Our panel of experts share what to look out for as you watch the Players Cup Region Qualifiers.
You'll soon be able to watch Trainers from all over the world battle through Pokémon Video Game Players Cup Region Qualifier matches for three straight Thursdays on July 16, 23, and 30 on Twitch.tv/Pokemon or YouTube.com/Pokemon. After the final rounds complete on July 30, fifteen players will advance to the Players Cup finals in August.
With Pokémon from the first part of the Expansion Pass entering the fray, the Pokémon Video Game Players Cup is certain to be a tough test for even the most seasoned Pokémon Trainer. A widened pool of top-flight Pokémon and new moves introduced in the Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield Expansion Pass will change the face of battles. To make sense of it all, we've once again asked our Power Rankings panel of experts to break down the latest in the VGC metagame and help us figure out what new strategies to be most excited for during the Region Qualifiers.
Amoonguss is probably the most dangerous Pokémon to be introduced into the metagame because of its strong support moves, like Rage Powder to protect its partner and Spore to put foes asleep.
Receiving support from Max Moves like Max Airstream could make Amoonguss even more threatening because it can now more feasibly be trained in Speed while holding Focus Sash as an item. However, Amoonguss is also known to be helpful against Trick Room teams due to its low natural Speed and good defensive stats.
Expect to see Safety Goggles and Lum Berry usage to rise. Players definitely need to be ready for such a centralizing Pokémon and these two items help a lot to shut it down.
One of the most popular weather pairings from early VGC formats, the duo reunites after a few years where they weren't viable together in high-level play. Traditionally, Politoed makes use of its Drizzle Ability and supportive moves like Icy Wind, Helping Hand, Encore, or Hypnosis to ensure that Kingdra can make the most use out of its Speed-doubling Swift Swim Ability. Once Kingdra has been knocked out, Politoed can then use the same support to help the remaining Pokémon on the team find a path to victory.
Kingdra itself hits hard and fast with powerful moves like Draco Meteor or Hydro Pump. After Dynamaxing, Kingdra no longer has to worry about those usually low-accuracy moves missing during the first few key turns of a match. It can now also use Hurricane, which becomes Max Airstream, to help control the speed on the field for its partners. Whether or not to Dynamax Kingdra is a very matchup-dependent decision; facing a team that lacks an Ability that alters the weather, a Dynamaxed Kingdra can quickly establish an advantage. But teams that have the ability to switch up the weather more easily can cause issues for Kingdra, and without the speed boost from Swift Swim, it is often knocked out easily.
Cinderace hops up all the way to third in the Power Rankings due to Libero, its Hidden Ability, that was made available last month to Trainers via Pokémon HOME. This Ability, which changes Cinderace's type to match the move it's about to use, gives it the benefit of increased damage on all moves that are used for the specific effects gained from their corresponding Max Moves.
The combination of offensive pressure and amazing utility from Cinderace is what helped it play an important role on Alessio Boschetto's Players Cup Invitational winning team in facilitating Speed boosts and Attack boosts for its teammates or lowering its opponents' Special Defense while also trading blows to set up potential knockouts or outright taking them itself.
One of the best new moves from the Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield Expansion Pass is Expanding Force. Normally, Expanding Force is a fairly ordinary single-target Psychic-type special attack. But under Psychic Terrain, this move changes dramatically, becoming a spread attack that hits both opponents and gains a huge increase in power.
In the early stages of this new format, we are seeing a lot of players make use of Expanding Force through Indeedee primarily; its Psychic Surge Ability can set the Psychic Terrain to enable Expanding Force. Normally paired with Hatterene for a Trick Room option or with Alakazam for a quicker strategy, a female Indeedee can add strong support with Follow Me redirection and Helping Hand to further boost damage. Alternatively, a male Indeedee can be used instead for more offense and less support.
Players coming into the new format need to have some solid ways to approach this new Psychic threat. Steel-type and Dark-type Pokémon are a good place to start, but also consider having a terrain of your own to disrupt the Psychic Terrain and weaken your opponent's ability to utilize this move to its full potential.
