The Good, the Niche, and the Ugly: Starters in PoGO PvP and their Future
5 months ago
With the 6th Anniversary event coming up featuring all the starters released in GO so far, and its Ultra Unlock part letting the players obtain all their exclusive community day moves, let's take a closer look at what good these starters even are for PvP, both to help those with limited time prioritize correctly, and to draw attention to some Pokémon that, while currently not in the spotlight quite yet, may one day become meta defining.
To do that, I'll first separate all the already released starters into three broad tiers of usability and go over them one by one, before taking a look at what the future might hold, both in terms of starter Pokémon that haven't been released in GO yet, and the signature moves the already present ones might end up shaping the GO PvP meta with.
These are the meta in their respective formats, at least, at the time of writing this article. Must haves for anyone getting into PvP.
For the longest time, Venusaur has been the undisputed king and queen of Grass types in GO PvP, owing mostly to its Community Day move in Frenzy Plant. With the same energy cost and damage as Wild Charge but without its self-debuff downside, Frenzy Plant can dish out ridiculous damage at basically zero opportunity cost. There are very few 'mons that can survive even two of those in Great League, and most of them only do so because of double resisting Grass.
While not normally thought of as a good type, its Poison subtyping ends up helping Venusaur a lot in practice. Counter and Charm are both Fast Attacks with some very common users, giving everyone's favourite grassy frog a lot more utility as a check to both fighters and fairies in addition to winning all the matchups Grass already does. These upsides used to be balanced by a weakness to Psychic and thus Pokémon like Hypno or Jirachi in Great League, and Armored Mewtwo in Ultra League, but as the meta developed, these 'mons and for the most part Confusion as a whole was pushed out of the spotlight, in no small part due to largest extant thorn in Venusaur's side, Trevenant.
Seed Bomb might be no Frenzy Plant, but Shadow Ball is miles ahead in usefulness than Sludge Bomb, resulting in Trevenant creeping over Venu's niche ever since its release last Halloween. While Venusaur survived Trevenant's release much better than something like Cofagrigus that existed in the spotlight for all of two weeks before disappearing as suddenly as it had appeared, the usage rates in regionals and internationals speak for themselves- Trevenant is the preferred choice overall. Of course, that doesn't make Venusaur useless, merely somewhat overshadowed, and only to an extent- Trevenant screams and faints at the sight of the ever popular dark type fighters Obstagoon and Scrafty, but Venusaur only sees them as yet another target to Frenzy its Plants at, ensuring its continued viability.
Recommended Moveset: Vine Whip / Frenzy Plant / Sludge Bomb
Venusaur might've had to step down from its typings' throne, but fortunately, no such fate has awaited Swampert so far, the mudboi to end all mudbois as popular as ever. And while Venu owes its entire success to Frenzy Plant, Swampert is much more rounded in that regard- sure, Hydro Cannon is an amazing move, so amazing it had to be nerfed at one point in the past, but this frog has many other things going for it beside its most signature move.
Mud Shot is one of the best fast moves in the game, actually letting Swampert take advantage of its stellar Charged Attack selection by generating energy incredibly quickly, and ensuring that any successful farmdown, as risky as it might be, leaves it in an incredibly good position. The two most common options for its second Charged Attack are both great, and the choice between them for the most part comes down to shoring up a particular team's weakness. Sludge Wave lets it get back at the Grass types that threaten to turn it into mulch, punches through Azumarill who can shrug off its Hydro Cannons in Great League, and lets it at least tickle Altaria on its way out. Earthquake with its STAB on the other hand is a much better finisher and the preferred move against the other Water types, especially the wanna-be usurper to the Water type throne in Walrein.
Even without relying on its coverage, the sheer Hydro Cannon spam lets Swampert muscle through so many meta threats that it's unlikely it'll ever leave the spotlight in either Great or Ultra League, making getting comfortable playing both as and against it crucial for advancing in Go Battle League.
