Pokémon VGC 2016 metagame guide

One of the most crucial aspects of any esport is the metagame — the prominent, ever-shifting trends and strategies employed by the players. Pokémon VGC is no different. In fact, with hundreds of options to choose from, it can be a difficult metagame to grasp. However, the Saffron City Post is here to help!

Below you’ll find a list of almost fifty Pokémon that, in one way or another, have a presence in the current metagame. They’re all listed with their most notable items, moves and natures to help give you an idea of your options. A brief analysis is also included below each entry in an attempt to add context to the current, pre-Worlds state of the metagame.

That being said, this is far from the word of law. Lists like these are have some inherent subjectivity, so don’t think that Pokémon left off this list are unplayable. Alternatively, if you’re an experience player with suggested edits, feel free to tweet @SaffronCityPost to have your opinion heard. Otherwise, enjoy!

Viable restricted Pokémon

Since 2016 is centered around the inclusion of restricted, legendary Pokémon, it makes sense to start here. However, not all of them are created equal — so we’ll start with the ones that have demonstrated some ability to be effective teammates.

XerneasXerneas

Notable items: Power Herb

Notable moves: Geomancy, Moonblast, Dazzling Gleam, Protect

Notable natures: Modest, Bold, Timid

The lord of all fairies, Xerneas earns the first mention for the overwhelming impact its had during the 2016 season. Fairy type is one of the best offensive types in the game, currently, but Xerneas wouldn’t be all that scary without a combination of Geomancy and Power Herb. Together, they double its special attack, special defense and speed in a single turn, giving it unrivaled power to sweep through teams with Dazzling Gleam and Moonblast. It has been on regional and national winning teams, and many top-tier players expect it to help win Worlds. Even if you decide not to use it, preparing for it is a necessity on any successful VGC 2016 team.

GroudonGroudon

Notable items: Red Orb

Notable moves: Precipice Blades, Fire Punch, Rock Slide, Rock Tomb, Eruption, Earth Power, Hidden Power Ice, Swords Dance, Substitute, Protect

Notable natures: Brave, Adamant, Jolly, Quiet, Timid

Primal Groudon is the other half of the most powerful restricted core, and arguably the most restricted common Pokémon. It’s been paired with almost everything this season (Xerneas, Kyogre, Rayquaza, Yveltal, Kyurem-W, Mewtwo, Dialga, etc.) for a reason — this thing works well on almost any team. Desolate Land’s ability to render water type attacks useless checks its most lethal threat, leaving other Primal Groudon as its most common counter.

However, because it is its own counter, there are many ways to run it. The first choice comes down to picking physical or special attacks. However, with Precipice Blades hitting both sides of the field so hard, many tend to go the physical route. Fire Punch always accompanies P-Blades on physical Groudon, though the third slot tends to be a lot more flexible. Some players run Rock Slide to give Groudon a better way to hit flying types while others prefer to utilize the mon’s rather high special stat and run Eruption. A few players have even opted for Rock Tomb throughout the season, to give Groudon its own form of speed control. Lately, though, Swords Dance has been growing in popularity — an option for when players are forced to switch or protect. Substitute always has potential, but using it properly takes a bit more skill. Physical Groudon’s speed also varies a lot, ranging from Jolly-max-speed, to neutral-speed-Adamant to min-speed Brave. No matter its speed, you’ll usually always want an appropriate means of speed control to make sure your Precipice Blades are hitting first.

Special Groudon is a bit more straight-forward, with Earth Power being used primarily to OKHO other Groudon. Eruption is usually in the second slot, with the third being some variation of Hidden Power Ice (for Salamence and Rayquaza) and Precipice Blades (for general destruction). It’s also almost always run with max-speed so it can get off an Eruption before taking damage. The only problem with Special Groudon, though, is that it has a much harder time dealing with Xerneas and Kyogre — both of which have high special defense stats.

Primal kyogreKyogre

Notable items: Blue Orb

Notable moves: Water Spout, Origin Pulse, Scald, Ice Beam, Thunder, Icy Wind Protect

Notable natures: Modest, Timid, Quiet

Though Kyogre was one of the most dangerous threats the last time restricted Pokémon made an appearance in VGC, it’s primal reversion doesn’t quite compare to Groudon’s. Still, that doesn’t mean this behemoth isn’t threatening. It hits incredibly hard with Water Spout or Origin Pulse. Most Pokémon can’t take one, and very few can take two. Ice Beam also gives it a good check to Salamence and Rayquaza, which threaten it with their powerful physical attacks. Scald is sometimes run over Origin Pulse to give it a STAB attack that gets around Wide Guard and Thunder is run to help in the mirror-match. Some players have even decided to replace Ice Beam with Icy Wind to help ensure Kyogre can outspeed the rest of the field.

It is almost always paired with Rayquaza or Groudon, forming two powerful archetypes as a result. Kyogre has been run with Xerneas and Yveltal on rare occasions, but it usually loses out on those pairings to Groudon. Speed is also quite variable for the sake of winning the weather war, and it also appreciates multiple forms of speed control. If it can get off full-powered Water Spouts ahead of everything else, one of the only things that can stop it is Primal Groudon’s ability.

Mega RayquazaRayquaza

Notable items: Life Orb, Focus Sash, Assault Vest

Notable moves: Dragon Ascent, Extreme Speed, Draco Meteor, Overheat, Waterfall, Aqua Tail Swords Dance, Protect

Notable natures: Jolly, Timid, Naïve, Hasty

When the 2016 format was first announced, many players (and most of the public) got very excited about the potential of Mega Rayquaza. Yet, when the format actually came around, Xerneas proved to be such a good check that it was scarcely used. As the season progressed, though, players started to get more comfortable with fielding it.

Kyogre used to be the only thing you’d see next to a Mega Rayquaza — and for good reason. Both its non-mega and mega ability allow you to switch Rayquaza in while the harsh sun is up, negate its ability to block water type attacks, and let water attacks kill Groudon by surprise. That used to be its main function, but players eventually started realizing that it hit hard enough to justify using it with other partners. When paired with Groudon or Xerneas, the two put immense pressure on opponents. And with the right support, some players have proven it can be better than RayOgre.

It’s choice of item first depends on what the rest of the team is using and then comes down to preference. Some players would prefer to hit harder with a Life Orb, while others want to be able to live super effective attacks and retaliate. Assault Vest is the least common item, though it has recently seen increased use for its ability to help Rayquaza survive longer against Kyogre and un-boost Xerneas.

