How to Become the Very Best Pokemon Go Gym Trainer

The recent Pokemon Go update changed gyms in some dramatic ways. While it intended to get more people participating in the system, it seems to have devastated my local suburban gym scene, not just in my own town but the surrounding area as well. The gym and battle system was already difficult for a lot of casual trainers to grasp, as I often found myself explaining the mechanics to players just looking for their daily coin fix. However, the new changes have left even long-time gym leaders scratching their heads or just giving up altogether. That’s why I figured it was time for us to discuss some good training methods for those looking to be the very best.

Pokemon Go Gym Trainer

As a quick note, if the prose of this Pokemon Go gym guide is a bit overwhelming, scroll to the bottom and start with the resources I’ve listed. I’ve combined some of these more general guides in a way that I hope highlights how to use them to understand and overcome the meta-scene, not just overall, but for your local scene. This is key because, unlike most online games, Pokemon Go is really about your local, physical location and how it’s reacted to the overall meta.


The Hard Truth


Before we go too deep into the gym meta-game and tactics, we need to be very upfront about something: Pokemon Go is pay to win. The base game’s very limited storage combined with the fact that eggs make finding rare and powerful Pokemon much easier means that coins are incredibly valuable. While you can get them from gym battles, it’s a very slow process, and for a very long time prior to this update, spending coins on certain items has directly lead to getting more coins.

Case in point: I’ve spent about $50 on the game, not including on the Pokemon Go Plus accessory. When I talk to players who have spent no money but have still spent their dust wisely and obtained powerful Pokemon before certain changes were made, I still often have several advantages. It’s not just that I have more space for a robust roster of Pokemon and room for plenty of battle consumables. Incubators, the most powerful items in the game, can only be gotten every 5 levels after level 6 (10, 15, 20, etc) or from coins. Remember, hatching eggs doesn’t just give you Pokemon but gives you additional candy and star dust, items that generally require capturing multiple Pokemon. These consumables are the only way you can level up your Pokemon and dictate how powerful you are as a trainer, with your trainer level only acting as a maximum cap on how powerful your Pokemon can become. Combined with the fact that hatched Pokemon have higher Individual Values (IVs), it’s not surprising that I consistently have stronger Pokemon and more of them than free to play trainers, even when they’ve used their dust and candy more wisely than I have.

That’s before considering the Plus accessory. While I don’t recommend it for all players, I have noticed that using it wisely, such as when I’m unable to actively play in social settings or to use it while mass evolving with a lucky egg, gives me another advantage over free to play players. Combined, I’m able to level faster than most players, acquire more and rarer Pokemon, and have better access to candy and star dust. The only way I could have a better advantage would be if I lived in a city with many active lures, nearby gyms, or living above and/or near a combination of the two (which I had for a week in Japan).

These advantages aren’t often discussed, though, as most players care more about collecting than gym battles, but it’s hardly a new idea. You can be competitive as a free to play player because I’ve met them, but as someone who’s built a bit of a local reputation (I’ve heard rival players muttering my name on several occasions), I gotta say dropping some cash gives me a noticeable advantage. Aside from getting a Plus, I’d advise competitive trainers to focus on picking up incubators, storage, and at least one maximum batch of lucky eggs.


Team Styles and Advantages

pokemon_go_team_leaders Pokemon Go Gym Trainer

If you haven’t picked a team yet or are just starting out, you may want to look at your local scene. If you’re in a city, your gyms probably can’t be held for very long so you’ll probably need to focus on hitting a few nearby gyms, quickly, and preferably with a group, before collecting your rewards. If you live in a more rural area, you’ll probably want to make sure you choose a team that can hold multiple gyms but doesn’t get locked out from your own team all the time.

In general, Mystic is good for weaker players or those with rural, slow growing gyms, as you’ll have plenty of teammates and the ability to hold multiple gyms without (hopefully) needing to return to the gym a lot. Granted, some people start a second account with a different team to boot out their own teammates and take their place, but I’d advise against this as it’s very time-consuming and may cause you to fall out with other players. Remember, Pokemon Go happens in meatspace and people may react to creative use of mechanics in very different, physical ways.

Valor is good if you’re looking to be a bit of an underdog or Mystic gyms tend to max out quickly (10 being the highest), as someone needs to take gyms to regain them. Valor tends to have decent numbers and is often Mystic’s main rival, but again, check your local scene first.

Finally, there’s Team Instinct, generally the weakest team. While these players are rare, I’ve heard of certain areas where they are actually the dominant team. Playing the underdog, like in MMOs, can often lead to a better chance of creating quicker connections with teammates as there’s more pressure to work together and the fact that, well, acting in “non-normative” ways in a group makes it normal and increases a sense of group unity. I know the “yellow team” actually sweeps through my city over the weekends, taking a large chunk of the gyms, and they seem to be in a group of at least 5.

