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How to build an army of competitive shiny Pokémon

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The impossible is now possible, but be prepared to work for it

Pokémon red Gyarados art The Pokémon Company

Game Freak has made it easier than ever to collect and breed optimized Pokémon in what could be the final Pokémon games for the Nintendo 3DS: Pokémon Ultra Sun and Pokémon Ultra Moon. This gives you an amazing opportunity to finally build that collection of shiny Pokémon from your dreams.

This is the ultimate quest for the most dedicated fans, and we’re going to show you how to do it.

Shiny Pokémon are much easier to get now

“Shiny” Pokémon are rare variations on each of the game’s monsters with alternate color schemes. Rayquaza, a normally green legendary dragon from generation three, is black when you track down a shiny. Shiny Pokémon are functionally the same as their non-shiny versions, but they look cooler.

The catch, or maybe the point, is that they’re hard to find. One guy famously spent hundreds of hours over five years hunting for a shiny Mewtwo in Pokémon HeartGold before finally catching it in 2014. This isn’t a goal for the easily discouraged.

However, Game Freak has been making shinies a little easier to find with each generation of Pokémon games. Fifteen years ago, finding a shiny was like winning the lottery, but you can build multiple full-shiny teams in recent games if you can tolerate a long grind. The first games that included shinies put the odds of getting one at 1 in 8,092. Later games gave you a 5 in 8,092 chance of breeding a shiny, as long as the parents were bred from games in different languages. This is called the Masuda Method.

Black 2 and White 2 introduced the Shiny Charm you earned by completing the Pokédex, meaning you could now breed Pokémon with an 8 in 8,092 chance of being shiny.

2014’s Pokémon X/Y cut the base odds from 1 in 8,092 to 1 in 4,096. The Shiny Charm and Masuda Method still add the same number of chances for a Pokémon to be shiny, so if you have a charm and you are soft-resetting — resetting the game without saving — to find a shiny legendary, your odds are 1 in 1,365.

If you have the charm and you are Masuda breeding, the chances of hatching a shiny Pokémon are 1 in 513. That’s not so bad! Don’t worry, we’re going to explain soft-resetting in a little bit if you don’t understand it yet.

2016’s Pokémon Sun/Moon changed breeding mechanics in a way that made it much quicker to breed shiny Pokémon using a method called “swap breeding” or “time machine” breeding. Unlike in previous games, the generation seven games determine the stats, including shininess, of Pokémon in eggs before the eggs are actually spawned. This means you can breed quick-hatching Magikarp instead of slower-gestating species while saving your game every few minutes until you find a shiny.

Then, you can soft-reset the game, load your most recent save and replace the Magikarp in the daycare with a different Pokémon, and the same egg that hatched the shiny Karp will hatch whatever Pokémon you’re breeding for. Breeding this way reduces the time it takes to breed a shiny from 15-20 hours to two to three.

What used to be an insurmountable task has slowly become much easier, as long as you know what you’re doing. But it’s still going to take time and commitment.

Breeding is the best way to get all the shiny Pokémon that can be bred

In addition to Masuda breeding, there are a couple of mechanisms in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon that give you improved shiny odds. Some people like these methods, but they’re all slower than Magikarp swap breeding, and the Pokémon they yield often cannot be competitive.

The first method is SOS chaining. Pokémon in Alola, the seventh-generation Pokémon region, call for help when they’re in distress, summoning an additional Pokémon into battle to assist them. If you use an item called an Adrenaline Orb, injured wild Pokémon will attempt to call for help every turn.

After a wild Pokémon has called 70 allies, subsequent allies get three extra chances to be shiny, for a total of 6 out of 4,092, if you have the Shiny Charm. So the odds are still worse than Masuda eggs.

The only way to control the nature of your SOS shiny is to use a Pokémon with the synchronize ability and the nature you want. And synchronize only works half the time. By having a breeding parent with your desired nature hold the Everstone item, you can guarantee the nature of the Pokémon you breed.

SOS shinies get a 15 percent chance to have their hidden ability. If the Pokémon you’re hunting requires a hidden ability, those are poor odds in conjunction with the 1-in-682 odds of chaining a shiny. But if you breed a hidden ability parent with a Ditto, the offspring have a 60 percent chance to get a hidden ability.

And, if you are using the Magikarp swap method and your shiny does not get its hidden ability, you can reload the save and reject a couple of eggs before accepting the shiny egg, and you may get a different ability.

Finally, Pokémon you catch do not get egg moves, which are moves Pokémon can only get by being bred from parents that also know the moves. Many egg moves are central to Pokémon’s best sets. For example, a Salamence wants Dragon Dance for the single battle format. Captured Pokémon can never learn these moves.

It’s up to you to decide how much that bothers you.

The Ultra Wormhole method

The other way to find shinies is through Ultra Wormholes. This minigame is where you hunt for legendary Pokémon, and it spawns a nonlegendary Pokémon when you enter a wormhole with no legendary.

