The Silph Arena switches gears for competitive tournaments in the month of May. The new Nightmare Cup format will feature, for the first time, only three typings in Psychic, Dark and Fighting, and targeted bans to Medicham, Sableye and all legendary or mythical Pokemon, such as Cresselia, Deoxys and Mew. Those would have been by far the most dominant rulers of the metagame otherwise, as well as some of the most expensive investments. As always, here’s our analysis on everything you need to know to compete in your local tournament, brought to you by simulations on GoBattleSim and PvPoke as well as lots of firsthand experience.
This month’s Cup is actually quite straightforward. Although there isn’t a clear must have that defines the meta, we do have an obvious rock-paper-scissors relationship between the three typings. That makes favorable lead matchups and having an optimally balanced line-up as essential as ever for success. There are also a few unique picks which break away from their main role and, giving you different advantages in certain situations, could absolutely make the difference.
Let’s start the analysis from the typing with the most competitors for the spots. These Dark-types have in common that they’re all valuable counters to most things Psychic, but they vary quite a lot as far as their secondary roles and matchups go.
Sucker Punch + Ominous Wind + Shadow Ball
Usually strictly outclassed by the other Dark/Ghost-type Sableye, with it being forced out of the equation Spiritomb will finally shine in the night. Its strength really comes from the dual typing, which turns Dark’s natural weakness to Fighting into resistance while keeping the double resistance to Psychic and canceling out Ghost’s own vulnerabilities: this leaves the creepy rock only weak to Fairy, an almost non-existent type in this meta. However, despite allowing it to counter Psychic-types better than most things, the unique typing is not enough to make it the dominant threat, as it’s offset by mediocre bulk and a serious lack of coverage. Ominous Wind has the tempting chance of buffing Attack and Defense, and while that can turn games around, the 10% probability of it happening is too low to be counted on in tournament play; Shadow Ball is a fantastic move, and the two combined can bait shields quite effectively; but being confined to Ghost- and Dark-type damage leaves Spiritomb easily walled by the other Dark-types in this list, to the point where some of them can just use it to farm energy. It’s a fair trade in the end, as it ties instead of losing to Fighting-types and can take them down quite reliably when shields are scarce.
Poison Jab + Crunch + Flamethrower
Re-introducing the Dark/Poison-types: if you played the Twilight Cup, you likely already have one of them ready to go. Back then Skuntank made it out as the best option, but things aren’t as black and white now. While the edge of this group is the peculiar typing with a lone weakness to Ground, they can either be played for versatility or as hard counters. If you want versatility, well, Skuntank is once again the master in that field, boasting the widest coverage among Dark-types. With Poison Jab’s energy generation and Flamethrower’s neutral hits, it can sometimes overcome negative matchups such as most Fighting-types, as well as beat many of its Dark comrades and have generally neutral matchups against most things. On the other hand, it won’t take down Psychic-types as fast, leaving it sometimes vulnerable to their own coverage moves, which have the potential to KO if unshielded.
Bite + Aqua Tail + Sludge Bomb or Crunch or Infestation + Aqua Tail + Crunch
If you’re thinking switching the fast move would solve Skuntank’s issues mentioned above, consider investing in Drapion instead! It will still tear through anything Psychic with Bite in a matter of seconds, unlike Skuntank with Poison Jab, while Aqua Tail makes for a much more reliable source of charged move damage with its very low energy cost. Obviously, its losing matchups become a lot more polarized too, and it will have almost no chance against the best Fighters: whether the risk is worth it depends on your playstyle. The second charged move is also up for choice, as Crunch makes it even deadlier against its targets while Sludge Bomb offers heavier neutral damage when shields are down. With Infestation Drapion plays much more similarly to Skuntank, relying on flexibility and coverage with even higher general shield pressure, but also faring a bit worse against fellow Dark-types.
Snarl + Dark Pulse + Sludge Wave or Poison Jab + Dark Pulse + Acid Spray
The lack of non-STAB moves continues to hurt the rainbow goo monster’s chances compared to other Dark/Poison-types, despite being the bulkiest of the group. It’s still by any means a solid option, and like Drapion, it can be played in different ways. You can either only keep Sludge Wave as neutral coverage, and use it mostly as a hard counter to Psychic with Snarl and Dark Pulse, with many of Bite Drapion’s same side cons — or you can be ballsy and use it as a trickster with Acid Spray. In optimal scenarios (which often involves baiting your opponent into shielding it) this move can let Muk beat things that it shouldn’t by lowering their defense and also weaken the next opponent that comes into the field to finish it, which can really flip the momentum of a match. However, since it’s not a great shield baiter in the first place, making it actually work could be complicated and would require lots of practice.
