Do you remember your first encounter with Pokemon? For me, it was seeing Pikachu in the original Super Smash Brothers game for the Nintendo 64, but regardless of where you started with this multimedia juggernaut of a series, it's very likely that it all started when you laid eyes on a certain electrical yellow rodent: Pikachu.
Pikachu is the face of the Pokemon series, and one of the most recognizable multimedia mascots in all of history. While most of us have moved on and picked a plethora of other favorites from the now gargantuan Pokedex that we have today, this was the start for most of us. So here's another question: do you remember when you learned about Pikachu's evolution?
Always in the shadow of its younger self, Raichu is one of the saddest cases in all of Pokemon. We have multiple games where we can't evolve a Pikachu into a Raichu as one of the core mechanics for crying out loud! And to make matters worse, Raichu is not only overshadowed by Pikachu, but by what is essentially itself in the form of Alolan Raichu as well. No other Pokemon has a harder time in this series than poor Raichu.
But what can we do about this? Can we give Raichu a niche here in Pokemon Go where it can actually be the very best, like no 'mon ever was? With a few of the tools at our disposal, it very well might be possible.....
To start with, let's set some ground rules for how we're going to go about theorycrafting our target Pokemon:
- We cannot change a Pokemon's typing or stats
- We cannot imagine an entirely new feature to the game that would fix them. For example: no unofficial Mega Evolutions or regional variants, and no unreleased features like Dynamax or Z-Moves.
- We cannot add new moves to their existing moveset that they cannot learn in the main series or make moves that don't exist in the main series
- We can theorycraft new moves based on currently unused moves that are in their main series movesets
- We can add new effects that exist, such as theorycrafting them as Shadow Pokemon
- We can change the effects of existing moves, though we will also need to look at the meta implications of this change if we do so
- The cardinal rule: we can't do anything that Niantic can't do given current game precedent
With that out of the way, let's get to it!
At its core, Raichu is a fast, hard-hitting Electric-type, using the combination of Volt Switch and Wild Charge to put out a lot of damage if not shielded. As a secondary charged move, it typically goes with either Brick Break or Thunder Punch.
All of this seems perfectly solid! Given that so much of the Great League is either Flying-type or Azumarill, this sounds great! But Raichu hasn’t seen play, well...anywhere, in a long time. The last time it saw play was, like...Season 1 Regionals? Tempest Cup, maybe?
Kantonian Raichu has had a hard time in PvP recently. While it beat out its Alolan cousin thanks to Thunder Shock’s speed, it’s taken blow after blow. First, Alolan Raichu picked up Thunder Shock to tie Kantonian in speed. Then it picked up Grass Knot, and Psychic got buffed, leaving K-Chu completely outclassed in terms of coverage. The fact that A-Chu’s Psychic subtyping made it a very strong counter to Registeel gave it a very powerful antimeta niche in GBL for multiple seasons, too.
So...what does Kantonian Raichu have? Let’s run through moves.
For Fast Moves, Raichu has Spark, Thunder Shock, Volt Switch, and Charm. Of these, Volt Switch is going to be the move of choice. Solid damage combined with great energy generation makes it generally really powerful. Charm is an interesting option, but lack of STAB combined with Raichu’s low bulk makes Charm Raichu just worse than other charmers
Then, Charged Moves. For STAB options, there’s Thunder Punch and Wild Charge. For other options, there’s Brick Break and Skull Bash. Wild Charge is a known quantity: relatively cheap, hits like a truck, great move. Thunder Punch is fine, and it can work for a triple Electric set, but it’s not particularly exciting. Skull Bash is far too expensive for a mon with Raichu’s bulk: by the time you can land one to boost your Defense, you’re already like 80% dead, so you can’t even capitalize off the boost. And finally, Brick Break. This one’s just terrible. While it’s cheap, its damage is so awful that it’s barely more energy efficient than Wild Charge against Bastiodon, where it’s 2x Super Effective.
How do we fix it?
K-Chu doesn’t actually feel that far from being viable in Great League! Its biggest issue is arguably a lack of strong secondary coverage to pair with Volt Switch + Wild Charge. Remember: the goal isn’t to make it top tier, it’s just to make it stand out, especially over Alolan Raichu.
We can start simple: remember Pikachu Community Day, where Pikachu learned Surf? Well, when you evolved those Pikachu, Raichu wouldn’t learn Surf. But what if it did? Well...it’s not that impressive, sadly. Straight Surf, it beats the things you’d expect. Pelipper, Mantine, Skarmory, Drifblim, Mandibuzz, but so much of that is just...Volt Switch being Volt Switch. It actually performs worse than Thunder Punch in a lot of cases, and you can’t even beat Alolan Marowak without landing Wild Charge. So we can more or less rule this one out.
Another event-exclusive Pikachu is Flying Pikachu. The lil dude with the balloons that showed up in a little while back. There’s some real power to this one! If you’ve used Alolan Raichu in Great League, you’ll have seen that Raichu struggles a lot against Grass-types. At best, you may be able to land a Psychic on a Venusaur, but most everything you have is resisted. Using Fly, Raichu keeps the expected wins against common Flyings, but you also beat Venusaur in the 1shield, Shiftry, and Air Slash (but not Razor Leaf) Tropius. You do still lose to Meganium, though, it’s a bit too bulky to handle.
Another fun move Raichu learns is Body Slam! While going straight Body Slam doesn’t do a ton, the fact that it only costs 35 energy unlocks some cool new wins! Suddenly you flip losses into wins in the 1shield against Wigglytuff, Vigoroth, and Clefable!
