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The Silph League Arena

Nifty or Thrifty

Apr 29, 2021: Nifty or Thrifty: Commander Cup

Author: JRE Seawolf

“Nifty or Thrifty” is a series which author JRE Seawolf started on the Arena subreddit to analyze the Cup meta – specifically through the lens of which Pokemon may be worth powering-up and purchasing 2nd charge moves for and which “budget picks” are available at less cost who can still perform well!

Been a spell since we had a regular old “Nifty Or Thrifty” for a Silph Cup, but we’re back!

As always, this series takes a comprehensive look at the meta for Silph Arena Cup formats: Commander Cup, in this case. As is typical for the NoT series, I’ll cover not only the top meta picks (and this time around, the “commanders” specifically), but also some mons where you can save some dust with cheaper second move unlock costs or less powering up. Because for those on a stardust budget–and/or folks trying to save up some dust for the future–it can be daunting trying to figure out where to spend or not spend it. We all want to field competitive teams of six, but where can we get the best bang for our buck and where should we perhaps channel our inner scrooge?

As I try to usually do, I will start with those with the cheapest second move unlock cost and steam ahead until we arrive at the 75,000 dust Pokémon (no Legendaries or Mythicals this time around), but before we get into even THAT, let’s look at the Commanders!

Commanders

ᴸ – Legacy/Exclusive Move

Each team of six MUST include one–and only one–of these ten Pokémon. I’ll go through in order of overall least to most expensive:

EMPOLEON

Waterfall | Hydro Cannon | Drill Peck

You’ve had a couple chances now to build an Empoleon with Hydro Cannon, so hopefully you took advantage, because this is a great spot for it. Not only does it clock in with a whopping eleven resistances (left with single weaknesses to only Electric, Fighting, and Ground)–the most of any of the Commanders–and not only is it tied for the highest win rate against the core meta, and not only does it beat more than half of the remaining Commanders, but just look at it… it clearly has that command look down more than any of the other pretenders in the Commander slot. Empie means BUSINESS. In all seriousness now, it does look to project as one of the more powerful choices in the Command slot overall, having very solid answers to many of the best of the best meta picks with a unique effectiveness against Psychics, Rocks, Ices, Poisons (in other words, four of the five typings specifically allowed in the format) and opposing Steel Commanders, and even enough potency to overcome things like Gengar/Haunter, Gallade, Alolan Muk and others in drop down slugfests. Empoleon is going to command a lot of attention in May. Oh, and it’s super thrifty to build, too!

NOCTOWL

Wing Attack | Sky Attack & Psychic

Also very inexpensive to build from scratch and without needing any Legacy moves, Noctowl has been knocked down a bit of a late with the rise of Pidgeot and its ever-improved moveset options. Meanwhile Mr. Owl has been sitting without any move shakeups at all since it arrived in the game… well, except that Psychic finally became a bona fide move along the way. (Night Shade buff when?) Anyway, Noct isn’t the single best at much of anything, but what it IS is a solid and safe performer that, even in a meta filled with Ice and Electric types, is not often a dead draw. It’s a Flyer in a Cup that has hardly any, and that means it’s a handy counter to Grasses, Bugs, Grounds, and what Fighters exist here, and its Normal typing (also a rarity in this format… there are only three total!) means it is great against the potent Ghosts too. It is perhaps not as much of a build-around piece as other Commanders, but make no mistake: people will find a way to make Noctowl shred opponents in this meta.

MUNCHLAX

Lick | Body Slam & Bulldoze/Gunk Shot

Cheap second move but needing to be built up to around Level 30, Munchie also seems a tad disappointing on the surface, but there is more here than meets the eye. (No, I didn’t grow up on Transformers… why do you ask?) Even moreso than Noctowl, Munchie is a terror against opposing Ghosts, as well as Psychics, Licking a lot of stuff to death, and Bulldoze, while normally a bit of an afterthought, is legit good with a slew of Poison, Rock, and Electric types around to bury with it, as well as the potent Steel Commanders. And its crazy high bulk means it can outslug stuff like PowderTales and the Alolan Rocks too, plus its singular Normal typing (the ONLY mono Normal around) leaves it with but a single weakness to relatively rare Fighting damage, making it by far the best of the Commanders in terms of inherent weaknesses. And while I won’t go TOO far down the rabbit hole, really good PvP IVs can add on Crustle and Roserade and potentially even Toxicroak (depending on its IVs and how the opponent plays it). Munchie can feast in this format with the right team around it, make no mistake!

ESCAVALIER

Counter | Drill Run & Megahorn/Aerial Ace

One of those rare Fighters I mentioned, but with a lot more than just that going for it, Escavalier looks very mighty in this format. Steels and Psychics cower in fear at the sight of it, Ices and Rocks wail helplessly against its steely shell, and Grasses just go into the fetal position and cry for their mamas. Escav is rather helpless against the Ghosts and wants nothing to do with Fire or Flyers, but there is very little of that around to worry about. I’m actually having some trouble coming up with flaws to pick apart with Escavalier. It’s not perfect, but man, it does look VERY scary. I expect this to easily be one of the more popular Commander picks, leading many headlong charges into battle. Oh, one last thing: while Drill Run is basically a must (Ground moves are excellent coverage in this meta), you can certainly run Aerial Ace if you wish, as it’s slightly better against Grasses and cheaper than Megahorn, but the latter provides better coverage against Psychics (and some others like Dewgong), and in particular, brings in a critical win over Hypno, which is the tipping point for me personally. But your call!

