The first month of the 2019 Play! Pokémon season is over, and with it, the Sun Series’ first weeks in play. Considering how the time span for the format has been reduced from a full season, usually lasting about 10-12 months, to only 4, the metagame has quickly evolved and changed throughout the first major events and the plenty of local ones celebrated around the World (shoutouts to Poland for hosting their first-ever Premier Challenge on September 20!)
In this first monthly recap, we will take a look at the results and statistics from the Regional Championships celebrated in Philadelphia and Frankfurt in order to depict the main metagame trends and to understand how the metagame has been growing to the point we are as of today. We will also take a closer look at some unorthodox Pokémon choices that proved its value and, in the closing section, we will take it all into consideration to see what we can take going into October.
September's major events
This first month, players from the US and Europe got the chance to compete at the first Regionals of the season:
- Philadelphia Regionals held in Oaks, PA, on September 15-16
- Frankfurt Regionals, in Offenbach (Frankfurt am Main), Germany, on September 29-30
The first North American one saw Justin Burns come out on top of over 150 players, whereas Europe celebrated one of its biggest Regionals in VGC history with 236 Masters competitors, falling short by 20 from the 2016 season Regionals held in Madrid, Spain. In the end, Matteo Agostini got to lift the trophy in German lands.
Results & Statistics
|2||7-1||Alessio Y. Boschetto|
[table id=16 /]
Weather, as essential as always
At first glance, it should stand out the fact that teams with Xerneas/Groudon obtained over 45% of the total amount of CP given out at both major events. Similarly, 10/16 players making it into top 8 chose the Continent and Life Pokémon pair (3/8 in Philadelphia, 7/8 in Frankfurt). However, we cannot ignore the fact that Kyogre-based teams were able to take both events’ crown even in such a sunny field: Matteo Agostini was able to comfortably take on Alessio Y. Boschetto with his Kyogre/Xerneas combination in Frankfurt while Justin Burns came out on top of an all-Kyogre finals against Andrew Burley.
We could say this reflects the balance of the format, as even though Groudon-based teams have been the most prevalent ones, other compositions have consistently been able to break through them at the final stages of high-level events, thus taking the top CP and prizes. The weather dependencies of both Groudon and Kyogre could be one of the reasons to explain those outcomes: on one hand, Groudon needs the sunlight to halven Kyogre’s output and thus avoid being severly damaged, if not OHKO’ed, by the Sea Basin Pokémon; while on the other hand, Kyogre will be able to stick on the field even if rain gets taken over by the sun, as it only relies on it offensively.
This effect, already noticed in the 2016 format with the omnipresent Primal weathers, now offers slightly different interactions, essentially two: Groudon can now take Kyogre’s hits even under rain, which eases the board positioning it needs to function correctly, and Kyogre’s main Water-type attacks won’t fail even if the sun is active, thus removing the fear from Groudon switch-ins blocking it completely.
Of course, other benefits from regular weather are strategies like Rain Dance Tornadus, used by Matteo Agostini in his Frankfurt Winning Team; or just the presence of other weathers and setters, like Abomasnow’s Hail or Tyranitar’s Sand, although they don’t seem to get as much usage as we could’ve expected by taking a look at 2010’s metagame. Nevertheless, players using Groudon or Kyogre, or neither, have now more flexibility to work around weather and its effects, which balances everything out.
The King stays crowned
The crowned king of VGC 2018 stays on the throne for the 2019 season — at least during the Sun Series. After ranking 1st in both Pokémon Showdown and Battle Spot ladders, Incineroar reaffirmed its presence by making it into 59 out of 64 teams collected from Philadelphia and Frankfurt Regionals, thus being used on 93.75% of all top 32 teams.
Its huge amount of pros are known by everyone since its release on March 2018: its base stats combined with the Intimidate ability allow it to be a well-rounded pivot, more defensive than other Intimidate Pokémon like Hitmontop or Landorus. Its staple moves are Fake Out, allowing to buy turns, generate momentum and disrupt the opponent; Knock Off, extremely valuable when obtaining information on the opponent’s sets (especially on a format where all Items are affected by it), and Flare Blitz, a strong Fire-type STAB move that deals consistent damage to Grass and Steel-types, both of them very prominent in VGC 2019 as Kyogre and Xerneas answers, respectively.
