Trainer Tower VGC 17 Meta Snapshot [April-May 2017]

April and May have been and gone, bringing with them new and exciting developments to the VGC 17 metagame. The format is in full swing, and it’s time to check in on the state of the metagame so far.


This analysis will take into account tournaments of Regional level or higher that took place between 1/4/17 and 31/5/17. This includes the following:

Index:

Top 15 Pokémon by Usage
Pokemon Amount Used (Out of 136) No. of Times
 Arcanine 107 78.68%
Tapu Koko  73 53.68% ←
 Kartana 68 50.00%
 Porygon2 59 43.38%
 Tapu Fini  57 41.91%
 Garchomp 52 38.24%
 Gigalith  42  30.88%
 Tapu Lele  40 29.41%
 Snorlax  37 27.21%
 Celesteela  37 27.21%
 Ninetales-A Alola Form 21  15.44% ←
 Muk-A 16 11.76% ←
 Mimikyu  16 11.76%
 Drifblim 15 11.03% ←
 Araquanid  13  9.56% ←

Arcanine

Arcanine advanced itself further at the top of the tally over the course of April and May, falling only marginally short of 80% usage in top cut teams. Its strengths lie in a combination of its strong offensive and defensive typing, incredibly valuable ability, and well-rounded base stats. Though it is not necessarily exceptional in any of these departments, the metagame’s decided lack of strong, defensive Fire-types and relatively small number of Intimidate users have left Arcanine as a go-to option on a wide range of teams. The metagame trends have mixed implications for Arcanine, with increasing usage of Kartana and decreasing usage of both Garchomp and Tapu Lele serving to increase Arcanine’s viability further, but the increase in usage of Tapu Fini and Gigalith counterbalancing this somewhat.

Aguav Berry (or alternate pinch berry) remains the most popular item on Arcanine, allowing it to stay around for as long as possible to support its teammates. It also has some natural synergy with Arcanine’s recoil moves, such as Flare Blitz, which can be used to knock itself down to low enough HP to consume the berry. Other options include Firium Z, Choice Band, and Assault Vest. Flare Blitz, Wild Charge, Extreme Speed and Protect form a standard offensive Arcanine moveset, with Will-O-Wisp, Snarl, Helping Hand, Bulldoze, Close Combat, and Roar all seeing varying degrees of play.

Specially Defensive Aguav Arcanine

Tapu Koko

Tapu Koko remains the most popular Alolan guardian in April and May, completing the months with over 50% usage. Its speed and utility allow it to function on a wide variety of teams, from adding a fast mode to semi-Trick Room teams to adding offensive coverage to more aggressive teams. The combination of Electric and Fairy-type moves threaten almost every Pokémon in the format with strong, neutral damage, making Tapu Koko highly effective in the late game, while its ability to pivot early with a fast Volt Switch proves valuable for cycling Intimidate with Arcanine and controlling the terrain with Electric Surge.

Life Orb and Choice Specs remain the most popular items on Tapu Koko, however, Electrium Z has undergone a significant increase in popularity in recent weeks, allowing it to threaten KOs on less bulky variants of Arcanine from full HP, as well as picking up the KO on Tapu Fini outside of Electric Terrain. Fairium Z, Focus Sash, and Assault Vest variants also see some usage, though considerably less than the three aforementioned options. Thunderbolt, Dazzling Gleam, Volt Switch and Protect complete the standard Life Orb Tapu Koko moveset, with Discharge, Hidden Power Fire or Taunt preferred to Volt Switch on some teams. Sky Drop and Nature’s Madness see play primarily on Assault Vest variants, and Thunder is sometimes used either in conjunction with a Drizzle user, or to provide a stronger option for Electrium Z.

Electrium Z Tapu Koko

Kartana

Kartana completes the trio at the top of the VGC 17 metagame, being the third and final Pokémon to reach 50% usage over the course of April and May. Its soaring usage comes despite the ever-increasingly popularity of Arcanine – a near perfect counter to Kartana. Its ability to take on the likes of Tapu Fini, Porygon2, Gigalith, and Snorlax has proved invaluable in the current metagame, enough for many players to justify using the requisite supportive options to allow shore up Kartana’s natural weaknesses. It’s synergy with Tapu Fini and Arcanine saw its popularity rise early as a part of the “AFK” core, which has seen further development in recent months, combining with Tapu Koko, Porygon2 and Gigalith into a popular team of 6.

