The rules for 2016’s Pokémon VGC season have finally been made known to the public, and seem to have horrified just about everyone not named Ryan Loh and Max Goh. It’s a massive break from the formats we’ve gotten cosy with over the years, unleashing the titans traditionally termed ‘Ubers’ by competitive players, which, much like the business model of the similarly-named taxi service, are Pokémon (almost) all horrifyingly broken in their own right.
Like it or not, these new rules are probably here to stay, especially for those looking to pay San Fran a visit this coming August. TPCi’s decision is a contentious one, and has been widely criticised for only further breaking a game which has already left players CHALK-bored from its lack of variety. Whether or not the new rules will aid with the desired diversification of VGC remains to be seen, and is a question that will probably only be answered much later in the season, when the metagame matures from the current period of temperamental, teenage-girl-esque volatility created by these radical changes. What is certain for now is that 2016’s metagame will be starkly different from anything we’ve ever seen before, and here’s my take on some of the tectonic (pun intended) shifts we’ll be seeing soon.
Amoonguss has been a VGC mainstay ever since its debut in 2011, and has dominated every format since, despite the creators’ relentless attempts to nerf it in the transition to XYORAS. It’s not hard to see why, with its small but precise movepool including redirection, reasonably reliable recovery and a 100% accurate sleep move, coupled with above-average bulk, a Fairy-type resistance and just enough offense to do its job. (Uninvested Amoonguss barely OHKOs 4HP Breloom with Sludge Bomb, delightfully) Equipped with a Rocky Helmet, Amoonguss proved one of the best Kangaskhan checks and single-handedly glued many successful teams together, particularly those reliant on Trick Room for speed control.
It’s strange to imagine Amoonguss falling into antiquity, but that seems like exactly what’s set to happen this season. Rayquaza’s powerful Dragon Ascent will have little trouble making short work of it, and Groudon and Kyogre’s new signature moves Precipice Blades and Origin Pulse respectively make Rage Powder less valuable than before. And should Mewtwo somehow gain traction amongst players, it’ll only make life worse for the mushroom too, with all its formes able to heavily damage Amoonguss with STAB Psychic moves, and Mewtwo-Y even rendering Spore useless with Insomnia. To top it all off, the manly firepower of Sun looks set to dominate 2016, so it’s not hard to see why the sun may finally setting on this VGC icon this year.
Another ubiquitous member of the infamous CHALK combination, Heatran has appeared on the World Champion’s team every year it’s been allowed to since 2012. Possessing an excellent Fire-Steel typing and perfectly distributed stats, which grant it just enough bulk and speed to effectively fill a variety of roles, it’s obvious why Heatran tended to emerge top pick from the relatively limited pool of viable Fire-types.
Despite being included in 2010, Heatran remained relatively unpopular through most of the season for one very good reason – it matches terribly against the weather-wielding box-art behemoths. Experienced players will know that Heatran has no place playing against rain teams, especially when Primordial Sea douses any attempts to toast steels like Ferrothorn and Mawile. And with the shining center of sun shifting from Charizard and Ninetales to the not so subtly ground-typed Groudon, what’s been traditionally a strong matchup for Heatran is suddenly looking not so sunny. Heatran may eventually emerge as a powerful Trick Room sweeper when paired with Groudon and Cresselia, providing an excellent Xerneas check with its typing, but it’s unlikely that we’ll ever see it topping usage charts at a Premier Challenge again.
Much like ‘15’s other hot pick for the role of fire-type on many teams, the utility of everyone’s childhood hero has diminished down into irrelevance with the entrance of Groudon into the metagame. No amount of nostalgia will nullify the fact that Drought has no place in this format, with the Primals round every corner. And, no, Charizard X’s typing fares no better against the imminently dominant Hoenn trio.
A new face to top tier VGC play, Milotic only ever saw substantial usage in 2015, for one simple reason – its ability Competitive made it arguably the best Landorus-T counter available. This, together with its incredible bulk and access to Recover, gave it excellent staying power and a great addition to balanced teams in need of Intimidate deterrents, with no room for the frail Bisharp.
Milotic’s weakness was its passivity, due to lackluster offensive stats and a limited movepool, which meant its damage output would be limited even after racking up a Competitive boost or two. This issue looks set to plague it further than ever in 2016, with the combination of Scald and Ice Beam coming off a mere 100 special attack doing squat to Groudon, Kyogre, Rayquaza, Xerneas, Dialga, Palkia… Getting a Competitive boost wasn’t exactly an easy task in 2015, and though it remains to be seen how essential Intimidate will prove itself this year, it’s unlikely that it’ll be easier than before with the majority of Ubers’ hard-hitters attacking from the special side of the spectrum.
Tyranitar and Abomasnow
The only members of this list to have seen significant use during the days Ubers freely roamed VGC events, Tyranitar and Abomasnow have lost their luster for the same reason Charizard-Y has – the emergence of ‘super-weathers’. Sand Stream and Snow Warning’s inability to cancel out the effects of Desolate Land and Primordial Sea render them irrelevant in a format which will likely revolve around the new-and-improved weather wars on steroids, consigning these VGC veterans’ glory days of relevance to the history books.
The Stars of Tomorrow
It’s hard to imagine Salamence being any more popular than it is now, the prime of its VGC career. The dragon of choice in both ’14 and ’15, its excellent pre-mega ability Intimidate and puke-inducingly precise and perfect stat spread post-mega make it a strong addition to almost any team.