Recommended Moveset: Mud Shot / Hydro Cannon / Sludge Wave OR Earthquake
Not quite the core open format meta, but decent in their own right, often times seeing plentiful use in more limited formats. You won't be immediately worse off for not having them, but it might come to bite you once Go Battle League rotates to a limited format and you find yourself unable to participate due to lack of valid 'mons, or if you ever end up wanting to participate in limited formats, such as Silph Arena cups.
Compared to Swampert's reliance on Charge Attacks for the vast majority of its damage output, Blastoise takes the opposite approach, gradually wearing its opponents down with Water Gun's sustained Fast Attack damage instead. Relying on Fast Attack damage isn't an inherently worse approach, as anyone who has had their team Charmed down can no doubt attest to, but Blastoise ends up running into the issue of just not having enough of said damage, coming up short against most neutral targets.
In addition, while Hydro Cannon is as great as ever, Blastoise's other moves leave a lot to be desired. Ice Beam gives it something against Grass types, but it's nowhere near enough with Water Gun's mediocre energy generation, and Skull Bash lets it actually damage the opposing Water types, but at the price of whole 75 energy just to likely get shielded anyway.
In Great League, Rainy Castform does most of the things Blastoise wants to do but better, with an almost identical bulk and having access to both the less meaty but cheaper Weather Ball Water instead of Hydro Cannon, and the much more useful Thunder to actually threaten the opposing Water types with. Ultra League is kinder to the artillery turtle, but not by much.
Recommended Moveset: Water Gun / Hydro Cannon / Ice Beam OR Skull Bash
The first Fire type starter on this list, and also the best one, which kinda tells you everything you need to know about how Fire type starters generally stack up against their Grass and Water type brethren in GO PvP. Charizard is the epitome of the Blast Burn user- if it actually manages to land its Community Day move, it can do obscene amounts of damage, even to 'mons that resist Fire, but that 'if' is crucial here. Charizard is brittle, a trait shared by every single Fire type starter, and takes five whole Fire Spins to get to a Blast Burn, which is slower than most meta Pokémon in either Great or Ultra League take to get to their main damage dealing moves.
Dragon Claw as a cheaper bait Charged Attack helps a bit, but isn't enough to salvage the not-quite-dragon, especially in Great League. Like most 'mons in this tier, it fares better in Ultra League, especially in the Ultra League Premier Classic format, where it can act as a soft corebreaker to Walrein + Trevenant with Fire Spin while also having play against Obstagoon.
Where most Pokémon have some wiggle room when it comes to their Charge Attacks but their Fast Attacks are set in stone, Charizard is the complete opposite, having *three* Fast Attacks worth considering, and with Blast Burn and Dragon Claw being so much better than any other options when it comes to Charged Attacks, no real wiggle room there. Fire Spin is the usual Fast Attack of choice, offering solid damage and decent energy gain, and all the other decent Fast Attacks require either using an Elite Fast TM, or evolving it this weekend for Dragon Breath in specific. Let's list them off quickly:
- Dragon Breath: Counter-intuitively, it dishes out more Fast Attack damage in a neutral matchup than Fire Spin even accounting for the loss of STAB, and is resisted by fewer 'mons, but generates slightly less energy. The best option overall for Ultra League, and possibly Great League too.
- Wing Attack: The clear winner for energy generation, even if it's by relatively little and at the cost of less Fast Attack damage in a neutral matchup. Some swear by it, and it certainly has its uses in certain limited formats, but the author herself would only recommend it to more experienced players.
- Ember: No, you're not hsineerg and this isn't a Ninetales, don't spend an Elite Fast TM for this.
Recommended Moveset: Fire Spin OR Dragon Breath OR Wing Attack / Blast Burn / Dragon Claw
If you played Great League back in early seasons, you might be surprised to see the happy green dino in this tier and not the one above it. Meganium used to be arguably Venusaur's equal in the early days of Go Battle League, trading its Poison type coverage for an Earthquake that any Registeel user had to fear. Has it gotten worse since? Not really, it's as strong as ever, but the meta has changed, and its niche is much less important nowadays.
