Making a break for the Galarian border
Last week, during the reveal of the Pokémon expansions, my favorite reactions came from people on Twitter who behaved with disgust and sometimes PTSD when the sizzle reel for the Crown Tundra scrolled through many Legendary Pokémon, particularly Landorus from Pokémon Black and White. It’s hilarious because despite Landorus having no presence in most Pokémon Company promotions or personal stories of Pokémon, it definitely has a reputation when it comes to trainers who battle frequently. And it has a real chance at coming back if these expansions do anything about it.
Today I’ll be looking back at older Pokémon with similar reputations across the battle scene through the lens of the Sun and Moon generation since nearly every Pokémon was present in those games. This will mostly highlight what made them strong before, with a few entries having some interesting ideas on how they’d use the current Max Moves to their benefit, though anything else concerning how they’d Dynamax or Gigantamax is left up to speculation.
Just keep in mind that this list basically highlights both strong and overpowered Pokémon that are making a run for the border. This list will also ignore Mega Forms and Z-Move considerations, seeing as how Game Freak has decided to throw it out the window in favor of Dynamaxing, which is somehow stronger despite lasting only three turns.
It’s only fitting that we start with Landorus. At first glance, Landorus is a fairly unassuming uber Pokémon, with strong mixed attacking stats and an enjoyable speed tier, but nothing that really stands out against the biggest monsters of ubers. The true power of Landorus lies in its ability, Sheer Force. Sheer Force increases the power of attacks by roughly 30% in exchange for ignoring all secondary effects. For whatever reason, this includes the damage recoil from holding a Life Orb, which boosts damage an additional 30%. It’s a powerful combo that few Pokémon get to enjoy, and Landorus gets this in addition to mixed attacking stats and diverse move pool.
Landorus gets to benefit from the power of both Choice Band and Choice Specs without being locked into a move or losing HP per attack. Mixed attackers are valuable because if you have the knowledge of which defense your opponent favors, you can always hit them where it hurts more. Plus it can use Stealth Rocks if it smells a free turn of switching out, setting the field with hazards that severely limit your opponent’s options if they’re weak to rock attacks. Even its alternate form, Landorus-T, has its own niche appeal by committing to physical attack and swapping out Sheer Force for Intimidate, buffering its defense by lowering the opponent’s attack.
Since Legendary Pokémon like Zacian and Eternatus can’t Dynamax, I assumed Legendaries simply cannot since they’re already powerful enough. But then I’m reminded that the Legendary Pokémon of The Isles of Armor expansion, Urshifu, was already revealed to have a Gigantamax form. If Landorus can Dynamax, it opens a whole new can of worms, since Sheer Force continues to work during Dynamax, and a Max Move like Max Rockfall summons a sandstorm for Landorus to work with.
Kyogre‘s always classically been a strong, bulky special attacker. Having Drizzle to create rain is a highly sought after ability that allows any number of Pokémon to prepare a sweep. In Alpha Sapphire and Omega Ruby, Kyogre’s dominance came into question when Primal Groudon arrived with newfound power to balance the scales. But since Mega Evolution and Primal Reversion are out, Kyogre is once again on top of the duo.
There’s no question that rain strategies would shoot up if Kyogre were to return. Capable of powerful Waterspout, Ice Beam, and Thunder with 100% accuracy gives Kyogre one of the most brutally diverse move sets capable of pounding almost anything for neutral damage. Very few are going to want to stay in on the same turn Kyogre uses a rain boosted Waterspout attack. I shudder to think what Kyogre could do with Dynamax, though most of the secondary effects can be quite detrimental. Max Geyser does nothing since Kyogre already summons rain, Max Hailstorm summons hail, and Max Lightning creates Electric Terrain, which boosts the power of electric attacks that are already super-effective against Kygore.
The herald of fairy-types, Xerneas, is probably best known for its gimmick set: Power Herb and Geomancy. Xerneas’s signature move is essentially Quiver Dance on steroids, boosting special attack, special defense, and speed by two stages after using one turn to charge. But Power Herb is a one-time use item that lets any two-turn move finish in one turn.
While there are more practical sets making use of Xerneas’s respectable speed and power — especially with Fairy Aura cranking up the power of Moonblast — the Geomancy set is unique to Xerneas and is sure to leave an impression on any unprepared trainer. Since fairy Pokémon are still very powerful since their introduction, Xerneas would certainly make quite the impact in the Galar region.
The king of ultra specialization, Deoxys, is a distinct possibility if the Crown Tundra lets us capture as many Legendaries as we want. From a defensive wall to a monstrous wall breaker, Deoxys in its various forms is sure to please so long as you have a plan to build something specific around them.
While Deoxys-D has some of the highest defenses in the game, its HP stat doesn’t scale to it, and defensive strategies can be difficult against other Legendaries. Deoxys-A and Deoxys-S, however, are both very good candidates for what they specialize in. The speed form is an excellent lead, setting hazards like Spikes or support like Taunt without worrying about being beaten in a contest of speed. Meanwhile the attack form has enough power to dismantle any wall, and the possibility of Dynamaxing turns Deoxys-A into a powerhouse the likes of Dynamax Gyrados. With Max Mindstorm setting Psychic Terrain and Max Knuckle boosting attack with every use, Deoxys-A with Dynamax sounds like a threat you’ll want to keep in mind if you allow it on the battlefield.
