The Original Legendaries

By Disaster Area. Art by Bummer.
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These cries and others like them are often made by players who are newer to competitive Pokémon. They don't understand why Smogon allows legendary (and pseudo-legendary) Pokémon in the game. I mean, aren't all legendaries OP? To the surprise of players new to competitive Pokémon, a large portion of legendaries aren't the best Pokémon in the game, and a lot of regular Pokémon can be better than many of the game's legendary Pokémon—furthermore, this has been true since the first generation. This article is going to look at the five legendary Pokémon introduced in the first generation, in the context of battling in the original games (i.e. in Gen I OU, with its limited movepools and unique mechanics), and we'll see that, whilst Mewtwo and Mew are legendaries that are the best Pokémon in the game, the other three legendaries are much poorer choices than a lot of the non-legendary Pokémon available (whether or not you remove Mew and Mewtwo from the pool of choices).

The Sets



- Thunderbolt
- Drill Peck
- Thunder Wave
- Light Screen / Agility / Thunder

Zapdos is the most effective of the legendary trio of birds. Unlike Articuno and Moltres, it gets a useful Flying-type STAB attack in the form of Drill Peck, which means that, unlike its fine-feathered friends, it has more than one coverage type (other than Normal-type moves, which lack STAB, or two-turn or highly underpowered Flying-type attacks). Nevertheless, it can still be walled—Rhydon and Golem take very little damage from any of its attacks. Toxic is Zapdos's best option against them, but it generally has more valuable options to run in its moveslots. Its base Speed is on the high end, leaving it with a good critical hit chance, whilst its STAB types give it super effective coverage versus many common Pokémon, such as Starmie, Exeggutor, and Lapras. Furthermore, its all-around high stats grant it great match-ups versus the main stars of RBY. Tauros fears Thunder Wave, which neuters it and makes it much less threatening, Snorlax takes huge damage from Thunderbolt even without a critical hit, and Chansey can't wall it safely for long due to the high critical hit rate combined with Zapdos's powerful physical STAB in Drill Peck.

So, while Zapdos matches up well with a lot of the best Pokémon in the RBY OU metagame (that is, the metagame without Mew, Mewtwo, and a couple of other restrictions that are generally viewed by the players as making the game much more enjoyable), it's walled by Rhydon and Golem, two powerful and relevant Pokémon in the metagame. In spite of its legendary status, it can be walled by the final evolution of Geodude, a Pokémon that you can catch early on in just about every Pokémon game. As mentioned before, Zapdos is the best member of the legendary trio of birds, but it's inferior to some Pokémon that don't bear any such status symbol. Perhaps, legendaries aren't as good as their title suggests? Hey, maybe it's just Zapdos that's walled?



- Blizzard
- Sky Attack
- Hyper Beam / Double Edge
- Agility / Ice Beam

Articuno is perhaps the most graceful of the legendary trio. It's also possibly the worst, as it's definitely the most easily walled.

Articuno faces huge competition from a non-legendary that you can acquire later on in your adventure, Lapras. Why is this, you ask? Whilst Articuno has an immensely strong Blizzard, Lapras (and Cloyster) resist it and are incredibly physically bulky, meaning that Articuno's other attacking options (which are few and poor) can hardly dent them either. Furthermore, both Starmie and Chansey an easily take Articuno's hits and recover from the damage, although, unlike Cloyster and Lapras, Articuno can potentially freeze them.

Why would people even use this in OU? It does have one selling point: Blizzard, which is the best special attack in the game, and Articuno has one of the best Special stats in the game (each of the legendary birds has base 125 Special), making it capable of immense feats such as 4HKOing Chansey whilst simultaneously threatening to freeze it. However, that's where the positive side of the story ends. Whilst Lapras is also slower, the speed difference makes very little difference, apart from versus maybe Victreebel (which doesn't switch into Lapras, but unlike Articuno it could potentially force it out), whilst Lapras has a wider selection of moves. Thunderbolt complements Lapras's powerful Blizzard perfectly, letting it do greater damage to Starmie, opposing Lapras, and Slowbro, and it has access to Body Slam, which it can use to paralyze foes. Confuse Ray gives it another tool that can be beneficial versus Chansey. Lapras also gets Sing, letting it potentially act as a surprise sleep-inducer (it's bulky enough, and Sleep is such a good status that it's a very legitimate option). Hyper Beam and Rest are also moves that it has access to, but it's generally better at using them than Articuno since the 4x Ice resistance pays dividends, the lack of a 4x Rock weakness is pretty nice, and it has good moves to use alongside them to be all the more threatening. Overall, Articuno works best as a late-game sweeper that can go toe-to-toe with Tauros, but it's very rarely seen (older players of the generation tend to favor it more kindly, though).

So overall, Articuno, one of the legendary Pokémon introduced in the first generation, is to a large degree not chosen due to competition from a non-legendary Pokémon, thanks to the latter's superior typing, stats, and movepool.

In the tier below OU, the only remaining Pokémon that can really handle Articuno is Dewgong, and as such it's a really incredible threat if you were ever to play this tier.



