Watchog’s Meta Watch: New Year, New Meta

Greetings, Trainers! We may have all piled on Christmas weight and broken several New Years’ resolutions already, but Watchog’s Meta Watch never stops watching – not on our watch!

We’re in one of the most exciting periods for competitive singles play, where players are experimenting, trends are being set and no strategy is too outlandish to consider. The cream is slowly rising to the top, though it takes time: the earliest usage stats can be a little misleading as Trainers test out new Pokémon at the expense of existing species (the Pokémon Showdown stats from November have Pinurchin outranking Lucario, Goodra and Haxorus, so apply a little salt), and otherwise-mediocre Pokémon that might actually slot well into a developed metagame have not yet emerged.

Smogon recently published an updated set of statistics which can be found here, and they provide the best sense yet of which Pokémon are going to dominate the Sword and Shield metagame. Remember, Smogon’s ‘tiers’ are based only on usage; they are not a ranking of power but simply of what is being used by players.

There’s no better time to review the happenings of the past few weeks, nor to assess predictions by over-confident analysts and pelt or praise them appropriately. Yours truly made a number of assertions (found on this page) that we can now put to the test with our 2020 vision!

What’s happened?

To the surprise of vanishingly few, Dynamax was banned in Pokémon Showdown OU by the community. Though it is a shame that Gen 8’s snazzy new battle mechanic should fall foul of the banhammer, the potential issues are clear given the stat-boosting effects of moves such as Max Airstream and the fact that Dynamaxing allows the Dynamax-ee to bypass the malus associated with using Choice items. The competitive community has a great comprehensive run-down of the process and reasoning behind the ban here.

Galarian Darmanitan has also been banished to the Ubers format. This, too, is hardly surprisingly – a Gorilla Tactics Darmanitan with a Choice Band equipped is one of the hardest-hitting forces in Pokémon history. It isn’t reliant on STAB, either; Darmanitan has an excellent array of powerful moves to punish Water and Steel types that resist Icicle Crash. From our own research, Eiscue is one of the only Pokémon able to switch in on a Band-ed Darmanitan and defeat it one-on-one – if you know of any others that can switch in on any of Darmanitan’s attacks and proceed to beat it, let us know! Again, you can find the community’s thought process behind the decision here.

Galar’s new species have been putting in a very strong showing all-round, but we wanted to highlight one novel Pokémon in particular: Dracovish. It might not come as news to many people but it’s worth reiterating just how ridiculous the Fossil Pokémon’s Fishious Rend is: the figures below portray the match-up between an Adamant, Choice Band-ed Dracovish in the rain against a Ferrothorn with full Defense investment:

Credit to Trainer Tower

You read correctly; thanks to the doubling effect of Fishious Rend, Dracovish can demolish one of the best defensive Pokémon of all time, with minimal setup, despite the fact that the target resists the move. That’s insane! The rest of Dracovish’s movepool is decent, with weapons such as Psychic Fangs and Crunch to tear chunks out of Toxapex and Jellicent, respectively, but this might be one of the few times since 1996 where a Pokémon is seeing top-tier play almost entirely on the merits of single move (Gen 4 Scizor, with Bullet Punch, might be another such example).

So powerful is Dracovish that teams often use Water-immune Pokémon to handle it, and there are few finer choices in the current OU metagame than Seismitoad. The high popularity of the Vibration Pokémon might seem odd given it possesses a very average stat distribution (see below), but Seismitoad’s excellent typing and ability give it the edge against many popular threats, including Dracovish, Dracozolt and multiple Rotom appliances. The Water/Ground type also makes life difficult for those switching in to it as would-be checks risk a Scald burn or the infliction of Toxic; alternatively, Seismitoad can simply opt to set up Stealth Rock.

Credit to Bulbapedia

What we got right

Dragapult: Surprise, surprise, the new pseudo-legendary is both powerful and popular! Though we may have underrated Dragapult’s potential as a special attacker and defensive bulwark a little, we knew it would define the meta either way and that’s exactly what it has done. Dragapult’s X-factors include access to U-turn, which enables it inflict chip damage on potential checks and bring in teammates in relative safety, and a surprisingly vicious Substitute/Disable set that can also utilise Will-O-Wisp and Hex.

Frosmoth and Intelleon: This hurts us even more than it hurts you guys, given that they’re both cool new Pokémon (and Frosmoth has one of the most beautiful designs in the entire franchise), but they’re just not good enough for OU at the moment; Frosmoth is held back by an apocalyptically bad typing and low Speed, while Intelleon struggles to inflict damage with a shallow movepool and lack of dual STAB. The Underused (UU) environment is where these unfortunates reside for now; the format is only just beginning to take shape so there’s still scope for plenty of shift, but both are currently sat directly next to each other at 21 and 22 in the usage rankings (which can also be found in the link at the beginning of the article).

What we got wrong

Tyranitar: We made some pretty bold claims about the viability of the Armour Pokémon and while there’s still time for it to unexpectedly skyrocket to prominence, it’s safe to say that Tyranitar isn’t going to hit the top three slot any time soon. We underestimated how keenly it feels the loss of Pursuit – in any other Gen, Tyranitar would love for one of the most-used Pokémon to be a relatively fragile, special-attacking Ghost! Unfortunately, Tyranitar now has no guaranteed way of punishing Dragapult once it switches in, and to make matters worse, the ethereal Diplocalus can inflict a stinging, super-effective U-Turn from 120 base Attack (if the opposing Trainer anticipates Tyranitar’s switch-in and U-Turns as the monster hits the field, the situation is even more dire).

The meta’s other physical attackers give Tyranitar cause for concern, too. Excadrill loves the sand Tyranitar brings and can either hit it extremely hard with Earthquake or Rapid Spin away any Stealth Rocks Tyranitar might have deployed. Dracovish, Cinderace and others also prey on Tyranitar’s myriad weaknesses, though they can all be punished on the switch-in with the correct move.

Toxtricity: After we featured this new species in our ‘Most disappointing’ list, you definitely let us know if you disagreed! The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and as Toxtricity is currently in OU by usage we have to admit our analysis was a little off – we didn’t quite gauge Toxtricity’s sheer power, most notably with Boomburst. Though Ground types are definitely popular and they take little (or in Excadrill’s case, nothing) from the purple reptile’s STAB moves, Boomburst has enough power to 2HKO even the likes of Hippowdon thanks to a great ability in Punk Rock!

Furthermore, though Electric/Poison might offer scant protection from some powerful types, it has more defensively utility than we suspected given the competitive prominence of Fairy types. Check these top ten results from a December tournament below – every team features a Fairy Pokémon!

All this said, much of our original analysis yet stands. Toxtricity is still very dependent on good prediction to hurt opposing switch-ins – many of the best Pokémon in OU right now are resistant or immune to one or even both of Toxtricity’s STAB moves, including fearsome picks such as Dragapult and the aforementioned Excadrill. Dugtrio is also seeing a fair amount of play at the moment, and while it has a difficult time switching in safely, it easily traps and KOs Toxtricity once it’s in the field. Though the results above are prior to the implementation of the recent bans, it’s worth noting the featured teams also don’t feature a single Toxtricity; just as we’re happy to take the egg to the face now, we’ll not hesitate to say “We told you so” should it drop!

We’ve barely scratched the surface of the developing Gen 8 metagame, but we hope you found this brief exploration of the current state of play to be useful, informative, and most importantly, interesting! We’ll continue to monitor developments alongside Watchog, so keep two glowing eyes out for future instalments; in the meantime, hit up our Discord server!