VGC 2016 First Impressions:

Hello Hat Lovers!

As I’m sure you’ve seen the VGC 2016 ruleset has been announced. The rules are the same as last year except now we get to use two of the following on our team: Mewtwo, Lugia, Ho-Oh, Kyogre, Groudon, Rayquaza, Dialga, Palkia, Giratina, Reshiram, Zekrom, Kyurem, Xerneas, Yveltal, Zygarde. 

This format is effectively VGC 2010 on steroids, what with Primals, Mega evolutions, and a greater diversity of Legendaries and powerful Pokemon. Here are some first impressions from the VGC w/Hats crew:

Max:

Adding in restricted Pokemon changes the dynamic of team-building. In VGC 2011-2013 all Pokemon were equal to each other. In VGC 2014-15 we got mega evolution, which ensures that one Pokemon on your team wants to get brought to every game. Now you have your mega, two restricted Pokemon and then the remaining 3-4. If you leave one of your restricted Pokemon or your mega behind then you’re at a disadvantage in terms of raw stats.

Restricted and mega Pokemon will likely make up the bulk of a team’s offence. Non-restricted Pokemon just don’t have the offensive stats and will often take up supporting roles. Prankster seems stronger than usual in this format, meaning Thundurus, Liepard and Whimsicott will see a lot of usage.

Weather wars will be more common than ever before, but these wars will be waged by the new weather effects summoned by Primal Groudon, Primal Kyogre and Mega Rayquaza. Desolate Land, Primordial Sea and Delta Stream can only be replaced by each other and last as long as the user remains in play. Moves that interact with abilities can be used to reset or nullify these weathers.

One cool thing about the restricted Pokemon is that all of them have an Ability that triggers a message when it enters the battlefield (except for Giratina-O), giving us an easy way to check their speed at the start of the battle. This makes it harder to slap a Choice Scarf on something and take surprise wins.

All the restricted Pokemon have very close base speed stats. Because of this speed control is going to be big. Teams using Trick Room and Thunder Wave will be able to take complete control of speed

After playing about 60 games in this format I am slightly concerned about how difficult it can be to switch out without being heavily punished. There are a lot of powerful moves (many of them spread moves as well) that can easily do ~40% to a Pokemon that resists them.

Overall I’m really liking this format so far. I don’t know how much I’ll be enjoying it this time next year but I’m optimistic.

Mark:

I haven’t actively participated in VGC since Nationals 2015. Which means I’ve literally played 5 VGC matches since Nationals, and then a few games at Pokemon Club during the second last week. At the same time, I’ve been paying attention to VGC longer than the rest of the VGC with Hats crew (I think?). So I can’t say I can offer much insight re: the Pokemon, but I can offer some advice on approaching new formats… maybe?

This format reminds me most of VGC 2010, where players could bring two uber Legendaries per team. That format was quite different though, as back then we didn’t have Team Preview, and obviously no 5th or 6th gen Pokemon were around. Now we also have Megas and Primals and other such nonsense to throw into the mix, so the two formats aren’t all that comparable. (Max’s note: You could have 4 on a team, just 2 per battle). (Mark’s note: But that didn’t really matter since a lack of Team Preview meant you brought the same 4 in the same order to every battle).

But one of the most fun parts of a new format is that almost everyone is as blind as you are in sorting through the mess. There will be people that employ old strategies with new Pokemon that see success at some point. For instance, Perish Trap needs to take at least one major event every year for some reason. Some Encore Pokemon might shine at some point too. It certainly seems like Liepard has risen in usage.

Also, as people don’t yet know all the threats the format poses, many will vie for simple 252/252 spreads, which includes 252+ speed. So be prepared for a hyper agressive start to the format, where every Pokemon is either 252 attack / 252 speed, or 252 HP / 252 attack. You’ll find some of the more successful Winter Regionals teams are likely going to involve Pokemon that are bulkier, have better-tailored spreads, and I predict the trend towards bulkiness to be something that goes on from Winter Regionals up to Nationals.

I think the only year I’ve seen where bulk didn’t win out as the metagame progressed was probably in 2014, and even then, Pachirisu won Worlds as a “bulky” Follow Me user. But M-Kangaskhan and Talonflame were a bit too overwhelming for the restricted pokedex throughout the year. But the crazy bulk of the legendaries, and the ability to use Intimidate to weaken physical attackers, should trend towards bulkier spreads I think. Rayquaza is one obvious exception, but most of the legendaries aren’t in a speed tier that ties with non-legendaries.

