Opinion: 10 Mechanics Changes for Pokémon Sword and Shield

Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are right around the corner, and with a new generation come new Pokémon and new interactions to explore. While there are a number of things I’d love to see in Sword and Shield (easier ways of getting teams ready in-game, being able to select battle music, and being able to save Battle Videos from Live Competitions are just a few), there’s also a number of mechanics interactions I’d love to see implemented for competitive play.

In no particular order, here are ten mechanics interactions I’d love to see changed or added in Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield:

Shadow Tag can only trap the opposing slot across from it

Shadow Tag is one of the most powerful Abilities ever released in Pokémon. Restricting one of the most fundamental aspects of competitive play, switching, can significantly limit an opponent through an Ability that works passively. Although originally limited to Wobbuffet, Shadow Tag’s wider distribution in later generations to other Pokémon gave it real potential to be a nuisance to many players. In the transition between Generations 5 and 6, Ghost-type Pokemon were granted immunity to all trapping effects, but that didn’t slow down Shadow Tag much at all. Restricting Shadow Tag to only trapping the opposing slot, like how Ditto’s Imposter restricts it to Transforming into only the opposite slot, would tone down the impact Shadow Tag has. Rather than passively trapping two Pokemon, you only trap one—though you always know which one is trapped.

If a Pokémon is asleep and switches out, that switch uses a sleep turn

Sleep can be one of the most frustrating elements of competitive Pokémon. Not knowing when your Pokémon will wake up is a huge deal and potentially a big momentum loss, and as a result, many players opt to have several checks for Pokémon like Amoonguss in order to curb its power. These effects are felt especially hard in Singles play, where a sleep clause is implemented in just about every Smogon format to prevent players from putting entire teams to sleep. By having sleep turns be deducted from sleeping Pokemon on a switch, players can avoid the awkward scenario of being forced to come in with a guaranteed turn of sleep, knowing a turn will be wasted no matter what they choose. In addition, if you happen to get a bit unlucky with your initial turns of sleep, switching out later can guarantee a wake-up at a later point in time, reducing the impact of RNG on sleep.

Heal Block is an effect that applies to the opponent’s entire field for 5 turns

Heal Block is an interesting concept: the opponent can’t heal their Pokemon with moves, Abilities, or items for 5 turns. Sounds pretty good, right? It even hits both Pokemon in a double battle! The problem is that you can just switch out of the effect. It’s hard to justify spending a turn, and especially dedicating a whole moveslot, to prevent a Pokémon from healing if it’s only temporary. By changing Heal Block to be a field effect that only affects the opponent, it suddenly shows much more worth. Now, a defensive Pokémon switching in to munch on its Berry will be without its snack if it falls under 25%, without needing to preemptively Knock Off the target. Locking down passive healing from Leech Seed may buy enough time to outdamage defensive Pokemon like Ferrothorn before they have the opportunity to drain away your HP until it goes down to 0. In addition, if Heal Block were to prevent the gain of HP from Dynamaxing, a well-timed Heal Block may do some good in limiting the bulk of these titanic transformations, allowing them to be more easily KO’d.

If a Pokémon becomes paralyzed, it cannot be fully paralyzed (unable to move) on that turn

Most players were disappointed to see the Thunder Wave nerf from Generation 6 to Generation 7 be a Speed-halving effect, rather than a removal of the 25% full paralysis chance. I think it’s clear at this point that Game Freak doesn’t intend to give up the random element of paralysis altogether, but perhaps there’s a clever way to nerf it while still keeping the full paralysis chance intact. By preventing a Pokemon from being immobilized the turn it gets paralyzed, you eliminate the play of “I will Thunder Wave you with the sole purpose of making sure you won’t move this turn”. While this would remove the so-called “Paul Chua Fake Out” crowd pleaser, where a Thunderbolt rolls its 10% paralysis chance into a full paralysis, I think many trainers could learn to cope without its thrill.

Infiltrator ignores redirection

One of the strongest forces in Doubles play is redirection. Most means of getting around the chief offender, Amoonguss, are due to Grass-type immunity to powder moves, and not so much getting around Rage Powder itself. The list of effects that can actually get around Follow Me is low: Sky Drop, Pledge moves, and a splatter of mostly unviable choices are about all you’ve got to work with. Infiltrator is a great example of an Ability that can address the power of redirection. Just like it can ignore Substitutes and Reflect/Light Screen, making Infiltrator ignore redirection would allow Pokémon who may not have been as viable before to shine in new circumstances, being able to force guaranteed plays that are independent of the opponent’s Follow Me or Rage Powder.

