Trainer Talk: First Impressions

With the first international event of the season drawing closer, we decided to interview some accomplished players from around the world to get their first impressions on the format, and an idea of what to expect from London! We asked players for their opinions on Top Pokémon, Speed Control, Weather, Terrain, and Sleeper Picks for the event. So without further adieu, here’s our star-studded cast of interviewees:

ukflag UK: William Tansley (StarKO90)

spainflag ESP: Alex Gomez (PokeAlex_)

usflag US: Chuppa Cross (ChuppaVGC)

usflag US: Grant Weldon (VelocityVGC)

ausflaf AU: Alex Poole (Triceratops5X)

italyflag IT: Simone Sanvito (SanvyVGC)

Metagame Sections

Question 1 – Top 3 Pokémon

From your experiences in the format so far, what would you say are the top 3 Pokémon to look out for?

  • (W. Tansley) ukflag: I think there are a lot of viable Pokémon at the moment. Compared to the last 2 formats, the strength of the top Pokémon seems much closer to the rest of the field. But if you want just 3, I would say Celesteela, Tapu Koko and Tapu Lele.
    I think Celesteela tapu koko is the top Pokémon of the format as it can be a win condition on its own. Even if your opponent has a counter left in the back, if you get a free substitute you can often just win anyway.
    Tapu Kokotapu koko is really fast and just threatens a lot of damage, and can use discharge next to an electric immunity to get around lightning rod.
    Tapu Leletapu koko also just deals a ton of damage to most things in the format. It’s like a better Mega Garde. Psychic Terrain is also great support for fast, frail sweepers.
  • (A. Gomez) spainflag: If I had to pick 3 to look out for I would say Celesteela, Tapu Lele and Marowak, as they seem to be the most popular in the format so far.
    Although I think Celesteelacelesteela and Tapu Leletapu lele deserve that usage (they’re super strong), but I’m still not 100% sure if Marowak deserves to be there.
    When I started playing the format, I felt like Marowakmarowak was great, but nowadays my opinion changed. It’s still a good Pokémon, but I think it’s overrated. The fact that it’s slow and (most of the time) needs Trick Room to work is what made me think this about Marowak, and I can see it dropping in usage in the future.
  • (C. Cross) usflag: Number one has to be Celesteelatapu koko. Its a little hard to compare to anything we had in VGC and can require much of a teams resources to take down.
    I’ll give number two to Tapu Kokotapu koko, though I had a hard time deciding between Tapu Koko and Tapu Lele. Its easily the best ‘fast-mon’ in the format and has to be the best answer to Celesteela of common Pokémon.
    For third, I’d say Oranguruoranguru. It’s much lower in usage than the other two I’ve mentioned, but teams based around it have a lot of exploring to do, and I’m sure we’ll see the results of that at London.
  • (G. Weldon) usflag: Celesteelatapu koko definitely. It forces players to bring checks to it, and serves as the primary defensive Pokémon in the format. It draws a lot of attention to itself and can become unmanageable if not handled properly.
    Tapu Kokotapu koko – its great speed, ability, and excellent type coverage give it quite a bit of versatility. It’s not as strong as people originally once thought, but it should definitely be watched out for.
    Marowakmarowak – Its ability to handle many of the other top threats currently makes it very powerful. Its ability coupled with Pokémon like Celesteela & Gyarados give it utility in addition to its high offensive potential.
  • (A. Poole) ausflaf: Celesteelacelesteela. You need multiple counters/ways of dealing with it/plans of attack. You also need to know when you’re going to be drawn into a potential timer situation, and judge whether it’s worth forfeiting to move onto the next game.
    Tapu Leletapu koko is probably the best abuser of the terrain in the game, has great speed, special attack and special defence and can make use of a number of items to potentially sweep unprepared teams. It’s something which you can easily find yourself with no answers for.
    Gyaradosgyarados is one of the few set-up sweepers in the format. Well played Gyarados is a great win condition, and you have to constantly be aware that you don’t give your opponent a chance to set up.
  • (S. Sanvito) italyflag: The top three Pokémon are definitely CelesteelaTapu Koko and Tapu Lele in my opinion.
    Celesteelacelesteela has good stats, and access to great moves like Leech Seed, Wide Guard, Flamethrower/Fire Blast, and also some Z-moves to pick-up surprise KOs, like the Grass-type ‘Bloom Doom’ for opposing Water-types. It also has a great typing itself.
    Tapu Kokotapu koko is good because it’s the best electric type right now, and electric hits almost everything for neutral damage. It can go either physical or special and, depending on the route you choose you get stuff that the other variants don’t have. For example, the Physical one gets Brave Bird and does a lot of damage with Wild Charge, but it doesn’t have a Fairy STAB or a spread electric move to bypass Alolan Marowak’s Lightningrod redirection.
    Tapu Leletapu koko is extremely good because it can hit a lot of Pokémon for neutral damage. Psychic Terrain boosted Psychic deals a ton of damage, and the ability to block Fake Out and Priority moves is just too good. The fact that you block priority means that you can choose a frailer and more offensive route when you are building a team.

