Houndoom, The Dark Pokémon. If you are burned by the flames it shoots from its mouth, the pain will never go away. Upon hearing its eerie howls, other Pokémon get the shivers and head straight back to their nests. The pungent-smelling flame that shoots from its mouth results from toxins burning in its body. In a Houndoom pack, the one with its horns raked sharply back serves a leadership role. They choose their leader by fighting among themselves. Long ago, people imagined its eerie howls to be the call of the grim reaper.
Houndoom is one of those good Pokémon who can't carve itself a place in the Standard environment. It has good special sweeping stats, but between special sweeping competition and the frequent use of its counters, it struggles to keep a consistent place among the elite.
The generation shift was a mixed bag for Houndoom. Nasty Plot and Life Orb give it a real boost in raw power, but it was one of the few Pokémon to be disadvantaged by Pursuit going physical (from an offensive perspective) and one of many to be disadvantaged by Stealth Rock.
Houndoom is pretty much where it was last generation. It's too good for the Underused tier, not good enough to be in the Overused tier and fails to carve itself any sort of niche, making it a through-and-through member of the Borderline tier.
Flash Fire: absorbs Fire moves, and as an added bonus, gives Houndoom's own Fire moves a 1.5x boost. It's an immunity and a power boost, making it very useful.
Early Bird: cuts the duration of sleep status by 50%. This means you have one turn Rests and shorter sleeps under Spores and Hypnosis. It's an okay ability but it's simply outmatched by Flash Fire, and the one-turn Rests are useless to a defensively-weak Pokémon like Houndoom.
Nasty Plot - Special Sweeper
Houndoom's most straightforward move-set is the special sweeper. Flamethrower and Dark Pulse both provide very reliable STAB, and work fine with or without boosts. Its Speed isn't as breathtaking as some other special sweepers (such as Azelf), so Houndoom will have to bide its time with the Nasty Plot boost. Once it has a Nasty Plot, it can become a rather formidable threat, but it is better suited for a late-game 'clean up' as opposed to an off-the-bat 'boost then sweep' attempt.
Life Orb pairs nicely with Nasty Plot for that “pack as much raw power as possible and smash things” mentality. Even the standard defensive Blissey (Calm/176 SDef EVs/No HP EVs) takes 35-40% damage from an Orb and Plot boosted Flamethrower, which gives a good impression of what it can do to the average unspecialised Pokémon. The downside is that 10% recoil. As with all Pokémon weak to Stealth Rock, you need to be aware that you're likely to be losing 25% HP per switch, and possibly more if there are Spikes on the field or a Sandstorm flowing. With that in mind, Leftovers provides a more restrained item option. Whilst it won't help you steamroll through teams, it'll compensate a bit for passive damage, as well as any light hits you may take during the battle.
The final move-slot is optional. Hidden Power [Fighting] gets a major hit on Tyranitar and a good hit on Heatran, two common Pokémon with resistances to Houndoom's STAB moves. Will-o-Wisp poses a threat to Tyranitar, as well as Swampert, Snorlax and generally any physically-inclined special wall.
The final alternative is the Sub-Salac strategy, obviously having Substitute occupy the final move-slot and a Salac Berry occupy the item slot. You're throwing all your eggs into the direct sweeping basket; sacrificing an item, your HP to activate the item, and also leaving you short on some type coverage by using the free move-slot on Substitute. As with all pinch-berry strategies, you only have a single shot at it, so it very much has to be timed correctly to work. Anything that could survive Houndoom's offence needs to be sufficiently weakened, anything potential faster needs to be eliminated (or at least paralysed) and all priority moves need to be out of the picture.
Its raw stats lend itself nicely to a Choice Specs set. A Specs-boosted Overheat provides a nice burst of damage, and with the Choice-lock causing you to switch a lot, its stat-drop is less of a hassle. Flamethrower and Dark Pulse provide reliable STAB and type coverage whilst Hidden Power [Fighting] covers you against Tyranitar and Heatran.
Pursuit is a possible alternative. Houndoom's typing makes it an ideal switch into Celebi and (most) Azelf, and whilst it's not getting the desired Specs boost, it'll still be dealing STAB damage on fleeing Pokémon. It'll usually slot over one of Houndoom's Fire moves (or you could drop the pair for Fire Blast, a two-for-one solution which somewhat covers Flamethrower's reliability as well as Overheat's power attraction).
- Dark Pulse
A Choice Scarf is designed more with 'revenge-killing' in mind than the aforementioned move-sets. Dark Pulse provides reliable Dark STAB and an easy OHKO on Gengar and Azelf. Your Fire move of choice will provide an OHKO Lucario, Heracross, Weavile, Metagross and others. You again have a trio to choose from: Flamethrower for reliability, Overheat for a power-burst or Fire Blast being something of a compromise between the two.
