Matthew Hui – Reflections on LCQ 2014

So I jokingly suggested to Shawn that all of the players that went to worlds should write something, but the idea kinda grew on me the more I thought about it. Here therefore are my (mostly stream of consciousness) reflections, your turn, Shawn.

Season Recap

I found early success way back at the start of the format (Dec ‘13) with a team that abused level 1 Endeavor Aron to lure burns onto a Facade Mega Kangaskhan and Guts Conkeldurr. As the metagame stabilised however, the team fell by the wayside, since it had limited outs to Aegislash and Mega Mawile. I then spent much of the season bouncing between different teams without much of a breakthrough, though CharX hyper offense did have its moments, and my results for the two international challenges were mediocre.

Things seemed to click in the months leading up to Worlds and I was doing consistently well on Showdown, getting into the top 50 with 3 different teams. Yet these teams were what one would classify as “rogue” (Soak, Round and Swoobat to be precise), and as Shang constantly nagged reminded me, gimmicky teams might fare well in Showdown’s one-off games but might not pan out in the LCQ’s best-of-three format. And his words seemed to ring true as I lost multiple practice sets against Skyler, Zong Ying and Wai Yin as they adjusted to my strategy and my teams were found wanting.

So in search of a more balanced and versatile team, I ultimately looked to an old favourite of mine, the Gothitelle trap. I had tried unsuccessfully to port my VGC ‘13 offensive trap team to the new format at the beginning of the VGC ‘14 season, and concluded at the time that Gothitelle just couldn’t work any more. I began to rethink that after reading TrickSage’s UK Top 16 team report which utilised Gothitelle in a way I really liked.

In particular, Assault Vest Conkeldurr has been my favourite set all year, and many of my teams have tried to establish an endgame situation where AV Conk can close the game out against a team with only special attackers not called Gardevoir remaining. The obvious obstacles to this would be players who see what I am up to and conserve their hard counters (Mega Mawile, Talonflame) or troll Conk with Amoonguss’ Spore/Rage Powder. Gothitelle punishes players who leave their Conk counters at the back, if I can trap a pair of leads that can’t touch Conk, it means a lot of free damage and probably at least one free kill before my opponent can recover his field position. And Gothitelle absolutely adores facing Amoonguss, as will be explained shortly.

The rest of the team fell in place as I playtested, a mixture of stuff I had become comfortable using over the course of the season as well as choices inspired by what TrickSage used.

The Team

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Gothitelle @ Leftovers [Gwenhwyfar]
Ability: Shadow Tag
Level: 50 EVs: 252 HP / 100 Def / 156 SpD
Calm Nature
– Protect
– Trick Room
– Taunt
– Psychic

The rock on which the rest of the team is built. I almost always lead with Gothitelle since by limiting my opponent’s ability to switch, I can more easily set up an advantageous field position. Even if the opposing leads are hostile to Gothitelle, Shadow Tag ensures my opponent cannot take advantage of my obvious switch and match it with a switch of his own, keeping the field matchup in my favour.

Taunt has been a staple on all my Gothitelles since VGC ‘13, and in my opinion is better than ever in the current format. Its primary use is to render Amoonguss totally useless, since Mental Herb is rarely used anymore, and effectively turn it into a 2v1 field position that my opponent usually cannot recover from. It stops hard Trick Room teams from setting TR up if I don’t fancy my team playing under it, and makes Prankster abusers like Meowstic and Klefki less irritating.

Taunt is also key to checking two of the metagame’s biggest threats, Aegislash and Azumarill (look, Nelson, the twin pillars of GRAGAS). While on the surface Gothitelle has no business taking on Aegislash since it is weak to Ghost, Taunt does two things: it prevents Aegislash from getting an easy substitute, and forces a Blade Forme Aegislash to either switch out or take a (generally fatal) hit, removing the mindgames associated with King’s Shield. As for Azumarill, after one Intimidate, it has no choice but to go for the Belly Drum if it wants to present any sort of threat. One Taunt later and Azumarill is almost as deadweight as a Taunted Amoonguss.

