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The lead metagame is an explosive one, and at times changes even quicker than the metagame in general. New catchy anti-lead Pokémon become popular in a heartbeat, and players adapt to both these and the existing standard threats just as fast. This analysis will hopefully give you, the reader, a snapshot view of the April lead metagame, and provide an insightful glimpse at the trends of today.
Today's suicide lead of choice, much like offensive teams in general, has taken on a much bulkier form. Metagross has the same basic aims that Azelf does—get up Stealth Rock, do some damage, then finally Explode—but it goes about this in a much different way. Whereas Azelf uses its high Speed to get up rocks before an opponent and survive attacks with Focus Sash, Metagross has the bulk to not be OHKOed by almost any neutral attack. It uses its impressive defensive stats, often combined with a Fire or Ground resist berry, to weather the opponent's attacks and then get rocks up. Generally, Metagross leads carry two of either Meteor Mash, Bullet Punch, and Earthquake. Meteor Mash and Earthquake together provide the best coverage available, and by dropping either for Bullet Punch, Metagross can beat frail Focus Sashers as well. This 'bulky suicide' Metagross set often employs near max HP and Attack, dedicating some spare EVs into its Speed to beat other base 70 Pokémon.
Scarf Metagross with Trick is also still around, and is all the more effective with the popularity of the suicide lead set. Few people expect Trick anymore, meaning opposing Pokémon such as Swampert can be crippled quite easily by the surprise Scarf. However, Metagross has only four moveslots it can use, and many moves to fit in them. If Metagross chooses to use both Trick and Stealth Rock, it is limited to only one attacking move unless it forgoes Explosion as well. This means that usually it will be completely walled by something like Heatran or Rotom. This Metagross set runs a Jolly nature and max Speed, with a mix of both Attack and HP, to do its job effectively.
Metagross is actually a very difficult lead to deal with because of the myriad options it possesses. Heatran and Infernape are usually 'safe' choices, but an Occa Berry Metagross with Earthquake and Bullet Punch will see to Infernape. Heatran needs to run a Shuca Berry of its own to beat Metagross. Swampert can't be touched by Metagross without it Exploding, so Protect Swampert is quite commonly seen as a lead to deal with it. Even super bulky Pokémon such as Bronzong and Hippowdon fear Explosion, as both are KOed after the damage from a Meteor Mash. In short, there aren't too many Pokémon that will beat Metagross—it is almost guaranteed to get Stealth Rock up at the very least, as the faster Pokémon that try to Taunt it are brought down by its powerful attacks, and slower Pokemon risk being taken out by Explosion. Shuca Berry Heatran is probably the most reliable way of dealing with it.
Six months on from the initial explosion of suicide leads, Azelf still stands strong in today's metagame. All lead Azelf generally attempt to do the same things—Taunt slower set-up leads, set up Stealth Rocks, and then either Explode or attack. The main priority is Stealth Rock, but they will also try to cause as much damage as possible before dying. The most common attacking move combination is Psychic and Fire Blast, as it provides a good STAB option and coverage against common Steel-type leads such as Metagross and Jirachi. Azelf is most commonly seen on offensive teams as Stealth Rock is needed for many of the OHKOs and 2HKOs that such teams rely on. Azelf generates early offensive pressure for opponents to deal with as, even if they do explode into a bulky Steel-type or a Ghost-type, it provides a free switch-in, allowing the offensive player to keep up the momentum.
Despite the many anti-leads designed to take it out, such as Scarf Jirachi and Choice Band Tyranitar, Azelf still fares well against a lot of common leads. Although not as effective as it originally was, Azelf still almost guarantees Stealth Rock being up if played intelligently. That said, Exploding or attacking is becoming consistently harder for Azelf. Metagross can Meteor Mash and then Bullet Punch, and Scarf Jirachi can utilize Iron Head with a 60% chance of flinching and preventing Stealth Rock setup. Aerodactyl can Taunt it, but although this prevents the setup of Stealth Rock, Azelf can still easily 2HKO with Psychic. Swampert almost always carries Protect to scout for Explosion, and the list continues. That isn't to say that the Azelf user cannot get around this—switching out and setting up Stealth Rock later is always an option against those leads designed to stop it. This tends to be a less reliable option, however, as on its return, its Focus Sash will generally be broken by the opposing player's Stealth Rock. Azelf usage peaked around December and has dropped since, and this corresponds roughly with the popularization of the Scarf Iron Head Jirachi set.
