Mindape’s Journey to the West

A Pokemon VGC Blog

The Art of (Pokemon) War: Laying Plans

Previous: Introduction



This is the first chapter in a planned multi-part series applying the lessons of The Art of War to Pokemon battles. I explain what The Art of War is about, and why I am doing this in an introduction post. Today we will look at points from Chapter One, of which I think there are quite a few useful ones to draw from which may help you become a better Pokemon Trainer.


I. Laying Plans


17. According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans.

The simplest interpretation of this would be regarding within a battle itself. If for whatever reason a game isn't going how you expected it to, for better or for worse, don't be afraid to change up your game plan from what you came up with in team preview in order to close it out with a win. Never be too rigid in how you approach battles, you need some capacity to adapt to win matches where your plan A is not working. In this sense, having a team that has multiple options and methods to win games is useful, as it will allow you to modify your plans more easily and appropriately for battles.

I feel this one can be applied more broadly to team building plans too. If you sense a change in the metagame, or that particular things will be popular, or unpopular at upcoming tournaments, don't be afraid to alter certain things on your team. This includes adjusting your team while laddering. That is of course, if you have a set team already - if you do not, this can likely be applied to the building process as a whole - base your team building on what you find the metagame to be like. This can include choices of Pokemon, Moves, Items, or EV spreads/Natures, as you feel necessary, and can range from small to large changes. 


18. All warfare is based on deception.

19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.

20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

18 particularly applies to secret techs in my opinion, such as Hidden Power as coverage, special sets on usually physical pokemon, or single target moves on a pokemon that would usually run spread moves. One could theoretically use this to justify never making a team report, but I think that would be willfully misinterpreting the intention. If you take these three points together, I believe the intended message is that if you have a means to suprisingly survive an attack, or ko a pokemon, utilise that accordingly, and if you can afford in a best of three situation, don't necessarily reveal this information unless you have to. Additionally, you may be able to feign having a particularly threatening move on a pokemon, causing your opponent to make a play expecting that. While obviously one shouldn't be too risky while bluffing, never underestimate its usefulness in battle.

Another aspect to these points is being able to make your playstyle difficult to read. Particularly in Best of Three matches, over the course of the series an opponent might be able to get enough of a sense of your decision making style to make big plays in order to win games 2 and 3 by successfully 'reading' you, rather than having to rely on making higher percentage plays out of caution. This does not mean you have to literally practice your poker face, but it does mean that you should be aware of your own plays, and how your opponent is responding to them, when there is more than one viable play that can be made.

Although there are other methods of gamesmanship one can use to deceive and play mind games with one's opponent, many of them are questionable ethically, especially considering the generally friendly nature of Pokemon competitions - we play for fun, not to win giant, life changing prizes. Doing anything and everything to win does not guarantee that you will win, so why bother making unnecessary enemies along the way?


21. If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.

This can probably be applied to team matchups - just because you may have a disadvantageous matchup, if you play well, and force your opponent in to board positions where he is unable to make use of matchup advantage, you have given yourself a much better chance of winning the match. This may involve careful switching, depending on you and your opponents leads, and the ability for you to execute those switches safely. Being prepared for your opponent, especially if they are secure in their position, means having a game plan other than 'lose' regardless of what your opponent leads with, or has out on the field. By being ready for whatever your opponent brings, you give yourself time to look for a chink in their armour for you to strike decisively at and establish yourself in a dominant position.


23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.

The first part of this can particularly be taken to refer to taking advantage of an opponent trying to stall out speed control, like Tailwind or Trick Room - if you know your opponent will double protect, it will be easier to switch your pokemon to improve your board position further by bringing out more offensive fire power. As for the second part, I would suggest finding ways to render one of your opponent's slots useless for at least a turn, so you can focus down the other pokemon. Your opponent's pokemon would be considered separated if your opponent cannot use both slots to effectively bring them closer to winning the battle in a given turn. This could be done overtly, through moves such as encore, taunt, disable, or a bit more subtley by your choices of pokemon or items - such as using Raichu against a Thundurus, or having Safety Goggles to use against an Amoonguss.


24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.

Again, I can only really think of ways to apply this to battles. Attacking an opponent where he is unprepared would likely relate to double targetting slots that you know cannot protect (as they are choice locked, or already protected the turn prior), and possibly in a way so as to assure a super effective hit on whatever your opponent has currently in that slot, or what in the back, depending on what coverage you have. Appearing when you are not expected could likely be used in regards to making reads, and staying in or not protecting with a particular Pokemon if you can correctly identify that your opponent will leave it alone (i.e. attacking it is 'too obvious').

Points 18, 19, 20 can be reiterated here - secret tech moves allow you to attack an unprepared opponent when it is not expected, potentially earning a decisive advantage as a result. This is why exploring options outside of the most common movesets can be important, even if you are using commonly used Pokemon. One only has to look at the variety of sets used by the 2015 World Championships Masters Top 8, even though the Pokemon were all very similar, to see the idea in action.


25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.

While I am generally a proponent of sharing information, I can reconcile this. It's good to share all the juicy secrets after the big event, and with team sheets and scouting being a thing, you're never going to keep tech moves completely unknown all the way to the finals, but EV spreads can be kept secret, and knowing the team members and their items and moves won't always give away how a team is played by its pilot - these things can only really be uncovered by battle. Additionally, you may be best off keeping a lid on your own mention of all of these details until after a competition, as the information gap with EV spreads in particular, can be advantegous - I'm looking at fast Aegislash, bulky Charizards and Gardevoirs as examples where knowing the EV spreads before the tournament can make a difference.


26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

I think this really underscores the need to know damage calculations, both offensive and defensive, soundly before entering battle - even relatively obscure ones. But this is more than just damage calculations, to think that would be thinking too small. It also means that you should be prepared for many different opposing team plans, and how to account for them. Obviously you cannot prepare for every single eventuation, but the more match ups that you have considered how to play in your head, even if some are quite obscure, the better prepared you will be for whatever your opponents can throw at you. Additionally, making plans in team preview would fall under the purview of making calculations before the battle is fought, based on the knowledge you have prepared yourself with prior to battling. These are the sort of calculations Sun Tzu was referring to - not just for individual battles, but for the entire war.


Hopefully these interpretations have been somewhat useful for you, and they help you improve your thought processes and general battle performances in the future. Stay tuned for the next edition.


Next: Attack by Stratagem