Trainer Talk: First Impressions of the Ultra Series

With Berlin being mere weeks away, many VGC players find themselves wondering what they should expect from the first International Championship of the Ultra format. What sort of meta will we see? How will the re-introduction of Megas shake things up? How different will it be from the previous restricted format, VGC16? To get a rough idea of where things stand, we’ve selected a few star players to ask for their thoughts on Ultra series. Here are our interviewees:

Interviewees

usflag Eduardo Cunha @MeninoJardim

ukflag Lee Provost @OsirusVGC

ukflag Jamie Boyt @JamieBoytVGC

usflag Kyle Livinghouse @AnimusVGC

usflag Joseph Costagliola @c9_joseph

Topics Covered

  • Top 3 archetypes
  • Most underrated archetype
  • Mega Pokémon
  • Z-Moves’ impact on Ultra
  • Biggest change in Ultra from VGC16
  • Advice for players who haven’t played VGC16

1. What do you think will be the top 3 archetypes (restricted combos)?

usflag Edu: Xerneas/Groudon, Rayquaza/Kyogre, and Ultra Necrozma/Groudon.

ukflag Lee: Definitely have to put Xerneas/Groudon and Mega Rayquaza/Kyogre up there, but the third archetype is debatable as there are so many solid options. If I had to give one, it would be Yveltal/Groudon.

ukflag Boyt: 

  • XRay – Rayquaza has gotten buffed vicariously through previous top Megas from 16 being nerfed (i.e. Kang, Mence).
  • XernDon – while Don is likely worse than it was in 16, it is still the restricted that synergises with Xern the best.
  • XL – Lunala has only got better from Moon to Ultra because of its matchup against Ultra Necrozma, and has already proven to be one of Xerneas’ best partners.
  • Basically, Xerneas is a good Pokémon.

usflag Kyle: Xerneas/Groudon, Yveltal/Groudon, and Xerneas/Lunala.

usflag Joey: I think as the meta develops, Groudon and Xerneas will reclaim their spot as the most powerful duo in the game. However, that’s gonna take some innovation. I think Lunala/Groudon and Lunala/Xerneas will rise quickly to be the next two top cores.

Trends: 

All five respondents mentioned the ever-popular Xerneas/Groudon duo, and with the success it enjoyed in VGC16, it’s not difficult to see why. Groudon’s Fire/Ground-typing and coverage perfectly covers Xerneas’ weakness to Fire, Steel, and Poison-types, while also providing the team with its own Xerneas answer. The synergy between the two is unprecedented! Three of our interviewees also brought up Xernala, a core which achieved remarkable results in Sun and Moon series. With the addition of Megas that may be able to patch up weaknesses in the archetype and provide further support, it is quite reasonable to assume the core will continue to be successful. Finally, we have two votes each for Rayquaza/Kyogre—the archetype that won the VGC16 World Championships and that now has an arguably even more effective Lightning Rod-user than Raichu in Togedemaru—as well as Yveltal/Groudon—which is sure to cause trouble for teams that lack proper answers to Yveltal. It is worth noting here that the Dual Primals archetype, which was quite popular toward the end of VGC16, saw no mention.

2. Which archetype will be the most underrated?

usflag Edu: Easily Yveltal/Groudon. It’s not necessarily the best archetype, but I think it has a lot of unexplored potential.

ukflag Lee: I personally think Zygarde/Primal Groudon is super underrated and a lot of players should at least try the build as it has a lot of potential in this format going forward.

ukflag Boyt: YvelOgre—with the right partners, this duo could be a hidden threat.

usflag Kyle: RayOgre.

usflag Joey: I feel like people aren’t going to realize that some of the new Gen 7 tools, such as the Mega Speed buff, Tapu Fini, and Incineroar actually legitimize XRay as an archetype and as such the core will be able to achieve some major finishes early on.

Trends: 

In a bit of a twist, each interviewee had a different response to this question. YvelDon and RayOgre were both covered in the previous section, but we also see another archetype brought up for the second time: XRay. While XRay was considered rather niche in VGC16, in Ultra series, it has enjoyed a surge in popularity, partly thanks to a plethora of new support partners. Lee brings up an interesting core in Zygarde/Primal Groudon: it harkens back to the early Zygarde/Groudon teams we saw in Sun series, but will in all likelihood function better due to Primal Groudon being a considerably better Xerneas answer than its non-Primal variant. Lastly, Boyt mentions YvelOgre, which already saw quite a bit of use in the top cut of the online Zelda Challenge tournament alongside a disruptive Mega Gengar.

