Nifty Or Thrifty: Fantasy Cup PvP Meta Guide


The “Nifty Or Thrifty” article series takes a comprehensive look at the meta for PvP Cup formats: Ultra League’s Fantasy Cup, in this case. As is typical for the NoT series, I’ll cover not only the top meta picks, but also some mons where you can save some dust with cheaper second move unlock costs or less powering up… though there aren’t many things that fall into the truly “thrifty” category in this one, I’m sorry to say!

As per usual, we’ll start with Pokémon with the cheapest second move unlock cost and steam ahead until we finally arrive at the most expensive (Legendaries and some high XL options). I will also only be highlighting Shadow versions when they’re particularly relevant… many are worse, and that’s what you can generally infer if I don’t talk about them.

First, VERY brief summary of the meta:


  • This is a pretty condensed meta, which isn’t too surprising for a format with only three typings, I suppose.
  • It’s also an expensive meta, with very few inexpensive picks and the majority of the heavy hitters being in the 75k or 100k second move grouping, AND many require a heavy XL grind on top of it.
  • Steels dominate, with very few direct answers beyond a handful of things with Fighting, Ground, or Fire damage, all of which rise up in the rankings to try and fill that anti-Steel role.
  • Dragons with Fighting or Ground moves are usually the top Dragons as a result, along with the Giratinas and their widely unresisted Ghost damage.
  • Fairies are left with the least to do, but are decent enough generalists, especially some with interesting coverage moves (and/or a useful subtyping, like Togekiss’ Flying).
  • Did I mention this format is expensive? Lotta XLs needed in this one, folks.

10,000 Dust/25 Candy

LUCARIO (Baby Discount™)

Lucario FightingSteel

Counter | Power-Up Punch & Shadow Ball

In a meta made up entirely of Steel, Dragon, and Fairy types, here’s a specimen that resists Steel and Dragon, takes neutral from Fairy, and deals steady super effective damage to opposing Steels, AND has a big fat closing move resisted by basically nothing in the meta. Lucario still has definite — even glaring — flaws, but it wins more than it loses, though the vast majority of its wins come against other Steels, with all the other good going for it amounting to only a handful of actual wins over Dragons (Giratina Origin and Kommo-O). You can kinda see a bit more of its inherent advantages with top flight IVs, which makes a win over Florges possible (and the mirror match as well). Luc’s lack-of-bulk problems hold it back from what should be even higher potential, but it’s more than good enough to emerge as a top option in this meta. And it might be the thriftiest thing around too, able to buy a second move for only 10,000 dust (if you do it to a Riolu before evolving) and requiring no XL Candy to comfortably hit 2500 CP. (You will find that both of those are a rarity in this meta!)


Clefable Fairy

Fairy Wind | Meteor Mash & Moonblast

Dragons hate it (Clefable beats ALL of them except sometimes Turtonator), and even most Fairies fall before Clefable and its Meteor Mashing. (A few Fairies outlast it if they throw both shields at Clefable, but otherwise it’s just Tapu Fini and sometimes Florges that outlast it.) The big issue, of course, is Steels, as they resist everything Clefable has to throw at them. This holds it somewhat in check against the core meta (more than half of which are Steel types). The good news I have to share is that Clefable can be built as a hundo and hits 2499 CP at “only” Level 42 (as opposed to Level 48+ that most “good” IV spreads come in at) and still gets ALL the same meta wins across all even shield scenarios, and gains the mirror match AND, in 2v2 shielding, Florges as well (leaving Tapu Fini as the only Fairy that overcomes Clefable there). Still far from truly “thrifty”, but cheap in THIS format for sure!


Primarina WaterFairy

Waterfall/Charm | Disarming Voice & Moonblast/Psychic

PvPoke lists Prima with Charm, and that’s fine enough, I guess. But in my opinion, if you’re going to run Primarina in this format, it’s with Waterfall as sort of a poor man’s Tapu Fini. Very, very little resists Water damage in Fantasy Cup, including most Steel types, so you can flip some silly things like Solgaleo, Steelix, Genesect, Excadrill, Escavalier, and Galarian Weezing that terrorize most Fairies. Ironically, this leaves Prima on the wrong side of things most other Fairies do beat, like Lucario, Flygon, many other Fairies, and often the Giratinas. You can somewhat compensate for some of this by running not the recommended Psychic (the move) as your closer (which has a good use case versus G-Weeze, but that’s about it), but instead Moonblast for the double Fairy charge moveset (alongside the new Disarming Voice), which at least brings the Giratinas back into the win column sometimes and somehow, amazingly, can even beat Registeel in 2v2 shielding! The numbers are not overly impressive on the surface, but I like Primarina a lot in this meta as a cheap potential build-around piece.


