Spinblocker Appreciation Month
Right, so anyone who has remotely followed my tournament appearances / laddering / discord rants knows that for the last 6 months, I've been exploring the use of spinblockers in BW OU. Being Halloween month, this seemed like an appropriate time to compile my thoughts on the concept of BW spinblocking, share a handful of the more fun teams, and generally try and open up a conversation about elements of the hazard game that may be underexplored.
BW is a metagame that revolves around residual damage, with Stealth Rock and Spikes playing a particularly pivotal role. Many of the key defensive pieces in the format are grounded - Tyranitar, Ferrothorn, Politoed, and Jirachi to name a few, and as such Spikes Ferrothorn / Skarmory become a default slot on any team utilising Alakazam, Reuniclus, Thundurus-T, and so on. New players have it drilled into their minds by the old guard to make sure their teams have a plan against Spikes, be it through 1) relying heavily on Spike-immune Pokemon or 2) slapping Excadrill/Starmie/Tentacruel onto almost everything else. The result is a metagame where 60.5% of teams have a Spiker, and 62.8% of teams have a spinner, based on usage statistics from this years SPL.
However, BW OU is a metagame where spinblocking is generally considered to be dead. When the new generation came out in 2011, many users were immediately excited about the likes of Jellicent (and Cofagrigus lol) as top-tier spinblockers to make up for the loss of Ghost Rotom-appliances. However, it very quickly became apparent that the spinners got buffed way more than the Ghost-types and that the days of defensively invalidating a Spinner are long gone. In the modern game, offensive Excadrill and Analytic Starmie are broadly considered "unblockable" by traditional means, whilst Rain Dish Tentacruel has the potential to stall out the majority of Ghosts between Scald/Toxic+Protect in infinite weather. Thats not to say Ghost-types are completely unseen - Jellicent is an ever-present feature of the metagame and can block Tentacruel, but it is slapped onto teams as an all-purpose anti-Rain pick, and not so much to try and block Excadrill or Starmie.
This is a weird position for spinblocking to find itself in BW OU. Presumably the 62.8% of teams that carry a Spinner do so in order to patch up an SR/Spikes weakness, and as such there is a huge potential upside to spinblocking if you can pull it off. Even if we remove Tentacruel usage (considering it can be blocked by Jellicent), thats still 44.2% of teams that are reliant on Starmie or Excadrill that players have not been capitalising on. This statistic is the basis for my pursuit of reliable spinblocking in BW OU.
Before we go on, we should define what sets the Spinners are running at this point in time.
Excadrill @ Leftovers
Ability: Sand Force / Mold Breaker
Adamant / Jolly Nature
- Rapid Spin
- Iron Head
Excadrill is the most common Rapid Spinner in the tier due to its important role compression of Spin, Steel-typing, and offensive prowess (notably serving as a Reuniclus check), as well as the fact it fits on the strongest archetype - Sand. With Ground/Steel-typing, it is the only of the 3 spinners that is guaranteed to heal turn-by-turn in Sandstorm, which players capitalise on by using Protect to give the mole surprising survivability. Excadrill commonly finds it way onto teams that have Spikes issues rather than Stealth Rock issues - this is mainly because a number of Sand picks are Skarmory/Ferrothorn set-up bait (including Skarmory and Ferrothorn themselves, Tyranitar, Gliscor, Landorus-T, some Garchomp, some Breloom, Celebi, and bulky waters such as Gastrodon, Rotom-W, Seismitoad, Slowking, and Milotic). Many sand mainstays including Heatran, Jellicent, and Terrakion are actually good against the Spikers but all it takes is one set-up bait partner for their survivability to be ruined too. Excadrill comes to the fore as the saviour of these bulkier sand playstyles by reliably keeping hazards off the field and let its teammates flourish. It should be mentioned that Excadrill is also capable of running a Mold Breaker set, more often on weatherless teams with Jirachi/Breloom, but this is a fringe playstyle that does not see significant usage.
Starmie @ Air Balloon / Life Orb
- Rapid Spin
- Hydro Pump
- Ice Beam
A joke mon 6 months ago, but now back with a vengeance as one of BW OU's premier spinners. Starmie fits mostly on weatherless offense teams affectionately referred to as "Smurf", where it serves to remove Stealth Rock for Volcarona and Dragonite. These teams don't have many issues with Spikes at all - there's little to no set-up fodder on the team - but with Volcarona in tow there is a heavy priority on keeping SR off the field. Starmie is the preferred option for these teams due to its base 115 speed, which allows it to Rapid Spin on the entire metagame bar Scarfers and Alakazam - this offers an insane amount of consistency and many teams are completely helpless to stop Starmie from performing its job. A recent metagame shift has seen Starmie use Air Balloon over the more typical Life Orb, which makes it even more consistent - any time you have an Excadrill or Mamoswine on the field, you're now in danger of Starmie switching in and removing hazard with zero risk. As well as being a highly consistent, 1-time spinner, Starmie is also a scary offensive threat in its own right with Analytic-boosted attacks which scares everything bar Ferrothorn / Chansey.
