We have now reached the final week before the highly anticipated North American International Championships. After nearly an entire season, the VGC 2018 metagame has almost completely developed. I say “almost” because it’s usually during these end-of-the-year tournaments the most creative strategies emerge, and that makes them much more exciting. For those still struggling to finalize their teams, having a complete guide to the current metagame would be helpful right? Well, that’s why we’re here. Here is your guide to the VGC 2018 metagame: North American Internationals edition.
A Multitude of Mega Evolutions
At the start of the 2018 season, many players were skeptical about the return of the dominant Mega Evolutions that populated the formats from 2014 to 2016. With some considerable nerfs to many of the abilities that made some of these Mega Pokemon so powerful, things looked like they balanced out. What the 2018 format has over years before it is a ton of variety which mainly stems from the amount of viable Mega Evolutions there are to use. Let’s take a look at some of the ones you’re likely to see a lot of this weekend.
Without being centralizing, Mega Metagross has established the standard for teams this year. With the change in speed mechanics for Mega Evolved Pokemon (allowing Pokemon to gain their Mega Evolved speed the turn they Mega Evolve), Mega Metagross was by far the best Pokemon to benefit from this. The slow and awkward Metagross skyrockets to a speed tier where it rivals Gengar and Latios, which makes it an even bigger threat. Mega Metagross’ power comes from the ability Tough Claws which boosts Mega Metagross’ attacks that make contact with the target. Combine that with excellent move coverage with Iron Head, Stomping Tantrum and Ice Punch and you have yourself a monster of an attacker. If you’re looking for consistency, a team featuring Mega Metagross is one of the best options out there.
Lee Provost (2nd Sheffield Regionals):
Max Waterman (Top 8 Sheffield Regionals):
Many players thought that after the heavy nerfs to Mega Kangaskhan, it wouldn’t be nearly as viable as it was during its dominant three-year run. Over half of the season rolls by and players have re-established a team that nearly solved the 2015 metagame: CHALK. CHALK was the acronym given to the team that won the 2015 World Championships, and it basically boiled down to using the best Pokemon in the format. Mega Kangaskhan may not have the same level of strength, but its role as a bulky attacker with solid support with Fake Out still makes it a great Pokemon in this metagame. 2018’s new CHALK variant looks to be the team to beat right now, but don’t be surprised if we see some players use more innovative teams with this once-dominant Mega Evolution.
Juan Pablo Naar (1st Colombia Special Event):
YT (Top 4 Japan National Championship):
Mega Salamence has always been a powerful Pokemon, but it hit a rough patch before its revival at the Japanese National Championships. The world was instantly reminded how much of a threat Mega Salamence was after just one Dragon Dance, and such great offensive power comes with incredible bulk and speed as well. What’s amazing about Mega Salamence is that with just the attacking options of Aerilate-boosted Normal-type moves, Mega Salamence can easily run over unprepared teams. Most Mega Salamence have been built to use Dragon Dance and sweep, but there are others who go mixed and use special attacks like Hyper Voice and Flamethrower. Both variants are equally viable right now, and figuring out which one your opponent has is crucial for figuring out how to beat it.
Kael (1st Japan National Championship):
Paul Ruiz (2nd Colombia Special Event):
Aurelian Lefebvre (Top 4 Sheffield Regionals):
Mega Charizard Y
The more popular of the Charizard Mega Evolutions has not had a bad year at all. Mega Charizard Y has consistently been in the upper echelon of Pokemon in the 2018 format, and it continues to adapt as the metagame changes. While most Mega Charizard Y teams aren’t “sun” teams by definition, Charizard abuses the boost to its Fire-type moves thanks to its Drought ability. Mega Charizard Y isn’t a very complex Pokemon, as spamming powerful Fire-type attacks and the occasional Solar Beam is its main strategy. However, some variants have included Tailwind as a third move when opting for a single Fire-type attack and the aforementioned Solar Beam. Mega Charizard Y is far from a bad option for this tournament and there are a lot of different ways for this Pokemon to be successful.
