Perfecting Your Pokémon Party in 2016!

The announcement of the 2016 Video Game Championships format brought a huge surprise: players are allowed to use two Pokémon from a group of several Pokémon that are normally prohibited from play. (We broke down those Pokémon recently.) Kyogre, Groudon, Rayquaza, Dialga, Xerneas, and Yveltal seem to be the restricted Pokémon that players are most excited to use as they enter their first events. Selecting the remaining four members of their teams may prove to be the greater challenge—and have the biggest impact on success.

Unlike in many previous formats, raw power won't be the most important trait for most of the Pokémon not on the restricted list in the 2016 format. Last season, we saw teams composed primarily of Pokémon that were tough to knock out while being very effective in their roles, such as Cresselia, Heatran, Amoonguss, Aegislash, Landorus, Kangaskhan, and Thundurus. With the unmatched power of the restricted Pokémon, it isn't as necessary for each Pokémon players select to be as sturdy as it was last year. The main job of most unrestricted Pokémon is to help their restricted teammates attack safely and effectively with the knowledge that their turns are numbered. Pokémon that know moves like Fake Out or Quick Guard and those that have the Prankster Ability have already proven to be powerful allies early in the season, and we expect that trend to continue. Some Pokémon are so susceptible to being one-hit KO'd that Trainers must give them a Focus Sash to hold for them to endure a single attack—and even they have been popular.

The Intimidate Ability, once almost mandatory on serious teams, has diminished in popularity this year with most restricted Pokémon using at least one Special Attack. Nevertheless, Landorus Therian Forme has shown up occasionally thanks to Intimidate and its immunity to Primal Groudon's Ground-type attacks. But even Landorus struggles to deal enough damage to Primal Groudon with Earthquake to make up for how easily most restricted Pokémon can knock it out with Special Attacks. More frequently, players looking for Intimidate are turning to Salamence and Mawile, both of which can Mega Evolve later in the battle. Mega Salamence can outrun Mega Rayquaza and knock it out with Draco Meteor, while Mega Mawile helps teams using Trick Room (or even Yveltal's Dark Aura because of Mawile's Sucker Punch).

The major exception to unrestricted Pokémon not providing much offensive firepower is Mega-Evolved Pokémon. Teams that forego Rayquaza and Mewtwo to allow an unrestricted Pokémon to Mega Evolve can gain a third powerful offensive Pokémon and distribute power over their team a little more evenly. So far, Kangaskhan and Salamence have been the most common Mega-Evolved Pokémon other than Rayquaza, but Gengar, Gardevoir, Metagross, Mawile, and Venusaur have also been successful for players early in the season. Some players have even found using two of these Pokémon is a much more effective strategy this year than in past seasons, allowing them to select and battle with their two restricted Pokémon, one of their two Mega-Evolved Pokémon, and one of their two remaining Pokémon in most battles.

Let's take a look at some of the unrestricted Pokémon that Trainers should consider placing on their teams to help out their heavy-hitting Mega-Evolved Pokémon and restricted Pokémon in the 2016 Video Game Championships.

Pokémon Pranksters

Players who have been around Video Game Championship Series events are surely familiar with the Prankster Ability. It has enabled Thundurus to use Thunder Wave, Swagger, and Taunt with increased priority in many tournament battles. Prankster allows Pokémon to use attacks that don't deal damage before their opponents can attack, thereby disrupting their foes or supporting their own teams. The increased priority from Prankster allows even weakened Pokémon to impact the battle before being knocked out. Experienced players may be surprised to find out that the normally common Thundurus is probably not the most useful Pokémon with the Prankster Ability this year as it is less effective largely due to Primal Groudon's immunity to Electric-type attacks.

Instead of Thundurus, Liepard has been the most popular Prankster early in the VGC 2016 season. Liepard is well-known for having the unique combination of the Prankster Ability and the moves Fake Out, Encore, and Foul Play. When their opponent is likely to use Fake Out, many players like to use Protect with both of their Pokémon to avoid flinching, but Liepard punishes players who do so by using Encore afterward to force a Pokémon to continually use Protect. Liepard is also quicker than Mega Kangaskhan, allowing Liepard to Fake Out Kangaskhan first when the two Pokémon come into battle and causing Kangaskhan to flinch before it can use its own Fake Out. Liepard's biggest advantage over other Pokémon with Prankster is its Foul Play, an attack that uses the target's Attack stat instead of Liepard's. Liepard does bonus damage with Foul Play due to being a Dark-type Pokémon, and using the target's Attack stat allows Liepard to do huge damage to most restricted Pokémon. (Also, try combining Liepard's Foul Play with Yveltal's Dark Aura for even more power.) Thanks to Foul Play, Liepard is much more effective offensively than other Pranksters.

