With the most recent Pokémon games, Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, there are now 807 Pokémon in the canon with access to over 700 moves, plus abilities and held items. This allows for a near-endless combination of battle strategies for use against friends, enemies, and frenemies. Some techniques are popular to the point of being overused, some are unusual but deadly in the right hands, and some are just… well… these.

The Ground Snake That Can Ruin Your Day

Dunsparce is… not exactly an impressive looking Pokémon.A picture of Dunsparce, a blue and yellow legless creature with large eyes and a drill-shaped tail. Dunsparce art by Ken Sugimori for Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire. Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo, 2002.

It’s a Normal type, it doesn’t have decent stats, so at first glance you might think there really isn’t a reason to use it. However, its saving grace is its ability, Serene Grace. This ability doubles the chance that a move that has a secondary effect (e.g., flinching, which causes the opponent to miss a turn) will have that secondary effect kick in. And because someone on the Game Freak team has a sense of humor, Dunsparce has no shortage of moves that cause flinching: Headbutt, Bite, Rock Slide. It’s entirely possible, and indeed often happens, that a high-tier Pokémon can be flinched into fainting by a Dunsparce chaining lucky hit after lucky hit.

In the competitive battling world, bad luck is often known as “hax,” giving this build its affectionate (or not-so-affectionate) name: Haxsparce.

It’s Not So Fun, Bro

Recently, I came across what is possibly the worst Slowbro moveset ever: the Funbro. It starts with Block, which prevents the opponent from fleeing or switching out, uses Slack Off to recover any lost health, and uses Recycle to recover its item: a Leppa Berry, which restores the Power Points (number of uses) of a move. So basically, unless the opponent can kill Slowbro in two hits or less (difficult, as it’s a defense-oriented Pokémon), they have nothing they can do but keep attacking until all their Power Points are used. At that point, the opponent can only use Struggle, which does damage to them, leaving no option but to self-damage themselves into fainting.

Until Slowbro breaks out its last move, anyway.

Heal Pulse, a move that heals your opponent.

So, to recap: you can’t escape, you can’t damage it enough to kill it, and you can’t damage yourself enough to end the battle. This is a sick, twisted moveset designed to trap someone in an endless battle that only ends with toggling the power switch.

Man, I love this thing.

When an Ordinary Pokémon Gets Condemned to the Legendary League

In competitive play, legendary Pokémon are often banned from regular matches due to their overwhelming power. It’s not much fun if everyone’s carrying a Mewtwo because it’s the only thing that can counter a Mewtwo, after all. These banned Pokémon consist of what you might expect: Mew, Lugia, Deoxys, Wobbuffet…

Wait, what?

Picture of a Wobbuffet, a cheerful-looking blue inverse teardrop-shaped Pokemon, with Team Rocket in the background. Official art from the Pokemon TCG by Satoshi Nakano. Released as part of the Ash vs Team Rocket Deck Kit. Pokemon Trading Card Game released by The Pokemon Company International, 2017.

Yeah, this guy.

Wobbuffet is most certainly not a legendary Pokémon. It doesn’t have great stats, and has an incredibly limited movepool (eight moves in total, none of which are actual attacks!) And yet, it was the first regular Pokémon to be banned from non-legendary matches by the Pokémon community. What happened?

Wobbuffet is a one-trick Pokémon. Blessed with a high health stat and two reflecting moves (Counter and Mirror Coat), the idea is that Wobbuffet takes an attack and returns double the damage… if you predicted correctly whether the attack would be physical (Counter) or special (Mirror Coat). This makes it amazing in the hands of someone that can predict what their opponent will use correctly, but the risk of guessing wrong easily keeps this from being game-breaking. However, in Ruby and Sapphire, Wobbuffet got two tools that pushed it over the edge: the ability Shadow Tag, and the move Encore. Shadow Tag prevents the opponent from fleeing or switching out, and Encore forces the opponent to use the same move it used the turn before. The element of chance is gone: there’s no wrong guessing when you know exactly which move the opponent will use, and they can’t even switch Pokémon to dispel the effect of Encore. It was determined to be so cheap and lacking in skill that the battling community at large put a moratorium on Wobbuffet, only allowing it in matches where legendaries were also allowed.

Nowadays, the power creep of Pokémon stats and moves and the additions of extra-powerful Mega Evolutions has placed several non-legendary Pokémon in the same banned-legendaries category. Wobbuffet itself is now allowed in regular play when it doesn’t have its Shadow Tag ability. Those overpowered Pokémon might be the best now… but Wobbuffet was the first.

Wondertomb, or Screwing Around With an Action Replay

Hacking has been a part of Pokémon culture from the “we made you a cute legendary cat but you can’t have it” beginning. And as the games progressed and the kids playing Pokémon grew up and went into programming, the understanding of the game and the tools to break it got better.

