Season 11 | State of the Meta
4 months ago
By NHoff with insight from other GO Stadium Meta Analysts
Lots of amazing discussion has been floating around after many regional and international tournaments about the game, about the gamestate, and most interesting to me—about the metagame. I do way too much discussion on this topic privately for my own good, so I wanted a more public-facing compilation of ideas and commentary in an article form.
So what's good, what's bad, and what's ugly about GO PVP's Great League (GL) meta?
That's a question that everyone will have a different answer to! We decided to ask some of our meta team what they thought was the best and the worst part of the Open Great League Meta.
Some terms that we’ll use here are meta-viable, meta-centric, and meta-warping. Meta-viable would be something like Ferrothorn in Open Great League - a perfectly usable Pokémon, but not one you see every set or even every day in the GO Battle League. Meta-centric would be your Sableye or your Azumarill - a Pokémon that is banned in Remix formats and is seen on the regular in the league. Meta-warping would be the introduction of Walrein in the Great and Ultra Leagues or Zap Cannon Registeel in the Ultra League. These Pokémon tend to skew the meta around them, causing previously viable teams to be unusable. This can have pros and cons, but generally when recommendations are being made from our team we tend to avoid meta-warping proposals.
I personally think only 5 Pokémon comprise the largest offenders: GFisk, Registeel, Medicham, Sableye, and Walrein. Trevenant comes as a +1 to Walrein as well if I had to be asked for a top 6, but I don’t see Trevenant as nearly the concern of the other 5. It has counters, hard counters even, and it has marginal bulk and defensive typing advantage comparable to the others.
Many lurk just beyond that 5 - Alolan Ninetales, Swampert, Azumarill, Nidoqueen, Scrafty - in no discernable order, but they all lack either the safety or power of that big 5 in my eyes.
But the depth of the potential metagame is amazing! We’ve seen things as flimsy as Sirfetch’d make waves at these tournaments, and I have my own thoughts about some unique things for my competition in NAIC. To that end I think the ugly is more the higher outliers than it is a narrow meta - pull those big 5 in slightly and we’ve got a beautiful storm brewing.
To me, the best part of the Open Great League meta is that there is a reasonably wide variety of meta-viable picks. While the process of moveset updates can feel slow at times, Niantic has done a very good job over the course of a long period of time by rounding out a wide variety of Pokémon into the meta. For example, the addition of Weather Ball to the likes of Ninetales, Politoed, Abomasnow, and Pelipper helped flesh out the meta. We also saw a willingness to pull the moves back a little bit when Weather Ball was proving to be a little bit too meta-warping.
To me, the worst part of the Open Great League meta is that a few moves and Pokémon feel a touch too powerful relative to alternative options. Moves like Counter for Fighting-types and Charm for Fairy-types are significantly better than any other Fast Attack of their typing. Pokémon such as Walrein, with its Icicle Spear acting as a pre-nerf Weather Ball, stifles competition from other Ice types such as Abomasnow, Powder Snow Alolan Ninetales, and Lapras, all of which lose reasons to be used when Walrein is just strictly better. I feel this a lot when helping design metas as part of meta teams for organizations such as Silph and GO Stadium. The metas I have most enjoyed making and playing are typically when a lot of Counter and Charm users are removed from the equation, or when the likes of Walrein, Galarian Stunfisk, Registeel, and Medicham have been banned from entry. This shows the relative imbalance in Great League and the fact that other Pokémon can finally shine brighter with these overpowered entities removed. To me the solution is two-fold: Some powerful moves and Pokémon need to be reigned in a little bit, and weak moves and Pokémon need to be buffed into a more competitive position.
Let’s start with the good. The Great League (GL) meta has exceptional depth. Following new releases, new exclusive moves, or move updates, we’ve seen it shift quite dramatically at times even—from the old hat Azumarill-Altaria core later paired with Registeel (also any other Defense Deoxys-Umbreon-Skarmory core fans?), to the ageless Skarmory-Swampert and the polarizing Bastiodon-Shadow Victreebel, to the introduction of Galarian Stunfisk, to the extended run of the dark horse Scrafty-Hypno core, to the Nidoqueen-Dark era, and finally the current reign of Trevenant-Walrein (enter Araquanid stage left). Even if during any given defined period the metagame centralized around a handful of Pokémon, we’ve seen the GL meta include a variety of Pokémon over the years and even more so in community formats such as draft tournaments, highlighting the increasingly large pool of viable Pokémon and potentially greater untapped diversity in the open format. However, we can’t acknowledge the meta “players” without also commenting on their “game”. The GL metagame has undergone several transformations from a playstyle perspective as well (e.g. the introduction of Poison Fang). At various points, more alignment-dependent strategies excelled although many battlers would often seek out alternative strategies to avoid the prototypical rock-paper-scissors nature of gameplay. As more energy management-oriented playstyles were promoted through move updates (e.g. the Weather Ball update, Poison Sting buff), the pace of the metagame accelerated with it, leaving behind some former fringe picks that couldn’t keep up (e.g. Lanturn, Alolan Muk). On full display in Frankfurt at EUIC and again at the Indianapolis Regionals, we see how the current iteration of the Great League favors an energy-management playstyle in many cases, which can provide thrilling and entertaining matches when high caliber battlers meet on the same stage. Now I think I have exhausted my space here so I can highlight the bad in the next section.
