Little Cup: Then and Now

By eric the espeon, Vader, and Heysup.
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Little Cup is a fast and furious metagame, being played with level 5 NFE Pokemon, and has only recently become an officially-recognized metagame by Smogon. However, the Little Cup metagame has been played by many Smogon users for over a year now, and an interesting metagame has been formed. Rather than analyzing the metagame in its current state, this article seeks to tell the story of the tier from its earliest inception as a thread in the Stark Mountain subforum, up until the Pomeg Glitch was implemented in order to better understand how it is today and why it is that way.

Early Days

Right at the start, Little Cup was composed of a very small group of interested battlers on Smogon, an old article by Thorns outlined the rules and gave some basic idea of what may become standard had been sitting on-site for some time, but almost no one had actually played it. When Little Cup was brought somewhat into the public eye in June '08, no one really knew what to expect. At that point, even the rules were not decided upon (early LC almost had the Item Clause included as it was in Thorns' guide, and there was also some talk of Level 30 battles). In line with the guide, the only Pokemon initially banned was Scyther, though within a short time, Yanma, Sneasel, and Meditite proved themselves strong enough to be banned as well.

In the early days of Little Cup, there was almost no information on what worked and what didn’t. People experimented with sets that seem strange these days, and many things we now think of as integral parts of the metagame were simply not used. Choice Band Diglett was the be-all end-all revenge killer. Abra was considered the best special sweeper ever, Cranidos was decided to be the best Choice Scarf user, and Gastly the best Ghost-type. Stealth Rock was virtually unused for a time, until a wave of teams abusing Focus Sash forced many teams to carry something to counter them. Many Pokemon now considered as staples, such as Croagunk, Misdreavus, Wynaut, and Elekid, were largely overlooked. Speed was not seen as quite so important as it is now, though it was already a more Speed-centric metagame than any other. Priority was also very overlooked, and monstrously powerful Pokemon like Substitute Murkrow and Clamperl were undiscovered. Many of the Pokemon that have stayed consistently popular have changed sets entirely. For example, Chinchou, which is now used almost exclusively as a threatening Agility Sweeper, was once thought of only as a tank.

In amongst the chaos of testing, a new metagame was beginning to take shape; one dominated by Speed, prediction, and the ability to surprise your opponents with things that no one had thought of before.

Rise of Choice Items and Field Conditions

A little later on in the metagame’s development, Choice items, particularly Choice Scarf, began to become more and more popular, as did Focus Sash. Murkrow became well known for using Choice Banded Sucker Punch attacks to inflict massive damage onto anything that dared to attack it, and Pursuit to punish anything that switches out. Oran Berry began to see some popularity, and the Item Clause left over from the 3rd Generation was questioned and soon done away with. Munchlax and Croagunk both emerged as powerful and popular Pokemon at this point. Priority’s popularity began here as well, as a way to stop Choiced-users and Focus Sash abusers. Choice Scarf Cyndaquil and Wailmer leads were very popular, as were other powerful Choice Scarf users.

People experimented briefly with Choice Band Munchlax and things like Choice Scarf Psyduck, but many of these sets eventually were scrapped because of either changes in the metagame or because they were just deemed bad. Set-up was rarely seen because of how common Taunt Murkrow and Voltorb had been for a period, rendering Bronzor and Curse Munchlax, two common set-up Pokemon, almost useless.

Not too far in, themed teams began to see popularity. All three themes - Rain Dance, Sunny Day, and Trick Room - were found to be vastly more effective in Little Cup than in other metagames, and for a time, it looked like they were almost unstoppable. It became clear within a few weeks that Tangela underneath the sun, and Clamperl underneath Trick Room were simply too much for the metagame. Tangela, and later the Deepseatooth item, were banned. Themed teams were still exceptionally powerful, but players had started to adapt.

Munchlax was able to stop many Pokemon in these themes, and Protect started to be used to waste a turn of the field-effect the opponent has set up. It could also outspeed Pokemon abusing Trick Room, thanks to its horrific Speed. Murkrow began using Pluck in response to the vast number of berries, particularly Oran, that were being used. At this point, it was believed that Pluck doubled in power against berries as well, which can be partly attributed to its use over Drill Peck. Abra and Gastly continued to lose popularity, though Trick Room Gastly did have a moment in the spotlight.

