The Japanese National Championships have decided the nation’s World Championship qualifiers, but the results have us western players scratching our heads a bit. Not only did a Pokemon that was unheard of in VGC 2017 win it all, but a bunch of other weird and unconventional strategies managed to succeed. Let’s take a look at the marvel that was the teams of the Japanese National Top Cut.
Results & Teams (Top 8)
A Popular Choice for Held Items
One thing that managed to be consistent was the popularity of Choice items for a number of popular Pokemon. I think this is the first time in a major tournament Top Cut where we’ve seen a Snorlax without its signature pinch berry. Instead, Amano Hikaru opted for a Choice Band to boost Snorlax’s Attack without having to rely on Curse or Belly Drum.
Hikaru’s team also featured a Tapu Koko holding a Choice Scarf, which also seems like an odd item considering Tapu Koko’s already impressive Speed stat. Moving away from Hikaru’s team, Nakagowa Gouki featured a team with a Choice Scarf Celesteela, and a Lycanroc with Choice Band. We’ll get to Lycanroc in a bit, but Celesteela holding a Choice Scarf is pretty bizarre. We’ve seen offensive items like Life Orb and Assault Vest have success with Celesteela, but never a speedy variant with Choice Scarf. It does make some sense since Celesteela has a very diverse move pool, but its very low base speed doesn’t compliment a Choice Scarf very well.
Besides Choice items, there were a few other weird item choices sprinkled around the Top 8. What could’ve spawned these unique ideas is beyond me, but let’s move on to the Pokemon themselves.
Niche Picks: Japan Edition
Japanese players are often known for their creative approach to the game, and their 2017 Nationals are no exception.
Is there a new queen of VGC? For 2017, it looks like it. Grass types as a whole aren’t very popular outside of Tapu Bulu and Kartana. So what makes Tsareena so special? With Ootsubo Ryouta’s choice of Fightinum Z for a held item, Tsareena can fire off a pretty strong All-Out-Pummeling with access to High Jump Kick.
Tsareena’s signature move, Trop Kick, is also fairly unique. It’s not the strongest attack at only 70 base power, but it always lowers the target’s Attack stat when it connects. Could be a useful tool for wearing down fast, physical-hitters after Ryouta’s Pelipper is able to set up Tailwind for Tsareena.
Finally, Feint is a highly underrated move that only a few viable Pokemon can make use of. Feint breaks the opponent’s Protect while also being a damaging move with priority. Feint works very well in a format full of strong Z-moves, and Golduck’s rain-boosted Hydro Vortex is one that often baits out Protects.
Overall, a Pokemon like Tsareena requires a very specific team composition to work, and Ryouta’s team looks to be a good fit. Is Tsareena a good Pokemon in VGC 2017? I’m not sure. We’ll just have to see if any western players are inspired by Ryouta’s success.
Lycanroc (Midday Forme)
With Gigalith’s current popularity, the Sand-abusing ability of Lycanroc’s Midday Forme makes it a solid partner. This scary combo threatens a ton of damage for a team without many Rock-type resistances. Lycanroc itself doesn’t have the greatest move pool, but Fire Fang is a very useful tool for dealing with Kartana who threatens this duo immensely. Coupled with the speed boost from the Sand Rush ability, Lycanroc becomes a threat under sandstorm.
But this lead, much like other “combo” leads, has its weaknesses. Since this combination almost always acts a lead, an opposing Ground or a bulky Water or Grass-type Pokemon lead can shut this combo down fairly hard. Also, opposing weather takes away Lycanroc’s speed boost which can make it a lot less threatening.
Lycanroc is a cool Pokemon for sure, but its necessity for Gigalith and its lackluster move pool do set it back. However, this combo can be scary for teams that aren’t prepared for it. Don’t expect Lycanroc to dominate the meta game, but definitely have a check for some sort of sand mode.
You’d think that in a format dominated by Fairy types, a Pokemon like Gengar would thrive. Well that would likely be the case if Gengar still had Levitate, as Ground resists are rather hard to come by.
Despite Gengar’s shortcomings, it’s by no means a bad Pokemon in this format. Having the ability to Taunt and set up Trick Room on its own, makes Gengar a tricky Pokemon to go up against if you don’t know what it has. Amano Hikaru opted to forgo Protect on his Gengar in favor of Destiny Bond which takes down Gengar’s attacker if it’s KO’d.
A Pokemon that still has potential in VGC 2017, but the loss of Levitate and its rather odd speed tier have made it a less popular choice. Don’t sleep on Gengar though, as its bag of tricks could be useful for a number of team archetypes.
Porygon-Z has had significantly less time in the limelight when compared to its pre-evolution, but when properly supported it can turn into a problem. Most Porygon-Z this season have opted for Normalium Z to maximize the power of Hyper Beam, but Yonemura Takuya decided to take advantage of a strategy more often seen in the Single Battle meta game.
With the Normalium Z, Conversion not only changes Porygon-Z’s type to the type of the first attack in its move set, but also boosts all of its stats by one stage. Takuya opted for the Electric variant with support from a Smeargle holding a Choice Scarf. With Smeargle’s virtually infinite support move pool, Porygon-Z is likely able to set up and start mowing down its opponents.
Converting into the Electric type is a smart choice for VGC 2017. Not only is Tapu Koko’s Electric Terrain pretty much everywhere, but not many popular Pokemon resist Electric attacks either. Even more defensive Pokemon don’t appreciate taking an Adaptability boosted Thunderbolt after a Special Attack raise. Ground-types like Garchomp are still scary when setting up, but with Ice Beem, Garchomp in no problem after setting up Z-Conversion.
This strategy can run through a lot of popular team compositions, but struggles if played around correctly. Plus, even with the defense boosts, Porygon-Z is relatively frail and easy to KO. A fun strategy for best-of-one play, but a bit harder to pull off in best-of-three matches.
What This Means for The Western Metagame
So does this mean we’ll see all of these strategies at the upcoming North American International Championships? Perhaps some, but definitely not all.
The reason is that due to Japan’s National Championship having best-of-one Swiss rather than best-of-three, it makes these rather odd strategies a lot harder to pull off. Having the surprise factor of a faster Tapu Koko or an exploding Snorlax might work out for one game, but may suffer if your opponent is expecting it. Though, considering Ootsubo Ryouta’s Tsareena squad managed to do well in the best-of-three stage, it’s not too far fetched to expect to run into this team in practice or even in tournament.
Japan’s meta game has always made some sort of an impact on the West, so we’ll just have to see which strategy becomes the most popular among western players in the coming weeks. Will Tsareena take the west by storm? We’ll just have to wait to find out.
Thanks for reading!
Art of Pokémon courtesy of Pokémon and Ken Sugimori