Hello again, fellow PvPers, and welcome to our third edition of Core Meltdown!

Many of you have followed my lengthy “Nifty Or Thrifty” meta/budget reviews over the years, and/or other regular series like my “Under The Lights” more targeted analyses and Community Day spotlights and move rebalance overviews and such. (And I’m very grateful for that faithful readership, by the way!) I try to diversify! But after 300+ articles and 3 full years now of doing this, the #1 question I continue to get is “JRE, what cores/teams do you recommend?” I’ll be honest: while I try to offer specific team advice when asked, until last month I resisted going full bore into team composition recommendations for a few reasons. Primarily:

  • I want players to think for themselves, to take deep dive analyses and put together their own team based on that, not just rote copy and paste a specific team recommendation and run it out there without stopping to contemplate whether that teams fits THEIR style and works FOR THEM. There are very few cookie cutter teams, in my experience, that work for any ol’ player out there.
  • Closely related, the pressure of giving advice like that is, honestly, a little scary. I don’t want to send folks out to spend a ton of dust on a team that doesn’t work out, and then be out all those resources and frustrated rather than fulfilled. It’s a tricky balance for me as a writer/adviser on these things! 😬
  • As I’ve mentioned in the past, I am a better analyst than actual player. (Those you can’t doteach, right?) I’ve reached Legend a couple times, and have plenty of head knowledge that does sometimes help with move counting or quickly recalling moves on lesser used opposing Pokémon, but I tend to make silly mistakes and go with my gut at times I should just stick with my head. And that often does not end well. 😅 In other words: I fear my own teambuilding decisions are not the best out there, at least not on any kind of consistent basis.

But enough rambling… and enough excuses. I resolved with Sinnoh Cup to try and talk more about teambuilding in 2022, and after that seemed to actually help folks, I kept it going in Love Cup too. And now after my big NoT article on Johto Cup, the requests for cores continue to come in on Reddit and Twitter and even DMs. Not complaining… I am actually touched that people find MY advice on that subject so important and seek it out. 😊


Well, I am a man of the people, so here we go again with an honest-to-goodness article diving into recommended “cores” to build a team around. Not ALL of them, as there will be plenty of other homebrewed ones… and that’s a good thing! This is intended to give you just a few of the big ones (and some spicy alternatives!) as I see them to get you started on making your own awesome team.

What is a “core”, you ask? Simply a group of Pokémon that work well together on a team, often covering each other’s weaknesses and responding well to the bigger threats in a particular meta. Sometimes a core will be defined as three (or even more, in the case of “show six, play three” formats like The Silph Arena) Pokémon that synergize together, but usually we’re talking core duos. And that’s what I will focus on here: pairs of Pokémon that can make up a solid core to build your team around. And for the visually inclined, instead of linking to a bunch of sims, I’m going to link to graphical representations of what those cores can (and cannot) handle in the Love Cup meta, heavily utilizing PvPoke’s fantastic Team Builder tool. Strongly recommend checking it out if you haven’t already!

Alright, enough blabbing. Let’s do this!


Some of the best and (in most cases) likely-to-be most popular cores in the Cup. These include (but are most definity not limited to):

THE NEW OL’ RELIABLE – Skarmory & Quagsire

  • Skarmory paired with a “Mud Boy” (typically Swampert or Whiscash) is one of the oldest and most reliable cores in Great League, as they cover each other remarkably well even in open GL. Translated into Johto Cup, that means Lord Quag has a chance to step up and be noticed.
  • A good Electric or Grass still represent a BIG problem if you get locked in wrong against them, so a third Pokemon that can handle both would be ideal. Perhaps Steelix (though that leaves a big hole against Fighting) or Jumpluff?
  • Alternatively, Qwilfish nicely shores up that Fighting weakness and usually actually beats the Grasses, but watch out then for Electrics especially.
  • If you want to mix things up a little, you can consider Shadow Skarmory (though Shadow Quag isn’t recommended), or even Steel Wing Skarm. Yes, really. As noted in “Nifty Or Thrifty”, it’s a truly legit alternative that can mess with the opponent’s expectations a bit.

