Soaring Higher – Team Report from Paul Ruiz, the 2018 Pokémon VGC World Champion

Hello everyone, my name is Paul Ruiz (@ralfdude90 on Twitter), I am from Ecuador and I am the 2018 Pokémon VGC World Champion.

You may remember me from last year’s World Championships, when I finished in 3rd place in Anaheim. This year, I came back with the dream of becoming the World Champion and, after a really difficult tournament, I finally made that dream come true, not only for me, but for all my region: I am the first Latin American Champion in VGC history.

Check out the Spanish translation of the Team Report done by Victory Road’s staff here. Art used was created by Siplick.

The Building Process of the World Champion's Team

The first version of the team

Let’s start from the beginning. Back in late March, I started to build a team to compete at the Latin America International Championships, in April. At that moment, I started to build around a core I considered was really strong and reminded me a bit of my Worlds team from 2017. The core consisted of Tapu Koko, Salamence, and the new member of the metagame at the time: Intimidate Incineroar. Those three Pokémon were so good together and I felt so comfortable using them from the beginning that I knew it was a good starting point to build a team that could win the LATAM IC, and maybe win Worlds in a future.

For those of you that know me, at this point you should really know that Salamence is my favorite Pokémon. Talking about the VGC18 metagame specifically, the mega stone gave Salamence its chance to show its absolute power again. Having Intimidate as a pre-mega ability and Aerilate after mega evolving, paired with really strong and balanced Base Stats, makes this Pokémon a very strong choice for a lot of different playstyles. It has all the things you would like to have in a mega Pokémon, and even more: very high Stats, hits really hard, has a great pre-mega ability, it’s really fast, has great physical bulk and decent special bulk, has access to different offensive and support options, can hit on both sides of the spectrum, has reliable recovery, can boost its stats (with Dragon Dance), and more importantly, has a 120 BP reliable STAB move that hits 100% of the time, has no immunities, and is further boosted by its ability. I don’t know about you but for me this is the definition of the perfect mega evolution.

Back the aforementioned core, Salamence has great synergy with Tapu Koko because the latter struggles against Ground and Grass-types that Salamence can handle really well. Also, when Intimidate Incineroar was finally released, I knew Tapu Koko and Salamence instantly got better because of the support Incineroar brought to the table in addition to the good pivoting option it could offer together with Tapu Koko’s Volt Switch and the Intimidate ability being so good in general.

The first version of this team had 3 Pokémon that didn’t live up to the final version. Those three were Amoonguss, Azumarill, and Celesteela. I wanted to have the perfect Fairy-Dragon-Steel core together with the Fire-Grass-Water core as well, so this concept was very good at the beginning, but as the metagame was developing further, I started to realize there were some changes I should make if I wanted to have a really strong team that could win Worlds.

The first change I made was in the Water-type slot. I knew Azumarill was a good option overall because of the fact that Belly Drum with redirection is always scary, and a priority Aqua Jet was really tempting to have in a metagame that was starting to abuse the combination of Incineroar and Landorus-T in a lot of teams, both of which are weak to Water. The concept of it was and will always be good: who does not like to have +6 Aqua Jets? Yeah, I would guess everyone, but the main issue with Azumarill was that it gave me another weakness to Tapu Koko/Zapdos and Gengar, and also was not a consistent option against Metagross, the most used mega at that moment.

After realizing that, I thought the best option I had was including a Ground type somewhere and keeping Azumarill on the team. Landorus-T was the first Pokémon that came to mind but hey, how am I supposed to beat Defiant and Competitive users with 3 Intimidates in the team!? I instantly knew 3 Intimidate users was not something a consistent team would have, so I had to decide whether I wanted to swap Landorus-T for one of the other two intimidators or not. And the answer was an insta no.

After deciding Landorus-T didn’t have space in my team, I was thinking of another Ground-type that could help me patch the aforementioned weaknesses, and the immediate answer was Gastrodon. After having used Gastrodon for years, I knew it has really strong capabilities that would definitely patch the things I needed to. Let’s mention them: it’s Ground-type, thus immune to Electric-type attacks; it uses special attacks, so its offense won’t be affected by Intimidate; has a Ground-type STAB that hits Tapu Koko, Gengar and Metagross for super effective damage; it also gets an ability that helps against rain teams, Ice coverage for Landorus-T, just one weakness, and overall really decent bulk.

It was the perfect pick, I just had to decide a good set to use it effectively on my team. The first item that came to my mind was a Pinch Berry, but I soon realized I was really weak to Knock Off spam because I already had other Pokémon with berries: Amoonguss, Incineroar and now Gastrodon. Then I started to think about all the possibilities that a Z Crystal would bring me. I had used a Z-Gastrodon in the past, it was a Groundium Z set that I used in London playing VGC17, but it was a Tectonic Rage set coming from Earthquake, because Gastrodon couldn’t learn Earth Power at that time.

The extra power a Z Crystal offers is really useful to defeat the biggest threats to the team. The idea to just Protect one turn with my Pokémon and make Gastrodon use the Z move to KO the threat in one hit was really tempting, so I decided to stay with it. Also, as a bonus point, it made Gastrodon take less damage from Knock Off and be a better counter to Incineroar. Initially I thought about a speed control option like Icy Wind to help the team, but eventually Ice Beam proved to be better.

