Jim the Editor and I had an American friend once who, while on an archaeological dig in Italy, famously infuriated an old Italian man to the point of explosive outrage by repeatedly addressing a dog “ciao, burro” – burro being (as our friend well knew) the Spanish word for donkey, and therefore already a rather silly thing to say to an Italian dog. Even worse, though, burro is also the Italian word for butter, so an onlooker could forgiven for thinking that someone saying “ciao, burro” to a dog is completely insane. Years later, this event has only two substantial legacies: first, that Jim now feels compelled to address all dogs “ciao, burro,” and second, that my Mudsdale now has the dreadful misfortune of being named “Butter.”
Let’s talk about Mudbray and Mudsdale.
To start with the obvious: Mudbray is a donkey, and Mudsdale is a horse. The two species are actually about as distant from one another as horses are from zebras (which get to be their own Pokémon), but I suppose donkeys are not exactly among the most fascinatingly exotic animals in the world, so it’s understandable that for Pokémon’s purposes they would get lumped in with horses as a “close enough.” Donkeys are proverbially known as stubborn animals, because they have very different fear responses to horses – horses bolt when frightened, but donkeys freeze, and usually give very few external cues to express their discomfort, so someone who only knows horses will often think a startled or cautious donkey is being “stubborn” by refusing to move. You could probably ask, fairly, whether the same might be true of Mudbray, who merits a description by the Pokédex as “stubborn” and “individualistic” (unlike horses, donkeys are not naturally herd animals) – maybe that reputation comes from inexperienced trainers who haven’t been taught how to handle them. Mudbray’s… honestly quite disturbing… blank-looking round eyes are probably meant to reinforce this aspect of her personality, making her look a bit vacant and detached – although the unnerving oblong pupils seem to be based on the appearance of a real equine eye. On account of the rough terrain of their natural habitats, where strength matters more than speed, donkeys are actually stronger for their size than horses. In Mudbray’s case, this translates to a carrying capacity of “50 times its own body weight” – over 5 tonnes. As usual, it’s probably best to think of numbers in the Pokédex as more illustrative than literal – even if a Mudbray might not actually be able to support the weight of a fully grown African elephant, after seeing one in action you might believe it.
While undertaking my usual sort of absurd research dive, I showed Mudsdale to a friend of mine who knows little about Pokémon but quite a lot about horses. She confirmed that, as the English name suggests, this Pokémon is probably based on a Clydesdale, a breed of draught horse – large, powerful, even-tempered horses, traditionally used for heavy farm work. Draught horses in general are bred for their calm and steady personalities as much as physical strength, in contrast to more energetic sport horses and war horses, though they are still much less stoic than donkeys. Mudsdale, in a way, conflates the two, having the size and power of a draught horse but exaggerating that calmness into the outward serenity of a donkey, as well as keeping a donkey’s endurance and surefootedness on rough terrain. Clydesdales and some other breeds are particularly known for their “feathery,” usually white, lower legs, and often a white stripe down the centre of the face – the most famous show Clydesdales, the mascots of Budweiser, are white in more or less all the places that Mudsdale is red. Mudsdale’s mane looks a little like a roached mane, which is basically what you get when you give a horse a crew cut, although my friend was also very startled by what seem to be horse dreadlocks, as well as a tail that looks like an extra foot (and I didn’t see this myself originally, but now that I have, I can’t unsee it). In Mudsdale’s case, the “feathering” of her legs is not long hair, but a thick coating of mud and clay, which both Mudbray and Mudsdale accumulate on their hooves for traction and to add extra weight and force to their kicks. Real donkeys and horses are fond of a good dust bath, for most of the same reasons as other mammals – it can dry out and fluff up a damp coat, scratch itches and remove parasites, or help regulate heat. Too much mud is generally not great for a horse’s hooves, though, so that part should perhaps be put down to Ground-type magic. In a further display of special mud- and dirt-related abilities, Mudsdale’s saliva, mixed with dirt, is said to create a special mud so resilient to wind and rain that it was once used to plaster the exterior walls of houses. I like to imagine that we can see an example of this kind of traditional architecture in Hapu’s family home on Poni Island, where wild Mudsdale (Hapu’s signature Pokémon) are native.
