Double Trouble: What Are Hazards?
Prepare for Trouble and make it Double, Puclonians! Singularly double, (or doubly singular?) you might say, as this week’s topic is about one of the biggest environmental differences between the VGC and singles.
What would indubitably be considered one of, if not the most, influential facets of competitive Pokémon in Singles is effectively completely absent in the VGC, and not because of a ban or a rule or a clause or some such thing: hazards. Stealth Rock, Spikes, Toxic Spikes, and even the highly exclusive Sticky Web. The enduring consequences these moves bring to a battle in singles have, generation after generation, had enormous impact on six-versus-six formats and their metagames.
There are Pokémon whose usage is directly correlated to their effectiveness at getting these hazards out effectively, as well as those used for their capacity at removing them. The only reason something like Rapid Spin is ever seen is because of the ubiquitous nature of hazards in the singles format. Even on a team that chooses to forgo utilizing hazards, it is essentially a requirement to factor in vulernability and resilience against hazards when teambuilding, influencing the popularity and even viability of various Pokémon types and a wide swathe of specific Pokémon based on how they are effected by hazards. And of course, innumerable damage calculations hinge on whether or not specific hazards are in play or not.
For anyone whose experience with playing Pokémon competitively has been primarily focused on singles formats, the power and prominence of hazards is almost assuredly ingrained. But for anyone with an interest in trying out the VGC format, especially if coming from a a singles-oriented background, throw everything you know about hazards out the window.
For as common and potent and hazards are in singles formats, they may as well not even exist as learnable moves in Pokémon for the VGC format where they are essentially never seen and need not be considered . One new to the VGC might ask themselves why this is the case. The nature of the VGC format and the nature of Doubles both make hazards so much less effective that they are in most instances not worth the effort and at worst can be considered a wasted turn.
Consider the fact that in the VGC although you have a team of six Pokémon, you only bring four of them to a battle so there are fewer Pokémon any hazards will have a chance to effect in the first place. Also, consider that both players have two Pokémon out at once, and as soon as one side is just two Pokémon down, switching is no longer possible, making hazards completely useless at that point. And besides that, while switching definitely does happen, it happens far less frequently than in singles. Between all of these factors, hazards are not nearly as powerful or effective in the VGC format, not unlike how Stall is completely ineffective in the VGC as well.
For anyone jumping from one format to the other, the difference is Reshiram and Zekrom (that is to say, Black and White). With that in mind, as influential as hazards are in singles, their absence in the VGC necessarily has equally substantive impact on the usage of various Types and specific Pokémon, and this is especially worthwhile knowledge for anyone interested in the VGC coming from singles.
The biggest losers are, obviously, Pokémon who are most frequently used JUST for their prowess in the hazards war, such Skarmory and Forretress. This also applies to Rapid Spinners brought just for Rapid Spin unless they have some other doubles-oriented set. Forretress falls under this as well, as does something like Starmie (just because anything it does outside of the unneeded Rapid Spin is done better by something else), but Cloyster and Excadrill have both carved out niches for themselves in the VGC format and see use. They just never run Spikes or Raid Spin or the like.
Types resistant to Stealth Rock all happen to have other things justifying their presence in the VGC format, with STAB Earthquakes being a frequently considered spread attack, and Steel being one of the best types in the game whether it is resisting Stealth Rock and being immune to Toxic Spikes or not. The new offensive prowess against Fairy makes them even more common in the format than ever before.
The biggest winners of the absence of hazards are definitely the types weak to Stealth Rock, with Flying and Fire both being extremely solid and common and there being not just one but TWO Fire/Flying Type Pokémon in the top six most frequently used Pokémon on the Doubles Battle Spot and there being four Flying Types and three Fire Types amongst the Top 12 most used Pokémon.
The prominence of Flying Types is probably unsurprising in a format that more heavily rewards immunity to Earthquake, but Fire sometimes surprises people. Conversely, many people consider Fire to be a “bad” defensive typing, and the weakness to Stealth Rock is almost always cited in arguments for why this is the case. But Fire has the second most resistances of all the Types in the game, second only to Steel, and possesses only three weaknesses – one of which can be turned into an immunity with the right ability or secondary typing, and one neutralized by a weather condition. That leaves JUST Fire’s weakness to Rock which is much less of an issue when Stealth Rock is not even a consideration, transforming Fire into one of the best types of the format, both offensively and defensively. Anyone that tells you otherwise is probably stuck in Singles.
Ice and Bug Types become much more viable as well with something like Stealth Rock gone, but neither have the same level of prominence as Fire and Flying, and Bug is considered to be one of the worst Types in the VGC overall, even though there are a good number of very viable Bug Types. And while Ice is not an especially common type, Hail becomes a lot more usable because of the absence of hazards, and Abomasnow is truly grateful to not have to deal with hazards in this format as a Focus Sash is one of its more common item choices. Which also brings up the point that the absence of hazards make Focus Sashes all the more easily usable.
Switching between singles and the VGC format can be vexing between all their major differences. But knowledge is power, and knowing how the absence of hazards impacts what becomes more and less viable makes one all the better prepared for the VGC. Until next week, it looks like I’m blasting off again.