Enter Spiritomb. This oddity of a Pokémon, summoned into your party via an Odd Keystone, is one of only two Pokémon with the type combination of Dark and Ghost. At the time, this combination was unique for the fact that Dark and Ghost covered each other’s weaknesses, rendering a Pokémon typed both with no weaknesses at all. Hackers decided to make use of this typing and hack on another Pokémon’s ability, Wonder Guard, which prevents all direct damage from attacks that aren’t a Pokémon’s weakness.

Screenshot of the status screen for a hacked Spiritomb with the Wonder Guard ability. Pokemon Black and White developed by Game Freak and published by Nintendo, 2010.

We made it shiny just for fun.

People who have Wondertombs generally fall into one of four categories: collectors who think a hacked Pokémon is interesting to have, opportunistic battlers who want a cheap win, tired battlers who want something to bulldoze the in-game opponents, and experienced battlers who go “hm, but how would you fight something like that?” The answers they have come up with vary: poison, weather effects, abilities that deactivate Wonder Guard, and Fire Fang, which hits through Wonder Guard for some reason.

In Pokémon, even the “invincible” Pokémon aren’t unbeatable.

The New and Improved One-Hit-Point Wonder

If you’re wondering where the ability Wonder Guard comes from and why in the world Game Freak would make such an ability, the answer is Shedinja. A Bug/Ghost type, it gets away with blocking all non-super-effective damage because it only has one point of HP. Every chance for damage is an all-or-nothing situation which can make playing with a Shedinja challenging, but also very fun.

One such playing around with Shedinja’s one hit point is to replace its all-powerful Wonder Guard ability with something even better. But what can be better than something that blocks all non-super-effective damage? How about something that blocks all direct damage, period? Sturdy is an ability that prevents a Pokémon from being knocked out if it’s at 100% HP, leaving it with one HP instead. For Shedinja, those are the same thing, allowing for infinite uses of Sturdy to “nope” out of every direct attack.

The easiest way to utilize a Sturdy Shedinja is to just hack the ability onto it, but it’s also possible to get it legitimately in the game if you’re playing a doubles match. By using an ally Pokémon to neutralize Wonder Guard (using the move Worry Seed, for example, which changes its ability to Insomnia), you can then use Skill Swap to swap the abilities of two Pokémon. Use something like a Magneton with Sturdy to gift your Shedinja with immortality, and you’re set. It can be difficult to pull off, but like most complex maneuvers in Pokémon, it’s so worth it when it works.

His Power Level’s over… Zero?

Want to put a little terror into your opponents? Ever feel like taking down a level 100 behemoth with the weakest of the weak, a level 1 common Pokémon? There is nothing to fear but F.E.A.R. itself!

F.E.A.R. stands for Focus Sash, Endeavor, Quick Attack Rattata (or the less kind but no less descriptive Fucking Evil Annoying Rodent). Here’s how a successful encounter plays out:

  • Matchup: Tiny, weak Rattata against hulking, huge pretty much anything.
  • The opponent, wondering WTF is going on, attacks as normal.
  • Rattata takes damage, of course, because it’s a weak as shit level 1 Pokémon, but gets saved from fainting by its held item, the Focus Band. Focus Band operates like the ability Sturdy, leaving Rattata with 1 HP.
  • Rattata, because it moves slower (remember, it’s weak as shit) now uses Endeavor. Endeavor is a move that lowers your opponent’s HP to match your current HP. You now have a level 100 Pokémon clinging to life with one HP.
  • Second turn. Your opponent decides not to switch to a fresher Pokémon because this Rattata is just a level 1 and it’s still being outsped, what can it do? They go to attack….
  • …but Rattata busts out the last part of its strategy, the Quick Attack, which takes place before regular moves. Bam. Fainted level 100. Rattata and its owner gloat.

When F.E.A.R. first started being used, it was great for catching opponents off guard, but nowadays the mere presence of a Pokémon low enough level to pull F.E.A.R. off is enough to make people wary. And the ways to counter it, once you realize what it is, are numerous: anything that disables or removes the Pokémon’s held item, any Ghost type (which is immune to Endeavor), or just switching out the 1 HP Pokémon. But the thrill and bragging rights of actually being able to pull it off haven’t stopped the battle enthusiasts. In the current generation, the expansion of moves, Pokémon, and ability combinations has allowed for numerous F.E.A.R. variants, such as using a Growlithe for its Extremespeed, using a Pokémon with Sturdy in place of a Focus Band, or using Trick Room (which allows the slower Pokémon to go first). Because let’s face it, taking down the shiny level 100 Arceus your friend won’t shut up about with a level 1 Pokémon never gets old.

