A Deeper Look at VGC Strategies from Berlin

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By contributing writer Markus Stadter

The Europe International Championships took place this past weekend in Berlin, Germany, with Pokémon video game players from around the world ready to battle for Championship Points, cash prizes, and bragging rights. The season's third International Championships, it delivered perhaps the biggest shift in strategies of the 2019 Video Game Championship (VGC) Series Season.

The Moon Series format—used at February's Oceania International Championships—added Z-Moves to the more limited Sun Series format that kicked off the season. Now the Ultra Series format used at the Europe International Championships also permits both Primal Reversion and Mega Evolution. The only other time both of those were allowed was in 2016, when competitors packed their teams with arguably the most powerful Pokémon we'd seen in any season. While players have noticed some similarities to 2016, the Ultra Series format adds new tools to what players used at that year's Pokémon World Championships, Most notable are Z-Crystals and a bunch of Pokémon that have since been discovered, including Incineroar, Tapu Fini, Stakataka, Nihilego, Lunala and the powerful Ultra Necrozma. All of those new Pokémon ended up making a big impact this past weekend.

Competitors combined new tricks with the tried-and-true strategies from earlier events in the 2016 and 2019 Video Game Championships to push fresh strategies at the Europe International Championships. Take a look at how some of the world's best Trainers prepared for and battled at the exciting three-day tournament.

New Options and Old Friends

Players were split on how effective they thought Ultra Necrozma would be in its International Championships debut. The Legendary Pokémon can be a very powerful option against the Kyogre/Rayquaza teams that dominated the 2016 World Championships, but its need for a Z-Crystal also limits the potential of its team. It was interesting to hear differing opinions from major competitors prior to the tournament, then watch how the weekend played out.

Prior to the tournament, top Masters Division players Fevzi Özkan from Germany and Nick Navarre from the United States both suggested that pairing Ultra Necrozma with Xerneas could make a very destructive combination. Fevzi decided against bringing this duo to the event, however, because he felt more confident in Rayquaza and Primal Kyogre. Nick, by contrast, decided to give the Ultra Necrozma and Xerneas combination a shot. Though he didn't finish building his team until just before the tournament began, he was still able to advance to Day Two by achieving a record of 7 wins and 2 losses. His first day culminated in a nail-biter of a featured match.

2016 World Champion Wolfe Glick stated that although he liked the Ultra Necrozma and Xerneas pairing a lot, he felt that common Pokémon like Tapu Fini, Mega Gengar, and especially Yveltal would simply give the duo too much trouble. Backing up that opinion, he decided to use Yveltal himself, and reached the Top 4 here in Berlin.

European Championship Points leader Alessio Yuri Bosschetto from Italy was also tempted by Ultra Necrozma, who he viewed as a really threatening Pokémon with great damage output and unpredictable options, including Trick Room and Calm Mind. In his opinion, Ultra Necrozma can win quickly if it gets off some of its powerful attacks, but it tends to be inconsistent due to the fragility of its Ultra Forme. Like Fevzi, Alessio opted to play Rayquaza/ Kyogre instead, but was also unable to advance far in the tournament.

While Ultra Necrozma looked like it could be very potent, few teams including the powerful new Legendary Pokémon ended up making it through to the second day of the tournament. Competitors were more afraid of the Xerneas/Primal Groudon combination, which was the most dominant team for most of the 2016 season. New additions to this team composition helped bring it back into the spotlight, namely Incineroar with its Intimidate Ability and the moves Fake Out and U-Turn to help with positioning; and Tapu Fini, which can support its teammates with moves like Icy Wind to manipulate Speed, Heal Pulse for sustainability, and Gravity to help Primal Groudon land its dangerous Precipice Blades.

Unlike in 2016, when competitors didn't figure out how to reliably beat those teams until the World Championships, this year's field harnessed the lessons from three years ago to get a head-start on countering these powerful Pokémon. We've already seen players utilize very similar strategies to Wolfe Glick's winning squad from 2016 by including Mega Gengar, Incineroar (replacing Hitmontop as a Pokémon with both Intimidate and Fake Out), Primal Kyogre, and a Steel-type Trick Room setter on their teams. James Baek won the Daytona Regional Championships in mid-April with just such an approach, and Wolfe Glick himself was able to put a new spin on his old team for that aforementioned Top 4 finish here in Berlin.

