There’s a lot more to competitive Pokémon than meets the eye. When it comes to the question of the best Pokémon to use on a team, players have many factorsto think about. It’s not just the one with the highest stats, the least weaknesses or the best moves.
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In truth, it’s a combination of all of these traits and more. Anotherimportant thing to consider is the Ability a Pokémon has. This factor alone can make an otherwise great Pokémon almost useless (Slaking’s Truant, for instance, stops it from attacking on consecutive turns), or it can make an otherwise unremarkable one a metagame mainstay. Here are some of the best Abilities in the history of the series.
Update by Chris, May 8th 2020:The Pokémon series is in a constant state of flux. New strategies are devised in the competitive scene, with super creative sets that are soon copied by fans worldwide. New Pokémon are also added with each new Generation, some of which bring interesting and exclusive Abilities along for the ride too.
As a result, we've decided to revisit this list and expand its scope a little. Some of these Abilities are all-around super strong and others have more niche uses, but they're all very powerful. Enjoy the new additions!
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15 Ice Scales
You may not have heard of Ice Scales, which is available only to Snom and Frosmoth as their Hidden Ability. These Pokémon also have access to Shield Dust, which can be quite nice for preventing RNG (which happens a lot during your average Pokémon battle) but is much less interesting.
What does Ice Scales do? It reduces the damage of all special attacks Snom/Frosmoth take by half. Frosmoth’s Special Defense is quite solid, so this makes it pretty darn tanky indeed. Its exclusivity is really all that holds it back from rising any higher; imagine Blissey with this Ability! That’s terrifying to even think about.
A lot of the Abilities on this list have so much potential because they allow Pokémon to either deal huge damage outright or buff themselves so that they can. Before we get into that sort of thing, though, here’s an Ability that represents an enormous roadblock for Pokémon looking to set up.
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In case you were… unaware, an Unaware Pokémon isn’t affected by its opponent’s stat boosts. If they’ve got boosted offenses, they’ll deal only their usual damage against it. If the opponent has increased their Defense/Special Defense, they’ll take the usual damage from a Pokémon with Unaware. It’s super handy to have, but it’s also a rare Ability and is quite niche. After all, if there are no boosts currently in play, this Pokémon essentially has no Ability.
13 Stance Change
The Honedge line made its debut in Generation VI, and Aegislash quickly established itself as one of the greatest non-Legendary Pokémon ever. The key to its success? Its exclusive Ability, Stance Change. This Ability sees Aegislash switch from its Shield Forme (its default on being sent out) to its Blade Forme when using an offensive move. In the process, its base defenses (each 140, after the Generation VIII nerf) switch with its very low base offenses.
When it uses King’s Shield, it switches back to Shield Forme. With its low Speed, then, Aegislash will usually tank a hit with its high defenses before switching its stats and going on the attack with great force. It can’t take a hit at all in Blade Forme, and can be quite predictable as a result, but Stance Change makes Aegislash a force to be reckoned with. It’s only so low on the list because it’s exclusive to one Pokémon.
Sturdy, too, is a simple yet effective Ability that has seen a lot of use. Essentially, Sturdy Pokémon have an in-built Focus Sash: if their HP is full, when they’re attacked by a move that would take them out in one shot, they’ll withstand it with a single point of health left.
There are some major shortcomings to this, of course. Any kind of priority will immediately take the Pokémon down afterward, especially as most Pokémon with this Ability are slow, defensive Rock- or Steel-types. The true potential of Sturdy lies in what that Pokémon does with its ‘free turn.’ There are ample setup opportunities here. Sturdy, Weakness Policy and Rock Polish, in particular, can be a fearsome combination.
11 Wonder Guard
Speaking of fantastic Abilities that are unique to single Pokémon, here comes the spooky little critter Shedinja with its secret weapon: Wonder Guard.
At face value, you might wonder just how the heck this Pokémon could be at all usable. It has a grand total of 1 HP, which can’t be increased by any means. Does that sound like a good sign? No? That’s because it isn’t. The one thing Shedinja does have going for it is the aforementioned Ability, which renders it immune to any direct attacks it isn’t weak to. Super effective moves, status, weather damage and hazards all spell doom for it, and the Ability is also exclusive, but imagine what certain Pokémon could do with Wonder Guard!
10 Neutralizing Gas
Sometimes, an Ability doesn’t need to have a flashy effect in and of itself. Over the course of this list, we’ll see all kinds of absurd ones that are capable of making even the most modest Pokémon overpowered, but there’s more to the equation than that. After all, a critter like Mega Mawile (which was super reliant on Huge Power) was in some major trouble when that Ability was taken away.
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Neutralizing Gas, then, is the exclusive Ability of the Koffing family (as of Generation VIII). It prevents or nullifies the effects of all other Pokémon in the battle. While this hasn’t been as dominating in the metagame as some thought prior to release (Weezing sorely misses Levitate), it’s an excellent counter to other strategies when played well. Keep in mind, though, that it can be problematic for your own Pokémon too.
Multiscale is another Ability that doesn’t have any major direct power itself, but allows the Pokémon the opportunity to boost itself and shoot for a sweep. It’s not just about being aggressive, either: Multiscale is just as useful from a defensive point of view.
