Ranking All Pokémon Starters is Hard Work
Arguably the most important decision a player makes in a Pokémon playthrough, selecting a starter defines the journey a player is about to embark on. It is no surprise that starters tend to be among the most popular Pokémon generation to generation as fans become attached to their partner Pokémon. Starters, like cover Pokémon, are also divisive, dissecting the community as the fandom rallies behind their starter of choice only for those allegiances to be shaken up and the community re-divided with the reveal of the starters’ final evolutions. All of this begs the question, though: which starter Pokémon is actually the best?
To celebrate newcomers Grookey, Scorbunny, and Sobble, I’m ranking all eight generations of starters to decide once and for all which starter is the greatest of all time by systematically ranking them in consideration of stats, design, moveset, typing/ability/general usability, and historical competitive viability by comparison to one another. While this list doesn’t just reflect my personal preferences, my opinions inform it as impressions of aspects like design are, by nature, opinion, and even the most rigorous interpretation of stats still boils down to player preference. These rankings also aren’t exclusively informed by each Pokémon’s competitive viability, though we will take that into consideration, as that is an element of overall usability and will be measured through usage. Further, this list won’t heavily take into consideration Mega Evolutions as not all starters have them, and I want to keep the playing field as even as possible, though in instances they do impact competitive usage and, as a consequence, this list. Eevee and Pikachu will also be left off of the list, as even their enhanced stats aren’t comparable as basic Pokémon. With all of that out of the way, here are all twenty-four starter Pokémon ranked from worst to best.
Anyone expecting Chikorita in this position is well aware of the second-generation grass starter’s bad reputation. While you’ll have to wait for that, Oshawott ranked as the worst starter for several reasons. It literally has the lowest total stats of any water starter, but the distribution of those stats is the real disappointment here. It has a fairly high Attack and Special Attack stat and a higher than average HP stat, but with no speed or defense to speak of, those stats won’t be allowed to shine if Samurott’s already been blown out of the water.
Everything else about Oshawott is bland. Its pure water typing is dull, and the corresponding movepool is perhaps the worst of any starter, drowned in water and normal-type attacks. Design-wise, Oshawott looks washed out or maybe seasick. While Dewott is a marked improvement, honestly ranking up there with one of the best “teen stages” amongst the starters, Samurott’s design sinks the positive direction Dewott steered this sea otter in. Bearing little resemblance to either of its namesakes, a samurai or an otter, Samurott ends up awkward and just another seal/sea lion amongst many better-designed ones.
The wait wasn’t long. Chikorita is all too frequently viewed as the worst starter but edges out Oshawott if only for Meganium’s charming design, being historically more viable, and the fact that it could handily best Samurott in a fight. Everything else about Chikorita is bland to the point of being bad. Its stats are balanced to a fault, with an uninteresting emphasis placed on its defenses. Its singular grass typing leaves it with an equal number of weaknesses and resistances, but with one of the most lackluster movesets of any starter, Meganium can’t exploit much beyond those Pokémon it resists.
Meganium does have access to some interesting, supportive-type attacks, but these moves probably won’t appeal to the more casual player, and the competitive player has much better options available, including other starters. It’s not all bad, though. Bayleef and Meganium’s designs are the perfect sequels to Venusaur, resulting in a far more pleasant and flowery design than the toady, monstrous form Bulbasaur takes in the end. Meganium’s appearance matches its character all too well: intriguing but lacking any edge to speak of.
When Chespin was first revealed, I had high hopes that it would resemble a grass-type Typhlosion or Sandslash. Instead, we got the worst designed starter to date. While Chesnaught is almost passable, I guess, or at least on par with some of the other goofy starter final evolutions, Quilladin might be the most awkward of the “awkward teen stage” Pokémon in the whole national Pokédex. If this were only about design, this would be a no contest, but Chespin does actually have a couple of things going for it. Chesnaught boasts the highest Defense of any starter and, quite suitably considering its distinct grass/fighting typing, also packs a considerable punch.
Chesnaught also has access to a strong lineup of physical attacks to take advantage of its formidable Attack stat with a wide variety of typings. Unfortunately, there are too many holes in Chesnaught’s “spiny armor,” and any Pokémon with a decent Special Attack, including Pokémon Chesnaught, should be effective against, like Greninja, can easily crack this nut. With a terrible Special Defense, slow Speed, and more weaknesses than any other starter at a whopping six, including a double weakness to flying, the case against Chespin is harder than the Pokémon’s spiky nutshell.
The weakest fire starter by a wide margin, Tepig has a lot working against it. The most notable thing is that Emboar is the third fire/fighting starter in a row and is horribly outclassed by its predecessors, Blaziken and Infernape, despite having two of the highest stats of any starter, HP and Attack, as well as a strong Special Attack. Tepig’s formidable movepool is as deep as Chesnaught’s, with shocking variety ranging from poison to electric, to even water! The only perceivable drawback is that while many of Emboar’s physical attacks are immensely powerful, they harm the user.
