An Informal Guide to Draft-Style Format
Sept 19, 2016
DISCLAIMER: Before I begin with this article, there are a couple pointers regarding my experience with Draft-style play and managing one. I've only participated with about three (as well as manage one), so take that into consideration as there might be crucial info I've missed out on. At the end of the day, draft-league play is at the end of the day mostly to have fun, improve one's team building / competitive skills, make contacts with different people, etc. This article is heavily based on 6v6 singles, not VGC/Doubles OUs style so keep this in mind.
Prelude: What is a Draft League?
The recent popularity of the GBA, UCL, NPA, MLP, and others similar have contributed to the increasingly rise of multiple draft-style leagues as an alternative way to play competitive Pokemon. Of course, this isn't a true substitute to the Smogon "Singles" or VGC "Doubles", considering much of the league format is heavily revolved around making a competitive draft rulesets, but rather interesting way of battling from team building perspective. Essentially the idea of the competitive Draft-League, or Counter-team Format I should say is selecting any given amount of Pokemon (often from highest "value" to lowest), competing against opposing teams throughout the season for playoffs, and the ultimate end goal winning the league. There are several reasons why some players have found this new format appealing compared to Smogon Tiers or VGC. Perhaps the main appeal of since it really all about thinking outside the box to figure out potentially winning strategies. Both players, or everyone in that league will know each others rosters, however its this will come down to preparation, research, and eventually battling skills to see if one can overcome the other.
Obviously people won't run "weird" sets Choice Specs Talonflame, Anticipation Ferrothorn, etc just to be "that guy" and run Choice Specs Cubchoo with Sheer Cold (I know its an extreme example lol, also inside joke). Instead the core element of the league format is derived from using team building skills to help improve what would seem like a certain unfavorable matchups into adaptable responses / solutions for a team. Going back to the Ferrothorn/Talonflame example, the person can have multiple checks to Talonflame and have Stealth Rocks from Ferrothorn to pressure the Fire/Flying Pokemon with hazard damage, or they can go the extra mile and have Ferrothorn with Rock Slide with investment to take out Talonflame on a switch in case it poses a huge threat to the team.
Teambuilding is just one element to draft style leagues as in any competitive format is centered around the skill of the two opposing battlers and how well they use their Pokemon and conserve them for the late game win. For being successfully in a draft league, players still need to hone their battling skills via participating in Showdown battles of their preferred formats to keep themselves attentive, especially when drafting different Pokemon they may or may not have experience using at all. I'm not going to go in detail into "how to be a overall competitive Pokemon player", as there are multiple sites like Smogon, Nugget Bridge, Serebii, etc can offer since people will be exposed to a variety of Pokemon not seen in their respective formats. Aside from selecting your main Pokemon selection, there are differences regarding what the each draft style league that may differentiate themselves from each others, however there are several universal ideas reading how each are formatted. Here are several examples:
- What is the format of the league going to be? Smogon-Based Singles or VGC Doubles (Insert Year Format)?
- How many people will be in this league?
- What "Draft-Style" will the league derive from as well as any team restrictions? Exs. Tiers, Points, Viability, etc
- How will Trades, Adds/Drops be done? Will there be a cap in "transactions"
- How will battles be done via Showdown/Cartridge?
- Will there be any potential bans of Pokemon or additional rules/clauses made to existing rulesets from singles/doubles?
- How are playoffs organized?
- How will the league be kept in track/check? (This one I'll explain in the 3rd Part of the article)
Now these are several ideas on how the team building restrictions and rules could be like in league format, though on that last one I'll get to how one should manage one later. In the meantime, ALWAYS review the rules with the people you'll be battling against. Most importantly decided whether or not these rules suit your preferences, or not. Since all Draft-Format League will have various rules, its really up to the players to decide whether a certain ruleset / decisions is acceptable enough to join one. Don't join a certain league certain rules, like say Baton Pass Clause is legal, or if they don't follow typical Smogon format. I'm not saying to follow only "Smogon-style" Draft Leagues, as there are others that will take most of their rules, with the exceptions. Regardless of such rulesets, keep in mind these since those are going to be your "team building restrictions" when drafting. Speaking of drafts, I'll end on discussing the top three main Draft-Styles: GBA, UCL (Smogon), or No Restrictions.
