Mindape’s Journey to the West

A Pokemon VGC Blog

The Art of (Pokemon) War: Tactical Dispositions

Previous: Attack by Stratagem 


G'day, and welcome back to another installment in my Pokemon related analysis of the Art of War. Today, in looking at the Tactical Dispositions chapter, we will cover a lot on defensive/offensive outlooks, team builds, and passive/proactive playing. That's right, I've now started to give brief overviews in the introductory paragraph, how quaint.


IV. Tactical Dispositions


1. Sun Tzu said: The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.

2. To secure ourselves against defeat lies in our own hands, but the opportunity of defeating the enemy is provided by the enemy himself.

I feel that there are two aspects to consider from these points

Firstly, in teambuilding, one should make sure that their team has no auto-lose matchups (or at least no common ones, outside of being totally counter-teamed). That way, you have secured yourself against defeat, and then have the chance to wait and see your opponents team, and how you can defeat it.

Secondly, in battling, bringing safe leads, or at least giving yourself safe switch in options to adjust to your opponent's leads if they have an advantage in lead matchup, means that you ensure you should not fall catastrophically behind from turn 1. 

Every team has a weakness, and you will have time to identify a win condition against your opponent if your team allows you the time to find it. This may be a few turns in, as it won't always be obvious in team preview, but one can only make use of finding this win condition if you keep your team intact by first securing yourself against defeat. Once you have found your win condition, if you can, you should maneuver yourself to a winning position, by exploiting your opponents choices.


3. Thus the good fighter is able to secure himself against defeat, but cannot make certain of defeating the enemy.

4. Hence the saying: One may know how to conquer without being able to do it.

Defensive play means you can be hard to wear down, but you need to get some kind of offensive pressure off at some point to be able to win - critical hits are a thing, after all, and one cannot guarantee being able to outstall all teams just by sheer defensive bulk. 

However, to just warn against being overly defensive is too narrow an interpretation of these points. To go further, it one thing to theory Pokemon, to build a solid team that is hard to break down, and know how to win against particular matchups with your team, but it is another thing to go and win battles, and to actually execute your knowledge successfully in tournaments. Additionally, there will be many close matchups between yours and opponents teams, which require more than just being being difficult to break down to win - you will need to outplay your opponent, and out-maneuver them, and to do that you must both know how to conquer, and be able to execute that knowledge.


5. Security against defeat implies defensive tactics; ability to defeat the enemy means taking the offensive.

6. Standing on the defensive indicates insufficient strength; attacking, a superabundance of strength.

When commentators mention that they feel a particular player has been playing too passively, this can indicate a defensive mindset - they're not making the plays to win the game, they're playing just to survive, or not fall behind too far. When you are already behind in the game, sometimes you need to do something drastic to re-take the lead, and in those times, passive play simply will not suffice to win you a battle - you must find a way to recognise the situation, and begin playing pro-actively, whatever that may mean in the match situation.

If you are always playing defensive games, or having to play overly cautiously, it may indicate that you lack offensive firepower in your team, which could be an issue, particularly in tournaments. It is one thing to have a team with good defences, and another thing to have a team that can take wins through offensive play when it needs to as well. If you feel like you're always being read by your opponent, or not being able to take advantage of your opponent's actions through playing too conservatively, this may also mean that you are not playing confidently enough, and should look to free yourself from the shackles of a risk averse mindset.


11. What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease.

12. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.

13. He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.

Watching streamed matches, you will see that some players, particularly the ones winning tournaments, seem to have already written what will happen, and even if battles are close in terms of pokemon count, always seem to be ahead, in control, and happy with how the game unfolds. There are no guarantees that this will happen for them in every battle, but by having a clear understanding of the necessary mindset to take in to that battle, and that tournament, and being clear of purpose, these players give themselves a much better chance of having that sort of 'Midas Touch' tournament.

It is not always clear what a mistake is, when some decisions come down to reads, predictions, and outcomes are also affected by damage rolls. However, there are some plays that are clear mistakes, or overly risky, and successful players, at least during good tournament runs, seem to be able to get through their battles without making any mistakes that allow their opponent back in to the match, or to gain the ascendency. This can also apply to team building, wherein there are more calculated choices in how the team is created, including reducing the chances for rng to impact, and effectively make a mistake for you.


14. Hence the skillful fighter puts himself into a position which makes defeat impossible, and does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy.

A key point to focus on here is that the skillful fighter does not miss the moment for defeating the enemy. In Pokemon, this is as simple as being able to make a play that guarantees you victory against your opponent, whether victory it is that turn, or several turns down the track. This can done be by removing an obstacle to your win condition, removing your opponent's win condition, or picking up a vital knockout that enables you to assert dominance on the board. While against things like Swagger, you can never truly be in a position where defeat is impossible, there are many other times when you can lock out a game with the right decisions, and make even RNG a non-issue, even if sometimes RNG gives you a little bit of a push to find that 'moment'.


20. The onrush of a conquering force is like the bursting of pent-up waters into a chasm a thousand fathoms deep.

I like this metaphor, and so wanted to include it in this chapters analysis, but it did take me a while of thinking about it to figure out how to comprehend and explain it in relation to Pokemon.

I feel that this point refers to being able to pick up KO's as opposed to letting your opponents hang on with a sliver of HP - You set yourself up to do this by putting yourself in positions where the EV spreads and items of your opponentare rendered ineffective - through stat boosting, by chip damage, or by board position forcing opponents to take extra hits to switch new pokemon in. You can also do this by EV training your pokemon to pick up KO's that might otherwise be survived, such that your offensive force appears irrepressible, like this metaphorical bursting of pent up waters.


That's all for this chapter. Remember, this is advice, and not prescriptive, so it is up to you if and how you interpret and apply the lessons from this and other chapters, but I hope that at least reading and thinking about battling in this manner is helpful. Until next time, cya.


Next: Energy