This seems like a major drawback at first; however, Emboar seems to have been designed with its hidden ability, Reckless, in mind. Reckless, which boosts the power of moves that have recoil damage by twenty percent, paired with Emboar’s impressive HP stat, makes this boar a devastating tank that can easily absorb the aftershock of the punch it packs. This is all great in theory; however, with truly terrible defenses and speed, Emboar’s bacon will be fried before it can throw its first punch. That, paired with its ridiculous, if somewhat funny, design and players are better off with literally any other fire starter.
The last piece of what’s undoubtedly the worst generation of starters, Snivy might be the best fifth-generation starter, but its inadequacies are still pretty on par with its counterparts. Snivy is a compilation of familiar grass starter traits and tropes but distributed in the most incoherent way imaginable. The fifth-fastest starter, its concept, and design are immediately reminiscent of Sceptile. Its stat distribution, however, is comparable to Meganium’s, emphasizing its defenses but leaving both its Attack and Special Attack woefully underpowered, especially with the weight given to speed. Consequently, Serperior’s lightning-fast strike has virtually no bite and is anything but superior. Snivy’s one saving grace preventing it from a position lower on this list amidst its peers is an exceptional hidden ability, Contrary, which reverses the effect of stat-altering moves used on the Pokémon, including effects of the user’s moves. Paired with Leaf Storm, with what’s usually the drawback of harshly lowering the user’s Special Attack, and Snivy has a devastating attack that simultaneously substantially enhances its lethality.
Any ability that can so effectively turn a gentle gardener snake into a vicious viper deserves recognition, though this strategy isn’t without its faults. Leaf Storm only enhances Snivy’s special attacks, so any physical moves will still be rather timid. It also takes time to maximize special damage this way and won’t be very effective against Pokémon who resist grass, not to mention Serperior’s mediocre movepool limiting the moves that benefit from this effect. This goes without mentioning that any Pokémon faster than Snivy will have no trouble working around its substantial speed. A Contrary Serperior can be an amazing asset in the correct matchup, but only situationally, and a standard Snivy simply has no legs to stand on compared to its competition.
Turtwig is undoubtedly one of the most underrated starters in existence, presumably due to its speed, the lowest of any starter. That, paired with its critical ice weakness courtesy of its unique grass/ground typing, and many are too quick to write this tortoise off. Trained and tech’d properly, however, and Torterra can be a seismic force to reckon with. Its stats are weighted on the physical end of the spectrum (HP, Attack, Defense), and Torterra’s Attack and Defense rank up there with the best of them. Its physical moveset, intrinsically including brutal attacks like Wood Hammer and Earthquake, compliment Torterra’s stats perfectly and offer some truly devastating STAB (same type attack bonus) attacks and weakness coverage.
More intriguingly, Torterra has access to support and sustain type moves including Protect, Substitute, Leech Seed, Rest and Sleep Talk, Synthesis, and more that, paired with its hearty defense and HP, make Torterra an aggressive attritional attacker. Additionally, with easy access to ground and rock-type attacks, Torterra can cover many of its own weaknesses. Plus, with a design inspired by the World Turtle myth, the “continent” Pokémon looks incredibly cool. Trained and raised with Speed in mind and Turtwig can be tough to take down. Sometimes, slow and steady truly can win the Pokémon battle.
An unassuming, pale blue, cold-blooded creature that culminates in a thin, darker-colored, remarkably agile attacker, Sobblie is immediately reminiscent of the Froakie line in both appearance and stats. Its speed is second only to Greninja, and it boasts the second-highest Special Attack of any starter, an aggressive combination not too unlike Greninja. Unfortunately, any semblance between the two starters is a cover put on by the “Secret Agent Pokémon.” Inteleon might have greatness in its sightline, but a mono-water typing and subsequent shallow movepool keep it well out of range of the lizard’s line of fire.
That’s not to say Inteleon doesn’t have potential as a wallbreaker, albeit a severely limited one. Inteleon’s remarkable Speed and Special Attack mean its STAB attacks pack a lightning-fast punch, but without secondary typing, those are limited to water-type attacks. A limited arsenal restricts coverage to some variation of a water type attack, Ice Beam, Air Slash, U-turn, and Shadow Ball or Dark Pulse exclusively to make the most of that Special Attack stat. Its hidden ability, Sniper, which increases damage dealt by critical hits from 1.5x to 2.25x damage, likely won’t make much of an impact now that it is released as it only reliably increases the power of Inteleon’s Snipe Shot. Inteleon also suffers from an incoherent evolutionary line ending in an awkward, gangly design that hardly conveys its espionage theme. In the end, Inteleon has the heart of a spy, but none of the gadgets.
