New Styles Triumph at the Video Game World Championships

The world's strongest Pokémon Trainers met up in Anaheim at the first Pokémon World Championships featuring Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon from August 18–20. Each Trainer was looking to prove they were the very best, but each age division could only have one winner—congratulations to Masters Division Champion Ryota Otsubo, Senior Division Champion Hong Juyoung, and Junior Division Champion Christopher Kan. The exciting battles were all livestreamed on Pokemon.com/Live, but you can check out the final matches from each age division by checking out our event recap.

With Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon launching November 17, Trainers competing in the 2018 Pokémon Championships Series still have plenty of battles under the 2017 format in front of them. Don't forget to check out the Masters, Senior, and Junior Division Top Cut teams from the event—there's a good chance you'll see them in tournaments again soon. Check out some of the biggest stories and trends from the Pokémon World Championship and get a leg up on your competition.

Making the Right Read

Trainers select their teams for the World Championships in part based on which Pokémon they expect their opponents to bring. It's always difficult to anticipate whether new strategies will pop up for the season's final event or if more tested tactics will win out instead. Making the right read before the tournament begins is crucial.

Most of this year's competitors seemed to be expecting to see teams that were similar to the last International Championship—and Trainers from the US and Europe played most strongly toward this expectation. Most of their teams were designed to deploy and combat the most established forces of this season's metagame—Arcanine, Tapu Koko, Garchomp, Porygon2, and Snorlax—perhaps with something extra to combat a probable infusion of Metagross and Salamence, the only major shift many Trainers seemed to expect.

The teams that stood out after Friday's initial rounds made it seem like these Trainers were on the money, but the top-performing teams on Saturday told a different story. Twenty-eight different Pokémon appeared in the Masters Division Top Cut, the most ever in the Masters Division. Unexpected Pokémon like Gastrodon, Klefki, and Whimsicott replaced the usual staples of the 2017 VGC format, providing some unfavorable matchups for Trainers preparing for more conventional foes. Tapu Koko was the only Pokémon that maintained its mastery over the field—Snorlax, Garchomp, and Salamence each appeared on only two of the top-8 teams, while Porygon2, Metagross, and Kartana appeared on only one.

The world of Pokémon again proved itself to be full of surprises, and many Trainers found themselves with teams that probably weren't a great fit for the event. The missteps of these Trainers created opportunities for other Trainers—let's dive into the ways the Masters Division finalists built their advantages.

Turning Up the Tempo

Most of the Trainers who lead the pack entering the World Championships earned their Championships Points using teams that focused on defense over offense. Many of their teams featured three or more of the HP-restoring “pinch Berries” that had their power boosted in Alola—Aguav Berry, Figy Berry, Iapapa Berry, Mago Berry, and Wiki Berry. Masters Division Champion Ryota Otsubo went for a very different strategy by opting not to include even one of these powerful Berries on his team, and the items he chose instead were a key element of what made his team stand out.

In place of Berries, Ryota gave his Pokémon items that increased their damage output. With two Z-Crystals, Choice Specs, Life Orb, and Thick Club, Ryota's team had far more damage out of the gate than opponents using more defensive teams did. And with several options to deal damage in big chunks, his Pokémon could often score knock outs before their opponents could consume their Berries. Trainers may need to rethink their item distribution after a little over adjustment toward the new effects of these Berries.

Trainers looking to combat Ryota's team—and teams built to play a similar style—can get some tips from the Champion himself. “With the way my team is composed, I have a hard time dealing with teams that have things like Aurora Veil—teams that enhance their staying power. That's why I chose to teach [Alolan] Marowak Brick Break.” Ryota proved Aurora Veil alone isn't always enough, but the first game of the finals showed it can cool down Ryota's offense once Marowak is defeated. We'd wager that healing moves from sturdy Pokémon like Porygon2's Recover and Snorlax's Recycle also cause some problems for Ryota's team by denying early knockouts, too—that's why Krookodile knows Taunt and Celesteela knows Leech Seed.

