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Find out which Pokémon is the best in competitive play

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This is the final answer, until next year

A selection of Legendary Pokémon The Pokémon Company

The 20th anniversary of Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue has led to a lot of discussion of the history of the franchise, and anytime people talk about Pokémon, they argue about which Pokémon is the best.

The best Pokémon may be cutest one for some, or the one with the most personality for others. But some of us are dull, uncreative and literal-minded, and to us, the best Pokémon is simply the one that kicks the largest quantities of ass — the most dominant in competition.

Competitive formats can vary, of course, or the metagame can shift. The Pokémon Video Game Championships changes its rules every year to shake things up, and the Smogon community has an elaborate tiering system that allows Pokémon who would otherwise be too weak to compete to be contenders. Pokémon that shine in single battles are less successful in doubles, and vice versa.

So, even when narrowing your view to competitive viability and ignoring the other facets of each characters, there’s a lot of room for disagreement about which Pokémon is best.

But the best Pokémon is Primal Groudon.

Before I explain why, let’s discuss the important topic of special Pokémon.

Some Pokémon are special

Each generation of Pokémon games includes some legendary monsters that are, for competitive purposes, broken. These Pokémon are usually gods of some kind, according to the game’s lore, and the villains typically hope to use them to cause some kind of cataclysm.

This group of Pokémon includes:

  • Generation 1’s Mewtwo
  • Generation 2’s Ho-oh and Lugia
  • Generation 3’s Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza
  • Generation 4’s Dialga, Palkia and Giratina
  • Generation 5’s Reshiram, Zekrom and Kyurem
  • Generation 6’s Xerneas, Yveltal and Zygarde
  • Generation 7’s Lunala, Solgaleo and Necrozma

They are classified as “Special Pokémon,” and they are, indeed, very special.

Competitively, the Special Pokémon back up their lore by having a significantly higher stat budget than other Pokémon — usually a total of 670 or 680. Other legendary Pokémon, like the legendary first-generation birds Zapdos, Articuno and Moltres, and “pseudo-legendaries” like Dragonite, Tyranitar and Garchomp, have total stats around 580 or 600.

Having stats that are 13 percent higher than other strong Pokémon doesn’t seem earth-shattering, but the Pokémon in legendary and pseudo-legendary tiers already combine substantial bulk with high offensive stats. Pushing those numbers upward means that the Special Pokémon often have defensive capabilities similar to Pokémon that sacrifice offensive stats for strong defenses, while also having offensive stats similar to aggressive Pokémon who are much more fragile. Their high-stat budgets mean they don’t need to make any trade-offs to be great at everything.

Pokémon games operate on a sort of rock-paper-scissors system; for example, water-type Pokémon beat fire types; fire types beat grass types; and grass types beat water types. This is accomplished by giving each type weaknesses and resistance. If a Pokémon is attacked with a move that it it is weak to — like a fire type getting hit with a water-type attack — the move deals double damage.

However, if a Pokémon is hit with a move it resists — like a water type getting hit with a fire-type attack — then it will take only half damage. Another twist: Pokémon can have up to two types, and the second type can cover the first type’s weakness. For example, fire melts ice, but if a Pokémon is both a water type and an ice type, then water’s resistance to fire will cancel out ice’s vulnerability to it.

However, if both of a Pokémon’s types share the same weakness, then they’ll take quadruple damage from that weakness, which is usually a one-hit knockout in a battle. Many of the most powerful Pokémon outside the special tier are balanced in part by having double weaknesses. But most of the Special Pokémon do not have these crippling weaknesses, and they often have unique typing that give them a lot of resistances, or powerful abilities that either reduce the damage they take or increase the damage they put out.

Special Pokémon are so powerful that the only thing that can beat them are the game’s rules. These Pokémon are only permitted in the “Ubers” metagame under the fan-regulated Smogon ruleset, which keeps the most broken and dominant Pokémon out of everyone else’s battles. On the online Battle Spot system, the most popular category of battles does not permit the use of Special Pokémon.

In fact, when I first planned to write this article about the “best” Pokémon, I was only going to mention the Special Pokémon briefly before discussing other Pokémon. Their power has historically come with an asterisk; they’re awesome, but you rarely actually get to use them.

But it turns out that Special Pokémon are more permissible than they used to be in Pokémon’s premier competitive format. The 2019 VGC ruleset allows players to have two of these guys on each team. The new format started right after the 2018 World Championships, which took place at the end of August. All Pokémon are permitted through the end of January, but Z-moves, Mega Evolution, Primal Reversion and Ultra Necrozma are banned. From January through April, the Z-moves will be permitted, and from April through the World Championships, anything goes (except Mythical Pokémon and Ash-Greninja, who are never allowed in VGC).

