PvP is still at its earliest stages, but as the metagame develops, it seems like one pokemon is starting to define the Ultra League, and it’s none other than the dark lord Giratina. Anyone unfortunate enough to have unpreparedly faced one will probably confirm this. The fact that we just recently had him as a raid boss and it only needs to be at around level 26 to be just below 2500 CP only makes it more threatening, since most players are easily able to get one in their arsenal. In this article, thanks to first-hand experience and extensive simulations with GoBattleSim, we’ll try to understand the reasons behind its dominance and outline the best ways to deal with it.
If you need to get a better grip of all the combat mechanics of PvP, since they’re so different from raids and gyms, check out this other article before we explore the nits and grits of it.
Why is Giratina So Good?
In the PvP metagame we’ll have to consider different aspects to answer this question: stats, typing, moves and coverage.
Giratina has solid defensive stats as well as quite decent Attack. In fact, the Comprehensive DPS/TDO Spreadsheet shows it boasting the second highest neutral TDO among pokemon under 2500 CP, right behind Cresselia.
As for typing, as a Dragon/Ghost-type Pokemon, Giratina is weak to Dragon, Ice, Fairy, Ghos, and Dark, but it also resists 6 types (Grass, Fire, Water, Electric, Bug and Poison) as well as double resisting Normal and Fighting. The most important resistances are to Grass, Fire, and Water, as some of the most frequently used types in Ultra League. More on that below.
While Giratina’s movepool seemed disappointing at first, as it keeps it from being a decent raid attacker like it would’ve been with Shadow Ball or Outrage, the story is very different in PvP. In particular, the Dragon Breath and Dragon Claw combo is one of the deadliest in the game. With the highest DPT fast move and Dragon Claw only requiring 35 energy, you can spam several in quick succession and rip through pretty much anything that doesn’t resist it — the reason why Giratina is most often seen as a lead or early game shield buster. Shadow Claw offers wider coverage as a fast move, but Psychic- and Ghost-types aren’t really used in Ultra League, it’s not as powerful against neutral targets and loses in the mirror matchup to Dragon Breath Giratina. Unlocking the second charged move is a hefty investment, but those that do will enjoy useful extra coverage from Shadow Sneak or especially Ancient Power (which punishes Ice-, Bug-, Fire- and Flying-types); both only require 45 energy to activate.
Going against other Ultra League top threats, Giratina’s dominance is almost uncontested.
For starters, its resistances to Grass, Fire and Water give it the upper hand in the matchups against the starters whose power relies a lot on their exclusive signature moves. Even those hitting Giratina super effectively — Blastoise with Bite and Ice Beam, Charizard with Dragon Claw and Typhlosion with Shadow Claw — eventually have to surrender to its sheer bulk. None of them can reliably get a win against it even by wasting an extra shield, apart from Blastoise, the only one able to actually hold its own and cause some substantial damage back.
Isn't Stopped by Lugia
Even when equipped with the super effective Dragon Tail, and despite holding the 6th highest neutral TDO in the league, Lugia is handled quite easily by Giratina. They can each take 2 hits from Dragon Claw and Sky Attack respectively before fainting to the third, and since Giratina launches its charged moves considerably earlier, Lugia can hardly overcome it without wasting an extra shield. If Giratina carries Ancient Power or Shadow Sneak, only 2 charged moves will be needed to dispatch of the big hand boy, making this matchup even more positive.
Other Dragons Aren't a Threat
The other common Ultra League Dragons — most notably Flygon, Kingdra, Dragonite, Latios and Latias — can trade heavy hits with Giratina, but can’t outright slay it 1v1. The ones without Dragon Claw will be outmatched in charged move speed; that leaves us with Flygon and Latios, which can’t compete in tankiness. Double legacy Dragonite might have the only really favorable matchup of the bunch if the opposing Giratina is running Shadow Claw instead of Dragon Breath.
Among the Ultra League top tier Pokemon, it’s the other biggest tank, Cresselia to give the most trouble to Giratina. In fact, you’d think that having coverage moves like Moonblast and Aurora Beam charged quickly by Psycho Cut, as well as the superior neutral TDO, would be enough to destroy it; but Giratina disagrees. Moonblast hurts so bad that it will require the use of a shield to avoid a 2-hit KO, but once that’s done, the neutral damage from Dragon Breath and Dragon Claw will be enough to take care of Cresselia by itself — unless the opponent decides to waste both shields on it. The risk of running into super effective hits from Shadow Claw or Shadow Sneak only makes things worse for the moon duck.