This duo is one of VGC's most notorious combinations, for good reason: Justified raises Terrakion's Attack every time it is hit with a Dark-type move, which means Whimsicott's Beat Up can raise its Attack four times, potentially allowing Terrakion to overwhelm opponents with massively powerful attacks before they can even move. Thanks to Dynamax, Terrakion is more dynamic and flexible than ever: it's up to its natural counters, such as Kingdra, Dusclops, Rillaboom, and Venusaur, and Pokémon such as Togekiss and Indeedee that can redirect attacks, to stop this duo from taking the tournament by storm.
Dynamax grants Pokémon so much power and flexibility that some Trainers may even give classically passed-over Cobalion and Virizion a chance—pay attention to how Beat Up strategies evolve to new strengths over the course of the Players Cup.
With its Hidden Ability Grassy Surge, Rillaboom has quickly gone from a Pokémon rarely seen in competitive play to a top choice for most Trainers looking for a strong supportive Grass Type Pokémon. With access to Fake Out and Knock Off, Rillaboom offers an outlet to support its partners and an incredibly strong offensive presence, too.
Another addition to Rillaboom's arsenal is the new Move Tutor attack Glassy Glide, an extremely strong Grass-type move that has increased priority when Grassy Terrain is active. You would think that by now the advantages for using Rillaboom would stop, but no, it can now use its Gigantamax form and the incredibly strong Grass-type G-Max Drum Solo attack. And yes, this move also gains an additional power boost from Grassy Terrain.
Popular Water-type Pokémon like Wash Rotom, Primarina, and Milotic have recently fallen victim to the rise of Rillaboom, which has in turn has cleared a path for other Pokémon that would normally struggle against them. Especially with the ever-growing popularity of Psychic Terrain in this format as a result of Expanding Force, Rillaboom and its Grassy Surge gives offensive and supportive options that no other Pokémon in this format matches.
When players first learned that Urshifu had the unique Unseen Fist Ability that empowered it to deal full damage with any contact move to Pokémon using Protect or Detect, as well as having a signature move that always lands a critical hit, their initial reaction was fear that it might be too strong. The Rapid Strike Style Urshifu specializes in its multi-hit move Surging Strikes that can pick up knock outs on Pokémon that might otherwise survive with Focus Sash or an Ability such as Mimikyu's Disguise. It can make short work of the common Fire-type Intimidate users like Arcanine and Incineroar, too.
On the other hand, Single Strike Style Urshifu has overall higher damage from its powerful move Wicked Blow, which can be used to take out bulky Trick Room users that are normally tough to take out in one hit like Dusclops. The Players Cup Region Qualifiers will be Urshifu's first test to see if it can live up to the hype, so be sure to watch how competitors approach using and playing against the Secret Armor of the Master Dojo.
Porygon2 has come to the format to take Dusclops' crown as the most-used Trick Room user. It fares better as a Normal type compared to Dusclops' Ghost typing due to Dragapult and Marowak being such popular Pokémon that can one-hit K.O. Dusclops with Ghost-type moves.
Download can be a very good Ability for Porygon2; depending on the opponents defensive stats, it might raise Porygon2's Special Attack to improve the damage output of Ice Beam and Thunderbolt far beyond what Dusclops can match. And don't forget that Porygon2 can learn Recover to repeatedly restore 50% of its health, helping it stay on the field longer and possibly set Trick Room late in a match.
Azumarill muscles its way into action on the Isle of Armor, competing with Primarina in the role of the slow and bulky Water- and Fairy-type attacker. Although classically Azumarill's strength comes from its use of the setup move Belly Drum, Trainers in the Players Cup may elect to use move sets focusing on its immediate damage by giving it a Life Orb or Assault Vest to hold instead.
Azumarill is especially effective in the Galar region thanks to its Huge Power Ability, which doubles its Attack, meaning it fires off even more-powerful Max Moves. Azumarill also gets access to the new Isle of Armor Move Tutor move, Steel Roller, which removes terrain and deals massive Steel-type damage. Keep an eye out in the Players Cup for Trainers using Azumarill to control terrain versus Indeedee and Rillaboom.
Talonflame is another old favorite returning to the Video Game Championship series beginning with Season 5. Like in the past, it is best known for using its Gale Wings Ability to give priority to any Flying-type moves while its HP is full. Sending out Talonflame as one of your first Pokémon and using Gale Wings to get a Tailwind setup on the field is a great way to start off any game. Then, if it hasn't been knocked out, Talonflame can make use of its naturally high Speed to deal big damage with a move like Flare Blitz or Brave Bird.
