Saturday, April 22, 2017

VGC 2015 RECAP: Why "Battle Spot" Won Worlds

VGC 2015 RECAP: Why "Battle Spot" Won Worlds

August 29th 2015

The recent Pokemon 2015 VGC Worlds Championships saw a dominating performance by the Japanese players over their international counterparts with one finalists in each of the three age divisions. At the Juniors Division,  Kotone Yasue (Japan) was able to beat Ryan Jaehyun Park (South Korea) with a fairly standard team of Mega Gardevoir, Amoonguss, Landorus-T, Thundurus, Heatran, and Tyranitar. From the Seniors division, the Japanese National Champion Koki Honda (Japan) piloted fairly common "Battle Spot" team of Kangaskhan, Sylveon, Thundurus, Heatran, Landorus-T, Cresselia, Aegislash, etc only to lose at the finals against Mark McQuillan who completely dominated his opponent with again a "standard team", but with sets such as Skill Swap/Toxic/Trick Room Cresselia, a Charizard Y who can operate in Trick Room, and Machamp. The Masters Division sported 7 Japanese of the 8 Top Cut players, most of them all using variations of some might call "standard" teams on Battle Spot. Even in the Masters Division finals, both Hideyuki Taida (BIDC) and the current Japanese National Champion, Shoma Honami (SHADEviera) played an heart pounding set until Shoma edged out his opponent with calculative plays to ensure him the victory (and yes, albeit using "hax" to Shoma).

To start off, I'd like to congratulate all World Champions and runner-ups for getting this far in the tournament. Though some people were quick to call these players "cheap" or "lacking creativity" with their teambuilding, they forget these competitors all weekend were trying their best to claim the title as "World Champion" and win out a part of the prize pool. There are multiple reasons why these competitors performed at such a high level at Boston since all year they have been studying, learning, and play testing with various teams against the overall VGC metagames from their local areas, the online ladder (Battle Spot), to the world stage. It shouldn't be a surprise most of the competitors at Worlds use teams they had intimate knowledge throughout the whole year, or something that felt comfortable using with some added adjustments. For those unfamiliar to the "Battle Spot Special", I'll explain the team archetype and why it was the "right meta call" for Worlds 2015.

What is the Battle Spot Special?
LOL Level 17 Kang at Worlds

Here's a list of Pokemon most VGC players and Battle Spot Statistics show what's the most common team cores

Aegislash (or Gengar)
Thundurus (or Zapdos)
Mega Kangaskhan
Sylveon (or Mega Gardevoir)

For those who don't know the "shocking" truth, most of the Masters teams from top cut based their cores around 2-3 of these Pokemon. Frankly I actually expected a player with Cresselia and Heatran to win worlds, but totally forgot how damn good Double Genie is with Landorus-T's ability to fire off Earthquakes while Thundurus can disrupt the opponent with Prankster Taunt, Swagger, and Thunder Wave (lets not forget both are immune to Thunder Wave paralysis) and Mega Gardevoir and Amoonguss still dominate in the current metagame. By the time Nugget Bridge reveals the top teams from Day 2 other than the Top 8, we'll see that the vast majority of players placed relatively high with teams with most of these Pokemon. Now that we know the culprits, lets ask ourselves this: why did the "Battle Spot special" (I'm gonna refrain from using the term "CHALK" to a minimum) proved to the way to go in the Worlds meta than well some other "innovative" Pokemon or sets like Sejun's Pachurisu in 2014 or Arash's Mamoswine in 2013?