Focus Sash remains the most popular item on Kartana, allowing it to always survive an attack despite its exceptionally low special defence. Assault Vest, Scope Lens, and Choice Scarf are still common alternatives, with the latter allowing Kartana to outspeed the likes of Pheromosa and Tapu Koko. Grassium Z and Fightinium Z have both picked up more usage, allowing Kartana to KO Garchomp and Snorlax respectively. Leaf Blade, Smart Strike, Sacred Sword, and Protect/Detect form the most standard Kartana moveset, with Smart Strike occasionally dropped in favour of Swords Dance or Substitute. Night Slash and Razor Leaf compete for the final moveslot of Choice Scarfed variants, with the better option usually dependant on team composition.

Standard Sash Kartana

Porygon2

Playing the role of Cresselia in the VGC 17 format, Porygon2 once again holds its position as the most popular ‘hard’ speed-control user. Its ability to do so despite having no variation in item or ability and very little variation in moveset is a true testament to the power of the bulky Normal-type, as it has no tricks to hide behind. Porygon2 provides an ideal partner to Gigalith, providing it with the speed advantage using Trick Room and threatening Gigalith’s most common checks in the form of Kartana and Garchomp.

Trick Room, Ice Beam, and Recover are the mainstays of almost all Porygon2 movesets, with the last slot usually taken up by Thunderbolt, Toxic, Return or Tri Attack. With no variations in item choice and very little deviation in ability, with Download remaining standard, the main difference between Porygon2 sets lies in EV training. In previous months, specially defensive variants were highly prevalent, usually trained to survive the combination of Golduck’s Hydro Vortex and Pelipper’s Scald in rain. However, with the advent of Brine Pelipper as used by Tommy Cooleen to top cut both the Oceanic and Latin American International, that benchmark became significantly less important. As such, more diversity in Porygon2 EV spreads have been explored, with other important benchmarks (such as surviving Kartana’s All-Out Pummeling) also arising.

Agati's Quiet Porygon2

Tapu Fini

Tapu Fini’s solid defensive stats and ever-useful ability have helped cement its position as the premier bulky Water-type in the format. Its natural typing-synergy with Kartana and Arcanine have helped it form a key component of a number of successful teams, whilst its unique ability to block status effects upon switch in is something valued very highly by many players in a game of fine margins and risk management. However, its unfortunate reliance of Muddy Water as a STAB option plays directly against the security its ability provides.

Choice Specs remains a popular option on Tapu Fini, while Calm Mind variants favour either Leftovers or Wiki Berry (or alternative pinch berry). Moonblast and the aforementioned Muddy Water are mainstays on the vast majority of Tapu Fini movesets, often rounded out with Calm Mind and Protect. Some combination of Scald, Dazzling Gleam, Hydro Pump, and Haze usually take up the final two moveslots on Choice Specs variants, with the latter option a safety net against Extreme Evoboost teams.

Standard Specs Tapu Fini

Garchomp 

Despite a notable fall in usage since March, Garchomp is still a popular option in the VGC 17 metagame. It remains a key component of a number of popular team archetypes, forming a notable core with Tapu Koko, Arcanine, and Celesteela, as well as being a popular sweeping option on Tailwind-focused teams involving Mandibuzz or Drifblim.

Much of the early variability of items on Garchomp has settled, with most now opting to run Groundium Z for access to a one-time single target Ground-type move, allowing it to KO the likes of Arcanine after Intimidate, as well as Gigalith, Tapu Lele, and several others. Choice Scarf remains the most popular alternative, proving mainly useful in best-of-one scenarios to catch opposing Tapu Koko or Pheromosa off guard. Other items like Focus Sash and Assault Vest have suffered further reductions in usage since the start of the format. Earthquake and Protect are the only certainties on standard Groundium Z Garchomp, with Swords Dance, Rock Slide, Poison Jab, Fire Fang, and Dragon Claw all competing for a place in the final two moveslots.

