OU Playstyle Analysis: Rain Offense

By Trinitrotoluene. Art by Magistrum.
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Rain offense has always been a potent playstyle, as Kyogre and the Swift Swimmers of the Uber tier can attest. However, before the advent of Pokemon Black and White, there was no reliable Drizzle inducer in OU. Now, thanks to the Dream World, we have access to a Drizzle inducer that's actually legal in OU. So, who won Kyogre's ability? None other than Politoed, arguably the most forgettable Pokemon in competitive history. This gift from Arceus is probably the sole reason why Politoed has rapidly shot its way up from the abyss of NU to the apex of OU, bringing an armada of threats with it. This article is an attempt to look into how the main threats in rain offense have changed over time.

Phase I: Start of BW to Aldaron's Proposal

Notable Threats

Politoed Kingdra Kabutops Omastar Ludicolo

Notable Checks and Counters

Tyranitar Ferrothorn Shaymin-S Virizion Jellicent

At the start of BW, the clause best known today as Aldaron's Proposal did not exist, allowing Politoed, which had recently acquired Drizzle, to be used with Pokemon that had Swift Swim. This was a match made in whatever is the Pokemon equivalent of heaven. With permanent rain from Politoed up, the Swift Swim buddies could easily tear OU apart with what essentially was double STAB moves. At the forefront of all this was Kingdra, which had STABs that were only resisted by Shedinja, Empoleon, and the newcomer Ferrothorn, which had just begun to establish itself as a stalwart defensive bulwark capable of almost single-handedly stopping the rush of Swift Swimmers. Kingdra could simply abuse a potent Choice Specs set that was incredibly difficult to switch into or it could go physical and abuse Dragon Dance, which was impossible to outpace unless you had an opposing weather inducer, hard to wall unless you had a Ferrothrn or Empoleon, and a massive shock for Kingdra's usual checks and counters.

Not far behind Kingdra were Kabutops, Omastar, and Ludicolo, all of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. Kabutops was powerful on the physical side, and it could carry either Superpower to give Ferrothorn a hard knock on the head or Aqua Jet to thwart attempts at using priority to revenge kill it. This also came with Water / Rock STAB, which hit most of the OU tier hard. Omastar boasted the same Rock / Water STAB as Kabutops, but hit incredibly hard with special attacks, weakening the opponent for the rest of the team. With Shell Smash, Omastar could even transform itself into a sweeper that was even harder to wall than Kingdra. Ludicolo boasted the ability to threaten the bulky Water-types that could slow down its teammates with its Grass STAB. While any of them alone posed as a threat, a combination of at least two of them alongside Politoed made for a potent offensive core that could easily overwhelm Ferrothorn, Jellicent, and any bulky Water-types, thus allowing them to drown their opposition in a flood that was nigh-on impossible to hold back.

The best way to curb the flood then was to pack an opposing weather inducer like Tyranitar, which quickly gained popularity thanks to the Special Defense boost sand gave it; Ninetales, whose Drought actually inverted many of the benefits Drizzle brought to them; and Abomasnow, which actually resisted the Water-type STAB moves thrown around by the Swift Swimmers. However, Abomasnow had to use a Choice Scarf to outpace the Swift Swimmers and Tyranitar could not switch in directly, lest it be 2HKOed in short order. Opposing weather abusers were also difficult for this core to face if the team lost the weather war. In addition to the weather inducers and weather abusers that followed them, Ferrothorn was a gigantic thorn for Drizzle + Swift Swim teams to get past (in both the figurative and literal sense), as were Jellicent and other bulky Water-types that could take a hit and retaliate with burn or poison. Ferrothorn could exploit its Grass / Steel typing to come in on resisted Water-type moves and create havoc with two of Stealth Rock / Spikes / Leech Seed, stopping the Swift Swimmers from doing as they pleased. Shaymin-S was also a problem for rain offense because it could either take the route of an annoyer with a SubSeed set or outpace the Swift Swimmers with a Choice Scarf set, all while packing incredible STAB in the form of Seed Flare and Air Slash. Virizion was an anti-metagame menace at the time, exploiting its massive Special Defense and Water resistance to set up Calm Minds and eventually clean up rain teams. Jellicent was another Pokemon these teams dreaded facing, thanks to Water Absorb, a massive Special Defense stat, and a movepool that had everything Jellicent could ever need to act as a special wall that was near-impossible to break, including access to reliable recovery.

In a short time, Drizzle + Swift Swim teams proved to be so dominant that a special clause proposed by Aldaron, which banned the combination of Drizzle and Swift Swim on the same team, was approved just to maintain rain offense's legality in the OU tier, breaking ground as the first complex ban established by Smogon. This marked the end of the era of Politoed and the Swift Swim buddies, and the herald of a new era marked by incredibly powerful special attacking threats.

