Hi! My name is Yuki Zaninovich (@yzanVGC), and I’ll be talking about my team that got me 11th place at the 2020 Pokémon Oceania International Championships. Though facing the top players in the world at this event made me realize how much my play needs to improve, I am extremely proud of building this team that felt like the perfect meta call for that weekend. Furthermore, I used it again this last weekend to reach top 32 in the VR Spring Challenge, with over 370 players. It is a result of countless hours of trial and error, so I would really appreciate your time if you took a read.
My approach to VGC2020
With all the excitement that came with the release of the new game, I decided to go hard in trying to understand the nuances of the format. I accomplished this through tenaciously grinding Battle Spot with promising QR teams I found on Twitter, most notably Edu Cunha’s Jellicent–Rhyperior team. These were my key takeaways:
This new mechanic is interesting because, despite all of the powerful-looking animations around Max Moves, it is inherently more defensive than offensive: your overall bulk doubles, yet your damage output increases by just 50% or less (when you compare the base power of moves vs. Max Move versions of them). You also typically need to Dynamax a Pokémon with both great offensive stats and a type advantage to OHKO opposing Dynamax Pokémon, making hyper offense a hard strategy to go for (but also made teams with many Dynamax candidates very flexible). This made me go into teambuilding with the intention to craft a defensive composition. I was additionally encouraged by seeing that bulk-boosting Max Moves were based on Steel and Ground moves, historically move types that have excellent coverage. If only there were a solid Pokémon that can get same-type attack bonus (STAB) on both of those… haha… Unless…?
Though we found out about a tremendous change in how speed mechanics work, I conversely felt that speed control would be far less important compared to other past formats. Tailwind users seemed to be as unpromising as the ones in VGC17, and Trick Room became easier to stall thanks to the defensive nature of Dynamax – being in Trick Room was far less scary if your Dynamax Pokémon had a good matchup against theirs. This led me to conclude that it is far more important to have the right Pokémon in at the right time than to be attacking before your opponent on any given turn.
Since Dynamax is such a centralizing mechanic that can be performed on any Pokémon in your party, there were certain items that I wanted Pokémon in my party likely to Dynamax to hold:
- Weakness Policy: This one became obvious very quickly for many. With the extra bulk obtained from Dynamaxing, such Pokémon become very difficult to overcome without relying on type advantages, which this item specifically punishes.
- Life Orb: This boosts the firepower of the already powerful Max Moves, while taking a modicum 5% recoil instead of the usual 10%. The latter is a very significant mechanic, as this enables bulky Life Orb users.
- Lum Berry: One way players can opt to counter Dynamax Pokémon is through inflicting status conditions to reduce damage output or immobilize them. A Dynamaxed Pokémon holding a Lum Berry can become a win condition if the opponent has a hard time dealing with it without relying on status. It can be especially devastating against teams using Yawn, where the Lum Berry proc is delayed by an additional turn, giving more opportunities for the holder to setup or unleash Max Moves before the opponent has to quickly adapt to the awakened Pokémon.
- Follow Me: Since Max Moves are all single-target, I anticipated Follow Me to be even more powerful than past generations.
- Protect: Due to the fact that all status moves turned into Max Guard under Dynamax, all Pokémon could theoretically have Protect as a fifth move, which was quite fascinating to me. On the other hand, it was also an important move to stall out opposing Dynamax, Tailwind, Trick Room, etc., so I made sure to be very intentional about which Pokemon I teach Protect to.
- Yawn: I first noticed how strong this move was through Edu’s streams. Though severely underutilized in past VGC formats, Yawn seemed powerful in taking advantage of the 3-turn aspect of Dynamax and forcing your opponent to make suboptimal moves. As I noticed more teams incorporate setup (Belly Drum, Nasty Plot, Swords Dance, etc.), I felt that Yawn would shine in numerous scenarios.
I was quite confident in the conclusions I made above, so I set out to build the team that made the most use out of them.
As I scouted through YouTube and Twitch for a team I can use as a boiler plate, one immediately caught my interest: Shohei “Zeen” Kimura’s sand team that got him 3rd in Season 1 Battle Stadium. With Will-o-Wisp + Snarl Arcanine, Babiri Berry Togekiss and Gastrodon as support, I was drawn to how Zeen came up with a defensive approach to a historically offensive team. This was further validated when I saw the item on Excadrill: Weakness Policy.
