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Welcome to this introduction to competitive battling in the NU tier. As I’m sure you know, the “Neverused” tier is the very bottom rung of the ladder, almost a dumping ground for Pokemon that are seen as unviable or outclassed even in the lowly echelons of UU. As such, the Pokemon permitted in NU are largely dictated by the popularity of Pokemon in UU, which in turn is based upon the list of Pokemon considered to see infrequent enough usage in OU. Because of this, NU is ever changing and constantly evolving, for popularity trends in the tiers above lead to changes in the Pokemon allowed in NU. This in turn provides for a very exciting and eternally fresh metagame.
When the newest incarnation of NU began to form roughly two months ago, the metagame was very much unchartered territory, and nobody knew what to expect in terms of most threatening tactics and most efficient methods of winning matches. Since then, NU has really developed, with usage patterns emerging and several Pokemon becoming staples in certain types of teams. With this said, new ideas are constantly cropping up, and trends within the NU community can cause a team to be very effective one moment, and then fairly inconsistent the next. An example of this is how players found ways around Belly Drum Linoone by using moves such as Roar, causing an enormous decline in its usage, and just when players thought they were safe enough to leave Roar behind, the inventive tactic of Gligar Baton Passing Rock Polish and Swords Dance to a Simple Bibarel was popularized.
Due to a combination of these factors and the way the effective strategies in the tier vary with every update, NU continues to excite and progress, causing even the most experienced of NU battlers to adapt and advance their teams and approaches on a very regular basis.
In comparison to the tiers above, NU boasts a far wider range of competitively viable strategies and tactics. These playing styles include but are not limited to: Hyper offensive (Rain and Sun), Bulky Offense, Balance, Stall (Sand and Hail), Baton Pass and Trick Room. This in itself is a good reasons to play NU, a chance to use uncommon strategies at a level in which they can be successful provided that the team is built in an efficient and synergetic manner. Fortunately, none of these strategies are significantly more powerful than any of the others.
Over the course of the past month, the 20 most popular Pokemon used in NU were:
Here are the top ten, with a brief description of each:
Medicham is the number one used Pokemon in the NU tier, and with good reason. Its brilliant ability, Pure Power, doubles Medicham’s Attack stat, boosting it to extremely high levels and allowing it to wreak havoc on any team who hasn’t prepared for it. If you take a glance at some of the other most-used NUs, you will notice that most people do!
There are three most common sets for Medicham in NU, a Choice Scarf set which works well for revenge killing and boosts Medicham’s mediocre Speed, a Choice Band set that propels Medicham’s enormous Attack even higher, and a Life Orb set heavily featuring the priority moves Fake Out and Bullet Punch. Other moves that Medicham often carries are Brick Break and Psycho Cut for strong STAB attacks, Hi Jump Kick for those a little more daring, Ice Punch and ThunderPunch for coverage, Zen Headbutt on certain LO sets which cannot incorporate Psycho Cut, and Trick to encumber a wall with an unwanted Choice item on the switch-in.
In spite of Medicham’s attacking prowess, it is worth remembering that he is fairly frail, and its checks such as Dusclops, Sandslash and Slowking can take him down with even relatively weak attacks, or threaten to neutralise him with Will-O-Wisp.
Haunter is an NU that was initially completely overlooked, and then made a very swift rise to the higher ranks of the usage charts. A speedy and powerful special attacker, Haunter feels quite similar to its older sibling Gengar in the way it plays and terrorises opposition, although it is equally frail and weak to both priority moves and Pursuit.
The most popular variants at the moment are Choiced Haunters with powerful STAB and coverage moves and often Trick, and the very hard-to-deal-with Substitute Haunter who hides behind the Sub to ease prediction and protect itself from its counters. Shadow Ball and Sludge Bomb are the moves one has to watch out for, but don’t be caught off guard by a Thunderbolt, super-effective Hidden Power, or even an Explosion. Bear in mind, however, that unlike Gengar, Haunter does not learn Focus Blast and has to make do with HP Fighting.
Haunter falls foul of sturdy Special walls like Regice, and has a hard time against Probopass and Bastiodon unless it carries HP Fighting or Ground. Skuntank is also the bane of Haunter, as you will see just below.
Skuntank has proven to be one of the most consistently popular NUs, becoming a bit of a favourite amongst many in the NU community. Really, you can either love it or hate it, but you'd better prepare for it! A physical attacker with a great set of STAB moves, Skuntank isn’t let down by its poor coverage in NU at all. Skuntank has a great HP stat, and can be EVed in such a way as to cope admirably with some of NU’s biggest special threats. Its Poison typing also lets it absorb the ubiquitous Toxic Spikes which could otherwise threaten its team mates. In spite of its popularity, one can be fairly sure that the poisonous skunk will stay in NU for a long time to come, given how Drapion is perceived to outclass it in UU.
