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Pokémon Go: Cliff, Sierra, Arlo, and Giovanni best counters September 2022

Team Go Rocket banner
(Image credit: Niantic)

Team GO Rocket has invaded Pokémon Go. Executives Sierra, Cliff, and Arlo are here and you'll have to fight your way through them to get to the head honcho himself, Giovanni. These fights are tough and it's gonna take more than a handful of recommended Pokémon. But, if you can beat Giovanni, you'll get the chance to catch your very own Legendary Shadow Pokémon!

Even well-seasoned players, like myself, have struggled against the leaders of Team GO Rocket. Fortunately, we here at iMore know exactly what you need to take on each of these big bads!

What is Team GO Rocket?

Pokémon Go Giovanni and Shadow Lugia

(Image credit: Niantic)

Team GO Rocket is the current incarnation of the criminal organization from the original Pokémon games and shows. Led by Giovanni, Team Rocket has always been lurking in the shadows of the Pokémon world, stealing any Pokémon they can get their hands on, along with all the Poké Balls and Pokémon related technology possible. They're the bad guys. 

Worse even, as Team GO Rocket, they've invaded the world of Pokémon Go along with Shadow Pokémon, formerly good Pokémon who have been corrupted through a mysterious technique that leaves them in constant pain, forced to assist in Team GO Rocket's criminal endeavors.

How do I challenge the leaders of Team GO Rocket?

While Team GO Rocket Grunts have been taking over PokéStops since July 2019, beginning in November 2019, their leaders have joined the fight. By fighting six Grunts, you can collect Mysterious components, which can, in turn, be used to create a Rocket Radar. Once in possession of a Rocket Radar, you can track down Team GO Rocket Hideouts, and challenge one of three Team GO Rocket Executives.

These Executives are much stronger than the Grunts and actually know how to use their Shields, so prepare for a tough battle and prioritize burning through their shields early. Check out some of our best Pokémon Go accessories to help stock up on the potions and revives you'll need for these fights. Each of the three executives will reward you with their first Shadow Pokémon, which has the potential to be Shiny, and a Strange Egg, if you have room in your bag.

Additionally, if you defeat all three Team GO Rocket Executives, you can be rewarded with a Super Rocket Radar once per month that will lead you to the Boss of Team GO Rocket: Giovanni! For more details on how to get to the Team GO Rocket Executives and Giovanni, check out our Looming Shadows guide.

Earning or purchasing Rocket Radars to challenge Team GO Rocket?

After you've constructed your first Rocket Radar, additional Rocket Radar can be purchased in the PokéShop for 200 PokéCoins each. While $2 worth of PokéCoins (or less if you're able to earn them,) might seem like a small amount to pay for a Rocket Radar, previous Community Days have featured paid special research that included a Rocket Radar among the generous rewards for only $1 and other events have rewarded Rocket Radars as well. You will still need to track down the right Executives to battle, but if you don't have to fight your way through several grunts each time, this could make completing the Team GO Rocket Special Research a little more doable.

Rescuing Strange Eggs from Team GO Rocket?

Pokémon Go Sierra Strange Eggs

(Image credit: Niantic)

As of October 12, 2020, Trainers can earn Strange Eggs by defeating the Leaders of Team GO Rocket. These special eggs only carry a select few Poison and Dark type Pokémon, as well as Pokémon that evolve into Poison or Dark types, and they require a whopping 12 KM to hatch. Currently, the following Pokémon can be hatched from Strange Eggs:

  • Larvitar*
  • Absol*
  • Skorupi*
  • Sandile
  • Scraggy
  • Pawniard
  • Vullaby*
  • Deino*
  • Pancham
  • Skrelp
  • Salandit

Team GO Rocket Aerial Attacks?!

Team Go Rocket Balloon Sierra

(Image credit: Future)

As of July 7, 2020, Team GO Rocket has taken to the skies. Four times a day, a Team GO Rocket balloon can appear on the map. These encounters work almost identically to Team GO Rocket PokéStop Invasions. Under normal circumstances, Trainers can expect:

  • Without a Rocket Radar, you will encounter Grunts.
  • Jesse and James in their Meowth hot air balloon are no longer appearing, but should they return, they give you the chance to earn two Mysterious Components for the one balloon.
  • With a normal Rocket Radar equipped, you will encounter one of the Team GO Rocket Executives.
  • With a Super Rocket Radar equipped, you will have the chance to encounter Giovanni, himself.
  • The first balloon will show up between midnight and 6 AM local time.
  • The second balloon will show up between 6 AM and noon local time.
  • The third balloon will show up between noon and 6 PM local time.
  • The final balloon will show up between 6 PM and midnight local time.

