Previously, we looked at a list of Pokemon that could be great off-meta choices for a team competing in Indianapolis this weekend. This time, we’ll supplement that list with an overview of the current strategies and cores that define the current VGC 2017 metagame. These are strategies that players should expect to play against, and spectators should expect to see.
Common cores + team compositions
FAKEPG (and its variations)
One of the most popular team compositions to hit VGC is the awkwardly named “FAKEPG” archetype. The clumsy acronym, for those unfamiliar, stands for: Tapu Fini, Arcanine, Kartana, Electric-type, Porygon2 and Gigalith. The team is popular for a reason, as its brilliant type synergy and move coverage makes it tough to go up against. The team also features a variety of modes, even being able to effectively abuse Trick Room with the combo of Porygon2 and Gigalith.
To avoid being predictable, the team has undergone a bit of change since it first came onto the scene. Tapu Lele has replaced Tapu Fini on some variants, while Tapu Koko has solidified itself as the go-to E in FAKEPG. Speaking of Tapu Koko, the rising popularity of the Assault Vest item on it has also given rise to a new breed of Kartana that carries Swords Dance and the Fightinium Z. Tapu Koko is able to use Sky Drop on Pokemon that threaten Kartana, so it can then set up a Swords Dance and pick up a KO with a boosted All-Out-Pummeling on the next turn.
Other than these notable changes, the rest of the team is fairly standard. Slight move changes can vary from player to player on Gigalith and Arcanine, but you should expect things like Flare Blitz and Rock Slide.
How to beat it
I found that both a well-played Alolan Muk and/or Kartana do very well against FAKEPG. These two do struggle with Arcanine, but Muk does well against the Tapu’s while Kartana can be hard to stop to the team’s Trick Room mode. Dealing with Arcanine should be a priority, as Arcanine is usually the team’s main answer to common Steel-types and strong, physical attackers that give the team trouble.
The team is good, but it can struggle if against a player who knows the match-up, and has ways to win against it. Prediction is key, and a lot of it goes into predicting what mode the FAKEPG player will bring.
Basically, all of the metagame’s best Pokemon on one team. The most popular version at the moment is a variant with Alolan Ninetales and Snorlax. This composition has also hopped on the Assault Vest Tapu Koko hype-train, with the Swords Dance partner as Garchomp. Instead of Kartana, Celesteela has made itself the team’s go-to Steel-type.
How to beat it
Again, this team relies on Arcanine a lot for Fire-damage and its Intimidate ability. The lack of ways to manipulate speed can make the team weak against Tailwind and Trick Room based teams. Most well-built variants will be prepared to deal with speed control, so taking advantage of Tailwind or Trick Room turns is essential.
Drifblim+Tapu Lele (Tailwind)
A combination that has remained relevant despite the slight drop off in its usage, Drifblim teams are still pretty scary. Users of Driblim are now not only able to abuse the power of Tapu Lele, but also Ultra Beasts that could benefit from the speed boost like Nihilego and Buzzwole.
Despite the predictability when it comes to the leads, this team has a lot of options. Drifblim can work well with any of the team’s main sweepers, while Drifblim itself could be carrying a bunch of unique techs in its move set.
Drifblim is great and all, but Mandibuzz has recently been climbing back up in usage and makes a good fit for this team’s Tailwind mode. Mandibuzz is harder to take down, but its lack of Drifblim’s speed could leave it susceptible to Taunt or Sky Drop. Mandibuzz is a bit more flexible, being able to work with Tapu Fini and apparently Tapu Bulu like we saw in Japan.
More than likely, Drifblim will be the one to be prepared for, as its almost guaranteed Tailwind set up is hard to pass on.
How to beat it
The team’s hyper-offensive nature leaves it very susceptible to a match up where it loses the speed advantage. Tapu Lele’s Taunt gives the team a way to stop Trick Room and slower Tailwinds, but can easily be baited out with a lead that threatens either option. Snorlax is a popular sixth member to help against Trick Room, but without it, an opposing Trick Room mode can run over the team.
Disrupting Psychic Terrain also hurts the team a bit by weakening Tapu Lele. Tapu Fini is usually the best candidate for this role since Misty Terrain can prevent potential burns from Drifblim’s Will-o-Wisp.
BAN (Tapu Bulu, Arcanine, Nihilego)
Since Tapu Bulu has been quickly climbing the usage charts, it’s fitting that it should get its own core. Drew Nowak proved that this combination could win a big tournament and is worth preparing for. Tapu Bulu is able to threaten huge damage by setting up the Grassy Terrain which helps its teammates not lose to Earthquake. Other popular teammates are Pheromosa, Porygon2, Tapu Koko, Metagross and Hariyama just to name a few. The team is able to support a ton of damage with Tapu Bulu and Nihilego, bulk with Intimidate and Grassy Terrain as well as a slower mode with Hariyama and Araquanid.
A surprisingly diverse team that has a very solid matchup against many of the metagame’s other top teams.