Bulky Swords Dance Garchomp

Gigalith

Gigalith has been one of the success stories of the format in recent months, rising from near-obscurity at the start of the format only to eventually find itself comfortably positioned in the top 10 Pokémon, not missing out on a single top cut in the entire April-May period. Its natural bulk is aided by the special defence boost granted by sandstorm, with Curse a popular option for counterbalancing its weakness to Intimidate users.

Rockium Z and Pinch Berries are the most common item choices on Gigalith, with Weakness Policy, Assault Vest, and Choice Band also seeing some usage. Rock Slide is a mainstay of any Gigalith set. Pinch Berry variants often use Curse to further increase Gigalith’s survivability and counteract the effects of Intimidate, with Rockium Z sets often opting to include Stone Edge on the moveset to provide a stronger Z-move option. Protect, Heavy Slam and Wide Guard round out the other common moves.

Offensive Curse Gigalith

Tapu Lele

Despite suffering a slight dip in top cut appearances, Tapu Lele remains a powerful threat in the VGC 17 metagame. The recent decrease in popularity of the Tapu Lele + Drifblim core may contribute to the downturn in Lele’s popularity, as well as the increasing popularity of Tapu Fini, particularly on teams that also have Tapu Koko. These teams have little trouble overwriting Psychic Terrain, which greatly increases Tapu Lele’s damage output while active. Despite this, Tapu Lele’s potential is such that it still sees a considerable amount of play despite these issues.

Choice Scarf, Life Orb, Psychium Z, and Choice Specs stand out as the most popular items on Tapu Lele. Tapu Lele’s item dictates how it functions, with Choice Scarf variants playing very differently to variants running a damage boosting item. Even within Choice Scarf variants, there is a degree of variation, with many choosing not to run enough speed investment to outspeed Tapu Koko or Pheromosa. Doing so allows Tapu Lele to keep its item hidden for at least one extra turn, retaining the surprise factor to help it catch the likes of Garchomp and Nihilego off guard. Psychic and Moonblast are standard options on almost any Tapu Lele moveset, with Choice item variants usually filling in the last two moveslots with Dazzling Gleam and Thunderbolt. Protect is standard on all non-choice variants, and Taunt sees some usage over the coverage options.

Standard Life Orb Tapu Lele

Snorlax

Snorlax remains one of the most dangerous single Pokémon in the VGC 17 metagame, more than capable of turning around 4v1 situations when protected and managed correctly. It is often included on teams to shore up an otherwise shaky Trick Room match-up, or simply to punish teams that lack a solid answer to a boosted Snorlax. More dedicated teams have also seen some play, utilising supportive Pokémon like Persian and Clefairy to give Snorlax room to set up. These teams have the potential to run into extremely tough match-ups however, as a single Haze can ruin the game plan entirely. Finally, semi-dedicated teams may include a single supportive option, most commonly in the form of Mimikyu or Alolan Ninetales to better allow Snorlax to set up safely. These options are usually more popular with Belly Drum variants, which require a little more support than Curse sets to set up.

Snorlax sets feature no variation in item choices, with Figy Berry (or other pinch berry) being the only common choice. Both Curse and Belly Drum sets remain popular, and Recycle is now relatively standard on either option. Return and High Horsepower are usually the attacking options of choice, though the latter is sometimes dropped in favour of Protect or Crunch. Facade sees occasional usage in place of Return, which renders Will-O-Wisp a less useful counter, but severely cuts Snorlax’s natural damage output. Recycle is sometimes replaced by Protect on Belly Drum variants, which can allow Mimikyu to us Psych Up with greater freedom.

Standard Curse Snorlax

Celesteela 

Celesteela’s popularity remains high, despite the ubiquity of both Arcanine and Tapu Koko. Its value comes in its ability to switch in on STAB attacks from the likes of Tapu Lele, Kartana, and Garchomp, something that very few Pokémon in the format can claim to do. Celesteela’s bulk also allows it to play the role of a late-game win-condition if its teammates are able to take care of Arcanine and Tapu Koko beforehand.