Which isn't all that intuitive- after all, several of the Pokémon either released or buffed into relevance since Meganium's hayday are weak to Ground- Galarian Stunfisk, Nidoqueen, Alolan Marowak, Kanto Ninetales all hate taking an Earthquake to the face. However, as opposed to Registeel, the former two are neutral vs Grass as opposed to resisting it, making it a perfectly acceptable answer against them as well, especially when it takes form of Venusaur's Frenzy Plant, which cleanly two shots both of the aforementioned 'mons.
On the flipside, several of the newer releases give Meganium a much harder time compared to Venusaur- being weak to instead of neutral vs Poison adds up against Nidoqueen, and the sad green dino is left as helpless vs Trevenant and Talonflame as it is against Altaria, where Venusaur can at least try to fight back with Sludge Bomb. Counter users are more numerous than ever, and while Meganium can fight back against them decently well with Frenzy Plant, Venusaur just does it better, and ditto for Charm users.
Venusaur might have stood the test of time better, but do not be mistaken as to underestimate Meganium because of that- it's still really powerful, and in most matchups it'll be as much of a pain to go against as Venusaur.
Recommended Moveset: Vine Whip / Frenzy Plant / Earthquake
Typhlosion might be much more grounded, but in many ways its similar to another Fire type Pokémon you might have heard of, and which I've already mentioned in this article, the Fire / Flying... Talonflame.
While technically there's wiggle room with the choice of Shadow Claw vs Incinerate, the two moves have the same damage and energy per turn with the latter gaining STAB together with all the benefits and shortcomings of a five-turn move, making it the preferred choice since it got added to Typhlosion's moveset. And with both Flame Charge and Blast Burn being 50 energy moves, the Fast Attack cadence everyone who has ever faced Talonflame is intimately familiar with arises- three Incinerates to the first Charged Attack, two more to the second one. However, while Flame Charge is the fiery bird's bait move, it's the main damage dealer for the fiery badger, hitting just as hard as it does coming from Charizard.
Which is where its positives end. Compared to Talonflame, Typhlosion has much less bulk, and it's not like Talon is particularly sturdy to begin with. In addition, it has only one coverage move, and it is the pitiful 80 energy cost Solar Beam which any opponent can see coming from a mile away, leaving it flailing against other Fire types unless one opts for Shadow Claw, which helps a bit, but nowhere near enough.
Recommended Moveset: Incinerate OR Shadow Claw / Blast Burn / Solar Beam
As opposed to its Fire type brethren, Blaziken plays a very different role the vast majority of the time, namely that of a fighter with access to Counter. Is it any good at it? By Open Great / Ultra League standards, no, not really.
Compared to other Counter users, Blaziken is one of the frailest ones around, with only Sirfetch'd being marginally less bulky, but getting to wield both the very powerful Leaf Blade and Night Slash to make up for it, both 35 energy Charged Attacks befitting of its short lived, glass cannon nature. Blaziken on the other hand has 40 energy Blaze Kick, its signature move and a clone of Fire Punch, which is fine, but not amazing, and one of several possible coverage moves:
- Brave Bird: Blaziken might be a flightless bird, but even without wings Brave Bird hits incredibly hard coming off of its sky high attack stat, dealing almost as much damage as Talonflame's despite the lack of STAB.
- Blast Burn: Possibly surprisingly, not all starters necessarily want their community day moves despite how powerful they are, and Blaziken is one of these cases, mostly because of the resulting lack of coverage.
- Stone Edge: Requires using an Elite Charged TM to obtain, but helps Blaziken in shoring up its weakness to fliers.
Similarly to Charizard, Blaziken shines much brighter in Ultra League Premier Classic than it does elsewhere, especially when compared to its Great League lack of success outside of limited formats.
Recommended Moveset: Counter / Blaze Kick / Brave Bird OR Blast Burn OR Stone Edge
Take Blastoise, give it a much meatier Fast Attack to pile on damage with, give it a better coverage move to help it not be a sitting penguin against opposing Water types while also letting it dent Grass and Fighting types, make its already good defensive typing even better by mixing it with famously balanced Steel, and you have a recipe for success, right! Right?
