You all recognize this big, regal, sandy baddie - yup, it's the notorious Crixalis, the Sand King. This deadly scorpion (lobster?) brings more than his fair share to the table when it comes to crowd control and disable, as well as sheer teamfight dominance. His iconic ultimate puts him right up there with rockstars like Enigma and Tidehunter, and his first skill Burrowstrike is one of the strongest non-ultimate spells in the game.
This guide is aimed at people who are fairly new to the hero, or have played him a few times but have trouble doing well with him. This is also written with a pub mindset, and should aid you in increasing that winrate. Of course, things start to get more complicated as MMR goes up, but this guide will help give you a solid foundation to Sand King.
First and foremost, Sand King is a support. You pick him to add immense utility to your team. He doesn't need much gold later in game, but the earlier you get your Arcane Boots and Blink Dagger, the earlier you can start destroying the enemy.
Assuming you're in a normal pub, you're probably going to be in a dual lane. Ideally, you want to go to your safe lane (bot for Radiant, top for Dire) with your hard carry. The main reasons for this are that you can often save him from death with your Burrowstrike, and you can get some much needed early exp/gold from pulling jungle creeps into your lane.
It's great to lane with a ranged hero, just to get some more harass off on the enemy, but this isn't essential. What is ideal, however, is that you lane with a hero that has a disable of their own, because this gives your lane some formidable early kill potential. Examples include:
Also, you almost always want to take Burrowstrike at level 1, since it gives you a stun and an escape. It's generally a good habit not to level your spells until you reach the lane, but for Sand King, it doesn't really matter. The only exceptions I can possibly think of would be to get Sand Storm to block an enemy off in a first blood attempt (probably not going to see this scenario ever though), or caustic finale for some really early lane harass against melee heroes.
When walking to lane, it's a decent idea to go scout out the rune. If you bought wards, go ahead and place one to give vision of the rune spot and protect against mid ganks. Don't dive too hard to get the rune if there are enemies there however - the last thing you want to do is give up first blood...
In general, give the lane last hits to your carry, only taking them if he's about to miss. If you're up against melee heroes, stick a point or two into your Caustic Finale - it's amazing for early game harass. Against a melee dual lane, your skill build at level 5 should be something like 3-1-1 or 2-1-2.
What you want to do ideally is to pull the small jungle camp into lane. The reason for this is it gives you extra exp (if you manage to stay in range of the enemy lane creeps that will under your tier 1 tower), as well as much needed gold for your arcane boots. Not to mention, it gives your carry some safe farm as well. What I like to do (if I can get there in time) is to stack the small camp at the 0:53 mark, and then pull the stacked camp to lane at the 1:13-1:15 mark. One thing to note is that if the small camp spawns the hill trolls, you need to m-click to draw aggro from the creeps (not attack them), otherwise they won't all follow you. Let your creeps tank the hits, and make sure you get the last hits on the jungle creeps. Try to make it so that your creeps die to the jungle creeps, so the enemy is denied of the gold and exp.
Don't perpetually spend your time in the jungle however. You want to get as much exp as you can from the lane creeps to speed up your level 6 timing. By this point, you should have, or be close to, your arcanes. Around this point, you have a couple of options. If you have a decent mid playing a hero like Puck or Tiny who can gank well, call him over to your lane. You'll be able to score at least 1 kill if the enemy is unaware of the gank.
This leaves a couple of options. The first option is to gank the enemy safelane. It's not a gank however if you tp straight into your offlane tier 1 tower and reveal yourself. Instead, be crafty and buy a Smoke of Deceit, going in through their jungle. Let your allies know you're coming, and tell them to let the enemy safelane push up a little.
Another option depends on your own safelane. If the enemies are pushing up relentlessly, punish them with a sneaky Epicenter + Burrowstrike combo. Check your enemies for detection (i.e. dust or sentries) first. If they've got nothing, you can really afford to play quite aggressively.
The final option isn't really an option - it's more of a requirement. Assuming you are carrying a TP scroll (which you always should), you can help countergank. This is when you TP into an enemy gank to help save your allies. When deciding to do this, you really have no option but to trust your instincts. TP into 3 enemies on full health and you might just be extra food. TP in too late and your hard carry might die. With experience, you should be able to make these calls quickly.
