A Guide to Caustic Sand King
Sand King is a Strength hero with abilities that requires him to get close to enemies and attack them, but unlike a carry hero does not primarily deal damage by attacking during an engagement. Sand King's main role is to provide lockdown with his signature spell: Burrowstrike. It provides damage and mobility along with a hard stun, all in one package, supplemented by his other spells: Sand Storm to provide jungling ability and a second escape, his ultimate Epicenter to deal tons of magic damage, and his passive Caustic Finale, which allows Sand King to flash farm quicker than most heroes.
The sands of the Scintillant Waste are alive and sentient--the whole vast desert speaks to itself, thinking thoughts only such a vastness can conceive. But when it needs to find a form to communicate with those of more limited scope, it frees a fragment of itself, and fills a carapace of magic armor formed by the cunning Djinn of Qaldin. This essential identity calls itself Crixalis, meaning 'Soul of the Sand,' but others know it as Sand King. Sand King takes the form of a huge arachnid, inspired by the Scintillant Waste's small but ubiquitous denizens; and this is a true outward expression of his ferocious nature. Guardian, warrior, ambassador--Sand King is all of these things, inseparable from the endless desert that gave him life.
22 + 2.6
19 + 2.1
16 + 1.8
Movement Speed: 295
Turn Rate: 0.5
Attack Range: 150
Base Damage: 25-41
Base Armor: 0
Attack Duration: 0.53 + 0.47s
Sand King burrows into the ground and tunnels forward, damaging and stunning enemy units above him as he resurfaces.
Cast Range: 350/450/550/650 ( 700/900/1100/1300)
Stun Duration: 2.17s
Sand King creates a fearsome sandstorm that damages enemy units while hiding him from vision. The invisibility remains for a short duration after the sandstorm ends.
Max Duration: 50s
Fade Time: 0s
Damage per Second: 25/50/75/100
Invisibility Linger Duration: 1.5s
Sand King's attacks inject a venom that causes enemy units to violently explode when its timer expires, or when the unit dies, damaging and slowing nearby enemies. Deals half damage if the timer expires.
Explosion Radius: 400
Explosion Damage: 90/130/170/220
Passive Proc Duration: 6s
Passive Proc Damage: 45/65/85/110
Movement Speed Slow: 30%
Slow Duration: 3s
After channeling for 2 seconds, Sand King sends a disturbance into the earth, causing it to shudder violently. All enemies caught within range will take damage and become slowed. Each subsequent pulse increases the radius of damage dealt.
Channel Time: 2s
Pulse Radius: 275+50 per pulse
Number of Pulses: 6/8/10
Damage per Pulse: 110
Attack/Movement Speed Slow: 30%
Slow Duration: 3s
Doubles the range of Burrowstrike, and applies Caustic Finale to any enemy heroes affected.
Sand King is highly versatile with regards to which role and lane he goes, but he's still a hero you want to avoid picking early if you can because he's somewhat counterable. Consult the following list of hero interactions during your drafts for some idea of how each matchup works, but keep in mind that some categories on this list refer to 1v1 matchups while others are just general notes (hover over the section title for more info).
SK excels against these heroes, primarily in lane but also when using his combo, because the extra enemy minions allow CF to be procced multiple times, granting extra damage and also some free CS.
Although Furion (Nature's Prophet) himself is pretty squishy, the primary reason why he's weak to SK is his Treants. These are the potentially most numerous summon, sometimes in hordes due to the NP Aghanim's upgrade. As with any hero in this category, either counter Prophet in lane by following him if he tries to relocate permanently, or potentially disrupt his jungle as a support SK by making early rotations. Playing SK in these matchups is like playing Earthshaker and using Echo Slam—if you see Furion surrounded by his creeps, you can easily take him down—sometimes using just Burrowstrike and a Caustic attack or two.
