Remembering our Roots: A Look Back at the Heroes of Generations Past

By Syberia. Art by Sephirona.
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Many of you might be new to the world of competitive Pokémon. Your experiences may well be confined to Aegislash, Talonflame, and friends. You are probably aware of the rise and fall of Mega Lucario and Mega Kangaskhan before it, but how did the game get to where it is now? If you are new, what follows is a tale of strange warriors on distant battlefields. If you are (un)fortunate enough to remember praying for a crit against a +6 Tobybro or staring down Curselax as the last remaining Pokemon on the opponent's team, I invite you on a trip down memory lane. These are the stories of Pokémon from generations past that stood out above the rest. Through their sheer offensive prowess, defensive fortitude, or some other factor, they played a significant role in the metagame and helped their particular generation become what it was. Some have since faded into obscurity, while others have stood the test of time and remain relevant today.

Generation 1: Red/Blue/Yellow

In 1996, players got a taste of the game of Pokémon for the first time. With no Wi-Fi, battles at the time were in-person affairs, fought between real-life friends through the use of link cables. It was not long before a small group of people found competitive value in the game and created a simple online simulator. The seeds of the competitive Pokémon community we are all a part of today were sewn.

With only 150 Pokémon in the Pokédex, the number that were viable in competitive play was necessarily low. There were no items, no abilities, and no EVs (well technically there were, but they were irrelevant as you could max every stat on the same Pokémon). Speed and the ability to hit hard were the name of the game. With virtually the same Pokémon appearing on every team, prediction was key at every turn. Psychic-types quickly rose to dominance, with a virtual lack of weaknesses (Bug-type moves were unseen at the time due to their low Base Powers and a lack of viable users, and Psychic-types were actually immune to Ghost-type attacks in RBY) and a powerful STAB move resisted only by themselves. It was not uncommon to see two, or even all three, of the trio of Alakazam, Exeggutor, and Starmie on the same team. Of these three, the most powerful by far and a staple on virtually every team was...

- Psychic
- Thunder Wave
- Recover
- Reflect / Seismic Toss

Alakazam was THE Pokémon in RBY. With a Speed stat of 339, Alakazam was capable of outspeeding everything except Jolteon, and its STAB Psychic hit anything that did not resist it incredibly hard. Alakazam's offensive movepool was so barren in RBY that in gen 1, Psychic was often the only damaging move it carried, but that was all it needed. With a 30% chance to lower the opponent's Special stat (which stood in for both Special Attack and Special Defense in RBY), Alakazam could afford to stay in against other Psychic-types (and Chansey) that "walled" it, Recovering as necessary, until it got enough stat drops to start doing significant damage. Thunder Wave helped it in this regard as well, not only slowing down speedy opponents for the rest of the team to pick off, but also ensuring that anything with which Alakazam was locked in a stall war had a 25% chance to do nothing every turn as it chipped away at it.

The last slot on Alakazam was a bit of a toss-up. Reflect, which lasted until the user switched out in RBY, ensured that Alakazam could go head-to-head with the likes of Tauros, Rhydon, and Golem without facing certain death, though the former had a high chance of scoring a critical hit (which were based on Speed at the time), and all three commonly carried Body Slam, which could leave Alakazam paralyzed and much less useful for the rest of the match. Seismic Toss, on the other hand, provided more consistent damage against other Psychic-types and helped with the problem of Psychic's limited PP.

Alakazam had the effect of taking a fast-paced, offensive metagame and slowing it down into a war of attrition, at least as long as it was on the field. Its ability to tear through anything not resistant to Psychic (or named Chansey) meant that it, and its few counters, found their way into almost every RBY team. It really was the defining Pokémon of the generation.

- Body Slam
- Hyper Beam
- Earthquake
- Blizzard

Meet Tauros, a beast able to strike fear into the hearts of its opponents with a single whip of its three tails. Where Alakazam relied on slow, steady stall tactics to defeat its counters, Tauros was a one-bull wrecking crew. "Where there's a Tauros, there's a way" was a common saying at the time, and it held true. Tauros was extremely good at pulling wins out of its ass in situations that otherwise seemed hopeless thanks to a critical hit ratio of just over 20% and the 30% chance of paralysis afforded by its most commonly spammed move, Body Slam.

The strategy with Tauros was simple—paralyze as much of your opponent's team as possible, wait for an opening, send in Tauros, and profit. It was the very image of a late-game cleaner at its finest. Normal STAB was actually a great attacking type at the time—only Rock-types resisted it, and only Gengar was immune. Both of these were easily dealt with by Blizzard and Earthquake, respectively. Blizzard also had the advantage of slightly outdamaging Body Slam against Exeggutor and Zapdos, although the latter's chance of paralysis made it a good choice even on a predicted switch. Finally, Hyper Beam worked differently back in RBY; the user avoided having to skip a turn recharging if the move managed to knock out its target. Tauros could finish off most Pokémon with only a little prior damage, but the user had to be careful—predict wrong with Hyper Beam and Tauros was a sitting duck. Still, the threat of such a powerful move—with STAB no less—made Tauros a fearsome opponent, especially in the late game, and made it another staple on virtually every team right beside Alakazam.

Generation 2: Gold/Silver/Crystal

GSC took the fast-paced, high risk/high reward playstyle of RBY and dropped it flat on its face. With two new types—Dark and Steel—to contend with, the Psychics of RBY fame faded quickly into the background. The dominance of a single type in that fashion would not occur again for two generations, but we will get there soon enough.