There are generally two different forms of the Infernape lead. Both try to disrupt opposing leads and take them out, while setting up Stealth Rock for their own team. The first, Fake Out Infernape, is a remnant of the suicide lead age, where its Fake Out allowed it to destroy Focus Sash. This Infernape then proceeds to set up Stealth Rock, and uses its two STAB attacks (generally Fire Blast and Close Combat) to do damage wherever it can. It runs a Focus Sash of its own to allow it to actually survive hits to set up rocks. Fake Out has lost a lot of its uses now, with it only really being helpful against Azelf and Aerodactyl. As such, many Infernape have opted for another attack in that slot over Fake Out. U-turn is great for scouting switches and getting the advantageous switch yourself, and hits the common Latias switch in for super effective damage, whereas Grass Knot gives Infernape a quick KO on unsuspecting Swampert leads.
One of the biggest problems with Fake Out Infernape was its extremely limited coverage with only its STAB attacks. Fire plus Fighting is resisted by a lot in OU—Gyarados, Salamence, and Latias will all take very little damage from Fire Blast and Close Combat. The Endeavor Infernape set allows it to bypass this problem, but is quite a risky lead to be using. The aim is to use Focus Sash and Endeavor in tandem, enduring an attack and then bringing the opponent down to 1 HP as well with Endeavor. Vacuum Wave allows it to take out faster leads once they are at 1 HP, whereas Overheat is its best option in the meantime for hitting things like Azelf.
With the commonality of Steel-type leads, Infernape has the potential to do a lot of damage, and it has had a rise in usage to reflect that. It has the movepool to really do a lot, but, like Metagross, often can't achieve everything it wants to do with it. Swampert and Aerodactyl can usually reliably take it out, but against all Infernape leads, prediction is usually the best answer (hint: if it has Endeavor, use a Ghost). Hippowdon is an end-all to any Infernape lacking Grass Knot, as it is bulky enough to survive anything else Infernape throws at it, has a STAB Earthquake to deal with Infernape, and the Sandstorm it creates will break Infernape's Focus Sash.
Over the last month or so, Jirachi leads have become less anti-metagame and more support-oriented. The old Iron Head, Trick, two Elemental Punches set is dying out, and being replaced with versions that can set up a good position for their team later in the game. Even those that are still Scarfed tend to run Trick merely as a support option to reduce the effectiveness of bulkier leads, and will often still carry Stealth Rock. Thunder Wave or Body Slam coupled with Iron Head is also a common sight on lead Jirachi, allowing the user to "hax” his way into a good position. Jirachi is seen mostly on offensive or balanced teams, as it does not check enough of the metagame to support a full stall team.
The Scarf set still allows Jirachi to beat frailer suicide leads such as Azelf and Aerodactyl with Iron Head, and Infernape should it choose to carry Zen Headbutt. Tyranitar is covered by Iron Head, and Metagross is covered, to an extent, by Fire Punch. With a metagame shift back to bulkier Stealth Rock users (most notably Swampert), coupled with the fact that a lot of lead Metagross now carry Earthquake, the Scarf set's effectiveness is reduced. This is why many Jirachi users have gone down the support route. Although the support set is not as instantly effective, the Stealth Rock support is useful to all types of teams and the combination of paralysis and Iron Head means that it is hard for a lot of teams to execute their strategy. Jirachi took a large jump in usage as a lead in December, when the Scarf Iron Head set was popularized, but its usage has not raised much since that point.
Next to nothing is as effective as Aerodactyl at preventing opposing Pokémon from setting up Stealth Rock and getting it up itself. Its blistering base 130 Speed, combined with Taunt and Stealth Rock, means that it is the perfect choice for teams that need this and no more from leads. Rock Slide and Earthquake give it good Rock / Ground coverage with its remaining moveslots, and a Focus Sash gives it an extra life beyond its meagre defenses. Aerodactyl essentially only prevents the other team's SR and lays down its own; it has very little staying or killing power.
