Hello again, welcome back to another installment of Playing to Win: Pokemon Unite edition. I’ve been playing the game now for a few months and I’ve finally achieved the ultimate goal – becoming a Pokemon Unite Master. Today we’re going to be going all-in on discussing Ranked mode and I’ll give you a guide to leveling up your gameplay based on my experiences on the ladder. For those of you who are new to Ranked modes or are wondering why you might even care in the first place, I’ll give a quick overview of the mode and why it’s important.
First off, Ranked is separate from Standard, the default and relatively casual game mode, by giving six distinct ratings based on your win rate and grouping you with other players who are in a relatively similar skill bracket. Wins increase your rank, and losses decrease it, with each ranking band having class subdivisions to denote further placement within that rank, such as Great Class 2 or Ultra Class 4. The rankings are, in order, Beginner – Great – Expert – Veteran – Ultra – Master, and this guide will be primarily focused on getting you to the Ultra/Master level with the ultimate goal of achieving that coveted Master position.
Now, why should you care? Standard is the default game mode, therefore it is the most accessible, the most played, and the most casual. This means you get paired with players of a variety of skill levels, and after a certain period of time, it may begin to feel frustrating playing with other people that might be worse at the game than you. Ranked, after a certain level, begins to feel much more challenging – you’re more likely to get opponents and teammates of higher skill, and for many players seeking a challenge this is where it gets exciting. Secondly, you get the ultimate bragging rights – not only do you get to tell your friends that you’re a Pokemon Master, but you also get a really sick-looking iridescent rainbow border for your in-game trainer card that lets everyone know you’re one of the best. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, you get a lot of Aeos tickets. I wrote in my last article that these are one of the most important items in the game as they’re the primary method of buying Item Enhancers to level up your Held Items. When I say you get a lot, I mean it: the Veteran – Ultra – Master Ranked band gives the best return, with 10,000, 15,000, and 20,000 tickets rewarded respectively at the end of the Ranked season to anyone who achieves those respective ranks. You can spend it on maximizing all your Held Items or buying that really fun player skin you wanted, the choice is yours – now on to the guide!
1. Bring a Friend
It is absolutely important that you improve your own individual skills as a player so as to be able to impact the game on your own, but it is even more important you play with a friend. It is very easy to brute force your way solo through the lower ranks, but once you get to Expert and beyond it will really set in that you are but one Pokemon.
Remember that this is a team game, which means teamwork is incredibly important; just like in real life, it is much easier to accomplish your goals through unified effort with other human beings than it is to carry the whole world on your back alone. Playing with a friend (or two if you’re lucky, which is even better) gives you a teammate you can directly communicate with about enemy locations, specific objectives or to ask for help in fights. This lets you more easily combo moves to make kills or escape difficult situations.
If you don’t have friends to play with, or your schedules, unfortunately, don’t align, I suggest looking to the r/PokemonUnite Discord channel to find teammates of a variety of skill levels. I was lucky enough to have a friend of mine to ladder with, but we also brought in the occasional player from that Discord and it was generally helpful, so give it a shot. This is rule number one because it’s the most foundational and most stark – it will be almost impossible for most players to climb to Ultra/Master on their own simply because of the likelihood that your opponents will be doing what I suggest, and you’ll feel the coordination difference if you give it a try.
2. Choose the Best Pokemon
There are quite a few ‘mon to choose from in Unite and most of them are pretty good, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a bottom of the barrel or cream of the crop. You absolutely can play most Pokemon to a very high level and should choose the one you enjoy playing and have a good feel for, but it helps a lot to start the game at an advantage by just choosing better Pokemon than your opponent.
First off I highly recommend avoiding playing Charizard, Garchomp, and Mr. Mime. Garchomp is one of the worst Pokemon in the game right now even after a few buffs, and Charizard is not far behind unless you really know what you’re doing. Mr. Mime requires a really high level of coordination with your team, which can be difficult at most ranks as inter-team cooperation is difficult and is easily punished by opponents who play around his very specific style.
