Early VGC 2016 Metagame Primer

Hello Hat Lovers!

Before we officially start the 2016 format I’m going to look at some of the top Pokemon in the early VGC 2016 metagame. This is meant to be a guide for anyone unfamiliar with the format to help bring them up to speed with the most common threats in the metagame.

Restricted Pokemon:

The biggest part about figuring out the format so far is understanding how the restricted Pokemon interact with it. We only get two restricted Pokemon per team so a big aspect of team-building will be figuring out what combinations of restricted Pokemon are good.

I think almost all of the restricted Pokemon are usable, but since we only get to use two per team the most powerful ones will make it harder to justify using the rest. Here are the four restricted Pokemon that are currently the most used and will likely stay at the top throughout the season:

Xerneas

600px-716XerneasCommon Items: Power Herb
Common Moves: Moonblast, Dazzling Gleam, Geomancy, Protect

Xerneas is the most important Pokemon in the early 2016 metagame. Xerneas’s signature move, Geomancy, boosts special attack, special defence and speed by two stages. The downside is that the move is that it was ripped from DBZ and takes two turns to charge. This downside can be averted by running Power Herb. Like most of the good mega evolutions, Xerneas has an ability that boosts its damage output to compensate for the item slot being used up. Xerneas has the ability Fairy Aura, which gives all Fairy moves a 33% boost while Xerneas is on the field. This includes all Fairy Pokemon in play, not just Xerneas. Because of this boost Xerneas generally opts for Moonblast and Dazzling Gleam instead of coverage moves. Between STAB and Fairy Aura Xerneas’s Fairy moves have an effective 2x multiplier.

There are several teams based around setting up a Geomancy while preventing the opponent from setting up their own Geomancy. Xerneas appreciates Fake Out and Follow Me support to keep it safe on the Geomancy turn. Pranksters with Taunt and Encore are often used to either prevent the Geomancy or punish it with Encore. These can be dealt with by using a Follow Me user with Mental Herb or Protecting Xerneas after the Geomancy while switching in your own Fake Out / Follow Me / Quick Guard user.

There are two ways of dealing with Xerneas, preventing it from setting up or putting it in a position where setting up doesn’t put it in a winning position. Crobat is the most reliable way to prevent a Xerneas from using Geomancy. Crobat can’t be flinched and can Taunt Xerneas. Gengar is immune to non-Scrappy Fake Out and can either Taunt Xerneas or threaten it with Sludge Bomb. With Focus Sash Gengar can also survive any attack from Xerneas and get at least one attack off. If you let Xerneas use Geomancy you take a turn to mitigate the impact. Setting up Trick Room against Xerneas will allow you to threaten it before it’ll be able to use its boosted attacks. Thunder Wave also accomplishes a similar goal. Priority moves are also a threat to Xerneas even after a boost. Many Steel types can survive a boosted Fairy move and OHKO Xerneas with physical Steel moves. Liepard and Whimsicott can use Encore to punish Geomancy, but don’t go expecting this to work against high level players.

Psych Up is a neat move that may see play this year. Both Groudon and Kyogre can learn Psych Up and you can use it on your own Xerneas or on an opponents Xerneas. This seems like a win more strategy to me but when you pull it off you almost always win the game.

If you want to be successful early on then your team will need to be ready for Xerneas. I don’t know if Xerneas usage will drop off as the format develops and players find better ways to handle it, but for now it is the first Pokemon you should be thinking about when you make a team.

Primal Groudon

600px-383Groudon-PrimalCommon Items: Red Orb
Common Moves: Precipice Blades, Earth Power, Earthquake, Eruption, Overheat, Flamethrower, Fire Punch, Rock Slide, Protect

Primal Groudon becomes a Ground/Fire type, which makes it immune to burn and gives it Fire STAB to take advantage of in the harsh sun. Being a Fire type gives Groudon a resistance to Fairy attacks, a major boon in a format where Xerneas is threatening to sweep with Geomancy. Primal Groudon’s new ability, Desolate Land, summons harsh sunlight. Harsh sunlight has all the effects of regular sun, except now damaging Water moves have no effect. This weather condition remains in effect as long as the user of Desolate Land remains in play and can only be replaced by the abilities of Primal Kyogre and Mega Rayquaza.

