Pokémon Face-Off: Primarina vs. Empoleon

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In our last face-off, Incineroar lost a close match to the only Uber-tier starter (Blaziken) on the equivalent of a last-second field goal. The near-draw piqued my curiosity: If the Fire starter Pokémon was this good, what about the other Alolan starters? Were Decidueye and Primarina just as powerful, or would they come up short in similar comparisons?

Being a longtime Water aficionado, I decided to start my analysis with the Water-type Primarina, and see how it measured up against its past brethren. As luck would have it, one past starter in particular appears very similar to Primarina: Empoleon, the Water-type starter from the fourth generation (Diamond/Pearl/Platinum). Was this similarity only skin-deep, or would one of these Pokémon capture the crown decisively? It was face-off time!

(As always, the data in the following analysis comes from the good folks at Serebii.net.)

The Types

Primarina (Water/Fairy) Empoleon(Water/Steel)
Strong Against… 6 Types 5 Types
Ineffective Against… 0 Types 1 Type
Can’t Hit Type? No No
Resists… 6 Types 10 Types
Weak To… 3 Types 3 Types
4x Weakness? No No
Immunities? Yes (Dragon) Yes (Poison)

While Primarina enjoys a marginal advantage in terms of attack type coverage, Empoleon more than makes up for this with the resistances it gains through its Steel typing. In a close battle, this is enough to tip the scales.

Advantage: Empoleon

The Stats

Statistic Primarina Empoleon
HP 80 84
Attack 74 86
Defense 74 88
Spec. Attack 126 111
Spec. Defense 116 101
Speed 60 60
Total 530 530

While the overall stat counts are even, the two different distribution force us into an interesting dilemma:

  • On one hand, Primarina has a significantly better Spec. Attack, and Empoleon’s higher Attack is a waste due to its own Spec. Attack. With equal Speed between, Primarina seems to fit the role of “special sweeper” better than Empoleon.
  • However, Empoleon boasts a higher Defense stat, and its Spec. Defense (though less than Primarina’s) is certainly nothing to sneeze at. Combine this with its Steel typing and a slight HP advantage, and its clear that Empoleon has to bulk to take a few hits and outlast Primarina on the battlefield.

So who wears their role better? In the end, it comes down to speed: Classic “glass cannons” rely on getting their moves off before their opponent can, and Primarina’s middling Speed means it’ll be a sitting duck for opponents targeting its mediocre Defense. Empoleon is no faster, but at least its typing and slightly-better Defense give it a better chance of lasting long enough to counterpunch.

Advantage: Empoleon

The Abilities

Primarina Empoleon
Torrent Torrent
Liquid Voice Defiant

Every Water-type starter features Torrent by default, so once again the hidden abilities will decide this round. In this case, however, neither hidden ability really suits the user: Defiant boosts Empoleon’s lesser Attack stat rather than its Spec. Attack, and Liquid Voice not only reduces Primarina’s type coverage by converting voice attacks (Disarming Voice, Hyper Voice) to Water moves, but it’s likely that Primarina already has a stronger Water move (Surf, Hydro Pump, etc.) at its disposal. Empoleon earns the victory here because Defiant might occasionally be useful, but Torrent is probably the better play for both Pokémon.

Advantage: Empoleon

The Moves

Primarina Empoleon
Top 3 STAB Attacks
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Hydro Pump Water 110 S Hydro Pump Water 110 S
Moonblast Fairy 95 S Brine Water 65 S
Sparkling Aria Water 90 S Bubble Beam Water 65 S
Top 3 Non-STAB Attacks
Hyper Voice Normal 90 S Drill Peck Flying 80 P
Pound Normal 40 P Tackle Normal 40 P
Double Slap Normal 15 P Peck Flying 35 P
Other Notable Moves
Misty Terrain Prevents status conditions, halves Dragon damage Metal Claw Steel 50 P
Sing Puts opponent to sleep Swords Dance Sharply raises Attack
Disarming Voice Fairy 40 S Mist Prevent stat lowering for five turns

Yikes. Neither Pokémon has out an outstanding movepool, but it’s worth noting just how awful Empoleon’s is:

  • Its Water-type moves are either weak (Brine, Bubble Beam) or inaccurate (Hydro Pump).
  • The only Steel move it learns naturally is Metal Claw, which is incredibly weak and tied to Empoleon’s inferior Attack stat.
  • Drill Peck is the only decent non-STAB move Empoleon learns, and it’s again tied to the Pokémon’s Attack stat.
  • It’s best non-attacks are Swords Dance (again, boosting the weaker Attack stat) and Mist (which presumably blocks Defiant from activating).

Primarina’s moveset isn’t exactly stellar, but at least it has two powerful-yet-accurate STAB moves to lean on (Moonblast and Sparkling Aria), as well as some useful non-attacks (Sing, Misty Terrain). Even without decent type coverage in its arsenal, it easily earns the victory here.

Advantage: Primarina

The TMs

Primarina Empoleon
Top 4 TM Moves
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Name Type Power Phys./
Spec.
Ice Beam Ice 90 S Surf Water 90 S
Psychic Psychic 90 S Flash Cannon Steel 80 S
Shadow Ball Ghost 80 S Ice Beam Ice 90 S
Energy Ball Grass 90 S Earthquake Ground 100 P

Who needs natural type coverage when you’ve got Technical Machines?

Both Primarina and Empoleon have blessed by the TM gods with an incredible variety of potential moves. Primarina can add nasty Ice, Psychic, Ghost, and Grass moves to its arsenal (there’s a physical Flying-type there as well), while Empoleon gains Rock, Ground, Grass, Ghost, Dark, Ice, Fighting, and (most importantly) solid go-to Water and Steel moves.

The difference here, however, is that once again Empoleon is handcuffed by the fact that most of these new moves (Earthquake, Rock Slide, Shadow Claw, Brick Break, etc.) are tied to its Attack stat rather than its Spec. Attack. Primarina’s moves, in contrast, line up perfectly with its higher Spec. Attack.

Advantage: Primarina

 The Results

This is a tough call between two Pokémon who aren’t as similar as we first thought. Primarina has the moves to use and the power to back them up, but not the bulk or speed to actually make an impact. Empoleon has enough resistance to take a hit or two, but its counterpunching options are limited, and they do not sync with its strongest stats. Who has the advantage?

Just as with our last Alolan starter debate, I think it comes down to Speed, or in this case, the lack thereof. If you aren’t able to ourrun your opponents, you’d better be able to take a punch, and Empoleon can handle targeted blows better than Primarina does. Additionally, the magic of TMs give Empoleon just enough decent options for striking back, even if they are not all tied to is best Attack stat.

Winner: Empoleon

This doesn’t mean, however, that Primarina is completely usesless in battle. Against the right kind of foes (Dragon-types, or anyone that goes after its Spec. Defense rather than its Defense), Primarina is more than capable of bringing the pain. Like everything else in the Pokémon universe, it all comes down to matchups, and making sure trainers put their Pokémon in the best position to succeed.

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