POLIWRATH

Mud Shot | Ice Punch & Dynamic Punch

An ACTUAL Fighter this time, though ironically, Escavalier is arguably better in that particular role thanks to Counter, while Poliwrath is more of a generalist that happens to carry a big Fighting stick with Dynamic Punch. Unfortunately, its typing is far less desirable than Escav too: seven resistances compared to Escav’s nine isn’t bad, but Poliwrath is weak to Psychics and Electrics that will be all over in this format, as well as Fairy, Grass, and Flying, while Escavalier has but one weakness–albeit a double weakness–to Fire. This means that Poliwrath cannot consistently handle some things you would kind of expect a Fighter to, like Cradily and Escavalier itself, and unlike Escav it loses badly to Psychics and most Grasses. What Poli DOES have going for it is being especially rough against the Watery Ices (and Waters in general, like Empoleon, who it absolutely terrorizes) and the ability to outpunch some surprises like Haunter and Shiftry, but overall it seems one of the weaker Commanders. That still makes it very good–and with its unique combination of moves, I completely understand why it was included–and someone will still beat face with Poliwrath. But it requires perhaps a little more finesse to build around than others. If that sounds like you, go get ’em!

SHIFTRY

Snarl/Bullet Seedᴸ | Leaf Blade & Foul Play/Hurricane

Weirdness of following this berserker into battle aside, while the charge moves are pretty much locked in here (though I’ll briefly revisit even that), there is a case for both Snarl and exclusive move Bullet Seed here, the former obviously outperforming versus Ghosts and Psychics (and bringing in a more reliable racing win against Alolan Marowak) and the latter being better versus Waters and Rocks and Grounds (beating Poliwrath in particular). They perform basically the same otherwise, wrecking most Psychics and Ghosts and Waters and Rocks and even stuff like Munchlax either way. There IS even a case for a different charge move, as Snarl plus the mandatory Leaf Blade can combine with Hurricane* to win the mirror match, though as the cost of losing to Poli AND A-Wak… but hey, that may be the smart play anyway depending on Shiftry’s popularity as May drags on.

BRONZONG

Confusion | Psyshock & Payback

I already wrote up a whole article about how Bronzong is the biggest winner of the Payback shakeup recently, and here we have another example, with Sudowoodo being the only thing in the core meta that one of the other moves (Flash Cannon in this case) beats that Payback cannot; Bulldoze* beats Crustle, but so does Payback, and Flash Cannon beats Dewgong and Lapras (Bulldoze does not) and so does Payback, and ONLY Payback can reliably take out Hypno and is obviously the best move to be packing for Psychics (and Ghosts) in general. Zong is the Steel that beats Fighters, the Psychic that beats other Psychics, and a classic version of both with wins over Poisons, Fires, Rocks, Ices, and most Grasses too. It may not have the most impressive numbers at a glance, but it is very much a build around piece in this meta.

JELLICENT

Hex | Shadow Ball & Bubble Beam/Ice Beam

Bubble really isn’t bad, but generally you’re going to want Hex. As for the charge moves… that’s kind of a matter of preference. If you like bait games, Bubble Beam works out with either of the big closing moves, either Ice Beam to beat things inherently weak to Ice like Venusaur, Shiftry, and Noctowl, or Shadow Ball, my personal recommendation for its ability to take out Psychics (Hypno, Bronzong, etc), Ghosts (A-Wak and Froslass in particular), and opposing Ices and Waters (like Lapras, Dewgong, Alolan Ninetales, etc), and just offering JelliBelli’s highest overall ceiling. If you don’t want to mess with baits, you can kind of get the best of both worlds with Ice Beam AND Shadow Ball, though without Bubble Beam baits and/or debuffing, some of those more interesting wins (to include Venu, Shiftry, Noct, Froslass, and others like Sudowoodo and Gallade) fade away. But however you sort out the finer details of which moves you prefer, Jelli generally does a fine job of handling Fighters and Psychics and a bevy of others, and there are very few things here that resist its Ghost moves. Jellicent is another nice, safe Command option.

ALOLAN MAROWAK

Hex/Fire Spin | Bone Club & Shadow Ball/Shadow Boneᴸ/Flame Wheel

It’s probably no surprise that A-Wak is good here, but what likely IS surprising is that I don’t recommend that standard Fire Spin/Bone Club/Shadow Bone moveset. Instead I recommend Hex, which drops Crustle and Dewgong but gains the mirror match, and then swapping out Shadow Bone for original deadly Shadow Ball. Hex generates energy for Shadow Ball pretty quickly now (just ask those running Jellicent!), and while that win over Lapras goes away, Hex/Club/Ball A-Wak picks Crustle and Dewgong back up, still wins the mirror, and finally has the advantage over Hypno (able to even win with JUST Shadow Ball if so desired, whereas Shadow Bone falls just short in damage). Also keep in mind that Hex + Bone Club is actually enough to outrace both Haunter and Gengar too, the second Club coming JUST before the Poisonous Ghost duo can reach their own second move. Oh, there’s even one more funky variant: Hex/Shadow Bone/Fire Blast actually does decent work too. Though it struggles versus Haunter/Gengar and Hypno, it keeps the other wins discussed above and is able to overcome Steelix, which is nifty. Might be a little TOO gimmicky, but I’ve seen that set run in GBL and such before, and even catching the opponent by surprise just once can be HUGE. It’s an option. This is not all to say that Fire Spin variants are bad, because they decidedly are not, but with that being the default and people having more of a feel for the timing of how to handle that type of A-Wak, throwing a curve with Hex seems especially good in this particular format where Ghost damage (and speed) are both very good things to have.

