|2.||The Draft and Rune Battle|
|3.||Laning: General Laning Mechanics|
|4.||Laning: Which Ability Should I Get First?|
|5.||Laning: Succeeding Abilities|
|6.||Laning: Which Items Should I Get First?|
|7.||Laning: Whether To Rush Blink Dagger|
|8.||Post-Laning: Pushing Lanes, Taking Objectives, Reading the Map|
|9.||Post-Laning: Blink Dagger, Teamfighting, and Further Itemization|
|10.||Blink & Burrow: Target Selection|
|11.||Blink & Burrow: Double-stunning|
|12.||Blink & Burrow: Aura vs Mobility Items|
DISCLAIMER: I am a 4.2k MMR player (SEA/EU Region) with 667 Sand King games. This guide is intended for beginner- and intermediate players.
If you've ever played against a good Sand King (SK) you'll know that he's one of the most annoying opponents in the game. He's mobile, tanky, and has an insane "surprise attack" factor, making him a strong disabler and difficult to kill.
SK is most valued for his disable, elusiveness, and instant cast times. Prior to 7.20, we saw pros building Blink Dagger and Force Staff: Blink in --> Burrowstrike --> immediately Force Staff out of a fight while cooldowns reset. Only occasionally would they channel Sand Storm for extra damage or to disjoint projectiles. Since 7.20, SK can now move inside the Sand Storm, improving his laning and broadening his viable builds and playstyles. His itemization has become more flexible than ever.
The variety of his item builds makes it challenging to craft a definitive guide for him. Unlike, for example, Anti-mage, who always builds Treads, Battlefury, then Manta Style, there is no single, best way to play and itemize SK. Perhaps most high MMR players would agree that Blink Dagger is core on him, but the other items will always depend on the draft and outcome of the laning phase.
I have therefore written this guide based on personal experience. I cannot say that you should always follow this guide, but I hope that the guide can provide a foundation upon which you will find your own way to play the hero.
We begin with Crixalis, one of the most versatile heroes in Dota. He is easy to learn at a basic level, but his skill ceiling is so high that mastering him can teach you many things about Dota. He can be played as a 4, 3, or occasionally a 2, if the matchup is favorable. In the current meta, he is best played as a 3.
The game and your strategy starts with the draft. Consider how your team plans to play the game vis-a-vis how the enemy team plans to play the game. The draft informs you which items you will need later on. SK's weaknesses are mana burn, detection, silence, mute, and vision. Enemies who can interrupt your Epicenter channeling are also annoying. Fortunately, you can itemize to compensate for these weaknesses, and if the enemy hard-counters you, then your other cores can often have a freer game.
Communicate with your team about contesting the 00:00 bounty runes. Stealing a bounty rune gives your team an advantage in the laning phase. Consider how to steal a rune based on the draft of the enemy. For example, if the enemy safelane has a Juggernaut and a disabler, such as Lion or Shadow Shaman, it will be difficult for you to steal their bounty rune because they can stun and burst you. On the other hand, if the enemy safelane has no stuns, for example, Chen and Faceless Void, then it will be easier to steal the enemy bounty rune because you can Burrowstrike them at -00:01, steal the rune at 00:00, and crawl away.
Be sure also to check whether the enemy has wards or detection. This will help you play around your Sand Storm later on.
The first five minutes are the most important part of the game. I suggest watching replays and online videos of professional offlaners and coaches. Observe 1) how they control the creep wave and 2) how they engage and disengage their opponents in lane. For this guide, I summarize two important laning mechanics below:
The most important principles to know in the Offlane are creep aggro and creep cutting. Creep aggro involves briefly right-clicking the enemy hero within a short range from enemy creeps, causing enemy creeps to aggro onto you. If you right click the enemy briefly and then immediately run backwards, you can influence the enemy creeps further and further away from the enemy tower, making it safer and easier for you to last hit. With a little bit of skill, you can also pull the enemy melee creeps onto your ranged creep, which will cause your ranged creep to die quickly and the lane equilibrium to approach your tier 1. Creep aggro'ing becomes important as you climb MMR and your opponents become more challenging. If the lane is left to equilibrium near their tier 1 tower, you will remain susceptible to ganks and harass because of the surrounding trees. If you are easily ganked and harassed out of lane, you will lose the lane because the enemy will get free farm while you will be banished to farm the jungle or roam.