As for Pokemon I highly recommend playing, look to Cinderace, Pikachu, Blastoise, Snorlax, Zeraora, Gengar, Lucario, Machamp, and Wigglytuff. These are what I consider the best overall in the respective categories, and though certain others may outclass them in some aspects, these have the best combination of skill ceiling, ease of play, capability of solo carrying, and general strength. Personally, I believe Blastoise to currently be the best Pokemon in the game for a variety of reasons, and playing him is gonna make a percentage difference in your games. But like I said you can play most Pokemon in Unite to a very high level and you’re certainly not required to play these, I simply recommend them as the best starting points with tons of potential for players of all experiences and skill levels.
3. Wear the Best Gear
Held Items are vitally important to the game of Unite and in giving yourself either an edge or just an even match. Unfortunately, most Held Items in Unite are actually fairly useless or significantly worse than the others, which means there are a select few which rise to the top. Very important notice: Float Stone is actually a really terrible item that seems like it isn’t. The move speed buff is a lie; it seems like a big movement speed increase but if you compare it with the numbers of your default movement speed the scale is so laughably different that the small increase from Float Stone is basically irrelevant. It also doesn’t even work unless you’ve been out of combat for 6 seconds, and with how often you’re either farming wild Pokemon or engaged in team fights, it just rarely activates in a relevant way. Skip the Stone.
The best Items are Muscle Band, Focus Band, and Buddy Barrier in S tier then Wise Glasses/Shell Bell, Energy Amplifier, and Score Shield make up A tier. Muscle Band improves your basic attack speed and gives your basic attacks a percent damage boost to enemy Pokemon. Focus Band provides some very strong and important healing which can be vital for many Pokemon that are either frail or cannot easily protect themselves, and Buddy Barrier gives not only a small Health boost but more importantly provides you and a teammate with a massive amount of shielding whenever you use your Unite Move (your ultimate). These three are the best items in the game, and I firmly believe that Buddy Barrier is so essential that it belongs on every Pokemon, and Muscle Band belongs on every physical and melee Pokemon in the game, which is half of the Attackers, all of the All-Rounders and most of the Defenders.
Next up, Wise Glasses and Shell Bell are for Special Attackers the way Muscle Band is for Physical, though they aren’t as strong. Wise Glasses provides a raw 7% increase to SpA which is not insignificant, whereas Shell Bell provides a small amount of healing and an improvement to ability cooldowns. The healing on Bell is small enough that I think it doesn’t matter so much on less bulky ‘mon, so your choice should be based on a damage increase vs ability cooldown basis. Energy Amplifier is another powerful Unite Move-based item, increasing the charge rate on your ultimate and improving your damage dealt for a time after using your ultimate. It also improves regular ability cooldown similar to Shell Bell. This is very good for Pokemon that want to be using their ults and abilities as often as possible and to more easily win teammates wherein they use them. Lastly, Score Shield provides a small Health boost and gives a shield to protect you when scoring goals, making it easier to go uninterrupted. The strategy with this item is to farm small numbers of points and score them quickly rather than going for huge chunks at a time and then escaping after the goal, winning via death by a thousand paper cuts. This is still a solid item but lower on the scale because so many goals scored will be after team fights and you won’t need the protection.
The items you choose will be based on your Pokemon choice and playstyle, but there are a few good starting points. Offensive Pokemon should be focused on maximizing damage, with more defensive Pokemon more focused on survivability. For me, I spent most of the ladder grind playing Blastoise with Buddy Barrier, Energy Amplifier, and Wise Glasses, though I’ve also experimented with Shell Bell over the Glasses as well. Barrier is too vital like I’ve mentioned, and Blastoise’s abilities and ult are so powerful that Energy Amplifier was important in maximizing those. Finally, Wise Glasses just improved the damage of all of those enough that I didn’t feel the need to run other items, but you could experiment with Muscle Band or Focus Band.