The spawned Pokémon has a potentially dramatically increased chance to be shiny, depending on how deep into Ultra Space the wormhole is. However, only a small set of Pokémon can be found in the wormholes and, like SOS Pokémon, they miss out on their egg moves. You can find shiny Hippowdon in Ultra Space, but this Pokémon, which is a top pick for online battles, frequently uses the moves Whirlwind and Slack Off, and can only get them as egg moves. That’s a disadvantage if you want to be competitive online.

In generation seven, nonhatched Pokémon are usually competitively inferior and take longer to find than hatched Pokémon of the same species. Outside of a few special cases, like using Cute Charm in SOS battles to significantly increase the odds of finding a shiny female Salandit, there is no benefit to pursuing breedable shinies by any method other than breeding.

Is this taking advantage of a glitch?

Some players consider swap breeding an exploit or a glitch, but they’re probably wrong. Generation seven has been out since 2016, and Game Freak has not patched or changed the egg mechanics since.

The company also released the Ultra versions of the game with these mechanics intact a full year after the method was first discovered. If Game Freak didn’t want players doing this, the studio would have put a stop to it by now.

And, since swap breeding requires no third-party devices or software, or anything beyond a simple soft reset of the game, most players see it as a fair way to breed shinies. Pokémon bred using this method are considered legitimate in all trading communities I am aware of, and can be swapped without disclosures even under the famously legalistic legitimacy policy of the Pokémon Trades subreddit.

Further, it seems unlikely that a major change to the way eggs work was unintentional on the developers’ part. Like the Masuda method, swap breeding is probably something added to the breeding mechanics specifically to make the process less onerous. This isn’t cheating; we’re just using the systems available to us to do what we’d like to do as efficiently as possible.

Shiny legends are a quest for the hardcore

Legendary Pokémon can’t be bred. The only way to get shiny legends (other than through certain event distributions) is to soft-reset for them. Here’s exactly how to do it:

  1. Save your game right before you engage a legendary Pokémon
  2. Engage the Pokémon
  3. If it is not shiny, reset the game by holding the left and right shoulder buttons and pressing select
  4. Repeat, possibly thousands of times, until you find a shiny

The only thing that raises the odds of finding a shiny legendary is the shiny charm, which improves your chance from 1 in 4,092 to 1 in 1,365. You can soft-reset the game between two and three times per minute, so you’re looking at an average of about eight to 10 hours of resetting your game over and over again to find one of these guys. And if you want them to get their optimal nature, you have to use the synchronize ability, which only works half the time. If the synchronize fails, you have to either live with an imperfect shiny or reset the game and hunt it again.

Soft-reset shiny hunting is an exercise in patience and tenacity. But breeding and soft-resetting don’t require your full attention, so you can grind for shinies while you watch TV. With a little practice, you can soft-reset and read a book at the same time.

2017’s Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon are the best Pokémon games ever released for shiny legendary hunters. Every legendary Pokémon from the first six generations, as well as the seventh-generation Ultra Beasts, are available to catch in the game’s Ultra Space area, and all of them can be shiny. This is the first time the third generation Weather Trio of Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza have been available to Shiny Hunt since 2009’s HeartGold/SoulSilver, and the first time the sixth-generation legends and the Ultra Beasts have been available at all.

off-screen photo of captured Pokémon Kyogre
Got ‘em!
Game Freak/The Pokémon Company via Polygon

Some legends and ultra beasts are only available in one version of the game or the other, and some legends only appear if you have other members of their trios in your party, so you will need both versions of the game to catch ’em all.

But no one will believe you’re legit

It’s pretty common to see shiny Pokémon and even full shiny teams when battling online. Unfortunately, many of those players have not obtained their shinies via breeding, SOS hunting or soft-resetting.

Using homebrew software or third-party devices, it is possible to modify Pokémon save files to inject Pokémon into a game, or to change Pokémon’s stats or moves — and even turn them shiny. Devices that back up and restore save files also allow easy “cloning” or duplication of legitimately obtained rare Pokémon; you can simply upload rare monsters to the Pokémon bank, and then restore the previous save to have a copy in the bank and a copy on the cartridge. While modified or edited Pokémon can sometimes be detected, clones are indistinguishable from the real thing.

This stuff is widespread enough that it has more or less contaminated the entire trade economy. If you get a shiny via Wonder Trade or GTS, you should assume it’s hacked. The only way to know a shiny is legit is to breed or catch it yourself, and in that situation, it may be next to impossible to convince anyone else you did things the honest way. But you’ll know, and that’s what’s important.

The prevalence of hacked shinies makes shiny Pokémon a lot less rare and special. If you go to the trouble of building a legit, competitive shiny team, the people you stomp with it online will think you are a hacker. That may be reason enough for many players not to bother with shiny hunting at all.

But, if you decide to hunt or breed shinies anyway, you can take a photo of your screen whenever you hatch a shiny or when you’re in battle with one. (There’s no screenshot or capture function on 3DS, so you have to just take a photo of the screen with your phone.) People who hack their shinies never see those screens, or the screen after you catch or hatch a Pokémon that asks if you want to give it a nickname. These images are the provenance for your shinies, and proof of your effort.

Most likely, nobody will ever ask to see them, but it’s nice to be able to prove that you’re the real deal. And you can always offer to send them to any opponent who gets ultra-salty after a loss.