In terms of moves, Dragon Ascent is required for its power and ability to let Rayquaza mega evolve. Extreme Speed is also almost always included since the +2 priority lets it mop up weakened or speedy threats before faster Pokémon can take it out. Draco Meteor saw a lot more use in the beginning of the season for its to OKHO other dragons and deal massive damage to everything that doesn’t resist it. Overheat is used in its place, most recently, to give it an answer to steel types that might otherwise wall it. Swords Dance gives it the power to OKHO basically anything with Dragon Ascent and deal even more damage with Extreme Speed. Finally, Waterfall and Aqua Tail are commonly used when paired with Xerneas since the team has no other consistent answers to Groudon.

YveltalYveltal

Notable items: Life Orb, Assault Vest, Black Glasses

Notable moves: Foul Play, Knock Off, Snarl, Sucker Punch, Oblivion Wing, Dark Pulse, Tailwind, Protect

Notable natures: Jolly, Timid

If it weren’t for Xerneas, Yveltal might be one of the most threatening Pokémon in the format. It has a lot of bulk and a solid typing that lets it check many threats. On top of that, it has access to a deep stable of powerful dark type attacks that are boosted by its ability. Foul Play is always a solid choice since it uses the opponent’s attack stat to calculate damage, and Knock Off can even prevent an unwary Xerneas from getting a one-turn Geomancy boost. Dark Pulse deals massive damage to Pokémon lacking special bulk and Sucker Punch is one of the most powerful priority attacks in the game. Then there’s Snarl and Oblivion Wing, which give it more longevity through different means. Finally, Tailwind is always a solid third slot choice since speed control is crucial.

Weakness Policy was common when the season first started, but the growing prominence of Xerneas has made the item pointless. Instead, Life Orb or Black Glasses are used to do even more damage. Assault Vest is also fantastic when Yveltal has Snarl, and it managed to help win this year’s Japanese National. In fact, in a world without Xerneas, a bulky Yveltal would probably be the best option. But, its presence almost demands players go for max speed for the ability to Knock Off Xerneas before it can Geomancy.

Kyurem-WKyurem-White

Notable items: Choice Scarf

Notable moves: Blizzard, Ice Beam, Earth Power, Draco Meteor

Notable natures: Timid, Modest

Under normal circumstances, an attack like Blizzard would never be viable in the face of Desolate Land and Primordial Sea (which negate all other kinds of weather). Its accuracy is too low outside of hail, even if its base power is huge. However, when Kyurem-W is paired with a Pokémon that can use Gravity, its accuracy problems are solved. This lets Blizzard destroy anything weak to ice, deal damage to both sides of the opponent’s field and even chunk Pokémon that aren’t susceptible for a sizable amount. Ice Beam is used in situations where it isn’t possible to set up Gravity, Earth Power is used as a way to OKHO Groudons without special defense investments and Draco Meteor is a powerful STAB option.

Its options in terms of items are rather limited by its mediocre speed, so it almost always runs a Choice Scarf. Without one, it can be targeted down by faster Pokémon.

MewtwoMewtwo

Notable items: Life Orb, Focus Sash, Mewtwonite Y

Notable moves: Psystrike, Ice Beam, Grass Knot, Taunt, Substitute, Gravity, Skill Swap, Protect

Notable natures: Timid, Modest

Mewtwo started the season in a situation similar to Mega Rayquaza. Both have extreme damage dealing potential — but their frailty prohibits them from making too much of an impact. Mega Rayquaza’s weakness, though, is balanced out quite well by its Delta Stream ability. Mega Mewtwo, unfortunately, has no such luck. Its speed is unmatched in the format, but mega Mewtwo Y (and really any variation of Mewtwo) crumples in the face of mega Kangaskhan’s priority Sucker Punch.

Now, if Mewtwo was able to pick up OKHOs on some of the most threatening Pokémon, most players would find a way to cover its shortcomings. However, outside of Ice Beam and dragon/flying types, Mewtwo doesn’t pick up crucial OKHOs on restricted Pokémon. It might be the best 2HKO’er in the metagame thanks to its powerful Psystrike attack, but most players need that extra oomph. Life Orb helps a bit, but still has Mewtwo falling short of OKHOs on anything but more frail Pokémon. Focus Sash at least helps with its longevity — outside of mega Kang, at least.

In lieu of attacking, many players that decide to use Mewtwo go for a more supportive set. Its speed and access to moves such as Taunt, Skill Swap and Gravity make it decent partner for primals. Substitute isn’t quite as common since Mewtwo’s limited HP is such a commodity, but clever use of it did help one player make a deep run during US Nationals.

DialgaDialga

Notable items: Sitrus Berry, Mental Herb, Lum Berry, Shuca Berry, Life Orb

Notable moves: Dragon Pulse, Draco Meteor, Earth Power, Flash Cannon, Trick Room, Protect

Notable natures: Quiet, Relaxed

Blessed with wonderful bulk and the fantastic Steel type, Dialga is ultimately cursed by also being a dragon. Otherwise it might have been another reliable Xerneas counter. Instead, Dialga has to settle for being a passable one — if it can get off a Flash Cannon before its target uses Geomancy. Fortunately, it does get access to Trick Room and can speed tie with min-speed Primals. This is mostly important when it comes to Groudon, which can easily threaten it with a Precipice Blades. That’s where Earth Power comes into play. Dragon Pulse, meanwhile, is used to take down Rayquaza and Mence, which rarely have a good way to touch Dialga.

Its item tends to depend on your priorities. If getting up Trick Room is most important, a Mental Herb or Lum Berry will likely serve you best. However, if you want to survive longer, a Sitrus or Shuca Berry might be better. Alternatively, if you just want to deal damage with Dialga’s 150 special attack stat, Life Orb would be helpful.

PalkiaPalkia

Notable items: Sitrus Berry, Mental Herb, Lum, Berry, Life Orb

Notable moves: Spacial Rend, Earth Power, Hydro Pump, Trick Room, Protect

Notable natures: Quiet, Relaxed

Palkia, like Kyogre, was also one of the most threatening Pokémon the last time legends were allowed in VGC. Bulky water types are always useful, and fairy types didn’t exist to threaten it yet. On top of that, Groudon didn’t have access to Desolate Land, which now renders one of Palkia’s STAB attacks useless with no way to get around it. It’s still a fantastic defensive counter to both primals, but it struggles to do enough damage to win outside of one-on-ones. Earth Power only takes out fast Groudon and Kyogre doesn’t go down to a Spacial Rend without a critical hit (and even then it’s a stretch). To make matters worse, it has no way to even think about touching Xerneas after a Geomancy.