The second concept, creep cutting, is performed by approaching the enemy creep wave before it comes under the enemy tier 1 tower. Cut creeps from behind their tower if you take too much damage when contesting the lane. If you approach the enemy creep wave from behind their tower, then the enemy creeps will follow you and you can lead them back to a safe area for you to last hit, usually in front of your tier 1 or in between your tier 1 and tier 2 towers. It is tricky but will get easier with practice and experience. Anticipate the enemy support to follow and harass you, but refrain from trading with them. Just take a Tango and continue to lead the creeps close to your tower.
AN IMPORTANT NOTE: Creep aggro'ing and creep cutting do not always work, especially when you are laning alone against two or three opponents. In such cases, enemy support(s) are likely to harass you too much for you to aggro, and they are likely to follow you if you attempt to cut the enemy creep wave and lead the creeps back to your tower. You have three options in this scenario: 1) If your ranged creep died before their ranged creep, observe whether the lane will push into your tier 1 tower; if it does, then you can wait defensively for the creep wave to approach you so you can last hit safely. 2) You can still attempt to cut the creep wave from behind their tower, but if cutting the wave between their tier 1 and tier 2 is too dangerous because of their supports, then you must cut the creep wave between their tier 2 and tier 3 instead. The supports are likely to follow you, after which you can either outlast them and take the creep wave back to a safe area or last long enough for the creep wave to stack into a double wave. If the creep wave stacks into a double wave, then it is okay if you die as long as you can teleport back to your tier 1 upon respawning, allowing you to gain all the experience points of the double wave approaching your tower (Just don't die again!) Lastly, you can 3) just farm the jungle until their supports leave the lane. Whatever you do, do not panic! It is okay to progress slowly in the Offlane as long as you don't feed and their supports are both attending to you. It eases the pressure on your other lanes. Communicate with your team and hope that your mid- and safelane know how to press the advantage while the enemy supports are attending to your lane.
ANOTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember that you do not necessarily have to kill the opponents to win the lane. You can deny a lot of farm from the enemy carry if you are able to sustain yourself in lane and prevent them from farming. This is a victory in and of itself, especially if your carry can farm the lane whereas the enemy carry cannot.
There is no hard and fast rule about which skill to get first, so choose wisely, and always save your skill point until the rune battle.
So how do we decide whether to skill Burrowstrike, Sand Storm, or Caustic Finale first?
In general, skill Burrowstrike first if you have a high kill potential during the rune battle or in lane. For example, your mid player decides to accompany you and your support to steal the enemy safelane rune: Burrowstrike will provide a stun that can easily kill the enemy, thereby earning your team first blood, a rune, and a gold advantage. Another example: you are paired with a fellow stunner in lane (Leshrac, Nyx, Lion, Windranger, etc.) and can stack your stuns. Burrowstrike to set up --> then use the second stun for extra damage and to extend the disable. Have you ever laned Sand King with another coordinated stunner? Try it. You won't be disappointed.
In general, skill Sand Storm first if your lane does not have a high kill potential. You can then cast Sand Storm in the middle of a creep wave to hide and harass the enemy while securing your creep score (CS; last hits and denies). Always check the enemy's inventory or ASSUME that they have detection (more on this later.)
Sometimes, you can skill Caustic Finale first, especially if the enemy safelane has no ranged heroes. With Caustic Finale, tap each of the enemy creeps once to start the timer. The looming threat of exploding creeps will discourage the enemy from approaching the creep wave.
Generally, you should maximize Sand Storm first. Before the Sand Storm rework of 7.20, the rule-of-thumb for laning with SK was to maximize Burrowstrike and Caustic Finale, with the occasional value point in Sand Storm if an extra escape or disjoint was needed in lane. You could tap each enemy creep once to create a threat of popping them with Burrowstrike, discouraging the enemy from approaching the wave. But because Sand Storm is no longer a channeled ability (7.20+), the new rule-of-thumb is to maximize Sand Storm and Burrowstrike, with only an occasional value point in Caustic Finale when facing melee opponents.