Davide Carrer from Italy adapted to the threat of Xerneas and Primal Groudon by using a very fast Amoonguss holding the Mental Herb item, which also secured him key victories over Jamie Boyt and Wolfe Glick, and helped him finish second in the Masters Division. It's going to be interesting to see what new ideas Trainers come up with to improve their Xerneas/Primal Groudon matchups in the remainder of the season.

How Stakataka Escaped

One unique item choice can swing an entire match significantly, as demonstrated by Luca Marcato's Ultra Necrozma and Primal Groudon team. Here's the situation he had to solve for: since Primal Groudon is the most effective option to stop Primal Kyogre from attacking with its Water-type attacks, the latter is often paired with Mega Gengar. That Pokémon's Shadow Tag Ability prevents switching, which helps Primal Kyogre get into advantageous positions. Luca recognized this while testing his team and changed the item on his Stakataka to the rare Shed Shell right before the tournament. Shed Shell allows its holder to switch out of trapping effects like Shadow Tag, ensuring that he could use his Primal Groudon's Desolate Land to block Water-Type moves. He managed to finish as the top seed after the first day of Swiss in his International Championships debut. Luca kept rolling on Day 2, and could only be stopped by former World Champion Wolfe Glick in the Top 8, who adapted by not bringing his Mega Gengar to their games at all.

Continental Crushing the Competition

In the end, however, it was neither Primal Groudon nor Ultra Necrozma that won the title, but Flavio del Pidio's Rayquaza/Xerneas team. While that team composition was well-known before the tournament, Flavio added his own twist that seemed to keep him one step ahead of the field for the entire weekend. He was the first seed after the second day of competition, and ultimately finished the tournament with an impressive 15 wins and 2 losses. While some of his more unconventional move choices, such as teaching Light Screen to Tapu Fini or Crunch to Mega Rayquaza, may have added to his success, the biggest innovation on his team was Rock- and Poison-type Nihilego. An equally unique move set—consisting of Power Gem, Sludge Bomb, Protect, and Clear Smog— coupled with Rockium Z allowed to it take on Pokémon like Mega Salamence, Incineroar, Tapu Fini, and, most notably Xerneas, all of which were very common amongst Trainers. Alessio Cremonini also used Nihilego on a team that was very different from Flavio's to finish in the Top 8. After such a commanding performance, we can expect trainers to investigate Nihilego a lot more from now on!

Interesting Trends and Findings

While Incineroar continued to hold the title of most common Pokémon in the field, Trainers came up with new ways to adapt its use to the Ultra format. Wolfe Glick, Faaiz Ashfaq, and Till Böhmer all used Protect on Incineroar, allowing it to spend an extra turn on the field against Pokemon that would normally knock it out easily, like Primal Groudon and Primal Kyogre. Incinium Z also saw a rise in usage, making Malicious Moonsault the most common Z-move in the tournament.

There were a few other interesting Pokémon choices to note that could be a sign of things to come. Christian Cheynubrata added Kommo-o to his team to reach the Top 8, and Javier Valdés used Seismitoad and Mandibuzz to finish 10th in the tournament. Javier's team also featured a Choice Scarf-holding Xerneas and a Rayquaza that knew Surf, making it one of the most interesting teams to do well at an International Championship in recent memory.

While this was one of the first few events of the Ultra Series, strategies already seemed very advanced and complex, so we're excited to see what comes next. Expect even greater depth and more innovation at local events, upcoming Regional Championships, and June's North America International Championships in Columbus, Ohio. It all leads up to the 2019 Pokémon World Championships in Washington, D.C. this August, but there's a lot of action between now and then. Be sure to keep following Pokemon.com/Strategy for Pokémon Championship Series news and analysis throughout the year.

About the Writer

Markus Stadter
Markus Stadter is a contributing writer covering Play! Pokémon VGC events for Pokemon.com. After playing in his first VGC tournament in 2010, he won two national titles plus a 3rd place finish at the Pokémon World Championships in 2016. He also began commentating for Play! Pokémon events the same year. You can find him online at 13Yoshi37.

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