XY Little Cup: Take Them Out Of The Ball Game

By Goddess Briyella and blizzardy. Art by Sephirona.
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Gligar and Swirlix are two highly destructive Pokémon from two very different environments that both found themselves on the chopping block during the Little Cup suspect test following the one that resulted in the ousting of Yanma and Tangela. Their unbelievable levels of brute force, Speed, bulk, recovery, versatility, and unpredictability made them nearly impossible to deal with both together and separately. Gligar's background consists of being banned from BW Little Cup not once, but twice, and for three generations straight it was considered a UU Pokémon as well, which further goes to show how commendable it really is in competitive battling. Swirlix, on the other hand, did not enter the metagame with such notoriety and in fact had never been seen before until the dawn of XY. This article will cover their stay in the tier, their impacts on the surrounding metagame, and what eventually led up to their banishment from XY Little Cup.

Gligar's Malice

When Gligar was unbanned yet again and allowed back into Little Cup at the start of XY, it had a mind to terrorize the metagame the way it had done last generation, but had to wait its turn, as there were much more menacing Pokémon roaming about. Sneasel severely hampered Gligar's viability by outspeeding it and threatening its 4x weakness to Ice with its nasty STAB attacks, and this was the main thing holding Gligar back, but it wasn't until after Yanma and Tangela were banned that the bat really came out swinging, with its blistering 19 Speed, insane physical bulk, and enormous offensive and supportive movepool, and its potent Ground / Flying STABs hitting home against many important Pokémon and striking out a large part of the metagame with minimal effort.

Gligar's massive weakness to Ice has always been something of a pain for it, and this defensive drawback may initially give off the impression that it can be easily beaten in Little Cup, where Ice-type offense is quite significant. In addition, Hidden Power Ice and a Choice Scarf could just be added to any special attacker to outspeed and knock Gligar out of the park, right? While the almost infinite distribution of this move did help keep Gligar at bay to an extent, the problem was that most Pokémon that could reliably use it for this reason were 2HKOed if they switched in, and Choice Scarf carriers ran the additional risk of being robbed of their Speed advantage by taking a Knock Off on the switch. Ice-types have never really been too common in Little Cup outside of Snover due to their numerous defensive liabilities, and the only other common user of Ice-type attacks that Gligar really feared was Skill Link Shellder; Timburr ran Ice Punch to nail Gligar as it came in to take its resisted STAB attacks, but was not a surefire answer due to Gligar's offensive advantage against Timburr in its STAB Acrobatics. Gligar's only other weakness to Water was less of a problem, as many of XY Little Cup's key Water-types found it difficult to safely switch in as well; Slowpoke had to worry about taking Knock Off, Chinchou had to worry about stomaching a super effective STAB Earthquake, and all other Water-types could be hit with U-turn and forced into an less favorable matchup. One of the most popular ways to deal with Gligar became Choice Scarf Gothita with Hidden Power Ice; after Gligar knocked something out, it could enter battle, trap Gligar from fleeing with Shadow Tag, and then outspeed it and have a high chance of OHKOing it. In the vast majority of cases, however, the fear that stemmed from Gligar's extensive attacking options kept the whole tier on its toes. But it doesn't stop at just Gligar's offensive capabilities—its support and utility movepool was also full of highly useful gems that could make Gligar an amazing defensive supporter. It had access to Stealth Rock for racking up chip damage, Defog for removing hazards, Roost for reliable self-recovery and temporarily halving its weakness to Ice, Taunt for putting a stop to the opponent's attempts to disrupt Gligar or support their team, and Baton Pass for reliably passing Swords Dance and Agility boosts to teammates. The sheer unpredictability and power presented by Gligar's impressive stats and massive movepool made it not only difficult to contemplate when teambuilding, but also incredibly hard to predict and beat in an actual battle, as by the time Gligar's full purpose was apparent, the player facing it had often been hurt by it too much for that knowledge to matter.

