Dragonite, The Dragon Pokémon. An extremely rarely seen marine Pokémon. Its intelligence is said to match that of humans. It is said that this Pokémon lives somewhere in the sea and that it flies. However, it is only a rumor. It is said that this Pokémon constantly flies over the immense seas and rescues drowning people. This marine Pokémon has an impressive build that lets it freely fly over raging seas without trouble. It is said that somewhere in the ocean lies an island where these gather. Only they live there. It can circle the globe in just 16 hours. It is a kindhearted Pokémon that leads lost and foundering ships in a storm to the safety of land. It can fly in spite of its big and bulky physique.
According to Wikipedia, “An inferiority complex is a feeling that one is inferior to others in some way. Such feelings can arise from an imagined or actual inferiority in the afflicted person.” Why is this relevant? Because we're talking about Dragonite, who carries a huge inferiority complex to its fellow Dragon, Salamence.
Let's wind the clocks back three generations, back to the good old days of Kanto. The Dragon type was unique to Dragonite's evolution line and it stood out as a strong individual. Move forward to the days of Johto, and despite the addition of Kingdra, it still remained top dog as far as Dragons were concerned. But then Hoenn came along, and suddenly Dragonite lost its crown as Salamence took the limelight.
It's impossible to analyse Dragonite without comparing it to Salamence. Both are Dragon-Flying types, both carry strong attacking stats (physical and special) and both pack good sweeping move-pools. In particular, both share Dragon Dance. When Diamond and Pearl began, Dragonite did have a nice niche over Salamence. It could use Dragon Dance and Outrage, unlike its Dragon sibling. Unfortunately, a Platinum move-tutor has robbed it of this unique niche, and as a result, its popularity suffers more.
The main difference between the two is Speed and ability. Salamence is significantly faster, which is favourable with or without Dragon Dance. Salamence also has Intimidate, so whilst Dragonite actually has a better Defence stat, Salamence takes physical hits with more ease. Over-all, when it comes to straightforward sweeping (i.e. with a Choice item or Dragon Dance), Salamence is almost always the stronger choice.
Let's look at the positives though. Dragonite's attacking move-pool is slightly more expansive than Salamence's. In particular, it packs Focus Punch, grabs Superpower from Platinum and carries a few more special moves (Thunderbolt being of particular note). Its supporting options are also more expansive, adding moves such as Thunder Wave and Light Screen to its repertoire. One more positive in Dragonite's favour is superior Special Defence. With Garchomp cast-out to the Uber tier, most Ice Beam users are only aiming to OHKO Salamence. Dragonite's superior Special Defence means, that whilst Ice Beam will hurt a lot, Ice moves that would usually OHKO Salamence tend to 2KO Dragonite. This little extra bit of survival can make or break tight games, so it isn't to be underestimated.
Life isn't easy for Dragonite. When players select their team, Dragonite always has to be compared against Salamence. Even if it gets the nod ahead of Salamence, players still need to question whether it's worth adding a Pokémon with a 4x weakness to their team (since Ice moves are common, and if your team is already rife with Ice problems, you don't want to add one more). One can only imagine how popular Dragonite would be if Salamence had never shown up. Unfortunately, Salamence is around, and whilst Salamence almost always finds itself in the top 10 of competitive popularity, Dragonite barely scrapes into the top 40. It's still too strong for the Underused environment, so unfortunately, no matter how much or little Dragonite is used, it'll always have to ply its trade in the Standard battling environment.
Inner Focus: prevents Dragonite from being flinched (note: this does not apply to Focus Punch flinching). It's a pretty forgettable ability. It's not a useless ability, it's just you'll never know when it's being useful, and there's nothing outstanding about it. Moves that flinch tend to have a lowish chance of causing a flinch (20-30%) and they have to come from a faster opponent.
The most frequent use of flinch-abuse comes from the “para-flinch” strategy, and in that situation, you'll be more concerned about the paralysis aspect of that combination rather than the flinch factor.
