How to enter the world of black market Pokemon

Opinion

I have bred an army of perfected super-Pokemon. I have completed my Pokedex. I am a grown adult man, and for a grown adult man, these are dubious achievements. I am not sure what drove me to do these things, but I am kind of proud of myself.

Pokemon is a Japanese RPG series, published by Nintendo, in which you enter a world filled with fantastic creatures called Pokemon. You are a Pokemon trainer, and your job is to kidnap these creatures out of their natural habitats and bend them to your will, forcing them to battle in glorified cockfights.

The first thing that happens in a Pokemon game is that you meet the Pokemon Professor, and he gives you a choice of three starter Pokemon. No matter which one you choose, it’s almost certain to be a piece of garbage.

The tagline for the Pokemon games is: "Gotta catch ‘em all!" But the Pokemon you catch are almost always garbage.

If you have embarked upon the process of collecting Pokemon without consulting external resources — either a guide or a website — your Pokemon are probably all garbage.

I wanted Pokemon that weren’t garbage

When I say your Pokemon are "garbage," I am speaking figuratively to explain that these Pokemon are inferior. However there is a Pokemon that is literally made of garbage, and that living bag of trash can potentially be superior to your lousy Pokemon.

It’s worth repeating that your Pokemon are likely terrible

Here is why your Pokemon suck so much: Underneath the cute animated monster battles, Pokemon games are, like all RPGs, made of math. But since the younger chunk of the Pokemon audience is likely to be horrified by the prospect of having to do fractions in order to play a video game, most of the math is kept under the hood.

For example, damage in the game is certainly a number, but you never learn that your attack did 124 damage; you just see your enemy’s health bar drop. Similarly, the Choice Band item’s tooltip explains that it "Boosts Attack," but it doesn’t say how much. If you want to get the numbers you have to go outside the game, to a guide or the internet, to find them.

The numbers behind your enslaved beasts

Pokemon have secret values attached to each of their stats called "individual values" or IVs, which are supposed to be analogous to the Pokemon’s "genes." The Pokemon you get in the game will have these values randomly designated when the Pokemon is first spawned and can range from 0 to 31, and they create a range of variance among Pokemon of the same type. Once again, the game doesn’t explain this system much beyond vaguely mentioning that it might exist, but competitive Pokemon must selectively breed to have perfect IVs.

Most Pokemon specialize in either physical or special attacks (special attacks are like magic), so a Pokemon will generally be considered flawless if its IVs are 31 in the five stats it uses.  Pokemon also have a "nature," some sort of randomly assigned personality quality that raises one stat and lowers another, and this needs to be beneficial, raising the most important stat while lowering the irrelevant one, or the Pokemon is worthless in competitive play.

There are also points called "effort values" or EVs, which are points that raise stats of your choice. Prior to the most recent Pokemon game, this mechanic was completely opaque. You had to consult external sources to figure out how to allocate EVs to particular stats, and you had to keep track of it on a notepad or something, because there was no UI for it.

The newest game tied EVs to a minigame; now you just have to grind that for about fifteen minutes for each of your Pokemon to earn these points and allocate them to the stats you prefer.

Consider a Garchomp. You probably don’t want to consider a Garchomp, because a Garchomp is a winged half-shark, half-dragon that looks like it crawled out of H. P. Lovecraft’s worst nightmare. Consider it anyway, because it’s the most popular Pokemon in online battles.

A flawless Garchomp has an optimal Jolly nature, which reduces his irrelevant Special Attack stat to increase his Speed stat. He has his EVs allocated to maximize his Attack and his Speed. And he has 31 IVs in every stat except Special Attack.

Those numbers, if you’re interested, are 358 HP, 359 Attack, 226 Defense, 206 Special Defense and 333 Speed.

A precisely average Garchomp with 15 IVs in all his stats, but with the same nature and EV allocation would have 342 HP, 343 Attack 210 Defense, 190 Special Defense and 315 Speed. The worst possible Garchomp with the same optimized nature and EVs would have 327 HP, 328 Attack, 195 Defense, 175 Special Defense and 299 Speed.

