How Good is Sableye in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet?

Sableye 302 Pokemon

Sableye is a very interesting Pokemon which debuted in Generation 3’s Ruby and Sapphire games for the Game Boy Advance. While it hasn’t always been a top-tier Pokemon, gaining the Prankster ability in Generation 5, and a Mega Evolution in Generation 6 rocketed Sableye to the top tier of competitive play. The question is now, will this little Dark/Ghost type utility Pokemon be able to compete in Generation 9 with Scarlet and Violet?

On first glance, Sableye doesn’t look like much. Its HP is atrocious with just a base 50 and while its physical Defense at 75 is OK, its Special Defense at 65 is below average. Its 75 attack is meager, and its 65 Special Attack is even worse. Yet, in its debut generation, Sableye was a mid-tier defensive Pokemon. What Sableye lacks in stats, it makes up for in its move pool and amazing typing.

Part of its utility is Sableye’s really good typing. Before Generation 6 introduced Fairy-type Pokemon to the franchise, Sableye was literally weak to nothing. It can’t be hit at all by Normal, Fighting, or Psychic type moves, making it the perfect pivot to blank predicted big attacks. Sableye also resists Poison-type moves by 50 percent. Basically, it was Spiritomb before that Pokemon existed. It ran a mixed defensive moveset with Shadow Ball, Toxic, Recover, and Seismic Toss.

But, wait, why would anyone use Sableye over Spiritomb, which has actually strong defenses and really good attacking moves and stats? Well, when Diamond and Pearl launched, no one really did. Its abilities were bad, but some trainers continued to use Sableye in Generation 4 anyway, running a Support set with Will-o-Wisp, Taunt, Seismic Toss, and Recover. Sableye had just enough defensive utility that mid-tier ladder players continued to play with it.

Sableye Gains the Prankster Ability

Fortunately, Sableye was gifted something incredible with Generation 5 with the invention of the Dream World and Hidden Abilities. One of the abilities this addition offered was Prankster, which quite a few Pokemon got, including Sableye, Murkrow, Volbeat, Illumise, Riolu, and Liepard. Prankster is a pretty neat ability very familiar to Gen 8 competitive players as the key ability on competitive overused champs like Grimmsnarl and Whimsicott. It increases the priority of status moves by one, meaning that suddenly your slower utility Pokemon will go first.

What does this mean? Moves like Taunt and Will-o-Wisp are now going to move first much of the time. This means if you read your opponent correctly, you can either make them waste a turn by making them fail a non-damaging move (Taunt) or cripple a Physical attacker (Will-O-Wisp) with burn. That’s a huge momentum swing for the Sableye player. Opponents have to really play around Sableye and other Prankster Pokemon because you’re not sure which move they’ll click.

In particular, Murkrow, and to a lesser degree Riolu flourished, thanks to the existence of the new Eviolite item which doubles the defense stats of not fully evolved Pokemon. Fellow Dark-type Liepard also became a mid-tier Pivot mon. Unfortunately, Liepard is a lot faster than Sableye, more than twice as fast, actually, with great mixed attack stats.

So, again, Sableye seems like its other friends with Prankster would leave it behind. Fortunately, Sableye actually leapfrogged Liepard in usage. Murkrow was definitely seen in doubles, but Sableye ascended to become a defensive stalwart in mid-tier singles. It also helped that Sableye gained an offensive weapon called Foul Play, a move added in Gen 5. Not only is it base 95 power and a STAB attack for Sableye, it uses the opponent’s Attack stat for damage calculation. While Liepard had the same attack, fewer people would expect it coming from Sableye. Also, Sableye’s typing is considerably better than Liepard, who is mono-Dark type and is actually very frail.

Sableye joined Murkrow in VGC competition in 2012, but despite both having Prankster, the two Pokemon utilized their ability differently. In singles, Murkrow would use its solid 85 Special Attack to its advantage, often setting up a Calm Mind to both boost its already Eviolite boosted Special Defense and its Special Attack. But, it would also use Feather Dance to cripple a Physical attacker by two stages, much like a Burn from Will-o-Wisp would do. Murkrow also could set up a Substitute, Roost for recovery, then set up Calm Mind and continue to stall with further Substitutes.

