VGC 2016 Retrospective

Started by: Max
Hello Hat Lovers!

Today we look back on the VGC 2016 format before Sun & Moon are released and we move on to the new format.

UmbreonMax: I realized at the end of 2015 that no matter how much I like a format, I crave a new metagame to dive into each year. Since I started playing seriously in 2014, every year has had a drastically different format. When the 2016 format was announced I was optimistic. I did worry the format would out stay its welcome a little bit, but at the time I was eager for a new format.

The weird thing about this format is that we had a high quality team right off the bat. By the time the format officially started Big 6 had already been discovered. By February I had lost interest in team-building and was settled on playing Big 6 until there was a compelling reason to stop. Using your early 2014 or 2015 team would’ve been suicide at worlds, yet this year I faced an opponent at worlds who could have had their team made before the format officially started. That early period where everyone is bad and I can get away with using my favourites (see my Oregon Regionals 2015 team) was something I missed out on this year, effectively eliminating the joy of a new format that I desired.

One major complaint about this format is the heavy reliance on RNG. Early on in the season I made a post defending the 2016 format citing the drastic drop off in moves like Rock Slide and Swagger counterbalancing the added RNG of inaccurate moves, speed ties and Moody. While I’m less inclined to defend the format now, I still agree with the points I made. Inaccurate moves were hard to avoid using this year, but it was still possible to make good teams that weren’t reliant on them (though it was harder than previous formats). Speed ties also weren’t nearly as big a deal by the end of the format as they were at the start.

Smeargle’s presence has been the most detrimental factor in the format. I’ve always been of the opinion that Dark Void shouldn’t be a thing in VGC but its not enough of an issue to warrant complaint. Smeargle not only adds a lot of RNG to the game because of Dark Void and Moody, but as its sets diversified over the year it became even harder to account for every move it could potentially use. I think this format would’ve been much better had Smeargle been banned. This would’ve cut down the amount of games that got decided by RNG and prevented many games from being decided on turn 1.

My problem with the format is that I just didn’t enjoy how games often played out. The power the restricted Pokemon bring meant that games could be decided in a single turn. It isn’t rare for a game to come down to a coin flip decision on the first turn, though the more successful players this year were able to mitigate this. I wouldn’t call 2016 a terrible format, but going back to 2015 made me realize how much less I enjoy it compared to previous formats.

zvvr0rhRapha: The format was a struggle for me in many ways. For as much as I dislike playing 2016, I’ve moved beyond calling 2016 an objectively bad format. I realized after a while that much of our complaints in regards to rule sets tend to be entirely player related; meaning, many of the issues we had with performance came down to our own player flaws. That’s not to say that everyone who did poorly this year is a bad player, but I think the more telling reason is that a lot of habits and tendencies that saw success in previous years may not have been as conducive to doing well this year.

The biggest issue for me this season had to do with the sheer strength of the restricted Pokemon, as well as Smeargle. I’m not going to preach to the choir about how obnoxious Dark Void and Moody can be. A lot of my problems with Smeargle as a Pokemon has to do with how easy to was it to guess wrong about its set and what it will do and be punished heavily for it. I don’t even mean just making general mistakes, which are often avoidable. With Smeargle, there was just never a safe, low-risk play to cover the possibility of all of Wide Guard, Follow Me, Spiky Shield, and Dark Void on any given turn, in addition to having to cover for more niche moves like Transform, Taunt, and Fake Out. Then there’s even more guessing involved when it comes down to its item. For every counter play to Smeargle, there were at least three other different things it could do to counter its counters. This is especially problematic when you consider that Smeargle’s partner required a great deal of attention as well, because of how the presence of restricted Pokemon made it far too easy to give up significant damage with any sort of misstep.

How this relates to me specifically, though, is that I generally like to play as safe (this is not the same thing as “obvious”) as possible, which in turn leads me to being far more comfortable with teams that are bulkier and rely on speed control. This approach was a problem for me this year because of how slower Pokemon tend to get bent over by Dark Void, and speed control sometimes didn’t matter because of how obnoxiously strong priority attacks were with Yveltal teams.

Even with all that said, I fully acknowledge that my struggles this season can be blamed on my failure to adapt to the format. There were plenty of players that saw consistent success this year, proving that it was possible to master such a volatile rule set, and there were plenty of teams that I could have been comfortable with had I found them when I needed to. Beyond that, there was even the BattleSpot ladder going down which I struggled with, because I never found myself to be comfortable practicing on PS. I look back on my losses at events this year and understand that there were so many more things I could have done to change the outcome. I think the format is flawed, but even then, I struggled because I really just did not adapt. It was a trying season for me and a lot of other people, but maybe this year will hammer home the point even more in Sun and Moon that we need to be more concerned with finding solutions than finding excuses.