Enchantress is a walking oxymoron—her low health means she is especially susceptible to magic burst like Epicenter, BUT she's also perhaps the most resilient jungler there is. Enchantress is extremely difficult to catch or kill during the early game because of her high movement speed and Untouchable—thus it is not recommended to attempt roaming against any competent Enchantress player. Instead, the best way to play this matchup is as a core, in lane. An early level 6, whether laning against Enchantress or not, since the 1v1 matchup isn't as particularly strong here for the SK, means an early Epicenter, which means dead Bambi. Early on Enchantress is especially susceptible to magic burst since her Strength is the lowest in the game. As a greedy jungler, SK can potentially punish Enchantress by farming his team's jungle first, and then rotating to counter-gank the offlane or roaming Enchantress, but this style of play is definitely most risky against an Enchantress compared to other junglers.
This is the #1 clearest situation to pick a Sand King. Many tiny spiders means SK can farm up a storm, shut down the weaker Arachnid in lane, and potentially snowball out of control. The key is finding the lane against Broodmother—and watch out for Web tricks! Look at the draft and predict the way Brood would normally lane, then guess which lane she would go to if trying to avoid you. The answer may sometimes be mid or your team's safelane! Whatever you do, REMEMBER the ONLY reason to pick SK against Brood is the lane matchup. If you treat the matchup this way you'll be much more successful, as Sand King lineups tend to run out of steam unless another core takes over or the wombo-combo teamfight is unstoppable. Brood will often simply beat out the SK's team unless you can feed on her early game, snowballing into her team's base and taking high ground by a somewhat reasonable time (30:00-40:00 minutes).
Enigma is one of the easiest junglers to counter-jungle because he's at his most fragile during the early game—before he can pick up any Mekansm or other armor items, and while his Eidolons are still weak. A boots-first roaming SK can hope to find a pick-off roaming into the Enigma's jungle early game, while a smart core SK can carry an early TP scroll starting around 4 minutes and usually TP to help any lane where Enigma ganks at level 6, hopefully surprising Enigma and stopping Black Hole prematurely. Once again, remember how useful Smoke can be here, especially in pubs where most Smokes will go unused.
Roaming support Sand King may be effective at shutting down a Chen who's trying to farm his jungle or gank mid, but a core SK can also make short work of an overzealous Chen surrounded by his flock. Remember that a 50g Smoke will make or break these rotations generally—the enemy might have wards you know! As a core SK, you should never have a problem escaping the Chen when he ganks you, so long as you don't get silenced somehow or get caught without either Burrow or Sand Storm.
1v1, this lane is definitely a close contest for CS until SK hits level 3, or maybe even level 2 if he gets aggressive on Beastmaster under a creep wave successfully—but the matchup tends to favor Sand King overall because in late-game teamfights, he can always afford to hang back and wait for the Beastmaster to go in first. Hawk vision can definitely make life hard for a clumsy SK caught in the trees, but always remember in such situations that a little purple puff of some Smoke of Deceit can make the whole play work for only 50g. If you play AROUND the Beastmaster, he'll be the one getting hunted.
Caustic Finale treats Illusions as heroes—in case you didn't know. This allows Sand King and Caustic Finale, especially with Aghanim's Scepter, can dominate and potentially shut illusion heroes down before they even come online. If CK or PL have a Heart and/or Skadi, Caustic Finale isn't going to even come close to killing them, but with Aghanim's allowing your Burrowstrike to place the full 220 damage CF proc on any enemy illusion, you can definitely do lots of damage to these enemy heroes during the early- to mid-game, and still insta-gib any squishy heroes standing near their swarm of carry illusions late-game.
As the other lowest health hero in the game—tied with Enchantress—Terrorblade is both an easy lane opponent for Sand King to kill, and a fun hero to use Aghanim's + Burrow against. Try to save Sand Storm for the end of your combo so that you can't be targeted by Sunder.
While most heroes will get wrecked in lane by the potential Spirit Lance spam, Sand King excels in that he can level Sand Storm early to dodge Lances. Making this adjustment lowers your kill potential in the 1v1 lane at lower levels, but definitely increases your survivability. Grabbing an Aghanim's before PL tanks up means PL will fear you, perhaps relying on solely pushing with illusions, so vision is always key to these matchups.
