Three takeaways from Pokémon Players Cup III Sword and Shield VGC
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The Pokémon Players Cup III Sword and Shield VGC Global Finals have come to an end. In a best-of-five VGC finals, Jonathan “Ezrael” Evans defeated Leonardo “Ilbona” Bonamoni after a 14-game slog between both winners finals and grand finals.

Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the latest VGC major tournament.

Ezrael beats sun teams with mixed weather

The Series 8 format, in the Pokémon Players Cup III, allowed players to bring one restricted Legendary per team. As a result, a popular sun team emerged with Groudon at the forefront; which can instantly set up harsh sunlight with its Drought Ability. Such teams also include a pair of Gigantamax starter Pokémon as their primary attackers: Venusaur, which gains a speed boost in the sun thanks to its Chlorophyll Ability, and Charizard, which receives an increase in power to its Fire-type attacks.

Two of the top three finishers, Ilbona and Yoav “YoavScyther” Reuven, relied on this sun core. But Ezrael, the eventual champion, took a different approach. He brought a mixed weather team, with a Torkoal to set up sunlight and a Kyogre to set up heavy rain.

Each division of Ezrael’s team — Torkoal, Venusaur and Incineroar — could thrive in the sunlight that Ezrael or his opponent set up. However, having Kyogre in the back allowed him to shut down the sunlight on which many of his opponents relied. In addition, Ezrael brought a Tornadus with Tailwind — providing a speed boost for Venusaur even outside of the sun — and a Grimmsnarl that saw little use in the global finals compared to the rest of the team.

After suffering a reverse 3-0 at the hands of Ilbona in winners finals, Ezrael bounced back with a 3-1 win in set one of grand finals. The final set went to game five. Early on, Ezrael’s Venusaur crucially got rid of Ilbona’s Regieleki. In addition, Ezrael called out that Ilbona would switch out his Groudon, allowing his Venusaur to Max Flare Ilbona’s incoming Venusaur. This brought it down to its Focus Sash and allowed Ezrael to pick it off during the next turn. Consequently, this set up for a Kyogre versus Groudon endgame, which Ezrael’s Kyogre handily won.


Previous Pokémon Players Cup winners

With Ezrael’s Pokémon Players Cup III victory, a North American player has won every single Players Cup thus far. Previous winners include Santino “Santi” Tarquinio and Wolfe “Wolfey” Glick. Along with double-eliminating Ilbona, Ezrael also defeated James “Mufasa” Mainey, Gabriel “AgatiGa” Agati, Alejandro “Cano” Díaz and YoavScyther.

Ilbona is a relative newcomer to competitive Pokémon. He began playing after the 2016 World Championships. Interestingly, Ezrael was a finalist at that event. There, he also used a hybrid sun and rain team.

AgatiGa qualifies for his third consecutive Players Cup

With random components like critical hits and varying sleep turns, Pokémon is an inherently volatile game. Additionally, players are constantly changing their teams for major competitions. This makes it difficult to consistently perform well. But, AgatiGa has proven that it’s possible, qualifying for every single Players Cup thus far.

Fittingly, he qualified for the Pokémon Players Cup III with Coalossal, which featured heavily on the winning teams of previous champions Santi and Wolfey. However, he swapped out every Pokémon except Zacian from his team for the global finals. Notably, his new line-up included Garchomp, a Pokémon not used by any other finalist. With this new roster, AgatiGa beat Francesco “CICCIOTT” Pio Pero, Joseph “JoeUX9” Ugarte and Roberto “Raider” Porretti en route to fifth place. This was his best Players Cup placing yet.

Incineroar shows up in over half of global finalists’ teams

In a format that allowed trainers to bring prestigious Legendary Pokémon, Incineroar appeared on nine of the 16 finalists’ teams. This made Incineroar, by far, the most prevalent Pokémon in the Players Cup III.

Incineroar can fit into just about any team, reliably providing both support and offensive pressure. Its Intimidate Ability lowers the Attack stat of both opposing Pokémon, which can devastate teams that rely on physical attackers. In addition, Incineroar can apply multiple Attack drops, thanks to its ability to pivot out with U-turn or Parting Shot.

The aforementioned Parting Shot lowers the target’s Attack and Special Attack stats. Also, Incineroar’s Snarl lowers the Special Attack of both opponents. As a result, Incineroar is able to lessen the damage output from any opposing Pokémon.

Incineroar also typically carries Fake Out, allowing it to completely invalidate any non-Dynamax Pokémon on its first turn. To top it all off, Incineroar can deal respectable damage with moves like Flare Blitz and Darkest Lariat. This flexibility and utility proved effective in the Pokémon Players Cup III, where the top three finishers all used Incineroar.

Dylan Tate is an alumnus of the Hussman School of Journalism and Media at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is a gaming journalist with a love for Nintendo esports, particularly Super Smash Bros. and Pokémon.