Leftovers play into Celesteela’s naturally passive playstyle, and remains the most popular item choice. Pinch berries have also picked up some usage, and both Wacan Berry and Assault Vest have seen some play, though have dipped in popularity recently. Heavy Slam is Celesteela’s primary attacking option, with Flamethrower also included to deal with Kartana. Leech Seed and Protect round out the standard Celesteela moveset, allowing Celesteela to play the late-game win-condition role should the opponent run out of ways to effectively damage it.

Specially Defensive Celesteela

Ninetales-A Alola Form

Alolan Ninetales is perhaps the most divisive Pokémon in the top 15. Having 23% usage in South Korean events and only 11% usage in the rest of the world, it is one of the few examples of the stark difference between the metagames in different regions. Though differences between regional metagames often arise from differing levels of focus on best-of-one as compared to best-of-three games, both of the major Korean events in April-May used a best-of-three format. Furthermore, Ninetales is not a Pokémon whose role changes drastically between the two formats, with relatively few tricks up its sleeve to rely on for best-of-one play. Ninetales’ main selling points are its ability to outspeed and KO Garchomp reliably and to provide Aurora Veil support for teammates like Belly Drum Snorlax.

Focus Sash is Ninetales’ most popular item choice by some distance, with Light Clay being the only other item to see much play. Blizzard and Aurora Veil can be expected on every Ninetales moveset, with Freeze Dry and Protect usually rounding out the four moves. Icy Wind, Encore, and Roar also see some play in the final two moveslots.

Standard Sash Ninetales

Muk-A Alola Form

Alolan Muk has retained its popularity as an alternative to the likes of Snorlax or Gigalith. Like Snorlax, Muk is able to utilise Curse in combination with Figy Berry to set up a powerful win-condition if it is not dealt with early on. However, in contrast with Snorlax, Muk’s excellent offensive typing allows it to deal great super-effective damage to many of the metagame’s top threats, most notably the Tapu quartet. This allows Muk to perform the dual role of providing great offensive coverage and acting as a potential win-condition if supported properly.

Once again, Figy Berry (or other pinch berry) is the only common item on Muk, due to its powerful combination with the Gluttony ability. Knock Off and Protect are the common factors on any Muk moveset. Gunk Shot has picked up some popularity in recent weeks as an alternative to Poison Jab or Curse, as the extra damage it grants can be worth the risk of missing in many cases. Shadow Sneak is often preferred to Curse, while Flamethrower has also seen play on some teams to catch Kartana off guard.

Tman's Curse Muk

Mimikyu

Mimikyu is another instance of a Pokémon whose usage between regions varies dramatically, with over 18% usage in Korean events over April-May, and only 8% usage in events elsewhere in the world. A far frailer Trick Room setter than Porygon2, Mimikyu’s strengths instead lie in its unpredictability and powerful ability. Disguise allows Mimikyu to set up Trick Room with great consistency, and, unlike Porygon2, many Mimikyu opt to run Mental Herb, rendering Taunt a far less valuable counter. Its great speed tier allows it to outrun Tapu Lele if trained to, though many choose instead to run minimal speed investment to better utilise Trick Room once set up.

Alongside Mental Herb, Ghostium Z and Fairium Z are items to expect opposing Mimikyu to hold. Play Rough and Trick Room are the only real mainstays of Mimikyu’s moveset, with Shadow Claw, Shadow Sneak, Psych Up, Taunt, Protect, Swords Dance, Destiny Bond, and Will-O-Wisp all seeing a reasonable degree of play. Mimikyu is commonly paired with Belly Drum Snorlax, and in those instances typically run a Mental Herb set with Shadow Sneak and Psych Up in the final two moveslots, or a Ghostium Z set with Destiny Bond and Shadow Claw in the remaining moveslots.