Snarl + Last Resort* + Foul Play
We’ve talked about Dark-types that function as hard counters — well, now it’s time to meet the best one. Nothing deletes Psychic-types quite as well as Umbreon in this meta. With its insane bulk (only slightly less than Bastiodon’s), not even the most threatening coverage moves will be anything to worry about. Just as an example, in a straight 1v1 against Hypno a full-blown, super effective Focus Blast will only take off about 60% of its HP: it can easily take it to the face and still win even if the opponent burns both shields in the meanwhile. As with other Dark hard counters, the bad part is how hard Umbreon loses to Fighters. The CD exclusive Last Resort is essential to deal neutral damage in negative and neutral matchups.
Quick Attack + Crunch + Hyper Fang
Smack Down* + Crunch + Stone Edge
The fat rat functions mostly like Umbreon. They share the same coverage, it only has a little less bulk, the same hard losses against Fighting (the double weakness only changes the speed of those battles, not the outcome), and solid (but not as overwhelmingly one-sided) wins against all Psychic-types. The first key advantage, besides being much cheaper and easier to obtain, is that Raticate is the superior wall to Spiritomb, with a peculiar triple resistance to Ghost making it almost invulnerable against it. The second is a feat it has in common with the far glassier Tyranitar: thanks to the neutral STAB damage from their fast moves, they check all the other Dark-types, including the pesky Skuntank which already kind of fills that niche, and with the lone exception of Shiftry. That might make them interesting anti-meta picks, especially later in the month depending on how the meta shapes up.
Razor Leaf + Leaf Blade + Foul Play
Ending this section with the two most unconventional Dark entries, first of all, we have the return of the fast move that terrorized the Tempest Cup. Shiftry is the only Razor Leaf user available (actually together with its pre-evolution Nuzleaf), and that alone allows it to shine despite its middling stats. Especially because it also gets the low energy cost Leaf Blade, a perfect partner for Razor Leaf’s slow charging and absurdly high damage output. Its many weaknesses make Shiftry an easy prey to Poison Jab and Counter users — not Poliwrath, which despite being Fighting-type gets destroyed with its own weakness to Grass — but on the other hand, it does very well against Psychic-types other than Xatu, the “true” Dark-types, and Spiritomb. The sheer strength of its fast move will rarely make it go down without at least putting up a decent fight. As for the second charged move Foul Play is the way to go, with Hurricane being too slow to really matter as coverage for its counters, and Leaf Tornado being the worst debuffing move in the game so far.
Peck + Foul Play + Drill Peck
This seemingly derpy bird might very well be underestimated by an unknowing opponent, but it actually has one of the most unique set of matchups in the Nightmare Cup. Murkrow is the only Dark-type that doesn’t fear Fighting, as its Flying typing cancels out the weakness while allowing to hit back for super effective damage. The main issue with it is the extremely low survivability: neutral hits from Counter will still hurt quite bad, so the matchups against Fighting-types will be more like slightly favorable ties, it will almost always need shields to survive, and even when it comes out ahead it does so by very small margins. It can also have a close match with Spiritomb and beat Confusion users and Shiftry, but not the bulkier Dark-types or alternative Psychics like Xatu and Alolan Raichu. The evolved form Honchkrow is viable too, but even squishier and the slightly higher energy costs of its charged moves don’t usually help it either.
To counter Dark-types in their many variants, you will absolutely need to bring at least one (and most likely two) Fighting-type in your team of six. Although this group is not as diverse, each has its own pros and cons to consider too.
Counter + Mud Bomb + Sludge Bomb
Here’s another pokemon that many will have ready to go from the Twilight Cup. This time it’s not as much of a must-have, but it does have one perk over other competitors: its secondary Poison typing gives it a handy resistance to Fighting, which lets it have the upper hand in matchups with other Fighting-types and become one of the few pokemon with advantages over 2 of the 3 groups in this meta. With the spammy Ground coverage of Mud Bomb it’s the best counter to Poison/Dark-types, a serious threat to Alolan Raichu and a worthy opponent for Spiritomb when shields are up; another key resistance to Grass makes Shiftry toothless against it. Sludge Bomb is usually preferred as a second charged move for big neutral hits, as Counter is normally enough to secure the win against pure Dark-types. All this coverage, however, comes at the price of a crippling double weakness to Psychic: one Confusion hit will already take a huge chunk of its HP away, so better be quick to opt out as soon as you see your opponent go for a switch against it.