So how do you change those bad parts with meaningful balance adjustments?
I can't get into explicit recommendations that we the meta team have made in the past, but there are some things we consider:
1) There is no universally popular change. Shadow Ball Noctowl is one of my favorite move updates to the game, but many think it wasn't enough - as Noctowl is not meta-centric in OGL. Some players value GO's meta stability, others would like to see big changes. I'm in the middle personally - I like a deep meta and I like to avoid things like Walrein or Regi’s re-emergence, but many changes in the past have left me wanting more.
2) Some things are broken products - that doesn’t mean don’t try, but see (1) on expectations. Niantic has control over a lot in this game, but the stats and typing a Pokémon has and the moves available to it are determined by the main series Pokémon games. Lilligant will never be able to hit Steel-types unless Sunny Day becomes a damaging move, and a mono-Grass-type with that coverage and a stat product in the 1.6 million range will never be anything to write home about. Bug types will generally be at their best when not performing as bugs - whether that’s Galvantula, Heracross, Crustle, or Beedrill operating as their respective sub-typing or a Bug/Steel being a pseudo-fighter or psychic. Araquanid and Forretress are exceptions that are strong due to their bulky stat spreads and defensive secondary typing. Again, this isn’t a reason to give up on these things, but sometimes there are bigger priorities in play.
3) Theme is actually important (and cool when done right!) My favorite instance of this - regardless of my feelings on the outcome - is Poison Fang on Nidoqueen. We’d wanted to see a bait move for ‘queen (remember pre-Poison Fang?) and thought Body Slam was a good choice. The final result is more viable, but more importantly, better thematically for the Ground and Poison-type.
4) Do not recommend Counter on Miltank. Ever.
And those are the 4 simple rules!
Somewhat related to (2) above, power creep should be somewhat limited in GO. For instance, if every Pokemon were to have its most powerful moveset, there would be no reason to use Vigoroth - Chansey would have Counter and Body Slam and also Shadow Ball as well as 67% more stat product in Great League. We’ve seen this to a smaller scale with Pokemon like Melmetal or Jirachi in Great League - they were absolutely meta-viable in preseason and early seasons of GO Battle League, but have fallen by the wayside as stronger Steel-types have arrived. For different reasons we cannot see major buffs - Melmetal is meta-centric in Master League for instance. On the flipside of this nerfs are generally something to avoid when compared to buffs - due to GO’s nature they tend to have collateral in Pokemon that are not overpowered, and tend to add frustration to “wasted investments” because of GO’s lack of a compensation structure following a nerf. This same frustration does not seem to occur to nearly the same degree with obsoletion - Walrein’s Community Day didn’t see an outcry about investments into Dewgong or Sealeo, for instance. This balancing act all becomes a limitation, but fosters creativity in approach, as new move options or currently exclusive moves become interesting levers to play with for Pokemon that might have a stat product disadvantage.
Now onto the bad. A handful of Pokémon and moves currently feel a bit over-tuned, often strictly outcompeting other Pokémon in their role (e.g. Walrein among Ice types) or not providing contrasting playstyles within a given role (e.g. Fairy types mostly limited to Charm users). As Tangent already highlighted, we both see this quite often serving on the Silph and GO Stadium meta teams. Counter and Charm are frequently a priority check for us as even Pokémon such as Escavalier can be dominant in limited metas and having few to no answers to a strong Pokémon like Sableye outside of Charm can be problematic.
It’s also important to recognize that having a strong fast move such as Counter that’s also in the main series movepool of a wide variety of Pokémon is a valuable tool. Counter can immediately provide a unique niche to Pokémon, such as Escavalier, Obstagoon, Lycanroc and many others. The accessibility of Counter to top bulky Fighting types such as Medicham are certainly the greatest concern, but even in limited metas without Medicham or Scrafty, we often see Counter users play key roles. Balancing Counter will be difficult to get right, however, due to the number of Pokémon that primarily have a niche because of it. Galarian Stunfisk is another Pokémon that’s difficult to balance because of how widely used its moves are. In contrast, Walrein and Registeel are two Pokémon that should be nerfed, and this can be done with minimal collateral because Icicle Spear and Zap Cannon aren’t present on many other meta-relevant Pokémon.
Sableye is an incredibly versatile Pokémon with excellent typing that affords only one weakness and exceptional moves and coverage. Sableye likely could be first addressed by diversifying Fairy types to add a contrasting energy-oriented playstyle to Charm, which ideally would yield more meta-relevant threats. Charm users have a range of coverage options and secondary typings yet they all play quite similarly because they rely heavily on fast move damage, prefer shields and infrequently get to multiple charge moves. This change would diversify a major type and role while indirectly targeting Sableye, Medicham and Scrafty. Trevenant is also a difficult Pokémon to nerf because of how many Pokémon rely on Shadow Claw/Ball for relevance although perhaps a Seed Bomb energy adjustment could be an option.