One would think so, but unfortunately, Empoleon struggles in Great League despite having all these things going for it, for one reason in particular- its bulk is just not good enough to let it fully take advantage of all the positive things it was blessed with. Without raw stats to back its very slow, Fast Attack damage reliant playstyle, it ends up coming short against so many opposing meta threats, even ones that it should in theory have no trouble winning against such as Azumarill and Araquanid.
Empoleon loses to all fighters because of its steel typing, but also to basically all Water types because of how slow it is to get to Drill Peck, which without STAB isn't even that good of a move to begin with. Just like with several other aforementioned Pokémon, it fares better in Ultra League, but the jump in usability is bigger in Empoleon's case, both because of more bulk, and because of Ultra League meta including more users of Dragon Breath such as Giratina-Altered and of Poison Jab such as Alolan Muk, which Empoleon can wall for days. If you're even a casual Ultra League player, Empoleon is more than worth getting this event, even if it's much more skip-worthy in Great League.
Recommended Moveset: Waterfall / Hydro Cannon / Drill Peck
Take Meganium, surgically remove Earthquake, and instead replace it with one of two extremely middling choices, and you've got Serperior. The underlying essence of "bulky Grass type with Vine Whip + Frenzy Plant" is strong in its own right, but without that extra something to make it worth using instead of Venusaur or even Meganium, Serperior will forever be relegated to a niche choice, sadly.
The two extremely middling choices for its second Charged Attack are Leaf Tornado, a weak Grass type move with a 50% chance to drop the target's attack by two stages, and Aerial Ace, a famously pitiful Flying type coverage Charged Attack. The former is mostly useful for trolling- if you proc the debuff right away Serperior's already decent bulk becomes just that much more massive, but results in it having a mono-Grass moveset walled by dozens of meta Pokémon. The latter is technically coverage, but with how terrible its statline is, it's only worth using if it's two degrees of super effectiveness better than Frenzy Plant, such as when Frenzy Plant is double resisted and Aerial Ace is neutral, or when Frenzy Plant is single resisted and Aerial Ace is super effective.
Recommended Moveset: Vine Whip / Frenzy Plant / Leaf Tornado OR Aerial Ace
If you've played Silph Arena's recent Forged Cup format, you're no doubt already intimately familiar with the Formidable Pokémon, but if you're not, think Swampert but instead of Water/Ground typing, Mud Shot and Earthquake, Samurott has mono-Water, Fury Cutter and Megahorn to offer respectively. Are those any good? Yeah, absolutely- but the real question is whether they are comparable with Swampert's combined package and make the end result worth using in open Great / Ultra Leagues, and here the answer is sadly negative.
As good as Megahorn's statline is, it has the unfortunate fate of being a Bug type move, severely limiting its usefulness. That's not to say it's wholly useless- Umbreon, Cresselia, Deoxys Defense and Armored Mewtwo all get chunked by it if it lands, and it helps Samurott not be completely helpless against Grass types- or at least it would if the big two of that type, Venusaur and Trevenant, didn't have a secondary typing that leaves them ultimately neutral against Bug.
Even putting second Charged Attacks aside, Samurott is just worse in most aspects compared to Swampert. A bit less bulk, slower charging with Fury Cutter instead of Mud Shot, not resisting Electric- these aren't massive disadvantages individually, but combined they're enough to relegate Samurott to the bin of Pokémon you only really see in limited formats.
You can run Waterfall too but then you're an even worse Empoleon.
Recommended Moveset: Fury Cutter / Hydro Cannon / Megahorn
If Meganium is the core package of Vine Whip / Frenzy Plant but with bulk and Earthquake, and Serperior is that same core package but with bulk and garbage, Chesaught is that package but with secondary Fighting type and Superpower. Or at least, it will be one day.
Chesnaught is the first Pokémon on this list that hasn't had its Community Day yet at the time of writing this article, leaving it stuck with the vastly inferior Energy Ball for the time being. However, it's not like Frenzy Plant will fix its inherent weaknesses, namely, being utterly shut down by Flying types. Double weak to Flying, and largely unable to damage them back (it does learn Rock type Smack Down as a Fast Attack, but then you trade winning vs. basically just Talonflame for almost half your other wins), Chesnaught will likely never truly get on the level of Venusaur's open Great League / Ultra League viability- that's not to say it has nothing going for it though.