Counter + Power-Up Punch + Shadow Ball
On the opposite side of the spectrum compared to Toxicroak (and thus, a possible good complementary partner for it in a team of 6), we have our good, not so old friend Lucario. Its trademark Power-Up Punch can transform it into a real wrecking ball if, with the help of shields due to its frail nature, it survives long enough. Thanks to the Steel typing it doesn’t really fear Psychic-types, having solid neutral matchups with them where it can win as soon as a Shadow Ball lands, but will go down very fast to Counter users. It’s the most abnormal Fighting-type of the bunch, and still a solid pick if you want something that overthrows the classic rock-paper-scissors format. As always, if you want to use it, unlock the second move on Riolu before evolving it to save resources.
Counter + Power-Up Punch + Ice / Thunder / Fire Punch
Counter + Cross Chop* + Rock Slide
No fancy typing, only a good old pair of boxing gloves: Hitmonchan has a prominent role as the best pure Fighter in the Nightmare Cup. Power-Up Punch is a must have for quick buffing and tearing through opponents with Counter damage — but where it truly shines is the unpredictability of its second charged move, which will make the opponent second guess and waste shields. Ice Punch seems like the most meta choice for coverage against Xatu and Claydol; Thunder Punch covers Xatu and Poliwrath, but takes away the option of neutral damage on Alolan Raichu; Fire Punch might get a surprise hit on Bronzong. Like with Lucario, just be sure to unlock the second charged move for only 10k on Tyrogue before evolving. It will come out right below 1500 CP too, so it’s even one of the best budget picks. If equipped with the legacy move Cross Chop (much quicker than standard Dynamic Punch), Machamp can be a decent alternative. It does many of the same tasks with a bit less bulk (Shiftry’s Razor Leaf will be more of an issue), without the ability to buff itself and dropping the diverse coverage for a solid, straightforward Rock Slide.
Mud Shot* or Bubble + Power-Up Punch + Ice Punch
It’s the only Fighter to not rely on the damage output of Counter, which makes it a bit less reliable when shields are up, but it still stands out for its superior bulk and, like Lucario, for the aggressive buffing of Power-Up Punch. It can become particularly aggressive with the legacy Mud Shot, which aside from charging incredibly quickly, helps in matchups like the mirror, Toxicroak and especially Lucario. Bubble is still very much viable, and will actually be a plus against Flying-types like Xatu and Murkrow, while Ice Punch should be the secondary charged move of choice for the same reasons as for Hitmonchan. While it’s the only one of the group to not fear Skuntank’s Flamethrower, at the same time being part Water leaves it vulnerable to Shiftry and Alolan Raichu, the two major wild cards.
Counter + Earthquake + Megahorn
The Bug typing puts the South American regional in a similar role as Toxicroak, having the advantage against fellow Fighters (except the frog itself) thanks to its resistance. It shares the handy Ground coverage with it too, though Earthquake is considerably slower than Mud Bomb: that keeps it from being a great lead and gives it a shakier matchup against Skuntank, which threatens it with the one-hit KO of Flamethrower. The similarities don’t end there, as it’s got a double weakness, this time to Flying, easily exploitable by threats like Xatu. Where Heracross truly stands out, however, is the second charged move: when shields are down Megahorn can delete any Psychic-type while they try to take it down with Confusion, so try to save at least one shield if you think your opponent has it in the back.
Counter + Blast Burn* + Brave Bird
This is an option that people who will compete earlier in the month won’t have, but if you’ll have your tournament after Community Day on May 19th, consider Blaziken a very strong contender — and a really low budget one too! It’s so frail that other Fighters (not named Lucario) will have the advantage against it just out of fast move damage, but what it lacks in bulk it makes up in Blast Burn, a formidable charged move which charges quite fast and can one-shot almost anything in the meta. You’ll definitely want to burn your opponent’s shields early on if you want to actually burn him with Blaziken afterwards.
Fighting beats Dark, while Psychic beats Fighting and loses to Dark: that’s how this 3-way core works. So, let’s go ahead and meet the Psychic-types set to leave the biggest marks on the Nightmare Cup metagame.
