Smeargle + Xerneas
Strengths: Smeargle Xerneas is extremely good in a Best-Of-Three, as if your opponent doesn’t account for it as well as they should then it’s often extremely dangerous and requires quite a few heavy reads. If the Smeargle is KO’d you get a free switch into Salamence for Razzle-Dazzle-Scream (Dazzling Gleam + Hyper Voice) or Kangaskhan for Fake Out pressure, but if Smeargle is not KO’d then Dark Void could put you to sleep. Not knowing what item Smeargle is carrying can be horrible to guess too, as between Sash, Scarf and Mental Herb you’re effectively playing Rock-Paper-Scissors Game 1. You effectively want to lead this lead when you feel your opponent will not adequately counter lead Smeargle Xerneas or when you feel you can outplay your opponent with such a threatening lead.
Weaknesses: In short, being the best and most well known lead means that counter leads are very very common. Bronzong as a whole, M-Gengar/Crobat, Mawile/Hidden Power Water Thundurus and a few others have risen in popularity. Moves such as Haze and Clear Smog and items such as Red Card are also used solely for the purpose of countering Xerneas, so leading with it head on this late into the season could be dangerous. Alongside this, having a game plan of setting up Geomancy means that if you lead into a bad lead, switches are often extremely predictable and can be read really easily. Spread damage is also a pretty big issue, as without Intimidate or KOs threatened in turn 1, Xerneas and Smeargle are forced to take hits, such as Hyper Voice from Salamence, Precipice Blades from Groudon and spread Water attacks from Kyogre to name a few. This also opens up greater possibilities to be Critical Hit or put in a position where if you don’t have the correct output of pressure your opponent can finish off Xerneas. Overall I think having a game plan for leading against Smeargle Xerneas is definitely a must when leading.
Kangaskhan + Smeargle
Strengths: Known as Khan Artist since 2014 this is one of the more common leads. With the increase in Crafty Shield Smeargle this lead has dropped off a little bit, but personally it’s one I use quite a lot in certain situations. Firstly, having a slow Smeargle means that Trick Room modes with a Primal Pokemon become much harder to execute. On top of this, Follow Me access and Power-Up Punch works similar to Xerneas Smeargle in the way that once Kangaskhan gets to +2 Atk, it’s able to usually pressure the opponent enough to where Xerneas is able to freely Geomancy. I myself use this lead religiously against Dual Primal paired with Bronzong, for it’s ability to pressure the opponent in Trick Room with Dark Void and Power-Up Punch against the Bronzong and Smeargle, which become rendered too passive to stop Kangaskhan Power-Up Punching to even +6.
Weaknesses: Against two Pokemon faster than Smeargle, the Kangaskhan is forced to make a decision on whether switching Smeargle and Power-Up Punching their own Pokemon is the better play, or going for Fake Out and Dark Void. Although the second play sounds safer in theory, the amount of momentum lost using Fake Out and Dark Void into a double Protect of a Salamence or a faster Groudon often causes more momentum to be lost and than switching out and Power-Up Punching would, and the game can be lost early on. These 50/50s are extremely dangerous, hence why I personally tend to avoid leading this lead when it isn’t completely necessary.
Kangaskhan + Xerneas
Strengths: Fake Out + Geomancy is good pressure turn 1 and can win games really quickly.
Weaknesses: Kangaskhan can often not have as much pressure as a Smeargle that threatens Dark Void, hence why I tend to lean more towards Smeargle Xerneas if I’m going to be leading Xerneas. Leading into leads such as Kangaskhan Smeargle and even Salamence, Groudon and Talonflame usually means that Xerneas takes too much damage in exchange for Geomancy, and not having Salamence Intimidate Support can be pretty difficult to make switches and keep Xerneas’ pressure up.
Groudon + Thundurus
Strengths: One of the safest leads against other Big 6 variants, with Thundurus and Groudon both threatening all Pokémon in these variants. Access to Taunt is also really good here, and Thunder Wave + Precipice Blades can leave a lot of Pokémon weak enough to where Xerneas can finish them off or Groudon/Thundurus can finish off whilst Xerneas sets up a Geomancy.
Weaknesses: Whilst being a safe lead, it is by no means the best lead against any other lead of Xerneas Groudon, and can be outplayed by any lead they can possibly make, if not played well. With Xerneas being progressively more bulky Groudon has also lost its ability to threaten with Precipice Blades, so this also makes it much more difficult to use this lead.
Salamence + Talonflame/Thundurus
Strengths: Both Talonflame and Thundurus have similar strengths and weaknesses here, so I’ll add them together to avoid saying the same thing, and Talonflame and Thundurus are usually mutually exclusive anyway. In short, this is another really safe lead, especially against teams that don’t consist of Xerneas and Smeargle. Salamence’s Intimidate is extremely good against a lot of Pokémon in the format, and Hyper Voice + Thunderbolt/Brave Bird usually applies a lot of pressure on the opponent. If either Pokémon is KO’d here, Xerneas is able to come in on Intimidated Pokémon and Geomancy much easier than if it was led, as the pressure from this fast lead is often enough to shift momentum in your favour and allows late game to be much more manageable.
Weaknesses: In short, do not lead either of these into Xerneas Smeargle. It won’t be fun times. Against a high level player you’ll probably lose.