This Ability halves the damage taken from direct attacks while the user’s HP is full. It’s available to only two Pokémon, as the Hidden Ability of Dragonite and Lugia. The former loves using it to help it accrue Dragon Dances, while it helps the latter with its main gameplan: sitting there tanking absolutely everything and being a monumental pain. Its exclusivity does let it down, though.
8 Gorilla Tactics
Now we’re talking. Gorilla Tactics is a brand-new Ability introduced in Pokémon Sword and Shield, exclusive to Galarian Darmanitan (so far, at least). What does it do? It immediately makes this ludicrous-looking creature overpowered, that’s what the heck it does.
The effect of the Ability is the same as that of a Choice Band: it gives the Pokémon an Attack boost but allows it to use only the first move it picked on being sent out. The truly frightening thing is that you can actually give it a Choice Band on top of that. Considering that this thing already has a base Attack of 140, that’s some astronomical power right there.
From an offensive point of view, Prankster doesn’t actually have any effect at all. From an irritating, status-spammy point of view, it does absolutely everything.
This Ability’s effect is simple, yet powerful: all status moves used by the Pokémon in question gains priority. Since its introduction, this Ability has brought us the likes of Thunder Wave Thundurus, Recover/Will-O-Wisp Sableye and all kinds of other things that are absolutely zero fun to deal with. Everyone who’s played competitive Pokémon in recent years has surely fallen foulto Prankster strategies. Still, as we say, it doesn’t do anything for a Pokémon offensively.
6 Beast Boost
Beast Boost is an interesting case. This Ability was introduced in Pokémon Sun and Moonas the signature Ability of the Ultra Beasts. Its effect is very similar to that of Moxie (+1 to Attack when the Pokémon scores a knockout), with one important distinction: it will boost whichever stat is that particular Pokémon’s highest.
As a result, it’s got a lot more versatility. Ultra Beasts have some very high base stats to begin with, and giving Stakataka more Defense or Kartana even more Attack is a frightening prospect.
Simply having very high stats is good enough in and of itself, but some of the best Abilities in the series deal with a different concept entirely: protection from status. After all, what’s the use of a super high original Attack stat if you’re just going to get burned?
With Guts, that’s no longer an issue. This Ability raises a Pokémon’s Attack when they’re afflicted by a status (the drop from burn doesn’t apply), a perfect way to circumvent one of the biggest threats to physical attackers. Not only that, but with a Flame Orb or Toxic Orb, you can take advantage of this effect while also protecting yourself from other status.
While Politoed and Pelipper are both reasonable, viable Pokémon, sporting decent bulk/power and a nice array of supportive moves, there’s really only one reason they’re used competitively— that reason is Drizzle.
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This Ability automatically summons rain when the Pokémon is sent out. Needless to say, this is invaluable on rain teams (albeit a little less so with the advent of Dynamax moves), one of the most brutally effective, hyper offensive team archetypes ever. The speed boost for Swift Swim teammates, the Water STAB power increase… wild times.
3 Huge Power/Pure Power
As we’ve seen, then, stats don’t tell the whole story when it comes to a Pokémon’s viability. After all, it doesn’t matter if Shedinja has a single point of HP if you haven’t got a darn thing to hit it with, does it? By the same token, Pokémon with our next Ability are going to hit a whole lot harder than you might think.
Huge Power (or Pure Power, they’re identical) has the simple effect of doubling the critter’s Attack. This is exactly what made Mega Mawile the malevolent menace it was, as it effectively had a base Attack of 210. Pokémon with this Ability tend to have moves with high base power, too, which only adds to the threat.
It’s interesting to think that a lot of Pokémon fans looked down on Froakie prior to Pokémon X and Y’s launch. The poor little thing became a meme, but it soon got the last laugh. Armed with its Hidden Ability, Protean, the vicious frogsassin known as Greninja was claiming souls and crushing dreams left and right.
The Ability Protean (exclusive to this family and Kecleon) allows the Pokémon to change its typing to the type of the move it’s about to use, before using it. Essentially, then, it has STAB on everything, which is a much more powerful tool than you may think. Interestingly, Cinderace’s Hidden Ability is Libero, which has exactly the same effect. It’s going to be a powerhouse once that hits the meta. As an aside, another of Greninja’s Abilities, Battle Bond, is also incredibly strong (allowing particular Greninja to transform into Ash-Greninja), but it’s a very niche case so we’ve omitted it here.
With so many great Pokémon Abilities, it’s hard to pick out just one as the best. However, in terms of overall utility, Intimidate has always been one of the most prized of all.
Intimidate works by reducing the Attack stat of the opposing Pokémon whenever the user switches in. As experienced Pokémon players will know, this can be a real lifesaver, supporting both the user and their allies. A passive effect that can really bolster tankiness is invaluable, especially considering that some excellent Pokémon like Gyarados, Arcanine and Salamence have it. You’ve got to watch out for Pokémon with Defiant and Competitive (which can take advantage of the stat drop by turning the tables with boosts), but otherwise, Intimidate is a fantastic asset.