3. Which Mega Pokémon do you think will perform best? Will any Megas be better later in the meta than earlier in the meta?

usflag Edu: Salamence, Rayquaza, and Gengar have a solid mix of power and Speed, two extremely valuable qualities in GS Cup, as well as valuable roles for the meta, so they’re my go to options. Kangaskhan has potential to sneak in there.

ukflag Lee: I think Mega Gengar, like in 2016, will be a very strong option that players will rely on for board control and a good answer to Xerneas. Mega Salamence and Kangaskhan have both seen a lot of usage early on, and I don’t see this changing throughout for the specific roles they can fulfill, Mega Mawile is definitely something I have really been enjoying in the early stages of the format, but what I expect to pick up in popularity as the format develops is Mega Gyarados. I also want to throw in another dark horse and say I think Mega Swampert could have some utility as the format goes on. With Grass types having a much harder time in Ultra Series I feel this Pokémon could do a lot of work.

ukflag Boyt: 

  • Rayquaza is now the best Mega, but some people may not want to use up their restricted slot for a mega, even though they should.
  • Gengar is as good as it was before, and may be slightly better, but is going to carry Shadow Ball a lot more commonly, leaving less room for support. Probably the best non-restricted Mega.
  • Mence will survive its nerf and will continue to be the easiest Mega to slap on a team.
  • Lucario getting Meteor Mash has increased its viability compared to 16 by magnitudes. Will be very common on XL. I also think this is the mega that will get more common later in the meta.
  • Kangaskhan is now a support Fake Out mon with Scrappy Fake Out for Lunala. Because of this, you should use Lopunny instead.

usflag Kyle: Gengar, Salamence, and Kangaskhan are the best by far. I could see Mawile gaining traction later in the meta.

usflag Joey: I think the most general purpose Mega in the format, Salamence, will always have the best tournament results. However, I would imagine as the meta progresses we see a rise in bulky support Mega Kangaskhan. I’d also imagine a small spike in Mega Lucario usage to deal with this.

Trends: 

Most players seem to agree that Salamence, Gengar, and Rayquaza are strong Mega choices. Kangaskhan has certainly fallen out of favor compared to its pre-nerf VGC16 version, but still seems to be deserving of a honorable mention thanks to a fast Fake Out (with a Scrappy option for Lunala and Gengar). Lucario saw very little use in VGC16, but appears to now be considered a good Mega on Xernala teams, as it can threaten OHKOs onto Incineroar and opposing Xerneas while also providing Follow Me support. Two of our interviewed players suggested it may become more common as the format goes on. Mawile was also mentioned twice, and can be quite troublesome with the proper Trick Room support. Finally, we have some more unusual Mega choices in Lopunny, Gyarados, and Swampert—it remains to see how much usage these will have! Perhaps notably, Mega Manectric saw no mention, despite having seen decent use in VGC16. One can assume that the rise in Lightning Rod and the lack of Dual Primals, its favored archetype, may be the reason for this.

4. What impact will Z-Moves have on the Ultra meta? Are some teams better off forgoing Z-Moves?

usflag Edu: Z-Moves can help non-restricted in keeping up with the power levels of GS Cup or even give your restricted an edge over others. If you follow the 2016 mentality of having 2 main pieces and 4 supports, you shouldn’t need the Z.

ukflag Lee: This is a great question, and the one thing I have wondered when building in the Ultra Series is: where is my Z-Move going? Sometimes it feels as though you are creating a place for it on a certain Pokémon just for the sake of having a Z-Move. I feel that as the format develops you will see a lot more concise use of Z-Moves within builds, giving them a much greater impact than they seem to be having right now.

ukflag Boyt: Z-Moves have nerfed Groudon, since it can be OHKO’d by so many more things now (e.g. Landorus is now good in GS Cup, when it wasn’t worth using in 16). Everyone has got to beware of LTBTS in terrain now, since almost no non-resistant mon can survive it.

usflag Kyle: Some teams are better off forgoing Z-Moves, but those teams aren’t the best teams.

usflag Joey: Outside of Lunalium and Ultranecrozmium, I haven’t been too impressed by Z-Moves. But those are big, almost to the point where the move in itself is centralizing. I definitely think some teams will see success by realizing that no Z-Move is better for their team structure instead of, say, slapping an Incinium Z on Incineroar.

