I Tried Out Ash Ketchum’s Pokemon League Winning Team To See If It Was Any Good

Despite being the most famous Pokemon trainer of all time, Ash Ketchum spent 22 long, arduous, and apparently ageless years losing every single Pokemon League tournament he ever entered. Seriously, even the official Pokemon website has an entire section devoted to Ash’s most devastating losses over the years. Maybe it was because he refused to evolve his Pikachu into the much more powerful Raichu, or because he decided to ditch Greninja from his Alolan roster. Maybe it’s because for 22 years, he didn’t stop to consider how much of an impact assembling a Pokemon dream team would obviously have.

However, last year Ash Ketchum finally emerged victorious and was crowned champion of the Alolan Pokemon League — which, when you consider the abundance of Ultra Beasts in the region, is a pretty remarkable feat.

I was curious: had Ash finally become a bonafide Pokemon master, or was it all a big fluke, or sympathy win, like when Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar for The Revenant despite offering significantly more impressive performances in other films? I had to find out for myself, so I put together a squad based on Ash Ketchum’s Pokemon League winning team and went over to the Pokemon Showdown battle simulator to try my luck.

Obviously I had to make some necessary adjustments. You see, Ash’s trusty companion Pikachu technically fought in the finals alongside Melmetal and Dusk-form Lycanroc. However, Ash’s canonical Alolan squad is made up of Rowlet, Lycanroc, Incineroar, Nebby (the nickname he gave to his Solgaleo), Naganadel, and Melmetal. Because Ash owns 76 Pokemon, and because this is an Alolan-specific team, I thought it made more sense to use this as a base squad, while subbing in mainstays like Pikachu every so often to resemble the real deal as much as possible. And believe me when I say that I would have preferred to have Pikachu on board the whole time if I could — Pikachu holding a Light Ball benefits from 1.5x Attack and Special Attack, which, when you consider its same-type-attack-bonus (STAB) from powerful moves like Volt Tackle and Thunderbolt, is nothing to scoff at.

First, some context: Pokemon Showdown is a battle simulator that has you start each session at rank 1,000. Winning a match generally earns you anywhere from 15 to 40 points, while losing a battle subtracts a similar amount from your total. The disparity between lower and higher point yields or losses is usually determined by your performance in the match — how many turns were there, was the match won or lost due to forfeit on either side, and so on.

And so I started my experiment, using the team of six outlined above. In my head, I thought, “Well, Pikachu is sitting on my shoulder, observing the matches and cheering his pals on.” Because let’s be real — Pikachu doesn’t participate in every single battle, and we’re using Ash’s Alolan team. Pikachu is basically like a seventh party member who comes in when the narrative demands some electro-mouse lightning bolts.

The first couple of matches were surprisingly easy. I was shocked to see Rowlet — the first form of the Decidueye evolutionary chain and therefore a proper weakling — going to town on some pretty formidable foes. I had specifically designed my Rowlet build as a bait-and-switch sweeper — most enemies at low health would see this little plant bird guy come in and think, “I can outspeed him.” So I used Protect to bait their first move and spam a turn to see if I had forced them to switch out — but nobody ever switched out. And then, when they went to take out my cutesy little Rowlet, I used Sucker Punch, a move that always goes first if your opponent uses a damage-dealing technique. In my second match, I took out a Mega Heracross with Rowlet alone — I’d say the other guy was absolutely fuming.

Naganadel was a pretty strong sweeper, boasting STAB Sludge Bomb and Draco Meteor, while maintaining coverage with moves like Flamethrower and Hidden Power Grass. Usually I would have used a Naganadel build focused on stat buffs, but this team had too many weaknesses to risk what people in Pokemon call setting up — basically, spending several terms dealing little to no damage in order to boost your attack, or speed, or defense.

Solgaleo made a pretty good Toxic staller, which means I had it poison the enemies while using Morning Sun to keep it in tip-top shape while their health gradually whittled down to nothing. Melmetal was a full-on physical sweeper, boasting STAB Double Iron Bash alongside Earthquake, Ice Punch, and Thunder Punch for coverage. I regularly took out at least four enemy Pokemon in a row with Melmetal, despite how obviously slow a giant, absurdly buff magnet with iron biceps is. Incineroar was shit, if I’m honest.

The real star of the team was Lycanroc. For those who don’t know, Lycanroc is an Alolan Pokemon that was part of Ash’s core squad in that region, and fought alongside Pikachu and Melmetal in the Master Conference finals, where Ash finally received his first ever Pokemon League title. It’s a dog, but one that is quite literally made of rocks. Despite its relatively weak typing — monotype Rock is weak to Fighting, Ground, Steel, Water, and Grass, and has zero immunities — Lycanrock’s astonishing speed and absurd attack stat make it a complete monster when it comes to late-game sweeping. When your opponent only has a couple of Pokemon left, a Lycanroc equipped with Accelerock — which has priority, meaning it almost always goes first — Crunch, and Drill Run can hit almost anything quickly, accurately, and unequivocally brutally with at least neutral damage.

After about 15 matches, I was at just below 1250 on the leaderboard. If I’m honest, I was able to hit 1600 or so back in the days of Black and White 2, where I could beat pretty much anyone with just a Cloyster and Dragonite. Cloyster had a Focus Sash, meaning that it could withstand at least one hit from max HP, and the ability Skill Link, allowing all of its multi-hit moves to land the maximum amount of times every time. Using Icicle Spear and Rock Blast after a Shell Smash meant it hit every other Pokemon first, and landed five attack-boosted jabs every time. I led with Dragonite, who had a Weakness Policy equipped. Its Multiscale ability meant I could bait and withstand a super-effective attack, activating the Weakness Policy after getting off a Dragon Dance, or two if I was lucky. This meant double speed and triple Dragonite’s already monstrous attack.

Basically, I am familiar with how to do well in competitive Pokemon, and have done well on many occasions. Gaining almost 250 points from approximately 15 matches is pretty decent, too — but then I hit a wall, and I hit it really, really hard.

More experienced players will punish any attempt at a cheeky Melmetal sweep. Rowlet — and Pikachu for that matter, who was my super sub for Rowlet — hit 1250+ players like wet tissues. Solgaleo, while having solid stats, just isn’t really that impactful at this tier of play. Nagandadel can do well, but can’t get anything out of Beast Boost when other players predict your next move accurately. Lycanroc was still great. Incineroar was even more shit than before.

I lost a lot, and then won a lot, and then lost a lot again. I played for several hours on both Saturday and Sunday and remained firmly rooted between 1180 and 1300 for the entire time. This isn’t a bad tier of play, but it’s certainly not a Pokemon League champion tier of play, and it’s a country mile away from anything resembling a Pokemon master.

So yeah, experiment over. Ash’s Pokemon League team is pretty good, but it’s not great. I could make a better team and Pokemon aren’t even real in my world. Plus I don’t have 24 hours a day, seven days a week to devote entirely to Pokemon training. For someone living in a post-scarcity world with unlimited free time and the actual means to become a Pokemon master, Ash is pretty middle-of-the-road.

As one of my friends recently told me, he’s an alright trainer, but he’s a pretty shit team-builder, and people on Pokemon Showdown would tear him to shreds if he rocked up with loads of unevolved Pokemon. He might do well enough in one of the less popular tiers, like RU (Regularly Used) or UU (Underused), where first- and second-form Pokemon show up in abundance, but that’s like Pokemon tournaments for the youngsters on Route 3. Want to take on the Pokemon League with a team like that? Nah, you’re having a laugh. Ash’s victory was a great big fluke, I reckon, and I’ve spent enough time with his shit Incineroar to prove it.

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