The introduction of items (most notably Leftovers), RestTalk, and Heal Bell in GSC, along with the creation of two new Pokémon that performed the previously unheard of role of "dedicated wall," made most GSC battles into long, agonizing, stalling affairs based not around destroying an opponent with superior cunning and strength, but around outlasting them with stalwart resolve. It was not an uncommon sight to see a Pokémon forced to use Struggle after exhausting all of its PP before dying or killing anything—even, at times, when a match was still 6-6!

While stall in GSC was the most dominant playstyle, it didn't necessarily invalidate all other playstyles, such as offensive teams. Belly Drum Snorlax (DrumLax) was one of the easiest ways to instill offensive momentum on your team and still retain the might that Snorlax brought to teams. Growth Vaporeon has also recently risen in popularity since it's about the only boosting special sweeper the metagame has to offer. Finally, Explosion-heavy teams, Baton Pass, and a playstyle known as "turbo drumming" were all ways to make use of offense in the GSC era. What Pokémon could possibly thrive in such an environment?

Snorlax @ Leftovers
- Double-Edge / Body Slam
- Curse
- Rest
- Earthquake / Fire Blast / Sleep Talk / Lovely Kiss

Snorlax was a huge beneficiary of two major changes that took place in the transition from RBY to GSC. The first was the split of the Special stat into separate Special Attack and Special Defense stats. Snorlax's mediocre Special stat from RBY became its Special Attack, while its Special Defense got a significant boost to base 110, allowing it to shrug off hits from the special side. Coupling this with the introduction of the move Curse, which raised Snorlax's low Defense and boosted its Attack stat sky high, turned Snorlax into the most dominant threat in the GSC metagame, a position it held comfortably all the way until RSE came out. Without one of a few specific ways to deal with it, Curselax could run wild through a team, and there was nothing that could be done about it.

The most common way to deal with Snorlax in GSC was by forcing it out of battle through the use of Roar and Whirlwind, which had been buffed to forcibly switch the opponent's current Pokémon with a random member of his or her team. This, of course, had the side effect of wiping out any stat boosts they had accumulated. The problem with relying on phazing moves to deal with Curselax was that they would fail if it was the last Pokémon. While they did serve to "reset the clock" on Snorlax's boosts, without a powerful Fighting-type Pokémon such as Machamp to actually knock it out, Snorlax could come right back in and start setting up again at the next opportunity. In fact, an intelligent player could simply sacrifice everything else on his or her team to provide Curselax an opening to sweep if their opponent relied on Roar or Whirlwind to stop it.

Another more reliable way of dealing with Snorlax was to use moves which lowered its Attack, such as Charm on Umbreon or even Growl on Miltank, to reduce its damage output and stall it out, even as its Defense continued to rise from Curse. Ghost-types, particularly if they carried Perish Song, could also deal with Curselax effectively if it lacked Earthquake, but all counters and checks had to watch out for Lovely Kiss, which was gifted to Snorlax as an event move, lest they be forced to slumber idly while it steamrolled the rest of their team.

With a universal presence across virtually every GSC team, the ability to utterly destroy large portions of the metagame with a single, very predictable moveset, and a forced reliance on a few overspecialized Pokémon in order to counter it, Snorlax bears a striking resemblance to everyone's favorite land shark of early DP fame. Of course, at the time there was no Smogon, and the powers that be had no interest in even considering the ban of a non-legend, so Curselax remained the most prominent and most feared threat of the GSC era, right up until the shiny new toys and mechanics changes of RSE knocked it down a notch.

Skarmory @ Leftovers
- Drill Peck
- Whirlwind
- Rest
- Curse / Toxic

Skarmory is one of two defensive juggernauts introduced in GSC. With massive physical Defense and a Steel / Flying typing which gave no physical weaknesses, it could effectively wall that half of the metagame. It also took advantage of the new Whirlwind mechanics in GSC, having the defenses to soak up hits from Swords Dance- and Curse-boosted foes and force them out of battle. If it ran Curse, Skarmory could even go head-to-head with Curselax, even if it was the last remaining Pokemon on the opposing team, and come out alive, provided the latter did not carry Fire Blast. Without reliable recovery, Skarmory had to rely on Rest for healing, and its defenses could be broken by strong special attacks, but neither of these were too much of a detriment because where there was a Skarmory, there was usually also a...

Blissey @ Leftovers
- Softboiled
- Heal Bell
- Ice Beam / Flamethrower
- Toxic / Thunderbolt / Flamethrower

The other half of the universally recognized SkarmBliss combo of a bygone era, Blissey could sponge all those Electric- and Fire-type moves the metal bird didn't like to take. On top of that, the new move Heal Bell could cure status effects of the entire team in a single turn. Paralysis went from the crippling affliction it was in RBY to a minor annoyance to be dealt with whenever Blissey had a free turn. The existence of Heal Bell paved the way for the viability of Rest on just about anything with more than paper-thin defenses, especially in combination with Sleep Talk on powerful attackers such as Heracross and Zapdos. It also gave Blissey excellent synergy with the aforementioned Skarmory, as the latter would almost always draw in a strong special attacker after using Rest, which gave perfect opportunity to switch to Blissey, absorb the hit, and wake the sleeping bird back up.

Because of their combined ability to wall virtually any hit, Skarmory and Blissey became the quintessential defensive core of any GSC team (though now most top GSCers opt for Miltank or Umbreon in place of Blissey due to their ability to bring Curselax to a stop on top of performing cleric duties). Only Machamp, Snorlax (with Fire Blast), Porygon2 (with Thunderbolt), Nidoking, Dragonite, and Tyranitar were able to deal significant damage to both, and of these, the latter two were forced to run the unreliable DynamicPunch in order to outdamage Blissey's Softboiled. Even despite this, all of these Pokemon could be walled by other team members given the defensive nature of the metagame. In conclusion, GSC SkarmBliss were huge dicks who didn't like to die.