Without question, Gligar's most feared set by far was the Swords Dance set with Earthquake and Acrobatics, with maxed Attack and Speed (Gligar's natural physical bulk is so high that it didn't require investment to be damn good, especially in a mostly physically inclined metagame). The raw power of a boosted STAB Earthquake is blatantly obvious, but what made its STAB Acrobatics so incredible is that Gligar ran the Berry Juice item with this set, which both restored it back to full health upon being damaged beyond 50% and also doubled the power of Acrobatics upon becoming itemless afterward. This allowed Gligar to become even more threatening after being damaged to a certain degree, which deterred players from attacking it and instead tempted them to try and burn it, but there was always the risk of Gligar being a variant that carried Taunt, making this a shaky idea as well. Access to the Hyper Cutter ability made efforts to lower its Attack stat useless, and this meant that typical physical damage limiters like Intimidate and even Memento were totally unhelpful in curbing Gligar's power. There was literally nothing in Little Cup that could stand up to the titanic offensive threat that Gligar was with this set, as it steamrolled past everything and could only be beaten by one of the few 20 Speed Pokémon (Elekid, Voltorb, and Diglett) or a Choice Scarf carrier with Ice Beam or Hidden Power Ice after a teammate went down. For the Pokémon that walled this STAB combination, such as Archen and Bronzor, Knock Off was also often used in the final moveslot, and they were certainly not comfortable taking that attack after a Swords Dance. Knock Off's new mechanics also made Gligar able to rage through the tier removing precious items from its victims while still maintaining its sovereignty as one of the most threatening and powerful threats Little Cup had even exposed to, even more so than Gligar was last generation before it was banned.

Apart from raw offense, Gligar was quite literally a jack of all trades, but a master of all of them as well. Although a lot less immediately powerful, Gligar could also use a different approach that used Eviolite to bolster its already phenomenal bulk to annoying heights, and continuously restore its health with Roost, making it extremely hard to kill as it either shook the tier with its Earthquake, made use of its various and wonderful support moves, or used U-turn for momentum. This set could also actually tank the random Hidden Power Ice that might come as a surprise from a player attempting to sneakily bring it down without trouble, which made efforts to deal with this variant of Gligar a real pain for players who came prepared to face the offensive Swords Dance set. Knock Off could be used to take Gligar's bulk down a notch and make it easier to deal with, but just about every viable user of Knock Off was threatened by Gligar's STAB combination, making this maneuver tricky to pull off and oftentimes costly to the player. Defensive Gligar sets such as this sometimes used the ability Immunity over Hyper Cutter to prevent Toxic poisoning, and any Attack drops that came as a result of not using Hyper Cutter could be voided by keeping up momentum normally with U-turn. What made Gligar most annoying was the fact that it was used either as an outright killing machine or something that just refused to die. To make matters worse, although these two sets and all the variants of them were incredibly difficult to predict and deal with in their own respective rights, Gligar also sometimes ran a Choice Scarf set to punish players who might try to take it down with a Choice Scarf-equipped Ice-type move user. Its 19 Speed allowed it to outspeed pretty much every other Choice Scarf user that could be designed for this purpose, and in addition, Gligar's high Speed and access to U-turn made this item easy to bluff throughout matches, as it could be expected to naturally outspeed most Pokémon anyway. Gligar's great bulk also made it viable as a Baton Pass recipient and stat-passer. With the popularity of Torchic this generation due to Speed Boost and Baton Pass being compatible on it now, Gligar was an easy go-between for getting boosts to the right teammate, and passing Speed and additional Attack boosts to something that could be a little faster but is already powerful, like Meditite, could mean 'good game' for the opponent if pulled off correctly. Gligar's ability to fulfill practically any role and do it extremely well pushed its brokenness over the edge for these many reasons, and as such, it was deemed far too unhealthy to allow it to remain in the metagame, and the bat was put away once again.