Balancing is an iterative process, however. The current metagame can mask notably strong Pokémon from previous iterations: those that simply lack a defined role within the current meta or are pushed out due to several unfavorable matchups with key players. But as you temper the dominance of top meta Pokémon, others can swiftly supplant them. Niantic has done well at increasing the overall diversity and shifting the meta in interesting ways even if some Pokémon or moves are at times over-tuned. By continuing to adjust through move updates, I believe they can tap even further into that underlying diversity in future evolutions of the open Great League metagame.
How do you know whether the changes suggested are good ones?
We have a few ways we go about testing both adjustments to move parameters as well as suggestions for move additions to Pokémon. First and foremost, we have an in-house PVPoke where we can adjust moves, add moves, and run simulations due to the fact that KakunaMattata has made it open source. We run these simulations in all 9 shield scenarios and think about outlier cases against current similar Pokemon. We additionally look at damage cycles - how much damage a Pokemon does from the onset of its first Fast Attack until its Charge Attack resolves, and how many turns that takes; this also then continues to multiple cycles to account for uneven-speed Pokemon like Walrein or Swampert. This is a space I want to highlight Nesabethan in as a big proponent and contributor, helping the team factor in base stats of the Pokemon, factoring in how lower-duration Fast Attacks tend to deal increased damage due to rounding, and looking at speed and agility and how that affects simulation output vs actual performance (e.g. Walrein is more likely to throw another Charged Attack at the next Pokemon in after a won matchup as opposed to Registeel, who can be a liability to be farmed down).
So how about some more fun things:
What’s the most personally fun and most destructive moveset addition you can think of?
Very biased but I want Drill Run on Alolan Sandslash, giving it some good coverage while staying balanced by its double weaknesses. I think my destructive set has to be Icy Wind Primarina - to go with Hydro Cannon when it eventually gets a Community Day! I’m also very fond of Octazooka Sableye - an event move from 2013 that would be hilarious in GO and should never be added.
Equally biased but for fun I would love to see moves like Psycho Cut and Surf on Starmie. The moveset would allow Starmie to live up to its main series reputation of having a high speed stat, hitting hard and fast and being able to finally make use of moves like Thunderbolt and Ice Beam that were added previously to its moveset but never saw action. Starmie will never be a meta-centric pick, but this set would at minimum be meta viable as a spicy pick selection or within the right limited meta. In terms of something that would potentially be more meta-centric, I have always been a fan of Scald Tentacruel. The more common suggestion within the community of Surf Tentacruel is a very good one, and posts strong win rates across both Great and Ultra League. However, I personally prefer Scald as its moveset addition, because it is still a very strong set, is a less commonly distributed move, and plays into the cruel part of its namesake due to the move’s ability to debuff the opponent’s attack. Poison Jab, Acid Spray, and Scald as a combination is akin to Alolan Muk’s current moveset of choice, and allows Tentacruel and Qwilfish to share an Alolan Muk / Drapion dynamic in the Water/Poison role. In terms of destructive, a buff to Air Cutter comes to mind. The move has similar attributes to Night Slash, so a common suggestion is to make the move a Night Slash clone. This sounds amazing in theory, but in practice this just means Pidgeot can wield a flying type Night Slash alongside Feather Dance and Brave Bird, which to me just feels like too much power for just one bird to have.
I would love to see more diversity among viable Fairy types and more importantly their playstyles as I mentioned earlier. Drill Run on Galarian Rapidash would provide excellent coverage and be a fun addition to hopefully help it carve out more of a niche in future restricted metas. Bonus: I would also love to see Claydol get Stone Edge. What Claydol really needs is another 55 energy charge move, and it would be an upgrade to Rock Tomb. Most destructive moveset? Well RIP, I just burned my go-to for this one in the Bonus.
So what’s to be seen in the next season?
Well a meta is nothing without a game to play it in - so this all is contingent upon the game state being bearable in the next season. Niantic mentioned before last season that “Attack changes or attack availability updates—as typically seen at the beginning of most GO Battle League seasons— will not be made in order to maintain stability for Pokémon Battles as the World Championship Series circuit begins.” Well, that circuit has now begun and there is clear desire from the community to have balance changes to the game. We hope that the 12th season of the GO Battle League will feature updates that work to assuage some of the negatives we mentioned earlier. We also hope there will be some buffs to less meta-viable Pokémon to get trainers excited about playing with newly relevant picks! We’ve certainly made suggestions on some fun ideas to get to that goal.
The World Championship Series has ignited the hype and competition of the community in a way that has not been present in a long while. We at Stadium are hopeful for what this means for the future of the game, and that a balanced and enjoyable metagame continues to run alongside it!
Thank you all for reading, for your passion, and for your presence in this community.
- Stadium’s Meta Analyst team