Even with Energy Ball, it does the Grass type things very well, and even if Superpower isn't as reliable or safe as something like Cross Chop, it can still dispose of all the Steels (that aren't Skarmory), all Dark types (that aren't Mandibuzz, Drapion, or a Poison Jab-wielding Dark/Poison), and all Normal types (that aren't Wigglytuff).
And before you raise your hand and exclaim "but what about Spiky Shield?", read on.
Recommended Moveset: Vine Whip / Energy Ball / Superpower
All the Pokémon so far have only been discussed in the context of Great and Ultra Leagues, starters for the most part just not having the raw stats to able to do much more than tickle the heels of Master League giants like Dialga or Groudon.
Primarina is the one fabulous exception to that rule, having the highest max CP of all released starters, with only Rillaboom set to surpass it in the future, and a moveset that's more than good enough to make waves in Master League- namely, STAB Charm / Who Cares.
Even despite all its Charged Attacks costing 55 energy or more, Primarina has already managed to make waves in Master League through a combination of STAB Charm, good stats, and secondary Water typing, helping it tremendously. Electric and Grass type damage is very rare in Master League, letting it reap the benefits of being neutral against Dialga's Iron Head and thus, win that matchup in 1-1 shield scenario, which the other two meta Master League charmers can't accomplish. Unless Dialga is running Thunder of course.
Despite that, Primarina isn't the best Master League charmer yet- Togekiss' Flying typing lets it wall Groudon and Garchomp, giving it a significant edge over its fellow fairies for the time being. However, while Chesnaught's upgrade from Energy Ball to Frenzy Plant will be minor, Primarina's upgrade from Hydro Pump to Hydro Cannon most definitely will not be, giving it the cheapest Charged Attack out of all the meta Master League charmers.
How will Primarina fare in lower CP formats, you might ask? Ehhhh... the less said about that the better, its stat distribution is very attack skewed, leaving it glassy in Great and Ultra Leagues, and even from the angle of charmers with quick Charged Attack, Alolan Ninetales is already a meta staple in both leagues.
Recommended Moveset: Charm / Moonblast / Hydro Pump
Even with moves as strong as the Community Day starter trio, there are some duds among the resulting Pokémon. If there are any 'mons on this list you can most definitely skip and not be any worse off for it, it's these.
Take Empoleon, and make it worse. With no Steel to patch up its merely acceptable bulk and Drill Peck being replaced by Crunch, Feraligatr ends up with basically no niche for itself in any of the formats. It has some flexibility with its moveset, but it all leads back to this spot- swapping Crunch for Ice Beam just makes it a worse Blastoise, using an Elite Fast TM to get Water Gun instead of Waterfall just makes it a worse Blastoise, doing both just makes it a doubly worse Blastoise. It does also learn Ice Fang which is the one unique thing it has going for it, but as anyone who has ever tried running Mawile can attest to, non-STAB elemental fangs are just miserable.
Recommended Moveset: Waterfall OR Water Gun / Hydro Cannon / Crunch OR Ice Beam
The second entry on the list of starters that don't want to use their community day moves, Sceptile's excuse for it is the fact that it already learns Leaf Blade, and it is a solid excuse- one Frenzy Plant or Leaf Blade can't KO most things, but two of either can, and why not use the faster charging one? And now you know which move to use while getting bopped by everything.
Sceptile learns several other Charged Attacks, but for the most part there's only one correct choice for its second Charged Attack, namely Earthquake. Meganium moveset but with a faster Grass type Charged Attack and Bullet Seed instead of Vine Whip to let it get to its Charged Attacks even faster? What could possibly go wrong?
