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Nothing is more important to the success of a trainer than building the right team of Pokémon, and that’s even more true in the Nuzlocke challenge. The right team composition can make the difference between an early wipe and a glorious Elite Four run, and the ability to put together a strong team from random encounters is what sets great Nuzlockers apart. Anyone who’s played a Pokémon game will know some basics, such as picking lots of different types of Pokémon, but the increased difficulty and inherent randomness of the Nuzlocke challenge call for a strategic approach to assembling your team, including some strategies that are unique to Nuzlockes. We’ve put together a short list of team building tips to help you take your run further. Starting with the most basic…
1. Type coverage is key
Early on in their Pokémon journey, every player quickly learns that it’s important to carry and use a variety of different Pokémon types. We’re taught the importance of the Grass, Water, Fire triangle right away, and for many casual players their team building thoughts stop here (which is perfectly acceptable, as the mainline Pokémon games aren’t exactly known for their difficulty). This knowledge still applies during a Nuzlocke challenge, and is usually the main factor determining which Pokémon a trainer will add to their team, but it takes on an even greater level of importance here where the margin of error in battles is so much lower. It’s a good idea to build a team around a type “core” or triangle if possible (Fighting/Dark/Psychic, Steel/Fairy/Dragon, and the aforementioned Grass/Water/Fire are all good examples since they tend to cover each other’s weaknesses). Then, use your remaining team slots to cover additional team weaknesses or, even better, to bring along “tech” Pokémon, which are Pokémon specifically brought along to counter a threatening trainer or Gym Leader in your region (we’ll come back to this in more detail in one of our later tips). It can be a good idea to use a tool like the Marriland Team Builder to check your team for outstanding weaknesses, and then bring along Pokémon to cover for them. Early on in a Nuzlocke your options are limited, so you may find it hard to build a perfectly balanced team. However, as you catch more and more Pokémon later in the game your number of options increases, and you should be able to cobble together a team with types that compliment one another well, giving you a big edge. Even in the grueling Nuzlocke challenge, the most basic piece of team building advice is still one of the most important, so be sure to carefully consider the type composition of your team.
2. Build specifically for your most dangerous opponents
One of the simplest ways to carve out an advantage in a Nuzlocke is to build your team with a focus on the most threatening enemies, whether those are Gym Leaders, evil team bosses, or your rival. These opponents often present a common stumbling block to players or act as gate-keepers to further progress (for example, many promising Johto runs have been cut short by a certain Miltank), so having a way to handle them is essential. Good, fundamental team building using a variety of types is certainly important, but it’s not very useful to have a team with theoretically perfect type coverage if it can’t handle the Gym Leader’s toughest Pokémon. A team that can handle everything except that one rival battle is still going to be a wipe when you get to that fight, no matter how neatly your team is built on paper. This is where the idea of “tech Pokémon” mentioned in tip one becomes important, as these Pokémon can be specifically chosen to counter your opponent’s biggest threats without forcing you to rebuild your entire team. You can’t build for these battles if you don’t know about them, so we recommend using a database such as Bulbapedia to research the Gyms and other major battles in the game you’re playing, or you can visit our Resources page for other helpful sources of information.
3. Have a backup plan for important battles
Nothing is more frustrating than walking into a Gym battle with a Pokémon that should be able to sweep the Leader’s whole team, only to have that Pokémon brought down by an unlucky critical hit. This can be a run-ender if you don’t have a backup plan. We mentioned this in our Advanced Nuzlocke Tips but it’s so important we’re going to repeat it here. Over the long course of a Nuzlocke, things will go wrong eventually. Attacks will miss, unlucky crits will land, and if you’re relying on a single Pokémon to defeat an important trainer, you can quickly find yourself staring at the black-out screen should one of these befall you at a bad time. With random encounters you may not be able to bring multiple counters to these battles, especially in the early game, but later on when you’ve caught a few more Pokémon and have more options, you should always try to bring at least two Pokémon that can put up a good fight against your opponent’s chosen type or their ace Pokémon. Before big battles, think to yourself “what will my options be if my tech Pokémon for this fight goes down?” and if you can’t come up with an answer, take another look at your box and see if you have any other options. Think of it as insurance against critical hits and misses, and you’ll enter these battles with a lot more peace of mind.
4. Sometimes you need to choose the “right” Pokémon over a “good” Pokémon
This final tip really brings together the previous three and drives the point home. Most players have a good understanding of which Pokémon are useful, which aren’t, which have the highest stats, and so on. We put together tier lists ranking these Pokémon and try to use the best ones whenever possible. However, often giving up a “good” Pokémon that doesn’t fit on your team to make room for a less flashy Pokémon that does (the “right” Pokémon) is the best way to ensure victory. Sometimes this “right” Pokémon is a tech for an upcoming Gym battle, sometimes it’s a Pokémon with underwhelming stats but just the right typing to round out your team, and sometimes it’s a weaker Pokémon with a rare move combination that will let you sneak past a powerful opponent (our favorite is using a Dustox with Protect and Toxic against Norman’s Slaking in Emerald). Whatever the case may be, it can feel unintuitive to leave behind a powerful or impressive Pokémon, even temporarily, but if doing so gives you the best chance to win, you should jump at the opportunity.
Bonus: Sometimes less is more
As a final piece of bonus team building advice, allow us to suggest something that will sound a little bit strange – shrink your team. “But why would I want to bring less than six Pokémon into a battle?” you may ask, and the answer is that you wouldn’t. However, in certain scenarios you may want to bring less than six core party members into a battle, for a few reasons. First, this helps the Pokémon you do use reach higher levels faster, as the EXP is spread between less party members (this doesn’t necessarily apply in newer games, which automatically share EXP among all party members with no sharing penalties). A smaller group of higher-levelled Pokémon handles threats better than a larger group of lower-leveled Pokémon, as long as that smaller group has the type coverage and the movepool to cover its bases. Second, it allows you to use the extra team slots for HM slaves, making your playthrough a bit more convenient and preserving moveslots on your core Pokémon, or for fodder Pokémon (weak Pokémon that can be switched in to buy a safe switch or a turn of healing) which can be surprisingly helpful in tough situations. Having these extra slots available can also make it easier to bring a tech to important battles without having to fundamentally change your team composition – just swap out the HM slave.
Now, of course this tip needs to applied carefully. It can work wonders if you have a solid group of four or so Pokémon with high stats, good type synergy, and diverse movepools that can handle a wide variety of threats, but it does increase the chances of you running into something you’re not prepared for. However, this risk can be mitigated by planning ahead for important battles to make sure you’re prepared and bringing techs to counter specific opponents if necessary. When used in the right circumstances, this tip can elevate a team, save you time grinding for EXP, and provide you with greater flexibility in combat, but it’s up to you to decide if your core Pokémon are up to the task.
We hope you found these Nuzlocke team building tips useful! For more Nuzlocke content, check out our Guides and Articles section, and be sure to check back regularly for new tier lists, guides, and articles like this one. Happy Nuzlocking!