By Aaron Traylor, contributing writer
The order in which Pokémon move is of utmost importance. You can gain any number of advantages when your Pokémon has more Speed than your opponent's: you can potentially knock their Pokémon out before it moves, you can reduce the damage they will deal, or you can give your Pokémon one last turn to eke out damage before being knocked out.
With the launch of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, Speed mechanics have changed in Double Battles in a big way, and mastering the Speed stat will take your battling ability to the next level. Take a look at what you need to know now to start mastering this crucial skill.
New Speed Mechanics
Imagine that your trusty Duraludon and Grimmsnarl are facing down an opposing Trainer's Dragapult, and it's clear that whoever's Dragon-type Pokémon moves first will win the battle. Dragapult is one of the fastest Pokémon available in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, so you're naturally a bit nervous. Luckily, thanks to its Prankster Ability, the slower Grimmsnarl can fire off a Thunder Wave with increased priority at the Dragapult, paralyzing it and cutting its effective Speed in half before it can move.
Here's where the difference comes in: previously, in Double Battles, if a Pokémon used a move that altered the Speed stat of any other Pokémon, the order the other Pokémon could act in would not change until the following turn. If that were still the case in this example, the opposing Dragapult would still act before your Duraludon on this turn. However, in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, any item, Ability, or move that affects Speed goes into effect as soon as it is used or activated. In this case, the turn order is updated immediately after Thunder Wave paralyzes Dragapult, which means that your Duraludon will move before Dragapult and secure your victory.
As shown in this brief example, controlling Speed can decide the winner of a game, and has become even more valuable now because its effects are instantaneous–your opponent may have no time to react. Conversely, it's also more important than ever to pay attention to your opponent's options for controlling Speed. Moves such as Tailwind and Icy Wind, which once threatened opposing Pokémon only at the start of the following turn, now apply immediate pressure and change the state of the game in dynamic ways.
Set the Stage
The most successful teams in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield have at least one or two Pokémon that control Speed for their allies. The Pokémon most effective at consistently controlling Speed are the small cohort of Pokémon with the Prankster Ability, for whom every status move has increased priority (status moves are those that don't deal direct damage). Previously, most of these Pokémon could only annoy opposing Pokémon with debilitating moves such as Fake Tears, Taunt, and Encore, but now they can let their partner Pokémon take total control of the battle.
As mentioned in the earlier example, Grimmsnarl's Thunder Wave can improve the positioning of its team in battle by influencing Speed, which Justin Burns and Justin Crubaugh used alongside Togekiss to succeed at the Dallas Regional Championships in January. Alternatively, Grimmsnarl can also use the move Scary Face, which does not inflict paralysis but similarly halves a target Pokémon's Speed with the additional bonus of targeting Pokémon that cannot be paralyzed with Thunder Wave, such as Electric- and Ground-type Pokémon. Sableye gets access to the move Quash, which has always altered the move order by putting its target's move last and remains an interesting alternative. Lastly, Whimsicott can set up your team to blow through the competition with an increased-priority Tailwind, a powerful status move that doubles the Speed of the user and its allies for four turns. Tailwind effectively lasts for one more turn than it did in prior generations now that it changes the turn order immediately, which means that opposing Trainers have to endure the accelerated onslaught for even longer. However, the popularity of Trick Room means that Trainers must be careful when using Tailwind, or their Pokémon could be stuck moving last for several turns.
Speed control can be used on the same turn that a Pokémon Dynamaxes to quickly turn the tide of battle in your favor and to gain massive control over the board. A popular partner for Prankster Pokémon is Durant, which deals boosted damage with its Max Moves thanks to its Hustle Ability. Durant is already quite fast, but its Special Defense and HP are low: Speed control from a partner Pokémon ensures its ability to knock out other Pokémon or to steady its defensive stats with boosts from Max Steelspike and Max Quake. Other popular Pokémon to Dynamax alongside heavy speed control are Charizard, Duraludon, and Tyranitar.
Although partnering Dynamax Pokémon with Speed control has the most immediate impact, using Max Moves that affect Speed can set the pace of battle in a more flexible manner. The most popular Max Move for controlling speed is Max Airstream, which boosts the Speed stat of both of your Pokémon. Dragapult, which is already terrifyingly fast, uses Max Airstream like no other Pokémon can: as popularized by Alex Gomez and Eric Rios at Malmö Regionals, Dragapult with Max Airstream can support its team and even outspeed other blindingly fast Dragapult—at the cost of giving up one of its precious move slots for Fly. Other popular users of Max Airstream are Togekiss, Dracozolt, Corviknight, and Inteleon. This move is so valuable that Trainers sometimes find themselves racing to rack up more Max Airstreams than their opponent before Dynamax runs out.
Where Max Airstream turns on the jets for your Pokémon, Max Strike drops the Speed stat of each opposing Pokémon. It's less common in part because Speed boosts offer you more control than attempts to drop the other team's Speed. After all, they can always switch out their active Pokémon, and the Speed drop doesn't affect Pokémon with the Clear Body Ability, such as Dragapult. Currently, Max Strike is only popular as part of some Snorlax strategies, but I'm certain that more interesting and unique combinations with it are waiting to be discovered.