I can’t emphasize enough that fully leveled Held Items will make a massive difference when compared to their weaker counterparts. For this purpose, fully leveled means level 20, as that is where the primary effect of Held Items maxes out, though many are worth pushing to level 30 if you have enough Item Enhancers. Unite recently launched Super Item Enhancers as part of a free set of missions, so I recommend using those specifically on Buddy Barrier, Muscle Band, and Focus Band because they’ll instantly be set to level 30 and refund any previously spent Item Enhancers from those items. If you’ve got all three maxed out, shift your attention to the other items I mentioned.
4. Team Comp Choices
Team composition is relatively simple in Unite. Supports and Speedsters are not necessary even if they are incredibly strong. Multiple tanks are a vital strategy, and many seemingly weird compositions can work if you do so intentionally and focus on playing to their strengths. I strongly recommend against playing multiple Speedsters, multiple All-Rounders, or multiple Supports, as their weaknesses are much more glaring when doubled – Speedsters are too frail to sustain team fights, All-Rounders require too much melee contact and have lower burst potential, and double Supports simply lowers your overall team damage output. I recommend a good mix of bulk and damage, with mobility and support considered as potential factors instead of necessary ones.
5. Hold Your Own Lane
Proper laning is a difficult skill to master in MOBAs, and takes a lot of practice, but is very rewarding and makes a big difference in your results. The correct way to lane in Pokemon Unite is to split into 2-1-2; 2 top, 1 jungle (center green area), 2 bottom. Many players try to make a 3-1-1 split but this just leaves one of your lanes very vulnerable, because a 3:2 ratio is not as big as a 2:1, and the solo player will likely end up trapped in the goal and unable to farm safely or effectively.
The best way to split the lanes is one Pokemon per lane that will be the main source of damage and another that will be the main source of soak. The damage can be any category, and the soak can be either All-Rounder, Defender, or Support to mitigate enemy damage. For jungle, you should have an Attacker or Speedster, as they will get the biggest advantage from jungling’s higher experience share. You can of course play two damage sources in one lane if your team comp demands it, but this means that lane will be more vulnerable to jungle ambushes or effective laning by the enemy.
The purpose of the jungle is to acquire a level advantage over laning Pokemon and use this advantage to press team fights or set up ambushes in lane to set up goals. To do this, they need to farm as many Pokemon as possible, and this is especially important for the wild crabs in the middle fountain zone. It is vitally important that laning players do not steal kills of wild pokemon from junglers, as this can disrupt their leveling/evolution windows and leave them weaker in vital team fights or unable to ambush, so don’t go drifting into the jungle in search of free experience just because the jungler isn’t currently there. Of course, lane players should go for those kills if it means directly denying the enemy team from taking those kills themselves.
Laners should focus on farming the wild Pokemon in their lane and defending the team goals, only pushing enemy objectives if there is a definitive window. They should also try to bait enemy players into making mistakes, such as pushing too far forward towards your own team so that your jungler can easily ambush and kill them. They also need to know when to rotate to other lanes or to jungle to support teammates for objectives and team fights. All of this requires a lot of map awareness and focus on behalf of both laners and junglers, and keeping your jungler alive to maintain their jungle advantage is vitally important.
If you are playing with one or more friends, as I recommend above, it is important to know how to allocate your team members. For two players, I recommend either one of you Top and the other Jungle or both of you Top. For three players, I recommend two Top and the third Jungle. Top is the most important lane to have active communication with, because the lane itself is least important. Having direct communication with the Jungler is very useful because it allows easier setup for ambushes, or the Jungler can make call-outs for Top laners on when to rotate or do other things.
6. Play to Objectives
In the very early stages, kills on enemy players are vastly more important than scoring points on the enemy goal. But over the course of the match, the best team will be the one who plays the objectives the best, and this is a multi-fold concept.
At 7 minutes, the first Dreadnaw and Rotom will spawn. These minibosses are powerful enough that they basically win lanes on their own, and this is the most important element of the standard match set. When the timer for Dreadnaw starts, it is imperative that the two players in Top lane move to the bottom lane with the Jungler to ensure all five team members are there to take Dreadnaw. This is called Dreadnaw Rotation and is one of the biggest sources of lost games in Unite. When the Top lane doesn’t rotate, it’s often left to the Jungler and Bottom lane to take Dreadnaw themselves, and this becomes essentially impossible if the enemy team correctly performs a Dreadnaw Rotation.
