What do most people think of when they hear the word “dragon”? Reptilian traits are practically a given, and you can usually expect flight, but there’s a lot of room for interpretation. You might think of an ancient, majestic and fiercely intelligent creature, possibly with magical powers, or you might think of a terrifying fire-breathing predator that ravages the countryside while snacking on maidens (or possibly the other way around). You might think of both at once. You might also think of a grumpy old jerk who sits in a cave all day muttering darkly to himself and snapping at strangers.
Well, you might.
This big ugly git is Druddigon, the cave dragon Pokémon. He doesn’t have Dragonite’s serene wisdom, Salamence’s terrible power, Altaria’s preternatural grace or Flygon’s aura of mystery, and it drives him absolutely nuts. Druddigon is technically a Dragon-type, largely because there’s nowhere else to put him, but he’s very much the (literally) red-headed stepchild of the group. He has wings, but I don’t think he can fly (okay, he learns Aerial Ace, but that means nothing; take a look some time at the list of Pokémon that get Aerial Ace and you’ll see what I mean); the wings just provide a nice big surface area for taking in sunlight, which Druddigon needs to stay active since he’s cold-blooded. If his body temperature drops too low, he becomes sluggish and eventually immobile. In winter, Druddigon seem to retreat into deeper caves and other places where they can stay warm, and no longer appear outside; personally, I suspect they hibernate. While active, Druddigon are vicious predators that chase prey with surprising agility through rough mountain terrain and narrow cave passages. This is all in stark contrast with older Dragon-types, who tend to be characterised by their limitless vitality and power over natural phenomena. In a number of places, but most notably in Blackthorn City, Dragon Pokémon are revered as holy beings. Druddigon and the other new pure Dragon-type, Haxorus, as well as Garchomp from Diamond and Pearl, are powerful, sure, but they’re much more down-to-earth. I’m not sure whether I like this or not. On the one hand, variety is always better. On the other, I personally feel that it’s their mythical status that holds Dragon Pokémon together as a type; after all, Kingdra isn’t much of a dragon when you think about it, and Altaria certainly isn’t. Back in Gold and Silver, I remember that one of Clair’s gym trainers essentially defined Dragon-types as Pokémon that are filled with life energy, which doesn’t seem to fit Druddigon at all. At some point you have to start asking yourself what all these Pokémon actually have in common. I admit, though, I’m probably complaining about something that doesn’t bother most people. Druddigon certainly looks the part; more so than Altaria at any rate, and something about an ill-tempered, not especially mythical dragon that lurks in a cave waiting to bite your head off has a certain appeal. It’s a lot closer to what a dragon is like in European cultures than, for instance, Dragonite.
Let’s talk about Sheer Force. Sheer Force is a special ability Druddigon has that makes some of his attacks more powerful: specifically, any attack that has a secondary effect loses that effect, but gets a 30% power boost, rendering all kinds of normally underpowered attacks quite usable. This doesn’t normally work for negative effects like recoil damage, with one important exception: a Pokémon holding a Life Orb (an item that powers up all direct attacks by 30% in exchange for draining 10% of its wielder’s HP with every hit) doesn’t take recoil damage for attacks that would trigger Sheer Force anyway (no, holding a Life Orb does not make all attacks eligible for Sheer Force). Druddigon has all of the usual benefits associated with just being a true Dragon – multiple resistances, few weaknesses and powerful attacks – but this is what he has to differentiate himself from the other single-typed Dragon Pokémon, Haxorus, as well as all the other powerful dual-typed Dragons out there… and boy, does he need it. See, I have a theory that Druddigon is in the game mainly to make Altaria feel better about herself. In Diamond and Pearl, a world of Dragon Pokémon who commanded world-destroying power, Altaria was hands-down the weakest of the lot, with lacklustre attacks, average speed and defences that actually weren’t as good as Dragonite’s. Well, no longer! Druddigon is far stronger, physically, than Altaria, but he’s much slower (and can’t learn Dragon Dance to speed himself up) and not as resilient. This should give you an idea of how well he stacks up against the major Dragons – based on his raw numbers, he sort of doesn’t. This is why, if you’re planning to use Druddigon over one of the stronger Dragon-types, you must abuse the hell out of Sheer Force at every opportunity, so let’s have a look at how we can do that.
Druddigon does not learn any Dragon-type attacks to which Sheer Force is applicable. He really should, because there is one – Dragon Rush, which no-one ever uses because its accuracy is a miserable 75%; Druddigon would use it if he had it, though, because he can actually boost his own accuracy with Hone Claws. Alas, it was not to be. Still, there’s enough power for anyone in every Dragon-type’s go-to attack, Outrage. The other attack you’ll be drawn to is Earthquake, for the Dragon/Ground combination that has always served Garchomp so well, but personally I’d advise Druddigon to eschew Earthquake because it doesn’t get a Sheer Force boost, and every attack he picks up that doesn’t get a Sheer Force boost brings him one step closer to being an inferior version of Haxorus. Fire Fang, on the other hand, does get a bonus, turning it into something that most Dragon Pokémon would kill for: a physical Fire attack that’s actually halfway decent. Even accounting for Druddigon’s weaker attack stat, Fire Fang will still do more damage than Dragonite’s Fire Punch, the most powerful comparable attack (and let him hit every Pokémon but Heatran for at least neutral damage). He can likewise manage impressive electrical damage with Thunder Fang, Rock Slide gives him a Rock attack which is at least comparable to the other Dragons’ Stone Edge while being more accurate, and Crunch doesn’t score a lot of super-effective hits but will be pretty powerful after Sheer Force. When all’s said and done, though… these are not strong reasons to use Druddigon. He’s horribly slow, so he kind of needs Sucker Punch (which doesn’t get a Sheer Force boost either) to avoid being shanked by faster Pokémon. He can’t heal, so his decent defensive stats are of moderate utility at best. His disruptive options… sorry, his disruptive option is Glare, a paralysing attack which… well, it’s less accurate than Thunder Wave, but… it works on Ground-types, I guess? His absurdly bad speed stat does at least make him easily the most appropriate Dragon for use in a Trick Room team (where being slow is a good thing), but if he really is in the game to alleviate Altaria’s crippling self-esteem issues, he succeeds admirably.
Pokémon like Dragonite are quite literally the very best, like no-one ever was. Even Flygon and Kingdra, by all rights top-tier Pokémon themselves, seem a tad lacklustre in such company. Poor Druddigon and Altaria have to pull out all the stops just to compete on an even footing with their cousins at the stuff that they’re best at. Creating a Dragon Pokémon at this kind of level is setting it up to fail, nothing more and nothing less. Game Freak have set the bar very high for Dragon-types and in Druddigon they have not met it; it’s hard to imagine that Lance could have had Druddigon in mind when he said that Dragon Pokémon are “virtually indestructible” and that “they’re hard to catch and raise, but their powers are superior.” Druddigon’s a cool Pokémon who doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed the way he is, but I can’t allow this to stand. Come back when he has a lot more HP and Dragon Rush, and I’ll consider it.
I hereby deny this Pokémon’s right to exist! Let it be slain in glorious battle by a valiant knight!