Going on to the next member, Celesteela was a good option to counter Metagross-Tapu Lele teams, but after the LAIC I analyzed my performance in the tournament and noticed I just used Celesteela in 3 games, so I definitely saw there was room for improvement in that slot. That’s the moment when I considered Snorlax as the best option possible. After deciding not to use Azumarill, the team was lacking another hard-hitting member, mainly because Salamence initially had a very bulky spread which required to boost a couple of times to be successful. That’s why I picked Snorlax. I don’t think any of you are not familiarized with what Snorlax can do after last year. This year, it had better partners and although it is true the overall power output was bigger in this format compared to last year’s, I was convinced that Snorlax could win Worlds with a good team that supports it but does not focus entirely on it. Having Incineroar and Amoongus as partners made Snorlax a monster that was almost impossible to defeat if the opponent didn’t have the right tools, and even then, they had to play really well to do it.

Local events as a testing ground

Those 6 were the team in his second version. I used the team with relatively high success in different tournaments around my region, playing 4 Special Events/Regionals back to back in one month. At the beginning of May, I was thinking if it would be a good idea to use the same team in all the tournaments I was planning to attend, and after a lot of considerations I answered myself that this was the best option possible to test the team in real-life events and at a high level of competition. It all began with Ecuador Special Event, where I finished in Top 8. The following week, I traveled to Cancun, Mexico to play the second Special Event and I made it to Finals, losing Game 3 because of a prediction on my opponent’s end, using Ice Punch on the Incineroar slot at the same time I switched into Salamence.

Going on to the next event, the following week after Cancun, I went to Santiago, Chile to play at a Regional. I knew it was the best chance I had to test the team further because Chile has the players with the highest level in Latin America, and the competition there is always a bit tricky and really tough. Story says that I made it to finals again, and yet again I lost it because of the same prediction on my opponent’s end, he used Ice Punch this time in the Tapu Koko slot that I switched out to Salamence. It was so frustrating for me to lose like that again, but I was confident the team was really solid.

Next week I traveled to Medellín, Colombia to play my last Special Event of the season. I made it to finals again and this time I faced a friend of mine that I had defeated a lot of times before and he had never defeated me in a VGC match. What would you guess happened? Yeah, you guessed it right, I lost my third final in a row. This time there was not an Ice Punch on a switch-in, even though he tried a couple times to do so, but I had learned from my mistakes and didn’t let him do it again. The frustration I had after losing that final was so big that I was considering quitting VGC. It had been a stressful month for me, having to travel 3 weekends in a row to different countries was so difficult to handle and balance it with my real life responsibilities at work and my wife, who was having health issues, too. Because of the mess that was the Latin American circuit this season and the absurd amount of Special Events that were happening all around the continent, I was forced to go to all those 3 big events (without considering the first one that was in my country) in order to keep my Top 8 spot and Travel Award to Worlds.

After realizing it was not the right time to quit and also after all the support I got from my closest VGC friends, I decided to keep with the dream of one day being the World Champion. Then I did some analysis of all my recent tournaments and made some good conclusions of my performance. These are the results I had in each tournament:

  • Mexico Special Event: 2nd place, 14-5 in games
  • Chile Regionals: 2nd place, 17-5 in games
  • Colombia Special Event: 2nd place, 14-6 in games

Those were some really good numbers about the consistence I had with the team, and I was really confident about it as to know that this was the one I wanted to use at Worlds, but I still needed to improve it a bit more because Worlds is not the Latin American circuit or even an International Championship, it is the biggest tournament of the year.

Final fixes going into Worlds

When I started to think about what changes should I make to the team, the first thing that I did was analyzing the losses I had in those tournaments. The most relevant losses were against Gardevoir teams and Kangaskhan teams, the latter being because of predictions my opponents made, but I still wanted to improve a bit more the match-up.

Not having a steel type in my team was something I didn’t like from the start, because after changing Celesteela for Snorlax, I felt like I didn’t have good answers to Psychic and Fairy spam other than just Incineroar. Well, I also noticed the team had a glaring weakness against Tyranitar, as two of the main members of the team are weak to Rock-type moves and Gastrodon was the only resistance. Tapu Fini in general was a bit tricky to handle too, since the only member of the team that could one shot it was Tapu Koko with the Electrium Z, but Landorus-T was a common partner of Tapu Fini, and a consistent player can cover it really well at the point where Tapu Koko cannot do much.

Amoonguss was always a key member of the team because it helped Salamence and Snorlax to boost safely with redirection. Because of the fact I was using Clear Smog instead of Sludge Bomb, it was also a good answer against another Snorlax and Kommo-o teams, but when I considered the general weaknesses of the team I realized Amoonguss was not that useful against them because it cannot touch Gardevoir, and even though it resists Hyper Voice, a combination of the chip damage from it then followed by a Psychic-type attack would normally get the KO. Against Tyranitar, Amoonguss cannot do much other than try to put it to sleep, but with my opponent’s Misty Terrain up or even my own Electric Terrain in play, it was just a sitting duck. Even Tapu Fini sometimes was difficult to handle for Amoonguss, since normally a partner can deal with it while Misty Terrain prevented Spore to be effective other than against Flying types or Levitate users.

That was the moment I convinced myself that Kartana was the right choice for the team. It had all the aspects I needed to patch for the aforementioned weaknesses.

Gardevoir teams were in general the most difficult match-ups to face even with Kartana in the team, as Incineroar and special Landorus-T cover Gardevoir really well and threaten most of my Pokémon, so I had to play very carefully in order to win, but at least Kartana gave me an option to hit very hard that archetype with the Grassium Z set I decided to use. I decided to EV’d it to survive 2 Hyper Voice from Mega Gardevoir so it could have the option to face it a bit better.

Another weakness I also considered really important to patch was the archetype consisting in a Defiant/Competitive user with Lightning Rod and Charizard or Tapu Fini. This specific matchup was really tough to face because the team had double Intimidate and normally the most common Defiant/Competitive users are handled pretty well with Tapu Koko (i.e. Braviary, Milotic and Bisharp), but with Lightning Rod in the team, it was almost impossible to use Tapu Koko.

