Nifty Or Thrifty PvP: Halloween Cup 2023

The “Nifty Or Thrifty” article series takes a comprehensive look at the meta for Cup formats — the 2023 rehash of Halloween Cup, in this case — particularly focused on Pokémon where you can save yourself some stardust. Because for those on a stardust budget — and/or folks trying to save up some dust for the future — it can be daunting trying to figure out where to spend or not spend it. We all want to field competitive teams, but where can we get the best bang for our buck?

The OG Halloween Cup represented the first limited meta many players ever participated in. Cups are old hat for most of you now, and by now you know that they often require all-new team-crafting and consideration of things you may not have even evolved yet. My goal is to show you which of those may be worth pursuing yourself, but also to prepare you to FACE many of these and know how to handle them, since there are several you may not have encountered in PvP before.

We have a lot to get through, so just a quick caveat: in the interest of time, I kept this “simple”, with almost all simulations focused on standard 1v1 shielding matchups and typically with “default” IVs, since there will be a WIDE range of IV spreads you encounter out there. So this is not FULLY comprehensive but will give you a very good idea of how these Pokémon perform.

There are a lot of new Pokémon to consider this year, and I’ll mark them all with a 💥, and mark things with a big move addition and/or buff with a 💪.

And in fact, before we get into the standard run of cheapest to most expensive options, there is one all-new addition to the meta that is going to drastically alter the battlefield above all others. I feel compelled to define and cover it first.


Carbink RockFairy

Rock Throw | Rock Slide & Moonblast

In past Halloween Cups, some players found success by running Tyranitar and/or Crustle with Smack Down, as Rock swats aside potent Flying, Ice, Fire, and/or Bug types in the meta with super effective damage, and deals at least neutral damage to darn near everything else, while the Rock typing very conveniently resists potent Poison attacks too. Add to that extreme bulk and a typing that adds on resistances to Dark, Dragon, and Bug damage, and you have the new #1 in Halloween Cup, with a projected performance to match. Avoid Waters and Grasses and most Poisons (and what little Steel it present here), and Carbink can rip through just about everything else, and puts up a solid fight even in most of those losing matchups. Perhaps even better, you don’t HAVE to dip heavily into XLs to have one ready to go… something like a 14-15-15 works very well too, giving up close wins over Tyranitar and Trash Wormadam but gaining stuff like Forretress and even Runerigus instead! If you have a Carbink to build, there has never been a better time, almost regardless of IVs.

Now let’s dive in to the rest!

10,000 Dust/25 Candy


Golbat PoisonFlying

Wing Attack | Poison Fang & Shadow Ball

Aging like a fine wine, Golbat has come a long way from being just a Silph Arena standout… most all GBLers have run across the Bat by now too, and this remains one of its very best metas. It’s actually ranked #2 (and #3 for the Shadow version!) despite the scary presence of Carbink, just because it can still handle so much else, terrorizing Fighters, Grasses, Bugs, many Ghosts, and of course Charmers. Shadow Golbat is an iffy side/downgrade, able to overpower Mawile, Tapu Fini, Incineroar, and even Charjabug, but giving up Azumarill, A-Muk, Skuntank, Scizor, and Crustle to do it. But either way, like many of Gotham City’s worst villains, you can make your opponents have good reason to fear the Bat.


Swalot Poison

Mud Shot | Ice Beam & Sludge Bomb/Gunk Shot

I sang the praises of Mud Shot being added to Swalot this season, and I still think it’s underrated in general now, but I think THIS is the meta where it’s finally going to have a its big breakoutIce Beam is great for dusting off Golbat and big Grasses (and even Grounds that normally terrorize Poisons like Swalot), while the big Poison moves — either Sludge Bomb for a bit more speed and consistency that results in wins over things like Runerigus and Cofagrigus, Charjabug, and H-Qwilfish, or Gunk Shot for knockout potential versus Umbreon, Tentacruel, Incineroar, and the mirror — finally become incredibly relevant on Swalot now that it has the high energy fast move to regularly bring them to bear. Nobody is going to dismiss Swalot again once Halloween Cup gets rolling… it finally becomes the thrifty hero I’ve always dreamed it could be, and I couldn’t be happier!


Beedrill BugPoison

Poison Jab | Fell Stinger/X-Scissor & Drill Runᴸ

Beedrill has found itself less and less popular as time has gone on, but in Halloween Cup, it remains a potent threat to Fairies, Poisons, and Fighters alike, beating (beeting?) Azumarill/Fini, Charmers, Grasses, Dark/Poisons, everything with Counter, and then stuff like Charjabug, Tentacruel and both Qwilfishes, Toxapex, and Greninja too… an impressive résumé! Note that my recommendation this season is Fell Stinger over X-Scissor, the former of which is better at baiting out (and boosting) the Drill Run that makes Bee special, and specifically allows wins versus Greninja, H-Qwil, and Swalot. Shadow Beedrill more effectively beats things like Azumarill, Swalot, Escavalier, and Charjabug, adds the ability to beat Galvantula, Froslass, and Nidoqueen, but does give up stuff like Toxapex, Greninja, and Pawniard with its reduced bulk. We’ll call it a solid sidegrade. Double Bee trouble… melissophobiacs, beeware! (Go ahead… I’ll wait while you Google “melissophobiac”. 🐝)

Ariados BugPoison

There’s also ARIADOS as another cheap Poisonous Bug, but it lacks the Ground coverage of Beedrill and thus has to rely on spam with Cross Poison and then big Bug damage with Lunge and/or Megahorn. I actually like running both of those to overpower things like Escavalier, Trevenant, and even sometimes Mawile, though Cross Poison varieties has an easier time with Sableye and, somewhat amazingly, even Tyranitar instead.


