Incineroar is back, what does this mean for VGC? – An opinion column

An unbiased write up of what a non-VGC 2018 & 2019 player thinks about Incineroar’s coming impact on the metagame.

Hey everyone — Alcadeias here! I’m a 20 year old Pokémon player and VGC freshman, and this is my first article over on Victory Road.

While I have played competitively for several years, 2020 is my first VGC season ever. In the last 3 months, I have actually accomplished more than I could ever imagine: I peaked at #1 in the world on the game’s ladder in three separate occasions, and I have also contributed to the rising popularity of the Gyarados & Raichu combo in the early stakes of the meta.

This first article aims to be the first of a series of opinion columns, a format of metagame discussion quite unseen lately in the game besides Twitter threads that get lost. Today, I’ll be going over the key topic of this month: Incineroar’s release into the VGC20 metagame.

A little background

Shortly after the release of Pokémon Home, The Pokémon Company confirmed what many feared: THE CAT IS BACK. Today March 1st, Incineroar (as well as other Pokémon and Gigantamax forms) will be legal to use in official Pokémon VGC tournaments.

After the announcement, both pros and casuals alike have reacted to this and discussed the matter on social media like crazy in the last weeks. Some people have reacted with positivity, and are celebrating a happy reunion with their old pal. Most reactions however, have been overwhelmingly negative. Some people even say “VGC is ruined”, while a few others have even threatened to quit VGC entirely.

As someone who didn’t play VGC during Incineroar’s reign of terror, that is, on the USUM days, I have merely heard stories of it’s sheer dominance and the legendary 85.6% usage peak in 2019 (as reported by Pikalytics). I actually didn’t even know nor believed the tales of its power, and had to be convinced by my good friend Eakes that Incineroar really was all that powerful (feel free to check him out on Twitch for quality VGC content!). But you still haven’t fully convinced me Eakes — and I’m planning to find out for myself, right here, right now.

Just how strong will Incineroar really be?

So, first things first. What everyone is questioning right now: will Incineroar see a ridiculous usage statistic, like in the 2019 season? My short answer to that is… No. Will it be remotely close to it? Short answer… Probably.

This is probably where the more experienced players will come in and go “You just said you haven’t played in the USUM meta, so your opinion is invalid”. Which is a fair point I guess, but I like to think that my inexperience gives me a different and probably more impartial perspective on Incineroar, one that many USUM players don’t have after the trauma of having to deal with it every day for two and a half years.

Of course, no one can deny that Incineroar is a solid, great Pokémon by itself. Its flagship pros, Intimidate, access to Fake Out and great bulk remain untouched, but I think there’s a few reasons why it wont be used as much as before.

First of all some, Fake Out is less powerful and dominating than it ever was. With Dynamax being always present, one of your four opponents will be immune to flinching when you most want to use it, something that can make Fake Out completely obsolete in some games, and can also make you effectively waste a turn on your Incineroar. 

Intimdate is also nerfed due to abilities like Own Tempo now negating Intimidate while other abilities like Defiant and Competitive are also fairly common in the current metagame, which can downright punish Intimidate if you’re not careful. Milotic will probably rise further in usage as a common solid counter to Incineroar thanks to its type advantage, Competitive ability and solid stats by itself.

Pinch Berries have also been nerfed, now restoring only 33% of its full health as opposed to 50% from the previous generation. This also reduces Incineroar’s survivability, since Pinch Berries have been Incineroar’s staple method of recovery. Speaking of previously used items on Incineroar, Z crystals are also gone from the game, somewhat limiting its offensive arsenal.

Incineroar’s has also lost an important tool in Knock Off, due to the move being a tutor move, which won’t be legal to use in VGC 2020 as for now. This is a pretty big blow to Incineroar, as Knock Off was an excellent way of dealing STAB-boosted damage while serving an important utility function in keeping opponent’s items in check (and providing you with the infos on those).

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “Huh, so I guess Incineroar isn’t that good this year?”. Which again leads me to my next topic…

What makes Incineroar a top threat?

Arcanine currently sits at a pretty impressive usage, with just under 36%

If you wanted to sum it quickly: the main reason why Incineroar will be a top threat is that Arcanine currently sees a lot of use. 

As many people have pointed out, Incineroar is pretty much just a better version of Arcanine. While it doesn’t have the speed of Arcanine, which is a differential factor sometimes, it’s superior in many other ways: better bulk, access to Fake Out, Parting Shot/U-turn, immunity to Prankster, none of which Arcanine has, and even slightly more Attack.

As a result, Arcanine will probably see a huge drop in usage now that Incineroar comes out, mirroring what happened when Intimidate Incineroar was released back in the 2018 season, where Arcanine was a top force in the metagame as a support Fire-type until Incineroar came out, pretty much like it has been in the last couple months. As in the past, now you could pretty much take any team, take Arcanine out, and splash an Incineroar in, which is what a lot of people are probably doing right now… including myself.

While Intimidate and Fake Out are somewhat less powerful than before, these are still two of the best attributes to have on any team, especially when you can get both of them on one Pokémon, which is also pretty much the sole reason Hitmontop was used at times in season 2. I personally used Intimidate and Fake Out cycling as one of the main strategies on my latest team, with a lot of success, very much like past renown team compositions.

And despite losing some important tools in this new generation, Incineroar still has a large and excellent move pool to choose from. It didn’t only lose with the new gen, though, it got a couple new interesting moves like Parting Shot and Close Combat, meaning there should be no issues in filling up Incineroar’s move slots to patch certain weaknesses.

Conclusion

In conclusion, where do I think Incineroar will end up in regards to usage in VGC 2020? Well, it’s of course impossible to say for sure. I assume that most, if not all, players using support Arcanine now will switch to Incineroar, and a good portion of players who didn’t use Arcanine before will start using Incineroar as well.

I definitely don’t think it will see less use than Arcanine currently does, but it doesn’t look close to its previous sky-high 85.6% usage. So, my best guess is somewhere in the middle between Arcanine’s current usage and Incineroar’s previous usage, that is, anywhere between 50% and 70%.

Do you agree with me, or do you think I got it all wrong? Only time will tell… and you can let me know in the comments, too!

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