Well just look at the usage stats from the Pokemon Global Link and you'll see why. Literally all the members of  (Cresselia, Heatran, Amoonguss, Aegislash, Landorus-T, Kangaskhan, and Thundurus) have places in the top 12 of the Pokemon Global Link usage stats. In fact, all 7 of these Pokemon have been ranked consistently in the top 12 for the past 3 seasons since season 9 (Mid-March 2015), so technically these Pokemon should have been noticeable, at least some of the top VGC players and enthusiasts. Good part of why we didn't see as much "standout" Pokemon (aside from the Machamp) in this year is just the massive power creep. When TPCi re-introduced the legendaries (Heatran, Cresselia, Thundurus, Landorus-T) that dominated previous years and effectively gave all Pokemon most of their move tutor attacks, single-handedly buffing Pokemon like Mega Kangaskhan, Sylveon, Mega Gardevoir and many others, expect the format to be skewed in heavily in these Pokemon's favor. Mega Kangaskhan is the biggest winner here as she has better partners now than last year being far more difficult to deal with mainly because it has access to Low Kick (for opposing Kangaskhan, Ferrothorn, Tyranitar, Hydreigon, etc), all the elemental punches especially Ice Punch (for Double Genies and Mega Salamence), and a even its old reliable Power-Up Punch set can still sweep teams with the proper support. Sylveon and Mega Gardevoir are interesting cases since the Normal-turn-Fairy type spread damage attack Hyper Voice (thanks to Pixilate) both received as move tutors turned these two from D- Pokemon to arguably among the top the VGC Pokemon (as well as being the best Fairy types in the game bar Geomancy Xerneas).

Since Mega Kangaskhan "won" worlds (at least in the Masters Division), lets dive a bit more with its well-known partners. Due it is sole weakness to Fighting and the re-introduction to popular legendary Pokemon, about 6 of the 7 Pokemon mention (bar Heatran) are resistant to Fighting, a huge plus for Mega Kangaskhan users. Pokemon like Landorus-T, Thundurus, Sylveon, Cresselia, Zapdos, Cresselia, and Aegislash are better off taking a fighting hit for Mega Kangaskhan to survive in long-term. The most dominate partner for Mega Kangaskhan is no doubt Landorus-T, thanks to its resistance to Fighting, ability to break Rock and Steel types with its STAB Earthquake (something Mega Kangakhan might lack if it doesn't carry Low Kick), and its Intimidate ability to reduces the attack stats by the opposing two Pokemon by one stage. Thundurus serves as an important member of the team as it resist Fighting type attacks, support options from Prankster Taunt, Swagger, Rain Dance, etc and provides speed control with its Prankster Thunder Wave for Mega Kangaskhan to outspeed and plow through teams. Lets not forget how Landorus-T and Thundurus form one of the best pairs in VGC, the "Double Genie" combo, being resistant to paralysis (Electric), and capability of using both STAB Earthquakes and Thunderbolts at will. Heatran serves as a fantastic partner for Mega Kangaskhan as it arguably the best Fire type in the game being able to switch against several types, notably Fire due to its Flash Fire ability and the popular Fairy type (well Pixilate Hyper Voice) for its quad resistance. Thanks to its Fire/Steel typing alone, Heatran has the potential to literally wall the vast majority of the top Mega Evolutions such as Mawile, Charizard Y, Gardevoir, Metagross, Venusaur, and even Salamence if they lack a way to hit Heatran (Fighting/Ground/Water coverage). In fact, both Landorus-T and Heatran were seen on all of the World Champion teams and other top cut finalist proving how strong they are in the current format.