With a base 180 attack stat and a 150 special attack stat, Groudon has some choices with its move set. Physical Groudon gets to take advantage of the higher base stat and most restricted Pokemon are hit harder by physical attacks (the most notable exception being other Groudon). I would liken special Groudon to special Landorus-T last format. You’ll have a distinct advantage in some common match-ups but are weaker overall. Mixed Groudon is also perfectly viable. Even with an Adamant/Jolly nature Groudon’s Eruption is going to deal with a ton of damage at full HP.

There is no reason to use any item other than Red Orb on Groudon. If you stick with normal Groudon you’re going to have trouble with the next Pokemon on the list.

Primal Kyogre

600px-382Kyogre-PrimalCommon Items: Blue Orb
Common Moves: Origin Pulse, Water Spout, Ice Beam, Thunder, Protect

Primal Kyogre doesn’t change as drastically as Primal Groudon does. Primal Kyogre has similar stat boosts to Groudon, but doesn’t change its type. Primal Kyogre’s new signature ability, Primordial Sea, summons heavy rain. Heavy Rain has the same properties as rain but also causes damaging fire moves to fail. Like harsh sunlight, heavy rain remains in play as long as the user of Primordial Sea does or it is replaced with Desolate Land or Delta Stream.

Kyogre also got a new signature move, Origin Pulse. This move has base 110 power, 85% accuracy and hits both of the opponent’s Pokemon. Kyogre also has Water Spout, which has 100% accuracy and 150 power but gets weaker as Kyogre takes damage. Water Spout is stronger than Origin Pulse so long as Kyogre has at least 73% of its HP remaining. Kyogre commonly carries both of these moves so it can chose which downside it wishes to content with. Ice Beam is almost always the third move for coverage.

Kyogre’s interaction with Groudon is going to be a big part of this format. The two Primal Pokemon are the strongest in the format and their abilities directly interfere with each other. Groudon needs Desolate Land to protect it from Kyogre’s Water attacks while Kyogre needs Primordial Sea to use it STAB Water moves. Because of this moves that interact with abilities will be a big part of the format. If Xerneas was the first thing you should think about when team-building, then Groudon and Kyogre are the second thing you should consider.

(Mega) Rayquaza

600px-384Rayquaza-MegaCommon Items: Life Orb, Focus Sash, Lum Berry
Common Moves: Dragon Ascent, Draco Meteor, Extreme Speed, Waterfall, Water Pulse, Flamethrower, Protect

If you weren’t moaning about Mega Rayquaza being broken when the 2016 rules were announced you can give yourself a pat on the back. I don’t see it dominating the format like it did in Smogon’s Uber tier. Remember that it is harder for something to be broken in doubles because it is much harder to pull off set-up moves effectively. While Rayquaza isn’t as powerful as it is in singles it is still one of the strongest Pokemon in the format.

In base form Rayquaza has Air Lock which negates the effects of weather. This means you’ll be able to hit Groudon with Water moves and Kyogre can’t protect its Steel type partners from Fire attacks. As a mega Rayquaza gets Delta Stream, which summons strong winds. Strong winds removes all the weaknesses of Flying types while the user remains on the field. That means Rayquaza only takes 2x damage from Ice attacks, neutral damage from Rock attacks and resists Electric moves. This helps out with M-Rayquaza’s average 105 / 100 / 100 bulk (keep in mind this is exactly the same as Mega Kangaskhan). Delta Stream also benefits other Flying types in play, so if you have a team filled with Flying types you haven’t necessarily stacked a bunch of weaknesses together.

Rayquaza’s attack and special attack stats are a massive 180. Since the introduction of mega evolutions these kinds of base stats aren’t that uncommon anymore but Rayquaza gets to hold an item as well. Life Orb boosts Rayquaza’s already high damage output and can OHKO several Pokemon if they aren’t EV’d to survive it. Focus Sash and Lum Berry are also good items with obvious utility. Rayquaza has a wide move pool to work with. Dragon Ascent is required in order to mega evolve and is also the best physical move available. Draco Meteor is the strongest Dragon move available and does great damage even without investment. Waterfall and Water Pulse give Rayquaza an easy way to KO Groudon and Rayquaza has an easy time circumventing harsh sun. Flamethrower and Overheat provide great coverage against Steel types and Rayquaza can bypass the effects of heavy rain. Extreme Speed has +2 priority and lets Rayquaza go before Pranksters, Sucker Punch and even Follow Me.

