Post-Launch Old Pokemon Patches and The Problems They Currently/Could Later Present For Smogon Tiers

Yung Dramps

awesome gaming
is a Pre-Contributor
Ever since the announcement of Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra, the two Expansion Passes for Sword and Shield that in conjunction promise to add 200+ old Pokemon back to the games as a free update including formerly snapped cornerstones like Garchomp, Landorus, the Tapus and Chansey, I've been noticing a bit of a dilemma has been caused by this major news. The current framework and timeline for SWSH tiers was built under the assumption the current Galar Pokedex + the handful of foreign Pokemon found in the code would be all that would ever be available for use. But now with these big updates on the horizon that are sure to cause titanic shake-ups and dramatically raise the average power level of all the main tiers (particular Crown Tundra, which'll seemingly bring back just about every old legendary), there is now an unforeseen motivation issue for the development of our current metas. After all, what's the point of learning the current main formats, building up resources and developing them further when we're essentially going to have to start from scratch within half a year?

In the past we have had to deal with "enhanced editions" and other games in a generation like Ultra Sun and Moon and Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire adding in move tutors, sometimes a handful of new Pokemon and forms as well. We have also had brief metas like the pre-Bank XY and SM formats where we were temporarily constrained to the regional Pokedexes before we could bring in everything else. But these Expansion Passes largely throw these precedents out of the window: New games within a generation have never added literally hundreds of Pokemon old and new at once (except for one instance, but we'll talk about that later), and while this can be compared to the transition between pre and post-Bank metagames, there are two major differences: The time spent and what is being added.

Before the release of Pokemon Bank for Gens 6 and 7, there was only roughly 2-3 months of waiting before the software released for those gens and we could import the old Pokemon in. In addition, due to knowing for sure everything not already in their Regional Pokedexes would return, we could already begin operating post-Bank formats to at least get a pretty good idea of how the metagames would shape after that service released. Compare this to the wait for these DLCs: 7 months for Isle of Armor if counted from the time of Sword and Shield's release and over a year until Crown Tundra if counted from that same time. That is far more time being pumped into what are essentially temporary metas that are doomed to be scrapped. In addition, since only a certain selection of new Pokemon are being added (which ones precisely being currently unknown) rather than everybody, as well as having to factor in TRs AND move tutors that are set to be added, we can't possibly engineer a traditional preliminary post-DLC OU unless there were to be big leaks for both DLCs well before launch. And this may be far from the last time we have to deal with a tricky scenario: Dexit will likely never be fully repealed, and if these sorts of DLC that in a borderline unmanageable amount of things at once become the new norm rather than traditional third versions. If this formula repeats, from this point on forth we could have to deal with longer than normal "dead zones" where the launch meta is basically irrelevant as we wait with bated breath for the DLCs to come months-a year down the road so we can play the "real" OU meta, now with less time to properly tier due to the prolonged wait. And none of that's not even going into how these updates could upset bans from the pre-DLC metas that may have to be retested (e.g. UU seeing a big power level increase post-DLC and having to worry about debating retesting stuff like Crawdaunt and Obstagoon).

So, here we are with a Sword and Shield tiers that essentially have an expiration date, said date causing great discouragement among players. Now, there's two big questions to be asked here.

1. Is this really a problem we should try to figure out a "solution" to?

I've rambled on about how the problems these new circumstances cause for Smogon players and how there's a good likelihood this could be our new normal now and far into the future, but at the same time I understand that not everybody else may feel that way. Some may say "Hey, that's the game we play, nothing we can do about it", that it's fine for there to be gigantic shake-ups in the middle of the generation that essentially recreate the tiers for that generation. Again, I can sympathize with these feelings: It is pretty cool to have these DLCs around to help bring new life to what could be considered stale metas. At the same time I do not think this response adequately addresses the aforementioned prolonged "dead zone" problem and how it saps player motivation for a good part of the generation and leaves the other part with less time to do tiering stuff. That said, if you feel that it's really not a big deal, that this is all making a mountain of a molehill and that we'll manage fine please say so.