However, it can be decent on teams with a dedicated hard counter to Xerneas, such as mega Mawile — especially with its access to Trick Room. At the end of the day, though, there’s simply too much raw power in this format for Palkia’s defensive nature to be worth using.

Ho-OhHo-Oh

Notable items: Life Orb, Sitrus Berry, Leftovers

Notable moves: Sacred Fire, Brave Bird, Roost, Recover, Tailwind, Substitute, Protect

Notable natures: Jolly, Adamant

Ho-oh is a wonderful Pokémon on paper. It resists Xerneas’ STAB and has sizable special bulk. It has access to excellent attacks in Sacred Fire and Brave Bird, as well as excellent utility moves like Recover and Tailwind. It’s flying type even helps cover up one of its weaknesses. In fact, it can also take on Primal Kyogre with the right help — making it less susceptible to what would otherwise be its biggest threat.

Unfortunately, Rock Slide exists and almost always OKHOs. Charti Berry, which lessens the damage from a single rock type attack, might be a viable option if it could handle Primal Groudon in a single turn and recover off the damage — but that’s not the case. Primal Groudon’s defenses are just too high.

So, outside of Sacred Fire, Talonflame does its job much better. It’s significantly more frail, but it also has priority flying type moves and a bit more utility. Plus, it doesn’t take up a restricted slot.

Non-viable restricted Pokémon

Now that we’ve got the first-string out of the way, we can quickly gloss over the bench players. For a myriad of reasons, no one has been able to work these Pokémon into a viable, competitive team. However, because the metagame is always changing, they’re worth taking a look at. You never know if they might be a part of some crazy good counter months down the road. At the same time, there’s no need to go in-depth.

ZygardeZygarde

Potential items: Assault Vest, Life Orb, Focus Sash, Sitrus Berry, Rocky Helmet

Potential moves: Land’s Wrath, Haze, Safeguard, Glare, Extreme Speed, Rock Slide, Swagger, Protect

Potential natures: Impish, Careful, Adamant, Jolly, Sassy, Brave, Relaxed

Zygarde’s claim to fame is its aura break ability, which reverses the effects of both Xerneas and Yveltal’s auras — and that’s about it. Otherwise, it has a mediocre 600 base stat total (the lowest of all restricted Pokémon) and unfortunate typing. It has some decent attacks but doesn’t have the stats to take advantage of them. It does have a few decent utility moves in Glare and Haze, but that’s not enough to justify using it.

GirtatinaGiratina

Potential items: Sitrus Berry, Leftovers, Lum Berry, Griseous Orb, Rocky Helmet

Potential moves: Shadow Force, Earth Power, Aura Sphere, Hex, Draco Meteor, Shadow Ball, Icy Wind, Gravity, Pain Split, Tailwind, Will-o-wisp, Substitute, Swagger, Thunder Wave, Psych Up, Safeguard, Protect

Potential natures: Bold, Impish, Relaxed, Calm, Careful, Sassy, Timid, Jolly, Adamant, Modest

Giratina has monstrous defensive statistics, which makes it one of the best walls in singles. Unfortunately, good defensive stats don’t always get the job done when a player can attack your wall twice in a single turn. It does get some of the best utility moves in the game, but it doesn’t apply enough pressure to warrant taking up a restricted slot. In fact, that’s its biggest problem — you sacrifice too much power by turning down other options. There is the more offensive Giratina-Origin Forme, but its best, STAB ghost attack takes too long and Dragon type moves can be easy to play around.

LugiaLugia

Potential items: Sitrus Berry, Leftovers, Lum Berry, Rocky Helmet, Weakness Policy

Potential moves: Aeroblast, Psychic, Psyshock, Recover, Safeguard, Calm Mind, Roar, Ice Beam, Thunder Wave, Psych Up, Swagger, Substitute, Earth Power, Icy Wind, Skill Swap, Tailwind, Protect

Potential natures: Bold, Calm, Timid, Modest

Like Giratina, Lugia is an amazing wall in singles. In fact, if its hidden ability was released, it might be able to wall things in doubles, too. Multiscale (which reduces incoming damage when the Pokemon’s health is full) would allow Lugia to set up in front of opponents, recover off incoming damage and repeat the process until it’s strong enough to sweep. However, since multiscale isn’t an option, it’s outclassed by almost every other psychic type in the metagame that doesn’t take up a restricted slot.

ZekromZekrom

Potential items: Choice Scarf, Choice Band, Life Orb, Air Balloon, Focus Sash

Potential moves: Bolt Strike, Fusion Bolt, Dragon Claw, Rock Slide, Tailwind, Substitute, Protect

Potential natures: Adamant, Jolly

Zekrom’s only possible use is to blow up Primal Kyogre, but it gets completely destroyed by Primal Groudon. If the former was more popular, Zekrom might be more popular, too. Its lower speed often necessitates a Choice Scarf too, which makes it easy to play around.

ReshiramReshiram

Potential items: Choice Scarf, Choice Specs, Life Orb, Focus Sash, Assault Vest

Potential moves: Blue Flare, Fusion Flare, Draco Meteor, Earth Power, Overheat, Tailwind, Substitute, Protect

Potential natures: Modest, Timid

Fire type attacks aren’t that great in this metagame. On top of that, Reshiram suffers from all of Zekrom’s problems in addition to it not really countering any other restricted Pokémon well. Kyurem-W is an infinitely better option in every possible way.

Viable unrestricted Pokémon

With the restricted Pokémon out of the way, it’s time to delve into the VGC 2016 mainstays. Many of them have had an extended presence throughout the years, though their effectiveness can change depending on the metagame. Starting with the best mega Pokémon, let’s take a look at the potential candidates for your team’s remaining four slots.