Protect is a standard doubles move, but ridiculously important for Gothitelle. Often a desperate opponent will double target it in an attempt to break the trap, only for Protect to keep it going for at least one more turn. It is especially necessary to scout what Specs Hydreigon, the most commonly used nuke going into Worlds, locks itself into, as well as other Choice-d mons in general (Staraptor was another dangerous threat). And of course, to stall for Leftovers recovery.

Psychic is for chip damage, especially on Mega Venusaur.

The choice of speed control move between Thunder Wave and Trick Room I agonised over all the way until two days before LCQ. TrickSage used TWave, and in my own playtesting it did work fairly well by taking advantage of free turns to spread paralysis. But sometimes I found that Twaving one mon was too slow, especially if I was trying to recover from a disadvantageous position. And being unable to do anything to electric mons really irritated me. So in the end I switched to TR and I haven’t looked back since. My slow attackers wreak havoc under TR, and Shadow Tag ensures my opponent cannot immediately switch in nasty surprises that underspeed my own mons and take advantage of TR.

To touch briefly on the support options I ended up not using (since Goth has massive 4MSS), I tried hard to find room for Heal Pulse, since Conk in particular appreciates the added survivability when up against two mons it cannot Drain Punch, but each existing moveslot proved too important in the end for the way I set my team up to trap. And I found Charm a bit too slow for disabling threats.

The EV spread I constantly tweaked to be able to take staple hits on both sides, usually with the help of at least one Intimidate. Amusingly I ended up with the same spread that TrickSage used despite starting from a vastly different spread that had almost balanced defences. However, I still wonder whether I should have gone all-in on the specially defensive side (252/244) to take Specs Hydreigon Dark Pulse since it would have given me more options in my LCQ games.

Even though I run TR, I opted not to lower my IVs or go for a speed-reducing nature since I want to be able to Taunt Aegislash before it gets the chance to Sub. In fact I might have considered speed investment had I known how many Goths were running around in the LCQ.

 

534

Conkeldurr @ Assault Vest [Crassus]
Ability: Guts
Level: 50 EVs: 100 HP / 156 Atk / 252 SpD
Adamant Nature
IVs: 14 Spe
– Drain Punch
– Mach Punch
– Earthquake
– Rock Slide

I love this set so much. AV allows Conk to absorb hits from special attackers, keep itself alive with healing from Drain Punch and slowly wear the opposing team out. Fighting attacks check many of VGC ‘14’s biggest threats (Kanga, Hydrei, Lucario, etc) and Guts puts the fear of Arceus into any Rotom-formes that use Will-o-Wisp as well as anything trying to spread paralysis.

The punches are standard fare, while Rock Slide hits Flying mons that resist fighting, wrecking CharY and hopefully catching Talonflame on the switch. Earthquake I chose as a way to hit Aegislash SE without the risk of an attack drop from King’s Shield. It also serves as a way to hit a Mega Lucario being protected by a partner’s Rage Powder/Follow Me (hi Skyler). And of course, as a last resort to hit Mawile.

Special Defense is maximised to take advantage of the Assault Vest. With the bar for special attacks being raised even higher in the lead-up to worlds (Specs Hydreigon Draco Meteor, rain-boosted Hydro Pumps, Mega Blastoise Water Spout) I chose to reduce my attack to the minimum necessary to KO 252 HP Mega Kangaskhan with Drain Punch+Mach Punch and put the rest into HP, which also helped me take hits slightly better on the physical side.

Conk’s 14 speed IV underspeeds Quiet 0 speed Aegislash by 1 so if it attacks, Conk will KO back 68.8% of the time with EQ since Aegislash will be in Blade Forme. This also means that Conk will always go before Aegislash under TR, which combined with Gothitelle’s Taunt can force uncomfortable decisions from the Aegislash player. Conk is a mon that is happy to function both inside and outside of TR. He can absorb hits and heal back at the end of the turn with Drain Punch, and believe me taking Specs DM from Hydrei and healing back above half is glorious, or strike first to clear fast and frail threats under TR.

