Hello again, fellow PvPers! It’s that time again: a new move shakeup is upon us! No time for fancy intros… let’s jump right into it!
IT’S A THRILLER!
I’ve been analyzing PvP Pokémon for nearly three years now, since the early days of The Silph Arena, a full year before the arrival of GO Battle League and the beginning of most players’ PvP journey.
And I think I can very confidently say that despite many Pokémon over that time have seen big rises from previous irrelevance to full meta competitiveness thanks to past move shakeups (Abomasnow, Politoed, Ho-Oh, Talonflame, and many others come immediately to mind), there has never been a Pokémon that has risen from absolute worthlessness to potential superstardom more drastically than we’re about to see with COFAGRIGUS.
🎼 It’s close to midnight
♬ And something evil’s lurking in the dark
♪ Under the moonlight
♫ You see a sight that almost stops your heart
♩ ‘Cause this is thriller, thriller night
🎶 And no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike
♪ You know it’s thriller, thriller night
🎵 You’re fighting for your life inside a killer thriller tonight, yeah….
Since its release, players the world over have bemoaned how something so neat could be done so dirty, with a nice array of charge moves (Dark Pulse, Psychic, and the awesome Shadow Ball) completely, even viciously ruined by having two of the absolute worst fast moves in the game. For perspective, 3.0 is average for both the Damage Per Turn (DPT) and Energy (gained) Per Turn (EPT) for a PvP fast move.
Things like Water Gun and Bug Bite have exactly 3.0 DPT and EPT, and most moves that deviate above or below 3.0 for one stat tend to have a balancing countermove in the other: for example, Wing Attack has 3.5 EPT, but dips to 2.5 DPT to compensate. Snarl has an amazing 4.33 EPT, but DPT drops all the way to 1.67 to counterbalance. High damage moves like Charm and Razor Leaf with their 5+ DPT have a corresponding 2.0 EPT to keep them balanced. And so on.
Astonish (3.0 EPT, but only 1.67 DPT!) is remarkable for how many Pokémon have it and are worse off for it, and myself and many others have been practically begging for it to get buffed for over a year now. And the other option is non-STAB Zen Headbutt, with a comparatively big 2.67 DPT but only 2.0 EPT! Why, Niantic, whyyyyyyy?
The end result is that things stuck with these fast moves, like Cofagrigus, are utterly, almost laughably, worthless in PvP right now. Cofagrigus is one of the sorriest cases, as most things stuck with Astonish or Zen Headbutt at least have another workable fast move. Not so here.
Well… until now. Because now comes the greatest zero to hero story ever told.
Now Cofagrigus gets Shadow Claw. And O M Goodness, is that ever awesome. Just like that, it becomes arguably THE top Ghost in Great League, better than Haunter and Gengar, better than Sableye, better than even Jellicent and Drifblim (by record, at least). Of course, it’s not quite that simple–there are things those other Ghosts (usually Drifblim) beat that Grigus cannot like Azumarill, Galarian Stunfisk, Diggersby, Shadow Nidoqueen, and Scrafty–but for the most part its record is very much a reflection of a suddenly very solid performance, and it overpowers things like Skarmory, Unovan Stunfisk, Venusaur, Shadow Victreebel, Alolan Ninetales (with either fast move), Galvantula, Dewgong, Clefable, and Vigoroth that at least some of those other Ghosts lose to.
And it may seem a little thing, but the Dark Pulse it usually prefers alongside Shadow Ball is actually huge, hitting Normal types for neutral damage (rather than double resisted Ghost damage) and keeping it in fights where other Ghosts struggle mightily (like Vigoroth, as mentioned). You can make a good case for Psychic (the move) instead of Pulse, but the relative speed of Pulse (5 energy cheaper than Psychic or Shadow Ball) is very useful, specifically allowing it to outrace Alolan Marowak, Drifblim, Shadow Victreebel, and opposing Griguses.
And the fun continues in Ultra League, where again, Grigus suddenly clocks in as one of the best Ghosts by record, ahead of even Gengar and both Giratinas and behind only Drifblim and Jellicent, both XLs. Now at this level, Cofagrigus has to be deep into XL territory too. (Though you can save a little bit by leveling a 15-15-15 “hundo” up to “only” Level 47.5 and give up only Politoed in the process. Heck, even a best buddied Level 41 or even more underpowered mere Level 40 is at least viable now, and STILL overcomes BOTH Giratinas AND Jellicent, all meta Psychics and Fighters (besides pesky XL Scrafty), Charmers, Bugs, and a host of others.
