We ask our experts what to expect in the final International event featuring the current video game tournament format.
The Latin America International Championships marks a beginning and an end. It's the first International event of the 2020 Championships Series, so players are looking to get a big start on qualifying for next year's World Championships. But it's also the final International Championships to feature the GS Cup rules that have defined the VGC metagame for the better part of two years. Trainers will have to dig deep into their bag of tricks to discover new ways to win at what is sure to be a challenging event.
We turn to our power rankings panel of players, judges, and broadcasters to find out what they'll be watching for in São Paulo. Keep these insights in mind as you watch the matches on Pokemon.com/Live starting on Friday, November 15.
Primal Groudon and Xerneas retake the top spot after seeing success with a variety of supporting casts across the globe. The 2020 season kicked off with the duo winning a Special Event in Australia as part of a team that focused on trapping Pokémon under the Perish Song effect using Mega Gengar's Shadow Tag Ability.
Over in Europe, the largest Ultra Series Regional was won by a team that featured many of the usual partners to Groudon and Xerneas. But it also included a Shedinja as an alternate way to defeat certain powerful threats—ones that Shedinja is nearly invulnerable to thanks to its Wonder Guard Ability—such as Primal Kyogre or Xerneas.
In North America, we saw Groudon and Xerneas earn a pair of Regional victories with a more standard take on the Mega Kangaskhan and Tornadus combination, with Amoonguss and Incineroar replacing Mega Mawile and Kommo-o. Expect to see all three variants clash in São Paulo.
Up next we have the winning restricted pairing from the 2019 Pokémon World Championships, Primal Groudon and Lunala. The pairing has an incredible combination of offensive and defensive synergy that is hard to match. But its recent success at Worlds comes as a double-edged sword for Trainers planning to take this pairing to the LATAM International Championships. Opponents will be better prepared for this pairing with the knowledge of how the team operates, meaning it's only going to get more difficult for this Legendary duo to continue with its recent success.
We've seen a very problematic opponent in Yveltal gaining popularity, and combinations like Mega Gengar with Tapu Lele holding a Choice Scarf pose a huge threat to this team's Speed-control setup with Lunala. This is before considering the ever-increasing popularity of Helping Hand—Ultra Necrozma's Helping Hand-boosted Moongeist Beam is something even a Lunala holding a Kasib Berry doesn't want to contend with.
Despite changes to the metagame, I still feel the standard build with Mega Salamence, Incineroar, Tapu Fini, and Stakataka, aided by a unique twist to move sets and individual training like we saw at the 2019 World Championships, can handle the majority of threats very well with its sheer offensive and defensive strength.
The combination of Primal Kyogre and Mega Rayquaza continues to be one of the best pairings of Legendary Pokémon due to their strong damage output and the versatility of Pokémon that can support them. Most players thought there was little room to continue innovation with this pairing since Pokémon like Mega Metagross, Mimikyu, and Celesteela were added to support this duo and their more common partners at the North America International Championships.
However, at the World Championships, Eric Rios and I introduced Nihilego and Kartana to this established archetype in order to improve the match against the Primal Groudon / Xerneas pairing, allowing us both to finish among the world's best eight players. Kyogre and Rayquaza have had a lot of success throughout the season, and although this pairing has slipped in usage lately, it will be interesting to see if it can rise up and take its second International Championship crown.
Rising from the ashes of their success in the Moon Series, Xerneas and Lunala rear their heads for the final chapter of the season to blow away the competition with the power of their special attacks.
Why are they so highly ranked now, and not after Kareem Mukkakit used them to sweep the Senior Division at the North American International Championships? Perhaps it's due to the stellar Top-16 performance with the combination at the World Championships by Gabriel Agati, one of Latin America's strongest Trainers, or the increasing results earned afterward in Regional Championships around the globe. Maybe it's due to players' realization that they can solve both Pokémon's struggles with Incineroar by adding a Fighting-type Pokémon of their choice to their team. Whatever the case, be ready for this powerful duo in São Paulo, as well as its supporting cast of Pokémon carrying the move Fake Out.
The combination of Mega Rayquaza and Xerneas has fallen on a bit of a rough time. The World Championships this year saw a rise in the Pokémon that make up some of this archetype's worst matchups: Poison-type Pokémon, Steel-type Pokémon, and Primal Groudon. Unfortunately for Rayquaza and Xerneas, the metagame going into the Latin American International Championships is no different.
Rayquaza and Xerneas work together as a team largely thanks to the Pokémon brought into battle alongside them. Amoonguss and Incineroar are required for Xerneas to have a chance to set Geomancy up, and Tapu Fini is required to threaten Groudon when there's no extremely harsh sunlight, not to mention bring some much-needed Speed control with Icy Wind. There's not much wiggle room in the move sets they bring to better counter tough matchups.