- Dragon Dance
Where was I? Oh yeah: inferiority complex, niche, Platinum, inferiority complex again. This used to be the move-set that made Dragonite stand-out against Salamence, but short of Fire Punch, Salamence pretty much has the same move-set. Regardless, this move-set still remains Dragonite's most popular option.
The strategy is quite straightforward. At some point, probably late in the battle, Dragonite will get a chance to fire off a Dragon Dance (or two) and then go on a sweep. Outrage is a base power 120 move with STAB, so as you can imagine, it's quite the menace when boosted. You shouldn't be too quick to fire off Outrage however, since you'll be locked into using it for 2-3 turns and will be left with the confusion status afterwards. Being locked into it is the main problem, since it means Dragon-resistant Steel types can switch in and take advantage. Obviously, this is why Earthquake is there, decimating any Steel types who try to switch-in. You also have Fire Punch for the Steel types who aren't grounded (Bronzong, Skarmory and the odd one with Magnet Rise), so as long as you play your cards right, Steel types shouldn't be a problem. If you aren't overly concerned about Steel types who aren't weak to Earthquake then you can freely run Roost, which'll give Dragonite a bit of healing (which helps it fill in a supporting role, since it does have some useful resistances).
Items…items…items. For once, this isn't an occasion where you just stick on Leftovers (although it is, of course, an option). The Yache Berry is very popular on the 4x weak Dragons, since it softens the Ice blow and allows for one more move (which can make or break your sweeping opportunity). The Lum Berry is also popular, since it'll cure Dragonite of any annoying status it may pick up (such as Burn from a Flamethrower), and, if it isn't used up on a status, it'll cure Confusion at the end of Outrage (meaning Dragonite can get right back to sweeping without worrying about hitting itself in confusion).
Finally, you have the slightly more 'generic' option in Life Orb. This move-set very much has a bulldozer mentality. It isn't about super-effective hits, it's all about power. You are trying to stack as much raw power as you can gather and then sling it at the opponent. Life Orb gives you a 1.3x raw boost, at the cost of 10% HP per offensive attack. It's well documented that this damage, combined with other passive sources of damage (like Stealth Rock and Sandstorm) can lead to a self-inflicted KO. It also reduces Dragonite's switching-in options, since it'll obviously want to pick up as little damage as possible from other sources.
Leftovers is obviously an option, as it is on every Pokémon. If you're using Roost, you have a bit more in the way of defensive capabilities, and Leftovers will add to that. Dragonite does have a nice collection of resistances to take advantage of, so it can provide defensive support to its team-mates.
- Draco Meteor
Salamence is still humming the tune “anything you can do I can do better“, but this may be one area that Dragonite can come out on top. Whilst it packs a weaker (though still powerful) Draco Meteor, what it does have over Salamence is access to good Fighting moves, allowing it to dispose of Blissey much more easily than its sibling. Its Fighting moves also fill in where Salamence Hydro Pump would, catching a super-effective hit on Heatran (albeit a less powerful but more accurate one). Focus Punch was the main option before Platinum. You predict the switch, take focus and hope you predicted right (averaging 75% damage against Blissey). If you got things wrong, then you'd be stuck in an unfavourable position, being Choice-locked into the easily-flinched Focus Punch. Superpower removes that 'must get it right' factor to an extent, and still 2KOs Blissey (the first hit averages 60% damage and the second hit finishes it off with a 40% damage average). It lowers your Attack and Defence stats, but with a Choice set, you'll be doing plenty of switching about, and this isn't an overly concerning side-effect.
Flamethrower or Fire Blast are necessities for hitting most Steel types (especially since many aren't too concerned about Superpower, Metagross and Skarmory for example). You also have one extra little edge on Salamence. Dragonite can use Thunderbolt, scoring a neat super-effective hit on most Water types and a very deadly 4x hit on Gyarados. However, you can still drop Thunderbolt in favour of Dragon Pulse, giving you a reliable sweeping move to fall back on later in the game (mimicking the same strategy that Salamence would use).