If we want to dig really deep, though, we unlock a few new options. Back in Generation 3, Raichu could learn Counter via move tutor. Let’s take a look at these one at a time.
Counter is….interesting. When paired with Thunder Punch and Wild Charge, you get a very different matchup spread from normal. Abomasnow, Munchlax, and Zweilous are now solid wins, and Bastiodon goes from a slight win to a dominant one. However, you lose a lot too. Suddenly your matchups against Toxicroak, Sableye, Alolan Marowak, and Froslass flip into losses (though you retain things like Azumarill, Drifblim (it’s way closer), Shadow Hypno, and Mantine. Definitely not just Better, but also not Worse.
There doesn’t really seem to be a much better way to combine these moves than pairing with Volt Switch and Wild Charge to improve its Great League standing, either.
Sadly, though, it would be difficult to make Kantonian Raichu super relevant in Open Great League. The rise in Galarian Stunfisk reduced the amount of Registeel, one of Electric’s biggest targets. That doesn’t even account for how well Gunfisk itself handles Electric. Additionally, Galvantula getting access to Lunge made it the premier Electric in the format. However, any of these moves (most notably Fly and Surf) would do a lot to make the original Raichu usable in Silph Cups!
Hidden Potential Rating:
Raichu is in a very bad place overall. It constantly lives in the shadow of its pre-evolution, Pikachu, and it also has to contend with its Alolan forme. On top of this, it has also been considered a sub-optimal choice in raids and gym attacking since the game's inception, and has been left very, very far in the dust since we've gotten powerhouse Pokemon like Raikou and Zekrom. And all of this is despite it having the best possible Electric Type moveset with Thundershock/Wild Charge.
1: Its Attack is Terrible
With a mere 193 attack, Raichu falls very, very short. To put this into perspective, Raikou has 241 attack, Electivire has 249 attack, and Zekrom has 275 attack. It simply cannot compete.
2: Its Bulk is Terrible
Before the release of Zekrom, the main argument when it came to Electric Types and Shadows, was Raikou Vs. Electivire. Raikou had a fair amount more bulk which let it stay on the field for around 30% longer on average, while Electivire had a bit more damage thanks to its slightly higher attack stat.
Raichu has even lower bulk than Electivire to compliment its substantially lower attack. In short: Raichu is literally a far worse Electivire
How do we fix it?
Straight up: Raichu cannot be fixed using existing effects available effects in the game. It already has the best Electric Type moveset, and really can't learn the moves or stats to even try to compete in another type. And even if we give it a Shadow forme, it will then compete with Shadow Zapdos, Shadow Raikou, and Shadow Electivire, leaving it still hopelessly outclassed.
We cannot fix Raichu without giving it something entirely new
The Only Viable Fix: Volt Tackle
In the main series, Pikachu, Raichu, and Alolan Raichu all share a signature attack; Volt Tackle. This is an extremely powerful move, and is hands-down the most viable means to fix Raichu in the PvE metagame. However, I'm not going to beat around the bush on this; Raichu needs to overcome its 56 attack deficit to Electivire at the very least, or more realistically its 82 attack deficit to Zekrom to be viable. Basically, unless it deals more damage than Electivire, it's going to be strictly outclassed in the exact same role. But even if it beats Electivire, it needs to be competitive with Zekrom, which has a gigantic TDO advantage and a sub-typing that gives it a ton of additional resistances. In fact, the only reasonable time that Zekrom's Dragon typing may be a disadvantage is when facing something with an Ice Type move. For that reason, it almost needs to surpass Zekrom's DPS to be considered worthwhile.
With that in mind, let's just go straight to the gold standard for theorycrafting and make Volt Tackle a Hydro Cannon clone to see what happens.
Not even the most broken attack currently in the game can make Raichu competitive in the PvE meta, so we're going to have to take it farther. In order to make this work, we're going to take the base stats of Hydro Cannon and boost the damage up to the same level as Blast Burn, which makes it hands down the strongest move to ever exist in the game.
It takes this much sheer power to make Raichu competitive with Zekrom, but even then it's really not. Why use something with such a large drop in TDO for only the smallest increase in DPS in return? It would be viable for those who lack Zekrom, but even then it's still far, far behind the Shadows of the type. Which brings up another question: what if we give Raichu a shadow forme AND Volt Tackle?
And here we see both variants of Volt Tackle and how they stack up. The enhanced Hydro Cannon variant seems to be a bit overpowered, but it still has a lower DPS. It's definitely viable and excellent, but still not the absolute best. In fact, when comparing the Hydro Cannon variant to Shadow Electivire, it's an outright outtclassed (though still viable) Pokemon.
Did you catch the learnset for Volt Tackle at the start of this section? It can be learned by Pikachu, Raichu, and Alolan Raichu.
Alolan Raichu has a higher attack stat than its basic variant, and could very likely learn Volt Tackle at some point if basic Raichu gets it as well.
Yup. Even if given the most powerful attack that we've ever seen and brought to the cusp of being the best Electric Type in the game, Raichu is in danger of being outclassed by what is basically itself. Raichu needs to meet a very high bar just to be viable, and even then it can't sit comfortably.
Hidden Potential Rating:
I will travel across the land, searching far and wide... for a way to make Raichu worth using. The middle-child of the Pokemon series has the ability to carve itself out a niche, but its actual utility is precarious and easy to dethrone, in part because it can always be outclassed by itself in one way or another. Pikachu has the cute costumes (that some of us are sick of) and the fan appeal, Alolan Raichu has the better overall stats and build, but with just a bit of work (okay, a lot of work in some cases), Raichu may finally be able to understand the power that's inside....