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Inspired by many users who liked to create tier lists for Super Smash Bros. and Fire Emblem franchises, Pokémon In-Game Tier Lists follows a similar structure to that of Fire Emblem's. For those of you who need a lesson on the subject, Fire Emblem used tier lists to rank the characters based on how they helped clear the game efficiently. The same holds true to the in-game tier lists. There are many factors to how a Pokémon is measured with their contributions. Below are some of those instances:
There are many ways to specifically define efficiency. An efficient playthrough attempts to obtain the goal (which in this case is beating the Elite Four / Round 2 of E4 perhaps) with minimal time-consumption. The reason time is used is because it puts a major constraint on things that are usually considered inefficient. Grinding, for example, involves time being put into a Pokémon to make it stronger. While training is necessary in order to beat the game, there are some ways that it can be taken to the point where it is "too much". For example, you could have a Pidgeot in Yellow after you beat Lt. Surge, though chances are you put so much time into that Pidgeot that either the rest of your team is severely weakened or you over prepared for the situation since Lt. Surge can easily be beaten with a Diglett / Dugtrio. Grinding is needed for certain Pokémon such as BW Monozo as it evolves at Level 50 and then Level 62. Considering that pre-Elite Four teams are likely nearing Level 50 at that point, the best you can get Monozo at completing the game is at its second stage. In order to reach Stage 3, it would require massive grinding. That is obviously inefficient for the team in general, so it is ranked much lower than Pokémon that require less input for roughly equal output.
There are other ways that a Pokémon can show negative traits to an efficient playthrough. Furthermore Pokémon that have low experience growths can prove troublesome. Magikarp is a great example for this. Being that it's in the Slow experience group, it takes longer for it to get to the next level in comparison to a Rattata of the same level. There is also spending time away from the task of completing the game in order to get rare TMs from the Game Corner, or even obtain the Pokémon. This can be considered a negative to many people since it involves time for reward. There are some cases, such as HGSS Dratini, where it's not a terrible idea to at least go for the Pokémon, but as it is in no way required, it can be seen as a negative. Availability is important, since the earlier you can get a strong Pokémon the better. Strong Pokémon that join late in the game can be seen negative to a certain degree. Not that they are a negative, per se, but that they have less time to show their potential in comparison to Pokémon that joined earlier in the game. BW Zekrom and Reshiram are good examples. Notice that they are probably the most powerful Pokémon in the game; however, they have a grand total of two battles to show their worth. This means that Zekrom and Reshiram could be seen as Low Tier material despite having clear aspects of a High Tier Pokémon.
The (usual) exceptions to a Pokémon being negatives involve finding and capturing the Pokémon, as it simply makes the list much more complicated than it usually is. While HGSS Scyther can be seen as "rare", that doesn't specifically determine Scyther's performance throughout the game, which is what the tier list ranks. In other words, the tier list assumes that you are using the Pokémon throughout the game, whether it's for a short time or the entire game. With regards to roaming Pokémon, it's best to assume that you're not catching some of them for a while since their capture rate is so high. Usually people assume around the time you obtain the Master Ball since it makes capturing the Pokémon possible.
To summarize it nicely, "efficiency" should involve minimal input for a greater output. While the game can be played merely for fun (as even I enjoy playing games without being efficient), an In-Game Tier List does not take "fun" into account as being a desire in a playthrough. Merely, the desire is to beat the game as quickly and effortlessly as possible. This does not mean the person must be completely efficient to the point where everything is a carbon copy of one another. A person is not barred to do everything efficiently to the point where it is the only option. Rather, some flexibility should be shown to give the Pokémon and the player an increased odds of beating the game. In other words, while it is technically inefficient to train BW Yanapuu or go for the extra unnecessary level or two to learn a certain attack with another Pokémon or even to evolve your Pokemon, you can still be efficient with completing the game even if it is slightly inefficient in comparison to the person who is "absolutely efficient".
Top Tier - HGSS Scyther
This Pokémon is a prime example of what a Top Tier Pokémon should roughly look like. Scyther is available right after the second gym and has a Medium Fast growth rate. Scyther boasts base 110 Attack and 105 Speed with moderate defenses. Scyther's ability, Technician, takes any move that has 60 Base Power or lower and increase the Base Power x1.5. This makes moves such as Rock Smash an acceptable 60 Base Power while Wing Attack becomes an impressive 90 Base Power move. Its dual STABs are incredible for the Elite Four standards. 12 Pokémon in the Elite Four are weak to Bug- and Flying-type attacks, out of a grand total of 26 Pokémon. That's almost half of the Elite Four. Some Pokémon, such as Murkrow and Gengar, are frail enough to be taken down with Wing Attack.