Phase II: Manaphy Ban to Thundurus Ban

Notable Threats

Politoed Manaphy Thundurus Toxicroak Rotom-W

Notable Checks and Counters

Gastrodon Jirachi Celebi Ferrothorn Dragonite

After the passage of Aldaron's Proposal, rain offense took a serious hit as Politoed was forbidden from dancing with any of the Swift Swimmers it formerly cavorted with. At the same time, Manaphy, which had hit a simple pro-ban majority in Round 1 of Suspect Testing, suddenly rose to the center of attention as the fresh prince of rain offense. With the rain active, Manaphy boasted an immunity to status, allowing it to abuse a free 100% recovery move in the form of Rest with no drawbacks attached to it. Combine that with two equally potent setup moves in Tail Glow, which was buffed in Black and White to give a three stage boost to Special Attack, and Calm Mind, and Manaphy became an unpredictable menace. These two moves allowed Manaphy to take a path either as a raging tempest that could decimate many teams after a single turn of setup or a juggernaut that Chansey and Blissey, the two most notable special walls in OU, were powerless against.

Thundurus, one of the best rain abusers to pop up after Manaphy's departure from OU, proved to be no slouch, eagerly filling the void Manaphy left in OU. With Prankster, Thundurus could act as a potent Nasty Plot sweeper, abusing Prankster to amplify its Special Attack from just above average to mind-rattling in one turn. It also didn't help Thundurus's opposition that the rain raised Thunder's accuracy from Focus Blast levels to Aura Sphere levels, allowing it to use the more powerful Thunder over Thunderbolt while maintaining the same consistency. While being a monstrous sweeper was by far Thundurus's best role, access to both Thunder Wave and Prankster allowed it to play the role of the annoyer, slowing down threats so slower teammates could run more freely. Speaking of annoyances, Toxicroak, one of the most frustrating Pokemon to face under the rain, made its shining debut around this time. With Dry Skin, it could switch into Water-type moves aimed at its teammates and use certain critical aspects of rain stall, such as Politoed, Jellicent, and Tentacruel, as setup fodder. During this time, since Drain Punch and Ice Punch on the same moveset for Toxicroak was illegal, Toxicroak mainly ran a Swords Dance set with Cross Chop, Sucker Punch, and Ice Punch for coverage. While Rotom-W was popular as a bulky supporter, it really came into its own as an offensive Scarfer during this period of time. This change in thought can be attributed to the rising popularity of the quintessential VoltTurn core that it formed with Scizor, which placed immediate pressure on any opposing walls. Rain support worked especially well with this core since it ameliorated Scizor's Fire weakness and bolstered Rotom-W's Hydro Pump at the same time.

This massive change in the constitution of sweepers brought with it equally large changes in the main bulwarks against rain offense. Gastrodon, a Pokemon once shut away in RU, crawled its up to OU thanks to its immunity to Thundurus's STAB, as well as its ability to exploit the boosted Water-type attacks rain teams tended to abuse back then with the newly-buffed Storm Drain, which simultaneously boosted Gastrodon's Special Attack. While it was always a popular Pokemon, Jirachi really received its calling as one of the most annoying special walls in this era thanks to its ability to consistently paralyze Thundurus and many other potent sweepers with Body Slam, which Jirachi could use even after being Taunted. Jirachi could then slowly and painfully whittle away at Thundurus's health with Iron Head, which, in conjunction with paralysis and the flinch chance boosted by Serene Grace, gave Jirachi the ability to effectively immobilize Thundurus and any other paralyzed targets. Alternatively, Jirachi could go on a more offensive tangent and create 101 HP substitutes behind which it could use Calm Mind in relative safety, often getting to +6 and sweeping rain offense teams with ease. Celebi made its debut as an offensive rain counter during this time, exploiting its resistance to Water- and Electric-type moves and access to Nasty Plot and potent Grass STAB in the form of Giga Drain to really put the pressure on opposing rain teams. Psychic and Hidden Power Fire also kept Thundurus and Ferrothorn from using it as setup fodder, making it even more difficult for rain offense teams to beat. Ferrothorn was just as potent a threat to these new rain threats as it was to the Swift Swimmers, and its method for keeping them down remained the same. Multiscale made Dragonite much more of a terror to these rain teams, allowing it to evade OHKOs it normally could not and acquire a Dragon Dance boost so it could clean up shop against teams that lacked a Ferrothorn or had theirs KOed before Dragonite appeared on the field. However, a Dragon Dance set was not the only way to run Dragonite, as a Choice Band set could cause equally copious amounts of damage, thanks to Outrage, which did the slower non-Steels in, and ExtremeSpeed, which kept faster threats from sweeping. Dragonite could even run a specially-based set and exploit Hurricane's and Thunder's boosted accuracy in rain.

Unfortunately (or fortunately for the rest of OU), Manaphy's reign as prince of the seas was not to last, since it earned two pro-Uber simple majorities in rounds 1 and 2 of OU suspect testing, sending it away for what might be the rest of BW OU. The pro-Uber simple majority Thundurus received in round 4 of OU suspect testing was the death knell for its time in OU, and a pro-Uber super majority vote it received in round 5 of OU suspect testing sealed the deal for Thundurus, casting it away to the Uber tier. An era of rain offense dominated by those two came to a close and left the metagame in a state where VoltTurn offense would be predominant.