THE SPAM OF DARKNESS – Umbreon & Qwilfish

  • Might seem an odd pairing, especially considering all the shared losses on that chart, but this core scores really well because it suffers virtually no hard losses. The only thing both lose to where either Umbreon or Qwilfish doesn’t bring the opponent down under 20 HP is Ampharos.
  • Several directions you can go… this team is pretty versatile. A good FighterGround, or… uh… Fighter and Ground can patch holes pretty nicely, among other things. What ideas do YOU have in mind with this one, dear trainer?
  • One idea I’ve seen several YouTubers mention is Umbreon, Qwil, and Azumarill. I get it… it’s a pretty flexible team that doubles down on the “no hard losses” concept. But I do worry about the weakness to Electrics and stuff like Quagsire and Forretress. You’d kind of be relying on gang tackling them if they show up, which certainly can work… but I still worry a bit.

THE GRASSY NULL – Skarmory & Grass

  • Get it? Instead of “grassy knoll” it’s “null”, as these two nullify each other’s weaknesses? Come on… it’s funny, right? Right?
  • LONG ago made crazy popular by a fellow you’ve likely heard of named Caleb Peng, Skarmory/(Double) Grass has been one of the more enduring cores for the better part of two years now. And yes, Skarm and a good Grass still cover each other remarkably well.
  • One of my consistent observations during my meta analysis article was that Grass as a typing is REALLY good in this meta. So yes, Skarm with DOUBLE Grass can work out quite well here as a high potential “overloaded” core.
  • Mantine can be real trouble, but other than that, there’s really not much this core/team has to fear. Skarmory is critically important for things like Jumpluff and, of course, enemy Skarmorys. Again, consider Steel Wing to give you a slight but important advantage in the mirror match.

THE JUMP N’ TURN – Lanturn & Jumpluff

  • Probably not a big surprise that a Water/Electric and solid Grass type cover each other well, right? Jumpluff specifically has an innate advantage against other Grasses, helping cover Lanturn’s backside that way better than other available Grass types. This is a REALLY solid pairing as far as coverage goes.
  • The one downside is that little is doubled up. Opponents like Qwilfish, Piloswine, Mantine, and especially Skarmory can still be BIG trouble if you don’t catch them with Lanturn. Maybe something like Sudowoodo could help?

DEEP BLACK SEA – Umbreon & Mantine

  • Bullet Seed Mantine specifically to hold down stuff like Azumarill, Sudowoodo, Piloswine, Steelix, and Quagsire that can spell trouble otherwise.
  • Has a couple of holes, I admit, but this duo doesn’t lose to anything badly, and even has outs against some of those listed losses, like Meganium and Ampharos.
  • And therein lies its greatest strength: it’s a very “safe” core with few hard counters and a decent duo to back up a solid third, “pivot” Pokemon with. This is a good one to play around with in the Team Builder tool and see what pieces you have that could finish this team off in a strong way.

THE PSEUDOS – Sudowoodo & Ariados

  • I was going to relegate this to a later section, but I’ve seen it at the core of some really solid and recommended teams, such as pairing it with Qwilfish to double up Grass/Water defense, or Skarmory or Azumarill for a safe, strong, comfortable “meta” pivot.
  • Biggest threats are the few opposing Grounds (read as: Quagsire) in the meta, and surprisingly, Lugia, who can shrug off Sudowoodo long enough to win that one with a well-timed Aeroblast. But overall this duo has surprisingly solid coverage, good enough to sneak into this section just as Ariados sneaks into being considered a “spider” and Sudowoodo, of course, desperately tries to be a tree (hence the title 😏).

And there are some more obvious “meta” cores, like Skarmory/Azumarill, Umbreon/Azumarill, and Skarmory/Lanturn that will surely be anchoring many teams out there. They almost seem TOO obvious, right? I tried to tease out a few more.

And we’re far from done! Let’s get to some less stabilized cores that might help push you up the rankings in this final week of GBL Season 10. All in at this point, right? Let’s gooooooo!


The beginnings of your “ABB” cores, overloaded with a pair of similar Pokémon and your choice of a “pivot” intended to handle the hard counters of the “BB” pair.

DEATH FROM ABOVE – Jumpluff & Skarmory and/or Mantine

  • Obviously Electrics and Rocks are scary prospects for all-Flying teams, but Jumpluff mitigates that concern nicely, allowing you to rain down hard on much of the meta with a goodly number of doubled up wins and few big holes (Wing Attack Mantine ironically being one of them).
  • Jumpluff/Mantine is very similar and actually has a slightly better score overall, but some more worrisome chinks in the armor like Piloswine and sure-to-be-popular Qwilfish.
  • So the obvious solution is to run all three, right? Hey, I’ve seen far crazier overloaded teams than this.