In general, maximize Sand Storm first and Burrowstrike second. We generally max Sand Storm first because it facilitates farming, harass, and eventual teamfighting. And we generally max Burrowstrike because it provides burst and disable in lane, mobility (the range increases with each level), and likewise prepares you for teamfighting after the laning phase. Caustic Finale makes it somewhat easier to harass and farm, but it is unreliable without Sand Storm because it is difficult to pop the creeps precisely when you need to (You could pop them at will with Burrowstrike, but you would need a lot of mana sustain [Bottle, Stick charges, Mangoes, or Arcane Boots]).
Sometimes, you may want a value point in Caustic Finale: For example, if you chose Sand Storm as your first skill, you may place a skill point in Caustic Finale before Burrowstrike if you are facing a melee opponent or two. After you get Caustic Finale, you can tap the enemy creeps to create a threat of them exploding while you continue to Sand Storm the wave.
Lastly, consider is whether to level Epicenter at Level 6 or Level 9 (After max'ing Burrowstrike and Sand Storm). If you anticipate an opportunity to Epicenter before Level 9, then place a skill point in it. Otherwise, it would be better to maximize the first two skills because you won't be able to use Epicenter anyway. Generally, I only skill Epicenter at Level 9 or 10. With experience, it will become easier for you to judge for yourself.
IMPORTANT NOTE: ALWAYS check if the enemy has detection and how much they have. If they have two sentry wards, then you are much easier to kill than if they only have one sentry ward. If you haven't checked your enemy's inventory for a while, always assume that they have detection. If you rely on Sand Storm to farm the lane, enemy supports will purchase Dust of Appearance or Sentry Wards to detect you. You can either rely instead on aggro, Caustic Finale, and Burrowstrike to farm the wave; or your team can purchase your own Sentries to deward. I generally prefer to purchase my own sentries to deward because Sand Storm facilitates laning. Practice dewarding with Tangos or your Quelling Blade. Skilled enemies will hide Sentry Wards creatively behind trees instead of placing them in the middle of the lane, so be ready to search for them there. Less often, the enemy will purchase Dust of Appearance in the laning phase. If they have Dust, you must be ready to Burrowstrike away immediately after they cast it, or simply stop relying on Sand Storm to keep you alive. You won't often see Dust in the early game because it is expensive, but you should always be prepared.
Aside from Sentry Wards, I often purchase a Quelling Blade, Magic Stick, and Brown Boots first. The succeeding purchases depend on whatever will help you stay in lane.
I often purchase a Quelling Blade first to secure my last hits. After that, I purchase a Magic Stick when facing enemies who spam spells, such as Necrophos, Skywrath Mage, Bristleback, etc. On the other hand, if you are facing enemies who like to chase and burst, such as Juggernaut, you should purchase Brown Boots before the Magic Stick to run away easily. The purchase order is always situational. Generally, I purchase a Magic Stick before Boots because it is cheaper and to collect charges early.
After Quelling Blade, Magic Stick, and Brown Boots, itemization is flexible. Remember that we began the game by considering the draft and which items we would need later on. Blink Dagger is great on Sand King, and you will want it in most of your games. That said, purchasing aura items before getting a Blink Dagger can be a smarter decision if your team is pushing and fighting as 5 after the laning phase. The addition of Crown and the separation of the cooldowns between Boots of Travel (BoTs) and the Town Portal Scroll has also increased the number of items you may want to purchase before the Blink Dagger. Let's discuss which items to get relative to how soon you plan to get your Blink Dagger.
As a rule-of-thumb, you should purchase Blink first if you feel an immediate need to initiate or provide strong disables in fights. On the other hand, you can purchase an item or two before Blink if your team doesn't need you to initiate yet and the extra survivability will help your team more. BoTs are another option to purchase before Blink Dagger, but you must know how to utilize them and assist your team if you decide to get them this early in the game. Remember that the BoTs recipe costs 2000 gold and provides only movespeed and Teleport. Maximizing their efficiency requires a high level of map awareness, game sense, and anticipating exactly where and when you will be needed across the map.
In general, if the draft requires that I purchase a Crimson Guard (Crimson) or Pipe of Insight (Pipe) later on, I will purchase a Vanguard or Hood of Defiance before I purchase my Blink. After getting my Blink, I will upgrade the Vanguard/Hood into a Crimson/Pipe.
