Pokémon Sword and Shield – New Competitive Features and Mechanic Changes

With a new Generation of Pokémon come new features, nerfs, and buffs which any aspiring competitive player should be aware of. Read on to learn the most important things you should know about the jump from Generation 7 to 8!


Dynamaxing is the main new feature for competitive play in SwSh. The basics are simple: when you Dynamax, your Pokémon’s moves change into various Max Move versions depending on their original types, with any status moves instead turning into the Protect-like move Max Guard. Additionally, your Dynamaxed Pokémon’s HP is doubled (when at maximum Dynamax level, which you can safely assume will be the case in competitive play). These effects last only for 3 turns, after which your Pokémon will revert to its normal state.

With Z-Moves and Megas removed, Dynamax functions as a sort of fusion of the two concepts. Much like Z-Moves, Max Moves go through Protect, dealing 25% of the damage they otherwise would have. The only way to fully block Max Moves is by using Max Guard with a Dynamaxed Pokémon of your own.

All Max Moves have one of four side-effects: setting weather, setting terrain, boosting your side’s stats, or lowering the opposing side’s stats, for a total of 18 effects—one for each type. Naturally, some effects are generally more desirable than others, such as Max Knuckle boosting the Attack stats of the Pokémon on your side of the field or Max Airstream boosting your Speed stats.

Unlike Z-Moves, however, Max Moves aren’t always stronger than their base moves. Max Knuckle and Max Ooze (which raise Attack and Special Attack, respectively) have a maximum Base Power of 100, which means that, for example, a Max Knuckle originating from Close Combat would actually turn into a weaker move.

Some Dynamax mechanics are a bit less obvious than others:

  • Dynamaxed Pokémon are immune to flinching, be it from Fake Out or moves such as Rock Slide.
  • Dynamaxed Pokémon are immune to all weight-based moves, such as Heavy Slam.
  • Moves and items which are reliant on a Pokémon’s HP will calculate using the Pokémon’s original, non-Dynamaxed HP stat: for example, an Arcanine with 197 max HP before Dynamaxing will have 394 HP after Dynamaxing. If it eats a Sitrus Berry when Dynamaxed, it will still restore 49 HP.
  • Dynamaxed Pokémon are immune to moves and items which force switches, such as Roar and Red Card.
  • Disable, Encore, and Instruct do not work on Max Moves.
  • Pokémon behind a Substitute lose their Sub when Dynamaxed.
  • Destiny Bond fails when used against a Dynamaxed Pokémon (but Perish Song does not).

Perhaps to prevent Dynamaxing from becoming too powerful, Choice items temporarily lose their effects when a Pokémon is Dynamaxed. This extends to Galarian Darmanitan’s new Ability, Gorilla Tactics, which functions like Choice Band. It may come as a surprise to those used to Generation 7 mechanics, however, that the Choice Scarf boost is lost as soon as a Pokémon is Dynamaxed, and not on the next turn. This is the likely culprit behind the next mechanics change…

Speed: Mid-turn Recalculation

In Generation 8, Speed is recalculated mid-turn before each individual Pokémon moves, rather than once at the start of each turn. Here are some examples of how this might work in competitive situations:

Example 1: A Choice Scarf Dracovish faces off against a Whimsicott and an Arcanine. The Dracovish would normally outspeed the Arcanine thanks to its item, but the Whimsicott sets Tailwind. Due to the new mechanics, Arcanine’s Speed is now recalculated before any other Pokémon moves, which allows it to outspeed the Dracovish and one-shot it with Play Rough.

Example 2: A fast Will-O-Wisp Arcanine faces off against a slower, unintimidated Sand Rush Excadrill (outside of Sandstorm) and its partner Pokémon. The Arcanine user attempts to Wisp the Excadrill, expecting to outspeed it, but the Excadrill’s partner switches into Tyranitar, which sets Sandstorm. With Sandstorm up, Excadrill’s Speed is instantly recalculated, allowing it to outspeed and KO the Arcanine.