Empoleon WaterSteel

Waterfall | Hydro Cannonᴸ & Flash Cannon/Drill Peck

The other Waterfall user in Fantasy Cup, and it works quite differently than Primarina. Being a Steel type, Fighting damage is deadly, so Lucario and Escavalier and the like must be avoided at all costs. (And Grounds like Excadrill and Flygon may not WANT to face down that heavy Water damage, but they generally come out on top versus Empie too.) What Empoleon does well instead is dominate Fairies, to include Tapu Fini, and can conveniently also handle things that spew Fire better than most, shown with wins over Solgaleo, Genesect Burn, and Galarian Weezing. (And sometimes, though not often, Alolan Sandslash and its scary Drill Run as well.) I generally recommend Flash Cannon here rather than Drill Peck, as both work alright for coverage but Flash is at least a big slammed door for Fairies… Galarian Weezing in particular.

Whimsicott GrassFairy

I’ll give a quick shout-out to WHIMSICOTT, which conveniently handles Tapu Fini, both Giratinas, and several other big-name Dragons, but it’s A.) pretty niche (albeit a NICE niche), and B.) crazy expensive despite the low second move cost, as it has to be fully maxed out. But if you have one, yes, it can work on the right team, and probably quite well! But aside from that and the other things above… that’s really it for 10k options in this meta. Sorry, budget warriors… this is NOT the meta for us!

So on to the rest….

50,000 Dust/50 Candy


Sandslash (Alola) IceSteel

Shadow Clawᴸ/Powder Snow | Drill Run & Ice Punch/Gyro Ball

Lots of ways to go here, all of them potent in Fantasy Cup. The now-standard Shadow Claw/Ice Punch/Drill Run variant is still a good all-rounder that applies excellent pressure to Dragons while still handling most Fairies and even Fire-breathing Solgaleo thanks to the super effectiveness of Shadow Claw. Powder Snow obviously cranks up even more pressure on Dragons (now beating Kommo-O, for example), but Solgaleo slips away and Ice-resistant Steels and Waters become even harder to overcome. There are even combinations that work in Gyro Ball for even harder anti-Fairy tech, usually best with Shadow Claw to maintain at least some pressure on Dragons, but it’s worth noting that the combination of Shadow Claw and Gyro Ball can actually beat Tapu Fini, which is pretty great. And don’t forget Shadow variants exist too, though I generally like them a bit less in this format… A-Slash wants as much bulk as possible here. How will you trick out YOUR Alolan Sandslash?


Florges Fairy

Fairy Wind/Vine Whip | Disarming Voice & Moonblast

Similar to the discussion on Primarina earlier, it’s easy to assume that going with one of the coverage charge moves here (Petal Blizzard with obvious applications versus Tapu Fini and others, or Psychic {yes, the move!}) is the smart play, but instead I think it’s best to forgo coverage and just stick with Disarming Voice and Moonblast, which is the only one of those three move combos that can overcome Lucario, Clefable, and Escavalier, and counterintuitively, it is Moonblast that can overcome Tapu Fini (albeit barely), NOT Petal Blizzard (which is just too slow). If you DO want to get tricky, I’d do it with the fast move instead. Fairy Wind is the overall best (its crazy energy generation is needed to outrace Lucario, Escavalier, and usually Clefable), but Vine Whip isn’t too far behind, and has obvious applications versus big Water and Ground types in the meta (shredding Tapu Fini and even overcoming Steelix). Could be handy on the right team! 🌿


Escavalier BugSteel

Counter | Drill Run & Acid Spray

It is rare for me to recommend Acid Spray on anything that doesn’t have a name rhyming with “Penta Drools” (sorry to any and all “Penta”s out there!), but here we are. While Megahorn has a few edge cases with shields down, such as beating Flygon and winning the mirror outright, Spray is just best overall, wearing down even things that resist Poison (like Magnezone in 1v1 shielding and Flygon in 2v2 shielding) and enabling some other great wins like Kommo-O in 2shield as well. And while Escav generally has a leg up versus Fairies, the super effectiveness of Acid Spray makes them much easier. Also recommend that Megahorn (and Aerial Ace) are resisted by Steels anyway, so Spray is still good there to at least up the damage of Counter and must-have Drill Run (as shown by that Magnezone win). Spray N’ Pray lives!