The antithesis of Chesnaught, the Fennekin line, is statistically weighted to favor its special stats (Sp. At, Sp. Def, and Speed), resulting in a much more reliable Pokémon than its grass counterpart. Fennekin is notably the seventh fastest on this list and features the third-highest Special Attack of any starter, allowing the fire fox to burn through its opposition. These stats blend perfectly with its somewhat unique fire/psychic typing and allow Delphox to make the most of its strong, if somewhat focused specialist moveset. Delphox more than makes up for its limited move types with its fierce Special Defense and seven resistances, enabling Fennekin to take some of the heat this special attacker can dish out.
My primary complaint with the Pokémon is its design and generally how unoriginal it feels. Its classification, “Fox Pokémon,” and fiery fox concept are shared with Ninetales, while the mystic “kitsune” fox concept is shared with the Alakazam line. Delphox’s witch theme, with its weird fur robe and ridiculous, fiery ear tufts, is somewhat charming, but Fennekin’s features fail to bewitch in the end, especially when compared to other lupine designs, including the aforementioned Ninetales, Alakazam, and Lucario (yes, I know Lucario is based on a jackal/Anubis). It’s hard not to feel that Game Freak burnt their better fox design on Zoroark the generation prior. Zorua even has a fiery sort of appearance! In the end, there are statistically and aesthetically better special sweepers (Pokémon who clean up with regular KOs), and while Fennekin is perfectly suitable for a casual playthrough, it’s hard not to be disappointed with the end design, especially if you were expecting something fierce and majestic like Okami and ended up getting Cat Hermione.
At first glance, Treecko is really good. It looks pretty cool if a little cobbled together (Sceptile’s seeds and tail always felt a little forced to me). It’s extremely fast, the second-fastest of any starter, and has a strong Special Attack to take advantage of that speed, all the makings of a great
glass grass cannon. While its movepool is restricted by its single-typing, it’s chock-full of powerful attacks. Sceptile’s hidden ability, Unburden, if situational, doubles the Pokémon’s Speed when its held item is consumed, ensuring that Sceptile always hits first. That all sounds sensational, but, unfortunately, there’s a complete disconnect between this moveset, which emphasizes physical type moves, and Sceptile’s stats, which prioritizes Special Attack. Consequently, with only a passable Attack stat, Sceptile can’t take full advantage of the moves it learns, including Leaf Blade, which premiered with Sceptile, and Sceptile’s signature Dual Chop.
This disconnect is the result of a system shift that started with the fourth generation of Pokémon that defines each move as physical or special independently of the elemental damage it deals, whereas damage type, physical or special, used to be defined exclusively by the move’s element. In the end, all of this completely undermines Sceptile. If unable to secure the OHKO, Sceptile’s poor bulk will be more than exposed. It’s worth noting that Sceptile’s Mega Evolution does improve the Pokémon’s overall utility, particularly in a doubles format with its intriguing Lighteningrod ability, but, barring that, Treecko remains perfectly usable if unfortunately outclassed.
With a strong emphasis on physical traits, including the highest Attack of any starter and the second-highest HP, Rillaboom looks a lot like the grass reincarnation of Incineroar, favoring Speed over Special Attack in the “Drummer” Pokémon’s case. With access to a similar, albeit shallower movepool and respectable bulk, Grookey has potential as a powerful pivot Pokémon like Incineroar or as a grass-type tank very reminiscent of Tapu Bulu. Where Rillaboom still has room to grow is in its lack of viable recovery options without the benefit of moves like Synthesis and Horn Leech. While Protect plus Grassy Terrain or Leech Seed are an option, the combination comes at the cost of Rillaboom’s overall utility, explaining Rillaboom’s recent relegation to a Substitute/Bulk Up build.
Thankfully, this issue should be largely circumvented by the release of Rillaboom’s hidden ability, Grassy Surge, which automatically activates Grassy Terrain when Rillaboom enters the battle, allowing the gorilla to be naturally self-sustaining. This should allow Rillaboom to make the most of its Attack stat and utilize devastating STAB attack Wood Hammer without hesitation. Not that its signature Drum Beating, which slows opponents, is a bad option at all for tangling up Pokémon as they switch in. While I’m generally not a fan of Pokémon with props and Rillaboom could certainly stand without, Grookey’s design is consistent and overall pretty good. While not the best Galarian starter, with its new hidden ability, Rillaboom is sure to find its rhythm and rise the ranks.