- GBA-Style: Popularized by M4GNITUDE, a Draft-style involves custom-making tiers based on a league's coaches/leaders decisions, hand selecting certain Smogon/VGC clauses, and restricting teams based on a "budget" or point value. Some leagues will have their own "tiers" adjusted from the Smogon/VGC usage to determine the if the Pokemon's viability in league format (diverse movepools/multiple roles/consistency). Budgets are often use at "team building restrictions" to prevent certain coaches from drafting highly suit/worth Pokemon on the same team. Here's a list of the GBA Season 6 Fan Site to look at the current tiers.
- UCL/Smogon-Style: Popularized by a group of Poketubers, this Draft-style has teams select a certain number of OU/UU/RU/NU/PU mons for their teams. Note some Pokemon in the OU tier aren't as viable in a draft league format, but others in UU or below might. Tiers are often based on a specific concurrent usage from Smogon / Pokemon Showdown and often "fixed" to prevent any confusion. Here's the UCL Season 2 Fan Site to look at how the league is formatted.
- No Restrictions: An uncommon format for a Draft-Style league which there are no specific rules when selecting Pokemon during the draft aside a certain Pokemon limit. Usually these leagues will based themselves on the OU tier, or below and draft from there. Usually from these drafts, most, if not nearly all the OU/UUs and high valued RU/NU/PU Pokemon will get picked.
When it comes to league-style play, selecting a group of Pokemon during the drafting process will be among the important aspects aside from the preparation and the battles themselves which can make, or break any teams. After all, most of the Pokemon drafted within a team will likely stay for however long the season will be for any specific league. Not surprisingly, people will seek out either individual Pokemon who can potentially carry the whole team, or cores around 2-3 Pokemon to back them up. Before going into any draft, be sure to have a list of Pokemon, and possibly teammates planned out way ahead of the draft.
- Hazards Support: For about any singles teams, Stealth Rocks/Spikes/Toxic Spikes are essential to break any potential Focus Sashes while dealing small chip damage to every target that switches into these hazards. If your team doesn't have any of these in play, its far more difficult to win battles just by pure strength of a Pokemon alone. At the same time, any team needs a Defogger or a Rapid Spinner to remove hazards away from their side of the field especially if they are utilizing Pokemon weak to Stealth Rocks. Defog will remove all hazards on the field including the player's side so use this at your expense. Rapid Spin can also remove hazards only on the opponent's side of the field while maintaining your own. The only issue with relying on Rapid Spin is Ghost Pokemon, and to an extent Rough Skin/Rocky Helmet users (assuming the spinner will faint from residual damage) can "spin-block" to prevent their hazards from being removed. Of course, there aren't as much Ghost-type Pokemon in league format, though they are extremely valuable for this reason alone.
- Team Partners/Cores: When it comes to drafting a team, consider what partners and cores to select prior to the main drafting event. This is something people normally "miss out" on, especially when they don't have some kinda of idea what to get. Personally, most of the people who draft normally look a the Smogon viability rankings and their Competitive Dex to find team cores to work with. This might sound "predictable" but if anyone is unsure about potential partners to pair with each other, highly recommend you look into this. (Ex Charizard X + Latias), (Chesnaught + Empoleon), (Mega Gardevoir + Kyurem-B + Heatran), (Tangrowth + Slowking), (Suicune + Nidoking), etc. Try going for one Pokemon of each type, unless you know the team can compensate with certain weaknesses. Speaking of that, keep your own type weaknesses into account and don't assume the same roles for Pokemon. (Hmm I wonder where there's a thread with good cores...)
- "Backups" Plans: At one point in the league, everyone will get sniped in some fashion, wanting a certain Pokemon instead of something else. While this might seem obvious, make sure to have a list of available Pokemon that's viable for the success of the team. In a sense, look for Pokemon that would seem "outclassed" by the other Pokemon that got sniped, or continued going on a list of highest priority/value Pokemon. Say a person gets sniped of a defensive Fairy-type in Clefable, just look for another Fairy type like Sylveon/Florges who both are still rather valuable.
- Typing Synergy: A highly recommended advice is to keep track of the team's weaknesses, resistances, and strengths. Might sound obvious at first, but some players might not consider compounding typing. For instances, don't have a team that's extremely weak to one offensive type like Ice-, Ground-, Fairy- or possibly Dark-type as examples. The opposing teams will always look for advantages they can find with the opponent's team, even if its its using a certain type coverage move. This doesn't mean you have to draft like "all 18 types" in the game, just know what exactly your specific needs covered. Like any player may chose two Pokemon of the same type for as long as their team covers those weaknesses.