Confusion + Shadow Ball* + Focus Blast
Extrasensory + Shadow Ball + Psyshock
Similarly to other groups in this meta, there are straightforward and alternative picks among Psychic-types. The most straightforward ones are obviously those equipped with Confusion, which tears through anything Fighting with its sheer damage output, and Hypno stands out as the bulkiest and most versatile Confusion user. That’s mostly thanks to Shadow Ball, a rare legacy charged move with dangerous OHKO potential on fellow Psychic-types, giving it the upper hand in most mirror matches. If it catches a Dark-type with no shields or being too careless with them, it will very often have time to get to Focus Blast to one-shot that as well: it’s one of the few pokemon with coverage on all three Nightmare typings! If you don’t have a legacy Hypno (understandably), instead of settling for the underwhelming non-legacy variant, consider Chimecho as a valid substitute. It’s not as tanky, lacks the wide coverage and can’t take down Fighters with fast moves quite as well, but spammy Psyshock offsets that while Extrasensory makes it get to Shadow Ball faster than anything else, making it possibly even more of a threat to other Psychics. It’s also a good option if you’re on a budget, as you can unlock the extra charged move on Chingling for only 10k stardust.
Air Slash + Ominous Wind + Aerial Ace
The Psychic bird represents an alternative to Confusion users with different side uses, being just as effective against Fighting-types with super effective Flying damage. While the typing coupled with its squishiness means that it should be very careful about possible Ice Punches coming from Hitmonchan and Poliwrath, it also gives Xatu a (unique among Psychic-types) really positive matchup against Shiftry and the option of dealing heavy neutral damage to any Dark that won’t take it down quickly enough. Ominous Wind offers the random chance of a handy Attack and Defense buff, as well as spammy super effective hits on other Psychics which it can all beat in the right energy and shield scenarios. Its biggest fear is Alolan Raichu with its quick-fire Electric hits.
Spark + Thunder Punch + Wild Charge
We’ve mentioned it quite a few times already in this article, and that’s for good reason. The little surfer, while cute at a first glance, packs some of the deadliest neutral hits in the meta, which give it the advantage in a wide and peculiar array of matchups. Spark charges really quickly, while the two Electric charged moves function in synergy to bait shields out. That works incredibly well because only the biggest tanks of the cup can afford the risk of not shielding Wild Charge and live to tell the tale. Thunder Punch still hits surprisingly hard and in the meta it’s only outsped by Poliwrath’s extremely velocity-oriented combo of Mud Shot and Power-Up Punch, making Raichu a perfect fit as a lead. The downside of this offensive power is obviously a lack in defensive stats, which will require at least one shield for it to shine — but once that’s done, this rodent is almost always guaranteed to put in work in battle.
Confusion + Earthquake + Gyro Ball
Bringing Claydol as your lineup’s Confusion user is mainly a direct answer to Alolan Raichu. It’s the only non-Dark pokemon to have a completely dominating matchup against it, as the Ground typing walls any Electric-type attack. The thought of a battle team with Claydol and a hard Dark-type like Umbreon could probably scare opponents into leaving the little surfer on the bench, which is exploitable if predicted correctly. Its value, however, goes beyond that of a dedicated counter: Earthquake one-shots the Dark/Poison-types if it lands, which makes it a powerful closer as its excellent tankiness allows it to comfortably take a few hits while it gets to it. Gyro Ball is the preferred second charged move for the slightly lower energy cost and general neutral coverage, but it’s not essential. Being part Ground also gives Claydol a few issues to live with though, such as weaknesses to Shiftry’s Razor Leaf and Ice Punch from Poliwrath and Hitmonchan (which it’s usually going to beat anyway, though).
Confusion + Heavy Slam + Flash Cannon
Confusion + Rock Slide + Moonblast
Continuing down the list of alternative Confusion users, we have two with the unique benefit of checking Xatu and Skuntank with their key resistances to Flying and Poison, at the price of being only neutral to Fighting-type hits. They still counter them quite well thanks to their powerful fast move, with Lucario being the obvious exception. Bronzong stands out for extra resistances to Grass and a double one to Psychic, making for really close matchups with Shiftry and Hypno. Lunatone has almost no hope against those two, except for the 2 shield scenario against Hypno which turns into a positive one thanks to Rock Slide’s speed and power. It can be really tricky as a closer though, with Moonblast one-shotting almost all of its counters. That also sets it apart from Solrock, which has the exact same stats but a slower and less useful secondary charged move in Solar Beam.
Confusion + Shadow Ball + Dazzling Gleam
Confusion + Leaf Blade + Close Combat
The evolved forms of Ralts are both fantastic Confusion users too, despite their bulk being significantly lower than the ones above. What differentiates them from the rest is that they’re both not weak to Dark-types due to their secondary typing. They still lose most of the time against them, but can also bite back very hard if the opponent lets a Dazzling Gleam or Close Combat go through. Gardevoir boasts a double resistance to Fighting and the general threat of Shadow Ball, which allows it to generally tie against fellow Psychic-types. Gallade, on the other hand, will lose to them as it doesn’t resist Psychic hits but has the potential to be quite annoying to deal with due to Leaf Blade spam.