The Legend of Zacian (and Zamazenta?) in GBL Master League

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Hello, Pokéfriends! Well here we go, my sixth article over the last eight days. You’re probably sick of me by now. 😅 But this is actually the one I started on FIRST and just kept pushing it onto the back burner as the others rose in priority and had impending deadlines. So unfortunately, the subjects of today’s analysis are already out in raids as I finish this article, but the good news is there is still plenty of time to raid the heck out of ZACIAN and ZAMAZENTA, and yes, it’s well worth doing so. (Especially since, as I wrote about back in June, they’ve only been available for a mere seven days prior to this, far less than most other Legendaries.) I’m sure it’s no surprise if I tell you that Zacian in particular is very, very good in GBL Master League, but today we look at WHY.

I’ll come out and say it: I underestimated it during my initial analysis on it a year ago, when it was first released. Because what I primarily do is examine simulated battles, and those, quite frankly, sell Zacian short. Because it doesn’t play like most other Pokémon and like PvPoke and other simulators expect. And that is part of why it has taken Master League by storm.

So for this particular analysis, I’m doing things a little differently. I’ll still reference some pertinent sims but want to focus on some other analysis too. Some of it from other fellow players, not just ol’ me. Hopefully, by the end, we can get at what really makes Zacian tick, beyond even the raw numbers.

But before I go any further down that road, here’s our Bottom Line Up Front before we get into the meat of the article.

B.L.U.F.

  • Zacian is far better than just simulations show. (In other news, the sky is indeed blue.) It can hit hard in lead, switch, or closer positions and can find a good spot on nearly all Master League teams. Again, nothing you didn’t know already, right?
  • The below analysis attempts not to break down the question of whether Zacian is good in PvP or not, but WHY it IS so good. In short, part of it is a typing that is hard to directly counter with current viable Master League Pokémon, and part of it is the varied, high-coverage movepool. In long… well, keep reading past the BLUF. I promise it’s worth it!
  • Zamazenta is probably better than you think, and would be far more interesting if Zacian didn’t do basically the same job, but far better. There IS a trick you can use to surprise opponents and make it interesting, which we’ll discuss, but it’s still kind of niche.

Alright, now for the deeper dive….

ZACIAN STATS & MOVES

Zacian Fairy

Master League Stats

Attack Defense HP
212 (226 at Level 50) 198 (211 at Level 50) 163 (173 at Level 50)

(Assuming 15-15-15 IVs; CP 3829 at Level 40; CP 4329 at Level 50)

So the stats are… eh, alright. The closest and easiest comp I can find is Garchomp, who has slightly higher Attack and has basically a mirror image of Zacian’s Defense and HP. (Chompy has about 232 Attack, 175 Defense, and 213 HP at Master League level.) So Zacian will certainly never be considered “tanky”.

BUT, what it does have is a very favorable typing. I took a little poll on Twitter yesterday, asking what about Zacian impressed or just scared them the most. Of course many mentioned the unpredictable charge moves (we’ll get to that later), but just as many said that a huge part of Zacian’s threat profile was that it’s just so hard to counter, and that comes in very large part down to the typing. Fairy is a type commonly encountered in all major GBL Leagues, from Cottonee in Little League and Wigglytuff in Great League and all the way up to Sylveon and long-time ML stalwart Togekiss in Master League. But it’s still a relative rarity in Master League in particular, with really only Togekiss, sometimes Sylveon, and now the much different Zacian representing the type. Togekiss and Sylveon are of course Charmers, wearing things down primarily — oftentimes entirely — with heavy STAB fast move damage, and their charge moves may steal a shield here or there, but are mostly an afterthought. Zacian… Zacian operates quite differently.

I want to just throw out a few of the comments I got from the community regarding the typing and how it helps Zacian before I move on:

  • “…it’s the defensive typing for me. Straight Fairy is such a difficult typing to deal with in Master as you probably don’t have a hard counter, meaning the opponent is going to get either shields or switch.” – @MikeDatTiger
  • “For me it’s the typing and movepool. It’s a complete nuke and really pressures you to sheild. And Fairy typing is one of the best types in the game and there’s no reliable way to deal with Fairies in ML.” – @Duskeo_
  • “Oh yes the only two hard checks to it aren’t viable/accessible: Mega Venusaur… Nihilego (hard counters Zacian but loses to everything else in ML)…. Fairy typing is a huge defensive advantage over Zamazenta (similar moveset).” – @pogo_phan
  • “I hate facing Zacian because being a pure Fairy type it is only weak to Poison and Steel. In the Master League meta (level 50 included), there are very few counters aka Steel types. But Zacian counters them all…. For the last year all my ML teams have been to counter Zacian but if it has energy/shield advantage, top left is the only answer. And it will always have that energy thanks to Snarl.” – @PB48855256 (Parththegr8)

