SPL X Coverage

By martha, Finchinator, Jordy, lyd, and rozes. Released: 2019/04/17.
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Art by Bummer

Art by Bummer.

Introduction

After nine regular weeks, intense playoffs, and two tiebreakers, Smogon Premier League X has concluded with the Alpha Ruiners as champions. After finishing 4-1-4 in regular season, they played the Indie Scooters in semifinals. Despite the Ruiners starting the week with a 5-0 lead, the Scooters managed to tie it up and force a tiebreak that the Ruiners eventually won after Lavos beat Ojama in BW OU and lax beat craing ;_; in SM OU. Their finals opponents, the Dragonspiral Tyrants, had an incredibly strong regular season, ending 7-1-1, and a dominating 11-1 win over the Wi-Fi Wolfpack in the semifinals. The Tyrants started the finals strongly despite crucial early losses, but the Ruiners proceeded to come back from 6-3 to tie it up to 6-6; Lavos then won vs sulcata in GSC OU, and lax won vs blunder in SM OU to secure the red trophy for the Ruiners.

The tournament brought ups and downs as well as several extremely good games and unexplored sets, which will be reviewed and explained here.

Keldeo Latios Politoed Ferrothorn Excadrill Tornadus Ojama vs Lavos (Semifinals Tiebreak) Breloom Landorus-T Rotom-W Latios Reuniclus Reuniclus

In one of the most anticipated battles of 2019 thus far, Classic winner Lavos faces off against Classic finalist Ojama in a BW OU tiebreak game. The Alpha Ruiners have their backs up against the wall, down 0-1 after falling in the first match of the tiebreak. Their team was under fire for picking DOU in the tiebreak, which was an unorthodox pick that proved to not work out. This meant that they had to emerge victorious in both SM OU and the tier the Scooters picked, BW OU. Lavos was going to have to go up against one of the best all-time BW players, Ojama, and emerge victorious for his team to have a chance to reach the finals. On the flip side, if Ojama was able to beat Lavos, then the Scooters would be finals bound themselves.

Getting into Team Preview, we see two pretty interesting structures right off the bat. Lavos brought what may seem to be a fairly standard sand team, but upon closer inspection you notice that he lacks a Steel-type, forcing him to rely a lot on the defensive presences of Tyranitar, Reuniclus, and his two pivots in Rotom-W and Landorus-T. His team also has a pair of potent threats in Latios and Breloom to round it out. On the other side, Ojama looks to bring the series home for the Scooters with a rain offense that resembles a BW OU of the past, featuring Excadrill as the spinner of choice. With Sand Rush banned, it is a very unique choice on rain teams, but Excadrill is a strong enough presence to prove worthwhile nevertheless. Alongside the Excadrill and rain proves to be a potent cast featuring top-tier threats like Keldeo and Latios, niche breakers like Tornadus, and unmatched supporter and utility presence Ferrothorn.

As the battle starts, we see a conventional Rotom-W lead against an opposing Ferrothorn. Normally, the play is to trade a burn for a Spike, but seeing as Lavos has Breloom in the back, he wisely opts to Volt Switch out, safely sending out his Breloom on the Ferrothorn, which set up Stealth Rock. From there, Lavos goes for the aggressive play, catching a likely Sleep Talk Latios with Low Sweep, doing a bit under half damage. This play conditioned the Latios to stay in, knowing it could potentially claim a free kill if it was a Choice Scarf variant and catch Lavos by surprise or take the Spore if it was Choice Specs and slower, letting it Sleep Talk. However, Lavos quickly goes to Tyranitar and traps what appears to be a Choice Scarf Latios, giving him a 6-5 early lead. From here, a sequence of pivots finds a number of each team's Pokémon on the field, but Ojama ultimately finds an opening to set up a Spike as Lavos goes to Breloom once again. This lets him get a Spore off on another potential Sleep Talk user, Tornadus, which pivots in as a response. It is also worth noting that the Keldeo is revealed to be the pesky Leftovers Toxic variant, which got the Toxic off on the opposing Latios early. It also used Substitute on the opposing Rotom-W, which broke it and claimed momentum with Volt Switch, letting Lavos safely get the crippled Latios in safely. This baited a Ferrothorn switch, which was capitalized on by another successful Breloom pivot by Lavos, who is slowly clawing his way into the lead. Low Sweep into Tornadus does a bit under half, Rotom-W comes in on a non-Sleep Talk and Volt Switches on the Ferrothorn that came in to check it, and then Breloom was in safely once more. This time around, Breloom used Low Sweep twice, KOing Ojama's Tornadus and putting Lavos up 6-4.