The bulk. The bulk could go wrong. Sceptile is seriously glassy, resulting in it losing most of its neutral matchups, many which Meganium can actually handle, and even in the ones it doesn't lose it ends up being in a bad state afterwards, because Bullet Seed is much worse for farm downs than Vine Whip, forcing it to commit to another Leaf Blade more often than not, assuming it can even get to one. Its bulk is so bad it can't safely take a single Registeel Focus Blast, resulting in it losing that matchup in all even shield scenarios despite having Earthquake.
However, if you like the sound of a faster paced Grass type which can take on Steels, I humbly recommend Lurantis instead- she's a blast to use and actually quite good, even if she has her own weaknesses.
Recommended Moveset: Use Lurantis instead Bullet Seed / Leaf Blade / Earthquake
No Counter, no maidens. Alexa play Coffin Dance.
Fire Spin just doesn't put on enough Fast Attack pressure while building up to its Charged Attacks, and while Close Combat is a nice move, even at just 45 energy it costs too much for Infernape's abysmal bulk to withstand. Charizard and even Typhlosion are better options if you wanna toss out Blast Burns, Blaziken is a better option if you want a fighter that hates getting wet, Kanto Ninetales is a better option if all you need in life is debuffing yourself while roasting your opponent.
Recommended Moveset: Don't Fire Spin / Blast Burn / Close Combat
Razor Leaf isn't what it used to be, and even then Grotle was just better at it. Torterra truly has very little going for it, for several reasons even- Razor Leaf is bad, but even if it had something like Bullet Seed, it still wouldn't have the bulk needed to make its moveset work, both in terms of raw stats and its seriously bad typing. Neither Grass nor Ground are particularly good defensive typings on their own, and mixing them only makes the end result even worse, with a double weakness to Ice, no resistance to either Water or Grass, and being only really able to wall Galarian Stunfisk- which is nice, but nowhere near enough when it loses to most other things it can't Razor Leaf down.
Recommended Moveset: Use Grotle Instead Razor Leaf / Frenzy Plant / Sand Tomb
No Counter, no maidens. Alexa play Coffin Dance, again.
Fire Spin Ember just doesn't put on enough Fast Attack pressure while building up to its Charged Attacks, and while Close Combat Rock Slide is a nice move, even at just 45 energy it costs too much for Infernape's Emboar's abysmal bulk to withstand. Charizard and even Typhlosion are better options if you wanna toss out Blast Burns, Blaziken is a better option if you want a fighter that hates getting wet, Kanto Ninetales is a better option if all you need in life is debuffing yourself while roasting your opponent.
Recommended Moveset: Seriously Don't Fire Spin Ember / Blast Burn / Close Combat Rock Slide
I won't copypaste Infernape's entry again, but I very much could as Delphox suffers from many of the same issues as her mates from the previous two generations, but with even less of a potential way of fixing them. As much as it saddens me to say it, Psychic is just not a good type, especially not defensively. Curiously enough none of the meta Great / Ultra League 'mons actually wall the Fire + Psychic coverage combo, but that'll be a fact that a much bulkier Pokémon will hopefully get to enjoy one day.
Recommended Moveset: Fire Spin / Flame Charge / Psychic
It doesn't have Hydro Cannon yet, but looking towards the future, it should have a possible niche with a combo of Hydro Cannon and Night Slash, in a similar way to what Shiftry does, or at least once did, right? Right?
Unfortunately, there are a couple issues with that hopeful idea:
1.) It doesn't learn Snarl in main series games.
2.) Even in the absolute best case where Water Shuriken ends up being its personal Snarl clone, it still eats dirt from everything.
(vs open GL meta, 1-1 shields)
And even that is the absolute best case scenario for it, because it sure isn't getting anything done with Bubble, not with its nonexistent bulk.
Recommended Moveset: Bubble / Surf / Night Slash
With Snarl under its fancy flame belt, Incineroar does have some actual potential to get better once Blast Burn comes, however it'll need more than that to make a blip on the radar. While it's not as brittle as its fellow Fire types, it's not tanky, it's not even average bulk-wise, and with both Dark Pulse and Blast Burn costing 50 energy, it can't really bait either. Four Snarls to a Charged Attack isn't half bad, but with Snarl's limited damage output, it won't be able to farm anything down with it, and even as good as Blast Burn is, it's not oneshotting anything not weak to Fire, forcing you to have to throw multiple to get anything done, taking the time Incineroar won't have with its bulk being what it is.
