Hey there Hat Lovers,
Heading into Spring Regionals, we’ve got what I think has become a more balanced metagame, albeit with a format that is still very punishing against slight misplays. The rise of Dual Primals with Bronzong has been a huge boon to the format’s balance, as this team has a great matchup against Big 6. As a result, Big 6 players are finally being forced to reconsider their team composition and figure out if there’s a way to modify their “goodstuffs” archetype to help deal with these new threats. Of course there are other teams that are popular right now, including some up-and-coming archetypes.
Today’s article is going to be an overview of the team archetypes popular today, and a glimpse into those teams that aren’t yet as well-developed.
Teams to watch for
Big 6 started the format as the most dominant archetype pre-Winter Regionals, and justified its hype immediately sweeping through the Virginia Regionals Top Cut. Throughout Winter Regionals Big 6-like archetypes continued to do very well, including another win in Oregon under the guidance of Randy Kwa and his famous Espeon (substituted for Kangaskhan). This is also the team I have played the most, and feel the most comfortable writing about.
The strength of this team is that Smeargle + Xerneas is a fantastic lead against both inexperienced opponents, and surprisingly even veterans of the game if you can catch them adjusting. The combination of both Fake Out and Follow Me on one Pokemon allows for very easy opportunities to set up Geomancy; not to mention the ever-present threat of Dark Void against slower targets.
But the team also uses special Salamence to aid its Groudon matchup, and Talonflame and Kangaskhan to aid its everything matchup. The win button is just a strong way to say: “No, you don’t get to KO me without repercussions. At worst I get to Brave Bird you for 50-70% of your HP.”
As far as the Groudon set, at the beginning of the format I was a huge fan of Special Groudon for its advantage in the mirror. But it’s hard to ignore the benefits of physical Groudon against Kyogre and opposing Xerneas. At this point, it seems like Physical is the way to go and there isn’t much argument to run Special or even mixed anymore.
Probably the big debate is what Rock move Groudon should be running, with the most popular two being Rock Slide and Rock Tomb. Rock Slide is a boon to any team when it’s coming off a Base 180 attack stat, and especially so with Speed control. But Rock Tomb’s accuracy, its ability to get around Wide Guard, and its speed control are also much appreciated in this format. Really any form of speed control is worth looking at right now, and any time a Pokemon can help itself and the team out, you can expect to see someone running it. The last consideration for Groudon’s Rock move is Stone Edge, but its low accuracy turns most players off considering Precipice Blades is already 85% accurate, and running both would leave Groudon with only Fire Punch as an accurate move.
There are ways to play with the team composition that have worked for some people, notably Randy using Espeon but additionally Regionals saw Shaun Martin use a Clefable over Salamence, which brought Helping Hand to the team as well as an alternate Follow Me support Pokemon. Cresselia to offer a Trick Room mode has also been popular. Busting out of such a comfortable archetype is tough, but moving forward the team needs answers to Dual Primals with Bronzong, and the current 6 mons aren’t cutting it. One Pokemon that gives Dual Primals fits is Thundurus, whose only natural enemy in the format is P-Groudon. What to sub out for Thundurus? It’s heartbreaking, but the only real options are either Smeargle or Talonflame, and Smeargle is pretty important for the default strats.
Dual Primals was rumbling about during the start of Regionals but Aaron Zheng’s 1st place finish in California would go on to become an archetype establisher. Aaron’s team used Bronzong over the more traditional Cresselia (an idea I hear he got from PokeAlex?), which offers the team a Trick Room setter that can actually do something to deal with Smeargle+Xerneas. Against Cresselia, the Big 6 could use Fake Out wisely, and even run slow Smeargle to burn Trick Room turns and give Xerneas opportunities to attack. But with Bronzong in the mix, Dual Primals has a threat that can chunk Xerneas hard, meaning the partner can do more than just Helping Hand.
The debate on Dual Primals teams nowadays is largely about which Mega works better for the metagame, and finnicky decisions about movesets. Salamence has really proven itself to be a fantastic Mega for VGC 2016, having a great matchup against Groudon while also being able to chunk Kyogre massively with Double-Edge. It offers the team Intimidate, and a strong spread move. But the alternate Mega that blends better with the team’s Trick Room mode is unsettled, with the major options being Kangaskhan and Mawile. These two offer different strengths you can read about in Kelvin, Max, and Rapha’s tournament report.
What folks might not know as much about if they haven’t played the archetype is just how it plays in the mirror and against teams like RayOgre. The mirror match between Dual Primals forces players into bringing Thundurus, as Bronzong is abysmal in the matchup. Alongside Thundurus, Salamence is a potent threat, and this can be countered with a Mawile should the team run one. The potential Hidden Power Water on Thundurus is a game-changer in how things will progress, as well as if Kyogre has Scald or something like Origin Pulse. But probably the biggest awkwardness arises from determining who has the speed advantage amongst Primals. If you outspeed the opponent’s Primals, you start the match with the momentum as your opponent is forced into attempting speed control while you get to just start attacking.