However, Breloom had repeatedly taken Life Orb recoil, so when Keldeo came in, Breloom settled for the 44% chip from Mach Punch as Keldeo revenge killed it. However, it is worth noting that, now that both Latios and Tornadus are disposed of, Ojama's team lacks a Ground immunity, making Landorus-T quite threatening. This Landorus-T happens to come in to attempt to revenge kill Ojama's Keldeo. It instead fires off a 45% Earthquake into Ferrothorn. Reuniclus uses this as a chance to get in safely and set up, but Encore Politoed thwarts its plans once, and then when the same sequence is provoked again, it does it once more. This time, however, Lavos goes to his Rotom-W on the Encore, gaining initiative himself. After a Volt Switch, Reuniclus comes in safely once more, provoking a new Pokémon to come out in Excadrill. It turns out the Excadrill is Swords Dance + Leftovers, which is quite convenient in fighting a likely Thunder + Hidden Power Ice Reuniclus. Given this, Lavos throws out his Tyranitar, making it a 4-4 game and letting the Landorus-T get in safely. Given the lack of active Ground-immune Pokémon on Ojama's team, Lavos elects to use Earthquake, which takes out the foddered Keldeo. After a sequence of Reuniclus pivots and attacks, attempting to thwart a potential Encore or Excadrill switch, Landorus-T finally comes back in, but it will prove to be costly, as Ojama's Excadrill fires off an Iron Head on the switch-in, leaving it at 37% and with Stealth Rock permanently up on his side. To add insult to injury, Landorus-T's Earthquake does not 2HKO the incoming Politoed, doing a mere 48% on the switch, and Ojama gets the double to Ferrothorn right on the Rotom-W response.

However, Lavos wisely plays the conservative game, letting go of Rotom-W to Excadrill, which lets him clinch another KO of his own with his Landorus-T's Earthquake in response. From there, all Lavos had to do was let Reuniclus faint so that Landorus-T could come in and claim another KO, essentially letting him checkmate the game if all current conditions remained the same. He could also do the same essential checkmating through Latios coming in to claim a KO, which was what Lavos eventually did after letting Reuniclus get locked into Hidden Power Ice from Encore, which then outdamaged Politoed's Leftovers recovery, thwarting Ojama's final efforts to come back in this game. Latios finally closed out the game with Surf taking out Excadrill and a weakened Politoed, giving the Ruiners a win and evening out the tiebreak score at 1-1.

Sigilyph Slowbro Incineroar Dhelmise Diancie Togedemaru ict vs lax (Finals) Medicham Palossand Incineroar Heliolisk Golbat Blastoise

At this point in the SPL finals, the Tyrants had managed to pull ahead of the Ruiners, sitting at 6 wins vs the Ruiners 3. This meant that the Ruiners needed to win the next 3 games to make it to a tiebreak, with any loss resulting in the Tyrants winning SPL. All the pressure was on for the Ruiners, with lax vs ict as the first game once the Tyrants hit 6. Prior to this game, lax (Ruiners) was sitting at a 7-4 record, and ict (Tyrants) was 6-4. Now that the scene has been set, let's jump into Team Preview.

From ict we see a balance build that seems to be built around a more unorthodox pick in Sigilyph. Sigilyph is known for running a multitude of sets, with the main ones been Life Orb Magic Guard, defensive Cosmic Power, and Choice Specs Tinted Lens. He backs it up with a very common balance core of Slowbro + Incineroar. As his Stealth Rock setter he brings Diancie, a solid option that can pressure common removers. He also has Togedemaru on this team, which based on team structure is going to be Choice Scarf due to the rest of his team being very slow. To round out his team, he has Dhelmise as a form of hazard control, which helps if the Sigilyph is Tinted Lens.