Recommended Moveset: Snarl / Dark Pulse / Fire Blast
Niantic had a real dilemma on their hands when figuring out Decidueye's moveset. Make it too good, and you get a Trevenant on Crack Frenzy Plant down the line- make it too weak preemptively, and you get garbage in the present, and the latter is exactly what happened.
Decidueye only really needs a decent Fast Attack to potentially become extremely good, and while Shadow Claw would possibly end up overstepping on Trev's turn and make it too good with Frenzy Plant and Spirit Shackle down the line, there are other options like Hex, Astonish if it ever gets a major buff, Psycho Cut, or even Air Slash.
This is all about the (likely distant) future though, and in the present? It's awful, please don't use it, its own preevolution is much better at the feeble couple things it can accomplish for the time being.
Recommended Moveset: Razor Leaf / Brave Bird / Energy Ball
Regardless of whether they're keeping up with the past three generations and coming near the end of the year, or if they're delayed for some time afterwards, we can already speculate some things about the Galar starters based on their main series games base stats and typing, aaaaaand it's nothing to write home about. They're all glassy to various degree (Rillaboom is similar to Primarina, Cinderace is similar to Infernape, and Inteleon is a league of its own, two miles below the sea floor, with a stat product similar to that of Gengar), mono-type, and with very little coverage in their level up movepools. Cinderace does get Counter, but three generations too late there buddy.
The only thing of note is that assuming it gets any Water type Fast Attack, Inteleon will become the new best non-shadow, non-mega Water type attacker for PvE. To what extent will that ever be useful I leave to the raid addicts to figure out.
Even in the realm of speculation, it's hard to talk too concretely about Hisuian starters, for the simple reason that even their full main series games movesets aren't known yet. Hisuian Pokémon transferred from Legends: Arceus cannot be imported into Sword and Shield, and as such they're stuck with the much more limited Legends: Arceus movepool, which lacks important staples such as Counter or Dragon Breath.
The little that can be speculated about them can be summed up thusly:
- Hisuian Typhlosion: Same typing as Alolan Marowak, but instead of decently bulky it's indecently squishy, leaving it likely outclassed in Great League from the get go- however, it can tread in Ultra League where Alolan Marowak can't reach, giving it a potential niche there.
- Hisuian Samurott: A bit less bulk than its Unovan counterpart, but gaining a Dark subtyping to make up for it. Who knows, will it be able to finally fulfill the Water type Shiftry fantasy that Greninja is doomed to fail at?
- Hisuian Decidueye: Breloom typing, but with a passable bulk, around the same as Lurantis, and already a couple interesting moves in its Legends: Arceus learnset, such as Gust, Magical Leaf and Aura Sphere. It remains to be seen if they end up coming together to form something cohesive, however.
While Blaze Kick was successful in making Blaziken at least somewhat relevant, Muddy Water and Razor Shell have not seen anywhere near as much success, possibly calling into question just how good starters' signature moves will even be going forward. This matters a decent bit, since every single final starter evolution starting from Generation 6 has (or had) its own signature move, and based on the three moves mentioned earlier, it's not unreasonable to assume that they'll be included in much the same way, simply being added to the given Pokémon's movepool on its community day.
Because GO doesn't even attempt to translate status moves properly (hello Counter and Charm), and in general is very liberal in its interpretations of main series games moves, it's very hard to speculate on any specifics, so instead I'll simply attempt to describe the moves' potential impact on the PvP meta without engaging in too much overly hopeful speculation, or as some might call it, Hopium.
Greninja - Water Shuriken
The only two Pokémon that learn this move in main series games are awful in GO, so there's a lot of room to make it as good as whichever designer's heart desires without affecting the meta too much. In main series games it's a clone of Bullet Seed with priority and less damage, so there's a potential case for it also ending up as a Fast Attack in GO.