Team_Aqua_Crawdaunt_CrabhammerMark: I don’t know how qualified I am to be writing on this, given that I last prepared for a tournament seriously in February… but I think that perspective might be a bit telling of the format. I can agree with Rapha’s sentiment about not being able to adapt. But in my case, it was more of an unwillingness to adapt. I wasn’t enjoying games near as much. I started off by testing a bunch of random ideas and ended up playing Big 6 at Oregon Regionals going 5-2. But by that point, the monotonous pattern of “set up Xerneas, sweep” was incredibly bland. Bronzong was just blossoming as a counter (with Dual Primals), and Dual Primals won the MSS that I attended after Oregon (Kelvin!).

I just realized what I disliked so much about this format. No matter the team you used, the battle pattern was “set up and sweep.” That’s not VGC… that’s Smogon singles. Be it Trick Room, Geomancy, or Swords Dance, you just set up and sweep. Combine that with inaccurate moves (e.g. Blades, Pulse) and there’s just too much punish for one turn or for RNG. The successful players this year found ways to break an opponent’s setup, but having to do that every single game is a very different style of VGC than I enjoy. The major problem with this year was the overwhelming power of the Restricteds. Last year, you’d have things like Tailwind, but that was manageable because you could switch in to kill momentum. This year, Intimidate was suppressed, and nothing wanted to take a P-Blades, Dazzling Gleam, or full-HP Water Spout. Red Card fairy-resists became a thing, and I think that’s a great adaptation. But that arose because of the stupidly overpowered damage output in the first place. I’ll echo Max’s sentiments in that this format did not encourage teams to use accurate moves, and I’ll add that the high base damage and prevalence of setup strategies prevented games from being satisfying to play or watch (IMO).

I haven’t played VGC in 7 months. I’ve never been as try-hard as the others on this blog, but since I started playing in 2011 I have never been less interested in a format. I’m not sure which I dislike more… 2011 or 2016? I never played 2011 at a high quality; I literally played one game in a tournament setting (Seattle Regs, R1 knockout). Both had unique ‘mons and takes on sets pop up to win Worlds. But I don’t think anyone is going to look back on 2011 and defend it as being a good format. I feel like 2016 is much the same. I think that, regardless of how you felt about 2016 as it was going, the vast majority of people are going to look back on 2016 and hope it never happens again.

p.s. As an interesting concept question… I wonder what the effective Pokedex size in 2011 vs. 2016 was? Sure 2016 had a larger pool of Pokemon to select from, but how many Pokemon saw X level of success in 2011 vs. 2016. The different Regionals format makes it harder to directly compare… but I do wonder…

Charizard-Mega_YDemitri: My opinion on this format is pretty different from most other players. I do think 2016 was a good format. Inferior to the other two formats I’ve played (2014, 2015) for sure, but still a format that I constantly play and enjoy.

I don’t think an over-centralized format is necessarily bad, and I’d also argue that this format is not nearly as centralized as most make it out to be. Yes, Groudon is used a lot, but the large amount of different viable sets it can run gives it its own form of variety. Compare Groudon to Garchomp in 2014 or Pre-Worlds Landorus in 2015, and there’s a big difference. Rayquaza had quite a few different viable items and became one of the least centralized megas set-wise that we’ve ever had. Even Xerneas ended up having some variety with the bulky set rising up towards the middle of the season. This variety within some movesets and spreads kept the format interesting for me all year, and a smaller metagame Pokémon-wise meant I was able to cover everything necessary with a well-built team as well, which was nice. The metagame was constantly developing as well, with archetypes like RayDon or XernOgre going from nonexistent to pretty successful.

This format was definitely centered more around the luck aspect of Pokemon though, which is something I disliked. Things like Moody, Dark Void’s accuracy, Groudon’s only viable physical ground move having 85 accuracy, or Thunder being used in weather other than rain really hurt the format for me. It was definitely possible to the adapt to this to a certain point, but playing games decided entirely by sleep turns or accuracy was unavoidable and even pretty common this year. A couple of my losses at tournaments this year  seemed to be out of my control, and some of my wins did not feel earned. Luck’s influence is something I want lowered for Pokémon in general, but this year was especially rough compared to 2015 and 2014.

2016 was not the best format, but it wasn’t necessarily bad either. I think a lot of the negative opinions on the format aren’t entirely correct. I personally still enjoy the format a lot. I’m not sad to see it go though, especially with how amazing 2017 looks like it will be.

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