For many years, Arbok was a Pokemon with below average stats, but its dual typing and a decent move-pool allowed team builders to work with it. Of course, Arbok was an early fan favorite as it was Team Rocket member Jessie’s key Pokemon in the early anime; it seems the fan interest has always helped its standing in the video games. Even in the first games, Red and Blue, Arbok had some key traits that set it apart, especially the move Glare, which paralyzes the opponent’s Pokemon with 75 percent accuracy. Would our cobra friend become a good Pokemon in the years to come?
What hurt Arbok in the first generation of Pokemon was the same problem most Poison type mons had, the lack of a same-type attack that could dish out enough damage to be relevant as an offensive force. Acid was the best STAB (Same-Type Attack Bonus) attack that Poison types had. With Sludge Bomb, a 90 base power physical Poison move, added in Gold and Silver, Arbok suddenly gained a huge boost to its moveset. Alongside the useful Glare, powerful Earthquake, and a variable fourth move that could range from Giga Drain to Screech to Substitute, Arbok could fill a role on many teams.
Ruby and Sapphire gave Arbok access to two very useful abilities. One is Intimidate, one of the strongest abilities in the game, reducing the physical attack of your opponent’s Pokemon by one stage when Arbok switches in. Intimidate is a huge part of competitive Pokemon, as evidenced by Incineroar being the most popular competitive mons in Sword and Shield. The other is Shed Skin, which gives Arbok a one-in-three chance to literally shed a status condition at the end of each turn. This allowed Arbok to become more of a pivot mon, switching in to take a Thunder Wave or an attack it resists, while also being able to deal some damage on the way out.
Of course, Arbok got some new Poison-type competition from Seviper, who has slightly better attack (100 vs 95) and much better Special attack (100 vs 65). This allowed Seviper to be a mixed attacker, taking advantage of the powerful Dark type moves it had in its move-pool, such as Night Slash. While Arbok had access to powerful Dark type moves such as Crunch, those moves still were considered Special moves, so Seviper could use them more effectively. What hurt Seviper, though, was its low base Speed, a stat of only 65. So, while Seviper could technically hit harder, Arbok was still more competitive thanks to being faster.
Diamond and Pearl gave Arbok access to Poison Jab, which has a 30 percent chance to poison, and the deadly but often inaccurate Gunk Shot. It could also pack Seed Bomb and Crunch based on the metagame and the type coverage needed by the trainer’s team. Notably, same-type attack moves had now been split into physical and special types. This meant that Crunch was now a physical attacking move, meaning that Arbok could use it much more effectively. Unfortunately, Sludge Bomb was now a Special attacking move, meaning its reliance on Poison Jab and Gunk Shot (both physical moves) would greatly increase.
Black and White, despite having a competitive atmosphere filled with Psychic and Ground types that could really mess it up, Arbok gained its best new move yet. Coil is one of the best moves you could give Arbok, a move that increases Attack, Defense, and Accuracy by one stage. This makes Gunk Shot a 91 percent accurate move rather than 70. It also meant that Sucker Punch hit much harder, as well as Earthquake or Seed Bomb. Arbok also gained the held item Black Sludge, which is the same thing as Leftovers for Poison types, allowing another Pokemon on the team to pack Leftovers. Arbok also gained the hidden ability Unnerve, and while stopping opponents from eating Berries can be useful, it’s not better than its other abilities.
Power creep slowly pushed Arbok out of the competitive scene in X and Y, Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire, and Sun and Moon. Eventually, Arbok was left out of Sword and Shield entirely, as other poison type mons have simply gotten better with time. Arbok’s abilities and moves are great, but its stats are still below average. Thankfully, Arbok returns in Brilliant Diamond, the Diamond half of the Diamond and Pearl 2021 remakes. Unfortunately, you can’t find Ekans nor Arbok in Shining Pearl, so you’ll have to acquire him through a trade. But, in Brilliant Diamond, Ekans is easy to find in the Grand Underground.
Unlike in the original Diamond and Pearl games, Ekans and Arbok still learn Coil. There’s also another major difference in the remakes, which feature the Pokemon that gained the Fairy type during the X and Y games. That makes Arbok’s Coil-fueled Gunk Shot much deadlier, plus he can also learn the typically inaccurate Steel-type move Iron Tail which is significantly boosted by Coil.
For reference, the best moveset for Arbok is likely very similar to the most common one that he had in Sun and Moon: Coil, Gunk Shot, Earthquake, and Sucker Punch, with Aqua Tail occasionally being in place of Earthquake for type coverage. While Aqua Tail is another relatively inaccurate move, like with Gunk Shot and Iron Tail, its accuracy is significantly boosted by Coil. Going forward, this is probably the best way to build your competitive Arbok, albeit for the lowest tier of competitive singles.
While Arbok may never be a competitive Pokemon in a world where there will soon be well over 900 unique mons, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. The real problem is its below average speed with a base stat of 80, so requires a very deft trainer to pick Arbok’s spots well. Diamond and Pearl is full of mons who love Ground moves, including the uber-popular Garchomp, as well as other mons packing Psychic moves. Creative trainers could find a way to make the best of its defensive typing and pivot it using Intimidate or Shed Skin as an ability depending on the role Arbok needs to fill for the specific team.
Yes, Arbok is a good Pokemon, one that is probably better than its base stat totals would suggest. An Arbok with an Adamant nature (plus attack, minus special attack), can dish out a lot of damage, and a Jolly nature Arbok (plus speed, minus special attack) is probably faster than some people realize. While Brilliant Diamond is perhaps Arbok’s last hurrah as a low-tier competitive option, he’s never going to be a bad Pokemon while you’re adventuring. Plus, Ekans is a pretty good (actually kind of busted) Little Cup Pokemon, especially with investment in his defenses, and the same move pool as its evolution Arbok.
All in all, Arbok deserves better than to be omitted entirely from a Pokemon game series as it did in Sword and Shield. We’ll see if Arbok makes its way into the Gen 9 Scarlet and Violet games. But, barring that, there’s definitely love for Arbok, considering the Mega forms that Arbok has received in several fan-made Pokemon games. Will Game Freak bestow some gifts onto the Cobra Pokemon in the future? Considering that Pokemon seems to love giving first generation mons new tricks, it’s certainly not impossible, and Arbok probably deserves at least a revisit.