STEELIX

Dragon Tail | Crunch & Earthquake

It’s been a long time since Steelix was really in the spotlight, hasn’t it? The last time I can recall it rising up and being a major part of the meta was Sinister Cup… at the very beginning of Season 2 of The Silph Arena. For the record that was a year and a half ago, in a time when the only Corona we knew of was a pale lager. But just this once, with many of the newer Steels that have left it in the dust are out of this meta, Steelix is back, baby! Its record against the core meta is a little less exciting on the surface, but especially if you happen to have one with some good IVs (which adds on wins versus Cradily and Gengar), it is still clearly a solid option. That Gengar win highlights one of Steelix’s forgotten advantages: having Crunch makes it a handy Ghost slayer and especially effective Psychic slayer. (Remember, even A-Wak cannot beat it without running a very odd moveset.) Steelix handles a wide range of things well, from most Grasses to Bugs to Poisons to Psychics and Ghosts (as mentioned) to Rocks to Noctowl and Bronzong. And yes, for those wondering, Thunder Fang Steelix has some good things going for it too, basically giving up the Grasses (Shiftry, Venusaur, Roserade, Cradily) and Alolan Marowak and Froslass to instead beat Waters (Jellicent, Lapras, Dewgong) and usually win the mirror match. (Thunder Fang and Dragon Tail are both resisted, but Thunder Fang still deals more damage over time.) Just the fact that we can talk about Steelix like this again makes me excited, gotta admit.

So there we have it… our Commanders. Pick your pleasure, and then build around its weaknesses with the rest of the meta. As a reminder, that means Rock, Ice, Electric, Poison, and Psychic types, with Steels, Legendaries/Mythicals, and Shadows being banned, as well as the following specific species bans:

    • Abomasnow
    • Galvantula
    • Stunfisk
    • Medicham
    • Wobbuffet
    • Pachirisu
    • Pachirisu

So let’s take a look at what that leaves us, in typical thrifty order!

10,000 Dust/25 Candy

ᴸ – Legacy/Exclusive Move

The thriftiest of the thrifty are usually found among those Pokémon that require only 10,000 dust and 25 candy to unlock the second move, so I always scour extra hard through these candidates to look for what’s viable to try and save you some dust. There are fewer good options here than usual, but that doesn’t mean there are not some truly impactful ones… the majority of these are among the very top meta options in the Cup, with a little spice at the end. Read on for the deets!

VENUSAUR

Vine Whip | Frenzy Plantᴸ & Sludge Bomb

Well its anti-Fairy role is mostly meaningless, but Sludge Bomb still gives it a leg up on other Grasses, and its solid Grass damage output handles the various Waters and Rocks and Grounds that populate the meta, as well as bonuses like Munchlax. Venusaur is the best (and probably most consistent) and thriftiest true Grass type in this Cup, and that absolutely still counts for something.

RAICHU

Volt Switch | Brick Break & Wild Charge

The most surprising ban in GBL’s recent Great League Remix, perhaps more people ARE using the Raichus than I thought. Regardless, they usually seem a bit underrated, and that includes in this meta. Not too badly this time, though… Original Recipe Raichu is currently rated #30 in Commander Cup, and that’s not bad at all! However, as per usual, the current recommendation is Thunder Punch, and I am once again recommending that you instead run Brick Break, which is a better bait and coverage move, allowing Chu a shot at Crustle and Alolan Muk that Thunder Punch just can’t do. This is shown even more with a good stat product IV Chu, now with truly eye popping potential and new wins over Hypno, Alolan Marowak, Shiftry, and thanks to Brick Break damage, potentially Alolan Golem too. 👀 I know, some of that is indeed baits… I won’t even pretend otherwise. But the potential is massive, and the cost is cheap. Give it a whirl!

ALOLAN RAICHU

Volt Switch | Wild Charge & Grass Knot/Thunder Punch

Not as baity as its Kanto cousin, which makes AhChu a little more consistent, perhaps, but with a slightly lower ceiling. The good: Grass Knot is a nice weapon against Rock types and tends to give AhChu wins against the Alolan Rocks, for example, as well as being very handy versus stuff like Sudowoodo and Lanturn that take only neutral from Electric damage but super effective from Grass. And while that is generally my recommendation to run alongside Wild Charge, Thunder Punch is the closest thing to baiting that AhChu has got, and some may prefer that style (and it allows AhChu to beat Alolan Ninetales, as one example). Either way you go, Alolan Raichu’s other notable difference is that Psychic subtyping, allowing it to be much better than KayChu against Fighters (see: Toxicroak and Gallade, the latter of which AhChu beats and KayChu cannot) and other Psychic types (beating Hypno rather easily without needing fancy IVs, for example), but with the downside of being critically weak to Ghost, Dark, and Bug damage (so no real shot at stuff like A-Wak or Shiftry or Crustle like Kanto Chu can at least sometimes overcome). Chances are ONE of them fits your team, but which one? Think long and hard about the differences, as they can MAKE all the difference!

