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The release of Pokémon Black and White marks the final days of the 4th generation. As a player who entered the competitive Pokémon scene in this generation, seeing it come to a close is a bittersweet sensation; although I am very much looking forward to all of the new things the 5th generation will bring, I will surely miss the familiarity with DPPt. Looking back at 2007, it's hard to believe how far we've come in terms of how much the metagame has shifted. If I were to show today's usage stats to someone back in 2007, I'm sure they would have a hard time believing me. As a tribute to the 4th generation and all the good (and bad) times we've had, I decided to chronicle this metagame's evolution since the release of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. To help illustrate this evolution, I have put together graphs of the usage of every Pokémon to ever make it in the top five most used list since the beginning of the 4th generation. With this data, it should be easy to follow the trends of the metagame at any given period, or to follow the rise/fall of any one Pokémon. For those of you who only started playing recently, I hope you find this article interesting, and for those of you who have been here since the start, I hope you find this article to be a nostalgic trip down memory lane.
Ah, yes, the early beginnings of the 4th generation. Looking at the usage stats, it's hard to believe that this was the same game we're playing now. Back then, the metagame was not established at all, and everybody was trying out new things. Unlike previous generations, Diamond and Pearl brought along a completely different physical/special move split, so old players were just as inexperienced as new ones. Of course, it didn't take a genius to recognize the power of the mighty land shark, Garchomp (which we now know to be Uber, obviously). Even with the ever-shifting metagame, Garchomp was able to consistently secure the top used spot for the majority of its time in OU. With that nice 102 Base Speed, immunity to Electric-type attacks, bulk comparable to that of Swampert, access to Swords Dance, and a STAB combination resisted by only two Pokémon, Garchomp was the perfect sweeper, tank, and revenge-killer—all in one. Oh, did I mention you could only hit it 80% of the time in a sandstorm, thanks to its annoyingly amazing ability? Yeah, there really was no reason to not use Garchomp. Despite all these things, Garchomp was still fairly manageable early on, thanks to a few popular Pokémon back then. Although they didn't make it onto these graphs, Weavile and Skarmory were both very popular in early DP, both making it into the top ten most used Pokémon a few times. Bronzong, one of the best checks to Garchomp, even made its way into the top five once in June of 2008. However, all good things must come to an end, and with the rising popularity of Swords Dance Yache Berry Garchomp, the king's days were numbered.
You might have noticed, though, that Garchomp didn't start out at number one. In the beginning, Blissey was the most used Pokémon, and along with Blissey usually came Skarmory. The ever-so-popular SkarmBliss combo was seemingly unbeatable back in early DP, and many users cried out to get the combo banned. However, as Infernape usage started to rise, the usage of SkarmBliss started to cool down... until the even more powerful SkarmCressBliss combo was invented! That's right, Cresselia, a Pokémon whose usage has since dropped so low that it was tested in UU for a while, was once a top ten Pokémon, and probably made more people quit Pokémon than even Garchomp's Sand Veil. Of course, people eventually discovered ways of dealing with this troublesome trio, such as TyraniBOAH and Swords Dance Lucario.
One of the most interesting things you might notice in the usage stats is the popularity of Gengar. For a good seven months, Gengar was right behind Garchomp as the second most used Pokémon in the game. With Blissey being so popular, you might be asking yourself why. Well, even though Gengar didn't have access to neat moves like Trick and Pain Split back then, what it did have was a 70% accurate Hypnosis. That's right, in case you forgot, before Platinum came out Hypnosis had an accuracy of 70%. People quickly figured out how amazing this pesky little ghost could be with the moveset: Substitute, Hypnosis, Shadow Ball, and Focus Blast. With that nice 110 Base Speed, Gengar could come in on revenge and put something to sleep. The next turn, it could set up a Substitute to scout its opponent's switch in, and with an unresisted pair of attacks and the ability to outspeed most of the metagame, Gengar could almost always get at least one KO. If its opponent switched something like Blissey in to wall it, Gengar could safely put it to sleep, hide behind its Substitute and chip away at Blissey with Focus Blast. If Blissey ever woke up, Gengar could safely put it back to sleep again and repeat the process until Blissey was KOed. In fact, because Gengar was so good in the metagame, specialty counters like Lum Berry Bullet Punch Pursuit Metagross were created.