All Fire-type moves auto-thaw freeze; setting the Sunny Day effect removes freeze

Getting frozen in Pokemon is never a good time—not only is the initial chance of getting frozen in the first place low, but you only have a 1 in 5 chance of breaking through the ice on subsequent opportunities to move. Game Freak has given us some checks and balances to freeze, however, in the form of Fire-type attacks. Using any Fire-type attack on a frozen target will instantly thaw it. There are also a select number of Fire-type moves that can auto-thaw a frozen user. However, while this list includes some common Fire-type moves, like Flare Blitz, it misses out on a lot of commonly used Fire-type attacks, like Flamethrower, Heat Wave, and Overheat. Making all Fire-type moves auto-thaw freezes would make things more consistent, and it would seem to make sense, too—just use your own Flamethrower to melt through the ice!

In addition, there is a built-in bonus to harsh sunlight that often goes underappreciated: Pokémon cannot be frozen at all if Sun is up (whether that be regular Sun or that of Primal Groudon’s). However, as of Generation 7, setting up harsh sunlight won’t do anything about freeze status. Mega Evolving a frozen Charizard into Mega Charizard Y will still leave it stuck in place. If setting Sun melted away the frozen status of all Pokémon on the field, we would have yet another method of curing the otherwise hard-to-handle freeze, which is always appreciated.

Ally Switch increases damage taken by 1.25x

When Ally Switch received increased distribution due to move tutors in Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon, the feedback from the VGC community wasn’t very positive. Ally Switch is a powerful move, being able to flip momentum on its head by swapping the targets the opponent originally intended to aim at, sometimes causing guessing games on subsequent turns of battle. Ally Switch currently has very little drawback—the main downside is that your Pokémon has to spend its turn swapping ally positions, and it doesn’t impact spread move targeting, since those hit multiple Pokémon anyway. However, an additional cost could do it some good. By increasing the damage the Ally Switch trainer’s Pokémon take by 1.25x during a turn, it skews the risk/reward ratio a bit in the opposing player’s court, but not by enough to completely make the move unusable. While nerfing the move’s priority or distribution could also fix some of Ally Switch’s problems, the increased damage taken from using Ally Switch may turn certain non-KOs into guaranteed KO ranges, opening up the door for safer decision making, which is the biggest concern with Ally Switch overall.

Earmuffs anti-sound moves item

Although screaming at your problems hardly seems to work in real life for me, Pokémon like Sylveon and Mega Salamence have taken advantage of their powerful vocal chords since Generation 6. Perhaps even more potent has been the power of Mega Gengar’s Perish Song, forcing all Pokemon who hear its melody to faint in three turns. While Game Freak has certainly addressed the power of Hyper Voice users (and heck, they’re removing Megas altogether!), an item behaving like Soundproof could offer some interesting counterplay in formats where Sylveon, Snarl, Roar, or other sound moves see use. Offering an immunity to Perish Song could also open up the door for creative use with Perish Trap, both with and against the strategy. Depending on the metagame, an Earmuffs item may turn into another case of Protective Pads, but I think it’s unlikely a free sound-based move immunity would see no experimentation at all.

Curse affects both opposing targets

Curse Mimikyu found its way onto a few teams scattered throughout the Generation VII VGC metagames, but it never quite got a firm footing. Giving up half your HP for an effect that only deals 25% to the opponent each turn, not to mention that can be switched out of, is often too slow to be very useful. If you buff Curse to apply to both opponents, however, it suddenly becomes a much trickier move to deal with. Double switching is certainly not out of the question, but in the average game of VGC, switching out your Pokemon is typically a cost that comes at the price of additional damage. By sacrificing 1/8 of your team for 1/8 of your opponent’s team (potentially more), Ghost-type Curse may see more play, both as an initial method of softening up the opponent’s team, but also as an endgame tool for closing up the match versus weakened targets.

Nerf Moody by either giving Smeargle a different ability or making the positive effect only a +1 boost

All people with experience playing against Smeargle know how it can turn games around on any given turn with a fortunate Moody boost. Whether it be a Speed boost to get the jump on an opposing target for a speedy Spore, an evasion boost to aid its allies in potentially dodging attacks with its Follow Me, or a boost to its defenses to make it that much harder to KO, Moody can flip the tide of the game in an instant. While removing Dark Void from Smeargle in the last generational shift certainly fixed its most jarring problem, as demonstrated in the VGC 2016 metagame, Moody manages to cause problems even in modern formats with plenty of Smeargle answers. Removing Moody as Smeargle’s Hidden Ability might not make for as much of a crowd spectacle, but it would be appreciated by all those on the receiving end of Smeargle’s wrath. If Game Freak can’t part ways with Moody on Smeargle, nerfing its potential by only increasing the positive stat by +1, rather than +2, may help tone down its effectiveness to be even more manageable.

Of course, there are many more mechanics than just these that could be adjusted to better suit competitive play. What are some ideas of changes you would make in competitive Pokémon, be it for balance or otherwise? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!