Lax ended up bringing another balance build similar to ict, with his breakers of choice being Heliolisk and Medicham. From Preview one of those two is expected to be running Choice Scarf, more than likely Medicham, which is more commonly seen as a Choice Scarf user in NU. This leads Heliolisk to more than likely be Specs. lax added a Blastoise to try to keep hazards off his side of the field as often as possible. Palossand is his Stealth Rock setter of choice, a more niche option that is able to check Fighting-types. Next he has a Golbat, which is not being used for Defog, but rather as a pivot with U-turn in order to get Heliolisk, Medicham, and Incineroar in on common Rock- and Steel-types. Incineroar is the likely Z-Move user on this team.

From Team Preview the matchup is about even, though ict may have a bit of an advantage, as his team is able to effectively stop lax's Blastoise from spinning away Stealth Rock due to Dhelmise being able to stop it in its tracks whenever it comes in. As lax's team is based on a lot of pivoting and switching, this will hurt him in the long run. Conversely, ict can remove lax's Stealth Rock as long as he is able to predict right vs the Palossand, as a Power Whip will be able to remove it from the game. Still, even with this slight hazards advantage, this matchup is fairly even, and it should be a close game based on who is able to play more aggressively.

From ict's side we see a safe lead in Togedemaru, and from lax we see Blastoise, a safe choice in case ict chose to lead Diancie in order to get Stealth Rock up as soon as possible, in which case he'd be able to pressure it and potentially burn the Dhelmise early, crippling it for the rest of the game. On turn 1, we see a safe U-turn from ict, and from lax we see a Toxic, as he knew Togedemaru would switch out. Not wanting to take a Choice Specs Psychic from the Sigilyph, Lax makes a hard read, predicting the Sigilyph to go for Air Slash on the Incineroar; instead of letting his presumably Z-Move Incineroar take a hard hit, he pivots to his Golbat, which would have been able to take an Air Slash easily and ends up taking negligible damage from the Energy Ball that ict went for. This position is amazing for Lax, as Sigilyph is forced out after having to take two rounds of Toxic damage, and lax is able to fire off a free U-turn the next turn, gaining momentum with whatever he brings in. After getting in Incineroar on the U-turn, on turn 5, lax is able to effectively remove Diancie from play with a well-timed Earthquake, expecting it to stay in to click Stealth Rock. However, this does let ict get up his hazards, which will more than likely stay up for a large majority of the game due to lax's inability to spin vs the Dhelmise.

On turn 11, ict is successfully able to get in Sigilyph on Golbat and uses this turn to get a big hit on the incoming Heliolisk. Heliolisk still is able to force Sigilyph out, however, and lax pulls a smart double as ict's Togedemaru comes in, getting in his Palossand to set up his own Stealth Rock. However, on this turn, ict brings in his Sigilyph on the Palossand, expecting it to be scared out by the possibility of a Choice Specs Energy Ball; however, lax shows that his Palossand was specially defensive, taking only 43% from the incoming Air Slash and removing ict's Sigilyph from the game right then and there with a Shadow Ball. On turn 17, ict reveals that his Slowbro was a Calm Mind set and attempts to set up on the Golbat, but the Golbat reveals itself to be Poison Fang and effectively stops any chance the Slowbro had of sweeping due to the poison. ict is able to remove the Heliolisk with Psyshock, though it was pretty much dead already. Later, on turn 27, with ict's Slowbro being poisoned, lax brings in Medicham to pressure it further with Thunder Punch. However, Thunder Punch leaves Slowbro alive, and Slowbro's Z-Move ends up not KOing the Medicham either or even putting it in Stealth rock range, with the turn ending with both Slowbro and Medicham almost dead.