The other popular Prankster this year has been Whimsicott. Whimsicott's strength is its unique combination of the Prankster Ability and the moves Encore and Tailwind, which has led many players to pair it with Mega Gengar. Whimsicott can use Tailwind to increase its team's Speed, then Encore a move used by an opponent while Mega Gengar uses Disable on the same Pokémon, forcing the target to Struggle (while trapping it with Mega Gengar's Shadow Tag Ability). Whimsicott also sometimes uses Fake Tears to help Mega Gengar or one of the restricted Pokémon pick up surprise knock outs with huge hits. (Fake Tears reduces one target's Special Defense by two levels.) Whimsicott's most interesting trick this year may be the move Worry Seed, which replaces the target's Ability with Insomnia. Using this move on a Primal Groudon with Desolate Land active can make it an easy target for the Water-type attacks of Whimsicott's teammates.

Other notable Pokémon with Prankster:

Sableye
Key Moves: Fake Out, Foul Play, Confuse Ray, Taunt, Will-O-Wisp, Snarl, Feint, Recover

Meowstic (Male)
Key Moves: Fake Out, Quick Guard, Helping Hand, Light Screen, Reflect, Safeguard, Swagger, Thunder Wave

Murkrow
Key Moves: Quash, Feather Dance, Foul Play, Tailwind, Taunt, Thunder Wave, Roost

Faking Out the Competition

The move Fake Out is one of the cornerstones of Double Battles, and any Pokémon that can learn the powerful move is worth considering. Fake Out works only on the first turn a Pokémon is on the field, has greatly increased priority, does a small amount of Normal-type damage, and has a 100% chance of making the target flinch. Players often use Fake Out to help another Pokémon use a non-attacking move more safely, especially Trick Room, Tailwind, Dark Void, and Geomancy. An unrestricted Pokémon using Fake Out on a restricted Pokémon (preventing either Pokémon from having an impact for a turn) is also normally advantageous for the unrestricted Pokémon, making Fake Out particularly valuable this season.

The most common Pokémon with the move Fake Out is once again the dominant Mega Kangaskhan. Mega Kangaskhan does not have the same level of offensive and defensive supremacy it had in previous seasons this year because its strength has been eclipsed by the more powerful unrestricted Pokémon available. However, it still provides its team with an extra Pokémon that can deal meaningful damage and support its team with Fake Out, making it a reliable choice for most battles. Fake Out is a big part of Kangaskhan's appeal, but it can still deal huge chunks of damage with Double-Edge if its opponents try to target its teammates instead of it. Kangaskhan is nearly the default choice for teams that don't use Mega Rayquaza and don't have a specific purpose for a different Mega-Evolved Pokémon.

Most of the other Pokémon that commonly use Fake Out are selected for teams because they can use Fake Out while having another useful quality. We've mentioned several Pokémon that combined the Prankster Ability and Fake Out before. Another is Ludicolo—its combination of Fake Out and the Swift Swim Ability make it a strong choice. Swift Swim doubles Ludicolo's Speed during heavy rain, which makes it particularly adept at fighting with—and against—Primal Kyogre. Ludicolo will typically have the fastest Fake Out while its Swift Swim is active, which can create opportunities for its teammates to attack even against other Pokémon that use Fake Out. Ludicolo's Grass Knot, which does more damage to heavier Pokémon, offers consistent damage against the hefty restricted Pokémon. And it can also use Ice Beam and a Water-type attack to land supereffective hits on many Pokémon, or Leech Seed to be more disruptive long term. Like Ludicolo, Shiftry can do a similar trick with Fake Out and the Chlorophyll Ability (which doubles Shiftry's Speed in the sunny or extremely harsh sunlight weather conditions), but the Pokémon tends to be much less effective overall.

One Pokémon that normally knows Fake Out and is making a huge early impact this season is Smeargle. It's been much more popular this year than it was in previous seasons. Smeargle is best known for being the only eligible Pokémon that can use Dark Void, which can make both of Smeargle's opponents fall asleep in a single turn. When it isn't holding the restrictive Choice Scarf, Trainers typically teach it a combination of Dark Void, Fake Out, Spiky Shield, Transform, and Follow Me, although it is supported by other Pokémon using Fake Out more frequently than it uses Fake Out itself. If you're looking to win tournaments this year, make sure you have a reliable answer to Smeargle's Dark Void!

