Top Player Breakdown #4 Feat. Gavin Michaels

Hello everyone and welcome to the next installment of Top Player Breakdown! This is a series in which I will interview top players about how they approach the game, their mindset, tips for players looking to improve, breakdown of the current meta game and more! Today’s guest is the 2013 US National Champion and long time top player, Gavin Michaels!

You have seen a lot of success in multiple different formats. What do you believe is the main key behind staying consistent despite rule/mechanic changes?

For me I think what you have to realize is the best way to stay consistent is to use something that is different from what is standard. What I mean by that is that when you are trying to use what is considered the best team at any given moment or something that people have a lot of practice into, you need to grind constantly. There are a lot of people who are amazing at Coalossal, and Coalossal is probably the best team right now, but I know that I don’t have enough time to play Coal to a level where I could beat players who have their counters and plans already practiced. So a lot of my success has come from being able to use “rogue” teams that I identify as strong and then pilot it as well as I can.

What is your opinion on closed team sheet vs open team sheet?

I think that open team sheet becomes a necessity to make sure that having a lot of friends isn’t a massive advantage. When you have closed team sheet it does add a dynamic to the game that is fun, but the issue is that when one player has their sheet closed and another has their sheet semi open it creates a lopsided gain of information. We even see in open sheet tournaments that knowing your opponents exact stats is becoming vitally important and you see people pushing for that information when it’s still less relevant. If anything I think we need more open team sheets with stats included.

For newer/intermediate players who are looking to have better tournament/ladder performances do you think it’s better to focus on teambuilding and EV spreads first, or is it better to use teams that have previous success and focus more on learning aspects of the game such as momentum, prediction, resource management and meta trends first?

I think you need to be able to use something that works for you. I think there is something to be said about learning how to take stuff, when teambuilding there is often this notion that you have to start from scratch when I don’t think many, if any players try to do that. Learning what you like and trying to incorporate and mix in different ideas that you see is a good skill. I recommend for newer players to see what feels good for them and when they see a team on ladder they like to try and take it and try to make it fit to what feels right for them. As for learning in VGC you learn by playing, you aren’t going to be able to team build well unless you understand the reason behind the decisions you’re making. Anybody can make a team based around type charts but if you aren’t good at playing yet you aren’t going to be able to make an effective team. You have to focus on building the ground walk first.

Comparing the online circuit to the offline circuit, what are the biggest differences in your opinion that impacted how it played out?

The online circuit made it so instead of having small tournaments every weekend there were just a few major ones. It made it so you didn’t have little scenes developing which made it harder for innovation to happen, as well as made it harder for players to see and test new strategies. None of the online events we have had are not really comparable to a regional, Players Cup 1, and Players Cup 2 had a lot of hype behind it but the double elimination format really turned off a lot of people and I know personally people who didn’t even try to qualify for Players Cup 3 because they knew that double elimination was a bogus format. It seems that the online stuff lacks any weight behind it but I don’t think it has to be that way. I think there can be big online tournaments like the champions cup we had early on but we haven’t seen anything like it since.

With Players Cup 4 being swiss do you believe that ups its competitive level, or do you think it’s still like the first 3 and isn’t comparable to a regional?

I think it should, the new prizing might be a factor for some people but outside of that PC4 seems like a very real tournament. You are going to get more strong players in this than you will in most regionals, it’s more comparable to a national just based on the talent you are going to see in each of the regional qualifiers. Swiss also means it’s no longer just about matchup roulette and you can actually play.

Can you give some general tips on how to better approach team building?

When you are trying to team build something that is really tempting for newer players is to “invent” a Pokémon. We all have seen a player who says something like “I’m going to make vespiquen top tier.”  Some players do invent Pokémon, but you have to have a real deep understanding of what that reasoning is for that Pokémon and having no better options. I’m not going to say players can’t invent a Pokémon but you have to justify it by saying 3 unique things it can do that helps your matchups. Jamie Boyt is probably the player who most consistently uses the most off meta Pokémon. How he approaches it is by defining a very specific problem that he needs to solve first and finds the Pokémon that fits that hyper specific job the best.

Back in series 7 we saw a lot of people say Coalossal is very powerful and that is because of Urshifu Rapid Strike. It wasn’t really seen outside of teams with Coalossal but you slowly saw people begin to test it on other teams and realize “oh hey maybe it can be useful in another context” and then it became a really premier Pokémon, and I think trying to stretch out a Pokémon like that is more useful. 