To say I was starstruck by this concept for Excadrill would be an understatement. It can raise either of its defensive stats with STAB, before the opponent moves with Sand Rush, reduce the damage of super effective attacks, AND penalize them for doing so?? Ain’t that some BS! They say Tylenol is the best thing since sliced bread but this Excadrill is the best thing since Pokémon Emerald.
As I tested out the QR team, I noticed how much I appreciated the Togekiss–Excadrill–Tyranitar–Gastrodon core. That lead is almost impossible to punish and has numerous tricks up its sleeve: you can go for Follow Me + Swords Dance to setup Excadrill, switch to Tyranitar + Max Steelspike/Max Quake to start boosting immediately, or Yawn + Gastrodon switch to slow down the pace of the game. This wide array of plays to make was a promising start to forming a consistent composition for best-of-3 matches.
I also want to underscore the defensive synergy between the core four. Firstly, Togekiss, Tyranitar and Gastrodon have amazing typing for switching between them: every single move type except Fairy and Ice is resisted by at least one. They all have impressive bulk, and Excadrill’s Max Moves make them even more difficult to overcome. This means they can support Excadrill’s rampage more easily with support moves that can counter a variety of strategies; the opponent will struggle to setup thanks to two Yawn users, and powering through with damage is stymied by Recover and potential burns from Scald. All of these points consolidated, I can intelligently cycle in and out while chipping at opponents, until eventually I knock out an opposing Pokémon that was the sole threat to one of the three and use it as the win condition for the late game.
On the other hand, I wasn’t quite sold on the other two Pokémon on Zeen’s team. I had my eye on Dragapult from the very beginning of the format, but it didn’t feel like it improved any particular matchup for me. If anything, the Dragapult mirror was a huge headache and made my Togekiss work harder than it already did. And Arcanine was solid but its defensive moveset felt a bit repetitive to what Excadrill was already accomplishing. Through both local and online tournaments, I found the following changes to be optimal.
Dragapult → Indeedee: One of the strategies that picked up steam since I started testing was Fake Tears + special attacking Dynamax Pokémon. This was quite the brutal matchup, as Excadrill’s +1 defensive boosts can’t keep up with the -2 drops from Fake Tears. Luckily, most of these teams had Whimsicott or Grimmsnarl crying really fast with Prankster, so Indeedee with Psychic Surge was a perfect counter. Follow Me let its partner setup unscathed by sponging attacks, usually multiple since Psychic Terrain prevented the stat-dropping moves from leaving it vulnerable.
Arcanine → Heat Rotom: This team very much needed a trustworthy Fire type to deal with Steel types like Corviknight and Ferrothorn. The reason Arcanine didn’t fit the bill is because it is simply too passive. All the opponent had to do was threaten Arcanine and these Steel types could setup and become impregnable. Heat Rotom was great because it can also abuse Follow Me thanks to Nasty Plot and be another sweeper option for the team. Being a special attacker was also huge to no longer let Intimidate cycling be the silver bullet for the team.
Individual breakdown: The Team
Excadrill @ Weakness Policy
Ability: Sand Rush
EVs: 108 HP / 12 Atk / 172 Def / 116 SpD / 100 Spe
– Iron Head
– Rock Slide
– Swords Dance
The keystone of this team. It singlehandedly enables the gameplan to boost the team’s bulk and win in a drawn-out game of stamina, thanks to Yawn support from partners. It is also capable of sweeping if the opponent is not careful of when to use super effective moves, making breaking through the fortress that much harder.
Swords Dance was a necessary move to prevent opponents from using Intimidate or Max Wyrmwind/Max Steelspike to mitigate Excadrill’s damage output, and to take advantage of passive leads. Rock Slide was also crucial to enable Sand Rush to activate without having to bring Tyranitar, as well as prevent certain problematic Pokémon like Wash Rotom or Mow Rotom to wall it. This resulted in Protect being on the cutting block, which certainly took some getting used to; it just meant I had to get the most out of its Dynamax turns, and position myself such that I no longer depended on its longevity after Dynamax was over.
Enough Attack EVs were invested to OHKO opposing Excadrill with no bulk investment using Earthquake. Its Speed is just high enough to outspeed Jolly Choice Scarf Galarian Darmanitan in sand. The rest is splurged into defensive stats: it can live opposing Adamant Excadrill’s Earthquakes and Max Flare from Life Orb Timid Charizard while Dynamaxed.