The line ups for Shadow Pokémon are the same as if you encountered Team GO Rocket at a PokéStop. If you don't beat the Executive or Giovanni, your Radar will remain intact until you are able to defeat a Team GO Rocket leader.

How to beat Team GO Rocket executive Cliff

Team Go Rocket Cliff

(Image credit: Niantic)

Cliff is the first of the Team GO Rocket Executives and their counterpart to Team Mystic's Leader Blanche. Cliff brings in a team of three Pokémon with the second and third being chosen from a pool of different strong Shadow Pokémon. Fortunately, you can battle an Executive as many times as it takes to beat them. So, if you lose the first time, take note of which Pokémon fill those second and third slots and plan your next attack accordingly.

  • Cliff's first Pokémon is Bulbasaur. This Grass and Poison type is the Pokémon you'll get the chance to catch if you beat Cliff and has the potential to be Shiny. It has access to Grass, Poison, and Normal type moves and weaknesses to Fire, Flying, Ice, and Psychic type damage. It's best to use this time to build up your charged attack or burn through Cliff's shields, if you want the very best counters, Reshiram, Heatran, Dialga, either Mega Charizard, and Salamence all perform great.
  • In his second slot, Cliff could send out Crobat. It's a Poison and Flying type with access to Poison, Flying, Dark, and Ghost type moves and is weak to Electric, Ice, Psychic, and Rock type damage. Some of the best counters include Raikou, Melmetal, Regirock, Alolan Golem, Magnezone, and Electivire.
  • Cliff could also send out Venusaur. Shadow Venusaur is a Grass and Poison type with access to Poison and Grass type moves, and weaknesses to Fire, Flying, Ice, and Psychic type damage. Some of the best counters include either either Mega Charizard, Ho-Oh, Heatran, Victini, Lugia, Genesect, and Moltres.
  • Or Cliff could pick Omastar for his second Pokémon. A Rock and Water type, Omastar is weak to Grass Electric, Fighting, and Ground type damage, while dealing Water, Rock, and Ground type damage. The best counters are Tropius, Mega Abomasnow, Celebi, Zarude, Virizion, Ludicolo, Mega Venusaur, Leavanny, and Leafeon.
  • For the third slot, Cliff is currently using Tyranitar. This Rock and Dark type has a whopping seven weaknesses, including Fighting, Grass, Water, Ground, Steel, Bug, and Fairy, with potential Dark, Rock, Steel, and Fire type moves. The top performers are Chesnaught, Mega Gyarados, Melmetal, Cobalion, Zamazenta, Bewear, and Machamp.
  • Torterra could also be Cliff's final Pokémon. Shadow Torterra, a Grass and Ground type, can deal Grass, Ground, Rock, and Dark type damage, while its weaknesses include Ice, Bug, Fire, and Flying. Some of the best counters include either Mega Charizard, Reshiram, Mega Abomasnow, Zamazenta, Yveltal, Ho-Oh, and Avalugg.
  • Cliff's final Pokémon could also be Swampert. Shadow Swampert is a Water and Ground type who's capable of dealing Water, Ground, and Poison damage and whose only weakness is Grass. The top performers in this fight are Leafeon, Celebi, Virizion, Sceptile, Alolan Exeggutor, and Zarude.

How to beat Team GO Rocket executive Sierra

Team Go Rocket Sierra

(Image credit: Niantic)

Much like her counterparts, Sierra's team choices make all the difference in what you should bring to fight her, and her Shadow Pokémon have ridiculous CP. Be prepared to fight her more than once.