Naga's Song of the Siren is not really slow enough to interrupt, so the best play against this fishy pushing lady is to hide in the trees and channel Epicenter such that when she ends her singing, you can Blink in and stop her team from TPing out instantly or interrupt their carefully orchestrated teamfight. In lane, just be careful not to get netted by Naga after blowing both Sand Storm and Burrow.
CK is a scary opponent in lane, especially because he often brings an IO or other support with him, but in a somewhat fair 1v1 Sand King can definitely still manhandle this tanky brute. Against a lane with supports, hang back and level Sand Storm early enough to escape their aggression, as it will also let you fall back to the jungle. With a decent Aghanim's timing Sand King will usually destroy the CK throughout the mid-to-late game, but after fully tanking up CK may just be too strong for SK to take down without items like Veil and Shiva's.
SK excels against heroes with low strength both because he wants kills from each use of Epicenter, but also because each kill gives him more damage from CF, so targeting a squishy enemy in a clump of other enemies can sometimes lead to kills you wouldn't get otherwise.
Poor squishy CM can't get a break from pretty much anyone, but the Scintillant Sands are indeed swifter than the Wolves of Icewrack—significantly enough that even without Boots, a Sand King at 300 speed should be able to burrow on and kill a CM at level 2 with just Caustic and Burrow level 1. This goes for most of the heroes in this section, though many of the others have mitigating factors like mobility.
If you know that Mirana has Leap leveled, you'll need a teammate to make any kills happen here—but if she goes for a more aggressive skill build, core or support Miranas who wander into your lane must beware. As usual at levels 2-3 with Caustic and Burrow, you can easily get a pickoff on squishy heroes of any kind.
Lich has Frost Armor to discourage you potentially, and he does present a challenge by dragging the lane back towards his tower with Sacrifice—but Lich isn't a very strong hero stats-wise. A couple of Burrow combos and he's dead for sure, just be patient.
Lion has lots of annoying ways he counters you as an SK—the instant Hex to catch you out when you Blink in, the AoE Earth Spike to knock you out of Sand Storm, and the Mana Drain to zone you out—but he'll always be squishy and slow. Take advantage. Keep wards on your flanks so as to limit his roaming potential, and whatever lane you're in you'll be fine.
The old man does great things for Sand King when they're on the same team—but as opponents Sand King gets to enjoy feeding on him AND his horse, because KotL is especially squishy and vulnerable to burst damage, even with the Mek build. A smart KotL player might itemize Pipe of Insight to combat the SK, but outside of this situation you'll find an enemy KotL as mostly free food.
AA is also a wonderful hero to have on your team as an SK, but as enemies you'll only really have to contend with getting scouted out by Ice Vortex or maybe having your Blink disabled by his ultimate. In lane, AA has pretty much no way to stop you, so feel free to walk up and give him a tap—just beware of the Cold Feet plus follow-up if you dive in with Burrowstrike.
Another squishy AGI support, another free meal right? Just be aware that Bounty Hunter would love to counter-jungle you and sap your experience should you go for such a build, so definitely try to put SK in a core role in this matchup. No one likes to have their jungling contested, not the least of which is you.
Shadow who? Oh right the third one. He's still in the game, and a reminder that he's still squishy. Don't let him do the initiating on you with Disruption, or else things might get sticky quick, forcing you to Burrow away rather than into his creeps for a kill.
Just like Lion this slow support offers at least one major way to thwart you, which is the instant Hex, but regardless you'll find he's slow enough that—should he wander near the creeps in your lane or into the jungle without full HP, he might be the King's next finale.
Ganking Dazzle 101: If he's alone, save your stun until he uses Grave into TP scroll. If he's with a partner, try to fake him out into wasting the Shallow Grave on whoever you're planning to kill second. Dazzle has nothing he can do if you push his lane either, so consider aggressively diving combined with a point in Sand Storm to escape.