THE STEEL CURTAIN – Skarmory & Steelix

  • Not QUITE a solid wall — Fighting damage is still a thing — but locks down a good chunk of the meta. The key is running Steel Wing on Skarm to make Sudowoodo, Piloswine, and opposing Skarmory less of a problem.
  • Biggest threat is, again, Fighting, so something like perhaps Azumarill would be a solid balancer, or perhaps even better, Jumpluff or even Noctowl to also control Grasses as well as the Fighters.

THE Q CONTINUUM – Quagsire & Qwilfish

  • At first, you might think this duo would be critically weak to Grass, but Qwilfish is so sneaky good versus Grasses that it can beat stuff like Meganium and Jumpluff anyway. Ironically, the biggest issues are enemy Quags and Steels like Skarmory and Forretress. You know what that means, right? 🔥
  • One could double down on the Grass hate AND make Skarm sweat a little more by running Ice Beam Qwil, if you want to REALLY mess with the opposition, though this leaves you uncomfortably vulnerable to Azumarill. (Especially if you plug other obvious holes with a Fire type.)

THE HEAVY HITTERS – Shadow Granbull & Magcargo

  • I mean, charge moves are overrated, right? 😏 Okay, okay, these two WILL reach charge moves, but you get the point. Massive fast move damage provides most of the pressure.
  • I expected more holes than this. There’s an obvious weakness to some of the more prominent Water types (Lanturn, Azumarill, Qwilfish) which could be plugged by a good Electric of your own… or something a little less conventional.


Here’s your spicier stuff, some of which could actually work REALLY well, but all carry at least a moderate risk of blowing up in your face. If Danger is your middle name, some of these may be for you!

THE WRATH OF CUPID – Magcargo & Ariados

  • Admittedly not a top scoring duo, but these two back each other up pretty solidly (even Lanturn and Sudowoodo just barely outrace Ariados, so even those are very close), and obviously, these two were both stars of Love Cup that you may already have on hand. And if not, they are both VERY budget friendly, with a second move costing only 10,000 dust for each.
  • A good Grass like Meganium pairs very nicely with Magcargo anyway, and sliding it in with Ariados as well looks very solid (much better than all those Cs would imply) and remains a very, very cheap build even from scratch.

THE BAT OF STEEL – Crobat & Steelix

  • What it looks like when the Man of Steel and a certain Dark Knight combine forces? 🦸‍♂️🦇
  • I wanted to find at least one core utilizing the unique Crobat, and this seems a really good candidate. There are obvious holes, but all which could be plugged by a good Grass. There’s some real potential here, I think.

THE DUMBO – Donphan & Mantine

  • “Flap your ears! You can fly! You can!” Just removing any doubt about where I got the name. 😉
  • Surprising amount of synergy here, with Mantine clearing out Grasses, Fighters, and Waters that otherwise plague Donphan, and Dumbo… er, Donphan handling the Rocks, Electrics, and others (like Piloswine, Steelix, and Umbreon) that otherwise threaten Dopefish Mantine. I love when I stumble across odd but potent pairings like this!

THE STARTERS – Meganium & Typhlosion

  • Come on… you know the thought has crossed your mind.
  • It’s a little surprising how few things are truly worrisome for this duo. Qwilfish and Mantine can cause issues for Meg and Typh, but neither really WANT to face down a Meganium. ANd they’re really about it.
  • This is setting up yourself up for some easy victories, but also some agonizing defeats where you just flail helplessly. It all depends on what gets locked in on what, as there is very, very little overlap where Meg and Typh BOTH do well against the same opposing Pokemon.


Just like on Star Trek, when in doubt, just eject the core. It happens every half dozen episodes, and never seems to have lasting effects… must have stocked up on those warp cores in bulk or something.