Although I don’t think this is mentioned anywhere in the games themselves (oddly, because it seems kind of important), Mudbray and Mudsdale are actually an endangered species. The Sun and Moon website explains that Mudbray once existed all over the world, but have now been hunted to extinction practically everywhere outside Alola. This little nugget of information tells us a few important things: 1) like many central Asian cultures, humans all over the Pokémon world apparently once ate horse meat, and loved it; 2) this apparently outweighed Mudbray and Mudsdale’s obvious usefulness as riding animals and beasts of burden, roles in which they were supplanted by a wide variety of other Pokémon; and 3) the history of cavalry tactics in the Pokémon world must have been weird as all hell. Equines are not native to the Hawaiian islands, were introduced only in the 19th century, and have never particularly had a starring role in the history or economic development of the region as they did in, say, Eurasia, or the central United States, so we have to look elsewhere for what Game Freak meant by creating an endangered horse Pokémon. To me, it seems like it must be meant to reference the Przewalski’s horse (pronounced “pshzrzrzwxzkzshszz”), a rare horse subspecies found in Mongolia. Przewalski’s horses were actually extinct in the wild for a few decades in the late 20th century, but have been reintroduced from captive breeding programs in China and are recovering well – a similar comeback for Mudbray seems likely in regions featured by future games. Until recently, the Przewalski’s horse populations were considered the last truly “wild” horses in the world, but just a couple of months ago, a new genetic analysis suggested that they were actually descended from the domesticated horses of the Botai people, a Neolithic culture of central Asia who were among the first humans in the world to live and work with horses. If true, this would make them technically feral rather than truly wild (and mean that truly wild horses no longer exist). That tells us basically nothing about Mudbray and Mudsdale, since everything we know about them comes from stuff that Game Freak wrote before the new research was public knowledge, but it seemed like the sort of mad trivia that my gentle readers have come to expect from me.
From a glance at her stats, Mudsdale seems quite similar to Hippowdon – a very slow Ground-type physical tank. And… well, she is. There are some shifts in emphasis: Mudsdale has greater attack power and is slightly less vulnerable to special attacks, but is even slower and not as strong against physical attacks – or at least, not out-of-the-box. Her unique point of difference is the Stamina ability, which gives a boost to her physical defences every time she is hit by an attack (including special attacks). The other abilities available to Mudsdale, Own Tempo and Inner Focus, grant immunities to relatively uncommon status effects (confusion and flinching, respectively) and aren’t really worth consideration. Stamina will usually not be more than a minor deterrent in duels, since any Pokémon willing to attack Mudsdale in the first place won’t care about the defence buff – unless you have special attacks or a type advantage, you’ll probably be switching out anyway. It does substantially improve Mudsdale’s ability to switch in against physical attackers, though, and once she’s in play she can use her ominously high defence to force them out. Stamina is particularly effective against attacks that hit more than once, because every hit will trigger a Stamina boost, although only a couple of these are likely to actually appear in battles against human players, and even those only on a few specific Pokémon (principally those with the Skill Link ability, like Toucannon and Cloyster), so this shouldn’t be seen as a major upside of the ability. In doubles, you can use a partner’s multiple strike move – preferably one that doesn’t bother Mudsdale much, like Rock Blast – to very rapidly ramp up Mudsdale’s defence to ludicrous levels. Ultimately, though, it’s not physical defence that holds her back. Where Mudsdale falters in comparison to Hippowdon or other more elite physical tanks is that her only healing is Rest (though Mudsdale is admittedly a solid candidate for a Sleep Talk moveset, since she can keep raising her defence passively while asleep). She can push her defence as high as she likes, but special attacks and burn or poison damage will stick, and add up.