Think about it. How many great Steel types (that actually throw out Steel damage) are there in Master League? Basically just Dialga and Metagross, right? And Dialga, of course, has all of its normally-threatening Dragon damage resisted by Zacian, leaving it wholly dependant on getting an Iron Head past shields. And now how many Poison types can you think of? Uh… maybe an odd Poison Jab Buzzwole, or the occasional Sludge Wave Swampert, but uh… that’s it, yeah? Now of course, there’s more that Zacian has to be wary of than JUST Steel and Poison, as its more common moves can make Flyers like Ho-Oh and Landorus and Psychics like Mewtwo and Ghosts like the Giratinas and several others problematic. But as hinted by a couple of those PvPers quoted above, and as you’ll see as we progress through this analysis, Zacian has answers for nearly all of them.

And that comes from the moves.

Fast Moves

  • SnarlDark type, 1.67 DPT, 4.33 EPT, 1.5 CoolDown
  • Metal ClawSteel type, 2.5 DPT, 3.0 EPT, 1.0 CD
  • Quick AttackNormal type, 2.5 DPT, 3.5 EPT, 1.0 CD
  • Fire FangFire type, 4.0 DPT, 2.5 EPT, 1.0 CD

So in my original review of Zacian a year ago, back before Zacian emerged as the menace it is now, I was actually weighing Fire Fang as potentially the way to go with Zacian to cover its famous weakness to Steel types. And while I still say that has some merit as a way to mess with the opponent’s expectations, clearly what has made Zacian so scary is maximum energy gains from Snarl. Because it is those varied and unpredictable charge moves that have made Zacian the fear-inducing monster it is today.

Speaking of which….

Charge Moves

  • Close CombatFighting type, 100 damage, 45 energy, Decreases User Defense -2 Stages
  • Wild ChargeElectric type, 100 damage, 45 energy, Decreases User Defense -2 Stages
  • Iron HeadSteel type, 70 damage, 50 energy
  • Play RoughFairy type, 90 damage, 60 energy

There are multiple viable Zacian variants out there, but they always start with Close Combat. As noted earlier, the biggest threat to Zacian in the current Master League meta is Steel damage. Not much has it, but the few things that do (primarily Metagross and Dialga) have much more reason to fear Zacian than other Fairies. Zacian forces them to burn shields, at the very least, if not beating them outright with Close Combat alone. This is particularly true of big bad Dialga, who does manage to win in a drawn-out 1v1 shield fight, but loses in 0v0 and 2v2 shielding. And realistically, many Zacian players will throw a CC or two at Dialga in 1v1, take a massive chunk of its health, and then swap out with over half its HP remaining before Dialga ever lands its KO Iron Head. Close Combat, even just on its own, also easily handles other Steels like Excadrill, Magnezone, and Melmetal, as well as other things weak to Fighting like Mamoswine and Snorlax, plus others like Machamp, Palkia, and Garchomp.

But that, of course, is just the start. There are two primary Zacian configurations beyond that, one with similarly risky but potent move Wild Charge and one with slower but still potent (and less risky) Play Rough. Put as simply as possible, Wild Charge allows Zacian to most reliably win the mirror match (and of course most efficiently beat Flyers and/or Waters like Lugia and Gyarados), while Play Rough is obviously best versus Dragons (specifically by uniquely beating Altered Giratina and Dragon Breath Dragonite).

But yet again, that’s not the whole story….