Running Heatran and Mega Kangaskhan means the team definitely needs an answer to Fighting, otherwise something like Terrakion can easily go for Close Combat against any of the two. Cresselia is a great pair for both as she not only take Fighting hits for days with its defensive 120/120/130 bulk, but can potentially set up Calm Minds, retaliate with Psychic and Ice attacks, and most of all, support the team effort with its vast defensive support options in Trick Room, Thunder Wave, Ice Wind, Helping Hand, Sunny Day, Safeguard, and Helping Hand. Amoonguss is usually seen with these teams as the main redirection attacks away from Mega Kangaskhan and other teammates with Rage Powder, while Sporing the opposition to sleep so the others can effectively knock them out. Since Amoonguss is a Grass/Poison type, it will be somewhat difficult to land a Fighting hit on either Mega Kangaskhan or Heatran as the mushroom Pokemon can easily take these hits. Aegislash is another great partner for Mega Kangaskhan as it offers an immunity to Fighting, Poison, and Normal (two of which opposing coverage opposing Mega Kangaskhan have), resist 9 types including Fairy, has Wide Guard to protect the team from spread damage, and a powerful ability to alternate its 150/150 stats allocation from both its offensive and defensive stats when needed. The last notable Pokemon seen with these "standard" Battle Spot teams (since that's what they are) is Sylveon, the best "eeveelution" in the game by a mile. Thanks to its Pixilate ability, Sylveon is capable of firing off powerful Normal-turn-Fairy Hyper Voices, beating most of the Dark, Fighting and Dragon types who threaten this archetype. At the same time, Sylveon is not limited to Hyper Voice spam, as it can support the team well with screens (Reflect/Light Screen), Helping Hand, even priority in Pixilate Quick Attack to knock out heavily weaken foes. However, lets not forget Mega Gardevoir serves as an alternate Mega Evolution (and for Sylveon) and pair with most of these Pokemon as it can hit powerful Pixilate Hyper Voices, Psychic STAB for Fighting and Poison types (Amoonguss, Gengar), and a vast array of support options from Icy Wind, Encore, and even Trick Room support.

In the end, Mega Kangaskhan is somewhat difficult to handle in this 2015 format than any other Mega Evolution like Mega Salamence, Mega Gardevoir or Charizard Y currently and is proved itself in the Masters Division. For sure, some of the players might have underestimated the power of Mega Kangaskhan given she's one of the best no risk-high rewards Pokemon with access to strong move tutor attacks and cohesive partners like the aforementioned Pokemon. Though Mega Charizard Y and Gardevoir did have an impressive showing at Worlds with the proper team support, Mega Kangaskhan just has far more potential partners to basically go ham with its Parental Bond attacks. Later I'll get to why this archetype has been successful late, but first there are some misconceptions to address.

More to VGC than "Winning By Favorites"

"This does not mean running regular Kangaskhan or Mawile"

Now that we've familiarized ourselves with the "Battle Spot Special" or CHALK, lets ask ourselves this: What beats this playstyle entirely? Well there's Perish Trap but Double Genie (Thundurus/Landorus-T) can easily stop most Perish Trap teams, especially if there's only one Shadow Tag user. Mega Gengar itself along with the appropriate Pokemon like maybe Mamoswine can potentially dismantle this strategy, but one false move or momentum switch, whether it be from a crit, paralysis, or something attributing to the losing the Ghost Mega prematurely will result in a quick defeat. Charizard Y can burn out most of these Pokemon with its Drought boosted Heat Waves since most aren't resistent to Fire, however Heatran can wall Charizard Y (lacking HP Ground/Focus Blast) while Double Genies can hit it hard with Thunderbolt or Rock Slide (or Stone Edge). Mega Gardevoir can fire off powerful Hyper Voice spread damage against these teams but it has to be protected well enough due to its low HP and Defense stats. Mega Salamence is another consistent Mega Evolutions this year but the threat of paralysis from Thundurus, more Pokemon opting for Ice coverage and rise of Trick Room teams can make Mega Salamence's performance somewhat lacking. Aside from teams centering around these Mega Evolutions, there isn't really much that beats these "Battle Spot" special teams given how offensive, durable, and most of all, reliable they are. To be completely honest, its somewhat difficult to build an effective VGC team without taking into account most of these eight Pokemon along with the other Mega Evolutions or even focus on teambuilding with those particular Pokemon. I'm not suggesting we should accept the Battle Spot metagame, which is heavily influenced by the top Japanese players, rather we should focus on teambuilding strong cores that have multiple array of options (or modes), which can fair better against the Battle Spot specials and against others as well.

