Ho-oh was one of the earliest Legendary Pokemon released in Pokemon Go, arriving to much fan-fair and excitement for many players who knew all too well of its outstanding performance in the Main Series. This Pokemon has long been one of the most popular in the entire franchise, so surely it would arrive as the king of Fire Types, ascending an immortal throne to become a top contender in the game, right?
Well, sadly no. Cursed to be one of the earliest Pokemon to have the 9-antic nerf and held back by an atrocious moveset, Ho-oh has long been one of the great disappointments for many Pokemon Go players to date. Gone were our hopes, and all that we had to look forward to is a possible future-fix.
But now, has this fix come at last?
We're currently on the verge of seeing Shadow Ho-oh's rise, giving this phoenix one of the strongest boosts in the game. But this begs the question: are we about to see Ho-oh turn into the monster that many of us have long hoped for?
Shadow Ho-oh: PvP Performance
Because Shadow Ho-Oh will be catchable at Lv8 or 13, this is the first time the Pokémon has been reasonably accessible in Great League! You can technically get one by trading for a Research Breakthrough Ho-Oh with a low-level friend but that’s difficult for so many reasons.
No Pokémon exists in a vacuum, of course. It’s all about context, and how it compares to your other options. As such, we’ll be comparing Shadow Ho-Oh to normal Ho-Oh, as well as to Talonflame (the other Fire/Flying-type Incinerate+Brave Bird user).
Across all three formats, Ho-Oh’s preferred moveset is Incinerate + Brave Bird paired with the legacy Earthquake, which means that if you do want to use your Ho-Oh, it’s gonna cost you an Elite Charged TM (as well as waiting for a Frustration TM event, whenever that hits.) Additionally, keep in mind that Ho-Oh’s a difficult mon to sim. The difference between a match where you land your Brave Bird and one where it gets shielded is massive, so generally think of these as “potential wins.”
Rank 1 IVs for Ho-Oh are 8/14/15. However, since you can’t trade a Shadow, the best IVs for Shadow Ho-Oh are “Whatever you can get your hands on, don’t think too hard about it.”
Rather than trying to cover all the differences and wins (it’s more annoying to read than it’s worth, I promise), let’s just run through a couple of highlights, and discuss what lets Sho-Oh stand out over its contemporaries! Shadow Ho-Oh can shield once and farm down Galvantula, Tropius, and Skarmory (Talonflame can’t). Adding Earthquake lets it beat Vigoroth, Alolan Marowak, and Lickitung. It’s definitely at its weakest compared to Talonflame at this point, though, since Talonflame benefits significantly more from throwing its bait move. Adding Brave Bird, Ho-Oh really takes off! It’s the only one of the three that can handle Umbreon or Mandibuzz! Other notable wins include every relevant Grass-type, Medicham, and both variants of Alolan Ninetales.
Do note that it struggles a little more in bait scenarios than Talonflame in pretty much every case, just because its “bait” move is more expensive than its nuke, and Earthquake’s 65 energy cost slows it down quite a bit! However, where Ho-Oh really shines isn’t in its sims, but in what the sims don’t show. Ho-Oh’s access to Earthquake gives it a powerful niche in that it can actually hit common anti-Flyings for huge damage. Are you going to lose to Bastiodon? Absolutely, and consistently too! However, Shadow Ho-Oh’s Earthquake hits Bastiodon for upwards of 85% of its health! This means that, unlike Talonflame (or any other Flying-type, for that matter), you can actually force a shield out of the wallface. Similarly, a lot of the time you’ll farm up to 100 energy, throw a Brave Bird, Incinerate once, and then Brave Bird again before swapping out. Taking switch doesn’t matter: getting damage and shields does. Don’t forget, too: Talonflame’s banned in Great League Remix. Ho-Oh’s not.
Ho-Oh’s actually been legal here, and accessible! It also hasn’t seen any play, because it’s not very good. And sadly, it actually looks meaningfully worse than Talonflame here. It has two potential wins that Talonflame doesn’t: Lugia and Armored Mewtwo. By choosing to run Ho-Oh over Talonflame, you give up Cresselia, Giratina-Altered, and Lapras. Even normal Ho-Oh beats Cress. Sadly, there’s not that much to say here. The Shadow just underperforms, and it’s difficult to recommend it. Doesn’t really look any better in the 2shield or 0shield either. That said, its notable wins include Abomasnow, Poliwrath, Registeel, Charizard, all Charmers (though Togekiss does force you to land the Brave Bird), Alolan Muk, and Snorlax.