Moving Ahead of the Competition
Pokémon that have strong offensive capabilities but are held back by an average Speed stat can shine thanks to this Speed mechanic update. Two great examples hailing from Galar are Dracovish and Dracozolt, whose respective signature moves Fishious Rend and Bolt Beak double in power when they move before the opponent. These Pokémon can struggle to achieve the necessary Speed advantage on their own because of their mediocre Speed stats, but alongside a partner with Speed control options they can inflict massive damage on their opponents in a hurry. Marco Silva used a combination of Whimsicott and Dracovish to secure victory at the Oceania International Championships; he also gave his Dracovish a Choice Scarf to hold as added security so it would move first every turn. Dracozolt can provide its own boosts by Dynamaxing and using Max Airstream based off of Aerial Ace, and then later in the game using Bolt Beak to finish off opponents. Clefairy is a popular partner to boost Dracozolt's survivability with the Ability Friend Guard and the move Follow Me, which provides Dracozolt time to set up Max Airstream or to fire off powerful attacks.
Plenty of Pokémon enjoy partnering up with Pokémon that control Speed. Bulky Pokémon such as Duraludon and Rotom can frequently take a hit and dish back damage, but they benefit greatly from even a slight boost in Speed, which allows them to act proactively against the fastest threats. In order to get ahead of fast opposing Pokémon, some slower Pokémon, such as Conkeldurr, Jellicent, Primarina, and Sylveon, need at least a Tailwind and to trade some of their training in HP and defenses for Speed. Finally, some Pokémon such as Rhyperior, Torkoal, and Hatterene are so slow that they require maximal training in Speed alongside intense mid-battle boosts to move before even moderately speedy Pokémon. Ultimately, Trainers may find more consistent success by instead using these Pokémon on Trick Room teams or accepting that they will always move last.
A Pokémon that emerges as a top threat thanks to the speed change is Coalossal, whose signature Ability Steam Engine boosts Coalossal's Speed through the roof when it's hit by a Water- or Fire-type attack. A common strategy is to have Coalossal hold a Weakness Policy and to pair it with a Pokémon that knows a fast Water-type attack, like Primarina with Aqua Jet, that has a low Attack stat, or Dragapult with Surf, and that has a low Special Attack stat—it's important to deal as little damage to Coalossal as possible. The Water-type attack will activate both Weakness Policy and Steam Engine. If Coalossal then Gigantamaxes, it will deal devastating damage with its Max Moves, like its signature G-Max Volcalith. If that Coalossal is trained in Speed, it will outspeed Dragapult even after it Dragon Dances, as well as Sand Rush Excadrill in a Sandstorm weather condition.
Weather the Weather
Teams that use strategies focused around weather conditions are more threatening than ever, because Abilities that double Speed in weather now activate as soon as that weather is set. These teams can be extremely dynamic with the Pokémon they use to lead off battles: when leading with a Pokémon such as Venusaur, to activate its Speed-doubling Chlorophyll Ability, a player could either lead it alongside a Pokémon with Drought to activate it, or save that Drought Pokémon in the back for a surprise Turn 1 switch-in. Once its Speed is doubled, Venusaur can then either Gigantamax and threaten massive damage or fire off a super-fast Sleep Powder to disable an opponent's Pokémon—but both of these options work just fine when the Sun isn't out, too. Sand Rush Excadrill and Swift Swim Seismitoad enjoy similar benefits alongside Sand Stream and Drizzle respectively, although they are more oriented toward dealing damage than on offering status support.
Want to Get Off the Ride?
Controlling Speed is useful, but can't win you a battle on its own: to take full advantage and Knock Out the opposing Pokémon, the damage has to come from somewhere. If your Pokémon would outspeed theirs regardless of in-battle enhancements, or an opposing Pokémon would survive your attack and Knock Out your Pokémon in return, think twice about using a move to control the Speed—Tailwind isn't going to help Frosmoth beat a Torkoal! If an opponent threatens to take full control of a game by altering Speed, consider switching your Pokémon to gain a defensive type advantage they cannot overcome with sheer offense.
Alternatively, strategies revolving around Trick Room (which is a different form of Speed control in its own right) tend to match up well against teams that feature Pokémon with middling natural Speed and lots of Speed control, although the move Trick Room itself does not enjoy any benefits of same-turn Speed changes because it nearly always moves last. Because Trick Room reverses the Speed order for five turns, your opponent's Speed boosts will end up causing their Pokémon to move last, allowing you a solid advantage. Many Trainers use a Dusclops or Hatterene that knows Trick Room alongside other forms of Speed control to dictate speed in both directions during a game.
After each game I play, I like to think back on my decisions and write down what I did well and what I can improve in the future. Often, Pokémon games are won and lost because of crucial knockouts taken by Pokémon that move first. Go through the most important turns in your head—did any turns go your way because your Pokémon attacked before your opponent's? If something went wrong, could you next time set your Pokémon up to succeed through controlling the Speed differently earlier in the game?
The changes in how Speed works makes battles in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield some of the most fast-paced and exciting in Pokémon's history. You're all caught up on the strategies that top Trainers use to find success through controlling the order in which Pokémon move—get out there and set the tempo for yourself!
Good luck, Trainers, and remember to keep checking Pokemon.com/Strategy for more detailed analysis.