One huge misconception shared by novice players is that we should chose VGC teams based on variation and uniqueness, rather than focusing on using the standard Battle Spot teams, Some beginning players fall in the stigma of using favorites, or having "style variations" during their first time teambuilding for VGC. During Worlds 2015, people on social media have expressed their opinions regarding the lack of variety in the Masters Top Cut, notably against the top 7 Japanese competitors. Instead of focusing on why these teams worked, some asked why wasn't there something like "Pachurisu in 2015" or similar to win out Worlds. To start off, lets ask this: Why weren't there Pachurisu's running around on Battle Spot?  Despite being a great niche choice by Se Jun Park in a 2014 Worlds metagame, Pachurisu cannot protect itself and its ally from spread damage from Landorus-T, Sylveon, Heatran, gets shut down easily with Taunt from Thundurus, and doesn't fulfill the niche of being a redirection user as well as Amoonguss, Togekiss, Clefable, Clefairy, or Volcarona. Though Mamoswine can beat the Double Genie combo just by typing alone, it cannot beat the rest of the "Battle Spot Special" since it has to target one thing at a time, or risk being fainted the following turn by a Low Kick, Hyper Voice, Flash Cannon, or being put to sleep with Spore. Practically most of the Japanese players at Worlds felt "safe" to run these teams with some moderate variations, especially during a competitive competition with prize money on the line. 

An old saying goes, "you can't see the forest for the trees" and it definitely applies here in the VGC format. Again I'd like everyone to study the Worlds teams, especially from the Seniors Division so we can see the select niche roles certain Pokemon had along with some tech moves such as the Seniors World Champion, Mark McQuillan. Though McQuillan's team did feature a "non-standard" Pokemon in Machamp, the rest of his team was rather consistent of partners seen with Mega Charizard Y. McQuillan was able to win the Seniors Division since he understood the VGC 2015 metagame and knew his win conditions and tech moves to power against opponents like Koki Honda. The well-timed Skill Swaps from Cresselia allowed Charizard Y to beat the would-be Heatran "counter" and just roasted Honda's entire team as Machamp cleaned up in that set. Of course, Machamp offered McQuillan both an offensive and support role with the No Guard Dynamic Punch, afflicting the opponent with a confusion status, and protecting the team from spread damage, fairly important to shield Charizard Y from Rock Slides. Again I'm not taking anything away McQuillan's World Championship victory at all, he deserves total praise as the the other World Champions and the runner ups for making it this far in the season. Its just the notion that using "favorites" in a highly competitive tournaments somewhat takes away from the actual level of play. There's so much in the competitive VGC Doubles metagame to consider from the items choices, movesets, team synergy, Mega Evolutions, damage calculations, EV spreads, speed tiers, tech moves, speed control, and several other options to consider before "choosing favorites".

Had McQuillan used a regular Cresselia set without Skill Swap, Toxic, or even the Trick Room option, then he'd wouldn't have made it this far in the competition to begin with. Its important for beginners and full-pledge VGC players to consider the full movepool of a particular Pokemon or search for a niche Pokemon whether those options are potentially viable or not. Again that's VGC competitors play test with "weird" stuff like Tailwind Hydreigon, Imprison Mega Gardevoir, Energy Ball Amoonguss, and other sets to see if these sets are potentially viable. In fact, most if not all of the top 8 teams in each division featured a Pokemon with some sort of tech option. Koki Honda opted to use Zapdos over the popular Thundurus since it one of the best Tailwind setters in the game capable of beating the other two (Suicune, Talonflame), has slightly better defenses, and access to recovery in Roost to setup multiple Tailwinds. Either way, its important for most VGC enthusiasts to consider all options to find a playstyle or team they feel comfortable with that can win games on a consistent basis.