Tentacruel @ Black Sludge
Ability: Rain Dish
- Rapid Spin
Last but not least. Tentacruel is by some distance the most passive of the 3 common spinners and the only one that people make any sort of effort to spinblock, as such I won't go into a huge amount of detail here. Tentacruel is a fixture on a lot of Rain teams as your own Ferrothorn is complete set-up fodder for any opposing Spiker, and making a Rain team that just ignores hazards is difficult considering how reliant you are on Pokemon like Politoed, Thundurus-T, Keldeo, Tornadus etc - its almost always optimal to find room for Tentacruel.
A whole-team approach to spinblocking
The point I'm trying to get across here is that these three spinners are all incredibly good and, for the most part, deny spinblocking attempts. See below a crude, 1v1 match-up chart for each of the Ghosts I consider "borderline viable" and whether they outlive the spinner considering every move they could potentially switch in on. As we can see, the results are quite stark, with only Jellicent having remotely good match-ups. However, even Jellicent is inconsistent - switching in on either an Iron Head or Earthquake from Adamant Excadrill will ensure that the follow-up Earthquake will KO, therefore meaning that Jellicent cannot reliably spinblock Excadrill. Similarly, Jellicent loses to Analytic Starmie if it switches in on a Thunderbolt, which is far from ideal.
Table 1: Solo Ghost match-up chart:
However, there are ways to overcome this poor set of match-ups, and it involves looking at spinblocking through a whole team approach. For example, selection of your hazard setter can be important. By utilising Ferrothorn as your Spiker, you put Excadrill in a difficult situation where it is heavily dissuaded from clicking Iron Head due to the risk of Iron Barbs damage + Power Whip dealing heavy damage. Similarly, Starmie is dissuaded from clicking Hydro Pump or Thunderbolt against Ferrothorn. Although this is not a perfect solution, it is a way to improve consistency of spinblocking - ensure that your opponent has to make incredibly high risk:reward plays in order to successfully get the spin away (bear in mind Ferro+Jelli looks good here but its also the most spike-weak core in existance so you still have to use your brain).
Table 2: Ferrothorn + Ghost switch-in match-up chart
The other, and in my opinion best, way to make spinblocking work in BW OU is to use your Ghost sacrificially alongside a fast revenge killer that can immediately threaten the spinner. Whilst this approach does not have longevity, BW games are often fast paced enough that players only get 1 spin chance, especially in the case of Starmie. This approach is therefore an incredibly reliable way of shutting down Smurf offense - suicide block the spin once with your ghost, then take the momentum with a fast sweeper that Starmie needs to switch out of. Design this well and the match-up is sealed. The best examples of partners I've used here are Scarf Tyranitar (Tyranitar traps Starmie, and Superpowers Excadrill), and Alakazam (KOs Starmie and Tentacruel, can remove chipped Excadrill with Focus Blast). As an example below, see how Alakazam's ability to always remove Starmie and Tentacruel (assuming Psyshock + Grass Knot coverage, with SR up + 1 turn of sand) drastically improves the spinblocking record across the board.
Table 3: Ghost + Alakazam revenge kill match-up chart
Now the part that people have been bugging me about. Some of these are teams that people have seen already - 2 are very standard - but regardless here are some solid Spikes + spinblocker teams for anyone needing inspiration / looking to steal. Note that, yes, all of these are Psychic offense with Alakazam and Latios. Thats not a coincidence. I feel like Alakazam is the strongest partner with Ghosts due to its revenge killing capabilities vs Excadrill/Starmie/Tentacruel, as well as being a Pokemon that obviously benefits from Spikes already - its a match made in heaven. You'll see teams here that have other revenge killing options (e.g. Scarf Tyranitar, Landorus-T, Scarf Chandelure) but Alakazam is the go-to for me.I think Ghosts are certainly viable on other structures too, the synergy on rain would make a lot of sense but at least for this post... all Psyspam.
