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PokéDraft Strategy 101: Picking a Competitive Team

PokéDraft Strategy 101: Picking a Competitive Team
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Introduction

Over the past few months, PokéDraft has given us an endgame format in a game that currently has very little for those looking for competition.  If you’re unfamiliar with how it works, check out our introductory article here.

Unlike many other facets of Pokémon Go, PokéDraft is unlikely to ever be completely “solved” by statistics and simulators; while GoBattleSim can tell you the best counters against every boss in every weather condition and against every moveset, when it’s your turn to draft a Pokémon for your team, there is usually no clear “correct” choice, as there’s just too much to consider.  Here we’ll outline some of the basic strategies to help you construct a team that will give you a decent shot at winning your division.

Draft Things You Can Actually Use

If you’re not interested in grinding for Stardust and usually find yourself with none on hand, you might have a bit of trouble with your first draft, and should consider participating in a league with relatively small divisions (4-6 players).  The unfortunate fact is that in the current raid meta, it doesn’t pay to power up anything besides the top few attackers against any raid boss, so while there’s a good chance you’ll already have a viable specimen of each of your first few picks, as the rounds pass, you’ll probably run out of available Pokémon that you’ve maxed out.  Sometimes the most useful Pokémon available is one that would require you to spend a lot of Candy and Stardust.

Before you go into your draft, know how much Stardust and Rare Candy you’re willing to go through for the sake of putting together a good team, and budget your picks accordingly.  A pick will do you no good whatsoever if you can’t afford to power it up.  Pokémon like Latias and Absol are decent mid-to-late round picks (ranking 52nd and 57th in r/pogoraids v3 Draft Score, respectively) but Donphan and Vileplume (54th and 58th) are much more easily available, and it’s likely you already have a decent one around level 30.  

Understand your budget, and if you do draft a Pokémon and need to power it up, consider bugging your friends for trades -- luckies and high-level trades are a HUGE boon to your squad if you’re short on resources.  You might consider drafting these same Pokémon again in a future draft, or deploy them in different types of raid challenges.

Understand Your League’s Rules

Rules such as division size, draft length, and scoring vary widely from league to league.  These can make a huge difference in what draft strategies can take you to the top. For example, if you know the draft will start with the set of bosses currently in rotation, that’s something you’ll definitely want to consider when making your pics, especially if the bosses are type-themed as they are on Halloween.  If you anticipate an upcoming event that may bring bosses of a particular type, try to lock up some decent counters for that possibility.  Niantic can sometimes be unpredictable, but you should consider upcoming holidays and events held in years past to get an idea of whether something may be coming up.

Some leagues assign points to players according to their respective rank against each boss, while others (like r/pogoraids) also consider margins of victory and penalize players who fail to defeat the boss at all.  Understanding the scoring system in your league should inform the level to which you specialize in certain type-counters versus diversifying and drafting generalists to deal with all possibilities. Because of their enormous edge over counters with similar typing, Kyogre and Groudon may be more valuable picks if margin of victory is considered, while high-DPS generalists like Mewtwo and Rayquaza should go first if only division rank matters.

Additionally, you should also know how long you’ll have to defeat the boss, as more time may allow you a better chance at finding rarer weather conditions like wind or fog.  Having three weeks to defeat a boss might tempt you reach a bit for Ghost- or Dark-types, while you might consider sticking to clear- or cloudy-boosted attackers if you only have a week.

Cohesion over Coverage: Weather is King

A common mistake many people make during their first draft is to pick a diverse, well-rounded team with one Pokémon of every type.  Considering that you’ll be expected to cover any tier 3 raid boss, this might seem like a sensible strategy. In reality, though, most winning teams specialize by drafting primarily Pokémon that are boosted by just two or three different weather conditions.

Most Pokémon have more than one weakness.  To get the most out of that 20% weather bonus, it’s generally a better strategy to double or triple up on one of those types than to have three super effective counters in three different types, even if it means potentially drafting a Pokémon that’s slightly weaker in neutral matchups.  Even Pokémon that don’t deal super effective damage can find their way into a raid lineup over more traditional type-counters in the right weather conditions.  For example, to complement my three Grass-types, I found Moltres to be more useful than Swampert or Scizor in clear weather against Claydol.

