The Top 10 Mechanical Changes to Competitive Pokémon

By Jellicent. Art by Bummer.
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gengar attacking golem


With every generation, there comes a whole slew of new Pokémon and moves that shape the metagame. More importantly, every generation has brought to the table new gameplay mechanics that redefine just how competitive Pokémon is played. As XY quickly approaches, and with it likely whole new mechanics that will change the face of the metagame, I'd like to take a look at the 10 most important mechanical changes to competitive Pokémon throughout history.

10: Explosion Nerf

How things were: Prior to BW, Explosion cut the opponent's Defense in half when calculating damage, essentially giving it 500 Base Power (340 in RBY). To put that into perspective, think about getting hit with Earthquake...5 times in a row...Explosion was that powerful. It was often worth sacrificing your own Pokémon because it ended up a one-for-one trade most of the time. Explosion gave special sweepers like Heatran, Gengar, and Exeggutor a way to break through dedicated special walls like Blissey. Other Pokémon, like Azelf or Metagross, would set up Stealth Rock, dish out as much damage as they could, and finish things off with a bang. Walls like Bronzong used the move to actually do some serious damage and give a free switch in to a teammate after setting up whatever they needed to. Selfdestruct was a weaker alternative, boasting essentially 400 Base Power (260 in RBY); it was a rare sight outside of Snorlax, which lacked Explosion, but at least it got STAB.

How BW would play without this change: The metagame would be much more offensive. Not only would the aforementioned Pokémon be carrying Explosion, but a variety of new BW Pokémon could utilize the move as well. With old Explosion mechanics, an uninvested Ferrothorn would OHKO standard defensive Ninetales, for instance. Reuniclus could make use of it on its OTR set, blowing up as the Trick Room timer ends. Landorus would have it as a supplement to both physical and special sets; with base 125 Attack, Landorus would be sure to bring something down with it. Some lower tier threats like Cryogonal and Garbodor could also take advantage of the move. Explosion had always been a prominent part of the metagame before BW, and if it weren't for this mechanic change, we'd still be blowing up our Pokémon on each other to this day.

9: Whirlwind / Roar Buff

How things were: Way back in RBY, Whirlwind and Roar had no effect against another player. They were both 100% pointless moves that saw zero competitive usage. Splash at least had more PP. GSC fixed this and brought with it phazing as we all know and love. The two moves suddenly had three very nice reasons to be used. First off, a set-up sweeper could be forced out, losing the boosts it had just acquired. Secondly, it disrupts the opponent's game plan, forcing in a Pokémon to a potentially undesirable match-up. Finally, there's entry hazards. Chip damage is always fun, and entry hazards just keep growing in prominence.

How BW would play without this change: Offense would be a lot more dominant, for one. Stall teams rely on phazing for momentum and chip damage; without these moves, they'd be crippled. Set-up sweepers would be monsters to deal with, as there would be no easy way to force them out. You could use the rare Perish Song, but they still get to smack around your team for 2 turns before switching to whatever they want. BW introduced Dragon Tail and Circle Throw, so it would be less affected than the three prior generations. Still, if the opponent's behind a Substitute, it's a lost cause. I'm gonna have to just move on; this is making my Skarmory cry.

8: Critical Hit Rates

How things were: Back in RBY, Pokémon didn't all share a 6.25% chance to land a critical hit. Instead, the formula was base Speed * Level / 512. Let's take a look at a Pokémon we all know and love, Alakazam. It has an impressive base 120 Speed. That means that at Level 100, Alakazam is looking at: 120*100/512=23.4375. So, 23.4375% of the time, Alakazam is getting a critical hit. Did I mention that Tauros, Alakazam, Starmie, and Gengar are everywhere in RBY? If you've ever bitched about getting nailed with a critical hit, go play some RBY and learn to be a real man.

How BW would play without this change: Oh, hi Latios! What a nice 21.5% chance to get a critical hit you have there. That 21.1% chance to crit ain't too shabby, either, Terrakion. Oh, what's that you say? You always get a critical hit when Stone Edge lands? Too bad it only has 80% accuracy. Seriously, BW would be such a fast-paced, crit-filled, rage-inducing metagame, the Policy Review forum would explode. At least that Explosion would be nerfed ;)

7: Physical / Special Split

How things were: Prior to DPP, a move was physical or special based on its type. Specifically, all Dark, Dragon, Electric, Fire, Grass, Ice, Psychic, and Water attacks were special; similarly, all Bug, Fighting, Flying, Ghost, Ground, Normal, Poison, Rock, and Steel attacks were physical. This was very limiting for coverage on both physical and special sweepers. Gyarados's best STAB, for instance, was Hidden Power Flying; on the other hand, Gengar would rather throw around an Ice Punch than a Shadow Ball.

How BW would play without this change: Many common moves in the various BW metagames these days would function completely differently. Outrage, Waterfall, Ice Shard, Pursuit, Crunch, Dragon Claw, Seed Bomb, Bullet Seed, Sucker Punch, Flare Blitz, Icicle Crash, Power Whip, Dragon Tail, V-create, Bolt Strike, Zen Headbutt, Icicle Spear, Wild Charge, Wood Hammer, the elemental punches and fangs, etc. would all be special attacks. Meanwhile, Shadow Ball, Hurricane, Focus Blast, Sludge Wave, Aura Sphere, Bug Buzz, Earth Power, Tri Attack, Flash Cannon, Air Slash, Sludge Bomb, and half of the Hidden Power types would be physical attacks. The many users of these moves would either need the ability to go mixed or find completely new forms of coverage. It's hard to imagine just what the OU metagame would look like without this change, but it would certainly be a lot different.