Trends: 

Most interviewees agreed that some teams may not need to use a Z-Move at all. In the early Ultra meta, we’ve nevertheless seen Z-Moves used on Pokémon that would normally not carry them, such as Incineroar or Tapu Fini—perhaps, as Joey suggested, merely to slap a Z-Move onto the team. Both Edu and Boyt mention that Z-Moves can help non-restricted (such as Landorus-Therian) better threaten opposing restricted. Ultra Necrozma’s unique Z-Move Light That Burns the Sky saw two mentions, and it’s easy to see why: when boosted by Psychic terrain, the damage is devastating!

5. What do you think is the biggest change in Ultra from VGC16?

usflag Edu:  The biggest changes are Tapus, Ultra Necrozma and no Dark Void.

ukflag Lee: Definitely the introduction of the Tapus and also Ultra Necrozma. I think the nerfs to some of the more popular Mega Pokémon like Kangaskhan and Salamence are huge game changers with how players can utilise these Pokémon, now having to use them for maybe more supportive roles within teams rather than the power houses they were before. The Tapus change the landscape on a completely different level because of their added effects with their terrains and how they prevent certain Pokémon from abusing the support options they have used so well in previous formats.

ukflag Boyt: NO DARK VOID WOOOO. Now you don’t need to sacrifice items for Lum Berries or move slots for Safeguard anymore. This increases lots of mons’ viability, since they can hold better items and have more coverage now.

usflag Kyle: The Mega Speed mechanics increasing the viability of Rayquaza especially, but also benefiting just about every popular Mega.

usflag Joey: There are two major changes that make this format different than 16. First off, no Dark Void Smeargle is obvious. This is extremely healthy though, as now the centralization in the format shifts back to restricted Pokémon alone, instead of having to account for Smeargle + [Restricted + Restricted]. Second, I think Incineroar and Tapu Fini being introduced bulk up the meta a bit more than in 16, leaving Intimidate, Fake Out, Gravity, Icy Wind, and Haze incredibly accessible. I do think players need to be careful not to fall in a trap of just using these Pokémon on teams automatically, though.

Trends: 

Several respondents brought up Dark Void, and for good reason, as no VGC16 team could survive without a proper answer to it. With Dark Void gone, teams are free to, as Boyt suggests, forego previously-necessary moves such as Safeguard or items such as Lum or Chesto Berry. Outside of Dark Void, the answers vary quite a bit, showing that there’s a lot more that’s new to Ultra than one might expect. Tapus and their terrains, Ultra Necrozma and its Z-Move, Mega Pokémon gaining their Speed boosts on the same turn they Mega Evolve, and the support provided by Incineroar and Fini are just some of these!

6. What advice do you have for people that haven’t played VGC16 and are looking to play a format like this for the first time?

usflag Edu: Change mentalities and look at the format objectively. You have 2 main pieces that you have to protect. Don’t try to play 2018 with Legendaries. Understand the main match ups. Respect Xerneas, but never forget its most common partners.

ukflag Lee: I would say, don’t be afraid to fail at first. Any new format is always difficult to get a grasp of, but with amazing articles and sample teams available from resources like Trainer Tower, you have all the tools you need to get started. Grab a team and start playing. Learn the meta game, take note of what players are using and how they play certain archetypes, and retain as much information as possible. Once you have a better understanding of the format and experience playing different team builds, pick a core you like and make adjustments on your experiences to approach the format from your point of view. The biggest thing is: don’t be afraid to try new ideas and fail. If they don’t work at first, assess why they don’t work and move on. Adapt your ideas and try them from a different angle. No one gets it right first time. Competitive Pokémon is hard, but you will always get as much back from it as the work you put in.

ukflag Boyt: Play with as many restricteds as you can and see what beats you. Certain Pokémon can steamroll the unprepared, e.g. Xerneas, so make a note of how other people stop your own Xerneas and use that to help build your own teams.

usflag Kyle: It’s a lot different than previous formats, so you are going to have to practice a lot to learn the power creep introduced by Megas and Primals.

usflag Joey: If you haven’t played 2016, good, you have an advantage over everyone else trying to dig into the pit of yesteryear. Reaching back to 16 seems to be a bad habit I’ve noticed.

Trends: 

With such an open-ended question, it’s no wonder everyone has a different piece of advice to give, but we see some patterns in the responses: try out as many archetypes as you can and learn how they work; don’t make the mistake of trying to play Ultra as if it were an older format; don’t underestimate the power creep; and, finally, don’t forget Xerneas is still here!

We hope our interviewees’ responses shed some light on what Ultra series holds in store for us. Don’t forget to give them a follow on Twitter, and we wish all players participating in the Europe International Championship good luck!

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