So, a perfect Pokemon is about four and-a-half percent better at everything than an average Pokemon, and about nine percent better than a really bad one.  It seems underwhelming. But players familiar with RPGs and the stats that govern them know that getting a little bit better at everything results in a substantial net improvement.

You have to breed your Pokemen to get perfect IVs.

Breeding the perfect killing machine

There is a Pokemon day care where you can leave two of your Pokemon and, if they are of opposite genders and compatible, they’ll produce eggs which will hatch into Pokemon of the same type as the mother.

The newest generation of games allow players to breed perfect stats by introducing items that allow a Pokemon to inherit its nature and 5 IVs from its parents. Previously, Pokemon could only inherit three stats, which meant that getting a completely flawless offspring was incredibly unlikely.

A flawless Garchomp has an optimal Jolly nature

The new games also added a postgame area called the Friend Safari, where you can capture Pokemon that are guaranteed to have two perfect IVs. One of the denizens of this zone is a primordial Pokemon called Ditto. Ditto is a gender-flexible pansexual that can breed with almost any other Pokemon, so if you obtain several safari Dittos with IV spreads covering the range of stats, you can breed perfect IVs onto anything else.

I’m going to spare the detailed mechanics of how perfect IVs are bred onto offspring, but hatching the eggs involves traveling the game with the egg in your party, or, more realistically, running back and forth on the stretch of road in front of the daycare until the egg hatches. The IVs are refined over successive generations until you get a perfect Pokemon.

There are a couple of other potential variables you have to account for — one is the Pokemon’s ability, which is a special quality that modifies how a Pokemon works. For example, a defensive Gliscor needs to have the ability that causes poison to heal him instead of damaging him, and the sluggish, status-altering Sableye needs to have the Prankster ability that gives his moves priority.

There’s no way to totally control which ability your offspring will have, other than breeding Pokemon that only have one possible ability, but if the parents have the ability you want, most of the offspring will as well.

The rest are, of course, garbage.

Finally, you may need to worry about "egg moves," which Pokemon can only learn if they’re born with them. These moves are obtained by breeding a Pokemon that knows the move with a female of the species you’re trying to breed the move onto. Sometimes, this requires several steps, and the process of how to do this is, once again, not explained inside the game.

Breeding a perfect Pokemon can take several hours. It’s boring, but also kind of hypnotic. You can do it while you watch TV. This is the Pokemon meta-game, and it’s one that competitive players know well. Casual trainers may not know many of these systems exist at all.

Min-maxing

The big mistake most people make is to breed a perfect Pokemon, and then start the process over with a different one. This is a bad idea. It can take several hours to get from a random original Pokemon and a Ditto to two parents with 4 IVs, covering the 5 you need between them.

Since the offspring will have 5 IVs from the parents and one random, your odds are one in 24 to get a perfect Pokemon: 1 in 6 to get the stat you don’t need randomized times two coin tosses, since each parent has a flaw, so you need the offspring to get each of those stats from the other parent.

Once you have an offspring with 5 IVs, instead of considering yourself done, you should switch it into the daycare rather than starting a new Pokemon. It will double your chances of getting a successive 5 IV offspring, and when you get a breeding pair that both have flawless IVs, you’ll get another one every six eggs.

It’s a tool for collecting garbage

It might take you three hours to make the first one, but in the next hour, you can make five more, which you can trade to other people for different perfect Pokemon.

The trading interface supplied by the Pokemon game is called the GTS. It is very popular; nearly 100 million Pokemon have been traded via the GTS since Pokemon X and Y came out in October. The GTS is also terrible. You can’t see the stats, moves or abilities of the Pokemon you’re trading, so the GTS is only good for getting Pokemon if you don’t care about their stats.

It’s a tool for collecting garbage, and we don’t want garbage.

I used the GTS to collect all the Pokemon and complete my Pokedex; I heard people like Mudkips so I bred about a hundred of them to amass a stash of perfect ones, and put the flawed ones on the GTS, one at a time, looking for each Pokemon that I was missing. If you got a Mudkip with 4 perfect IVs and some egg moves off the GTS recently in exchange for some random junk Pokemon, that was me.