ALOLAN ROCKS

Volt Switch | Rock Blast & Stone Edge/Wild Charge

Once again, this comes down to some subtle but key differences. First let’s look at ALOLAN GRAVELER, who always wants to run with double Rock charge moves (because Stone Edge is a notably better move than Thunderbolt), and has the bulk to outlast Escavalier, Jellicent, and Haunter and Gengar, things that ALOLAN GOLEM (usually) cannot do. On the flipside, A-Golem can usually pummel Hypno and Lanturn into the ground thanks to its higher Attack, and also Venusaur (with Stone Edge) or Bronzong (and sometimes sneaky wins over Gallade and Jellicent as well) with Wild Charge, which is an entirely different move than A-Grav’s Thunderbolt. A-Golem can even run both closing moves and forgo Rock Blast entirely if it’s feeling frisky, which leaves it unable to beat Venusaur or Alolan Marowak, but it does still get Bronzong and retains all the other same wins (and losses) as it does with Rock Blast in the mix. Sorry if this is muddying rather than clearing the waters, 😖 but I’m trying to ensure you’re able to make better informed decisions about what to run and why! Both of the Alolan Rocks are budget saviors in yet another meta, but they’re not just plug and play. Which suits YOUR team build better, dear reader?

CRUSTLE

Smack Down | X-Scissor & Rock Slide

Another Rock chucker, though Crustle is a bit more committed to that cause than the Alolan Rocks with their dabbling in voltage. With Smack Down it pounds Dewgong and Alolan pair Marowak and Ninetales, and can even best Jellicent (tanking a Shadow Ball along the way) (none of which Fury Cutter can typically do, hence my fast move recommendation). Meanwhile its Bug side comes out in X-Scissor and lets it beat things like Shiftry and Alolan Muk and apply nice pressure to anything Psychic or Grass, putting up a tough fight and taking a big chunk out of such opponents even when they escape with wins. Crustie isn’t necessarily a build-around piece in this meta, but it is a solid and unique contributor that will find a spot on teams for sure.

BEEDRILL

Poison Jab | Drill Runᴸ & Fell Stinger/X-Scissor

I think the proper bait move here may actually be Fell Stinger rather than usual recommendation X-Scissor, for the simple reason that the Attack boost that comes with Stinger makes Drill Run more deadly and specifically leads to possible wins over Alolan Marowak and Sudowoodo that Beedrill can’t really get otherwise. And it’s really only because of the effectiveness of Drill Run that the Bee has even a specialist role here. Yes, it can still handle Grasses and Counter users and all, but it’s the fact that it can drill things like Empoleon and Lanturn and such that puts it in the discussion at all.

I’ll give a shout out here to GOLBAT, which carries a similar role and is a bit more lethal to Bugs (including Beedrill), but in general it’s a slightly worse Bee.

MAGCARGO

Rock Throw/Ember | Stone Edge & Overheat

Two different roles my little snail boy can play here. With Ember it’s a decent anti-Grass that can also burn through Bronzong (though it needs good IVs to beat Venusaur). With Rock Throw it squashes Bugs and Ghosts (A-Wak, Haunter, and Gengar) instead. Either way it roasts Ice types Froslass and Alolan Ninetales and knocks Noctowl out of the sky. Definitely a specialist, but it has a couple nice roles to play that may earn it a spot on some players’ teams. Perhaps even yours!

DELPHOX

Fire Spin | Flame Charge & Psychic

I am not out here advocating you build one just for this meta, but I mean, as far as spice goes, Phoxy has a short but impactful resume. Taking out two of the likely most popular Commanders (and a third one in Poliwrath) and big support pieces like Hypno and Venusaur and A-Tails and Roserade isn’t a bad place to be. Somebody will be running it, so be prepared! It’s just a shame that pre-evolution Braxien isn’t part Psychic… it looks like it could be even more fun if it were eligible.

EMOLGA

Thunder Shock | Aerial Ace & Thunderbolt

Listed here at the end of this section because it has to nearly be maxed out, but a lot of people have asked about it, so yes, I’m here to tell you that the flying squirrel IS viable as an Electric type that can also handle some of the Grasses, Bugs, and Fighters thanks to being airborne and casting down Aerial Aces. It’s also nice that it can outrace Gengar and Haunter, though being unable to beat Dewgong, Lapras, Lanturn, and Jellicent is certainly a black mark. Run it if you like it, just don’t count on it to do everything that typical Electric types can do.


50,000 Dust/50 Candy

ᴸ – Legacy/Exclusive Move

As per usual, this is the largest category of Pokémon, including six of the ten Commanders (already covered) and at least an initial list of over 25 additional Pokémon I tabbed to analyze. (Don’t worry, they didn’t ALL make the final cut. 😜) There are some true bargain picks among the 10ks, but the 50ks are usually the meat of most metas, and that is even truer here than in most Cups.

ALOLAN NINETALES

Powder Snow/Charm | Weather Ball (Ice) & Dazzling Gleam/Psyshock

Once again, decisions decisions. Powder Snow Tales can run with spammier Psyshock to better outrace Fighters and Poisons (specifically by beating Toxicroak and Beedrill) or with the slower closeout power of Dazzling Gleam to instead knock out Dewgong and win the mirror match. Regardless of your choice, with just Weather Ball spam, PowderTales is a fantastic slayer of all things Grass and Flying that can also outrace Gengar and Haunter and cool off even Steelix… Psyshock OR Gleam give it bonuses like Froslass and Poliwrath that resist the Ice damage but not the other charge moves. The next alternative is CharmTales (this time wanting the low cost Psyshock for sure), which abandons Powder’s wins over Haunter/Gengar, Steelix, Beedrill and Roserade (all which resist Charm) to instead roll over Gallade, Lapras, Jellicent, and Munchlax and solidify wins versus Toxicroak, Dewgong, and usually PowderTales (though Dazzling Gleam can complicate matters… might be better to just stick with Charm alone for that last one, just to be sure). No matter how you play YOUR A-Tails, it seems destined to be a major part of this meta, and even the Silph Meta Team had a wary eye on it throughout their development process, as evidenced by it being mentioned more than any other non-Commander Pokémon in their own developer notes. There is nothing else like it, and that is especially true in this Cup where it’s the only actual Fairy type that PLAYS like… well, an actual Fairy type, all while also being a top notch Ice too. Expect to see a ton of the chilly version of Ninetales throughout May!