  • Going straight Play Rough, avoiding any self-debuffing moves, can bring in a win versus Zekrom, and still manages to beat Dragonite with Dragon Breath or Tail, Altered Giratina, Dragon Tail Garchomp, Palkia, Machamp, Yveltal, and even Gyarados.
  • Zacian has paths to victory over other things not noted above, usually by delaying its self-debuffing moves. It can beat Zarude by leading with a Play Rough and then throwing double Close Combat at the end. It has paths to victory over Swampert using a similar tactic. And while the combination of Play Rough and Wild Charge is relatively rare, with that, Zacian can pretty consistently beat Togekiss if it throws two Play Roughs and only THEN pulls out Wild Charge. (As an aside, maybe that move combo SHOULD be considered, as you do give up the Fighting-weak stuff like Snorlax, Excadrill, and Magnezone, but otherwise beat everything CC/WC Zacian and CC/PR Zacian can. Hmmmm. 🤔)
  • Even aside from that, though, Zacian is notoriously hard to properly simulate, because it doesn’t behave like most other Pokémon and you don’t USE it like you do most other Pokémon. Simulations have been my bread and butter for analyzing PvP Pokémon for well over three and a half years and 380 formal analysis articles (yes, I had to go back and check!), and they’re an incredibly useful tool for getting an idea of how a Pokémon will perform in a variety of PvP situations. But they’re not perfect. They can’t account for human error, blips of lag, misclicks and all, of course, but they also can’t account well for things that are designed to hit hard and dip like Zacian. Because when you have a move like Brave Bird, Close Combat, Wild Charge, etc. that hit like a truck but then drastically hobble your Pokémon that uses such a move (much less potentially multiple such moves, like Zacian), you’re not going to just blindly fire them off and then stay in the battle to the bitter end as sims generally try to do. If you’re smart, you’re going to bait and THEN whip out such a move, and then possibly switch out anyway. If you’re REALLY smart, you overcharge until you can fire multiples of that move and THEN swap out or just choose to face a quick death. As just one example: Dialga. Zacian wins the 0shield and 2shield scenarios, as we already mentioned, usually with Close Combat but optionally even with straight Play Rough (with shields down, anyway). But it really has no solid path to victory in 1v1 shielding, even though it dies with enough energy (53) to fire off a third, winning Close Combat. With a single Snarl’s worth of extra energy, it CAN win, so if the opponent swaps in their DIalga, even if it’s right away, Zacian has the advantage. But otherwise, the smart play is to swap out right after firing off that second Close Combat, and get out of there with over 90 HP left AND that 53 energy to throw another charge move at something later. For bonus points, swap in something that resists Iron Head and hope to catch it, forcing the opponent to themselves swap (with Dialga out of energy and under 20 HP) or just let it get farmed down and hope to handle that extra Zacian charge move (and a still very much alive Zacian with half its HP still in the tank) down the line.

I could fill an entire LONG article with tips and tricks like this, but the basic point is this: Zacian in actual gameplay is one of few things that well overperforms how it looks in simulations. In experienced hands, Zacian is a meta-warping monster. Part of it is having a typing that leaves it exposed to very few direct threats. Part of it is having answers for even those “hard” counters, with Close Combat for Steels and Wild Charge for Fairy killers like Ho-Oh and Play Rough for most everything else. Part of it is certainly not knowing which of those moves Zacian can actually bring to bear until you’ve already burned a shield or even two feeling it out. Because that’s what Zacian does best: keep you guessing, making every “Attack incoming!” shielding decision a nerve-racking, sweaty decision.

Also as submitted by friends in the PvP community:

  • “…the fact that it can beat its counters is the ultimate reason why it’s a force. And being that you never know what moves it’ll have makes it even more threatening.” – @aceTHEface954 (ArtimusDragon)
  • “The variety and nuke potential of its coverage moves allows it to apply shield pressure even against types that counter it.” – @RikipediaGO
  • “I would say his speed/ tankiness. I can get off two wild charges, knock out shields, and still survive to get off a third.” – @ArmandTweets
  • “With a shield advantage, it can Close Combat [Steel types] and it has Snarl for Psychics and Ghosts. It has Wild Charge for Flyers and Kyogre.” – @PB48855256 (Parththegr8)
  • “Pressures shields way too easily. Uncomfortable feeling when I have to tank its nukes into the red then shielding immediately just to beat it. Quickly gets to nukes with A+ coverage: Wild Charge (Kyogre, all Flying minus Landorus), Close Combat (vs. Steel). Metagross and Lando can beat it but other counters Mewtwo, Kyogre, and Ho-Oh may need shields.” – @pogo_phan
  • “Insane coverage moves that also hit very hard! Mewtwo and Zacian are terrors in ML because if you don’t save shields to fight them, you’re gonna have a very bad time.” – @valarrian
  • “Simply put, Zacian beats most of its counters (much especially with shield advantage) due to its good and varied moveset. Having virtually no good poison types on ML50 (Eternatus, where are you?) to hard counter it exacerbates the problem.” – @S1RK4M
  • “Fairy typing is already very strong at the Master League level as there are a ton of powerful Dragon-types. Zacian being the Fairy that can flip the script on Steel types that Bodyguard Dragons is huge. Plus it is safe and keeps people guessing if it has WC/CC, CC/PR, or WC/PR.” – @GoTangent444
  • “…it is all nuke. You have to shield it.” – @fudge_go