As the above two examples show, these changes to how Speed is calculated can make a massive difference in the flow of a match.

Moves: Pruning, Distribution Changes, and Adjustments

Sword and Shield is the first game in the series to prune a large number of moves, completely removing them from the game. While most of the removed moves are insignificant, a few of them have previously seen plenty of competitive use: Return and Frustration are now gone, which means that physical Normal-types such as Snorlax lose their most reliable STAB option. Hidden Power also no longer exists, which means that Pokémon now need to rely on other moves for coverage. Finally, Sky Drop, which was often used by VGC players to bypass redirection or set up combos, has been removed.

Certain moves have been redistributed in other ways: notably, Toxic is no longer a TM, greatly limiting the pool of Pokémon which can learn it. In a similar vein, some previously niche moves suddenly have a much wider distribution due to becoming TMs or TRs. One such example is Mystical Fire, which is now learned by a plethora of Fairy-types (including Gardevoir, Sylveon, and Hatterene), allowing them to threaten Steel-type Pokémon such as Ferrothorn despite the removal of Hidden Power.

As is often the case with a new Generation, some Pokémon now have access to moves they were previously unable to learn, with a few of the more noteworthy examples including Fake Out Gothitelle, Helping Hand Milotic / Rotom / Togekiss, Close Combat Braviary, and Power Whip Gyarados.

One last change to a move that may be worth noting is that Howl now boosts the Attack of both the Pokémon using it and its partner. Although niche, it may yet see some use.

Pokémon Adjustments

Most old Pokémon were not altered significantly in SwSh, but a notable exception is Aegislash. Its defensive stats in Shield Form have both been reduced by 10 (which also affects its stats in Blade Form), and King’s Shield has been changed to only lower opponents’ Attack by 1 stage as opposed to 2.

Another Pokémon which has received a slight nerf is Mimikyu: when its Disguise is broken, it loses 12.5% of its HP. This means that Mimikyu can no longer reliably make use of a Focus Sash.

Silvally, meanwhile, received a minor buff: Multi-Attack now has a BP of 120. While Silvally is still not very likely to become a popular pick, it’s something to be aware of!

Intimidate: Indirect Nerfs

Intimidate has long been a beloved Ability by VGC players, as it provides invaluable support for many team compositions. While the Ability itself is unchanged and functions as it always has, a considerably larger amount of Pokémon are now immune to Intimidate or otherwise benefit from being affected by it.

The Abilities Scrappy, Inner Focus, Oblivious, and Own Tempo now block Intimidate, which means that Pokémon such as Mamoswine, Lucario, and Mudsdale are unaffected by it. Further, Rattled is now activated by Intimidate. In addition to this, the Galar Dex houses just about any old Intimidate deterrent that comes to mind: Milotic, Bisharp, and Braviary are all part of the Dex, as are more niche options such as Competitive Gothitelle or Contrary Malamar.

But that’s not all! Several new Pokémon won’t allow themselves to be Intimidated. The Ability Mirror Armor, for example, bounces back all stat drops (including those from Intimidate); this is Corviknight’s signature Ability, and sees plenty of play. The fearsome pseudo-legendary Dragapult, with its high Attack and blistering Speed, has Clear Body, meaning its Attack can’t be lowered. Expect to face off against these two Pokémon often!

Pinch Berry Changes

The Pinch Berries—Figy, Iapapa, Wiki, Aguav, and Mago—saw much use in Generation 7, as they’d been adjusted to restore 50% of a Pokémon’s health when activated. Since they were all their own unique item, it was quite easy to slap several of them onto a team.

Come Generation 8, the amount of HP restored has been lowered to a mere 33%, which is a significant nerf. While they’ll no doubt still see use, some players will likely opt for Sitrus Berries instead, or simply choose other items for their team.

Especially noteworthy is the fact that Gluttony Snorlax, which relied on Pinch Berries for recovery throughout the entirety of Generation 7, may now choose to forego Recycle in favor of other moves—or simply see little use at all.