- Notice about "Counter Picking": Here's a gray area topic which most players have done, then again there's no fault to it. Sometimes we want a certain Pokemon who can perform well against a specific team just for assurance or an improved matchup. Just note, do not excessive counter pick Pokemon when drafting / using transactions, especially during the "middle" portion of the draft when people are building their cores. Counter picking is extremely tempting to do so, but focus on the team first, then if possible seek out Pokemon who can perform well against certain portions of a team. (Note: It would be best not to say "who" he/she counter picked against, though that's up to the player to decided if they want to reveal such information).
Preparing Your Battles/Matchups
If anyone is looking at how to prepare for certain match-ups for any upcoming battles, here are some pointers to discuss about.
In any particular match-ups, players will have to jot down their opponent's full team and figure out what team of 6 Pokemon will they likely chose from their entire roster to handle the rest of the opposing team. For some battles, people can immediately spot out which Pokemon your opponent will consider selecting from, though keep in mind there's always a "chance" they might not bring that specific Pokemon for the matchup. Regarding what I do, here's a quick rundown of some of the things to consider when preparing for battles.
- Base Stats: Compare the base stats of every Pokemon in the opposing team to those of your own. Look for "exploitable" stat differences compared to you own team like speed, defenses, or one of their offensive stats. If a certain team has fast Pokemon, yet low defenses, be sure to come up with a squad who can not only provide some form of speed control (Low Key shameless self promotion ). If a certain team has slower Pokemon with a few middling or base 100s+, then it might be a good idea to invest speed for a specific Pokemon, while retains bulky (will elaborate further).
- Pick Out Threats: This one is rather obvious, though sometimes players don't weave out the certain Pokemon, or threats. A "threat" as I'd define it would certainly be a mon who can potentially 1v1, set easily, wall out, or completely sweep an entire team with little to no effort. If a certain team doesn't have notable checks to these Pokemon, chances are the opponent will likely use it to win out. For instance, if a team is notable weak to Charizard X and doesn't have proper checks or makeshift counters in Rock-types, chances are Char X will wall break, or sweep a potential team with ease. The reverse is also true, if there's a certain Pokemon who has a disadvantage matchup against most of the rosters whether it be having resistances, strong coverage against, or direct counters, chances are that Pokemon won't be brought.
- Custom Making EV Spreads: Now most teams don't have to make the most "complex" EV spread to either outspeed a certain Pokemon, or live a specific hit from something. Just note, look at your team's stats, notable their speed tiers, and see "where" they need to outspeed solely. The same can be true if a Pokemon's attack investment can already OHKO / 2HKO others on the opposing team. In essence, try to bulk out your team as best as possible, or just ensure that those EVs are being used to the fullest.
- Best of One Setting: In almost every league battle (unless this is best of 3+), the battles will be done in a best of one setting. Don't take this for granted as this is a one and done deal so any potential "hax", or "random" set could throw anyone off. Try not to use certain "inaccurate" moves like Focus Blast, or Stone Edge unless its absolutely necessary to run for the matchup. Basically where this is going at, try to play as safe, yet be decisive as possible in order to win the game. In terms of "hax", try to mitigate situations where the opponent might get a certain "chance" effect which will put them in their favor to win. Don't risk key components / Win Conditions in scenarios it was actually unnecessary to send them into battle.
- Teambuild Accordingly: When building your team of six Pokemon, make sure it can deal with every possible combination of the opposing six as best you can. Yes this saying is straight out ripped from Pokeaim, but it pretty clear. Just because a certain Pokemon might sound "useless" in a battle, look at its movepool, Smogon set, base stats, etc. Remember your opponent will bring a Pokemon for a specific reason, no matter what matchup, of if they don't care at all. Just note every Pokemon brought to a battle will have a role to play so keep this in mind.
Managing a Draft League
If anyone is trying to make their own version of a draft league, be sure to consider the following what I'm about to say. Going straight to the obvious, don't expect any league to go smoothly as possible. First off, these are mostly my opinions as I co-manage the PFA league here some of this is just personal experience. Anyone can skip towards the end, but hence the title, going to discuss the behind-the-scenes stuff when managing/starting a league.