SK is one of the best heroes at catching heroes with escapes because Burrowstrike is practically instant, catching these heroes out before they can use their spells to escape. One important note is that SK can basically replace Puck in many drafts because of this capacity—although his stun is slightly shorter in duration than Puck's Silence, Sand King offers more magical damage.
Slark is a tough nut to crack once he hits level 6 and can just slither away from you whenever he wants, but pre-6 especially Slark is not that difficult to lane against, plus the passive nature of Caustic makes it uneconomical for Slark to use his Dark Pact on Caustic should you find yourself able to harass him with it. Stunning this little fish down and bursting him at level 5 should be pretty darned easy, plus even in the late-game you should be quick enough to catch a Slark player with Blink into Burrow before he can Dark Pact. Consider Blinking on top of the Slark player to minimize his time to react if you're having trouble catching one in your game.
Weaver is so squishy that you will nearly always be able to squash him before Time Lapse comes out. This is a good situation where the aggressive item build can be excellent, as heroes like Weaver are especially vulnerable to being bursted down during the 2.17s window of Burrowstrike's stun. In lane, Weaver is short-ranged once again, making him weak to Caustic and proving for a second time that Crixalis is the king bug hero hunter.
Burrowstrike is not a long enough duration stun to catch out and kill a hero like Storm Spirit with SO much mobility—but you can be the one fast enough to catch him, even with just Burrowstrike. Getting an additional Eul's Scepter or Scythe of Vyse means you can instantly Cyclone or Sheep, channel Epicenter, and chain into your own stun. In lane, remember that Storm Spirit is short-ranged, and thus is quite susceptible to Caustic harass—especially when he goes in for a Remnant.
Queen of Pain is not necessarily squishy per se, but she is elusive enough to warrant counter-picking AND, unlike Anti-Mage, she must turn before her Blink animation goes off, leaving a Sand King who Blinks in enough time to catch her out with his 2000 speed projectile. Her high burst AoE damage may at some point be used to try and coerce you into leaving Sand Storm, so keep in mind that against heroes like QoP you must always keep an eye on your health to make sure you're not making a suicidal Burrow stun into the center of a teamfight. Sometimes with Aghs this play can work out, since you'll also have Caustic damage to play with without exposing yourself to any small arms fire while you sting people, but playing against magic burst heroes like QoP requires discipline that even some pro Sand King players lack. Don't throw your life away unless it's to actually FINISH OFF the whole fight.
Each Meepo clone does count separately as far as Caustic Finale is concerned, but since you'll only be able to proc the active death Finale burst once for Meepo this matchup is not quite as favorable as the illusion-based heroes. Attacking multiple Meepos just to apply the Caustic debuff and deal multiple passive AoE procs is still a viable strategy here though, so never discount the lane matchup 1v1 or even 1v2 without a strong zoning support. Meepo may still try to Earthbind and Poof you down once he hits level 4-5, but this is an easy enough situation to escape if you save Burrowstrike or simply don't let him bind you under his creep wave.
While not covered under the Weaver section, let it be said here that Linken's Sphere carries like Weaver and Morphling can be quite annoying for a core SK because Linken's will always block Burrowstrike, even if it's not hero-targeted. Bearing this in mind, it may be prudent to pick-up an additional active item like Eul's against these heroes, IF they go Linken's Sphere, to quickly pop their Linken's and follow-through with your Burrow combo. Morphling can be especially frustrating to play against because he will Strength morph his way out of the fight if you don't burst him, but even in these cases Sand King has the advantage with a lower cooldown mobility spell and Caustic slow, so long as the Morphling doesn't instantly replicate out. Morphling is also low-range enough to be hit will Caustic while going in for last hits himself, so for all intents and purposes you can treat the Morphling 1v1 matchup as favorably as you would the matchup with a melee hero.