If the game doesn't particularly require a Crimson Guard/Pipe of Insight, I will rush the Blink Dagger if my lane is easy. If I'm struggling in lane, I might purchase a Magic Wand or Arcane Boots first. Others purchase items that develop from Crown because it is efficient (450 gold for +4 to all stats): You'll see Veil of Discord in high-ranked games because its build-up is helpful in the laning phase and it amplifies your team's magic damage. Another option is Drum of Endurance, which provides similar stats along with movement speed. Lastly, and less often, you may see SK's building Rod of Atos for the stats and extra disable. Personally, I do not build Crown items because I prefer Vanguard or Hood of Defiance for difficult lanes. I occasionally purchase BOTH a Vanguard and a Hood of Defiance, but it depends on how soon you need your Blink Dagger. Whether to upgrade them later on again depends on the draft. The relativity seems confusing at first, but itemization will feel natural to you with time, practice, and experience. After that, you can focus on the funnest part of playing Sand King: pushing lanes, taking objectives, and teamfighting.
Your ultimate goal is to push lanes and take objectives. SK can farm quickly do a lot with the gold, but remember that Dota isn't a farming game.
Always keep your eye open for a lane you can push. The fastest way to shove a wave is to 1) Tap an enemy melee creep --> 2) Burrowstrike to the ranged creep --> then 3) Tap the ranged creep. The second fastest way to shove a wave is to Sand Storm it while right clicking the creeps. In both cases, Caustic Finale will pop the entire wave quickly.
ALWAYS keep an eye on the mini-map. With your Blink Dagger, Burrowstrike, Sand Storm, and escape items (Eul's, Force Staff, Lotus, Aghs, etc.) you can escape more easily than most other heroes. Nonetheless, refrain from being greedy and pushing waves mindlessly when all the enemies are missing and you have no vision. Your map awareness will get better with practice and experience. If you can, ask a support nicely to ward around the enemy shrines or behind the tower you wish to take. You may also buy your own wards.
After the laning phase, your purpose in teamfights is to carry auras, disable the enemy, and stay alive as long as possible. Burrowstrike is the only stun (aside from Rubick's Telekenesis) with an instant cast time, and its range is insane. Combined with Blink Dagger and a little bit of practice, you can stun two or three enemies at a time from long range. Because your cast time is instant, the enemy often won't have time to react unless they see you under a ward or have itemized properly. Remember that you don't have to deal damage to be useful. Everything after Burrowstrike is secondary.
QUICKCAST PROTIP: I strongly recommend placing the Blink Dagger on Quickcast to make your Blink + Burrowstrike combinations faster.
Target selection is the first concept you should develop for effective ateamfighting. With Blink Dagger and Burrowstrike, SK can target almost any enemy hero in team fight. He can disable enemy frontliners first, or he can dive the backliners and stun them instead.
Consider how the enemy wants to play the game. Generally, you should stun the enemy Carries. But when facing annoying backliners such as Dazzle, Zeus, Oracle, etc., you should stun them first—otherwise, the fight will be too difficult for your team. Target selection improves with experience. Ensure that you already know who to target at the start of the game so that you are prepared when a teamfight happens later.
Habituate yourself with stunning at least two opponents per Burrowstrike in teamfights. Burrowstrike double-stunning comprises two concepts: 1) Blinking in at the correct angle and 2) Mastering the range of the Blink Dagger and Burrowstrike.
ANGLE: Blink such that you are angled to stun at least two enemies in a line. The technique is to Blink on top of the first enemy, and Burrowstrike to the second, stunning both. It may not seem like a big deal, but stunning two enemies at a time is exponentially better than stunning just one. If you can get three or more, even better! Remember that you can target the ground for maximum effect.
RANGE: The cast time of Burrowstrike is only instant if your target is 700 or fewer units from SK; any further and SK will move before casting, delaying your stun. Once you master the range of Blink Dagger and Burrowstrike, then your stuns will always be instant. Protip: Hover your cursor over your Blink Dagger or Burrowstrike icon to view a range indicator around SK. With a little bit of practice and experience, you will memorize the range of both.
After getting your Blink Dagger, you must balance between what your team needs and what you need to escape.