2. If we recognize this as a big enough problem, how do we solve it?
Now, we obviously can't change the future, nor can we ignore new Pokemon and other developments for the sake of preserving what we currently have. With that in mind, there's a couple of things we could potentially do to lessen the blow of these updates:
  1. Delay the formation of lower tiers. This option would entail waiting a certain period of time after a new generation's launch for any word on DLC. If nothing is announced within that timeframe, we begin forming the tiers. If something is announced, we delay it all right until the relevant DLC(s) are released. This could be a very controversial choice for lower tiers themselves and I frankly don't except this to be taken all that well, but it would help alleviate the early problem of tiering choices made in the pre-DLC meta(s) becoming outdated post-DLC when the meta becomes strong enough to deal with what was formerly too powerful
  2. Create live-updated post-DLC OU formats pre-release. Basically take everything we currently know about what will be added, what moves will be given to what old Pokemon, so on and so forth and then update it as new information is given. There would obviously be differences pre and post-DLC launch, but it would at least give us a remote idea of what we can expect and make the transition just a bit less jarring.
  3. Try to preserve the pre-DLC metagames. I feel this is probably the most realistic option. Basically, consider them like old gens: Lock the tiers after the DLCs are launched, and then keep them alive via tournaments, occasional retroactive bans and unbans, so on and so forth. The playerbases would obviously be much smaller, but it would make sure the months upon months of old meta development wasn't entirely in vain. More than anything, however, there actually is precedent for doing this: RSE 200. Way back when the ancient-ass sims were a thing (idk if i'm getting this all right im a zoomer lol), the first ADV metas were implemented factoring in only Ruby and Sapphire, not FRLG and Emerald which added in TONS more old-gen mons and move tutor moves. After those came out, RSE 200 was conceived to keep around the original metagame. There's obviously some differences here, but there's also some striking similarities between the circumstances that led to the creation of RSE 200 and what we're dealing with now, notably the sudden additions of tons of old Pokemon.
  4. I dunno, come up with ideas! This is a pretty unusual circumstance that we almost certainly will have to deal with again in the future, so I feel it's best you drop in your suggestions and inquiries into the pool.
 
I don't think this is a problem that urgently needs a solution. The time you're putting into this meta isn't "wasted" any more than the rest of the time you put into this site. My teams from this point in the SM DOU meta were completely unusable a year later even without the aid of a massive DLC pack. You can still play games and win trophies in this meta with a dex that's shorter than usual, and that's all that's really permanent in this game anyhow.

For some perspective, most competitive games have significantly shorter metagame cycles than Smogon. Street Fighter V receives six new characters and significant rebalancing yearly. League of Legends gets new balance patches every two weeks. Even with official Pokemon, VGC formats last for roughly a year before being completely discarded. In TCG, new cards are introduced every three months, and after two years, they are rotated out (i.e. banned). None of these games have died because of it—in fact, they are probably more lively for it. Constant patching hides flaws in metagames, because they end before people can figure out how to exploit them. It introduces regular casual interest spikes, which can convert people into full-time players. It allows the games to stay in a constant state of "new meta," where creativity is debatably at its highest.

Of course there are exceptions. Famously, Melee is still going with no developer changes for the last 19 years, but after that, OU is probably the currently extant competitive game with the longest patch cycle. This has its upsides too: the skill ceiling increases, micro-optimizations such as changing a single item or EV spread become way more exciting, and other stuff...

Smogon's long patch cycles probably do help it give it a unique niche with people who prefer longer patch cycles, but as a VGC player, I can tell you that a year long meta is hardly a sky-is-falling scenario, especially since we have no guarantee that it's going to keep happening like this. If we start getting much shorter cycles, or DLC becomes a constant practice, then this is probably more worth looking into.

personally I do wish we could have kept playing galardex for a full three years but I guess it's back on the Landorus grind...
 

UltiMario

Out of Obscurity
is a Pokemon Researcher
I don't really see how the quantity of Pokemon changes things much compared to any other meta that's had additions. Time's not really a factor either, since sometimes we'd have to wait years for 3rd version exclusive mons that would signficantly shake up OU. We can't plan as far ahead since we can't datamine any information, but ultimately I don't think this "pre bank"-esque meta really needs to be preserved any more than pre-bank XY or SM were. It's not even an authentic meta to the real game, since you don't even need to buy the DLC to play with all of the new mons, they're free additions if you trade and you can't filter online to only play with Galar Dex (except for VGC or something). Every tier will receive shake-ups, and each tier will have to figure out how to handle whatever flavor of jank the DLC adds to the tier.

One thing that IMO should be considered though is quickdrops. Typically mid-gen additions start in OU then fall, but ZU or whatever probably doesn't need to wait several months to get access to random garbage like Chimecho or Masquerain. There probably should be some sort of requirements a Pokemon could meet to just be thrown at the bottom rather than the top, maybe something like Untiered/NFE in gen 7 + no significant changes?
 

MattL

I have discovered a truly remarkable CT which this box is t-
is a Smogon Media Contributor Alumnusis a Battle Simulator Moderator Alumnus
Yeah, I think the route to go with is just to accept the changing metagame, so to me the question is how to tier all of the new Pokemon rather than asking what metagame we should be playing.

I know there's a lot of time left to make these decisions, but I wanted to touch on a weird quirk that I don't think I've seen mentioned. The official site says Kingdra is one of the Pokemon returning in the Isle of Armor. Horsea and Seadra aren't in Galar, so they're coming too. When it drops, Horsea is put into LC, which is fine. But our standard for new games and generations is to put everything into OU by default (except stuff like the cover legendaries which get defaulted into Ubers). Following this approach means that both Seadra and Kingdra will be placed into OU. This is the case for all 3-stage evolutions - the second stage would be put into OU by default if this procedure is followed.