This is the moment I decided to change the Tapu Koko’s set I was using for months and which I was really comfortable with. I knew Discharge was the only option I could use to handle that match up better without changing any member, so I decided to do so. I wanted to keep all the moves (barring Protect) because they were really important in different situations: Thunderbolt for consistent damage in general, Dazzling Gleam for Kommo-o, and Volt Switch for pivoting to bring Intimidate to the field and also to switch out Tapu Koko and not take attacks that could KO it. After considering all of that, I decided that a Choice Specs set would the best option possible, so I got rid of the Electrium Z.

Incineroar was a key member of the team if not the most important one. The options it offers are great to help other members perform their role efficiently and it has a lot of moves to pick in its movepool. The only change I made in Incineroar compared to the first version was the addition of Snarl instead of Knock Off. After a lot of testing, I realized the metagame had adapted a lot to Knock Off and Pokémon that normally were having pinch Berries like Tapu Fini and Cresselia had to change their items to be more efficient, opting for Waterium Z and Psychium Z/Electric Seed respectively. That was the main reason why I felt Snarl was a better option in Incineroar to put more pressure on special attackers and to give more general bulk to the team as well.

With that, all the teambuilding process going through my mind is done. Let’s now take a look at the final version, the one that won Worlds.

The Final Team

Salamence-Mega @ Salamencite
Ability: Intimidate
Level: 50
EVs: 44 HP / 228 Atk / 4 Def / 4 SpD / 228 Spe
Jolly Nature
– Double-Edge
– Dragon Dance
– Roost
– Protect

When I built the first version of this team back in April, Salamence was a very bulky variant with little investment in Speed and Attack. As the metagame developed, I started to feel the necessity to outspeed different Pokémon after a Dragon Dance. The first one that came to mind was Modest 252 Spe Ludicolo in rain. After that, the next benchmark I reached was to outspeed Adamant 252 Spe Braviary in Tailwind, and then eventually I thought it would be a great idea to outspeed the bulky versions of Mega Gengar that were being so common in the format.

As the practice continued, the Speed stat was optimized even more so I could be faster than Timid 252 Spe Persian-A and those that were EV’d to outspeed it by 1 point. I thought the Speed stat was crucial in Salamence’s set, as it could make me have an advantage against some archetypes that normally would think can attack before it. This happened in Worlds Finals, as my Mega Salamence was faster than Emilio’s Mega Gengar, which gave me a huge advantage in the way I had to play the set.

The Attack stat allows to get a 50% chance to OHKO Mega-Gengar that are EV’d to live Stomping Tantrum from Jolly Mega Metagross, as well as having a high roll to OHKO Kommo-o at -1 or after the boost from its Z move, and bulky Tapu Fini at +1 as well.

I chose Double Edge as the main attacking move instead of Return/Frustration because of the extra power it has and even though I had to take some recoil every turn I used it, it proved to be absolutely necessary in a lot of match-ups. For example, it gives me the opportunity to OHKO non-bulky Mega-Charizard-Y, bulkless Tapu Lele, bulky Mega-Gengar, bulky Tapu Fini at +1, etc., something that Return was not able to achieve and that I felt was crucial to have.

Dragon Dance is a really important move in the set as it provides a way to bypass Intimidates and also to outspeed threads to the team. Protect is self-explanatory in VGC.

I want to mention that the most important move in this set is Roost, because having the option to recover your own recoil or the damage you have taken in the match, as well as resisting Electric and Rock-type attacks in one turn that would otherwise defeat you, is huge for Salamence. Roost gives me another option to use this Pokémon as it doesn’t have to fear much being switched in to pivot or take damage in general as it can recover its health later.

This happened in stream in Game 2 of my Top 8 match against Roberto Porreti, where I switched in Salamence in the Incineroar slot, knowing that he could predict that and use Hidden Power Ice with his Landorus-T, but having the option to Roost the damage later, as well as having used Snarl the previous turn to reduce its Special Attack, made me play aggressively that turn. Also, the fact that Roost makes Salamence a pure dragon the turn is used is really important because it can resist common attacks that would normally KO it or do massive damage to it, as Ice Punch from Mega-Metagross or Power Gem from Nihilego, to name a few.

Offensive calcs

charizard 228 Atk Aerilate Mega Salamence Double-Edge vs. 0 HP / 0 Def Charizard: 160-190 (104.5 – 124.1%) — guaranteed OHKO

tapu-lele 228 Atk Aerilate Mega Salamence Double-Edge vs. 4 HP / 0 Def Tapu Lele: 166-196 (113.6 – 134.2%) — guaranteed OHKO

gengar-mega 228 Atk Aerilate Mega Salamence Double-Edge vs. 236 HP / 36 Def Mega Gengar: 151-178 (91.5 – 107.8%) — 50% chance to OHKO

tapu-fini +1 228 Atk Aerilate Mega Salamence Double-Edge vs. 252 HP / 20 Def Tapu Fini: 171-202 (96.6 – 114.1%) — 81.3% chance to OHKO

kommo-o -1 228 Atk Aerilate Mega Salamence Double-Edge vs. 4 HP / 0 Def Kommo-o: 146-174 (96.6 – 115.2%) — 81.3% chance to OHKO

Defensive calcs

tapu-koko 252 SpA Choice Specs Tapu Koko Dazzling Gleam vs. 44 HP / 4 SpD Mega Salamence: 134-158 (76.1 – 89.7%) — guaranteed 2HKO

tapu-fini 252+ SpA Tapu Fini Moonblast vs. 44 HP / 4 SpD Mega Salamence: 156-186 (88.6 – 105.6%) — 31.3% chance to OHKO

Tapu Koko @ Choice Specs 
Ability: Electric Surge
Level: 50
EVs: 60 HP / 20 Def / 164 SpA / 12 SpD / 252 Spe
Timid Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
– Thunderbolt
– Dazzling Gleam
– Volt Switch
– Discharge

This Tapu Koko is optimized to hit fast and hard but at the same time to have a good chance to live Stomping Tantrum from Jolly 252 Spe Metagross and Heat Wave from Timid 252 Spe Mega Charizard-Y. I decided to invest 252 EVs in Speed with a Timid Nature to at least speed tie with other Tapu Koko and Mega-Gengar. The Special Attack investment with Choice Specs guarantees the OHKO on non-invested Mega-Gengar.