Swirlix's Rampage

Swirlix's debut to Little Cup this generation was honestly a very subtle one, initially only noted as one of the new Fairy-types that came with the wave of new XY Pokémon. Bringing with it a set of resistances that are very handy in Little Cup as well as weaknesses to uncommon attacking types, it was respected as a Pokémon but not really used during the chaos that was the XY Sneasel era. As time went on and as it was experimented with more, players began to find ways to use Swirlix to great effect, but like Gligar, its power did not truly begin to reveal itself until after Yanma and Tangela were removed from the tier. Once its many combinations of moves and easy setup strategies were realized, it transformed from the subtle Fairy-type it began as into a terrifying monster that turned Little Cup upside down and back again with its insane sweeping capabilities. Talk about a rude awakening; this thing does not mess around.

What's a ball game without concessions? If Candy Crush could be embodied by any one Pokémon, this would definitely be it. Swirlix appears at first to be a rather average Pokémon despite its handy typing, due to its middling stats that show no real strengths and its two ostensibly dull abilities. However, upon taking a closer look, one will find that its exhaustive movepool, huge array of setup options, and Unburden ability allow it to set up in many different ways once it loses its item. Swirlix's resistances to Fighting and Dark, two common attacking types in Little Cup, gave it ample opportunities to set up, and if it was struck by Knock Off, it resisted the hit and received doubled Speed for having lost its held item; this was a great way for Swirlix to punish teams that liked to use this popular move to deprive opponents of their items, and it could actually switch into the move and turn the tables quite easily. Swirlix's physical movepool is actually quite barren, with only Play Rough as STAB and not much else outside of Return and Thief; its special movepool, however, is very colorful and contains Dazzling Gleam for STAB as well as awesome coverage options such as Psychic, Flamethrower, Surf, Thunderbolt, and Energy Ball, as well as Draining Kiss to attack while recovering health at the same time. Its setup options range from Calm Mind to Belly Drum to Cotton Guard, which are all a key to one of Swirlix's sets. Like Gligar's overpowering Swords Dance set, Swirlix made use of Berry Juice to sweep, but instead of it doubling the power of one of its STABs as a side effect of its health restoration, it doubled Swirlix's Speed while it set up other stats to manually increase its power or bulk, and unlike Gligar, Berry Juice was used on every single Swirlix set for this same benefit blended with different kinds of options depending on the player's preference. The nosebleed heights Swirlix was able to reach with its many boosting options and the sheer versatility provided by having so many reliable choices made Swirlix impossible to prepare for most of the time; it could only be stopped after being paralyzed or after having its stat boosts removed with Haze, a move whose distribution does not include very many viable Little Cup Pokémon. Oftentimes, all it took for Swirlix to easily begin setup for a sweep was wait until after an opposing Fighting-type knocked out one of its teammates. At that point, it could enter battle comfortably while not risking being killed off in one hit, trusting its Berry Juice to restore its health and double its Speed while setting up if the opponent does happen to do anything to get its health below 50%.

The thing that knocked the whole tier on its ass was Swirlix's Belly Drum set. In conjunction with Berry Juice and Unburden, using Belly Drum allowed Swirlix to easily attain quadrupled (+6) Attack as well as doubled Speed and full health restoration all in one turn, whether the active foe opted to attack or not. If Swirlix was hit with an attack that took over half its health, something that would cause Belly Drum to fail under normal circumstances, Berry Juice would restore its health immediately and allow Belly Drum to still be used, so if the opponent didn't have a Pokémon out right then that could OHKO Swirlix (like something with a boosted Steel- or Poison-type attack), there was no stopping it and it could set up in the opponent's face with nothing to worry about. With STAB Play Rough at the maximum possible boosted value and doubled Speed, it's quite certain that absolutely nothing in Little Cup has ever Played Rougher than Swirlix, and nothing has ever been able set up to such a ridiculous extent in such little time either. One notable disadvantage of this set was a glaring lack of coverage, with Swirlix being forced to use Return to hit the things that resisted Fairy-type attacks, and it actually had nothing for Steel-types unless it opted to run an unboostable Flamethrower; the only physical move it could really even hit them with at all without being resisted was Thief, which failed to OHKO Ferroseed and gave it the chance to cripple Swirlix with paralysis. Outside of this, however, almost nothing could even think about stopping Swirlix except a user of Haze or Prankster Thunder Wave / Stun Spore, or unless a player got incredibly lucky with an untimely Play Rough miss, as it is only 90% accurate (for perspective, the same as Rock Slide). Outspeeding even Choice Scarf carriers and OHKOing practically everything after such little effort and ease in setting up to be able to do so made it unexceptionally broken and was considered far too overwhelming to keep around.

