February 28, 2020

Tower Tangents #1: Sizing-Up the Challenge

Game: Pokémon Sun (Gen VII)
Battle Tree – Super Singles

Tower Tangents #1: Sizing-Up the Challenge
I present to you here a brief vignette about recent exploits in Gen VII’s (Sun) Battle Tree Super Singles. I’ll preface this by saying that much bigger plans are in the works involving various Battle Towers, Frontiers, Maisons and Trees. I shan’t spoil, though it being a cross-generational endeavour, you may already have guessed at my aims. In any case, I’d never attained a 50-win streak in the Battle Tree. I’ve successfully conquered the RSE tower, mastered HeartGold’s FissureHax, and defeated various Frenchmen in definitely-not-France Kalos, but my Sun streak stood at a measly 34. Which, surveying the material available to me, had me raise my eyebrows in incredulity.

When Sun & Moon first came out in November 2016, I was prepared. Not in the sense that I pre-ordered, but rather that I’d spent an ungodly amount of time designing and breeding to perfection a six Pokémon battle team in XY, to be transferred to Alola for speedclearing the main game and beyond. I even made a thread on Reddit, proudly chronicling the lineage of my near-perfect Froakie.1 I quickly found, however, that Alola’s neverending cutscenes, incessant interruptions and general sensation of watching a YouTube video at half speed don’t lend themselves to doing much of anything quickly, and I burnt out long before reaching the postgame Battle Tree. Which, by the way, as a ginormous natural-grown tree that has dozens of people moving around in it is a rather under-exploited concept – its presence isn’t accounted for, you’re never seen climbing it, nor do you ever battle in foliage, or are there tree-like effects (grassy terrain!). But I digress. My over-engineered team of Protean-Greninja, Gengar, Garchomp, Volcarona, and Scizor ended up gracing the insides of a PC Box somewhere in the depths of Bill’s tech-giant server rooms. The intended sixth team member, Tapu Lele, I never caught.

The streak of 34? It was completed about a year later when I ran the Poni Gauntlet, beat ordinary singles without much difficulty and lost to something icy in Supers, having used the right Pokémon in the wrong way. Because, you see, I was deploying Gengar as a sweeper lead where I ought to have used Garchomp (he does it better); I was using Garchomp to fill Gengar’s cleanup role (which Gengar does better); and I relegated Mega-Scizor to ineffective extra when he’s designed to, at all times, be the showstopper. The image I had of Gengar was that of Gen II, or perhaps Gen IV (with Levitate) – that of special sweeper extraordinaire, second-to-none. But times have changed around Gengar. He’s lost Levitate. He’s still blazing quick, but others have gone on to be blazing quick-er. In these new environs, what he does best is not sweeping everyone off their feet, but to excel in a glorified janitorial role. Gengar wants to be the focal point, but to adapt, he must leave the spotlight to Garchomp, or perhaps more accurately, the duality of ‘Chomp and M-Scizor, the latter of which is the real Boxer of this Animal Farm, the unsung hero that makes or breaks the entirety of our aspirations. Huh? Stop yappin’ and show me some sets? Oh, okay.

Garchomp @Life Orb [Rough Skin]
31/31/31/x/31/31
EVs: 6HP / 252Atk / 252Spd
Earthquake / Outrage / Rock Slide / Fire Fang

Simple, right? Life Orb’s there to score quick KOs on anything M-Scizor can’t set up on, or that is simply too juicy an OHKO target that puts us up 3-2. Rough Skin breaks sashes and improves ranges when we do move second. Garchomp eats Fire, Electric, Rock and Ground types for breakfast. He doesn’t mind other dragons either so long as he can outspeed and overpower them. Fairies and Icy fellows ruin his good mood, though, but that’s okay, for M-Scizor saves the day.

Scizor @Scizorite [Technician]
31/31/31/x/31/31
EVs: 252 HP / 6 Def / 252 SpDef
Bullet Punch / Bug Bite / Swords Dance / Roost

Bulk’s the name of the game. Virtually nothing (in OU) but a super-effective Fire attack can 2HKO this thing, which means that until the uppermost “floors” of the Tree, regardless of who’s facing you down, it’s nearly always safe to switch in and Mega + Roost, which restores 50% maximum HP. Helpfully, Roost has 10PP – five more than Hydro Pump, Blizzard, Stone Edge, or whatever move a Choice-user might lock itself into. As such, Ice types like Articuno, Suicune and Lapras that scare Garchomp, Scizor takes in its stride (though mind the freeze chance, or in Articuno’s case, Sheer Cold).2 Technician turns Bullet Punch into a 60BP STAB +1 priority move, and Bug Bite into 90BP STAB. Room for more than one Swords Dance will see it tear through anything. And did I mention Toxic Immunity?

