Salt Lake City Preview
11 months ago
This weekend sees the return to Play! Pokémon events after a weekend off following the Peoria Regional Championships; battlers and spectators alike are ready to get back into the action!
For North America, the Salt Lake City Regional Championships are looking like the smallest Regional Championships of this season so far at 34 participants currently registered. Overall this would be slightly larger than both the Bilbao Special Event and Porte Alegre Regional Championships, making it the midpoint between those two and the larger two North American Regional Championships.
The livestream for Salt Lake City starts at 8AM Pacific time, 3PM UTC, and should be expected to progress like most other Regional Championship streams - roughly 8 hours, covering as many battles as feasible in that time. We saw in Peoria that a smaller player base meant more battles shown - including full coverage of the regional champion HotPoket777’s run. The livestream for Day 1 of Salt Lake City should therefore provide a narrative that larger tournaments often cannot - of seeing the pool whittle down and the eventual Top Cut of battlers emerge in real-time.
PolymersUp covered some of that in the recent Meta Trends article (give it a read if you’re curious about mine and others’ thoughts on the meta individually). The North American meta - which is the meta myself and those preparing for Salt Lake City have studied most carefully - differed slightly from that of other regions last season and would appear to do the same so far in this Championship Series. The metagame after the Season of Light move update has become one that is more role-dependent than Pokémon-dependent. Last season had 6 extremely strong picks that centralized the metagame and existed even in lopsided teams – double Ghost and double Steel teams for instance were common and successful. This season however many teams seem to centralize around a cookie-cutter archetypical team – a party of 6 Pokémon that offers wide coverage and can have other similar picks substituted in and out while holding strong.
So what is the current cookie-cutter NA Open Great League team for Play! Pokémon?
Now you’ll immediately see this team of 6 and say “well Fairy-types look awfully good against that!” and you’d be right! I was terrified of the idea of seeing Wigglytuff in Peoria with my team (having Tapu Fini in lieu of Azumarill, Primeape in lieu of Medicham, and Cofagrigus in lieu of Sableye). Baltimore’s runner-up Ilqm had a similar team to the one above and was similarly soft to the Balloon Pokémon. Many successful teams account for that weakness however – HotPoket777’s team swapping Noctowl in for Altaria, HouseStark93 additionally using Noctowl alongside other pivots. You’ll notice that Noctowl in particular also performs very well against this party of 6 comparatively to some other Flying-type options. So perhaps just identifying the 6 Pokémon is not enough for an archetypical team – what are each Pokémon's role?
the Steel-type role within a team, accomplishing the role of anti-flier in the process. In terms of usage Galarian Stunfisk is the most common Pokémon to see in the Play! Pokémon meta presently and it’s not hard to see why. Extreme bulk, powerful defensive typing, and exceptional offensive coverage accompany this Pokémon, whose largest competition in Steel-types of Registeel was just nerfed in the recent rebalance. Barring significant shake ups throughout this season you should expect the Trap Pokémon all the way to the World Championship Series in Yokohama.
your Flying-type of choice and the poster child for a return to former glory. While Altaria does not follow Stunfisk as the 2nd most common Pokémon in usage, the Humming Pokémon has seen the largest increase in usage from last season following the nerfs to both Registeel and Walrein at the start of this competitive season. Additionally this core duo – of Galarian Stunfisk and Altaria together – has defined this North American metagame thus far in the season. Offering protection against the three most common counters to Galarian Stunfisk – Medicham, Swampert, and Trevenant – Altaria creates an oppressive bodyguard that demands a Fairy, Ice, or Steel-type answer. Noctowl has been a common replacement for Altaria in winning teams, and the Owl Pokémon looks poised to take off in usage this season. Giving Trevenant nothing to do and having immense play against Lickitung, Noctowl is a Pokémon to be sure to consider in building a team of 6.