Mudsdale’s primary attack should usually be Earthquake. The almost-signature move High Horsepower is useful in a playthrough because it comes very early in Mudbray’s level-up list, and it can be used in doubles without endangering Mudsdale’s partner, but it has slightly less power and accuracy than Earthquake with no particular advantages in a standard battle. Beyond that she has surprisingly few strong options. Rock Slide is not nothing, and Rock attacks are a good pairing with Ground attacks as they hit Flying- and Bug-types hard, but it’s also not Stone Edge. Both of the strongest Fighting attacks available to her, Close Combat and Superpower, impose defence penalties that will weaken her as a tank. After that, we need to talk about the interesting option of Heavy Slam, a Steel attack, and one of the few moves that care about a Pokémon’s weight, since it has multiple damage tiers based on how much heavier the user is than the target. Normally this move is hard to justify, since its power is comically low if the target is even half the user’s weight. However, Mudsdale, surprisingly, is one of the heaviest Pokémon in the entire game, tipping the scales at over 900 kg and surpassed only (and just barely) by Groudon, Celesteela and Cosmoem. This is actually not much heavier than a typical Clydesdale stallion in the real world, but most Pokémon are actually not very hefty compared to real animals – even Snorlax is only 460 kg. Mudsdale will hit the top damage tier for Heavy Slam against any Pokémon lighter than 184 kg… which turns out to be most of them, including every Fairy Pokémon in the game with the exception of Xerneas. In fact, the only Pokémon I can think of that you’d want to hit with a Steel attack and are heavy enough for Heavy Slam to be well and truly useless are Alolan Exeggutor, Kyurem, Mega Glalie, Avalugg, and certain forms of Arceus, and frankly, if your opponent is putting almost any of those Pokémon up against your Mudsdale, then one of you probably has a lot of explaining to do.
Once those standard moves are out of the way, just about the strongest attacks available to Mudsdale are Body Slam and Payback, which is already pushing us into barrel-scraping territory (admittedly, Body Slam’s paralysis effect has the potential to help Mudsdale, and Payback has decent power and neutral type coverage if you’re anticipating a switch but aren’t sure what’s coming in, although neither is ever going to score many super-effective hits). You can again draw a contrast here to Hippowdon and Donphan, who have similar roles to Mudsdale but get a more powerful Rock attack (Stone Edge) and a couple of niche counter moves like the elemental fang attacks and Donphan’s Ice Shard. Given Mudsdale’s tanky stats and average offensive movepool, we need to consider at least one support move, although this does arguably make the comparison with Hippowdon starker and exacerbate her lack of healing. Like most Ground-types, she gets Stealth Rock, and is as good a choice for using it as any other Pokémon with similar stats and healing potential. Roar synergises with Stealth Rock, and Mudsdale is very polarising between Pokémon who can easily handle her and Pokémon who can’t at all. And after that, you… kind of start to run short again. Toxic makes as much sense on Mudsdale as it does on anything else. Rototiller, which boosts the attack and special attack of all Grass Pokémon in play, is sort of worth mentioning just because it’s so rare and because it’s very flavour-appropriate to Mudsdale as a farm work animal, but with the obsolescence of triples in generation VII I can’t think of anywhere it would be useful. You could even go with Sandstorm, if you really want to revel in how badly you’re being outclassed by Hippowdon.
As Alolan Pokémon go, my assessment of Mudsdale has to be a little on the “meh” side. She’s based on a real animal that isn’t all that weird or exciting to begin with, and she doesn’t have the kind of deep historical link to the setting of Sun and Moon that a lot of other seventh-generation Pokémon do (although the reference to Mudsdale saliva being used in traditional architecture is a nice attempt). In battle, she’s unfortunately close – more so than most Alolan Pokémon – to being simply an inferior counterpart to other Ground-type tanks that came before. Stamina adds some interesting nuance to how Mudsdale has to be played, but it’s also not that difficult to work around, and has to compete with Hippowdon’s Sand Stream for utility. This one just feels like it’s missing… something.