And again, that’s if you cap it without XL candy… WITH XL it brings in stuff like Nidoqueen, Lapras, Politoed, Empoleon, Skarmory, Articuno, Abomasnow and several others too. Pretty incredible what a difference a single move change can make to a Pokémon like this, eh? Oh, and as for the Dark Pulse vs Psychic debate, while Psychic does uniquely beat Shadow Nidoqueen at this level, Dark Pulse beats Origin Giratina, Ferrothorn, Galarian Stunfisk, Politoed, Skarmory, and of course the mirror. Both moves are viable, but I again lean towards Dark Pulse and its relative speed.
I cannot reiterate this enough: never before has a moveset shakeup brought a Pokémon from such lowly depths to sudden relevance like this. At least things like Abomasnow and Politoed had some niche use before their big updates. Grigus was NOWHERE, and now here it sits, in the upper echelons of TWO Leagues. Pray for a lot of Yamask to grind this October… suddenly, you’re going to REALLY want a good Cofagrigus, in multiples!
RETURN OF THE KING…?
… but he still says “yes dear”.
So last season brought Nidoqueen up from the depths to immediate meta relevance thanks in very large part to the addition of Poison Fang, the bait move it had been longing for. But of course, Fang is more than just a bait move, steadily weakening the opponent with each use until their Defense is eroded away. Now Niantic is trying to do the same for NIDOKING by giving it Sand Tomb.
Like Fang, it is also far less expensive than The King’s other moves and also is guaranteed to drop the opponent’s Defense by one stage per use, whether shielded or not. But make no mistake: Sand Tomb is NO Poison Fang. Unlike Fang, which at least deals some decent damage to go along with the debuff (40 base damage for 35 energy), Tomb deals a mere 25 damage for 5 more energy. Fang can wear you down over time without needing to necessarily rely on any of Nidoqueen’s other charge moves.
Sand Tomb, however, is almost certain not to be able to close the deal itself… you’re going to need damage from other charge moves (or a lot of fast move damage) to seal the deal.
And of course, Sand Tomb is a whole different typing than Poison Fang, having no direct synergy with any of Nidoking’s fast moves and leaving it in an awkward spot with other charge moves. Do you limit your charge moves to only Ground damage by pairing Tomb with Earth Power or Earthquake? Do you try to spring for more hard Poison damage with Sludge Wave? Or go for that coverage with Megahorn?
Lots of options, but I’ll caveat right up front… none of them match the success of the true ruler of the NidoKingdom: Nidoqueen. For the closest comparison, if we look at Poison Jab and Earth Power on each with their respective bait moves, while ST Nidoking is clearly better than its former best, Nidoqueen is very clearly still much better. Put simply: Nidoqueen can wear things down with Poison Fang alone, while Nidoking cannot do that with Sand Tomb, even against things critically weak to Ground damage.
Take Bastiodon, for example, who despite taking double super effective damage from Ground, doesn’t even have to shield Sand Tombs and still emerges victorious. If you win with Tomb, you’re winning because of damage from other moves. You basically have to, and thus any comparison between King and Queen is just not a fair comparison. And King doesn’t really get any better than ST/EP with other move combinations either, to include getting fancy with its unique Legacy Fury Cutter.
Nor does it hold a candle to Nidoqueen in Ultra League. This (with Poison Jab) and this (with Fury Cutter) are its high bars, and while that is again an improvement on what King could do previously, at this level even the improvement isn’t very drastic, really.
Basically, I like and appreciate what Niantic was trying to do here, but Nidoking needed more to truly break out in PvP. Basically, it really needed something like… well, Poison Fang. Oh well… ‘A’ for effort.
SHOCK AND AWE
So I have written about MANECTRIC a couple times before, but usually just as an example of why Zebstrika is better, thanks in large part to the comparison between Zeb’s Flame Charge (50 energy, 65 damage, and that awesome Attack buff) and Manny’s Flame Burst (55 energy, 70 damage, no buff). The end result is that Manectric, even going all-in as a Shadow, has always consistently lagged behind the supercharged zebra.