Salamence + Smeargle
Strengths: All of what is listed here is assuming you have a Slow Smeargle with heavily invested Defence, as that is the only time this lead is really used. Salamence Smeargle is a great lead against Kangaskhan/Groudon + a Support, as Smeargle is able to survive Precipice Blades, Double-Edge and much much more with the help of Intimidate. This means that usually Smeargle applies much more pressure than it normally would when facing Kangaskhan, and with Hyper Voice’s damage output can usually hit the opponent hard enough to where they can’t come back from being asleep and so heavily chipped. Salamence in general has a really good Big 6 match up outside of Xerneas, so if led well can often put you in a good position early. Yveltal, Kangaskhan and Groudon are all Pokémon this lead enjoys seeing right off the bat, Smeargle also, given there isn’t a Xerneas next to it.
Weaknesses: Similar to Salamence Thundurus/Talon, Xerneas Smeargle is a huge issue here. With use of Big B (Bronzong as the final slot) you are able to lead Salamence and Smeargle safely into Xerneas Smeargle, but is still overall not the safest lead if you feel that this is what your opponent will be opting for.
Lesser Used Archetypes And Lead Combinations
Going to just use dot points here as opposed to explaining the leads in-depth, as these aren’t as common and taking in all these lead match ups isn’t as important as the ones explained above.
Salamence + Xerneas
- Good for early game Geomancy with Intimidate, early set up on Razzle Dazzle Scream
- Hyper Voice and Dazzling Gleam turn 1 can throw the opponent off guard, especially if they lead with Yveltal
- Good against any lead not consisting of Smeargle or Xerneas/Kangaskhan
- Groudon Yveltal teams usually don’t have anything against this lead, barring maybe a Red Card Amoonguss or a Bronzong
- You can’t Geomancy staring down Smeargle, so Smeargle is dangerous to lead into (Scarf especially)
- Your switches are limited as switching in a Smeargle or another Support Pokémon is quite dangerous early game
- You usually tank a lot of damage in exchange for Geomancy and Hyper Voice chip damage turn 1, so Talonflame late game or a Red Card Amoonguss in Team Preview makes this lead too dangerous to use
Salamence + Groudon
- Applies a lot of pressure onto opposing Groudon and Kangaskhan, as well as Smeargle and even Xerneas
- Limits your opponent’s switching heavily, as Flying/Ground coverage is almost perfect this metagame
- In game 1 not knowing whether Groudon is Physical or Special leads to your opponent being cautious giving you early momentum
- Your switches are also limited as switching in Xerneas loses a key win condition and switching in a Support Pokémon often causes you to lose more momentum than you’d gain
- Leading into Kyogre, Salamence or Yveltal can be quite dangerous, as you lack the ability to KO either Pokemon effectively
- Timid Groudon (especially Hidden Power Ice) can be played against in game 1, and lose you the game instantly
Salamence + Crobat
- Extremely safe against a lot of leads of other Big 6, and access to Haze makes leading into Xerneas much much better
- Super Fang and Double-Edge can pick up surprise OHKO’s early game and remove opposing Xerneas/Kyogre/Kangaskhan
- Access to Tailwind means that if Crobat is KO’d before Salamence, Groudon and Salamence can usually sweep through games with Hyper Voice and Eruption/Precipice Blades
- You don’t benefit from the Intimidate as much as having Xerneas on the field, and often late game opposing Groudon and Kangaskhan pose as issues
- Late game Xerneas once Crobat is removed causes a lot of games to be lost by just picking up KOs with Salamence early game
- Trick Room setters with Mental Herb autowin against this lead
- If your opponent just leaves the Crobat alone then Crobat doesn’t really do too much other than Super Fang, so focusing on KOing Salamence and the other Pokémon next to it is usually the game plan the opponent will use
- Leading into opposing Tailwind and opposing Salamence can be pretty dangerous, as well as doubling into Protects of Kyogre and Xerneas as they threaten OHKO’s and you can’t afford to leave them alone
Groudon + Crobat
- If Groudon is Special then in Tailwind it threatens literally every Pokémon in a team that doesn’t contain Kyogre
- If the opponent leads without Taunt or Tailwind then Crobat can Tailwind for free, followed by Quick Guard + Eruption, which can win games very early on
- Safest lead against any Big 6 variant usually (given you have Special Groudon, Physical isn’t as good but still solid)
- Kyogre and Taunt are two huge factors, as well as opposing Tailwind (Salamence specifically) in turn 1 also
- Predictability turn 1 of Protect + Tailwind allows the opponent to switch and better position themselves as there’s no immediate threat of KO’s
Kangaskhan + Bronzong
- Super good against Xerneas and Smeargle leads, and almost guarantees Trick Room being set up. With Safeguard Bronzong this lead is super safe
- Although better with Kyogre than Groudon, an early Skill Swap set up wins games if the opponent only brought Ground-Type moves to take down Groudon
- If you lead this you must be fully committed to going for Trick Room, there is no backing out. You can’t switch into Xerneas or Groudon here at all
- If you Trick Room against Smeargle and don’t carry Safeguard, it won’t be fun times
- Kangaskhan in Trick Room becomes much less useful, so somehow sacking it is really difficult
- Leading against Groudon means Fake Out is almost forced onto that slot, and your opponent can freely attack with the other slot
Xerneas + Bird (Talonflame/Thundurus/Crobat)
- … Taunt?
- Way too passive and your opponent can just double target into Xerneas
- Don’t lead this lead unless you’re making a hard read
That’s it! Those leads listed above are the primary leads of Big 6 and its variations. Remember that a lot more variations of Big 6 do exist, such as Amoonguss and Ditto to name a couple, but don’t really affect the leading of Big 6 too much, so they weren’t really mentioned here. If you have any questions regarding leads or Big 6 variations in general and would like to know more, you can contact me on my Twitter and I’ll be more than willing to provide advice. I do hope that you gained something from my analysis of these leads and that you can apply your newfound knowledge to your games!