Despite being the lowest-ranked of the Sun and Moon‘s starters, Popplio is by no means a bad Pokémon and is actually quite viable in both doubles and singles play. Primarina boasts both the highest Special Defense and Special Attack of any starter, the latter of which pairs perfectly with Primarina’s unique water/fairy typing and turns this disarming mermaid into a tsunami of a special sweeper. Despite a relatively shallow movepool, Primarina has some powerful moves that take full advantage of its stats and typings, including Sparkling Aria, Moonblast, Energy Ball, Psychic, and Hydro Pump. Or, with Calm Mind and Substitute, Primarina can become a whale of a Pokémon to take down capable of wailing on opponents.
While its secret ability, Liquid Voice, is intriguing at first, turning any sound-based attack into a water-type move, with the arsenal of powerful water attacks already at the “soloist” Pokémon’s disposal, this ability doesn’t really add too much value. Primarina is also slow, slower even than Chesnaught, and has a low defense, making it easy prey for any Pokémon with a decent attack, like Rowlet. Design was the final determining factor for Primarina’s position on the list, and while I’m not too enthusiastic about its aesthetic, I can now happily ship Primarina and Samurott. In the end, there are plenty more fish in the sea, but not much better water and special attackers than Primarina.
This is the point in the list where the competition gets particularly fierce, and any Pokémon from this point on could have conceivably cracked the top ten. Decidueye is no exception and, as the only owl and ghost type on this list could have been higher on this list where I’m concerned. Statistically, Rowlet looks similar to Oshawott, with Special Defense emphasized instead of health, but its most notable stats being its Attack and Special Attack. The big difference is that thanks to its grass/ghost typing, Decidueye has access to a deep attack pool with a wide type variety. While it’s certainly capable of utilizing special attacks, Decidueye’s moveset is brimming with powerful physical attacks perfectly suited to the owl’s strongest stat. Beyond its quiver full of aggressive attacks, Decidueye even has access to some substantial strategic or supportive type attacks, including Swords Dance, Substitute, Synthesis, Haze, and Baton Pass.
Perhaps more intriguingly, Decidueye has a unique role amidst the other starters as a potential trapper Pokémon ideal for hunting or chaining. Its signature move, Spirit Shackle, tethers Pokémon to the spot so they can’t escape. Its ghost typing grants it immunity to normal and fighting-type attacks, while its grass typing makes it immune to spore-type attacks. It has access to False Swipe to whittle down opponent’s health, while Synthesis and Substitute allow Decidueye to sustain itself. Foresight even allows it to False Swipe fellow ghost types for easier chaining! All of this goes without mentioning Decidueye’s brilliant design and concept. Rowlet is great at getting through the waters of Alola in a casual playthrough but even better for any clever collectors out there.
A fan favorite and the first original starter to make an appearance on this list, I suspect some Squirtle enthusiasts may feel sort of slighted by the “Tiny Turtle’s” position here, to which I would respond: Just. You. Wait. Again, the competition was incredibly fierce and unbelievably close; any Pokémon at this point in the list has more than earned a position in almost any party. In reality, I love Squirtle, and one only has to look at the cover art of Pokémon Blue to see Blastoise’s appeal. Despite the prominent water jets protruding from its shell, Blastoise doesn’t have remarkable Attack or Special attack stats, though both are relatively balanced, so the “Shellfish” Pokémon can make use of both physical and special attacks. Instead, Blastoise obviously emphasizes defense with the third-highest Defense and second-highest Special Defense of any starter. Blastoise’s utility, however, extends beyond its bulk, and its true value is in its versatility.
Its natural defenses make Blastoise a solid tank-type Pokémon, while its hidden ability, Rain Dish, gives it some sustain in rainy conditions it wouldn’t otherwise have. Rest and Sleep Talk can get around some of that, or Rain Dance and Iron Defense can help Blastoise build up its bulk directly. Blastoise makes a natural fit into the role of a defensive spinner, named for the move Rapid Spin, which clears the field of hazards, an essential element in a lot of competitive play, while its Mega Evolution seamlessly allows it to transition into an offensive spinner or an all-out assault tank more effectively than ever before. And with a wide variety of attack types available to it, Blastoise can often drown unsuspecting opponents’ hopes. Not to mention its impeccable design from start to finish. While there are better bulk water types and more efficient all-out attackers, Squirtle is always effective in a Red and Blue playthrough and is, in a phrase, always a sturdy pick.
Cyndaquil fits into my favorite category of Pokémon, fast and furious. Statistically, Cyndaquil’s stats will look a little familiar to anyone who has played with a Charizard as the two Pokémon’s stats are a perfect mirror of one another. While Charizard has the edge over Typhlosion with an extra typing, a wider movepool, and not one but two Mega Evolutions, Typhlosion is still a reliable special attacker elegant in the simplicity of its approach. With reliable Speed and a formidable Special Attack, Typhlosion easily erupts into life with lethal force. Those stats paired with ungodly attacks like Eruption, which hits with excessive force until the user’s HP drops, and Typhlosion makes for a sure-fire sweeper.