Crustle BugRock

Smack Down | X-Scissor & Rock Slide

With the arrival of Carbink, Crustle’s stock has definitely fallen. But it’s still not a bad budget option if you need a Rock chucker in a pinch. The win record is low, but it’s great at knocking out opposing Fire, Bug, Ice, Flying, and even some Poison types. It can even take out Jellicent, which many Jelli owners likely will not expect.


Charjabug BugElectric

Volt Switchᴸ | X-Scissor & Discharge

We’ll look again when we get to Galv itself, but Charjabug crashes into Halloween Cup this year with still-new addition Volt Switch as a very healthy alternative to Galv, able to beat things Galvantula cannot like Umbreon, Mandibuzz, Venusaur, CharmTales, Wigglytuff, and Trashadam, mostly all thanks to having far superior bulk. People that built a good one during September Community Day are going to be very happy in this meta, I think.


Wormadam (Trash) BugSteel

Confusion/Bug Bite | Bug Buzz & Iron Head

Traditionally always listed in the “Feelin’ Lucky” section due to having to be pushed to or beyond Level 40, in these dark days of so many high XL things, Trashadam could actually be called somewhat thrifty these days, so it finds itself here instead. It has always been nifty in this meta and remains as such, and is arguably better without any XL investment for doing all the same stuff and winning the mirror, but that’s up to you and your own XL pile, I suppose. There are not many Confusion users in this format, but the fact that it annihilates Fighters and most Poisons helps explain the success Trashy does see. Its typing helps too, allowing it to wail on Charmers and Froslass with impunity, and even to outlast Azumarill, Tapu Fini, and Fairy Wind Mawile. Bug Bite IS a viable alternative, more easily flipping the mirror match and also taking down Umbreon, Obstagoon, Tyranitar, and Pawniard, though it gives up most of the good Poisons (Golbat, Toxicroak, Tentacruel, Toxapex, and Haunter, among others) and Tapu Fini as well. Your call!


Golisopod WaterBug

Shadow Claw | Liquidation & Aerial Ace/X-Scissor

It was around last year, but so lousy it never made the article. That changes this year. Aerial Ace is better which allows sneaky wins over Azumarill and Forretress, but it’s really the addition of Liquidation that puts it over the top now. That brings in new wins like all the major Fires (A-Wak, Incineroar, Skeledirge), of course, but also Runerigus and Cofagrigus, Trashadam and Crustle, Swalot, Nidoqueen, Froslass, and Mawile too. There’s an edge case for X-Scissor as a way to punch out Greninja and at least threaten a number of Darks, but personally I think Liquidation and Ace is now the best way to go. How about you?


Greninja WaterDark

Water Shuriken | Night Slash & Hydro Cannonᴸ

Also technically around last year, but with TWO new moves under its belt, the breakout potential is finally hereNight Slash is the preferred coverage move (specfically beating things like Jellicent), but it is Water Shuriken and Hydro Cannon that do the bulk of the work, washing away Carbink and a TON of others. Grasses, Fairies, Fighters, and couple Bugs and Poisons slow it down, but not much else!


Venusaur GrassPoison

Vine Whip | Frenzy Plantᴸ & Sludge Bomb

This still isn’t the best meta for Grasses, but Venusaur still gets a bit of extra utility now with the rise of Carbink and Waters and Grounds that potentially may be brought in to slow Binky down. It has the advantage versus Nidoqueen these days too, as well as the other Rocks like Tyranitar and Crustle, and still overpowers generalists like Umbreon and Sableye, and Charmers of course. Venusaur’s stock is pointing up a bit again, though there’s still a lot of Flying and Poison and Bugs that keep it very much in check. Shadow Venusaur can even overpower Trevenant (and Cofagrigus), though the loss in bulk means losses like Umbreon and Galvantula too.


Skeledirge FireGhost

Incinerate | Shadow Ball & Disarming Voice/Crunch

One day Skele will benefit from its Community Day move, but more than most starters, it is also very viable in the here and nowIncinerate burns through all Steel and Ice types in the meta, all Grasses but Shiftry and sometimes Trevenant, and all Bugs but Crustle and Golisopod for somewhat obvious reasons. Being a Poison-resistant Ghost that deals a lot of mostly neutral damage means many Poisons go down too, from Nidoqueen to Galarian Weezing to Swalot to Toxicroak to H-Qwilfish. Throw in the standard Charm hate that comes with Fire types, and Disarming Voice to threaten even Darks, and Skeledirge is gonna shake up this meta nicely. (Technically Crunch may be slightly better, and can beat Toxapex, but I’ll take the Fairy coverage instead, personally.)


Incineroar FireDark

Fire Fang | Blaze Kick & Flame Charge/Dark Pulse

Less versatile than Skele but still quite good in a meta where Fire can be powerful. Newly added Blaze Kick elevates its performance into viability by adding on edge cases like Golbat, Swalot, Galarian Weezing, and Runerigus to a win column that already included ALL Grass, Ice, and Steel types, and basically the same set of Bugs that Skeledirge handles. Dark Pulse is fine enough, but I lean towards Flame Charge instead and its potent combo with high-damage Fire Fang… Incineroar can even take down Mandibuzz that way.


Obstagoon DarkNormal

Counter | Night Slash & Obstructᴸ/Cross Chop/Hyper Beam

Night Slash is obviously a must, but what else? Cross Chop is useful for wailing on Darks (specifically beating Hisuian Qwilfish and Alolan Muk, and Hyper Beam is the ideal “closer” for how it can take out Mandibuzz and Tentacruel. But as leary as I am to recommend it and will come right out and say that it’s a “sim hero”, Obstruct may indeed be the best way to go if you have it, opening paths to victory versus Mandi and A-Muk, as well as Skuntank, Swalot, Forretress, and Trashadam.