Favorable Neutral Matchups
Vaporeon, Gliscor, Toxicroak, Relicanth, Politoed, Poliwrath, Ludicolo are all valuable additions to most Ultra League teams, but will melt once they happen to face the almighty dragon. It can even beat pokemon that should be meant to counter it more often than not, whether they resist Dragon (like Togekiss, Clefable, Metagross and Registeel) or have super effective moves (such as Tyranitar, Umbreon, Alolan Muk or Snorlax). All of these might be able to pull off a win, but have to get a bit lucky and go up against the right movesets.
How to Counter Giratina
Steelix and Other Steel-types
Being resistant to Dragon Breath as well as Dragon Claw and Ancient Power, Giratina’s most menacing moves, makes Steel-types the natural tanky Dragon slayers. However, as we’ve established, not all of them can do the trick. Here’s what can.
Dragon Tail + Crunch
The only Steel-type to pack both high bulk and a super effective moveset: since it maxes out at 2414 you’ll have to bring it to level 40 or near for Ultra League use, but if you’re looking for a Giratina counter, it will be worth it. It’s the most reliable one out there, and the only one able to win in pretty much any given scenario. If both players don’t use shields, or both use 1 or 2, Steelix will easily win. If the Giratina player wastes one extra shield compared to the opponent, whether using 1 or 2, Steelix will still win. It can even pull off a win against all movesets by using no shields with the opponent using both (although barely), a really impressive and completely unique feat. While it doesn’t fear Giratina, or even tanks like Cresselia and Lugia, it still has glaring weaknesses to Fire and Water, two very common types, as well as Fighting and Ground — so if you want to integrate Steelix into your team, as with most pokemon, you should also include something to cover its back. You can read more about that topic in this article.
Thunder Shock + Rock Slide
Despite not dealing super effective damage, the nut titan can overcome Giratina with just its own tankiness and a great moveset. Thunder Shock will deal little damage, but activate Rock Slide even faster than the opponent can do with its Dragon Claw, with each Rock Slide dealing ~25% damage. Melmetal isn’t as comfortable as Steelix against Giratina, but is guaranteed to give it trouble and has a chance of winning even at shield disadvantage. Its biggest strength comes from its positive matchups against most other Giratina counters (especially if you unlock Flash Cannon to cover Fairy and Ice) and most top threats of the Ultra League; its only real nightmare is having to face Ground-types, like Steelix.
Lucario: Bullet Punch + Shadow Ball
Aggron: Dragon Tail + Heavy Slam or Stone Edge
Scizor: Fury Cutter or Bullet Punch + Night Slash
These three aren’t as reliable as the previous options, and they all work considerably better against Dragon Breath than against Shadow Claw. Lucario only really needs to land 1 Shadow Ball to win, and similarly to Melmetal, thanks to Close Combat’s coverage it won’t lose when coming up against another Giratina counter — but due to its low bulk, it risks getting destroyed if the opponent is willing to use an extra shield on Giratina, and in a lot of neutral matchups. Shield disadvantage situations are handled better, although not comfortably, by Aggron and Scizor, which on the other hand suffer from double weaknesses and are going to lose against the three listed before them.
Alolan Ninetales and Other Ice-types
Ice-type moves are really good in PvP, and that makes some Ice-types respectable Giratina counters as well as great coverage for the common Grass-, Ground- and Flying-types in Ultra League. However, they all must be careful about Giratina’s Ancient Power, which hits them for super effective damage. The ones below are good enough to win even against it and can tank one hit if you want to scout your opponent’s moveset and strategize accordingly.
Powder Snow + Ice Beam
Not only Ice but also a Fairy-type, it has a perfect combination for Dragon slaying. While against Dragon Claw it wins easily even without shields and the opponent using both, Ancient Power takes more than 1/3 of its HP and can put it in trouble. Its advantage against it lays in activating Ice Beam before Giratina can launch Ancient Power; that still makes it the winner in 1v1 in all shield parity scenarios, and even with 1 shield and the opponent wasting 2. In other matchups, it must be careful about avoiding Steel-types due to its double weakness to them, as well as Fire-types which can completely wall it.
Ice Shard + Ice Beam
Both of those are legacy moves, which makes the availability of this counter very limited; Frost Breath is viable too, but its lower energy generation might prove fatal at times. If you can get your hands on it, legacy Lapras is bulky enough to tank through an Ancient Power and still win with equal shields, but it’ll be in trouble against it in shield disadvantage situations. Those won’t be an issue against other movesets, though. The option of Surf as the second charged move makes it also useful as a Water-type, allowing it to also dominate Steelix.
