December 2019 Trainer Battle Update

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It’s been a few months since the last major PvP update, so it’s about time for Niantic to grab the meta and give it a massive, massive shake. And wouldn’t you know it, this is possibly the biggest one yet.

Go Battle League

We’ve got way more information about the inner workings of GO Battle League!

  1. You have to battle in Great, Ultra, AND Master League to rank up. Over the course of the season , the active League will rotate, so if you wanna perform well, you need to be ready in every format! Hope you like maxing things!

  2. There are 10 ranks. Starting at Rank 1, going to Rank 10. Once you’ve hit Rank 10, you’ve got a Battle Rating to show your skill, and cannot drop back down. Sounds like it resembles Hearthstone’s Legend Rank system.

  3. Species Clause! Much like in main series and Arena competitions, you cannot use multiple of the same species on your team. It remains to be seen how this relates to Alolan forms or Deoxys (that is to say, can I bring both a Deoxys-Defense AND Attack, and a Ninetales and an Alolan Ninetales?).

Base System Changes

Two MASSIVE changes here! Let’s go in order with the original post.

Charged Move Priority Overhaul

Previously, if two Pokémon would fire off a Charged Move on the same turn, who got to actually use theirs first came down to RNG. Given that losing to RNG always felt bad (and winning via RNG often felt illegitimate), this system has been the cause of much consternation over the course of PvP’s lifetime. So it’s different now.

Now, in a CMP tie, the Pokémon with the higher Attack stat attacks first. If they have identical attack stats, then it’s still random. While there is some potential for debate as to whether or not this is better, it’s overall a really interesting change, which can make “less optimal” IVs better, and provide more consistency in the higher leagues. Consistency is, of course, incredibly important to competitive players, allowing you to get a sense of how a game will play out without having to rely on gambling.

Switching Clears Buffs/Debuffs

Previously, you could Power-Up Punch your Pokémon up to +4, then switch out. When your Pokémon came back in, it would still be buffed and ready to roll face on anything in front of it.

No longer.

Now, when you switch, any changes to your Attack and Defense (positive or negative) are cleared out, returning you back to neutral. This makes moves like Skull Bash, Power-Up Punch, and (10% of the time) Ominous Wind somewhat worse, and adds more counterplay against moves like Acid Spray (where previously any debuffs placed on you were there for the rest of the game). We’ll have to see how useful these moves are in the coming months, but for now that Tentacruel/Quagsire/Muk team you were using is probably a little less consistent.

This was likely done to make some of the other changes (notably to Overheat, Draco Meteor, and Psycho Boost) more interesting, but more on that below.

Updates to Old Moves

Night Slash

From 50 Power/40 Energy to 50 Power/35 Energy (with a ⅛ chance to give you +2 attack), Night Slash is now an incredibly solid move, with the Dragon Claw/Aqua Tail statline and a massive potential upside. Pokémon that will appreciate this buff are Gligar, Gliscor, Legacy Primeape, Scyther, Scizor, Zangoose, and Crawdaunt

Icy Wind

Keeping its somewhat mediocre 60 Power/45 Energy statline, Icy Wind now has a 100% chance of reducing your opponent’s attack by 1 stage, making similar in utility to Bubble Beam (but with much more power). While not a lot of Pokémon learn this move, it provides some interesting utility to Glaceon, Articuno, Cloyster, and Drifblim.

Hydro Cannon

From 90 Power/40 Energy to 80 Power. Let’s be real, the move was definitely too good, standing far above pretty much every other move in the game. The nerf hurts, but Hydro Cannon is still absolutely fantastic and worth using. Swampert won’t exactly enjoy this, but it should survive just fine. Blastoise will remain a fine pick, and Feraligatr will remain irrelevant. Sorry, Feraligatr.


Frustration doesn’t matter, don’t use Frustration. Return has gone from a 50 Power/40 Energy move to a 130 Power/70 Energy one. That’s…rough. 70 Energy is a lot, and this change has made Return go from a generic “This is cheaper than my other move, I guess” bait tool to a weird massive nuke. It’s a heavy, heavy blow to Pokémon like Gloom, Razor Leaf Ivysaur, Banette, and Sandslash, which really appreciated having a cheap move to compliment their existing moveset. That said, it remains to be seen whether or not the move gets any use. It certainly hits hard.