Trends:

William Tansley  celesteela  tapu koko tapu lele
Alex Gomez  celesteela  marowak tapu lele
Chuppa Cross celesteela tapu koko  oranguru
Grant Weldon celesteela tapu koko  marowak
Alex Poole celesteela  gyarados tapu lele
Simone Sanvito celesteela tapu koko tapu lele

With the results tallied up we can see that Celesteela has a 100% pick rate as a top Pokémon in the format. The title of second most frequent response is interestingly shared between Tapu Koko and Tapu Lele – two hard hitting attackers who both control the field with their terrain abilities.

Question 2 – Speed Control

How important do you think speed control will be in the format, given that there aren’t nearly as many options as there were in previous years?

  • (W. Tansley) ukflag: Speed control is still really important. The format has a lot of huge base power moves so obviously moving first more often is pretty vital. It would be nice to have more speed control options as we are essentially limited to Tailwind and Trick Room, and there are only a few decent Pokémon that get those moves. I think Trick Room is already huge. Alolan Marowak is a really strong new Pokémon and in my opinion you need TR to use it well. In addition to that, we all know about the Oranguru & Torkoal combination that can be devastating if you don’t prepare for it. In general Oranguru and Porygon2 are fantastic Trick Room users that help make Trick Room extremely viable once again.
  • (A. Gomez) spainflag: I think speed control will still be popular in this format, although there is lack of Trick Room and Tailwind setters. Due to the fact the format is kind of slower than previous years, I can see semi Trick Room teams having a lot of success in this format.
  • (C. Cross) usflag: Most of what gets Icy Wind has other things to be doing (like using aurora veil), in addition to being a defensively floppy ice type that’s lucky to be able to use it more than once. Thunder Wave has much better distribution, but is held back its speed reduction nerf, its accuracy, and the presence of Marowak. It also doesn’t help that some of the best ‘fast-mons’ like Tapu Koko and Garchomp are immune to it. I think Trick Room hasn’t been explored much yet but its far and away the best form of speed control. Between Porygon2 and Oranguru you have great ways of setting it. I can’t even list all the Pokémon that work well under TR, including a bunch of the new faces with middling speed stats.
  • (G. Weldon) usflag: I definitely don’t think speed control will see as much frequent usage as in the past 2 seasons due to the lack of options and the Thunder Wave nerf, however I think the impact of speed control that exists is intensified as a result. For instance, Trick Room right now is extremely strong in my opinion because there is a lack of Taunt users, and with most of the current metagame being oriented on the fast side, it can serve as an anti-meta call. So I think Speed Control won’t be as necessary as in previous years, but rather, I feel like it can be a distinguishing option for certain teams.
  • (A. Poole) ausflaf: I think speed control will revolve around Trick Room. Whether that’s using Trick Room, or having techs for it, I think it’s the main relevant form of speed control. Trick Room is super important to consider when teambuilding, as there are a decent number of very strong Trick Room abusers (Wishiwashi, Torkoal, Mudsdale, Vikavolt, Marowak), and although letting your opponent get Trick Room up isn’t usually a death sentence as it could be in past formats (hello Gravity, Hypnosis, Swords Dance, Precipice Blades), you definitely need a plan. Tailwind, Icy Wind and Electroweb (lol) are far less important in my opinion.
  • (S. Sanvito) italyflag: Speed control is always important, but this year there aren’t a lot of options: Thunder Wave is nerfed, and only a few Pokémon get Tailwind and Icy Wind. Trick Room will be big this year given that everything is so slow. Weather-based abilities like Swift Swim will also serve as an important form of speed-control.