While the Belly Drum set was definitely the most intimidating approach Swirlix could take, its inability to get around Ferroseed in one hit was unappealing to many players, and so a lot of them preferred an Unburden set with Calm Mind and three attacks instead, which made Swirlix a lot more customizable and let it cover its bases better, and was actually the only Swirlix set that was commonly used until Belly Drum was experimented with. This had a slower rate of attaining boosts and was not near as immediately offensively threatening, but could make use of Swirlix's awesome special movepool to hit any Pokémon it wanted coverage for, particularly the ones that resisted Dazzling Gleam. If Poison-types were a problem, it carried Psychic; if Fire-types were a problem, it carried Surf. With this set, it could actually carry a boosted Flamethrower for broiling the Steel-types that might have given the Belly Drum set problems as well, which was very significant. With this set, Swirlix could come in the same way the Belly Drum set did and just stack Calm Mind boosts, waiting to be damaged beyond half its health so that its Berry Juice could activate, thereby restoring its health and doubling its Speed. By that point, Swirlix had the Speed and special stats to really wreak havoc, as well as brilliant special coverage moves with which to enact its rage and sweep through teams with ease. The final set that began finding use was one that made use of both Cotton Guard and Calm Mind, to boost both defenses as well as Swirlix's Special Attack, while relying on Berry Juice and Unburden to raise its Speed and replenish its health like in its other sets. This set used a different STAB attack than Dazzling Gleam though; it used one that made it the most tenacious and hard-to-kill setup sweeper in Little Cup: Draining Kiss. With 50 Base Power, it would appear to be a very weak move for Swirlix at first, but with STAB factored in, it's as powerful as a non-STAB Giga Drain and also recovers 75% of the damage dealt as opposed to the mere 50% that other draining moves restore. With Calm Mind boosts, Cotton Guard Swirlix could become able to tank hits easily and sweep past enemies while recovering lost health quickly at the same time, making it nigh impossible to stop. The only drawback of this set is that the use of Draining Kiss and two setup moves left room for only one attack that could be used as coverage. If Flamethrower or Surf was used, Liquid Ooze Tentacool was a full stop to the set due to Liquid Ooze causing damage for what would have been health restoration from Draining Kiss and Tentacool's high special bulk and resistance to Fairy-, Water-, and Fire-type attacks. If the set used Psychic or Thunderbolt to prevent this issue, Ferroseed gave it problems like it did with the Belly Drum set and could cripple Swirlix with Thunder Wave and Leech Seed. Despite these small issues, this variant of Swirlix was certainly monstrous and had the vast majority of the tier shaking with fear. Players had way too much to think about if they were trying to cover the threat of Swirlix when teambuilding, as each set had very specific weaknesses and they were totally out of luck if the variants they faced weren't the one they prepared for. Being the cute little ball of cotton candy that it is, it's kind of surprising still that it actually turned out to be what is the most insane setup sweeper Little Cup has ever seen and probably ever will see, and it definitely made its mark and made a point to the people who underestimated it in the beginning: you can never judge a book by its cover. There's nothing that Plays Rougher than this thing.


The combination of the raw power and crazy advantages in every aspect of battling possessed by both Gligar and Swirlix made them far too much for the tier to handle, and losing their items made them both exceptionally harder to deal with. The LC Council decided to take them out of the ball game as a result of their suspecting—one decision among many that is helping to push Little Cup into a stable state where nothing broken exists to cause unbalance. As more decisions are being made to help shape our new generation of battling, be sure to check out the ever-changing metagame that is XY Little Cup!

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