If all of this doesn’t sound enough to you, remember that Incineroar packs a good amount of coverage moves to fill up the last slot, with Roar being the most prominent one, as it renders opposing Xerneas’ boosts useless by forcing it to switch out. Other common choices are U-Turn, in order to keep the pressure and the momentum flowing; Snarl, which allows for damage control by lowering the opponents’ SpA; and Taunt, which blocks the Roar option from other Incineroar and prevents the use of Trick Room, Rage Powder or Spore, to name a few, which are all common moves used to check Xerneas.
If Incineroar was way too centralizing for the format or it was an omnipresent but not omnipotent Pokémon has been a debating topic this last weeks within the community. We will just leave you here one of the threads on Twitter discussing the subject, so you can get a better grasp at some of the best players’ thoughts. Nevertheless, Incineroar’s presence in the metagame is undoubtedly going to continue as we move forward into October and the following major events.
To be or not to be (a Xerneas player)
To no one’s surprise, Xerneas is the 2nd most used Pokémon in the format when it comes to CP and the most used restricted, regardless of its partners. The Geomancy party never seems to be over, as Xerneas becomes one of the most threatening Pokémon in the whole format once it sets up, doubling its Special Attack, Special Defense and Speed on a single turn by using Geomancy + Power Herb.
The dominance and centralisation potential of such a strong creature allow Xerneas to divide players, teams or playstyles on either playing with it or against it, especially when other Restricted Pokémon that could potentially match Xerneas’ threatening effect, such as Mega-Rayquaza or Ultra-Necrozma, are banned. Are you protecting the deer or defeating it?
Protect the Deer
Similarly to the 2016 season, Dazzling Gleam and Moonblast are the offensive staples for Xerneas, with Protect being a key move on such a game-deciding Pokémon. As a way to work around some threats and checks that have been used during these weeks, like Amoonguss‘ combination of Spore + Clear Smog, some players opted to use Substitute, or even Psyshock, over one of its main STAB moves.
Some of the elite partners for Xerneas are common Pokémon such as Incineroar, thanks to its multiple supportive options and how it can handle most Steel-types of the format, Smeargle with its wide array of moves that back up the deer, Amoonguss and its redirection, Tapu Koko and its Electric Terrain and some key moves such as Sky Drop and Electroweb, or Ludicolo, which is also both a weather-abuser and counter, to name a few.
When it comes to its restricted partners, the 7th Generation brought with it Lunala, the Moone Pokémon, one of the top-tier restricted Pokémon to use with the deer. Thanks to its Shadow Shield ability, Lunala is almost impossible to OHKO by any attack, even the 4-times supereffective Knock Off from the omnipresent Incineroar, allowing it to perform both a supportive and offensive role.
As mentioned previously, Amoonguss is one of the main checks in the current format against Xerneas, but other common answers such as Bronzong, Dusk Mane Necrozma, Solgaleo or Kartana have consistently been put to great use to shut down the deer from running rampant through teams. Lunala is a consistent answer against them all, as it can OHKO them either cleanly or after prior chip damage from Xerneas, thus allowing the sweep to continue. To support its partner Xerneas, Lunala can also set up Tailwind, that allows Xerneas to outpace other Xerneas that might boost themselves as well. Less-commonly used but still relevant are Roar and Psych Up, both of which benefit from the aforementioned Shadow Shield effect to effectively check opposing Xerneas quite cleanly or use your own boosts to generate extra pressure, respectively.
Other common partners for Xerneas are, of course, both Groudon and Kyogre. While boosting its partner Incineroar’s Fire-type moves with the sunlight, Groudon threatens a lot of KOs with its Precipice Blades, as many teams run few to no Ground resistances, and thanks to coverage moves such as Fire Punch or Stone Edge, it can effectively lure common threats like Ho-Oh or Wide Guard Solgaleo.
Defeat the Deer
When you choose not to run Xerneas, then it’s time to counter Xerneas. From restricted Pokémon to strong supports, players have shown good success against Xerneas with a varied amount of techs and strategies.
