By Contributing Writer Aaron Zheng
The brand-new Dynamax feature introduced in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield has drastically impacted how competitors approach battling at all levels of competition. After multiple Regional Championships and an International Championship, it's time to take a deep dive into what Dynamaxing is, how top Trainers are utilizing it, and how it has affected competitive battles.
In addition to making a Pokémon look bigger, Dynamaxing has several effects in battle that affects competitive play. When a Pokémon Dynamaxes, its current HP and maximum HP double. Plus, all of the Pokémon's moves become Max Moves, which are generally strong attacks that never miss (except the one defensive Max Move, Max Guard). Max Moves can also have secondary effects that correspond to the base move's type. For example, Water-type attacks turn into Max Geyser, which summons rain to the battlefield. Each Trainer may only Dynamax one Pokémon in a battle, and the effect lasts for exactly three turns. If a player switches out their Dynamax Pokémon before the effect ends, the Pokémon loses the effect for the remainder of the battle. Once the Dynamax effect ends, a Pokémon's max HP is reduced back to normal, and the Pokémon maintains the same percentage of current HP that it had while it was Dynamaxed.
Max Moves 101
Max Moves are some of the strongest attacks in the game. There are several advantages to Max Moves, including that they never miss, regardless of the accuracy of the initial move. As a result, Trainers will sometimes give lower-accuracy moves to Pokémon that they tend to Dynamax to maximize damage output.
Similarly, since the base power of Max Moves is determined by the base power of the original move, Trainers occasionally opt for attacks with the highest base power, such as Blast Burn on Charizard or Hydro Cannon on Inteleon. These attacks normally aren't consistent enough to be used in competitive battles. But with Dynamaxing, the slight increase in base power once the base move is turned into a Max Move can be the difference between a Pokémon being left with a bit of health or getting knocked out.
Top Trainers utilize the side effects of Max Moves to great effect. Aaron Traylor's winning team from Dallas Regionals featured a Duraludon with Thunderbolt (which becomes Max Lightning) to set up Electric Terrain, preventing grounded Pokémon from falling asleep. This one move gave Aaron a significant advantage against strategies that prioritize sleep, such as teams with Butterfree that know Sleep Powder. Many teams with Togekiss often utilize the Fairy-type Max Move, Max Starfall, to set up Misty Terrain and accomplish similar results.
Marco Silva's winning team from the Oceania International Championships also featured a Duraludon. Marco's Duraludon had the move Body Press, which boosted the Attack of Duraludon and its allies after that move became Max Knuckle. While Duraludon itself did not benefit much from increased Attack, Marco's team had several other physical attackers that did, including Conkeldurr and Dracovish.
The Flying-type Max Move, Max Airstream, is also commonly used to boost the Speed of the user and its partner by one stage. Of course it's used by Flying-type Pokémon, such as Charizard, Togekiss, and Corviknight, but it's also occasionally seen on other Pokémon with access to Flying-type attacks, such as Inteleon and Dragapult. Moving before your opponent is incredibly important in competitive Pokémon battles, and Max Airstream offers another dimension to Speed control that did not exist in previous generations.
Ground-type and Steel-type attacks are also great options in VGC 2020 for two main reasons—they can hit a wide variety of Pokémon for regular or supereffective damage, and they offer excellent secondary effects when they become Max Moves. Max Steelspike increases the Defense of the user and its partner by one stage, while Max Quake does the same for Sp. Def.
Fire-type, Water-type, Ice-type, and Rock-type attacks all change the weather when they become Max Moves. Trainers often use these moves to counter opposing weather, especially since sandstorm teams with Tyranitar and Excadrill are very common in the current competitive scene. Trainers can also use these moves to benefit from weather themselves. For example, Charizard can use Max Flare to set up harsh sunlight and take advantage of its Hidden Ability, Solar Power, while Excadrill (with Sand Rush) can use Max Rockfall to whip up a sandstorm and increase its own Speed.
Because the VGC format uses Double Battles, Max Moves are often used to benefit not only the user but also its partner. Winning Trainers should always ask themselves how they can maximize the value from their Max Moves outside of just pure damage output.
Striking at the Perfect Moment
One thing that often sets the great Trainers apart from the good is the ability to maximize the overall impact Dynamaxing has, and this is reflected even when they begin team building. Competitors rarely rely on Dynamaxing just one Pokémon, instead building their teams to have several strong Dynamax options. To make this work, Pokémon that are great both when they're Dynamaxed and not Dynamaxed become a focus. Pokémon that fit this bill include Tyranitar, Togekiss, Rotom, Excadrill, and Conkeldurr.