One advantage that Talonflame has over other Tailwind setters, like Whimsicott, is the ability to learn Quick Guard, a priority move that will block the use of other priority moves on your side of the field for one turn. Thanks to its utility, there is no one team that is best suited for Talonflame talents; its primary purpose is to support whatever Pokémon are brought alongside it. Expect to find it on teams that would benefit from a Tailwind user but still need the potential to deal big damage to Pokémon weak against Fire- or Flying-type moves, such as teams that have a Weakness to something like Rillaboom, Urshifu, Amoonguss, or Steel-type Pokémon.
Alex Gomez: Porygon-Z next to a Tailwind user is surely a threat due to its strong damage output during the three turns that it's Dynamaxed. Players have to be aware of Talonflame and Porygon-Z as a duo and its potential to finish up games in three turns. Support Pokémon with access to Follow Me or Rage Powder make Porygon-Z stronger. Clefairy, in particular, helps Porygon-Z a lot; Porygon-Z doesn't have great defensive stats and the mix of Friend Guard and Helping Hand will make Porygon-Z harder to knock out and help its damage reach even greater heights.
Gabby Snyder: Season 5 is one of the most exciting formats in the Battle Stadium and I'm excited to be able to follow the evolution of the metagame closely with the Players Cup. The return of so many of my old favorites has me excited to see in what creative ways they'll be used with the new tools of Galar and the Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield Expansion Pass by their side. Best of luck to all of those competing, I can't wait to see what amazing teams and strategies you all come up with!
Justin Burns: Some of the new moves introduced in the Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield Expansion Pass have the potential to help players handle some of the most powerful strategies involving Dynamax. Burning Jealousy is one of the most interesting moves because it can pressure Dynamax Pokémon to avoid using popular moves like Max Quake, Max Steelspike, and Max Airstream or risk letting itself and its teammates get burned, which would severely limit the offensive pressure of any physical attacking Pokémon. While Lash Out's doubled damage after a stat drop does not punish the opponent as much as Burning Jealousy, it can still put dents on the likes of Dragapult, who is weak against Lash Out and whose Ghost-type and Dragon-type Max moves both trigger its extra damage. A notable user of both Lash Out and Burning Jealousy is Incineroar, and while it still has a long way to go to return to its former glory, these moves may make it a more effective Pokémon to use against Dynamax Pokémon.
Lee Provost: What I am most interested in seeing going into the Players Cup is how well rain now performs with the introduction of Politoed and Kingdra. Rain as an archetype feels like it's had a total makeover with the introduction of these two Pokémon, offering a huge amount of offensive pressure that might be a little too much for some players to handle. There will be a huge spike in the usage of Trick Room teams and Porygon2 which will be one of the biggest issues rain will need to contend with if players running this strategy want to be successful from round to round. Amoonguss offers a nice balance with Spore and its ability to operate while Trick Room is in effect. But maybe the better call for players is a combined rain-and-Trick-Room based team that can take advantage of all angles of the battlefield.
Aaron Traylor: The changes brought by the Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield Expansion Pass allow for strategies revolving around Trick Room to be much more flexible than in the first iterations of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield battles. Pokémon such as Alolan Marowak, Azumarill, Politoed, Rillaboom, Amoonguss, Porygon2, and even Dragalge prefer to fight in Trick Room, but are just as capable of holding their own in battle outside of it. This is a strong contrast to popular Pokémon such as Hatterene, Torkoal, and Rhyperior, which must be dedicated in their efforts to set and fight in Trick Room to prove effectiveness. Pay special attention in the battles you watch to the order in which these Pokémon move, both in and out of Trick Room—top Trainers are careful to train to gain advantages on their terms, as many of these Pokémon have similar Speed stats.
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 was a finalist at the 2018 North America International Championships and a semifinalist at the 2019 Oceania International Championships. Justin is currently working with a degree in computer science and plans to attend graduate school in the fall. His favorite Pokémon include Squirtle, Quilava, and Hydreigon!
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 to 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.