Balancing has always been quite a hairy concept in the Pokémon world. This is just to be expected, naturally. Your average fighting game has enough difficulty with putting its cast on an even keel with each other.
In the process of buffing one character, you’re usually going to inadvertently nerf another, and so it continues. When it comes to releasing new members of the cast, that’s a whole new mess to try and deal with as well. The tendency is often to over-exaggerate, to nerf or buff somebody too far and end up with an equal but opposite problem to the one you started with.
It can be a logistical nightmare, in short. That’s considering that an average fighting game will have a cast of twenty or so (some of the more generous grab-bag sorts of titles might end up pushing 50). When it comes to a series like Pokémon (which, granted, isn’t a fighting game, but stick with me here), all bets really are off where balancing is concerned.
Do you know how many different critters there are, as of Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon? Far too dang many. We’re hovering around the 1000 mark here. It’s impossible for all Pokémon to be able to compete with all Pokémon, especially with baby forms and such included. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about balancing within tiers, which is still a huge undertaking.
It goes awfully wrong, too. Check out these poor Pokémon, which were 'balanced' into oblivion.
25 From Talonflame To Talonlame
That’s right, friends. Let’s kick this party off the right way, with one of the most infamous, hated Pokémon of the early generation six era.
If you’re a competitive player, there’s no doubt that you’ve come across this feathered fiend several times. Talonflame was freaking everywhere thanks to its ability, Gale Wings, which gave it a priority Brave Bird. That was its only trick, sure, but it was dang potent. So much so that the ability was changed for generation seven. It now only activates when the user is at full HP. Thus, this thing slinked back to the depths.
24 Kangaskhan Can't Stop The Nerf
Speaking of horrors from the Pokémon X and Y days, remember Mega Kangaskhan? This thing was just a freaking wrecking ball powered by fury and the salty tears of its hapless foes. Statistically, it didn’t sound too overpowered, but it was like a dang Godzilla mom in action.
In a similar case, mom’s rage was put in check with Sun and Moon, in a change that nerfed the damage of the second hit from one half to one quarter. This made a huge difference to its viability.
23 Gengar, You’re Grounded!
I hope you take a moment to appreciate that heading, because I’m super proud of it. Drink it in, friends.
See what I did there? Ground?
So, yes. In the case of Mega Kangaskhan and Talonflame, those were two completely reasonable nerfs, swiftly and righteously delivered. But Gengar? What did Gengar ever do to anybody? Its Mega form is horrifying, granted, but vanilla Gengar was just fine with its excellent ability Levitate. Sadly, while our backs were turned, Game Freak snuck in there and replaced it with Cursed Body.
22 Mewtwo? PU-Two
I’m on a roll today. See that? PU can mean both the lowest tier over on Smogon and the sound you make when you smell something unpleasant. That’s where the name of the tier came from, incidentally.
As we know, the Psychic typing ran rampant through the first generation. Mewtwo, the Psychic posterchild, took quite a beating from generation two’s changes to the typing chart, as well as the physical/special split that followed it. It has since found itself way behind the curve.
21 Abomasnow? Aboma-Heck-No
Why, yes, I did choose Abomasnow simply for the wordplay’s sake. Thanks for noticing. I’ve decided to put all of the classic weather setters (Ninetales, Tyranitar, Politoed, and such) into this big food blender of an entry, because it’s really the same deal for all of them.
In another huge mechanical change for the series, later generations saw a huge catch-all weather nerf: the automatic weather effects would only last for five turns. This brought them down to the effectiveness of weather moves, and… well, it sucks to be any of these guys nowadays.
20 Flygon: Because Garchomp Exists
Oh, Flygon. You tried, you really did. Your design is super sweet, your ability always welcome (Levitate is almost always going to be an asset for a team), your STAB combination very nice indeed… what’s not to like here?
I’ll tell you what. Garchomp, that’s what. You know how it is.
You think you’re doing just fine when suddenly, life comes along and hits you with another Dragon/Ground type.
A better looking, more charming one, the handsome and talented older brother. I hate that guy.
19 Salamence: Because Dragonite Exists
Now, I know what you’re thinking. I hear you, friends, I really do. Dragonite? Better than Salamence? Have you seen the latter’s monstrously powerful yet hilariously croissant-looking mega form?
Well, yes, I certainly have. The thing is, we’re not talking about that. We’re talking about Ye Olde days, when vanilla Salamence was considered Uber. Around that time, Dragonite was given its hidden ability, Multiscale, which made it an even better choice for Dragon Dance boosting shenanigans. How many standard Salamence do you see these days? That’s right.
18 Pointed Stones Dug Into Charizard!
I’m going to be frank here: I’m one of those "Charmander forever sorts of people. It was the first starter Pokémon I chose way back in 1998, and I’ve proudly followed that tradition through every game since. In the wise words of The Prodigy, I’m a Firestarter, twisted fire starter.