Affected Pokémon: Greninja, Accelgor
Chesnaught - Spiky Shield
In main series games, it's a move based off of Protect, letting the user block an opponent's incoming attack, with an extra effect of dealing damage if it successfully blocks a contact move. Considering none of the other Protect-like moves have been ported to GO so far, there's zero precedent as to how it might end up being implemented for the time being. However, Obstruct, Obstagoon's signature move and also a Protect-like move in main series games, could end up shedding some light here if it gets added before Spiky Shield does.
Affected Pokémon: Chesnaught, Cacturne, Maractus, Pansage, Simisage
Delphox - Mystical Fire
Mystical Fire is by far the easiest move on this list to theorize for in GO because of a very basic main series games effect of the move, and the one that could have the biggest impact out of all of them. Its effect is simple: it deals damage and lowers the target's Special Attack stat by one stage, making Lunge or Icy Wind the obvious extant GO moves to base it off of for speculation. However, the thing that could really push it over the edge impact-wise is its availability- with its addition as a TM in Generation 8 and a tutor move in Legends: Arceus, over thirty Pokémon have access to it, many of which being Fairy types that currently have no ways of dealing with Steel type opponents, such as Clefable, Sylveon, Gardevoir, or Galarian Rapidash. Even besides Fairies, there are several Pokémon that would appreciate having access to a debuffing move, like Latios, Mismagius, Gourgeist, or even Drifblim. Okay maybe not Drifblim but you get the point.
Affected Pokémon: Too many to list them all, but including: Driblim, Mismagius, Delphox, Charizard, Clefable, Kanto Ninetales, Galarian Rapidash, Mew, Ho-oh, Gardevoir, Latios, Magmortar, Togekiss, Chandelure, Sylveon, Gourgeist
Primarina - Sparkling Aria
Alas, it's a Water type move, and since in main series games it doesn't even have any stat-related special effect and is just a damage dealer, it will likely end up being a Charged Attack in GO, compete against Hydro Cannon, and lose. The only other Pokémon that can learn it in main series games is Lapras, so in order to make any impact, Sparkling Aria would need to be better than Surf at the very least, or be a 35 energy Charged Attack and win over the hearts of Primarinas everywhere.
Affected Pokémon: Primarina, Lapras
Decidueye - Spirit Shackle
Spirit Shackle is the only signature move on this list that still holds its signature status, as only Alola Decidueye can learn it in main series games. This gives Niantic a lot of flexibility in how to adjust it for Decidueye to end up at the exact level of balance they want her to be at. It's special effect in main series games, preventing hit Pokémon from switching out, could feasibly be copied over, but considering it would likely end up either pointless or enabling unfun strategies, it's extremely unlikely that that aspect of it will. The big balancing question is- if Decidueye is ever given a usable Fast Attack, what statline does Niantic give to Spirit Shackle so that it combined with Frenzy Plant won't just turn Decidueye into a better Trevenant? Or maybe Niantic just wants a better Trevenant, who knows- the Decidueye fan in me would love it, much to the dismay of the PvP player also in me.
Affected Pokémon: Decidueye
Incineroar - Darkest Lariat
Its main series games gimmick of ignoring the target's Defense changes is neat there, but for the most part actively harmful in GO, with there being only two moves that reliably raise the user's defense for the time being, and Poison Fang alone has ten times more usage than both of them combined. Other than that, it's a standard Dark type move with some very interesting main series games availability- Poliwrath and Swampert being probably its most thankful potential recipients, greatly appreciating something better than Ice Punch and Sludge Wave to hit Trevenant with respectively.
Affected Pokémon: Too many to list them all, but including: Poliwrath, Snorlax, Machamp, Swampert, Electivire, Incineroar, Pangoro, Bewear, Tapu Bulu, Melmetal
I hope this look was useful both for setting out priorities for what Pokémon to focus on during the upcoming Anniversary event, and in setting an appropriate level of expectations for the future starters in GO, and what they might end up bringing with them, when (and in some cases, if) they come out.
And until then, happy battling, may the game state be on your side, and don't forget to evolve all the 27 Charizard you could ever need this upcoming weekend trainer!