 

303-mega

Mawile @ Mawilite [Meridia]
Ability: Intimidate -> Huge Power
Level: 50 EVs: 252 HP / 252 Atk / 4 SpD
Brave Nature
– Iron Head
– Play Rough
– Protect
– Rock Slide

Picking my Mega was a difficult choice. TrickSage used Mega Manectric and I really liked what it did with Volt Switch and Intimidate. But its power often fell short, especially with Volt Switch as its STAB move, and I needed something that I could switch in to take dragon attacks. Manectric also made playing against Raichu really painful. With Intimidate before mega evolution, Mawile was the obvious pick. It also ultimately opened up the TR option for me which Manectric would not have done.

Mawile is key to my gameplan against the centralising metagame force that is Mega Kangaskhan, trapping a -1 Kanga against Mawile often means the game for me. That initial Intimidate also keeps Tyranitars, Mega or otherwise, from boosting out of control next to a support partner. I’m actually not that crazy about Mawile’s performance outside of specific matchups, but it does a job nothing can replace.

Moveset is standard for a TR Mawile, dual STAB and Rock Slide over Sucker Punch to be able to get rid of CharY and Talonflame under TR. I experimented with Payback and Fire Fang in the Iron Head slot to beat Aegislash and other steels, but that gave me trouble against Mega Venusaur so I ultimately kept Iron Head.

I’m not a fan of Mawile dropping offensive power for bulk (as is reflected in the standard spread here), since in my experience such bulky Mawiles can become deadweight after being saddled with a couple of Intimidates and/or burn. But being 2hkoed by resisted Specs Hydrei Dark Pulse (taking the first hit on the switch in before mega evolving) was really jarring to see. Shang’s philosophy is still way too extreme, but I’m sure there’s a happy middle ground to be found somewhere.

When I added TR to Goth’s moveset I decided to change to a Brave 31 speed Mawile since I saw some weird wisdom in Max’s Asia Cup qualifier logic of outspeeding Adamant Mawiles under TR and 0 speed Mawiles before TR.

 

130

Gyarados @ Expert Belt [GLaDoS]
Ability: Intimidate
Level: 50 EVs: 180 HP / 252 SpA / 76 SpD
Modest Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
– Ice Beam
– Thunderbolt
– Flamethrower
– Thunder Wave

The glue that holds this team together. Special Gyarados is something that’s popped in and out of my VGC teams ever since a weird team brainstorming session with Max at the Hougang Mall McDonald’s, and I’ve also been aware of Huy using a Specs variant to great success in his Worlds teams. I actually started with a Specs variant of my own with Hydro Pump, since it was a strong surprise nuke to pair with Intimidate support, but accuracy issues contributed to its not doing that job all that well, while I realised that I was picking up more kills with my non-STAb coverage moves.

Gyarados especially wreaks havoc in the first game of a best-of-3 series since people leave things like Garchomp, Salamence, Mega Mawile and Ferrothorn open in front of it, assuming that Gyara poses no threat. And people get even more reckless about leaving things in front of Gyara if it’s at -1 after an opposing Intimidate. In addition to picking up surprise kills on commonly seen mons not limited to the ones listed above, Gyara also wrecks players who try to setup an endgame with Will-o-wisp and a stall mon like Gourgeist or Trevenant, which they don’t realise until it’s too late.

Even after learning Gyara’s set, players sometimes over-compensate for it in games 2 and 3, playing too conservatively with the mons that Gyara hits SE because of the danger of getting trapped in front of it, leaving gaps that I can exploit. Intimidate and a solid defensive typing means I can both lead and switch it in effectively, and the 4x Electric weakness is not that hard to manage with the help of Shadow Tag, especially since Electric mons try to Volt Switch out of the trap as soon as possible and make it safe for Gyara to come in.

Ice Beam and Flamethrower are the main moves I use, covering a fairly large range of threats. My third attack used to be Waterfall to make use of STAB and OHKO Talonflame, with a Quiet nature Gyara’s uninvested Attack stat is higher than its fully invested SA, but I grew to dislike being helpless to do anything to Azumarill as it Belly Drummed. And with Gyarados itself growing in general use going into Worlds, I decided to switch to Thunderbolt and go with a purely special attacker. Tbolt also gives me something to hit rain teams with, and not being able to OHKO Talonflame is mitigated by the fact that it generally gets off a BB with recoil first anyway.