But it would appear Niantic wants to give Manny one last go at relevance. This is likely to try and bolster its appeal as a Mega for raiding more than anything…and yes, Mega Manectric with its new Thunder Fang becomes very, very interesting in PvE. (Credit backstroker1991 on Reddit.) But this is, of course, primarily a PvP analysis, and in that environment, Thunder Fang is actually a step backwards.
No, the more interesting change for PvP purposes is a major upgrade in that Fire coverage, where Niantic decided to just let it rip with Overheat, the move that deals a whopping 130 base damage for the same cost as pitiful Flame Burst (55 energy). Now while this does leave Manectric in the awkward position of relying on TWO charge moves that self-nerf (Overheat reduces Manectric’s Attack, and Wild Charge reduces its Defense, and both do so TWO stages at a time), let’s be honest… with its (lack of) bulk, you’re not planning on Manny sticking around long anyway.
The goal is to hit very hard and then dip or just plan to go down swinging, and now Manectric can do that better than most anything else.
So what does that do for its PvP performance? Well, firstly, to reiterate, you do NOT want to be doing this with Thunder Fang. Getting the necessary energy for Wild Charge and even Overheat isn’t overly difficult, but Fang generates only 2.5 EPT, while Snarl generates 4.33 EPT, and it’s definitely the move you want to run with, now more than ever.
So as compared to Manny’s former best, Overheat is a no-brainer… even regular Manectric with OH is significantly better than Shadow Manny without it. And that is of course also true for Ultra League, where regular and Shadow Manectric without Overheat pale in comparison to regular and Shadow Manny with that big damage potential.
But as you can see… it STILL doesn’t match the potential success of Zebstrika, who has a bit more bulk, is cheaper to build, AND doesn’t have to self-nerf to use its Fire coverage move.
End of the day, in a similar manner to Nidoking, Manectric is certainly better in PvP now, but still outclassed by the same close relative that outclassed it before. Stick with PvE for Manectric.
It was probably inevitable… Weather Ball has become so widespread and so prevalent in PvP, Niantic finally felt they had to go and nerf it. It’s not a huge drop–60 damage before down to just 55 damage now–but enough that people are already wringing their hands and writing off Politoed and Abomasnow and both Ninetales and such as yesterday’s new. I think that’s a wee bit hasty.
Remember when moves like Sky Attack and Shadow Bone and Rock Slide had their damage reduced by 5 back in the middle of Season 6? (Ironically, the same update that passed Weather Ball out like candy to Politoed, both Ninetales, and even, for a frantic and brief moment, even Primeape? Remember how I broke all that down and the sky turned out NOT to be falling after all?
Well, just as I did then, I took a look at the more prominent Weather Ball users and did a side-by-side comparison. So let’s keep this simple and just go through the list!
Starting with the most common scenario: 1v1 shielding.
|Pokémon||GL New Losses||UL New Losses|
|Shadow Abomasnow||none (with caveat… see below)||Sludge Bomb Gengar (IV Dependant)|
|Politoed||Munchlax, TS Stunfisk, Umbreon||Bronzong, Charm A-Ninetales, Skarmory|
|PS A-Ninetales||Shadow Machamp||Cresselia, DDeoxys, Snorlax|
|Shadow Ninetales (WBF/OH)||Sableye||n/a|
|Castform (Sunny)||Shadow Nidoqueen, Galarian Stunfisk (IV Dependant)||n/a|
- Abomasnow’s sneaky win over Shadow Machamp is unfortunately gone, but overall in 1v1 shielding, things really aren’t bad. Sludge Bomb Gengar can beat Shadow Aboma in Ultra now, though it all depends on IVs… higher Attack Shadowbama can actually still close that one out. Also heavily IV dependant are Galarian Stunfisk and Toxicroak in Great League. Very high rank IV G-Fisk and Toxicroak can hang on long enough to win, but I’m pretty sure Toxicroak, at least, could already do that versus 60-damage WB Shadowbama anyway, according to sims I captured before the cutover. G-Fisk is a little dicier though, with very high rank specimens able to carve out a win they couldn’t before. But again, big picture, not much changes for Aboma… in 1v1 shielding, at least.
