State of the Metagame – June

June has been a busy month for VGC, with many players feeling the pressure as they attempt to lock up their Travel Awards, stipends, or Worlds invites before the season ends. Multiple Regional-level events took place around the world, but so did the prestigious Japan Nationals, wholly deciding which of the Japanese players would be able to attend Worlds. However, the biggest event of the month was, without a doubt, the North American International Championships. How have these tournaments affected the meta? Read on to find out!

Madison Regionals

Madison Regionals, taking place on the first weekend of June, saw a variety of interesting developments for the Ultra series metagame. Most notably, Lunala appeared thrice in top 8: while players mostly explored new teambuilding options involving the Primals and Mega Rayquaza in early Ultra, by the time Madison came around, many seemed to have realized that Lunala was just as much of a force to be reckoned with as it had been in Moon series.

Can the Return of Lunala Handle Yveltal?

Wtih Lunala making a comeback, it should come as no surprise that Yveltal might be a good choice of Pokémon. Of the two Yveltal teams in top cut, Wolfe Glick’s YvelDon variant, which finished in top 4, was of particular note. He supported the YvelDon core with Mega Gengar, Tapu Fini, Incineroar, and, most curiously, Shedinja. Shedinja is particularly strong against Pokémon the YvelDon core might struggle with, such as Xerneas, being able to wall it thanks to its Wonder Guard Ability. Should Wolfe choose to make use of his Fini’s Soak to turn Shedinja into a Water type instead, most XernDon teams become completely unable to touch it.

Wolfe Glick’s YvelDon faces a tough matchup against Michael Lanzano’s RayOgre at Madison.

XernDon and RayOgre Go Head-to-Head

Finalist Michael Lanzano and semifinalist Collin Heier both used the same team, consisting of Mega Rayquaza, Primal Kyogre, Stakataka, Tapu Koko, Incineroar, and Whimsicott. Although the team looks much like a standard RayOgre, Whimsicott was a relatively new addition to the archetype. Its valuable Prankster Ability allows it to both disrupt opponents and reliably set Tailwind, and as such it arguably fills the role of a support Pokémon better than Crobat (which had seen use on the RayOgre archetype in previous tournaments).

Despite the fact that RayOgre has traditionally been considered a counter-team to XernDon, Paul Chua nevertheless managed to pilot his XernDon variant to victory at Madison. While the team incorporates many Pokémon commonly seen on XernDon, such as Mega Salamence, Incineroar, and Amoonguss, the final member was something unexpected: Tapu Lele. With its ever-common Scarf, it can outspeed and threaten Pokémon such as Mega Gengar and Nihilego, while also providing the team with a way to outspeed and Taunt Pokémon such as Crobat.

Paul Chua took note of the fact that Nihilego, which was the clear MVP of Berlin International champion Flavio del Pidio’s team, was a big threat to classic XernDon compositions. As such, he chose to forego Protect on his Salamence in favor of Earthquake to catch it off-guard. With Chua’s team completely lacking any Ground immunities other than that of Salamence itself, the Earthquake likely came as a bit of a shock to his opponents.

Japan Nationals

As the Japanese VGC meta is often drastically different from that of the rest of the world, it should come as no surprise that Japan Nationals, held on the second weekend of June, featured a multitude of innovative teams. The difference in team choice can at least partially be explained by the difference in tournament format: Japan Nationals had 7 rounds of BO1 Swiss before a top 32 cut, and further used a VGC16-style timer (also known as Total Time) as opposed to the chess clock-inspired Your Time we’ve gotten used to over the past few years.

Fire Fizzles Out

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The top 8 included some more traditional team compositions, such as XRay with Smeargle, Incineroar, Lele, and Amoonguss, or LunaDon with Mence, Staka, Fini, and Incineroar, but other teams had more unusual choices as far as team members and sets go. Examples include Takuya Hirada’s RayOgre with Tailwind Rayquaza, Poisonium Crobat, and Mimikium Swords Dance Mimikyu, Taka’aki Hiraga’s RainDeer composition with Togekiss to provide Follow Me and Tailwind support, Ryuusei Yamane’s RayOgre, which employed a dual mega strategy with a Mega Metagross, and a final RayOgre team with Choice Scarf Kyogre, Roseli Berry Swords Dance Rayquaza, and two Ally Switch users in Psychium Tapu Lele and Shedinja used by Takumi Souma. One thing was for certain: Kyogre, and in particular RayOgre, was growing in popularity.