Earlier I claimed that Top is the least important lane, and I’ll explain why. Both lanes are essentially equivalent with the exception of their respective minibosses, which means the importance of those lanes is defined by their minibosses. I’m going to come out and say that Rotom is worthless, and Dreadnaw is game-defining. Rotom can be useful, but provides no immediate benefit and can be killed by the enemy team even after you capture it, thereby negating its advantage. Dreadnaw provides the immediate benefit of a large team shield and experience boost, often giving your team a level advantage. This is massive and winning multiple Dreadnaw battles will likely guarantee a victory because of that large level advantage.
Full teamfight where both teams rotate completely to take Dreadnaw is likely to happen and becomes the most common in higher ranks. This is relatively simple and I don’t have much advice – win the team fight. Focus on killing their most vulnerable player, which is either their support/frailest attacker or on the enemy player that dives a little too deep into your team. You can also use crowd control (CC) to group to separate players for easier kills or to group up the enemy team to hit them all at once with AOE attacks and mass damage. Ultimates are also going to be coming into play around the first Dreadnaw fight and be instrumental in winning it. I’ll go more into these later.
In lower ranks, you’re more likely to see one or both teams not complete a full rotation, with their missing players likely to go after Rotom. Ignore them, because they’re making a mistake. If your team has the player advantage, push it and either kill the Bottom enemy players or take out their first goal. This makes it far harder for them to push into the Dreadnaw area because it costs them both the movement speed advantage but also a fallback position. If you are at a disadvantage, simply try to delay the enemy team from taking Dreadnaw as long as possible. Then hopefully your teammate will rotate, or more likely you will be forced to try to steal Dreadnaw. Don’t focus on killing the enemy team, just on surviving and Dreadnaw. After the Dreadnaw fight ends, both teams should try to re-rotate up to Rotom. This is mostly for bonus points and a time delay because the losing side will either lose a goal or should be forced to spend time killing the enemy Rotom.
Taking out enemy goals prior to miniboss fights can be incredibly helpful in ensuring your team wins them, but you can also use the advantage from either the team fight victory or the miniboss bonus to push goals and take them out. Play around objectives and timing windows to their fullest.
7. Zapdos is Your Lord and Savior
Now we come to the single most important piece of advice I have for Pokemon Unite: kill Zapdos. When Zapdos spawns, your entire team should focus on rotating to the central fountain area to fight for it. Expect a very intense battle with lots of Ultimates, so the closer you tick to the two-minute mark the more you should try saving your ultimate for the Zapdos team fight. Even if you’re losing, as long as it’s been a relatively close match throughout, the advantage from taking Zapdos is so massive that whoever takes it is all but guaranteed to win on the spot. You should absolutely wipe the enemy team before fighting Zapdos, otherwise, you risk them stealing it out from under you and ruining your day.
After taking Zapdos, the only thing that matters is scoring points. Do not attempt to fight enemy players as they respawn, because you’re just wasting time. After scoring your goals, immediately hearthstone back to your base and defend your own goals so that you don’t get counter scored and risk losing on the back end because you got arrogant. Sometimes a Zapdos take is enough to win but might be on the smaller scale if multiple team members died in the team fight, so if the enemy team plays really well there’s a chance they catch back up.
Zapdos is so strong that it is fundamentally game-altering to the point that unfortunately nothing else in the game up to that point matters. Personally, I think this is bad game design that pushes the boundaries of acceptability. I understand the need for a catch-up mechanic to allow lower-skilled players the opportunity to win, but the velocity with which Zapdos propels a team is in many ways unfun to experience, both as a winner or loser. But as long it is in the game, Zapdos is your god and you need to respect it above all else.