When the matches begin, another thing that top Trainers share is great game awareness. They are typically able to identify both which is the best Pokémon to Dynamax given the current situation and the best time in the game to do so. Competitors must constantly ask themselves whether or not they can afford to let their opponent Dynamax first. If they can keep their Dynamax until after their opponent's Dynamax has ended, then they will have a huge advantage for the remainder of the battle. However, if their opponent gains too much of a superior position by Dynamaxing, it can become impossible to come back. Thus, it's important to evaluate whether it is appropriate to Dynamax on a turn-by-turn basis.
It's also critical to consider the possibility of Dynamaxing virtually any Pokémon on the team. For example, while support-oriented Pokémon such as Arcanine, Whimsicott, and Incineroar usually do not Dynamax due to their lack of offensive moves, smart Trainers are able to identify specific scenarios where Dynamaxing these Pokémon could lead to a win. As we saw at the 2020 Oceania International Championships, several competitors chose to Dynamax their Arcanine throughout the course of the tournament to change the weather using Max Flare and do large amounts of damage to Pokémon weak to Fire-type attacks.
Offense vs. Defense
One of the more important things about Dynamaxing is that there is no single “correct” way of utilizing it. We've seen some Trainers use it offensively and focus on the pure damage output from Max Moves, while others have prioritized boosting their team's defenses as much as possible. The best teams typically have a balance between using the Dynamax effect both offensively and defensively.
Trainers who opt for heavily offensive Dynamax Pokémon, such as Durant, Inteleon, and Dragapult, are often focused on picking up multiple knockouts while the Dynamax effect is active. These offensive Pokémon can be incredibly frail and need the Dynamax HP boost to survive supereffective attacks. They are also often paired with support Pokémon, such as Whimsicott—which gets access to moves such as Fake Tears, Helping Hand, and Tailwind—and Grimmsnarl, which also gets access to Fake Tears, as well as Fake Out and Thunder Wave. These moves disrupt the opposing side and make it easier for the offensive Dynamax Pokémon to pick up big knockouts.
Sometimes Trainers will instead use Dynamaxing defensively, getting multiple stat boosts from Max Quake or Max Steelspike, making the Pokémon that Dynamaxed very difficult to knock out even after the Dynamax effect has ended. Examples of Pokémon that use this strategy include Gastrodon and Corviknight, which can restore their own HP with Recover and Roost respectively after they are no longer Dynamaxed.
Top Trainers are often able to use their Dynamax both offensively and defensively on the same team and occasionally even at the same time. For example, Andrew Ding was able to win the Collinsville Regional Championships by Dynamaxing Durant, one of the frailest Pokémon in the game. Competitors tolerate Durant's weak defensive stats because of its high Speed and power. But Andrew was able to use Durant's strong Max Moves (Max Steelspike and Max Quake) to give Durant and its partners (bulkier Pokémon, such as Milotic and Sylveon) multiple defensive boosts while Durant's high damage output applied lots of pressure.
How Dynamaxing Has Changed the Game
Another interesting mechanic revolving around Dynamax Pokémon is that they cannot flinch. As a result, Trainers have to be more careful with the move Fake Out, which was one of the most common attacks in previous VGC formats. Fake Out is still commonly seen on Pokémon such as Incineroar and Grimmsnarl, but Trainers have to think twice before using Fake Out if their opponent has not Dynamaxed a Pokémon yet.
Dynamaxing has also impacted how Trainers view Speed control. In Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, changes to Speed take effect immediately rather than at the start of the following turn, which was the case in previous games. As a result, Trainers can use Max Moves to boost a partner Pokémon's Speed and have that partner attack earlier than their opponent is expecting. For example, Togekiss can use Max Airstream to help a slower partner become faster on the same turn. Togekiss can also use Max Flare to set up harsh sunlight, boosting the Speed of Pokémon with the Ability Chlorophyll, such as Venusaur.
Common Items for Dynamax Pokémon
The Weakness Policy held item has been a standout in tournament battles in Galar, and it's often attached to bulky Pokémon that prefer to Dynamax, such as Lapras, Tyranitar, Rhyperior, Togekiss, and Coalossal. These Dynamax Pokémon are incredibly threatening for two main reasons: their increased damage output when Weakness Policy actually activates...and the mere possibility that they could carry Weakness Policy. This often leaves opposing Trainers hesitant to use supereffective attacks until those bulky Pokémon are no longer Dynamaxed.
Teams that have a Pokémon holding Weakness Policy also often have ways to activate that item themselves. For example, one of Rhyperior's most common partners is Dusclops, which can activate Rhyperior's Weakness Policy with a supereffective attack such as Brick Break or Bulldoze. Gigantamax Lapras also often carries Weakness Policy and is paired with partners that can hit it with supereffective attacks.
