Sand King is a fun and flexible hero, capable of blasting into the opposition with huge AOE damage and then disappearing into a cloud of sand. On top of his obvious team fight skills, he's evasive, a strong pusher and semi-jungler.
Usually played as a semi-support hero, he's very capable of stepping up into a semi-carry role, and his laning choices are varied. With a reasonably high skill ceiling, he's a hero that's relatively easy to learn, but also extremely rewarding to master.
+ Reasonably strong all-round stats
+ Very strong AOE damage
+ Powerful multi-target stun
+ Flexible escape skills
+ Good pusher
+ Can semi-jungle effectively
- Somewhat mana dependent
- Needs a Blink Dagger to be truly effective
- Can lack lane presence
- Not a true carry
- Ultimate and invisibility require channelling
Burrowstrike is your stun, a rapid underground attack that takes you to the target point, effecting every enemy unit you passed under. It's a very strong skill, with a long duration even at level 1, and good damage as you level it up. However, it has a high mana cost relative to your pool, so you really need to save it early on to setup or prevent kills.
There are a few things to bear in mind when using Burrowstrike - the first is that it's a multi-target stun, and with good positioning and usage you can hit several opponents for the full effect.
Secondly, it's somewhat dangerous to use - you have to physically put yourself in the thick of the action to get those stuns - no sissy ranged projectiles for you!
Thirdly, it's also part of your escape and mobility kit. You can use Burrowstrike to get around - you move to the location almost instantly, and it allows you to bypass impassable terrain, trees and other blockages - such as Sprout or Power Cogs.
It's also an important part of your teamfight presence - landing a good, multi-target Burrowstrike will greatly increase the effectiveness of Epicenter, or at least help you get in range to do some damage.
Recently buffed, Sand Storm is a useful and flexible ability. Primarily it's an escape - you can use the invisibility to dodge certain abilities, and to prevent you being attacked directly without some form of true sight. Almost as importantly, you get 1.5 seconds of "proper" invisibility when you exit Sand Storm - i.e. you won't have a circle of whirling sand giving away your position.
Good use of Sand Storm means fast fingers - use it to dodge a stun, then quickly juke out of sight using the "proper" invisibility. Be aware that enemies who can use ground targeting on their attacks - e.g. Impale, Light Strike Array etc, will be able to hit you despite the "channelled" invisibility, so bait out stuns and judge when you can channel for a time, and when you can't.
Sand Storm's secondary use is as a pushing and semi-jungling skill. All enemies within its fairly considerable radius take damage twice per second, allowing you to push out creep waves or farm jungle camps without taking any damage.
This makes it very useful for a trilane support - your stun works well in either 3v1 or 3v3 lanes, but you're only really required to be present for fights/ganks. You can use the rest of the time to stack jungle creeps and then farm them cheaply with this, allowing you to get some gold together for your Blink Dagger.
Each level increases the damage, while reducing the mana cost and cooldown.
Caustic Finale is your only passive skill, and is usually levelled last as a pushing and farming aid. Once levelled, any enemy or neutral units (minus siege and magic immune ones) you hit with a melee attack will have this debuff placed on them for a short duration.
If they die by any means during this time, they will explode and damage all nearby enemy units. While the damage is not huge even at higher levels, it can stack up to extremely potent effect. Basically you want to set up a chain reaction where multiple enemy creeps are debuffed and then cascade - each Caustic Finale causing the next creep to explode and so on.
This ability has two main uses - primarily you use it to push/farm later on, hit a few creeps in a wave, and then Burrowstrike them to quickly farm the lot. You can flashfarm extremely quickly like this, however, be careful not to take much from your true carries.
The second use is harassment - against melee opponents (or against say Broodmother as a support) you can harass them effectively with this skill. However, be aware that it will push the lane out pretty quickly even when you're being careful.
Finally, this skill can sometimes be deadly early on when you have the right allies - for example if you can setup most of a creep wave and then Burrowstrike a nearby enemy through them, it can cause a lot of damage.
Epicenter is Sand King's signature skill. After a brief channelling period, you unleash an unstoppable series of earthquakes centered around you. Even if you die, the quakes will still continue around your corpse.
Each pulse inflicts 110 damage, and you can have up to 12 of them with an Aghanim's Scepter, maxing out at 1320 damage to a single unit, but considerably more to their team if you can catch multiple heroes. Each pulse increases the AOE of the spell, starting small and ending up quite large.
While the damage is blocked by magic immunity, it's 30% movement and attack speed slow is not, giving it some decent use even in the late game.
The biggest issue with Epicenter is that initial channelling time - if you can be stunned or silenced during this period, it won't begin, but will still be put into cooldown. It makes considerable noise at this point, and smart enemies are unlikely to group up for you to jump on to.
This is why the Blink Dagger is so important - while incredibly useful anyway, it's very difficult to land a good Epicenter with only Burrowstrike for mobility. At higher levels, it tends to be used more as a counter-initiation or follow up spell, rather than as a primary initiation.
This means you generally hide nearby and wait for the fight to start, then channel and jump in when the opposition are committed.
I've given you two of the more common builds at the top, although you should bear in mind that you can be flexible as the situation demands.
The trilane build focuses on getting 2 early points in Sand Storm after an initial one in Burrowstrike for first bloods/saves. This is to allow you to semi-jungle efficiently. In 3v3 lanes stick with 1-3-5-7 Burrowstrike.
The mid/offlane build assumes you're against a melee opponent, so we secure our stun/escape first, then get some harassment before maxing our nuke/stun.
