State of the Metagame – February

The month of February saw a continued exploration of the Moon format as results at the Oceania International Championship, Collinsville Regional, and Cannes Special Event all served to push the metagame forward. Let’s take a look at some of the standout teams and strategies!


The VGC19 season’s Oceania International Championship, held in Melbourne from Feb 15 – 17, was the first and only Internats in the Moon series. Although attendance numbers were not as impressive as in former years, the tournament nevertheless attracted top players from a large variety of countries, as any Internats is wont to do. It saw the crowning of a new International Champion in Portugal’s Eduardo Cunha, a seasoned player who could now add yet another accomplishment to his repertoire.

Xernala Claims a Second International Championship

In an amusing turn of events, the finals at the Oceania International came down to a perfect Xernala mirror. Xernala had already achieved great success in the Sun series, with some notable pilots including the duo of Ashton Cox and Jeremy Rodrigues, and the continued success of Lunala in Moon is unsurprising, given it now has access to a powerful Z-Move in Menacing Moonraze Maelstrom. The team we saw at the Latin American International supported the Xernala core with Incineroar / Smeargle / Toxicroak / Crobat, but the version used at Oceania featured a slightly different set of non-restricted Pokémon: while finalists Eduardo Cunha and Luke Curtale both kept Smeargle and Incineroar on their teams, the last two slots were now filled by Tsareena and Stakataka.

With Incineroar being one of the biggest concerns for Xernala, Tsareena helps this new variant shut down Incineroar by preventing it from Fake Outing Smeargle as Smeargle is free to go for a Lovely Kiss into the slot. In a similar vein, the inclusion of Tsareena posed a slight problem for TornOgre teams, which tend to rely on Tornadus’ priority Taunt to prevent Smeargle from using its moves or Xerneas from setting up Geomancy. Being a Grass type, Tsareena also handles Kyogre well. The addition of Stakataka, meanwhile, improves the matchup versus Xerneas and Yveltal, which could otherwise prove troublesome.

While Smeargle is certainly not new to the archetype, its moveset differed from the more standard one of Fake Out / Follow Me / Wide Guard / Lovely Kiss, as Eduardo and Luke chose to replace Fake Out with an interesting tech move in Crafty Shield. All in all, the core of Xernala proved once more that it is a force to be reckoned with.

Volcarona Rises to Prominence

The top cut at Oceania featured two Volcarona, used both on Justin Burns’ XernDon variant (Xerneas / Groudon / Incineroar / Tapu Koko / Amoonguss / Volcarona) and James Katsaros’ XY variant (Xerneas / Yveltal / Incineroar / Tapu Fini / Amoonguss / Volcarona). In Sun series, Volcarona did not see much use. In Moon series, however, the re-introduction of Z Crystals turned it into a powerhouse, able fire off Z-Overheats to threaten any Sun-based team, all while avoiding the move’s negative side-effect. Volcarona is further able to support the Xerneas it’s commonly paired with with moves such as Rage Powder and Tailwind, and can also scare off opposing Xerneas due to outspeeding them and resisting their Fairy-type moves.

For James Katsaros, the inclusion of Volcarona over Landorus-Therian, which is more commonly seen on the XY archetype, may have been a bit of a double-edged sword. Volcarona certainly grants the team some valuable speed control and additional redirection, but without Landorus, XY has no good way of dealing with Stakataka, which heavily threatens both of its restricted Pokémon. The tricky Stakataka matchup was part of what made playing against Luke and Eduardo’s Xernala variant difficult for James.

TornOgre Psyching Up

Oceania was quite the departure from the prominence of Groudon at Dallas Regionals: only one Groudon managed to make top cut, compared to three Kyogre. All Kyogre teams were TornOgre variants and shared five Pokémon in Kyogre / Xerneas / Tornadus / Amoonguss / Incineroar. The final slot is generally reserved for one of Kartana, Ludicolo, and Tsareena. At Oceania, James Baek and Matthias Loong opted for Kartana, while Gabriel Agati used Ludicolo.

