Single-typed Ice Pokémon do not have a terribly good record on this blog. Black and White produced three of them, and I condemned all three (for different reasons, of course); later on, Glaceon was partially responsible for my coming to the conclusion that we should just be done with Eeveelutions and move on to something else. For some reason Game Freak’s designers seem to have trouble getting past “this Pokémon has ice powers” as the central feature of what these Ice-types are and do. Bergmite and Avalugg… well, there’s something there… let’s take a look.
The Pokédex describes Avalugg, with a group of Bergmite huddled on its back, as resembling “an aircraft carrier made of ice.” This would strike me as a rather uninteresting and honestly pretty silly comparison (which, let’s be honest, would not be atypical for the Pokédex), if not for the fact that there was in fact a time during World War II when the Allied Powers actually tried to build an aircraft carrier made of ice. Well, to be more precise, due to the difficulties involved with working in ice it would have been more of a great big floating mass than a ‘ship’ in the traditional sense, and it wasn’t exactly ice, either; they tried to develop a new composite material for the purpose. Known as pykrete, from the name of the man who first suggested the idea, Geoffrey Pyke, it was a tough, relatively lightweight and extremely cheap construction material made by freezing water mixed with sawdust or wood pulp. The binding effect of the cellulose fibres in the wood makes the ice dramatically less brittle, comparable in strength to concrete, and because wood is a poor conductor of heat it also insulates the ice from temperature changes and makes it melt far more slowly than normal ice. The material is – naturally – far, far cheaper than steel, as well as being naturally buoyant. For obvious reasons, pykrete ships would have been most useful at fairly extreme latitudes, and a low surface area-to-volume ratio is also important (so the ship needs to be very large, preferably with an enclosed design). Several promising tests were conducted and enthusiasm for the idea was high for a while. Eventually though, the Allies started to win the war without it, and thought it was better just to keep doing what they were doing rather than rely on this bizarre experimental material, so the idea’s never really been properly tested (people like the Mythbusters have tried small pykrete ships, which just don’t have the thermal mass to survive above the freezing point of water for long; you need to think big with this stuff). It’s a cool little bit of military history. It’s entirely possible that Avalugg is just an iceberg Pokémon and nothing else, and that the “aircraft carrier made of ice” thing is just a really dumb simile, of course, but personally I think this is much more interesting.
Anyway… so what? There’s a reference in the Pokédex to a cool story about a wacky military experiment, which I like, but where does that leave us? Avalugg, this reference seems to be telling us, is based on what is, essentially, a huge block of ice. As a result, Avalugg is… well, a huge block of ice. Other than a flat top and the fact that it can apparently swim – it can learn Surf – which makes sense since ice floats (though it’s a bit odd that it lives in the mountains), it doesn’t seem to have taken anything from being based on an aircraft carrier, although to be honest I’m not sure what else you could take from that. Maybe a symbiotic relationship with Flying Pokémon – perhaps Wingull and Pelipper come to rest on their backs as they drift across the sea, or maybe land-dwelling Pokémon even spread between continents on the backs of Avalugg? That might have been neat. I’m reminded a little of Geodude, Graveler and Golem, who are living rocks and not much more; that’s not bad in itself because just the idea of a living rock creature or a living iceberg is cool on its own, but I’m also drawn to make unfavourable comparisons with Cryogonal and Glalie, who are basically living ice as well but have a bit more personality to them. Having said that, the Pokédex’s references to Bergmite living in herds are nice, and the idea of a large group of them sitting on an Avalugg’s back is a nice image that ads a bit more to our impression of how these things live. Maybe they bunch up like that for protection while sleeping, or whenever they have to travel long distances, perhaps by water? Avalugg’s art is pleasing enough; it has a sort of reptilian, tortoise-like feel that creates an impression of tremendous mass and slow but overwhelming force, like the millennia-long advance of a glacier. We’re a little short on Ice Pokémon that have tried to convey that sense. Bergmite is a bit odd because it seems to have a body underneath the ice, which vanishes when it evolves, perhaps being completely absorbed into the ice over time somehow. I guess it’s… kind of cute, though, in a weird, bug-eyed sort of way. I wonder whether these things eat? Possibly not, or very little; if their bodies are mostly made of ice they can probably survive on water for the most part. Bergmite, apparently, can repair fissures in their frozen bodies using nothing more than cold air (or, presumably, the water in the air), so even drinking might be unnecessary for them. They just keep going, oblivious to everything happening around them – like a glacier.