M-Scizor isn’t invulnerable, however. Paralysis (and status more broadly) is the big party-pooper here, which makes fast, hard-hitting Electrics like Raikou and Zapdos rather dangerous, especially when other methods of dealing with them have been exhausted. The number of words I’m devoting to Scizor betrays just how pivotal his role is; misplay once, and the game ends. There’s no Substitute to hide behind. Such is the nature of this cobbled-together team. Which is completed by…

Gengar @Choice Scarf [Cursed Body]
31/x/31/31/31/31
EVs: 6HP / 252SpAtk / 252Spd
Shadow Ball / Thunderbolt / Sludge Bomb / Destiny Bond

Gengar, perhaps the most interchangeable member of this team. He’s here by default as the most suitable-unsuitable of XY’s original five. Even so, I can’t think of much in OU that would perform better in its assigned role. Scarfed Latios perhaps, if we’re counting Legendaries eligible, or Raikou. In any case, Gengar’s job – as we touched upon above – is to mop up and/or self-sacrifice doing so. More often than not this translates to using Destiny Bond in a situation of 2:1 numerical advantage. Choice Scarf ensures little outspeeds it when preparing to gloriously fall on its sword.

So, with these three gladiators operating in perfect synergy, how did the streak come to its untimely end, you will be wondering? Well, it was a stormy day in Alola. A weather warning had been issued for the Battle Tree, and– Okay, fine. I took an ill-informed gamble where I should have been patient. There, you happy now? Human error: the bane of all champion teams. My opponent led with Latios. For reasons divorced from all mathematics, I naively assumed Garchomp would outspeed it for a guaranteed OHKO with Outrage, and even if it didn’t, ‘Chomp would at least tank a hit for a 2HKO. As it turns out, I was wrong on both counts – Latios is faster with full investment (110 vs. 102 base Speed), and Garchomp is most definitely very dead from a 2x super-effective Draco Meteor off a 130 special attack stat. What I should have done is switched to Scizor, tank the Draco Meteor to watch Latios’ SpAtk plummet, go Mega and Roost, Roost again, then start Swords Dancing up as Latios remained locked into a now useless Draco Meteor. At +6, Bug Bite OHKO’s Raikou, then Latios when it comes back out, and finally 2HKO’s Tornadus. Job done. All those steps I executed to perfection in the repeat mock battle to test my words – I won without the slightest hint of trouble.

I’m a bit sour to succumb to a cacophony of my own errors on Battle #67 when this team had potential to close the distance to 100, or at least the 90 of Smogon’s leaderboards, but alas, such is life in the Tower Tree. And 66 consecutive wins is a respectable streak for an OU non-legendary, not exactly purpose-built battle trio. More than sufficient, in any case, to earn those Battle Tree Master Ribbons fair and square!

Some highlights for that rare breed of battle video enthusiast (what is wrong with you?!)

Battle #50: Disassembling Red.
UTHG-WWWW-WWXD-WDRR
Not much to see here, honestly. The Tree is gracious in that if you’re capable of reaching battle #50, you’re all but granted a free win. Red’s team is iconic but mediocre, consisting of Venusaur, M-Charizard and Snorlax that should pose no problem for whatever crew got you there. But here’s the video link anyway – it’s the first time I got this far, so… Milestone!

Battle #64: Impending Doom.
TXGW-WWWW-WWXD-WKH3
This is how you dispose of Legendaries. Grumble. Between Hydro Pump and Shadow Ball, Suicune can be quite scary. Entei got the better of Garchomp too.

Battle #67: All Good Things…
EADG-WWWW-WWXD-WDS8
Battle 67, or a momentary loss of clarity. I’ve played back and re-played this confrontation many times since and never lost again.

  1.  Which was promptly removed under Rule 3B, as were my posting rights on r/Pokemon when I described the mod’s draconian intervention as that of an “overzealous apparatchik” – a compliment, really, in another time and age!
  2.  While moves like Blizzard and Hydro Pump may marginally outdamage Roost, they can be expected to miss!