Garchomp is one of the best high-spec dragon Pokémon from across all generations, primarily due to its good speed and a STAB Earthquake capable of taking chunks out of anything that isn’t flying off the ground. Garchomp is interesting as it had a perfectly serviceable Mega Evolution in the last game, and losing it or Z-Moves doesn’t really affect Garchomp all that much. Players probably won’t even have to worry about using Dynamax all that much either. Just give Garchomp a Life Orb and watch it go to town.
Dragons native to Galar like Appletun can be pretty situational, but Garchomp is direct and blunt. If it’s flying, use Dragon Claw or Outrage. If it’s not flying, use Earthquake. Anything else is up to super-effective damage coverage wherever you want it. Dynamaxing could allow Garchomp to lower the opponent’s attack with Max Wyrmwind, but that’s about it. Only time will tell if it gets a Gigantamax form that really changes up its strategy of smashing things in front of it.
The fan-favorite starter from Pokémon X and Y has a lot of options that make it a strong choice. Greninja can either have Battle Bond to significantly increase its potential to sweep or Protean to improve its utility by changing type before each attack. Using Spikes, for example, will change Greninja to a ground-type.
I personally loved using Greninja as a lead and scout, with a lot of speed enabling it to scout the next move and U-Turn out. Even when not played as a lead, a Hydro Pump will dent anything that stays in. Battle Bond, on the other hand, turns Greninja into a deadly ninja with vastly improved stats and Water Shuriken, one of the best priority moves in the game. The only problem is getting a knock out with Greninja to transform it, but all that takes is a little bit of planning and prediction to achieve its Ash form.
Dynamaxing or even Gigantamaxing Greninja could lead to very unpredictable results. Since Protean Greninja has a wide range of different attacking types, it could possibly use Max Quake, Max Geyser, and even Max Flutterby. Seeing Gigantimax Intelleon is proof that not all Gigantamax Pokémon need to increase their body size, so this shinobi frog could potentially increase in power without making itself more conspicuous with a size increase.
All throughout my time playing Sword and Shield, I felt a certain void in my heart that was left unfulfilled. There are water Pokémon and there are fairy Pokémon, but there aren’t any water/fairy Pokémon in Sword and Shield, at least not quite like Azumarill. This little blue rat is something I find great pleasure in using but will always dread facing myself. And all because this Pokémon only functions well if it has Huge Power equipped as its ability.
Azumarill has one of the most potent Aqua Jets in the game, capable of hitting with priority alongside respectable bulk thanks to a chunky HP stat. With a Choice Band, any Pokémon weak to water will want to get out of the way. And that’s before even mentioning it’s one of the few Pokémon blessed with STAB Play Rough in its move pool. Neither move sees a lot of play in Sword and Shield, so Azumarill has plenty of space to take up if it returns. These strengths also mean Azumarill won’t have much reason to Dynamax since turning Aqua Jet into a Max Move means losing its status as a priority move.
All of the Tapu guardians from Sun and Moon have their own unique positions that are all equally desirable. Tapu Lele is a powerful wallbreaker with Psychic Surge, Tapu Bulu has access to powerful defensive strategies thanks to Grassy Terrain, Tapu Fini is a notable user of Defog to keep hazards off the field, and Tapu Koko is revered as one of the most powerful pivots you can employ with an Electric Terrain boosted Volt Switch.
Despite many other fairy Pokémon being available, the Tapu guardians are often the best Pokémon you can use if you decide you need a fairy to fill in your ranks. They’re not lacking in offense and their dual typing often allows them strong coverage compared to similar Pokémon with monotyping. Dynamaxing these Pokémon won’t be a huge priority, since most Max Moves set a special terrain that the Tapus already create with their ability. But the extra power wouldn’t be a bad thing for most of these strong Pokémon.
I’ll level with you: Metagross is just my favorite Pokémon. Over the generations, Game Freak really did it dirty with power creep and the lack of really great psychic moves. They finally threw it a bone with an absurdly powerful Mega Form that was so strong it was sent straight to uber tier. But without a Gigantamax form, Metagross returning to Sword and Shield may be somewhat muted. Even Lucario stole Metagross’ thunder this generation by getting its signature move, Meteor Mash!
Still, this doesn’t undo everything Metagross is capable of. Being steel-type always affords good resistances, especially in a meta where fairy Pokémon run rampant. But probably the best news waiting for Metagross, asides from a potential Gigantamax form, is there aren’t many strong users of Max Mindstorm. Being able to not only boost the power of psychic attacks, but also block priority attacks like Sucker Punch or Pursuit, is a huge boon to Metagross.
Dracovish from the last list is a testament that not every Pokémon needs to consider Dynamaxing to be a powerful contender. A lot of possible returning Pokémon have very specific roles that would be disrupted by the Max Moves of Dynamax, like Azumarill. But since The Isles of Armor and Crown Tundra teased pictures of Gigantamax Venusaur and Blastoise, a lot of returning Pokémon can also experience a surge in popularity like what happened when Mega Evolution was introduced for the likes of Pinsir and Beedrill. Hopefully in the lead up to the release of the expansions, we’ll see more reveals for possible Gigantamax forms to really hype us up.