  • Currently, Sierra's first Pokémon and the Pokémon you will get the chance to catch if you beat her is Squirtle. It's a pure Water type that can deal Water and Normal type damage and is weak to Electric and Grass type damage. It's incredibly weak, so you might consider using this time to burn through Sierra's shields and build up your other counters' charged attack. If you really want the best match up though, Mega Venusaur, Decidueye, Gourgeist, Ludicolo, or Leafeon will make this a laughably short fight.
  • For her second slot, she could go with Blaziken. This Fire and Fighting type has four weaknesses: Ground, Psychic, Flying, and Water, and access to Fighting, Fire, and Flying type moves. Some excellent counters include Giratina (Altered), Mega Slowbro, Shadow Lugia, Mega Latios, Mega Charizard Y, Mega Gengar, Victini, and Ho-Oh.
  • Lapras could be Sierra's second Pokémon. This Water and Ice type is capable of dealing Water, Ice, and Normal type damage, while it takes super effective damage from Electric, Fighting, Grass, and Rock. The top performers include Mega Gyarados, Melmetal, Shadow Poliwrath, Mega Abomasnow, Zamazenta, Mew, and Magnezone.
  • Sierra's second Pokémon could be Blastoise. A pure Water type capable of dealing Water, Dark, Normal, Steel, and Ice type damage, and weaknesses to Grass and Electric type damage. The best counters include Zarude, Tapu Bulu, Mega Venusaur, Zacian, Raikou, and Leafeon.
  • If Houndoom is her third choice, this Dark and Fire type can only deal Dark and Fire type damage. Its weaknesses include Fighting, Ground, Rock, and Water. The best counters include Omastar, Mega Gyarados, Swampert, Regirock, Bewear, Shadow Omastar, and Samurott.
  • Nidoqueen could also be her final Pokémon. This Ground and Poison type can deal Ground, Rock, Dark, and Poison type damage and it's weak against Ground, Psychic, Ice, and Water type moves. The best counters include Excadrill, Rhyperior, Mega Gyarados, Swampert, Garchomp, and Rhydon.
  • Sierra's last Pokémon could also be Drapion. Drapion is a Poison and Dark type with access to Poison, Dark, Ice, Water, and Bug type moves. Its only weakness is to Ground type moves. The best counters include Giratina, Mega Gyarados, Lucario, Rhyperior, Excadrill, Dialga, and Terrakion.

How to beat Team GO Rocket executive Arlo

Pokémon Go Team Rocket Arlo

(Image credit: Niantic)

Pokemon Go Team Rocket Arlo (Image credit: Niantic)

Another challenging Executive, Arlo can bring out a wide variety of Shadow Pokémon with crazy high CP. Expect to fight a second or third time before you get the right combination to defeat him.

  • Currently, Arlo's first Pokémon is the Dragon type Charmander. It's the Pokémon you'll catch if you beat him and it has the potential to be Shiny. This pure Fire type has access to Fire and Normal type moves, and has three weaknesses, including Water, Ground, and Rock type. Though you can use this time to burn through Arlo's shields or build up Charged attacks, if you want the best match up, bring Mega Aerodactyl, Rhyperior, Mega Gyarados, Tyranitar, Kyogre, Regirock, or Terrakion.
  • Arlo's second Pokémon could be Mawile, a Steel and Fairy type with access to Steel, Fairy, Fire, Ice, Ghost, Normal, Dark, and Fighting type moves and weaknesses to Fire and Ground type damage. The top counters for Shadow Mawile include Mega Gyarados, Mega Houndoom, Reshiram, Incineroar, either Mega Charizard, Entei, and Ho-Oh.
  • Salamence could also be Arlo's second Pokémon. A Dragon and Flying type, it has weaknesses to Ice, Dragon, Fairy, and Rock type, and access to Dragon, Dark, Fire, and Water moves. The best counters include Mega Gyarados, Primarina, Togekiss, Tapu Fini, Zamazenta, and Sylveon.
  • For his second Pokémon, Arlo may go with Charizard. It's a Fire and Flying type with Rock, Electric, and Water as its weaknesses, and access to Fire, Flying, and Dragon type moves. The best counters are Alolan Golem, Omastar, Regirock, Mega Aerodactyl, Raikou, Melmetal, and Rhyperior.
  • The Steel and Bug type Scizor could be Arlo's third Pokémon. Weak to only Fire type, it has access to Steel, Bug, and Dark type moves. Your best options for countering it are any forme of Charizard, Reshiram, Heatran, Ho-Oh, Entei, Moltres, and Darmanitan.
  • In the third slot, Arlo could go with Steelix. It's a Ground and Steel type that can deal Steel, Ground, Dragon, Electric, and Dark type damage, while taking super effective damage from Ground, Fighting, Fire, and Water type moves. The top counters for Shadow Steelix are Excadrill, Swampert, Groudon, Shadow Swampert, Landorus (Therian), Heatran, and Garchomp.
  • Gardevoir could also be Arlo's final Pokémon. This Fairy and Psychic type has access to Psychic, Fairy, Ghost, and Electric type moves, and three weaknesses: Ghost, Poison, and Steel type moves. The best counters include Jirachi, Excadrill, Melmetal, Mew, Shadow Magnezone, Genesect, and Magnezone.

