It’s fair to say that, while the reviews of Pokémon Sword and Shield were mixed, the latest additions to the Pokémon series have heralded new highs for the competitive scene’s accessibility. Countless tiny quality-of-life improvements allow players to embark on a quest to climb the Pokémon Sword and Shield ranked ladder and be the very best, like no-one ever was, regardless of the time they have available.
Some players will lament that kids have it easy, and it’s true. Back in my day, we had to spend hours hatching eggs, then take down specific Pokémon a certain number of times to increase your Effort Values (EVs) in carefully-counted increments. If you knocked out one extra Geodude by mistake? Start the process over.
You’ve been able to bypass EV training with minerals for a while, but in Sword and Shield the items are more abundant than ever. Bottle Caps can be commonly dug from the ground to increase Individual Values, and Max Soup can give your Pokémon the ability to Gigantamax. Even the Eevee evolutions are easier to obtain thanks to the exclusion of the Mossy Rock!
Put simply: Game Freak is giving you the ability to use your starter Pokémon – who wouldn’t ordinarily be of any use in the competitive scene – on the ranked ladder. However, they’re also making ranked play accessible for all: you can use your regular in-game party, make them powerful enough to be competitive, and (so long as you keep checking a Pokémon type chart for your matchups) take on the competitive modes. Of course, being able to make a good team is not the same as being a good battler, so the skill ceiling is still very much intact.
However, one addition in the Crown Tundra DLC could change everything. An item called the Ability Capsule, which allows you one chance to swap between your Pokémon’s abilities, has been sought after in Pokémon games since X&Y. However, The Crown Tundra is introducing the Ability Patch, a souped-up version of the rare and expensive item.
Most Pokémon have two or three abilities. Some are helpful in your regular playthrough, like Galarian Zigzagoon’s Pickup, which can see them randomly find helpful items on the ground. Others, such as Intimidate, are a mainstay in the competitive scene, as it lowers your opponent’s attack by one stage, decreasing the damage you take until they faint or switch out.
However, some abilities are ‘Hidden’, meaning that they are much rarer, and in Sword and Shield they can’t be found on wild Pokémon. In the current games, you can only get your hands on a Pokémon with a Hidden Ability by capturing it after a Max Raid Battle. That means some Pokémon currently have no access to their Hidden Abilities, and a few, including some legendary Pokémon, have never been able to access theirs.
You can see where this is going, right? The Ability Patch will allow players to switch their Pokémon’s ability to its Hidden Ability for the first time, at the same time as every legendary Pokémon is being made available to Sword and Shield players. In case you’re still unconvinced, here are a couple of examples of how this might affect the competitive scene:
The Bolt Strike Pokémon already has a great ability in Prankster, which gives priority to status moves and makes the legendary a great support option. However, its Hidden Ability is Defiant, which raises its Attack by two stages when the Pokémon has its stats lowered. Considering how many Dynamax moves lower your stats, suddenly Thundurus (with its phenomenal base attack stat of 115) has a free Swords Dance up and is ready to sweep. This ability was already available, but unless you have access to Pokémon Black 2 or White 2 and a niche 3DS app called Pokémon Dream Radar, the Ability Patch will be your first chance to get your hands on it.
Tapu Koko and the rest of the Tapus from Pokémon Sun and Moon share the Hidden Ability Telepathy, which means they don’t take damage from allies’ attacks. These abilities have never been available, but were always deemed worse than their regular terrain-setting abilities anyway. However, as many Dynamax moves can now set up terrain, Tapu Koko can freely use Max Lightning to cover the field in Electric Terrain – all while an ally is Earthquaking everything in your path.
The OG legendary bird gains access to Static, which has a chance to paralyze opponents and is infinitely more useful than its regular ability, Pressure. Of course, Zapdos is also getting a Chocobo-esque Galarian form in The Crown Tundra, so we’ll have to see how good that is, too.
Dracozolt and Dracovish
While these are not legendary Pokémon, but Dracozolt and Dracovish will have access to their Hidden Ability Sand Rush for the first time. This doubles their speed in a sandstorm, which can be set up by a partner Pokémon such as Gigalith or a Max Rockfall move. While they’ll lose out on a little bit of damage, their moves Bolt Beak and Fishious Rend do double damage if they move first, so this boost will ensure they get their hits off early. This speed boost also allows them to outspeed Dragapult without the use of a Choice Scarf, which makes them much more versatile.
The combination of Hidden Abilities and Dynamax moves is going to be meta-defining upon the release of The Crown Tundra. However, the release of fan favourites and tournament winners such as Garchomp and Landorus will also have a profound effect on competitive play, and could stymie the electric-types listed above.
In just two weeks time The Crown Tundra unleashes the Ability Patch, and a few weeks afterwards Ranked Series 7 will open the floodgates for numerous powerful legendary Pokemon to have their wicked ways with competitive battles. One thing’s for sure: the next month will be more chaotic than a Tauros in a china shop, and could truly screw with the entire fabric of competitive Pokemon as we know it.