Against RayOgre establishing speed control is key. Both Kangaskhan and Mawile can both chunk the major RayOgre components for big damage, but Mawile requires more support. I’m a fan of the Thundurus route, as I think Thunder Wave is immensely good when you don’t have to worry about P-Groudon on the field. Often RayOgre teams can carry the M-Gengar/Crobat combination, which also ruins Bronzong’s day. But even if they don’t, opposing Thundurus can make it hard to justify bringing Bronzong. The matchup really comes down to how well the Dual Primals player can establish speed control, and what tricks the RayOgre player has up their sleeve to prevent that from happening.
As an archetype, I’m partial to RayOgre, but I don’t think it’s really found its mojo yet. The above 5 Pokemon I’ve chosen to represent it aren’t even an absolute standard for RayOgre teams, as many opt for Talonflame over Crobat, some use Pokemon with redirection like Togekiss or Smeargle, and others have even been seen running Cresselia or Bronzong for Trick Room support! Brandon Myers made it to the finals of Oregon Regionals using Ludicolo’s Swift Swim as an immediate form of speed control on one of the more unique RayOgre teams to come out of Regionals.
It’s really tough to talk about the archetype in general terms, but you can expect a Steel type with Gyro Ball to round out that empty slot. Outside of that, the team relies on the ability to disrupt opponents with a number of its staple Pokemon (Gengar, Crobat, Thundurus, Talonflame, … Smeargle even) while simultaneously pouring on pressure against opposing Groudon teams.
The combination of M-Gengar and Crobat received a lot of hype as a counter to the Big 6, but after some minor adjustments, I never found it to be all that bad. Granted, I ran Icy Wind on Kangaskhan to give myself an additional option, but Max and I found a number of ways that Big 6 could respond to that lead combination and while we didn’t like the matchup, we always felt that it was at least about 50/50. I don’t expect M-Gengar/Crobat to continue to work against Big 6 teams, but it is still a fabulous combo to scare off Smeargle/Xerneas, and both Pokemon can contribute to the team even without their default partner; Gengar more than Crobat.
Expect Rayquaza to hold off on Mega evolving when facing this team, as even when it’s not about maintaining weather control against Groudon, in some matches the team may opt to Mega evolve the alternate Mega instead. I think a big shift that Rayquaza made in its build was to ditch the Life Orb and run Focus Sash instead. Focus Sash lets Rayquaza survive against opposing Xerneas, which means it can Dragon Ascent one turn and then Extreme Speed the next. That combination of moves out-damages a single Life Orb-boosted Dragon Ascent in the first place, and so Focus Sash’s damage output can seem disappointing, but it’s really not. In this format where we keep looking for cheap ways to KO big threats, having a Pokemon like M-Ray that cannot be knocked out in one hit is fantastic.
The alternate mode for RayOgre seems to be the Japanese-inspired archetype of RayOgre with Weavile as a partner. On this team, Rayquaza holds a Choice Band, and Weavile provides both Fake Out and Feint support to let Rayquaza dominate. I think this team is one of the versions I’m most afraid of, but haven’t had a terrible time dealing with. It’s just one of those scary match-ups that can really go south quickly, but a well-built team has the tools to deal with.
Boom Room is the name Rapha introduced to the Remoroom at Oregon Regionals, and the team was later piloted by Wolfe Glick to a Regionals victory. I don’t think the team is near as strong once you know its quirks, but knowing those quirks is the first battle. If you’re unfamiliar with the common leads of the team, it aims to lead with Telepathy Dialga and Banded Landorus-T, and can use Trick Room and Explosion on turn 1 to remove Landorus from the field and bring in a sweeper. The power is devastating if it catches you off guard.
That said, Boom Room isn’t a one-trick pony. There are plenty of instances where Landorus-T can instead simply Banded Earthquake to deal major damage, and Dialga can opt to not set up Trick Room to avoid falling into an opponent’s trap. This prevents the option of simply Double Protecting and letting Landorus-T implode on turn 1. The team uses Salamence/Thundurus as alternate leads as well, which is a theme on successful team archetypes recently if you hadn’t noticed. I mean… it was a great lead last year on Max and my rain team too, so it isn’t actually a new combo borne from VGC 2016.
While it was cute at the time, I think Boom Room now suffers from Dialga’s underwhelming capacity as an attacker. A lot of Boom Room mimic teams have sprung up using a Life Orb Dialga instead, which aims to catch opponents off guard with surprising offence. But I haven’t found these to be more effective, since once I find out they don’t have Trick Room, I’m usually in a fine position to wrestle out a win.
The last two Pokemon are effectively potatoes, but if you want a Pokemon that’s just good against anything, throw Thundurus into the mix. And if you don’t want to get destroyed by Xerneas, then Wolfe used Ferrothorn too. Seems legit.
