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 The Starters: A Look Through Time! 
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Frost's post in the Gen 6 starter topic inspired me to make this. I was going to just post it in that topic, but it eventually evolved into an idea for its own thread, so here it is.

It had to do with the tier placement of the starters in Smogon's tier system. Delving into all the history of this myself, I found some rather interesting things.

In Gen 1, there were only three tiers: OU (Overused), UU (Underused), and Uber. (I'm not going to be counting the NFE tier at all in this.) Basically every fully-evolved Pokemon fit into either OU or UU, and Uber was reserved for Mewtwo and Mew.
In Gen 2, the BL (Borderline) tier got added - it served as a sort of holding place for Pokemon that were too good for UU, but not good enough for OU. Up until Gen 5 came out, BL always had a substantial amount of members (20+). Mewtwo and Mew got joined by Lugia, Ho-Oh, and Celebi in the Uber tier, and with each successive generation, they'd be joined by every 600+ BST legendary, plus 1 or 2 other things.
Gen 3 rolls around and we end up getting another new tier: NU (Never-Used), so if you can imagine that UU is lousy, NU must be terrible. Gen 4 kept the tiers mostly the same, throwing in the Little Cup for lulz.
Gen 5 added two new tiers to the system - RU (Rarely-Used), as a sort of border between Pokemon who weren't good enough for UU but still weren't not used at all, and BL2 (Borderline 2), which like the original BL tier isn't really a tier at all, but rather those that are too good for RU but not good enough for UU - and both BL and BL2 now only have a small handful in each.

Blah blah blah.
Now, I'm sure many of you love the starters. Where do they end up fitting into the grand scheme of things? Well, let's take a look through time, shall we?

(These figures are as of the date of posting: 15 Jan 2013.)

Gen 1: Venusaur: UU; Charizard: UU; Blastoise: UU (0% OU; 100% UU)
Gen 2: Venusaur: UU; Charizard: BL; Blastoise: UU; Meganium: BL; Typhlosion: BL; Feraligatr: UU (0% OU; 50% BL; 50% UU)
Gen 3: Venusaur: BL; Charizard: BL; Blastoise: UU; Meganium: UU; Typhlosion: BL; Feraligatr: UU; Sceptile: BL; Blaziken: BL; Swampert: OU (11% OU; 56% BL; 33% UU)
Gen 4: Venusaur: UU; Charizard: NU; Blastoise: UU; Meganium: NU; Typhlosion: NU; Feraligatr: UU; Sceptile: UU; Blaziken: UU; Swampert: OU; Torterra: UU; Infernape: OU; Empoleon: OU (25% OU; 0% BL; 50% UU; 25% NU)
Gen 5: Venusaur: OU; Charizard: NU; Blastoise: UU; Meganium: NU; Typhlosion: RU; Feraligatr: RU; Sceptile: RU; Blaziken: Uber; Swampert: UU; Torterra: NU; Infernape: OU; Empoleon: UU; Serperior: NU; Emboar: RU; Samurott: NU (7% Uber; 13% OU; 0% BL; 20% UU; 27% RU; 33% NU)


Venusaur: UU > UU > BL > UU > OU
Charizard: UU > BL > BL > NU > NU
Blastoise: UU > UU > UU > UU > UU
Meganium: n/a > BL > UU > NU > NU
Typhlosion: n/a > BL > BL > NU > RU
Feraligatr: n/a > UU > UU > UU > RU
Sceptile: n/a > n/a > BL > UU > RU
Blaziken: n/a > n/a > BL > UU > Uber
Swampert: n/a > n/a > OU > OU > UU
Torterra: n/a > n/a > n/a > UU > NU
Infernape: n/a > n/a > n/a > OU > OU
Empoleon: n/a > n/a > n/a > OU > UU
Serperior: n/a > n/a > n/a > n/a > NU
Emboar: n/a > n/a > n/a > n/a > NU
Samurott: n/a > n/a > n/a > n/a > NU


I am sure you have noticed a few things here. Gens 1 and 2 were mostly the same, not many weird tricks or anything to it. The tiers of the starters at the time stay fairly consistent, being either UU or BL for half of them. Gen 3 had a bit of a shift, given the introduction of natures and EVs, but still most of it stayed the same for the starters, although Swampert managed to shine magnificently due to a number of qualities blessed to him: solid defensive stats AND typing (Water/Ground is incredibly good, having only 1 weakness).

With Gen 4, a whole lot of things changed. The physical/special split happened, rendering some strategies possible and others impossible...but that wasn't the biggest bit. Granted, there were many other changes, like the release of Snow Warning and another Sand Streamer, but by far the biggest culprit of change was Stealth Rock - which alone has put Charizard down into NU, a position from which he will never recover. In addition, all the other starters, save the Water ones, dropped down a tier as well, whereas the newcomer starters showed amazing prominence, just like the Gen 3 starters did - Infernape and Empoleon were constantly on the watchlist. And, nearing the end of Gen 4, Smogon ended up banning two non-legendaries from the ranks of OU (Garchomp was the very first ban of Gen 4, Salamence the last, and the Lati@s were in the middle), something that up until that time was completely unprecedented.