You can also consider pre-evolution GALARIAN LINOONE now that Dig is actually useful for burying some big Fire, Poison, and Steel types in the meta. It is overall a bit less dynamic than Obstagoon, but certainly still worthy of consideration.


Raticate (Alola) DarkNormal

Quick Attack | Crunch & Returnᴸ

With its TRIPLE resistance to Ghost damage, it’s no surprise that A-Rat is a premiere Ghost slayer, with only a couple like Froslass, Palossand, and Gholdengo being able to fend it off. What may be a little more surprising is that — at least with Return — it also outtanks Venusaur, Nidoqueen, both Qwilfish, Skuntank, A-Muk, Toxapex, Tapu Fini, Charjabug, Galarian Weezing, Golbat and many more, and even outlasts Umbreon by slapping it with constant neutral damage. (Without Return you do lose things like Charj, Azumarill, Golbat, Toxapex, Fini, Stank, and G-Weeze.) A-Rat is deceptively bulky and as long as it avoids Fighting and Fairy damage, there is very little that blows it out, making it a good, cheap, and pretty safe swap option to consider.


Wigglytuff NormalFairy

Charm | Ice Beam & Disarming Voice

Generally the best of the Charmers thanks to its Normal sub-typing and double resistance to Ghost damage, giving it a big leg up in the Halloween meta. And new Disarming Voice gives it some new advantages now too, such as beating (non-Hydro Pump) Azumarill. That said, the need for a pure Charmer has decreased over time, and thus even the better ones have only so much use. But if you have to pick a Charmer, for my money, it’s Wiggly in Halloween Cup.


Clefable Fairy

Fairy Wind | Meteor Mash & Moonblast/Psychic

As hinted with Wiggly, Clefable is mostly a failure with Charm, but new Fairy Wind is an entirely different story. Not only does it now rush to Carbink-destroying Meteor Mash, but it can now rather easily outduel Sableye, Mandibuzz, Pawniard, Incineroar, and even Galvantula and Azumarill (again, unless it lands a Hydro Pump) like Charm Clefable cannot. Add to that impressive wins over Crustle, G-Weeze, and Wigglytuff itself and Clefable is well worth a mention now, unlike years past.

50,000 Dust/50 Candy


Toxapex PoisonWater

Poison Jab | Brine & Sludge Wave

The top-rated 50k option, comfortably in the Top 5 overall, and with a projected performance that backs it up. ‘Pex is a Water that beats all Grasses and even Charjabug AND every other Water type but Jellicent, while also washing away Fires and Rocks, and every single Fairy in the format (even those that blunt Poison damage like Carbink and Mawile). Bonuses include Umbreon, Mandibuzz, the Dark/Poisons, Nidoqueen, and even Pawniard and Scizor. (Resisting Steel damage helps quite a bit.) Beyond a handful of potent Ghosts, Poisons, and some Steely Bugs (and Galvantula, for somewhat obvious reasons), there isn’t much that Toxapex cannot grind down into toxic dust.


Nidoqueen PoisonGround

Poison Jab | Poison Fang & Earth Power

Here I think I lean non-Shadow Queen over Shadow Queen, with non-Shadow being able to beat things like Tentacruel, Shadow Mawile, Swalot, and Pawniard, while Shadow only gets one unique win (albeit a big one: Toxapex). Or you can get tricky with Stone Edge, instead beating Mandibuzz with Shadow or Golbat with non-Shadow… not generally recommended with all you give up, but could certainly work (and has in past Halloween Cups) on the right team.


Salazzle PoisonFire

Incinerate | Poison Fang & Dragon Pulse

The other prominent Poison Fang user. I didn’t cover it last time because it really does take some shenanigans to get it under 1500 CP, but it’s been long enough now that I feel obligated to point out that, yeah, it’s pretty good hereSigh Salandit in the wild WHEN, Niantic?


Dragalge PoisonDragon

Dragon Tail | Aqua Tail & Gunk Shot

The skillset of Dragalge translates really well to Halloween Cup: it douses things like Queen, Crustle and TTar, many and Fires with Aqua Tail, poisons Azumarill (and also overwhelms Umbreon) with Gunk Shot, and resists the many moves of Poison, Grass, Electric, and Water types (and Fighters) while beating them down with Dragon Tail. Dragalge is quietly very dangerous in this meta, folks.


Tentacruel WaterPoison

Poison Jab | Scald & Blizzard/Sludge Wave/Acid Spray

Alright, here goes JRE with his crazy, what-is-he-thinking alternative moveset recommendations. Because I think you should legit consider Blizzard, which uniquely freezes out Skuntank, Qwilfish, and of course Flying Golbat and Mandibuzz. If you’re looking for more tried-and-true, both Acid Spray and Sludge Wave have fine utility, with the former allowing a win over Tyranitar and the latter overwhelming Qwil like Blizzard does. Or heck, you can even run with last year’s best moveset if you want to. Tentacthulhu is an eldritch horror in many forms!


Qwilfish WaterPoison

Water Gun/Poison Sting | Aqua Tail & Sludge Wave/Acid Spray

Here again there are several ways to go, though basically all of them include Aqua Tail in the first charge move slot. The highest numbers come with an odd Water Gun/Sludge Wave combination, which extinguishes A-Wak, Skuntank, Runerigus, Escavalier, Forretress, and Qwilfish’s Hisuian cousin. Poison Sting is no slouch either, instead outracing Trevenant, Zweilous, and Greninja, but its other two seemingly unique wins — Tapu Fini and (non-Blizzard!) Tentacruel — are matched by Water Gun with Sludge Wave (though not with Water Gun/Acid Spray).


