Salamence is one of the more intimidating dragons usable in VGC, and said intimidating quality is naturally one of the main reasons to use it. Great attacking stats and a wide movepool allow it to be very versatile, and its respectable 95 / 80 / 80 defenses give it decent bulk. While its defenses may be undermined by weaknesses to Rock- and Ice-type attacks, this is less of an issue thanks to Intimidate. Similarly, while its base 100 Speed leaves it outsped by Garchomp and Latios, Speed is not as important in VGC due to moves such as the ever-so-common Trick Room and Tailwind twisting turn order around. These are relatively trivial faults, and Intimidate as well as a strong, versatile Dragon STAB is reason enough to seriously consider Salamence on just about any team; just keep it away from Abomasnow and company.
A specially inclined Salamence may seem weaker than a physically attacking Salamence, but in practice, it can be deadlier than its physical counterpart, mainly due to the way Outrage randomly picks its targets. Other specially attacking Dragon-types, such as Latios and Hydreigon, seem to overshadow Salamence. But this isn't the case: Salamence can be a superior team player with Intimidate. Moreover, it makes an excellent Hitmontop check, since it resists Mach Punch and is neutral to Sucker Punch, and can KO it with Hidden Power Flying.
A Dragon Gem-boosted Draco Meteor can leave massive craters in the opponent's HP bar, OHKOing anything with equal or less bulk than max HP Gastrodon, Politoed, or standard Zapdos, while leaving bulkier Pokemon such as Cresselia languishing with only half of their health. However, if the drop in Special Attack is too much to pay for such power, Dragon Pulse is a decent alternative, though it needs a Dragon Gem boost to OHKO other Dragon-types, such as Dragonite (without Multiscale) and support Latias. While a Dragon Gem nets KOs that would otherwise be tantalizingly close, one mustn't forget how common Ice-type moves are, and how deadly they can be to Salamence and its cold-blooded brethren. A Yache Berry may just be its saving grace against an unexpected Blizzard from the likes of Choice Scarf Abomasnow, or a Hidden Power Ice that you mistook for another type.
Heat Wave is an excellent coverage move, hitting two Pokemon at once and complementing Salamence's STAB moves. However, Heat Wave can become troublesome for your side as well, considering its lowly 75 Base Power and 90% accuracy, along with the possibility of activating your opponent's Pokemons' Flash Fire, such as Chandelure or Heatran. Flamethrower solves both of these problems, scoring 2HKOs and OHKOs on important Pokemon, such as Occa Berry Metagross and Abomasnow. While it may be tempting to use Fire Blast instead of Flamethrower, it is important to note that most targets of Fire Blast would still be OHKOed or 2HKOed by Flamethrower, making Flamethrower the more reliable and better option. Hidden Power Flying is not only useful against Hitmontop, but also takes down other Fighting-types such as Hariyama and Scrafty. Hidden Power Flying also hits Volcarona hard, and does more damage to Amoonguss than Flamethrower would. Tailwind is an incredibly useful move; not only does it allow Salamence to get the jump on faster Dragon-types and weather utilizers, but it allows its teammates to do so as well. Choosing between it, the ever-useful Protect, and Hidden Power Flying is akin to choosing between paths in a fork in the road. All three options are entirely viable, and in the end, it comes down to what your team needs: faster teammates, better coverage against Fighting-types, or a healthier Salamence.Team Options & Additional Comments >>>
While this set may not capitalize on Salamence's great type coverage, it makes up for it with the sheer utility of Intimidate and Tailwind. Equipped with a Life Orb and Tailwind at its back, Dragon Claw makes mencemeat (pun intended) out of Latios and Garchomp, Pokemon who normally check Salamence by virtue of only their Speed. Salamence can still OHKO either of them without a Life Orb, though its chances of doing so to Garchomp drops to around 30%. Yache Berry doesn't simply ruin your chances with Garchomp though; it protects Salamence from an unexpected Ice Beam, Blizzard, or Hidden Power Ice, all of which are notorious for dropping Dragon / Flying Pokemon in one hit. As your team may still need Intimidate and Tailwind, keeping Salamence alive and well is important, especially when a KOed Pokemon out of the gate is every VGC player's nightmare.