While other fire starters offer wider utility for much the same strategy, including the faster, better specialist Delphox, Typhlosion benefits from better-balanced stats overall, ensuring the “Volcano Pokémon” can utilize physical attacks too. That tradeoff becomes all the more worth it since Cyndaquil has access to Thunder Punch amongst other strong physical attacks. Not that Typhlosion necessarily needs a strong physical arsenal with special attacks Focus Blast, Hidden Power Grass, and even Extrasensory at its disposal. While situational, if a Typhlosion with its hidden ability, Flash Fire, can lure an opponent into hitting it with a fire type attack, perhaps through a well-timed switch in, not only will Typhlosion not take damage, but its fire type attacks will also deal fifty percent more damage, bringing likely half of Typhlosion’s moveset to blisteringly high power levels. Not to mention that the Cyndaquil line maintains one of the absolute best starter designs throughout all of its evolutions. While Typhlosion could unbelievably benefit from a Mega and an additional typing, it remains a reliable favorite and could be a top ten contender.
Unlike Sceptile that peaked during its premiere generation and quickly declined, Totodile was ahead of its time. Introduced in an era when all water-based moves were special attacks, Totodile couldn’t adequately utilize its best stat or make the most of its moveset. Where the physical/special system introduced in Diamond and Pearl thoroughly undermined Sceptile, for Feraligatr, it was an absolute game-changer. Paired with Feraligatr’s hidden ability, Sheer Force, which boosts the power of moves with a secondary effect by thirty percent at the cost of losing that effect, and Feraligatr’s potential damage output has gone from mediocre to truly monstrous. With a solid arsenal providing decent type coverage to take advantage of this ability, including STAB moves, Waterfall, and Liquidation that are suddenly hitting harder than a Hydro Pump but with far more consistency, this gator makes a mean sweeper that can take down almost any opponent through, well, sheer force.
With exception, ideal starter designs should, in my eyes, start off incredibly cute and end in a ferocious-looking monster, a precedent set by the original starters. Feraligatr and Typhlosion typify this for the Johto region with designs that rival and blend with the Kanto starters perfectly. While Totodile certainly has a bad case of the awkward tween stage, it culminates in one of the best-designed, fiercest looking starters yet. It’s not all smooth sailing with Totodile, though. Feraligatr’s largest liability is its Speed. Luckily, the “Big Jaw Pokémon” can be bred with Dragon Dance, which boosts both its Speed and its Attack stat. Totodile also has access to Aqua Jet, which, while not boosted by Sheer Force, is a physical water attack with turn priority. While later water starters inevitably made a bigger splash than Feraligatr, this Pokémon has a near unrivaled bite, and I hope the Johto starters eventually get the Mega treatment and their proper place in the spotlight.
The third fastest starter with the fourth-highest Attack, Cinderace is very much the physical counterpart to Inteleon, similarly capable of attacking with blistering speed and phenomenal force. Like Intelleon, Cinderace does suffer from some of the same limitations, namely mono-typing and consequent narrowly focused moveset to highlight its high Attack stat. Cinderace, however, is a versatile team player with the pace and strength to get around defenders and the field awareness and technical skill to play midfield and set its team up for success. This versatility comes courtesy of strong utility moves in addition to a range of standout physical, offensive coverage. Most notably, Cinderace’s signature Court Change, which actually swaps the effects on either end of the field rather than merely removing them, making a type typically susceptible to entry hazards the best defense against them.
Even more substantial, Cinderace’s hidden ability, Libero, is the second coming one of the best offensive abilities in the game, Protean, which changes the user’s type to that of the move it is about to use, turning every attack Cinderace uses into a STAB attack. While its physical attack pool is limited, that does make the arsenal of powerful coverage attacks, including Iron Head, Zen Headbutt, and Gunk Shot, even more powerful. Scorbunny isn’t without its weaknesses. Court Change all but necessitates Heavy-Duty Boots, limiting the items the striker can hold and don’t dare dream of putting this bunny on defense with its poor bulk. Its design, meanwhile, is clever and charming if a little cartoonish. It might be a rookie now, but with a bit more experience and Libero under its belt, Cinderace is sure to be a star player in no time.
Despite being the least popular of the Kanto starters, Bulbasaur has consistently maintained its status as the most competitively viable original starter and the best early starter for a Kanto playthrough. Anyone who remembers the broken Toxic/Leech Seed combo immediately recognizes the utility of the “Seed Pokémon,” and while Venusaur still makes an excellent defensive, attritional attacker, its utility extends far beyond that. Bulbasaur is beautifully balanced, maintaining respectable bulk and sustain with its high Special Defense, decent HP and Defense, and access to restorative attacks including Leech Seed, Giga Drain, and Synthesis while still making for a strong attacker with its high Special Attack. In fact, with hidden ability Chlorophyll, which doubles Venusaur’s speed in strong sunlight, Venusaur becomes a sensational special attacker capable of an instant Solar Beam! Set up with a Sunny Day or paired with previously popular competitive picks with the Drought ability like Groudon and Mega Charizard Y, and even the most passive Venusaur easily becomes the aggressor.