Also, a comment about the legendary birds at Comic-Con has some people wondering if you have easier access to legendary birds based on your team. This would give Instinct a big advantage, as Zapdos is the only Electric-type Pokemon with a potential CP high enough to really pose a threat to the generally overpowered Water types dominating the meta. However, that’s just a rumor for now, and should only be lightly considered in choosing your team.

One final thing to consider is who you want to play with. If you want to play with real life friends, you should obviously be on the same team. If you’re looking to make friends with locals, figure out which teams dominate your local gym hangouts, unless you’re willing to travel a lot to play the game. There’s also Reddit for finding new people to play with. Don’t feel like you need to train solo, as my best moments with the game have been taking and training gyms with a fellow Mystic.


Current Meta Considerations


Before the battle even begins, take a look at the current calculation system for prestige (the measure used to level up gyms). The simple tactic is that you want to use only Pokemon several hundred CP lower than the first Pokemon you battle at the gym. That means that if the first Pokemon is CP 1000, and the second one is 2000 CP, you still only want to bring a team of Pokemon with perhaps 800 CP to gain the max prestige awards. If this was your situation, bringing even one CP 1500 Pokemon means you lose a lot of the prestige bonus from defeating the first Pokemon even if you use a weak Pokemon. Being forced to use weak Pokemon to defeat stronger ones for a bonus has been a staple of the (admittedly unintuitive) battle scene since release, but prior to this update, the rating was based on the Pokemon you used in each battle, not your overall team.

This is why the current meta (ab)uses the use of low CP Pokemon. Some people put in weak Pokemon, sometimes even coordinating with other trainers to make large gaps in the CP rating so that fighting multiple ‘mon in the same run nets you less XP, forcing you to fight with weak Pokemon for shorter runs. Let’s call it the “Gap Strat.” This has, in fact, largely killed the gym scene in my local neighborhood for almost a week now, as casual players think the prestige system is giving everyone fewer rewards. Although it’s not true, it has caused a lot of people here to start ignoring gyms, if not the game itself.

However, this isn’t the end of the world. When you do find a gym using the “Gap Strat,” go for the shorter runs. When the defenders have a narrow CP range (~200 if under 2k total CP; after that, it won’t matter as much due to most Pokemon’s max CP caps), go for multiple fights. Chip away at the low rungs of the gym primarily using Pokemon you’ve recently caught to help cut back on the amount of revives and potions you need to use. You may want to keep particularly promising Pokemon for later, but generally, feel free to release any trash Pokemon after they’ve fainted. While IV calculators are useful, knowing how the appraisal system works for your team can give you a good idea of what to keep and what to trash, based on your needs.

Because of this, I’d advise trainers to hit gyms after they go out on a Pokemon catching spree. Use Pokemon you’ve caught as fodder to help save your supply of potions and revives. For revives in particular, power up any Pokemon you plan on using star dust on or evolving after gym battles where they die. This will restore them to life and give them a little health. You’ll still need to use potions, but it does save your revives.

I’d also advise (if you have the space) to save high tier evolutions no matter what their CP level may be. These Pokemon often have better moves and stats than less evolved Pokemon that you may find at the bottom of gyms. In some ways, it does mean that a weak Snorlax you find in bed isn’t completely useless. Admittedly, Niantic may change the system at some point, making most of this guide obsolete. For the time being, however, I’ve found this piece of advice helpful even under the old rule set, though it’s become far more important lately.

Of course, everyone’s meta scene will be different. Again, city based gyms tend to change hands quickly, while rural ones, especially off main roads or on unpopular nature trails, tend to be easier to hold. If you just want some easy coins, popular gyms are a good place to get it, but the real battles are taking place in the suburbs and countryside.


General Tactics

pokemon_go_specials Pokemon Go Gym Trainer
The CP level of your Pokemon is very important, as is the tier, but consider the types too. They’re quite different from the main series in some ways, which is why Electric is nearly useless aside from dealing with Gyrados, which similarly makes Flying, Ground, and even Rock types less useful. Focus on mostly Water, Grass, and Fire types, in that order, with the first two being your first choices for defenders unless you have a good Snorlax or Lapras. Despite popular opinion, I’d advise against using Dragonite because his quad weakness to ice and large investment only make him useful in putting him high up in a gym, which is only useful in strong, established gyms that may stand for a few days. As a sole defender, even very weak Ice types and moves pose a large threat to him.

Once in combat, remember that the defending Pokemon will always attack twice in rapid succession. This means you can probably get in one or two hits at the start. Then you should focus on dodging (swiping left or right) until you’ve seen two dodge messages. Remember, when you defeat a Pokemon, the next Pokemon is going to do the same thing!

