Tuesday, 21 March 2017

I Am the Guardian of Alola -- February International Challenge 10th Place Team

Alola friends. Wrote most of this some weeks ago already and just figured I have no good reasons left to hide it any longer, so: Here it is, the team that brought me to the first page of the global rankings for the 2017 International Challenge February!

And you're in for something that you aren't seeing every day, I can tell you that much in advance.


The basic idea is almost as old as the format itself, and it was pieced together from a multitude of things I saw. So, the main point of entry is that Gengar/Koko lead that Yoshi constructed his London team around. Quick refresher for those who have forgotten what was going on there: Sash Gengz, AV Koko with Nature's Madness, and the desire to start every game on a 4-3 lead by picking the right target to double into and before it moves, while the untouched one can't possibly get a revenge kill in the same turn. That concept looks quite nasty on paper, and while it's much unlike everything I did in the past, I deemed it very much worth looking into further. The lack of redirection and Fake Out in the metagame makes strategies like this and also more simple fast modes notably more potent than they were known to be in other formats.

That being said, I didn't like to just copy what was already there, because I got another idea that, while I never knew for sure it was better, definitely was different in some ways. My very own original team building has been so very lackluster since like forever and some days and it always saddens me, so of course I wanted to seize the opportunity to finally create something of my own again and have it be good. Make Dreykopff's team building great again, you know. So, I arrived at Tapu Koko and Nihilego. Nihilego would still have the Sash and then trade Taunt for Beast Boost. Koko would give up Assault Vest so that I could fill the moveset with whatever the fuck I wanted. As it turns out, these two never changed from my initial design. If you want to spoil yourself right here and now, scroll down to Koko and marvel at the glorious bird of Melemele. Otherwise, let's talk about finding the other 4 slots as well!

For the third slot, a standard Celesteela was already about 96% guaranteed (yes, I wanted a number that is higher than the accuracy of silly Icy Whiff). With the team being all about supporting Nihilego, I obviously needed something for Kartana. Also, since I am Dreykopff and like my defensive switches a lot, there is just hardly a way I'm getting around that Steel/Flying object when I'm starting with Kokolego, so there's that as well. And that's also the first half of the boring part out of the way. The other half of the boring part is...related to my observation that it's impossible to build competitive teams without Arcanine and Garchomp right now. When I first theorymoned the team, I was likely to get Arcanine because I was looking at Intimidate, switching capabilities and all that jazz, but that only happened on paper and wasn't actually tested. When I, weeks later, constructed a few different trios to actually complete the team, I arrived at the conclusion that I would likely want Garchomp instead, with Arcanine as the expendable one. You can thank Muk for that, because Muk is just really fucking annoying when you can't hit it for weakness, your Z-move isn't good for it etc. I could also have taken Marowak for a number of reasons, but yeah, it's Marowak, which is kinda underwhelming without Speed control. Garchomp is the kind of mon that always gives you a promise of being decent.

That leaves the last two slots. Things I was looking at originally were any weather changer to combat the Sash break that Snow Warning brings, and an attacking Tapu. Well, turns out the weather changers were either Ground weak (Gigalith, Torkoal) or just mostly useless if not even helpful to some opponents (Politoed). Attacking Tapus weren't looking too hot either. In my early notes, I had Bulu for doing something about the Ground weakness, but that's so impractical. Bulu has a handful of problems in this metagame that almost disqualify it for a supporting slot immediately, and Grassy Terrain can not only be reset but also doesn't do anything against Tectonic Rage or High Horsepower. So, I had to entertain the notion of maybe just having one of those mons with field Abilities in the supporting cast, and then use the last open slot to eliminate as many problems as possible individually or, even better, make the team more streamlined by opening up an alternative mode. One of the drafts I had hence featured Torkoal and Lilligant, with a total of 3 Z-Crystals in the team, just to give you an idea. That one didn't make it for the finalized build though.

And then the plot twist arrived: just forget about it all with that overburdening patching holes thing, we're running Clefairy Snorlax. That happened at a time when I grew very fond of Snorlax in the refined AFK team you know, so it was a safe call to just copypaste it then. Clefairy on top of that is one I've now appreciated for three formats in succession, because Follow Me is still the best non-generic move in Double Battles and hey, I didn't have double Tapu yet, so I still could afford another kind of double Fairy no problem. And that will be the lineup and how it came to be. On to the flesh of it!