When you see Skuntank being switched in, you can more often than not predict its moveset and guess desperately at what it will do. However, this will rarely save you from a well played Skuntank. The moveset will generally consist of a combination from five moves; Sucker Punch, Pursuit, Poison Jab, Taunt, and Explosion. One can switch Skuntank in on a Psychic- or Ghost-type such as Gardevoir or Exeggutor, Taunt any attempts at setup, Sucker Punch any foolish attacks, or Pursuit its fleeing victim. In this respect, it is hard to counter given that the Pokemon switching out will be the one taking heavy damage. The ability to Explode as a last ditch effort is equally very helpful.
Steel-, Rock- and Ground-types are the best hope you have of dealing with Skuntank, with their strong defenses and resistances to his attacks. Magneton, Aggron, and Sandslash are all common ways of forcing him out, and each can use the opportunity to deal heavy damage or attempt to set up.
Gligar again plays in a similar way to Gliscor in OU. Some good physical Defense backed by a great set of resistances and support moves mean Gligar can be a major player in a variety of roles. Stealth Rock, Roost and Earthquake are the moves most commonly seen on Gligar, whilst moves like Taunt, Aerial Ace and U-turn can potentially change the outcome of the match. Perhaps the most threatening Gligar is the Baton Passing variant, which when giving a +2 boost in Speed and Attack to Bibarel (effectively giving it +4 boosts in both stats because of Simple), is a bit like saying “Good Game.”
As always, Gligar is most vulnerable on the special side of the spectrum, and attacks like Ice Beam and Surf will make short work of him, particularly if receiving a STAB boost or from strong Special Attackers, and Gligar is an NU you will definitely need to prepare for in order to be successful.
Poliwrath is one of the most recent additions to the NU roster, coming down from UU with the last tier list update. A bulky water blessed with solid defenses, typing, and very respectable STAB attacks, Poliwrath is the glue that holds a lot of NU teams together. He can take many attacks like a champ, and even heals himself when being hit by Water attacks - an exceptional asset to have when facing a Choiced Water Spout or a Rain Dance team. In addition, he is the very best switch in to Relicanth that NU has to offer.
Waterfall is present on nearly every Poliwrath, backed up by either Brick Break or the Substitute and Focus Punch combination. For coverage, the muscular tadpole can employ Ice Punch to deal with Grass-type switch-ins, and makes good use of Hypnosis and Toxic to render tanks like Dusclops and Slowking ineffective. Aside from the two aforementioned Pokemon, a physically bulky Gardevoir makes a good switch into either of Poliwrath’s STAB moves, as does Vileplume.
Sandslash takes the mantle of being NU’s number one Rapid Spinner by quite a way. A Ground type with solid Defense and HP, Sandslash can tank physical hits and either provide a utility for the team or attempt a sweep itself. Being resistant to Stealth Rock is a huge bonus for Sandslash, but its methods of combating the spin-blocking Ghosts of NU are less than reliable. Besides Earthquake, Sandslash carries a combination of Stone Edge (to hit airborne Pokemon including Haunter and Drifblim), Rapid Spin, Stealth Rock, Toxic (to hit physical tanks including Dusclops and Sableye), and Swords Dance on speedier variants for extra attacking power. As is the case with many of its Ground-type brethren, however, Slash is weaker on the Special Defense front, and cannot take a beating from the many Water-, Ice- and Grass-type attacks which frequent NU.
Dusclops is a very strong tank of a Pokemon, and provides a good check to many of NU’s physical threats. Even Skuntank is wary of Dusclops and his ability to induce burn status with Will-O-Wisp, and as implied above the top Rapid Spinner in NU, Sandslash, can only beat Dusclops by using Toxic. This makes Dusclops NU’s premier Rapid Spin blocker. Outside of Rest and Sleep Talk, Dusclops relies heavily on Pain Split to heal the damage it’s taken. Unfortunately, a far lower Attack stat than Dusknoir ultimately means a lower output of damage from physical attacks, and as such Dusclops is often relegated to more of a supporting role, and very susceptible to Substitute and Taunt from opposing Pokemon.
When fighting against a Dusclops, it is imperative to wear it down on the switch-in, and carefully play around its crippling attacks. Fire types can switch in on Will-O-Wisp, and indeed Rapidash, Flareon and Ninetales can use it to activate their Flash Fire before hitting back with their boosted STAB move. Seismic Toss, Night Shade, Earthquake, Shadow Punch, and Ice Punch can all be easily sponged or avoided by using your team members’ typing to your advantage, and Skuntank very much enjoys being able to trap and finish off a weakened Dusclops with his STAB Pursuit.