Here's an example of a time I TP'd in to countergank my poor Magnus who got hit by a Ravage mid:
There are a couple of important points to note from this play, which in the end was quite successful for our team. The first is that I shift-queued my Burrowstrike after teleporting. If you're not familiar with shift-queueing, I suggest you look at this video right now:
I will go through how to shift-queue actions during your ultimate channel time in a later section, but right now, remember that you can shift-queue your Burrowstrike to go off immediately after the TP channel time.
The other important thing to learn from the countergank example is that (although you can't see it)
I made sure there were no enemy stuns available when I decided to channel my ultimate. I used sandstorm sort of reflexively, then decided to channel my ult when I figured out that they couldn't disrupt it (I didn't see the lion though).
Wasting an ultimate really sucks, but if it happens early game, you typically don't get punished too hard. It's much worse when it gets cancelled during an intense late-game teamfight that will result in a gg push...
Before going on to the next section, I want to quickly talk about your second skill, Sand Storm. It gives you instant invisibility when cast, so you can use it to disjoint most projectiles (kinda like Puck's Phase Shift). Here's an example, from the same game, when I use it to dodge Tinker's missiles:
It's important to note that the invisibility lasts for 1.5 seconds after you cancel the spell. You can use this when juking (e.g. run in one direction, tap your Sand Storm, and then run in another direction whilst invisible). However, Attacking, using items or casting spells immediately cancels the invisibility, so you can't use this to ensure a safe ultimate channel.
This brings us to...
This is typically around the 15-20 minute mark in most pub games, where huge early pushes are rare. For you, the mid game should be signalled by the arrival of your core item, the Blink Dagger.
First and foremost, you need this item to successfully initiate teamfights with your ultimate. What you should do is hide in a close, but relatively safe spot, and hit the big R button. Whilst you're channeling your ultimate, shift-queue your blink right into the middle of all your enemies. Once you blink in, use your Burrowstrike, followed by Sand Storm. This is the full Sand King combo of death. Again, watch the video I linked earlier on shift-queueing, it becomes even more important when you get your next core item...
Don't forget the huge mobility advantage a Blink gives you. You really should be liberal in the use of your Blink Dagger, as it costs no mana and has a short cooldown. Only save it if you think you might need to initiate with your ultimate soon, but otherwise, use it to move around faster in the map, farming up, warding, stacking camps, and generally being useful. Being chased? Blink into some trees and TP out. See an ally on low health being hunted down? Blink in and save them:
Notice how, towards the end of this gif, I used my Burrowstrike to hit 2 enemies. There's a law of Euclidean geometry that says any 2 points form a line. Use this to your advantage. Any two enemies form a line, so you can stun at least 2 if they're close enough together!
In the mid game, when you're not needed for teamfights, you should be pushing up and farming the lanes (when safe, of course - don't do this when you've lost track of most of your enemies). You can do this incredibly once you hit level 14, with your Caustic Finale maxed out. What you do is hit each creep in the wave once, and then use your Burrowstrike on all the creeps. This will usually result in the entire wave exploding, leaving you with your pockets full of cash. If you happen to be walking through the jungle near the 53 second mark, go and stack a camp. You can either clear this out yourself, or leave it as a juicy present for your hard carry. Towards the 25-30 minute mark of the game, you should have farmed up your Veil of Discord. Now, you are an even deadlier threat to your enemies. This leads us to...
The Late Game
Your job in the late game is simple: win teamfights, and help push towers if you have the advantage, or defend your base and look for an opening to wipe out the enemy team if you're being pushed in. The reasons you get your veil instead of an Aghanim's Scepter are:
It's much cheaper
It adds pretty much the same damage increase effect to your ultimate
It amplifies damage from ALL magical damage spells, including your Burrowstrike, as well as whatever your teammates decide to cast.
Your upgraded combo of death should now be the following:
Hit the R button
Shift-queue your Blink
Shift-queue your Veil
Burrowstrike, hitting as many enemies as possible
Sandstorm to buy yourself a little time before your allies clean up
When executed properly, it has devastating results, like this:
If the game gets REALLY late, and you find yourself with the money, some items to consider include:
Thanks for reading this guide, Sand King is one of my most played (and favorite) heroes since he's so useful in most stages of the game.
Also, IT'S CRUCIAL THAT YOU PRACTICE YOUR COMBO IN A CUSTOM LOBBY FIRST before trying it out in a real game. Create a lobby with cheats enabled, give yourself a blink and veil, and make sure you get your shift-queues right. It might seem difficult at first, but with a bit of practice it will be second nature to you!
If you have any suggestions/improvements to add to the guide, or spot any errors, leave a comment below!