It’s NecroDon! No, it’s… Dawn Wings-Don?

Takurou Terada’s Trick Room Dawn Wings team goes up against Hirofumi Kimura’s SolgRay team in the finals of Japan Nationals.

It goes without saying that the two finalists of Japan Nationals had equally creative teams. Takurou Terada’s team consisted of Dawn Wings Necrozma, Primal Groudon, Mega Salamence, Smeargle, Stakataka, and Amoonguss – at a glance, it seems like a relatively standard NecroDon team. But appearances can be deceptive: this is a hard Trick Room team, and rather than the usual speedy Ultranecrozmium Z set, the Dawn Wings Necrozma is instead equipped with Lunalium Z and Trick Room.

Stakataka takes on the role of not only a secondary Trick Room setter, but also serves as the team’s powerhouse. Thanks to its Life Orb, it can deal massive damage with Gyro Ball and Rock Slide even after being Intimidated, and a surprise move in Substitute grants it an edge against opponents hoping to stall out Trick Room by using Protect. The Groudon, too, is of note, being a mixed set with Eruption and Precipice Blades, as is the Salamence, which has Tailwind but also a Quiet Nature, ensuring it can function both in and out of Trick Room.

Ka’El Defends His Champion Title with SolgRay

Takurou’s unexpected hard Trick Room team could not best previous year’s champion Hirofumi “Ka’El” Kimura’s bulky, pivoting-centric SolgRay team. The archetype itself is already quite interesting: despite having impressive synergy on paper, Solgaleo and Rayquaza had not seen any notable results in Ultra series up until now. With Kimura piloting it to victory at Japan Nationals, one can only hope the archetype will see more use in the future.

The team, consisting of Solgaleo, Rayquaza, Tapu Fini, Tapu Koko, Incineroar, and Gastrodon, has quite a few tricks up its sleeve. While the Rayquaza is a fast yet bulky Assault Vest variant, the Solgaleo is instead a slow Trick Room setter which also functions excellently as an answer to Xerneas (thanks to its Solganium Z) and a check to Incineroar. The team greatly prioritizes longevity, and uses tools such as Incineroar’s Intimidate and Snarl alongside Tapu Fini’s Heal Pulse and Light Screen to ensure its members stay on the field as long as possible. Even the Koko – a Pokémon normally used as more of a glass cannon – is defensively trained and holds an Iapapa Berry, which lets it chip opposing Pokémon over and over again with Nature’s Madness before pivoting out with Volt Switch.

Finally, the Gastrodon is perhaps the most interesting member of the team. According the champ himself, he wanted a Ground-type Pokémon that could also take on Kyogre. Gastrodon filled that role best thanks to its Storm Drain Ability, and could further abuse the team’s Trick Room mode due to its sluggish Speed stat. With its Expert Belt, it could threaten an OHKO onto even very bulky Mega Gengar. Earth Power and Ice Beam provided stellar coverage, but the third damage-dealing move was a more unexpected one: Surf. With Surf, Hirofumi could get around opposing Groudon which hoped redirection support might save them from an incoming Scald. The side-hit was not much of a problem, as his Vest Rayquaza could simply soak it up.

Takurou Terada (middle) and newly crowned two-time Japanese champion Hirofumi Kimura (right).

Columbus Internationals

The top players at the North American International Championships held in Columbus from 21 – 23 June used a wide array of teams: some standard, some more creative. As far as more common team compositions go, RayOgre proved most popular, appearing a whopping 13 times among the top 64 teams. It was closely followed by XernDon, at 12 appearances. But the stream showcased quite a few of the more unique teams, too!

A Mix of New and Old

Accomplished player and content creator James Baek made the curious decision to bring a team composed of the exact same six Pokémon as the RainDeer team he’d previously used in Moon series: Xerneas, Kyogre, Kartana, Tornadus, Incineroar, and Amoonguss. While the team had certainly been updated to better fit into Ultra series – the Kyogre now carried a Blue Orb, with Flyinium Z being put on Tornadus – it still lacked a Mega Evolution. This did not stop Baek from performing well, and he finished in an impressive 12th place.