The last slot is probably the one thing I would have changed for the LCQ. Thunder Wave is a relic from the previous version of the team where both Goth and Gyara spread paralysis for speed control. Despite switching to TR on Goth, I opted to keep TWave on Gyara in case I needed a different speed control mode, particularly against rain which I usually bring Gyara against. As it turned out I didn’t need TWave at all, and Protect would have fared much, much better.

I originally carried Life Orb for additional power, but over time I came to rely on Gyara’s bulk to get me out of certain situations, and LO worked against that. Having seen Melvin Keh’s Expert Belt Gyarados do well for him at the 2014 Elite Four Challenge, I gave it a try and was quite happy with it. I did miss the additional power when it came to having a better chance to OHKO Blade Forme Aegislash and Ferrothorn, but the need for bulk won out in the end.

The EVs in bulk to take Specs Hydrei DM I ripped straight from Shang, and while he maxed speed I put them all into SA since Gyara needs all the help it can get.

 

These 4 mons formed the core of my trap, and I dedicated the last 2 team slots to mons that would plug in gaps. Most notably, the slow nature of my team left me open to Smeargle’s Dark Void, which when paired with Mega Kangaskhan to form the dreaded Kanga-Smear combination could totally shut me down. Which leads me to the next team member:

609

Chandelure @ Focus Sash [Cuore]
Ability: Infiltrator
Level: 50 EVs: 4 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Timid Nature
– Protect
– Taunt
– Will-O-Wisp
– Overheat

Effectively serves the same role as support Gengar with less speed and Fire STAB. That STAB is crucial though, giving me an easy out to Mega Mawile and Aegislash, and Infiltrator means the latter is not safe even behind a sub. I chose Overheat as my only attack in order to give me the best chance of OHKOing both of those threats, even though lowering my SA with my only attack seems an odd choice. I did consider Fire Blast for that reason, but I think Skyler would have a heart attack if I lowered my accuracy for minimal benefit.

Protect was for general utility, and to make sure Kanga doesn’t get a Scrappy Fake Out off. Taunt shuts down Smeargle before it can move, which is the primary purpose of this set, and a Taunted Smeargle trapped by Shadow Tag is such a hindrance to my opponent that I’ve had one actually KO it with its own partner to get it off the field.

Will-o-Wisp forms the other half of my counter to Kanga-Smear, dodging Kanga’s only way to attack me through Sucker Punch and neutering it for the rest of the battle. WoW also does the same job of dodging Sucker Punch from Mawile and Bisharp.

Max speed puts Chandelure above Smeargle and everything trying to speed creep at the 140 range, though unfortunately loses to max speed Gyarados by a point. Sash serves as an insurance policy in case I mispredict or WoW/Overheat misses.

 

For the last slot in my team I wanted weather of my own to counter rain and sun teams, especially since with Shadow Tag I could take control of the weather war. I also needed something that could take hits from Rotom Formes and answer back with enough power of its own. For a while I used Abomasnow since it largely walled rain teams and could KO Rotom-W, but as Rotom-W usage fell in favour of Rotom-H and my gameplan against sun not being the strongest, I switched to Tyranitar. I used a Specs set for a while but found that it was largely redundant when I already had Gyarados picking up kills on the special side, and lacked power in general. The week of Worlds I switched to Choice Band and didn’t look back.

248

Tyranitar @ Choice Band [Toph]
Ability: Sand Stream
Level: 50 EVs: 252 HP / 252 Atk / 4 SpD
Adamant Nature
– Crunch
– Stone Edge
– Rock Slide
– Earthquake

The raw power of Choice Banded STAB attacks allows me to grind through teams. Rock Slide is the most spammable move here for that reason. Stone Edge’s accuracy (hi Skyler) is not ideal but the solid chance of OHKOing most Rotom-W sets is too good to pass up. It also gives me an option if I suspect my opponent is carrying Wide Guard. Crunch almost always (87.5%) OHKOs standard Aegislash in Shield Forme and is a more reliable single target attack to throw around. Earthquake hits Mawile and gives me something to bypass King’s Shield with.