At the beginning, I was not a big fan of removing the Electrium Z, because I was so used to the option to remove a threat like Metagross and Tapu Fini in one shot; but after testing this set, I was convinced that the damage output provided by the Choice Specs was more valuable in the majority of scenarios and also it gave me a surprise factor against a lot of opponents, given that it was not really common in the metagame.

Offensive calcs

gengar-mega 164 SpA Choice Specs Tapu Koko Thunderbolt vs. 0 HP / 4 SpD Mega Gengar in Electric Terrain: 135-159 (100 – 117.7%) — guaranteed OHKO

tapu-fini 164 SpA Choice Specs Tapu Koko Thunderbolt vs. 252 HP / 4 SpD Tapu Fini in Electric Terrain: 206-246 (116.3 – 138.9%) — guaranteed OHKO

braviary 164 SpA Choice Specs Tapu Koko Discharge vs. 252 HP / 4 SpD Braviary in Electric Terrain: 216-254 (104.3 – 122.7%) — guaranteed OHKO

charizard-mega-y 164 SpA Choice Specs Tapu Koko Thunderbolt vs. 0 HP / 4 SpD Mega Charizard Y: 152-182 (99.3 – 118.9%) — 93.8% chance to OHKO

Defensive calcs

metagross-mega 252 Atk Tough Claws Mega Metagross Stomping Tantrum vs. 60 HP / 20 Def Tapu Koko: 136-160 (88.8 – 104.5%) — 25% chance to OHKO

charizard-mega-y 252 SpA Mega Charizard Y Heat Wave vs. 60 HP / 12 SpD Tapu Koko in Sun: 130-154 (84.9 – 100.6%) — 6.3% chance to OHKO

tapu-fini 252+ SpA Choice Specs Tapu Fini Moonblast vs. 60 HP / 12 SpD Tapu Koko: 133-157 (86.9 – 102.6%) — 18.8% chance to OHKO

Incineroar @ Figy Berry 
Ability: Intimidate
Level: 50
EVs: 236 HP / 4 Atk / 12 Def / 156 SpD / 100 Spe
Careful Nature
– Flare Blitz
– Snarl
– Snatch
– Fake Out

The star of the team. My favourite starter from Gen 7 and one that proved to be an excellent Pokémon in VGC. Fake Out + Intimidate is something really basic in VGC that I don’t even need to describe how great it was for the team to have, mainly because of two physical sweepers with boosting moves that take advantage of the free turns and extra bulk.

This particular set was built to survive not only Gigavolt Havoc from Timid 252 SpA Tapu Koko in Electric Terrain, but even from Modest-natured Tapu Koko 100% of the time. I didn’t feel the need to invest in Attack since Incineroar’s role in the team was to support the other members, so I felt confortable with a Careful nature to have more special bulk in general and take attacks better. Sometimes, it is a game-changing situation to live an attack that would normally KO you from the range you are, considering you are not at full HP at that moment.

The Speed investment allows Incineroar to outspeed everything that was EV’d to be faster than Jolly 252 Mega Metagross in Tailwind and Modest Tapu Koko/Mega Gengar, the most important was Aegislash (the majority of the spreads) which I really wanted to outspeed so I can move before it uses Substitute or attack Incineroar’s partner. Also, the Speed stat almost always made me have a faster Fake Out against another Incineroar.

Speaking about move choices, Snatch was a move that I felt was really good for the metagame in general as there were a lot of Tailwind users, and boosting moves were also really common. I felt Snatch was a need for the team since initially I didn’t have Speed control, so at least having the option to steal a Tailwind was crucial in the way I had to play some matchups. In addition to that, I felt Snatch was a better option to handle other Snorlax than Knock Off since it has higher priority even than Fake Out. In general this is a move that you won’t be using in every match but against some specific archetypes that rely on boosting and support moves like Calm Mind and Moonlight Cresselia, or Tailwind and Roost Zapdos, you know you can spam Snatch and make your partner do the job.

The last change I made with this set was the introduction of Snarl instead of Knock Off. This was because the metagame was full of Special Attackers and Snarl gave me a way to protect my team from a lot of KOs that otherwise could make me lose the battle. When I decided to use Snarl, I wasn’t sure which move should I replace between Knock Off and Snatch, but after a lot of analysis, I just noticed the metagame had adapted to a point a lot where the most usual Pinch Berry users were opting for different item choices to avoid being susceptible to Knock Off, like Z Crystal Cresselia and Tapu Fini for example, which made me decide I’d rather spam Snarl in front of them than useless Knock Offs.

Flare Blitz was the only offensive move for Incineroar, so it could deal damage when needed and also protect Snorlax and Gastrodon from their main counter, Kartana.

Regarding the item choice, I wanted to have the extra health that a Pinch Berry offers instead of a momentary boost that Assault Vest gives. Snarl itself offers the pseudo Assault Vest option and the Berry was more useful against physical attackers.