Edit: I’ve now logged about 80 games in the format, and have gotten more used to the Legendaries and the pace of play. I’m enjoying the pace so far, but I expect this to get old real fast. It reminds me a lot of 2014-2015 with the introduction of Mega evolutions, and a lack of good counters to them. As Max said, even resisted attacks still chunk about 40%, and the game is now very heavily determined by weather wars. Its novelty is enjoyable, but as the year goes on, I don’t know how much I’ll continue to appreciate having to play against the same legendaries game after game. Hopefully it doesn’t get too coin-flippy in terms of lead matchups.

Hayden:

I think the difference between Kyogre and Groudon will end up being pretty important, where weather ends up being something that defends the weather setter (Groudon) rather than just boosting offense and helping partners (Kyogre). That said the Eruption Groudon set still gives it the opportunity to use sun for offense.

I think that’s been something important for why rain and sun tend to do well at different tournaments. Sun has actually won worlds every year since 2010, barring 2011 where very few people used weather, and 2012 where it didn’t win but made finals in Masters, and won in Seniors (Toler’s Sunny Day Ludicolo). 2014 was also an exception, although Jeudy Azzarelli still made finals with a drought Mega Charizard Y. However, rain has often done exceedingly well at regionals and nationals. I think the difference is that the pokemon supported by sun often benefit both offensively and defensively from sun, while rain provides offensive benefits to some pokemon and defensive to others. Teams wanting to exploit the benefits of rain often had to invest more pokemon and be more reliant on rain. There were definitely team that just ran Poli + Swift Swim and four pokemon that would work in or out of rain, but the fact is still that if rain didn’t work there was less flexibility. 

I think where Groudon is so much better than it used to be (which is saying a lot seeing as it won in 2010) is that, in addition to stats and a better spread move, it has a weather that can help its attacks and its defense. It can spam eruption while having few weaknesses. Meanwhile Kyogre only gets offensive benefits.

I think what’s more important than even that, though, is the change to water’s effectiveness. There is now a weather that eliminates water attacks. No one’s ever been that dependent on fire attacks working (except in dealing with steels, which is significant!), but water’s usually been a really reliable attacking type.

Now Kyogre can potentially be useless in certain situations, where if harsh sunlight is up Kyogre has virtually no truly useful attacks. There are ways to work around this, but its interesting to see Kyogre might be dependent on weather to attack

But also while Kyogre is offensively dependent, Groudon is just as dependent on its weather in some situations. Although this may always have been true for some stronger water attacks, the fact that groudon now has a fire type means that it does have a 4x weakness to water, so any time that desolate land is not up special water attacks will KO really quickly (perhaps even some physical ones). Things like aqua tail or water pulse Rayquaza can destroy Groudon

Although there will be a lot of other dynamics in VGC 2016 (Smeargle, Xerneas, Kangaskhan, Mawile, Cresselia), it will be really interesting to see how players address these limitations. I think to some extent the result will be that teams able to best eliminate the dependency, while maintaining the benefits, of weather will be the most successful. We’ve already seen some substitute Groudon, so that Groudon doesn’t have to constantly live in fear of taking a water attack if the weather is changed, and has more time to eliminate Kyogre, which I think is a really good idea.

In closing

Mark: This is the start of the format, and nothing is for certain right now. Most Regionals-winning ideas aren’t developed off the bat, but are refined over the month or two leading up to Regionals. For instance, last year, M-Metagross running Substitute wasn’t a popular idea until about the time that Regionals hit, and the few that were savvy had a big advantage as a result. Both the M-Salamence and CHALK archetypes were under-developed in Winter Regionals, and Spring Regionals proved to be the testing ground that M-Salamence thrived in, while CHALK steadily got better and better from Winter 2015 straight up to Worlds. Of course, M-Gardevoir teams popped up at Spring Regionals and succeeded at Nationals.

My point is, there is no truly defined metagame yet. We’ll see how things shape up in 2016 after Premier Challenge results start trickling in from some of the competitive areas, but until then, the format is being tested almost entirely over http://www.pokemonshowdown.com.  I’ve never found Showdown to be identical to on-cartridge metagames. A big reason for that is because at live events, players of various ELO are mixed in the first few rounds. This means solid players with solid teams have to grind through the trash that works only 1/3 games, and sometimes those solid players don’t have great answers to the low-ladder shenanigans. Also, sometimes low-ladder shenanigans are surprisingly effective in swiss, while on the ladder folks are more savvy to certain tricks since the Showdown player-base is more experienced. For instance, I don’t expect Encore to work on most Showdown players, but I do expect it to catch many people off guard at Regionals.

Cheers,

Writers out

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