Excadrill GroundSteel

Mud Shot | Drill Run & Earthquake

In this meta full of Steel and Ground types and light on Flyers, I figured that Rock Slide would be subpar. But I also figured that Iron Head might be the way to go to combat Fairies, and uh… nah. Just like other things have relied on double STAB moves of the same typing, so I think it is here… just go with Earthquake. With that, you add Kommo-O to the win column in multiple shielding scenarios, whereas Iron Head and Rock Slide don’t seem to have any appreciable edge cases like that. I would LOVE for someone to prove me wrong/right and flex their Iron Head one instead, though! Call me, beep me… however you want to reach me. 📱


Magnezone ElectricSteel

Spark | Mirror Shot & Wild Charge

I mean, I guess it’s okay? It does operate best as a Shadow, as non-Shadow struggles versus A-Slash, Solgaleo, and G-Weeze that ShadowZone can outrace. The best I can say is that it consistently handles Fairies, to include Tapu Fini for sure… it is, in fact, only the very fringe Tapu Koko that bests Magnezone. But poor bulk means that it struggles elsewhere, even against Dragons that mostly wail on it with resisted damage.


Togekiss FairyFlying

Charm/Hidden Power (Fire) | Ancient Power & Aura Sphereᴸ/Flamethrower

Our first real look at the limitation of Charmers in this format, because Togekiss is the best one (mostly because it can also overcome Escavalier thanks to being a Flying type, and even then it needs Ancient Power to do it. That’s just a bonus, though… your primary job is obviously to wipe out Dragons, and Togekiss indeed beats every single one except that darned Turtonator, as well as Fighting Lucario. But for some fun tech, if you happen to have a Hidden Power Togekiss of the potent-in-this-meta Fire type, that can turn some things on their heads out of nowhere, allowing Togekiss to torch things like Steelix and Genesect (and tie Shadow Alolan Sandslash) that are traditionally hard counters… though you do, of course, give up several Dragons in the process, such as both Giratinas. (Still hold onto things like Dragonite, Kommo-O, and Flygon though!) Just a fun idea that could REALLY surprise opponents! 🔥


Granbull Fairy

Snarl/Charm | Close Combat & Play Rough/Crunch

I mean, you CAN run Charm, but it’s nothing special. Now Snarl, on the other hand… now we might have something. As with fire-breathing Togekiss, moving away from Charm means giving up the Giratinas, but you still keep most other Dragons thanks to Play Rough, and now can beat a slew of Steels with Close Combat, including A-Slash, Excadrill, Magnezone, and yes, the grand prize: Registeel. Now THAT is what I call nifty.


Rapidash (Galarian) PsychicFairy

Fairy Wind | Body Slam & High Horsepower

In a meta stuffed with Steel types, you had me at High Horsepower. Between that and spammy Body SlamG-Dash is pretty flexible in this meta, slaying most (non-Giratina) Dragons and many of the big name Steels (to include Lucario, Steelix, Escavalier, Excadrill, and Magnezone) and fellow Galarian Weezing as a nice bonus. You even outpace other Fairy Wind users Florges and Slurpuff! There is a lot to like about G-Dash in Fantasy Cup, and based on what I’m seeing from other content creators, it is flying completely under the radar thus far. Strike while the iron is hot, folks. Ʊ


Ferrothorn GrassSteel

Bullet Seed | Mirror Shot & Power Whip

I’m sure there’s a team that needs what Ferrothorn has to offer, I’m just having a hard time coming up with it. You do hold out against several Fairies, and shred Flygon and Tapu Fini, so there’s that. Seems a little TOO niche, but I’d love to see someone make it work!


