The Rise And Fall Of Competitive Pokemon's Most Hated Bird, Talonflame

Talonflame, a fire/flying Pokemon, took over the competitive scene after it was added to the monster compendium with Pokemon X & Y. For the last three years, wise competitive players made sure to prepare for Talonflame's appearance on the enemy team. Everything changed after the release of Sun and Moon.

Illustration: Angelica Alzona

At first, many believed Talonflame was garbage. It was only until players wrapped their heads around the new mechanics that people understood Talonflame's potential. X & Y added an ability called Gale Wings, which let Flying-type moves happen before most others. Talonflame also had access to one of the most powerful Flying-type attacks, Brave Bird, a move with a power of 120. With a damage boosting item (like a Life Orb or Choice Band), Brave Bird could tear through an opponent's Pokemon with ease. Talonflame also couldn't be out-sped by other monsters with regular moves or items, making Talonflame one of the game's best nukes.

On top of that, Talonflame was also a good support monster. Tailwind, which doubles the speed of a player's entire team for multiple turns, can enable powerful but otherwise slow Pokemon to get their devastating attacks off before getting knocked out. In the hyper-offensive early days of the VGC 2014 season, Talonflame put in work.

Talonflame could be found on dozens of top-teams across multiple Regional Championship events, and it was used by a whopping 41.46 per cent of competitors during that Winter Regionals. Its popularity died down until it was only on about 1/5th of all teams, but it was a key member of Se-jun Park's World Championship team (yes, the one with Pachirisu).

2015 was the start of Talonflame's initial decline, since the popularity of Intimidate and Rock Slide made it an extremely dangerous environment for the bravest of birds. But it had a resurgence in 2016, as a member of one of VGC's most dominant archetypes: The Big 6 (Primal Groudon, Xerneas, Mega-Kangaskhan, Mega-Salamence, Smeargle, Talonflame). Since it was so important to attack first in that year's metagame, Talonflame's ability to set up Tailwind was crucial. Plus, its priority Brave Bird out-sped a powered-up Xerneas and its fire type resisted boosted fairy attacks.

During those few years atop the pile of powerful Pokemon, Talonflame built up a reputation for itself and became a notorious meme in the community. Some players revelled in spamming Brave Bird and others raged. Its popularity with Smogon players earned it the disdained "Smogonbird" moniker (with accompanying subreddit). VGC players even named a team in their unofficial National Pokemon Association after Talonflame.

Unfortunately, Talonflame must have flown too close to the sun, and it got nerfed to the ground in Sun and Moon. Nowadays, Gale Wings only gives Flying-type moves priority if the user is at full HP, meaning that a single point of damage takes away the quality that makes it special. That damage can come from opponents, weather or even recoil from the very attack that made Gale Wings Talonflame so good in the first place. See the problem?

Having lost so much of its utility, its usual early-season popularity seems to have evaporated. To make matters worse, there are multiple Pokemon (Tapu Lele, Tsareena, Bruxish) that automatically protect themselves and allies from priority attacks. Players handled Talonflame's new status with varying degrees of shock, amusement and joy.

Talonflame still gets that one turn of priority, and it can use that to be one of the best Tailwind setters in the 2017 VGC format. Regardless, Talonflame was mostly absent within recent tournaments, so it's clear the sun is setting on the brave bird's glory days. Talonflame had a good run.

At the moment, while there aren't any Pokemon being used in exactly the same way as Talonflame once was, there are plenty threatening to usurp its popularity. Celesteela is already beloved and abhorred by many, and in record time, no less. However, if all you're looking for is literally another bird, then (and I can't believe I'm writing this) Pelipper might be what you need. Whereas Talonflame's ability was nerfed, Pelipper was buffed by letting it set up the rain with the Drizzle ability.

Actually, it's almost fitting that this Fire type is being washed away by a Water type. It's like some twisted Poke-Darwinism.


    Talonflame was not "one of the games best nukes", not by a long shot. Unless you're happy to extend the definition of nuke to the majority of evolved pokemon with a base attack stat of 81 and slap on a choice band that is.

    Of course high base power moves like Brave Bird are a major factor for Talonflame's dominance. But this article is skin deep and neglects to mention the core reasons for Talonflame's strength before Sun/Moon, like Brave Bird's type synergy with the equally powerful Flare Blitz, the attack halving will-o-wisp, and priority healing through Roost. These provided versatility to Talonflame's role on a competitive team, and was more commonly seen as a catch-all revenge killer than a hard hitting "nuke".

    In my opinion the nerf is too harsh. With the correct pokemon, Talonflame was defendible due to its average attack and limited move diversity. A Lanturn could switch in a win without fail.

    That being said, this is only from a singles perspective, a format game freak lovingly pays attention to, as seen by its absence in VGC. Not that any of this is noted in a well researched, meme-centric, short turnover article on an established gaming site such as this of course.

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