PantelidisThe first month of the Season of Hidden Gems has brought history and a meta shake up, but how will it impact Pokemon GO trainers making one last push for the World Championships in Yokohama during NAIC in Columbus? The history we’ve seen started with our first all-female final in the Special Event in Turin when Paulasha97 beat Andriss96 in an awesome display of skill and team prediction when she won 14 straight matches throughout the event. 


Then we saw a number of spice picks represented near the top in the Japan Championships, between multiple shadow Dragonite and a Chesnaught/Vigoroth/Cofagrigus team making it to the final, before Pokemitchy62 edged out Ishikawaboy to win it. And then OEL1TEO made North American history becoming the first trainer to come from the loser’s bracket and win a regional outright, winning 8 straight matches to close out Fresno behind his Shadow Alolan Sandslash.


How will these results shake up a loaded NAIC? What type of meta should top battlers prepare for as we approach the end of the regular season? I spoke with three of the most knowledgeable trainers in the game to preview what to expect in Columbus, and came up with a few main focal points of what we can expect in the final tournament of the regular season. 



Big thanks to elite-level trainers, Alex “HouseStark93” Pantelidis and Joseph “JEngels21” Engels along with Play! Pokemon shoutcaster Will “SpeediestChief2” Dunphey, for speaking with me this week as hype builds for this event. 


Is the “Paulasha/A Mind Joke Line” the Meta?


As Ryan “Swag Tips” Swag tweeted shortly after the second weekend of the Hidden Gems season, we’ve seen an influx of variety in the meta since the Season 15 changes. The boost to Alolan Sandslash has made it a contender to compete against most things not named Medicham, while core breaking things like Registeel, Noctowl or Altaria, and Lanturn.



“We’ve seen Shadow Alolan Sandslash now take the top spot in both Fresno and Turin (Special Event) and it’s cool to see that,” Pandelitis said. “I think it’s kind of like when we saw MagicMayson and Brownballer have the same team in Toronto after the meta shift. How do people adjust to that?”


Dunphey agreed with Pandelitis’ premise that Shadow Alolan Sandlash is here to stay. “I think the Shadow Alolan Sandslash hype is real. We saw it in Turin, and again with OEL1TEO (In Fresno).”


Engels wasn’t so sure it will be so prominent at NAIC. “It’s still kind of tricky,” he said, alluding to its double-weakness to the fast move Counter. “I think people will still be scared to bring it.”


Meta-Cham Meta? Will this continue?



Engels referenced it above -- we’ve seen the meta start to revolve around Medicham after the recent update.  Given its bulk, coverage, typing and lack of Trevenant -- it’s turned into the most-used Pokemon at this point in the season for good reason. Medicham is now the fighter of choice when team-building when you look at the top-performing teams in past events.


Engels had regrets about his decision to run Defense-Forme Deoxys in Milwaukee, as opposed to the popular Meditation pokemon.

“I wish I had Medicham instead…I played a lot of Galarian Stunfisk and not a lot of Alolan Sandslash or Registeel,” he said. “So my counter user wasn’t able to be good against G-Fisk.”


Will Dunphey thinks the meta is healthier than we’ve had in quite some time, even with Medicham’s dominance near the top. “We have purified Sableye and Medicham as the “Core 2” top usage for Fresno (Regionals). I think that’s a lot healthier than the “Triangle of Death” as we used to call it, with Noctowl, Trevenant and Lanturn. You can see the entire game was over when those matchups happen.”


Dunphey also noted that while Medicham has taken over the meta, it’s not overpowering compared to its competition given it’s lack of ability to knockout in one charged move.


“Medicham is strong, but it can’t one-shot anything. You can’t even one-shot an Altaria with Ice Punch. You can Psychic a Shadow Venusaur or Toxicroak, but otherwise you can’t one-shot things -- so Medicham is beatable.”


Where will the grass-role grow between Lickitung or Shadow Venusaur?


“I feel like both are very viable,” Pandelitis said. “Lickitung is definitely a lot safer. People that know how to play Shadow Venusaur, you really have to know your counts, your energy management and have to know your matchups. I think we’re going to see a lot of high skill players bring Shadow Venusaur, and then a lot more trainers building safer teams bring Lickitung.”


“There’s clearly a huge dynamic between the top of the meta and the secondary meta” Pandelitis said. “All of those factors come into play. You’ve got to find Pokemon that are really really dominant and also add Pokemon, like a Shadow Venusaur, that’s going to corebreak the top of the meta.”


