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Gym Defenders Tier List

Gym Defenders Tier List
Table of Contents
Tier List Overview

Introduction

It has been about 4 months since our last defender tier list update. The main reason for the delay: not much has changed! While Gen 3 has given us some new defenders such as Milotic, Gardevoir, and Slaking, it has done nothing to change Blissey’s weight on the meta. Blissey aside, with motivation decay and Golden Razz berries, gym defense has become more about CP decay ranges and detering attack altogether more than using a list of the best Pokemon (while also encouraging attack… eventually?). All that said, the curiosity is still there for who the best defenders are, despite how trivial gym defense has been.

Methodology

For the quantitative side of the model, simulations were used from Pokebattler.com using level 40 attackers against level 40 defenders, dodge specials pro, with realistic dodging. Rather than weighing the defender’s performance against its most optimized counters, they were pitted against the greatest gym attackers in the game. The rationale is that between battle parties and CP decay, it is unlikely and arguably un-optimal to shuffle attackers around based on each individual Pokemon in a gym and their moveset.

The primary attacking Pokemon considered are Machamp, Tyranitar, and Latios (who also represents Dragonite and Rayquaza). Performance against Raikou, Mewtwo (Focus Blast and Shadow Ball), Entei, Groudon, and Kyogre are also factored in, but were given less weight than the first three due to being legendary Pokemon. Latios was used over Dragonite and Rayquaza due to doing their job on gym offense slightly better. Overall, this change had a more subtle impact on the results. Raikou and Entei were used over Zapdos and Moltres for similar reasons. Additionally, rather than using the performance data for attackers in absolutely bad matchups (ex Dragonite vs Steelix), the most reasonable substitute was used with a weight against the attacker for having to switch in. The rationale is to give more credence to “switch-causing” Pokemon while keeping things in perspective.

From there, additional weights were assigned based on other qualities such as defensive typing and CP range. Given Blissey, Chansey, and Snorlax’s influence on the meta, weight was given in favor of Pokemon that resist Fighting-type damage and against Pokemon that are weak to it. Weights were also given toward Pokemon that function well for CP-decay strategies (i.e., good performance at 1000, 1500, and 1950 CP) and gym-height strategies (i.e., good performance at 1950 CP or a max CP greater than 3200), the rationale being to set back defenders that don’t comply well with either strategy.

In translating the quantitative model to the tier list, qualitative adjustments were made. Pokemon that were too similar to other defenders but notably worse were brought down (for example, Salamence has many of the same merits as Dragonite, but is limited to single-bar charged moves) and Pokemon that exploited aspects of the model despite not being that good were brought down (mostly Fairy-types).

Conclusions

The best defenders have more or less remained unchanged for the past 6 months. Gen 3 has brought in some new faces, but optimized gym defense can still be reduced to Blissey and Golden Razz. The most interesting additions are Milotic and Slaking, the former being the ideal Water-type gym defender in terms of bulk, typing, and coverage, the latter being extremely unique in its ability to KO counters or do nothing at all while sustaining gym height. The most interesting removals have been the Slowdudes. Given how easy it is to obtain Tyranitar and its importance in the 5+ month long Mewtwo EX raid campaign, anything weak to the green mountain doesn’t have a place on optimized gym defense, despite how powerful Confusion is.

Defenders Tier List
Tier 1
Tier 1.5
Tier 2
Tier 3
Tier 4
Tier 1

Of all defenders in the current meta, these Pokemon are the only ones truly worth stardust investment. Blissey is an elite defender in essentially all situations and carries favorable matchups against every attacker in the game. Even though Blissey is vastly superior to Chansey, Chansey maintains its performance over time thanks to her low CP (and subsequent lower motivation-decay rate). Both draw attackers into prolonged battles and are ideal in both passive and active defense.