One of the most unique things about the pre-Platinum metagame was the introduction of Deoxys-S and Wobbuffet to the OU tier. Although neither ever made it into the top five most used list, both were incredibly good. Wobbuffet was used on many stall teams to guarantee KOes against annoying Choice-locked Pokémon, and popular stall players like imperfectluck were known to abuse its brokenness. Even offensive players figured out how to make Wobbuffet useful, by utilizing Encore to guarantee a free setup from something like Belly Drum Smeargle. Wobbuffet's vacation in OU was short-lived, though, being banned only four months after its cage was opened. Deoxys-S, on the other hand, lasted a decent amount of time. Deoxys-S started out as an all-purpose revenge killer, thanks to its access to a plethora of type coverage moves and ability to outspeed most OU Pokémon, even when they had +1 Speed (bar Ninjask), without resorting to Choice Scarf. People even used bulky Deoxys-S with the moveset: Substitute, Taunt, Recover, Protect / Toxic, with Toxic Spikes support. If you thought Taunt + Toxic Gliscor or Substitute + Roost Zapdos were annoying, you have never had to face this beast.
With Pokémon Platinum announced and right around the corner, DP's days were numbered. People started to get furious about Yache Berry Garchomp (and who can blame them? You basically needed to attack the thing twice to KO it, which even with 100% accurate moves only happened 64% of the time after factoring in Sand Veil) and it was eventually voted Uber right before the release of Platinum. Although I would have loved to abuse Garchomp with Shaymin-S, the decision was probably for the best, and essentially marked the end of the DP era.
As Game Freak law dictates, no Pokémon generation is complete without a third installment; thus, Pokémon Platinum was released in September, 2008. This release was definitely a game changer. Platinum came jam-packed with new Pokémon formes, such as Shaymin-S and multiple variations of Rotom, brand new moves available to Pokémon through move tutors, and changes in some of the game's mechanics, such as the Hypnosis accuracy drop. With all these new toys to play with, everybody jumped in, putting the metagame through the biggest shift it would experience in the entire generation.
The first new addition everybody was anxious to test out was Shaymin Sky Forme, the super cool-looking counterpart to Shaymin Land Forme. Following Garchomp's secret formula combination of an odd speed tier and the element of hax, Shaymin-S was bound for success. We all thought Serene Grace Togekiss was bad, but now we had a Pokémon faster than 90% of the tier who had Serene Grace, STAB Air Slash, and a STAB Grass-type attack with an 80% chance to drop its opponent's Special Defense two stages. I cannot begin to tell you how many "sure win" matches I lost because of this damned cool-looking Pokémon. For a Pokémon with so few viable moves to choose from, this thing was very hard to prepare for. You could go with a special wall like Blissey, but good luck getting around the Substitute + Leech Seed set. With Air Slash to prevent you from healing, Shaymin-S usually came out of that matchup with full heath sitting comfortably behind a Substitute. If you plan on outspeeding it with a Choice Scarf Pokémon, good luck getting past Choice Scarf Shaymin-S. Luckily it only took us three months to decide this little bugger had to go.
One of the most interesting periods in DPPt was the short time Deoxys-S and Shaymin-S were both roaming free. You basically had two speed demons who were difficult to wall, and obviously tough to beat with offensive teams who couldn't outspeed them. Around this time, though, a new Deoxys-S set emerged and started to gain popularity: the lead set. Boasting the fastest Taunt in the game and access to Stealth Rock and Spikes, Deoxys-S was the dream lead for any offensive team. My favorite and most successful combo at the time was Deoxys-S lead + Leech Seed Protect Shaymin-S. If I could get a layer of Spikes and Stealth Rock up, it was pretty much game over. Shaymin-S would come in and Leech Seed you, followed by Protect for a total of 50% against anything switching in after factoring entry hazards. To my dismay, though, that set was what put Deoxys-S over the top, and led to its banning just a month after Platinum's release, followed by Shaymin-S shortly after.
Probably due to the excitement over Shaymin-S, it took a while for people to use the new Rotom formes. In the month of September 2008, Rotom-A was only used on less than 5% of teams (though to be fair, Platinum changes weren't implemented until late in September). Slowly but surely, though, people started recognizing the usefulness of Rotom-A's unique typing, excellent team support options, and boosted defenses (when compared to vanilla Rotom). By August of 2009, Rotom-A finally made its way into the top five most used Pokémon of the month—an accomplishment not even Shaymin-S could claim.
Arguably the biggest changes Pokémon Platinum brought to the table were the multiple new moves Pokémon could learn through move tutors. Of the new moves available, the most influential ones were Trick, Outrage, and Bullet Punch.