Alternatively, Venusaur can persist in the passive approach with the ever-venomous Leech Seed, Toxic build, which has only been enhanced by Venusaur’s bulky, easily sustainable Mega Evolution. While Venusaur offers a lot of versatility, it has a fairly limited range of attack coverage, not that it makes much difference with the level of efficiency Venusaur achieves with what it has. Aesthetically, Venusaur also leaves something to be desired, especially with how attractive Bulbasaur and Ivysaur both look, but that’s easily overlooked for such a classic monster. The last grass Pokémon on this list, it’s too often grass starters get the short end of the stick. Bulbasaur is the exception. Fans may have flocked to this flower’s counterparts early on, but with time Bulbasaur has blossomed into one tough toad that should never be overlooked.
Some see Empoleon’s slow speed, ground weakness, or limited move coverage and incorrectly assume it’s not a good Pokémon, when, in reality, Empoleon is perhaps the single most versatile Pokémon on this list. Empoleon has an exclusive water/steel typing, eliminating its grass weakness and providing it with an insane ten resistances and one full-on immunity. That’s the second most resistances possible—period. While its base Speed is low, Piplup boasts the fourth-highest Special Attack and third-highest Special Defense of any starter while its HP, Attack, and Defense are all respectable in their own right. With its unique, defensive typing, substantial bulk, intimidating Special Attack, reliable physical attack, and specific moveset, Empoleon can conceivably fit into the roles of special wall, support, staller, pivot, special sweeper, physical sweeper, or an uncanny hybrid of any of these.
While type coverage is limited, Empoleon has access to everything it needs to fulfill these diverse roles beautifully. With Scald, Defog, Stealth Rock, Toxic, Yawn, Knock Off, and Roar, Piplup can play special support with a nasty punch all its own. With Protect and Aqua Ring on top of those, Empoleon plays a mean stall game. With access to Agility or built into a Trick Room team, it can easily overcome its weak Speed and transition into a daunting special sweeper packed with Surf, Ice Beam, Grass Knot, and Flash Cannon. Or, with Swords Dance on top of the hidden ability Defiant, raising its attack two stages when its stats are lowered, Empoleon can make an unexpected physical sweeper. Empoleon can also play the pivotal pivot position, utilizing its defensive disposition to absorb hits, retaliate, and transition into teammates while providing checks and counters across the board. Minding the Earthquakes, Empoleon can be an enormous asset or even the core of a team. Plus, aesthetically, they don’t come much cuter and then cooler than the “Emperor Pokémon,” with its bladed wings and trident crown. Vive l’empereur.
The most divisive starter in recent memory, Incineroar, is wildly popular with some audiences and laughed off by others. Initially, with its low-Speed stat matching Empoleon’s and only one base stat breaching 100 (never mind that it’s the fifth-highest attack stat of any starter), Litten was written off as bad. Context, it seems, is everything. Incineroar began gaining traction in the VGC (Video Game Championships or competitive Pokémon play) at the end of the 2017 season before the release of its hidden ability, Intimidate. According to Pikalytics, it was the most used Pokémon for the entirety of VGC 2018 and 2019, where Incineroar’s usage didn’t dip below seventy percent, decisively making it the most competitively used Pokémon both of those years. Some might point to the advent of Litten’s hidden ability to explain the change. In reality, little actually changed beyond knowledgeable players seeing the insane utility of a written-off Pokémon in a doubles format.
That utility can’t be overstated. Incineroar’s fire/dark typing offers many offensive and defensive benefits, including immunity to popular psychic picks, an incredibly deep movepool with immense coverage, and strong supportive moves. Though frequently supportive, Incineroar is far from passive, supplying brutal but beneficial blows with Fake Out and Knock Off or outright incinerating opposition with Flare Blitz. Intimidate, which lowers both opponent Pokémon’s Attack upon entry, paired with generous bulk, ensures Incineroar will last in a fight and can provide a perfect pivot. Not only does Incineroar have access to Fake Out, it supplied perhaps the best fake-out in Pokémon history when it was first leaked and later revealed with its suggestive, fighter-like appearance only to end up dark type in what reads like a calculated troll from The Pokémon Company. Admittedly over the top, Incineroar’s appearance has really grown on me since then, and this cat’s inclusion in Smash Bros. is a welcome one. Like Empoleon before it, popularity, or lack thereof, doesn’t define a Pokémon’s potential.