Zapdos and Raikou @ Leftovers
- Thunderbolt / Thunder
- Hidden Power Ice
- Rest
- Sleep Talk / Whirlwind or Roar / Reflect / Light Screen

The presence of powerful mixed attackers such as Nidoking, Tyranitar, and Gengar that were capable of defeating Blissey and Skarmory necessitated the use of other bulky Pokémon to deal with them. Electric-types have always been known for their lack of weaknesses, but not necessarily their defensive prowess. The legendary bird Zapdos and the legendary beast Raikou largely solved that problem, though the latter still did not enjoy repeated Earthquakes. Both Pokémon also have huge Special Attack stats and could hit almost anything that did not resist Electric hard with STAB Thunderbolt; Hidden Power Ice took care of most things that did.

With excellent bulk and good offenses, both Pokémon made great users of Rest and Sleep Talk, as a significant number of Pokémon had trouble defeating them in three turns, especially while taking repeated Thunderbolts. This was made even more annoying by the fact that calling upon Rest with Sleep Talk in this generation did not fail, but rather healed the user again and reset the sleep counter, making Zapdos and Raikou incredibly difficult to knock out at times. If another method of waking them like Blissey or Miltank was available, though, they could run a phazing move or Light Screen or Reflect (which resolved Raikou's Earthquake problem to a large degree and made Zapdos almost impossible to knock out with Ice- or Rock-type moves, depending on which screen was used) if desired, though this cut down significantly on the ability of either Pokémon to keep up the offensive pressure, especially when sleeping.

Generation 3: Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald

While RBY was based on hitting hard and fast and GSC was based around nothing ever dying, the changes introduced in RSE made it, at least in my opinion, the most balanced generation to date. The limitation of EVs to 510, when previously a player could max every stat, meant that most Pokémon were forced into purely offensive or defensive roles, and could not be both. For instance, Heracross, who in GSC could not only outspeed a significant portion of the metagame and dish out powerful Megahorns, but also sponge up special hits indefinitely with Rest and Sleep Talk, effectively lost 63 points in both its HP and Special Defense in RSE due to having to allocate all its stat points to Attack and Speed if it wanted to do anything offensively. The result, of course, is that many Pokémon that just did not die in GSC now died rather easily in RSE. A powerful super effective hit was now something to watch out for a lot more, as many Pokémon were 2HKOed by them that would not have been a generation ago.

Where Leftovers was considered the go-to item on just about everything in GSC, RSE introduced a few new items that helped balance the game away from a defensive stalemate. The most significant of these was the new Choice Band, which boosted the user's Attack by one stage at the expense of being forced to use the same move every turn until they switched out. This brought back a level of prediction and mind-games reminiscent of the RBY days—predict correctly, and you've dealt significant damage to whatever just switched in, often enough to cripple them for the rest of the match even with a neutral move. Guess wrong and you've made your Pokémon useless, forced to switch out while your opponent uses a free turn to their advantage. The award for the most feared user of this new item goes to...

Salamence @ Choice Band
Ability: Intimidate
4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
Adamant / Jolly Nature
- Hidden Power Flying
- Earthquake
- Rock Slide
- Fire Blast

Hey, I've got a great idea! Let's take a Pokémon with 405 max Attack and give it an item that boosts it to an even more ridiculous number without even requiring a turn of setup! That, in a nutshell, describes Choice Band Salamence. Unless you were a dedicated physical wall not weak to any of Salamence's attacks, you were probably getting 2HKOed if it predicted correctly. This essentially left bulky Water-types and Weezing as Salamence's only true counters, and even then, all but Weezing had to be at nearly full health to avoid the 2HKO switching in.

The set itself is quite simple—without access to a physical Dragon-type attack in RSE, Hidden Power Flying was Salamence's strongest STAB attack. With excellent neutral coverage and a Choice Band attached, it dealt massive damage against anything that did not resist it. The other moves were solely there to deal with those that did—Earthquake for Metagross and Tyranitar, Rock Slide for Zapdos and Gyarados (who could easily tank a neutral HP Flying thanks to Intimidate), and Fire Blast, though it was not boosted by Choice Band, for Skarmory. Of course, Salamence could always drop Choice Band and forgo either Fire Blast or Rock Slide in favor of Dragon Dance, morphing from a single-turn nuke into a very threatening late-game sweeper.

Suicune @ Leftovers
Ability: Pressure
252 HP / 252 Def / 4 SpA
Bold Nature
- Surf
- Calm Mind
- Rest
- Sleep Talk / Roar / Ice Beam

With so many powerful and often Banded physical attackers running around in RSE, the GSC-era answer to them in Skarmory often had difficulty keeping up. Many of the most powerful ones also had a specific way to get around the armored bird, usually by way of a Fire-type move or Taunt to shut down Whirlwind and Rest. As such, in a metagame where it was still possible to counter nearly everything with a single team, a physically bulky Water-type was never a bad thing to have. Milotic and Swampert were both good choices in this regard, but they lacked the ability to do a whole lot offensively. Suicune, on the other hand, could come in on just about any physical attacker thanks to its base 100 HP and 115 Defense, and if left unchecked, transform into a powerful monster reminiscent of GSC Snorlax with a few Calm Minds.