Perrserker Steel

Shadow Claw | Close Combat & Iron Head/Play Rough

The potential for domination is there, with Shadow Claw for widespread neutral damage (or even better than that against the Giratinas!), Close Combat for Steels, and Iron Head for Fairies. All the pieces are there, and based on the numbers versus the entirety of Fantasy Cup, you’d expect breakout numbers. Unfortunately, when you pit it against the core meta, the things that the majority of players will likely be using, Perrserker falters. What went wrong? Put simply, it’s just not having enough bulk. Perrserker is flimsier than known flimsy things like Flygon, Kommo-O, Togekiss, Solgaleo and many others, and that just holds it back from what should be awesome potential. Still viable, just don’t count on it to carry you farther than it’s truly capable of.

75,000 Dust/75 Candy

Not all of the previous Pokémon were cheap (some required XL investment, though I tried to highlight the many that don’t too), but from here on our we’re really pulling away from “thrifty” territory. I’ll try to cut through these and the Legendaries quickly, cover some must-be-maxed options, and then let you get to battling. Strap in!

Flygon GroundDragon Dragonite DragonFlying
  • DRAGONITE is soooo happy to have Superpower now. Just look how it blows up Excadrill, Lucario, Escavalier, Solgaleo, and other Steels in addition to all its lethal Dragon Breath/Claw combo can do!
Kommo-o DragonFighting
  • That said, overall KOMMO-O does it a bit better. Not being Flying, it does crumble before Lucario, but it holds Dragonite’s other wins (including beating ‘Nite head to head) and adds on A-Slash, Magnezone, and Registeel too. Also worth mentioning that Altered Giratina gets a litle squirrelier than Dragonite, thanks to the awkward timing of Dragon Tail. Your mileage may vary on that one.
Haxorus Dragon
  • HAXORUS is much better this time through Fantasy Cup thanks to Breaking Swipeᴸ. It was already decent anti-Steel tech last time, but Swipe pushes it over the edge by adding on Genesect and Registeel! This is a Dragon that really struggles versus other Dragons (and Fairies, of course), so just think of it as an alternate Lucario and view its place on your team as such.
Hydreigon DarkDragon
  • HARD Giratina counter, but soft counter to most other Dragons… that’s the best way to think of HYDREIGON. Conveniently also picks off Dragonite, Solgaleo, Flygon, Magnezone, and Excadrill, but this is admittedly a very niche pick.
Garchomp GroundDragon
  • Think of GARCHOMP as anti-budget Flygon. Its biggest advantages are beating Flygon head to head, and Giratina Altered as a Shadow. The downside? It’s just not as dynamic as Flygon, lacking realistic paths to victory versus Lucario, Alolan Sandslash, Genesect, or Escavalier, all of which Flygon can beat with varying degrees of bait timing luck. Not generally recommended… unless you want to perhaps run Chompy AND Flygon. Mwaha.
Steelix SteelGround
  • Decidedly not a Dragon, STEELIX still acts a bit like one thanks to Dragon Tail, which is both good (slamming the door on every actual Dragon in the format) and bad, being left rather toothless versus most Fairies, with Tail and Crunch being resisted, and with few good answers to opposing Steels. This can be mitigated a bit by giving up Crunch for Earthquake instead, which can beat things like G-Weeze, Solgaleo, A-Slash, and Genesect, and I think that — rather than the Crunch I more commonly saw last time — Quake is my personal recommendation. Also recommend non-Shadow moreso than Shadow, which is just shakier than you’d like it to be.
Scizor (Shadow) BugSteel
  • Saw a number of SHADOW SCIZOR last time, which I kinda get for how it tears through Fairies especially. But man… I dunno. Seems very niche, folding like a cheap chair even to many Dragons and Ices it should be able to beat, as well as anything with Fighting or Fire or Ground damage of its own (which is, like, a lot of the core meta). If you like to live dangerously, here’s your ticket.
Sylveon Fairy
  • I feel like it shouldn’t work, but somehow SYLVEON with Quick Attack did a TON of work for me last time in Fantasy Cup. It’s shakier than you’d like against the Giratinas (usually still gets the job done, but it puts a LOT of pressure on connecting a Moonblast, since Quick Attack is resisted damage), but it overcomes many odds by beating things you’d never expect like Steelix, Escavalier, and Galarian Weezing thanks to oft-resisted but still big damage from Moonblast and Psyshock. (That last one is cathartic to use on G-Weeze and the occasional Dragalge and such.) And it can outrace nearly all the other Fairies out there too (Fini and Florges are problematic, but nothing else of particular note). It played for me better than the sims would indicate last time, so take that for what it’s worth.
Skarmory SteelFlying Forretress BugSteel