HYPNO

Confusion | Fill-In-The-Blank Punch & Shadow Ball/Focus Blast/Futuresight

Yes, I think you really do want Shadow Ball as your closer here over Focus Blast. Blast can beat Dewgong and Steelix, which are nice, but gives Hypno no shot against Crustle, Cradily, and most importantly, Alolan Marowak. With Shadow Ball and any elemental Punch, Hypno can beat those three plus its usual host of Fighters and Poisons and others like Lanturn that fall before its Confusion assault. You can customize your Hypno a bit depending on which Punch you go for, with Ice being superior versus Grounds, Thunder obviously best threatening Waters, Fire against Steels (uniquely beating Escavalier, for instance), and shared Thunder/Ice effectiveness against Flyers (both taking down Noctowl, for instance) and Ice/Fire against Grasses. I will mention that you CAN consider running Futuresight here in a meta where Psychic damage is especially potent, as it has the power to beat Noctowl (and paired with Fire Punch, that means it can best Escav too!) and Lapras, and can scrape by with wins over Munchlax and Alolan Marowak too, though Crustle is again in the loss column. It’s an option that leaves Hypno with far less coverage but you can’t argue with the STAB knockout power! And there are even more viable variants you may run across. Shielding decisions with Hypno are ALWAYS nerve wracking, and that looks very much like the case again in Commander Cup!

ALOLAN MUK

Snarl | Dark Pulse & Sludge Wave

Whew! After all that back and forth moveset discussion, it’s nice to settle in with a Pokémon that is rather predictable. But knowing what is coming doesn’t make A-Muk any less dangerous. It’s still one of the best anti-Psychics out there that still typically handles Grasses and Ghosts as well, and represents a typically tough to kill “safe swap”. And with most Charmers and Fighters and several of the more potent Grounds plucked out of this meta, A-Muk has even more room to spread out than normal. It should continue to a big presence in yet another meta.

TOXICROAK

Counter | Mud Bomb & Sludge Bomb

Not quite the best Counter user (that distinction actually belongs to Escavalier in this meta), and not the clear #1 best Fighting type (Gallade arguably takes that title), but there is no denying that Toxicroak is still awesome in Commander Cup. And it runs roughshod over (most of) the big name Ices, Rocks, and Normals (read as: Munchlax and even Noctowl) you’d expect it to, yes, as well as things like Alolan Muk, Venusaur, Poliwrath, Escavalier, and Lanturn. But there are some… well, not red flags, but perhaps more like yellow ones. As you would expect, it typically beats Steel Commander Empoleon and Steelix, but it HAS to save a shield for Steelix and even Empoleon makes it REALLY close. Even Escavalier can turn it right back around with just a tiny bit of energy lead. And with a single Lick’s worth of energy, even Munchlax can make things WAY too close for comfort. (Toxi is left one Lick from death!) I’m not saying not to use Toxicroak… quite the opposite. It can be an oppressive presence in environments far less friendly than this; Commander Cup seems an opportunity for it to shine even brighter than usual. But it is still critically weak to anything Psychic (quite a few sure-to-be-popular Confusion users here), Ghost, or Fairy, and takes damage at an alarming rate even in neutral matchups, hence why some of those should-be-surefire wins are really anything but surefire. Toxicroak can make you feel invincible sometimes, but don’t get overconfident. Disaster can be but a breath (or a lick!) away.

GENGAR/HAUNTER

Shadow Claw | Shadow Punchᴸ & Shadow Ball

The OG Ghost duo, dishing out big damage since the beginning of the game (and the franchise) to a wide range of targets… and more than usual with most Darks and nearly all Normals sitting this meta out. I do lean towards Gengar and its slightly higher bulk, granting it possible wins against Poliwrath and Haunter that the latter does not normally reproduce. But Gengar requires a Legacy move, Haunter does not, and beyond those two specific matchups, you’ll barely notice any difference between them in typical gameplay. Both are very potent and, as noted, there is precious little around that takes anything less than big unresisted damage from their assault. If you’re not sure how to fill out the back of your team’s bench, you’d be hard pressed to find better generalists. Do keep away from Confusion, though! It… it gets ugly. 😬

FROSLASS

Powder Snow | Avalanche & Shadow Ball

Honestly, not as scary as the Ghost pair above. It’s not that Lass is suddenly awful, it’s just a matter of this not being a fantastic meta for it. There are practically no Flyers or Dragons to freeze up, quite a few big time names that resist much of its damage and/or pummel it with their own super effective attacks. Not even Grasses are a sure thing, as two of the biggest Grass names–Shiftry and Roserade–dunk on Lass too. It has a role as a (usually safe) Psychic slayer, and usually handles what Fighting is around, but its wins beyond those roles are somewhat scattered against the true core of Pokémon that will populate most teams. “Specialist” sounds about right here.

DEWGONG

Ice Shardᴸ | Icy Windᴸ & Blizzard/Water Pulse

Not many surprises left with Dewgong at this point… are there? Well, in an odd meta like this, there are some wins you might not know about simply because you have likely never been in the middle of such matchups before, like Steelix, Gallade, Shiftry, Munchlax, Cradily, and PowderTales, as well as big names like Hypno, Alolan Muk, and Gengar and Haunter. Blizzard (in the sim above) is actually the way to overcome Froslass and the mirror match, NOT lousy coverage move Water Pulse, which does manage to overcome (Fury Cutter) Crustle almost despite itself, but nothing else of note. Fighters, Rocks, Electrics and most of the big name Grasses are trouble, but Dewgong always puts up a fight and leaves even things that beat it limping after an Icy Wind debuff or two (or more!).

