Gyarados, The Atrocious Pokémon. Rarely seen in the wild. Huge and vicious, it is capable of destroying entire cities in a rage. Brutally vicious and enormously destructive. They say that during past wars, Gyarados would appear and leave blazing ruins in its wake. Once it appears, it goes on a rampage. It remains enraged until it demolishes everything around it. When Magikarp evolves into Gyarados, its brain cells undergo a structural transformation. It is said that this transformation is to blame for this Pokémon's wildly violent nature. Once Gyarados goes on a rampage, its ferociously violent blood doesn't calm until it has burned everything down. There are records of this Pokémon's rampages lasting a whole month. The Hyper Beam it shoots from its mouth totally incinerates all targets. In ancient literature, there is a record of a Gyarados that razed a village when violence flared. ť
Ah, the ability to pick the Pokémon of the Week…not since Farfetch'd have I been able to outrank that irritating random number generator. Gyarados is the lucky Pokémon to whom I bestow the esteemed honour of being chosen on purpose, rather than being chosen by a cold, heartless and mindless machine probably powered by the creators of Digimon. Of course, Gyarados has a long history in the world of Pokémon. I'm sure many of us recall the horrible grind of raising a Level 5 Magikarp (valuated at $500 by most salesmen) into a beastly “Dragon” worthy of any trainer's team. As a gamer I look upon Gyarados with fond nostalgia; but as a competitive battler, I look upon Gyarados as a staple of the Standard environment and a Pokémon every team should prepare itself for.
The 4th Generation gave Gyarados a significant and much needed move-pool improvement. Gyarados now boasts (physical) Waterfall, Stone Edge and Ice Fang to use alongside Earthquake. Whilst it always had good stats, this move-pool improvement has been the catalyst for it to cement its place as one of the Standard tier's top dogs. Whereas before it was a threat that could be easily contained, this no longer applies.
Whilst the offensive aspect of Gyarados is certainly something to draw a great deal of attention, what Gyarados also provides is sound support for its team-mates as a defensive Pokémon. Base 95 HP, Base 100 Special Defence and Intimidate give it a solid defensive foundation to work with. Whilst Water-Flying comes with an undesirable 4x Electric weakness and a 2x Rock weakness, it also provides Fighting, Bug, Fire, Water and Steel resistances and a Ground immunity, giving it the tools to act as a counter to other threats (Fighting types particularly).
I remember when the 4th Generation battling scene started to take shape that there was a saying that summed up this Pokémon's potential: “6-0ed by Gyarados.” Whilst this is a slight exaggeration, this doesn't change the fact that Gyarados is one of those Pokémon that you most definitely need to prepare for; because when you're unprepared, that 6-0 threat isn't all that unrealistic.
Intimidate: drops the opponents Attack stat by one level (the equivalent of a Growl), and plays a key role in making Gyarados a very capable defensive Pokémon.
Offensive Dragon Dancer
- Dragon Dance
When people say: “6-0ed by Gyarados”, this move-set comes to mind. Dragon Dancers make for wonderful physical sweepers, and with 125 Base Attack, Gyarados isn't about to be an exception. STAB Waterfall, one of those aforementioned 'new additions', is the core source of its sweeping prowess. Aside from the obvious necessity that comes with STAB, Waterfall also drills through Hippowdon and Gliscor, a couple of Pokémon who'd traditionally call themselves “Physical Walls”, and neutral hits on most other Pokémon that'd list themselves as “Physical Walls” does this move no harm either.
It's a “pick two of three” situation for the rest of the move-set. Stone Edge, whilst shaky on the accuracy, provides some very useful type coverage against Zapdos and opposing Gyarados variants; and in the absence of Ice Fang also provides some coverage against Salamence. Speaking of Ice Fang, that's the next option on the list. The aforementioned Salamence is of course slayed by it, and Gliscor takes a little more damage from it than Waterfall, but Ice Fang is most important for its super-effective hits on Grass types, such as Celebi, Breloom, Tangrowth and Venusaur. Earthquake is a favourite for its well-distributed type coverage, including Steel, Rock, Electric, Poison and Fire. This type coverage is fairly non-essential, since there aren't too many Pokémon that fall under the categories of “weak to Ground and a threat to Gyarados”, but it's still appreciated.
