The early meta for Pokémon Sword and Shield is already shaping up and a handful of Pokémon stand above the rest in terms of their potential on the competitive stage.
Unfortunately for fans of the Galar Region, several of the best options early on seem to be returning powerhouses from previous games. But that doesn’t mean some new faces haven’t skyrocketed to the top of early team-building tests.
Out of all of the Pokémon available for competitive play, these are the 10 that stick out as key catches and can anchor a team on the competitive ladder.
That means you won’t be seeing Zacian or Zamazenta on this list because title legendaries are always the first up on the chopping block when it comes to bans. This list is also focusing more on the known quantity of battles and ignoring how well a Pokémon might perform while Dynamaxed or Gigantimaxed, since it’s still unknown how that ability will impact competitive Pokémon in either the VGC or Singles format.
Top 10 Pokémon in Sword and Shield
Tried and true, Gyarados just can’t be beaten when it comes to a solid physical Water-type attacker.
Gyrados has lost some of its tech in Sword and Shield with the absence of Mega Evolution, which removes several key sets that made it a threat in X and Y and until Sun and Moon. That means no big brain plays to avoid a Ground-type move before Mega Evolving to live a hit from an Electric attack.
But that really doesn’t matter since Intimidate is still one of the best abilities in the game. And when paired with Gyrados’ solid stats and incredible move pool, there’s plenty of reasons why you should add one to your team.
Don’t get too arrogant using a Dragon Dance set, however. Some of the new moves in this generation might make it tough for you to simply sweep an opponent’s team with the typical Waterfall and coverage attack set. Bulkydos might make a comeback depending on what the Singles meta ends up shaping into, so keep your eye out on that.
Do you like bulky species with lots of coverage that can also anchor your team while putting up the weather? Welcome back old friend, because Sword and Shield looks like it might be another generation where Tyranitar thrives in a high-usage environment.
You can run T-Tar in basically any role on a team, outside of physical wall because you run the risk of matching up against a heavy-hitting Fighting-type. But the Rock and Dark-type can be a physical or special sweeper, a mixed attacker, or an ultra tanky special wall that will take hits from just about anything.
Just give it Dark Pulse and any combination of coverage moves like Thunderbolt and Ice Beam and you’re set. Tyranitar also greatly benefits from holding Choice Items to boost a stat beyond its limit or the Assault Vest, which gives it a special defense boost but limits it to only using attacking moves.
8) Galarian Weezing
With its new form, Weezing becomes one of the more interesting options for a physical wall with its Fairy-typing and new ability.
Its Fairy typing has instantly made the giant toxic mess a better wall because it is now immune to Dragon-type moves, which are typically prevalent in the higher tiers of competitive play. Plus Weezing now has access to moves like Misty Terrain and other options it never had before.
But the biggest what-if scenario for having a Galarian Weezing on the team is its two new abilities: Neutralizing Gas and Misty Surge.
Neutralizing Gas essentially removes every Pokémon’s ability while it is active on the field, taking away a lot of tech from several big hitters. If your opponent is trying to set up using a Pokémon with Contrary, an ability that swaps the effect of stat changes, you can use Weezing to nearly neutralize that entire set.
Misty Surge is Galarian Weezing’s Hidden Ability that sets up Misty Terrain as soon as it enters the battle. That means any Pokémon that isn’t flying or levitating won’t be affected by status conditions and any damage from Dragon-type moves is halved for five turns.
The Galarian-exclusive Yamask evolution has a lot of potential to be a dual-threat wall because of its high defense and special defense stats, but the real reason it made the list is because of how weird its ability is.
Wandering Spirit is like an evolution of Cofagrigus’ Mummy ability, but instead of replacing the opponent’s ability, it swaps abilities with any Pokémon it makes direct contact with. That sets up a lot of weird scenarios where you could potentially take away a useful ability from your opponent’s Pokémon and make it a non-factor.
But even without that ability, the Rock and Ghost-type just feels like it might be able to make an impact in battle using a mix of pesky status moves or its physical attacks. It has a sneakily high base 95 attack stat, so this thing not only is part Rock-type, but it also hits like a brick.
It really looks like this meta might trend more to bulky setup, which is perfect for Machamp since it can take a hit and has a large list of coverage moves that can hit most of the bigger threats in the game. Its massive attack stat plus decent defenses can lead to big usage in the right team composition.
Elemental punches, Poison-type moves, and Knock Off alone give you enough options for breaking through the other team’s walls if they don’t plan for countering a Machamp. And that coverage extends to its Gigantimaxed form too if the feature somehow remains a factor in competitive play.
Having all of those moves plus G-Max Chi Strike, which does damage and boosts the chance of critical hits, makes Machamp a threat from nearly every angle—except on the special side.
It was a hard choice putting Ferrothorn here over Duraladon, but the Grass and Steel-type has been one of the best walls in the game for nearly a decade now and has earned this spot.