Earthquake is a generic coverage and spread move, ensuring Salamence isn't caught with its pants down against Pokemon such as Heatran and Metagross. The third slot is flexible; Crunch lets Life Orb Salamence 2HKO specially defensive Cresselia and Dusclops, though you'll have to be on your toes as both of them can cripple Salamence with Thunder Wave and Will-O-Wisp, respectively. Alternatively, Salamence can use Tailwind and Protect in the same set. If you do end up picking an attacking move in the third slot, the fourth move will pose a dilemma. In the end, however, it largely depends on what your team requires—a healthy Salamence ready to Intimidate the opponent into submission, or Tailwind support.
The main drawback to using a Choice item in VGC is that you have to switch out to change moves. However, when your Choice user has Intimidate, this problem is somewhat mitigated, as you're probably switching in and out anyway to maximise its effect! Choice Scarf is the main option due to the surprise factor, allowing Salamence to foil Latios's and Garchomp's plans of taking it out before it can move. On the other hand, Choice Specs supplies Salamence's Draco Meteor with enough power to not only OHKO many common Pokemon, such as Zapdos, Rotom-W, and even Haban Berry Kingdra, but also severely dent anything that doesn't resist it or invest heavily in Special Defense.
If you absolutely loathe the Special Attack drops from Draco Meteor, Dragon Pulse is an option, but the drop in power is very apparent as Salamence can now only 2HKO all of the aforementioned threats. Heat Wave is a fairly obvious spread move, as it compliments Salamence's Dragon-type STAB. The 75 Base Power may be unappealing, however, especially as it makes Choice Specs Salamence lose the OHKO on Metagross, so Flamethrower is a suitable replacement. Hidden Power Flying takes advantage of Salamence's resistance to Fighting-type moves, allowing it 2HKO or OHKO bulkier Fighting-types, such as Hitmontop, depending on which Choice item Salamence uses. Finally, Hydro Pump douses Fire-types and erodes Rock-types, 2HKOing Tyranitar in a sandstorm while it cannot OHKO Salamence in return because of Intimidate.Team Options & Additional Comments >>>
Salamence's movepool is quite expansive, so there are quite a few other options you can consider. Roost is useful for preserving Salamence's health, though the main issue is finding a slot for it. Aqua Tail is usable under rain, though it has mostly redundant coverage with Earthquake and Dragon Claw; it only hits Air Balloon Heatran, Gliscor, and similar opponents. Thunder Fang is fairly weak, but if you hate Water-types with a burning passion, it's worth considering. With proper support, Dragon Dance is a great option to bypass both Salamence's Speed and power issues in one turn of setup; however setup usually isn't worth it due to the amount of support it needs, but it can be devastating in the right circumstances. Rock Slide is always a great move to deal consistent damage to the opponent, and perhaps more importantly, flinch a Pokemon in the middle of a game-changing turn. Stone Edge has the same coverage as Rock Slide, but as it hits only one target, it can OHKO standard Thundurus, where it would be a 2HKO with Rock Slide. If you want a powerful Dragon-type move with no recoil or don't want to be locked into one move, Dragon Gem is a perfectly usable item for a quick and deadly Draco Meteor or Dragon Claw. Moxie may be tempting to use, given Salamence's massive Attack stat and access to a powerful Earthquake, but using Moxie means you lose the utility of Intimidate and Tailwind.
Checks and Counters
In general, faster Pokemon that carry Hidden Power Ice or Ice Beam make short work of Salamence if it's not holding a Yache Berry. Starmie, Focus Sash Jolteon, Thundurus, and Choice Scarf Rotom-W are great examples of this, and all of them can take a Dragon Claw or Earthquake if worst comes to worst. Hail teams are Salamence's kryptonite, though Salamence always has the option of using a Fire-type move. Mamoswine can OHKO Salamence before it can move with priority Ice Shard and residual hail or Fake Out damage. Weavile is well above Salamence in terms of Speed, and can cut it down to size with Ice Punch. Cresselia and Dusclops are both defensive standbys that provide a full stop to most Salamence, and can cripple it with Thunder Wave, Will-O-Wisp, Trick Room, or in Cresselia's case, simply KO it with Ice Beam. Trick Room teams have no shortage of Pokemon that can deal with Salamence, such as Rhyperior, Glaceon, Slowking, Slowbro, Druddigon, Jellicent, and Gastrodon. Occa Berry Metagross can take anything Salamence can throw at it rather nicely and hit back with Ice Punch or a combination of Meteor Mash and Bullet Punch. Lastly, Latios and Garchomp can check Salamence provided it doesn't have Tailwind or Choice Scarf.