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In all Pokemon versions, there's a trade off: You can easily level a few Pokemon off of trainers, or slowly grind to level your entire team.

With the goals of beating the game and catching as many possible, what's the best strategy for efficiency in terms of the number of Pokemon you train throughout the game?

What about HM slaves?

For example, should one only focus on three pokemon from the beginning to end game?

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6 Answers 6

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I have never thought of the Elite 4 as "End Game," just as I never though of hitting level 60 (and later 70, 80, 85) as "End Game" in WoW. Rather it was just another stepping stone. Because of this attitude, I optimized very differently.

First, I found that 3 Pokemon was about the sweet spot for training at a time. Usually this entailed 1 or 2 (xp share, or swapping) I was focusing on, and a third for backup (someone beefy enough to roll whatever area I was in).

Next, I specifically targeted Pokemon whose EVs I could easily raise. There are a couple areas where you can guarantee which EV you'll get, but usually I lead with a Pokemon whose EVs I didn't care about, and then swapped according to what I ran into (in the case of trainers I could set this up more intelligently). As a result, I was usually targeting only 1 or 2 for actual EV leveling. This process would recur every time I got a Pokemon whom I wanted to level (I usually decide these at game start).

Once a Pokemon had been EV leveled, I could then use it as a clean up for other Pokemon's EV leveling. From a pure XP perspective, having a "clean up" Pokemon (sometimes initiator) means that that Pokemon will be receiving more than its fair share of experience. The end result is that usually the Pokemon that I EV train first end up being my strongest (not just because of EVs).

Finally, as I originally stated my end goal is not the Elite Four; rather I'm eventually targeting competitive play. However, EV training other Pokemon doesn't max out my first couple, so ultimately I end up doing runs on the Elite Four to power level them fast. Usually, by the time I hit my first run I have 4-5 beefy Pokemon fully EV trained, so it's not a major challenge. However, sometimes I haven't spent enough time and that usually means I need to take the time to EV train up a couple more Pokemon so they hit that sweet spot where they start firing on all cylinders.

I realize this may not be exactly your use case, but I think it is something to keep in mind.

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This is really interesting. I've never really considered EV training during the run before; I usually saved that until after I had beaten the E4 and did it at a more relaxed pace. –  StrixVaria Jul 19 '11 at 21:34
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@Strix, I sort of wanted it to happen more organically. –  tzenes Jul 19 '11 at 21:51
    
Excuse the ignorance, but what is EV? –  Moshe Jul 20 '11 at 4:12
    
@Moshe, Macha explained it here. Personally I don't think he went into enough detail. EVs are points which are given to your Pokemon based on what other Pokemon they beat. Example: If your Pokemon is involved in a battle where he beats an Excadrill he gets 2 EV to his physical attack. For every 4 EV you have you gain 1 more point in that stat (to a max of 255 EV or 63 extra stat points). Every Pokemon maxes at 510 EV, so you have to pick your stats carefully. –  tzenes Jul 20 '11 at 6:16
    
Example: I run Excedrill with 252 AT, 252 Spe, 4 HP (EVs round down so the 2 unspent points don't matter). At level 100, this means I have an extra 63 AT and Spe over a non-EV trained Excedrill and guarantees I'll outspeed it. Excedrill has a base 88 Speed, plus if my Nature is Jolly I get an extra 10% on top of that (I run Jolly to outspeed other EV trained Excedrill). Finally, Excedrill comes with Sandrush (double speed in sandstorm), so I outspeed just about everything. At the end of the day EV training your Pokemon is almost as important as training them. –  tzenes Jul 20 '11 at 6:20
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With the goals of beating the game

If your only goal is to beat the Elite Four the first time, you can do it reasonably quickly with three or four Pokemon planned carefully to cover each other's weaknesses (plus lots of items if they're low level). In the later games, when you challenge the Elite Four a second time, their Pokemon are stronger and higher level, and if you want to beat them the second time then I recommend four or five. I've never actually tried four, but five is enough; with planning you should never need six. (That frees a slot for an HM slave at all times.)

Ultimately, I think planning is probably more important than the exact number you use. For example, in any game where you can find Woopers early, Quagsire is a great addition to a team: Water and Ground are both great offensive types, and defensively Quagsire's only weakness is 4x to Grass. A Quagsire and a Typhlosion already cover each other's weaknesses almost perfectly.

EV training strikes me as overkill for going through the game. It's not very fun, takes a long time (unless you have the various magic things that make it take less time), and I've never needed to do it to beat the Elite Four. The Pokemon that are best for going through the game are, for various reasons, not generally the best for competitive play, so even if your ultimate target is competitive play it seems like a better idea to wait until after the Elite Four to work on it.

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I know this question is damn old, but since this has changed considerably in Gen VI, I wanted to add another answer pointing out the new go-to strategy.

As of Generation 6 (X/Y), Exp. Points are no longer split between Pokemon. Instead, as has always been the case with EVs, every Pokemon involved in the battle will get the full amount of Exp. Points.
Additionally, the Exp.Share is now a key item that grants half that amount of Exp. Points to any Pokemon in the party which was not involved in the battle. It can be turned on and off.

To illustrate: Suppose I have 2 Pokemon with me, Bulbasaur and Pidgey. I run into a wild Pokemon and defeat it with Bulbasaur, gaining 40 Exp. Points. I then run into another Pokemon of the same species at the same level. I switch Bulbasaur out for Pidgey and defeat the wild Pokemon. Now Bulbasaur and Pidgey will each receive the full 40 Exp. Points (in previous generations, they would receive 20 each). This is the same no matter how many Pokemon you send into the battle. If I now decide to turn on my Exp. Share (which you receive automatically after beating the first gym) and again run into one of these wild Pokemon and defeat it with Bulbasaur, then Bulbasaur will receive 40 Exp. Points and Pidgey 20 (which is not explicitly displayed). If I had 6 Pokemon in my party, Bulbasaur would still receive 40 Exp. Points and each of the other Pokemon in my party would receive 20 Exp. Points.

