Three Ways Ultra Sun and Moon is Shaking Up Competitive Pokémon

By Jason Krell on at

Pokémon’s new competitive rule-set goes live in January 2018, meaning that players everywhere are devising strategies based on the new monsters and movesets available in Ultra Sun and Moon. Let’s talk about some of the biggest additions that will have a major impact on the way competitors approach tournaments.

Pokémon that are out of this world

Ultra Beasts were a new kind of extra-dimensional, legendary Pokémon introduced in Sun and Moon. Aside from looking completely alien, they are notable for their unique type combinations and stat distributions, which let them serve their roles reliably. Some, like Celesteela, slowed matches significantly in the format’s early days with its substantial bulk and access to recovery. Others, like Pheromosa, encouraged high-risk, high-reward play due to its extreme strength and frailty. Five of them are currently on the list of the top 30 most used Pokémon list. With that being that case, it’s no wonder that Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon’s three new Ultra Beasts are poised to have a big impact.

The first and most fearsome of the new Pokémon is Stakataka, a Rock and Steel type wall that will be dominate on teams that exploit the reversed turn order granted by Trick Room. This all thanks to its speed stat of 13, which almost guarantees it will strike first under Trick Room. This combos nicely with its best move, Gyro Ball, which calculates its damage based on the difference between the user and its target. With 131 attack powering this attack, if Stakataka is holding the damage boosting Life Orb item, it can score one-hit-knock-outs on some of the most important Pokémon in the format. The main concern in using it is surviving long enough to make use of its offensive prowess, but its 211 defense stat will certainly help.

Next up is the peculiar case of Naganadel. Naganadel adds the Dragon type to its pre-evolution’s Poison type, giving it an atypical synergy that lets it fight back against the many powerful Fairy types that dominate modern competitive Pokémon. Its high special attack and speed stat help there, too, and the variety of attack type-coverage often available to dragons will help it handle plenty of non-fairy threats. All that power comes with some common weaknesses (ground, psychic, ice) and general frailty, but it will certainly have a place in the upcoming format.

Last is one of the oddest Ultra Beasts, both in design and function: Blacephalon. Fire and Ghost together are a powerful combination, but it would prefer a speed stat closer to Pheromosa’s 151 than the 107 it received. Blachephalon is too frail to take more than a single hit. In order to do enough damage before fainting, it needs to utilise a couple of tools. First, it can boost its speed with a Choice Scarf so that it’s able to neutralise its threats before getting taken out. Alternatively, it can carry a Focus Sash or use Substitute to survive multiple hits. Finally, it can rely on partners to give it the first chance to strike with moves that speed up the team or slow down opponents. Blacephalon’s usefulness will come down to whether plays can find the optimal way to keep it alive.

Tutor Time

Now that gen-7 Pokémon have access to move tutors that can teach them moves they can’t learn naturally, some Alolan staples from VGC 2017 will have fearsome new tools.

The first place to start is Tapu Fini, a versatile Pokémon with many useful moves. Move tutors can now teach Tapu Fini Icy Wind, which deals a bit of damage but more importantly slows down both opposing Pokémon. This ability to enable its team’s success jacks Tapu Fini’s utility to even higher levels and will almost certainly be a staple on most movesets. After all, the player who attacks first is often the one that wins games. And with its natural bulk and excellent Water and Fairy typing, it will probably see even more usage in 2018 than it did last season.

Image source: Pokemon Wikia

Then there’s Togedemaru, which shone in the latter half of 2017 as one of the best supportive Pokémon available. Its ability, Lightning Rod, helped redirect electric type attacks away from vulnerable targets, and its access to moves such as Fake Out and Encore helped disrupt an opponent’s ability to take their turn. In Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, Togedemaru got access to moves that help increase its team’s damage output. Super Fang bypasses its mediocre attack stat since it always does a flat 50 percent of the target’s remaining HP, but it can also now just use Helping Hand to boost the damage done by its partner’s next attack by 50 percent. Now that it can disrupt and do damage, it will be an even more unpredictable and versatile supporter.

One of the scariest new combos made possible by tutor moves, however, is Tailwind Kartana. In 2017, this fast and hard hitting Ultra Beast’s very presence on a team applied enough pressure that opponents often had to play around it. If they failed to, Kartana could often KO crucial Pokémon in a single attack and potentially decide games by itself. But with its new access to Tailwind, it can take advantage of those turns that opponents are forced to switch or Protect and double its entire team’s speed.

That’s a nice option to have, but it’s also a tool that many offensive Pokémon are capable of. What makes Kartana stand out is access to both Z-Tailwind and a move with a high critical hit ratio. With Z-Tailwind boosting its critical hit chance for all attacks to 50 percent, Leafblade guarantees a crit every time. Not only does this double the damage done, but it ignores opposing defensive boosts and any attack drops that Kartana might accumulate while on the field. That means it will be capable of taking a lot of knock outs, which raises its attack even higher every time thanks to the Beast Boost ability.

Fortunately, this Ultra Beast is still as frail as it was in Sun and Moon, meaning most special attacks knock it out. But even if it goes down after taking a single knock out and boosting the team’s speed, that’s a huge amount of value. And it also forces players to respect this possibility during team preview, whether their opponent is running this set or not. Clever players will exploit this fact by countering their opponents Kartana-counters, putting them one step ahead at the start of a game.

A new Z-move countermeasure

There’s one last thing that players weren’t expecting to find in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon: changes to the move Wide Guard. While the move is a staple in VGC for its ability to negate all damage taken from attacks that hit both sides of the field, players discovered that it now also reduces the damage taken from Z-moves by 75 per cent — just like the move Protect. This gives players a huge defensive tool in the face of powerful and unpredictable z-moves. Since these super-powerful attacks were often surprising and deadly during their first season in VGC, many players will rest easy knowing that they have a way to avoid losing a game due to an unexpected Z-move.

The unexpected on the horizon

Thanks to all of these changes brought by Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, this upcoming season of VGC 2018 should have some surprises up its sleeve. Combining the powerhouses of seasons past and last year’s standouts gives competitors so much room for creativity that seeing what teams rise to the top is anyone’s guess. While players will have to adjust to the new changes, watching it all unfold should be a wild ride.

Jason Krell is a freelance journalist, VGC player and managing editor at the Trainer Tower.