Mega KangKangaskhan

Notable items: Kangaskhanite

Notable moves: Fake Out, Double Edge, Return, Frustration, Sucker Punch, Low Kick, Power-Up Punch, Safeguard, Protect

Notable natures: Jolly, Adamant

Surprise! Mega Kangaskhan is once again one of the top two mega evolutions. Because Parental Bond lets Kang hit twice every turn and it has access to some incredibly powerful attacks, it can demolish teams by itself with the right support. In fact, a +2 attack boost from a well-time Power-Up Punch can make Kang as threatening as Xerneas. And speaking of Xerneas, Kangaskhan’s access to Fake Out makes it a wonderful Pokémon to pair with the giant deer. Actually, there are very few Pokémon in VGC 2016 that don’t benefit from partnering up with a mega Kangaskhan.

The one odd-duck out of the move-flock, you may have noticed, is safeguard. This is a very much non-standard move that really only saw use on a few teams at US Nationals. However, Kangaskhan’s ability to out-speed Smeargle and force protects on turn one often gives it the potential to set up a safeguard for free.

As for natures, jolly-max-speed is the most common so as to avoid speed ties with other Kangaskhan. That being said, adamant does help it get a few key knock outs that jolly comes just shy of, so it being out-sped isn’t the end of your world, it might be worth considering.

Mega MenceSalamence

Notable items: Salamencite

Notable moves: Double Edge, Hyper Voice, Tailwind, Draco Meteor, Substitute, Protect

Notable natures: Naïve, Hasty

Surprise again! Mega Salamence follows suit by also being one of the best megas in the format. In fact, due to the popularity of Primal Groudon, Salamence may have gotten better than last year. Thanks to its pre-mega ability (Intimidate), Mence can make Groudon significantly less threatening for the whole team. On top of that, it easily beats Groudon one-on-one. The fact that it can also out-speed and intimidate Mega Rayquaza means it has a solid chance of beating that one-on-one, too (barring the odd Draco Meteor). In fact, the only Pokémon that it really struggles to beat one on one are those with access to ice type attacks, Xerneas and steel types — though the last problem can be solved with a Fire Blast.

Its first two slots are basically set in stone (no need to reinvent the wheel), so the real conversation comes down to its third slot. Draco and other coverage attacks were popular at the beginning of the year, but then people remembered that Double Edge and Hyper Voice were usually enough to get the job done. Instead, Tailwind’s ability to lift up the whole team and Substitute’s ability to help it face down super-effective attackers are far better options.

As for the nature, you’re stuck between Naïve and Hasty. Going anything less than max speed is foolish, and you don’t want either of your STAB attacks to lose even a smidgen of power due to the wrong nature.

Mega MawileMawile

Notable items: Mawilite

Notable moves: Iron Head, Play Rough, Sucker Punch, Protect

Notable natures: Brave, Adamant

Possibly an actual surprise! Mawile proved itself to be a great counter to Kangaskhan in 2014, but then 2015 came around and Landorus-T drove its usage into the ground. However, despite the overwhelming specter of Primal Groudon, Mawile is still quite useful on the right Trick Room team. Intimidate makes it a good lead candidate, even if you end up facing down a Groudon. Just switch something with Levitate (probably Cresselia, since you’re running trick) and you get a free attack drop that the rest of the team can use to take down Mawile’s main check.

Once that’s done, Iron Head your way through Xerneas, Play Rough through Yveltal and the dragons and sucker punch anything that wants to move before you. Thanks to Huge Power doubling mega Mawile’s attack, it’s a force to be reckoned with. For natures, it kind of depends on whether you want to fully commit to Trick Room or attempt to take advantage of Tailwind. If you’re going with the former, go Brave for the minimum amount of speed possible. For the latter, Adamant and a bit of an investment should let you out-speed most other enemies.

Mega ManectricManectric                             

Notable items: Manectricite

Notable moves: Volt Switch, Thunderbolt, Thunder, Overheat, Flamethrower, Hidden Power Ice, Snarl, Protect

Notable natures: Timid, Modest

Mega Manectric looks like a very niche pick for a team, but it fills that niche very well if no other mega is necessary. Regular Manectric’s Lightning Rod ability makes it an amazing partner for both Kyogre and Yveltal, since it redirects electric type attacks and gives it a boost to special attack. On top of that, it gets Intimidate after mega evolving, helping check Pokémon like Primal Groudon and mega Kang. Combine that with the switch initiative granted by Volt Switch and it’s not too difficult to stack multiple intimidates.

Manectric’s main problem is its limited move-pool. Hidden Power Ice is its only answer to ground types (and it isn’t a very good one), and the only other damage dealing attacks that are worth anything are fire type ones that won’t work very well next to a Kyogre. It does get access to Snarl, however, which can be decent utility against the right opponents. Still, Manectric is frail — so you really want it using its super-high speed to take opponents out before they can retaliate.

GengarGengar

Notable items: Gengarite, Life Orb, Focus Sash

Notable moves: Sludge Bomb, Shadow Ball, Hidden Power Ice, Hidden Power Water, Hypnosis, Confuse Ray, Hex, Will-O-Wisp, Taunt, Substitute, Disable, Perish Song, Icy Wind, Skill Swap, Protect

Notable natures: Timid, Modest

The first and arguably only Pokémon that functions fantastically either with and outside of its mega evolution, Gengar is as big a threat as ever. Mega Gengar can use Shadow Tag to help win you the weather war. In fact, try giving it HP Water, put it on a RayOgre team and watch the Primal Groudon tremble. And, even if you find yourself on the losing side of that war, you can use skill swap to turn the tables back in your favor. What’s more, even boosted Xerneas can’t take more than a single Sludge Bomb from Mega Gengar thanks to its ridiculously high special attack stat. To make matters even better, its poison type lets it resist fairy.

At the same time, neither version of Gengar has to go for full damage since it has access to a vast array of support moves. Will-O-Wisp has gone up in popularity as an answer to Mega Kangaskhan — which literally can’t touch ghosts that don’t attack. By pairing that with Disable, you can force a futile Sucker Punch, make Kang struggle to death and get back the ability to attack. Hex also works well when paired with status moves, though Shadow Ball makes for a much less situational ghost STAB.

Speaking of status, pairing Gengar with a Gravity user lets it fire off much more accurate Hypnosis. And, if thwarting supporters is more your thing, it’s one of the fastest taunt users that doesn’t have the Prankster ability. Finally, Icy Wind is a decent pick for leading Gengars, which can slow down opposing Pokémon for the rest of the team to mop up.

Nature-wise, both versions tend to do better going Timid. However, Mega Gengar is so fast that, on rare occasions and with the right purpose, you can get away with Modest.