Special Pokémon were last allowed in the 2016 VGC season but, before that, had not been permitted since 2010. It’s surprising that The Pokémon Company is bringing them back so soon, and it may be a sign that they’ll be allowed in competition more often going forward.

When a new main-series Pokémon game comes out, a year of VGC competition is usually limited to that game’s regional Pokedex: only about half of the available characters. After that, there is usually a year in which the entire National Dex — everything except the Special Pokémon — is allowed. If the Pokémon Company starts adding a year of Special Pokémon to that cycle, then these guys will be seen about as frequently as anything else. When they’re in the mix, they push out many of the Pokémon that flourish in their absence.

Some Special Pokémon are more special than others

While all the Special Pokémon have overpowered states compared to standard Pokémon, some of them are more overpowered than others.

Groudon and Kyogre, the dueling, third-gen elemental forces, have always been among the series’ most powerful monsters. Their single typing doesn’t leave them with too many weaknesses, their movesets are fantastic, their ability to inflict weather on the board is powerful, and their stats are superlative.

Their stats are roughly even, except that Groudon favors physical attacks, and Kyogre favors special attacks. But Kyogre has historically been a little bit better, due to being a water type whose ability causes it to rain, which boosts its water attacks. Groudon is a ground type who causes harsh sunlight, which boosts fire attacks. So Kyogre boosts its same-type attacks, and Groudon doesn’t. Ground types are also vulnerable to water, but water types take only neutral damage from ground, so Kyogre beats Groudon head-to-head.

But that balance shifted in November 2014, when Game Freak released Pokémon Omega Ruby and Pokémon Alpha Sapphire, remakes of the third-generation games. These games gave Kyogre and Groudon the ability to undergo something called Primal Reversion when they hold special orbs. Primal Reversion takes these Pokémon, already among the game’s best, to a whole new level.

In their primal forms, Groudon and Kyogre’s stat totals increase from 670 to 770, which means these guys couple the offensive power of something like Kartana with the defensive bulk of something like Ferrothorn. Primal Kyogre has a special attack of 180 and a physical attack of 150, and Primal Groudon has 180 physical and 150 special. These guys can surprise you with attacks you wouldn’t normally expect from them, or specialize in defense instead of taking EVs and a nature that boosts offense, and they’ll still hit very hard. This makes them extremely versatile and unpredictable.

On top of that, they get upgraded versions of their weather-setting abilities; Kyogre’s Primordial Sea ability causes fire moves to have no effect, and Groudon’s Desolate Land causes water moves to fail. Groudon also becomes a ground/fire type instead of pure ground, allowing it to get a same-type attack bonus on moves that benefit from its harsh sunlight.

The weather conditions these Pokémon create has no limited duration; it lasts as long as they stay on the field. Their weather conditions aren’t overwritten by those of other Pokémon — except for either an opposing Primal counterpart or Rayquaza, a dragon god who represents air and completes the third-generation, legendary weather trio.

groudon in pokemon go Niantic/The Pokémon Company

These changes, taken together, make Primal Groudon a little stronger than Primal Kyogre. Its new typing leaves Groudon with only two weaknesses: ground and water, which it’s twice as weak to. But its Desolate Land weather causes water attacks to do nothing, so it’s protected from those (unless Primal Kyogre or Rayquaza overwrites its weather condition, that is).

In 2016, when Special Pokémon were last permitted in VGC, all but three players in the top 24 of the World Championship used Groudon or Kyogre, and all of those teams also included Rayquaza. Outside of the weather trio, the only Special Pokémon who were used by the top players in the World Championship were the sixth-generation Xerneas and Yveltal, and only one player used Yveltal.

Primal Groudon is also the most dominant Pokémon in the Smogon Ubers format, which is a single-battle format, rather than VGC’s doubles; it permits the use of Mythical Pokémon. With the highest stats in the game and established dominance in every format in which it’s permitted, Primal Groudon is the best Pokémon, and Primal Kyogre is right behind it.

Who else could be the best Pokémon? Let’s dive into some good tertiary picks.

Rayquaza

An image of Rayquaza The Pokémon Company

Rayquaza got a mega-evolution in Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, which gives it stats on the level of Primal Groudon and Kyogre, as well as an ability to bring heavy winds that replace other forms of weather.

This causes several of its weaknesses to deal only neutral damage. It was widely used in 2016 VGC, in part because of its ability to change Primal Groudon and Kyogre’s weather. That ability may keep it in the mix in the 2019 VGC, once its Mega Evolution form is allowed in April. However, its usage rate in the Smogon Ubers singles is lower than Mega Salamence’s.