Entry hazards like Stealth Rock and Spikes are easy for the Thorn Pod Pokémon. It can toss up Leech Seed or hit hard with Gyro Ball if it needs to be more offensive than just a hard-to-kill tank. The extreme lack of high powered Fire-types is going to serve Ferrothorn well in Sword and Shield, especially because Flamethrower is a rather easy to predict move over other sets.
Ferrothorn is a good wall to Machamp, Runerigus, and Gyarados—three species that are on this list. This already shows just how dominant it could be in the meta. Players will likely have to build their team up with at least one answer to it, which is a big win already.
It is also one of the few species that still learn Toxic naturally now that the move is no longer a TM, which makes the Pokémon another viable option for a stall set.
Go figure that a new Pseudo Legendary would make the list.
Dragapult is going to be an interesting new sweeper in the meta based on its 142 base speed stat, which can max out at 421 if you wanted to make sure it was the fastest thing on the field. And with such a high natural speed, you can focus more of your EVs into making it a bulkier sweeper or a mixed attacker.
The Dragon and Ghost-type has a really strong move pool and access to most of the standard moves you would see in a top-level competitive match, like Thunderbolt, Flamethrower, Earthquake, and even Shadow Ball. And that extra typing also lets it play an interesting role as a semi-support with moves like Will-O-Wisp, Screen setups, and even Curse strategies if you want to play risky.
None of its stats are bad, but you’ll need to really plan your team around Dragapult if you want to use one to its max potential.
Time to get full on annoying and make sure that no one has a good time by using Whimsicott as a main support.
The Prankster ability lets this woolly menace toss out all kinds of hazardous moves before anything else happens on the field, which means status conditions, setup moves, or even two different Terrains can be played before the fastest of opponents. Even though it makes for a terrible offensive option, Whimsicott is so versatile in what it can bring to a battle.
Tailwind can boost the speed of your entire team and the Fairy and Grass-tpe has access to dozens of status inflicting moves. Additionally, it can set up both Terrain and Weather conditions for your team. There is literally no downside to this fluffy terror.
If you really want to nitpick—Whimsicott won’t be taking many hits from your opponent. But the goal of using the Pokémon is to annoy your opponent and set your other Pokémon up for success. Whimsicott itself is always just a means to an end, never the main focal point of a strategy.
The only reason this broken piece of weaponry is not number one is that it’s still unknown if it’ll be legalized for Singles use.
Aegislash is so strong that it was actually banned to Uber tier so no one could use it in ranked Overused matches. That means it was better than some legendaries in terms of team building and overall importance to the meta because of how strong it could be when used properly.
And that usage is already skyrocketing because of its wide variety of offensive options and always-viable King’s Shield ability. Aegislash takes a lot of practice to master, but even an amateur can work around the form change to dominate.
The biggest knock against Aegislash in generation eight is that the potential movesets are more predictable due to the shrinkage of the TM market. You will almost always see Sacred Sword, King’s Shield, Iron Head, and the ever-rotating fourth move that will work as coverage for another teammate’s weakness.
That could be Night Slash, Shadow Sneak, Rock Slide, or any number of other options. Aegislash is also a very capable special attacker too, so watch out for Shadow Ball, Flash Cannon, and Air Slash.
The Pokémon will also have a hard time dealing with things like Ferrothorn and Galarian Weezing if the meta holds, so it may see a drop in usage as a result.
1) Galarian Darmanitan
Game Freak not only made the big and angry Darmanitan an amazing Ice-type, but they decided to make Zen Mode an actually viable ability that turns a normally strong Pokémon into an unstoppable flaming snowman.
Zen Mode works like this: If Galarian Darmanitan drops below 50 percent of its maximum health, it will switch forms and gain several stat boosts. Normal Darmanitan would become a special attacker, which made sets nearly impossible to build. But in the newest Pokémon titles, it’s the opposite.
The Galar form not only gets a big boost to attack and speed, but it also regains its Fire-typing and can unleash hell onto opposing Pokémon. Its Ice Punch plus stab Flare Blitz makes for one nasty combo.
Galarian Darmanitan also has a massive range of coverage moves to put that 160 base attack stat to work, including Stone Edge, Superpower, Iron Head, and Earthquake. It doesn’t matter what players put in this monster’s way, it’ll hit harder than almost any other species in the game.
To counter Galarian Darmanitan, your best bet is to set up rocks to limit its switch-ins. Additionally, you can reliably hinder it by using Whimsicott to paralyze or otherwise inflict a status to it. And since it isn’t a Fire-type in its base form, Dragapult can out-speed it and apply a burn it so its attack is halved.
But a Choice Scarf Galarian Darmanitan is going to be the end of many trainers’ careers in the new meta, even once the landscape settles and the true gems are polished.