Qwilfish (Hisuian) DarkPoison

Poison Jab | Aqua Tail & Shadow Ball/Ice Beam

This one is pretty simple. Do you want Shadow Ball ot beat Jellicent, Sableye, Mawile, and Qwilfish, or Ice Beam for overcoming Golbat, Mandibuzz, Nidoqueen, and the mirror?


Skuntank PoisonDark

Poison Jab | Crunch & Flamethrower/Trailblaze

Again, relatively simple and clear choice here. Trailblaze has become Stank’s go-to now in Open GL, and contributes wins in this meta over Hydro Pump Azumarill, Jellicent, Toxapex, Umbreon (the damage boost seals the deal here), and Sableye. But this is still a pretty flammable meta, in which Flamethrower burns through Mawile, Forretress, Trashadam, Pawniard, Hisuian Qwilfish, and the mirror match. The tradeoffs are similar with ShadowStank too, with Flamethrower burning Trashadam, Wigglytuff, and A-Muk, while Trailblaze gets Tentacruel and the mirror (boosted Attack FTW) instead.


Muk (Alola) PoisonDark

Snarl | Dark Pulse & Sludge Wave

Poison Jab | Acid Spray & Dark Pulse

You can mix and match a bit here, but in my opinion, Snarl/Dark Pulse/Sludge Wave is the overall best way to run with non-Shadow, turning it into a pretty good generalist that can overcome things like Tentacruel, Runerigus, Swalot, Trashadam, and other Dark/Poisons (including the mirror). Conversely, Poison Jab/Acid Spray/Dark Pulse seems best for Shadow A-Muk to maximize that Jab damage, which allows consistent wins versus (non-Steel) Fairies (including ones like Azumarill and Galarian Weezing), as well as grinding down even things that resist Poison like Sableye, Tyranitar, Crustle, Golbat, and Hisuian Qwilfish.


Roserade GrassPoison

Bullet Seedᴸ/Poison Jab | Weather Ball (Fire)ᴸ & Leaf Storm

There is some good that can come out of Poison Jab here, but if you’re going to run Rose, I think you want to just go for broke with the speed and Grass damage of Bullet Seed, which not only slaughters nearly every one of the format’s Rocks, Grounds, and Waters (only Tyranitar, Toxapex, and Golisopod escape), but also can take out Charjabug, Escavalier, Scizor, Mawile, Toxicroak, Sableye, Charmers, and even Froslass! Poison Jab is an acceptable alternative that loses all those specific mentions to gain Galvantula, Forretress, and Alolan Muk instead, but for my money? Go for Grass.


Haunter GhostPoison Gengar GhostPoison

Shadow Claw | Shadow Punchᴸ & Sludge Bomb/Shadow Ball

Yep, both Haunter AND Gengar are equally viable, and run roughshod over a large portion of the core meta, including Fighters, Electrics, Jellicent, many Ghosts (including the Fires and Froslass), most big name Bugs and many more. Sludge Bomb is better for sniping Fairies (adding Azu, Fini, G-Weeze, and Wiggly, among others) and outraces Crustle (in Haunter’s case, at least), whereas Shadow Ball is better versus Poisons like Nidoqueen, Swalot, Toxapex, Golbat, the Qwilfishes, and Tentacruel. As for Gengar specifically, while Sludge Bomb still uniquely beats Wiggly, Azu, and G-Weeze, Shadow Ball is now able to beat Tapu Fini (unlike with Haunter) and probably gets the nod from me.

Cofagrigus Ghost

COFAGRIGUS is fine too, though honestly just a bit less exciting. Where its bulk allows new wins is things like Crustle, Tapi Fini, Azumarill, Nidoqueen, PowderTales, and Trashadam, which all give Haunter and Gengar at least situational trouble. Where Cofag pales is versus other Ghosts (losing to most, including A-Wak, Skeledirge, Jellicent, Runerigus, and Froslass) and others like Golbat, Swalot, and Wigglytuff that it just can’t outrace.


Runerigus GroundGhost

Shadow Claw | Sand Tomb & Shadow Ball

Cofagrigus’ cousin Runie, however, definitely stands out from the crowd. Its Ground subtyping gives it easy wins versus Carbink and other Rocks, all Electrics in the meta, and a big leg up versus Poison types with a double resistance (same as Haunter and Gengar), allowing it to beat even scary-for-Ghosts Alolan Muk and Skuntank. It handles the Fiery Ghosts, Mawile, CharmTales, Forretress, Trashadam, and even scary Waters like Toxapex, Tentacruel, Tapu Fini, Qwilfish, and Jellicent despite their super effective damage coming back Runie’s way. Runerigus is pretty beastly in this meta, folks, and it’s only gotten better this year thanks to dominating Carbink like few others can.


Palossand GroundGhost

Mud Shot | Scorching Sands & Shadow Ball

Same basic story here, though there are differences. Paulo (as I will call Palossand henceforth) does some things with new Scorching Sands that Runerigus cannot, overcoming Incineroar, Tyranitar, Swalot, H-Qwilfish, spicy Pawniard, and Runie itself. Where it falls short in comparison to Runerigus is in losses to Jellicent and Tapu Fini (two BIG and unexpected wins for Runie) as well as Trashadam, Forretress, and CharmTales. But it too, obviously, thoroughly destroys Carbink, and actually more effectively than even Runerigus thanks to Sands.


