Pokémon Sword and Shield have shaken up the competitive scene in dramatic fashion; Gens 3 and 6 might have made some Pokémon unavailable at launch, but they didn’t outright remove over half of the Pokédex and major mechanics introduced in the two prior installments! Alongside the introduction of many powerful new Galar-native contenders, this chaos presents opportunity for previous all-stars and current has-beens to take centre stage once more.
With this in mind, we’ve identified just a small handful of Pokémon who we reckon could see a dramatic uptick in usage in the coming months, along with the circumstances that enable them to put their qualities to good use. This article won’t necessarily touch upon the most popular existing species, or Pokémon who are very obviously going to be great – you don’t need me to tell you that Toxapex is going to remain a stellar pick on most teams!
This article also isn’t going to discuss the exciting new Dynamax and Gigantamax mechanics. At time of writing we’re still learning a lot about what these mechanics actually do and when and where they can be used, so watch this space for future analysis of these new forms!
Tyranitar has almost always been either an outright dominant or anti-meta force in competitive play; the fact that it continued to be so in as hostile an environment as Pokémon Showdown’s Gen 7 OU is testament to its incredible assets.
This being the case, what do you think happens when you remove titans such as Scizor, Landorus, Garchomp, Celesteela and the Tapu family from play, and dial down the overall power level by removing Mega Evolutions and Z-Moves? What happens when you introduce a slew of interesting new Ghost and Psychic types, including a Ghost pseudo-legendary? What happens when you take away Chansey and Blissey, leaving a gap in the market for a special wall? The answer: you create an unbelievable playground for a tremendously bulky and terrifyingly potent Rock/Dark type.
One of Tyranitar’s hallmarks has always been versatility. Though it feels the loss of Pursuit more keenly than perhaps any other Pokémon, the Armour monster is still capable of running an astounding variety of sets, ranging from Dragon Dance, to Assault Vest, to a specially-based lure set; it even makes for a great Stealth Rock setter. Tyranitar may not appreciate the retention of the musketeer legends or the emergence of new threats such as Barraskewda and Cinderace, but the Godzilla of Galar has overcome such forces before and will do so again.
We’ll go so far as to say that, at some point in the coming months, Tyranitar will be among the top three most-used Pokemon in Sword and Shield OU. Don’t forget to remind us if we’re wrong!
Hippowdon immediately created a reputation for itself as a defensive all-star when it arrived on the scene in Gen 4, with monstrous defensive stats, reliable recovery, Stealth Rock and phasing moves. It’s also far less passive than many similar walls, with a reasonably powerful STAB Earthquake.
The sand hippo has enjoyed less success in more recent years with increasingly powerful attackers stretching its capabilities to the limit, especially on the special side. Other Pokémon such as Skarmory and Ferrothorn have offered intense competition with access to stackable Spikes, relegating Hippowdon to UU play.
Sword and Shield may yet offer a chance to change all this. As mentioned before, many of the most powerful offensive Pokémon of recent formats are not present in Galar, and Skarmory can no longer challenge Hippowdon for a team slot. It’s not hard to foresee a meta developing where threats such as Dragapult, Cinderace and Terrakion are held in check by Bertha’s behemoth – could sand yet see a re-emergence as a major playstyle?
You may have picked up on the author’s fondness for physically-based Rock and Ground types by now, but that doesn’t mean that Mamoswine isn’t a very dangerous force with a STAB combination that threatens many top-tier foes (including several on this list). Now that Scizor and Technician Bullet Punch are out of the way, we shouldn’t be surprised to see Mamoswine rise up from UU as an anti-meta dark horse and premier priority killer.
Mamoswine’s ability to smash a wide variety of types with a high 130 base Attack means it’s almost a dead cert that the Twin Tusk Pokémon will see plenty of competitive play; no matter which Pokemon come to dominate the metagame, it’s highly likely that some combination of Earthquake, Icicle Crash and Superpower will make them cry (it’s worth noting that these moves also provide great coverage against both Toxapex and Ferrothorn, which you can bet your Budew will be a very popular defensive core)! It can also pick off powerful setup sweepers such as Flygon with the game’s most potent Ice Shard. A good HP stat means Mamoswine isn’t a complete glass cannon, though an astounding number of weaknesses means it will often be performing hit-and-run duties rather than attempting to sweep by itself.
It’s often overlooked, but Mamoswine even has a way of circumventing bulky Water types that would often check or counter it. Though it comes from a decidedly mediocre base 70 Special Attack, Freeze Dry is still a STAB move that hits for super-effective damage against some species that only take neutral damage from Mamoswine’s other attacks, such as Pelipper.
It might be obvious to many that the OG Ghost will continue to terrify teams in Galar, but it’s worth bearing in mind that the loss of Levitate in Gen 7 robbed Gengar of a vital immunity and rendered it vulnerable to Spikes, ultimately seeing it drop to UU in Gen 7. This still hasn’t changed, and Galar contains a wealth of viable Ghosts to choose from along with a host of relevant Dark types, so what merits Gengar’s inclusion on this list? Nasty Plot.
Gengar’s high Speed and fantastic Special Attack have always enabled it to take out weakened opponents with ease, but it is often reliant on prior damage or super-effective coverage to rack up wins; Sludge Wave is decently powerful but resisted by many Pokémon, and Shadow Ball’s great neutral coverage is undermined by a measly 80 base power. Nasty Plot changes all this, giving Gengar the means to break through healthier targets. It won’t lack for opportunities to set up, either; the Shadow Pokémon still possesses some very relevant resistances and is an adept user of disruptive moves such as Disable and Will-O-Wisp, giving it space to set up a Substitute and begin to sweep away. A resurgent Gengar could well be another factor behind Tyranitar’s potential omnipresence!
A single notable caveat is that Gen 8 has brought with it some very fast and very powerful new entrants. New foes with base Speed stats over 110 means that for Gengar, Modesty is not so much a virtue as Timidity – it simply cannot risk being outsped by such threats.
Dishonorable mention: Blastoise
This one needs to be addressed because it’s going to be very popular, despite likely being mediocre – Blastoise now has access to Shell Smash. Non-Mega Blastoise has struggled for years to gain differentiation beyond being a bulky spinner with the ability to phase. Now, with one of the game’s most powerful high-risk-high-reward setup moves at its disposal, you can bet many fans will be desperately attempting to make offensive sets work, with some combination of both Hydro Pump and Ice Beam and a third attacking slot filled by Earthquake, Aura Sphere or another form of coverage.
Unfortunately, 85 base Special Attack is extremely average, even when doubled. Blastoise is simply going to be unable to break through many dedicated special walls (especially fellow bulky Water-types, which it will struggle to hit super-effectively). Life Orb is almost certainly an absolute prerequisite on such a set, and recoil, reduced defenses and full vulnerability to entry hazards means a Blastoise that isn’t knocking out a Pokémon with every attack is going to go down very quickly indeed. Seriously, just use Cloyster – it might not have much higher offensive stats, but dual STAB and access to the incredible Skill Link Icicle Spear make it a far superior choice.
Dear readers and angry Blastoise fans, do you agree? Do any of the Pokémon above feature on your planned competitive teams? Take them for a spin and give us plenty of kudos if we’re right, and barrack us if we’re wrong! You can do so via the Discord server!