Mindape’s Journey to the West

A Pokemon VGC Blog

The Art of (Pokemon) War: Attack by Stratagem

Previous: Laying Plans 


G'day, and welcome back to another edition of The Art of (Pokemon) War. While originally aiming to cover each chapter sequentially, I found Chapter II. Waging War largely irrelevant to Pokemon battles, so I decided to jump to analysing some sections of Chapter III. I will skip or amalgamate other chapters if I deem it necessary in the future depending how much content I think I can glean from them. Feel free to read Chapter II in your own time though, you might be able to find insight that I have missed. 


**Stay tuned for an upcoming announcement about a local group competition I will be joining soon. It may be potentially exciting!**


III. Attack by Stratagem


3. ...the highest form of generalship is to balk the enemy's plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy's forces; the next in order is to attack the enemy's army in the field; and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.

There are a few things that can be gleaned from this one. Particularly relating to besieging walled cities, I can think of some in battle advice regarding ignoring bulky pokemon that will take time to KO, but are not doing much for their team either (so, at times Suicune, Cresselia, for example). Many of the rest of the points can be summated as relating to board position, and perhaps as well relating to metagame calls. I'll try to address those.

Regarding board position, preventing the junction of your enemy's forces is a prime example of exerting board control - if you are able to get to a position where you can do a lot of damage, your opponent does not have strong offensive pressure on the field, and lacks the ability to safely switch in a pokemon that would exert pressure on you, you have successfully prevented their forces from combining effectively. Congratulations, take a gold star. Baulking at the enemys plans also fits here, as disprupting your opponent from being able to do what they'd like, through damage output, pressure, or good switching, you can prevent them from overwhelming you while you get in to position to defeat them. By attacking the enemy in the field you are exchanging damage, so in this at least you should still aim to win the damage trade, so as to end up ahead for the later game - if you are already ahead in the game, you can also afford to enter in to a damage trade with less risk, since if the trade is equal, you win by virtue of already being ahead.


4. The rule is, not to besiege walled cities if it can possibly be avoided. The preparation of mantlets, movable shelters, and various implements of war, will take up three whole months; and the piling up of mounds over against the walls will take three months more.

5. The general, unable to control his irritation, will launch his men to the assault like swarming ants, with the result that one-third of his men are slain, while the town still remains untaken. Such are the disastrous effects of a siege.

6. Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.

7. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.

Regarding not attacking walled cities - i.e. bulky support pokemon, I feel like we covered that reasonably well in our previous point, but I might reiterate a little here. If you are able to defeat your opponent's offensive weapons, their armies if you like, controlling the countryside around the walled city, you can defeat your enemy far more easily than trying to seige the city itself while the war is still ongoing. Keep in mind the plays that conserve your resources, or position them best to win the game, when considering this match up, and don't be baited in to rash moves that leave you vulnerable to being swiftly defeated, or unable to effectively use your win conditions.

In Pokemon, the only way to actually subdue your opposition without fighting is through Perish Trap, so I feel a looser interpretation of point 6 is justified in order that we can reconcile this point with the game better. If you are able to make decisions, in terms of pokemon brought to tournaments, to battles, and led/put in the back, which allow you to win more matchups more easily; if you are able to read your opponent's decisions well and make the games more decisively in your favour through making good plays accordingly, you may consider yourself a skillful leader in those situations. Keep in mind though that short of being a telepath, the boot will not always be on your foot in this regard, so do not get overconfident, and do not overestimate your own abilities, as many other trainers will be lining up to knock you down a rung or two once you have some big performances on the board.


8. It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy's one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.

9. If equally matched, we can offer battle; if slightly inferior in numbers, we can avoid the enemy; if quite unequal in every way, we can flee from him.

10. Hence, though an obstinate fight may be made by a small force, in the end it must be captured by the larger force.

Except in the case of taking a pokemon lead (4-3, 4-2, 3-2, 3-1, etc), which you can then use to your advantage, I would interpret these to refer to team matchups, rather than literal numbers of opponents. As often discussed, here and elsewhere, bad team matchups can be played around, but generally speaking the dominant team can exert too much pressure and overwhelm a disadvantaged opponent. Getting back to Pokemon leads, this can also lead to one team having an advantage over the other, and being able to use their superior numbers to nerf, grind down, or overwhelm an opponent depending on the natures of the teams and which pokemon are left.

So, it should follow that if the superior force is played well, especially in Best of Three series, the vast majority of the time the team with the superior matchup will win, assuming the trainers are equally matched in every other way.


17. Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory: (1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight. (2) He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces. (3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks. (4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared. (5) He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

18. Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

From point 17, I find 1, 2, and 4 quite relevant, and feel they tie in quite nicely with point 18 as well. Battle experience will let a trainer know when protecting, attacking and switching are the best options, respectively, and how to manage battles where the team matchup is not in their favour, so as to still be able to win the battle. This experience, gained through practice, allows you to be prepared for your battles, and thus have a better chance of winning than those trainers who are less prepared in terms of practice and knowledge, even in an otherwise even battle.

In Pokemon, one can face so many different trainers that it is difficult to know the enemy every time one battles. However, in tournaments, particularly local ones, you may get to know many of your fellow competitors. The better you understand how they think, as well as understanding your own thought processes, the better you will be able to manage your battles with them.

The clearest message about point 18 though is that you must understand yourself, in order to have any chance of winning (a battle, or a tournament for that matter). This doesn't mean you have to meditate under a waterfall for 9 years (though that would be a cool story), it just means you should come in to battle, at least in major tournaments, with a deep knowledge of your team, all its ins and outs, as well as yourself as a trainer - your preferred playstyle, your strengths and weaknesses, battling habits, mental state - all sorts of little things that let you be comfortable and confident as a pokemon trainer. By being able to recognise when you're playing poorly, and having the ability to resolve that autonomously, you will become more resiliant throughout the length of a tournament, or a laddering session. Knowing all the ins and outs of your team, including particular odd matchups and damage calcs as well enables you to make more informed decisions and choices, particularly as you cannot just access a damage calculator when battling in a live tournament, unlike when battling at home.


That's all for this chapter, and again, I hope you found this commentary useful. Feel free to give me feedback in the comment section, on Nugget Bridge, Showdown!, and/or Twitter, and stay tuned for the next chapter.

Next: Tactical Dispositions