SEALEO

Water Gun/Powder Snow | Body Slam & Returnᴸ/Water Pulse

Two different varieties you can run here. The first is a more classic Powder Snow build with the same lousy coverage move (Water Pulse… 60 energy for only 70 damage 🤢) as Dewgong… but at least it’s enough to beat Steelix, Crustle, Froslass, and Sudowoodo. Or you can run something truly unconventional: a purified Sealeo with Water Gun and Return, which matches those same four wins and can tack on three of the best Commanders (Alolan Marowak, Empoleon, and Escavalier) and sometimes Gallade (depending on move timing) as well. Especially considering how very close it gets to also beating Hypno and Bronzong in that weird WG/Return configuration (within the margin of error of IVs), and I think that hairbrained scheme is actually my recommendation!

OMASTAR

Mud Shot | Rock Slideᴸ & Hydro Pump

Lord Helix is miffed that it wasn’t considered a “commander” in this meta, and is taking it out on the actual Commanders. With the combination of fast energy generator Mud Shot, Legacy Rock Slide, and the KO power of Hydro Pump, Omastar is capable of knocking out many of the most potent Commanders: Alolan Marowak is rather obvious, and perhaps Steelix as well, but also Noctowl, Bronzong, and Empoleon. And there is much more, with Lord Helix being a fantastic Ice smasher and pretty reliable Bug squasher too, plus bonuses like Alolan Muk and Gengar (and Haunter too depending on IVs). Perhaps it’s best to call it more of a specialist than a generalist, but you gotta like the high quality of that win list. Omastar may not be core meta, but it is also clearly more than mere spice.

BARBARACLE

Fury Cutter | Cross Chop & Stone Edge

While we’re on the topic of funky Rock/Water types, brand new Barbaracle is an intriguing option as well. As I wrote about during its release into the world of Pokémon GO, it has a seemingly random cluster of moves that somehow just works out, with a little Fighting damage spam mixed with big STAB Stone Edge, all powered up by decently good charging fast move Fury Cutter. In the end, its wins seem almost as scattered as its moves, with names like Alolan Muk, Noctowl, Lapras and Dewgong, Crustle and Beedrill, Gengar and Haunter, Sudowoodo, Alolan Ninetales, Froslass, Alolan Marowak, and even typical Rock slayer Escavalier all falling before Barbar. As with Omastar, it’s a win list with enough big names to make you sit up and take notice. And unlike Omastar, Barbaracle is still brand new enough that your opponent may have no clue what’s coming. Strike while the iron is hot!

DRAGALGE

Dragon Tail | Aqua Tail & Outrage

May as well talk about the other new kid on the block while we’re at it! Barbaracle gets in for being part Rock, and Dragalge sneaks in thanks to its Poison side… but ironically seems best not running any Poison moves at all, instead relying on its Dragon side (fun fact: it’s the ONLY Dragon in the entire meta) and non-STAB Aqua Tail spam to carve out a slice of the Commander Cup meta. Yes, the Steels and Fairies in the format resist its Dragon moves, but there are hardly any of those around (some teams may have none!) and thus Dragalge is able to roll over Grasses, Rocks, Ghosts, and many other things without a clear typing advantage (to include A-Muk, Crustle, Lanturn, Toxicroak, and even a tie with Empoleon!) with big, generally neutral damage (though the Rocks and things like A-Wak really don’t appreciate Aqua Tail, STAB be darned!). Fresh out of the gate, Dragalge and fellow new arrival Barbaracle both seem poised to make a splash already!

LANTURN

Spark | Thunderbolt & Thunderbolt/Thunder

Surprising even myself by recommending you at least consider running both closing moves, Hydro Pump AND Thunder. Reason being that the only thing Thunderbolt beats that Thunder does not is Munchlax, and Thunder uniquely brings in wins over Crustle and Beedrill. A couple caveats, though: Thunderbolt is better with #1 IV Lanturn, adding on Beedrill and potentially Gallade, whereas #1 IVs don’t really help Thunder… in fact, it’s a slight downgrade, with Crustle able to slip away. Thunderbolt is also slightly better than Thunder with shields down, as it comes fast enough to use twice against Hypno and win, whereas Thunder does not KO Hypno and Lanturn loses. But nuances aside, Lanturn is of course fantastic at cutting through anything Water or Flying, with the bonuses of outslugging A-Wak and A-Muk and A-Tails and other things that are NOT Alolans, like Bronzong and Froslass too. I expect it will be an important role player and very popular pick in this meta.

ZEBSTRIKA

Spark | Flame Charge & Wild Charge

Far less heralded than Lanturn is fellow Spark user Zebstrika, which puts up similar overall numbers, though it goes about getting those wins in different ways than Lanturn. Both obviously brutalize Waters and Noctowl, but while Lanturn blows things up with STAB Water damage from Hydro Pump, Zeb instead roasts things with Flame Charge, including Ices of course, but more importantly things like Bronzong and Escavalier. And the sheer power and speed of its moves overwhelms things that Lanturn normally cannot, like Sudowoodo, Gallade, Toxicroak, and Hypno. Yeah, those are names that kiiiiiiiiiiinda matter in this meta. I truly believe that Zeb is legit here.

