Pheromosa, an Ultra Beast known for its fragility and power, normally seems like a risky pick for competitive Pokémon. But this weekend, Andrew Nowak won the Madison Regional Championships largely thanks to an uncommon Pheromosa moveset.
The perennial glass cannon, Pheromosa is often used to get important one-hit-knock-outs before getting KO’d itself. It uses attacks such as High Jump Kick, Ice Beam and Poison jab to take advantage of super effective damage and sky-high offensive stats to do so. Many players then focus on circumventing its fragility by letting it hold a Focus Sash, which lets it survive an attack that would otherwise knock it out with a single hit point.
For his moveset, Nowak decided to double down on the damage output by having it hold a Z-Crystal instead. This lets Pheromosa utilize one-use, super-powerful attacks based on the type and damage of one of its four moves. That extra damage comes at the cost of survivability, though, and a single bad decision with Pheromosa can see it go down without having accomplished much. As a result, many turns with a Z-move Pheromosa can come down to 50/50 decisions—using this strategy at all is a huge gamble.
After all, Pheromosa’s typical strategies are a well-known quantity this late in the metagame, and players have all kinds of ways to mitigate even its Z-moves. With that being the case, Nowak used the special attack Focus Blast as Pheromosa’s base instead. Using a special attack makes physical attack drops irrelevant and calculates damage based on an opponent’s unboosted special defense. While it means specially bulky Pokémon gives it more trouble, in turn, Nowak proved there were more advantages than drawbacks.
In the Madison Regional finals last weekend, Zheyuan Huang, and Nowak were in a showdown to determine who would take home their second regional championship title of the season. Huang was using a modified version of a popular team, with Tapu Fini, Arcanine, Kartana, Tapu Koko, Porygon2 and Garchomp instead of Gigalith. Nowak brought something more unusual, with Pheromosa, Nihilego, Tapu Bulu, Arcanine, Hariyama and Araquanid. In this matchup, the subtle change to his Pheromosa made all the difference.
The first game of their set started off with a revolving door of Pokémon, as three of the four leads switched off the field. But while both players went for the throat on turn two, only Nowak drew blood. By surviving a Flare Blitz from Huang’s Arcanine, Nowak’s Tapu Bulu could knock out the opposing Tapu Fini in a single hit.
From there, despite losing Bulu the next turn, Nowak used his Pheromosa’s Z-attack to take out Huang’s Kartana. The real beauty of the situation was that due to Kartana’s pitifully low special defense, it can’t even survive the 75 percent damage reduction offered by protecting against a Z-attack.
When using the physical version of All Out Pummelling, many Kartana can simply protect and survive on the back of the Pokémon’s solid physical bulk, letting their partner counter-KO the frail Pheromosa in turn. Without his Kartana, he had no answer for Nowak’s Nihilego, which mopped up the rest of its opponents with ease.
Then, in game two, Nowak called Huang’s bluff to take an early advantage. He lead Pheromosa into Kartana, which seemed like a perfect position. However, Huang had the option to switch into Tapu Fini, which resisted the Z-attack and would let Kartana escape unscathed. Despite this, Huang didn’t switch out, perhaps expecting Nowak not take the risk. It cost him, and his Tapu Koko missing its Nature’s Madness the same turn didn’t help.
Just a few turns later, Nowak’s commanding position forced a forfeit from Huang, making him the second player (and likely last) to win two regional championships this season. Now in the company of Southern California veteran Gavin Michaels, Nowak has a great deal of momentum going into the upcoming US International Championships.
Outside of his excellent team call, the best part of his win seemed to be its irony. Just a few days before becoming champion, he mentioned that he might not even attend the tournament anymore.
To watch the entirety of the second day, check out the official Pokémon Twitch channel. To see an easy breakdown of all the top eight teams, final standings and prize money/championship points awarded, check out the results page on Trainer Tower, where I also write about Pokémon.