Jellicent WaterGhost

Hex | Surf & Shadow Ball

Things have gotten much simpler with Jelli this year. No more need for Bubble Beam baits, and no strong case really for any moveset now other than Hex/Shadow Ball and new-this-year move Surf. It’s just the best Jelli has to offer now, with more consistent wins over things like Azumarill, Froslass, Tentacruel, and now Toxapex. Many Waters, Poisons, Ghosts, Fires, and Fighters all fall before its steadier and more balanced moveset. It should remain a very strong presence this year, perhaps moreso than ever. (But no, it doesn’t ever really beat Carbink, even if it ran Bubble/Surf.)


Froslass IceGhost

Powder Snow | Avalanche & Shadow Ball

Here again, I think it’s the tried and true Powder Snow/Shadow Ball/Avalanche you still want. Lass is actually really good at combating most Poison types (though A-Muk and Haunter are problematic for obvious reasons), and has positive matchups with Grasses (duh), Dragons, Fighters, and even some big-name Darks — Mandibuzz and Zweilous — again, for rather obvious reasons. She can also outrace Cofagrigus and Runerigus, Charjabug, Wigglytuff, Beedrill, Pump-less Azumarill and others. Froslass, as per usual, is much more dangerous than her overall win/loss record would imply.


Dusclops Ghost

Hex | Fire Punch & Poltergeist

Long story short, Poltergeist makes it better, with wins over Golbat, Tapu Fini, Crustle, and Tentacruel it could not reliably get before. Fire Punch is your best coverage with all the burnable stuff here (particularly the Steely Bugs). 🔥


Houndstone Ghost

Lick | Psychic Fangs & Dig

The new doggo is indeed a good doggoDig is unfortunately not quite enough to reliably take down Carbink (though my oh my, does it get close!), but it IS great at burying many Fire (all of them but outside-the-meta Houndoom) and Poison types like Toxapex, G-Weeze, Swalot, Nidoqueen, Toxicroak, and Haunter/Gengar, as well as stuff like Crustle, Escavalier, Mawile, Charjabug and Galvantula, Trevenant, CharmTales, Froslass and more. This is a good early opportunity to bring your newest toy.


Marowak (Alola) FireGhost

Fire Spin/Hex | Bone Club & Shadow Ball/Shadow Boneᴸ

A-Wak has always been a bit funny in this meta, with both Fire Spin and Hex being viable, as well as both Shadow Ball and Shadow Bone. That’s still the case this year, and I encourage running sims with your currently build A-Waks and seeing what works best for you. But I will provide some highlights here. Shadow works well with Hex (ideally with Shadow Bone, which outraces Trevenant, Runerigus, Scizor, and the mirror, as opposed to Shadow Ball which only gets Fini and Nidoqueen) or with Fire Spin (also best with Bone, and notable for wins versus Wiggly, Trev, Scizor, Queen, H-Qwil, and Pawniard… but without Hex you lose Jellicent, Skeledirge, Runie, and Toxapex). Similarly, non-Shadow A-Wak (which generally prefers Ball) works with Hex (special wins include Jelli, Froslass, Toxapex, Qwilfish, and Trevenant) or Fire Spin (special wins like Queen, Forret, Wiggly, Pawniard, and Skuntank). And I imagine someone will try out Fire Blast variant too… someone always does. Told you there were a lot of options!


Galvantula BugElectric

Volt Switch | Lunge & Discharge

Charjabug is the budget version, and while it does do some unique things (as mentioned up in its section), Galvantula still reigns supreme with its own unique wins versus Froslass, Sableye, Skuntank, H-Qwilfish, Zweilous, and Toxapex. But even better is Shadow Galv, which does drop Jellicent and H-Qwil, but gains Mandibuzz, Trevenant, Trashadam, PowderTales, A-Muk, and often Venusaur too, among others.


Escavalier BugSteel

Counter | Drill Run & Megahorn/Aerial Ace

In a meta full of Poisons and Electrics weak to it, turns out that Drill Run is a really good move to have, especially when paired with Counter to rough up the Darks too! And it turns out that’s actually all that Escav needs to hit a high level performance against the core meta, beating all the important Darks that aren’t airborne (including all three Dark/Poisons), all the Steely Bugs, the major Grasses, Charmers, Froslass, Tentacruel, and more. While having a second move doesn’t seem to have affect there, of course there are many shielding situations and energy lead situations where a second move could be key. Megahorn deals HUGE damage now and picks up wins in shieldless matchups against Umbreon, Galvantula, and Crustle, but Aerial Ace has wide neutral coverage and is super effective against (most) Bugs and Grass. Pick your pleasure!


Scrafty DarkFighting

Counter | Foul Play & Power-Up Punch

Still putting in good work, with Power-Up Punch enabling Scrafty to beat things like A-Muk, Escavalier, Fairy Wind Mawile, Scizor, and even Skeledirge (usually by boosting Foul Play into KO territory). Even Carbink is winnable if you sniff out the Moonblast and just keep pounding away.


Toxicroak PoisonFighting

Counter | Mud Bomb & Sludge Bomb

You might be tempted by the new Mud Shot in this Poison-heavy meta, but no… just stick with tried and true Counter to beat (non-Flying) Darks (aside from pesky Sableye and Malamar), Steels, Rocks (yes, Carbink too!), bonuses like Skeledirge, Qwilfish, Shadow Nidoqueen, Venusaur, and PowderTales, and carry the looming threat of Sludge Bomb to keep even the Fairies honest. I don’t think Toxicroak really needs any more explanation than that, does it?


Ninetales (Alola) IceFairy

Powder Snow/Charm | Weather Ball (Ice) & Psyshock/Dazzling Gleam

With SO much Poison in the meta anymore, Powder Snow is usually best with Psyshock in this meta, specifically beating Toxicroak, Beedrill, and Swalot and also often outracing Azumarill and the mirror. CharmTales is obviously extremely tough on Darks, beats Jellicent, and has more consistent wins versus Azumarill and Toxicroak and such, but is left pretty vulnerable to Poison types. It’s a mere specialist in this meta anymore.


