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As you'd expect from the tier where most forgotten Pokémon find themselves, NU is full to the brim with undiscovered gems and forgotten but effective Pokémon. Don't get me wrong—NU isn't simply a slugfest of random Pokémon and sets, but rather a tier where just about anything can find a niche and be useful. Despite that, people still default to the standard and popular threats when building teams, such as Cinccino, Amoonguss, and Emboar. This article will present you with several out-of-the-ordinary but effective sets for Pokémon that you have probably forgotten all about, and hopefully encourage you to experiment with some of the lesser used Pokémon and come up with creative sets of your own to dominate the ladder!
Carracosta @ Liechi Berry
EVs: 4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
- Shell Smash
- Stone Edge
- Aqua Jet
Thanks to the prominence of similar threats like Swords Dance Samurott and defensive behemoths like Amoonguss and Alomomola, Shell Smash Carracosta has gradually slipped under the radar in the current NU metagame. To be fair, offensive Carracosta has always had a few inherent flaws; it's rather slow even after a boost (it only just barely outspeeds Serperior with a Jolly nature), and is pretty much forced to take a hit before being able to set up. While it does have decent bulk, this compounds with the fact that Life Orb is almost always required to have enough power to KO important threats and sets a very short timer for Carracosta's sweep. This set aims to both ease setup and eliminate Life Orb recoil, while still packing plenty of power.
Ideally, you should preserve Carracosta's Sturdy until mid- to late-game to make the most out of its sweeping potential. The thing that truly sets Liechi Carracosta apart from the other Shell Smash sets is its ability to set up on absolutely anything, even Pokémon with super effective attacks like Rotom-S. Sturdy can actually flip games entirely on their head, cutting short an opponent's sweep by boosting as they bring you down to Liechi and then starting up your own. You might be tempted to use White Herb instead, since Carracosta is still rather slow at +2 and you'd want to preserve its decent defenses, but the boost from Liechi is absolutely vital to Carracosta's success. For example, +3 Carracosta has a 63% chance to OHKO Amoonguss after SR damage, while it doesn't come anywhere near the KO at +2. Likewise, its +3 Aqua Jet is a guaranteed OHKO on Absol after Stealth Rock (and it misses the OHKO at only +2).
This set performs best against offensive teams that pack the bruisers who can knock Carracosta down to its Sturdy. It doesn't have the immediate power that Life Orb Carracosta brings, which means it's much harder to break through defensive cores like Alomomola + Amoonguss with Shell Smash alone. Therefore, Pokémon such as Gardevoir, Braviary, and Exeggutor that can manhandle Alomoonguss and other defensive cores make for excellent teammates. All of these are also reasonable answers for Gurdurr, Carracosta's mortal enemy. Bulky Garbodor can also switch in on all of these Pokémon and stack Spikes, which can help Carracosta net several KOes later in the game. Shell Smash Carracosta in general is criminally underrated and underused in a metagame where it excels, especially with teammates that can help eliminate its very few counters.
Cacturne @ Dark Gem
Ability: Water Absorb
EVs: 4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
- Swords Dance
- Sucker Punch
- Seed Bomb
Despite being one of only three fully evolved Spikes users in NU, it's becoming harder and harder to find a reason to use Cacturne as a Spiker instead of the more bulky and reliable Garbodor. While Garbodor has the defenses and typing to stack Spikes against defensive and offensive teams alike, Cacturne struggles to find an opportunity to set up, no thanks to its sub-optimal bulk. To make matters worse, the recent Sand Veil ban eliminated both Bullet Seed and Encore from its usable moveset, leaving it with very few remaining advantages over its Spiking competition. In fact, Garbodor's ubiquitous dominance as a Spiker in this metagame kind of forces Cacturne to take a different approach to being useful.
Substitute + Swords Dance Cacturne is incredibly impressive in the current NU metagame, and surprisingly it's something that hasn't seen much popularity as of late. Popular defensive cores like Alomomoonguss are just waiting to be set up on and then picked apart by +2 or even +4 Sucker Punches and Seed Bombs, depending on how badly your opponent plays it out. Picture this: you double switch Cacturne into Alomomola and proceed to set up a Substitute as they try to Toxic you in vain. You use Swords Dance as they switch back into Amoonguss, one of the best supposed counters for Cacturne. You can then proceed to laugh maniacally as your +2 Dark Gem-boosted Sucker Punch OHKOes their physically defensive Amoonguss after Stealth Rock damage and you're left with a +2 Cacturne behind a Sub, ready to wreak havoc on the rest of their team. You don't even have to be playing against bulky teams for Cacturne to do work—it still performs admirably against offensive teams, where it won't be so easy to set Cacturne up. A Dark Gem-boosted Sucker Punch can help pick off some of the more dangerous offensive threats, like Cinccino, Ludicolo, and even a slightly weakened Samurott.