The introduction of Iron Head Jirachi was a massive blow to Aerodactyl. Much like Azelf, it drastically fell in its usage with the popularity of the Scarf Jirachi lead. Obviously, no one liked using a lead that only had a 40% chance of achieving anything at all. Bullet Punch Metagross does it no favours either. However, these shortcomings aside, Aerodactyl still performs as an adequate suicide lead, one that does a single, simple job very well.
Swampert is the current anti-metagame lead. In general, it aims to either take out or force out other opposing leads, whilst also setting up its own Stealth Rocks. Its Water typing and physical bulk means that the ever-present Steel-type attacks do little damage to it, and other non-Steel-type leads rarely have a move that can damage it either, meaning that it forces the opponent's hand. They must either switch, or attempt something dangerous such as Exploding. The most common moveset is that of Stealth Rock, Protect, Earthquake and a filler move, which could be any of Surf, Ice Beam, Hydro Pump, Waterfall, Avalanche, or Roar. Swampert can really fit into any type of team because of its great utility, but is generally most often seen on balanced teams. It is a bit too weak and slow for full out offense, and its lack of recovery lets it down as a stall lead candidate.
Metagross doesn't threaten Swampert, as Protect is insurance against Explosion, and Swampert can hit it back hard with Earthquake. Neither form of Jirachi lead can threaten Swampert with anything, and also gets hit for super effective damage from Earthquake. Few lead Infernape carry Grass Knot, so Swampert is also relatively safe against those. It may not be too long before lead Infernape and Jirachi start to carry Grass Knot, but this may leave them more open to set-up from other threats, due to the inferior type coverage. Swampert also beats Tyranitar, Heatran, and Aerodactyl one-on-one, although the latter can prevent it from setting up Stealth Rock. Expect to see Swampert usage continue to rise as a more reliable check to today's common leads. Its usage as a lead has risen steadily over the last four or five months, and does not look like it will be dropping any time soon.
Bronzong still finds its place as the bulkiest of the Steel / Psychics, but Metagross and Jirachi have started to give it a lot more competition for the lead slot. With Hypnosis' drop in usability because of its accuracy, it has very little to distinguish itself from Metagross. Both can set up Stealth Rock, both can Explode, and both have poor coverage with their STAB Steel attacks. The only real difference is that Metagross hits a ton harder, and can outspeed leads such as Swampert, Hippowdon and Tyranitar.
Tricking a Choice Band or a Macho Brace works well with Bronzong. While holding either of these items, its Gyro Ball is actually quite powerful, and will easily 2HKO most offensive Pokémon that don't resist it. Generally, Bronzong usage is on a low and falling, as it cannot deal with Fire-type leads and risks being outclassed by the other Steel-type leads now.
Lead Tyranitar usage has been dropping for the last few months. Analyzing some of the usage trends of other leads, it can be seen that this corresponds with a rise in Metagross and Jirachi usage, and the consequential drop in Azelf usage. With fewer Azelf leading, and Tyranitar's inability to combat Metagross and physical Jirachi, it is no wonder that its role as one of the metagame's better anti-leads has been usurped. Lead Tyranitar tend to be Choice Banded—this way they can deal significant damage to Lead Swampert and Bronzong, trap and OHKO Lead Azelf with Pursuit and Sandstorm damage, OHKO lead Shuca Berry Heatran, and also have some usability later on in the game checking Pokémon such as Zapdos, Latias, and Celebi. Aqua Tail has become a popular option post-Platinum as it allows Tyranitar to 2HKO Hippowdon, who may predict a switch and Stealth Rock.
The ubiquity of Metagross can actually be used to your advantage by running a Counter Tyranitar with Focus Sash. Obviously, this is highly risky as if you don't predict perfectly the surprise it totally ruined, but even then, Tyranitar has access to Stealth Rock and can set it up effectively. This Tyranitar set can also beat Infernape leads that choose to eschew Fake Out for another attacking move. The need of a priority move to finish off Sashers is handled by Tyranitar's Sand Stream, which will finish off the likes of Infernape.