AmoongussAmoonguss

Notable items: Red Card, Mental Herb, Coba Berry, Sitrus Berry

Notable moves: Grass Knot, Sludge Bomb, Rage Powder, Spore, Clear Smog, Protect

Notable natures: Relaxed, Sassy

Who ever thought a little mushroom could be so annoying? Well, whatever you think of Amoonguss, it returns as a top-tier threat in the 2016 metagame. Coming off a very popular 2015, Amoonguss didn’t quite hit its stride until the past few months. Some teams used it as Trick Room deterrent, but its grass type made it not that great in terms of redirection, since both Groudon and Kyogre have ways to hit it for massive damage.

Recently, it has found a home on the insurgent X-Ray team. By giving it Red Card, players can switch it into a spread attack from boosted Xerneas, take minimal damage and force the deer out of play. For those that aren’t aware, that usually robs it of its boosts for the rest of the game. And with a boosted Xerneas of your own, your opponent stands little chance. Alternatively, if your opponent refuses to attack your Amoonguss, you have two other ways to cripple Xerneas. Rage Powder pulls any Moonblasts your way (triggering the Red Card), but you can also just attack it with Clear Smog to reset its stats.

When not trying to single-handedly neutralize Xerneas, Amooonguss can also take advantage of STAB Grass Knot for solid damage against Kyogre and decent damage against Groudon. Then, of course, there’s always Spore — which puts an opposing mon to sleep with 100 percent accuracy. If your opponent is foolish enough to set up Trick Room on your Amoonguss, tell them to enjoy their nap.

Red Card tends to be the most popular item right now, but players are getting better at playing around it. For that reason, some are returning to the more all-purpose mainstays, such as Sitrus Berry and Coba Berry.

BronzongBronzong

Notable items: Lum Berry

Notable moves: Gyro Ball, Trick Room, Skill Swap, Gravity, Hypnosis

Notable natures: Relaxed

If Xerneas scares you, let freedom ring by sticking a Bronzong on your team. This Steel/Psychic type not only threatens boosted Xerneas with a Gyro Ball, but it can also do a perfectly good Cresselia impression if you need a Trick Room setter. It gets Levitate, Skill Swap and Gravity too, giving you a lot of the same utility afforded by Cress. At the same time, it also gets access to Hypnosis, which can really wreak havoc under Trick Room when Gravity is up (or, apparently, any time at US Nats).

Since it does have a slightly more limited move-pool when compared to Cress, the real decision players have to make when building their Bronzong is whether to use Levitate or Heatproof. Levitate is standard since Groudon is such a big threat, but most players tend to assume Levitate and go for Fire Punch. In those cases, going with Heatproof can catch them off guard and set up a solid punishment. On top of that, if you’re going to negate Levitate by setting up Gravity, there’s not much point in using it in the first place.

ClefairyClefairy

Notable items: Eviolite, Mental Herb

Notable moves: Moonblast, After You, Encore, Follow Me, Safeguard, Thunder Wave, Icy Wind, Helping Hand

Notable natures: Bold, Relaxed

Usually Clefairy is outshined by its evolution, but this year it’s one of the few basic Pokémon to be a solid team member. Its ability, Friend Guard, reduces the damage its partner takes by 25 percent — which is obviously huge. Factor in its access to Helping Hand (which boosts its partner’s attack by 50 percent) and Clefairy can help the right partner destroy an opponent single handedly. In fact, there are few Pokémon that don’t benefit from its presence — though Primal Groudon and Xerneas tend to be the most grateful.

Clefairy’s access to Follow Me also helps its partner set up if necessary, and Moonblast can do decent damage with no investment thanks to how many Pokémon are weak to it. Then there’s the fact that it has just as much utility under Trick Room thanks to Encore, which can lock opponents into using moves that hurt them more than they help. On top of that, Clefairy under Trick Room is one of the only Pokémon that can make good use of After You, which allows its partner to skip normal speed checks and attack right after the move is used.

You definitely need to give it both an Eviolite and a defensive nature if you want to use Clef, though. While it may help its partner a great deal, it’s quite easy to take down itself. If you’re that worried about getting taunted, though, you might be able to get away with a Mental Herb.

CresseliaCresselia

Notable items: Sitrus Berry, Mental Herb, Lum Berry

Notable moves: Ice beam, Psychic, Icy Wind, Trick Room, Skill Swap, Gravity, Safeguard, Thunder Wave, Helping Hand
Notable natures: Bold, Timid, Modest, Sassy, Relaxed

One of the best support Pokémon returns with a vengeance this year — and it’s even had some opportunities to go on the offensive!

First and foremost, this thing is a sure-fire way to get Trick Room up. By combining its natural bulk with a Sitrus Berry, it’s impossible to target down Cress without a lucky crit. And once Trick Room is up, it’s free to help the rest of the team with moves like Skill Swap, Gravity and Helping Hand. It’s worth mentioning, though, that while Sitrus has certainly become standard, using it does give players other options to stop it from setting up. In those cases, you’ll have to decide whether stopping a taunt or sleep-inducing attack is more important with Mental Herb and Lum Berry, respectively.

Cresselia doesn’t always have to go slow, though, as demonstrated by one of the most popular teams in the format. By opting for a bit of speed, players can use Icy Wind and Thunder Wave to make the rest of their team faster than their opponents. Those sets also tend to run psychic for a bit of damage output — specifically on poison types and Pokémon with little special bulk (a.k.a. Groudon). No matter how you run it though, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better support Pokémon.

CrobatCrobat

Notable items: Lum Berry, Mental Herb

Notable moves: Super Fang, Tailwind, Taunt, Quick Guard, Haze, Hypnosis

Notable natures: Timid

Crobat has had an interesting journey through 2016. It’s access to Super Fang made it excellent for taking softening up bulky restricted Pokémon, and its ability to move through Fake Outs made it the best Tailwind setter in the game. Its only problem, though, is that it was very one dimensional — and that made it easier to work around.

However, at a certain point, players added a new twist by adding Haze to Crobat’s repertoire. This gave it an answer to Xerneas by resetting eliminating its Geomancy boosts. At the same time, players can also use it to benefit Pokémon that have their stats lowered by various moves. When partnered with Crobat, Rayquaza is free to use Dragon Ascent without worrying about being more vulnerable. Draco Meteor and Overheat users can also nuke opponents without worrying about their special attack stat dropping.