How Do You Say ‘Wallbreaker’ in German?

The fourth generation of Pokémon (Diamond, Pearl, Platinum, Heart Gold, Soul Silver) was the first generation where international battling actually became a possibility, thanks to both inter-language compatibility and the Internet. Meanwhile, the competitive battling scene had taken a shift toward the defensive with Pokémon like Skarmory and Blissey shrugging off attacks like they were Splashes. The beast that later became known as the TyraniBoah brought them both together.

Tyrantir, with its high stats and wide range of moves, was hardly a stranger to competitive battling. Many move combinations took advantage of its high stats to just blast away opponents with a variety of types, or used its Sandstream ability (which turned on the weather effect of Sandstorm, wearing down the health of most other Pokémon) to build weather-focused teams. The Boah moveset went in a bit of a different direction: using Substitute, which used a portion of the Pokémon’s HP to create a stand-in to take attacks and block indirect damage, in a combination with just enough extra points in HP to be able to make Substitutes that had 101 HP. That’s a magic number, because Blissey’s main form of damage dealing, Seismic Toss, does a maximum of 100 damage, meaning at least two turns before it could hit Tyranitir directly. Meanwhile, Tyrantir could use its untouchable turn to use Focus Punch, a devastatingly powerful attack that only succeeds if the using Pokémon is not hit with damage. You thought there was no math in Pokémon? Oh, there’s math.

As the internet legend goes, the first person to popularize the moveset decided to test it out against a German player who happened to have voice play turned on. When Tyrantir dominated the match, the German player responded with shouts of “boah, boah, boah!” which is German for “wow, wow, wow!” The story, almost as good as the moveset that inspired it, stuck. Turns out, Pokémon is ridiculously educational.

You Shout Me Right Round, Baby…

Riolu, the baby Pokémon form of Lucario, seems like it would be out of place alongside all the big nasties of the Pokémon battle world. But where there’s a complicated battle world, there’s a niche, and where there’s complicated battle mechanics, there’s an exploit. In Generation 5, Riolu got access to the new ability Prankster, and the moves Copycat and Roar. Roar is a move that knocks the opposing Pokémon out of battle, normally used for annoying people playing the main game, with wild Pokémon encounters that flee. In a competitive battle, it sends out a random Pokémon from the opposing player’s team. Copycat uses the move that was used most recently—on either side—and unlike Roar, which will almost always go last, Copycat is as fast as regular moves. Riolu’s Prankster ability, which boosts its moves in the turn order, lets it use the Copycatted Roar ahead of most other moves. Playing constant swaparoo with the opponent’s Pokémon sounds annoying but hardly deadly, but combined with an entry hazard that does damage to any Pokémon when it swaps in, Riolu can wear down an entire team without the opponent being able to do anything.

People taking advantage of how the game works to do battle setups and tricks that are pretty broken is nothing new, but this one’s interesting in that it caught the attention of someone at Game Freak. Come Generation 6, Copycat now fails whenever confronted with this particular move. And thus was the land of Kalos saved from the terror of a small, roaring, bipedal dog.

Another Evil, Annoying, but Highly Successful Rodent

The annual Video Game Championships of Pokémon always draws the attention of the battle world. The competitive game becomes even more cutthroat when there’s an actual title and prizes on the line, so in order to win, it’s even more important to do something your opponents don’t plan for and won’t expect.

So why not bring an electric squirrel to the World Championship Finals?

At first, Pachirisu doesn’t seem to stand out—it’s a low-stat Pokémon, like many low-stat Pokémon, whose movesets are usually geared toward non-damaging moves and support. But in doubles matches, where two Pokémon from each team take each other on simultaneously, the right support Pokémon can be invaluable. Pachirisu actually has a lot in its favor: defensive enough stats for it to take a hit or two even from popular powerhouses, and the ability Lightning Rod, which allows it to draw in any electrical attack and use it to recover health. (Thunderbolt and Thunder are ridiculously common in the battle world—having those nerfed is huge.) It can also use Follow Me to draw attacks aimed at its partner, protecting its fragile strongmen; Super Fang to cut a Pokémon’s HP in half to wear it down; and Nuzzle, a move exclusive to Pikachu and its electric rodent clones, which does damage and paralyzes. Sejun Park ended up taking the win with this Pokémon in his team, and it was such a standout in the finals, it was the basis for an event that gave Pachirisus away at the championships the next year.

Fans of the Pokémon battle might give you varying reasons for why they like it so much, and why they stick with it year after year. But for me, I know it’s because I never really know what to expect. Even without the shakeup of new Pokémon, new moves, and new mechanics being added every few years, there’s always someone who’s going to ponder what you can do with a combination of moves, a one-trick Pokémon, an Action Replay, or an electric squirrel.