Tinker LOVES to hide in trees and use March of the Machines to farm up the lane, then Boots of Travel out without being seen—use this against him by placing wards on the high cliffs around the outside of the map ("Tinker wards"), then lie in wait in some patch of trees for the Tinker to come along. Since Tinker players tend to get an Ethereal Blade of their own, late-game Tinker can be especially helpless against a wise Sand King player's ganks, that is unless the Tinker is forced to go BKB or Linken's. Either way lane matchups against a Tinker 1v1 are not that unfavorable, just watch for the Lasers right as you go for last-hits. These plays are opportunities for you to dive in with Burrow if you already have Caustic on a creep or two and aren't too low on health, but consider avoiding the 1v1 altogether if there's a more suitable ranged laner on your team.
Puck is probably tied for the hardest on this list to catch because a good Puck can Phase out if your Burrowstrike instantly—even faster than the 2000 speed on the Burrow's spike projectile, especially if they know you're coming. Plan on counter-initiating on the Puck rather than trying to catch him—and in lane, avoid this 1v1 matchup unless you know you'll have support rotations to help finish Puck off.
SK wins a 1v1 lane against most any hero with less than 400 range, if he goes for the Caustic build. This list highlights just a few of the heroes you can successfully lane against with the CF build, but just about any melee hero will do.
Sven is one of the classic melee heroes that Sand King crushes in lane, forcing him to back away from the creeps or risk taking Caustic harassment and Burrow burst damage. You may end up wanting a Eul's/Eblade/Shiva's Guard to mitigate Sven's extreme physical damage later in the game, but hopefully if you get this lane 1v1, or even 1v2 with some weak support, you can likely snowball off the lane while simultaneously denying Sven tons of farm.
Dragon Knight is definitely one of the toughest heroes to kill 1v1 thanks to his large health pool, health regeneration, and instant stun to disengage with, but you should always keep in mind that the armor from DK's passive and the damage reduction from his Breathe Fire have NO effect on your magic damage. Early in the game this means the lane is easily a kill lane for the SK, although DK should be able to last hit somewhat safely and harass you back some. Late-game if the DK starts to really tank up with a Pipe or BKB things can get rocky, but hopefully if you end up in this 1v1 you won't let him get that far along, or you'll punish him by running down his charges and keeping up the pace by pushing out waves and teamfighting constantly with the Octarine build.
This has got to be one of the very easiest lanes for Sand King to CS in and kill, but Slardar does have plenty of counterplay potential of his own making this nowhere near the safest 1v1 matchup. Slardar's Crush means he can stun you out of Sand Storm (plus see you during it with his ultimate), and Sprint lets him chase YOU down if you choose to run (if you have Blink and he doesn't you'll get away, but if you both do Slardar can pretty much always catch you, which is rare for Sand King). Either way, the bonus damage Slardar takes from Sprint does mean that he's an easy enough hero to burst down later on in the game, just be aware of any BKB or Pipe of Insight pickups that would throw you off.
Alchemist definitely seems like a an underutilized hero these days, but 1v1 against a Sand King he will just look silly. Picking up a couple Mangos, as prescribed here, to counteract the tick damage from Acid Spray is the only real adjustment you'll need to make against Alchemist, though as always if you can get his rune at minute 0 he'll be somewhat crippled (temporarily). Later on in the game Alchemist can become quite tanky and hard to burst down, not to mention if he goes Radiance that can interfere with your Blink Dagger, but this give you all the more reason to go for either control in the form of a Scythe of Vyse to catch out a tanky Alchemist, or more burst damage in the form of Dagon/Eblade to punish an Alch for not tanking up enough.
Timber was massively buffed in recent patches and also excels against all Strength heroes. In a 1v1 lane you'll be close enough for easy Whirling Death harass from him. Timbersaw's bonus armor from the newly buffed Reactive Armor may not help against you much, but the mobility from Timber Chain means he's always going to be quite tough to solo-kill without landing an Epicenter.
PA is a bit harder than most to shut down completely since she can potentially Blink herself away and keep CSing with her long-range Dagger, BUT she's definitely squishy and slow enough to kill 1v1. A Sand King pick would surely be enough to force PA into an early BKB, but if not you can literally just keep solo-killing her over and over with Epicenter (although do be mindful of baits if you're playing against smarter opponents).