Michele Gavelli (1st Sheffield Regionals):
Ethan Simpson (Top 8 Madison Regionals):
James Baek (Top 8 Roanoke Regionals):
The Mega Gengar hype has died down a bit after its dominant run during the spring, but it still remains one of the best Mega Evolutions out there. Mega Gengar’s Shadow Tag makes its playstyle all about control as the opponent is trapped in until Gengar exits the field. Strategies include setting up with Kommo-o, cycling Intimidate and even locking down Pokemon with the combination of Encore+Disable. This Pokemon can be very annoying to play against, and many players dread seeing it in team preview. The trapping ability, access to great support moves, and even great Special Attack and Speed make Gengar as big a force to be reckoned with as it was just a few months ago.
Dylan Salvanera (1st Roanoke Regionals):
James Baek (1st Toronto Regionals):
Matthew Greaves (1st Salt Lake City Regionals):
Like Mega Gengar, Mega Gardevoir also had a time earlier in the season where it was the hot thing to use, but since that time its usage has dropped significantly. Still, some players are finding success with this Pokemon as it still offers a lot. Mega Gardevoir is one of the rare Mega Evolutions that can work in Tailwind and Trick Room. Teams with Mega Gardevoir often accommodate both methods of speed control, giving them a wide selection of options to win games. Either way, Mega Gardevor aims to be in a position where it can spam Pixilate-boosted Hyper Voices until the opponent’s team is wiped out. Mega Gardevoir had its breakout tournament at US Nationals back in 2015, so history has a chance to repeat itself in the right hands.
Benjamin Tan (1st Malaysia Special Event):
Stephen Mea (Top 8 Madison Regionals):
Ben Kyriakou (Top 4 Stuttgart Regionals):
While these Mega Evolutions are the best in VGC 2018 right now, the list doesn’t end here. We can’t possibly cover every single viable Mega Evolution in-depth, so here are some honorable mentions for Mega Pokemon that can still have success in the current metagame.
The Five Most Popular Pokemon in VGC 2018 Right Now
Even with the introduction of Intimidate Incineroar to the mix, Landorus has maintained its position at the top of the 2018 metagame. The amazing attack power and defensive potential of this Pokemon have kept it relevant for every year it has been allowed in VGC. Many Landorus opt for the Choice Scarf item, but a recent trend has been a shift to the Groundium Z in order to capitalize on Landorus’ high Attack stat with the help of Swords Dance. This Pokemon shows up on pretty much every other team you’ll face in VGC 2018 so expect this Pokemon to be the most common yet again.
Kartana has always been one of the best of the new Ultra Beasts, but its low Special Defense leaves a lot to be desired from it defensively. Luckily the Assault Vest can (mostly) patch Kartana’s greatest flaw, and players have taken a liking to this variant, especially on 2018’s version of CHALK. Still, the more offensive variants of Kartana with either a Z Crystal or Focus Sash are still out there, and these variants like to carry Tailwind as well. Despite it’s low bulk, Kartana’s amazing Attack stat makes it a huge threat, and it can be a costly mistake letting this thing score even one KO thanks to Beast Boost.
Arguably all of the Island Guardians are viable, but the most popular right now is Tapu Fini. Tapu Fini is the prime example of a balanced Pokemon in this format. Great defensive typing and stats combined with a boost-able Special Attack stat gives this Pokemon a ton of different options. Calm Mind sweeper, Choice Specs attacker, and support are just some of the best of what Tapu Fini can offer a team, and its ability to control the offense of Tapu Koko, Tapu Lele, and Tapu Bulu under their respective Terrains is a huge plus. One of the best Pokemon in the metagame right now, but only when it decides to hit both targets with Muddy Water.
To those who have been playing VGC 2018 for a while, this Pokemon needs no introduction. The ability Intimidate, access to Fake Out and the great offensive typing of Fire/Dark makes Incineroar one of the most splash-able Pokemon in the game. This Pokemon’s introduction into the format made many Pokemon significantly weaker, and the entire metagame shifted when Incineroar was given its Hidden Ability. Incineroar could almost be as common as Landorus considering how vital the role of Intimidator is on most teams in VGC, so expect to see this Pokemon everywhere as well.