Mud Slap

The only fast move on this list, it went from 3 DPT/2.66 EPT to 3.66 DPT/2.66 EPT. It’s definitely not the most exciting move in the world, mimicking Waterfall and Smack Down with slightly less damage. That said, the move no longer blatantly sucks, and is worth considering as a harder-hitting Ground-type fast move than Mud Shot. Potential winners here include Claydol, Kangaskhan, Golurk, and Excadrill. 

Sand Tomb

Previously an 80 Power/60 Energy move, now it’s 25 Power/40 Energy with a 100% chance to reduce your opponent’s Defense by 1 stage. Because previously nothing actually learned it, Niantic has bequeathed the new Sand Tomb to Forretress, Torterra, Garchomp, and Gliscor, all of which will absolutely consider using it, most notably Garchomp who can now use it as a way to bait before firing off devastating Outrages and Earthquakes.

Overheat, Draco Meteor, and Psycho Boost

Overheat: from 150/80 to 130/55. Draco Meteor: from 150/75 to 150/65. Psycho Boost: from 70/40 to 70/35. These all seem great, except for one thing: using them reduces your attack by 2 stages. This is massive, and likely was the cause of the “Switching cleanses your stat changes” change. At this point, it’s hard to predict how it’s going to affect the game, given how different these moves are to anything we’ve played with before. It feels like a nerf to the ever-meta Deoxys-Defense who may now prefer to simply go Thunderbolt/Rock Slide. For the other two moves, they were typically too expensive to see play, so...maybe they’re better now? Maybe they’re still bad. We’ll have to see. Maybe Torkoal will be good now. Probably not.

Close Combat

From 100/60 to 100/45, with a 100% chance to reduce your defense by 2 stages (the equivalent of eating an Acid Spray). This is way more interesting than the Overheat/Draco/Psycho Boost changes, because 100/45 is absolutely mindblowingly busted, and if you can fire off two in a row by charging up 90 energy, that initial defense debuff doesn’t matter. It’s massively risky to just fire it off, but it’s an interesting enough move that I think it could really get some use. Keep an eye on Zangoose, Heracross, Lucario, Ursaring, Gallade, Pinsir, and potentially Cobalion/Virizion/Terrakion. Of the move changes, this might be the most interesting simply by how polarizingly OP the move’s base stats are.

New Moves


A 50 Power/50 Energy water-type Charged move with a 50/50 chance to reduce your opponent’s Attack by 2 stages, available to Octillery and Kingdra. Kingdra’s now got a move with which to bait before firing off Outrage, and Octillery…maybe? This is probably Kingdra’s secondary move of choice, and there’s a chance that this is what Octillery needs to break into being at all useful rather than just a weird meme fish.

Mirror Shot

A 35 Power/35 Energy Steel-type move with a 30% chance of reducing your opponent’s Attack stat by 1. If it doesn’t work, it’s terrible. Bone Club with 5 less power, and we all saw how hard that didn’t hit back in Sinister. But if the debuff goes off, it has a lot of really interesting potential to change how a game plays out, even if you are just using it to shield bait. It’s available to Forretress, Magnezone, Ferrothorn, and Klingklang. Given that Forretress mostly just wants to use Earthquake anyway, and Zone gets most of its mileage out of Wild Charge, there’s a lot of potential for Mirror Shot as a generic bait move no matter what.

Fell Stinger

20 Power/35 Energy Bug-type move that raises your Attack by 1 stage. It’s a Bug-type Power-Up Punch, with all the pluses and minuses that has (deals no damage, baits well, boosts your damage). Learnable by Beedrill, Qwilfish, Vespiquen, and Drapion, it probably has some immediate potential in Timeless Cup on the already popular Ice Fang Drapion. Looking forward, it can probably help out Beedrill and Qwilfish carve out more of a niche in future metagames. Vespiquen is probably happy enough with its current Bug Bite/X-Scissor/Power Gem moveset that it wouldn’t need to pick up this new move.

Aura Sphere

A Lucario-exclusive Fighting-type charged move, sharing its 100 Power/55 Energy statline with known powerful moves like Stone Edge and Shadow Ball, this is probably not the most exciting thing in the world. Lucario has such low bulk (especially in Great League) that relying purely on 55 energy moves leaves it far too squishy to function. Sadly, this isn’t the speed Lucario needed after the nerf to Power-Up Punch.