It’s still not going to keep opponent’s guessing, but Crobat fills its role well. As for items that help it do so, Lum Berry or Mental Herb tend to do best — as is the case with most support Pokémon.

DittoDitto

Notable items: Choice Scarf, Red Card, Quick Claw

Notable moves: Transform

Notable natures: Timid

Ditto is, as it always has been, a very straight forward Pokémon. However, the ability to transform into another Pokémon is actually more useful in 2016 than it has been in quite some time. The reason is pretty straight forward too — having three restricted Pokémon is huge. Even better, Ditto also gains the same boosts as its transformation target, giving users potentially two boosted Xerneas per game.

On top of that, the fact that Ditto can still take advantage of its item is huge. More often than not, Ditto is given a Choice Scarf so that it can fire off attacks first. The downside of that is that Ditto is limited in its move options — it has to sacrifice its powerful form if it wants to use a different move.

Some who run Ditto opt to use a Quick Claw instead, which gives it an 18.75 percent chance to move first in its priority bracket. The only problem with that is that four out of five times Ditto will speed tie with the Pokémon it has turned into. The die can still roll in your favor that way, but luck can also turn against you. Even fewer Ditto users give it a Red Card, which is commonly used to steal a Xerneas’ form and boosts before bouncing it out of play.

FerrothornFerrothorn

Notable items: Leftovers, Rocky Helmet

Notable moves: Gyro Ball, Power Whip, Leech Seed, Protect

Notable natures: Relaxed, Sassy, Brave

Ferrothorn has been one of the best defensive Pokémon in VGC since its introduction in generation five. It has great defensive stats, solid typing and an ability that punishes everything that tries to touch it. Add its potential to recover a solid chunk of HP every turn through Leftovers and Leech Seed and you have a tough wall to crack. This year, Ferrothorn gets extra mileage out of its access to Gyro Ball — which destroys opposing Xerneas. It also has the added bonus of being able to occasionally OKHO Primal Kyogre with the right spread, while also eating up its powerful water attacks.

The only problem with Ferrothorn is that Primal Groudon is everywhere. Pairing it with a Primal Kyogre lets you protect it by negating fire type attacks, but that constricts the rest of your team. At that point, you’re either running dual primals (which can still leave your Ferrothorn vulnerable to fire type attacks) or RayOgre. In either situation, while they are far from the worst archetypes, they aren’t the most consistent winners. More often than not, Bronzong has more utility, just as much defensive prowess and access to Gyro Ball.

HitmontopHitmontop

Notable items: Sitrus Berry, Focus Sash

Notable moves: Close Combat, Wide Guard, Quick Guard, Feint, Fake Out, Helping Hand, Protect, Detect

Notable natures: Bold, Adamant, Brave, Relaxed

Kyogre’s best buddy from 2010 is back as an option this year, though he doesn’t quite have the same luster. However, his access to Intimidate and a wide variety of utility moves makes him a very useful teammate. Close Combat is probably his best attack, and its high base power doesn’t require much (if any) attack investment to do decent damage. Fake Out provides excellent pressure, though it is one of the slower users in the format. Even better, it can use Feint to restrict an opponent’s ability to protect — letting Kyogre (or its other team members) attack away.

On the more defensive side, Wide Guard and Quick Guard provide excellent coverage against many of the spread and priority moves in the game. There can always be some mind-games involved if your opponent has both options to pick from, but the chance to negate one of their moves can still be crucial to success.

Since Hitmontop is such a naturally slow Pokémon and relies on priority moves, there’s no sense in going for speed. Stick with an Adamant or Bold nature for neutral speed or Brave or Relaxed when playing under Trick Room.

JumpluffJumpluff

Notable items: Focus Sash, Mental Herb, Wide Lens

Notable moves: Sleep Powder, Rage Powder, Encore, Helping Hand

Notable natures: Timid

I’m not sure anyone expected Jumpluff would help win a European National, but it certainly did so with style. Still, partly because it doesn’t run any attacking moves, using it requires some finesse. Chlorophyll is the main draw, which boosts its already high speeds even higher. This lets it get off Sleep Powders faster than almost anything under the sun, which can easily disrupt an unprepared opponent.

If the opponent is expecting to be put to sleep, though, Jumpluff always has other options. Rage Powder lets you protect your partners from harm and Encore gives you a different way to shut an opponent down if, say, your opponent sets up a Safeguard. Then there’s Helping Hand, which can let Primal Groudon hit for massive damage.

Its item options are mostly centered around maximizing its ability to disrupt things, though Mental Herb may be the most important. After all, without one, a single taunt makes it completely dead weight. Granted, if you don’t expect to see many Taunt-users, a Focus Sash’s longevity and Wide Lens’ extra accuracy would certainly come in handy.

Landorus-tLandorus-T

Notable items: Choice Scarf, Choice Band, Life Orb

Notable moves: Earthquake, Rock Slide, U-Turn, Explosion, Superpower, Knock Off, Hidden Power Ice, Earth Power

Notable natures: Jolly, Adamant, Naïve

Players who thought Landorus-T was too common last year are likely relieved by its reduced presence in 2016. Its weakness to Ice Beam is as inconvenient as ever, and the fact that Kyogre is so strong means it can’t survive one with an Assault Vest. Instead, you’re forced to go for all out offense with a choice item or Life Orb.

Intimidate is still nice to have, and a scarfed U-turn can let you stack multiple layers of it. Rock Slide still hits the format’s many flying types for super effective damage (and Groudon for neutral), but it tends to hit a little less hard without a choice band because of how bulky restricted Pokémon are. Then there’s its STAB move in Earthquake which, while powerful, is certainly out-shinned by Precipice Blades.

The most exciting change to Landorus-T’s usual play-style is the addition of Explosion. When used with a Choice Band, it has the chance to catch unwary opponents off-guard. By protecting on the fateful turn or using a ghost type, you can trade your Landorus-T for two of your opponent’s Pokémon. Many good players will make the read, but it’s devastating if they make the wrong call.

As for Natures, its base 91 speed means it’s usually better to go for Jolly over Adamant. However, if you’re running a scarf, you might as well go with the extra attack. Either way though, the bane of 2015 has sure lost a lot of its luster.