I remember the good old days of Charizard. Sadly, the advent of Stealth Rock made things far too difficult for the guy, and only its two mega forms give it any kind of viability these days.
17 Thundurus’s Shenanigans HAD To Go
Well, I say ‘go.’ This sort of thing is still very much alive, but it’s at least a little more difficult to pull off than before.
If you’ve ever stared down the business end of a Choice Specs, Thunder-spamming Thundurus T is the rain, you’ll know what a powerhouse this thing can be. Sadly, it’s more often seen in its incarnate form, firing off Prankster-boosted Thunder Waves everywhere. Luckily, the move now has a chance to miss, so there’s at least a little hope of getting around this nonsense.
16 Smeargle Disappeared Into A Dark Void
Do you know what else you don’t see much of anymore? Smeargle, that’s what. There’s a dang good reason for this, too: Its patented Dark Void spiel has been nerfed to oblivion, accuracy-wise. It’s just not reliable enough to be viable anymore, like fellow sleep moves Hypnosis and Grass Whistle.
This is a healthy change, in my eyes. Since the VGC format began, the merits of having/banning Dark Void have been debated. At least now there’s some kind of risk/reward to proceedings.
15 Excadrill And The Sad Stolen Sand Surfeit
That’s some nice sand you’ve got there, Excadrill.
Be a shame if somebody…
Nerfed it so it ran out.
Sand Rush Excadrill, as I’m sure we all know, can be a real monster. I still wake up upset, after recurring nightmares about that gym battle with Clay. When that thing gets a Swords Dance up in the sand, it’s not a good time. It’s the worst time there is.
Excadrill can also serve as a spinner, but in an offensive role, it really can do wonders. You’ve got to manage that sand, though, because it’s so vulnerable without it.
14 Politoed: Because Pelipper Exists
Personally, I find it surprising that Pelipper could ever outshine anything. That’s a real thing, though. It is here and it is now. What a freaking time to be alive.
In case you’re not up to speed, Sun and Moon brought some intriguing new weather setters to the table. Alolan Ninetales and Vanilluxe’s hail, Gigalith’s sandstorm, Torkoal’s sun and Pelipper’s rain.
In a lot of ways, Pelipper can outperform the previous rain ruler, Politoed. Its secondary Flying typing gives it a STAB Hurricane, which is 100% accurate in rain. Indirectly, again, this was a great blow for the toad.
13 Garchomp: Because Landorus Exists
It’s funny how things happen, isn’t it? Pokémon players can be a fickle bunch. They’ll pick up new favorite Pokémon, only to drop them like Snoop Dogg when it’s hot when another appears that performs the role a little better.
Such is the case with Garchomp. Ever since this thing was first introduced, it’s tended to be the premier Ground type around. Unless Landorus T is also available, in which case… bye bye Garchomp, we’ll see you next format maybe.
Meanwhile, Flygon points and laughs from the sidelines, enjoying the bittersweet irony.
12 Kingdra: Those Critical Hits Were… Critical
Kingdra has been one of my favorite Pokémon to use since it was first added to the roster. It’s one of my signature Pokémon, if you will, so I’m familiar with everything it can do. By everything, I really mean two things: Either rain sweeping, or Critdra-ing.
Kingdra’s other ability, Sniper, gives its critical hits an extra bonus multiplier. Before the nerf to critical hits, it was doing triple damage! This strategy is much less effective now, so it’s really become a thing of the past.
11 Mega Banette’s Destiny Bond-ing Goodtimes
Mega forms, as with any Pokémon, are a mixed bag. You’ve got unstoppable ballistic missiles of destruction and righteous fury like Kangaskhan (pre-nerf, of course), which tend to overshadow a lot of the more niche picks.
One of these is Mega Banette, a brilliantly-designed abomination who really only had one trick: Prankster Destiny Bond.
No other Pokémon had access to this combination, so I’m sure Banette took Destiny Bond’s nerf as a great personal insult.
The move is now unable to be used on successive turns, like Protect.
10 “Better Nerf Greninja!”
As any Pokémon player will tell you, Greninja is one dang effective starter. Its signature ability, Protean, essentially gives it STAB on everything, and that’s one heck of a slimy middle finger to everybody who saw the newly-revealed Froakie and laughed.
When it hit Super Smash Bros., it was mostly deemed quite reasonable. Not all that good, even. Regardless, though, for whatever reason patches continued to hit it quite hard, to the extent that better nerf Greninja became a snarky meme in the community.
9 I’m ‘Fairy’ Sure Hydreigon Didn’t Appreciate This Change
That’s right, friends. Read that super great pun and weep. I think it’s about time I was given a raise.