- Things are notably worse for Politoed, and it’s probably the biggest loser on this list. Relying so heavily on Weather Ball for its damage output (with Mud Shot contributing very little), it can still spam it like crazy, but losing that little bit of damage from each one really adds up when you’re taking 3+ Weather Balls during the course of battle. Honestly, in Ultra League, you may be better off going back to Surf now… it’s a slightly more energy efficient move after the update, and while it’s a little slow to guarantee Talonflame and Articuno, it at least brings Skarmory and Bronzong back into the win column, and adds on regular Machamp and Shadow Swampert too! (But Ball is still far better in Great League.)
- Thankfully things aren’t too bad for the Castforms, but Sunny undoubtedly takes the biggest hit, dropping two very relevant Pokémon in Shadow Nidoqueen and usually Galarian Stunfisk. Shadow Ninetales drops Sableye but both it and non-Shadow Tales solidify their superiority to Sunny a little but more after this.
- CharmTales is still alive and well, but PowderTales is unfortunately another story. It doesn’t suffer a horrible number of losses, but they’re all big names: Shadow Machamp in Great League, and a trio of tanks (DD, Cress, Lax) in Ultra.
And then with shields down (0v0 shielding):
|Pokémon||GL New Losses||UL New Losses|
|Abomasnow||Chesnaught, Diggersby, Mandibuzz, Sylveon||Ferrothorn, Galvantula, Lugia|
|Shadow Abomasnow||Pidgeot||Shadow Nidoqueen (tie)|
|Roserade||none!||Melmetal, Scizor, Venusaur|
|Politoed||Obstagoon, Scrafty, Whiscash||Articuno, Skarmory, Umbreon (IV Dependant)|
|PS A-Ninetales||Sylveon, Wigglytuff||Abomasnow, Skarmory|
|Charm A-Ninetales||Hypno (+ Shadow)||none!|
|Shadow Ninetales (WBF/OH)||none!||n/a|
|Pelipper||Galarian Stunfisk, Haunter, Obstagoon||n/a|
|Castform (WBR/EB)||Charm A-Ninetales||n/a|
|Castform (Rainy)||DDeoxys, Scrafty||n/a|
|Castform (Sunny)||Scrafty, Meganium (IV Dependant)||n/a|
- With shields down, the losses start to pile up more for Abomasnow and continue to hurt Politoed (who again is likely better with Surf in Ultra League now than Weather Ball… oh how the mighty have fallen!).
- Pelipper is mostly fine in 1v1 shielding (just Registeel slipped away), but with shields down it’s got some worrying new losses to fret about.
- Once again, CharmTales doesn’t suffer much, with Charm itself still doing the vast majority of the work, but PowderTales is hurting (though not nearly as drastically as with shields up).
- Nothing huge for any of the Castforms here either, but Sunny is again a big loser (potentially losing to Meganium is awfully embarrassing), and Rainy’s two losses are obviously very meta, so watch out there.
Yes, there are a myriad of other shielding scenarios, but these are the most common where things are “even”… having a shield advantage or disadvantage screw up all the math too much for my liking. In my experience, 1v1 and 0v0 are usually the most indicative of the good or bad with a Pokémon anyway, and hopefully that’s the case here and you have a decent feel of what suffers the most from the nerfs.
BLOW YOUR HORN
Now while we’re at it, let’s give a similar look to Megahorn, which has been buffed rather than nerfed. It’s current stats truly are amazing. You know how good moves like Stone Edge and Shadow Ball are in PvP, and Megahorn joined their elite company back in January when it was bumped from 90 damage for 55 energy up to 100 damage for the same cost. Before that, it was basically Flamethrower/Thunderbolt/Ice Beam/Energy Ball for Bugs. Only it and Stone Edge/Shadow Ball dealt triple digit damage for that cost without some kind of drawback.
But now, Megahorn stands alone, dealing 110 damage without that cost moving at all. For reference, that’s the same amount of damage that Payback, Moonblast, and Outrage deal for 5 more energy, Hurricane and Sludge Wave deal for 10 more energy, and Flash Cannon and Dazzling Gleam deal for 15 more energy. Megahorn is an absolutely incredible move now, quite a meteoric rise from just seven months ago.