Master is the format where Ho-Oh has, in the past, seen the most play. There are really two notable matchups for Shadow vs non-Shadow Ho-Oh: Dialga and Melmetal. While Dialga can always beat Ho-Oh by taking the matchup to the 2shield, the 1shield has a little nuance. If Dialga baits, the Thunder variant can beat non-Shadow Ho-Oh. However, the Shadow’s able to deal enough damage to take it out before it reaches the move. However, because you’re taking more damage from each Dragon Breath, it does make the winning version of the matchup significantly closer vs Draco Meteor versions, where you have ~8% health remaining instead of ~26%. Melmetal’s one where it’s strictly downside, though. Normal Ho-Oh is tanky enough to live a single Rock Slide, and while the matchup is close, you do win the 1shield straight Earthquake. Shadow’s reduced defense (combined with the fact that your IVs on the Shadow are likely much lower than they would be on non-Shadow Ho-Oh) makes the matchup really bad, and if your HP stat is low enough, you can’t even win the 0shield. You do perform better vs Garchomp (both Mud Shot/Outrage/Earth Power and Dragon Tail/Sand Tomb variants get flipped from losses to wins, though they’re close losses). It’s just...the mon seems worse. Even ignoring the fact that your Shadow Ho-Oh probably isn’t going to be a hundo (congrats if it is), it just seems generally worse. Ho-Oh is a mon that really relies on its bulk to reach its nukes, and while the added firepower of Shadow status can help in the lower formats (well, Great League at least), it doesn’t carry over to Master in any way that matters.
Shadow Ho-oh: PvE Performance
The rise of Shadow Ho-oh is big news, as it’s the first “cover Legendary”-leveled Pokemon outside of Mewtwo (who isn’t a cover Legendary, but is a Legendary Pokemon with main-series stats in line with most Cover Legendaries) to get the coveted Shadow treatment. This is basically a free DPS boost that leaves TDO largely intact, which is monumentally useful for a Pokemon that has been cursed by the CP formula of Pokemon Go such as Ho-oh. But here’s the big question: “just how much of a difference does this make for the Rainbow Pokemon?” Between its relatively low Attack stat and awkward moveset, the answer to that question is a bit mixed, so let’s take a look at Shadow Ho-oh in all of its PvE niches to see just how much of a difference Ho-oh’s time with Giovanni is set to make.
Fire is sort of Ho-oh’s main schtick in Pokemon Go, as it’s the only STAB type that our favorite rainbow phoenix has a full moveset in without needing to rely on Hidden Power just happening to roll in the right direction. So how does Shadow Ho-oh fare on this front?
….not too hot, sadly. Despite being pretty bulky and having solid offensive stats after the Shadow boost, the fact that Shadow Ho-oh is cursed with Fire Blast means it’s trapped behind the upper echelon of Fire Types. This is downright sad, as Incinerate is an objectively great (if unwieldy) fast move in raids that gives Shadow Ho-oh the makings of living up to its hype.
Overall, it ranks on a par with Chandelure and Darmanitan as a Fire Type attacker, but with substantially higher TDO. While this isn’t a bad position overall, it’s very lackluster for a Shadow Legendary Pokemon. Shadow Ho-oh is not currently recommended to any great degree if you intend to use it as a Fire attacker.
Shadow Ho-oh’s other type is, obviously, Flying! It’s actually somewhat blessed on this side of the spectrum, as the semi-recent buff to Brave Bird actually makes it a top move for Flying Type PvE damage. However, this is also not a common type to encounter, as it relies on the luck of the draw in getting Hidden Power Flying to achieve. While it’s true that other types can act with Flying to deal Super Effective damage against select opponents, the lack of STAB will hurt Ho-oh’s viability in these scenarios.
And hey, take a look at that! Shadow Ho-oh actually shows up on page one of the DPS/TDO spreadsheet this time!
As a Flying Type attacker, Shadow Ho-oh is actually pretty effective overall. While it isn’t quite on a par with Shadow Moltres in overall terms, it’s still a solid tank of a Pokemon that could anchor a team well. Overall, Flying Type Shadow Ho-oh can be worth having.
….if you’re lucky enough to nab good IVs and Hidden Power Flying.