Defensive calcs

tapu-koko 252+ SpA Tapu Koko Gigavolt Havoc (175 BP) vs. 236 HP / 156+ SpD Incineroar in Electric Terrain: 168-198 (84 – 99%) — guaranteed 2HKO after Figy Berry recovery

tapu-lele 252+ SpA Tapu Lele Moonblast vs. 236 HP / 156+ SpD Incineroar: 76-90 (38 – 45%) — guaranteed 4HKO after Figy Berry recovery

landorus-therian 252+ SpA Life Orb Landorus-T Earth Power vs. 236 HP / 156+ SpD Incineroar: 159-190 (79.5 – 95%) — guaranteed 2HKO after Figy Berry recovery

gardevoir-mega 252+ SpA Pixilate Mega Gardevoir Hyper Voice vs. 236 HP / 156+ SpD Incineroar: 76-91 (38 – 45.5%) — guaranteed 4HKO after Figy Berry recovery

tapu-fini 252+ SpA Choice Specs Tapu Fini Muddy Water vs. 236 HP / 156+ SpD Incineroar: 128-152 (64 – 76%) — guaranteed 2HKO after Figy Berry recovery

nihilego 252 SpA Life Orb Nihilego Power Gem vs. 236 HP / 156+ SpD Incineroar: 151-179 (75.5 – 89.5%) — guaranteed 2HKO after Figy Berry recovery

metagross-mega -1 252 Atk Tough Claws Mega Metagross Stomping Tantrum vs. 236 HP / 12 Def Incineroar: 88-104 (44 – 52%) — 10.9% chance to 2HKO after Figy Berry recovery

tyranitar -1 252 Atk Tyranitar Rock Slide vs. 236 HP / 12 Def Incineroar: 68-84 (34 – 42%) — guaranteed 3HKO after sandstorm damage and Figy Berry recovery

Gastrodon @ Groundium Z 
Ability: Storm Drain
Level: 50
EVs: 180 HP / 212 Def / 84 SpA / 28 SpD / 4 Spe
Modest Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
– Earth Power
– Ice Beam
– Recover
– Protect

When you see Gastrodon and realize it just has one weakness and two immunities, normally the first thing that comes to mind is it should be a good Pokémon, right? But the second thing is: what can it actually offer to my team? Normally people try to use it as a wall, but in this particular team, its role was very different.

This Gastrodon’s spread was built to always OHKO bulkless Tapu Koko and Naganadel with Earth Power, as well as having a 15/16 roll to one-shot non bulky Nihilego. Ice Beam proved to be worth because of the fact than it can one shot a lot of Landorus-T spreads barring a heavily invested in bulk set or the AV set. In general, Ground and Ice-type coverage is really good for the metagame as a whole, but when you go to the next level and put a Z Crystal on Gastrodon, you can have a surprise factor that most of the times will give you an advantage over your opponent.

The Tectonic Rage option was immensely useful against a lot of threats to the team, like Mega-Metagross, Nihilego (even through Protect, it does almost 50% to it), Mega-Gengar, Tyranitar, Xurkitree and Mega-Blaziken, to name a few, and even though all those targets are hit super effectively by Earth Power, the option to just Protect a partner and let Gastrodon use its Z move to OHKO them is really valuable for a game to change its course. Sometimes, even if you know your opponent will most likely Protect, the option to deal super effective damage through Protect is huge in the long term as it can put it in range of another attack for a partner or even Gastrodon itself. This is what happened in both games of Worlds Finals, where I knew the chip damage dealt to Mega-Gengar through Protect (or its equivalent for using a Substitute) was really important for Mega Salamence to take the KO next turn.

The bulk this set has allows Gastrodon to withstand a Supersonic Skystrike from Adamant 252 Atk Braviary 15/16 of the time, which was crucial in my preparation for the Lightning Rod + Defiant match-up, so that way I can lead Gastrodon and Tapu Koko against Raichu/Togedemaru and Braviary. The bulk also makes Gastrodon survive two Crunch from Jolly 252 Mega Tyranitar. This Gastrodon has the special bulk to survive almost always three Dazzling Gleam from Timid 252 Life Orb Tapu Koko and two Shadow Ball from bulky Mega Gengar.

Offensive calcs

tapu-koko 84+ SpA Gastrodon Earth Power vs. 4 HP / 0 SpD Tapu Koko: 146-174 (100 – 119.1%) — guaranteed OHKO

naganadel 84+ SpA Gastrodon Earth Power vs. 4 HP / 0 SpD Naganadel: 150-176 (100.6 – 118.1%) — guaranteed OHKO

nihilego 84+ SpA Gastrodon Earth Power vs. 4 HP / 0 SpD Nihilego: 184-220 (99.4 – 118.9%) — 87.5% chance to OHKO

incineroar 84+ SpA Gastrodon Tectonic Rage (175 BP) vs. 236 HP / 148 SpD Incineroar: 206-246 (103 – 123%) — guaranteed OHKO

metagross-mega 84+ SpA Gastrodon Tectonic Rage (175 BP) vs. 4 HP / 0 SpD Mega Metagross: 204-242 (130.7 – 155.1%) — guaranteed OHKO

xurkitree 84+ SpA Gastrodon Tectonic Rage (175 BP) vs. 236 HP / 12 SpD Xurkitree with Friend Guard: 216-253 (114.8 – 134.5%) — guaranteed OHKO

landorus-therian 84+ SpA Gastrodon Ice Beam vs. 4 HP / 0 SpD Landorus-T: 184-220 (111.5 – 133.3%) — guaranteed OHKO

salamence-mega 84+ SpA Gastrodon Ice Beam vs. 4 HP / 0 SpD Mega Salamence: 168-200 (98.2 – 116.9%) — 93.8% chance to OHKO