The primary weakness of SK is that he's be in the center of fights. In lower MMRs, you can rely on Sand Storm to survive because enemies rarely purchase detection. But as you climb MMR, opponents will have Dust of Appearance and Sentry wards. If you can survive long enough without mobility items, you should prioritize aura items after Blink Dagger. But because of enemy detection, you will often need escape/mobility/utility items to prevent being burst.
Being in the center of fights, enemies will often target you first. Because you usually Blink + Burrowstrike into the fight, you have to wait 11 seconds before you can Burrowstrike out of it. If you got a Vanguard/Hood or Crimson/Pipe before your Blink Dagger, you may notice how much tankier they make you. If you didn't get these items, you could choose the +200 HP Level 10 Talent for survivability.
I often get a Eul's Scepter of Divinity (Eul's) because 1) the stats are great on SK and 2) the active is useful in Sand Storm. Cyclone provides 2.75 seconds of invulnerability in a fight, and it also purges Dust of Appearance and other annoying debuffs. You can also use it to disable an opponent.
After Blink and Eul's, I often complete the Crimson or Pipe if I'd gotten a Vanguard or Hood before Blink. If the Crimson/Pipe aren't needed, then you are free to decide on succeeding items. It gets easier with experience, but I will discuss briefly the popular choices below:
Get a Force Staff if the enemy has annoying area-of-effect (AoE) or immobilizing spells. Good examples of these spells are Zeus's Nimbus, Earthshaker's Fissure, Riki's Smoke Screen, Rod of Atos Cripple, and Underlord's Pit of Malice. Note, however, that the stats provided by Force Staff are weaker than the other aura or mobility items, so ONLY purchase it if you anticipate dying because of immobility.
Get a Lotus Orb if the enemy has high physical damage or many single-target disables. The active is particularly effective against heroes such as Lion, Shadow Shaman, Doom, Skywrath Mage, etc. That said, you don't always have to use Lotus Orb to reflect a spell; sometimes it is useful for the purge—if the enemy has a lot of silence, root, slow, etc. Lotus Orb is one of the funnest outplay items of SK. Remember that you can also use it on your teammates.
Get a Shiva's Guard (Shiva's) for the extra armor or if the enemy has a lot of right-click damage. Shiva's is one of the best items on SK because the stats complement your weaknesses and Freezing Aura and Arctic Blast neuter enemy attack speed and mobility, respsectively. Towards the late game, the enemy always has at least one carry who attacks hard and fast, so Shiva's is almost always a good late-game item. Shiva's is also surprisingly useful against physical damage spells such as Exorcism, Serpent Wards, and Dazzle or Razor's abilities. Lastly, Arctic Blast also prevents enemies from escaping, and you can use it to provide vision into otherwise unseeable areas (imagine chasing an enemy Tinker into the trees with Shiva's Guard.)
Guardian Greaves are a great continuation of Arcane Boots. I usually get Greaves if I need more armor or my team needs more survivability in teamfights. However, I only get this if no particular other item is needed because a lot of the other late game items are better on SK. Not to mention that Arcane Boots can be disassembled into Octarine Core or Lotus Orb and will likewise allow you to upgrade your Brown Boots into BoTs. Guardian Greaves are always good, but only buy Guardian Greaves if you need to beef up your team and no other item is immediately needed.
Get an Aghanim's Scepter (Aghs) if you need to dive backliners such as Sniper, Dazzle, Oracle, etc. Aghs is particularly good if you don't need an extra aura item: For example, if the enemy has mostly physical damage and little magic damage, then you can skip the Pipe of Insight and use the extra slot for Aghs. The improved range on your Burrowstrike provides immense control in fights and facilitates multi-stunning your opponents (You won't appreciate it until you try it!) Aghs is also great against heroes who can cancel your Blink Dagger, such as Zeus, Venomancer, and enemies who build Radiance.
Lastly, Octarine Core. The cooldown reduction helps all your basic abilities and all your cooldown items. Remember, though, that even if Octarine Core lowers the cooldown of Crimson Guard/Pipe of Insight/Guardian Greaves, you cannot affect your team until the cooldown for being affected has expired (Read the respective item descriptions for more information.) Octarine Core is most useful when you need further survivability and you have many items that benefit from the cooldown reduction.