Primeape usage rose fiercely after the first week, as the angry ape was initially almost completely overlooked in favor of his much-hyped Fighting-type brethren, Medicham. In spite of lacking the controversial Pure Power ability, Primeape possesses a few noteworthy advantages over Medicham, most prominently the outstanding STAB move Close Combat, the excellent scouting move U-turn, and a very useful sleep-immunity in the ability Vital Spirit.
At a glance, Primeape is used almost exclusively as a user of Choice Items, although various surprise sets such as Life Orb or Substitute and Anger Point are used from time to time. Primeape excels as a Choice Scarf user, as with an Adamant nature he can easily be EVed to outrun all other NU Pokemon without a speed boost. Even against Pokemon with a boosted Speed stat, Primeape acts as perhaps the most effective revenge killer in the tier, acting as a great check to some of the most potent NU sweepers such as Quick Feet Ursaring and Modest Gorebyss in the rain. Indeed, part of the beauty of the Choice Band set is the bluff of a potential Scarf, whilst pummelling the opponent with a boosted attack. Choiced sets are guaranteed to carry Close Combat, with Stone Edge and Ice Punch used to hit Flying-types, whilst Psychic and Ghost types should be wary about switching in on a powerful U-turn out to a strong Pursuit user such as Skuntank. Other useful coverage moves include Earthquake and Punishment, and it is worth noting that Primeape works as an effective lead to gain momentum early on. As with any Choice-item user, prediction is the key to both using and foiling Primeape, and bulky physical sponges such as Dusclops and Gligar are excellent switch-ins to certain predicted attacks.
Leafeon instantly became the most popular bulky Grass-type Pokemon the second that Tangrowth was promoted to UU. If recent trends are to continue, it is likely that Leafeon will follow him upwards, but for the time being he proves a formidable physical tank with sweeping potential in NU. Strong Defense, a reliable healing move in Synthesis, and a resistance to Earthquake and Waterfall make Leafeon a real threat to the various Ground-, Rock-, and Water-types in NU, whereas the option of Swords Dance, Base 110 Attack, and Base 95 Speed make the attacking variant quite menacing. However, Leafeon doesn’t get great coverage, even in NU, with Leaf Blade, Return, Quick Attack and perhaps X-Scissor as his only realistic offensive options. Leafeon is fortunate to possess a wealth of support options though, with access to Roar, Wish, Yawn, Grass Whistle, and Baton Pass. Aggron with Roar is perhaps the best switch-in when facing Leafeon, while Magneton and the myriad of fast Fire-types all provide excellent checks.
Gardevoir assumed a prominent role in August’s NU teams, its well-placed stats, solid movepool, and Psychic-typing being a strong draw for the tier's battlers. Given a physically defensive EV spread, Gardevoir is able to switch in on some of NU’s most threatening Fighting-types (such as Poliwrath), threaten an OHKO and force them out, or heal itself with Wish and Protect. Gardevoir has a versatile supporting movepool, but its highest stat is its Special Attack. A Gardevoir carrying a Choice item is an exceptionally dangerous sweeper in NU, with access to Trick to incapacitate walls, but she must make sure the path is clear of any Dark-types before going for the cleanout. Indeed, Skuntank is Gardevoir’s true NU nemesis, and switches in on her STAB attack with impunity, but any misprediction on the part of Skuntank in an attempt to take advantage of a super-effective Pursuit could be met with a Reflect or Will-O-Wisp.
No review of Gardevoir would be complete without consideration of Trace, her outstanding ability. Trace has good value in NU, giving her opportunities to switch in on STAB attacks from Flash Fire and Water Absorb Pokemon and take no damage whatsoever. Other useful abilities to Trace include Intimidate, and Chlorophyll/Swift Swim in an effort to check the sweepers in NU weather teams.
Special mention must go to Gardevoir’s Screen and Memento set. Like Jumpluff, she has the opportunity to set Linoone up for the Belly Drum, or Gligar up for a Baton Pass, leading to a potential clean sweep of the other team. Although uncommon, this set can be absolutely devastating, and takes absolutely no notice of the peril of Skuntank’s STAB attacks.
Similarly, the 10 most popular NU leads have been:
Here are the top 5, each with a short appraisal:
Persian is generally a fairly straightforward lead. It has a very effective set along the lines of Fake Out, Taunt, Return and U-turn, with moves such as Hypnosis and Bite making occasional appearances. Great Speed makes for a good lead Taunt, and Technician, STAB and Silk Scarf provide a good amount of power for an NU Fake Out, although Persian’s popularity has had a big influence on the rise of physically bulky leads, and similarly Inner Focus leads which do not flinch from Fake Out. Max attack Golbat narrowly misses out on a guaranteed Brave Bird OHKO without a boosting item, whilst Focus Sash Sneasel and Kadabra can OHKO with Counter. Shield Dust Venomoth should not experience the flinch from Fake Out either, and can incapacitate Persian with Sleep Powder.