Basic Psychic Offense with Jellicent
I think everyone has a version of this standard team in their builder - this is my own one. Used in RoAPL vs Bushtush this year knowing that he has a love for Rain stall / Sun stall / Weatherless stall / anything with a Chansey, and stallbreaker Jellicent does great in those match-ups. Unfortunately didn't get that golden match-up but this team is solid regardless. Jellicent + Alakazam serves as the hazard control core, with Jellicent beating Tentacruel handily and then Grass Knot Alakazam revenge killing Starmie after a block - Excadrill is tougher as if its well played, it can stay healthy enough to remove Jellicent and then stay out of Alakazam Focus Blast range. Gliscor + Skarmory helps a lot there though, so you have the potential to just play the longer game against Excadrill instead. Again, this goes back to tables 2 and 3 - best way to make consistent spinblocking plans are to make your Spiker difficult to spin on (e.g. helmet Skarmory) + a Ghost + a revenge killer.
My own adaptation of an Alakazam HO that Jimmy Turtwig used in SPL earlier this year. I've already done a full-write up for anyone interested, so won't go too in-depth here. Long story short, the team uses suicide lead Skarmory and Jellicent to get up hazards early and keep them up, enabling 3 special sweepers in Flame Charge Heatran, CM Latios, and Alakazam. Normally you would see Sitrus Berry or Air Balloon on Jellicent here which give you better match-ups against Starmie and Excadrill, respectively. Eject Button has quickly become my go-to item on Jellicent for these teams, as Jellicent is losing the 1v1 to Excadrill and Starmie so what you really want is to switch in to deny the spin, but get out before they actually 2HKO you - Button lets you do exactly this, get in scary threats to take advantage of Starmie/Excadrill all whilst keeping Jellicent alive for use later in the game. Eject Button also denies Rotom-W Volt Switches, which can be huge for this style of team that can't always find an electric-immunity.
SkarmJelli HO with double ghosts
This looks like insanity but it is basically just the team above but with a minor tweak: Chandelure over Heatran gives you another spinblocker in a pinch. You are never spinning against this team. One of the issues that the team above has is that Jolly Specially Defensive Excadrill can be a rough ride as it will force out Eject Button Jellicent, but then you've got nothing that can both outspeed and OHKO it. Chandelure can slot in over Heatran to let you perform that job. There are two routes to go down here: either Scarf Tyranitar + Balloon Flame Charge Chandelure, or Chople Tyranitar + Scarf Chandelure. Flame Charge Chandelure is slower than Jolly Excadrill but can't be spun on as it sets-up in the same way that Heatran could be. However, the variations with Scarf Chandelure are way way better vs Alakazam, and also reduce your reliance on your own Alakazam vs Starmie, so I recommend that one. Flame Body is an interesting tech here too - Chandelure will always live at least 1 40bp Pursuit from 88+ Tyranitar after SR and sand, meaning that in a lot of games you actually get two chances for a Flame Body burn (51% chance). Chandelure also helps a lot against Scizor! Obviously SR weakness is not ideal, but double fast Taunt thankfully shuts down a lot of the major lead Stealth Rockers (everything but Garchomp and Landorus-T). I think Chandelure can do some cool stuff with Fire Spin + Sunny Day + Solarbeam, on a Heatran-esque set, but its not a strong solo Ghost.
SkarmJelli HO with Landorus-T
Same structure as the above two teams, but this uses SD Landorus-T as 1) an extra Skarmory breaker for Alakazam and 2) a highly reliable Excadrill revenge killer following the spinblock + eject button turn. The trade off is that the Mamoswine match-up becomes borderline unplayable, which is why I'm not a massive fan of this, but just wanted to show off some other interesting Ghost + Revenge Killer pairings that I've found to work.
Basic Psychic Offense with Gengar
Gengar + Psychics isn't anything new (see here for the 2011 OG and here for a 2014 redux) but its been a long time since the strategy has had a legitimate metagame presence. The core idea is that Ghosts and Psychics have an incredibly similar set of offensive and defensive characteristics which means that they share common counters - Gengar might as well be an offensive Psychic-type in terms of how it plays. It baits in the likes of Tyranitar, Jirachi, Scizor, and Skarmory and forces them to take damage which gives your Psychic-types open season come the end game. Gengar is considered poor amongst most of the playerbase but I think its underrated - people just use bad sets. The old school Shadow Ball / Focus Blast / Substitute / Pain Split or Will-o-Wisp sets are an absolute variance fuckfest as they completely rely on inaccurate options to hit the Alakazam counters. My personal stance is that any Gengar team that uses a Focus Blast / Will-O-Wisp set to remove checks for Focus Blast Alakazam is pretty unviable if you want a consistent w:l record. The set I really like uses Trick with Black Sludge (discussed with LuckOverSkill in this post) as a 100% accurate way to cripple a Tyranitar or a bulky Steel without needing to mess around with low accurate moves. Will-O-Wisp is still a nice option to have but its never the go-to option to cripple things and more just a good option to throw around once Gengar has already Tricked. Shadow Ball and Hidden Power [Ice] ensure you aren't walled burn the tier's go-to status absorbers - Gliscor, Breloom, and Reuniclus - whilst also doubling down on Gengar's underrated role as a hard Landorus-T answer. On the topic of spin-blocking, needless to say Gengar is not very good at it! The EV spread here is fast enough to beat Garchomp, with the bulk guaranteeing you'll survive a Jolly 252 Atk Sand Force Iron Head from Excadrill with SR and a turn of sand - this lets you always switch in once, and Trick Black Sludge the next turn, which should (hopefully) put them into Alakazam or Latios range depending on EV spreads and prior damage. Maybe you can opt for Hidden Power [Fire] here for the consistent damage on Excadrill rather than opting for Trick, I don't know - realistically most players aren't Iron Heading on the switch-in anyway. The HP investment here also guarantees that you survive one unboosted Hydro Pump from Starmie after SR, meaning that you can actually 1v1 if you first switch in on Rapid Spin. You can go for a more specially defensive spread to tank a Starmie Analytic Hydro Pump, but as you're slower than it anyway, there's never a guarantee that this is particularly useful - maybe with Sucker Punch. Thankfully, having Alakazam as a partner really helps out here as it can comfortably revenge kill Starmie from ~85% (i.e. SR and a turn of sand).