current reigning Water-type champion. Swampert holds the higher usage on the season and both of the top 2 teams in Baltimore featured the Mud Fish Pokémon. However, since then the prevalence of the aforementioned Altaria + Stunfisk core brought about Water/Fairy dominance in Peoria, Azumarill ending on top. Beyond these two and the other Water/Fairy of Tapu Fini we’ve seen some other Waters; there has been continued Walrein usage, the newly-buffed Lanturn, and even some Whiscash usage in this new season with its ability to also threaten the Altaria + Stunfisk core. While Toxapex doesn’t exactly fill this role in the same way – performing more as a Poison-type than a Water-type, it will be carefully eyeing up usage of Azumarill as a potential target going forward.
the king of Fighting-types continues to reign, being the second most frequently used Pokémon in this 2023 season. This role can be filled by a myriad of Pokémon, from ghost-hunting Obstagoon and Scrafty to Sirfetch’d and even Primeape, but Medicham is most common for a reason. Having the bulk to consistently handle Galarian Stunfisk well, wielding Ice Punch to strike back at Altaria and Trevenant, and carrying Psychic to still threaten Azumarill or put heavy damage on a Swampert or Alolan Ninetales. Its dual role of anti-Steel and anti-Fighter continues to be a pivotal point in teambuilding and it should be on a significant portion of teams this weekend.
possibly the most hotly contested spot, Sableye is my pick for top Ghost in this archetypical team. Trevenant is extremely strong and is more popular this season, but Sableye’s better play against Normal-types like Lickitung or Noctowl, Medicham’s continued dominance, and the introduction of Toxapex all tip the scales towards Sableye’s continued dominance after Peoria. Of course Trevenant will continue to perform well and you can expect both the Darkness Pokémon Sableye and the Elder Tree Pokémon Trevenant on many teams in Salt Lake City, including top performers from the tournament. Other notable Ghost-types like Cofagrigus, Runerigus, even Pokémon like Froslass could be expected, potentially carving out a niche in an Ice-starved metagame.
the notoriously bulky Normal-type takes the top spot as generalist/flex on this example team. Boasting high usage numbers despite being the least accessible of these 6, Lickitung’s power in the current metagame is hard to overstate. A meta where Medicham is the top Fighter and Galarian Stunfisk is the top Steel is a safe haven for Lickitung, whose risks vs Fighting-types and Steel-types are alleviated by their secondary typings. Having used it throughout my run at Peoria I can confidently say the Licking Pokémon very commonly saw 0 or only 1 answers from an opposing team. While Noctowl’s rise to power threatens it, Lickitung is likely too consistent and safe to see a significant drop from the North American meta if it continues as it has. Lickitung often fills a role as a pseudo Grass-type on teams without Trevenant or Venusaur, and Venusaur often can slot into this role as well. Other bulky Normal-types like Diggersby, Dubwool, or Wigglytuff have seen play this season as anti-ghosts that also have significant play against Lickitung itself. Still other powerful picks that aren’t Normal-types, like Nidoqueen or Alolan Ninetales, that don’t quite fit the previous 5 slots have appeared on teams in this 6th slot. The usage of this flexible spot to correctly answer other teams will be hugely beneficial to players this weekend.
So what do we ultimately expect to see take off at Salt Lake City? Well, a smaller tournament makes it notably more difficult to determine that. A Pokémon like Alolan Ninetales might have exceptional play against this team, but might not be a favorite pick of players attending this Regional Championships. Other Pokémon with strong play against this 6 would include Registeel, Skarmory, Shadow Jumpluff, and of course Shadow Luxray. If I were to guess one Pokémon to take home the Salt Lake City 1st place medal it would definitely be Shadow Luxray, common meta staple. In reality, expect many of these styles of teams to continue to perform well, with a few teams diverting from this mold.
So to add some semblance of a TL;DR: expect Galarian Stunfisk, a Flying-type, a Water-type, a Fighting-type, and a Ghost-type on most teams. Lickitung and other generalists should continue to thrive as well, and the neutral play in these battles should continue to take games down to high-level mechanical play.
Should be a wonderful time for viewers and battlers alike. As a reminder the stream will start at 8AM Pacific time, 3PM UTC at twitch.tv/pokemongo. Find the livestream and bracket links, Pokémon usage and more at the GO Stadium Salt Lake event page. Good luck to all those involved, and hopefully the grand finals are a little less stressful for me this time around! Thank you all for reading!