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Is it possible for a roaming legendary (the three birds) in Pokemon X & Y to be trapped by an ability like arena trap or does it just flee?


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Arena Trap won't work on the birds; Flying Pokemon & Pokemon w/ Levitate are immune to that ability. Otherwise, Arena Trap works on most roaming legendaries, e.g. Raikou.

The ability Shadow Tag will work on the birds, as well Mean Look or another trapping move. Note that if there are any Ghost roaming legendaries, they cannot be trapped from Gen VI onwards.

Roaming Pokemon

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does this apply competitively ( ie giratina can escape wobbuffet?)
Oops! Forgot arena trap didnt affect flying types. But thank you so much for clearing it up!
In all circumstances: "As of Generation VI, Ghost-type pokémon are immune to all trapping moves and abilities, including Magnet Pull and semi-trapping moves such as Fire Spin." - http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Ghost_(type)
this is good for true roaming legendary pokemon, but the birds in X and Y don't count, because they flee before you can battle them, so no moves or abilities will be in effect. You just need to encounter them a dozen or so times, and then go to Sea Spirit Cave where they will stay.
Oh right yes; they're a special case. I keep forgetting they do that and get them mixed up w/ Raikou & Entei. :x