NU Spotlight: Sneasel

By boltsandbombers. Art by Sparkl3y.
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Sneasel was introduced in Pokémon Gold and Silver, but the competitive scene wasn't very kind to it until the most recent generation. Back in DPP, Sneasel held a small niche in a Taunt + Fake Out combination combined with its high Speed, which allowed it to shut down common leads such as Glalie. Apart from this, Sneasel didn't hold very much significance in the tier. Unfortunately, the shift to the Black and White NU metagame was not exceptional for Sneasel either. Sneasel's awful defensive stats were extremely detrimental for it given the heavy number of bulky Pokémon such as Alomomola, Garbodor, and Regirock, which thrived throughout the generation. Despite this, Sneasel's outstanding Speed and unique STAB combination gave it a few unique qualities as an offensive Pokémon. For one, Sneasel's base 115 Speed allowed it to outspeed the entire unboosted metagame, which is always an important aspect about an offensive Pokémon. Sneasel's STAB Dark-type attacks allowed it to prey on the plethora of Psychic- and Ghost-types that were widely used in the tier, such as Gardevoir, Musharna, Gothorita, Jynx (before it was banned), Haunter, and Golurk.

With the transition to Pokémon X and Y, the buff to Knock Off was a major boon for Sneasel. The new game mechanics significantly increased the Base Power of Knock Off, essentially giving Sneasel a much more reliable Dark-type STAB move. This was a huge change because previously, Sneasel had to rely on Punishment or Foul Play for its Dark-type STAB attack. On the other hand, the introduction of the new Fairy typing was problematic for Sneasel as well, adding a significant number of more Pokémon that can threaten Sneasel.

Throughout the XY NU metagame, Sneasel still had quite a few issues that held it back. Typhlosion was the centerpiece of the tier for the majority of generation, and the Pokémon commonly used to check Typhlosion were issues for Sneasel. The most prevalent one was Hariyama, which resists both of Sneasel's STAB moves thanks to Thick Fat and made things quite difficult for Sneasel. Other bulky Water-types that were prominent at the time such as Seismitoad, Qwilfish, and Feraligatr all posed major threats to Sneasel, the last of which used Sneasel as setup fodder. With the introduction of ORAS, nine new Mega Evolutions were introduced into the tier, and after a series of bans and tier shifts, Mega Steelix and Mega Audino were the only ones remaining. While Sneasel did have ways to work around Mega Steelix, its mere presence in team preview dissuaded Sneasel from using its STAB moves. With the banning of Mega Steelix, Sneasel quickly rose to dominance in NU as one of the most influential and important offensive Pokémon in the metagame.

However, the NU council decided that these traits made Sneasel potentially too much for the tier to handle and as such worthy of a suspect test. Here is the reasoning provided from the suspect thread:

Sneasel is being suspected because it is very strong and fast, gets rid of passive recovery on most of its checks thanks to Knock Off, and Pursuit traps everything weak to Dark because of its high Speed. It is also nearly impossible to check offensively because of its STAB priority and amazing Speed.

Sneasel's Qualities

Sneasel has a variety of qualities that make it shine in NU. Firstly, its outstanding Speed tier puts it above the majority of the metagame, and the Pokémon that outspeed it are felled by an Ice Shard. This is significant considering the large number of Pokémon that reside around the base 110 and 95 Speed tier. Sneasel's STAB combination hits most relevant Pokémon in the tier for at least neutral damage, and those that it cannot are easy to wear down. Having a STAB Knock Off is another huge boon for Sneasel, as a large number of defensive Pokémon rely on Leftovers for their longevity. Lastly, the team support provided by Pursuit in a tier where Ghost- and Psychic-types are fairly common is extremely beneficial to teammates.

Playing with Sneasel

Sneasel @ Choice Band / Life Orb
Ability: Inner Focus
EVs: 252 Atk / 4 SpD / 252 Spe
Jolly Nature
- Knock Off
- Icicle Crash
- Ice Shard
- Pursuit / Low Kick / Swords Dance

Knock Off and Icicle Crash are Sneasel's bread-and-butter STAB moves. Knock Off is an extremely spammable attack because it cripples almost all of Sneasel's defensive checks and counters while still sporting a high Base Power, allowing it to hit foes hard. Icicle Crash is Sneasel's most powerful physically based Ice-type attack and has a 30% chance to flinch the opposing Pokémon, allowing Sneasel to muscle past its checks in yet another fashion. Ice Punch can be used over Icicle Crash, but avoiding contact with foes and having the chance to flinch is typically more beneficial than the slight boost in accuracy. The combination of Sneasel's dual STAB moves hits the majority of the tier for at least neutral damage, barring Pawniard, Mawile, Poliwrath, Thick Fat Hariyama, and Monferno. Ice Shard allows Sneasel to pick off faster foes such as Swellow and Zebstrika, as well as boosting sweepers such as Lilligant and Vivillon. Pursuit deals heavy damage to foes switching out, trapping Ghost- and Psychic-types such as Uxie, Xatu, Mismagius, and Rotom. Low Kick is an option if Sneasel's teammates don't benefit greatly from Sneasel's Pursuit trapping and is useful to hit the likes of Hariyama, Carracosta, Pawniard, and opposing Sneasel. Swords Dance capitalizes on Sneasel's ability to force switches and enhances its ability to clean up weakened teams late-game. However, Sneasel is often better off simply attacking, and its frailty makes it difficult for Sneasel to find opportunities to set up anyway.

The choice of item is somewhat dependent on Sneasel's team support. Choice Band is the most common item in this metagame, as it amplifies Sneasel's power to significant levels despite locking Sneasel into a move. If Sneasel's teammates carry methods of entry hazard removal, Life Orb can be used for the merit of being able to switch moves. This makes playing with Sneasel less prediction-reliant at the cost of more residual damage. Sneasel's abilities are fairly useless for the most part, but Inner Focus has the small use of avoiding the flinch from Kangaskhan's Fake Out.

Due to Sneasel's nearly non-existent bulk and awful defensive typing, it should not be switching into attacks unless extremely necessary and should be played as a revenge killer. It is important to note that while Sneasel is powerful, it often needs a significant amount of prior damage to successfully clean up teams late-game. Smart double switches are also key to Sneasel's gameplay, as getting it in safely is crucial. For example, if you have an entry hazard setter or a Fighting-type and your opponent has a Xatu, those Pokémon naturally bait in Xatu, thus giving Sneasel an opportunity to launch off a powerful attack or Pursuit trap it, if you predict correctly.

Keep in mind that if you cannot decide what move to use, just click Knock Off—it's quite strong and has very few drawbacks to using it.

Playing against Sneasel

General physically bulky Pokémon are the best answers to Sneasel, most notably Fighting- and Fairy-types. Despite Sneasel having a secondary STAB move to hit them with, most of them have either an ability or a secondary typing that makes them resist Ice-type attacks. Good examples include Mawile, Gurdurr, Granbull, Poliwrath, and Hariyama. Note that Gurdurr, Poliwrath, and Hariyama have super effective priority attacks to target Sneasel with, making them more effective checks.

Other bulky Pokémon that take neutral damage from Sneasel's attacks such as Avalugg, Carracosta, and Weezing are effective checks to Sneasel, as they can take repeated hits and threaten Sneasel back with a STAB or status move. Avalugg stands out between those Pokémon, as it has reliable recovery to take Sneasel's attacks even better. However, there is one thing that is prevalent between most if not all of these Pokémon, which is that they are crippled (some more than others) by Knock Off. As such, Mega Audino is one of the most reliable answers to Sneasel in the tier, as it resists and takes little damage from Knock Off, cannot lose its item, and has the bulk to repeatedly take Icicle Crashes.

More proactive and offensive ways to checking Sneasel include but are not limited to keeping up entry hazards, getting off residual damage on Sneasel, and using faster Pokémon and Choice Scarf users. Keeping up entry hazards on your opponent's side of the field (assuming you are facing a Sneasel) is crucial because of its weakness to Stealth Rock and, to a lesser extent, Spikes.

Other sources of residual damage such as Ferroseed's Iron Barbs and Garbodor's Aftermath are also ways of wearing down Sneasel, but they are not as reliable because Ferroseed is severely crippled by losing its Eviolite and you must sacrifice Garbodor to get off Aftermath damage on Sneasel. While they are limited, faster Pokémon such as Zebstrika, Swellow, and Ninjask can pressure Sneasel despite not being able to switch in. Swellow and Ninjask are often OHKOed by Ice Shard, but they can take advantage of Choice Band Sneasel locked into any move other than Ice Shard while threatening to OHKO it.

Fitting Sneasel onto your team

Another notable quality about Sneasel is how extremely easy it is to fit onto a team due to how well it plays as an effective revenge killer to offensive threats, which is always useful. Offensive teams naturally run fast Pokémon, while balanced or even stall teams appreciate having a fast revenge killer and a way to deal with Calm Mind Psychic-types, which often have a good matchup versus slower or bulkier builds.

Offensive Grass-types such as Lilligant and Exeggutor pair well with Sneasel because they appreciate Sneasel putting pressure on or Pursuit trapping Xatu, a common answer to Grass-types. By having the team support from Sneasel, Lilligant can forgo Hidden Power Ice, which would otherwise be used to target Xatu, for Hidden Power Fire, which allows it to have better coverage overall.

Spikes setters such as Ferroseed, Garbodor, and Weezing are also good teammates that appreciate Sneasel pressuring bulky Psychic-types, notably Xatu which bounces back their entry hazards. In addition, most common checks to Sneasel are grounded and thus susceptible to Spikes, which is helpful in further wearing them down for Sneasel.

Get out there!

Sneasel is one of the most common and important Pokémon in the current NU metagame, so knowing its ins and outs is crucial.

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