Slow Psych Up Mimikyu

Drifblim

Drifblim also remains a highly divisive figure in the metagame, with many players choosing to avoid using it for fear of mirror matches. These mirror matches are typically unpleasant, because it is often in both players’ best interest to lead the combination of Tapu Lele and Drifblim, as leading anything else into the opposing Tapu Lele + Drifblim can lead to an immediate disadvantage. Despite this, Drifblim remains a highly noteworthy figure in the metagame, and remaining unprepared to deal with it is still highly inadvisable. Typically paired with the aforementioned Tapu Lele to activate Psychic Seed and allow it the Unburden speed boost, it has also seen some play with Misty Seed and Swagger alongside Tapu Fini, though this option has seen much less tournament success than its Psychic Seed counterpart.

Drifblim’s item is dictated by its Tapu teammate, either Psychic Seed with Tapu Lele or Misty Seed with Tapu Fini. Tailwind, Shadow Ball, and Will-O-Wisp form the core of almost any Drifblim moveset. There is a reasonable degree of variation in the final moveslot, with Sunny Day, Rain Dance, Haze, Destiny Bond, Thief, Swagger and Disable all viable options. Swagger typically replaces Will-O-Wisp on Misty Seed variants, as the option to inflict burn status greatly reduces in value in combination with Misty Surge, which simultaneously enables Drifblim to utilise Swagger on its teammates to safely boost their attack.

Standard Drifblim

Araquanid 

Araquanid remains a powerful option in the VGC 17 metagame, despite the increase in usage of Kartana, Gigalith, and Tapu Fini. Its ability to offer incredible damage output with no prior set-up is something that is tough to overlook, with Hydro Vortex capable of dealing huge quantities of damage to the vast majority of the format. Its exceptional ability; Water Bubble grants it immunity to burns and an effective resistance to fire-type moves, both of which are extremely valuable traits in a metagame dominated by Arcanine.

Waterium Z remains the most popular item choice on Araquanid, with Mystic Water and Leftovers being the only other items to see a reasonable degree of play. Iron Ball has seen some testing in order to allow Araquanid to underspeed Gigalith in Trick Room, but remains something of a niche choice. Liquidation and Protect are standard options on any Araquanid moveset, with Bug Bite, Lunge and Leech Life all competing for the secondary STAB moveslot. Each option has its merits; Bug Bite takes advantage of the ever prevalent pinch berries, whose removal is particularly valuable in cases where the Pokémon carries Recycle, as it will fail after the berry is removed by Bug Bite. Leech Life offers more consistent recovery, while Lunge can help Araquanid weaken the likes of Kartana to better takes physical attacks. Wide Guard, Poison Jab, Toxic and Substitute have all seen usage, even replacing the Bug-type STAB option in some cases.

Sub-Toxic Araquanid

Honorable Mentions

Nihilego – 11 top cut appearances (8.09% usage)

Touted as one of the best ‘anti-meta’ options in recent times, Nihilego has consistently found itself narrowly short of the top 15 in tournament usage, but may be undergoing a resurgence. Will we see it rise in popularity just in time for US Internationals and Worlds?

Hariyama – 9 top cut appearances (6.62% usage)

In a metagame yearning for solid, bulky Fighting-type options, Hariyama has started to find its way onto teams beyond the usual hard-Trick Room teams it has previously been a part of. Its ability to pressure the likes of Snorlax and Porygon2 is something that many teams find invaluable, and while Pheromosa and Buzzwole both offer alternative options to trainers looking for a Fighting-type, Hariyama’s comparative bulk and access to Fake Out often give it the edge.

 Tapu Bulu – 4 top cut appearances (2.94% usage)

The much maligned Tapu Bulu is one Pokémon that refuses to stay down. Despite having as little as 3% usage in top cut teams over the last 2 months, it still finds itself winning events and gaining fans. Perhaps the most well built Tapu Bulu teams are only just being uncovered, and the Grass-type Tapu has more potential than many initially thought?