Fortunately, the final Pokémon slot on the team is flexible. Rayquaza's item isn't quite set in stone either, with Assault Vest, the pinch Berries, and Focus Sash all being interesting options. I recommend experimenting with these variables and choosing the option that fits your play style best—on tournament day, being comfortable with the team and its options against popular cores is more important than making a correct prediction of what those cores may be.
Justin Burns: As we reach the later stages of Ultra Series, players have refined a wide variety of archetypes, and even though we've only ranked five of them, many more have the potential to make a strong run or even win in São Paulo. In fact, there wasn't even room to rank three of the Legendary Pokémon pairs that reached Top 4 of the World Championships! One such duo is Primal Groudon and Yveltal, which seems to be making a strong surge since the World Championships. Strong partners like Venusaur, Mega Gengar, Mega Metagross, and Tapu Koko allow it to exert as much pressure as any team out there, and it would be no surprise to see it make an appearance at the Latin America International Championships.
Alex Gomez: Ho-Oh and Primal Kyogre is an archetype that may get Trainers' notice for the upcoming Latin American International Championships as a way to deal with the rise of Primal Groudon and Xerneas. Fevzi Ozkan drew some attention for the archetype by getting a Top 8 finish with it at Cologne Regionals, but it is still an underrated archetype that could catch many players who decide to play Groudon and Xerneas off-guard in São Paulo. While one of the downsides to using Ho-Oh and Kyogre is that your matchup against opposing teams with Kyogre or Lunala can be annoying to deal with, but you could adjust that with proper team building!
Lee Provost: My thoughts about the Latin America International Championships brings me right back to the very first North American Regional Championships event of the Ultra Series, where we saw the success of Primal Kyogre and Yveltal. If I had to make a wild card prediction for this event, that team would be it.
With the recent success Primal Groudon has seen, along with the rise of Lunala and Necrozma, the pairing of Primal Kyogre and Yveltal can perform very well. With a supporting cast of Mega Gengar, Incineroar, Tapu Lele holding Choice Scarf, and Stakataka, this build has Speed-control versatility and the offensive tools to give any opponent a torrid time. It's a build that has been a little forgotten about in recent months as the Ultra Series has developed, but this is where I would be concentrating all of my efforts. As they say, to be successful, you always start as you mean to end.
Gabby Snyder: As we wrap up the Ultra Series format and look forward in the 2020 season, I think it's important to call out the fact that the format can still evolve. With the release of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield on the horizon, it's easy to get lost in anticipation for the new Pokémon or strategies to come and, as a result, spend less time exploring new ideas in the current format. This means that it becomes easier to predict what kind of team your opponent is running since it's likely one that saw success in the past, which you can use to your advantage to catch them off guard. If you've been sitting on any ideas for unusual Pokémon or unique move sets or strategies, now is the time to let them shine!
Aaron Traylor: Because this International Championships is happening after the World Championships, I would expect players to refine existing strategies, rather than invent entirely novel compositions. This tournament should be the players' chance to put their own twist on creative teams that succeeded in Washington, D.C., and reach a perfect balance of personal comfort and metagame insight. However, especially in the Latin America region, you can never take players' choices for granted, and some tournament attendees may choose to say farewell to the metagame with wild strategies featuring Pokémon such as Mega Venusaur, Ditto, Smeargle, Ho-Oh, Shedinja, and Dialga. Only time will tell whether these rogue players can stand up to more common compositions featuring Mega Kangaskhan, Tornadus, Primal Groudon, and Xerneas.
About the Panel
Justin Burns first started competing in VGC at the start of the 2015 season and has made five appearances at the World Championships. He is a two-time Regional Champion and has most recently been a finalist at the 2018 North America International Championships and a semifinalist at the 2019 Oceania International championships. Justin graduated from college last year and has been working in the computer science field since then.
Alex Gomez has been playing in the Pokémon VGC for eight years. He has won Regionals and Nationals events and placed second at the 2017 Europe International Championships. He has also finished Top 8 at the World Championships three times. You can find him online as PokeAlex.
After playing his first VGC tournament in 2009, he has had a number of top finishes, including two third-place national finishes and multiple regional top cuts, plus finishing seventh place at the 2014 Pokémon World Championships. He also began commentating for Play! Pokémon events in 2017. You can find him online as OsirusVGC.
Gabby Snyder is a contributing writer covering Play! Pokémon events for Pokemon.com. She competed in VGC tournaments from 2009–2016, qualifying for the World Championships in 2015. She is now a part of the commentary team for International- and Worlds-level competitions. She can be found online as GabbySnyder.
Aaron Traylor has been competing in the VGC since 2011. He placed in the Top 8 and the Top 16 at the World Championships in 2016 and 2019, respectively. He believes that the friendship between Trainers and their Pokémon is ultimately what leads to success in battle. Outside of Pokémon, he is a graduate student studying computer science and cognitive science.