By the time the Isle of Armor drops, PU will already have been a tier for a few months. When that point comes, we'll already be accustomed to having OU/UU/RU/NU/PU, and at that time I imagine it would seem pretty weird to place stuff like Seadra into OU.

Because of the sheer number of new Pokemon dropping and because the Crown Tundra is only a few months after the Isle of Armor, the usual 3-month tier changes aren't going to work great if you think about how the timeline will play out with two consecutive cascades of Pokemon falling down the tiers. So, we could do 1-month tier changes to mirror the pattern of a new tier moving into alpha every month at the start of a new generation - after all, the number of new Pokemon added in each part of the expansion pack is kind of comparable to the number of new Pokemon added in a new generation. Or, we could go with something like what Ultimario suggested, which while extremely unconventional and unprecendented, would prevent the large groups of Pokemon falling down the tiers. Or some other option. Either way, I wanted to point out that quirk and some food for thought regarding the timeline.
 

Pyritie

TAMAGO
is an Artist
Smogon's long patch cycles probably do help it give it a unique niche with people who prefer longer patch cycles, but as a VGC player, I can tell you that a year long meta is hardly a sky-is-falling scenario, especially since we have no guarantee that it's going to keep happening like this. If we start getting much shorter cycles, or DLC becomes a constant practice, then this is probably more worth looking into.
It's even more apt that you mention VGC because last year, the season was split up even further into three different formats, each with their own wildly varying tiers of what was good and what wasn't.

For reference for those who don't follow VGC, the format last year (vgc19) was normal bring-six-pick-four doubles with item clause, national pokedex, up to two ubers allowed per team, no mythicals, with different restrictions per format:
  • Sun series: ran from jan 1st to some time in early/mid spring I think. No z moves, megas, or primals allowed. Xerneas and scarf kyogre ran the show.
  • Moon series: ran from after sun series ended until early summer. Z moves allowed, but not megas or primals or ultra bursting. Lunala skyrocketed in viability.
  • Ultra series: ran until the end of the year. Everything allowed. Primals and mega ray were everywhere, but ultra necrozma picked up a lot of steam later in the year after people figured out how to use it.
And you know what? It was still a lot of fun and it felt like they didn't overstay their welcome when they got tiring to play (cough moon series cough). Granted, I imagine part of this was because the formats are decided by TPCi and nothing gets banned for being broken/overcentralizing partway through, so if the format isn't fun you can just sit out for a bit because you know it'll have a radical change at some point down the line.

Compared to smogon's formats, and especially so given last year, the VGC community has just learned to be much more adaptive to format changes and doesn't really commit to long term projects as much. The smogon vgc players haven't even bothered writing analyses in a while because everything changes so frequently that they're out of date by the time any significant number of them get written, and instead focus on more things like quick videos on a certain pokemon, full writeups of successful teams (kinda like RMTs over here) explaining what different mons do, and I guess there's just more of an attitude of looking through teams and statistics sites (such as pikalytics) to get a feel for a pokemon instead of there being a de facto "best set" you can copy and paste from an analysis.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that maybe smogon could look at what VGC players do for inspiration on how to handle rapid drastic format changes like this because we've been doing it for years already? I think game freak said in their direct that this is the sort of direction they want to continue doing for future titles as well instead of doing more third-version games (good riddance!), so I do think this is something smogon has to accommodate. I feel like the age of several-year-long metagames is over, so everything needs to start happening on faster timescales.
 

Yung Dramps

awesome gaming
is a Pre-Contributor
Alright, so unless anyone comes out of the woodwork to counter-argue it seems like this thread is becoming more about how we should adjust our policies for this new reality. For one thing, I support the idea of "accelerated tiering" for stuff like, I dunno, Gabite that clearly doesn't need to wait out a bunch of drops to know it'll be pretty low-tier. Something like what UltiMario suggested with starting out sub-PU Pokemon in Gen 7 right in post-DLC NU or PU could work. It's also worth noting that this approach could end up coming in clutch during the period between Isle of Armor and Crown Tundra, as there are only gonna be around 5-6 months to tier the new additions before CT is released.

There is also the matter of tiering decisions (mainly bans) becoming outdated post-DLC after the power levels of their original metas rise and other shifts occur I touched on in the OP. For these I propose a quick unban system where we look through every quickban and suspect ban across all the tiers before a DLC drops and automatically unban stuff in a tier where it was either quickbanned by a thin margin (i.e. Obstagoon's recent quickban in UU where it just barely got the required majority 7/13 council members to vote ban) or had a contentious suspect where it got banned by less than a 70% supermajority. Everything else that doesn't fit these requirements is in the hands of their respective tiers' councils on whether they wanna re-suspect them or not.
 

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