Basic Psychic Offense with THE BOY ROTOM BASE FORME
The cool one. Built this for week 1 of this years BWPL, having been using Gengar a lot but wanting a more consistent way to block Excadrill. Rotom emerges as the only Ghost-type that resists both Excadrill STABs, making it capable of blocking any Sand Force set at least once. Its too frail to serve as a consistent Excadrill switch-in across an entire game, but at the very least the combination of hazards, Rocky Helmet, and a potential Will-o-Wisp will keep Excadrill well within pick-off range of your Psychics in the back, therefore admirably performing the role of spinblocker. Rotom also has Volt Switch as a perk, forming a miniature volt-turn core with Gliscor to help get Alakazam and Latios into the game safely - this particularly comes in handy against Tentacruel, where the slower Volt Switch allows you to get Alakazam in for free without needing to sacrifice Rotom, where you would need to sacrifice with say, Gengar.
Stuff I think has potential but is still unproven
Golurk @ Custap Berry / Salac Berry
Ability: Iron Fist
- Stealth Rock
- Ice Punch
- Fire Punch
Bad mon for sure but being able to compress Stealth Rock and spinblocker into one slot must have some merit on a team somewhere. Credit goes to my BWPL teammates particularly SuperEpicAmpharos, ckw, and Nalorium who helped bounce ideas around, but we didn't work out anything solid with it. I can imagine a situation where it trades SR reliably with lead Garchomps / Gliscors, and then the midgame gets off a sacrificial spinblock with a good offensive partner (maybe ScarfTar) to give a really good Smurf MU on a team that wouldn't normally have a good one at all. Custap is just here because things like Excadrill EQ, Starmie Ice Beam, and Tentacruel's Scald in Rain leave you in perfect Custap range with the right EV spread, so you can actually make good MUs out of bad ones? Gets ruined by Protect though. Maybe someone else can work this one out because I didn't arrive on a final team I particularly liked here. edit: just realised that Salac actually overcomes your Protect issues, but it requires 252 Speed or to go Jolly nature - idea being that you EV to barely survive Drill EQ / Tenta Scald and then you force them out next turn at +1 Speed, could be interesting way to get SR and 1 spinblock + forced switch for some kind of offense
Cofagrigus @ ???
- Trick Room
- Nasty Plot
- Shadow Ball
- Hidden Power [Fighting]
This is a lower tier set for Cofagrigus but can maybe put in some work in OU - I see it on some kind of HO team where you have the option of either using it as a spinblocker, or vs teams with no spinners, getting an extra late-game sweeper. Cofagrigus definitely has the most sweep potential out of any of the Ghosts so there must be some HO viability in there somewhere but again, I couldn't find anything I liked much.
Froslass (F) @ Colbur Berry
Ability: Cursed Body
- Ice Beam
- Thunder Wave / Destiny Bond
This was a bit of a discussion topic on discord a couple weeks ago - someone said Froslass was unviable. I disagree, I think Froslass has the makings of a usable, but niche, HO lead pair. I envisage it being used with suicide lead Lando-T (SR / Imprison / Explosion) as an alternative way to get both hazards and a spinblocker into two slots. Most of the time you'd rather go Skarmory + Jellicent, but I'm sure there are teams where those aren't the optimal lead pairing and Lando+Froslass might suit there - who knows. Check out an BKC post here from 2014 to see some old school Spikes Froslass shenanigans, potentially worth trying in modern metagame.