Defensive calcs

tapu-koko 252 SpA Life Orb Tapu Koko Dazzling Gleam vs. 180 HP / 28 SpD Gastrodon: 60-71 (28.7 – 33.9%) — 1.8% chance to 3HKO

gengar-mega 4+ SpA Mega Gengar Shadow Ball vs. 180 HP / 28 SpD Gastrodon: 90-106 (43 – 50.7%) — 2.3% chance to 2HKO

braviary 252+ Atk Braviary Supersonic Skystrike (190 BP) vs. 180 HP / 212 Def Gastrodon: 178-211 (85.1 – 100.9%) — 6.3% chance to OHKO

tyranitar-mega 252 Atk Mega Tyranitar Crunch vs. 180 HP / 212 Def Gastrodon: 85-102 (40.6 – 48.8%) — guaranteed 3HKO

metagross-mega 252+ Atk Tough Claws Mega Metagross Zen Headbutt vs. 180 HP / 212 Def Gastrodon in Psychic Terrain: 165-195 (78.9 – 93.3%) — guaranteed 2HKO

Snorlax @ Aguav Berry 
Ability: Gluttony
Level: 50
EVs: 68 HP / 4 Atk / 220 Def / 108 SpD / 108 Spe
Adamant Nature
– Frustration
– Belly Drum
– Recycle
– Protect

Snorlax has been a really strong Pokémon since the change of the Pinch Berries mechanics. Its ability to recover back to full HP after a Belly Drum, paired with its amazing bulk and respectable Attack, makes this Pokémon very scary to face, especially when it has a solid team that supports it.

This spread gives Snorlax the bulk to survive Iron Head from Jolly 252 Atk Mega-Metagross twice and also always take Shattered Psyche from Modest 252 SpA Tapu Lele in Psychic Terrain. I decided to use an Adamant Nature to have a better damage output when unboosted, so Snorlax can still do respectable damage with Frustration at neutral Attack.

The most important part of the spread is the Speed stat. As you may notice, this Snorlax has a lot of investment in Speed because I don’t have a Trick Room option in my team, so I decided that being able to outspeed some relevant Pokémon was very important. The first one was Amoonguss, because I didn’t like the fact of a possible Speed tie with it, so I started to speed creep at the point I felt investing in Speed was actually very crucial for the set. In my last training before Worlds, I faced a couple of neutral Speed Gastrodon with Clear Smog to handle Snorlax so I decided that would be a good benchmark to have.

Then, I realized it would be a good idea to outspeed minimum Speed Base 60 like Incineroar and Porygon2, and I eventually optimized the Speed stat to be faster than minimal Speed Gothitelle. The Speed stat also gave me the confidence to face another Snorlax because I always felt I would be faster. Being faster than minimal Speed Incineroar was crucial in Worlds Finals, because Emilio’s Incineroar was min Speed, like normally Perish trap teams tend to run so it can U-Turn last and bring Mega-Gengar safely. This was something I considered the night before when preparing the match-up and eventually confirmed at Game 1 of the Finals.

I decided to use Protect instead of a coverage move because I felt Snorlax should be used properly and carefully in this metagame since the power output is higher this year. As opposed to last year, with Megas and Z moves allowed this year, it is more susceptible to double targets, so having the option to Protect one specific turn and bring something that can help with the threat next turn was more valuable for me than a coverage move.

Offensive calcs

charizard 4+ Atk Snorlax Frustration vs. 0 HP / 0 Def Charizard: 84-100 (54.9 – 65.3%) — guaranteed 2HKO

tapu-koko 4+ Atk Snorlax Frustration vs. 4 HP / 0 Def Tapu Koko: 79-94 (54.1 – 64.3%) — guaranteed 2HKO

cresselia +6 4+ Atk Snorlax Frustration vs. 220 HP / 172 Def Cresselia: 204-241 (91.4 – 108%) — 50% chance to OHKO

snorlax +6 4+ Atk Snorlax Frustration vs. 252 HP / 252+ Def Snorlax: 258-304 (96.6 – 113.8%) — 81.3% chance to OHKO

Defensive calcs

metagross-mega 252 Atk Tough Claws Mega Metagross Iron Head vs. 68 HP / 220 Def Snorlax: 102-121 (41.8 – 49.5%) — guaranteed 4HKO after Gluttony Figy Berry recovery

landorus-therian 252+ Atk Landorus-T Tectonic Rage (180 BP) vs. 68 HP / 220 Def Snorlax: 195-229 (79.9 – 93.8%) — guaranteed 2HKO after Gluttony Figy Berry recovery

tapu-lele 252+ SpA Tapu Lele Shattered Psyche (175 BP) vs. 68 HP / 108 SpD Snorlax in Psychic Terrain: 205-243 (84 – 99.5%) — guaranteed 2HKO after Gluttony Figy Berry recovery

Kartana @ Grassium Z 
Ability: Beast Boost 
EVs: 28 HP / 4 Atk / 4 Def / 244 SpD / 228 Spe 
Adamant Nature 
– Leaf Blade 
– Sacred Sword 
– Tailwind 
– Protect 

Kartana was the last member of the team. I realized Amoonguss wasn’t a consistent answer to Tapu Fini as I initially thought it was, and it also ended up being dead weight against Tapu Lele, Mega Gardevoir, Landorus-T, Heatran, Kartana and Tyranitar. That was the main reason I decided to include Kartana, and it was a very good decision overall.