Chilean player Javier Valdes, who is known for building creative teams, had quite a lot of pressure on him going into NAIC – he needed to earn Championship Points at the event to retake his top 8 spot in the Latin American Day Two race. He went above and beyond expectations, finishing in 16th place with a highly unusual XRay team supported by Mega Metagross, Tapu Fini, Gastrodon, and Mandibuzz. His Metagross was of particular note: it knew the move Hammer Arm, which allowed it to threaten massive damage onto Incineroar. The Xerneas set was interesting as well, as it carried a Choice Scarf in lieu of the much more common Power Herb. This team no doubt caught many players off-guard.

Ben Grissmer made day two at NAIC for the third year in a row, showing some impressive consistency. He brought an YvelDon variant with Mega Lopunny, Tapu Fini, Naganadel, and Shedinja (with Shedinja in particular being considered one of his signature Pokémon in Ultra series). The team has many ways to hit opponents fast and hard or simply disrupt them. The Tapu Fini is a Scarf variant with Soak (which can be used to turn Shedinja into a Water type), in addition to other useful moves such as Nature’s Madness and Icy Wind; Mega Lopunny has access to the fastest Fake Out in the format, while also outspeeding and threatening massive damage onto Pokémon such as Tapu Koko or Mega Gengar with its Giga Impact; and the Yveltal is a Z-Move variant with Dark Pulse, bypassing Intimidate. The overwhelming amount of things to look out for must have made choices difficult for his opponents.

Joseph Ugarte used a very rare restricted duo to make it into the top 32: RayDon. Although many dismiss RayDon as an archetype due to the two having poor synergy, Joseph instead chose to capitalize on the pair’s sheer destructive power. He chose Tapu Koko, Incineroar, Crobat, and Ferrothorn to round out the team. The Crobat was likely a thorn in the side for the more standard XernDon teams, and the combination of Super Fang plus any attack from his Life Orb Mega Rayquaza could threaten a KO onto just about any Pokémon. The Koko and Ferrothorn, meanwhile, helped patch RayDon’s poor RayOgre matchup.

Joohwan “Sun Dude” Kim, known for his love of Lilligant, naturally could not resist the temptation to bring the lily Pokémon to yet another tournament. Alongside it was Groudon (which helped activate Lilligant’s Chlorophyll so that it could more effectively threaten opponents with its Bloom Doom), Dusk Mane Necrozma, Tapu Lele, Stakataka, and the rather surprising Zoroark, which we sadly did not get to see on stream. Gary Qian, who is similarly known for using unconventional teams, brought a Hyper Offensive team consisting of Primal Groudon, Mewtwo, Mega Salamence, Tapu Lele, Nihilego, and Smeargle. The combination of Mewtwo and Tapu Lele in Psychic Terrain is especially scary for many teams to face!

Joohwan “Sun Dude” Kim using his signature Pokémon, Lilligant, against veteran player Stephen Morioka.

XernDon Misses out on Semifinals

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Top 8 of NAIC saw four XernDon teams, but unfortunately, none of them managed to make it past the first set of cut to top 4. Three of the teams had four Pokémon in common: Xerneas, Groudon, Kangaskhan, and Tornadus. This particular core had already seen use at the previous International Championship in Berlin, but with its stellar results at NAIC, it has truly cemented its place in the meta. The rest of the two Pokémon on each team varied slightly: Berlin champion Flavio del Pidio, who was regrettably unable to play his top 8 match, rounded out his version with Incineroar and Kommo-o; Ashton Cox chose a second Mega in Mega Metagross, in addition to a Tapunium Tapu Koko; and Kyle Livinghouse went with Mega Mawile and Kommo-o.

TornKang was a common lead for these XernDon variants, and it’s easy to see why: Kangaskhan’s fast Fake Out combined with Tornadus’ Prankster Tailwind and Taunt makes it near impossible for opponents to deny speed control. Should it need to, Tornadus can also exert offensive pressure with its Z-Hurricane. The final two members of the team need to perform two key roles: the teams benefit from having a Steel-type and secondary Mega for situations where Kangaskhan is less useful – hence the Mega Mawile and Mega Metagross – and they further appreciate having extra insurance against RayOgre – hence the Kommo-o (which tears through Rayquaza with its Z Move once Tailwind is set up) and Tapu Koko.

Kyle Livinghouse making use of the TornKang lead in his top 8 match against Jean Paul Lopez Buiza.

Our final XernDon team, piloted by Melvin Keh, instead featured the more standard Mega Salamence, Tapu Fini, Incineroar… and one last surprise Shedinja! Melvin has used XernDon with Shedinja to great success throughout Ultra, and he continued to do so at NAIC. The Shedinja proved to be a nuisance to many teams, spreading Toxic and forcing 50-50s with Ally Switch.