Powder Snow or Ice Shard + Avalanche
Thanks to its secondary Ground typing, the mammoth is not weak to Ancient Power while still packing the powerful Avalanche, which is a definite 2-hit KO on Giratina and can activate as quickly as its Dragon Claw. Slaying it with equal shields is not an issue against any moveset, but if the opponent shields one more time than you, winning or losing comes down to who gets the first charged move off. Its biggest drawbacks are the terrible weaknesses to Grass, Water, Fire, Fighting and Steel, which can make it a liability to include. If you don’t want to max out a Piloswine you might as well wait for Mamoswine, which will be usable in the Ultra League at around level 26 and perform only marginally worse.
Powder Snow + Blizzard
Similarly to Pilo, it trades the weakness to Ancient Power for 2 double ones to Fire and Fighting. Against Giratina, its high energy charged move is offset by the high EPT of Powder Snow, making it capable of winning without shields even if the opponent blocks the first Blizzard, although with very slim margin. If he thinks he’ll get away with tanking it, Giratina will be one-shot.
Ice Shard + Avalanche
Unlike the other ones, these two really don’t like Ancient Power. Weavile will be OHKO’d by it and 2-hit KO’d by Dragon Claw, but also has the most powerful Avalanche and will kill Giratina in one charged move cycle and a couple fast moves — its matchup really depends on who can get first activation. Cloyster is a bit tankier, but still not enough to reliably get a win at shield disadvantage against either moveset.
Since their introduction, Fairy-types have been the go-to Dragon slayers due to their immunity tier resistance to them. But due to neutral fast moves and the 70 energy Dazzling Gleam, the best ones, Togekiss and Gardevoir don’t make the cut against Giratina — especially when its Rock- and Ghost-type coverage moves come into play — and can even get in trouble against Breath+Claw ones. There are, however, a couple of Fairy-type underdogs to look out for.
Snarl + Play Rough
With a super effective moveset and max CP just above 2500, Granbull actually does great against Giratina. One Play Rough cycle and a few extra fast moves are sufficient to kill it: with equal shield use it can win any day to Dragon Breath variants, and by a narrower margin against Shadow Claw, but it’s not bulky enough to beat it reliably with shield disadvantage unless your opponent only has Dragon Claw. Access to Close Combat as a second charged move also makes this pink doggo able to go toe to toe with most of the Steel- and Ice-types above.
Feint Attack + Play Rough
Its Normal/Fairy typing is simply perfect for this role, allowing it to double resist all of Giratina’s STAB moves. With shield parity it even outperforms all other counters overall, but it’s most likely to lose with shield disadvantage, especially if the opponent runs Ancient Power or is willing to use both shields on its Giratina. Furthermore, despite only being weak to Poison and Steel, it’s just not strong enough to be competitive in most neutral matchups.
Countering the Counters & Consequences on the Meta
As more and more trainers are using Giratina in their Ultra League teams, and when more and more trainers consequently start to include direct counters in their teams to keep the biggest threat in check, we might see the metagame develop in interesting ways.
If you want your team to be prepared for both Giratina and its counters, it’s good to keep in mind what beats what. Some pokemon that hold their own against the almighty dragon while also beating most of its counters are Blastoise, Melmetal, Lucario, Registeel, Lapras, Milotic, Steelix and Cresselia. At least two of those, Blastoise and Cresselia, are already top threats of the Ultra League, and Melmetal effectively counters one and completely walls the other, so this could only make all of their values rise even more in the meta.
Another significant note is that Steel and Ice-types, the most common Giratina counters, share a common weakness to Fighting. It’s the main reason why Lucario and Registeel are so high up in the list above, as on top of Close Combat and the more unreliable Focus Blast they also bring Steel-type moves to take care of the odd Fairy. This could also bring a rise in relevance for the now rarely seen Fighting-types, with the best options probably being Hariyama, Machamp, Poliwrath and Toxicroak.
Looking at the future, not even Dialga seems like a threat for Giratina: despite lacking the weakness to Dragon, its Draco Meteor paired with Dragon Breath takes forever to charge and in that time Giratina could beat it with 2 Dragon Claw even if the first one gets blocked. Its Origin Forme, whenever that gets released, still loses to the Altered one due to its lower bulk. So, unless communities start to ban it from tournaments, we might just be witnessing the beginning of the Giratina era in PvP — better be ready for it.