Its only two weaknesses were still wholly on the special side in RSE, and after a few boosts, Electric- and Grass-type attacks would virtually bounce right off. Skarmory, the most common user of a phazing move, could not come in and Whirlwind Suicune away as it could Curselax, as it would take a huge amount of damage from a boosted Surf in the process. On that note, Water was about the best STAB a mono-attacker could ask for, and Suicune was not forced to run Ice Beam as secondary coverage, though it helped against certain Pokemon such as Celebi. Only Vaporeon was immune to Surf in OU, and the typically useless Pressure combined with "wasting" 3 turns every time Suicune used Rest meant the legendary beast could outstall the Eeveelution until it ran out of PP and was forced to Struggle. Suicune was faster than most other phazers, so if it ran Roar, it could force them out before they could force it out, negating its Calm Mind boosts. Grass-types with Leech Seed, particularly Ludicolo, stood among the few things Suicune could not defeat, along with Calm Mind Blissey. Just like Snorlax before it, though, Suicune was destined to enjoy one generation at the top before being overshadowed and replaced.

Generation 4: Diamond/Pearl/Platinum (Heart Gold/Soul Silver)

This may be the generation where many of you got your start in competitive Pokémon. With Nintendo's embrace of Wi-Fi play, battles were no longer limited largely to simulators. The competitive player base, and consequently Smogon's membership, exploded. With so many new Pokémon and old ones made viable, the threat list grew so large that "trying to counter everything," which worked to a degree in RSE, was no longer a productive line of thought in teambuilding. Some stall teams managed well enough, but with the sheer mixed attacking prowess of Salamence, Infernape, and Tyranitar lurking everywhere, running one was a risky proposition. Offense as a whole grew much more powerful, boosted mainly by the fact that entire types of attacks were no longer limited to being entirely physical or entirely special—physical Dragon-type attacks and special Fighting-type attacks were now a thing.

In the first few weeks of DP, there were a few predictions about certain Pokémon and where they would end up that ended up completely wrong. It was thought that Rhyperior would be good thanks to its stats and ability and that Heatran would be useless because of so many common weaknesses. Ironically, Rhyperior failed to do much of anything because of its weaknesses, while Heatran thrived in spite of them. However, there was one Pokémon that immediately lived up to its hype and then some.

Garchomp @ Yache Berry
Ability: Sand Veil
4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
Jolly Nature
- Earthquake
- Dragon Claw / Outrage
- Fire Blast / Substitute
- Swords Dance

If you remember anything about early DP, you remember Garchomp. With a trollish base 102 Speed, a STAB combo resisted only by Skarmory and Bronzong (neither of which enjoyed Fire Blast), one of the highest Attack stats in the game, and defensive stats higher than Swampert, Garchomp seemed destined to be the perfect Pokémon, and it damn near was. In the infancy of the DP metagame, most Garchomp used Choice Scarf, which created a phenomenal revenge killer but wasted much of the land shark's potential. While Scarf Chomp did well for itself with phenomenal type coverage and the ability to outspeed most of the metagame even at +1, being locked into one move most of the time made it relatively easy to handle. Just a simple change of item turned Garchomp into a monster.

Enter YacheChomp. Garchomp's only weaknesses were Ice and Dragon, and with Latias not allowed in OU at the time, the only Dragons around were outsped and defeated. This left Ice-type attacks as the primary way to deal with Garchomp, and conveniently, DP gave us a crop of type-resisting Berries, one of which would help negate this weakness. Because Garchomp's natural bulk meant that most non-STAB Ice-type moves barely did enough to KO it, using a Yache Berry meant that it would survive most of these with health to spare. A common scenario was that Garchomp would come in on something that either could not hurt it or that would be forced to switch out, use Swords Dance (or Substitute and then Swords Dance), survive the Ice-type attack that would surely come, and knock out its would-be counter. If the opponent did not have another Garchomp "counter" waiting in the wings, it could easily be game over. This is all without noting that its ability, Sand Veil, meant that in a sandstorm (and Tyranitar and Hippowdon were both good Pokémon on their own; in the Garchomp days it was all but guaranteed you would be facing it in a sandstorm), even a 100% accurate move had only an 80% chance to connect. Get unlucky, especially against a Garchomp user stalling for a miss with Substitute, and you're going to need a third Pokémon to stop the rampage.

Garchomp's success would end up as its undoing. When a player saw a Garchomp in battle, they knew exactly what it was going to do, yet many times were still powerless to stop it. Hidden Power Ice was on just about everything with an extra moveslot in hopes of stopping it. Teams of Garchomp, Tyranitar or Hippowdon, and four Pokémon meant to defeat Garchomp were sadly completely viable. Because of its overwhelming domination of the early DP metagame, Smogon took the (at the time) radical action of banning it to Ubers. Amid much controversy, Garchomp became the first non-legend banned from standard play and kicked off round after round of suspect testing in DP and every generation that followed.

Scizor @ Choice Band
Ability: Technician
248 HP / 252 Atk / 8 Spe
Adamant Nature
- Bullet Punch
- U-turn
- Superpower
- Pursuit

A short while after Garchomp found itself kicked out of OU, Platinum version was released, gracing several Pokémon with a variety of new moves. None were more important than the addition of Bullet Punch and Superpower to Scizor's movepool, immediately catapulting the steel bug from its place as a solid, but often overlooked Pokémon to the most monster used in OU for the rest of the generation.

Boosted by the combination of Technician and STAB, Scizor's Bullet Punch easily outshined Quick Attack with an amazing 90 Base Power—that's stronger than ExtremeSpeed, and is the most powerful priority move in the game save for an unreliable STAB Sucker Punch. Factor in a Choice Band and we're talking about a move that came close to OHKOing frailer Pokémon such as Gengar and Azelf and could do close to 50% to almost anything that did not resist it, all the while negating Scizor's terrible Speed. Such a move necessarily forced lots of switches, of which Scizor took full advantage with the second half of its one-two punch, U-turn.

