When you first set your eyes upon NU's most popular cactus, you will likely wonder why anyone would use it. It has mediocre defenses and abysmal Speed—great offenses are not making up for that. If Cacturne's stats did not impress you, no one can place much of any blame on you, but you would be terribly mislead. Cacturne is one of the few Pokemon in NU that has been granted access to the coveted Spikes. This alone would skyrocket its usefulness tenfold, but just wait, there is still more to come. Cacturne also has STAB priority in Sucker Punch, which makes its Speed stat a second-rate concern. Armed with Swords Dance to boost its attack and Drain Punch to heal itself, Cacturne has the power of an armada in its arsenal. Cacturne even has a decent ability in Water Absorb, which makes it so Cacturne does not have to worry about being burned by Scald and can function as a pivot to absorb Water-type attacks. Water Absorb also helps against Aqua Jets from the likes of Samurott, Floatzel, and Basculin and wastes a turn of rain against rain teams, which can make all the difference in the world. Beware the cactus—otherwise it will coerce you into its dastardly ways and surprise you like the sucker you are.
The focal point of Cacturne's niche is its ability to set up Spikes and hit hard while doing so, and this set is designed to take advantage of these traits. Therein lies its main advantage over Garbodor. At first, you might be confused as to the reason why one would even consider using both Spikes and Swords Dance on the same set. The answer to this is simply that there are some teams that setting up Spikes is not the correct course of action against. The time to analyze this is with Team Preview—utilize your capability to view the entirety of your opponent's team and look to see how many Pokemon Spikes are actually affecting. For example, if your opponent has a bunch of Pokemon that have the ability Levitate or a Flying typing, Spikes would not be the best course of action. Rather, setting up Swords Dance and punching some holes early in the match would be best. Against some teams, it might be wise to do both, such as against stall teams if you have a spinblocker waiting in the wings. This reward-reward dynamic removes any need to choose which types of teams Cacturne will do well against.
Before moving onto the meat of the moveset, it must be explained just how useful Spikes are for a plethora of teams. Stall teams, offensive Pokemon, and Cacturne alike can take advantage of Spikes in numerous different ways. The residual damage that they provide is simply invaluable. Swords Dance is an excellent move as well, allowing Cacturne to hit quite hard, break stall teams, and obtain some key KOs with Sucker Punch by virtue of its high base 115 Attack stat. Seed Bomb is Cacturne's main STAB move of choice, hitting an object of hatred for many physical attackers—Alomomola—hard as well as most Pokemon that do not resist it. Seed Bomb has enough power to 2HKO offensive Armaldo after Stealth Rock damage without Life Orb and 2HKOes regardless of Stealth Rock with Life Orb, which means that not even NU's best Rapid Spin user can switch into Cacturne freely. Sucker Punch occupies the final moveslot as a way to hit faster Pokemon. It can be unreliable, but being a STAB priority 80 Base Power move makes up for it. Sucker Punch allows Cacturne to perform intrinsically better against the majority of Pokemon that are commonly found leading and also to act as a revenge killer if it survives the early-game. Alternatively, Substitute can be used over Swords Dance—Cacturne loses the ability to sweep but gains protection from faster Pokemon, revenge killers, and burn status as well as an easier time predicting.Team Options & Additional Comments >>>
While Cacturne is usually seen setting up Spikes, it is not a one-trick pony—quite the opposite actually. This is the side of Cacturne that is lesser seen by the public but for that reason is all the more terrifying. Instead of being relegated to a supporting role with a slight offensive punch, this set allows Cacturne to unleash the untold force that is stockpiled inside of it. Cacturne's high base 115 Attack stat, especially with STAB Sucker Punch to utilize, is envied among NU sweepers. Since setting up Spikes need not be even a small thought, more time can be dedicated toward setting up Swords Dance and sweeping.
