Broken Unsaid Rules of Pokemon Design

By Chou Toshio and Seven Deadly Sins. Art by SEO.
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Black and White introduced a lot of changes for Pokemon, from trading/battling mechanics, to Dream World abilities and of course all of the new Pokemon. This article will look at something a bit more subtle—the broken unsaid rules of Pokemon. Over 4 generations of Pokemon, we as players have come to have certain expectations about how Pokemon are designed, from the range of base stats, acceptable type combinations, to even things such as the frequency of a type used in a generation. Fifth Gen stamped on many of these unsaid rules, and drastically altered the range of what is "acceptable" in terms of Pokemon design. In this article, we will discuss the major changes that have been made, and the indicated intent of those changes, both for this metagame and for future games.

What Power Creep?

If you have ever played a trading card game (if not, try getting into The Smog's TCG articles!) you have undoubtedly come across the phrase "Power Creep." What is a Power Creep? A Power Creep occurs when, over several sets, the general standard for cards gets more and more inflated compared to previous sets. You're getting more damage for your energy, more HP, less retreat—for no real reason, in general the newer cards are simply better. This occurs mostly because it gives players incentives to buy more trading cards. You have to buy in to stay competitive.

Pokemon, as a video game, has generally been fairly good about avoiding this—even if the new Pokemon are the same level, you still have to buy the game to play into the new generation. In fact, one could even say there was a Power drop between 1st and 2nd gen, and even in the 4th gen metagame, Pokemon like Gengar, Starmie and Gyarados were top contenders. However, 3rd and 4th definitely released a lot of powerful Pokemon, and Black and White has taken a big step up.

What better place to start looking for a Power creep than at power stats? The Attack and Special Attack stats of 5th generation's non-legendary Pokemon are completely unprecedented. Remember when Rhyperior's 140 base attack shook the foundations of player's expectations and was theorymonned to be broken? Generation 4 introduced 3 new base 140 attack Pokemon to tie Rhyperior (all with arguably better typing and/or offensive stats to boot!), and the mighty Ononokusu weighing in at a whopping 147 base. Equally surprising is Shandera's 145 base Special Attack, on top of being given fantastic special STABs.

In general, the standard for offensive stats has been drastically raised, and Pokemon with 120+ base or even 130+ base ATK or Sp.ATK were much more common amongst the new Pokemon. Breaking enemy defenses has always been a challenge considering smart switching and the mechanics of combined HP and defensive stats, and that 140+ defensive stats have existed from long before. Game Freak has undeniably taken a huge step to make the game faster and more offensive, simply by virtue of uncompromisingly increasing the fundamental offensive power of the Pokemon.

It's over 9000!!

It is not just the stats of Pokemon that got boosts. The attacks also can give you better boosts. Ignoring Belly Drum and 1st Generation's (ridiculous) amnesia, all the boosting moves of the various Generations have generally abided by the rule "Only boost 2 total Stages, whatever stats are boosted". Even Curse, a move with only a net +1 stat change (+1 Defense, +1 Attack, -1 Speed), has been popular ever since it was introduced. Dragon Dance was probably the most successful boosting move in the history of 4th Generation at +1 Attack +1 Speed, with Swords Dance as a close second (though usually only successful via Priority abuse or impressive bulk and speed). Black and White ripped down the boundaries.

Tail Glow now gives a +3 boost to Special Attack. This is an uncompromised stark break from the "max 2 boost" rule previously outlined, and Tail Glow is not the only one. Other examples include Cotton Guard at +3 Defense, Coil at +1 Attack +1 Defense +1 Accuracy, and the legendary Butterfly Dance at an incredible +1 Special Attack +1 Special Defense +1 Speed. Calm Dance anyone?

Of course the mother of all these new boosting moves is Shell Break, +2 Attack -1 Defense +2 Special Attack -1 Special Defense +2 Speed. It affects 5 different stats, and does a +6 over the stats it boosts. The spread of the boosts is perfectly designed for sweeping, and can turn tank into total behemoth in a single turn. To truly appreciate the insane theory-potential of this move, just go over to the Cloyster thread and read about it 2HKOing Suicune after SR and 1hkoing Metagross with Hydro Pump on the same set.

Without question the new boosting moves of Black and White have changed our expectations for "Getting Bang for your Buck" on boosting moves.

Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting

Back in the day, when you thought about "that one type that shows up goddamn everywhere that you can't escape and there are way too many of", the automatic go-to was the Water type. In RBY, there were a whopping THIRTY-TWO Water-types (including NFE Pokemon), more than 20% of the entire pool of Pokemon. The following generations continued the trend, with 18 Water-types in GSC, and 28 in RSE. However, the more modern generations have kinda steered away from that, with only 14 Water-types in DP, and about 17 in BW.