With above average defensive stats, a good set of resistances—most importantly, a key one to Dragon—and the threat of a powerful Bullet Punch waiting in the wings, Scizor functioned as an excellent offensive pivot. A Choice Banded U-turn not only hurt, but also gave the user switch advantage and was a great tool to maintain or restore momentum. In addition to U-turn, Pursuit also worked great alongside Bullet Punch. Frail or weakened sweepers, Latias in particular while it was allowed, were often forced to choose between staying in and getting nailed by Bullet Punch or switching out and being caught with Pursuit. Finally, Scizor's other new toy, Superpower, rounded out the set and was used primarily to OHKO Heatran switching in.

Scizor, like Garchomp, did one thing and did it very well. Its combination of Pursuit and Bullet Punch made it an excellent check to many top-tier threats in DPP and for generations to come, and U-turn ensured that momentum would never be lost, an absolute godsend considering the offensive nature of mid and late DPP. It performed so well that it could find its way onto just about any type of team, securing its spot as the #1 Pokémon atop the usage chart from the moment Platinum was released all the way to the release of BW.

Salamence @ Life Orb
Ability: Intimidate
4 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Naive Nature
- Draco Meteor
- Outrage
- Fire Blast
- Roost / Brick Break / Earthquake

While Garchomp and Scizor could be seen as one-trick ponies, Salamence thrived on its unpredictability. Prior to Platinum's release, most Salamence ran Choice Specs to take advantage of a ridiculously powerful Draco Meteor along with excellent secondary coverage in Fire Blast and Hydro Pump. Once the third installment of the fourth generation gave it access to Outrage, which was slightly stronger from Salamence than even Garchomp, all bets were off. Salamence could effectively use a multitude of items and moves, but MixMence would become the most feared.

With phenomenal Attack, above average Special Attack, and decent Speed, along with access to powerful physical and special STABs of both, Salamence was quite simply a killing machine. Played as a wallbreaker, it could muscle past physically defensive Pokémon with Draco Meteor and specially defensive ones with Outrage. Even Blissey had to be at nearly full health to survive the onslaught of Draco Meteor + Outrage, and if Salamence predicted the switch-in and used one of its physical moves instead, it was game over for the pink blob. Fire Blast made short work of any Steel-types that tried to get cute, and Roost helped keep Salamence in the game in spite of Life Orb recoil and Stealth Rock damage, as the number of switches it forced made it easy to find a free turn. Brick Break was a lesser option to deal with Blissey and Tyranitar without requiring the use of Outrage and was needed to hit Heatran for anything more than resisted damage, but it came at the expense of reduced longevity due to giving up Roost. Earthquake traded an OHKO on Tyranitar for an OHKO on Heatran, and it did not do a whole lot to Blissey.

Of course, MixMence was just one of many viable Salamence sets, and it was this unpredictability that made the Dragon so strong. It could run Dragon Dance, a Choice Band, a Choice Scarf, or even the odd support set with Wish and Toxic, and it was able to pull off all of these (with perhaps the exception of that last one) flawlessly. Often the best way to deal with Salamence was to sacrifice something to it just to figure out what it was running and go from there. Of course, even that could result in a +1 Attack, +1 Speed monster staring you in the face if you guessed wrong. Like Garchomp before it, Salamence ultimately proved too much to handle in OU and was banished to the realm of Ubers, where it fought alongside its cousin Rayquaza.

Generation 5: Black (2)/White(2)

The BW metagame can largely be summed up with two words—weather wars. The abilities Drought and Drizzle, confined to Ubers since RSE, finally made their debut in OU alongside sand and hail. They came not on the legendary birds or beasts as I had always hoped, but rather on a pair of previously UU Pokémon, Politoed and Ninetales. Neither of these Pokémon were very good on their own, but the fact that both of them shot up solidly to OU speaks to the power behind their supporting abilities. Many Pokémon ended up banned due to the support they received from weather, and most teams that did not run weather were at a disadvantage most of the time (except for hail, because hail sucks).

Politoed (Drizzle)

As soon as Politoed's Dream World ability was released, rain became the dominant form of weather in the metagame. Backed up by powerful Pokémon such as Kingdra, Kabutops, Manaphy, Thundurus, Tornadus, and Keldeo, among others, rain offense was always a terror to fight. It had a distinct advantage over sand teams in that the Rock- and Ground-types they relied on were weak to its main STAB, Water.

Most rain teams initially featured Politoed, multiple Swift Swim users, and Manaphy. Pokémon with Swift Swim hit incredibly hard with boosted Water-type attacks and could not be outsped, while Manaphy had 100% health recovery in a single turn thanks to Hydration and Rest. If you could not kill or severely damage Manaphy in one turn, it would easily set up with Calm Mind, heal with Rest, wake up immediately, and sweep. Neither Swift Swim nor Manaphy lasted long in the metagame, and they were banished to Ubers rather quickly.

Two of the three legendary genies, Thundurus and Tornadus, also benefited from Drizzle, but not in as significant of a fashion. Both Pokémon had access to powerful STAB moves in Thunder and Hurricane that suffer from low accuracy but always hit in the rain. Thundurus's Nasty Plot set was already dangerous enough with Thunderbolt, but on rain teams, it was able to spam boosted Thunders to wreck everything in its path. Tornadus, on the other hand, got a huge boost with the release of its Therian forme in BW2. Its speed was increased, it was given Regenerator to negate Life Orb and Stealth Rock damage, and it gained access to Heat Wave and Superpower to deal with the few things resistant to Hurricane. Both of these Pokémon proved overpowered in the end and suffered the same fate as Manaphy and Swift Swim earlier before them.