On turn 29, as lax's Palossand was revealed to be specially defensive on the turn vs Sigilyph, it takes quite a bit more than its physically defensive counterpart from Choice Scarf Togedemaru. ict also gets a lucky Iron Head flinch on this turn, leaving Palossand at 12% with Togedemaru still very healthy. lax makes a smart play the next turn, realizing that if he sacks Palossand to the next Iron Head, ict will be free to spam Zing Zap and eventually win with Togedemaru; he instead sacks the Medicham and keeps Palossand around to stop ict from ever clicking Zing Zap, as Palossand will just be able to heal up if he does. From here, lax is still favored even despite the flinch, as ict has to rely on getting multiple Iron Head flinches vs Incineroar and Golbat in order to win the game. After a few turns of pivoting from both sides that result in lax finally being able to spin due to Dhelmise fainting, the pivotal turns start at Turn 40. Here ict goes for the first Iron Head vs Golbat and... gets it! Now, with Golbat dead, Blastoise at 5%, and Palossand at 12%, the only thing stopping the Togedemaru from winning is lax's offensive Incineroar sitting at 20%. From this range, Iron Head will take it out in 2 hits, meaning that another flinch will win the game for ict. He then goes for it on turn 41, and Incineroar is able to pull through! lax wins the game and keeps the Ruiners alive to fight another game, now only down 4-6.

This game ended up being dictated by lax playing very methodically throughout the game, making use of smart middle-ground plays and not risking any of his key players due to how aggressive ict can play. lax was able to take early momentum via this, and ict in the end was just not able to keep up. The game still ended up very close due to a Togedemaru that tried to be a Jirachi, coming to one final 30% that could would have resulted in the Tyrants winning SPL. Overall this was a very fun and exciting game to watch as a spectator, though for the Ruiners and Tyrants those last few turns must have been extremely tense, knowing it was out of both players' hands.

Mega Charizard X Excadrill Tangrowth Tornadus-T Tapu Fini Tyranitar blunder vs lax (Finals Tiebreak) Mega Swampert Ash-Greninja Pelipper Ferrothorn Azumarill Tornadus-T

Down 6-3 in the finals, the chances for the Ruiners were looking slim; however, they managed to pull through three nailbiter games and tie the finals. After Lavos got the headstart in the tiebreaker against sulcata, it was time for lax to take on blunder, the OU player with the best record in a tier he doesn't even main. From Team Preview you could already tell it could be rough for lax, with blunder packing a Tangrowth and a Tapu Fini, as well as his own weather.

After some switches, pivots with U-turn, and players setting up Stealth Rock, blunder goes to his Tangrowth on lax's Mega Swampert, only for lax to reveal Substitute as blunder clicked Hidden Power expecting a double; this careless play ended up not costing blunder much, as Regenerator quickly helped Tangrowth get some health back, but it already set the tone for the match. Later on, Azumarill was sent out as an initial switch-in to blunder's Mega Charizard X, likely scouting for Dragon-type coverage before risking Pelipper. This, however, led to an unfortunate burn on the Azumarill from Flare Blitz, rendering it pretty useless. lax was forced to go to Pelipper regardless, as Azumarill would otherwise be setup bait, and blunder eventually withdrew his Mega Charizard X. The match continued pretty smoothly, until in two instances, blunder made risky plays by denying lax's Ferrothorn hazards twice, with his Tapu Fini and Tornadus-T's Taunt. This was a tricky situation for blunder, however, because if he got the play wrong, which he did neither time, it could have been very troublesome; lax getting Stealth Rock up meant Mega Charizard X had a much harder time, which was blunder's wincon if he could weaken the Pelipper. Conversely, letting Tapu Fini take a Power Whip would have been terrible for blunder, as Tapu Fini was his only Ash-Greninja check, and lax knew this, as Rocky Helmet had been revealed on Tangrowth; while letting Tornadus-T getting weakened wasn't as worrisome, it's never ideal to let your Defogger get low on a team so weak to hazards. A few turns later, however, lax's Ferrothorn did target the Tornadus-T with Gyro Ball on an obvious Taunt. After some more switching around, blunder got the play right again, going to his Mega Charizard X on a Knock Off from Ferrothorn, and from there, lax's Pelipper forced Mega Charizard X out yet again.