What this means is that as of Generation 6, you make the best out of the Exp. Points you get on your run by carrying as many Pokemon as possible and either switching all of them in or turning Exp. Share on. If you care about efficiency, try to catch 5 additional Pokemon before the first gym and ignore them all along, leveling only your Starter. Then once you get Exp. Share, turn it on and watch the rest of your team catch up to the Starter. You also get Lucky Egg rather early, so you can give that to the other Pokemon in your party to make them catch up faster. Once they're sufficiently strong, you can switch them around and shift the focus of the full amount of Exp. Points so that your team levels evenly. That way, even beating the Elite Four without any kind of preparation is very possible because you will be ridiculously overleveled.

As an added bonus, some of the Pokemon you can get early in X and Y are very powerful, even the new early game bug (Scatterbug/Spewpa/Vivillon) is a good addition to your team (unlike in previous generations, where the bug you got early was rather useless after level 30).

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The EV points are not given, so, if I want my pokemon to get specific EV's I still need him to battle by himself, right? –  Michel Feb 12 at 17:28
    
In previous generations, every Pokemon granted Exp. Points also received the EVs (no matter how it got them, participating or Exp.Share). I'm not 100% sure, but I don't really see a reason why this would have changed. So they should also leech EVs if your Exp. Share is on. –  scenia Feb 12 at 17:37
    
If I'm not wrong, the EV on Black and White only worked if you played with the subject, not only received the xp. ~not sure –  Michel Feb 12 at 17:42
    
According to Bulbapedia, Exp. Share still shares EVs. In Generation I, Exp.all didn't share Stat Experience (those are the Gen I equivalents of the Exp. Share and EVs, respectively). –  scenia Feb 12 at 18:00
    
@Michel Gen6 EXP. Share does EV train train non-participating party members. –  Trent Hawkins Feb 12 at 18:01
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In the first four games or so, I trained about 4 pokemon at a time. Sometimes I switched out my extras for necessary HM's, or ones that could survive in a gym fight. Honestly, all you truly need is 1-2 pokemon to beat gym trainers, as long as you are using the opposing element of that gym leader. Of course, to beat the elite four (in the first few games), you need all 6 pokemon usually.

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@Wipqozn: I think you messed up the first sentence. –  Williham Totland Jul 19 '11 at 18:47
    
@William-Totland How so? –  Wipqozn Jul 19 '11 at 19:11
    
@Wipqozn: "about needing four pokemon to beat the elite six." –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Jul 20 '11 at 12:14
    
@Drackir What are you talking about? I made my post after yours... with no mistake... you're clearly crazy :P –  Wipqozn Jul 20 '11 at 12:33
    
@Wipqozn: Oh darn, well I still think you got mixed up. :P It should be (based on the post): "...about needing six pokemon to beat the elite four." –  Richard Marskell - Drackir Jul 20 '11 at 15:42
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Your best goal, if your main focus is efficiency, is to never switch Pokemon. Catch only what you're going to use, catch it early, and never switch to something new. This way you don't waste any experience on Pokemon that aren't in your final party, and they can get a head start gaining experience as soon as possible.

The problem with this approach is that the Pokemon you can get early tend not to have very much variety and you'll probably have trouble against the Elite 4 with only low-powered early Pokemon. From my numerous play-throughs, the sweet spot seems to be about 4 Pokemon. You don't have to wander through the grass for hours at a time making sure one of them isn't worthless, and you'll still be plenty powerful and versatile for most of the battles you come across.

The Elite 4 is generally never easy the first time without some grinding or ridiculously thorough planning beforehand, though.

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As of Generation VI, I try to keep my Pokémon as well-balanced as possible. Each Pokémon is separated by no more than a few levels, and I try to keep the strongest and the weakest Pokémon within 10 levels of each other.

In previous generations, I tended to focus on three Pokémon: the starter, the mascot legendary, and one other preferred Pokémon. This worked well for most situations, but falls apart should I encounter a situation which takes down at least two of them. Nowadays, instead of doing this, I now maintain a team which is well-balanced, equipped to handle a variety of situations, and has good type coverage. Even the ones in the back, which are often used as HM holders, are now at least occasionally put into battle, and the new Exp. Share makes training weaker Pokémon a lot easier than before.

At the end of the first run through the Pokémon League in Pokémon Y, I had the following roster:

  • Yveltal 79 (Aerial Ace / Dark Pulse / Acrobatics / Oblivion Wing)
  • Delphox 76 (Mystical Fire / Flamethrower / Psyshock / Future Sight)
  • Venusaur 75 (Tackle / Cut / Razor Leaf / Petal Blizzard) with Venusaurite
  • Swanna 73 (Wing Attack / Air Slash / Fly / Surf)
  • Florges 72 (Fairy Wind / Moonblast / Energy Ball / Dazzling Gleam) with Pixie Plate
  • Gyarados 69 (Tackle / Waterfall / Strength / Rock Smash)

For the most part, Yveltal led the charge against Champion Diantha, but each of the other Pokémon played a key role, especially against the Elite Four. For example, against the Dragon-type specialist Drasna, Florges was the only Pokémon I needed.

In the post-game, I replaced Swanna with Zapdos, eliminating the redundant Water/Flying typing. Gyarados now has Surf, while Zapdos provides Fly.

I haven't played in a while, so I'm just putting this out there in case it's useful information.

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