Life Orb continues to be popular as well. It has historically been one of the best competitive items in the game, but thanks to the power of Max Moves, Dynamax Pokémon derive even more value from Life Orb than other Pokémon. Dynamax Pokémon also take the same amount of recoil damage from Life Orb as they would if they weren't Dynamaxed, which means a smaller percentage of their overall health. Many of the top Pokémon, such as Rotom, Excadrill, Durant, Duraludon, and Dragapult, often carry Life Orbs to maximize their damage output, especially since Choice Band and Choice Specs do not increase the damage of Max Moves.
How to Stop the Giants?
Dynamax Pokémon may be strong, but they're not unbeatable. Throughout the first few months of the VGC 2020 season, Trainers have utilized several strategies to mitigate opposing Dynamax Pokémon. Several of these strategies focus on stalling out the three turns of Dynamax.
Naturally, one of the best ways to counter Dynamax Pokémon is to use your own Dynamax Pokémon. Some Trainers opt to fight power with power, using their Dynamax Pokémon to do as much damage as possible. Other Trainers take a more defensive approach, using Max Moves to raise their defenses, to lower the opposing side's offensive stats, or to block attacks, hoping to weather their opponent's three turns of Dynamax as well as possible. Trainers can also reduce the power of Dynamax Pokémon by lowering their stats with regular moves such as Charm, Parting Shot, Snarl, and Will-O-Wisp or through the Ability Intimidate.
Berries that reduce the damage of supereffective attacks are also used to survive powerful Max Moves. For example, Togekiss often carries Babiri Berry, which allows it to survive supereffective Steel-type attacks from Excadrill, Durant, and Duraludon—some of the strongest Pokémon in the format. Kasib and Colbur Berries, which reduce supereffective hits from Ghost-type and Dark-type attacks respectively, are often used on Pokémon that aim to set up Trick Room, such as Bronzong, Jellicent, and Gourgeist.
Another great way to shut down Dynamax Pokémon is to put them to sleep. Yawn was seldom used in previous VGC formats, but it's seen more and more on Pokémon such as Gastrodon or Togekiss. Yawn puts pressure on opposing Dynamax Pokémon, forcing them to either fall asleep the next turn or switch out and give up their Dynamax transformation. Sleep Powder, while more inconsistent than Yawn, is also used by Pokémon such as Venusaur, Butterfree, and Roserade to put Dynamax Pokémon to sleep immediately.
One clever way to shut down Dynamax Pokémon is by attaching an Eject Button to a Pokémon with the Prankster Ability and giving the Eject Button to opposing Dynamax Pokémon through the move Trick. Trainers who opt for this strategy also often add another increased-priority attack, such as a Quick Attack from Sylveon, to force opposing Dynamax Pokémon to switch out immediately. This option is less consistent and more niche, but it can have devastating results when used correctly.
Finally, it's more important than ever to have Pokémon that resist or are immune to common attacks. Switching in a Pokémon with a type resistance or immunity to a Max Move burns one turn of Dynamax, which can go a long way when there are only three turns of Dynamax total.
What about Gigantamax?
In addition to the potential for nearly any Pokémon to Dynamax, there is a select group of Pokémon that are allowed to Gigantamax in Championship Series events. These Gigantamax Pokémon have access to both Max Moves and unique G-Max Moves that have special secondary effects, allowing for several creative strategies.
We've already seen Trainers use some of these Gigantamax forms to great success. Aaron Traylor won the Dallas Regional Championships with Gigantamax Charizard, utilizing G-Max Wildfire's side effect to slowly chip away at opposing teams. Tobias Koschitzki won the Malmö Regional Championships with Gigantamax Butterfree and Gigantamax Hatterene, allowing him to inflict multiple status conditions with G-Max Befuddle and G-Max Smite. It's important to note that these Trainers did not focus their strategies solely on their Gigantamax Pokémon. Aaron's team also had strong attackers, such as Conkeldurr and Duraludon, while Tobias's Trick Room team was centered primarily around Rhyperior. However, their teams offered them the flexibility to Gigantamax when appropriate and gave them more options to work with.
Expect to see Trainers explore more options as the list of Gigantamax Pokémon allowed in the Championship Series continues to grow. The newly added Gigantamax Lapras, for example, will undoubtedly have a major impact on the format as Trainers try to take advantage of its G-Max Move, G-Max Resonance, which sets up Aurora Veil, reducing the damage of physical and special attacks.
Dynamax is a fascinating feature in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield that creates incredibly interesting battles. As the metagame in the Galar region continues to develop, competitors will also find new ways to use the Dynamax feature. One thing is for sure, though—seeing how top Trainers utilize Dynamax Pokémon against each other never disappoints!
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