranitar

G3 Picks: 16(45), DF(C*)
T0: F Sand Stream

Matthew brought the then well-known Japan Sand team, which excelled in the midgame-focused 2015 format due to having multiple reliable midendgames in CD, DF, DE, and AC. Theron opted to bring the team he had tweaked and familiarised himself with throughout the season; while not a bad team per se, it had inherent flaws which would be exploited in this set.

Matthew’s midendgame of CD seals the game against most duos of Theron’s team on the condition that C does not get Paralysed – this means that once 6 has fainted, a full health C+D positioning will win Matthew the game. This was made strikingly apparent in G1 and 2, when D went down before C could’ve safely came in to a 6-free environment, with Matthew stealing away G2 only due to a last-turn choke by Theron.

Understanding that, Matthew leads DF and probably (CE) to absorb a potential Thunder Wave into C should that come into play at some point in the game. Theron had little choice but to open his games with 16(45). Without an opposing form of weather control, 2 was useless in this matchup, nullifying most midendgames of Theron’s team, most notably 23 and 35. This forced Theron to play towards a tougher to achieve lategame of 45, which required immense momentum stall. While he achieved it in both G1 and 2, the momentum stall was courtesy of 6’s Paralysis rolls on F. Not misconceptualising this, Matthew presses on with his gameplan.

T1: 1 Mega Evolve, 6 Thunder Wave F, D Rock Slide, 6 Sitrus Berry, F Rock Slide, 1 Flinch
6 switch 5

With 6 out of the picture and 1 flinching, Matthew got the best case scenario out of his optimal play. With no Icy Wind Speed drops and prior damage on D, he can begin setting himself up for the CD midendgame.

T2: 5 Protect, D Earthquake 15F, F Rock Slide 5 (endgame seal)
1 switch 4
T3: 4 Protect, D Earthquake 45F, 5 Focus Sash, 5 Close Combat D, D Focus Sash (sack to facilitate endgame)
F switch C
T4: C Mega Evolve, D Protect, C Protect, 4 Sucker Punch (fail), 5 Rock Slide CD (pre-Gen7 MEvo Speed mechanics)
T5: 5 Protect, 4 Protect, D Earthquake 45C, C Hyper Voice 45 (Sandstorm end)
T6: 4 Sucker Punch C, C Hyper Voice 45, D Earthquake 4C
Matthew WIN 3-0

Lategame seals

Lateendgames are Pokemon and scenarios that aim to void or reverse momentum by fulfilling conditions such as chip damage and positioning, then executing momentum reversals such as Trick Room in the lategame. In metas with accelerated lategames such as 2016, lateendgames thrive, and more often than not, having a better lateendgame than your opponent usually nets you the win in perfect play scenarios. Examples are: Bronzong-Primal Kyogre/Groudon, Cresselia-Heatran, Mega Rayquaza-Primal Kyogre, Cresselia-Primal Groudon, Celesteela etc.

Lateendgames, more than any other kind of endgame seal, require careful momentum and material management. Game 2 of Round 6 in Day 1 of the 2016 World Championships between Christian Milligan and Stephen Morioka shows the kind of precise, long-term planning needed:

(Christian) 1: Salamence-Mega, 2: Xerneas, 3: Ferrothorn, 4: Groudon-Primal, 5: Zapdos, 6: Weavile
(Stephen) A: Salamence-Mega, B: Groudon-Primal, C: Xerneas, D: Bronzong (@Occa Berry), E: Smeargle, F: Kangaskhan-Mega
G1 picks: 26(14), EF(BD)
G2 picks: 46(12), EF(BD)

On paper, Stephen has the superior matchup: as long as any two of Christian’s Pokemon have been reasonably chipped (~30-40%) on the turn the BD lateendgame comes into play, Stephen can net an almost guaranteed win, and even more so if 2 of Christian’s have fainted. EF trades at least neutrally against almost any lead Christian can throw at him bar 46 and 56 due to running the objectively inferior slow Kang variant, but 56 is easily punished by CF and even BF. After getting burned by a risky 26 lead the previous game, Christian settles on the relatively safer 46, which at worst would only trade neutrally against AD, a pick that is extremely unlikely to be played due to 26 showing up in the previous game.

T0: 4 Desolate Land
T1: F Mega Evolve, 6 Feint E, 4 Eruption EF, F Power-Up Punch 6

This would look like an extremely promising position for D to come in and setup the BD lateendgame. However, due to the fact that F is not a max Speed+ variant, it could not properly pressure 4 on T1, and thus 6 on T2. Stephen’s poor choice in teambuilding came back to nip him in the ass.

6 switch 1, E switch D, 1 Intimidate
T2: 1 Mega Evolve, F Sucker Punch 4, 1 Hyper Voice DF, 4 Flamethrower D, D Occa Berry, D Trick Room
F switch B
T3: 4 Protect, D Gravity, B Precipice Blades 14, 1 Double-Edge B

Without enough prior momentum built up in the match, Christian smartly looks to stall out what little momentum Stephen has. With a faster Groudon variant, he can easily find outs to any approach Stephen chooses to go for, exhibiting this in G3 when the game opened in the exact same manner as G2, setting up his own game-specific lateendgames.

T4: 4 switch 2, 1 Protect, D Hypnosis 2, B Precipice Blades 24
T5: B Protect, 2 asleep, 4 Protect (fail), D Hypnosis 4
T6: D Hypnosis 4 (already asleep), B Precipice Blades 24 (Trick Room end, endgame seal)
1 switch 4
T7: 4 Precipice Blades BD
Christian WIN 1-0

It is also important to note that timer stalling is also a legitimate endgame that one can choose to pursue, despite what you may hear about “ethics” and supposed “sportsmanship”. Are you playing by the rules? Are you respecting the rules? If you are, there is nothing to stop you from playing your best by abusing the rules to their fullest extent, and winning as much as possible. Remember, to not play to your best is also a form of disrespect towards your opponent and the game itself.

SHAMELESS ALL CAPS PLUG

This is just one part of my three-part guide to playing VGC which also includes Teambuilding and Psychology (wow!) (kill me). You can find the download link to that here: https://nicholasvgc.wordpress.com/guide/ , which may or may not be edited from time to time. (edit: as of 13/5/2018, I have also added Proposals, Delayed postioning, and Preemptive weather control, so yes I do update this joke of a guide)