Keldeo was another premier rain threat, though it was not released until late in the BW metagame. Though it suffered from an absolutely terrible movepool, Hydro Pump in the rain off of base 129 Special Attack hit even harder than Thundurus's Thunder or Tornadus's Hurricane. On top of that, the usual answers to strong special attackers had to watch out for Secret Sword, which used Keldeo's massive Special Attack stat but did physical damage. Besides Secret Sword and a Water move, though, Keldeo had few other options. It could use Calm Mind to boost its power but usually relied on Hidden Power to round out its coverage. It could run Hidden Power Dark to deal with the Latios and Latias, Celebi, Slowbro, and Jellicent; Hidden Power Electric for Gyarados, Slowbro, and Jellicent; or Hidden Power Ice for Celebi and Dragons, but each left it completely walled by something in the end.


Tyranitar and Hippowdon (Sand)

Unlike rain and sun, sand has always been more of a "passive" weather condition. In RSE, it had the sole effect of causing 6.25% damage to anything that was not Rock-, Ground-, or Steel-type. While this was a good thing for many offensive Pokémon in that it negated Leftovers on most walls, it was an annoyance at most. In DP, it was given the added effect of boosting Special Defense of Rock-types, turning Tyranitar into a defensive beast (in spite of its many weaknesses) capable of defeating Latias during her brief stint in OU, but sand still did not have an offensive presence beyond simply those Pokémon that worked well in a sandstorm.

All that would change in BW with the abilities Sand Rush and Sand Force. The former doubled the user's Speed in a sandstorm, while the latter boosted the power of Rock- and Ground-type attacks. Two Pokémon stood out as the best users of these abilities—Excadrill and Landorus.

Ever since it was still called Doryuuzu, Excadrill has been synonymous with sand offense. With max Speed in a sandstorm, it was faster than even Scarf Jolteon, if such a thing were to ever be used. On top of that, it had a base Attack higher than Garchomp's, an excellent offensive STAB in Earthquake, and access to Swords Dance with enough resistances to set up easily, Although its movepool was poor, Excadrill had just enough coverage moves to threaten most things that didn't mind Earthquake. Only Skarmory and Gliscor stood out as sure-fire counters to anything it might run.

In the early days of BW, when sand was still the only viable form of permanent weather, an Excadrill in a sandstorm had only to fear two things: Mach Punch from Breloom and Conkeldurr and Earthquake from bulky Ground-types that didn't care if it was faster. While the best course of action was to switch out of the former, the new item Air Balloon turned the latter from counters to set-up bait. In a time when Excadrill vs. Excadrill was a very common scenario and one in which the outcome of an entire match could easily hinge on a Speed tie, the player running Air Balloon would always come out ahead over a Balloon-less mole. Once this strategy caught on, many Excadrill users would resort to using the largely redundant Brick Break in addition to Earthquake to defeat other Excadrill floating on Balloons. At that point, it was back to relying on a Speed tie to win.

Thankfully, that did not last long, and with the release of Politoed, Excadrill saw more Water-type attacks aimed its way and could no longer rely on Air Balloon to cover its main weakness. It also had to deal with the weather being changed and losing its massive Speed advantage. However, no longer forced to hold a Balloon, it could now run Life Orb and hit even harder. Coupled with Tyranitar's ability to Pursuit-trap and beat both Politoed and Ninetales, Excadrill was determined to be too much for the OU metagame, even after the release of the other two weather starters, and was banished to Ubers.

While Excadrill got the Speed-boosting ability Sand Rush, Landorus was given the power-boosting Sand Force. With the combination of Earthquake and Stone Edge, it could hit virtually everything in OU for unresisted damage. Both moves were powered up in the sand thanks to Landorus's ability, and with such great type coverage, it left two slots open for both Swords Dance and Rock Polish on the same set. Against a fast, frail offensive team, Landorus could raise its Speed and sweep, while it could raise its Attack instead against a slow, defensive one and punch holes.

Sand Force Landorus was powerful, but it was Landorus's Dream World ability, Sheer Force, that made it a threatening attacker even outside of sand. With access to Earth Power, Focus Blast, and even Psychic and Sludge Wave, all of which were boosted by Sheer Force, combined with the negation of Life Orb recoil due to its ability and an almost-as-trollish-as-Garchomp base 101 Speed, Sheer Force Landorus hit harder than a Choice Specs user and at the same time retained the ability to switch attacks. Even Blissey would fall to repeated Focus Blasts, provided they hit. Like Excadrill, though, Landorus suffered the fate of being removed from OU play late in the BW metagame.

With its two main offensive threats gone, sand largely became a passive weather condition once more. Teams using other sand-boosted Pokémon such as Sandslash and even Stoutland still existed, but they were much easier to play around with their two main offensive threats gone. That is not to say sand became a bad weather to use. It was great at canceling out rain and sun, and Tyranitar retained the ability to Pursuit trap both Politoed and Ninetales if played correctly, denying an opponent favorable weather for the rest of the match. There were still plenty of Pokémon around that did not mind playing in the sand; many even did well in it, but they were just not directly boosted by it.