Here we are, the top five, and probably the most controversial position on this whole list. I’ve approached this list as objectively as possible, taking as wide a perspective as I’m able to supply, all in the effort of achieving the most accurate ranking list possible…but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel great putting Blaziken in its proper place. Uber tier or not, Blaziken is not the best starter, despite frequent fan perspective and historical usage. Blaziken does supply a consistent sweeping strategy with its god-tier hidden ability, Speed Boost, which boosts Blaziken’s Speed one stage per turn. By using Protect turn one, Blaziken can safely receive a boost to its Speed, at which point it’s likely to be faster than its opponent and can exploit its exceptional Attack and Special Attack stats with a strong set of typically fire and fighting moves.
While Blaziken’s movepool features some truly amazing attacks, including Flare Blitz, Blaze Kick, Sky Uppercut, High Jump Kick, and Brave Bird, it lacks coverage depth, and failing to supply the proper coverage or an answer to Trick Room can result in this build falling flat on its face. It’s also predictable and all too easily checked post X and Y, especially with Blaziken, and even Mega Blaziken’s, poor bulk. Failing to net the OHKO means this chicken is fried. Speed Boost is too good to overlook, but without it, Blaziken might pack a mean hook, but not much else. All of that had minimal impact on Blaziken’s rank; it’s an admittedly top-tier Pokémon. Why Blaziken is only rank five, and not two or three, is it’s aesthetic. Blaziken is an awkward-looking man-chicken, and not in a cool way like Hawlucha (who’s actually a hawk guy). Flaming bellbottoms, blonde, winged hair running into chest hair, maybe Blaziken is a 70s martial arts movie citation I don’t get, but I can’t dig this Digimon-looking mother clucker. Conceptually cool and on the verge of greatness, it’s ultimately just too humanoid. Its Mega is a bit better with the Tekken hair, but not much. Not the best in Ruby and Sapphire, and not a bad starter by any means, but to each their own.
The follow-up to Blaziken and the second fire/fighting starter in a row, it is easy to understand why the Hoenn and Sinnoh fire starters are compared so often. With better Speed, more reliable move coverage, a stronger moveset, and less reliance on the one or two strategies Blaziken implement, Infernape makes for a stronger, more versatile pick nearly every time, even without Speed Boost. Actually, with access to priority moves like Fake Out and Acrobatics, Infernape can reliably counter Mega Blaziken, even securing an OHKO after one Swords Dance, after Blaziken has received entry damage or inflicted self-damage having missed an attack, or by simply holding a Flying Gem. Barring Brave Bird, which Infernape can use Protect against, Mega Blaziken has nothing in its arsenal to do the same.
While it doesn’t have Speed Boost, Chimchar is in a reliable speed tier and the fourth fastest starter. What it does have is hidden ability Iron Fist that boosts the power of punches by twenty percent. That includes Fire Punch, Thunder Punch, priority move Mach Punch, and stat-boosting Power-Up Punch. Securing a hidden ability Infernape isn’t overly necessary, though, as even standard Blaze Infernape has access to some stellar moves, including Focus Blast, Vacuum Wave, Grass Knot, U-Turn, and Gunk Shot. Plus, with a design based on Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from classic Chinese epic Journey to the West, and inspiration for Dragon Ball’s Goku, you really can’t go wrong, especially with flaming hair that may be a very direct Super Saiyan citation. Now, if we could only get a Mega Evolution for the “Flame Pokémon,” maybe one that turns its hair blue or silvery white with a new signature ability called “Super Blue” or “Ultra Instinct,” or something along those lines, that would be super.
Hoenn counterpart Blaziken may benefit from one of the best-hidden abilities in the game, but since its debut, Swampert has boasted one of the best typings of any starter. Not only does Mudkip’s water/ground typing nullify its weakness to electric types, it leaves Swampert with only one weakness. Statistically, Swampert is very comparable to Incineroar, but with a bit more bulk and a slightly less powerful Attack stat, still leaving it with the sixth-best Attack of any starter and just shy of even Blaziken’s. Paired with decent move type coverage and exceptional STAB moves, including Waterfall and Earthquake, Mudkip makes for a powerful pivot and defensive core, endlessly enduring hits with its stellar bulk and capable of hitting back even harder.
While its hidden ability, Damp, is only situationally helpful, negating suicide strategies involving self-destructive moves, Mudkip is one of the rare examples that can make exceptional use of its standard ability, Torrent, courtesy of its bountiful bulk. Consequently, bringing Swampert below one-third of its HP can be a costly mistake as suddenly, its water-based attacks are doing fifty percent more damage. More often than not now, Swampert is used as a sweeper thanks to its Mega Evolution, which greatly enhances its attack and bulk while giving it access to the ability Swift Swim, which doubles its speed in the rain. Paired with Kyogre or rain dance, this “Mud Fish” is sure to rain on your parade. Plus, based on a Necturus (mudpuppy) or axolotl, Mudkip remains one of the most unique and creative designs in all of Pokémon. This “Mud Fish” might know how to get down and dirty, but make no mistake, competitively and casually, Swampert consistently cleanups.