SUDOWOODO

Counter | Rock Slide & Earthquake

Another case of quality over mere quantity. The overall win percentage may not jump off the page, but the names on it should: names like Alolan Marowak and Bronzong and Munchlax and Steelix and Noctowl, Lapras and Dewgong, Crustle and Beedrill, Lanturn and Alolan Muk and Alolan Ninetales. Yes, it’s not perfect… you would hope for a Rock type like this to beat Froslass and perhaps the Haunter/Gengar duo, for instance, but relying on Counter means that is not the case. (And no, going with Rock Throw doesn’t seem to be the answer… it beats those Ghosts but loses several other things and is worse overall.) But Sudo certainly has a part to play in this meta and will be finding a spot on several teams… despite its shortcomings, it still does a lot of good.

RHYPERIOR

Mud Slap | Surf & Superpower/Rock Wreckerᴸ

First off, if you’re going to use one of the Rhynos, it’s because of Mud Slap and how it buries Steels and Poisons (like Toxicroak and A-Muk and Gengar/Haunter). Yes, Smack Down has a place, but Mud Slap seems to have more impactful wins. After that it’s just a matter of deciding if you want to pair Surf with Superpower to beat Munchlax and put even more pressure on other Rocks and Steels, or exclusive move Rock Wrecker to instead knock out Noctowl and put more pressure on Bugs. In either configuration, Rhyperior is probably no higher than “spice” category, but this is one of the better metas for it to show off what it’s capable of.

RHYDON, by the way, is very, VERY similar in performance and role if you like it better and/or have a good one already built and ready to rock. One fun option could be running it with Legacy Megahorn. While it doesn’t look too special with shields up, it deals super effective damage to the many Psychics here, with the added benefit of giving Rhydon teeth versus Grasses that pick it apart with little fear otherwise, so getting one through unshielded against an overconfident or unaware opponent could be match-shattering.

CRADILY

Bullet Seed | Stone Edge & Grass Knot

A fan favorite (dilly dilly!) with its unique coverage, the problem is that there’s not as much to target down with Stone Edge as there is normally. Yes, there’s Noctowl, and Cradily manages to outslug Beedrill, Crustle, and Alolan Ninetales (with either fast move), and sometimes Gallade. Ironically, with high stat product IVs, Gallade can escape, but big names Steelix and Alolan Marowak now appear in the win column.

ROSERADE

Bullet Seedᴸ | Weather Ball (Fire)ᴸ & Leaf Storm

Yes, you really need both Legacy moves, so hopefully you already built one for Great League during its recent Community Day. After that, while Grass Knot is viable-ish, beating most of the major Waters and Rocks (and Froslass and Escavalier thanks to Fire Weather Ball), it is really only with Leaf Storm, with Rose now able to also beat Dewgong, Crustle, Shiftry, Cradily, Toxicroak, and Munchlax on top of what Grass Knot already did. Yes, Leaf Storm’s self-nerf is a big one, and Roserade won’t last long after firing one off, but she definitely goes down in quite the blaze of glory. Even if Rose is not your particular style, have a plan to beat her, because she WILL be the style of many players in May.

Just a brief mention of the “Grassholes” (Razor Leaf users) while we’re here discussing Grass types, but only to say that partly due to the meta around them and partly due to not being able to run their Shadowy emo versions, they’re not all that hot in Commander, and it gets worse the flimsier they are. Yes, they cut right through most Water and Rock types in the core meta, and sometimes even frail Froslass, but that’s about it. And there are more versatile Grasses that already do that and more (see above). I don’t really see a place for Razor Leafers here, but don’t be shocked if you face some down anyway. They’re always popular, and sometimes logic has little to do with it….

SKUNTANK

Poison Jab | Crunch & Returnᴸ/Sludge Bomb

With Drapion specifically banned, Skuntank and Alolan Muk stand alone as the only Dark/Poisons available. You know, the Poison types that are able to beat the big Psychics, and the Psychic types that can beat the big Ghosts. Thanks to running Poison Jab rather than the Snarl A-Muk relies on, Stank is also a top notch anti-Grass too. But it can be a bit more if you happen to have a purified one, because the best move these days to pair with Crunch seems to usually be Return. Skuntank loses the ability to beat Cradily and often Poliwrath, but it can pick up wins versus Alolan Muk, Noctowl, Lanturn, and Lapras thanks to Return’s knockout power, and with good IVs Stank can beat Haunter too (“default” IVs loses) with double Crunch. Yes, Alolan Muk is perhaps more consistent, but it’s also more predictable. Return Skuntank could really throw opponents for a loop and is right there just behind A-Muk.

GALARIAN RAPIDASH

Psycho Cut | Body Slam & Megahorn

Call it a specialist or spice or whatever you want, but G-Dash WILL be used during Commander Cup, especially since we’re getting Galarian Ponyta as research breakthrough rewards throughout May. With Megahorn, it cuts down fellow Psychics, along with Grasses, and handles Fighters and Sudowoodo too. That’s enough for it to show up here and there.

ALAKAZAM

Counterᴸ | Fire Punch & Shadow Ball/Psychicᴸ

And for our final 50k option, some nice spice! Thanks to exclusive Community Day move Counter, Zam is very unique as a Fightin’ Psychic (who needs Medicham anyway? 😏). Combined with Fire Punch, it’s actually a great Steel counter, beating Bronzong, Steelix, and Escavalier (though Empoleon’s Waterfalls overpower it), as well as big Rocks (Cradily, Sudowoodo), Darks (A-Muk, Shiftry), and Ices (Lapras, Froslass). Being a Psychic, it also beats things Psychics traditionally defeat, like Venusaur, Gallade, and Toxicroak. Technically, Legacy Psychic works just as well, but I like the coverage of Shadow Ball much more and Ball is my recommendation.