Generally you want to max Burrowstrike first - it does more damage, but more importantly adds to the range, allowing you to move further and potentially hit more targets.
Sand Storm should be levelled as required, generally you want at least 1 point at level 2 for escaping and jungling. Put more points into it if you're spending a lot of time doing either of these things - it's pretty essential for an offlaner, but also speeds your jungling or allows you to harass some opponents without being hurt.
Caustic Finale should only really be levelled early on in specific situations - if you're the primary farmer in a lane against a melee opponent, against a minion heavy hero like Broodmother, or if you have a specific plan involved big burst damage from a creep wave. Generally 1 early point is sufficient, occasionally you might want more - however Sand Storm is very efficient for pushing/anti-push too now, and is more flexible.
Epicenter - level this every chance you get, that's pretty non-negotiable. The damage goes up, the cooldown goes down, the mana increase isn't particularly heavy.
Sand King probably only has one role in competitive/pro-level play - semi-support or #4. He needs a Blink Dagger quickly, so generally wants to avoid warding, while still making some support contribution.
The #4 role is a good fit for him - he can definitely help setup kills in a trilane, and is no mug in a 3v3 fight either. His ability to semi-jungle relatively quickly and easily means that he can provide a threat to their offlaner without needing to leech much XP or miss out on the additional farm he needs. He can also roam effectively if required.
Be very wary of picking him without another support in the team, and as the sole support for a hard carry/melee hero. In dual lanes you'll need a partner with a strong ranged attack, or burst/kill potential if melee.
In pubs you will sometimes see SK in other roles - he can mid, albeit against a limited selection of opponents (ranged heroes generally give him too many problems). This gives him access to quick levels and farm, allowing him to semi-carry if successful.
You may also see him on the offlane, either solo or with a partner. He's not terrible at this, with good survivability from his escapes, some anti-push to defend his tower and reasonable kill power.
However, he'll struggle solo against a competent tri-lane - with Sentry Wards he's reliant on Burrowstrike to escape - pretty expensive, and he hasn't really got any way to farm if the creep line is kept a reasonable distance away from his tower.
Sand King has quite an unusual playstyle. Generally, you want to turn up unexpectedly and jump straight into a Burrowstrike on one or more enemy heroes, using Sand Storm to escape or disrupt their counter attacks.
Epicenter and Blink Dagger are both very big parts of your playstyle - in the early-mid game a good Epicenter is absolutely devastating and can decisively win fights for your team. Until you have your Blink Dagger, being able to nab any kills with it at all is pretty good.
Good positioning is vital when using Epicenter - depending on your mobility options you need to pick an appropriate distance from the fight to channel it. Unless your opponents are disabled or completely incapable of stopping your channelling or escaping, you want to channel it from a HIDDEN location - behind a tree, up a cliff - anywhere you can't easily be spotted. This will stop them from blocking your channelling or retreating out of range.
Once you have your Blink Dagger you're extremely good at starting ganks - blink into Burrowstrike is a strong start, and gives your team time to move in and chain stun them.
In slower games, you do want to find a little farming time - if there's no ganking to be done or teamfights to get involved in then you can flashfarm pretty efficiently once you have some levels. Be careful not to take farm away from other players higher in the priority list or neglect your other duties. Most of your gold should come kills, assists and towers, with some supplementary jungle/push/anti-push money.
Your exact starting items will vary depending on your laning position and a feel for "how much can I get away with here?". As a semi-support hero, you'll be expected to provide an Animal Courier while your hard support buys Observer Wards and Sentry Wards. You may even consider Smoke of Deceit too if you plan on roaming much.
The main question to ask yourself is how many consumables and early stats you think you're going to need - if they have a relatively passive offlaner and/or your carry is content to farm rather than kill, you can probably strip down your starting items to the bare essentials and try to get your core faster as you farm the jungle.
On the other hand, if you're expecting to be diving, killing and fighting a lot early on, get a full set of consumables and stats to keep you and your allies going.
Mid and Offlane SKs may well want to consider a Stout Shield in addition to their usual loadout, providing extra protection from harassment.
You just love allies who can group and/or disable lots of enemies for you, allowing you to hit them with the full power of Epicenter. Face-melting in the midgame. Be aware that you need a Blink Dagger to work with Void - but once you've channelled Epi, you can blink on top of a Chronosphere and it will still keep going even while you're frozen.
Her Song of the Siren makes for an easy setup on Epicenter, giving you plenty of time to channel it safely, and it's easy for her to spot when to release it.
Fatal Bonds is truly scary combined with Epicenter, massively boosting your damage output against multiple units. He can also make a good offlane companion, with Fatal Bonds and Caustic Finale proving extremely unpleasant.
Mana batteries make for pleasant team mates, and they also tend to pickup the hard support duties.
Uck, if he hears Epicenter warming up, Global Silence can really spoil your fun.
Silences are really horrible for you, without your abilities you are reasonably easy prey.
His burst damage is pretty unpleasant for you, and he can consistently counter your escape tricks with his own abilities.
Your invisibility is pretty useless against these guys, and their ability to track your movements can make setting up for team fights a real pain.
You have a pretty bad time against serious harassment damage, your mana pool is too limited to keep using your escapes, so you're left with a choice between passivity and trying to kill them.
He can pretty annoying - you can't Burrowstrike past Kinetic Field and Static Storm can mess up your channelling easily. Glimpse can undo your Blink Dagger when you try to initiate, leaving you to waste your ultimate a long way from their team.
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