For those of you who have played VGC in general for a while, this Pokemon also needs no introduction. Cresselia was one of these Pokemon that became a lot less viable due to rise in Incineroar’s popularity; but like many great Pokemon, Cresselia has adapted. Cresselia mainly finds its home on CHALK or some Mega Charizard Y teams mainly as a bulky supporter. However, some Cresselia have been known to carry the Psychium Z in order to handle things like Kommo-o and Amoonguss, but also to take much less damage from Knock Off. A more niche variant carries the Electric Seed with the move Calm Mind in order to raise both its bulk and Special Attack to absurd levels. Despite a bit of a rough patch in the middle of the season, Cresselia is back in full force for the late part of the 2018 season.
A Short List of Potential “Plays” For This Tournament
This is a list of Pokemon that are niche, but have been slowly rising in popularity in the shadow of the Pokemon listed above. These Pokemon have really good metagame matchups and have the potential to carry a team to an International title.
For the complete rundown of why Nihilego is good, make sure to check out our Nihilego spotlight piece. Tl;dr Nihilego is a Pokemon with an amazing matchup in the metagame with its excellent move coverage, options for both fast and bulky variants and the amazing ability in Beast Boost making it a huge attacking threat. Nihilego can easily score KO’s on the Island Guardians, Incineroar, some Landorus and Charizard which means a free Beast Boost. Even though its Defense is utterly horrible, it makes the perfect special counterpart to Kartana (one of its most popular teammates).
With the popularity of Intimidate thanks to Pokemon like Landorus and Incineroar, an ability like Defiant comes in handy. Braviary not only scares away Intimidate Pokemon, but can also set-up Tailwind or score some big damage with a boosted (or un-boosted) Brave Bird. Add Superpower and Rock Slide for some solid secondary move coverage, and you have an excellent supportive attacker.
After the recent success of Nidoqueen in Japan and Nidoking’s recent Top 8 appearance in Sheffield, players are finally starting to notice the power of Generation One’s royal couple. Similar to Nihilego, these two have amazing attacking coverage with Poison, Ground and Ice-type attacks that are boosted thanks to the powerful combination of Sheer Force+Life Orb. For those looking for better bulk, Nidoqueen is preferred, but those wanting more power should choose Nidoking. It’s debatable which one is considered “better”, but either of them are great choices.
The reason I bring up Volcarona is that it’s a Fire-type that can easily handle Kartana. The most popular non-mega Fire-types (Incineroar and Heatran) can struggle with Kartana due to them both being slower and weak to Sacred Sword. Volcarona resists all of Kartana’s most common attacks (excluding Knock Off) and can easily set-up a game-winning Quiver Dance in front of it. If you’re wanting a Fire-type for your team that isn’t the standard fare, Volcarona might be the pick for you.
Our last pick is one that I’m sort of regretting putting on here. Celesteela’s playstyle is all about sitting on the field and stalling with Leech Seed. It can be nearly impossible to take this Pokemon down without an Electric or Fire-type, and depending on the Beast Boosts, even a strong type matchup might not be enough. The reason Celesteela might be the play right now is that many teams usually only have a single answer to it in either a Fire-type or an Electric-type. A prime example is CHALK where the only way the team can hit Celesteela for super effective damage is Heatran. Deal with a team’s positive type matchup and Celesteela can win the game by itself.
Whew. That was a lot of information. Unfortunately we can’t cover the entirety of the vast VGC 2018 metagame in one write-up, but hopefully this gives you a pretty good idea of the top Pokemon and strategies going into the penultimate event of the 2018 circuit. Of course this format is prime for innovation, so be sure to expect the unexpected. For a more extensive database of the VGC 2018 metagame I highly recommend checking out VGCStats, a website dedicated to collecting teams and Championship Point data for every major event this season.
Good luck to all of those competing in Columbus this weekend. For those of you following the action at home, the event will be presented via four streams which can be found across Pokemon’s official Twitch channels. It’s sure to be an exciting weekend for Pokemon VGC, as what will be a season-defining tournament for many players is finally here.
Images from Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, Pokken Tournament, The Pokemon Anime, Bulbapedia, Ken Sugimori and The Pokemon Company International
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