Double Trouble: The VGC is Intimidating
Prepare for trouble, and make it double, Puclonians! In this week’s installment of Double Trouble, PUCL’s weekly series about the VGC format and double battles, I fear things could get… a little scary, and not because any haunting Ghost types are the subject. Rather, today’s topic is the intimidating… Intimidate ability!
Intimidate, just a single ability, gets its own article because it is literally the single-most influential ability in the VGC format. That is an extremely bold statement, and if something has that much of an impact, surely that validates it being the subject of its own entire article. Anything with the relevance of Intimidate is important to know about if you ever participate in the VGC format, and is especially important to learn about if you are new to the format and do not yet understand just how dominant a force Intimidate is. Consider that in the transition from Gen V to Gen VI, a slew of special attacks were reduced in power while the same was not true of physical attacks. That change was a result of the power of Intimidate (and the burn status). Intimidate is so influential it helped influence a power drop for attacks between generations!
To anyone extremely new to Pokémon, Intimidate is an ability that activates when the Pokémon with it enters battle, and it reduces the Attack stat of opposing Pokémon by a single stage. For Pokémon that do not have their Attack stat boosted, that reduction cuts the Attack stat by a third, making physical attacks only two thirds as powerful as they would be otherwise. You can think of it as a free Growl attack just for switching in. That alone makes it really solid and already one of the best abilities you can possibly have in Pokémon.
In a double battle format like the VGC, however, a number of factors make Intimidate even more powerful than it would be otherwise. The single most relevant dynamic that changes is that Intimidate affects BOTH opposing Pokémon, so you are slashing the Attack stat of two Pokémon just by coming into battle. That already makes it twice as good, objectively. Plus, unlike with spread attacks, a mechanic like Intimidate does not become weaker just because it impacts more than a single target (which is actually quite remarkable since even defensive moves that affect two Pokémon at once by set margins like Light Screen and Reflect become weaker in doubles, but that is for another week). Further strengthening Intimidate is the fact that the VGC format makes it much harder to escape the ability by switching. In a 6-on-6 single battle, at the start of a match you literally have five other Pokémon you can switch in to remove Intimidate’s stat drop, and you would have to lose all five of a Pokémon’s teammates before it could no longer switch out to remove Intimidate’s impact. By stark contrast, in a VGC battle where you only bring four of your six Pokémon, you only have two Pokémon to switch in at the start, two Pokémon get effected by Intimidate at once, and as soon as two of your Pokémon go down, you cannot switch at all, giving the burden of an Intimidate a more heavily pervasive impact on a battle.
While not the result of Intimidate directly, in addition to everything mentioned earlier, the ability becomes as strong as it is in the VGC because there are so many common and relevant physical attackers in the format for which Intimidate proves to be a useful tool against. The format overall is very physically oriented, with the single most common Pokémon in the entire VGC format being Mega Kangaskhan. The second and third most common Pokémon in it were (until very recently) Landorus-T and Talonflame (which has very recently dropped to fourth, switching spots with Sylveon), respectively, so for a long time the entire top three most frequently used Pokémon in the VGC have all been physical, and four out of five of the most common Pokémon are still (the fifth most common being Bisharp – more on that in a bit). That speaks volumes. Landorus-T, the silver medalist in usage, also has Intimidate as its ability.
So many of the most common and influential Mega Pokémon in the VGC are physical and highly interconnected with Intimidate. The Mega that won it all at the World Championships last year was Mega Gyarados – a physical attacker and a Pokémon that prior to Mega Evolving has, yup, Intimidate as its ability. Two of the three most common and influential Mega Evolutions of last year’s format were also physical – Kangaskhan and Mawile (which also carries Intimidate before Mega Evolving). And the two Mega Evolutions of ORAS most likely to join this circle of impact on this year’s format are Salamence and Metagross. The former can run a wide variety of sets including physical and mixed sets and, yet again, carries Intimidate, itself, before Mega Evolving. The latter is helped greatly by ignoring the effects of Intimidate before Mega Evolving thanks to its ability, Clear Body, and is also clearly physically oriented, so both interact strongly with the power of Intimidate in the format. To recap, three of the above mentioned Mega Evolutions carry Intimidate as their ability prior to Mega Evolving, one is immune to Intimidate prior to Mega Evolving (two if you want to count any random Mawile choosing to run Hyper Cutter), and the majority of them are weakened by Intimidate. The only highly common Mega Evolution not bothered by Intimidate at all is Mega Charizard Y, but the fact the majority of the most common Mega Evolutions ran in the VGC interact with and are affected by Intimidate reflects, in a way, why Intimidate is the most influential ability in the format. Especially when considering how much Mega Evolutions have impacted competitive Pokémon this generation.