TornOgre saw plenty of success in Sun series, but the Z Moves available in Moon have changed some things for the archetype. As early as January, Ismat Myron piloted a Z-Psych Up Kyogre to victory at a Malaysian Special Event. Z-Psych Up allows Kyogre to not only copy the boosts of either its partner or opposing Xerneas, but also heal itself to full, giving it greater longevity. Come Oceania, James Baek, too, used a TornOgre variant with Z-Psych Up Kyogre. He noted that its secondary healing effect often proved more useful than the primary effect. Matthias Loong, on the other hand, brought a Flyinium Z Tornadus paired with a more classic Choice Scarf Kyogre.

Agati, our final TornOgre user, chose to use a Specs Kyogre to boost Kyogre’s damage output straight off the bat. With the prevalence of Careful Berry Groudon, which are generally EV’d to be 3HKO’d by Kyogre’s Water Spout, Specs instead punishes Groudon for switching in as it avoids putting it into Berry range while still outspeeding and 2HKOing. Much in the same vein, Xerneas can’t take the Specs Water Spout when unboosted, and won’t always be able to outspeed Kyogre due to the reliable speed control offered by its partner Tornadus.

Collinsville and Cannes

The weekend of Feb 23 – 24 saw not one, but two noteworthy Moon series events take place: a US Regional in Collinsville, Illinois, and a European Special Event in Cannes, France. With the two tournaments taking place in different continents, it may come as no surprise that they featured rather different takes on the meta. The Champion title at Collinsville went to Jake Magier, whereas Forest Aurelien claimed it at Cannes.

The Return of Ho-Oh

In the weeks leading up to Cannes and Collinsville, many players took note of a curious team which had appeared at the top of the Showdown ladder: its pilot was using Ho-Oh / Kyogre / Ferrothorn / Toxicroak / Incineroar to great success, with the final slot being filled by various anti-Electric Pokémon such as Raichu, Thundurus or Landorus-Therian. Many other Ho-Oh carried Tailwind, but this particular variant instead had Whirlwind. The team’s creator was eventually revealed to be Japanese player @hikaripokejinro.

Ho-Oh had seen success in the early Sun season, but was quickly forgotten about as other archetypes eclipsed it in popularity. After Oceania, however, it seemed poised to make a comeback: with a solid matchup against Xernala (partly thanks to the tech move Whirlwind), TornOgre, and XernDon, one could say bird is, once more, the word.

Cannes top cut saw three Ho-Oh, with Fevzi Özkan using Ho-Oh / Kyogre / Landorus-Therian / Ferrothorn / Raichu / Toxicroak and David Koutesh using five of the same mons but replacing Ferrothorn with Amoonguss. Curiously, neither team had Incineroar, but with an Intimidate Pokémon in Landorus-Therian, two Fake Out options, and a strong Fire-type in Ho-Oh already, it may have simply been deemed unnecessary. While neither of the two teams are perfect copies of hikaripokejinro’s version, it seems safe to say they may have been inspired by it. Riccardo Appamea, meanwhile, used a rather different Ho-Oh team with Ho-Oh / Groudon / Nihilego / Tapu Fini / Malamar / Venusaur, perhaps deciding he’d rather capitalize on Groudon’s Sun boosting Ho-Oh’s signature move Sacred Fire.

Ho-Oh was not quite as popular in Collinsville, but nevertheless made one top cut appearance. Allan Martinez, a known SoCal Ho-Oh player, managed a strong Top 4 finish with his team of Ho-Oh / Kyogre / Tapu Koko / Amoonguss / Toxicroak / Weavile. Allan’s use of a fully physical Koko with Quick Attack fascinated many viewers, and Weavile’s fast Fake Out coupled with an Ice STAB proved very helpful. The pressure exerted by this Weavile / Tapu Koko lead caused much trouble for his Top 8 opponent Nick Navarre.

XernDon’s Reign Continues

The XernDon team used by Justin Burns at Oceania made another appearance at Collinsville, now piloted by Jake Magier. This time around, it went on to win the whole tournament! We previously discussed the team’s rising star, Volcarona, so let us instead turn to the other Pokémon used for this section.

Among the more curious sets on Jake Magier’s team was the Koko: it held the relatively common Assault Vest item, but Jake chose to use a mixed set with Brave Bird, a (conversely) rather uncommon move on Koko. Brave Bird turned out to be key against Whitney Johnson’s Lele/Accelgor combination. One could guess it would also be helpful for disposing of opposing Amoonguss or Volcarona, which pose a problem for Xerneas.