High Tier - BW Aaken
Aaken is pretty good example for a High Tier Pokémon. It has a few aspects that can be seen from a Top Tier Pokémon; however, it has flaws much like the lower tiered Pokémon. Aaken has a sick base Attack of 112 and Speed of 70. It boasts STAB AncientPower (which is backed by 74 base Special Attack) and Rock Tomb. It quickly learns Acrobat 3 levels after obtaining it. While Aaken must sacrifice not using an item, Acrobat has 110 Base Power behind it. Aaken has a Medium Fast growth rate, which helps alleviate the item problem later on when Lucky Egg is available. It's able to learn Dig as a TM which compliments its Rock-type attacks. Once Rock Slide is available, Aaken is rocking with Rock Slide / Acrobat / Dig, which is pretty much all it needs. Hell, once it evolves, Aaken's base Attack stat skyrockets to base 140 and its base Speed is 110; truly a feat that is difficult to overcome.
Its problems that prevent it from becoming a Top Tier Pokémon? First, there's Rock Tomb's reliance for a while. AncientPower will cut some of the problem, but Rock Tomb's accuracy is, to bluntly put it, ass. This invokes a second problem; Aaken's ability. Even though Aaken is pretty frail, Faint-Hearted makes the situation worse when Aaken loses health. If Aaken ever goes below 50% health, its Attack and Special Attack stats are cut in half. This means Aaken must KO the opposition before it ever takes a hit.
Mid Tier - RBY Magikarp
Once again, perhaps not the best example, but a decent one nevertheless. What makes a Pokémon that evolves into Gyarados rank so low? As we discussed earlier in the thread, Magikarp involves a lot of grinding in order to even reach its second stage. While Level 20 seems early for an awesome evolution, Magikarp has a lot of issues getting there. First, it knows zero moves that do damage until Level 15, when it learns Tackle. Even when it does learn Tackle, it's coming off of a base 10 Attack stat. No, you definitely heard that right. That's how pathetic it is. Magikarp is also in the Slow experience group, which makes it twice of a pain in the ass to train. Finally, it doesn't even come at a decent level. The old man's Magikarp comes at Level 5, while the Old Rod Magikarp comes at Level 10. You can catch Gyarados in Yellow, but it comes in Fuchsia City, which at worst might bump it up to Lower Mid or even Mid Tier.
Even when Magikarp evolves into Gyarados, Gyarados heavily relies on TMs and HMs for attacks. Its entire learning movepool once Magikarp evolves is Bite, Dragon Rage, Leer, Hydro Pump, and Hyper Beam. Out of those attacks, Dragon Rage and Bite have some use early in the game, but wear off quickly. Hydro Pump comes off a good 100 Special, but is learned at Level 41. Hyper Beam might as well be a distance away. Still, its TM movepool is by no means terrible. Surf is a good HM for it to learn while it has access to Bubblebeam as soon as you beat Misty. Thunderbolt comes with Lt. Surge, Fire Blast comes after you beat Blaine, and Blizzard is in the Lab in Cinnabar Island. Gyarados's movepool heavily relies on TM / HM support, but it definitely has the stats to make use of those moves.
Low Tier - GSC Jynx
Jynx is a Pokémon that joins rather late; just before the 8th Gym. Jynx does have a couple perks that makes her "okay" to use. First off, the 8th Gym consists of Dragon-types (and Horsea / Seadra). Jynx has access to two moves: Lovely Kiss and Ice Punch. Lovely Kiss allows Jynx to incapacitate a threat for a short period of time. Ice Punch is Jynx's main STAB of choice. Backed by her 115 Special Attack and 95 Speed, she can outspeed many threats and knock them senseless. It has access to Shadow Ball, which helps Jynx knock down Wil's teammates that don't take super effective damage from Ice Punch. Sadly, there are only two situations where it does well: against Clair and Lance. Jynx's late availability and minimal uses do enough to keep her from going very high in the tier lists, but is not exactly a complete deadweight.
Bottom Tier - GSC Porygon
This is probably the best example next to BW Monozo and GSC / FRLG Larvitar. First, think of Pokémon that join the team late in the game. Now, think of a Pokémon that takes a lot of grinding to even become "acceptable". The reason I chose Porygon? It has the added bonus of being rather useless due to needing a trade and costing 9,999 coins.
There are likely other examples that could be better than the ones I chosen, though it's merely for rough examples.
Now you have a little bit of knowledge with an In-Game Tier List, you might have a clearer understanding of how they work. Next time when partaking in them, remember that the goal of a tier list is completing the game, but doing it efficiently. They can be fun to participate and debate in, but always remember to keep a cool head while doing so.
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