In general, Tyranitar is soundly beaten by Metagross, Infernape, and Jirachi. It can struggle against Aerodactyl, Swampert, Bronzong, and Hippowdon, but generally doesn't fare too badly. It still destroys Azelf and Heatran leads, so the Tyranitar user is one who likes to take a gamble. The payoffs can be rewarding, in that Tyranitar can beat a lot of leads if played right, and can have functionality later in the game if necessary, but it also runs the risk of being instantly forced out turn one. One thing that Tyranitar does have going for it is that it will break the Focus Sash of Infernape leads, meaning that Endeavor variants aren't so threatening and even the standard versions can be covered more easily by other Pokémon.
The majority of leading Heatran are the Shuca Berry variant, which aim to get up Stealth Rock and then Explode. The idea is to feign a Choice Scarf; Stealth Rocking on the first turn gives the impression that you are "scouting for counters". Should they bring in an unsuspecting bulky Water-type or Blissey, Heatran should have no problem dispatching it with Explosion. It has excellent utility in that it is both a lure and a Stealth Rock support Pokémon, but unfortunately, it will never become too popular, due to the fact that it gains most of its usability from the fact that it is a surprise. Shuca Berry usually allows Heatran to survive at least one attack to Explode, and comes in handy against other Heatran who may try to revenge kill with Earth Power.
Heatran does a good job of dispatching lead Metagross, Azelf, Jirachi, and Bronzong, as it can hit them all hard with its STAB Fire Blast, and none of them can muster much back in return. It struggles a little more against lead Tyranitar, Aerodactyl, Infernape, and Swampert, although some may opt to run Hidden Power Grass to cover the latter Pokémon. Heatran's great strength is its surprise factor, which is evident in its usage graph: it has risen since the set was popularized, but has never been too dominant, as it is becoming too predictable.
Gengar was another lead to take a knock, usage-wise, from the introduction of Pokémon Platinum. Gengar's most potent ability in DP was that it was one of the fastest leads that could utilize a sleep status move. Hypnosis' accuracy was cut, which made the already inaccurate move even more unreliable. Additionally, with the rise in Scizor usage, being locked into the wrong move can be fatal, meaning that the Scarf set is a rarity these days. Most lead Gengar are more fully offensive sets designed to do as much damage as possible with Shadow Ball, Thunderbolt, Focus Blast, and Explosion, carrying either a Life Orb or Focus Sash. Some may choose to drop an attack for Hidden Power Fire, to hit Scizor who try to Pursuit trap the ghost.
Gengar plays this role quite well; it covers lot of the common leads, forcing them to make a choice between getting Stealth Rocks up or killing Gengar. Neither Azelf nor Infernape can successfully beat Gengar and set up Stealth Rocks in an opening sequence. Gengar also covers Swampert well, and can hit Tyranitar with Focus Blast. Scarf Jirachi beats Gengar, as do some Aerodactyl who may not suffer the same fate as Azelf and Infernape, as it outspeeds Gengar.
Mamoswine has a very special niche in that it is the only fully evolved Pokémon bar Clefable to not be damaged by either Sandstorm or Hail. This, along with its STAB priority Ice Shard, makes it arguably the best user of the Endeavor + priority strategy in the game. It can also set up Stealth Rock, while using a Focus Sash to survive an attack at 1 HP and bring the opponent down with Endeavor. Alternatively, a Jolly Life Orb set makes a great answer to Shuca Berry Heatran, KOing it through the resistance berry, as well as taking out Metagross leads on average.
Fake Out Infernape makes for a surprisingly good answer to any form of lead Mamoswine, with Fake Out breaking its Sash and a STAB Fire attack taking it out in one hit. Heatran is not safe, even with a Shuca Berry, as a LO Earthquake can still take it out. Jirachi gives Mamoswine a hard time with Iron Head, but will need a Shuca Berry to survive an Earthquake from it. Aerodactyl is easily 2HKOed by Ice Shard, and Azelf needs to watch out for the 2HKO from Life Orb variants too. However, it threatens for an OHKO with Fire Blast, so non-Focus Sash Mamoswine will be loath to stay in on it. Mamoswine as a lead has just recently been popularized, and I expect it to have an exponential rise in lead usage next month.
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