Granbull (Shadow) Fairy

Charm | Crunch & Close Combat

Nothing fancy here… just straight beatdowns. I just feel compelled to list it as a top flight Charmer, but there are few secrets to what it can (and cannot) do.


Dedenne ElectricFairy

Thunder Shock | Discharge & Play Rough

The forgotten Electric with Galv and now Charj taking the limelight, but Deedee still does good things too. While it’s true that being weak to Poison dooms it in many matchups, its resistance to Dark boosts it elsewhere, such as unique wins over Greninja, Guzzlord, and Tyranitar, and it has enough bulk to outrace Charmers and stuff like Jellicent and Charjabug itself. On the right team, it can still be very effective.


Weezing (Galarian) PoisonFairy

Fairy Wind | Overheat & Sludge/Brutal Swing

Put simply: you basically ALWAYS want the option of Overheat, which just roasts too many things (Steely Bugs, Mawile, Froslass, Galvantula, Crustle, A-Muk, H-Qwil, Trevenant, etc.) to leave out. After that? Well, Sludge beats Azumarill and Tapu Fini, and the new-this-year Brutal Swing instead nets Jellicent (and threatens Ghosts in general, of course). Which one suits YOUR fancy?


Azumarill WaterFairy

Bubble | Hydro Pump & Play Rough/Ice Beam

The question isn’t whether or not to run it — because likely the majority of teams will, especially with Carbink’s arrival — the question is what moves to run on it? I’ll start by saying that no matter what, you probably want Hydro Pump, as it’s just a tremendous equalizer and catch-all move threat that hardly anything of note resists in Halloween Cup… you basically have to have it to beat things like Froslass, Alolan Ninetales, Alolan Muk, Forretress, and Cofagrigus. The debate then becomes Ice Beam versus Play Rough. Beam has obvious applications against Flyers and very wide neutral coverage (and more readily outraces G-Weeze and Mawile), but Play Rough is much better against Fighters, Waters, and is almost a must-have to win the mirror. I’ll leave that decision in your capable hands for your own team, but expect to face down a healthy mix of both on opposing teams!

75,000 Dust/75 Candy


Mandibuzz DarkFlying

Snarl/Air Slash | Aerial Ace & Dark Pulse/Shadow Ball

The easy, slam dunk moveset is surely the now-standard Snarl/Aerial Ace/Dark Pulse, right? Well, it certainly IS potent, handling all the format’s Grass, Fighting, and Bug types (except Crustle and the Electric Bugs) thanks at least in part to newly improved Aerial Ace, as well as conveniently all Fires but Salazzle and all Ghosts but Froslass (and man oh man, is even THAT super close). Not to even mention all the Poison and other Dark types Mandi can conquer. But there’s still power in going with a more Flying-centric moveset, trading Golbat, Skuntank, Tentacruel, and Nidoqueen that Snarl Mandi can beat to instead take down Greninja, Guzzlord, Fire Fang Mawile (largely thanks to the addition in this case of Shadow Ball), and the mirror match versus Snarl Mandibuzz. If you find yourself facing down a Mandi, pay close attention to what fast move is in use before you decide how to mount a response. Good luck!


Bombirdier FlyingDark

Wing Attack | Fly & Payback

Mandi Junior. The biggest point in Birdie’s favor is outright beating Froslass, and matching some of the unique wins of Snarl Mandi (Golbat, Skuntank, Tentacruel) and Air Slash Mandi (FF Mawile and Mandibuzz itself), representing a happy medium of sorts. However, Mandi’s sheer bulk does give it wins Birdie cannot match like Nidoqueen, Guzzlord, Greninja, Umbreon, and Galarian Weezing. There’s more than enough going for Bombirdier in this meta to be worth running if you have a good one.


Umbreon Dark

Snarl | Foul Play & Last Resortᴸ/Psychicᴸ

Umbreon rarely wows with its number of wins… but what is impressive is its remarkable consistency. Yes, it consistently shreds all the Ghosts, new and old, but what Umbreon does best is wear a lot of things down. I generally recommend Last Resort to handle Darks (specifically beating Hisuian Qwilfish, Skuntank, and Greninja, and having a shot in the mirror match), but Psychic works fine too (getting certain Poison types like Beedrill and even scary Toxicroak). Umbreon puts up a good fight against basically everything here without a steady diet of Fairy, Fighting, or Bug damage, and remains one of the safest gap fillers you’ll find in this meta (and many, many others).


Zweilous DarkDragon

Dragon Breath | Body Slam & Dark Pulse

Still a strong option here, Zweil operates best as a Ghost and Dark slayer, beating every Ghost but Froslass and Disarming Voice Skeledirge, and basically every Dark without Fighting, Dragon, or Ice damage. As a bonus, Zweil can take out Golbat, Nidoqueen, Greninja, Tentacruel, Charjabug, Venusaur and some others too. Steer clear of Bugs and especially Fairies, but Zweilous is a tough, tough out for most anything else.


Sableye DarkGhost

Shadow Claw | Foul Play & Returnᴸ

Yep, Sable is solid, able to overwhelm every other meta Ghost and things like Toxapex, Golbat, Swalot, Mawile, Escavalier, Crustle, Trashadam, Incineroar, Tentacruel, Shadow Queen, Toxicroak and much more. Shadow Sable is a bit worse and generally not recommended, IMO.