General Team Strategy and Leads

The goal is simple, use Shadow Tag to trap an opposing pair of mons that Gothitelle’s partner can either score a quick kill against or slowly grind down without immediate fear of being KOed in return. Even if the field is unsafe for Gothitelle to stick around beyond the one turn of Protect, I still have the advantage since during the turn I switch Goth out my opponent cannot make a switch of his own and is forced to react to mine only on the following turn. I also frequently break the trap in favour of bringing an attacker in once TR goes up since it puts my opponent on the defensive.

One thing to note is that while Intimidate is an important part of how my team works, since physical attackers can’t switch out to negate the attack drops, I don’t believe in ‘over-Intimidating’. By this I refer to strategies which rely on trapping and placing multiple attack drops on opposing physical attackers through constant Intimidating and/or moves like Charm. Such teams then often use the weakened field to set up a sweeper that can clean up the rest of the opposing team. In my experience though, such strategies leave themselves open to a single critical hit, especially on Gothitelle, and in general are way too slow for me to be comfortable using them. A single Intimidate is enough for me to start exerting control over the field, anything more is gravy.

Gothitelle + Gyarados

My most common game 1 leads. Intimidate gives me a good foundation to build from, and Gyarados can score a quick kill while my opponent is still unaware of my set. And even if my opponent does know what to expect and Protects Gyara’s likely target, I can switch Gyara out and TR to put myself in a strong position.

Gothitelle + Conkeldurr

A risky lead considering how important Conk is for me, and the lack of Intimidate to stymie any physical attackers, but one that can pay huge dividends if I manage to trap a pair of special attackers/supporters.

Gothitelle + Tyranitar

A useful lead against rain if I don’t see a way for them to reset the weather via U-Turn/Volt Switch. Also a good way to grind my opponent down via Rock Slide’s spread damage or to score a quick kill with CB-boosted attacks.

Gothitelle + Chandelure

Checkmates Kanga-Smear barring something funky like a speed boost from Moody or Tailwind. Scarf Smeargle messes with this but since Smeargle is trapped and locked into DV I can play around it. This lead combination spreads burn and murders anything weak to fire. As an added bonus, my opponents tend to assume this is a pure TR lead and get caught off-guard by Chandy’s speed.

Gothitelle + Mawile

Probably my least used lead combination since I like to keep Mawile in the back. But this particular combination is used for one major purpose, to tempt opposing Specs Hydreigon into locking itself into either Flamethrower or Earth Power and making itself a sitting duck for the rest of my team. Considering how popular and dangerous the set was, this was a useful option to have.

Non-trap leads

The way I play relies on Shadow Tag to guide my actions, so leading without Gothitelle is not something I do often. But sometimes I go for a delayed trap instead and switch Goth in turn 1. Going back to my rationale for leading with Goth+Mawile, if my opponent sees Mawile on the field without Goth, he is more likely to go for the SE attack with Hydreigon and my trapping him with a Goth switch in would prove ruinous. Similar plays exist when it comes to controlling weather against sun teams as well as getting double Intimidates off. And every now and then there are games where I feel I need the offensive coverage of four non-Goth mons so I throw caution to the wind and play without Shadow Tag. This point also applies when my opponent carries multiple Ghosts that I can’t trap anyway.

Closing Thoughts

I ended up losing in the third round with my nerves letting me down, running out of time on one move, then later forgetting what I had in the back and badly misplaying my game 3 penultimate turn as a result. Still though I was satisfied with how my team was built and performed other than wishing I had Protect over Thunder Wave on Gyarados. And Worlds was a resounding success for Team Singapore anyway with Yu Jie making it through LCQ and almost cutting Worlds itself. I only wish we could have gotten Zheng Ting and/or Alan over as well to make their own tournament runs.

I think the importance of practice in a best-of-3 and pressure environment cannot be underestimated, since I was not the only one who faltered (Yu Jie’s Worlds Round 1 Game 3!!!), and hopefully we can work on that in future local tournaments. And take detailed notes, people! Turn-by-turn if you can. Don’t be like this idiot who thought his Goth sitting at the back had more health than it really did.

Looking forward to what VGC ‘15 brings. (And do we have any seniors left? <_<)