Ninetales (Sun)

Sun, while a fantastic playstyle in its own right, was generally considered to be the hardest of the three weather conditions in BW to use well. Much of that can be attributed to the fact that Ninetales was the only auto-weather Pokémon (besides Abomasnow) that was weak to Stealth Rock, so using the fox virtually required the use of a Rapid Spin user and very careful play to keep it alive. Beyond a weakness to Stealth Rock, though, Ninetales also found itself taking super effective damage from Water-type moves from rain teams and Ground- and Rock-type attacks from sand teams, which even further limited its ability to switch in and set up the necessary sun.

Although sun boosted the power of Fire moves, it conferred on Fire-types no Speed boost as Swift Swim did to Water-types. The best sun sweepers were actually Grass-types, namely Venusaur and Tangrowth. In addition to the Speed boost from Chlorophyll, both Pokémon also had access to Growth, which raised both Attack and Special Attack by two stages when the sky was sunny. Both could carry Sleep Powder to completely neutralize a potential counter (especially because the sleep counter reset upon switching out in BW), and both were capable of mixed attacking with access to Power Whip, SolarBeam, Hidden Power Fire, Sludge Bomb, and Earthquake. In fact, both Pokémon played so similarly that one could usually punch enough of a hole that even if it was defeated, the other could pick up right where it left off and continue the onslaught... long as the sun was up. Due largely to Ninetales's typing, doing so was often a losing battle against a well-built rain or sand team. Because of this crippling weakness, sun never realized the true potential it could have had if, say, Heatran or Infernape had been given Drought instead of Ninetales. Oh well, one can always wish...

Perpetual Threats

Most of the Pokémon mentioned in this article enjoyed fame for a generation or two before falling from grace. This is true for some more so than others—for instance, you'll never see a Tauros in OU anywhere outside of RBY, but Scizor remains competitive to this day—but due to mechanics changes, metagame changes, or simply getting overshadowed by something else, many have been left with only shells of their former glory. A select few, however, have stood the test of time and have remained top-tier threats through the ages.


Gengar has the distinct honor of being the only Pokémon to achieve OU status in all six generations of Pokémon games. It has done so with a unique combination of Speed, immunities, power, and movepool. In RBY, it was the fastest sleep inducer in a metagame dominated by sleep, and as long as Hypnosis hit, it could pretty much put a player up 6-5 from turn one. Its attacking movepool was quite lacking, but it had just enough to get by—Thunderbolt dealt good damage against most opponents, Mega Drain hit the Rock/Ground-types that were immune to it, Seismic Toss dealt consistent damage to anything else, and Explosion allowed Gengar to go out with a bang when its time was up.

It was the GSC era that turned Gengar into the unpredictable offensive threat we know today. With access to DynamicPunch, Blissey had to think twice before coming in to wake up anything put to sleep with Hypnosis, lest it risk getting smacked in the egg pouch, confused, and forced to switch out or die. Thunderbolt allowed Gengar to defeat Skarmory as well, and Ice Punch did a number on things like Zapdos and Nidoking that could tank its other attacks. Alternatively, a well-timed Counter plus Destiny Bond or Explosion allowed a lead Gengar to take out two threats (plus cripple a third if it used Hypnosis) before going down. At that time buffed to an effective 500 Base Power after halving the opponent's Defense, Explosion was a very threatening move, even off of Gengar's meager Attack stat, capable of removing an opposing Pokémon from play completely if timed right.

Gengar's role in RSE was similar to that in GSC—cause as much mayhem as possible before it was knocked out. DynamicPunch fell out of favor for Substitute and Focus Punch as a way of getting past the special walls at the time, namely Blissey, Snorlax, and Regice. Will-O-Wisp gave Gengar access to another status condition besides sleep, and Giga Drain and Fire Punch became viable options alongside Thunderbolt and Ice Punch to deal with Swampert and the Steel-types that were starting to gain popularity in RSE. With no Choice Scarf yet, outspeeding Gengar was tough to do, and in the late game, the ghost could mop up against a weakened team on sheer coverage alone.

You will probably notice a distinct lack of STAB mentioned anywhere so far. This is because unfortunately, for the first three generations, Ghost was a physical attacking type while Gengar was a special attacker. With the physical/special split in DP, Shadow Ball finally ran off of Gengar's phenomenal Special Attack stat, and it also gained access to a special Fighting-type move in the form of Focus Blast. With perfect neutral type coverage in just two moves, Gengar had myriad options to fill its remaining two moveslots in DP and BW. Substitute eased prediction and also afforded Gengar some protection against Scizor and Tyranitar switch-ins, the former of which could OHKO it with Bullet Punch and the latter could do the same with a Crunch, and both could OHKO it with Pursuit if it switched out. In the last slot, Hidden Power Fire could turn the tables on the aforementioned metal bug, while Pain Split gave Gengar a way to heal off the damage caused by repeated Substitutes. In BW, Disable simply turned the ghost into an annoying douchebag, as many Pokémon lacked more than one move capable of breaking its Substitutes or, in some cases, even hitting it at all.

Finally, in XY, Gengar was one of the few Pokémon chosen to receive a Mega Evolution. Its Special Attack was boosted stupid-high, its Speed was on par with Jolteon and Aerodactyl as one of the fastest in the game, and on top of all that, it was given the ability Shadow Tag. So there you are, facing a beefed-up superghost which could potentially carry a move capable of OHKOing virtually anything found in OU, and you cannot switch out. Because of its ability to revenge kill practically anything at will, and by association the ability to open up a hole in someone's team with no way to stop it, Gengar's Mega Evolution was banned early on in XY play. However, even without that, it remains a powerful Special Attacker, especially because Steel-types no longer resist Shadow Ball.