75,000 Dust/75 Candy

ᴸ – Legacy/Exclusive Move

With no Legendaries or Mythicals around in this meta, this category holds the most expensive Pokémon in the meta. Thankfully, aside from the already-covered Steelix, it is also a very small category with just a handful of likely breakout stars. Here we go… the final push!

GALLADE

Confusion | Leaf Blade & Close Combat

I know it’s tempting to go with Charm, but don’t do it. If you want a Charmer, run Alolan Ninetales as one and leave Gallade to do what it does best, running with Confusion. Behold how it slays Fighters and Poisons (including Grasses) with that big Confusion damage. Marvel at the way it slices and dices Lanturn and Sudowoodo and Alolan Rocks and even Crustle with Leaf Blade. Gape at the impressive win over even Steelix thanks to Mortal Close Combat. Gallade is very frail down here in Great League, to the point that in more open formats, it’s usually best reserved for Ultra League. But in Commander Cup, it has a chance to take a big chunk out of the meta.

LAPRAS

Ice Shardᴸ/Water Gun | Surf & Ice Beamᴸ/Skull Bash

This seems like a meta that favors Ice Beam more than Skull Bash, with Beam able to bring in wins versus Gallade and Lapras’ nemesis Venusaur. (It also shows a “new” win over Toxicroak, but that’s really just fancy maneuvering with Surf… but good to know!) At least, that’s all true with the standard Ice Shard version of Lapras. But there IS the option of running Skull Bash as part of a weird Water-centric Lapras with Water Gun, which seems rather gimmicky and abandons normal Lapras wins like Hypno and Shiftry (in addition to Venusaur, Gallade, and Toxicroak), but gains Alolan Marowak, Empoleon, and (at least with Bash in the mix) the mirror match over Ice Shard Lapras too. That version is probably more spice than anything, but it could be a very nasty surprise for an opponent expecting a heavy diet of Ice damage and not so much Water. Food for thought.

One more Ice worth mentioning in this category is SNOWY CASTFORM, though it’s really best to grind a little bit for an XL version, which is only around Level 41.5, so not TOO pricey, and the gains are more than worth it: Gallade, Alolan Ninetales, Crustle, Hypno, and even Alolan Golem. And all with NO coverage… just Ice damage all the way. That’ll do, Casty. That’ll do.

ELECTIVIRE

Thunder Shock | Ice Punch & Wild Charge

‘Vire is an Electric type that just runs over a lotta things. Yes, obviously Waters and what little Flying is in the meta, but also all the big Bugs (Escavalier and Beedrill barely have time to get one Drill Run out, much less two!), but it also outraces other spammy ‘mons like Gallade, Toxicroak, Froslass, Sudowoodo, and thanks to Ice Punch, even Roserade, and also overpowers tanks like Alolan Muk and Bronzong. Electivire is all about that relentless Attack, as partially evidenced by the fact that high IV/low Attack Vire actually stumbles a bit, while even a generally not preferred “hundo” IV version performs just fine.

AMPHAROS

Volt Switch | Thunder Punch & Focus Blast/Thunder

Ampharos lacks Electivire’s gaudy numbers, but makes up for it with high quality wins. Most of the Waters you’d expect in the win column are there (just Jellicent being able to sneak away), as well as Noctowl, of course. So too are Escavalier and Crustle, though Beedrill has time now to get in that critical Drill Run it couldn’t with Vire and turn the tables on Amphy. But I think Ampharos is still a better safe swap and probably more reliable Electric gamble than Electivire anyway, because of what it can do with Focus Blast: blow away Commanders Steelix and Munchlax (as well as Bronzong, the Alolan Rocks, and Cradily for good measure). It’s kind of like a souped up Kanto Raichu in that way. You also have the viable option of skipping out on coverage and just going all Electric with Thunder. Obviously you give up those big Rock wins (and Steelix and Munchlax), but you actually retain Bronzong and gain Toxicroak, Gallade, A-Tails, close wins over Hypno and Jellicent, and most amazingly of all, Shiftry, who falls to Thunder even though it’s resisted (and Focus Blast, while super effective, is usually just too slow to arrive). It’s nice having options like all those to work with, no? Ampharos is an intriguing option in this meta, to say the least.


And again, no 100k category to cover, and really not much in the way of maxed out Pokémon either, so we are actually DONE, my friends. Hopefully this helps you balance the cost of where to save yourself some hard-earned dust (and candy!) in May, and what to prep for (and against!) in the Commander Cup meta. Good luck!

Thank you for reading! I sincerely hope this helps you command this meta and crush thy enemies and see them scattered before you… well, maybe minus the crushing part. 😅 Best of luck, and stay safe out there, Pokéfriends!


JRE has been playing Pokémon GO since the beginning, but having not done anything Pokémon prior, never imagined he’d get so hooked and so into PvP. In starting his own research, deep into Silph Arena and now even GBL metas, he decided to share his findings so other players could benefit, which turned into full fledged articles that multiplied like Tribbles. He’s now been writing multiple regular article series since early in The Silph Arena Season 1, focused on advanced matchups and budget friendly but still viable alternatives for veteran and rookie players alike. A few of his favorite things include powering up oddball Pokémon, going on hikes, spending time with his kids, dad jokes, and raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.

You can follow him on Twitter: @JRESeawolf or reach out on Discord: JRESeawolf#8349


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