Also noteworthy was Jake’s decision to use Rock Tomb over Fire Punch on Groudon, granting the team a better way to deal with Ho-Oh and some additional speed control. With both Incineroar and Volcarona on the team, a third Pokémon with Fire coverage would likely have been excessive.

Lunala: The Savior of Trick Room?

Alex Underhill, a player notorious for using Trick Room teams, found himself with a bit of a dilemma in Moon series: Trick Room is generally used by Pokémon weak to Ghost-type moves, and it just so happened that one of the more popular Pokémon in the metagame—Lunala—was a Ghost type with access to an immensely powerful Z Move. It seemed as though Lunala’s popularity spelled doom for Trick Room teams… or did it? After all, Lunala could set Trick Room itself! And so, Trick Room Lunala became the lynchpin of Alex’s Collinsville team, made up of the Pokémon Lunala / Groudon / Incineroar / Tapu Fini / Stakataka / Tsareena.

When using a Pokémon with a glaring Dark-type weakness like Lunala, it’s important to protect it from its primary threat: Incineroar. Perhaps to this end, Alex chose to use Choice Band Groudon as his second restricted. Thanks to the item, Groudon is able to OHKO a majority of Incineroar with Precipice Blades even after being Intimidated. Yet his team had another anti-Incineroar trick up its sleeve: Alex’s own Incineroar knew the move Throat Chop, which ensured opposing Incineroar could not Snarl his Lunala. With the vast majority of the playerbase using Snarl over the almost-completely-forgotten Knock Off, this turned out to be a very clever way of dealing with teams that relied on Snarl Incineroar to put a stop to Lunala.

Alex further supported his team members with a very slow Tapu Fini, which among moves such as Heal Pulse and Nature’s Madness also knew Gravity (to ensure his Groudon’s moves would always hit) and Haze (useful both for removing opposing boosts and as a way to ignore Intimidates). Fini’s Misty Terrain further helped scare off Amoonguss, a thorn in the side for many Trick Room teams.

Dual Weather, Shedinja, Ditto, Excadrill, and Serperior Walk into a Cut

Cannes top cut saw a multitude of surprising teams, but none were more shocking than Jamie Boyt’s Xerneas / Yveltal / Kommo-o / Serperior / Excadrill / Salazzle and Forest Aurelien’s Groudon / Kyogre / Venusaur / Ludicolo / Shedinja / Ditto. The lack of a stream meant the VGC community at large never got to see these teams in action, but one can still guess at what made them successful.

Boyt is known for using unusual Pokémon, and Cannes was clearly no exception. While the XY archetype has seen success before, the rest of the Pokémon on the team are rather unorthodox. Serperior is noteworthy for being a bit of a favorite of Boyt’s: he has previously used it as a bit of a mix between a speedy supportive mon with access to moves such as Taunt, Glare or Light Screen and a set-up mon with a hard-hitting Contrary Leaf Storm. Kommo-o, too, is a Pokémon Boyt has used before, as he played it during the VGC18 format. With Pokémon like Kommo-o and Yveltal on the team, Boyt had to ensure he had good answers to Xerneas. Excadrill and Salazzle both fulfill this role, with the Excadrill in particular being Banded, ensuring it KOs the aforementioned Xerneas and other potentially troublesome Pokémon such as Stakataka.

Aurelien seems to be a newer player to the scene, and managed to become the Cannes Champion with a Dual Weather team—an archetype that had, up until that point, not seen any success. The combination of Groudon and Kyogre initially appears to have poor synergy, but one can’t deny that having access to not one, but two threatening weather leads in Kyogre / Ludicolo and Groudon / Venusaur must have made his opponents pause at team preview. Aurelien further incorporated a Sash Shedinja on his team, and given both Groudon and Kyogre scare away Shedinja’s primary threat in Incineroar, it appears to be well-protected by its teammates. Finally, there’s a Berry Ditto, which we can reasonably assume was intended to punish opposing Xerneas for using Geomancy.

Suffice it to say, it will be exciting to see where the European Moon series meta heads after the unexpected results at Cannes.

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