Anyway, yes. The addition of the Fairy type in generation six was supposed to achieve two goals. Firstly, quelling the great tide of Dragon dominance in the metagame. Second, hauling Poison and Steel out of the ‘offensively bad’ tier.
In both cases, I’d say mission accomplished. No Dragon felt the blow quite as hard as Hydreigon, though. Thanks to its secondary typing, Dark, it’s the only common Dragon (Guzzlord being the other) that sports a 4x weakness to Fairy attacks.
8 Poor Metagross, Just Can’t Explode Like It Used To
Through the course of this rundown, we’ve seen a lot of cases of indirect nerfs. The accuracy of important moves was reduced, previously super-strong Pokémon being dethroned by the release of another, that sort of thing. It’s bound to happen with a roster that expands like this one does.
Here’s another curious case.
In previous generations, Explosion was a devastating move that actually halved the defensive stat of the target before dealing damage.
In more recent games, this secondary effect was removed, leaving players to constantly overestimate the move’s potential today. Its once-common users, Metagross and such, feel the loss.
7 That Most OP Of Monsters, Tauros
In many ways, the early years of Pokémon were a crazy, crazy time. Not only did we have as much inventory space as the poor souls of the original Resident Evil, but Normal types were supreme. There was a time when Persian was OU. Persian.
What kind of Bizarro World were we living in? Remember when Tauros was a mainstay of every team ever? This is another curious example of a Pokémon nerfed by nothing more than time itself. An interesting relic of a bygone era.
6 (Insert Powerful Special Attacker Here): Because Blissey Exists
The second generation of games, Gold, Silver, and Crystal, brought all kinds of crucial additions to the formula. Breeding, Dark-type Pokémon and a lot more all began here. Do you know what else began here? I’ll tell you what else: freaking Blissey.
In the days before Eviolite Chansey (the very thought of which makes me want to roundhouse kick someone’s grandma in the teeth), Blissey was just the ultimate. It still is, in a lot of ways. It’s the epitome of a special wall, able to more or less instantly nerf a whole spectrum of attackers simply by existing.
5 Because Empoleon Just Can’t Make Its Mind Up
So, yes. I’ve already proclaimed my lifelong appreciation for Fire-type starters. What can I say? They stole my heart twenty years ago, and they’ve never given it back since. Not even Delphox, which has as much ear hair as every old guy in a retirement home combined, could phase me.
Here’s the thing about that, though. I’ve always been a lowkey fan of Empoleon too. The emperor penguin has had a rough ride through the tiers, with the buff to Defog, nerfs to Scald (well, burns, but they’re one and the same) and other factors.
4 Articuno: The Least ‘Legendary’ Legendary Of All
We’ve already covered the physical/special split, and what an impact that had on the series. Not only did this free certain type’s attacks from being locked as physical or special, but it also led to the addition of the special defense stat.
This was a crucial change, but it also had a great impact on the viability of some Pokémon.
Some defensively-minded ‘mon, like Articuno, lost a lot when ‘special’ was divided into attack and defense.
Still, any mechanic that made Alakazam darn tanky as well as a powerhouse was something that had to be dropped like Snoop Dogg when it’s hot.
3 Wiping That Smug Smile Off Jirachi’s Face
Oh, Jirachi. You’re so adorable. So harmless-looking. Nobody would ever suspect this little wish maker of being… well, pure evil right from the depths of Beelezebub’s underpants hamper.
A lot of callous trainers only use this little guy for one reason: Iron Head flinching. With its Serene Grace ability, it’ll be flinching you more often than not. More defensive builds, meanwhile, now suffer from the nerf to the Steel type, removing their resistance to Dark and Ghost. For the Steel/Psychic Jirachi, this meant two extra weaknesses.
2 Vaporeon (Pokémon Go Edition)
Generally speaking, it’d be quite tough to argue that Vaporeon is overpowered. I mean, it’s Vaporeon. This thing just has Generic Bulky Water Type written all over it. It’s probably tattooed somewhere under its fur.
Vaporeon is what it is: a defensive pain in the cheeks.
In Pokémon Go, however, it’s a different beast entirely. In the early stages of the game, it was completely dominant, boasting a high CP while being very easy to obtain. That super fast Track and Field style Water Gun spam… it was horrible. Vaporeon is now a (completely reasonable) shadow of its former self.
1 The Best (W)rapping Since Eminem
Now, granted, this isn’t something you see every day. When it comes to the kinds of moves that just dominate the metagame, it’s safe to say that Wrap isn’t one of them. It’s a trapping move that deals a little damage at the end of each turn, like Fire Spin.
You sometimes see it on novelty Dragonite Toxic trapping sets (yep, those are a thing). If that sort of thing is your bag, you probably miss the hilariously broken glory days of Wrap. Back in the day, this move sometimes just canceled the victim’s turn entirely. Fun and balanced.