- Superpower / Focus Punch
Again, you're mimicking Salamence a bit, benefiting from the slight difference brought by Fighting moves. Superpower is usually the safer option, since much of what Focus Punch can OHKO will be 2KOed by Superpower. The main reason to use Focus Punch is to snatch that KO immediately (since an opponent brought into 2KO range will probably flee, and may be able to recover its HP at a later stage). Earthquake deals with the Steel types who aren't concerned with Fighting moves (like Metagross) and generally provides a good range of type coverage.
A Band-boosted Outrage still has bulldozer potential. Lacking Speed makes it less of an offensive stampede, but a Choice Band boost matches a Dragon Dance boost as far as Attack is concerned, so provided Dragonite isn't matched with faster opponents, its Outrage will still perform well.
The final move-slot is negotiable. Thunderpunch is nice for hitting Gyarados as well as other Water types. Fire Punch is useful for Skarmory and Bronzong (and the odd Steel type with Magnet Rise) and Dragon Claw is useful for providing a STAB move that won't have you locked into repeating it for 2-3 turns.
- Draco Meteor
Scarf-sets are usually about 'revenge-killing', getting a free switch-in after a team-mate has fallen and KOing the foe who slayed them. Dragonite is pretty much the same, and of course, Choice Scarf helps to make up for its rather inadequate (by OU standards) Speed.
Draco Meteor is always beloved for its close-to-broken power combined with the fact that only one type resists it. Likewise, Outrage is beloved for its ability to bulldoze through teams because of its high power. Either could be dropped for their reliable counterparts (Dragon Pulse or Dragon Claw) and in fact, both could be dropped in favour of having just one solid reliable Dragon move (or one solid unreliable Dragon move, it's all really optional).
Anyway, you have either two or three move-slots left. Let's look at your supporting cast:
Earthquake is beloved by all for its type coverage, its super-effective hit on (Dragon-resistant) Steel types and all-round good power.
Superpower gives it Fighting coverage. The 4x hits on Weavile and Tyranitar are particularly notable, and you still gain some Steel coverage (although much less, since a lot of Steel types are indifferent to Fighting moves).
Flamethrower is very nice for slaying Steel types. If you're using Superpower, the pairing will put down all Steel opponents. You still catch a super-effective hit on Weavile for a comfortable 2KO. You can obviously drop this for Fire Blast if you want, just for more power. When you factor in the super-effective multiplier, that little extra damage can be really worthwhile (e.g. Flamethrower (no SAtk EVs) does 55-65% damage to Weavile, whilst Fire Blast does 70-80% damage to Weavile).
Thunderbolt is useful for the Water hit, Waters being notorious fans of Ice moves. The 4x hit on Gyarados isn't always an OHKO, but it's always a big chunk of damage, and for most other Water Pokémon, Thunderbolt is at least a 2KO.
This is one area where Dragonite shows complete superiority over its Dragon brethren. Unfortunately, Dragonite doesn't establish itself as a strong support Pokémon. Dragonite isn't the only Pokémon to have a decent supporting move-pool, decent defensive stats and decent offensive stats. Zapdos is a good example of a Pokémon who can give Dragonite a lot of competition in this area, and whilst Dragonite does fine defensively, it isn't a defensive wall, and walling abilities tend to go hand-in-hand with supporting move-sets.
Anyway, the move-set is rather straightforward. Roost is a source of reliable recovery and in addition, by dropping your Flying type during the Roost, that awkward 4x Ice weakness becomes a more manageable 2x weakness. Thunder Wave effectively shuts down a lot of sweeping opposition. The final supporting move is optional. Light Screen is very nice to give Dragonite some temporary special walling abilities. In particular, Screen and Roost will soften Ice Beams greatly, which can throw a slight wrench in your opponent's usual Dragon-slaying strategies. Heal Bell (and its likeness, Aromatherapy) aren't too widely spread, making it an attractive option. It rids Dragonite and its team of statuses, which is rather useful. It's awkward to get a good Dragonite with Heal Bell though, since Heal Bell is an XD only move.