And then there are the REALLY expensive things like SKARMORY (which also works with Steel Wing) and FORRETRESS that have to be fully maxed out. They’re okay, and safe enough future investments too, but I wouldn’t go crazy prepping them just for this.

And now even MORE expensive….

100,000 Dust / 100 Candy

Giratina (Altered) GhostDragon
  • Yes, of course both GIRATINAS are rather huge here. They both generally want to run the widely unresisted Shadow Claw rather than their Dragon fast moves, as Dragon is of course resisted by all the Fairies and Steels around. ALTERED is the one you’re going to see the most, especially now that it’s packing Shadow Force. With Force providing the closing power that Gira-A long lacked, it can now turn the tables on Galarian Weezing, Registeel, and even Tapu Fini! Quite remarkable!
Giratina (Origin) GhostDragon
  • ORIGIN Giratina works too but it far less dynamic. It’s a shame GBL doesn’t allow you to run BOTH Giratinas in the same line, because I think that would be Origin’s best path to usage. As is, there just aren’t many (or any?) good reasons to run it over Altered.
Registeel Steel
  • I don’t think I need to say much about REGISTEEL… it looms large here and even people that barely PvP surely know why by now. I’ll just say that it’s quite good with Zap Cannon (more easily beats Dragonite) or OG move Flash Cannon (more easily beats Altered Giratina without Shadow Force) in this format, just not with both (you still need Focus Blast in the mix for opposing Steels). Have a Fighter or Ground or Electric/Fighting-resistant Giratina at the ready!
Solgaleo PsychicSteel
  • SOLGALEO literally breathes Fire with Fire SpinI hear that’s good in a meta with a lot of Steels, and resisting Fairy damage is a nice bonus too. RIP to everyone who evolved Lunala instead. Yes, I’m waiting for Niantic to give it Shadow Claw too. 💔
Heatran FireSteel
  • HEATRAN is kinda Solgaleo, just worse. Poor, unloved Heatran.
Genesect BugSteel
  • GENESECT can also Burn things, or Chill out Dragons. I dunno if I strongly recommend either, but you CAN use them, absolutely.
Melmetal Steel
  • Even in a meta like this where you would think its typing and combination of moves would make it rather huge, MELMETAL kinda proves why you rarely ever see it in Ultra League. I DID see several in Fantasy Cup last time, but as the sims show in this case, it didn’t hold up particularly well. There are just much better ways to deal with Fairies, which is kinda its main job here.
Zacian Fairy
  • A better wild card kind of Pokémon in this meta: ZACIAN, the scourge of Master League itself. Quick Attack or even Snarl both work, and my recommendation for charge moves are Close Combat for Steels and Play Rough for the Dragons (and other Fairies). It’s a nasty combo normally, but perhaps especially in this meta. And another sneaky Fire potnetial here, as Zacian can also learn Fire Fang, which drops stuff like Dragonite and Flygon but torches stuff like Escavalier and Genesect instead! 🔥
Xerneas Fairy
  • XERNEAS does a pretty good Zacian impersonation now that it has Geomancy, basically replicating Zacian’s performance, swapping out Registeel to pick up Altered Giratina instead.
Reshiram DragonFire Kyurem DragonIce
  • If you wanna get creative, RESHIRAM and KYUREM both have some potential (roasting some Steels and freezing some Ground types, respectively). But they’re really mere spice, if I’m being honest. Reshiram especially… I expected more from you. Oh wait… perhaps I treated you too harshly. With Fire Fang, you’re actually looking pretty fiiiiiiiine!
Guzzlord DarkDragon
  • GUZZLORD looks fun too, but man, that double weakness to Fairy is SCARY. Sludge Bomb along isn’t enough to overcome that!
Zygarde (Complete) DragonGround
  • I think I would quite literally fall out of my chair if I actually saw one now, but one day, ZYGARDE COMPLETE is gonna be a force in this meta. Maybe some of us will have one ready to use by 2025!
Tapu Fini WaterFairy
  • And finally, I think I’d be remiss not to close out this section with TAPU FINI. It’s just SO interesting in this meta. The effectiveness of its Fairy side is rather obvious, and yes, despite its Water damage being resisted, it DOES tend to still beat all the major Dragons… only Latios and Zekrom (that latter one for rather obvious reasons ⚡) tend to get away. But that Water damage means it can wash away a ton of other things like… well, just look at its winlist against the entire format! Other than a few Electrics you’ll rarely see, some Grasses you’ll basically NEVER see, about the only things Fini can’t beat are Empoleon, G-Weezing, Florges, Melmetal (only IF it has a Steel charge move), and Registeel. Look at that loooooooong list of wins. Yeah, there’s never been a better time to build a Fini if you’re able. There’s a reason it’s ranked behind only Registeel in Fantasy Cup, folks!