The thing is that only a handful of PvP-relevant Pokémon have Horn as an option. Now that you’re familiar with my table format, here’s one that shows the new positives that come with this buff for a trio of its best users:
|Pokémon||GL New Wins||UL New Wins|
|Heracross (C/RB/MH)||Mandibuzz (no AA), Politoed, Whiscash, Diggersby (0S)||DDeoxys, A-Mewtwo, Politoed (0S), Swampert (0S)|
|Escavalier||Clefable, Scrafty (0S)||Gyarados, Gallade (0S), Shadow Politoed (0S)|
|Ariados (PS/MH/Lunge)||Mandibuzz, Toxicroak, Hypno (0S)||n/a|
- So in recent conversations and writings I’ve had on Heracross (I feel like it’s been A LOT lately!), I said that Close Combat was Heracross’ best move to pair with the new Rock Blast. Well uh… that didn’t age well. 😅 CC is still great, but the improved Megahorn certainly makes a very strong case now. Rock Blast itself is great, by the way… it’s the spammier move Heracross has been waiting for, and the coverage it provides is obviously chef’s kiss. 💋 I’ve been hyping Heracross of late, and it’s even better now!
- Not like Escavalier needed to be better, but clearly it is now, so we’ll all just have to deal with that. And uh… it’s not banned in GL or UL Remix this season. Just sayin’.
- Yeah, Ariados, whose legend continues to grow. Many seem to like pairing Lunge with the recently buffed Cross Poison, but I was a firm believer in running it with Lunge and Megahorn instead even before this update, and I’m really a fan of that now. The Mandibuzz win is especially impressive, as Ariados, a Flying-weak Bug, can beat Mandi even if it has Aerial Ace! Most impressive.
IT’S A BIRD! IT’S A PLANE! IT’S… DANCING?
The good? PIDGEOT is BACK, baby! Banned all of last season due to
being insanely overpowered having a literal gamebreaking bug, players got to use it for less than a day with new move Feather Dance before it was unceremoniously kicked to the curb. But now our feathery overlord is back!
But the bad? Well, obviously Feather Dance got nerfed a bit. It’s never been a high damage move (just 35 base damage), but it used to cost only 45 energy, the same cost as Fly, Sky Attack, and–more relevant to Pidgeot–Aerial Ace, adding to its appeal, as the opponent would have to make the decision on shielding AA or FD at the same point in battle. Now that’s gone, and it costs 50 energy to use. If you’re firing off a charge move at all after just four uses of Gust, a smart opponent will now that is HAS to be Aerial Ace, as four Gusts makes for only 48 energy.
This also means that, when paired with Brave Bird (generally the preferred second move option, and the one I will be primarily simming and linking to below) and its 55 energy, you have to squeeze off five Gusts before you can fire your first charge move of any kind, be it 50 for Dance or 55 for Brave. Yes, if that move is Feather Dance, you have 10 energy left over to race towards the next charge move (so just four Gusts required for the next Dance or Brave Bird), but having to delay like that changes how Pidgeot works a bit.
And it shows in the numbers. Pidgeot with 45-energy Feather Dance loses to Sylveon (which is used to be able to beat by firing off two Feather Dances, but it never reaches the second one now), and loses to a savvy Obstagoon that baits with a Night Slash and then closes it out with a follow-up Gunk Shot. That maneuver used to fall short as Pidgeot could reach a KO Brave Bird before it was too late, but now Pidgeot dies with 51 of the needed 55 energy for Brave Bird at the end, thanks entirely to 5 more energy going to the initial Feather Dance instead. Ooooof.
Those losses are not earth-shattering by any means… Pidgeot still has an insane 68% win percentage against the Great League core meta and remains one of the Pokemon most likely to make a BIG impact on this season. But it lost a few feather during its long layover last season, and comes in slightly worse off now.
In Ultra League, there is also a very slight drop, with Dragonite now slipping away. As with Sylveon in GL, this is because it could win previously with two Feather Dances, but now, it falls maddeningly short (just 4 energy short!) of reaching a second and dies just before it gets there. Aaaaugh. But again, CRAZY high win rate (72%!) and you’ll still be seeing Birb Jesus everywhere. At the risk of sounding sacrilegious (sorry, God! 😳), you could say about Pidgeot that, despite this slight nerf, “he is risen”. Hallelujah.