No Pokémon should be without offensive options. Dragon Claw does fine off of Dragonite's strong base Attack stat, and its wide neutral type coverage means it'll score respectable damage on most opponents.
EVs and Nature:
Another option you have with Dragonite is to make it 'bulky', particularly if you're carrying Roost and Leftovers. Dragonite has some useful resistances, and with some EV support it can provide a bit of a dual-role as a defender and then an attacker. In this case, Speed will have to take a big step back, and you'll be aiming to fire off two Dances instead of one to compensate for the loss of Speed. You can even go heavy on Special Defence, since with Roost dropping the Ice weakness from 4x to 2x, you can actually stall out most Ice Beam users.
If you're satisfied with 388 Speed after a Dance, then pack Adamant and go with the straightforward sweeper EV spread:
EVs: 4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spd
If you aren't satisfied with just 388 Speed after a Dance, then you need to tag on Jolly and drop some offensive might. On the bright side, this gets you up to 284 Speed (426 after a Dance), so you'll get a comfortable jump on pretty much every other Pokémon in the game (barring super-speedy Scarfers, Deoxys and Ninjask):
EVs: 4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spd
If you want to make your Dancer bulky, then you're sacrificing Speed for defensive stats (you want at least enough to hit the 202 marker, getting you up to 404 after two Dances). In addition, you may want to consider dropping your Attack a little (after all, you won't be getting a clean-and-easy sweep until two Dances have been used):
EVs: 52 HP / 180 Atk / 24 Spd / 252 SDef
With the Special Attack nature boost:
EVs: 64 Atk / 192 Spd / 252 SAtk
EVs: 4 Atk / 252 Spd / 252 SAtk
With the Speed nature boost:
EVs: 56 Atk / 200 Spd / 252 SAtk
EVs: 4 Atk / 252 Spd / 252 SAtk Hasty Nature (+Spd, -Def) / Naive Nature (+Spd, -SDef)
EVs: 4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spd
Now, if you are going with the +Speed nature, you want at least 270 Speed, to outrun Scarf-Heracross and the other Pokémon lingering around that Speed number (Aerodactyl, Jolteon, Agility-Metagross, etc.). Of course, going with max isn't an awful idea, especially when you consider a lot of Pokémon like to hang out around this number.
Then of course, worse still, you need to balance your EV investment between the offensive stats. If you aren't going with a Speed boosting nature, then you can get a fair chunk of points off of a +Atk nature. The amount of Attack and Special Attack you'll want depends on what moves you're using. If you want balanced offensive stats, then just max out your Special Attack and give a nature boost (or not) to your Attack stat. At base, Dragonite's Attack stat actually outmatches its Special Attack unless Dragonite gets a +SAtk nature. If you intend to use Scarf-Dragonite, customise it to your own preferences.
EVs: 4 Atk / 252 Spd / 252 SAtk
EVs: 252 HP / 96 Def / 56 Spd / 104 SDef
Max HP, 250 Defence, 210 Speed and 288 Special Defence, assuming Max IVs. Like I said, it's just an example, if you use a support Dragonite, you'll more than likely want to customise it to your team's needs.
Dragon Claw, Surf, Ice Beam, Aerial Ace, Toxic, Safeguard, Roost + Life Orb.
Dragon Claw has been mentioned before, but it deserves one more mention. Outrage is powerful, does lots of damage, but locks you into repeating it 2-3 times and then leaves you confused. If you want a safe and reliable physical Dragon move, use Dragon Claw. It's a viable alternative on every move-set that has Outrage listed.
Surf is an option on the Specs set for hurting Heatran (more than Superpower would). You still pick up some nice coverage on Rock and Ground types too, and whilst Draco Meteor would hurt them a little more initially, you can at least use Surf repeatedly.
