The newest battle mechanic introduced to the Pokemon franchise was Dynamax, a phenomenon that grows Pokemon to gargantuan size with some even receiving a form change with access to Gigantamax. Along with their newfound size, Pokemon can now use more powerful attacks that provide a plethora of secondary effects, with Gigantamax signature moves granting yet another pool of uniquely powerful attacks.
The battles between these giant Pokemon bring a new layer of hype and excitement to the pivotal battles in Pokemon Sword and Shield’s single-player campaign, but has been causing unrest among the competitive player base.
Competitive Pokemon’s largest community, Smogon, has recently initiated a “suspect test” of the Dynamax/Gigantamax mechanic in order to determine whether or not it should be banned altogether from competitive play. Many players have shown support for the ban citing how unbalanced the mechanic is, but others are hesitant to see the generation’s quintessential game play addition be removed so early into the competitive scene’s life.
So, that’s the issue on the docket for today: “Is Dynamax too overpowered for competitive play?”
Let’s assess the arguments.
The Arguments Against Dynamax:
What differentiates Dynamax from Mega Evolution and Z Moves from generations prior is that any Pokemon can Dynamax (with the exception of the three legendary Pokemon Zacian, Zamazenta and Eternatus). This mechanic is not locked behind an item restriction, meaning any single Pokemon on your team can use this mechanic during the battle. Considering how quickly a game can change if one player effectively uses or wastes their Dynamax, an unexpected Dynamax from your opponent could mean the end if you’re in a remotely unfavorable spot.
Problematic Max Moves
The secondary effects from the Max Moves that a Pokemon gets access to once it Dynamaxes have a variety of secondary effects that do everything from raising or lowering stats to changing the weather or terrain.
The problem is, with three uses of these potentially stat boosting, powered up attacks, Pokemon can easily snowball out of control using moves like Max Knuckle to boost Attack and/or Max Airstream to boost speed. Some prime examples are Pokemon like Hawlucha and Gyarados in Smogon’s “Overused” tier that can easily boost using these max moves, but in Gyarados’ case, can continue boosting with its Moxie ability as it picks up KOs.
However, there is guaranteed counter play to this kind of course in the form of a single Pokemon: Ditto. If a Ditto comes in later in the game to copy a heavily boosted Pokemon, it can immediately turn into a reverse-sweep situation.
The snowball effect (and reversal of it) have led players to think that game plans have become much more linear by just aiming for these game-ending sweeps.
Limited Counter Play
Upon Dynamaxing, Pokemon gain a bunch of protections to make inhibiting the three turn onslaught much more difficult. Dynamax can’t be flinched, phased out with moves like Dragon Tail or Roar, hit with weight-based moves like Heavy Slam or Heat Crash and the Max Moves (much like Z Moves) aren’t able to be fully stopped with moves like Protect.
Of course there are means of counter playing Dynamax such as Dynamaxing your own Pokemon, removing boosts with moves like Haze or Clear Smog, copying a boosted Pokemon with a Ditto, redirection in doubles etc. but not all of these things are readily available due to the current game state or limited pool of “viable” top-level Pokemon.
Some Arguments For:
A New Way to Play
One of the primary counter arguments against banning Dynamax at this stage is simply how new the game is. The Pokemon Sword and Shield metagame is nowhere close to being “solved” and making definitive decisions about major aspects of the game at this point doesn’t seem right.
Many players advocated for the ban of Z Moves for the longest time during the seventh generation, but that ban never came. Dynamax could be the same way; a mechanic that not everyone likes, but just another part of the game that takes time to get used to.
Minor Bans or Adjustments
Another suggestion to perhaps balance Dynamax is to ban certain moves, combinations or Pokemon altogether from Dynamaxing. Smogon has made specific bans like this in the past by banning weather plus speed-boosting abilities and Baton Pass strategies for example, but the problem is: how specific do you get?
There are so many different move combinations and strategies unique to certain Pokemon, so it could make specific adjustments harder to implement.
One example of this was a suggestion to only allow Gigantamax Pokemon since the Pokemon that have access to Gigantamax aren’t exactly at the highest echelon of competitive use. This would certainly eliminate some of the randomness of Dynamax, but severely limit the mechanic to the point where it might not even be used at the top level of play.
Balanced in Doubles (VGC)?
While primarily singles players have been voicing their concerns about Dynamax, the other side of competitive Pokemon’s player base (VGC and/or doubles players) have been rather quiet.
While all the same issues mentioned above still exist in doubles, the more pieces on the field that each player has to manage likely makes dealing with Dynamax much easier than a one-on-one fight. Plus, moves like Protect, Follow Me/Rage Powder and stat-removal moves are much more common in the VGC metagame making counterplay to Dynamax much more readily available.
The Verdict: It looks bad, but give it some more time.
While the Dynamax mechanic looks to be the fun-killer of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s competitive play, making a decision on whether to ban the mechanic entirely seems way too premature. Removing this generation’s main battle mechanic entirely doesn’t feel right, and with so much we still have yet to learn about the game competitively, some extensive research and deliberation needs to be put into this decision.
Dynamax might not necessarily be broken or overpowered at this current moment, but there is still a ton of information yet to be discovered regarding the state of competitive play in Pokemon Sword and Shield.
Images from Pokemon Sword and Shield and The Pokemon Company International