Remember back when Groudon was first released, and Ho-oh found a niche as a tanky Grass Type attacker? Those were the days… and they can be the days again!
Okay, maybe not, but Shadow Ho-oh does have Solar Beam, and the fact that Hidden Power Grass isn’t STAB means that other Hidden Power types can pair with it to make a viable Grass Type set! Ice, Water, Electric… the list goes on, and the viability depends on what Pokemon you’re approaching. At least in theory. Here’s the actual performance against Ho-oh’s age-old nemesis; Groudon:
...well, it definitely lasts! Shadow Ho-oh has a TDO higher than anything that tops the leaderboard when using a Solar Beam set against Groudon, even with a substantially lower HP. This is the tank for keeping alive, but it’s still not an outstanding overall pick. It’s probably best to just stick with Fire or, if you’re lucky, Flying Type movesets.
Flying has a great Charged Move, but a very infrequently obtained Fast Move. Fire has a great Fast Move, but a terrible Charged Move…. It’s too bad we don’t have any types that are weak to both, right?
Wait a second, we do!
Fire and Flying are actually fairly synergetic offensively, and can be used together effectively against Bug and Grass Types, meaning a mix of Incinerate and Brave Bird is perfectly viable in select raids! In order to showcase this, the following calculations are against a Grass Type Arceus, as we have a bit of a lack of big-name Grass or Bug Type raid bosses without sub-types that screw up their weakness/resistance profile and/or add a double weakness.
Well, it’s viable, but it also has a lot of very powerful competition. Still, most of that competition comes in the form of Mega Evolutions, which Shadow Ho-oh doesn’t really compete with directly, meaning it’s actually a solid choice for this role!
The Future of the Rainbow
So we’ve established that Shadow Ho-oh is a bit disappointing. But hey, that’s par for the course, right? The poor thing has been bashed for years, and it likely will be bashed for years to come. But what if this isn’t how it has to be for poor Ho-oh? Two simple, and perfectly reasonable changes could make this Pokemon a monster, so let’s review what it would take to fix poor Ho-oh!
Ho-oh and Gust: The Winds of Change
Gust is a powerful and fairly new Flying Type Fast Move that was introduced for Pidgeot. It’s similar to Incinerate in the fact that it’s slow but powerful, and guess what? Ho-oh can learn it in the main series!
Picking up Gust would instantly fix Ho-oh’s issue of having to roll the dice for Hidden Power Flying, and also give it one of the best possible Flying Type movesets in the entire game. On top of that, it’s an on-brand move that matches what Niantic has been doing with Ho-oh as of late!
With this, Ho-oh becomes very powerful as a Flying Type attacker, directly competing with even Shadow Moltres for the crown via the age-old “a little DPS for a little TDO” trade-off. This alone would make Shadow Ho-oh a very viable choice for Flying Type damage, and would go a huge ways towards patching up Ho-oh’s performance!
Ho-oh and Sacred Fire: A Blaze of Glory
Mewtwo has Psystrike, and Lugia has Aeroblast. If we’re following the line of major Legendary Pokemon signature moves in order of their initial release, then Ho-oh is next with Sacred Fire.
While we don’t know when/if this move will be released, we can draw a bit of speculation as to what it might be able to do. So far, we haven’t seen parity with Legendary Pokemon Signature Moves so far. However, we do know that the Signature Moves of Groudon and Kyogre, Precipice Blades and Origin Pulse respectively, have identical stats in the game master currently. If we follow these lines, then it’s a reasonable assumption that Sacred Fire may follow the same basic lines as Lugia’s Aeroblast. Given that assumption, this is what one variant of Sacred Fire could look like with Shadow Ho-oh:
...wow. Given these parameters, Ho-oh skyrockets in performance and could potentially take its place as what is arguably the absolute king of the non-Mega FIre Types. The performance here is astonishing, as it provides huge DPS and outstanding TDO to create a monster of a Pokemon. If Sacred Fire turns out to be anything even mildly along these lines, then Shadow Ho-oh has tremendous potential to become a meta threat, and even more-so if it’s also given Gust at some point in the future!
All in all, Shadow Ho-Oh is...mixed. While it's not at the top of the board for anything, it's at the very least interesting in every context. There's something here for PvPers, as well as challenge raiders. In the end, this really does leave us asking, though: Sacred Fire When?