An Evolving Metagame

Here's the thing, most of these Pokemon mentioned here were consistent on Battle Spot for the past 5 months now, if we are counting from the start of season 9. In fact, the Japanese players were well aware what was working on Battle Spot prior to the release of the VGC 2015 ruleset and possibly way beyond ORAS's worldwide release date around November. Consider this: the XY Battle Spot Doubles allowed Pokemon from previous generations to participate, meaning all the legendary Pokemon (bar those that were banned) could participate, Hyper Voice (Gen 5 exclusive) Sylveon/Mega Gardevoir was a thing on Battle Spot, Mega Kangaskhan had all its potential move tutors like the Gen 3 exclusive Seismic Toss, exclusive event Pokemon like Follow Me Blastiose/Magmar/Electrabuzz, Eruption Heatran, Extreme-Speed Entei, Dream World Genies (Sheer Force Landorus and Defiant Tornadus/Thundurus), and etc. If we include the release of Pokemon Bank since January 2014 for Japan, their native Battle Spot players had an effective nearly 11 months of potential playtesting a format almost similar to the current ruleset. Even some of the more notable VGC players such as Angel Miranda, Jeudy Azzareli (both of them post teams here), and others who felt it was best to prepare for a format similar to the XY Battle Spot. Of course, there are other variables that shouldn't be dismissed, like exclusive generation moves/abilities, introduction of ORAS Megas (especially Mega Salamence, Mega Camerupt Mega Metagross), trends, and most of all the rise and fall of a certain Pokemon's viability over time.

When the format switched from the Kalos Dex to National Dex with a pentagon rule, this eliminated all of the generational exclusive and hampered their viability. At the same time, the move tutors were re-introduced as well as access to all subpar legendary Pokemon like Suicune, Latias, Thundurus, etc in ORAS meaning some of the. Finally, the announcement the ORAS Battle Spot being the new VGC format for 2015 practically ensured virtually all players with a ORAS game had the chance to participate in the open Battle Spot compared with XY when the VGC rules were somewhat exclusive to Kalos and didn't correspond with the XY Battle Spot Double format.  This is probably another factor why certain VGC players might have had a slight advantage since they knew from the XY Doubles Battle Spot what was to come, especially with the VGC 14.5 with ORAS move tutors practically buffing Kangaskhan, Sylveon, Gardevoir, Bisharp, etc. Though the early ORAS Battle Spot Doubles format was skewed from the previous formats (XY Battle Spot and VGC 2014), the metagame saw the rise of many team archetypes such as Charizard+Venusaur with Trick Room, "Japan" Sand, Mega Gardevoir Trick Room-Tailwind, and probably the most consistent of all based on Battle Spot usage, the standard "Special" teams or CHALK.

I want to stress the point using the combination of Mega Kangaskhan (or other Megas), Amoonguss, Sylveon, Landorus-T, Thundurus, Cresselia, Aegislash, Zapdos, Gengar, etc will not guarantee anyone a high win/loss ratio, despite what we might have saw from the Masters Divison's Top Cut this year. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort considering team cores, teambuilding, factoring trends/matchups, and looking at individual Pokemon overall and play testing to see what works well. Most of the VGC teams seen during World resonates these thoughts since the competitors are looking to win it all. The Battle Spot special teams from the Masters top cut honestly were the most adaptive compared with some of the other World teams or archetypes since they had the some of best possible core matchups, and basically all the competitors did was add certain  "variations" (niche Pokemon, items choice, movesets) and "tech options" to improve their chances against other World teams. For instance, lets take a brief look at new World Champion Team and see how it fairs with the team synergy chart, courtesy of Team Magma.