Choice Scarf Psyduck, in particular, saw a lot of use during this period, due to its ability to totally nullify weather just by switching in. It was even argued as a Tangela counter because it trapped Tangela into Solarbeam and KO'd with Ice Beam. It faded back into obscurity along with weather moves, and has failed to make a comeback since.

Murkrow and Misdreavus

The equilibrium of the Metagame was soon threatened by a powerful new set; Belly Drum Poliwag. It had the ability to OHKO any Pokemon in the metagame if allowed a single turn to set-up, and had the still 70% accurate Hypnosis to achieve it. The 20 Speed group (Diglett, Elekid, Voltorb), certain Choice Scarf users, and priority gained significant popularity. Murkrow was found to safely check it, and with the metagame conspiring against it, Belly Drum Poliwag faded into obscurity after 2 or 3 weeks of extreme popularity. It's indirect effects are still felt, without it, the priority heavy and highly Speed based metagame we have today may have taken much longer to develop. Murkrow’s newest and most dangerous set then surfaced; Substitute Murkrow. No longer could you safely avoid Sucker Punch with non damaging moves. Fake Out + U-turn Meowth, often called the best lead in the game even today, was discovered during this period. Its ability to safely take a large chunk off the frail but very powerful Choice Scarf users that were common leads at the time, combined with the brilliant scouting combination of Protect and U-turn, made it particularly deadly to the metagame as it was.

Hail stall began to see some use, and the Little Cup Ladder was implemented by DougJustDoug on the CAP server, cementing the relationship between the Little Cup and CAP communities and allowing true usage statistics. For several months, Murkrow dominated the game, while players tried to either adapt to it or abuse it. The few Pokemon capable of dealing with it at all became massively popular, even things like Aron and Shieldon that were otherwise considered extremely poor were added to teams just to stop Murkrow. Many of the fast, but frail Pokemon, such as Abra, had their use held down because of their weakness to Murkrow. Despite this Murkrow was extremely slow to be banned for several reasons, unlike the other Little Cup Ubers, people had actually become accustomed to the influence of Murkrow, and were reluctant to remove such a major force from the metagame. There was also the argument that Murkrow was not horribly hard to beat, so long as you predicted its Sucker Punches, and that this added an extra element of skill. However, the main reason for the delay was that it took an extremely long time for the Platinum Tutors to be fully implemented on NFEs (roughly three and a half months, with a metagame that had a few Platinum tutors, but not all) and the substantial dip in activity that it caused. However, once they were added and Murkrow eventually banned things started to pick up. A new generation of Little Cup players joined and started contributing, and it was them who helped carry the metagame to where it is now.

The banning of Murkrow ushered in the modern age of Little Cup. Several Speed boosters like Rock Polish Gligar and Agility Chinchou / Mantyke became very popular, as did Choice Scarf Anorith and Carvanha. Substitute / Charge Beam sets for both Misdreavus and Drifloon began to see use as well. Protect gained popularity as well, being used to scout moves and in the case of Munchlax; take advantage of Leftovers recovery. The Pokemon with the greatest gain from Murkrow's ban was undoubtedly Houndour, which in many respects took Murkrow's place, albeit with a drop to both attack stats, overall defenses, and significantly less Speed. Platinum Moves shook up the metagame a little, with additions like Ice Punch Croagunk and Aqua Tail Gligar, but not enough to make a truly significant impact on more than a few Pokemon. Stealth Rock began to see more consistent use as a way to stop Focus Sashers. Gastly was almost totally replaced Misdreavus, save for the Choice Scarf set.

Shortly after Murkrow was banned, several new sets began to see play. Choice Scarf Machop and Mankey became two of the most threatening Pokemon in the game, with the ability to sweep opposing teams once Ghost-types were down. Powerful STAB Fighting-type moves tore through most opposing Pokemon in one or two hits. Then, one of the most revolutionary and game-breaking sets of the metagame arose: Misdreavus with Substitute and Shadow Sneak, better known was SubSneakMiss. This worked on the basic principle of Misdreavus getting a single free turn. If this happened, the opposing player was likely to lose.

This Misdreavus set could single-handedly take on Munchlax, Bronzor, Gligar, and almost all other common sets that existed in the metagame. It was time for a change, and Game Freak itself delivered one.

