Beginning to understand competitive battling mechanics is, actually, pretty easy. It's fully mastering competitive strategy that gets very, very tough. I am by no means an expert (that last bit you just read is pronounced "please don't make me feel sad by yelling at me if I get something wrong,") but here are three things that I've learned during my time playing Pokémon competitively that weren't very obvious at first.
Chapter 1: The Benefits of Death Fodder, Or: Pokémeat Shields
Your Electrode is about to take its final blow. That next Gyro Ball from Forretress is going to take it out. You might as well get a final Sucker Punch in before it dies, right? Actually, much of the time, the best strategy in this instance would be to switch out to something that resists Gyro Ball, even though your Electrode is so low on HP that, if you switch out, you aren't going to be able to land any hits with it later on. Of course, there are boatloads of situations like this, but for the sake of simplicity, we'll keep using this hypothetical scenario. It's easier for me, and it's also 2:26 AM, the time when difficult things are not accomplished. The reason why you should to switch out here instead of just letting your Electrode die is because you can use your Electrode as "death fodder" later.
Let's say that, later in the match, your opponent predicts the Ice Beam from your Starmie and switches into a Lapras. You use Choice Specs. on your Starmie, so, presuming Lapras stays in, you will have to switch. You figure that your Machamp could do the job, but it's HP is low, and one neutral attack from that lapras would KO it, and that would be sad. Luckily, you kept that Electrode. Instead of switching to Machamp directly, switch into Electrode and have it be killed by whatever Lapras ends up using. This gives you an opportunity to switch Machamp in without taking damage, as Pokémon selection after a KO takes place in-between turns. Then, your Machamp Dynamic Punches Lapras in the face. Good job! This is just one example of how death fodder can be used, but I hope that, through this example, you're able to figure out other fun things to do with near-death animals.
Chapter 2: Creative Vs. Gimmicky, Or: Your "Quad-Weather" Team Isn't Good
We here at PKMNcast are very fond of clever teams that get the job done. It's way more fun that way than to watch another team win by doing the exact same thing that trillions of other players have done in the past week. (The same goes for our TCG editors, I hear. Vinnie isn't too happy about these boring mono-deck shenanigans.) However, that doesn't mean that ALL teams that are different are inherently good. Sometimes, what sounds like a good idea in your head just doesn't translate into the nitty gritty of a given metagame.
How can you tell the difference between just a gimmick and a clever strategy that could actually win you some matches? Well, you can't. At least you can't until you've tested it out. That's what I love about battle simulators, like Pokemon Online. They act as great testing grounds for new team ideas that you want to try out before actually breeding/training up an entirely new team. That way, if you find that something doesn't work, you can tweak it in a matter of seconds, as opposed to hours.
Chapter 3: Finding the Right Metagame, Or: The Goldilocks Tier
Whether you like it or not, most competitive battling communities use a tier-based system to separate out different "metagames" in which battles occur. (I happen to really enjoy the tier structure, as it gives some of my favorite Pokémon places to shine.) Lot's of players don't try out too many different options before settling down into a metagame that they play, but I'd wager that a ton of them would have more fun playing some other tier. Let's use me as an example, because I'm self-absorbed. I had just assumed that 5th Gen OU Singles was the way to go. It had the most players, and I had the biggest option of allowed Pokémon while still not having to worry about the crazy Uber Pokémon. And so that's what I did. I played OU, and was never good at it. Then, I started playing VGC doubles. It took some time, but I found that not only was it more fun, but I was actually pretty good at it.
The moral of the story is not that every single person should play VGC doubles. The point is to try out all different rule structures until you find whatever is the most fun to you. I've actually been having tons of fun with Ubers, and I know that the Rarely Used (or, as it is sometimes called, Little Used) tier is a big hit for many people. Pokémon battling is about fun, at the end of the day, so why not try to play it in a way that maximizes that potential?
That's a wrap for this week. Now I'm tired. Go away so I can sleep. (But also come back for next week's Rare Article.)