In the pre-Platinum metagame, Trick was a rarely available and therefore rarely used move. However, with the new move tutors, Trick has now become available to almost every Psychic- and Ghost-type Pokémon. I remember when the move tutor list came out; everybody theorymonned different Trick strategies, such as Trick Iron Ball Bronzong, Trick Toxic Orb Metagross, Trick Flame Orb Psycho Shift Cresselia, and Trick Choice Scarf Gengar. Although most of these sets eventually were brushed aside as a gimmick, the combination of Trick and a Choice item became very popular. This strategy allowed a Pokémon to pull off many roles, such as a revenge killer, an anti-stall Pokémon, and setup sweeper stopper all in one. Back when Trick was incorrectly implemented on Shoddy, it was an even more destructive move. For a while, you could Trick your Choice item onto a Pokémon who was already holding a Choice item, and then switch your move afterwards. This meant you could safely throw Trick out there without worrying about things like Choice Scarf Tyranitar ruining your day. Unfortunately, this was discovered to be a Shoddy glitch and was soon fixed. Damn Smogon Researchers and their incredible knowledge of in-game mechanics...
Along with Trick, the most hyped new move tutor move pre-Platinum release was Outrage. People talked about possibly using Outrage Gyarados, or Outrage Tyranitar, but those silly ideas were proven to be useless early on. Still, Outrage was a godsend for Pokémon who got STAB with it like Kingdra and Salamence. Kingdra, who previously only had Waterfall as a good physical option to compliment its access to Dragon Dance, now had an even better STAB physical attack to threaten people with. Although Kingdra's base Attack stat isn't too high, the coverage it got from Waterfall + Outrage, combined with its unique set of resistances and decent bulk, made it quite an underrated threat—one which would take over a year to become popularized through sets like the Chesto Rest set.
Now don't get me wrong, Kingdra with Outrage was really cool, but Salamence with Outrage was so good, it basically made people forget Kingdra even existed. What was arguably the biggest advantage Dragonite had over Salamence was no more, and the beast was unleashed. Before Platinum, the only Salamence you would ever encounter was SpecsMence. Occasionally people ran a Dragon Dance version, but for the most part that was outclassed by Dragonite, and wasn't even worth it due to the popularity of Choice Scarf Garchomp. However, in September 2008, Salamence hit the lottery: Garchomp got banned and Salamence got Outrage, all in one fell swoop. Now Salamence could hit hard on both ends of the offensive spectrum, pulling off one of the best stall breaking sets to ever exist, while also having the choice to set up a full sweep with Dragon Dance and Outrage. This incredible addition to Salamence's arsenal would eventually prove to be a curse though, down the line...
Unlike Trick and Outrage, Bullet Punch was not very hyped before Platinum's release. Sure, people caught that Scizor would get the previously unheard of STAB Technician Bullet Punch off of a 130 Base Attack, but nobody would have guessed this change would shoot Scizor to the top of the usage stats. At first, everybody was excited about the Swords Dance + Bullet Punch combo, which allowed Scizor to hit like a truck, with the strongest priority attack in the game. However, people didn't realize that there were enough Pokémon who packed a 4x resistance to Steel-type attacks to make the Swords Dance set not too successful. After all, Heatran was the most used Pokémon at the start of Platinum! As time went by, though, people drifted away from the Swords Dance set and started realizing the amazing utility the Choice Band set provided. With Choice Band, Scizor could fully utilize its natural bulk and resistances to come in and be the perfect scouter, trapper, and revenge killer. STAB Choice Band U-turn hits even Pokémon who resist it for respectable damage, and the fact that Technician boosts Pursuit if the opposing Pokémon doesn't switch out really made it hard for Pokémon to get around the little bug-ger (get it?). Finally, to round out the set, Choice Band Scizor made for the best revenge killer in the game, with that unbelievably powerful Technician and STAB boosted Bullet Punch. In a metagame heavily ruled by Dragon-type Pokémon, having all of these qualities proved to be extremely valuable. Especially since the two most used Dragon-types were Salamence, who Scizor could do over 70% to with Bullet Punch, and Latias, who doesn't have access to a Fire-type attack (bar Hidden Power) and dies to Pursuit or U-turn. Basically, all the metagame pieces happened to come together in a way that made Choice Band Scizor arguably the most useful Pokémon in the game.