Phase III: Advent of BW2 to Tornadus-T ban

Notable Threats

Politoed Tornadus-T Thundurus-T Genesect Keldeo

Notable Checks and Counters

Jirachi Latias Rotom-W Gothitelle Kyurem-B

The advent of Pokemon Black and White's sequels brought about nearly nothing but benefits for rain offense. The Therians shook up the OU metagame, leaving their Incarnate counterparts in the dust. In particular, Tornadus, the oft-forgotten member of the Kami trio, took the metagame by storm, exploiting its natural Speed and access to devastating STAB in Hurricane. Also, thanks to Regenerator, Tornadus-T could outlive its counters and sweep in the late-game when its counters were weakened by constantly switching into Hurricanes and taking residual damage alongside it. Regenerator also allowed it freedom from Rapid Spin support, something which set it apart from its avian brethren, and gave Tornadus-T the freedom to run a mixed attacking set with Life Orb, as Regenerator could heal off any passive damage. Of course, this isn't even factoring in how it could run a set that utilized Choice Specs, which allowed Tornadus-T to do what it did best: spam powerful Hurricanes.

While Tornadus-T wrested command of the OU metagame, its other Therian brethren should not be forgotten. Thundurus-T boasted a Special Attack stat higher than anything else in OU, making it perfectly suited for an Agility set, which could sweep through more offensive teams in the blink of an eye. Thundurus-T could also use Nasty Plot to throw more defensive teams for a loop, and it could even run both boosting moves together to make for a sweeper that can give all sorts of teams trouble. Genesect, despite being a more iconic presence on sun teams, also made rain teams much more dangerous to deal with, as it could form a powerful offensive core with Tornadus-T. In addition, Genesect could also cause some havoc of its own by exploiting the accuracy boost Thunder gets in the rain as well as the weakening of Fire-type moves in the rain, granting it more opportunities to set up a Rock Polish and sweep. Keldeo, despite being the last of the newcomers mentioned, was certainly not the least to worry about. Its Water STAB left plenty to fear for more offensive teams, and the boost rain gave to it meant that even some Pokemon that resisted Water-type moves could be swept under the waves rather easily. Secret Sword, whose mechanics are exactly the same as Psyshock, assured Keldeo that Chansey and Blissey would not be eager to switch in, giving it more freedom to abuse its Water STAB. Choice items were a natural fit on Keldeo, since it resisted Stealth Rock and blasted Water-type moves most of the time, but Calm Mind sets were used as well, since they gave Keldeo the opportunity to sweep.

Needless to say, Tornadus-T's entry into OU forced another change in the sea breaks against rain offense. Jirachi, which debuted in the previous phase, really made its name known in this phase due to being one of the few Pokemon with the defenses necessary to take Tornadus-T's Hurricanes that had access to semi-reliable recovery in Wish. In addition, Jirachi could also set up Stealth Rock, which limited Tornadus-T's time on the field, and paralyze with Body Slam, rendering Tornadus-T useless. Latias, once overshadowed by her male counterpart's offensive prowess, found her calling as a fast offensive Pokemon Thundurus-T and Keldeo could not get past without a boost to their Special Attack, a super effective Hidden Power, and a few rounds of residual damage. Meanwhile, Latias could fire off a Draco Meteor or Psyshock and recover off the residual damage, assuring her opponents that she would always be back for more punishment. Rotom-W relinquished its more offensive role as a VoltTurner to take on a niche as a more offensive Tornadus-T counter, thanks to the boosts Hydro Pump and Thunder get in the rain. Thunder Wave sealed the deal as it could cripple the fastest of Tornadus-T. The release of Shadow Tag Gothitelle now presented a direct threat to Politoed itself, due to Gothitelle's access to Thunderbolt and presence on teams with weathers other than rain. Kyurem-B's descent from the Uber tier to the OU tier gave rain teams massive problems due to its bulk, which is on par with that of many established walls in OU, resistance to Water- and Electric-type moves, incredible offenses, and concise movepool, which has everything it needs to devastate rain offense.

However, this phase was not to last, for the same forces that brought Kyurem-B down to OU would move again. Their first move was to ban Genesect, which centralized the metagame around itself. This ban, while disastrous, didn't exactly hurt rain offense as much as the next ban did. As expected, Tornadus-T was banned next, thanks to its nearly perfect combination of traits, which pushed it over the top and into the Uber tier.

Closing Words

Today, rain offense is still a popular playstyle, thanks to its ease of use and reliability. However, more threats than ever keep it in check. Several threats not mentioned in this article, such as Breloom, Kingdra, and Amoonguss, give rain offense problems, as do opposing weather inducers and trappers. So, where are we right now, and what will happen in the future? As for where we are at the moment, we're at a time and place where rain offense is not overwhelmingly better than every other playstyle out there. Regarding the latter, I'd say that rain offense is a permanent fixture in OU, regardless of whether or not people actually like it. It's definitely one of the best playstyles out there, and I can't see it go away unless it's brought up for suspect voting, which is another can of worms that I'd rather not bring up in this article. To bring this article to a close, I'd like to thank you for reading this somewhat lengthy analysis that just touches upon the threats used in and against rain offense.

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