Trends:

The clear trend in these responses is that Trick Room is back with a vengeance, and is here to make a name for itself as the number one form of speed control. Pokémon mentioned as key Trick Room setters include Porygon2 and Oranguru – who share similar traits in being bulky Pokémon that also have offensive capabilities (key coverage moves for Porygon2, and Instruct for Oranguru).

Tailwind is the other option that seems somewhat viable, with Pokémon like Pelipper, Talonflame and Aerodactyl notably having access to it.

Other forms of speed control like Icy Wind, and Thunder Wave have their own issues of distribution for the former, and accuracy nerfs for the latter – severely hurting their reliability.

Question 3 – Weather:

How common do you think weather teams (Ninetales/ Torkoal/ Pelipper/ Gigalith etc) will be, and why?

  •  (W. Tansley) ukflag: I think Rain, Sun and Hail will be fairly common as those teams offer a lot of fast damage output (counting Torkoal in TR as “fast”). Certain famous YouTubers also used Torkoal teams in their videos so I’m sure a lot of players will be copying that. I don’t think sand will be used that much but I’ve actually had a few issues dealing with Gigalith, it could actually be alright but just harder to use.
  • (A. Gomez) spainflag: I think Sun is gonna be very popular throughout the season, since [Trick Room + Torkoal], or [Lilligant + Torkoal] is actually strong. With this being said I can see Rain and Sand rising in usage in the future due to Torkoal being popular.
  • (C. Cross) usflag: Probably not too common, but I certainly expect a few to make day 2 at London. I’d say one or two teams that are dedicated to their weather, then a handful more with a weather user but that aren’t dedicated to it. That would be Trick Room teams with Sand/ Sun mainly. Gigalith is a really cool Pokémon, as it takes attacks on both sides of the spectrum and hits back hard with base 135 atk Rock-type STABs, not to mention wide guard. I’ve used it on teams as a lazy way to improve the TR matchup. It’s pretty good at that though, aside from Mudsdale it performs admirably against common TR Pokémon.
  • (G. Weldon) usflag: It’s very difficult to compare weather usage to previous years due to fundamental changes in weather mechanics from 2016 and changes in the Pokémon that even have access to weather-inducing abilities. I think weather setters themselves will be viable and see lots of usage, but due to a lack of good supporters, I think they will standalone as Pokémon, rather than form the basis of weather “teams”.
    (When I say changes in mechanics from 2016, I mean that it’s normal weather and not primal weather)
  • (A. Poole) ausflaf: I dont think they’ll be uncommon, I’d guess maybe 20% of the teams that do well will have one of Ninetales/Torkoal/Pelipper and Gigalith. With megas, ubers and primals no longer in the format, there’s a lot less of a power creep, and the associated effects from weather (chip damage, aurora veil, boosted fire/water attacks, speed boosts from abilities) are a powerful way to gain an edge in a game. I only started playing in 2014, but my understanding was weather was pretty powerful in 2013 and before.
  • (S. Sanvito) italyflag: I think weather teams will be good this year: things like Rain (Pelipper + Golduck) and Sun (Torkoal + Lilligant) are already a huge threat, and I can see them going deep into tournaments. I think Hail and Sand will become big in a couple of months. I don’t know how many people will use weather based teams, but on Showdown and Battle Spot they are extremely common, especially Lilligant + Torkoal. I think Lilligant is just too good even if you do have Trick Room just because it gives you a fast option to pressure down your opponent with Torkoal.

