Double Trouble: The Item Clause
Prepare for trouble, and make it double! Double Trouble, that is. Yes, it is that time of the week again for another article about the VGC format and double battles. And as a heads up, as of the day this article is posted, you only have fifteen days to finish all your Christmas shopping.
I thought that made this the perfect opportunity to bring up the Clause. No, not Santa Claus, but rather the Item Clause – note the extra ‘e’ at the end. Although Santa Claus would also be irate if he were to learn that in buying presents for your Pokémon you just gave them all the same thing instead of giving them all gifts as unique as they are. The VGC Santa Claus would be, anyway, because you would be breaking the Item Clause. So avoid making the Claus mad about you breaking the Clause or you might have a claustrophobic red-nosed Stantler charging at you later this month.
For serious though, the Item Clause is a rule in the VGC format that does not exist for standard Smogon tiers, and it is one of the differences between regular single battles and VGC double battles that may not be immediately considered by those curious about trying out the VGC since it is not the most obvious difference between the formats in comparison with something like having twice as many Pokémon on the field at one time. But actively thinking about the Item Clause that applies to VGC battles will not just steer you towards more conscientious team building but also inform your decisions in battle in ways not possible without the clause. And this makes examining it very worthwhile for anyone with interest in the VGC format.
Let us begin by establishing what the Item Clause IS in case anyone may not have heard of it before: the Item Clause is simply a rule that dictates that no two Pokémon on your team can have the same item on them. This means that one cannot simply default to giving all their Pokémon Leftovers if they cannot decide on a more particular or specific item to use because only one Pokémon on your team can have Leftovers. You have to pick different items for the other five. Since this is a unique rule not found in every format, many players are not accustomed to mindfully ensuring all members of their team hold unique items and it can be frustrating to decide on the items to use when you want ALL of your hard hitters to hold Life Orbs. So today we will be going over a number of the items for your consideration you might not have looked at previously when team building for the VGC. Note that we’re primarily looking at items to help us comply with the Item Clause – not universally loved and known items like Life Orb and Lum Berry that you would probably already be factoring in.
Perhaps the most notable item common in the VGC you almost never see in singles is the Sitrus Berry, for HP recovery. Normally people immediately default to Leftovers when looking for recovery, and one option is to have one Pokémon hold Leftovers and another hold a Sitrus Berry (and perhaps a third holding Black Sludge if you have a Poison type and you’re so inclined, or a Toxic Orb for something with Poison Heal!), but there are actually teams that feature a Sitrus Berry which DON’T feature Leftovers at all. This is because of how much faster double battles tend to play out. Think about it; VGC battles are 4-on-4 as opposed to six on six and any of your Pokémon have the possibility of being attacked twice in the same turn. In order for Leftovers to be of more use to you than a Sitrus Berry, you would need to benefit from them fully for five turns, but a Pokémon may not be out and active for five turns in a double battle. Plus if it goes any turns at full health not being attacked, that turn doesn’t count towards the five needed for it to heal you more. By contrast, if a Sitrus Berry activates at any point you’ll be healed for a big chunk all at once which can immediately be the difference between surviving another hit or going down that very turn or the next. On top of that, it would be nothing extraordinary for any Pokémon to go down within five turns of a match. Whether Sitrus is better than Leftovers for any given Pokémon you may consider running is going to depend on calculations and plenty of other factors, but definitely be aware that the Sitrus Berry is one of the most common items in the VGC and odds are you should want to have it your team.
More niche but potentially more powerful than even the Sitrus Berry are the type-specific damage reducing berries. If ever you find yourself in a pinch trying to come up with an item or two to follow the Item Clause, since there are literally 18 of these things now, their uniqueness can definitely contribute to obeying the Clause in a pinch, and if you do the calculations ahead of time and they can reliably save you from specific hits then they definitely can become worth their weight for an item slot.
Another item far more common in the VGC format you may otherwise not consider is Safety Goggles. While the potential to ignore damage from a fellow team member with Sandstream or Hail Warning is a nice benefit, the primary reason this one sees use is the immunity to powder moves it grants. The most notable thing this lets you get around is Rage Powder, a move you will only ever see in doubles. Rage Powder (and Follow Me, although Follow me is not a powder move) is a move which forces your Pokémon to target the user of it. This is a concept in doubles known as redirection and many VGC teams and strategies utilize it. It is also worth noting that there is no Sleep Clause in the VGC, so spamming Spore is fair game in the format; good thing Safety Goggles lets you get around that as well (it’s basically Amoonguss repellant and then some)!
Certain items pairing particularly well with particular Pokémon because of the metagame of the VGC is another factor to consider for following the Item Clause. Weakness Policy on Aegislash grew in popularity later on in VGC 2014 since it has such good bulk if you arrange to take a super effective hit while in Shield Form and Tyranitar was a notable user of it as well with its impressive bulk and slew of weaknesses to activate it on, for instance. Another example that is influenced by the nature of VGC play is the Assault Vest. Since Protect is so much more common in double battles you may initially dismiss the item, but Assault Vest Ludicolo became insanely popular as VGC 2014 went on. Ludicolo was notably able to capitalize on the item more than other Pokémon in a double battle format because it could still offer team support while only using attacking moves through Fake Out flinches, plus it had the option to heal up some with Giga Drain. Other Pokémon with Fake Out or alternative supporting attack moves like Feint were likelier to use the item as well if they had decent enough bulk to justify it. Goodra, Hariyama, and Scrafty were all on successful teams and wielding an Assault Vest at various points in the year. By contrast to the bulky Fake Out users, frail Fake Out users such as Weavile and Mienshao are much likelier to be good candidates for your Focus Sash. If any Pokémon you are considering for your team is notably able to utilize a less-than-omnipresent item, you should much more heavily consider assigning it that item if it will help you follow the Item Clause.
Between the vast and various viable Berries out there, three Choice item variants, the fast-growing number of Mega Stones, Life, Toxic, and Flame Orbs, Lefties, the Assault Vest, Focus Sash, Rocky Helmet, Expert Belt, Air Balloon, Safety Goggles, the Arceus Plates, and plenty more, while the Item Clause might sometimes seem frustrating when you are new to the VGC format, it is not that difficult to adhere to it after a while. And it generally becomes even easier every generation since more and more items get added to the games (although the general absence of Type Gems was notable)! The advent of Mega Evolution in Gen VI alone essentially meant everyone only has to look for at most five different items for their team since all the Mega Stones are unique.
Once your team is Item Clause-ready, you can then familiarize yourself with the differences that come with playing in a format featuring the Item Clause. No matter what format you play in information gathering is a useful skill, but when you know no two Pokémon on any opponent’s team share an item in common it adds a new dimension to gathering information; if you know a specific Pokémon you’re facing has a Choice Scarf you also know no other Pokémon on that team can have one, which can help you preemptively determine move order with more confidence. If ever you proceed to the advanced rounds of a VGC event, you start facing opponents in best-of-3 matches, so information gained in the first game can be of use to you in the second and possibly third, too. Taking notes is allowed so it is a good habit to write down which opposing Pokémon possess what items. As a final note for playing with the Item Clause in the VGC, if you happen to have a Pokémon with Frisk, the ability is literally at least twice as good since it applies to both opposing Pokémon at once for even faster information gathering.
It may not always be Huge or Pure, but in any Pokémon battle, knowledge is Power. Know what different rules and clauses apply whenever entering a new format and know how to use them to your advantage. And get different items for all your Pokémon unless you want Charcoal for Christmas!
See you next week, Puclonians. Until then, it looks like I’m blasting off again!