- Fire Blast
- Hyper Beam
- Fire Spin
- Agility

Moltres is the best Fire-type in the game. Unfortunately, Fire typing is pretty awful in Gen I. Unlike in later generations, it doesn't resist Ice, is weak to Water, Rock, and Ground, and lacks any helpful resistances. The most crucial of those weaknesses, Ground, is thankfully removed by its Flying-type, but that makes it vulnerable to Rock (even moreso), Electric, and Ice (two of the most common attacking types). Moltres also suffers from something else afflicting all Fire-types in the first generation, in that its movepool is nowhere to be seen.

The real reason Fire-type Pokémon and attacks are almost never seen is that Fire Blast, the best attack of its type, has a gigantic 30% chance to burn. Whilst that doesn't sound too bad at first glance, you should realize that what it importantly means is that opposing Pokémon then can't be afflicted with other types of status. Starmie in particular can switch in whilst reasonably healthy, and if it gets burned, that's game over unless you can somehow clean the opposing team with an Electric-type very quickly. Burning Chansey (which is on nearly every team) is similarly disastrous, although Fire Spin and the fact that Chansey is more easily paralyzed means that this is slightly less of an issue.

All that being said, with the recent discovery that Body Slam cannot paralyze Normal-types (meaning that Tauros is rarely inflicted with status), and the fact that Moltres does match up well with a few of the best Pokémon in the metagame (Exeggutor and Snorlax as well as Tauros) along with its exploitable Ground immunity suggests that if you can remove Starmie from the picture, Moltres is potentially viable.

Let's be honest though, saying that something is potentially viable (aka it's going to be hard to make it work well) is a pretty poor state for a legendary Pokémon to be in.

I mean I thought that legendaries were supposed to be the best Pokémon in the game, too broken and powerful for the metagame to be playable without them banned.

Maybe we're wrong?

Well, some legendaries are that good...



- Amnesia
- Recover
- Ice Beam
- Thunderbolt / Psychic

Mewtwo was the first Pokémon ever to be banished from regular play. Its typing affords it almost no weaknesses, and it has access to Recover and Amnesia, the latter of which allows it to boost its Special by two stages—this means that it becomes incredible at both taking special hits and dishing them out. This set is the standard Mewtwo set, since... Ubers tends to turn into a Mewtwo vs Mewtwo stall war, to some extent. Being frozen by Ice Beam is something you cannot recover from in RBY, so a freeze war is what an RBY Ubers match often comes down to. It's not the only element, and Mewtwo has some other options (such as Barrier and Self-Destruct), but this is the most frequently seen set.

The only Pokémon that really beats Mewtwo... is Mewtwo. Chansey can trouble it, but it's afraid of getting frozen by Ice Beam and it has issues threatening Mewtwo back. Amnesia means that Mewtwo gets much more opportunity to attack, since Chansey is forced to recover so often with Softboiled, and Psychic can drop its Special, forcing it out. Slowbro can boost and match Mewtwo, but it can't easily remove it; it can sometimes carry Ice Beam though to fight it, but if Mewtwo has Thunderbolt, it's in trouble.

Mewtwo is the best Pokémon in the game for sure, as it has the best typing and base stats of any Pokémon in this generation, with a good selection of moves too. This should help make it clear why some legendaries are so powerful that they are banned from regular play.



- Transform
- Thunder Wave
- Softboiled
- Reflect

Mew is one of the most versatile Pokémon ever created; even in Gen I, it gets a movepool most other Pokémon would be jealous of, alongside a typing and base stats that allow it to make extraordinary use of its tools, all of which lead to its ban from regular play.

The most common set tends to run a mixture of Swords Dance, Softboiled, Body Slam, Hyper Beam, Earthquake, and Explosion. It also has access to a variety of special attacks such as Psychic, Thunderbolt, and Blizzard. However, here I'm treating you to a totally new set created by Lutra, which uses its rarely seen and quirky tool of Transform. This set allows it to function as a counter to opposing Swords Dance Mew (although Explosion scares it), then counter-sweep. Thunder Wave and Reflect allow it to effectively neuter the opposing Mew, not being 2HKOed by any attack from a Mew that's maximized its Attack stat. Reflect's effect remains when you use Transform, so this allows you to turn into your opponent's Pokémon, but unparalyzed and with Reflect, although alas with fewer PP.

Even in a tier with Mewtwo, Mew is a fantastic threat that is truly versatile and far too good to be permitted in regular play.


Hopefully you've learned, if you didn't understand before, why legendaries are sometimes permitted in regular play. Some, on the other hand, are clearly way too powerful or have other traits that make them simply too good to keep around.

In truth, RBY Ubers is still a playable and balanced metagame, and Chansey and Tauros have a similar presence compared to RBY OU (and to a similar extent Exeggutor and Snorlax), which are powerful, dominating Pokémon that aren't legendaries, but for whatever mix of reasons, Mewtwo and Mew have been banished to another tier to make room in the standard tier that we now have. So the very best Pokémon with a "legendary" status (and maybe a couple without it that are too good, such as, in certain generations, Wobbuffet, Excadrill, and Greninja) are removed from the standard tier, which then features the best (or nearly best) non-legendary Pokémon and any legendary Pokémon that aren't too good.

Of course, many of you reading this will already have an understanding of why legendaries are often permitted in regular play, so I hope that you instead enjoyed learning a little about the functions of these Pokémon in RBY OU and Ubers and seeing fresh innovation in the oldest of the Pokémon series' metagames.

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