All the hip, cool kids out there know that Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield were released for the Nintendo Switch on Friday (and all the rest of you can basically stop reading now because you’re probably going to understand this post as well as you understood that sentence).  Needless to say, I pre-ordered Shield (the one with the unicorn…we’ll get to that later), downloaded it on Friday, and have not made time this weekend to construct a universally important or appreciated post calvin post. Instead, I’m going to have to narrow cast to the part of our readership who, like me, have spent an inordinate amount of time over the past four days furiously googling how to get both of the different Toxitricity forms and all the Pro Strats for min-maxing your team. (Again, if you can’t understand this paragraph, it’s not going to get easier. Thanks for the click; you have my blessing to move along.)

I memorized the Pokérap and locked down every iteration of the “Who’s That Pokémon?” game from the original TV show that broadcasted in the US in the 90s.  One of the few wall adornments I kept from my childhood bedroom is the first edition poster of all 150 Pokémon that existed at the time. 

Folks, the game done changed.

There are almost 900 different Pokémon at this point; Wikipedia says there are 890, but since the newest generation just dropped on Friday, I’m not confident that that is a final census. If you, like me, have been playing Pokémon Go since its inception, then you’ve developed a familiarity with many of the Pokémon that weren’t around when I was a kid. And if you are like me, you mostly break them into three categories: “This one is cute” and “This one is an unfortunate necessity” and “I transferred this one immediately and I have no remorse.”

Those kinds of mental lists are important for the trainer on the go, the near-thirty adult whose good Pokémon-catching times are the fifteen-minute dog walks in the morning. But the pros sitting down to Pokémon Sword and/or Shield, trying to build both the best team and the best dex they possibly can are going to need a structure a little more robust than that. Don’t worry; I’ve combed the internet, read all the guides from IGN, Polygon, and even Quora, and I can definitively tell you which Pokémon are best and why, as well as how to optimally incorporate them into your team for maximum type coverage and aesthetic enjoyment.*

We’ll start where all good Poké-ventures start: the Starters. There are three starters for every generation, meaning that there are now twenty-four starters. Starters have historically been Grass type, Fire type, and Water type, with some generations featuring dual-typed pokémon, especially down their evolution trees. In Sword and Shield, you choose from Grookey, Scorbunny, or Sobble. I couldn’t possibly help you make that decision (the wand chooses the Wizard, mister Potter) except to say that Grookey is great for beginners, since the first two gyms are grass and water, and Scorbunny is going to be useful in the long-term if you play Shield, due to the sixth gym being Ice-flavored. Also, as per usual, the water starter—Sobble in this case—is going to rely heavily on a well-constructed team before going into the first gym, which can be difficult sometimes. The new games make this easier by giving opportunities to catch rare Pokémon and allowing you a modicum of choice over which Pokémon you battle in the wild. Pokéballs are even more weirdly hard to come by than in previous games, by my estimation, so take that into consideration.

But let’s take a look at the other starters. For grass, we have The OG, Bulbasaur, then Chikorita, Treecko, Turtwig, Snivy, Chespin, and Rowlet. On the face of things, they’re all pretty cute—first forms often are—and that’s why you came to me, because let me tell you, they do not all stay cute as they level up and evolve. For instance, Bulbasaur’s final evolution, Venosaur, looks like he’s in a perpetual Benedryl stupor, probably due to the unknown flower that grows out of his back.  Treecko’s final form is related to that plant that grows next to paths in nature preserves and is designed to terrorize you if you step off into the undergrowth: it’s got a huge thorn on its butt that looks like it could destroy even the finest of North Face jackets. I’m personally partial to Rowlet, in part because I work in a town called Rowlett—you know I already bought the Rowlet action figures for all my coworkers for the holiday party—and in part because Grass-Flying is just the kind of weird dual-type that intrigues me. It does bum me out that Decidueye is Grass-Ghost, because I really think flying is the better type to hold onto there, but it wouldn’t be a starter if it didn’t keep grass, so we’re at a catch-22 (Pokemon #22 is Raticate, and I actually wouldn’t suggest catching it; you’ll get more experience if you catch a Ratata and evolve it, and it’s just really not that hard). 

The best grass starter, though, in my opinion, has to be Turtwig. It’s a fantastic concept for a Pokémon, especially in its genetically-altered form from Detective Pikachu. What culture doesn’t have a myth of a turtle who keeps the world, or at least a small forest, on its back? The final form, Torterra, is Grass-Ground, which, so far as I can tell, has got to be one of the best type combinations for a grass starter (grass can only get you so far; the built-in ground moves can come in handy if you’re stuck with Torterra as the last man standing in a fire battle) and is the kind of dinosaur-animal-fantasy hybrid that I have come to expect and appreciate from the Pokémon franchise.

*Okay, so editing note: In my initial writing process, I went on to construct a bit of a manifesto, and let’s just say that it was more words than some dissertation proposals. If the disinterested noobs really did leave after the first paragraph, I’m guessing even the remaining die-hards are even getting a little antsy at this point. I don’t know what I expected; there are 890 known Pokémon. I couldn’t rank them all, even if I had given myself time over the weekend, and maybe two people in the world would read that ranking, and they would be my mother (yes, I know you’re still reading, against my specific instruction, and I do secretly appreciate it) and someone I paid.

So instead of including the rest of my 123,000 word thesis on fictional animalish creatures, let me just summarize the last twenty-six years of Pokemon by saying you’re never too old to start caring about these esoteric little pocket monsters, and the Pokémon company has given you innumerable paths by which you can discover your own poké-zoologist or competitive training adventure. And Pikachu is overrated.


  1. Kyric Koning

    …Low key really want to read the rest of that manifesto. Gotta read ’em all.

    • Jude Rittenhouse

      I’m not your mother and you didn’t pay me but I read the whole thing because I love the way your mind works

    • Josh deLacy



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