Gen 5's release made the existence of the power creep all the more real. Right off the bat, Blaziken, a starter who had lived in relative obscurity, shot straight into the Uber tier soon after Gen 5's release, being the first and so far the only starter to do so. This action ended up setting a precedent that was alluded to back in Gen 4 with Garchomp but was and has been brought up many times: stats alone don't make a Pokemon powerful; abilities play a vital role in that too. You've got things like Blaziken, Excadrill, Genesect, and Thundurus-I banished to the uber tier (Garchomp was here too for a time), where monsters like Kyurem-B, as well as the Drought and Drizzle abilities, are given free reign in OU. More to the point, as far as the starters went, the other starter who jumped up (Venusaur) did so because of a new ability he was given (Chlorophyll), just like Blaziken (Speed Boost), and the only other starter who held his place, Infernape, did so because he remained consistently good as he did in Gen 4. And the newcomer starters end up starting out as totally and utterly sucking, poor things.

I don't want this to derail too much into a "should X have happened", so let me get to the point. Here's the question I pose.

Based on where the starter Pokemon are in the metagame tier placing right now, what are their placements indicative of? Does it say that starter Pokemon are destined forever to be mediocre, with the only real exceptions being new moves or abilities being granted to them in subsequent generations (with the Gen 3 and 4 starters standing out in particular as just being all-around good)? Or is it a sign that the metagame that exists is not a good place for the starter Pokemon to thrive, and were the metagame different (how different you want to say I'll leave up to you) they might be better and shine forth as being utterly amazing? And, while we're on the topic, how do you think Generation 6 is going to change all this? Will Blaziken stay gone? Will Blastoise stay mediocre? Is Meganium destined forever to suck?

I'd love to hear your guys' input on all this!

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Tue Jan 15, 2013 6:00 pm
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To quote Kirbshire: "Don't you know Bowser? Tiers are for queers!"
While I don't like the words he used for this, I shall agree nonetheless.
I don't like tiers. They off-set everything. Blastoise was never mediocre. Movesets are crucial, not just stats and abilities. Until Smogon updates their way of grading pokemon through the use of tiers, I don't care much for them.

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Tue Jan 15, 2013 9:57 pm
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Well, certainly starters aren't the strongest Pokemon around. With an average BST of about 530 and stats often weirdly distributed (I'm looking at you, Serperior), their first and main purpose is to be better than most Pokemon used in the story of each game, while at the same time they are not overpowered so as not to make the game very easy.
In other words, starters are not made for the metagame. For example, Blastoise can fit the position of a Rapid Spinner, but obviously other Pokemon fit the role better. Swampert was OU for a time due its bulk, but the introduction of Storm Drain and Gastrodon, it was quickly replaced. Infernape is an exception. It's a actually a glass cannon, not as strong as Deoxys-A, but better than Rampardos, with good offensive stats and speed and access to Calm Mind. Typhlosion and Charizard have an awful movepool compared to Infernape's, while Sceptile and Serperior, who are faster than Infernape, have an awful stat distribution.
Venusaur and Blaziken are at their tiers mostly because of their DW abilities, which usually don't affect the story. Both Blaziken and Venusaur have an acceptable stat distribution and a nice movepool. Those characteristics, however, are only good enough for UU. Chlorophyll and Growth are the things which keep Venusaur alive, while Speed Boost has send Blaziken to the Uber tier due to the ridiculousness of the ability (which was originally made for much weaker Pokemon).
So, to sum it up, the starters will stay mediocre because they are meant to be. Blaziken will stay Uber as long as Speed Boost doesn't find a better host, Venusaur will stay OU as long as Sun is viable. Generally, for a starter to shine in the metagame, it needs to have some unique 'gimmicks'. So I think that the starters will, in their majority, stay in the lower tiers.

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Wed Jan 16, 2013 6:18 am
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Sorry Samurott but Blastoise has always been mediocre. Due to the influx of Water-type Pokemon from day one, Blastoise always has had to compete with more useful Water-type Pokemon (Starmie, Slowbro and Lapras in RBY; Starmie, Suicune and Cloyster in GSC; Starmie, Swampert and Suicune in RSE; Starmie, Empoleon, Gyarados, etc in DPP; and now Starmie and a whole list of threats in BW) that either had better typing combinations, more specialized stat spreads or more useful movepools. The Starters are always relatively balanced out in stat distribution and that's why they suffer in the tier placements because OU, especially since the introduction of EVs, focuses on Pokemon who are more specialized. The few Starters who have managed to hit OU either had really good type combinations or a Dream World ability.

Smogon's process for tiering for the first three Generations was admittedly a little questionable because it came down to experts using theorymon to place the Pokemon in their tiers -- even then, though, the Pokemon that were in OU tended to be among the most seen in competitive battles. But for Generation IV and V, they base their tier placements on actual usage data from their servers that reveals exactly what the most used Pokemon are in each of the six main tiers.

People like to infer set-in-stone usefulness from Smogon's tier structure but that's actually pretty silly because the Pokemon series is always in flux with Dream World abilities being released, new games giving Pokemon movepool updates and the metagame itself shifting around countering the newest threats. OU simply means that these are the most commonly seen Pokemon in competitive battles at the moment; there are plenty of usable Pokemon who aren't in OU -- see Porygon2 or Chansey, who just barely fell out of OU in the last tier update -- but not enough people are using them and have found favor with a similar Pokemon who can do the job more efficiently.

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Wed Jan 16, 2013 9:16 am
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