What are the key differences from Best of 1 ladder, and Best of 3 tournaments sets. Should you be preparing for these in a different fashion or do you approach both the same way?

You have to approach them the same way. What best of 1 encourages the most is finding out what players are trying to do in any given situation. When you are able to know what your opponent wants to do you can really bank on some sort of surprise factor. Bo1 also really encourages the skill of item recognition, being able to identify your opponents item off team preview and how they’re playing the game, that can give you a really big edge. As to where in a best of 3 you have more time to gather that information naturally other than the minute and a half of team preview. In best of 3 you really have so much more time, you can stall out a losing game for several more minutes just to give more time to think of your game plan, you also have extra time in between each game as they end and you set up again.

Do you think best of 1 ladder results can transition into Best of 3 results and vice versa?

It has to, it’s not like they are completely different skills. However, I have seen players who try too hard to get good at best of 1 fail to transition into tournament play extremely often. I don’t know why that is, but it is. People who are good at playing best of 3 don’t usually have any trouble transitioning into best of 1 because its just like trying to win a game 1. 

Do you think a reason the best of 1 players previously mentioned fail to transition is that they aren’t as good at adapting to their opponents strategy in between games and just bank on the same strategy they use every game?

I think a good way to improve is to identify your weaknesses, and then avoid those weaknesses as it opens a whole new avenue of play. Players who fail to identify what went wrong and make adjustments are going to have a cap on their skill level.

What are your thoughts on flowcharts vs predictions? At what point as a player should you stray away from your flowchart and start making riskier plays and how would you manage knowing when what path to take?

Oh I play the game completely differently. What this mindset is talking about is you have your first few turns planned out in terms of if I make these moves and my opponent messes up I’m in a good spot or if they play perfectly and counteract me then I could be in a bad spot but I have outs. So what this question is asking is what is the point in which you say “ok I can’t win by just making the obvious safe plays?” That is a valid way of playing but what I like to do is make risks earlier rather than later. As long as you have room to recover then you can make much more dynamic situations. As a player I always try to take my player out of their prep, as I mentioned earlier I like to use some less than standard stuff because I trust that if my opponent has my pastebin and has been practicing for weeks to perfect that matchup they’re going to know what to do against it. But if you shake things up and put in things they aren’t prepared for their game become improvisational and you just need to realize when to make plays that guarantee you the win.

Its really powerful “taking players out of their prep” as you said it. Recently I was testing Regieleki/Gothitelle and my opponents were making the most desperate plays because they aren’t used to being in the situation shadow tag put them in. I felt like a lot of the wins came from my opponents not being able to properly handle what was in front of them.

Exactly! People aren’t going to react properly the first time they are thrown into a new situation, so if you are able to do it with a team that is not bad then you have something. I’m not telling people to start throwing and only use gimmicks and surprises but you can make things that are good and consistent that are just a little weird and when you can do that you have a gold mine.

What are your favorite, and least favorite generation of Pokémon, and why?

Favorite: Generation 5. I’m going to base this purely off how fun it is. Its the only game that made the 2 game versions feel like different games. B/W and B2/W2 were completely different games. Also the 2d animated sprites looked so good, and gave life to a lot Pokémon that the 3d sprites lack.

Least Favorite: Generation 6. The games are just lifeless, and megas are just an annoying mechanic to be honest with you I don’t particularly like them. I can’t remember being as disappointed in a game as I was with Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. I realized how much of my joy from RSE came from the post game, and just not having that was like “oh, right. This is just kind of a slump”

If you haven’t already make sure to follow Gavin on Twitter!

Thank you for reading today’s article! If you enjoyed please give this post a share, or consider checking out my social media for more VGC improvement content. You can find my twitter here, YouTube here, and my twitch channel here. I hope you enjoyed and I wish you a fantastic day!

Published by Primitive

My name is Michael, but if you know my from competitive gaming you probably know me as Primitive. I'm a life long competitor in various card games, and turn based games who still has the burn to compete and work to be my best. I have been on a health and fitness journey since February 2018 and it is now one of my burning passions, making one of my new major goals to become a personal trainer to help others see the benefits exercise and nutrition can bring!

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