*Pro-tip: When using Life Orb it may be beneficial to have a 29 HP IV. This way you reach 179 HP instead of 180. This reduces the amount of Life Orb recoil you take.

Honourable Mentions

Yveltal: The title legendary from Pokemon Y is a mirror of Xerneas in terms of base stats and ability.Foul Play is incredibly strong in this format and Yveltal’s ability boosts the power of all Dark moves by 33%. If you rely on Foul Play as your main source of damage you could even invest entirely in speed and bulk. Yveltal has several other useful moves like Knock Off, Sucker Punch, Oblivion Wing, Tailwind and Taunt.

Ho-Oh: Ho-Oh can wall most Groudon and Xerneas thanks to its typing and great bulk. Considering these two are the most common combination of restricted Pokemon it isn’t too hard to justify using Ho-Oh. Ho-Oh also has Sacred Fire, which carries a 50% burn rate that nothing wants to take. I would liken Ho-Oh to Mega Venusaur in 2014. It doesn’t have the offence to match other Pokemon in its class but it has fantastic bulk and become incredibly difficult for some teams to KO.

Palkia: I’ve been seeing a Palkia/Groudon/Smeargle/Mawile team on Showdown somewhat frequently. Smeargle acts as cover for Palkia to set up Trick Room. Once Trick Room goes up Palkia can set up Gravity which allows Groudon to sweep with Precipice Blades. This team seems solid enough and could get stronger in the future with more time for refinement.

Mega Pokemon:

Kangaskhan

Kangaskhan-MegaCommon Items: Kangaskhanite
Common Moves: Double-Edge, Return/Frustration, Low Kick, Power-Up-Punch, Sucker Punch, Fake Out

Kangaskhan is no longer the strongest in the format now that we have the restricted Pokemon, but it will likely remain the most popular mega evolution for the same reason is was so dominate in 2014 and 2015. Being a Normal type leaves Kangaskhan with only one weakness, and Fighting moves are only common on Kangaskhan right now. Kangaskhan is faster most of the restricted Pokemon, only being out sped by Mewtwo, Mega Rayquaza and Lugia (and speed ties with Palkia).

Now that we have restricted Pokemon Kangaskhan no longer feels like the star of the team, but Kangaskhan is no stranger to supporting its teammates. Fake Out is as useful as ever, and while Kangaskhan isn’t the fastest user of the move nothing else is going to deal 25% with Fake Out. Kangaskhan is also the bulkiest Fake Out user, being the only one I can think of that doesn’t need Focus Sash to survive an attack. Kangaskhan can also KO Focus Sash Pokemon by itself which is very relevant this format.

Salamence

Salamence-MegaCommon Items: Salamencite
Common Moves: Hyper Voice, Double-Edge, Draco Meteor, Tailwind, Protect

Like Kangaskhan, Salamence is another strong mega that will continue to be good in the new format, and like Kangaskhan it also feels like it is more about support than being the star of the team. Intimidate has become a rare ability in this format, and Salamence is one of the stronger Pokemon to possess it. Salamence can also set up Tailwind for its teammates, which can punish defensive play and shift momentum in your favour.

Salamence does well against many of the restricted Pokemon in the format. Salamence’s typing makes it immune or resistant to both of Groudon’s STAB moves. Salamence is faster than all of the restricted Dragon types in the format (and can scout for Choice Scarf thanks to their abilities) and threatens them with Draco Meteor. Hyper Voice softens up Pokemon for the rest of the team, while Double-Edge does a solid chunk against pretty much everything. Flamethrower and Fire Blast are always available to help with with Steel types.

The one concern I have with Salamence is that it doesn’t do much to stop Xerneas from setting up. If you lead Salamence and your opponent leads Xerneas and Fake Out then you’re not stopping the Geomancy. Because of this I see Salamence being a secondary mega evolution this year, unless the team already has answers to Xerneas.

Gengar

Gengar-MegaCommon Items: Gengarite, Focus Sash
Common Moves: Shadow Ball, Sludge Bomb, Icy Wind, Disable, Taunt, Will-O-Wisp, Skill Swap, Protect

Shadow Tag is a very strong ability this format (I mean, its always really good but thats beside the point). Weather wars are going to be huge this season and preventing your opponent’s Primal Groudon/Kyogre from switching out can give you near perfect control of the weather (Skill Swap and Role Play still mess with things).