The best way to find out which works for you is to experiment. Just remember not to be so greedy that it costs you the game, as it is better to win the game than farm expensive items. Generally, farming is okay if you are pushing lanes. But remember to be available for your team in teamfights.
Last but not least, you should know the popular combinations of SK:
Blink --> Burrowstrike. Remember to multi-stun if possible.
Blink --> Burrowstrike --> Eul's. Remember that you can Eul's another opponent if they dodged your Burrowstrike.
Blink --> Burrowstrike --> Sand Storm. Sand Storm is a great nuisance to the enemy, but remember that smart opponents will immediately use Dust or Sentry Wards to reveal you. Be prepared to use your items to purge off the dust, or make sure you are tanky enough or coordinated enough with your team to kill them before they kill you. Refrain from relying on Sand Storm to survive. If you feel that you will not survive in a Sand Storm alone, then immediately use Eul's Scepter, Lotus Orb, or Force Staff to escape/dodge.
Blink --> Burrowstrike --> Sand Storm --> Burrowstrike. Remember that if you last long enough in your Sand Storm you can Burrowstrike again. This is an example of how good Octarine Core is on SK.
Channel Epicenter --> Blink into the area with most enemies --> Burrowstrike --> Sand Storm. This combination provides immense burst damage. It is best used when you know you can kill someone OR when you can deal the damage to as many enemy heroes as possible (even if you don't get the kill, your teammates can follow up.)
Eul's --> Burrowstrike (Enemy). Casting Eul's on the enemy before Burrowstriking provides two extra seconds for your teammates to follow up. This combination is particularly good for jumping lone opponents. Remember, though, that if you use your Eul's at the start of a fight, you will have to wait 20 seconds before you can use it to escape or purge debuffs.
Eul's --> Burrowstrike (Self) --> (Force Staff, if available). If you need to escape or purge and continue fighting, Eul's yourself when your Burrowstrike cooldown has two (2.5) seconds remaining. Then while you are in the Cyclone, cast Burrowstrike. Because Burrowstrike is instant-cast, it will be difficult for the enemy to stun you after the Cyclone. The only caveat is that unless you have Aghs, you must cast the Burrowstrike within 700 units for it to be instant cast. Follow up with Blink, Force Staff, Shiva's, or Lotus Orb (if you have them) to facilitate your escape or fight.
Blink --> (Burrowstrike) --> Force Staff (Self). If you can afford the cooldowns and mana cost, this combination is a fast way to move across the map. I would only recommend doing this combination for movement if you are sure there are no nearby enemies, as this combo will put your spells/items on cooldown.
Eul's --> Lotus. Can sometimes catch enemies with single-target disables off guard. Usually you will use the Eul's to purge off silence, dust, etc., and the opponents will try to disable you again immediately as you land. If you're facing opponents such as Lion, Shadow Shaman, or enemies who build Hex/Orchid/Nullifier, such as Tinker, Outworld Devourer, Invoker, Templar Assassin, etc., then you can easily reflect their spells onto them with Lotus Orb.
(Any Blink or Burrowstrike Combination) --> Crimson OR Pipe OR Greaves OR Shiva's. All of the above combinations can be used with your aura items. Just remember that you should aim to include your teammates in the radius after Blinking when using Crimson, Pipe, or Greaves, and you should aim to hit enemies when using Shiva's.
There are several other combinations out there, but the abovementioned ones are the common ones. Remember that you do not have to execute flashy combinations to win. It is more important that you have better vision and team coordination than your opponent. At the very least, get into the habit of always hitting your Burrowstrikes and stunning as many people as possible. Also get into the habit of using all of your items, whether they are aura items or mobility items. Doesn't matter if your combinations are imperfect, for as long as your items aren't passive!
If you have read the entire guide, then congratulations! You now have general knowledge on how to play a disabling Sand King.
Always remember to think of the drafts at the start of the game. Remember that once you get yourBlink Dagger, you can be more active around the map. Remember to prioritize important targets and make it a habit to Burrowstrike at least two people at a time in teamfights. Above all else, remember that Dota is a game of pushing lanes and taking objectives. SK is a fast farmer and teamfighter, but the best way to win the game is to constantly be able to apply pressure on all three lanes while always being ready to participate in teamfights.
Good luck, and happy Burrowstriking.
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