Powering Up for Success

Masters Division Runner-up Sam Pandelis found a different away to defeat conventional teams. Where Ryota opted to outpace his foes by going on the offensive quickly, Sam chose to use Alolan Ninetales's Aurora Veil and a plethora of stat-increasing moves to ensure he'd win longer battles instead.

The combination of Ninetales's Snow Warning Ability and the Aurora Veil move is one of the more exciting new strategies available in Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon, but it took Trainers much of the year to adapt to it. Sam's Ninetales is trained very differently from those we saw earlier in the season—even as recently as the North American International Championship finals. Instead of going on the offense with Blizzard, he focused on Ninetales's defensive stats so that it could swap out its Focus Sash for Light Clay, enhancing Aurora Veil's duration to eight turns.

We thought the Trainers who brought similar Ninetales to Indianapolis might be onto something, but the team Sam surrounded Ninetales with took the strategy to another level. Aurora Veil's effect can reduce the tempo of battles to a glacial pace, which Sam leveraged by teaching his Garchomp Swords Dance, his Xurkitree Tail Glow, and his Tapu Lele Calm Mind. His opponents could often attack into Aurora Veil a few times, but after a Tail Glow or a Swords Dance Sam's team could deal far more damage than his opponents' could.

We're not expecting Trainers to rush out and find ways to include Brick Break on their team to stop these Ninetales-centric strategies like Ryota did, but Ninetales should be on every Trainer's radar now. This style of Ninetales is vulnerable because it doesn't hold a Focus Sash, so we expect Trainers to look for ways to knock it out before it's able to use Aurora Veil at future events.

Rising Strategies

Tapu Koko may have been the most successful Pokémon in Anaheim, but it wasn't because its opponents didn't try to shut it down. Ryota and semifinalist Paul Ruiz lead a charge of Trainers seeming to ground out Tapu Koko with Marowak's Lightning Rod Ability, and several Trainers who finished just outside of the top cut gave Togedemaru a shot, too. The prevalence of Lightning Rod helped eliminate several Trainers who tried out Raichu in Anaheim, with some using Speed Swap and others using Aloraichium Z.

One of the biggest surprises of the tournament was that only one Porygon2 made it into the Masters Division top-8. Even more surprising was that it wasn't even the highest-placing Pokémon that knew the move Trick Room—that honor went to the physically frail Nihilego instead. The field didn't seem particularly stacked against Porygon2, but most of the Trainers who brought Porygon2 to Anaheim found themselves near the bottom of the standings when play concluded.

Alolan Persian put up some impressive performances at International Championships, mostly in the hands of Sebastian Escalante and Markus Stadter, and it performed well again at Worlds—this time in the hands of Paul Ruiz and quarterfinalist Nils Dunlop. The Classy Cat Pokémon's debilitate-and-run play style is unique in VGC, but it's become clear that Persian is a first-class Pokémon in this year's format.

Many of the Senior Division's top-performers brought teams reminiscent of those that dominated tournaments earlier in the season, and plenty of Trainers from the other age divisions joined them. Several top-performing Trainers went back to the combination of Arcanine, Tapu Fini, and Kartana, and Senior Division runner-up Yuki Wata even brought one of the best-known six-Pokémon combinations of the season—Tapu Fini, Arcanine, Kartana, Tapu Koko, Porygon2, and Gigalith. This year's metagame seems to have been more cyclical than iterative, with many strategies that succeeded early in the season still proving effective at Worlds—including throwbacks to the European International Championships like Marowak and Gastrodon.

The combination of Metagross and Salamence didn't have quite the impact many expected it to in Anaheim, as only Tomoyuki Yoshimura managed to take it to the top cut of the Masters Division. But so many North American and European Trainers gave the duo a shot that it'll be worth looking out for them at future Regionals. Regardless of this duo's success in Anaheim, they could still be a major factor in the future if Trainers choose to stick to their strategies instead of imitating the top teams from Worlds.

The 2017 Pokémon World Championships are in the books, but Trainers will continue battling under the 2017 Video Game Championships format for a while longer. Follow the top-performing teams and decks from each event to see how the World Championships impacts future events. And don't forget to keep checking back at Pokemon.com/Strategy for more tournament analysis, tips, and strategy.

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