That said, it's by no means perfect. Cacturne still struggles against some of its more traditional offensive counters such as Gurdurr and Emboar. It's also somewhat susceptible to fast Substitute users that resist Seed Bomb, like Braviary, Charizard, and Haunter (the latter of whom can also Disable Sucker Punch and then OHKO with Sludge Bomb). So what kind of teammates should you be looking for if you want to use this set? First and foremost, you should make sure that you have a reliable Stealth Rock setter, as it's necessary for several of Cacturne's KOes. Secondly, you should probably invest in a bulky Fighting-type resist to help combat Cacturne's major weakness to Gurdurr and co. Garbodor is one of the best ones available as it can reliably switch in and handle nearly every Fighting-type without fear, and it can also stack up Spikes to help Cacturne nab its KOes. Musharna is also an excellent choice, as Cacturne actually lures in opposing Skuntank and can OHKO it after Stealth Rock over 40% of the time, clearing the way for Musharna to clean up later. Lastly, any Pokémon that struggles with breaking through Alomomola + Amoonguss cores, like Golurk, Kangaskhan, or Gurdurr, would love to have SubSD Cacturne for a partner.
Swanna @ Life Orb
EVs: 4 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Swanna is one of the more forgotten offensive threats in NU, sitting near the bottom of the stats at a paltry 1.22% usage—right next to fellow studs Mightyena and Dunsparce. I have to say, I honestly don't understand why it's just never used, especially in this kind of metagame where bulky offense and balanced teams reign. While base 87 Special Attack isn't much to call home about, Swanna's unresisted dual STAB with two high Base Power moves has the potential to shred through just about any team. Substitute just makes the set even better, allowing Swanna to evade Sucker Punches from the likes of Absol and Skuntank and mitigate its weakness to faster Pokémon like Choice Scarf Rotom-S. Roost has somewhat limited usage since you'll rarely want to rely on Swanna's mediocre 75 / 63 / 63 defenses, but it's useful against bulkier match-ups where Swanna will need to spend more time switching in and out of Stealth Rock.
I had a really hard time deciding which Swanna set to pick for this article. It can run a really similar set with Rain Dance over Substitute and Rest in lieu of Roost—apart from the obvious extra recovery from Rest, this allows Swanna to act as a status absorber, boosts Surf's damage output, and ensures that Hurricane hits 100% of the time. In exchange, Swanna loses the utility of Substitute and generally has a much more difficult time against fast offensive teams, since Swanna no longer has the ability to set up a Substitute and smack whatever comes in next. Both sets are very good, but the SubRoost set generally has a better match-up against most teams.
There are very few full defensive stops to Swanna. Both Lickilicky and Regice can weather just about anything Swanna can throw at them and retaliate with Return and Thunderbolt, respectively, so teammates such as Gurdurr, Samurott, and Emboar are ideal. Gurdurr in particular really helps out with Cinccino, who can OHKO Swanna even through its Substitute with Rock Blast. Carrying an Electric-type immunity is almost vital when using Swanna, as otherwise you will be at a severe disadvantage when facing down popular Pokémon such as Choice Scarf Rotom-A, Electrode, and Zebstrika. Golurk, Golem, and Piloswine are all good choices and have the ability to set up Stealth Rock to wear down said fast threats. They all also appreciate Swanna's ability to decimate Alomomola and Amoonguss.
Arbok @ Black Sludge
EVs: 4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
- Gunk Shot
- Aqua Tail
- Sucker Punch
You might be wondering what the hell I'm doing, including Arbok of all things in an underrated Pokémon article. I mean, c'mon, the thing has been in the lowest official tier in every generation of its existence and with a brief glance over its base stats, it's really easy to see why. Arbok's highest stats are unremarkable at best, with 85 base Attack being on par with fellow NU monstrosities Kricketune, Watchog, and Bibarel. Arbok's 60 / 69 / 79 defenses are among the worst in the tier; even Pachirisu is statistically bulkier than Arbok. So what makes Arbok worth mentioning in any kind of competitive discussion?
To put it simply, Arbok is perfectly built to take advantage of the current metagame—it's the very definition of anti-meta. While it's somewhat weak initially, Arbok finds far more setup opportunities with Coil than you'd expect, thanks to both its typing and Intimidate. Being a pure Poison-type is a godsend for a bulky booster in NU, as it can set up untouched on the infamous Alomoonguss core as well as many other commonplace Pokémon that don't carry a super effective move such as Cacturne, Garbodor, and Skuntank. Gunk Shot is an excellent STAB move especially with Coil patching up its flawed accuracy, and Aqua Tail covers just about everything that resists Gunk Shot. Arbok also hits a really good Speed tier, letting it outrun and OHKO dangerous threats like Ludicolo and at least tie Choice Band Braviary, Choice Specs Altaria, and Gardevoir.
Despite the fact that Arbok can set up on a good chunk of the tier, it still needs quite a bit of support if you plan to build a successful team around it. Arbok still cannot break bulky Psychic-types like Musharna no matter what, so teammates that lure or heavily damage Musharna like Choice Band Emboar, Absol, or Skuntank are very useful. Ground-types like Piloswine and Golurk make it incredibly hard to set up, as Arbok cannot OHKO them even at +1 and they OHKO with Earthquake in return. Samurott, Ludicolo, and Gorebyss can all easily take advantage of Arbok luring them in and clear the way for Arbok to sweep later in the match.
The NU metagame is constantly being shaken up by new sets discovered by old pros and newer players alike. While it's certainly not necessary to use any of these sets while you're playing NU (though I will assure you that all of them are quality), don't be afraid to deviate from the analyses from time to time and just try out something that you think might have potential. We'd have a really boring metagame if no one had ever stepped out of the box to try something new!
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