Matt Coyle was the most successful user of this archetype in Winter Regionals, rounding it out with Crobat and Amoonguss. But amongst all the Groudon/Yveltal teams I’ve seen, these four are the major core. Yveltal’s strength lies in its impressive Snarl, and powerful Sucker Punch. It’s not a Pokemon players have really figured out yet, but it seems like the bulky route with Foul Play is a choice that some folks have gravitated towards. Others who invest heavily in Yveltal’s Special Attack for Snarl damage may opt for Dark Pulse (I’m a fan of the Dark Pulse route, though I think Max was last using bulky Yveltal with Foul Play). Scarfed Yveltal with Oblivion Wing can also be tough to deal with, and beautiful to watch (<3 that animation).
An alternative Yveltal archetype that might start seeing some hype is Yveltal in combination with M-Manectric. One night Max and I were team-building and I suggested M-Manectric as a fun way to abuse Snarl and also Volt Switch to improve the weather war and cycle Intimidates. The team was actually a lot of fun, and while we didn’t pursue it too much further amidst busy times in our lives, we weren’t the only players eyeing M-Manectric.
Cristoph Kugeler won a European Regionals with Manectric/Yveltal, opting for Kyogre instead of our Groudon choice. In retrospect, this makes a lot of sense as opposing Groudon have a terrible time against Yveltal in the rain, and Yveltal, Manectric, and Kyogre have a field day against opposing Kyogre. Christoph prepared for the Big 6 matchup using a combination of Focus Sash Gengar and Ferrothorn, while Landorus-T can bring Intimidate while also dealing big damage to opposing Xerneas, and Groudon. I haven’t played the team much yet, but I’m excited to tweak it to my liking, as I really like the concept and Yveltal/Manectric is really fun to play.
Kyurem-White and Gravity
This isn’t really a team I expect to win big this Spring, but it’s definitely a team to watch out for. You may also see Sableye as an alternate Gravity user. The big threat this team poses is being totally unaware of its goals. Often Kyurem-W is scarfed, and can get a scarfed Blizzard off with 100% accuracy before you get a chance to move. But the strategy is a bit frail by itself, and the team as an archetype struggles to find more than its core gimmick. Gravity users benefit from being able to use highly accurate Grasswhistle, Swagger, or Will-o-Wisp as well.
Kyurem-White isn’t a bad Pokemon; of this I am convinced. But I feel like people are still fumbling around in the dark trying to make it work. I think there could be a seriously good team built around Kyurem-White this Spring, but I don’t expect it to be this archetype. That all said, I’m still unsure if Kyurem-W is like M-Metagross was in VGC 2015; a Pokemon folks used for whatever reason we justified, that is destined to fall into obscurity. If Kyurem-W does end up succeeeding, I think it will likely be either a Life Orb or Focus Sash variant that rises out of obscurity. Its access to Earth Power and STAB ice attacks make it a unique force in the metagame, so we’ll just have to see what happens.
I think most general Kyurem-W archetypes have used Kangaskhan as a core Mega, but there are always exceptions. Talonflame and/or Groudon appear on a lot of Kyurem-W teams, but Kyogre and Thundurus are also quite possible. The team needs a good answer to Xerneas, which many people used Ferrothorn for in the past. I’m not sure if folks will continue using Ferrothorn, or perhaps adopt Bronzong as an alternate Gravity user that can also Gyro Ball for big damage and maybe even offer speed control to non-scarfed Kyurem-W.
Gimmicks and Niche Pokemon
VGC 2016 is the year of niche Pokemon earning their time in the limelight. Never before have I witnessed so many obscure Pokemon earn Top Cut performances. This year we’ve seen Pikachu make the Top 4, Walrein Top Cut twice independently, Espeon win a Regionals, Lilligant, Arcanine, Raikou, Porygon-Z all Top Cut, and I haven’t even named all the oddball picks with that list.
This format is nothing like previous formats, and while a lot of these Pokemon can attribute some of their success to the team they were put on, they certainly have a niche to fill. The primals and restricteds are such centralizing forces that you can often dedicate a single slot on your team to specifically counter-teaming a bad matchup. I think that we’ll continue to see surprising Pokemon pop up in Top Cuts here or there, and it’s exciting to see.
What I’m really interested in is seeing which surprising stars from Winter Regionals pop up again in the Spring. There were plenty of Pokemon that saw a massive upswing in usage from 2015 to 2016; pokemon like Crobat and Smeargle. But there may be some gems that have a truly unique role in the metagame that are just waiting to cement themselves. I for one think that M-Manectric is due to see more success as a very solid partner to Yveltal, and a valuable user of Intimidate. But maybe I just want a throwback to VGC 2014.
Regionals are coming up and while there are still Pokemon I could be talking about (e.g. Mewtwo), I think I’ll leave it there for now. Be sure to tune in this Saturday for the Washington Regionals stream! I’ll be commentating both days, joined by JTK on Sunday!