Whether you're using Fake Out, the Prankster Ability, or Smeargle, one Pokémon you should look out for is Crobat. It can have the Inner Focus Ability, which prevents flinching, and it learns a suite of attacks that stop the tactics we've mentioned so far. Crobat's Quick Guard blocks moves with increased priority, including those that gain increased priority from the Prankster and Gale Wings Abilities. Quick Guard also stops slower Pokémon from using Fake Out, and under normal circumstances, Crobat is faster than every Pokémon that learns Fake Out. (The speedy Talonflame can make similar use of Quick Guard.) Crobat can also use Taunt to stop Smeargle's antics while being immune to the flinching effect of the Fake Out Smeargle's partner might be trying to use to protect it. Crobat can also increase its team's Speed with Tailwind and even attack with Super Fang, a move that deals 50% of the target's current HP in damage—potentially huge damage to a restricted Pokémon.

Other notable Pokémon with Fake Out:

Infernape
Key Moves: Fake Out, Feint, Quick Guard, Encore, Close Combat, Overheat

Weavile
Key Moves: Fake Out, Fling, Foul Play, Icicle Crash, Taunt, Knock Off, Low Kick

Hitmontop
Key Moves: Fake Out, Close Combat, Feint, Quick Guard, Wide Guard, Helping Hand

Redirect Your Attention Please

The primary goal of most unrestricted Pokémon in the 2016 Video Game Championships is to help the restricted Pokémon on their team to attack more frequently and more effectively than the opposing team's restricted Pokémon. It is of little surprise that Follow Me and Rage Powder—two moves that can actually direct attacks away from the restricted Pokémon—are popular choices this year. Few Pokémon can last long enough to provide adequate protection for their team when drawing the enemies' most powerful attacks this year, but the following three Pokémon are pulling it off.

Amoonguss has been a strong choice in the Video Game Championships ever since its introduction in Pokémon Black and Pokémon White, and this year is no exception. However, its popularity has decreased early this season because it has a type disadvantage against some important foes: Primal Groudon, Mega Rayquaza, and Yveltal. The trade-offs are that Amoonguss can endure a few rounds of attacks from most other Pokémon, it does well against most teams built around Primal Kyogre, and it causes huge problems for Xerneas. Most importantly, Amoonguss has found a home on teams looking to improve their matchup against teams using Trick Room this year. Many players are building teams using Primal Kyogre or Primal Groudon with Speed-lowering Natures and Trick Room, but these Pokémon are still much faster than Amoonguss, which can easily make them fall asleep with Spore and Trick Room before defending its teammates with Rage Powder.

With Amoonguss so frequently being asked to use Spore, Togekiss may end up being the Pokémon that most often actually redirects attacks this season. It has two useful type immunities to Dragon- and Ground-type attacks and a solid Special Defense stat, making it tricky to knock out for many Pokémon. Togekiss is most often used next to Xerneas in order to help it use Geomancy more safely. In addition to Follow Me, Togekiss can also speed up its team with Tailwind, greatly assisting Pokémon such as Primal Groudon and Primal Kyogre that can easily pick up knock outs if they act before their foes. Togekiss can also have the Ability Serene Grace, which doubles the chance of added effects of its attacks occurring. Togekiss's Air Slash has a 60% chance of causing its target to flinch with Serene Grace, giving it another way to defend its teammates while also doing some damage.

The other common Pokémon with Follow Me is more surprising—Clefairy. It has made its triumphant return this year thanks to Follow Me and its Hidden Ability, Friend Guard (which passively reduces the damage taken by its teammates by 25% while it is on the field). Even if it's holding the item Eviolite (which increases the defenses of Pokémon that aren't fully evolved by 50%), Clefairy isn't very durable against a focused attack from most of the restricted Pokémon. The damage reduction that Friend Guard supplies to important spread attacks like Precipice Blades and Origin Pulse can be impactful enough that Clefairy is worth using anyway: the Ability allows a Pokémon like Xerneas or Mega Rayquaza to last through an attack that would otherwise have knocked them out, which can easily change the result of a match.

The Season Begins

Some dedicated players have played hundreds of practice matches already, but the season is just beginning. There's a season full of strategies to discover ahead of us, and more strategies discovered already than we can discuss in a single article. The last time unrestricted Pokémon were allowed, in 2010, we saw a team take home the World Championships by using Cresselia and Dialga's Trick Room to help Groudon and Kyogre dish out damage. Cresselia's Trick Room antics are powerful once again, but so far this season faster teams have been leading the charge. You'll have to keep watching and battling to find out which strategies come out on top this year.

Tournaments are heating up as the format changes. Make sure to check out the first major events using the new rules at the Winter Regional Championships, and check out Pokemon.com/Strategy for more Pokémon video game and Pokémon TCG strategy and analysis.

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