Whimsicott and Liepard are obvious partners for Mega Gengar. Encore has fantastic synergy with Disable and Shadow Tag. Fake Tears turns Shadow Ball and Sludge Bomb into OHKOs on several Pokemon but some of the bulkier Pokemon like Primal Kyogre can’t be OHKO’d by the combo. These strategies are effective on the Showdown ladder and at lower level events but are less likely to succeed at Nationals and Worlds.

Gengar can also help out the team in normal form. Skill Swap + Levitate is a very useful combo for controlling weather and opponents are less likely to see it coming from Gengar. Gengar can out speed and OHKO Xerneas with a Life Orb Sludge Bomb and is immune to Fake Out. Gengar also has Taunt, Will-O-Wisp, Icy Wind and Trick Room as additional options.

Mawile

Mawile-Mega

Common Items: Mawilite
Common Moves: Iron Head, Play Rough, Sucker Punch, Protect

Mega Mawile was part of the big three mega evolutions in 2014 due to its good Kangaskhan match-up. In 2015 Pokemon like Heatran and Landorus drove Mawile into niche territory as a mega for dedicated Trick Room teams. While Mawile will likely stay as a mega meant for Trick Room teams it looks to be stronger than in 2015.

Like Salamence, Mawile has the rare Intimidate ability before it mega evolves. Being a Fairy type, Mawile benefits from Xerneas being on the field with Fairy Aura boosting the power of Play Rough.

The biggest issue I see with Mawile is that it has poor defences and can’t survive attacks from Groudon and Kyogre. Mawile will still be great on Trick Room teams, but you’ll have to be more careful keeping Mawile healthy. Being able to counter Xerneas is reason enough to consider Mawile.

Unrestricted Pokemon:

After you’ve picked your 2 restricted Pokemon and mega evolutions, you’l still have 2-4 slots left to be filled. For the most part these Pokemon won’t be going head to head with your opponents restricted and mega Pokemon, but will be supporting the team with speed control, redirection, Fake Out and other disruptive moves.

Here are some of the more common non-restricted Pokemon:

Pranksters

There were a number of Pokemon I was going to write about but Mark beat me to the punch. I suggest you give his post a read, most of his explanations are more in-depth than mine were going to be.

Cresselia

CresseliaCommon Items: Sitrus Berry, Mental Herb
Common Moves: Trick Room, Skill Swap, Helping Hand, Psychic, Ice Beam, Icy Wind, Gravity, Thunder Wave, Magic Coat

Like in 2015, Cresselia is the premiere Trick Room setter in the format. Trick Room will likely be a popular option for teams as it keeps Xerneas in check. Cresselia gets Skill Swap, which allows either primal reversion to beat the other (and gives your Groudon the advantage in the mirror). Resetting weather is very important this format and giving a Pokemon Levitate is also useful.

Bronzong

Common Items: Sitrus Berry, Lum Berry, Mental Hern
Common Moves: Trick Room, Skill Swap, Gyro Ball, Gravity

Bronzong is a Pokemon that has been seeing play on Trick Room teams with Kyogre. Like Cresselia, Bronzong can set up Trick Room and Skill Swap Levitate onto its partner.Bronzong has worse stats than Cresselia, but being a Steel type gives Bronzong some useful resistances and more importantly, STAB Gyro Ball. Bronzong can simply use Trick Room against Xerneas and if it used Geomancy it can be OHKO’d by Gyro Ball. Being weak to Fire is a notable downside to being a Steel type, but when paired with Kyogre this weakness can be worked around.

Togekiss 

Togekiss

Common Items: Sitrus Berry, Lum Berry, Mental Hern
Common Moves: Follow Me, Tailwind, Air Slash, Thunder Wave, Protect

Canada’s signature Pokemon has a more prominent role in the 2016 metagame than in 2015. Last year Togekiss had a hard time dealing with the omnipresence of Landorus and Thundurus. Landorus saw a Togekiss and said “I might as well Rock Slide now” which just got you flinched to death while Thundurus could Taunt it and hit it super effectively. While these two aren’t removed from the format you won’t be seeing them nearly as much as before. Last year Clefairy/Clefable were more popular Follow Me partners thanks to their lack of weaknesses as pure Fairy types. With Mega Rayquaza and Delta Stream Togekiss losses the weaknesses it had as a Flying type while retaining the resistances and immunities.

