The 5th generation brought two new battle styles to competitive Pokemon: Triple battles and Rotational battles. While Triples strategy borrows greatly from Doubles, Rotational battles better resembles Singles. You have three pokemon on the field, but only one is battling. At the beginning of each turn, you may chose to use your lead or rotate to one of the reserves that are still "on the bench" and pick a move. This is different from switching out. A "benched" pokemon is treated as it is still in play, but it is ignored, It will keep stat boosts, it will not take entry hazards as it rotates in, and timers (Taunt, Protect, Sleep, etc.) are "paused" while it is benched. You can not rotate if using a multi-stage move (Outrage, Hyper Beam, Fly, etc.).
This treatise will focus on the implications of the rotation mechanic and how you can exploit it to victory. I'm going to star off by assuming that you have a basic understanding of competitive Singles so I don't have to explain basic battling concepts. Also I'm going to assume you will be following GBU rules and playing over Random Matchups in-game.
Quick overview on GBU rules
- You will start with 3 pokemon on the field and one in reserve
- Item clause is in effect: No two pokemon in your party may hold the same item. This is significantly different from normal Smogon rules.
- Species clause: no two pokemon may be of the same species.
- All pokemon level 51 and above will be rounded down to 50; all lower-leveled pokemon will remain at their level.
- No sleep clause, no evasion clause, no OHKO move ban.
- Drizzle + Swift Swim is not banned. Another key difference.
- Pokemon banned by Smogon are not necessarily banned: Garchomp, Excadrill, Thundurs, and Blaziken are legal, so prepare for them.
- The following pokemon arebanned:
Spoiler:- Ban list:
- Sky Drop and Dark Void are illegal
- Unreleased items and illegal movesets are illegal.
Rotational battles place a premium on prediction
It's high-stakes rock-paper-scissors with pokemon. Imagine having Venusaur out in front with Charizard and Blastoise on the bench, facing an Emboar with Samurott and Serperior on your opponent's bench. You could anticipate a Fire attack and switch to Blastoise, but your opponent might have already thought that out and decides to switch to Serperior in hopes of countering you. But wait! Anticipating that move, what if you switched to Charizard to take out Serperior? But what if your opponent switches to Samurott to take out Charizard?
Rotational battles are ful of head games like this. Every turn, look at what your opponent has out on the field, then consider the possibility of your opponent using one of the backups (as well as the likelihood) and how it impacts your turn anod move.
You need to quickly assess your opponent.
On GBUs, you have no idea what kind of battler you will find since anyone with a BW game, a DS, and Wi-Fi access can play. You will run into literal 8-year-olds who think they have a shot with a in-game team of half-evolved pokemon at level 20-30 and no items. You will meet Japanese players with 1,000+ wins with access to DW starters and other exclusive events. And several in between.
The quality of your opponent has an effect on how often they rotate their pokemon (and in which direction). Take the Kanto starters vs. Unova starters scenario from above: an average player will try to use a Fire attack on Emboar while you rotate to Blatoise to counter. However, a skilled player will anticipate the Blatoise witch, and rotate Serperior in to double-counter you. You have to get a feel for your opponent's skill level and plan accordingly. (I've lost battles because I overanalized my opponent and switched in a doublecounter when they never switched at all.)
Entry hazards are rare and practically useless
As pokemon rotate, they are not subject to entry hazards repeatedly. You start off with 3 pokemon on the field and only one in reserve. This decreases the effectiveness of setting up entry hazards dramatically, since normally only one pokemon will have to do a true switch-in (normal switches are rare, as rotating is often effective enough).
What does this mean? First of all, it makes the 4x SR-weak pokemon (Volcarona, Charizard, Yanmega, etc.) a lot more viable as it's highly unlikely they will need to switch out (or that there will even be hazards). Second, it's not a good idea to spend time setting up entry hazards, as it's unlikely you will benefit enough to justify the cost. Third, switch-forcing moves (Roar, Dragon Tail, etc.) are discouraged, especially since once one of your opponent's pokemon faints the entire team will be out on the field and no one can switch in for them to go out. Use Haze or Clear Smog to get rid of your opponent's boosts. (NOTE: this doesn't necessarily applies to switching moves like U-Turn and Volt Switch, since they do damage, but they should be reconsidered.) Also, Rapid Spin support (and spin blocking) is almost wasted.