Your item choice isn't an unfamiliar one. Even without a defensive EV investment, Gyarados can still perform capably as a defensive Pokémon and that little bit of HP recovery provided by Leftovers is an aid. Life Orb is obviously geared towards a Gyarados that doesn't care at all about the defensive aspect of the game. A 1.3x power boost (at the cost of 10% HP) can turn 3KOs into 2KOs and 2KOs into 1KOs, making a sizable difference to the success or failure of a sweeping attempt. The downside of the 10% HP loss is the risk of percentages mounting up. Gyarados already begins with a 25% Stealth Rock weakness and has no immunities to Sandstorm or Hail, already exposing it to a couple of forms of passive damage. Any direct damage added to that and the loss of 10% HP for each direct attack could see it fall before its battle has truly begun. Leftovers is definitely the safer option, but Life Orb does gear Gyarados for an all-out offensive steamroll, even if it does mean sacrificing its potential utility as a defensive asset.
BulkyGyara - Defensive Dragon Dancer
Colloquially known as “BulkyGyara” (and I don't think I need to explain how it got that name), this move-set is defined more by its EV spread and intent rather than the moves. Indeed, the only noticeable change from the aforementioned move-set is the addition of Taunt, harking back memories of the traditional “Tauntrados.” Taunt provides a very important utility in preventing the use of status moves and to a lesser extent, P/Hazing and recovery moves. Waterfall and Stone Edge provide the offensive might, with the Water-Rock combination being rather desirable since it's resisted by only a handful of foes.
Dragon Dance is something of a psychological threat in the early game, making sure the foe does not dawdle in dealing with a less offensive Gyarados; however, as with all cases of offensive stat-boosting, it's later in the battle where it becomes a real asset and makes the “offensive steamroll” a real possibility.
EVs and Nature:
Offensive Dragon Dancer
Whilst Adamant is the traditional nature here, Jolly gets a bit of a glance for that Speed boost. With a Speed stat that reaches as high as 287, this allows for a single Dragon Dance to out-speed pretty much all of the threats in the Standard tier (including many Pokémon equipped with a Choice Scarf).
Firstly, 144 Speed gets Gyarados to 234 Speed, importantly outrunning Timid Gengar (Base Speed 110) after a Dragon Dance. 156 HP EVs gets Gyarados to 370 HP, which ensures that a Life Orb boosted Fire Blast from Timid Heatran will never 2KO when Stealth Rock and Leftovers are accounted. The remaining EVs in Defence combined with this HP makes up the “Bulky” side of BulkyGyara, letting it take a respectable 26-31% damage from Life Orb Lucario's Close Combat, although a more painful 33-39% damage from Band Heracross's Close Combat (fortunately for this EV Spread, Heracross usage has been on a major slump, so this isn't the most concerning of matters). 176 Attack EVs combined with Adamant gets Gyarados to 363 Attack, which combined with a Dragon Dance, scores 71-84% damage on highly defensive variants of Zapdos, making an assisted OHKO possible with Stealth Rock support. Of course, if this potential assisted OHKO isn't of huge importance to you, a lot of EVs can be comfortably directed to Defence or even some more Speed (the Raikou number being particularly desirable). Defence is especially of value if Gyarados is your only option to deal with the likes of the aforementioned Lucario and Heracross, since your HP can be eaten up pretty quickly by Stealth Rock, let alone the damage taken providing defensive support for your team.
Return, Bounce, Bite, Rest, Sleep Talk, Thunder Wave.
Return has a surprising amount of synergy with Waterfall. Water-Normal is a type combination that's only resisted by Empoleon and Shedinja (discounting Ubers), and whilst Return's lack of super-effective coverage is unattractive, a move with 102 Base Power and 100% accuracy isn't worth completely overlooking.