On the other hand... the Fighting type has always been a fairly exclusive club. There were only 8 Fighting-types in RBY- the Hitmon twins, the Primeape line, the Machamp line, and Poliwrath. GSC was even stingier, adding only Heracross, Tyrogue, and Hitmontop to the type. RSE wasn't much more generous, as it only added 7 Fighting-types to the field- the Blaziken line (minus Torchic), Breloom, the Hariyama line, and the Medicham line. Throughout the generations there were four times as many Water-types as Fighting-types added to the total pool. Generation 4 helped equalize things a little bit, but not by much- Monferno/Infernape, the Toxicroak line, the Lucario line, and Gallade; 7 Fighting-types in total, and still about half as many as Water-types.

Then came Generation 5, which is apparently when Game Freak figured out that Fighting-types are actually REALLY AWESOME, and decided to not only flood the market with them, but also provide them with fairly significant buffs. There's a grand total of 15 Fighting-types added in Generation 5, including the primary "legendary trio" of the game (Terakion, Birijion, and Kobaruon). What's better is that not only are there a total of 10 fully-evolved Fighting-types in Generation 5, but nearly all of them are effective in their own right, due to their various niches. With this sudden massive influx of powerful Fighting-types, both OU and Little Cup are rapidly being shaped into metagames centered around powerful Fighting-types like Roobushin or Zuruggu.

Sorry but you're not my type!

This rule is a little more subtle, but previously Game Freak has tried to be conservative with obviously good type combinations, most notably with STAB types that have flawless or near-flawless neutral coverage. There have been a few notable breaks from this conservatism in the past including Garchomp, Flygon and Kingdra. Generally speaking though, the limitations on type-combinations, or limits on move pool to avoid abused type-combinations (Mamoswine, also see Gyarados and Gliscor's lack of good Flying moves), or base stats that severely hampered the abuse of amazing combinations (Bibarrel generally, Rhyperior wants to switch its Defense and Speed) was quite stringent. Then Fifth Generation came.

Let us start from the near-flawless dual-STAB type combos that are completely unprecedented. The most obvious of these is BoltBeam. Through all 4 generations, players have puzzled about the potential of a Pokemon that would have STAB on both Ice and Electric. Finally it's here—with Levitate no less! Rotom-F makes STAB Bolt-Beam a reality, and comes with defensive stats and ability that are decidedly competitive. Unfortunately, it doesn't get Ice Beam, so it has become BoltBlizzard. Despite Blizzard's less than attractive accuracy though, the allowance of such a Pokemon completely tramples previous expectations on acceptable type/ability combinations.

Then there is Zekrom and Reshiram. Dragon/Fire and Dragon/Electric both provide incredible STAB combinations, with Fire and Electric being unresisted by Steel-types. The former is the more destructive combo (hitting Steels super effectively), but the later has arguably better defensive typing and notably lacks a weakness to Stealth Rock. Both combinations are far removed from our notions of "acceptable" type combinations, and although GF has only given them to us in the form of legendary dragons decidedly intended for some sort of ban list, it is "one foot in the door" that may lead to more Pokemon of those type combinations in the future.

I should also mention the Fighting-types. This article has a section dedicated to talking about Fighting-types! Fighting is the decidedly best combination type in the game. Rare weaknesses (Flying and Psychic) combined with resistance to Stealth Rock, U-turn and Pursuit on top of a STAB that combos at least relatively well with almost every other type (except Ground), make almost any type better if it is combined with Fighting. In terms of revolutionary type combinations, Terrakion rocks my world and Zuruzuki sheds my preconceptions!

Rock and Fighting are incredibly well-fit STAB types, resisted only by Claydol, Toxicroak, Nidoking, Nidoqueen, Gallade, Medicham and Goruugu. Considering that Terrakion was also given defensive stats superior to Machamp, Infernape-level speed, Sand Special Defense Boost and 129 base Attack combined with STAB Stone Edge and Close Combat, I would say it is a very notable example of rule-stomping power creep. It is not even theorymonned to be dominant in this metagame either!

Zuruzukin is a build totally different from its overly-steroid-pumped brethren of Black and White, being decidedly defensively built. However it may perform this generation, it is unquestionable as to the revolutionary quality of its Dark/Fighting type combination. Before more information about BW was released, people drooled at the prospect of Zoroark perhaps being a Dark/Fighting type. Unfortunately for Zoroark, that didn't happen—but no spilt milk for Zuruzukin! Dark/Fighting can be said to be 100% superior typing to pure Dark, resisting Stealth Rock and lacking a U-turn weakness for the mere cost of a weakness to rarely seen Flying attacks. Those are just the toppings on the cake, considering that Dark/Fighting is a textbook example of near-perfect coverage, resisted only by Croagunk and Heracross. While it might not have been given the best base stats, they are definitely still competition-worthy. Zuruzukin's typing is truly remarkable, even if the rest of it is rather bland.

Even outside of near-flawless STAB combinations, there is no question that Black and White brought a lot of new competitive Pokemon with a lot of competitive type combinations to the table. We are seeing exciting new typing like Normal/Fighting, Dark/Ground, Grass/Steel, Grass/Electric, Water/Ghost, Fire/Ghost, Pure Dragon and Pure Flying just to name a few. There are also some fantastic new takes on old favorites such as Water/Fighting, Water/Electric, Bug/Steel, and Ground/Steel. There is no question that GF has become more liberal with their typing combinations!

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