LiepardLiepard

Notable items: Focus Sash, Black Glasses

Notable moves: Fake Out, Foul Play, Taunt, Encore, Swagger, Role Play, Assist

Notable natures: Timid

If you enjoy tormenting your opponents above all else, Liepard might be your new best friend. It’s speed and access to Prankster means it will almost always have a chance to disrupt things before your opponent can. On top of the usual bag of tricks, Liepard has access to the dangerous combo of Swagger and Foul Play. Since the former boosts the target’s attack stat by two stages (while also confusing them) and the latter uses the opponent’s attack stat to calculate damage, you can deal massive damage while potentially shutting your opponent down.

However, if you’re feeling even cheekier, you could go the “Void Cats” route. Basically, you use a very specific team to pull off priority Dark Voids on your opponent. No sense in delving into it here — feel free to Google it yourself if you’re feeling evil.

MeowsticMeowstic

Notable items: Mental Herb, Focus Sash, Sitrus Berry,

Notable moves: Fake Out, Quick Guard, Helping Hand, Trick Room, Safeguard, Swagger, Gravity

Notable natures: Calm, Bold, Relaxed, Sassy

Meowstic is the sixth generation’s prankster Pokémon, and it comes with one very clutch move in 2016: Gravity. Unlike Cresselia and Bronzong, Meowstic is almost guaranteed to get off at least one Gravity per game — which works wonders with primals and Kyurem-W. On top of that, it gets access to a combo in the form of Safeguard and Swagger, which lets you boost the attack of your own Pokémon by two stages without incurring confusion. If it isn’t obvious, Groudon benefits really well from it. Trick Room and Helping Hand as options makes Meowstic an even better partner for Groudon, too.

Meowstic’s biggest issue is its relative frailty — making it the most unreliable Trick Room setter. That leads some to give it a Sitrus Berry, but that makes it easy taunt-bait. Still, you can argue that trading bulk for speed can be worth it. Make sure to use the male Meowstic, too. The female doesn’t get access to Prankster.

RaichuRaichu

Notable items: Focus Sash, Air Balloon, King’s Rock

Notable moves: Volt Tackle, Nuzzle, Thunderbolt, Thunder, Feint, Endeavor, Fling, Swagger, Encore, Protect

Notable natures: Timid, Jolly

For those that don’t want to use a team slot for mega Manectric, Raichu is a great option. In fact, some might argue that Raichu is better thanks to its various disruptive moves and above-average speed. Nuzzle gives it a reliable way to paralyze opponents that can’t be stopped with taunt. Feint and Encore both make it too risky for your opponent to protect, so Raichu’s partner can work its magic uninterrupted. When holding a Focus Sash, it can also bring opponents down to a single HP with Endeavor and then finish them off the next turn with Feint’s priority. Damage wise, Raichu can hit decently hard with a Volt Tackle — but it won’t get getting most of your knockouts.

SableyeSableye

Notable items: Focus Sash, Mental Herb

Notable moves: Fake Out, Will-O-Wisp, Gravity, Confuse Ray, Quash, Taunt, Swagger, Feint, Role Play

Notable natures: Bold

Back when Sableye couldn’t be hit for super effective damage, its lack of bulk probably wasn’t much of an issue. But now, with Xerneas being so common, it can struggle to stick around. That being said, it usually only needs a couple of terms to do its job thanks to Prankster. Will-O-Wisp is a staple, helping it shut down threats such as Kangaskhan. Gravity can help out Pokémon that attack with less than 100 percent accurate moves, but Sableye is often paired with Pokémon like Crobat and Gengar that use Hypnosis.

Perhaps Sableye’s most fun set involves using Quash, which forces the target to attack last in its priority bracket. That can help circumvent all kinds of speed control, giving the rest of your team a chance to kill whatever is threatening it. Still, be sure you can take care of whatever you Quash.

ScizorScizor

Notable items: Life Orb, Scizorite

Notable moves: Bullet Punch, Bug Bite, Feint, Knock Off, Superpower, Swords Dance, Protect

Notable natures: Adamant, Brave

As per usual, one of the few things that can stop Scizor is a fire type attack. Fortunately, Kyogre provides a solid defense against Primal Groudon’s Eruptions and Fire Punches. But even if you don’t have a Kyogre, Scizor’s Bullet Punch hits Xerneas so hard that it can often be worth bringing it anyway. And unlike most Feint users, it’s offensive prowess means it can pressure opponents too much for them to risk falling for a bluff. Bug Bite usually rounds out its offensive set, giving it a decent way to hit psychic types and Kyogre.

In past years, Scizor has also run moves such as Superpower for other steel types, Knock Off to get rid of items and Swords Dance to give it an extra boost in power. However, considering the rest of the metagame, only Swords Dance has any viability. And while it can help you OKHO a Xerneas after setting up on a protect, it won’t really help you anywhere else.

ScraftyScrafty

Notable items: Life Orb, Assault Vest, Sitrus Berry

Notable moves: Fake Out, Knock off, Low Sweep, Quick Guard, Protect

Notable natures: Adamant

Despite usually being a VGC mainstay, Scrafty only recently saw significant usage at US Nationals. This can almost certainly be attributed to Xerneas, which destroys it under basically any circumstances. That being said, it has worked wonders on X-Ray teams when the opponent doesn’t have a Xerneas of their own. With a Life Orb, Scrafty destroys any Trick Room setter. And, if Trick Room does go up, it can under-speed primals and do real damage with Low Kick. Quick Guard can also help your Xerneas set up when facing down Kangaskhan and also stop Pokémon like Talonflame in its tracks. Finally, Fake Out achieves the same goal against anything that doesn’t have also have Fake Out.

SmeargleSmeargle

Notable items: Focus Sash, Mental Herb, Choice Scarf

Notable moves: Dark Void, Crafty Shield, Wide Guard, Follow Me, Fake Out, Transform, Spikey Shield, King’s Shield

Notable natures: Timid, Bold, Relaxed

Smeargle is one of those Pokémon that few people like but many use anyway. In a metagame where a single turn of sleep can decide the game, the ability to incapacitate both of your opponent’s Pokémon with Dark Void is too good. On top of that, it can counter all manner of disruption with Crafty Shield and mitigate a variety of attacks with Wide Guard and Follow Me. Finally, there’s the decision between Spikey Shield and King’s Shield, which mostly comes down to its item choice. The former is used with both Focus Sash and Mental Herb, but King’s Shield usually requires the latter item to be effective.