ANYway, I wanted to close this out by highlighting some good corebreakers you may or may not have thought of. These can make good third Pokémon with some of the above example cores, or might be worth building your own unique team around. Either way, if you’re getting railed by a popular Pokémon or two and don’t know how to fend it off, you can try turning to some of these:

  • While obviously hard countered by anything Grass, QUAGSIRE has a LOT of disruption potential. Electrics and Fires are obvious, but Lord Quag overcomes most of the format’s other Waters too (including Azu, Qwil, and Mantine) with its big neutral (or better) damaging moves, and of course is quite good against other big stuff like Sudowoodo and Steelix, and even overpowers tanks like Umbreon and Wobbuffet too. And while it may not outright beat Flyers like Skarmory and Lugia in a protracted battle, its Stone Edge will keep them on edge and surely bleed a shield or two away.
  • One name that showed up A LOT as a blind spot for the above cores was the Golf Ball Of Doom, FORRETRESS. It’s a thron in the side of not just Grasses and Fairies (Azu too!), but also things ranging from Umbreon to Lanturn and Steelix and Quagsire and back.
  • ARIADOS has a chance to be just as disruptive here as it ended up being in this year’s edition of Love Cup. Little guy was darn near everywhere by the end of that format, and I suspect that will carry over here. WIth Megahorn it can take out things you wouldn’t expect like Qwilfish and Politoed, Umbreon and Wobbuffet, and more besides. Hopefully you’ve learned by now NOT to underestimate it, because letting your guard down here could carry severe consequences for several established cores.
  • While it’s at the heart of several cores above (and I had to sometimes work to come up with alternatives so it didn’t show up in even more!), JUMPLUFF is an amazing little annoyance in this meta. It’s the Grass that also beats Fighting, Bugs, and most important, other Grasses (while still throttling Electrics, despite its Flying typing). It’s going to live in infamy for a while after this week is over. Maybe Niantic DID actually know what they were doing with Hoppip Community Day. Joke’s on us!
  • This is HITMONTOP‘s 15 minutes of fame to make something of itself. In fairness, Machamp would be better if it were here, but since it’s not, ‘Top’s Stone Edge makes for a great equalizer; Hitmontop is a Fighter that can reach for the skies and take down Skarmory, Jumpluff, Typhlosion, and other things that don’t appreciate a big Rock to their face. Oh, and it outpunches Lanturn and Quagsire and Politoed and such as well.
  • It doesn’t have a lengthy list of wins, but make no mistake: PILOSWINE, particularly Shadow Swine, is absolutely a potential corebreaker. Ice is extremely underrepresented in Gen2, and Piloswine’s Ground typing is a very mixed blessing, but the resistance it brings to Electrics is a powerful perk in this meta, even as its weakness to Water is an unfortunate downside.
  • I already sang its praises in my meta article for Johto Cup, but just to remind and reiterate: RAIKOU with Volt Switch is a monster in this format. Waters and Flyers go down, yes, but so do things like Hitmontop, Sudowoodo, Forret, Wobb, Typhlosion, and most of its fellow Electrics too. Rawr!… how’s that sound?

I could go on, and would if I had more time, but we’re already in day 2 of Johto Cup as I push this out, so we’re gonna wrap it up right here. Sorry for the delay… I pride myself on having these things out AHEAD of time, but it simply couldn’t be helped this time around. I’m just glad I managed to squeeze enough time out of the weekend to get even this much done. I sincerely hope it’s a help to you as you wade into this format for the next week, especially for those of you who, like me, are still pushing for Legend in the closing days of the season. Best of luck to you!


As I mentioned at the top, this is NOT fully comprehensive. Some of these cores are definitely ones you’ll come across, some are more off the wall and you may never encounter at all. But all are intended to get your own creative juices flowing and give you a starting point to make whatever team works best for YOU. Because that’s what this is all about, right? Finding a team that fits your own style, doesn’t have too many gaping holes, and is FUN. I do hope this helps put you on that path to success!

Thanks as always to my friends PvPoke for their awesome resources, and to GO Battle Log for informing some last minute tweaks to my analysis with their early Johto Cup findings. The one advantage to my unplanned delay was getting to utilize their early data to corroborate my own findings and latch onto a couple cores I hadn’t initially considered. Thanks, PvPoke and GOBattleLog!

Until next time, you can always find me on Twitter with regular PvP analysis nuggets, or on Patreon.

Thanks for reading, and best of luck in Johto Cup, or whatever format you find yourself in this week. Stay safe out there, Pokéfriends, and catch you next time. Have fun!