The Team

To Oblivion (Tapu Koko) @ Tapunium Z
Ability: Electric Surge
Level: 50
EVs: 236 HP / 60 Def / 4 SpA / 52 SpD / 156 Spe
Timid Nature
- Nature's Madness
- Hidden Power [Fire]
- Volt Switch
- Sky Drop

Don't believe what the guys at the car shark invitational might have told you, I am the true "inventor" of Guardian of Alola and my dear Tapu Kawkawkawkaw has proved it during this IC in ways that never ended well for my opponents, hahaha!

But jests aside, it's true -- I had this Koko build in the first week of January and justed waited for the right time to unleash it. Nature's Madness is the same as with Yoshi's from London, but I decided to power it up for a number of reasons. Since any imaginable Sash partner could easily arrive at points where it's impossible to do 50% damage with an actual attack to a specific target, chances are that 25% is still possible. Porygon2 and Hariyama are the best examples here -- it's very unusual for them to carry Berries that could mess with me, and that's where they will fall when they least expect it. Another common example would be Celesteela obviously, but that's still risky in Bo1 because you could always run into the FIWAM Berry build and get wrecked hard. Anyway, I usually just hit that Z-button when I know that it will win me the game or that I won't need another Z-move later (i.e., because I didn't bring Garchomp), and with that in mind, it's still nice and much appreciated that I can get around this disgusting 90% for one turn. Fun story: I once blew up a 1 HP Ninetales with it just because I wanted to nullify a Protect that could lose me pace.

With that big monstrosity out of the way, some words on the other moves. HP Fire is for Kartana, obviously. If it doesn't have Sash or AV, it will be quickly exterminated in the hottest depths of hell (looking at you Scarf and Lens users, be warned), no investment needed. Volt Switch is there for having at least some kind of STAB attack, I guess, and the mid-turn switching mobility is something I always approve of. Finally, Sky Drop extends the combos with Nihilego in another way. There's also the synergy with Garchomp's setup. If the Celesteela switch is free, I can even pick up Kartana with it and grab that guaranteed defensive Beast Boost next turn.

The EV spread is mostly similar to the bulky Spex Koko that Ray made earlier, with the following important differences: It outspeeds the now relevant and threatening Salazzle, it survives Adamant Garchomp's Earthquake in 15/16 rolls (of course I hit multiple max rolls or crits during the IC, not even kidding!) and offensive investment isn't needed at all for what this set does, so it's clear where that went.

Another Me (Nihilego) @ Focus Sash
Ability: Beast Boost
Level: 50
EVs: 4 Def / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Timid Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
- Power Gem
- Sludge Bomb
- Hidden Power [Ice]
- Protect

PhantomAgony (Celesteela) @ Leftovers
Ability: Beast Boost
Level: 50
EVs: 164 HP / 4 Atk / 188 Def / 148 SpD / 4 Spe
Careful Nature
- Heavy Slam
- Flamethrower
- Leech Seed
- Protect

Sancta Terra (Garchomp) (M) @ Groundium Z
Ability: Rough Skin
Level: 50
EVs: 4 HP / 228 Atk / 20 Def / 4 SpD / 252 Spe
Jolly Nature
- Earthquake
- Fire Fang
- Swords Dance
- Protect

Never Enough (Snorlax) (M) @ Iapapa Berry
Ability: Gluttony
Level: 50
Happiness: 0
EVs: 20 HP / 236 Atk / 252 Def
Brave Nature
IVs: 3 Spe
- Frustration
- High Horsepower
- Curse
- Recycle

Sparing you the walls of text for these four mons here, because there's just not much to say about them. Nihilego and Celesteela are the most standard builds in the world. Garchomp and Snorlax have been copypasted from the respective AFK iterations I posted here before, nothing too original about them either at this point.

The actual moveset decision behind Snorlax though...Yes, about that one I should definitely talk after some reactions. I went for Curse because I just wanted that fairly reliable answer for Trick Room. Now that the rankings were released and some other metagame advancement happened these weeks, people also had good reasons to expect it to be a Belly Drum set. Well, you see, I didn't actually consider that myself for this team! But soon after, I did test that and saw I didn't like it. Supporting Belly Drum Snorlax with redirection is accepting you're playing a 3v4 game and giving up Speed control at the same time. It's nothing like the Kangaskhan/Azumarill cores of older formats, it's too passive.