6: Team Preview

How things were: Prior to BW, you couldn't see your opponent's team at the start of the battle. Going into the match, there was an air of mystery surrounding the majority of their team. All you knew at the start was what their lead was, and you had to hope your lead matched well against it. This could be advantageous, as you could hide away that surprise sweeper, lure out and remove its counters, and then strike when the opponent least suspected it. On the other hand, if their last hidden Pokémon was a surefire counter to yours...

How BW would play without this change: First off, we'd be back to a lead metagame. That means dedicated leads, anti-leads, etc. that exist solely to start your team off on the right foot or trip up your opponent. Past threats like Azelf, Aerodactyl, Machamp, and Swampert would probably regain their old status in OU. Also, scouting would be more crucial than ever. You need to know what you're up against before implementing your final strategy, so phazing and clever switching would be even more important. And you thought VoltTurn was annoying already...

5: Introduction of Items

How things were: Prior to GSC, there weren't any items. No Leftovers, no Life Orb, no Choice Scarf, nothing. RBY was just Pokémon bare-knuckle boxing.

How BW would play without this change: The metagame would be a lot more predictable, if nothing else. When you see a Terrakion, you'd no longer be wondering if it had Choice Scarf, Choice Band, Life Orb, Rock Gem, whatever. It could still run surprise moves, but it wouldn't have any items that could throw you off. No items would be boring.

4: Special Stat Split

How things were: Yet another major change courtesy of GSC, the Special Attack and Special Defense stats were one and the same back in RBY. Known simply as Special, it made a Pokémon's ability to dish out special attacks equal to its ability to take them. This meant that Alakazam was actually a fast special wall thanks to that base 135 Special. On the flip side, Gyarados could fire off strong Blizzards from its base 100 Special. The best special attackers were also the best special walls, which caused special sweepers in general to be their own best counters.

How BW would play without this change: If you liked Magic Guard Alakazam before, try giving it base 135 Special Defense as well. Blissey would no longer be setup bait, as it would be working with the equivalent of base 135 Special Attack. Regice with base 200 Special could single-handedly save hail. If Shuckle got 230 Special, its STAB AncientPower would do some real damage, especially if it got the stat boost. Earth Power would give it that nifty EdgeQuake-esque coverage. The Exeggutor would've gotten to keep her original username!

3: Introduction of Abilities

How things were: Prior to ADV, Pokémon simply didn't have abilities. Pokémon were defined by just their stats, typing, and movepool. Weather existed in GSC, but without abilities to automatically summon it and other abilities to get the most out of it, it was gimmicky at best. Wasteful is probably more accurate. Oh, and Gengar was weak to Ground.

How BW would play without this change: No more weather wars, for one. Pokemon that rely solely on their abilities, such as Politoed, Dugtrio, Ninetales, Venusaur, Alakazam, Gastrodon, etc. would all fade back into obscurity. Slaking, Regigigas, and Archeops would be looking pretty fly, though. Much like the case with items, the game would be more stale without abilities. Oh, and Rotom-W would be weak to Ground.

2: ADV's Stat Overhaul

How things were: Back in RBY and GSC, Pokémon could fully invest in each stat. Natures, along with the current IV and EV system, didn't exist until ADV. Instead, everything had offenses, bulk, and Speed maxed. This made for a much more defensive metagame overall. Speed was probably the stat that played most differently. Speed tiers boiled down to which Pokémon had a higher base Speed, and the concept of Speed creeping was nonexistent. We didn't even have Choice Scarf back then!

How BW would play without this change: The metagame would slow down a lot, as everything would be packing more bulk. Bulky offense would reign supreme, as Pokémon that currently have to choose between Speed, power, and bulk could suddenly pack all three. Mixed attackers would also be more effective in general. Tanks like Snorlax, Zapdos, and Swampert would likely make their way back into OU. Ladder matches would probably take forever, since stall would likely be popular as well. No one wants to wait a couple hundred turns before getting haxed anyway.

1: GSC's Type Chart Changes

How things were: Back in RBY, Bug and Poison were super effective against each other, Ice was neutral against Fire, Bug was neutral against Ghost, and Psychic was immune to Ghost. Furthermore, Dark and Steel were nonexistent. This means Psychic was only weak to Bug, though the strongest Bug attack, Twineedle, wasn't doing much, especially coming from Beedrill (who was weak to Psychic to boot). Also, nothing resisted Dragon, though Dragon Rage wasn't winning any awards.

How BW would play without this change: Nothing would resist Dragon. Forget 4Drag2Mag. You could just run 6Drag and blast holes in everything. Psychic spam would also be effective, as the only thing that would resist Psychic would be Psychic. Ice- and Bug-types would be more common, as they could potentially pick off Dragons and Psychics. That said, Dragons and Psychics would be their own best counters, so they'd still be the most dominant. The entire metagame would boil down to mindless attack spamming and revenge killing. Well, even more so than it is now...


With every new generation, Game Freak introduces new mechanics that completely alter how we play the game. We have a lot more than new moves, abilities, items, and Pokémon to look forward to in XY; we'll likely be getting metagame-defining mechanical changes as well. Changes to stats, status, and move mechanics have happened multiple times throughout the generations, so don't get too comfortable with those. Something as game-changing as items or abilities could be introduced, and we could even get a new type or two. XY will be a whole new generation, and you can expect it to play like one.

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