You’re welcome.

As a reward for obtaining all 450 Pokemon in the Pokedex, you get an Oval Charm item, which causes your Pokemon to give you more eggs, speeding the pace at which you can breed more Pokemon. This was clearly just what I needed.

Since the GTS has no mechanism to facilitate trading of your perfect Pokemon you will have to, once again, go outside the game. There are forums dedicated to trading at Gamefaqs and NeoSeeker, and subreddits on Reddit dedicated to trading both legitimate Pokemon and "black market" Pokemon that have been "genned" or "cloned" by hacking save files from older Pokemon games.

Unless you have extremely high standards about these things, you will probably want to find somebody who will trade you a Ditto with 6 flawless IVs to facilitate your future breeding.  These are widely available and certainly hacked. Since Dittos can’t be bred to produce more Dittos, the odds of such a Pokemon occurring legitimately are the same as the odds of rolling a 32 on a 32-sided die four times in a row; literally one in a million.

But every Pokemon breeder seems to have one, and even communities that don’t allow trafficking in hacked Pokemon seem to ignore the possibilities of dubious Dittos in the Pokemon gene pool. A hacked Ditto is the Mitochondrial Eve in most collections of competitive Pokemon.

So just get one and pretend you are uncertain about its origins, because it takes a lot of work out of the process. Once you have a perfect Ditto, you can throw any perfect Pokemon you acquire in the day-care with it, and immediately start cranking out perfect offspring at a rate of one for every six eggs you hatch.

If you are particularly shameless, you can go on one of these forums and beg people to just give you a perfect Ditto for free before you start breeding at all; and someone might take mercy and hook you up.

Trading Pokemon through these web communities is kind of burdensome.  They’re all pretty small compared to the huge, worldwide pool of players on the GTS.  After arranging trades on these boards, you have to add the other person to your 3DS friends list, and then find them in the game to trade them. It’s needlessly laborious, and probably intentionally designed to keep perfect Pokemon from being distributed too easily.

But if you persevere, you can probably build a collection of flawless Pokemon to play with. It’s just a question of time, commitment and research.

The only question is: Why?

You don’t need Pokemon of this caliber to complete any Pokemon quest. The games are easy and don’t require, expect or even encourage you to engage with these more complex systems. Not only can you ignore IVs, EVs and Nature, but you can pretty much ignore the type advantages that comprise the bulk of Pokemon battle strategy, and just bungle through the main quest.

If all else fails, you can level your Pokemon until they can squash the content, since the final bosses are around level 60, and Pokemon can level all the way to 100.

I am not planning to compete in any Pokemon tournaments. I don’t think I would enjoy being the old guy at a Pokemon tournament. I can win most unranked online battles by choosing Garchomp and just using his Outrage attack, which is kind of satisfying, and my awesome Pokemon definitely help me progress farther in the Battle Maison endless challenge mode.

The game can become a huge time suck

Neither of these goals explains why I have, over the last six months, accumulated a box of 30 perfect, trained Pokemon.

Perfect Pokemon are necessary, but insufficient to compete at a high level in the ranked online battles. You need an encyclopedic knowledge of the game, or else you will likely be surprised by unexpected super-effective attacks from Pokemon you’re unfamiliar with.

Part of the urge to collect these things is just the urge to pursue rewards in games. Pokemon feel kind of persistent, because they have use in online modes, and can be transferred to future Pokemon games. You can set a discrete goal and accomplish it pretty quickly, which is pretty appealing, although, in aggregate, the game can become a huge time suck.

One way I try to rationalize my decision to play this game this way is to explain that it is kind of like tending a zen garden. Except that you can take your zen garden online and use it to destroy other zen gardens that belong to children.

That makes sense, right?

The Pokémon-athon:

719 Pokemon, 61 games, 1 website

Click here for undiluted nostalgia

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Polygon as an organization.

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