Ask The Experts: Zach Droegkamp On Teambuilding In The Early ’15 Format

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Ask The Experts is a new column where we interview respectable players and try to get their opinions on the basics of competitive Pokemon. Read on to hear their insight! 

This week, we’re talking to Zach Droegkamp. Zach has won four Regionals and six Premiere Challenges, and has finished in the top 8 of Nationals once and even qualified for the World Championships in 2013. Zach revisits a topic once covered her before – teambuilding basics – and gives his own insight into the discussion. 

Chalkey Horenstein: When you first start to build a new team, what comes to mind? What are the things you look for to begin?

Zach Droegkamp: Typically, there’s a concept or a collection of different ideas that I have in mind that interest me, things that I want to give a test run. If it’s building around a concept that I think has potential in the metagame, I typically look for the most stable Pokemon to carry out the strategy and others to complement them and patch the holes where necessary. If it’s building around a set of Pokemon that I like a lot, I’ll try and find either two more Pokemon that have fantastic synergy with them or a concept that pairs well with them.

For example, early in this format I’ve been a big fan of Mega Salamence with redirection as a concept. I’ve tried a lot of things alongside it, but I haven’t really come up with anything yet that’s winning consistently enough. I guess there’s a lot of trial and error, especially earlier in formats as the metagame is really unstable, but that’s a good current example of how I generally go about starting out a team.

CH: When you say “synergy,” what do you mean? What comes to mind as a must have?

ZD: I look for ways the team can put the majority of opponents on their heels starting turn 1 and have an advantageous matchup the rest of the game. For example, with Mega Salamence, I noticed that leading Salamence with redirection or Fake Out and getting a free Dragon Dance up turn 1 worked in roughly 3 or 4 out of 10 matches, which is a pretty decent amount given the potential of a +1 mega Salamence setting up a win condition very early. However, there’s those other 6 or 7 games that I have to cover, and that’s where I typically have to switch. Salamence here gives me an option of not Mega Evolving and allowing itself to come back in for a second Intimidate later on, which is fantastic versus certain teams.

This allows the team to play slightly more offensively against physical attackers, which helps me assess what to put on the team when adding the final members.

CH: In terms of what you’re looking for to build your teams, how much would you say that the 2015 metagame additions are influencing you? How are the new megas and sheer number of pokemon available affecting how you think?

ZD: I think the Mega Evolutions this year are going to change things a lot. I don’t think it’s going to be as drastic of a pattern as 2014 was, but the Mega Evolution on a team typically defines the characteristics of a team rather than the contrary, and I think we’re still seeing that to an extent this year as well. I’m curious to see how some of the very common old tools that were able to slow-play the game a bit more (Cresselia, Thundurus, Hitmontop) will be able to stand up against the Mega Evolutions. I think it’s already obvious that these old tools are trending downward, but it’ll be interesting to see, especially in practice, how useful they end up being on teams in the long run.

I’m interested in the uprising of things like Arcanine, Milotic, and Bisharp to an extent as well- these weren’t super-common Pokemon back in 2013, but due to either changes in the metagame or changes in the moves/abilities they get access to, there’s going to be cool new options to play around with, and we’re seeing some of them already.

CH: Regarding pokemon that are either in downward or upward trends: why do you think that is?

ZD: I think it’s due to the addition of Megas and a slightly more offensive format than we saw in 2013. Obviously nothing of the likes of 2014 which had absolutely no chill and was 100 miles an hour from turn 1, but just enough of an uptick in the general attacking power of certain pokemon relative to the defensive capabilities to make battles go a turn or two faster, therefore making reaching win conditions a little less easy with Pokemon that take a few turns to really get going.

CH: When testing, what is typically the sign that you’re on to something? How do you know whether to keep working on an idea that has potential, or move on in pursuit of something else?

ZD: I typically know I’m onto something when I’m able to maneuver early in games against most of the teams I’m playing. I think I’m usually able to grasp favorable win conditions mid to late game if I’m able to get some positive momentum going on early, and a team that can generate that momentum the first few turns, or at least keep the game alive and somewhat in my favor, is something I feel good about. Sometimes the team doesn’t have a good PS ladder ranking or Battle Spot rating, other times it does. It really just depends on how I feel the team is performing. I typically will practice until the team shows its true colors – for example, if it is repeatedly losing I’ll look to what changes could fix it, and if it is repeatedly winning I’ll double check to see if I’m being insanely lucky. The wins need to feel comfortable.

CH: What are some core teambuilding starts that have allowed you to gain control or momentum early in a game in the past?

ZD: I guess the one that I liked the most was my 2012 and 2013 Madison Regionals team. It ended up being able to pressure teams with the infamous TopMoth (Hitmontop and Volcarona) if they didn’t have a decent lead against it, and had solid counterparts to be able to deal with anything that would be able to stop those two from getting going, assuming they were the lead in Focus Sash Mamoswine (for things like Heatran, Landorus, Terrakion, and Thundurus), Choice Scarf Tyranitar (for fast Latios, Tornadus, Thundurus, Rotom-H, Heatran, an extra check for Cresselia) and Amoonguss (for dedicated Trick Room and a redirection option for teams that had more single-target moves). I think the team was able to get me off to a good start about 80-85% of the time, and that’s right around where I like to be at. It’s not possible to make an absolutely perfect team, but if you’re winning the early turns that often, it’s typically easy to assess what you need to do to win the battle from that point forward.

TopMoth was a strong lead because it limited what the opponent could bring as a lead – think a less cheesy version of Smeargle and Kangaskhan. It had a plethora of options if they led something that was a neutral matchup, which was still something I could either play into or maneuver around if I wanted to most of the time. With Wide Guard, Hitmontop could protect the Volcarona from any Rock Slides or powerful Earthquakes as well as Muddy Waters (usually this was more for a best-of-three where I noticed the Kingdra or Ludicolo didn’t have a single-target Water-type move). I could get set up quickly and pressure with a boosted Volcarona with a Fake Out and Quiver Dance combo. I could also Protect the Volcarona and threaten, say, an otherwise difficult to deal with Terrakion or Tyranitar with a Close Combat.

CH: How long do you typically hold on to a successful team before you scrap it and start over?

ZD: I’m probably the worst person to ask this question for any direction, I rarely hold onto a team for more than a few weeks honestly. I wouldn’t try to mimic any of what I do here; it drives me nuts and probably is due to me wanting to try as many things as possible. Usually, even if I do well with something at an event, I like to change my team to fit every single little metagame change, so usually every few weeks I’ve got something new.

CH: What advice do you have for players who struggle to come up with original team ideas that are effective? What has helped you pull out of creative slumps?

ZD: I think I’d recommend they start watching other people play and see what other people are using. Seeing what other players are using and seeing how you could possibly either adopt something similar or tech to be able to beat the successful teams is a really good way to find a place to start.

Typically I’ll either watch some high-level matches, check out the most recent usage statistics, or pick my friends’ brains on things that they’re interested in using and why they’re interested in using that. 

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About Author

Chalkey Horenstein is the Editor of Team Magma. In his spare time, he also writes for Retroware TV. When not playing pokemon, he works for a homeless shelter in Boston, and enjoys traveling, running, and eating as much food as possible.