Trevenant GhostGrass

Shadow Claw | Seed Bomb & Shadow Ball

The stock goes up this time with the addition of Carbink, Greninja, Charjabug, and Tapu Fini to the meta, all of which Trevor will usually beat (but still has to be careful of their neutral or super effective {read as: Gren’s Night Slash} coverage moves). Bugs can be scary but their neutral damage is usually not enough to survive Trev’s onslaught, and Trevenant usually beats other Ghosts too (like Jellicent, Cofagrigus, Runerigus, and even Froslass). Other wins include Azumarill (even with Ice Beam), Tyranitar, Fairy Wind Mawile, Shadow Nidoqueen, Venusaur, and even CharmTales.


Drifblim GhostFlying

Hex | Shadow Ball & Mystical Fire/Icy Wind

As in Open, Drifblim has deflated a little bit over time, though the addition of Mystical Fire and its Shadow version both add a little more intrigue than it’s had in other recent Halloween Cups. Mystical Fire specifically adds wins versus Trashadam and Pawniard. Shadow Blim is mostly an upgrade with either Icy Wind (adding Runerigus) or with Mystical Fire (adding Galvantula, a significant pickup); with either, Shadow gains CharmTales, Trashadam, and Tapu Fini, though it also drops Trevenant and Skeledirge with its reduced bulk.


Scizor BugSteel

Bullet Punch | X-Scissor & Night Slash/Iron Head

The new move is Trailblaze, but Scizor doesn’t want that. The reason for the 💪 is instead the buff to X-Scissor, which pairs best with Iron Head for non-Shadow Scizor, geting wins like Guzzlord, Sableye, Pawniard, Night Slash Scizor, and potentially even Azumarill (without Hydro Pump). However, Shadow Scizor has some options. Iron Head allows it to beat Tapu Fini, Night Slash outpaces Trashadam, Forretress, and even Galarian Weezing (despite being resisted), and X-Scissor can beat Zweilous, Sableye, Umbreon, and Pawniard. The best overall combination for Shadow Scizor, in my opinion, is X-Scissor/Night Slash, which beats everything I just listed except for Tapu Fini, and uniquely is able to overcome Galvantula as well. In the end, I’d say Shadow is overall still better than non-Shadow, missing out on Fini but otherwise doing the same job PLUS Escavalier, Forretress, Trashadam, Weezing, Umbreon, Cofagrigus, and potentially that Galvantula win too.


Forretress BugSteel

Bug Bite | Mirror Shot & Earthquake

Yes, it CAN beat Carbink, though it is a hairraising affair. Thankfully, the Golf Ball Of Doom comes with many, much safer wins, to include all Ice types, most all Grasses and Fairies (exceptions: Trevenant, Roserade, Galarian Weezing, Dedenne, and Togetic). Other wins include Sableye, Umbreon, Guzzlord, Zweilous, Skuntank (must be very wary of Flamethrower though), A-Muk, both Qwilfish, Greninja, Tentacruel, Toxapex, Nidoqueen, Tyranitar, Trashadam and more. Shadow Forret is generally worse, managing to beat out Crustle, FT Skuntank, and Shadow Scizor, but dropping Fini, Froslass, Nidoqueen, Sableye, Qwilfish, and Carbink in the process.


Bisharp DarkSteel

Snarl | Dark Pulse & Iron Head/X-Scissor

Spoiler alert: XL Pawniard is going to be a stronger recommendation if you can afford to build it. But Bisharp has legit use in this meta as well. Dark Pulse is a move you always want, and while X-Scissor gets a higher number of unique wins — such as Galvantula, Umbreon, Hisuian Qwilfish, and even Skeledirge and Alolan Marowak, with X-Scissor getting a key bait in those two to set up Dark Pulse — it is with Iron Head that Sharpie knocks out PowderTales, Crustle, and most importantly, Carbink.


Tyranitar RockDark

Smack Downᴸ | Brutal Swing & Stone Edge

Tyranitar has always hung around at the edge of this meta, not showing up too often but sometimes blowing out entire teams when it does. But the addition now of Brutal Swing makes it significantly better than it used to be with the more expensive Crunch. Now T-Tar can do some things you’d expect of a Dark type that it couldn’t do before, such as beating Jellicent, Sableye, Cofagrigus, and even Rock-resistant Runerigus, all of which are very nice pickups that make it less of a one-trick Smack Down pony. I would also like to point out that while the Shadow version is generally more recommended (and thus also more common), I actually like non-Shadow better, as Shadow T-Tar misses out on Alolan Muk, Toxapex, and Jellicent (though it DOES gain Charjabug, notably). As Tyranitar is not one many use in GL at all, I’ll also note that you can build one from scratch with just one charge move (Brutal Swing, forgoing Stone Edge) and really only give up Umbreon and Toxapex), but that’s your call.


Drapion PoisonDark

Poison Sting | Aqua Tail & Crunch/Sludge Bomb

So first off I’m going to say that I think you always want Aqua Tail for its neutral coverage, and super effective damage versus the format’s big Fire, Ground, and Rock types, which is very relevant coverage against things that would otherwise give Drap a lot of trouble. Beyond that there are cases for both Crunch and Sludge Bomb, the former beating Ghosts (Jellicent, Runerigus, Skeledirge) and a couple key Poisons like Golbat and Tentacruel, and the latter slaughtering Fairies (Aazumarill, even with Hydro Pump, plus Tapu Fini, and PowderTales) as well as Umbreon and Greninja. Shadow Drapula generally seems most flexible to me with Crunch, as it beats Golbat, Scizor, Toxapex, Charjabug, and a slew of Ghosts (Jellicent, A-Wak, Skeledirge, Runerigus, Froslass, Sableye), whereas Sludge Bomb still handles Greninja, Azumarill, Fini, Wigglytuff, Alolan Ninetales, and Mandibuzz. But in case your head wasn’t already spinning enough, IVs can play a big part here too. High rank/bulk IVs is significant with non-Shadow Drap, adding Galvantula, Trashadam, Skuntank, and even Umbreon, whereas high-ish Attack Shadow Drap can add on Alolan Ninetales (without Sludge Bomb!) and, critically, Carbink… though at the cost of giving up Wigglytuff. Got all that? Just re-read it… like… 7 times and it will all sink in. 🤪