While Salamence’s main niche in 2015 as Al-Qaeda’s weapon of choice now seems overshadowed by Rayquaza’s Dragon Ascent, there are several interesting advantages that could make it better than ever. Mega Salamence sits at 120 base speed, allowing it to outspeed Mega Rayquaza naturally and wipe it out with Draco Meteor, which secures a OHKO on 4HP Mega Rayquaza with just 52EVs in special attack and a neutral nature. This, together with the benefits Salamence receives from Delta Stream, make it an interesting option to take on the inevitably commonplace Rayquaza-centric teams. That being said, Salamence does not enjoy taking on several other likely prominent ubers such as Xerneas and Dialga, so be warned…
Thundurus and Zapdos
Electric-Flying makes for an interesting typing when paired with Delta Stream’s strong winds, temporarily removing all the weaknesses of these VGC mainstays. Experienced players will know exactly how terrifying this can be, particularly for Thundurus which becomes able to abuse its Prankster ability to spread paralysis and swagger-induced confusion with increased impunity. In (very rudimentary) theory it makes Thundurus seem an excellent partner for teams looking to pair Kyogre and Rayquaza, with the Thundy-Ray combination being able to slow and punch holes in opposing teams before sacrificing Rayquaza for Kyogre to come in and sweep, together with Thundurus’ powerful STAB Thunder.
Zapdos, with a stat spread less streamlined for fast, hard hitting as compared to Thundurus, has traditionally functioned as a bulky attacker, occasionally providing support with Tailwind, Thunder Wave and Light Screen. Though it does sound a lot less scary than Thundurus, the increased bulk that comes from Delta Stream’s effects should not be overlooked and forgotten, as it gives Zapdos noteworthy staying power, together with Roost and its natural bulk.
Another iconic Pokémon, once the reigning queen of VGC, in a time before the dark days of Mega Kangaskhan, Cresselia found herself overshadowed by more offensive threats for most of 2015, experiencing a sudden resurgence in popularity only towards the end of the season, together with the rise of CHALK. Her popularity looks set to only steadily climb now, as the ultimate ’16 supporter, with the natural bulk to hold her own against many of Ubers’ scariest threats, and access to Skill Swap, Helping Hand, Trick Room and the Levitate ability. These traits make Cresselia both an excellent partner and check to Hoenn’s weather trio, creating opportunities to ‘weather-shuffle’ through retriggering abilities with Skill Swap, allowing for dramatic plays like hitting Groudon on the switch-in with Origin Pulse, due to Primordial Sea being triggered earlier in the turn due to Skill Swap. And Levitate is an excellent ability to have, allowing Cresselia to support Earthquake-wielding Groudon teams with Trick Room and Helping Hand, and pass Levitate to her partners to improve their odds against opposing Groudon and Landorus.
Cresselia has traditionally been a Pokémon with a seemingly bottomless bag of tricks, so these notes are definitely not exhaustive. Expect players to discover plenty more brilliant ways of maximising her potential as the season progresses.
The most hyped ability of ’16, Cloud Nine is notable for its ability to negate the effects of ALL weathers, including harsh sunlight, heavy rain and strong winds. While all three of these Pokémon have mediocre stats, they all do have specific niches which some talented players will inevitably be able to capitalise on in the future.
Golduck’s notable for its ability to OHKO both Groudon and Rayquaza in their respective weathers, outspeeding both with a Choice Scarf and scoring 4X super-effective knock-outs with Scald and Ice Beam respectively. Lickilicky is the most versatile of the three, with the ability to take on all three titans with Grass Knot, Ice Beam and Muddy Water. Why it gets that last move baffles me too, yes. While many seem to be championing Altaria as a game-changing Mega thanks to its ability to switch from weather-controller to Pixilate ‘sweeper’, I’m honestly doubtful that it’ll prove as consistent as the other two aforementioned Cloud Nine users and will be genuinely surprised to see it work out, given how frail Altaria is in its base form.
...Solrock and Lunatone?
An eccentric final inclusion to this article, it will likely surprise you to know that Solrock has actually seen better days in competitive play, both in Singles as a counter to Gyarados during Gen 3 and a decent partner to Groudon in VGC’10, thanks to the same assets that make Cress great and more, with its movepool stretching beyond just Trick Room, Helping Hand and Skill Swap, whilst also including more offensive potential in Overheat and STAB Rock Slide. Lunatone functions similarly, instead with Ice Beam to nail Rayquaza, and Solarbeam which could potentially work great alongside Groudon (Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch, I’ll admit)
What makes these two so noteworthy, though, is their part Rock typing, which enables them to resist Rayquaza’s most powerful STAB. One look at their base stats is enough to doubt my assertions and deem me a lunatic, admittedly, but who knows, in the right hands one of these sentient space junks may make for a tournament-sweeping combination that’s simply out of this world!
This article speaks pure speculation, and is grounded in almost no actual experience with the format, so take it lightly. Or outright ignore its outrageous allegations; that might actually benefit you more. In fact, right now, I already have a tingling feeling in my gut telling me I’ll be proven very wrong in a matter of weeks, and this article made a laughing stock.
It’s not like me to devote time into such speculative pieces, but I do hope this article helps sparks some inspiration for the upcoming season, and has left you with at least some sense of eagerness for the commencement of the many titanic clashes which are set to come! That’ll at least mean penning this piece wasn’t a total waste of time!
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