Double Trouble: Oh HAIL No!
Prepare for trouble and make it double, Puclonians! A very special holiday edition of Double Trouble, in fact! It’s Christmas Eve. The Winter Solstice was Sunday, and tomorrow is Christmas. And I personally have had very few Christmases with snow, growing up in the desert and now residing in super-sunny Southern California so I really am only dreaming of a White Christmas. What better time could there be, then, to look at Hail in the VGC?
No matter what format you like to play in, it is well established that Hail is the least loved of the weather conditions in Pokémon. And how could it not be? It revolves around the Ice type which, while a fantastic attacking type, is… less good defensively. With four weaknesses and only a single resistance to itself, Ice is one of the worst defensive typings in the game. And yet the abilities related to Hail, Snow Cloak and Ice Body, are defensively oriented and distributed pretty much only to Ice types who cannot benefit from them all too much since Ice is such a poor defensive typing in the first place. On top of that, Hail is the only weather condition for which there is no related ability that doubles the speed of Pokémon in it. It also has the dishonorable mention of being the only weather not to make any type of attacks stronger; Sun and Rain bolster Fire and Water respectively, and Sand at least offers the Sand Force ability. Hail, though? Nothing. Because Ice is so poor defensively, even when using Hail you probably are not using more than a couple of Ice types at most anyway and since Hail damages anything not an Ice type it is also the least accommodating weather to the rest of your team.
And then we have the face of Hail, Abomasnow. Because Ice itself was not bad enough defensively by itself, it was decided they needed to pair it with another typing riddled with weaknesses before giving something Snow Warning. Abomasnow has a whopping seven weaknesses, which I believe makes it tied for most weaknesses on a Pokémon. If Aurorus ever receives its Hidden Ability that would at least give people another choice for their auto-Hail setter, but in spite of the beautiful crystals adorning its body, Rock/Ice is no gem defensively, either. Aurorus technically has one less weakness than Abomasnow, but it has two quadruple weaknesses (both featuring prominent priority attacks) and arguably poorer resistances, although not being eaten alive by Talonflame is a plus. So while Hail revolves around a completely offensively oriented typing, it does exceedingly little to enhance their offensive prowess and only features defensively disappointing typing for its setters and defensive abilities to activate off of it. All things considered, it is absolutely no wonder Hail is the unloved stepchild of weather by such a wide margin.
Why do people run Hail at all, then? In many ways, all weather is both stronger and easier to use effectively in doubles than in singles. Whereas in singles you have to get your weather-starter in then switch in something else that exploits the weather, by the virtue of a doubles format you can set weather with one Pokémon and have another Pokémon already on the field to take advantage of it that same turn. With regards to Hail specifically, the biggest asset of using Hail is having completely accurate Blizzards. In Hail, Blizzard suddenly becomes a fantastic attack carrying a very high and consistent base power for a spread attack that nothing is immune to, only targeting the opposing Pokémon, never missing, and carrying with it a 19% chance of freezing at least one opponent if it damages both targets (34% if both of your Pokémon on the field use Blizzard the same turn).
Perhaps a better argument for using Hail is the fact that it is used to great success every single year. This last year alone, it came in fifth place in the Seniors Division at the Pokémon World Championships, with another player using it in the Masters division and placing high in various regionals. The year before, current reigning World Champion and fan-favorite Sejun Park came in fifth place at Worlds with a team featuring Abomasnow and the person who came in fourth place ahead of him, Benjamin Gould, ran Hail as well. The year before that, Hail made yet another top-ten finish at Worlds (with what is arguably the most creative Hail team I’ve ever seen involving a Choice Specs Gyarados). Something does not consistently top cut at the Pokémon World Championships year after year without there being some merit to it.
Hail has a remarkably impressive track record in the VGC for what seems to clearly be the weakest weather condition, so what seems to be the trick to its success? Well, a wide swath of possible combinations and strategies exist in doubles that cannot exist in singles, one of which synergizes remarkably well with Hail’s signature weather setter: Trick Room. Most successful teams using Hail, including those used at Worlds over the years, also feature Trick Room on their teams to form a combination known as HailRoom. Setting up both Hail and Trick Room so both conditions are active simultaneously may at first sound like a tall order, but it is also infinitely easier to do when you can have two Pokémon out at once. And at 60 base speed with all of its weaknesses, Abomasnow is already slower than most things but highly prefers to get hits off before having to take any hits itself, so Trick Room makes sense for it. Under Trick Room it can much more reliably fire off its high power attacks like Blizzard and ideally circumvent its underwhelming defensive typing by catering to its offensive presence.
The Pokémon Company obviously took note of how Abomasnow was best being used and catered to the snow yeti with a Mega Evolution that makes it even better for HailRoom improving it in both aspects of the combination. With a reduced speed stat working in its favor under Trick Room it effectively benefits from a 130 base stat boost even though its base stat total only goes up by 100 like (almost) all other megas . And keeping the same ability upon Mega Evolving in combination with lowering its speed helps it to try and stay a couple of steps ahead in a weather war to better ensure the Hail in HailRoom keeps coming. The low speed already lets it quite reliably establish Hail against other weather setters that show up the same turn, but if something tries to change the weather right after you get your Hail going you can one-up them again with Mega Evolving. Mega Abomasnow also clocks in as the slowest auto-weather Pokémon there is so far, even slower than the rare Hippowdon. Between more effectively setting up hail, becoming “faster” in Trick Room, and getting greatly appreciated bulk and fire power on par with a Life Orb, Mega Abomasnow has been a fantastic gift to Hail and HailRoom. And while it will never be one of the most frequently used Mega Evolutions, it is fair to say Mega Abomasnow is probably underrated. Especially when one looks back at how well Hail has done in the past. And with all the genies and Salamence running around right now, it is definitely in a position to be utilized very effectively in the current format.
If you are considering running Hail or HailRoom for VGC 15, here are some things to keep in mind:
-Remember Abomasnow does not HAVE to hold Abomasite. Focus Sash and Choice Scarf are both proven valid options as well, especially if you have another Mega Evolution in mind.
-You have more reason than ever for something to use Safety Goggles as its item to ignore Hail damage, ideally something that also takes advantage of the immunity to powder moves it provides.
-Be able to function without it. If you are unable to set up your weather or can’t get a Trick Room off for whatever reason, do you automatically lose?
-Beat Talonflame reliably. If Mega Abomasnow is Hail’s biggest new tool, Talonflame is its biggest new enemy so having a strong answer to it should be one of the first things you consider when teambuilding.
And with that, Merry Christmas to all and to all, I’ll be blasting off again until New Year’s Eve!