Game Freak have tried to make defensive Ice Pokémon before. It doesn’t usually end well, because Ice is almost indisputably the worse defensive type in the game; you get four weaknesses, three of them to very common and powerful attack types, and only one resistance, to Ice itself. That’s not to say an Ice-type can’t do defence; it’s more that only Cloyster and Walrein have ever really been good enough at it to rise above the shortcomings of their element. A defensive Ice-type, practically by definition, has to have some pretty impressive assets to succeed. What does Avalugg have? Well, for one thing, the fifth-highest defence stat in the game, behind Shuckle, Regirock, Steelix and Mega Aggron, and a good deal more HP than any of those four (awful, awful special defence, but hey, who’s counting?). Recover, for another. Being one of the slowest Pokémon in the game makes Recover a bit tricky to time correctly, but it lets Avalugg survive and heal off practically any physical damage that isn’t super-effective, and a good deal that is. Excellent attack power and a solid physical movepool help too. Avalugg’s primary attack is Avalanche, which is only powerful if Avalugg has already taken damage that turn and messes you up a bit if your opponent, say, uses Swords Dance or something, or switches out (it also forces Avalugg to move after its opponent, but that’s something Avalugg will usually be doing anyway), but is otherwise very nasty. Earthquake combines well with Avalanche, giving you at least a neutral hit on everything except for Bronzong, Cryogonal, Shedinja, some of Rotom’s forms, and Surskit. Stone Edge offers a few more super-effective hits. Crunch gives good neutral coverage, which Avalugg has anyway. Gyro Ball is attractive, since its power increases when used by a slower Pokémon against a faster one and Avalugg is one of the slowest there is, but there actually aren’t that many Pokémon who take significantly more damage from Gyro Ball than they do from Avalugg’s main attacks. Any and all of these can mix with Curse to continue building up Avalugg’s defence and power, though I don’t think I’d really recommend that since it isn’t a difficult Pokémon to force out. Unfortunately, if we use Avalugg as something of a tank, capitalising mainly on its physical power, the literal elephant in the room is Mamoswine. Mamoswine lacks Avalugg’s obscene physical defence and ability to heal, but has much more powerful Earthquakes and can use Ice Shard to beat things that outrun it (and really, why doesn’t Avalugg get Ice Shard? It’s made of ice!). There’s no way Avalugg can compete with that kind of power – so what are its support options like?
Rapid Spin is the main option to keep in mind. Even with Defog available as an alternative means to clearing Stealth Rock, Spikes and Toxic Spikes, Rapid Spin is still important if you want to be able to do that without blowing away your own entry hazards, and there still aren’t all that many Pokémon who learn it. It’s an important move to have. Unfortunately, Avalugg’s not really a good Rapid Spinner, since it’s an Ice-type and takes fairly severe damage from switching in while your opponent has Stealth Rock up, which is exactly when you need Rapid Spin. Other than that… well, I guess it can force switches with Roar, potentially ending an attempted sweep from a physical attacker who managed to power up. It’s not the worst Pokémon to use Toxic. That’s… kind of it. Huh. I was sort of expecting there would be more in there. Avalugg’s abilities aren’t great either. Own Tempo makes a Pokémon immune to confusion, which just doesn’t come up often because confusion is such a gamble anyway, but I suppose if you really hate Klefki it couldn’t hurt. Ice Body, which heals the Pokémon every turn during hail, was the staple of Walrein’s defensive strategies in generations IV and V, but now that permanent weather effects are no longer a thing it just doesn’t work so well anymore. What you probably want is Avalugg’s hidden ability, Sturdy. Sturdy makes it impossible to knock a Pokémon out if its health is at maximum, which is slightly silly because if you’re using Avalugg for Rapid Spin you can almost assume it’ll take at least a little bit of damage as it switches in, and in any case, there’s a very clear and threatening line between things that can one-shot Avalugg (special attackers) and things that can’t (physical attackers). On the other hand, thanks to Recover it can get back to full health after being damaged, so it’s not the worst Pokémon to have this ability, and it certainly beats the other two ability choices. Also, bear in mind that Avalugg can learn Mirror Coat as a hereditary move from Corsola, via Squirtle, to reflect back twice the damage it just took from a special attack, provided it survives (which Sturdy can sometimes ensure it will). It’s a risky way to play Avalugg that could easily backfire, but the possibility of turning the tables on special attackers seeking to take advantage of its weakness on that side is extremely attractive.
In order for a really defence-focused Ice Pokémon to work, either the Ice type itself needs to be seriously buffed so that it isn’t such a massive drag, or the Ice Pokémon in question needs a really spectacular unique advantage – an awesome signature move, a perfect stat distribution, a really mind-blowing support movepool, or a cool ability (maybe something really ridiculous like being able to absorb all physical attacks directed at friendly Flying-types – Talonflame and Gyarados, meet your new best friend), preferably more than one of those things. Avalugg… well, Avalugg is a huge block of ice, and it has none of those things. The design doesn’t suggest anything particularly remarkable that it should have, and so it doesn’t get anything. It’s not really bad at what it does, nor is it a markedly uncreative or unoriginal design, it’s just… adequate. It’s one of those Pokémon that makes me feel like it’s missing that little something extra to make it really awesome – maybe a mega evolution somewhere down the road. At the moment, it’s not grievously flawed, just a little bit bland.