Xerneas

An image of Xerneas The Pokémon Company

Xerneas was the only Special Pokémon to see a lot of play alongside the weather trio among top teams in the 2016 World Championship. This magnificent stag is a pure fairy type with a unique ability called Fairy Aura that increases all fairy damage. Xerneas isn’t an especially versatile Pokémon; it does one thing, and it does it really, really well.

Xerneas’ signature move, Geomancy, causes it to charge for a turn, and then it boosts his special attack, special defense and speed by two stages. By consuming a Power Herb, it can skip the charging turn and then kill everything with Moonblast. It doesn’t need anything that is currently banned in VGC to do its thing, so it will be dominant in the format until the Primals are unleashed in April.

Dusk Mane Necrozma

Dusk Mane Necrozma, with the Ultranecrozmium-Z crystal that allows it to “Ultra Burst” into Ultra Necrozma, is the second-most popular Pokémon in the Smogon Ubers category, after Primal Groudon. This Pokémon was not available during the 2016 VGC, when Special Pokémon were last permitted, but it has all the tools to be a threat in 2019, once its ultra form is allowed in competition in April.

In its Dusk Mane form, it has Prism Armor, which reduces the damage it takes from super-effective attacks. It can boost itself with Swords Dance while it has this defensive ability, then morph into Ultra Necrozma, which has a damage-boosting ability and very high speed. It can go on to melt enemies with its signature Z-move “The Light that Burns the Sky.”

Mega Salamence

An image of Mega Salamence The Pokémon Company

Mega Salamence does nearly everything Mega Rayquaza does, except it can’t reset the weather. It has the Aerilate ability, which turns its normal-type moves into flying-type moves, allowing it to get a same-type attack bonus for them. That means it can deal a lot of damage with moves like Double Edge and Hyper Voice.

Salamence was one of the most popular mega evolutions in 2016 among teams that did not include Rayquaza. The other most popular Mega Evolution, Mega Kangaskhan, has had its role filled by Incineroar, so Salamence may see a lot of play from April through the World Championship. Mega Salamence is also one of the most popular Pokémon on the Singles ladder, and is frequently used in Ubers.

Incineroar

The Pokémon Company

Using a different set of criteria, you could make a strong case that Incineroar is the best Pokémon in the game. It doesn’t storm the arena and murder everything like Groudon, Kyogre or Xerneas, but it is an indispensable utility player that was ubiquitous in 2018 VGC. It’s also the most frequently used Pokémon so far in the first leg of VGC 2019. Incineroar can have the Intimidate ability, which lowers his opponents’ attack stat by one stage when it enters battle.

It also gets Fake Out, which can only be used on its first turn. It hits with priority and causes its target to flinch and miss its turn. With Knock Off to bat away opponents’ held items and U-Turn to help it hit and run, this cat is a perfect sidekick for the heavy hitters. However, while it’s the best support in doubles, it’s not nearly as popular in singles formats.

Landorus — Therian Forme

An image of Landorus The Pokémon Company

In any format where Groudon is banned, Landorus — Therian Forme is the king. It’s top of the pops in Battle Spot singles and Smogon OU, and it was on six of the eight top teams in the 2018 World Championship.

With the Intimidate ability, stats that can only be topped by the Special Pokémon and typing that gives it only two weaknesses, Landorus, along with Mega Salamence, is the reason every Pokémon in OU and on the Battle Spot singles ladder carries ice attacks. But in a meta where everyone packs ice to kill Landorus, most players still play Landorus; some of them just played special-attacking Landorus with Hidden Power: Ice to surprise other players’ Landorus.

The best Pokémon is less arguable if you care about results

So, obviously there’s room for subjectivity in what you consider the best Pokémon, and many ways to define what makes a Pokémon the best. If you love Charizard or Jigglypuff, that’s fine. But if competitive dominance is your criteria, Primal Groudon is the best Pokémon — albeit a whisker ahead of its counterpart, Primal Kyogre. It’s got unmatched stats, a broken ability that completely deactivates all moves that target its main weakness, and no real drawbacks.

In a game whose strategy is about anticipating and countering what your opponent is likely to bring, Primal Groudon doesn’t really care if you see it coming, because there’s nothing that counters it. And that’s why it’s dominant in every format that allows it. We’re a long way from the World Championships in August 2019, but even at this early point, it’s pretty safe to predict that Primal Groudon or Primal Kyogre will be on nearly every team there.