In terms of base stats Togekiss is the bulkiest Follow Me user available. In addition to this Togekiss isn’t weak to any of the common restricted Pokemon’s STAB moves and is difficult to OHKO. Togekiss brings speed control to the team and can flinch slower opponents with Air Slash.

AmoongussAmoonguss

Common Items: Sitrus Berry, Occa Berry, Rocky Helmet, Mental Hern
Common Moves: Rage Powder, Spore, Grass Knot, Sludge Bomb, Clear Smog, Protect

While Togekiss is making a resurgence Amoonguss is no worse for wear this year. Amoonguss is fantastic on and against Trick Room teams and instead of having Air Slash to go for Serene Grace flinches it has the more reliable Spore. While Amoonguss can be hit for super effective damage from Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza it isn’t weak to Steel, which is nice in a format trying to counter Xerneas. Being a poison type affords Amoonguss a resistance to Fairy, giving it more breathing room against Xerneas. Grass Knot is now the best Grass move for Amoonguss, dealing good damage to Kyogre and Groudon. Clear Smog is another move that is usable this format. After a Xerneas has used Geomancy you can remove its boosts to keep it under control.

Ditto

Common Items: Focus Sash, Choice Scarf
Common Moves: Transform, Could know Tombstoner but you’d never find out

While Ditto would normally be seen as a joke Pokemon, its surprisingly decent this format. With the Imposter ability Ditto will transform into one of the opponent’s Pokemon when it is sent into battle. The Pokemon Ditto transforms into will be the Pokemon directly across from it. If Ditto is sent out on your left it will copy the opponent’s Pokemon on your left (or their right) and vice-versa. Since your opponent will likely have two restricted Pokemon and a mega evolution there is a high chance that your unrestricted Pokemon just turned into something stronger than what you could’ve used naturally.

Ditto will also retain the stat changes of the Pokemon it turns into. You could always send it out against a Xerneas after it used Geomancy and get a +2/+2/+2 Xerneas of your own. Using Ditto also allows you to see what moves one of your opponent’s Pokemon has. Be wary of using Ditto in weather wars, as transforming into an opposing Groudon/Kyogre will summon their weather.

The main downside of Ditto that keeps it from being a serious choice is that it has no natural synergy with your team. If you ever find yourself with a 5 Pokemon team that doesn’t seem to need a 6th member you could always slap a Ditto on the team and see what happens.

*Thanks to JHufself for clearing up how Imposter works.

Smeargle

Common Items: Focus Sash, Choice Scarf
Common Moves: Dark Void, Follow Me, Spiky Shield, Transform, Fake Out

I’ll take this opportunity to express my opinion on Dark Void. Every season when the rules are announced there are a number of players asking for Dark Void to be banned. I’m of the opinion that Dark Void is terrible for the game and shouldn’t exist in a competitive environment. This move introduces a lot of RNG into the game between the accuracy and sleep turns. At the same time, I think we can give up hope that Dark Void will be banned. TPCI has been listening to the player-base and making improvement to the tournament structure and CP system. Their stance on Dark Void appears to be “this isn’t actually winning so it isn’t harmful to the competitive environment”. With that in mind, beating Dark Void is now the responsibility of the players.

The strength of Smeargle is that its hard to prevent its partner from setting up without getting hit by Dark Void. When you see a Smeargle and a Xerneas looking to Geomancy or a Palkia looking to Trick Room it can be hard to decide which is more important to stop. Aside from Dark Void Smeargle has plenty of other moves to use. Follow Me is a consistent way to protect your partner. Transform allows Smeargle to become a threat of its own after using Dark Void. Smeargle is one of those Pokemon that doesn’t need to come to games to be good. If your opponent’s team has options that make it hard for Smeargle to do its job then you simply leave Smeargle behind and benefit from an opponent hamstrung into leading with an anti-Smeargle lead that has a poor match-up against the rest of your team.

Conclusion:

I hope this has been useful as a primer for the 2016 format. I’ve only scratched the surface of the format with this post. I’ve been writing this over the last couple weeks and I’ve been constantly rewriting sections as the metagame evolves.

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