And it really does just come down to that last one: you have to shield it, at least until you know for sure you can survive whatever it’s throwing. Late in a battle, you may KNOW it has only Close Combat and Wild Charge and therefore your, say, Landorus can stand tall and tank a charge move. Or you may know your Gyarados is facing down only Close Combat or Play Rough and can breath a sigh of relief knowing the incoming attack is at least not a deadly Wild Charge. But until you KNOW that, for sure, you often have to burn shields even when you don’t want to. That makes Zacian very deadly as a lead, as you have to either burn shields early to stay in or give up switch advantage right away. It makes it deadly as a closer, as any shields you’ve been forced to use earlier will now be desperately missed. And it makes it even a dangerous swap, as it may not WIN all its battles, but it can produce energy faster than most everything else and outrace you to charge moves, stealing shields or big chunks of life and getting the Zacian player right back into the game in a hurry. This is why, despite having it ranking modestly in Master League at #25 (at the time of this writing), PvPoke still notes of some excellent traits with Zacian:

“Bulky, Spammy, Flexible, Dynamic, and (great at) Shield Pressure”, with “Technical” (using “complex moves that may have a high learning curve”) being the sole negative. Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

So, there you go. An analysis where I was forced to come out of my normal simulation-heavy shell a bit, because that’s Zacian in a nutshell: it doesn’t conform to any standards but its own. The sims don’t tell the story properly of how dominant and meta-changing Zacian has been in Master League.

Wait, wasn’t this supposed to be about Zamazenta too?

Ah yes, ZAMAZENTA. Poor little doggy… almost forgot about it.

Zamazenta Fighting

‘Zenta has literally the exact same stats as Zacian, so nothing to particularly discuss there. The big difference right off the bat is the typing, as Zacian is pure Fairy, while Zamazenta is a pure Fighting type. And unlike Fairy, Fighting is a rather uncomfortable fit in Master League. It resists Bug, Dark, and Rock damage, none of which you see a lot of in Master League. Conversely, it is vulnerable to Psychic, Flying, and Fairy damage, all of which you DO see a good amount of in the Master League meta.

Then there’s the moves. Close Combat is still there, with Snarl to still power it out. And CC gets STAB now too, which is nice. There’s also Moonblast as a strictly better version of Zacian’s Play Rough, dealing20 more damage for the same cost, AND a 10% chance to debuff the opponent’s Attack! That’s all awesome, but things do drop off beyond that. No Wild Charge, replaced instead by Crunch, which is a handy move in theory for countering those problematic Psychic types, but hits like a marshmallow against Fairies and is a significant dropoff in power from something like… well, Wild Charge. Even with Psychics out there, Snarl Zamazenta is still better off running CC/Moonblast.

However, even with all that put together, this is Snarl Zamazenta’s best. Not awful, especially when one considers that sims working the way they do undersells things like Zacian and now Zamazenta, but still rather uninspiring. But the pluses are solid wins over Dialga (unlike Zacian, Iron Head isn’t so scary now), as well as wins over Dragon types Palkia, Dragonite, and Mud Shot Garchomp. But it fails to beat either of the Giratinas (or any other notable Dragons, for that matter), and while it can take out Melmetal and Snorlax and Mamoswine and Magnezone and Excadrill and even Machamp and Yveltal like Zacian, it ends there. All the Fairies are obviously a loss, and there’s no realistic path to victory over staples like Lugia, Gyarados, either Giratina, and of course Zacian itself.

BUT, there is some hope yet for ‘Zenta that I think a lot of folks have missed. Because Zamazenta trying to run with Snarl and heavy charge move pressure isn’t the way to go… Zacian already does that job better in every way. If I were to consider running Zamazenta, it would instead be with Ice Fang. That gives it a real niche as a sorta-Fighter (can still beat things like Melmetal, Mamoswine, Snorlax, and Magnezone, but now loses to Dialga — though it CAN still win that with one fast move’s worth of energy — and Excadrill) that can also take out most Dragons (Dragonite, all versions of Garchomp, and both Giratinas now) and Grounds (specifically picking up Groudon, Swampert, and both Landos) AND things like Zarude and Play Rough Zacian!

But is that worth the candy and XL grind to build? Well, if I’m being honest, probably not… especially when you consider that every Zamazenta raid means taking time and resources away from raiding Zacian instead.

Alright, that’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed this article and learned from it… not just that Zacian is good, but the why and the how behind that.

Until next time, you can always find me on Twitter with near-daily PvP analysis nuggets or Patreon, if you’re feeling extra generous.

Thanks for your faithful readership, and happy raiding! May all your raids give you Candy XL, and may your hundo Zacian materialize sooner rather than later. Do be safe out there, and catch you next time, Pokéfriends!

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