How to beat Team GO Rocket leader Giovanni

Pokémon Go Team Go Rocket Giovanni

(Image credit: Niantic)

The founder of Team GO Rocket, Giovanni is the only one wielding Legendary Shadow Pokémon. For the time being, however, his team is more limited than his Executives. His first Pokémon is always Persian and his last is currently Shadow Latios.

  • Giovanni's first Pokémon is Persian, a Normal type with access to Normal, Dark, Fairy, and Rock type moves and weaknesses to Fighting type moves. The best Pokémon to counter Persian are Tyranitar, Melmetal, Lucario, Mega Gyarados, Giratina (Origin), Machamp, and Terrakion..
  • For his second Pokémon, Giovanni could bring Machamp. It's a pure Fighting type with access to Fighting, Steel, and Rock type moves and weaknesses to Fairy, Flying, and Psychic. Some of the best counters include Giratina (Altered), Mega Slowbro, Lugia, Victini, and Zapdos.
  • If he brings Rhyperior, this Ground and Rock type has access to Ground, Rock, Water, and Fighting type moves and weaknesses to Water, Grass, Steel, Ice, Fighting, and Ground type moves. Some of the top counters include Torterra, Shadow Torterra, Mega Gyarados, Chesnaught, Celebi, and Zarude.
  • Nidoking could be his second Pokémon. It's a Poison and Ground type with access to Poison, Ground, Fighting, Steel, and Bug type moves and weaknesses to Ground, Ice, Psychic, and Water type moves. The best counters include Giratina (Altered), Mega Gengar, Mega Steelix, Jirachi, Swampert, and Garchomp.
  • Giovanni's third Pokémon is currently Shadow Latios. This Legendary is a Dragon and Psychic type Pokémon with access to Psychic, Dragon, and Grass type moves and weaknesses to Bug, Dark, Dragon, Fairy, Ghost, and Ice type damage. Top counters include Mega Gyarados, Mega Steelix, Zarude, Lugia, Tyranitar, Togekiss, Sylveon, Gardevoir, and Genesect.

Pokémon Go Team Rocket Balloon

(Image credit: Niantic)

Jesse, James, and Meowth have blasted off again!

Pokémon Go Jesse James Celebi

(Image credit: Niantic)

Jesse and James are no longer available to challenge, but they are sure to return at some point in the future. Their previous line ups weren't particularly difficult to beat, especially since neither used their shields.

Previously, Jesse's lineup included:

  • Scyther: a Bug and Flying type, Scyther has several weaknesses, including Fire, Flying, Electric, and Ice, but it's quad weakness to Rock is the one you'll want to exploit. Aggron, Rampardos, Rhyperior, Golem, Terrakion, or Tyranitar all work really well here.
  • Ekans: a Poison type, Ekans is weak against Ground and Psychic types. However, Ekans is pretty weak. Mewtwo, Alakazm, or Gardevoir could all work well here. Alternatively, you could put in Metagross or whatever Pokémon you plan to use against Stantler, in order to build up their charged attack.
  • Stantler: as a Normal type, Stantler's only weakness is Fighting types. However, because of its potential moveset, Steel and Rock types are your best bet here. Metagross, Regirock, Jirachi, or Cobalion are all great choices here.

After beating Jesse, James' lineup included:

  • Pinsir: a Bug type, James' first Pokémon is Pinsir. Weak to Flying, Rock, and Fire types, great counters include Ho-Oh, Moltres, Chandelure, or Lugia.
  • Koffing: a Poison type, Koffing is weak against Ground and Psychic types. However, Koffing is also really weak. Golurk, Excadrill, Jirachi, Lugia, or Landorus all work well here.
  • Grimer: another fairly weak Poison type, the Pokémon you use against Koffing will work well here and likely have its charged attack ready.

Upon beating Jesse, you could catch a Shadow Scyther with the potential to be Shiny, and upon beating James, you could catch a Shadow Pinsir with the potential to be Shiny.

Note: Jesse and James fulfill the requirements for beating two Team GO Rocket Grunts in Research tasks.

Team GO Rocket questions?

There you have it. Follow our guide, and you'll send Team GO Rocket blasting off again! Have any questions about fighting Team GO Rocket, Cliff, Sierra, Arlo, or Giovanni? Want to share your winning team? Drop us a comment below and check out our other Pokémon Go guides so you too can become a Pokémon Master!

Casian Holly has been writing about gaming at iMore since 2019, but their real passion is Pokémon. From the games to the anime, cards and toys, they eat, sleep, and breathe all things Pokémon. You can check out their many Pokémon Go and Pokémon Sword and Shield guides and coverage here on iMore.