SCALD LANG SYNE
Hey, coming up with catchy titles for all these sections isn’t easy. What else do you do with “Scald“, huh?
“Auld Lang Syne” song DOES kinda fit, because Scald is a move the vast majority of players probably forgot existed in GO before it suddenly showed up on VAPOREON during August Community Day. As I wrote about then, Scald is currently a very underwhelming move (Water move that deals 80 damage for 60 energy), a clone of Bulldoze/Power Gem/Aurora Beam/Gyro Ball… on other words, moves that are completely unremarkable and usually only seen as “break glass” emergency coverage moves when nothing better is available.
Scald’s problem is that, with those current stats, the only two Pokémon that have wielded it to date (Vape and POLIWHIRL, both as a Legacy move) DO both have better options available and there’s been no reason to use it even on them. The only good thing you can really say about Scald is that it’s a better Water Pulse (which deals only 70 damage for the same 60 energy).
But that was then, and this is now. Now Scald comes 10 energy cheaper, making it a more energy-efficient move (1.6 Damage Per Energy, versus the 1.33 DPE it had at 60 energy) than Aqua Tail (1.43 DPE) and the nerfed Weather Ball Water (1.57 DPE), and right on par with Surf (1.63 DPE). In fact, other than Surf, the only Water moves that are more efficient are Crabhammer, Hydro Pump, and of course Hydro Cannon. And of course, it also now comes with a surprisingly good 30% chance to reduce the opponent’s Attack by 1 stage.
So that’s the facts, but how about the numbers? Well, I am happy to report that, at least in Vaporeon, this is indeed an upgrade. With Aqua Tail and Scald, Vaporeon picks up new wins versus all the major Charmers–Wigglytuff, ATales, Sylveon, and Clefable–that it couldn’t win before. It shows new losses to Stunfisk and Whiscash (as compared to Aqua Tail/Last Resort), but that’s actually incorrect because Vape can beat both of them with just straight Aqua Tail.
So this is actually a straight upgrade of four new wins… but there IS one important new loss, and it’s a biggie: Azumarill. Without the neutral damage of a pair of Last Resorts, Azu comes out on top no matter what moves it’s running (even fully resisted Ice Beam/Hydro Pump). So that’s a bummer.
How about the bigger leagues? Well, Scald is certainly no worse than existing options, it’s just not markedly better either. In Ultra League, Scald does give it a new win over Articuno when compared to Last Resort (and as in Great League, shows a loss–to Skarmory–that it actually achieves with Aqua Tail alone), but that’s really it.
And in Master League, Scald outraces Zacian, though only with the knockout power of Hydro Pump does Vape really have a surer shot at beating Melmetal and Mud Shot Garchomp, so it’s really… well, a wash. Interesting to note, however, that in Master League Classic (where everything maxes out at Level 40), Scald is slightly superior to Hydro Pump, beating Zacian again and also Togekiss, while Pump only shores up the MS Chomp win.
Now, of course, this could all change on a dime if that debuff triggers. As just one of many examples, Vaporeon JUST loses out to Snorlax in Master League normally. But if it gets that debuff to trigger, it can just spam Aqua Tail for the rest of the battle and walk away with plenty of life leftover, cutting each of Snorlax’s Licks down from 3 damage to 2, and reducing each Body Slam from 55 damage to just 44. It makes a BIG difference. And there are a myriad of cases that can similarly turn on a dime, so if you expect a long, drawn-out battle, perhaps better to lead off with Scald and hope for that 30% to be in your favor.
But you can’t count on stuff like that, obviously. I’m just here to report the facts and try to stay impartial about it, and the fact is that as much as I want Vaporeon to be good in PvP, especially in Master League, this alone is not likely to do it. Vape is slightly better, but still just on the fringe. If you like to gamble, sure, go for it and you could end up looking like a genius. But don’t blame the game if you fail to get those boosts and it all blows up in your face. You’re at a high stakes table, my friend.
Similarly, even a move as nice on paper as Scald is now fails to pull Poliwhirl up from the doldrums. It is at least okay-ish now with either bait heavy Bubble Beam or, a little more reliably, with Mud Bomb, acting sort of like Politoed Junior that can similarly outrace Mud Boys, Charmers, and Azumarill. (Shadow is not as good though, for those wondering.) This IS a decent improvement over Whirl’s former high bar, which usually utilized Return, but I’d say it remains spice at best, and would probably need the right limited meta around it to break out as even that. Shame.