“I think (Shadow) Venu is pretty good,” Engels said. “It depends how much people think (Shadow) A-Slash’s are going to be around. And with Noctowl and Alt(aria) being on every team hurts it. But (Shadow) Venu usually has four positive matchups on every team and two really bad matchups.”


Engels thinks we might see the return of some Trevenant, in which it seems like there may have been a slight overcorrection to the recent changes in the meta. “I think it’s possible we see some Trev(enant) come back,” he said. “Just because there’s so much Medi-Lanturn on every team. You have to make people be afraid to run ABA weak to Trev teams.”


Dunphey agrees it could make an appearance as well. “I don’t think Trevenant is as bad as people think. It got the nerf with Seed Bomb energy increase, but at the same time there are so many teams that are so weak to it.”


There’s also other options for the grass slot, like Chesnaught as an anti-steel option while covering the grasses. Other interesting grass-types include Whimsicott who was newly buffed adding fast move Fairy Wind, and Lurantis with its quickly charged Leaf Blade and Superpower combo. Regardless of how things play out, look for trainers to have this grass slot covered.


New Pseudo-Fighters joining the battlefield?


The last month has brought some intriguing new “fighters” to the fray, with community day adding Breaking Swipe Haxorus and the Solstice Horizons allowing trainers to potentially build a Great League Sneasler. All three trainers had thoughts on if Haxorus could make an impact.


“You could also see Haxorus coming (to NAIC), which just got access to Breaking Swipe,” Pandelitis said. “It has play against Lickitung…it has counter for Registeel…it can beat Lanturn and it can beat Swampert, so it definitely has some play.” 


Engels thought it could be a decent safe swap against some trainers. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see Haxorus make it on a couple teams,” he said. “It seems pretty good on paper and if your opponent doesn’t have anything that walls it, it has safe swap potential against certain teams too.”


“I fought one (Haxorus) in Great League and it shredded me,” Dunphey said. “It’s also set up potential, right? You’re able to Breaking Swipe things -- even if you lose the matchup -- you basically nerf the opponent and then come in and farm it down.”


Also, with the most recent Solstice Horizons event, Hisuian Sneasel was released as a rare day-time spawn -- the first time it’s been released as a wild spawn in Pokemon GO. We saw DavenHundreds in Hartford make top-16 with it while making several plays on stream in his run. Could we see a few making an impact at NAIC? Don’t count it out given it’s speed with Shadow Claw, Close Combat and either X-Scissor or Aerial Ace.


Rocket takeover, more shadows eligible for trainers?


Trainers all across North America will have a chance to add more shadows to their Great League roster before NAIC. This could mean a chance to upgrade previous shadows, or add an all new shadow to their NAIC roster. Could we see more Shadow Venusaur/Alolan Sandslash/Alolan Ninetales/Charizard in Columbus?


Engels mentioned how lethal Shadow Venusaur can be. “Shadow Venusaur needs to shield certain things, obviously,” he said. “But Shadow Venu can win Sableye with even energy or up energy, as long as you’re even shields.”


Pandelitis mentioned Shadow Charizard as a potential sleeper pick, which helps corebreak the Medicham-Sableye-Noctowl-Registeel core. Engels agreed, “I think (Shadow) ‘Zard is good. It was all over the place in Europe.”


Trainers better be ready to TM off Frustration during the upcoming takeover Wednesday, June 21, 2023, at 12:00 a.m. to Sunday, June 25, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. local time as part of the Solstice Horizons event. It could be the difference of a win or loss during NAIC.


Successful first full Pokemon GO season


It’s been an amazing first full season for Pokemon GO as part of the Play! Pokemon circuit, and the move changes from last season’s update shows that Niantic is listening and making more Pokemon viable to compete on the championship circuit. 


It’s truly been a breath of fresh air for our community and should allow others to join the fun in future seasons. “When the new meta changes came out, I was scrolling through Twitter, and seeing all the positive feedback…It lifted my vibe and I felt so much better about things,” Dunphey said. “They really took a lot of (our communities) ideas this cycle, and it turned out really well.”


Hopefully we will see this game continue to grow with Niantic in the future, they did a lot to build excitement the last few weeks with the regular season coming to an end early next month in Columbus for NAIC. The Pokemon GO competitive scene has a bright future and should maintain that trajectory if these last few weeks are any indication that Niantic cares about this part of the community. 


Let’s hope NAIC lives up to the hype and adds another intriguing chapter to this season while adding four more quality trainers with a chance to win Worlds in August.