8. Learn to Steal Home
Even if you follow all this advice and play to your best outs, it’s still not a guarantee things are going to go right. Your opponents are sometimes gonna be better than you, your teammates are gonna throw or you’re just gonna get unlucky. So you’re gonna have to get dirty.
In the early laning phase, a very important strategy is trying to steal your opponent’s wild Pokemon. This means you should try to push enemy creeps without focusing on your own once you get to the neutral zone, but you should not risk your own creep or your own life to do so. Losing your own creep just puts you back at parity, and losing your own life means you likely lose everything else in the opener.
If you find yourself at a massive disadvantage and you’re about to lose Dreadnaw, Rotom, or Zapdos, your best strategy is to snipe it and steal the objective. There are two main ways to do this; high burst damage abilities, or ultimates. High burst abilities such as Snorlax’s Heavy Slam or Cinderace’s Pyro Ball, which don’t target specific enemies and can hit multiple opponents at once, are great at sniping objectives and stealing them right out from under your enemies noses. Even if you’re not losing, they can be used to finish off the last chunk of health on a boss before the enemy walks up and attempts to steal it themselves.
Ultimates are the next best way to do so, as they do much more damage but are not used nearly as often as abilities. Blastoise is one of the best at this as his ultimate does massive damage in a large AOE and also stuns enemy players in the process, setting you up to kill them or finish a boss for a split second. One of Blastoise’s greatest strengths is the ability to steal bosses with his moves, which is another reason I highly recommend playing him on your team. These thefts can be surprising fight winners, turning the tables immediately, especially as your foes invested multiple resources into taking the bosses.
9. Play Defensively
Sometimes risks pay off, but the best way to play Unite is to play as low effort as possible. Laners should defend goals, and if they’re being pushed aggressively can simply sit on their goal and use the free bonus shield/healing and Sitrus Berries to sustain fights far longer than they would go otherwise, which can give time to regroup or for team rotations. If your goal is being pushed by a massive player advantage, many times it’s possible to have the two laners just sit on the goal and hold them off for a while. It’s also okay to just completely abandon goals if you feel unsafe holding them any longer. A lost goal is less important than the loss of a player and the subsequent respawn time, especially as it costs valuable farming time to maintain level parity or advantage.
Don’t be afraid to use ultimates to zone enemies away and keep teammates alive, especially in team fights over objectives, because sometimes a living teammate is more important than a dead enemy. This is especially true for fights over Rotom, which is pretty low in importance to the point where I suggest letting the enemy team take it if it would cost you anything to try and swing it.
All of this is because of my aforementioned advice with regards to Zapdos, which defines the game. If the only thing that matters is Big Bird then simply surviving until then is a very viable strategy and one that I recommend. If you lose Zapdos, killing multiple enemy players is also an effective deterrent to losing. Your overall strategy should be mitigation over advantage. To this effect, choosing movesets that maximize CC and disrupting enemy players is way better than slightly higher damage or surprise effects. Moves like Blastoise’s Surf, Slowbro’s Telekinesis, Pikachu’s static passive on his attacks or Lucario’s stuns from Bone Rush are gonna win you team fights more than pure damage.
10. Accept Defeat
My last piece of advice is to remember that this is just a game. You’re playing to have fun. Accept that you’re just gonna lose sometimes, or often, and many times lose to bad teammates more than better opponents. It’s incredibly frustrating, but maintaining your cool and being able to run it back and recover is gonna be better for your mental health and your rank in the long term. Take a break if you need it, and always aim to learn and improve your own game whenever possible. You’ll never be perfect, and you’re going to constantly find ways you’re able to self level-up even if you’re playing great or on a win streak.
Practice sniping bosses and enemies, practice ultimate timings and different move pools and practice with as many Pokemon as possible. Even if you don’t like a lot of them, getting a better fundamental understanding of the various Pokemon and their playstyles will improve your own through exposure but also give a better idea of how to counter enemy Pokemon when you encounter them in matches. It’s going to take time and effort and you’re gonna lose a lot, but if you put all of this into effect it will be much easier and you’ll be on your way to Master Rank in no time. Good luck Trainers, and I’ll see you next time.