- Be Organized: Simple Right? Well here's the problem. Most people who want to start up a Draft-style league take this for granted most of the time and don't prepare for certain situations such as preparing the draft times, where to put the draft info (highly recommend Google Spreadsheets), where the league will be situated (Discord/Skype/Twitter/FB/etc), and what kind of rules, or Draft-style you want to make this league based on. If anyone who's trying to build a leage don't have a single idea what to do, or how to organize each Pokemon tiers into a spreadsheet just to keep track, chances are your league will collapse before it begins.
- Examples of Organized Spreadsheets: Here's an example of the GBA Fan Sheet, the UCL sheet, and even the PFA sheet. Remember you don't have to provide "everything" like in both UCL/GBA ones like base stats averages, which Pokemon are hazard control/clerics/removers, or other miscellaneous info. For the PFA league, we only provide the records, teams, schedule, differentials, and the main rules. Definitely consider these when making your own League.
- Finding "People": Sometimes most leagues are based on those who are in a specific "friend group", while others are from groups of competitive players who might know each other off showdown. If you are "just" starting up, be sure to use multiple social media sites, specifically oriented for Pokemon fans who are at least knowledgeable in battling. For a certain amount, I'd probably recommend somewhere between eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, and up to sixteen people on the league (notice the even digits). Be sure to find an even amount of people who are willing to draft, and play one game per week (or a certain time frame), and stick long enough for the last seasonal week, or in playoff contention. Be sure to find an appropriate location to situate your league, preferably on Discord.
- Elaborate the Rules: Another obvious rule. Don't expect people who are in the league to "automatically" know what the rules are. In order for the league to go as smoothly as possible, be sure to review all the rules, especially early on when the ruleset is being created. This can range from simple questions like amount of transactions (Trades + Add/Drops) allowed, which do the players fight (oh remember to organize a schedule), whether to maintain the "Mega Evolution" clause in league, or potential other "rulings". If your league is adjust Pokemon by specific tiers, or even considering dropping certain Pokemons/Smogon clauses, then be sure to discuss with this in full detail with all the coaches.
- Communicate / Talk to Each Other: Well if anyone is going to be doing a league-style format with random groups of people on the Internet, do yourself a huge favor an engage with them as much as possible. In order to for a league to maintain itself long term, be sure to have some form of platform to communicate in case issues arise (again recommend Discord). Now this doesn't mean everyone has to be engage in some form of discussion, though make sure everyone is available at their respective time frames (also note time zones). If certain issues arise regarding planning schedules, or unexpected real world life stuff, any coach has the right to withdrawal from their league for a specific time. Be sure to ask the person if they still want to have the battle down on showdown or cartridge.
- Getting Pokemon: For those who aren't into "hacking", or modifying Pokemon, just have the league on Showdown as there's no "internal/external" conflicts of legality involved. If you are going have the league based on cartridge, find people within the league, or others who can take time off their day to PkHex the teams. Considering some coach might need specific Pokemon from a different generation, be sure to supply have everyone keep copies of their teams just to make the genning process easier. Split the work between people to get those Pokemon, and don't allow people who make the teams "gen" for their opponent as they are going to know the movesets/EVs/IVs, and all the other details for their league match.
- Be Prepared for Any "Situation": Eventually there will be "situations" where people will conflict with each other either in terms of their different viewpoints of a rule, or possibly with each other. In such a situation, try to play the role as mediator, however don't side with anyone so you can understand their perspectives. If this is based on a league-wide agreed rule, then their isn't much for the dissenter to do. Always be consistent with the rules, but if a majority want a rule change, then let them vote on it. Though hopefully this shouldn't ever happen, but if there is a person who's unreasonable to manage, insults most people, or isn't battling on a weekly basis, consider the possibility of "kicking" them out of the league. Not all these situations will occur, just prepare for such outcomes in case.
Well this is a rather all the information I can think of out of my head regarding Draft-League format. In the future, I'll leave a new thread entitled "Draft-League discussion" where people can discuss all things regarding this new format. For players who want to get better in the Draft League format, most of this is heavily derived from Smogon/VGC battling, so I highly recommend everyone to both verse and introduce themselves to variety of Pokemons to know how they work in competitive, and most importantly how they can help you win a league. Again remember to have fun with this league and try to think outside the box at times, while being decisive to achieve victories. If anyone has any questions, feel free to comment down below, or provide any info I've might have missed out on.