Where to begin with Tyranitar? Back in the day, I was once told I seemed incapable of building a team without including one, and for the most part that holds true three generations later. Its main selling point has always been its utterly huge movepool—it learns a useful, high-damage move of virtually every offensive type that is going to be used. Rock, Ground, Dark, Fighting, Fire, Ice, Electric, Water, you name it, Tyranitar probably gets it. On top of that, it has the stats to make use of both physical and special attacks to punch holes through all but the bulkiest of Pokémon.

In the GSC era, Tyranitar did this better than perhaps anything else. With a combination of DynamicPunch, Fire Blast, and Rock Slide, it could muscle its way past Blissey, Skarmory, Forretress, Steelix, Miltank, Snorlax, and Zapdos. With Thunderbolt rounding out the set, it could put the hurt on Starmie, Vaporeon, and Suicune, though it had trouble outdamaging Rest on the latter two; with Earthquake it could take on Raikou, Nidoking, and Rhydon; and finally with Pursuit it could catch the myriad walls it forced to switch out before they did so, though for a small amount of damage that could usually be recovered at a later time. If Tyranitar did not want to take the all-out offensive route, it could go slow and steady with Curse, using a slower Roar to thwart any attempts at phazing and Resting up when necessary. Although Rock Slide was its only attack if it went that route, the move got STAB and nothing was immune to it, so aside from a few Pokémon such as Steelix, Nidoking, and Rhydon, Tyranitar would usually win.

RSE brought with it the first auto-weather ability in OU, Sand Stream, given to none other than our pseudo-legendary dinosaur. Simply by switching in once, Tyranitar had the (extremely annoying) ability to negate Leftovers on anything that was not a Rock-, Ground-, or Steel-type, which helped not only itself but also its teammates to get past bulky Pokémon such as Milotic and Celebi that came to be known as huge pains in the ass. The legendary Tyraniboah (a set of Substitute, Focus Punch, Thunderbolt, and Crunch with 404 HP to keep its Substitute from being broken by Seismic Toss and EVs for outspeeding certain walls) was born, turning it into a fearsome wallbreaker that struck fear into the heart of anything not named Swampert or Light Screen Zapdos.

While Boah slowly fell out of favor by late RSE, it was far from the only thing Tyranitar could do. It was one of the few Pokémon with access to the new move Dragon Dance and made excellent use of it alongside Rock Slide, Earthquake, and Taunt, which prevented Skarmory and friends from phazing it out and anything else from afflicting it with a burn or paralysis. It also made an excellent user of the new Choice Band. Much like Salamence, pick the right move, and it could 2HKO virtually every wall switching in, with maybe the exception of Weezing, while any non-defensive Pokémon was simply obliterated.

It would seem that RSE was exceedingly kind to Tyranitar, and it was, but the boosts given to it in the DPP era would largely turn it into the monster we know today. It was given access to a physical Crunch and Pursuit, so it could finally use its potent STAB combination off of its sky-high Attack stat. The mechanics of sandstorm were changed to confer a 1.5x boost to the Special Defense of any Rock-type on the field, which gave Tyranitar an effective Special Defense stat of 354 with no EV investment whatsoever. Except for the (usually) predictable Focus Blast, Tyranitar was not scared out by special attacks such as Starmie's Surf and Heatran's Earth Power, and it could even set up for a sweep right in front of them.

With defensive EVs, or at least max HP, Tyranitar could even function as a special wall of sorts, one that eschewed recovery in favor of being able to deal massive damage to whatever might switch in or knock out things like Azelf and Gengar regardless of whether or not they switched out by way of Pursuit. Before Latias was re-banned to Ubers, specially defensive Tyranitar was one of her few counters, alongside Blissey and to a lesser extent Scizor, which had to watch out for HP Fire. Not only could Tyranitar survive Specs Draco Meteors relatively intact, but it could also ensure that the dragon did not live to fight another day, even if it switched out, thanks to Pursuit.

Finally, no discussion of DPP Tyranitar is complete without also mentioning its number one teammate, Garchomp. Much has already been said in my piece on Garchomp above, but from Tyranitar's perspective, it not only brought the sand that made Garchomp such an annoying bastard with Sand Veil, but with the right moveset (Ice Beam and a Fire move), it could also lure in and defeat or severely damage the few things that gave the land shark trouble, namely Gliscor, Hippowdon, and Skarmory. Its ability to Pursuit-trap fast revenge killers such as Azelf, Gengar, and Jolteon was also extremely beneficial to a Garchomp sweep.

Much of Tyranitar's presence in BW has also been discussed already; it brought the sand that powered Excadrill, Landorus, and friends to victory. More so than Ninetales and Politoed, though, Tyranitar excelled at keeping the weather favorable on its side of the field. It had the ability to set up Stealth Rock to limit the opposing weather starter's switch-ins, and its special bulk allowed it to take hits from both Politoed and Ninetales while finishing them off with Pursuit when the time was right, ensuring sand remained in the play for the rest of the match.

Like Gengar, Tyranitar was also given the Mega Evolution treatment in XY. While Mega Tyranitar will not find itself among the likes of Mega Gengar in Ubers, it is still a very good Pokémon. Tyranitar did not receive anything gamebreaking like Gengar, but the substantial boosts to Mega Tyranitar's Attack, Defense, and Special Defense, along with a small increase in Speed, make it a formidable Dragon Dancer, one that cannot be revenged quite so easily by Scizor's Bullet Punch or Conkeldurr's Mach Punch.


Even within a single generation, the Pokémon metagame is always evolving and changing. Certain Pokémon will be good, while others will be downright bad and probably have yet to realize their full potential. What will the future hold for generation 6 and beyond? Only time will tell, so get out there and play!

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