Togekiss @ Babiri Berry
Ability: Serene Grace
EVs: 244 HP / 244 Def / 4 SpA / 4 SpD / 12 Spe
IVs: 0 Atk
– Air Slash
– Follow Me
Togekiss brings unparalleled stability to this team with its incredibly defensive stats and movepool, in addition to having great type synergy with its common switch out partner Gastrodon. Babiri Berry is the only item it can hold on this team, as it needs that one turn of leeway to pull off a key Follow Me or Yawn in the otherwise tricky Togekiss Excadrill mirror. Air Slash is the move of choice over Dazzling Gleam because the 60% flinch chance can be the favored coin flip needed to clinch a match. Protect lets you play Togekiss with care, taking advantage of obvious doubling into’s and stalling the turn after using Yawn.
This Togekiss is very physically buff in response to the physically aggressive meta. It can survive +1 Life Orb Max Phantasm from Dragapult. The 12 Speed EVs were intended to outspeed opposing support Togekiss and inflict Air Slash flinches, which it was able to do a surprising amount. And remember kids, a puppy dies for every 192 HP Togekiss on a sand team!
Gastrodon @ Sitrus Berry
Ability: Storm Drain
EVs: 244 HP / 196 Def / 4 SpA / 52 SpD / 12 Spe
IVs: 0 Atk
I simply cannot praise this Gastrodon enough, and it is indisputably the best Pokémon set I’ve come up with. Thanks to the trinity of support moves in Yawn, Recover and Protect, I was highly favored in 2 vs 2 end games – I simply had to Yawn the more threatening opponent, double protect the next turn, and win the damage race by mashing recover in the pseudo 2 vs 1. Yawn was important in the early game as well by guaranteeing Gastrodon can pull its weight even against foes it doesn’t have a good type matchup against, since its damage output can be underwhelming when not hitting for super effective damage.
This was particularly relevant against modern Rotom-Wash spreads, which can take advantage of deadweight Gastrodons using Nasty Plot and Dark Pulse. The only reason I was able to include Yawn was because I sacrificed one of its STAB moves in Earth Power. While some may be alarmed by this decision, one should take note of the big overlap in coverage between water and ground type moves. Scald was chosen over Earth Power partly because of the utility of burn against many opponents, but mostly to ensure I win the 1 vs 1 against Rotom, an end game I often went for. The only major Pokemon I wanted Earth Power for was Duraludon, a Pokemon this team already had a solid matchup against.
Similar to Togekiss, I wanted this Gastrodon to be as physically bulky as possible. However, I put enough special defense investment to survive +2 Life Orb Max Darkness from Timid Rotom-Wash, since this is the one specially-oriented matchup it really needed to nail down. The speed investment is to speed creep minimum speed Tyranitar and neutral speed Rhyperior. Despite being a soft trick room counter, most of the end games involved stalling out trick room so I wanted to be faster once it expired.
Tyranitar @ Lum Berry
Ability: Sand Stream
EVs: 204 HP / 44 Atk / 4 Def / 4 SpD / 252 Spe
– Rock Slide
– Dragon Dance
Probably the least “broken” member of the core four due to the overwhelming popularity of Conkeldurr but Tyranitar is still the all-important sand setter and Dragapult answer the team direly needs. It is mainly useful for letting Excadrill boost before the opponent can attack and gradually building a second win condition through using Dragon Dance while the opponent is busy answering Excadrill. This is particularly effective when the opponent opts to use Will-o-Wisp Arcanine as the answer, since it will heal it right off and counter with a swift Rock Slide KO the following turn. The Lum Berry is also what empowers Tyranitar to put the team on its back against Butterfree trick room teams.
This Tyranitar has enough speed to outspeed Timid Charizard and anything slower after one Dragon Dance. The distribution between HP and attack is completely arbitrary.
Indeedee-F (F) @ Psychic Seed
Ability: Psychic Surge
EVs: 252 HP / 252 Def / 4 SpA
IVs: 0 Atk
– Heal Pulse
– Follow Me
The second member of the team that abuses the second most broken move of the format. Other than dealing with Fake Tears as mentioned above, it is responsible for aiding the Conkeldurr matchup (despite not resisting its attacks unfortunately). Since I tend to bring it in against specially attacking foes, I gave it Psychic Seed to increase its time on the field and bestow more time for its partner to get Follow Me support. Psychic is a solid move that reaps the fruits of Psychic Terrain and prevents it from ever becoming a sitting duck. Heal Pulse was a nice tech when facing down Duraludon or Inteleon, where Follow Me can’t stop Indeedee’s partner from getting damaged. Protect is used for the same reasons as Togekiss. However, unlike Togekiss it doesn’t have any moves like Yawn to counter setup so the user must be wise in figuring out which matchups it can be brought to.