Cry4theMoon (Clefairy) (F) @ Eviolite
Ability: Friend Guard
Level: 50
EVs: 236 HP / 252 Def / 20 SpD
Bold Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
- Follow Me
- Heal Pulse
- Encore
- Protect

So, on to the last mon of the party. While I was used to accepting compromises with the attacks it can survive, the limited movepool was something new. No Helping Hand, no Icy Wind, just all kinds of random fillers. Might have normally taken After You in the filler slot, but yeah, I have Snorlax, I don't need After You. And Heal That move should be quite good and a legitimate reason to run Clefairy itself, but it has never clicked with me ever and this IC was no exception. Like, it's there but I possibly clicked it even less than Encore; didn't keep count. Encore can get you some cool positions though if placed well, and even if not quite, the ease of prediction for the next few turns is super helpful when I'm trying to pick off targets one by one. Funny (and sad) moment I had: because of not knowing my Speeds well enough, this Clefairy sent some Heal Pulses and Encores at the wrong times against a full Trick Room team. I still think neutral Speed is the way to go with Encore, but really I should just be more aware of how that matches up with negative-Natured stuff. So that's everything about the filler moves, and now please a moment of silence for Helping Hand.

Other than that, Clefairy's main job is to spam Follow Me and Protect and sometimes add Friend Guard to Celesteela or something. For the EVs, you have to decide between Araquanid's Hydro Vortex and Nihilego's Life Orb Sludge Bomb, can't stand both. Should be obvious from the numbers what I decided to go with.

Modus Operandi

Since the team was based around the Kokolego combination and its early game, obviously I would lead that most of the time and then have the bulkier stuff in the back, both for defensive maneuvers and sealing up games -- most of the time, Celesteela and Garchomp. Whenever that didn't seem quite optimal with the little information I had from Bo1 team preview, I left it at simple replacements and/or changes of order. Like, if I see dedicated Trick Room, I'll definitely bring Snorlax and/or Clefairy somewhere. If I see multiple mons that Nihilego can't threaten even after Nature's Madness, I might still lead Koko but partner it with Garchomp or Celesteela and bring Nihilego in the back. If a team is naturally faster than mine, I'll probably have Clefairy to weather the storm.

And, most importantly with Kokolego leads: don't fuck up against Scarfchomps. One game I have humiliatingly lost because I went all in on it being slower right in turn 1, only to be Earthquaked way too fast and then not kill it with HP Ice. The (mostly) safe play in that situation would have been to Sky Drop it and Protect. That prevents unnecessary damage on Nihilego and Sky Drop should also normally chip it into Hidden Power range. Well, and even when not using this team or anything like it, I can only advise you to have plans against Scarfchomp. We've had our fun whining about it on Twitter and stuff, but truth is, Scarf is just as good as Groundium -- because a metagame shaped by the likes of Koko, Arcanine, common Ground weaknesses, an overabundance of fast and frail mons, and the unavailability of Excadrill very much call for it.

IC Data

  • Played 43 out of 45 games, 36-7 record, 1864 peak and final rating, placed 10th worldwide, 1st in Germany/Europe and something yet undetermined for CP.
  • All losses were avoidable by better play, but I also won some games by decisive opponent misplays, or once a first-try Burn on a +6 Snorlax.
  • Streaks: 3W - 1L - 2W - 1L - 3W - 1L - 16W - 1L - 3W - 2L - 4W - 1L - 5W
  • Personal usage stats:
    • Tapu Koko: 41
    • Nihilego: 41
    • Celesteela: 40
    • Garchomp: 30
    • Snorlax: 9
    • Clefairy: 11
  • Leads:
    • Kokolego: 35
    • Koko/Celesteela: 3
    • Kokochomp: 3
    • Snorlax/Clefairy: 1
    • Celesteela/Garchomp: 1
  • Judging from those stats, it really seems like it was the ideal Bo1 team, because I was pretty much hellbent on what to do and my opponents would know none of it before it was too late. There isn't much we can infer from that for Bo3 situations, but as far as the facts go, I won all Bo3s I played with the team, though they weren't many, so...

I don't know, man. It seems like I became a Bo1 god overnight (and then lost that talent right again *cough*), but sure as hell my efforts will get devalued by the misinformation factor again as soon as I get back to bringing "normal" teams to Battle Spot. I think it was just a lucky shot in the dark this time, because I also happened to avoid the bad luck where it mattered. Alola!

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