This set was optimized to almost always survive two Hyper Voice from the most common Mega-Gardevoir sets and also it gave Kartana an overall decent special bulk against moves that would normally OHKO it without a Focus Sash or Assault Vest.

One of the main threats to the Tapu Koko + Incineroar core was Landorus-T, so I felt the main benchmark in Speed for Kartana was to always outspeed the Jolly 252 set. I decided to use an Adamant Nature to optimize a bit more its damage output considering I already had to invested a lot in Speed and Special Defense. Similarly, since the majority of Kartana sets that were being common weren’t max Speed, I felt there was no need to use a Jolly nature and instead Adamant gave me more overall Stats values since its Base Attack is absurdly high.

The item choice was very important because of the role I needed Kartana to have. A neutral Bloom Doom can OHKO a lot of threats and it pressures my opponent from the start, also it complements really well with the Beast Boost ability.

The main selling point of this particular set is the option to provide Speed control to the team with Tailwind, which I decided to include as opposed to other options such as Substitute or Swords Dance, mainly because it was the only member of the team that had the free slot to use it.

Offensive calcs

gardevoir-mega 4+ Atk Kartana Bloom Doom (175 BP) vs. 252 HP / 252 Def Mega Gardevoir: 187-222 (106.8 – 126.8%) — guaranteed OHKO

gardevoir-mega -1 4+ Atk Kartana Bloom Doom (175 BP) vs. 252 HP / 4 Def Mega Gardevoir: 169-201 (96.5 – 114.8%) — 81.3% chance to OHKO

tapu-lele -1 4+ Atk Kartana Bloom Doom (175 BP) vs. 4 HP / 0 Def Tapu Lele: 153-181 (104.7 – 123.9%) — guaranteed OHKO

tapu-fini 4+ Atk Kartana Leaf Blade vs. 252 HP / 20 Def Tapu Fini: 164-194 (92.6 – 109.6%) — 50% chance to OHKO

landorus-therian 4+ Atk Kartana Bloom Doom (175 BP) vs. 228 HP / 84 Def Landorus-T: 181-214 (93.7 – 110.8%) — 62.5% chance to OHKO

Defensive calcs

landorus-therian 252+ SpA Landorus-T Earth Power vs. 28 HP / 244 SpD Kartana: 108-127 (78.2 – 92%) — guaranteed 2HKO

gardevoir-mega 100+ SpA Pixilate Mega Gardevoir Hyper Voice vs. 28 HP / 244 SpD Kartana: 60-71 (43.4 – 51.4%) — 8.6% chance to 2HKO

tapu-lele 252+ SpA Tapu Lele Psychic vs. 28 HP / 244 SpD Kartana in Psychic Terrain: 93-110 (67.3 – 79.7%) — guaranteed 2HKO

tapu-lele 252 SpA Life Orb Tapu Lele Psychic vs. 28 HP / 244 SpD Kartana in Psychic Terrain: 109-129 (78.9 – 93.4%) — guaranteed 2HKO

Using the team

There are lots of options to use this team properly, and honestly in all these months of training and optimization I’ve realized there are match-ups where you can alternate your game plan in a Bo3 set and still play consistently each game of the set.

For example, you can opt to not bring Snorlax on Game 1 of a given set and win without it in a consistent way, but in game 2 you can switch completely your strategy to the “Lax mode” and get a huge surprise factor that will most likely give you an advantage over your opponent. Of course, as with all teams, there are a couple of match-ups that are previously analyzed and mechanized about which 4 Pokémon should be brought to each game.

Common leads

tapu-kokoincineroar Tapu Koko + Incineroar

This is the most common lead when it comes to adapting to what your opponent brings and inflicting damage while doing so. Volt Switch is normally the main option in this lead in order to bring something that can pressure your opponent more, like Salamence or Gastrodon, and play from there. You can also pressure with Specs Thunderbolt from the get-go and take advantage of the Fake Out + Intimidate support Incineroar provides.

incineroarsnorlax Incineroar + Snorlax

Fake Out + Intimidate gives Snorlax a great opportunity to set up a Belly Drum, so if my opponent doesn’t have a consistent way to stop Snorlax, I would normally lead this and try to get a knock out or two with something waiting in the back to clean up the game. A common turn 2 after the Fake Out + Belly Drum play is to use Protect with Snorlax and Snarl with Incineroar to pressure my opponent even more, or instead just switch in Salamence to provide another Intimidate and put pressure in whatever check to Snorlax my opponent decided to bring.

salamence-megatapu-koko Salamence + Tapu Koko

When I see that my opponent has a faster Fake Out user than Incineroar or after a Game 1 where I realized his Incineroar was faster than mine, I normally lead this combination to have a Specs Volt Switch pressure and the option to switch Incineroar in the Salamence slot, so I can have a Fake Out option in turn 2 while at the same time Intimidating twice the opposite Pokémon. The choice about who should I switch in the Tapu Koko slot would be determined by my opponent’s moves, but normally would be something that could take advantage of the momentum to set up, either Snorlax or Salamence.