At both events, most players opted for strong non-restricted Steel-types as their primary answers to the deer, usually running at least one of them. The most prominent ones were Stakataka, which could set up Trick Room in front of Xerneas and OHKO it with Gyro Ball even at -1 Attack; Kartana, either by setting up Tailwind or by hitting it hard with Smart Strike; and Heatran, who resists its Fairy-type attacks thanks to its Fire/Steel typing and can Roar at it, usually avoiding any Spore and Rage Powder support thanks to its equipped Safety Goggles.
Other common answers from the regular Pokémon department were Amoonguss, Venusaur, Ferrothorn and Bronzong, which all provided different roles to their teams apart from being dedicated Xerneas counters, such as redirection, sleep, speed control, Gravity, or a way to slow down games with moves like Leech Seed.
However, this past weeks we also saw succesful teams using more dedicated Xerneas answers as some of their restricted Pokémon. Ho-Oh put on a great show at Philadelphia by making it into top 8 on Kyle Livinghouse’s hands and all the way to the Finals on Andrew Burley’s team. The Rainbow Pokémon’s usage kept on rising at Frankfurt, where 6 out of the top 32 competitors used it on their team. Its Fire-type and amazing defensive stats (106 HP / 154 SpD) allow it to soak Xerneas’ Fairy-type attacks as long as it wants, while it can chip it with a combination of Toxic, Recover and Protect or set up Tailwind and use Sacred Fire, which could also burn it, thus adding up residual damage every single turn. Of course, Ho-Oh’s great matchup against some other key Pokémon in the format, as the Steel and Grass-types that are used either to support or to counter Xerneas, give it a solid performance against a huge part of the actual metagame.
Solgaleo also established itself as one of the solid answers to the deer. First introduced to the high stakes of competition by Enosh Shachar (Top 8 at Philadelphia), Spanish players Eric Rios and Alejandro Trastoy both had solid runs with it in Germany, where they finished 16th and 18th respectively. Its first appearances showed a bulky Misty Seed set paired up with Tapu Fini and the support it provided with Swagger and Heal Pulse, whereas the latter variant used by the Spaniards was more offensive and used Life Orb to boost Solgaleo’s STABs and coverage moves, a trend common in the game’s ladder.
Last but not least, Dusk Mane Necrozma was able to grab some CP at both Regionals and is a decent check to Xerneas in a similar way to Solgaleo, with Trick Room and Weakness Policy-boosted attacks being its main ways to threaten the deer and some other common Pokémon as well. However, due to its significantly lower base Speed of 77 and dependance to Trick Room, Dusk Mane seems to be slightly weaker when compared to its non-fused counterpart.
This wouldn’t be a real VGC article if we didn’t address some of the less-orthodox creatures that made it far despite being unusual or surprising, if not both. We’ve selected the Top 5 ones to take a closer look at.
One of the most interesting techs seen so far is Toxicroak, first used by Justin Burns and Justin Crubaugh at Philadelphia Regionals. While this isn’t the frog’s first appearance on the big stage (in fact, Toxicroak was on the 2009 Worlds Winning Team of Kazuyuki Tsuji from Japan, and it was a relevant Pokémon in the 2010 metagame as well), Toxicroak’s success at Oaks surely proved how valuable it can be in a format full of Pokémon like Kyogre, Ludicolo or Xerneas.
Its Fighting/Poison typing allows Toxicroak to threaten a good bunch of common Pokémon, most notably Xerneas, Ludicolo, Kartana, Dialga, Stakataka and Tapu Fini. Its Dry Skin ability makes it immune to Water-type attacks, thus walling Kyogre and other rain abusers while dealing significant damage back to them. Thanks to the ability, Toxicroak will also regain 1/8 of its HP if rain is active at the end of a turn, making it a great teammate to a partner Kyogre, like Burns’ and Crubaugh’s team showed.
The rise of Groudon definetly hurts Toxicroak a bit, as Dry Skin also causes it to take 1.25x damage from Fire-type attacks and, if sun is active at the end of the turn, it will suffer from residual damage. However, its good STABs and decent support moves, like Fake Out, Feint, Icy Wind or Sucker Punch, make sure that it’ll stay a force to be reckoned with as the metagame progresses.