A Brand New RayOgre?

A new RayOgre variant, consisting of Mega Rayquaza, Primal Kyogre, Mega Metagross, Tapu Koko, Incineroar, and Mimikyu, took Columbus by storm as it appeared no less than four times in the top 64. The team was used by Kimo Nishimura, Raghav Malaviya, Shohei Kimura, and 2016 Worlds finalist Jonathan Evans, the last of who made top 4. The team appears to, whether accidentally or intentionally, incorporate some of the ideas we saw in the top 8 of Japan Nationals, which featured a RayOgre with Mimikyu and another RayOgre with Mega Metagross.

The Mimikyu was equipped with a Mimikium Z and had access to Play Rough, Shadow Sneak, Trick Room, and Protect. Since Mimikyu often needs to be double-targeted to be brought down (due to its Disguise Ability), Protect is an especially valuable move as it allows players to capitalize on that fact. The Rayquaza, although it appeared to be using a standard Swords Dance set, was actually holding a rather unusual item for it in a Pinch Berry. This allowed Jonathan Evans to go for an outstanding play in his top 4 set against Graham: he activated the Berry by having Mimikyu Shadow Sneak his own Rayquaza, thereby letting it take a Water Spout from Graham’s Kyogre and fire off a Dragon Ascent right back at it.

Medicham Muscles its Way Through the Opposition

Australian finalist Graham Amedee decided to bring a Hyper Offensive LunaOgre team to Columbus. The archetype had not had many achievements up until that point, but his decision to gamble on it despite that paid off in spades! The two restricted were supported by Tapu Lele, Tapu Koko, Nihilego, and Mega Medicham. Being a rather niche Pokémon in VGC, Mega Medicham captured the hearts of many viewers.

Graham would start most battles by leading Lunala and Mega Medicham, keeping Kyogre in the back. Medicham’s fast Fake Out allows Lunala to easily set up Tailwind, and the Ability Pure Power grants it an Attack stat so high that its High Jump Kick can one-shot an Incineroar even after two Intimidates. When staring down a Lunalium Z-equipped Lunala alongside a Medicham in Tailwind, many teams found themselves utterly helpless.

Graham leading with Lunala and Medicham against Wolfe Glick in the finals of NAIC.

Should either of his lead Pokémon be knocked out, Graham could get a free switch into his Kyogre, allowing him to Water Spout with little fear. Players thinking to lower its damage output with priority moves would often find their plans foiled by Tapu Lele’s Psychic Terrain.

“my restricted duo was Rayquaza Celesteela”

With his win in Columbus, Wolfe Glick is the first VGC player to have won a Regional, a National, an International, and a World Championship – an incredible feat! He brought a RayOgre team to NAIC, an archetype he is well acquainted with given it won him Worlds in 2016. The remaining team members were Mega Gengar, Tapu Koko, Incineroar, and the star: Celesteela. In fact, Celesteela was enough of a star that Wolfe joked it was more of a restricted than Kyogre.

The rest of Wolfe’s team was far from ineffective, however. His Rayquaza, for example, was an Assault Vest variant with Icy Wind over the more common Crunch to provide the team with some much-needed speed control. The team had other interesting set choices, such as the use of Safety Goggles on a Roar Incineroar to bypass Rage Powder. Yet there is no denying that Celesteela stole much of the spotlight!

With its excellent bulk and only two weaknesses in Fire and Electric, Celesteela fit perfectly onto RayOgre. Kyogre’s Primordial Sea completely removes Celesteela’s weakness to Fire, allowing it to wall Pokémon such as Primal Groudon and Incineroar, whereas Rayquaza’s Delta Stream can remove its Electric weakness. Its Wide Guard proved very useful against opposing Primals, and the combination of Leftovers and Leech Seed further enhanced its stalling capabilities.

Unlike many other players, Wolfe chose to invest in Celesteela’s Attack rather than one of its defensive stats, meaning its Beast Boost would boost Attack. This extra Attack investment ensured Celesteela could better threaten Pokémon such as Xerneas (which could otherwise pose big problems for the RayOgre core) even after being Intimidated.

North American International champion Wolfe Glick during his winner interview.

Congratulations to champions Paul Chua, Hirofumi Kimura, and Wolfe Glick! It remains to be seen how their success will influence the meta going forward. We wish all players the best of luck at the World Championships in August!

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