HGSS and the Return of Set-Up

With the new additions of HGSS the Little Cup metagame was shaken up quite a bit. Set-up sweepers, such as Rock Polish Aron with Head Smash and Dragon Dance Dratini with ExtremeSpeed, became very popular. Consequently, Wynaut became quite popular as it aids set-up sweepers by buying them a free turn with Encore. Agility Mantyke and Chinchou started to see much more use due to their powerful STAB Hydro Pumps and good defensive typings. With Wynaut backing them, they could easily overwhelm unprepared teams with their high Speed and high-powered moves.

In addition to HGSS additions, there was also a newly discovered "Ditto Breeding Glitch" which allowed Porygon to learn Agility and Tri Attack, and allowed Staryu to learn Hydro Pump and Rapid Spin. Agility Porygon was incredibly popular with its monstrous Special Attack stat, and powerful STAB Tri attack. Download allowed its Tri Attack to 2HKO the majority of the metagame, and its natural bulk allowed it to take a hit or two. Staryu's access to Rapid Spin allowed it serve as an anti-Stealth Rock lead, and for a time it replaced Squirtle as the most reliable Rapid Spinner in the tier. However, the Ditto Breeding Glitch was soon removed due to several issues in other metagames regarding the implications of allowing it, so these new moves were removed once more.

Soon after, people starting using Nasty Plot Misdreavus; who while holding a Life Orb could OHKO Munchlax with Hidden Power Fighting. This resulted in a forgotten critter emerging from the depths (sewers if you will) of Little Cup. Of course, this is referring to Stunky, who could invest most of its EVs in bulk and Attack to deal with every kind of Misdreavus. The Misdreavus versus Stunky war was not over though, as Misdreavus users began to run Will-O-Wisp and Substitute for the express purpose of beating Stunky. This also resulted in the infamous "Double Ghost" strategy, with use of a Pokemon, such as Choice Scarf Gastly, which would take advantage of the weakened or eliminated Stunky to net a sweep.

Poliwag also received a brief resurgance of popularity due to its new HGSS move: Encore. Under most circumstances, Gligar could now Baton Pass Speed to Poliwag, which could then Encore the opposing Pokemon using an ineffective Ice- or Water-type move, and safely Belly Drum its way to a sweep. Poliwag teams died out fairly quickly soon after that due to the extreme amounts of Priority being piled on, as well as the high number of Croagunk / Ghost-type pairs, and Meowth able to deal with it.

Snover also became more popular due to the Hail support it offered and its powerful STAB Blizzard and Ice Shard, as well as its ability to deal with the common Stealth Rock leads. Choice Scarf Snover and Swords Dance Snover were the two most popular sets; beating Phanpy and Diglett leads. Ice Shard added a valuable means of defeating Speed-boosters in such a fast-paced, stat-boost-oriented metagame; Dragon Dance Dratini in particular. In response to Snover, the Houndour lead made a comeback. With its powerful Overheat, STAB Sucker Punch, and access to Reversal to deal with the ever-irksome Munchlax, Houndour showed itself to be as fearsome a lead as any.

Carvanha started to see use in response to all of the Speed boosting and Choice Scarf users in the metagame. With the ability to 2HKO any Pokemon in the tier, Substitute Carvanha mimicked SubSneak Misdreavus, albeit a bit stronger. Substitute Carvanha is Carvanha with Substitute / Crunch / Aqua Jet / Zen Headbutt, and it can very easily sweep teams given a single turn of set-up. Its Aqua Jet being able to OHKO Houndour and 2HKO Gligar, Crunch being able to OHKO all Ghost-types and 2HKO most other Pokemon, and finally Zen Headbutt allowing it to defeat its former "perfect counter" (Croagunk) made it a force to be reckoned with. Choice Band Carvanha also became popular, making Carvanha's powerful attacks devastating. Once Croagunk was gone, Choice Band Carvanha could tear holes though teams with its powerful STAB Aqua Jet, the most powerful in the tier.

The Pomeg Glitch is the most recent development in Little Cup, and has given the tier a few new Pokemon to worry about. Foremost among them is Staryu. With Staryu's excellent special movepool, good Speed, and high Special Attack, it becomes extremely effective when paired with the powerful Hydro Pump. It can now also fill the role of a supporter with Rapid Spin. Porygon unfortunately cannot have Download with its Generation 3 level-up moves, meaning that its Agility set is no longer nearly as effective as it once was. Nevertheless, it is still a very good set-up sweeper thanks to the addition of Tri Attack. Choiced Porygon using Trick has also become common place, allowing it to cripple opposing Munchlax with a Choice Scarf or Specs.

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