From here, you’ll need to get used to the timing of certain moves, both your own and your opponents, as battles have their own rhythm. For example, Water Gun with Vaporeon is a rather quick attack, so you can usually get 3 attacks in between dodges, while Zen Headbutt with Exeggcuter is slow and should probably only be used once between dodges, maybe twice if the opponent is slow. This should become a kind of dance. Using a Vaporeon against an Exeggcuter like above, your dance should look something like this: attack twice, dodge until you’ve received two “dodge” messages from the two defender’s attacks at the start, attack 3 times, dodge until you see a single “dodge” message, attack 3 times, dodge once, etc. Don’t react, anticipate. Again though, you need to learn the rhythm of your attacks, but also your opponent, and that includes learning their special attack.

Special attacks are often ignored by less seasoned players. Stop ignoring them! When your blue bar fills up, you’ll want to hold your finger down to execute your special attack. You’ll notice a blue line moving from right to left indicating how close the move is to being executed. Once the ability goes off, start focusing on dodging. You can use the move anytime, but I’d advice to do it after a dodge, especially after a defender’s special attack, but play it by ear. Generally, you want to use your special sooner than later, but not if it means eating the defender’s special attack.

pokemon_go_bugged_combatAs the game is a mobile title and online, it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that the animations don’t always align with what’s going on with the game on-screen. This is why I suggest players watching for the “dodge” text. Even when it looks like your Pokemon got hit or even fainted, if you keep trying to dodge, the game can retroactively give you your health back or revive your Pokemon if you get the “dodge text” for continually attempting to dodge throughout the proper time, even if you don’t visually see it. I’ve seen my own Pokemon die via animation, but because I was dodging through the defender’s special attack, my ‘mon was actually alive, invisibly continuing the attack and even defeating my opponent. As Obi-Wan Kenobi said, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.”

While picking your attacker is relatively easy, especially with a tier list, defending is a bit different even if you have a list. For defending, remember that your enemy is generally going to use a type advantage against you. This is why you want a defending Pokemon to actually use moves that your opponent will be weak to, rather than only Same Type Advantage Bonus (STAB) moves. STAB moves are granted for using moves that are the same type as your Pokemon, so Exeggcute, being Grass and Psychic, gets an attack bonus for Grass and Psychic moves, but not, say, normal moves. This is often important for attackers, but using it on defense makes more sense.

For example, I like using a Blastoise with Bite and Ice Beam. Bite, a Dark type move, is effective against Psychic types, such as the popular Exeggcuter, and Ice Beam is good against all Grass types. which are strong against Water types like Blastoise. While it was a bit of an investment in terms of candy and dust, my Blastoise often lasts awhile in gyms because local players don’t expect a Water type to use moves that will be super effective against a Grass type. While they can use an Electric type, I’ve already mentioned that Electric types tend to be weak, so few people power them up very far, making my Blastoise kind of annoying to battle.

One word of warning though: when training, prestige in the past rose and fell every time a defending Pokemon is defeated. If a gym was nearly defeated or leveled, the change could have occurred while someone is fighting. This is why people can snipe your slot or control of the gym while you’re still in a gym run. That being said, I recently tested this with another player and changes didn’t occur until after we won or lost. Still, look around you when training, and be ready to leave after each battle if there seems to be a lot of competition around!


Final Tips


There are a few competitive tips that should outlast any update you find in this guide. What will always be true is that the meta-scene isn’t something you memorize to become “the best,” but something you study, learn, and can predict. You need to stay ahead of the curve rather than follow it in order to beat your fellow player. This is true of any game, but as Pokemon Go is so much more localized than online games we’re used to, and because it lacks any sort of overall tournament scene, it should be treated somewhere between the meta-scene of an online game and local trading card game: understand the overall game, but apply it in ways that allow you to beat the locals.

From there, try to connect with the Pokemon Go community. Reddit, in particular, is a good starting point and even has local channels to follow. Next is to make social connections. Even in fighting games, talking with other players helps you learn more about the game, but it also makes learning the local meta much, much easier. While forums help learn trends in the overall game, local practices can make these obsolete. For example, when the game launched in Japan, I lived in an area that spawned a lot of Dratini, Magikarp, and Psyduck, so we had a greater demand for Electric types. Local Shellder spawns helped us realize just how fragile Dragonite is.

Finally, keep in mind that Pokemon Go is essentially gang warfare. Treat it as such. Find allies, make deals with enemies to divide up territory, be ready to get back stabbed, and watch for the third faction at all times. Unless no one in your town is playing, at some point, any competitive gym trainer will meet another trainer. Even rival trainers can be useful, so make connections!


Useful Resources:


General Tips

Type Strength/Weakness Chart

Battle Video Guide

Detailed IV Calculator

Simple IV Calculator

Appraisal System Explanation

Potential Max CP List

Suggested Attacking Pokemon Tier List

Suggested Defending Pokemon Tier List


Pokemon Go Reddit Community

Pokemon Go Regional Reddit Communities


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