Bounce, whilst very gimmicky in theory and in practice, is actually viable. The negative is that it's a two turn move, and telegraphing that a Flying move is incoming can be rather advantageous to an opponent. The positive side is that Water-Flying has similarly strong type coverage when measured against the other available two move combinations and Bounce comes with a useful 30% chance of paralysis, making any switch-in not completely 'safe.' Additionally, in the 'charge up' stage of Bounce, you'll receive what's essentially a free turn of Leftovers recovery if you have it equipped.
A super-effective Bite merely matches Waterfall for Base Power, however it's worth a mention purely for its use against Starmie (and to a lesser extent, Slowbro). With Stealth Rock support (or Life Orb), the offensive Dragon Dancer can get a guaranteed assisted OHKO on (0/0 HP/Def) Starmie with Bite after one Dragon Dance, with some other OHKO possibilities available when accounting for Starmie variants with defensive EV investments.
Rest and Sleep Talk forsakes Gyarados's offensive design and gives it the feel of a “Bulky Water.” It'd be designed in a similar way to BulkyGyara, dropping Dragon Dance and Taunt but keeping a two-pronged attacking combination. Without the psychological threat of Dragon Dance, Gyarados presents a different prospect to its opponent, but “Bulky Water” Pokémon are popular choices on teams for a reason, and Gyarados can make for a very capable one.
Thunder Wave doesn't really fit anywhere on any of Gyarados's move-sets, despite being a pretty decent move. It can certainly hinder any Pokémon that switches in with the intent to perform as a counter, and with STAB Waterfall at hand, you aren't going to see any Electric-immune Ground types switching in; but you're only allowed four moves and as noted previously, it really doesn't 'fit' with any of the core Gyarados move-sets.
Before we get going, just a quick note on some acronyms. They're pretty blatant but to remove any ambiguity: LOed means Life Orb boosted and DDed means Dragon Dance boosted. Good, now we can get going with what will no doubt be an awkward counters section.
A defensive Porygon2 with Trace is the best counter. Trace copies Intimidate, giving Gyarados the associated stat drop, whilst Porygon2 can finish it off with Thunderbolt or Discharge. Whilst it's basically an inferior Cresselia, Uxie and to a lesser extent Mesprit can get the job done with defensive EV spreads and Thunderbolt. Speaking of Cresselia, whilst it comes with better defensive stats, it carries the less effective Charge Beam as its Electric move (although it can cause troubles for Taunt-less variants with Reflect and Thunder Wave at its disposal). Of course, this isn't exactly a who's who of Overused staples, so whilst fairly ideal, these aren't exactly counters that you'll find stacked on every team.
Bulky Water types (Vaporeon, Suicune, Slowbro and Milotic) equipped with Hidden Power [Electric] can take Gyarados on, although some of them face the uneasy prospect of a 2KO from a DDed + LOed Stone Edge when their own Hidden Power offences are mere 2KOs as well. A special mention goes to Empoleon, who, in the absence of Earthquake, resists all of Gyarados's moves.
In the absence of Ice Fang, a defensively built Celebi can take on Gyarados with Grass Knot (which hits at a very nice 120 Base Power). The same can be said for Tangrowth with Power Whip, although its significantly stronger Base Defence means it can just about take on Ice Fang. In the complete absence of Ice Fang, Breloom can get a flat-out OHKO with Thunderpunch and an assisted KO with Stone Edge and Stealth Rock. In the absence of Earthquake, Metagross and Thunderpunch is another potential route to an OHKO. To round things off, the alternate Rotom forms have the defensive durability to face a DDed + LOed Waterfall and hit back with STAB Thunderbolt.
A little mention need to go to Stealth Rock, which does a great job of making Gyarados a more accessible foe by chipping off 25% of its HP. To round things off it's worth mentioning Jolteon, not as a true counter but as an example of exploiting Gyarados's 4x Electric weakness. Jolteon can switch in as Gyarados Dragon Dances and feel comfortable knowing it'll still be faster (barring a rare Jolly Gyarados) and be able to nail it with a Thunderbolt. This applies to pretty much all fragile but Scarf-equipped Thunderbolt users, since Gyarados's 4x Electric weakness simply screams “Aim for the horn!”
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