Hidden Power [Fighting] is still centre-stage for its Tyranitar and Heatran type coverage, but you also have Hidden Power [Ice] as an option for Salamence.
Pursuit continues to have its chasing attraction here, more-so since you're not missing out on a Specs boost, and also, once the opponent figures out you have a Scarf, they're more likely to run with their weakened and fragile Pokémon. The super-effective hit on Azelf and Celebi continue to be the main attractions, with Gengar added to the hit-list since you don't need to worry about it KOing you before you can strike.
EVs and Nature:
You fall short of that desirable 300 marker with Houndoom when you aren't using a Timid nature, so barring the Scarf set, you almost always want to go with a Timid nature. On the off chance you go with Modest without a Scarf, the minimum Speed stat to aim for would be 270 (176 EVs), to outrun Heracross, or 280 (216 EVs) for Lucario. For the Scarf move-set, you'll want to run with the same Speed numbers to outrun the aforementioned Pokémon when they carry Scarfs of their own.
With Timid, the minimum Speed stat to shoot for is the aforementioned 300 (188 EVs), giving you the edge over the Base 100 Speed tier (Salamence, Celebi and co.). For the more old-fashioned, there's also 304 (204 EVs), for outrunning Garchomp, who is currently defined as an Uber. Going all the way to 308 (216 EVs) is worth the investment, to edge ahead of nature-boosted Lucario and Porygon-Z variants (Base 90 Speed tier). Going all the way to max isn't worth overlooking though, just to tie with other Pokémon in Houndoom's Speed tier (Electivire, Gliscor and Yanmega). Also, keep in mind, Hidden Power [Fighting] requires a 30 Speed IV or lower, so you'll need to tag on an extra 4 Speed EVs to compensate.
Max Special Attack goes without saying. If you have leftover EVs, dump them in HP. If you are using Pursuit, you'll want a nature that doesn't hurt your Attack stat, such as Hasty (+Spd/-Def) or Mild (+SAtk/-Def). You can also consider dumping excess EVs into Attack as well, to add some extra power to Pursuit. It takes a disproportionate amount of Attack EVs to ensure that Pursuit OHKOs a fleeing Azelf, so you're best off accepting that you'll fall short of a KO.
Taunt, Reversal, Solarbeam, Sunny Day, Hidden Power [Ground], Counter, Focus Sash.
Taunt can mess up Blissey's attempts to land a Thunder Wave. You'll also block off its Softboiled attempts, and by the same token, any other Pokémon using recovery and status attempts.
Reversal can 2KO Blissey and OHKO Tyranitar when you drop down to 9% HP (where it's a Base 150 move). Of course, Sandstorm (especially in the case of Tyranitar) severely limits its value.
Solarbeam can work with Sunny Day support. You can even try throwing up your own Sunny Day, but you're best off going the Nasty Plot route if you intend to spend a turn doing what is essentially a stat-boost.
Hidden Power [Ground] does more than Fighting to Heatran, the trade-off being that you exchange a 4x hit on Tyranitar for a 2x hit.
As with all fragile Pokémon, you have Counter-Sash to pick up a surprise KO on physical attackers. Remember, Focus Sash only works at 100% HP, so the slightest piece of damage throws the item out of use (such as Sandstorm or entry hazards).
Blissey has a comfortable time against Houndoom. Admittedly, a Nasty Plot boosted Fire Blast can really hurt, but it can cut Houndoom's sweeping hopes to pieces with a single Thunder Wave. Snorlax has a fear of Will-o-Wisp, but picks up an easy KO with Earthquake (or Return if it has some Attack EVs) and packs a makeshift Fire resistance with Thick Fat.
Heatran resists both of Houndoom's STAB moves (and benefits from Flash Fire if it comes in on a Fire move). Hidden Power can really hurt though, especially after a Nasty Plot. Tyranitar has the same kind of comfort, but fears both Hidden Power and Will-o-Wisp.
Infernape's defences are far from perfect, but resistances to both of Houndoom's STAB moves and better Speed make it a suitable counter. Blaziken packs the same resistances but less Speed, making it less effective than Infernape but still effective.
Bulky water types are fairly comfortably. Dark Pulse can be a 2KO with Specs, but otherwise, Swampert, Suicune, Vaporeon and Milotic work. Whilst not traditionally in the bulky water mould, you also can turn to Tentacruel too.
A lack of Speed is Houndoom's biggest counter. With a max Speed of 317, Houndoom falls well short of the desired number for a Pokémon as fragile as it is. Dugtrio traps and KOs it if it gets in play, but pretty much any faster Pokémon with decent offences should be able to force a switch or KO it (such as Starmie, Aerodactyl and the aforementioned Infernape).
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