Ice Beam is usually overlooked, since you usually use Ice moves to hurt Dragons, who already fear Dragonite's STAB moves. They still get coverage on Flying, Ground and Grass types too though, so it isn't to be totally overlooked. You also get 4x hits on Gliscor and Shaymin (Sky Forme). The main reason that it's sidelined is, like Surf, Draco Meteor's powerful neutral hit usually steals the show.
Aerial Ace gets STAB, but its type coverage is mediocre and even with STAB, its power still falls short of Earthquake. No real need to bother with it but worth a mention.
Toxic is a status option in place of Thunder Wave. It will leave you ultra-exposed to Steel types, but with Light Screen, Roost and Toxic, Dragonite can viably beat most bulky waters with a stalling strategy.
Safeguard is also an option on the support move-set. The main comparison is against Heal Bell though. Heal Bell cures statuses, Safeguard prevents statuses (for five turns). For the most part, Heal Bell is the better move.
I haven't mentioned a Roost and Life Orb move-set, simply because literally any move-set (and EV spread) could be created out of it. Life Orb gives a 1.3x boost to both offences and Roost can recover off the recoil-damage. Considering the size of Dragonite's attacking move-pool, it really is “Roost plus three” when you create it.
It's quite easy to say 'Ice moves'… so I will. Ice moves. They are its Achilles' heel, just like it is with Salamence. One major difference to note though is that a 220 Special Attack stat will average an OHKO on Salamence (95-110% damage) with Ice Beam. With Dragonite, that'll only land 80-95% damage (assuming Dragonite is min/min with HP/SDef), a bit short of an OHKO, which at times can be a matter of 'win or lose'. In order to guarantee a KO against min/min Dragonite, you need around a 235 Special Attack stat. Of course, it's much easier to just set-up some Stealth Rocks, let those chip off 25% of Dragonite's HP and make pretty much any Ice Beam an OHKO.
Like with Salamence, Dragonite is an ambiguous Pokémon. Spec-Draco Meteor can do a mud-pile of damage, Choice Band is always a possibility and the Dragon Dance-Outrage combination always poses a sweeping threat. The safest Pokémon to simply 'scout' Dragonite are “Bulky Waters”, just as they are with Salamence. They're a little more at risk against Dragonite, since a Specs-boosted Thunderbolt will really hurt, but when you're unsure of Dragonite's move-set, they tend to be the safest bets. Swampert is one of the best ones, since it's immune to Thunderbolt. The rest of the “Bulky Water” collection are the usual representatives: Suicune, Milotic, Slowbro and Vaporeon. Additionally, Cresselia can take hits from both ends of the attacking spectrum and poses the same Ice Beam threat.
Bronzong is also good at scouting Dragonite (it fears Flamethrower, but resists Dragon moves and levitates away from Earthquakes). The biggest problem Bronzong has is actually posing a threat to Dragonite. Short of Hypnosis, Dragonite has no reason to fear Bronzong, especially if it's carrying a Fire move.
If Dragonite has lined itself up for a sweep, you can take it out with Ice Shard. Mamoswine and Weavile are the famous users of this, although neither has an easy time switching in. Other things like Scarfed Ice Punches/Beams can also halt a Dragon Dance sweep, but again, switching in is the hard part.
Despite its inferiority complex, it is a lot like Salamence in regard to being a difficult Pokémon to counter. As noted, there's a lot of ambiguity in its options. It can put a hurting on almost every Pokémon in the game with its wide range of moves backed by a Choice boost (and unlike Salamence, you can't just sling Blissey or Empoleon at the Specs set, since it has Superpower), and if it successfully kicks off a Dragon Dance in the late-game, you may end up conceding defeat to an inevitable bulldozer sweep. It does have exposable flaws, not 'counters' but hindrances. It's weak to Stealth Rock (as noted above), it's exposed to Sandstorm and can be hit by every status (with paralysis being a very potent one, as well as burn against the physically-inclined variants).
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