One of the most recognized Pokémon globally and one of the most popular Pokémon in franchise history, Charizard ranks in number two. To veteran players, that position might seem a little inflated for what Charizard offers, but despite the blasé reception the original fire starter instills in many long-term fans these days, carefully examining everything from design to utility, Charizard is genuinely an exceptionally well-designed, versatile Pokémon. Rank undoubtedly boosted by its design, Charizard boasts one of the best, if not the very best (like no one ever was!), designs of any starter. Don’t even get me started on its charcoal-colored shiny variant! Not that its stats are anything to scoff at, with an impressive Speed and strong Special Attack, making Charizard an ideal special sweeper. With Dragon Dance to enhance Speed and Attack and its hidden ability, Solar Power, to boost its special attack in sunlight at the cost of some of its HP, the “Flame Pokémon” is an excellent play on a warm, sunny day!
Charizard also offers pretty insane coverage with access to flying, fire, fighting, grass, ground, rock, dark, and dragon moves, plus an electric move in Thunder Punch! While a secondary flying type has a lot of the same effectiveness as fire, it eliminates and ground weakness Charizard might otherwise have and gains access to Roost for solid health regeneration. That does leave Charizard even more susceptible to rock-type attacks, but with a potential Solar Beam and Focus Blast under its wing, rock Pokémon should be weary facing off against this fiery fiend. It’s difficult to distinguish base Charizard from its two Mega Evolutions, Mega Charizard X and Y, which give immense utility as a sweeper and wallbreaker with new abilities (Tough Claws and Drought), a new typing for X (fire/dragon), and stellar stat boost for both, which have made Charizard a staple in the metagame since X and Y. Maybe not the strongest candidate on the list, Charizard is a fan favorite for a reason and more than deserving of its high position.
Greninja is emphatically the greatest starter of all time. Well designed if unassuming at first, no one could’ve anticipated that Froakie, the “Bubble Frog,” would transform into the absolutely lethal ninja that Greninja is known as today. In an obscene Speed tier amidst Megas and legendaries, Greninja boasts the fastest Speed of any starter. That Speed, paired with a menacing Attack and Special Attack, makes the “Ninja Pokémon” the biggest offensive threat on this list. With a truly expansive movepool courtesy of a strong water/dark typing, Froakie can strike down almost any opposition before they have time to react.
Equipped with its ungodly hidden ability, Protean, which alters its typing to match the move purely it’s about to use, Greninja can pick apart entire teams with exclusively STAB attacks while circumventing common checks and counters simultaneously. A fighting Pokémon, for instance, that should normally be super effective against Greninja’s dark typing, might suddenly find itself resisted or entirely ineffective if Greninja is about to use a psychic or ghost type move depending on the coverage Greninja runs, all that assuming the fighting Pokémon is faster than Greninja in the first place. Alternatively, Battle Bond ability Greninja sees frequent use thanks to its Mega Evolution alternative, Ash form, which enhances its Speed and both of its attacks while boosting the power of Greninja’s signature move, Water Shuriken, making it a devastating priority move. Able to overcome its lack of bulk with insane Speed, Greninja’s greatest weakness is perhaps its “four-move syndrome” and limitations to the maximum coverage it can run at a given time. On top of all of that, the list of Pokémon with better designs than Greninja in the entire franchise is concise, its tongue-scarf an impeccable touch. The list of cooler shiny variants, compared to Greninja’s ninja black variant, is even shorter. Greninja’s caliber not only makes it the number one best starter but also proves it’s a top-tier Pokémon in general.
Not all starters are created equal, and that’s a shame. Some have inescapable weaknesses; others have been granted god-tier abilities so phenomenal they’ve historically earned those Pokémon bans. Despite that, each starter has fans rallying behind it, using them and enjoying them in spite of their flaws and status. Who’s your favorite, and, if I got it wrong, who’s the best starter (just be ready to support your claim!)? Here’s to eight generations of beloved Pokémon starters and the adventures we’ll take with hopefully many more to come!
Final Fun Facts:
Pokemon Generations Ranked by Starter Average
- Generation I- Kanto (Red, Blue, Yellow)
- Generation III- Hoenn (Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald)
- Generation IV- Sinnoh (Diamond, Pearl, Platinum)
- Generation VII- Alola (Sun, Moon, Ultra Sun, Ultra Moon)
- Generation VI- Kalos (X, Y)
- Generation VIII- Galar (Sword, Shield)
- Generation II- Johto (Gold, Silver, Crystal)
- Generation V- Unova (Black, White, Black 2, White 2)
Pokemon Starter Types Ranked by Starter Average
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on April 15, 2019.
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