All EVs were thrown into its defensive side since Psychic Seed covers its special defense and I wanted it to be well-rounded on both fronts. Even with only 4 special attack EVs, this Indeedee can OHKO most Conkeldurr not wearing Assault Vest.
Rotom-Heat @ Life Orb
EVs: 204 HP / 4 Def / 252 SpA / 4 SpD / 44 Spe
IVs: 0 Atk
– Nasty Plot
This Rotom was way deadlier when I first started using it, but Nasty Plot Rotoms became popular soon after and everybody seemed prepared for this at Oceania International Championship. However, there were still plenty of matchups that it singlehandedly carried. Its Levitate ability and having Gastrodon on the team meant it normally only had a weakness to Rock type attacks, which combined with its natural bulk let it survive multiple hits in and out of Dynamax. There were many aspects to this set that respected Togekiss – Life Orb Max Lightning was a guaranteed KO (need one Nasty Plot if Dynamax’d) and Discharge was chosen to circumvent Follow Me. Discharge was also the definition of clutch against teams with plenty of Electric weakness + Lightning Rod. There were very few instances in which Discharge was difficult to click, since I have 2 ground types on this team.
Rotom needed to floor the pedal on Special Attack to guarantee KOs on Togekiss and Gigantamax Charizard while Dynamax’d. It has enough bulk to survive Max Rockfall + Life Orb + Sand chip from Dynamax Durant. The speed investment is to speed creep Togekiss and just underspeed my Tyranitar – this is to better understand speed orders and to make gameplanning easier for game 2 & 3.
Standard: + / +
(Probably) the most unpunishable lead. I probably led this way about half of my games, and used these exact four for 70% of my games. Not too much to add from what I mentioned during teambuilding, but do note it is totally fine to lead this exact way all three games – just be adaptive in the later games given the massive arsenal of plays at your disposal. For example, if you blew them up by setting up Swords Dance turn 1 in game 1, be mindful of whatever play they could make that punishes it the most, and maneuver around that. Also, never forget you have two Ground types on your team in case you want to Yawn a Pokemon with Max Lightning 🙂
Indeedee makes setting up in the early game way easier thanks to Follow Me and Psychic Seed. Just don’t go into autopilot and hit Follow Me + Swords Dance/Nasty Plot all the time, especially when they lead Inteleon or Duraludon. The idea is to take 2 quick knockouts so that the Yawn endgame can be implemented as fast as possible by Togekiss and Gastrodon in the back. Another way to play is to put all your eggs in the Rotom or Excadrill basket and just use Indeedee and Togekiss as sacrificial Follow Me lambs, but make sure this is really feasible before committing to it.
(I’m sorry I lost my notes so don’t have some of the teams…)
Day 1: 7-2 (16-7 in games)
Day 2: 3-2 (7-4 in games)
You can watch me get brutalized on round 12 on stream here!
If you take a look at the team compositions I faced, you can probably see why I thought my team was a good call: almost every team I faced was either some form of sand mirror or a special attacking hyper offense team, both which I was highly prepared for. Of course there is a luck aspect to every turn and game of Pokémon, but I will contend that every single one of my losses could’ve been flipped to a win had I done something smarter in each. Not a single matchup inherently felt uphill, which was the most validation I could ever receive as a teambuilder. I also appreciated the sense of closure I had by having my final round match to be against Zeen himself – he knew the ins and outs of this team and yet I managed to make the plays I needed to make to come out on top.
Room for improvement
I have really enjoyed this metagame. Compared to VGC19 Ultra Series, there is a noticeable decline of matchups deciding games and surge in innovative teambuilding potential. Even with the current pandemic thwarting in-person competitions, I hope to continue investing in playing this format and participating in online tournaments.
Just like my Worlds Day 2 run, I couldn’t have gone this far without the support of my incredibly clever and generous friends:
- Hiroyuki “Hian” Morita, Markus Stadter, Ryosuke “Ryokon” Kondo, Till Böhmer and Yusei “Vete” Matsuno for all the chatting and playtesting that made this happen.
- Seattle VGC community for the tough locals and incredible support.
- And thank you to all of my friends, who play Pokémon or not, that sent supportive and congratulatory messages. Your kind words are what keeps me going!
Thanks for reading to this point, please feel free to message me on Twitter (@yzanVGC) if you have any thoughts or questions!