85 Power/40 Energy seems fantastic at first glance, with over 2.0 DPE. But it comes at the very meaningful cost of reducing your Attack and Defense by one stage each with each use. Available to Pinsir, Snorlax, Hariyama, Rhyperior, and Melmetal, this move is super interesting. Much like with Draco Meteor, reducing your own attack is risky, but the move remains very energy efficient even at -1, probably giving you a fair shot at hitting hard even with the second use. Hitting hard enough to draw out a shield initially also leaves you open for interesting mindgames. While “Don’t shield the first charged move” often works now, Superpower changes that dynamic.

Old Moves on New Pokemon

  • Feraligatr now has access to Ice Fang, giving it an interesting niche among Hydro Cannon users.
  • Porygon2 and Porygon-Z gain Lock-On, which might make them somewhat viable. This is absolutely what they needed, with their massively expensive but super hard-hitting Charged Moves. Hopefully base stage Porygon gets it too, eventually.
  • Celebi can use Seed Bomb, which could make the Pokémon actually usable. As powerful as Confusion is, with only Hyper Beam/Psychic/Dazzling Gleam as charged move options, Celebi was far too slow to stand out over other Grass-types, and other Confusion users.
  • Shiftry learns Snarl. This is very, very exciting, because with Leaf Blade and Foul Play it had some incredibly powerful charged moves it just was too slow to get to with its typical Razor Leaf set. Potentially a mon to look into, even now, for Timeless Cup.
  • Kyogre gains access to Surf! Not only does this make Kyogre much stronger in PvE, the added speed stops the legendary whale from getting stonewalled by shields in Master League, making it a more consistent Water-type attacker overall!
  • Lickilicky now gains access to Shadow Ball, allowing it to leverage its impressive bulk and rotundity against Ghost-types in all formats. Seems like an interesting potential alternative to Munchlax in Great League, and Snorlax in Ultra.
  • Tangrowth has a reasonably-priced Grass-type charged move in Power Whip, letting it function more consistently as a Grass-type attacker in all formats. Solar Beam’s strong when it hits, but Power Whip will let it actually consistently beat things like Whiscash in Great League.
  • Heatran has a usable Fire-type move now with Flamethrower! This should allow it to to significantly stronger against Grass-types and Steel-types, which it otherwise could struggle with despite its fantastic typing.
  • Stoutland bites back with Ice Fang! Previously it kinda lacked a niche over other bulkier Lick-wielding Normal-types (hi again, Munchlax), and Ice Fang provides some interesting and valuable coverage. Not sure if I’d expect it to be a threat any time soon, though.

Legacy Moves are Back

Well, some of them, anyway. This is massive for a lot of players who weren’t lucky enough to happen to have some of these rare movesets in their collections.

  • Arcanine: Flamethrower

  • Poliwrath: Mud Shot

  • Machamp: Cross Chop

  • Golem: Ancient Power

  • Gengar: Shadow Claw

  • Exeggutor: Confusion

  • Pinsir: Fury Cutter

  • Gyarados: Dragon Breath, Twister

  • Snorlax: Body Slam

  • Dragonite: Dragon Breath, Dragon Claw

From things you probably have (Body Slam Snorlax) to the holy grail of PvP legacies (DB/DC Dragonite), Niantic’s decision to return some very powerful Legacy sets to normal movepools does a ton to level the playing field for everyone. While, yeah, this is gonna cost everyone a few extra TMs (especially on that Dynamic Punch Machamp), in the long term this is so much better than spending 6 months trying to hunt down that Legacy Exeggutor, only to have to trade like 15 shinies for it.

While this doesn’t cover everything (notable exclusions include Shadow Ball Hypno, Shadow Ball Haunter, and Poison Fang Venomoth), it’s such an incredible start towards helping less privileged players to compete!


There’s a LOT going on here. Some moves are now significantly better. Stat changing moves are more common, and switching is going to play a much more important part in the game moving forward. The Charged Move Priority changes have the potential to make some higher attack Pokémon (once again, hi Haunter) more interesting in the scramble. Moves like Overheat, Superpower, and Close Combat are super different from anything we’ve seen before, and will take some getting used to, but adding more nuance to the Trainer Battle system is absolutely fantastic.

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About the Author(s)

Tyler is a contributing writer for GamePress, primarily focusing on Trainer Battle content. Fan of dogs and fighting games.