Pros:

  • The best overall bulk in the game by a massive margin
  • Only weakness is covered by strongest fast and charge moves
  • All movesets are viable and leagues superior in performance to the next lower tier
  • Maintains a superior performance even at lower CP ranges

Cons:

  • May be “too effective” for the purpose of earning coins in low turnover areas
  • Very rare in the wild and eggs, so difficult to obtain candy for

Best Movesets:

  • Zen Headbutt or Pound + Dazzling Gleam
Tier 1.5

Pros:

  • Like Blissey in every way but with significantly lower Attack and Defense
  • Its low CP gives it a slower motivation decay rate, allowing it to outperform Blissey over time.

Cons:

  • Relies on Dazzling Gleam for damage output
  • Negatively impacts the gym-height strat, having a max CP below 1950.
  • Very rare in the wild and eggs, so difficult to obtain candy for

Best Movesets:

  • Zen Headbutt or Pound + Dazzling Gleam
Tier 2

These Pokemon are great defenders in essentially all situations and carry strong matchups against most attackers in the game. Though not all matchups result in victory, these Pokemon nonetheless have high damage output and force long battles.

Pros:

  • Very strong defender, with a high base stats and only 1 weakness
  • Strongest fast move is effective against its 1 weakness
  • Its level 20 raid catch/egg hatch CP range makes it a low investment option for “gym height” and “low CP decay” synergistic strategies.

Cons:

  • Shares the same counters as the 2 best defenders in the game

Best Movesets:

  • Zen Headbutt or Lick + Body Slam or Heavy Slam

Pros:

  • Impressive bulk condemns neutral matchups to extended battle times
  • Powerful, diverse moves keeps it threatening even to its more optimized matchups
  • More or less all the best parts of Lapras, Vaporeon, and Gyarados rolled into a magnificent Pokemon

Cons:

  • Becomes less threatening once moveset is figured out
  • Despite its performance, its defensive-typing doesn’t cause many switches

Best Movesets:

  • Waterfall or Dragon Tail + Surf or Blizzard
Tier 3

These Pokemon are some of the most formidable in the game. Their unique characteristics make them a great addition to many gyms, but are more role specific than previous tiers. Given the mixed motivations of gym defense, some defenders may be deemed lesser than lower tiered ones given the right circumstances.

Pros:

  • Unique defensive typing limits optimal counters to Fairy and Ice types
  • Dragon-type counters may take heavy damage in defeating Dragonite
  • Dragon-type STAB attacks are powerful and largely unresisted

Cons:

  • Countered so heavily by Ice-types that it may not be able to use its charge move
  • Fairy-types both deal effective damage and have double resistance to Dragonite’s Dragon-type attacks

Best Movesets:

  • Dragon Tail + Outrage or Dragon Claw

Pros:

  • Extremely high CP cap can optimize even uncoordinated gyms for the gym-height strat
  • Can cause several of the opponent’s Pokemon to faint with the hard-to-dodge charge move, Play Rough

Cons:

  • Performance is dependent on being high level, highly motivated, and using Play Rough
  • Has potential to do nearly no damage to an opponent due to Yawn
  • Shares optimal counters with Blissey, Chansey, and Snorlax

Best Movesets:

  • Yawn + Play Rough

Pros:

  • Impressive bulk and low CP range makes Steelix optimal for both gym-height and long-term gym defense strategies
  • Overall, Dragonite, Mewtwo, Tyranitar, and Raikou’s worst matchup

Cons:

  • Has a wide variety of optimal counters in Fighting, Fire, and Water-type Pokemon
  • Becomes less threatening once moveset is figured out

Best Movesets:

  • Dragon Tail or Iron Tail + Crunch or Heavy Slam

Pros:

  • Can cause as many switches as Steelix but has fewer weaknesses
  • Play Rough may come as a surprise to less-prepared attackers
  • Most optimal counters aren’t ideal for generalized gym offense

Cons:

  • Most optimal moveset is predictable and does poorly against Water and Grass counters
  • Less CP range utility than Steelix

Best Movesets:

  • Counter + Play Rough

Pros:

  • Combination of Ice- and Water-type damage limits its optimized counters
  • The threat of Ice Beam, Blizzard, Hydro Pump, and Surf keeps first-time attackers cautious
  • Viable at lower CP ranges