That just leaves the new recipient of Scald, and the only one that can currently get it without an Elite TM: POLIWRATH. Like Whirl, Wrath typically utilizes Mud Shot for its fast move, so building up the energy for Scald and other moves is not really much of a problem.
The actual problem with Wrath is instead the issue of where to squeeze Scald in. Wrath currently shines in Ultra League especially with Ice Punch and Dynamic Punch, giving it fantastic coverage and allowing it to literally punch its way out of bad spots where most Fighters would just curl up and die. Now, the most natural place to insert Scald might be to replace Dynamic Punch, as they both have the same energy cost.
But Dynamic hits for 10 more damage and is the only thing that really makes Poliwrath a Fighter, and without it, Wrath’s performance takes a hit, losing now to things like Lapras, Greedent, Scrafty, and of course, Fighting-weak tanks Registeel, Umbreon, and Snorlax. But with double bombs (Scald and Dynamic) and you’re better, but now have no bait potential and no specific anti-Flying coverage, so now you lose to things like Shadow Dragonite, Origin Giratina, and Swampert (that last one due mostly to not being able to really bait shields).
And that theme continues in the other leagues, too… Scald is not terribly worse, but it IS overall inferior to what Poliwrath has already had on hand for a long while now: double Punch. I do expect we will see a meta at some point where Poliwrath appreciates having a Water-type move that is more eminently useful than building up to a Hydro Pump, but for general open GBL use, I think you want to stick with what you’ve already got.
I was SO excited when I saw how good Scald is now because it really IS an excellent PvP move now. Hopefully, Niantic will spread it around more in the future, but for now, it doesn’t raise the performance enough of things that weren’t good already, and the one thing that has it now and IS good in PvP is seemingly better off without it. Color me disappointed. ☹️
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
And finally, we have buffs to Crunch and Zap Cannon, though not in the traditional terms of increasing damage or lowering the cost, but instead by tacking on debuffs to the opposing Pokémon. Crunch, like Scald, now comes with a surprisingly high 30% chance to reduce the opponent’s Defense by 1 stage… I figured we’d be lucky to get 25% or even 12.5% like Night Slash and such.
But I want to talk first about Zap Cannon, which now does its best Skull Bash imitation by lowering the opponent’s Attack stat, guaranteed, which in essence makes the user of Zap Cannon a bit bulkier.
The trick here is that Skull Bash is utilized by bulky Pokémon like Lapras and Blastoise, whereas things that have Zap Cannon are typically anything but bulky. So that move especially is really hard to evaluate in a vacuum, as the only times the new debuff is likely to make a big difference is if you come in with some energy already, fire off Zap, and then reap the benefits of the debuff. In the vast majority of neutral ground battles, Zap Cannon is a last resort type of move that you try to race to when the opponent’s shields are already down.
Otherwise, things that have it as a move option like AMPHAROS, MAGNEZONE, ZAPDOS, and the PORYGON family are likely to stick to other spammier moves and try to fire off as many as they can before their glassiness dooms them. If they DO pop off a Zap Cannon, they’re likely near dead by the time they do so, and thus what good is a relatively minor nerf to the opponent anyway?
There is one notable exception: REGIROCK, which has Zap Cannon as its third, basically-never-used move option behind Stone Edge and Focus Blast. It certainly has the bulk to potentially fire off Cannons in multiples during battle and hang in there long enough to take advantage of the enemy’s lowered Attack, and at least in theory, an Electric move gives it good coverage versus Waters that can plague it.
The problem is that Zap Cannon is also resisted by Grasses and Grounds that Regi already struggles with, whereas Focus Blast will at least normally hit them (and Waters) for at least neutral damage, as well as nuking things like Bastiodon, Umbreon, Melmetal, Vigoroth, and others that give Regirock particular trouble otherwise. In fact, Focus Blast nets as many as eight wins that Zap Cannon cannot match, including Bastie, Umbry, Mel, and Viggy as already mentioned, plus Shiftry, Obstagoon, and Ferrothorn. (Umbreon counted twice, once with Last Resort and once with Psychic… the move.) And while the gap is a little closer, the story is still the same in Ultra League, where Focus Blast enjoys wins versus Obstagoon, Registeel, Melmetal, Abomasnow, and possibly Shadow Snorlax as well, whereas Zap Cannon has no signature wins to speak of.