Cacturne's claim to fame as a sweeper is STAB Sucker Punch, and rightfully so. When boosted by Swords Dance, it is powerful enough to KO most Pokemon that do not invest much in Defense or resist it. However, its unreliability means that it is not an attack to carelessly throw around. This is where Seed Bomb comes in—it has a solid Base Power and is backed by STAB. Additionally, Seed Bomb gives Cacturne the ability to KO Alomomola easily, a feat many physical attackers only wish they could accomplish. This is furthered by Water Absorb, which makes Cacturne immune to Scald. Wrapping up the moveset is the reason that this Cacturne set performs so well—an extra move. With just one moveslot not taken up by Spikes, Cacturne becomes so much more of a threat offensively. Drain Punch does not hit very much coverage-wise, but it does hit Skuntank, has excellent neutral coverage, and provides a crucial source of recovery. Substitute is a great alternative, allowing Cacturne to avoid the perils of revenge killers that can tank a boosted Sucker Punch and have a safeguard against priority and status all in one fell swoop. Substitute also eases prediction significantly and thus makes it easier for Cacturne to set up.Team Options & Additional Comments >>>
Something that might be on your mind right now is why there is no special or even mixed Cacturne with its base 115 Special Attack. The reason behind this is very simple—special sets do not have priority on their side, which makes physical sets better essentially by default. However, this is not to say that special sets cannot do well; quite the opposite. If running a specially-orientated set, Cacturne has the option of running Giga Drain, which provides the coveted combination of power and recovery all in one move. This alone makes special sets viable, and access to Dark Pulse and Focus Blast for coverage further bolsters their effectiveness. Perhaps the best of Cacturne's special offerings is a Nasty Plot setup sweeper, which would function in a similar fashion to the Swords Dance set sans priority. Its spamming STAB move of choice having recovery gives it more opportunities to set up. A Choice Specs set is also viable, and access to Switcheroo gives it a decent niche. However, it should be emphasized that the lack of recovery is heavily debilitating. Other Choice sets are also viable, including a Choice Band one that utilizes a powerful Sucker Punch and a Choice Scarf set that cripples walls with Switcheroo and does not have to worry about an abysmal Speed stat.
Yache Berry is a solid choice for an item on either listed set, as it allows Cacturne to tank an Ice Beam from Samurott or Ludicolo and set up Swords Dance or Spikes. This is especially relevant because neither can hit Cacturne for much damage outside of Megahorn for the former. It is little help when Cacturne is low on health, but at least Drain Punch can somewhat make up for that issue. Another scenario in which it would be useful is—bear in mind that this is very specific but can be applied to many other scenarios—not being KOed by a Sucker Punch from Skuntank after surviving an Ice Beam from Ludicolo. A Substitute + Focus Punch set can work decently, but Drain Punch is superior in every essential way and does not take up two moveslots. However, it does ease prediction significantly, so bear that in mind. Cacturne has two other moves that it can potentially use. Destiny Bond might seem a great option, but Cacturne is just too slow to utilize it properly without Focus Sash. Synthesis is the other option for some always useful recovery, but it is generally a wasted moveslot that could be better spent on a setup move, coverage move, or Substitute. Finally, before you jump for joy and rejoice that Cacturne has access to the excellent moves Encore and Bullet Seed, realize that they are banned due to Sand Veil being banned from all tiers OU and below, thus rendering them unavailable for Cacturne's use.
Checks and Counters
Despite its many positives, the fact of the matter is that Cacturne is quite easy to defeat, much to the dismay of its users but to the great joy of its opponents. The best way to conquer it is Vileplume, who walls it to death even without investment in bulk—which it usually has—and can OHKO with STAB Sludge Bomb. Weezing is another solid answer to Cacturne, walling it to the ends of the earth and easily KOing with STAB Sludge Bomb or a simple Fire Blast or Flamethrower. Armaldo can Rapid Spin Cacturne's Spikes away and OHKO with X-Scissor, though it must watch out for switching into Seed Bomb if it is an offensive variant, as they are 2HKOed by it after Stealth Rock damage without a Life Orb backing it and 2HKOes regardless of Stealth Rock with a Life Orb backing it. Shell Smash Torkoal, NU's other resident Rapid Spin users, can easily KO Cacturne and ruin all of its hard work with Rapid Spin. Of course, neither Rapid Spin user is much of an annoyance when Cacturne lacks Spikes. Taunt users are an annoyance to any variant of Cacturne, as the move prevents the use of both Spikes and Swords Dance.
There are many other ways of penetrating Cacturne's thorny yet thin hide. Braviary comes on the forefront, being one of the best Pokemon in NU, resisting Seed Bomb, and having the ability to set up all over Cacturne's shadowy face with Substitute and Bulk Up. Other offensive answers include Fighting-types, which resist Sucker Punch. These include Combusken, who has two STABs that obliterate Cacturne, and Sawk. Bug-types, such as Pinsir with STAB X-Scissor, can do the job as well. Rotom-S, especially bulky variants, are a pain for Cacturne to deal with. Samurott outspeeds Cacturne and is not OHKOed by +2 Sucker Punch without a boost from Life Orb and entry hazard support. Samurott can KO in return with a 4x super effective Megahorn. Haunter can play tricks with Cacturne with a Substitute and Sucker Punch and KO in retaliation with a powerful STAB Sludge Bomb. Skuntank actually walls Cacturne completely if it doesn't have Drain Punch on its moveset and can easily OHKO with STAB Poison Jab. Lastly, there are two Pokemon—Altaria and Gurdurr—that can set up all day in front of Cacturne and KO with boosted attacks. Overall, beating Cacturne is pretty easy, but be sure to have an answer to it or be prepared to incur its mighty and thorny wrath.