Trends:

We can see from this that Sun is the weather on people’s minds right now, mainly due to the threat of Torkoal teams. Torkoal threatens significant damage with its spread move, STAB, Sun-boosted Eruptions and Heat Waves, usually partnered with Oranguru for its access to both Trick Room and Instruct, and Lilligant for its access to After You in combination with the ability Chlorophyll.

Rain has seen some usage as Pelipper has a positive matchup into both Celesteela and Marowak, and is also able to help the team with Tailwind support. More recently, Pelipper+Golduck has been a combination used that threatens big damage immediately, and can take out many common Pokémon if they don’t have ways to stop the rain boosting both speed and damage.

Sand has been mentioned mainly for Gigalith’s ability to perform well under Trick Room, and provide utility to the team by overriding weather, and its use of Wide Guard. Gigalith also has an impressive Base 135 Attack stat which it can use to fire off its STAB Rock-type attacks.

Finally Hail was the least mentioned weather, which is somewhat surprising given the incredible utility of Aurora Veil. Teams with Hail generally focus on using Ninetales to set up Aurora Veil, and then firing off STAB Blizzards or Icy Winds without fear of taking too much damage in return. Celesteela’s popularity may be a key factor limiting Hail’s usage.

Question 4 – Terrains

With the Tapus being popular and all having access to terrain setting abilities, what are your thoughts on the Terrains in general, and how do you think they will affect the game?

  • (W. Tansley) ukflag: In general, I think the main effect is they just let the Tapus do ridiculous amounts of damage, which is what makes those Pokémon so good. I think the aspects of the terrains which support the rest of your team are affecting the game in a more subtle way at the moment, to provide niche options for certain matchups and playstyles. I like their addition as it just adds more variety and options to teambuilding, though the damage output from the Tapus is probably little too much.
  • (A. Gomez) spainflag: I personally like the terrains, as you can build cool strategies with them. I also really like their mechanics, due to their ability to increase the power of moves of specific types, they allow you more flexibility in item choice. You can rely on the Terrain boost to pick up a KO rather than from an item like Life Orb. That’s just an example to explain how I feel about the terrains. I think they’ll be popular all year in this format.
  • (C. Cross) usflag: Terrains have pretty healthy interaction with each other that just rewards thinking ahead, but i don’t like the fact that teams can feel forced to use one of the Tapus because of how potent each terrain is. Even as a defensive measure, since something like giving your opponents Tapu Bulu uncontested terrain control means that a lot of your Pokémon are likely to get OHKO’d. Taking advantage of their secondary effects is also cool. For example, leading Tapu Koko against Lilligant/Torkoal teams to protect your partners from Sleep Powder, or using Tapu Bulu to protect Pokémon weak to Ground-type from opposing Earthquakes. Protection from priority moves isn’t actually that useful this format but it’s kinda neat.
  • (G. Weldon) usflag: I think that the Terrains allow teams to be more synergistic. Players can create a variety of different combinations using the Terrains for their additional benefits on the entire field. As a result, I think these will act more like the “weathers” of previous formats. I do not think though that they will fundamentally alter the game or be absolutely necessary on a team, rather, they’ll just be another way to enhance the cohesion of a team.
  •  (A. Poole) ausflaf: I really like the terrains in general, with most of them having niche benefits you can take advantage of, whilst not being incredibly centralising/overpowered. I would say Tapu Fini got a bit unlucky as Misty Terrain is the only terrain not to boost a type of attacks, and halving damage from dragon type attacks in this format is basically useless. I think Tapu Bulu and Tapu Lele are the best abusers of their terrain, with higher stats in their favoured attack stats (unlike Tapu Koko) and great moves that get boosted by their terrain (unlike Tapu Fini). I think they’ll affect the game in reducing sleep as a tool, I think they’ll encourage switching and positioning even more to ensure your desired terrain is up. I also think the terrain seeds will see more use as the meta develops.
  • (S. Sanvito) italyflag: I honestly like the terrains, I was so happy when they made all terrains viable. They are strong, but not too overpowered, and I think affecting only grounded Pokémon is what make terrains pretty balanced. They are good, but also easy to play around. Just because the Tapus are so good, it’s hard to justify their absence on a team.
    One thing I think will be good in the future are the terrain seeds. They’re like a free Assault Vest with no drawbacks. A Milotic with electric seed for example will be pretty difficult to KO.