Cons:

  • Vulnerable to Electric and, more importantly, Fighting-types
  • Becomes less threatening once moveset is figured out

Best Movesets:

  • Ice Shard or Frost Breath + Ice Beam or Blizzard or Hydro Pump or Surf

Tier 4

Very okay defenders that stand out due to their unique resistances compared to more common “optimal” defenders. Won’t win many matchups but may throw enough of a wrench in an attacker’s line up to break up their assault or ward off battle altogether. Are ultimately lower tiered for having exploitable deficiencies in bulk or movepool.

Pros:

  • Impressive bulk and low CP range makes Lanturn optimal for both gym-height and long-term gym defense strategies
  • Unique defensive typing and broad coverage limits Lanturn’s more optimized counters

Cons:

  • Relatively non-threatening movepool makes it more a nuisance to neutral counters
  • Generally weak to Dragonite

Best Movesets:

  • Charge Beam + Thunderbolt or Hydro Pump

Pros:

  • Fairy-typing provides resistances to Fighting- and Dragon-type Pokemon
  • Confusion is of the most powerful fast moves for defense
  • Counter coverage to its more optimized counters through charge moves

Cons:

  • Quickly subdued by neutral threats

Best Movesets:

  • Confusion + Dazzling Gleam or Shadow Ball

Pros:

  • Pure Fairy-typing gives it a unique set of resistances
  • Decent bulk and low CP range makes Clefable optimal for both gym-height and long-term gym defense strategies

Cons:

  • Relatively weak to neutral hits
  • Less threatening than Gardevoir

Best Movesets:

  • Any + Dazzling Gleam

Pros:

  • Defensive-typing provides resistances to a variety of attacking types
  • Confusion is of the most powerful fast moves for defense

Cons:

  • Performance is entirely reliant on access to the legacy move Confusion
  • Dominated by Dark, Fire, Bug, Psychic, and Flying-type Pokemon

Best Movesets:

  • Confusion + Seed Bomb

Pros:

  • Similar resistances to Exeggutor but less vulnerable to Dark- and Bug-type opponents
  • Sludge Bomb can come as a surprise to less-prepared attackers

Cons:

  • Razor Leaf is poor against Fire- and Flying-type switch ins to Venusaur
  • Doesn’t threaten most gym sweepers at lower levels of motivation

Best Movesets:

  • Razor Leaf + Sludge Bomb

Pros:

  • Impressive bulk condemns neutral matchups to extended battle times
  • High CP cap aids with gym height strategies

Cons:

  • Stuck with 1-bar charge moves, which are bad at low motivation levels
  • Deceptively vulnerable to Tyranitar

Best Movesets:

  • Bullet Punch or Zen Headbutt + Flash Cannon or Psychic
Honorable Mentions
Given the influence of CP decay, attacker access, and emphasis on resistances, there are a handful of very ok gym defenders that didn’t make the cut. Rather than leave them out of the spotlight entirely, here’s a brief overview of their defining characteristics and limitations:
Umbreon and Vaporeon

Very bulky time wasters but are ultimately just a speed bump on a Fighting- or Dragon-type’s path to victory.

Hypno, Slowbro, and Slowking

The threat of Tyranitar just demolishes most Psychic types. Shadow Ball Mewtwo doesn’t do them any favors either (as well as Raikou and Groudon in the case of the Slowdudes).

Muk and Feraligatr

These two are surprisingly good with their counter coverage, but don’t quite make the cut due to handling neutral threats poorly.

Gyarados and Azumarill

They can cause some serious discord in active and long-term defense respectively but are subdued too quickly by Electric types.

Tentacruel, Ampharos, Salamence, and Walrein

All have merits that parallel other members on the tier list but perform notably worse. Most are also limited to 1-bar charge moves (aside from Walrein, and let’s be realistic about Water Pulse here).

Tyranitar, Kangaskhan, Miltank, and Rhydon

Machamp says “hi.”

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