When it comes to scarfed Smeargle, few things matter as much as Dark Void. Even still, most players run Transform as a back-up option. That gives them a pseudo-Ditto that just needs an extra turn before it can start doing damage.

Above all else, Smeargle can be your win condition when you’re not sure what else to do. When in doubt, pray for the right Moody-boosts and ride them to victory. And don’t feel bad — everyone will have won that way at least once by the end of 2016.

TalonflameTalonflame

Notable items: Life Orb, Sharp Beak

Notable moves: Brave Bird, Flare Blitz, Tailwind, Quick Guard, Will-O-Wisp, Taunt, Swords Dance, Snatch

Notable natures: Adamant

The Smogon-bird strikes again, Brave Birding things to death and setting up the fastest Tailwind in the format. With an item that boosts its damage output, only Pokémon that resist its STAB are truly safe. An un-boosted Xerneas will go down before it even has a chance to power up, and Talonflame can even put a solid dent in Primal Groudon’s physical defenses. Flare Blitz is usually a necessity so Talonflame doesn’t get shut down in the face of Quick Guard, but in the rain that still doesn’t do much good.

Talonflame takes advantage of its natural speed to use a number of support moves other than Tailwind. Quick Guard is handy when facing down Fake Out users, and Taunt is good against anything that doesn’t have Prankster. Will-O-Wisp and Swords Dance have also been used in past formats but there’s not as much to burn in this format nor many opportunities to set up a Swords Dance. One move that hasn’t seen a lot of play before this year, though, is Snatch. It’s not very popular, but it can be used to steal things like Tailwind, Wide Guard and more for your own team.

ThundurusThundurus-I

Notable items: Sitrus Berry, Focus Sash, Life Orb

Notable moves: Thunderbolt, Hidden Power Water, Hidden Power Ice, Thunder Wave, Taunt, Swagger, Protect

Notable natures: Timid, Modest

Of the two genies that scoured VGC 2015, Thundurus is the one that people still use. In fact, Thundurus remains about as good as it was last year. It still paralyzes, Taunts and Swaggers things at Prankster speed, helping you restrict your opponent in many different ways. Thunderbolt can 2HKO a good deal of the metagame and pretty much anything that takes super effective damage from electric attacks.

The main changes between this year and last is that its bulk doesn’t quite carry it as far without significant investment. That can occasionally be a problem if anything else on your team needs a Focus Sash, but Sitrus Berry is still a solid item. Life Orb is best used when employing Thundurus’ other new trick — using Hidden Power Water to kill Primal Groudon by switching in a Kyogre or Rayquaza. It doesn’t always get the knock out, though, so be careful with that trick.

TogekissTogekiss

Notable items: Sitrus Berry, Lum Berry, Mental Herb, Leftovers

Notable moves: Air Slash, Dazzling Gleam, Flamethrower, Fire Blast, Thunder Wave, Tailwind, Safeguard, Encore, Follow Me, Protect

Notable natures: Bold, Calm, Modest

Togekiss can be an annoying Pokémon to deal with thanks to its ability Serene Grace, which doubles the chance of a move’s secondary effect going off. More often than not, that results in 60 percent Air Slash flinches. Pair that with Thunder Wave’s paralysis chance and you’re looking at one of your Pokémon doing nothing until the flying egg-thing goes down. The more supportive Togekiss can run Tailwind for speed control, Follow Me for redirection and Encore for disruption.

In 2016, Togekiss can also benefit from a significant boost in bulk when Mega Rayquaza gets Delta Stream up. With a Sitrus Berry, Leftovers — or while running Roost — that can make it a Pokémon that sticks around for long time. Watch out for Bronzong and Ferrothorn though. Even though Togekiss isn’t very fast, it doesn’t appreciate a Gyro Ball.

WeavileWeavile

Notable items: Focus Sash, Life Orb

Notable moves: Knock Off, Icicle Crash, Low Kick, Ice Shard, Fake Out, Feint, Foul Play, Protect

Notable natures: Jolly, Adamant

It would be nice if Weavile had a decent way to touch primals, but it still can still hit just about everything else pretty hard. Knock Off obviously comes in handy against the metagame’s Trick Room setters, but Weavile’s speed can also help it remove Xerneas’ Power Herb before it can use Geomancy. Otherwise, it can still take out mega Salamence with Icicle Crash and deal good damage to Kang with Low Kick. That being said, Feint is often a better option since Low Kick doesn’t hit much else and Icicle Crash still does solid damage. And, if you haven’t already guessed, Fake Out is always great to have.

WhimsicottWhimsicott

Notable items: Focus Sash, Mental Herb

Notable Moves: Moonblast, Encore, Safeguard, Tailwind, Taunt, Swagger, Fake Tears, Grass Whistle, Endeavor, Helping Hand, Protect

Notable natures: Timid

In terms of Prankster Pokémon, it’s hard to make a case against Whimsicott for being the best. It’s easily one of the fastest Pokémon in the format, meaning it can always disrupt before being attacked or disrupted itself (barring the exception of +2 priority moves). It also has a deep arsenal of support moves to choose from — though Encore, Safeguard and Taunt tend to be the most useful. If you don’t have another Tailwind user, Whimsicott can get the job done — but it has to pass up a lot of other options to use it. One of the more niche moves from 2016 is Grass Whistle, which capitalizes on the ample presence of Gravity.

Item wise, Whimsicott usually wants a Focus Sash since it’s exceedingly frail. That does make it susceptible to Taunt, but it’s fast enough to get at least one move off before anything else can stop it. Mental Herb is another option, but it’s a lot less handy in the long run.

ZapdosZapdos

Notable items: Sitrus Berry, Leftovers

Notable moves: Thunderbolt, Heat Wave, Hidden Power Ice, Roar, Thunder Wave, Roost, Substitute, Tailwind, Protect

Notable natures: Modest, Bold, Timid

The only one of the original legendary birds worth anything, Zapdos is also about the only bulky electric Pokémon. Its flying type is a big part of that, though Gravity can make it far easier to kill. Zapdos also got a huge boost after its hidden ability was released, since anything that makes contact with it has a chance of getting paralyzed.

Bulk aside, Thunderbolt is pretty much it’s only consistent attack, though some run Hidden Power Ice or Water depending on the rest of the team. Thunder Wave and Tailwind don’t need much explanation and are pretty much always used. Normally protect would be a no-brainer for the fourth slot, but Roar has proven useful against Trick Room setters and Pokémon that set up.

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