Trends:

Players have generally responded well to the introduction of the new terrain abilities, but there are pros and cons that come with them.

As for pros, players have enjoyed the unique interactions of each terrain, the damage boost they afford to the Tapu quartet, and the fact that they are somewhat balanced by only effecting ‘grounded’ Pokémon. Furthermore, the fact that Terrains are so relevant emphasises the importance of positioning, which means that players will be rewarded for planning a few turns ahead.

As far as cons, there seems to be some concern that the damage boost from terrains may be somewhat centralising, and force players into using Tapu Pokémon to take advantage of the offensive pressure they can provide. As well as this, it is quite clear that Tapu Fini suffers from its Misty Terrain not providing a damage-boosting effect, making it somewhat less viable when compared to the rest of the quartet.

Question 5 – Sleeper Pick

If you had to pick one Pokémon you think is underrated that will do well at London, what would it be?

  • (W. Tansley) ukflag: Not too many people are using Alolan Mukalolan muk and I think it’s good. It’s bulky and able to OHKO all Tapus with strong Poison Jab or Gunk Shot, and Knock Off is really good for Marowak, P2 and Oranguru. The only issue is strong ground moves.
  • (A. Gomez) spainflagAraquanidaraquanid. It’s so strong and so underrated at the same time. The damage calcs with Araquanid are sick.
  • (C. Cross) usflag: Most people seem to respect OranguruOranguru but i still think its underrated. Instruct is an awesomely powerful move that any number of Pokémon can bring out the power of. Its not hard to see that Oranguru is a good Pokémon either, most people know that it is, and it isnt especially hard to use it to its fullest. I expect a bunch of people to use it and see success with it.
  • (G. Weldon) usflag: Definitely Gastrodongastrodon. People seem to have dismissed Gastrodon because it no longer has access to Earth Power due to the absence of move tutors. However, I think its ability Storm Drain is still incredibly viable as almost every team has a water type that can be locked down by Gastrodon, allowing a water-weak partner such as Marowak to completely ignore water-type Pokémon on the field. The ability to leave an opposing Pokémon as dead weight is usually better than knocking it out because it allows the player to focus down the other slot. Additionally, it still has access to a plethora of great moves, with Scald and Ice Beam dealing lots of damage to many of the top threats, in addition to moves such as Toxic and Recover for a more defensively-oriented set.
  •  (A. Poole) ausflaf: Of sleeper picks generally thought of as garbage, I’d probably have a better team if I knew. Let’s say Ninetalesalolan ninetales. It has access to Aurora Veil, its Ice typing is decent offensively, hail provides chip damage for sashes, and 100% Blizzard is usually solid spread damage. It also has Icy Wind for some potential speed control.
  • (S. Sanvito) italyflag: I think Mudsdalemuddle is strong, as it can be very good on the right team, and gets a lot of cool moves. It also gets Heavy Slam, beats Trick Room and Alolan Marowak and with Assault Vest it can take Torkoal’s attacks with “ease”. If the Torkoal is Charcoal and Mudsdale is AV 252 HP/0 Sdef it takes 52% as a min roll from Eruption, but before firing off the second Eruption Torkoal takes a Ground type attack since Mudsdale is slower than Oranguru.

Closing Thoughts

We hope that this article has been informative, and gives you a good idea of what we expect to see at the first international event of the year! Be sure to check out our gracious interviewees on their private twitter accounts linked above, and make sure to follow us as well @TrainerTower for consistent updates on the VGC metagame! Good Luck!