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How to decide between Pokémon Sword and Shield: exclusives and gym leaders explained

Which is the very best for you?

How to decide between Pokémon Sword and Shield
(Image: © The Pokemon Company)

Since the release of 1996's Red and Blue, Pokémon fans have had the choice between two games in each generation – complementary opposites that are two halves of a larger whole, rather than two different games entirely. As such, while there have always been differences between the versions on offer, they tend to be subtle and the core experience for all players has been the same regardless of the version chosen. 

But for some, these subtle differences will really matter, and it’s important to know what you’re signing up for (or missing out on) before you settle on your version.

For the latest generation, the versions on offer are Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield. Rather than force you to go down the rather existential path of deciding whether you’re more of a Sword or more of a Shield person, we’ve put together this guide outlining the key differences between the titles, which, in this generation, are actually more notable than ever before. 

Version-exclusive Pokémon

How to decide between Pokémon Sword and Shield

(Image credit: The Pokemon Company/Game Freak)

From the early days, the main difference between the Pokémon releases has been that one version will have Pokémon the other doesn’t and vice versa. The same is still true for Sword and Shield. 

For some players this won’t make an iota of difference, but if you have a favorite creature that the game just isn't worth playing without, it’s worth making sure they won't be excluded from your chosen version. It's always possible to find someone to trade with if you have missed out – and you can always buy both versions, if you want to – but that's a bit of a rigmarole and can be avoided if you want an easier life. 

Below are the version exclusive Pokémon, with their respective types. 

Pokémon Sword exclusives:

  • Deino (Dark/Dragon)
  • Hydreigon (Dark/Dragon)
  • Jangmo-o (Dragon)
  • Kommo-o (Dragon/Fighting)
  • Hakamo-o (Dragon/Fighting)
  • Farfetch'd (Normal/Flying)
  • Sirfetch'd (Fighting)
  • Zweilous (Dark/Dragon)
  • Gothita (Psychic)
  • Gothorita (Psychic)
  • Gothitelle (Psychic)
  • Turtonator (Fire/Dragon)
  • Seedot (Grass)
  • Nuzleaf (Grass/Dark)
  • Shiftry (Grass/Dark)
  • Mawile (Steel/Fairy)
  • Solrock (Rock/Psychic)
  • Basculin (Water)
  • Darumaka (Ice)
  • Darmanitan (Ice)
  • Scraggy (Dark/Fighting)
  • Scrafty (Dark/Fighting)
  • Rufflet (Normal/Flying)
  • Braviary (Normal/Flying)
  • Swirlix (Fairy)
  • Slurpuff (Fairy)
  • Passimian (Fighting)
  • Coalossal, Gigantamax Raid native to Sword but can be shared (Rock/Fire) 
  • Flapple, Gigantamax Raid native to Sword but can be shared (Grass/Dragon)
  • Stonjourner (Rock)
  • Indeedee, Male (Psychic/Normal)

Pokémon Shield exclusives:

  • Goomy (Dragon)
  • Sliggo (Dragon)
  • Goodra (Dragon)
  • Larvitar (Rock/Ground)
  • Pupitar (Rock/Ground)
  • Tyranitar (Rock/Ground)
  • Galarian Ponyta (Psychic)
  • Solosis (Psychic)
  • Duosion (Psychic)
  • Reuniclus (Psychic)
  • Drampa (Normal/Dragon)
  • Vullaby (Dark/Flying)
  • Mandibuzz (Dark/Flying)
  • Gengar, Gigantamax Raid native to Shield but can be shared (Ghost/Poison)
  • Lapras, Gigantamax Raid native to Shield but can be shared (Water/Ice)
  • Cursola (Ghost)
  • Lotad (Water/Grass)
  • Lombre (Water/Grass)
  • Ludicolo (Water/Grass)
  • Sableye (Dark/Ghost)
  • Lunatone (Rock/Psychic)
  • Croagunk (Poison/Fight)
  • Toxicroak (Poisin/Fight)
  • Basculin, Blue-stripe form (Water)
  • Spritzee (Fairy)
  • Aromatisse (Fairy)
  • Oranguru (Normal/Psychic)
  • Appletun Gigantamax Raid native to Shield but can be shared (Grass/Dragon)
  • Eiscue (Ice)
  • Indeedee, Female (Psychic/Normal)

Version-exclusive Gyms

How to decide between Pokémon Sword and Shield

(Image credit: The Pokémon Company)

Sword and Shield also have version-exclusive gyms, meaning that depending on which game you buy you could find yourself facing an exclusive Gym Leader with their own type-focus at one point. 

Pokémon Black and White had a similar scenario where, depending on which version you picked, you found yourself battling either Drayden or Iris. That said, both Drayden and Iris used Dragon-types, so you likely weren't having a hugely different experience. This time, though, the version-exclusive Gym Leaders are different people who also use different types.

Pokémon Sword's exclusive gyms are:

  • Bea, the Fighting-type leader
  • Gordie, the Rock-type leader

While in Pokémon Shield you'll be battling against:

  • Allister, the Ghost-type leader
  • Melony, the Ice-type leader

If facing off against any of these particular Pokémon types makes you break out in hives, then it could be a good idea to go for the version that doesn’t feature your type aversion. If you hate them all then we don’t know what to say – go for the lesser of two evils?

Gigantamax Raids

How to decide between Pokémon Sword and Shield

(Image credit: The Pokémon Company)

Most Raids in Pokémon Sword and Shield will feature Dynamax Pokémon but very occasionally a rare Gigantamax Pokémon will appear instead. There will be windows for when Gigantamax Pokémon are more likely to appear and it's been confirmed that the version you’re playing with will effect which forms you’re more likely to come across.

The first period for this increased likelihood of Gigantamax encounter runs from November 15, launch day, until January 2020. Players of both versions will find Gigantamax Butterfree more common. However, those playing Sword are also more likely to encounter Gigantamax Drednaw, while those playing Shield are more likely to encounter Gigantamax Corviknight. 

Legendary Pokémon

Another classic version difference is in the Legendary Pokémon that plays the biggest part in your Pokémon adventure. Traditionally, the Legendary Pokémon featured on the cover of the game is the Pokémon you’ll be able to catch in your version of the game. 

For Pokémon Sword, this is Zacian, a Pokémon carrying a sword in its mouth that can cut through opponents. For Pokémon Shield it’s Zamazenta, a defence-based Pokémon whose shield-like body can reflect attacks back on opponents.

Best Pokémon Sword and Shield deals

Do you now have a better idea which Pokémon game is for you? Maybe it's both? Either way, we've included the best prices on both Pokémon Sword and Shield below: