The world of competitive Pokémon is an odd one. While there are over six hundred monsters from which to choose, it seems that there are only a few basic strategies, namely walls and sweepers. Because of this, players have tried to do different things, explore the boundaries of the game. A well executed baton pass strategy can rip through an opponent, and a weather combo can be deadly. The same is true of the TCG. That one rogue deck can win a tournament, just because it was unexpected.
We at PKMNcast love that sort of stuff. You know how much we oppose just blindly following the "accepted" ways to play Pokémon. However, not all of these strategies are as successful. Just ask me about my Normal Monotype team and you will understand that all alternative strategies are not very useable. So what is it that distinguishes a legitimate strategy from a gimmick? Why, these three headings, of course!
Chapter 1: Decent Pokémon, Or: Useable Pokes for Useable Blokes
Many gimmicky Pokémon sets rely on sub-par Pokémon. One example that is cropping up in the world of VGC 2012 is (Dream World) Moody Octillery. Moody is an ability that will randomly give a +2 stat increase to one stat and a -1 to another. Over time, you will have a beast of a Pokémon that is both bulky and powerful. Unfortunately, for those first few turns he is still an Octillery. His defences are too low to pull this off most of the time, especially in a double battle situation where he can take the full blow of two attacks.
I'm not saying you can't use Octillery. Octillery is actually a pretty good Pokémon. He makes a great mixed attacker, as his attack and special attack are both significant. All I am saying is that Octillery doesn't work for this specific strategy. Unfortunately, Moody is a rare ability. There is a reason for that, namely that it's a really powerful ability, so it's given to Pokémon who can't use it to their fullest potential.
As a counter-example we can look to a cursing Umbreon, a common sight in our Featured Teams. It certainly is not an "ordinary" strategy, but since Umbreon is built for it, it is executed well. Umbreon is already slow and bulky, so it makes for a great curse user that can bust a more physically offensive team.
Chapter 2: Luck, Or: Dragon Rush-ian Roulette
A good battler is one who is lucky. A great battler is one who takes luck out of the equation. We've all had those matches where our loss was completely due to luck (flashback to when I lost to a young child at Midwest Gaming Classic because of Quick Claw). What I'm going to say might be controversial. Those losses were your fault.
Sure, it was because of luck, but you didn't prepare for the worst. This factors heavily into alternative strategies and gimmicks in that gimmicks tend to rely heavily on luck. For example, that Normal Monotype team I mentioned? Yeah, I tried to pull of a Bibarel sweep. Bibarel has the ability Simple, which doubles stat boosts and reductions that it receives, so I was going for a curse-sweep strategy. Guess what? It didn't work. One critical hit and I was toast. It was still my fault though. I should have taken out all the threats before a crit took me out. Even if the crit was on the first turn it would still be my fault, as I should have made Bibarel bulkier to take account for it. There were too many factors that I didn't take into consideration, which turned my strategy into a lame gimmick.
Chapter 3: Practice, Or: Practice Makes Persian
I know it sounds lame or cliché, but practice is one of the most important things for improvement in all fields, including Pokémon. Practice can turn a gimmick into a useable strategy, as you become more familiar with the threats to your success.
For a while I was running a Lapras/Gastrodon combo on Pokémon Online in preparation for next year's VGC. Gastrodon has Storm Drain, and Lapras has Water Absorb, so they create a surfing bonanza. It did not work well at first, but I kept trying until I figured out how to pull it off. What was once a gimmick turned into a real strategy. I am not running it currently, as I am trying new things, but I have seen other people try the Lapras/Gastrodon combo that I thought of. My large ego would like to think that I was the inspiration for that idea.
On paper, even accepted strategies like Baton Pass seem like gimmicks, but it is practice that allows them to transcend that. You have to get used to it to make it work.
So there you have it, folks. Go and make crazy, unique, and most of all, useable, alternative teams to wipe the floor with your opponents.