How to beat it
One common thread of Tapu Bulu teams are the many Ground weaknesses the team has. Getting rid of Grassy Terrain makes Earthquake a fatal move for the majority of the team’s members, so preserving a method of Earthquake spam is helpful.
If Nihilego is dealt with, the team may struggle with Arcanine. It’s reasonable to assume Nowak’s Madison team, or a variation of it, will be what most players opt for so Araquanid is to be expected. Terrain advantage is crucial in the matchup, and denying Grassy Terrain is a consistent way to cripple this team.
Double Duck hasn’t gone away just yet unfortunately. Coming off a recent victory in the Japanese National Championships and the confirmation of Tommy Cooleen’s attendance in Indy makes Rain worth discussing. Often relying on the Pelipper+Golduck lead to set up Tailwind and drown threats with Golduck’s rain-boosted Hydro Vortex, the team relies on rain for both speed and power.
That being said however, the team can still function without the rain with Pokemon like Tapu Koko and Kartana being good checks to popular rain answers. Plus, the consistency of the team allows off-meta picks like Buzzwole, Metagross and now even Tsareena to function in the meta game. A team composition that looks standard, but is surprisingly sticking around and adapting.
Not quite as common as Rain, but this archetype could still be a possible matchup. Torkoal+Lilligant is arguably a bit easier to deal with than Double Duck, but the mind games of predicting After You Eruption, a Z Move or Sleep Powder is not fun to play against.
Ashton’s Latin America team is a well-built version that might be the go-to for Sun team players, but its lack of recent success makes it less likely for it to do well in Indianapolis.
The reason I’m even mentioning this mode is the fact that Lycanroc+Gigalith did make it to the Top 8 of the Japanese National Championships. Other variants use Stoutland as their Sand Rush abuser, being able to act more supportive rather than offensive. The team functions similarly to the aforementioned weather teams, but the reliance on Sand doesn’t extend far past Gigalith and its Sand Rush-ing partner.
It’s a strategy that most likely wouldn’t expect, but its lack of success at a best-of-three tournament leaves a lot of players skeptical.
Note: I’m not mentioning Hail since the weather mode has been pretty much non-existent. Still, Vanilluxe and Alolan Ninetales are solid on their own.
How to beat weather
Weather disruption is by far the best way to shut down every weather mode. If you don’t have a way to set up your own weather, here are some Pokemon that do well against each mode.
Rain: Gastrodon, AV Tapu Koko, Goodra, Kartana
Sun: Arcanine, Tapu Koko, Tapu Fini, Snorlax
Sand: Garchomp, Kartana (watch out for Fire Fang), bulky Water/Grass-types
Less common, but viable teams, modes, etc.
Someone always manages to take a tournament by storm with Eevee, and it’s still a team to be feared. I’ve gone into depth about Eevee before, but tl;dr Eevee sets up the Extreme Evoboost and Baton Passes it to a sweeper.
You beat it by denying that. Eliminate the boosts, Eevee and/or the sweeper(s). Sometimes this is easier said than done.
Porygon2 + Araquanid
Remember when this pair won four consecutive regionals in North America? Well Araquanid is still a huge threat under Trick Room since many teams don’t have great Liquidation switch-ins.
Another Trick Room duo that has fallen off a bit, but can still rip through teams after Snorlax sets up Belly Drum. Mimikyu doesn’t go down easily, and nearly always has Mental Herb so good luck trying to Taunt it. Not to mention, Mimikyu can copy Snorlax’s maximized attack with Psych Up.
Lightningrod+Gyarados (or a combo of Water and Flying-types)
Togedemaru and Marowak could be good calls for Indianapolis considering the abundance of Tapu Koko, and one of the most common partners for these two is Gyarados. Gyarados can be troublesome to KO without an Electric attack, and leaving it unchecked could mean a Dragon Dance sweep.
Lightningrod Pokemon have also seen usage on teams with Mandibuzz, Tapu Fini and Celesteela which can make these bulky Pokemon also pretty annoying to take down. Lightningrod support helps Mandibuzz set up Tailwind, Tapu Fini set up Calm Mind and Celesteela do its thing.
Smeargle & Ultra Beasts
Ian McLaughlin taught us that Smeargle is still scary, especially when paired with a few Ultra Beasts. Smeargle’s ability to disrupt opponents and support its teammates make an Ultra Beast partner terrifying to go against. Xurkitree can Tail Glow, Nihilego can set up Substitutes and Pheromosa can out-speed and annihilate its main threats. All while Smeargle racks up stat boosts from Moody.
It’s almost here
Hopefully I was able to provide a solid overview of the most common Pokemon and strategies in the current VGC 2017 metagame. We’ll likely see all of these strategies, even the lesser-used ones, appear in one shape or another. However, as VGC 2017 has showed us time and time again, the player who finds a way to successfully counter the meta with their own unique strategy, likely wins it all.
I guess we’ll find out which teams will make it to the top in just a couple more days. A champion will be crowned, and all eyes will shift towards Anaheim, and what the World’s metagame will have in store.
Art/Images of Pokémon from Pokémon and Ken Sugimori