Common Cores

Tapu Fini/Kartana/Arcanine, often referred to as “AFK” is almost undeniably the most popular core of the VGC 17 format in recent months, and for good reason. Fire/Water/Grass cores have always been popular thanks to their combined coverage and defensive switching ability. Arcanine carrying the Intimidate ability makes it a very safe switch-in in many situations, which combines well with the support Arcanine can give in the form of Helping Hand to boost either partner’s attacks, Snarl/Will-O-Wisp to decrease the opposing Pokémon’s damage output or Extreme Speed to pick off heavily damaged opponents. Tapu Fini’s natural bulk and synergy with Arcanine makes it a popular Calm Mind user on many teams, vastly increasing its damage output over time as well as special bulk. Kartana is used to deal with opposing Water-type Pokémon or can be used as a relatively safe defensive switch into physical attacks. This core has remained popular throughout the months, as it matches up well against many other cores, and Tapu Fini’s Misty Surge helps to prevent the opponent from snatching a win thanks to a Freeze or a Paralysis.

This core can fit into many teams; we’ve recently started seeing a team of six known as “FAKEPG” (Tapu Fini/Arcanine/Kartana/Electric-type/Porygon 2/Gigalith) pick up in popularity due to its ability to match up evenly or better against a wide variety of teams. Gigalith, or another Pokémon that functions well under Trick Room (Snorlax/Araquanid also) is crucial to this archetype as they provide a way out of a bad situation should your opponent set up Trick Room, as well as offering a Trick Room mode of its own in combination with Porygon2. Mudsdale, although not used as often as other members can be seen instead of Gigalith as it helps beat opposing Gigalith as well as Garchomp which some FAKEPG/AFK variants could struggle against. Some players choose to run Nihilego instead of an Electric-type Pokémon due to its overall good matchup vs. opposing AFK based teams, being able to hit ⅔ of the core for massive damage.

Popular checks: 

At such a late stage of the season, the most well-established cores are extremely unlikely to have straightforward, single Pokémon counters, and AFK/FAKEPG teams are no exception. However, a well supported Garchomp with Fire Fang and Groundium Z threatens the majority of the core, and other options like Tapu Koko or Nihilego can also be hugely valuable in these match ups if positioned correctly.

Despite dropping off somewhat in popularity, the Drifblim/Tapu Lele/Garchomp core remains prominent enough in the metagame to earn its place in this snapshot. April and May didn’t produce many advancements in the way the core functions, with little variation in the movesets of each member of the core. Despite this, Drifblim and co. prove time and time again that they are more than capable of going on to win events of all kinds.

The main focus of these teams is to establish speed-control through the use of Drifblim’s Tailwind, which is extremely hard to prevent while its Unburden ability is activated due to the consumption of its Psychic Seed. From there, the opponent is pressured by powerful attacks from Tapu Lele, which are often boosted by items like Choice Specs and Life Orb. Garchomp is able to use Earthquake indiscriminately alongside the Flying-type Drifblim, and can force game-changing 50/50 situations with Groundium Z and Swords Dance.

Popular checks: 

Setting up Trick Room with Porygon2 is a game plan often employed in the Drifblim/Tapu Lele match up, however, this can be prevented by Tapu Lele’s Taunt should it carry it. Celesteela can be somewhat effective in walling the core and stalling with Leech Seed, but has to be wary of Drifblim’s Will-O-Wisp reducing its survivability. Finally, Tapu Fini’s ability allows it to prevent its grounded teammates from being affected by Will-O-Wisp, whilst simultaneously reducing Tapu Lele’s damage output and pressuring Garchomp with Moonblast.

Having see-sawed in usage throughout the season, the originally anointed “goodstuffs” of the format remains popular and powerful, capable of functioning with a variety of members in the final two positions. Snorlax has become an increasingly common option in the final two slots, usually in combination with Mimikyu or Ninetales.

Various different movesets for each of the key members of the core have been explored, notably Assault Vest Tapu Koko with Sky Drop alongside Swords Dance Garchomp. Celesteela has occasionally found itself cut for Kartana, resulting in something of a hybrid between “goodstuffs” and FAKEPG teams.

Popular checks:

The checks to this core depend largely on the final two Pokémon. Variants lacking a Trick Room option often find themselves vulnerable to Drifblim teams, while variants that are overly-reliant on Arcanine to deal with strong physical attackers can struggle with combinations like Porygon2 + Araquanid.

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