Here I cover ‘mons that are no less “nifty” than those in the main article above, but require maxing or at least almost maxing out, so they are FAR from “thrifty”! Best acquired in a Lucky trade for good IVs and less investment. I’ll also cover these in bulletized format to bring this article home!

Slurpuff Fairy
  • SLURPUFF is kinda insane in this format, thanks in very large part to Flamethrower. While it ironically loses to most of its fellow Fairies, it does a LOT of work versus Dragons AND Steels. Not many other things that can say that! The only downside? You gotta take it all the way to Level 50, where it hits 2486 CP.
Turtonator FireDragon
  • I’ve mentioned it several times throughout, but TURTONATOR actually has legit use in Fantasy Cup. You don’t really want to face other Dragons (though Dragon Pulse at least gives you some way to hit back), but when the evil Shredder (and his fellow Steels!) attacks, this turtle boy don’t cut him no slack! 🐢🔥And this is a Dragon that outright beats many Fairies too, like G-Weeze, Clefable, and Florges. Turtle power!
Altaria DragonFlying Ninetales (Alola) IceFairy
  • Same with ALOLAN NINETALES, best in this meta with Powder Snow. It’s quite excellent versus Dragons and several Grounds, and can best Florges too, but not exactly a strong recommendation in this meta.
Togedemaru ElectricSteel
  • If I had my choice, I think I’d prefer TOGEDEMARU over Magnezone. But no. I don’t think it’s quite worth maxing out. That might just be always-looking-for-thrifty me, though.
Weezing (Galarian) PoisonFairy
  • Closing out with one of the very best options in all of Fantasy Cup: GALARIAN WEEZING. Similar to Slurpuff, it is the Fairy Wind high energy into a Fire charge move that makes it particularly sweet, though in this case it’s Overheat and FAR more raw power than Puff’s Flamethrower. But seeing as how Overheat self-debuffs rather aggressively, the second charge move is just as important. Play Rough is probably better/safer, as only Steels are going to resist it here, but Brutal Swing is technically better for baiting, with the downside of being resisted by quite a bit in the meta. Specific differences: Brutal can sneak in a win versus Alolan Sandslash, but Play Rough can actually beat Tapu Fini and I think gets my vote.

And nearly 50 Pokémon later, we’re done! As always, my hope is that this is sufficient to hit most of the highlights of the format and help you balance the cost of where to save yourself some hard-earned dust (and candy)… as much as possible, at least. This format is EXPENSIVE, y’all!

Until next time, you can always find me on Twitter for regular PvP analysis nuggets, or Patreon. Or if you’ll be at GOFest in New York City, come find me! And please, feel free to comment here with your own thoughts or questions and I’ll try to get back to you!

Thank you for reading! I sincerely hope this helps you master Fantasy Cup, and in the most affordable way possible. Best of luck, and catch you next time, Pokéfriends!

Author & tags

PoGO/PvP Investigative Journalist, GO Hub and Silph Arena/Road Contributor, amateur cook, author of 'Nifty Or Thrifty' and 'Under The Lights' article series and #PvPfacts!

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