If Toxicroak was Philadelphia’s star of the show, then Tornadus stole it all in Frankfurt. The forgotten genie, in the past outclassed by its counterpart Thundurus when it came to speed control and supporting the team with Prankster priority, made a stellar return paired with Kyogre in the hands of Matteo Agostini (1st) and Pontus Westerlund (9th).
While its stats are certainly not the bulkiest, Tornadus shows enough endurance to take relevant hits, which makes it able to stick on the field for some turns, thus spreading its support moves with ease. Tailwind is the main one, as it offers speed control for all of its teammates, notably Xerneas and Kyogre; whereas Taunt shows to be a key move on such a setup-reliant metagame. Nevertheless, the whole point of Tornadus is its Prankster Rain Dance, as its partner Kyogre no longer fears a Groudon switch-in while using its powerful Water-type moves. Additionally, the rain allows Tornadus to hit perfect accuracy Hurricane, a high BP STAB move that severly damages Grass-types like Amoonguss and Kartana, the most usual checks to Kyogre.
So far, we’ve seen some of the key techs driving rain teams to great success. However, Heatran heated things up on Groudon/Xerneas-based teams as it proved to be one of the greater answers to the mirror match-up, thanks to its quadruple Fairy-type resistance, which allows it to wall Xerneas forever and then proceed to Roar it out of the field. The damage boost it enjoys thanks to Groudon’s sunlight, and the use of items like Safety Goggles that allow him to ignore powder moves like Spore from Smeargle and Amoonguss are also great to exploit its unique assets.
As we addressed before, Xerneas is one of the main Pokémon in the format, and regardless of you running it or not, no number of answers seems enough. Crobat is one of the best Pokémon used so far to do so, very much like it was in the early days of the 2016 metagame.
Its Inner Focus ability allows it to bypass the flinching effect from moves like Fake Out, which is key on using its support moves right from the get-go. Taunt and Tailwind are two key staples very much like on Tornadus, which are good to disrupt a good number of set-up strategies and the opponent’s speed control options. Other options include Haze, which removes stat boosts and drops from both sides of the field, Quick Guard or even manual Rain Dance.
Since Crobat is not the bulkiest or the most offensive of Pokémon, Super Fang is its main attacking move, although some players run Brave Bird if they feel like they need extra coverage against some creatures like Ludicolo. As for its held items, Focus Sash makes up its poor defenses, and Lum Berry and Safety Goggles are other frequent choices too.
While it fell short to make it to the cut of either Regional, Abomasnow was featured multiple times on stream, most notably used by 2012 Seniors World Champion Toler Webb at Philadelphia, but also by Nick Navarre and Nemanja Sandic, two well-known and accomplished players.
They all used it on Kyogre-based teams as a way to counter Groudon switch-ins aiming to disrupt Kyogre’s weather, as the hail Abomasnow provides doesn’t halven Water-type damage, thus allowing Kyogre to still pick a comfortable OHKO on all Groudon variants and deal significant damage to a lot of other Pokémon.
September has been a strong month when it comes to the VGC scene. Europe and North America have held their first regionals, with good attendance records on both and with results reflecting the metagame variety and great players’ consistency, as many of the top-performing players from the past seasons have had great runs in this new format.
Looking into October, the main action will stay in the United States: Memphis, TN celebrates the 2nd major event in North America on October 5-6 (check the results here!) and Portland, OR closes the month with its Regionals on October 26-28 (check the official site of the event for more information on the latter).
While we can only expect the metagame to keep on growing and evolving as we get closer to the first Internationals on November, it seems safe to assume that the new techs and strategies seen in Philadelphia and Frankfurt will popularize, therefore taking over the Groudon dominance trend that has characterized this first month. Similarly, we can expect more out-of-the-box teams and concepts to flourish during this next month, like Enosh Shachar’s in Philadelphia or Eric Rios’ and Alejandro Trastoy’s in Frankfurt.
In conclusion, October looks like an exciting month for the game, with two Regionals to be celebrated and dozens of Midseason Showdown events aimed at the local scenes to take place in the next weeks all around the world. We wish you the best of luck at them, wherever you are, and we hope you have a great late July!