Persian has the possibility of running alternative sets, and on a lead they make for good surprise value as the opposition often scrambles for a Fake Out resist. Being the joint fastest Pokemon in the NU tier makes Persian a respectable weather changer, and the Nasty Plot set takes advantage of a free turn for set up, although you would be ill advised to attempt a sweep so early in the game.
Gligar makes for one of the most reliable leads in NU. Fairly fast, physically bulky, and with useful defensive typing, Gligar usage rose at first to combat the early spike in Pinsir leads carrying Stealth Rock and Focus Sash/Lum Berry. Since then, he has found a consistent level of popularity thanks to his efficiency in setting up Stealth Rock himself, and having a fast Taunt to deter early set ups from other NU leads. Furthermore, the versatile bat fits effortlessly at the spearhead of NU stall teams. Gligar is the reason that Primeape leads run Ice Punch, and don’t be surprised to find other leads carrying a Hidden Power Ice for the very same purpose.
Hippopotas’ appearance at the start of a battle practically guarantees you will be fighting a Sandstorm team. His stats are poor, even for NU, and the only reason he should ever be used is in order to abuse his notorious Ability, Sandstream. Earthquake and Stealth Rock are automatic choices on any Hippopotas, while Sleep Talk, Yawn, Roar and Toxic compete with Protect for spaces in the last two moveslots on a defensive set. Protect can be a godsend for a Leftovers Hippopotas, preventing Fake Out damage and revealing the move selected by a Choice item user. On the other hand, a more offensive Hippopotas has the surprise options of Rock Slide, Crunch and Superpower to take advantage of any weak points on unsuspecting opposing leads, and falling back on Focus Sash. A well-played hippo can cause a few problems, but it will be the Sandstorm-aided Cradily, Cacturne and pals who see the real advantage.
Relicanth really shines on offensive teams, and can allow the team to gain momentum from a very early point. Commonly played almost suicidally, the ancient fish has the option of getting Stealth Rock on the field early against opposition who cannot hurt him or feel threatened by him, and has the opportunity to really make a mark with the monstrous Head Smash STAB move, receiving no recoil damage. Waterfall and Earthquake generally complete his coverage, and a lead Relicanth typically holds a Life Orb or Lum Berry, although use of the latter has dwindled with the decline of sleep-inducing leads.
Cloyster performs admirably against the other top leads, taking relatively little damage from their physical hits, and is fortunate enough in having access to Spikes and Toxic Spikes, two entry hazards with very few NU users. When predicting a Taunt, Cloyster can lash out with a strong STAB Surf or Ice Beam, and the suicide lead variant has the choice of using Explosion. Clever prediction and Super Effective/STAB Special attacks are the keys to Cloyster’s demise, and its weaknesses to the strong, common Physical attacks from Fighting and Rock-type Pokemon are the reasons it is not used more.
As with any tier in competitive play, some Pokemon are deemed overly centralizing or overpowering by varying numbers of opinionated players. Whilst the NU tier is no exception and there have been calls for a plethora of Pokemon to face suspect testing, no particular candidate has yet emerged with an overwhelming number of battlers declaring it to be broken. To date, the most controversial NU Pokemon in this respect are Medicham, Linoone, Walrein, and Cacturne. Medicham has been the most popular NU choice to quite some degree, and some consider it to be overpowered as well as overcentralizing. Linoone is seen to be too much of a threat due to its one-turn potentially gamebreaking setup in Belly Drum, and Walrein and Cacturne are often viewed as too difficult to take on in Hail and Sandstorm respectively.
Hippopotas, Snover and Entei have also received lesser calls to be considered for testing, the former two for providing permanent weather which other Pokemon can abuse to too great an extent, and Entei for having a high Base Stat Total and difficulty to counter.
As previously noted, the NU playing environment can at times be fairly volatile, not only because of the discovery of new threats, but also due to the removal of significant threats and addition of others, in accordance with the usage in the tiers above. If current trends were to continue, Charizard, Magmortar and Nidoqueen stand realistic chances of dropping to NU, while Porygon2, Typhlosion, Scyther and Blastoise are also at risk of losing their UU status. On the other hand, it looks fairly probable that Kangaskhan, Leafeon and Drifblim will be saying their goodbyes, and Magneton, Medicham and Gardevoir could possibly be packing their bags as well.
We can look forward to some exciting times ahead, some fantastic variation from the stir-up that these possible upcoming promotions and relegations will cause... and let us not forget the big metagame changes we will experience from the addition of new moves in HeartGold and SoulSilver!
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