Stat-boosting moves are encouraged (but don't Baton Pass)
As already mentioned, a pokemon does not lose its stat boosts when it rotates away. This greatly benefits many set-up sweepers as they can rotate to protect against an incoming SE attack without losing their progress. Dragon Dancers, Curse users, Double boost Terrakion, Quiver Dance Volcarona, Suicune, Shell Smash Cloyster, the list goes on.
That being said, don't try to Baton Pass stat boosts; it's likely to fail. There's only one reserve pokemon, which means it's impossible to baton pass after a teammate switches.
Choice items are less viable
Since there is little true switching and only one backup pokemon, there is an increased chance that a choiced user gets locked into a move while there are no substitutes. Getting locked means the user can be forced to use not very effective attacks on your opponent after the first target is down or being forced to use a self-damaging move like Draco Meteor or Superpower that limits its long0term usability in the match. Be cautious with Choice items.
Easier use of support pokemon
Because you can switch by rotating, you don't need to spend a turn switching to go from setting up Screens, Trick Room, etc. to a sweeper. This makes Trick Room and Tailwind more viable than in Singles.
It's also easier to pass Wishes to already damaged pokemon, as on the second turn they can rotate instead of switching in helplessly.
An example of a support set
Serperior @ Light Clay
Timid, Overgrow (or Contrary if it gets released)
252 HP/ 252 Speed /4 SA
- Light Screen
- Leaf Storm
Serperior has a unique niche as the fastest Glare user with 113 base speed, so it can outspeed Garchomp and resist Excadrill's Earthquakes. It can set up screens for its teammates to set up for sweeping. Leaf Storm keeps it from being Taunt bait and is its best attack.
Dealing with the normally banned
Sooner or later you're bound to run into a Drizzle+Swift Swim (or potentially Rain Dance+Swift Swim) team. To prepare yourself, a paralysis spreader is useful. Thundurus has priority Thunder Waves, Togekiss has Roost and can Paraflich, Magnezone, Gyarados, Ferrothorn, Zapdos, Dragonite, and Slowbro have bulk, and Azelf, Jolteon, and Alakazam have speed. Serperior also has a niche as the fastest Glare user, hence it can paralyze the likes of Garchomp and Excadrill. Speed Boost Blazike, while rare outside of Japanese players, can also be crippled with
Sand teams are likely to have Garchomp and Excadrill. Priority is one way of handling them (especially Prankster Sableye with Wil-O-Wisp), and as mentioned earlier both can be paralyzed by Glare. A Dragon with Dragon Dance can outspeed Garchomp; Dragonite makes a prime candidate with Multiscale to avoid being OHKOed while Dancing. A smashed Cloyster is also one of Garchomp's biggest fears, as it can shred through Yache berry and substitues and has the defense to take a hit before smashing. Porygon2 can also switch in and Trace Sand Veil. Excadrill's biggest fear is priority, namely Mach Punch and Aqua Jet. Be warned, FEAR Aron can be deadly in the Sand.
Lastly, changing the weather or running weather yourself can help you easily counter them.
Take advantage of immunities
As already mentioned, Rotational battles place a premium on prediction. An easy way to exploit bad prediction is to maximise type synergy with immunities. We all know Gyarados pairs well with any Ground type and Heatran and Ferrothorn/Scizor are good friends, as well as Normal/Steel and Ghost pokemon. In normal Singles, however, you you have to switch into an attack to take advantage, which means you risk losing stat boosts and waste a turn because of the switch and can't attack. In Rotational battles, however, you simply rotate away from danger and can counterattack on the same turn. If you can think further ahead than your opponent, you can quickly foil their plans and up the ante by increasing the risks of bad prediction, since many pokemon bearing an immunity can carry attacks beating that type while your opponent can't do any damage and effectively wastes a turn.
Your lead does matter (a bit)
If your pokemon has an ability that activates once sent out, it will not activate if it is one of the two benched pokemon. Weather starters, Intimidators, Trace users, etc. need to be used as the lead to have their abilities activate. Their abilities will also kick in if they are switched in, but not rotated. Certain messages such as the Air Ballon warning will not happen if they are on the bench; therefore, I suggest putting Air Ballon users in those spots to fool your opponent.
(Side note): I've also had success with using Porygon2 with Trace as my reserve pokemon to time its entrance to get a good ability. If the rare Shedinja is currently their lead, switch in (switches happen before rotations) and you will trace Wonder Guard ^_^. More realistically, you can Intimidate a Salamence or grab an immunity to a pokemon's STAB.
That's all I got for now. If you have something to add, let me know and I'll put it in.