Sneasler FightingPoison

Shadow Claw | Close Combat & Aerial Ace/X-Scissor

If you have one that fits, yep, you can absolutely run it. Close Combat is the must-have, as only with it can Sneasler beat (JRE takes a deep breath) Skuntank, both Qwilfishes, Alolan Muk, Guzzlord, Incineroar, Mawile, Escavalier, Galvantula, Shadow Nidoqueen, Alolan Ninetales, and yes, Carbink! After that it’s just a matter of second charge move, so I’ll give a shout-out to Aerial Ace which can at least slay Venusaur.

And while HISUIAN SNEASEL is comparatively weaker, it’s certainly potent enough to consider on its own… and in a weird spot where its second charge move costs only 50k dust, but strangely Sneasler’s costs 75k, so if you have the option, second move Sneasel and then evolve. Pro tip there, folks!


Mawile SteelFairy

Fariy Wind/Fire Fang | Iron Head & Play Rough/Power-Up Punch

It’s always been Fire Fang or bust in this meta, with there being so many flammable things around (all the Steely Bugs, Galvantula and Charjabug, Trevenant, the mirror, and more). But this year there’s a new option: Fairy Wind. Why on earth would you want that, though? Well, it allows you to no longer rely on Power-Up Punch (which is basically a must with Fire Fang) and instead utilize both Iron Head and Play Rough, which leads to wins Fire Fang cannot get like Azumarill, Mandibuzz, Umbreon, Sableye… and Carbink (thanks, Iron Head!). Shadow Mawile is a similar choice: Fire Fang to roast Bugs and Trevenant, or Fairy Wind with both closers to instead wallop Darks and Carbink.


Golurk GroundGhost

Mud Slap | Shadow Punch & Dynamic Punch

As the meta has shifted, Golurk — similarly to Palossand and Runerigus earlier — has only gotten better. The shield pressure is only so-so-, but Mud Slap chunks down a ton of Poison, Rock, Electric, Fire, and/or Steel types, to include Toxapex, Nidoqueen, Skuntank, A-Muk, both Qwilfishes, Tentacruel, Toxicroak, Mawile, Forretress, Trashadam, Galvantula, Charjabug, Crustle, Tyranitar, Carbink, Incineroar, A-Wak, Skeledirge and more. Shadow Golurk is equally viable if you have a better version of that to use instead.

100,000 Dust/100 Candy


Tapu Fini WaterFairy

Water Gun | Surf & Moonblast

Admittedly, while Fini has been a sensation on the Play!Pokémon circuit, it remains just okay here, basically a lesser (and less dynamic) Azumarill. But if you have it, not an awful thing to show off if your team stands to benefit.


Guzzlord DarkDragon

Dragon Tail | Dragon Claw & Brutal Swing/Crunch

As Fini is an alternative Azumarill, so is Guzzlord an alternative Zweilous. In this case, though, it’s really not a lesser option, but a sidegrade, beating things like Galvantula, Qwilfish, and Zweilous itself, while Zweil instead takes down Skeledirge, Swalot, Shadow Scizor, and Shadow Nidoqueen.


Moltres (Galarian) DarkFlying

Wing Attack | Ancient Power & Brave Bird

And finally… yep, another alternative, this time to Mandibuzz and Bombirdier. Unlike those two, Galarian Moltres (with its higher Attack but lower bulk) can knock down Guzzlord and Zweilous, though it does struggle with Umbreon, Galvantula, Toxicroak, and Qwilfish like Mandi can beat, and Mawile and Froslass like Birdie can overcome. But obviously, G-Moltres is the biggest flex of the three, so there’s that!


And finally wrapping up with high XL stuff, all of which are initial or middle evolutions. I’m just gonna cover them in bullet form and then bring this article to a close at last. Buckle up!

Pawniard DarkSteel
  • I’ve mentioned PAWNIARD a lot throughout this article, and for good reason. It’s an overall better Bisharp, beating Carbink even more effectively and adding on Guzzlord, Zweilous, Umbreon, Sableye, Hisuian Qwilfish, and CharmTales. (Bisharp’s only unique wins are Toxapex, Swalot, and Qwilfish.) I’ve seen people running X-Scissor, but I strongly recommend Night Slash for widespread use and Iron Head for many Darks and Carbink and such.
Grimer Poison
  • GRIMER is a fun option, especially a purified one with Return for powerful coverage… Poison Jab and all the good it can do, widespread neutral coverage with Return, and Mud Bomb for opposing Poisons, Fires, Steels, and Rocks. Shadow is potent too though obviously cannot make use of Return.
Nidorina Poison
  • And finally, NIDORINA remains one of the more interesting middle evolutions in PvP, with the potent Poison Fang setting up a big Thunderbolt to zap Greninja, Mandibuzz, and Golbat, or probably better, Dig to instead bury Charjabug, Tyranitar, Toxicroak, Mawile, Hisuian Qwilfish, Pawniard, and Swalot, to name a few.

So until next time, you can always find me on Twitter with regular Pokémon GO analysis nuggets or Patreon. Stay safe out there, and catch you next time, Pokéfriends!

(Art credit: “Night in Lavender Town”, by Gary Ng)

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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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