Looking at how compelling of a force Intimidate is in the VGC, it is inevitably one of the many things that needs to be considered when teambuilding, with regards to yourself and your opponents. If you are looking to run it yourself for its incredible utility, there are fortunately a lot of viable Pokémon that have access to the ability, its distribution being fairly good (and having Intimidate at all definitely being a factor in making these Pokémon as good to as they are), and given their diversity of qualities that make them each unique, it is quite easy to find one to fit your team. In addition to those mentioned above (to recap: Gyarados, Mawile, Salamence, and Landorus-T) other most relevant options include Arcanine, Scrafty, Hitmontop, Staraptor, and (Mega) Manetric. Arcanine is currently seeing its most popular year ever thanks to how good Fire types are in the metagame and is actually very versatile, capable of running much more supportive sets with moves like Snarl, Will-O-Wisp, and Helping Hand, or Choice Sets, or a cross between support and offense, all quite well. Scrafty is an especially popular option for Trick Room teams since it is so slow and provides all a lot of support with access to moves like Fake Out, Knock Off, and Wide Guard. Hitmontop has arguably fallen the most in usage for a number of reasons compared to its popularity in the past, but still has a wide slew of useful tricks including Fake Out, Feint, Helping Hand, Quick Guard and Wide Guard, and a lot of priority attacks. Staraptor is most notable for having access to the rare Final Gambit and being the best legal user of the move, but can also hit quite hard if Final Gambit is not the right call in a particular match.
Lastly, Mega Manetric is an interesting and unique choice because while a number of really good Pokémon have Intimidate before Mega Evolving, Mega Manetric is the only Pokémon to have it as a Mega Evolution. Manetric’s niche is being able to also offer Lightningrod support until no longer necessary before Mega Evolving, and being very effective at getting off multiple Intimidates with its powerful Volt Switches (on that note, a number of Pokemon with Intimidate mentioned above have U-Turn and it pairs very well with the ability). While these are not the only Pokémon with Intimidate that can be run effectively (Krookodile instantly comes to mind), they are definitely the more commonly seen options which everyone should be aware of and have an answer to. Definitely look at what all has access to it when building a team.
While running Intimidate is easily done and very tempting, you also need to take into consideration that opponents can just as easily be running Intimidate as well. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to punish someone for bringing the ability to a battle, and with there being as many good physically oriented Pokémon to use as there are, combating Intimidate can be essential. One option is to make opposing Intimidate dead weight by carrying enough Pokémon on your team that are specially inclined instead of physically, or immune to the effects of Intimidate such as the aforementioned Metagross. Another, arguably more popular, option is to actually punish your opponent for Intimidating your Pokémon by turning it into a boost. Abilities like Contrary, Defiant, and Competitive will all turn the tables on an Intimidate.
The poster Pokémon for this in the VGC is currently Bisharp, who has skyrocketed in popularity this year in the VGC all the way to being the fifth most commonly used Pokémon (this is for a number of reasons, but Intimidate’s ubiquity is definitely among them). What makes Bisharp arguably the best counter to Intimidate is its access to STAB Sucker Punch, which with the boost to its attack from Intimidate makes it a hugely threatening offensive pressure on opponents. Bisharp’s typing being largely unresisted makes it all the harder to avoid taking at least neutral attacks which can get scary when it obtains a Defiant boost, too. If Bisharp just does not fit your team however, or you do not want to run it for whatever reason, you could go the route of the Competitive ability instead, with Milotic being the most common carrier of the ability in this year’s format (Wigglytuff gained prominence for being the best Pokémon with the ability available to use last year and Ray Rizzo won a regional with it). In contrast to Defiant and Contrary effectively only boosting the Attack stat by a single stage, since Competitive is tied to the Special Attack stat, it grants a full two stages worth of boosts in the face of Intimidate. Currently no Contrary Pokémon is really a standard, although Malamar has seen some success in niche roles and can play around with its signature Topsy-Turvy attack to manually reverse Intimidate effects on its teammates into boosts. So that may also be worth consideration for the right team.
Because Intimidate is as omnipresent in the format as it is, carrying Pokémon that punish your opponent for bringing it is really at an all-time high, and leads to a complex dance of outmaneuvering opponents in many matches. If you have two Intimidate Pokémon on your team, but your opponent carries a Bisharp, do you not bring the Intimidators to battle even if they really hamper your opponent’s other Pokémon? If you are the one carrying Bisharp in this situation, are you willing to bluff bringing it to battle and then not doing so in order to bring other Pokémon? Suffice to say Intimidate’s influence has created a lot of mind-games, but know that if you are going to utilize it, and it is worth utilizing, you definitely need to have solid solutions to the inevitable Bisharps and Milotics and the like you will encounter to punish you for using it.
With Intimidate literally being the most influential ability in the format, when doing hypothetical damage calculations it is practically a necessity at this point to also consider calculations with damage boosts and reductions as a consequence of it. If you ever plan on playing in the VGC it is something that has to be taken into account for, so you may as well make the most of it for yourself. On that note, I’ll see you all next week. Until then, I’ll be blasting off again!