You do kinda see the good of Zap Cannon with shields down, though it’s not big Waters it beats as you might expect, but instead Charmers Clefable and Sylveon. But, Focus Blast is still better overall with wins versus regular and Shadow Snorlax and familiar names Obstagoon and Melmetal, so it’s still a bit of a stretch.
Now, could the Attack debuff change that? Maybe, if Zap Cannon is used as the first charge move in some of the more prolonged battles among those many matchups, then sure, Regi might be able to squeeze out another win or two. But I think that’s academic, as it’s pretty clear that Focus Blast just offers better and more flexible coverage. Even the best case scenario for Zap Cannon and its sky high cost (80 energy!) just isn’t quite good enough, IMO.
But back to Crunch. This is a move already utilized by several PvP stars: GYARADOS, GRANBULL, SKUNTANK, GREEDENT (the legend of the chonky squirrel grows!), ZEKROM, RESHIRAM, potentially Zamazenta, Tyranitar, and more, and even stuff like STUNKY and CARVANHA in Little League. The chance at a debuff, even with unexpected but VERY welcome 30% odds, isn’t going to change their prospects much, but what do most of those have in common?
By and large–with Greedent being the sole exception–they are Attack-heavy Pokémon that focus on dealing high damage to outrace the opponent. What better way to win a footrace like that than nerfing the opponent’s Defense?
Of course, it won’t always happen in a GBL set, or even in all your sets for any particular day, but if you’re using any of these Pokémon anyway, you’re going to grin wide when you see the “Defense Fell!” notification pop up over the opposing Pokémon’s head, and it WILL happen in key moments. Gary and Granbull especially are licking their chops at the prospect.
In short: the change to Crunch doesn’t really change the stock of anything that has it, but it DOES make them all a bit more dangerous. And for those rare Pokémon that have the choice of using Crunch or Foul Play–which to date, were literally identical moves, right down to the typing–that choice is now very clear… it’s Crunch all the way. (Until the next rebalance, at least!) I believe that list consists only of Houndoom though, so likely not something you’ll need to worry about. For now, just go forth and reap the benefits.
- Cofagrigus is THE big winner here. Use it if you can, but expect to see a lot of it either way. Shadow Ball/Dark Pulse is my personal recommendation for the charge moves, but Psychic has some merit.
- Nidoking and Manectric are markedly better now, but still bow down to Nidoqueen and Zebstrika, who still do their jobs better.
- The Weather Ball nerfs undoubtedly hurt, but not TOO badly. The biggest losers are (in no particular order) Sunny Castform, Powder Snow A-Ninetales (especially in Great League), Abomasnow in Ultra League, and Politoed in Great and Ultra. Toed in particular MAY even want to run the more energy-efficient Surf now in Ultra League.
- Pidgeot is slightly worse off, but still rather OP. Birb Jesus rises!
- Scald is a great move now, but it doesn’t lift Vaporeon or Poliwhirl off the mat enough to really get noticed, and Poliwrath has trouble finding room for it… it’s probably still best off with Ice Punch and Dynamic Punch. I can see Scald rising up in limited metas of the future, though.
- The debuff effect of Zap Cannon is mostly a nothing-burger, but the buff to Crunch, while difficult to really show in sims, is gonna be impactful. Most things that have it already deal big damage with fast moves and/or spammy charge moves and get *really* scary now if that Defense debuff triggers. Chomp chomp!
And that’s it…we made it! My hope is always that this is useful to you in your PvP journey, and that’s no different here. I hope this helps you get a little smarter quickly on these tweaks, because we’re in the thick of it now! If you’re a little better educated on what’s good and bad in this rebalance after reading this, then I’ve done my job. Good luck!
Until next time, you can find me on Twitter for frequent PvP analysis nuggets, or Patreon if you prefer. And please, feel free to comment here with your own thoughts or questions and I’ll try to get back to you!
Thanks again for reading, Pokéfriends. Be safe out there! Catch you next time.