Ash-Greninja came in on a U-turn, lax stayed in expecting Tangrowth (which blunder probably sent in expecting a double from lax) that was then throttled by a rain-boosted Surf, and lax then went Ferrothorn on the obvious Tapu Fini. This time, Ferrothorn did get Stealth Rock up, forcing out the Tapu Fini, and KOed blunder's Tyranitar with a deadly Gyro Ball after blunder too got up his Stealth Rock. blunder then sends out his Excadrill to make use of the sand provided by Tyranitar, but lax plays around it excellently, commanding Ferrothorn to use Power Whip as Excadrill went for a Swords Dance, and then sacrificing the burned Azumarill to an Iron Head. However, Excadrill was forced out by Greninja's Water Shuriken, which Tapu Fini switched in on for free and made use of to get off Defog. Ferrothorn came in and got up Stealth Rock as Mega Charizard X came in. Pelipper was the obvious choice for lax, and it was able to force the Mega Charizard X out yet again, which led to an Excadrill sack on a Scald. From there, Tapu Fini came in to Defog the Stealth Rock, but Pelipper revealed Hurricane, which now put Tapu Fini in range of Ash-Greninja. After lax sacrificed Mega Swampert to a Moonblast, Ash-Greninja got a free switch-in and scored a KO on Tapu Fini to activate its Ash forme.

Tangrowth had just enough HP to force Ash-Greninja out, so blunder, in a last attempt to come back, went Mega Charizard X expecting lax to want to switch out. With Taunt, however, lax's Tornadus-T was capable of shutting down Mega Charizard X and denying it a Dragon Dance. As soon as rain went up again, lax was able to go to his Ash-Greninja and enjoy a victory lap, as Surf in rain picked up the last 3 KOs. This stormy game between two SPL titans is how the Alpha Ruiners got their red trophy. This match was a great metaphor for the entire finals, with the underdog Alpha Ruiners going up against the dominant Dragonspiral Tyrants, whose worst starter had a whopping 50% win ratio. Likewise, an NU main, lax, although one of the best players in this whole tournament, faced off against and beat blunder, the proud wielder of SM OU's best record and one of the most well-known figures in the OU scene.

Set Spotlight: Normalium Z Kartana

Kartana

Prior to SPL, Swords Dance Kartana had flown under the radar in favor of Choice Scarf and Choice Band sets. During the first few weeks of SPL, however, Swords Dance started popping up. More specifically, Normalium Z with Giga Impact started seeing more usage, which was weird at first, considering that it was considered a joke set prior to this development. However, it made sense, because Z-Giga Impact enables Kartana to overwhelm Pokémon like Tornadus-T, Zapdos, and TankChomp, which have been pretty common and potent Pokémon throughout the tour.

Mega Alakazam Landorus-T Magearna Kartana Greninja Tapu Lele Empo vs Tamahome Mega Alakazam Garchomp Kyurem Landorus-T Magearna Toxapex

At the start of the game, Empo attempts to weaken Tamahome's Landorus-T with Greninja, which Tamahome uses as an opportunity to set up Toxic Spikes. Following that, Empo punishes Toxapex with his Tapu Lele to then overwhelm Tamahome's Magearna with the combination of Tapu Lele and Alakazam. Once his Magearna has been knocked out, Tamahome forces Alakazam out with his Choice Scarf Landorus-T, which Empo sends his Kartana into, assuming that Tamahome will use U-turn and not Earthquake. Predicting Tamahome's Garchomp to set Stealth Rock, Kartana uses Swords Dance, allowing it to overwhelm Garchomp with Breakneck Blitz the next turn. Tamahome uses this as an opportunity to punish Kartana with Mega Alakazam. Empo decides to sack Greninja, which he no longer really needs. Afterwards, Empo is able to punish Mega Alakazam with Magearna and KO it the same turn with Fleur Cannon. Tamahome manages to pressure Empo's Magearna out the following turn and switches out to Toxapex. Empo uses this opportunity to make some progress by crippling whatever wants to come in with Knock Off. Anticipating Empo to switch into Mega Alakazam after staying in with Toxapex, he goes to Choice Scarf Landorus-T; however, Empo predicts that and uses Knock Off again and manages to remove Tamahome's Landorus-T's Choice Scarf, making it unable to offensively handle Mega Alakazam. The following few turns result in Kyurem getting KOed by Magearna, at which point the game is completely over for Tamahome.


Final Thoughts

While SPL is over for another year with the Alpha Ruiners as champions, the exciting tournaments are nowhere near concluded. With Official Smogon Tournament's conclusion fast approaching, Smogon Classic beginning, and World Cup of Pokémon starting soon, there will be no shortage of tournaments to spectate and participate in.

Planned by martha | HTML by The Dutch Plumberjack.
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