As I said earlier, one of the things that made Scizor so great was the release of Latias into the OU metagame. For such a cute looking Pokémon, Latias sure knew how to wreak havoc. With its insane special bulk, great Speed, and high Special Attack, Latias could easily come in against popular threats, fire off a STAB Draco Meteor, and essentially get free KOs. Latias also has access to Trick, which made it even harder to prepare for, as Blissey was no longer safe. With a Choice Scarf, it could revenge kill pretty much every Dragon Dancer in the game. The Life Orb set also became popular, being able to KO Tyranitar switch-ins with Grass Knot and Scizor switch-ins with Hidden Power Fire. The introduction of Latias combined with Salamence getting Outrage made the metagame very centralized around preparing for and beating dragons. This is the metagame we lived through for the rest of the Platinum era.
For years, Pokémon fans begged and pleaded for the re-release of the Gold/Silver/Crystal games on the Nintendo DS. For years, Pokémon trolls spread fake rumors about GameFreak working on these titles. When the time finally came for GameFreak to officially announce HeartGold and SoulSilver, most people—including myself—literally didn't believe it. Yet, in September, 2009, GameFreak delivered—and Pokémon fans across the world had to go change their panties. Unlike Platinum, though, HeartGold and SoulSilver did not really bring much to the table in terms of new toys to experiment with in the metagame. However, since its release, Smogon itself put forth huge new changes to the metagame: the banning of Latias and Salamence.
For over a year, we tolerated the presence of Latias and Salamence in the OU environment. People had their methods of checking these threats, and the game went on as usual. However, after time, people really started figuring out how to abuse these two Pokémon on a wider scale. The blatant centralization around stopping Dragons in the OU metagame made it clear: Latias and Salamence needed to be re-evaluated as OU Pokémon. Despite making the decision ourselves to bring Latias down from Ubers, in April 2010, we officially decided to terminate Latias's OU visa and to send it back to where it belongs. At first, Latias wasn't too bad, with things like Scizor checking most variants. Most people utilized Choice Scarf Latias when it first came down, trading the ability to break through teams for the ability to have a guaranteed revenge killer. Once people realized the brute force Latias could pack through Choice Specs, though, it became increasingly hard to prepare for. Right before it was banned, there was a huge spike in Tyranitar usage, because Choice Scarf Tyranitar was the only truly reliable counter to Latias. After Latias was banned, the attention was now on Salamence. Without Latias around to check Salamence, there was really no limit to the amount of terror it could cause in OU. Only three months after the Latias decision was made, Salamence too was voted Uber, by a landslide vote of 8 to 1. Never before had two Pokémon so frequently at the top of the usage stats been banned so suddenly. Since then, we have seen some huge shifts in the metagame.
For the first time in over a year and a half, Scizor had been overthrown as the most used Pokémon in OU. Without the threat of Salamence and Latias setting up on it anymore, Heatran soon became the new king. With Scizor usage dropping, the viability of frail fast Pokémon such as Gengar started to increase again, which, combined with the discovery of the Substitute + Pain Split set, has put Gengar back in a top three spot—something it hasn't seen since the pre-Platinum days. With Latias gone, Infernape also lost its biggest threat in the metagame and has started to shoot up in usage again too. Although you can't see it on the graphs for this article, you can easily notice the increased presence of Grass-type Pokémon in the metagame. Now that Salamence is gone, Shaymin and Breloom have become top threats, which more and more people are starting to realize.
Without the overpowered and extremely threatening Dragon-type duo around, I think we have really managed to achieve balance in the 4th generation metagame. Bulkier teams are now more viable without the worry of getting set up on by Salamence or getting blasted and Tricked by Latias. Stall teams no longer fear MixMence, but still have to deal with powerful mixed sweepers like Infernape. Offensive teams can no longer hit an instant-KO button by sending out their Salamence or Latias. You no longer have to pack two to three Steel-type Pokémon to make sure you aren't completely swept by Outrage or Specs Dragon Pulse. Although I would be lying if I said that I didn't sometimes miss having the type resistances Latias used to provide, or the Intimidate and sweeping ability Salamence used to give me, I feel like the decisions we made were ultimately for the best. The variety of Pokémon who can be successful in the absence of those Dragons is huge, and that outweighs the convenience of being able to use said Pokémon.
Looking back at the 4th generation as it comes to a close, we sure have gone through a lot of changes. It was definitely fun for the most part, and I hope the 5th generation is even better. All in all, I take pride in the fact that we have finally come to what I feel is a completely balanced metagame. Thanks for the good times, DPPt. I will surely come back to visit from time to time, even after Black and White are released.
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