A big part of this is anticipating the type of weather that will be available to you in your area at the time of year when the draft takes place.  Moroccan players generally value clear-boosted Pokémon, while players from Southeast Asia load up on Water-, Electric-, and Bug-types during monsoon season.  Fog is useful in some areas of the world to people who can raid early in the morning, and fall has increased the viability of Dragon generalists in much of the eastern United States.  While your team should be diverse enough to cover many different types, if you can envision yourself hunting for four or more different weather conditions against different bosses, you may have spread yourself too thin.

In the third run of the r/pogoraids PokéDraft, Claydol, one of the toughest tier 3 bosses to date, was picked, which was bad news for most competitors.  For the most part, this was pretty straightforward for people with Kyogre or Gyarados (along with another decent Water-type) and difficult for everyone else.  But in two divisions, five out of eight were able to defeat the boss, using three different weather conditions, despite the fact that in one of them, the same person had drafted both Kyogre and Gyarados.  These divisions were composed entirely of people who had previously won or nearly won their respective divisions in the previous round, and their results against Claydol demonstrate the strength of their specialist draft strategies.

Dual-Type Versatility

This one’s pretty simple — it’s extremely valuable to have some attackers with two different viable movesets in different types.  Cacturne, Crawdaunt, and Shiftry are mid-to-late round favorites despite being largely overlooked in the standard raid meta, and many players who have participated in multiple drafts have picked one of these at some point and would tell you they have no regrets.  It’s like getting two Pokémon for the price of one, and potentially gives you an attacker to slot into your team in two different weather conditions.

It’s also important to know about viable non-STAB moves.  Even though many leagues restrict or split its movesets, Mewtwo is generally among the first Pokémon picked in every draft thanks to its many useable Charged Moves, and some others like Latios and Salamence have three useful movesets and very high draft stocks as a result.  One possible drawback is that it can be prohibitively expensive to switch back-and-forth between two or more Charged Moves. As a result, some may want to power up two and avoid dipping into a Charged TM stash; you may need to do this anyway if you end up drafting a Pokémon with legacy or exclusive moves like Tyranitar or Moltres.

Balancing DPS and TDO

In most PokéDraft leagues, you’re only allowed to use one of each species you drafted (unique six), and no re-entries are allowed, so it’s important that your team has enough bulk that you don’t faint.  On the other hand, you have to have enough DPS to be able to beat the boss in 180 seconds. So what to do?

While the impending rebalance is good news for ultra-glassy Pokémon like Banette and Haunter, it will still be important to dodge to make these Pokémon worth drafting.  They might have the second or third best DPS on your team, but if you don’t get a good few seconds and a couple Charged Moves out of them, that DPS isn’t worth much.  Experienced dodgers will have an advantage and may be able to get more out of a glassy team with a skilled run. If you’re not proficient at dodging, definitely spend some time practicing in gym battles and raids, but make sure to pick up some tanks as well.  It’s very difficult to be competitive in PokéDraft if you don’t dodge at all!

Even if you’re skilled at dodging, it’s good to have some Pokémon on your team that can take a hit, even if they’re only slightly ahead of or maybe even behind the clock.  When it comes to actual execution of the raid battles, the hardest choice you’ll have to make is probably when to dodge to keep your counters up for longer and when to spam attacks for additional energy.  Having some tanky Pokémon on your team will make energy management much easier and can generally make some battles much less stressful. GoBattleSim can help you decide whether it’s generally a good strategy to dodge with each of your attackers, but this can be situational and depend on your health and energy bars at the moment.

Conclusion

With all these strategies in mind, what Pokémon should you actually draft?  While we’ll avoid specific recommendations in this article, there are lots of great resources that can compare Pokémon performance, most notably GamePress’s Comprehensive DPS and TDO Speadsheet and GoBattleSim.  You can also access the r/pogoraids PokéDraft v3 Sheet, which contains team and division information, standings for the league’s most recent PokéDraft (which occurred before the stat rebalance), and a ranking of all Pokémon by average draft position among the league’s 8-man divisions (note: these rankings are based upon average draft position, and NOT by performance of those who picked them).

Do your homework before participating in a draft -- think about the weather you’re likely to see and what bosses you’re likely to face.  When it’s over, you’ll likely look back and second guess some of your decisions, but chalk it up as a lesson for next time and do the best you can with what you have.  Making your choices might be agonizing in the moment, but in my experience, if most everyone is disappointed with their team at the end of the draft, it usually means most of them drafted well.