Threat List

pheromosa Pheromosa

As every team, mine is not perfect and there are some tricky matchups to handle really carefully. Pheromosa is a Pokémon that gives huge problems to my team since it can OHKO almost every member with the respective move. After including Kartana to the team instead of Amoonguss, redirection was not an option anymore to cover my other members, and now I have 3 weaknesses to Fighting-type attacks. Pheromosa itself is tricky to face but not impossible by any means, but when it is paired with a Poison-type, things get very difficult to handle, given that Tapu Koko is one of the more reliable options I have to defeat it, but Poison-types like Nihilego or Gengar are very strong against it.

tapu-lele Choice Scarf Tapu Lele

Tapu Lele itself is not a threat to this team, but the Choice Scarf set definitely is. This is particularly true because of the fact that my only Fairy resistance is Kartana, and I replaced Knock Off for Snarl on Incineroar, so it can’t Knock Off the Choice Scarf and I have to be really careful about a possible late game where my opponent can just spam Moonblast and win if I let my team be weakened enough. Facing this Pokémon always makes me think about the late game scenario and I have to keep Salamence healthy until the end and try to get a Dragon Dance at some point so I can defeat the Tapu Lele with Double-Edge.

gardevoir-mega Mega-Gardevoir

Like I already mentioned, I just have one resistance to Fairy and it is not that great when you consider its poor Sp. Def. stat. Mega-Gardevoir teams are usually focused on covering Gardevoir at all costs with double Intimidate, redirection and a lot of switch synergy. This is particularly difficult to handle when you don’t have many switch-ins, and considering the fact that Pixilate-boosted Hyper Voice hits really hard, I normally have to play carefully this match up and pressure the Gardevoir from the start while also trying to position myself in a way I can use Salamence in the late game to clean.

My run at the 2018 World Championships

I went to the venue confident on my team and all the preparation I had, and just wanted to focus on each game at a time.

Swiss Rounds

Round 1 vs. Aurélien Lefebvre

Round 1 vs. Aurélien Lefebvre

At first, I didn’t know who he was by his name, but when I saw his team on Team Preview, I knew he was a player I saw once in top cut at an European Regional, because I remember thinking how his team was very similar to mine when I saw the stream. I was prepared to play a mirror of Salamence, Tapu Koko and Incineroar, and I knew Gastrodon was really helpful against them.


Game 1 (W)
He brought: tapu-kokoincineroar+salamence-megacresselia
I brought:tapu-kokogastrodon+salamence-megaincineroar

I knew Bisharp could be problematic if I lead with one of my two Intimidate users, so normally against it I like to lead Tapu Koko and Gastrodon to apply pressure from the start. In this game, he didn’t bring Bisharp at all, but I knew leading Gastrodon was the best option overall because it was key in the match-up, and I just had to protect it from a possible Grass-type attack from his Amoonguss. His Cresselia ran a Calm Mind + Moonlight set with Electric Seed, so Incineroar was key to handle it with Snarl and Snatch. I also knew I had to keep Salamence healthy for an end game against Cresselia, since it was the only physical attacker I brought to the game. At some point of the battle, I found out that his Tapu Koko was Modest, because my Salamence was faster, so it was good information to consider going into Game 2.


Game 2 (W)
He brought: bisharpamoonguss+tapu-kokoincineroar
I brought:tapu-kokogastrodon+salamence-megaincineroar

In this game, he brought Bisharp as a lead and tried to cover it with Amoonguss’ redirection. I remember I used Discharge on turn 1 to attack the Bisharp and bypass the possible Rage Powder, and also used Earth Power with Gastrodon to the Bisharp slot, which was redirected. His Bisharp didn’t protect and got paralyzed, which gave me a lot of advantage. In turn 2, he tried to use Protect with Bisharp but got fully paralyzed, so I got the knock out. With Bisharp defeated, the match was much easier to handle.


Record: 1-0 (2-0)

Round 2 vs. Tomohiro Seki

Round 2 vs. Tomohiro Seki

I didn’t know anything about my opponent in this round, but when I saw his team on Team Preview, I knew it was gonna be difficult, because Japanese players know how to use Kangaskhan teams pretty well.


Game 1 (W)

He brought: landorus-theriancresselia+kangaskhan-megatapu-fini
I brought: tapu-kokoincineroar+salamence-megagastrodon

Every time an opponent leads Cresselia and Landorus-T into my Tapu Koko and Incineroar lead, I always fear the Ally Switch in Turn 1, and in this case I have to imagine he tried to do so, since I used Fake Out on Cresselia and Volt Switch on it as well because I saw his Landorus-T was not Choice Scarf, and Cresselia tried to use a move before Tapu Koko’s Volt Switch, which made me assume it was going for the Ally Switch. I switched Salamence in the Tapu Koko slot to double intimidate the Landorus-T just to realize it was Choice Banded for the damage it did to my Incineroar even at -2. Once I knew the Landorus-T item I started to play from there doing a lot of switches and positioning. His Cresselia revealed the Ally Switch at some point, but I predicted it and used Ice Beam on it so it was redirected to the Landorus-T. However, I still had to be careful of it going into game 2.


Game 2 (W)
He brought: landorus-theriancresselia+kangaskhan-megaheatran
I brought: incineroargastrodon+salamence-megakartana

He repeated his lead, but I changed my game plan this time, trying to adapt to what I thought he was forced to do. This time, he tried to go for the Trick Room option, but my Incineroar and Gastrodon lead put a lot of pressure on the Heatran + Landorus-T core. I played aggressively a couple of turns predicting a Landorus-T switch-in on the Heatran slot and using Ice Beam to get the OHKO. Snarl Incineroar was crucial in Trick Room in order to reduce the damage output from Heatran and even Cresselia, so its Special Attack was low at the point where I felt confident to switch into Salamence, knowing its Icy Wind wasn’t going to do enough damage. At some point, I had to predict another Ally Switch and used Earth Power on the Cresselia, so Heatran was KO’ed. This time, I brought Kartana instead of Tapu Koko because I wasn’t feeling good about the Choice Band on Landorus-T, so I felt Kartana was more helpful with the Z-move option and because it was also really good against Kangaskhan and Tapu Fini as well.


Record: 2-0 (4-0)

Round 3 vs. Brendan Zheng

Round 3 vs. Brendan Zheng