On paper, we notice some fairly obvious weaknesses to the team, such as the lack of Dark, Rock, Ice and Water (bar Amoonguss) resist, so how did Shoma Honami counter act this? Lets start with Ice and Water since its the "main" weakness to Honami's team anyways. Heatran can effectively deal with majority of Ice type Pokemon and can tank any Ice move in the game thanks to its quad resistance thanks to the Fire/Steel typing. Now what about the "faster" Ice type Pokemon such as Mamoswine, Weavile, and even Greninja (Since Greninja typically carries Ice Beam and changes to an Ice type thanks to Protean), who can all heavily damage Heatran with a coverage move, such as Fighting, Water, or Ground. Fortunately, Shoma's team had a Trick Room option with Cresselia, meaning that if his opponent were to have any of these Pokemon, well Cresselia can just Trick Room to gain momentum and allow the rest of his team such as his Low Kick Mega Kangaskhan, Heatran, and even Amoonguss to deal with these aforementioned threats.

What about Water? Shoma Honami's team looks as though it has a fair weakness to Water especially against strong rain teams. Well this quite ingenious of Shoma since Amoonguss has access to both Sunny Day to switch the weather as well as power up Heatran's Heat Wave attack and Energy Ball for a higher damage output against Water, Ground, and Rock types Pokemon. Sunny Day was something that hasn't been seen much in competitive use since Arash Ommati to counteract the powerful rain playstyle (remember that weather setting abilities like Drizzle, Drought were permanent). Of course Sunny Day Cresselia has seen some usage, but the surprise or tech comes from using an Amoonguss out of most Pokemon with standardized moveset: Rage Powder, Spore, Giga Drain, and Protect. Sunny Day can ruin the momentum of rain teams not only reducing the damage of Water moves but forces Politoed to switch out. However note that Amoonguss can easily "win" the weather war as while Politoed (or any weather setter comes in), Amoonguss changes it back to sun.

As far as Rock, Ice, and Dark weakness is concern, Mega Kangaskhan easily OHKOs the vast majority of all Dark and Rock type Pokemon in the game with a Parental Bond Low Kick. That's really it. Some interesting things to note about the team is both Cresselia and Thundurus, arguably two of best support Pokemon carried "Protect", which they usually tend not to based on Battle Spot statistics. My only guess is it punishes the opposing team from attempting to double target either support Pokemon, forces Aegislash out of Blade form (important for Cresselia), and allows the partner to handle one of the attackers. Instead of the common Choice Scarf set on Landorus-T, this one opted for an Assault Vest to take special hits, notably most Water and Ice attacks so it can increase Landorus-T's longevity and spread Intimidate drops when needed. Thundurus did opt for Safety Googles so not only can it take powder based moves (Spore/Rage Powder) from Amoonguss, but spread paralysis and confusion to support the team effort. As shown throughout the past months, these "Battle Spot" special teams were the most consistent and adaptive throughout the format. While Shoma's team was somewhat "standard" to some, his team did what they had to do based on their movesets, support moves, synergy and ingenious tech moves which allowed Shoma Honami to win Worlds 2015.

Closing Thoughts

To be honest, expect the overall VGC metagames from the local to the online Battle Spot ladder to shift towards ways to beat these teams and /or an strong emphasis in strengthening team cores that might have worked, or fallen out as of late. We might see a resurgence of team archetypes from like Mega Metagross+Hydreigon, FWG core with Mega Venusaur, stronger sand/rain teams with either Mega Salamence or any particular Mega Evolutions, Charizard Y sun with Cresselia and Sylveon, or heck even enhanced versions of the World teams we all seen in detail. The only two possible thing that could throw off the format is if the next Pokemon games releases soon with new Megas, forms, additional move tutor options, more event exclusive Pokemon (Jirachi, Keldeo, Shaymin, not any "ubers") or even releasing unobtainable Hidden Abilities for legends can make the format interesting the least. If TPCi want to go that far, they could do a restriction of some of the top Pokemon and moves from the current format, though that's highly unlikely. For now, VGC competitors and enthusiast alike should focus on the current format and consider play testing, teambuilding, but most of all, practicing to see if they can maybe win the upcoming tournaments coming up, heck if they might have a shot the World title. Maybe we'll see something from Battle Spot that will make waves that will eventually win Worlds in 2016.

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