In VGC, though, it would run some combination of Feather Dance, Tailwind, Thunder Wave, Taunt, Protect, and Quash. That last attack is interesting in that it makes the target move last that turn. Murkrow was a little tricky to play around, whereas Sableye was much more straightforward to play both with and against.

That being said, Murkrow could be dealt with much more easily by virtue of being a Dark/Flying type. Sableye simply didn’t have many counters. Whereas Murkrow often ran Protect as opponents would often focus on removing it just to remove its annoyance, Sableye just didn’t have to. We’ll talk about Murkrow when it comes to Scarlet and Violet in future, but for now, let’s just say they both saw play around the same time, but served somewhat different roles on their respective teams.

Mega Sableye Dominates on Defense

When X and Y dropped, however, Murkrow and Sableye’s paths diverged tremendously. Mega Evolutions not only pushed Murkrow all the way down to the bottom of the barrel in competitive singles and out of VGC doubles, but also gifted Sableye with its own Mega Evolution. Players had clamored for an evolution for their gem-eyed buddy for some time, and this was Game Freak’s solution. Mega Pokemon are a touchy subject; a lot of people love them because they gave some formerly fringe Pokemon a chance to compete, but some were so ridiculously overpowered they had to be banned in many competitive formats.

Mega Sableye was actually one of the better Mega Pokemon. As hard as this may be to believe, it pretty much ran the same move set. But, upon Mega Evolving, Sableye actually lost its Prankster ability. However, this wasn’t really a curse, as it was replaced by Magic Bounce. Already a good ability seen on a few other Pokemon like Espeon, it would bounce status moves back at the user. Timing your Mega Evolution just right could really be a blow-out for your opponent, not only wasting their turn, but crippling the Pokemon that used it.

Mega Sableye was so good it ascended to the Ubers tier in Generation 6. Only power creep in Generation 7 with the many new Ultra Beasts allowed Mega Sableye to be properly checked. What may surprise you is that in the evolution, while Mega Sableye’s defensive stats skyrocket, its Speed actually lowers to a mere 20. While this sounds bad, it isn’t. In fact, many Trick Room teams would play Mega Sableye because suddenly Prankster isn’t even necessary as the slowest Pokemon on the board would now move first.

After being busted in Generation 6, and still being quite good in Generation 7, Sableye lost its Mega Evolution in Generation 8. Unfortunately, Grimmsnarl’s existence pretty much invalidated Sableye, as well as Whimsicott being in the game, too. Grimmsnarl has decent Dark/Fairy typing, but can also hit hard with strong Fairy type moves like Play Rough and Spirit Break. Sableye pretty much evaporated from relevance in Sword and Shield.

Sableye Seeks Relevance in a Dynamax-Free Pokemon World

Fortunately, at least for the time being, Sableye will be off to a good start going into Scarlet and Violet. It’s one of the few Pokemon that won’t need the benefit of a Tera Type to gain an edge defensively or offensively. Sableye can kind of just do its thing, but with no Grimmsnarl or Whimsicott to serve the Prankster role (at least not on release), both Sableye and Murkrow can find new homes on competitive teams once again.

While I’m not likely to lean much on Sableye in the actual open world adventure, I’m certainly going to be on the lookout for one with a defensively minded nature (Bold, Calm, and Impish especially). I’m likely to lean into a build running Foul Play and hopefully gain a Dark Tera Type to fuel a 2x boosted attack to punish a big physical attacker. If I build one for doubles, I’ll likely choose Fake Out over Taunt, with the usual suspects of Will-o-Wisp and Recover, and perhaps my doubles build will run Protect over Foul Play, as it won’t need to fire off any offensive pressure. Then again, I prefer all of my Pokemon to run at least one offensive move; it’s kind of just how I roll.

In any case, Sableye will be a lot more relevant in a Pokemon world with no Dynamax, Max Moves, Grimmsnarl, or Zacian. Even if Grimmsnarl or Zacian do eventually come over from Pokemon HOME, Sableye should at least have some time to shine.

How would you play Sableye in Pokemon Scarlet and Violet?

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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