Ursa is a fun hero to kite around with Caustic and Sand Storm, moreso than just about any other. Controlling this big loveable bear in fights is quite easy until he gets a BKB or Linken's Sphere, so just always keep an eye on his items to anticipate what he's got coming out, and always be the one doing the Blinking onto him, rather than the other way around. You can still escape if he does jump you, but eventually a good Ursa player will itemize Abyssal or Sheepstick to catch you or their other target out (same with Clinkz).
Despite the fact that this lane is winnable for the Sand King, Faceless still has a large advantage in that he can Time Walk out of any harass damage you do, which will nearly always be in a tight burst that he can neatly walk off. Later on he can potentially catch you with Chronosphere as you go in for Burrow, so always try to wait out the Chronosphere if you can when teamfighting.
This big bad wolf can't do much to you besides nip at you with his pets, so focus them down as long as you're able to and consider using Burrow + Caustic to burst them through their magic resistance once you hit level 4-5. With the mounds of CS you should be getting in this 1v1 you can almost certainly get an early enough Blink to make your first Epicenter count and start finding pickoffs, but Lycan himself may not be the best target as he's quite tanky, and once he starts running under ult form you won't be able to catch him. Not without Aghanim's Scepter and some favorable terrain anyway.
The ability of Juggernaut to spin and kill you while you're dududu'ing in Sand Storm, or trying to go for the Burrow+Epi in, is pretty game-breaking, just like Lifestealer. While Jugg may not always be tanky enough to survive Epicenter if you catch him out, he will be able to survive if you don't chain him down thanks to Omnislash, so let's not find out unless you're absolutely sure (a silence like Skywrath on your team would help). 1v1 you can bully him out of lane, and he'll have a hard time denying your CS without taking heavy Caustic damage, but ultimately you will take over this lane, just be careful.
All of these heroes improve SK's ability to function in teamfights especially, although some do make good lane partners. Consider picking these heroes generically early as a setup for some nuker, and combine SK with one or two meta picks.
While the obvious synergy here is simply Repel to allow Sand King to skip BKB himself, the same could be said about literally any other core hero that's item slot limitted. In this case Omni makes a great partner for Sand King because he always puts his body into the middle of the fight, and tossing out that Purify onto a Burrow and/or Epicenter is often all you need to take down a tanky opponent as the Sand King. Finding a laning situation to make use of this combo is definitely a challenge, but the best is actually just a dual offlane against some melee carry and weaker support, for example Spectre/Dazzle or Sven/Lion. 2v2, SK and Omni are nearly as deadly of a duo as Omni and Tusk.
Elder Titan is seeing something of a resurgance this patch, but he's always been simply the best addition to a magic damage stack strategy. 80% magic resistance reduction is the strongest tool of its kind for nuking down clumps of enemies, and you can imagine how strong the wombo from a lineup with 2-3 of these heroes to buff up SK can be. The Elder Titan Echo Stomp into Burrow+Epicenter is much easier to pull off than Titan's own Earth Splitter combo, and is rivaled only by Naga Siren for its ability to set up a perfect Epi.
As a teammate, Ancient Apparition is one of the best magic damage amplification heroes there is. His ultimate lets you instagib crowds of enemies, with enough coordination, while Ice Vortex is the perfect accompaniment for your casual Blink+Burrow amplification needs. Best of all, now that Cold Feet has received several direct buffs in a row you can now reasonably max it first while laning with a partner like Sand King, as you can spam it and zone your enemies with the threat of a followup Burrow once the Cold Feet cooldown gets low enough (down to 7s at level 4!). AA is also a great candidate for an early Veil, which is something SK loves from his supports.
This is my personal favorite combo with SK, not really because of the mana from Chakra but from the cooldown reduction. Casting Chakra on SK while he's channeling Epicenter allows the SK to perform a near-double Burrowstrike, down to a 5 second cooldown or 3 with Octarine. The Octarine+Chakra double Burrow gives Sand King 4.34 seconds of lockdown with a ~1 second gap after the first stun duration ends, before you can cast the second one. Recall and Blinding Light can both also be useful for a KotL to help out his Sand King, to rejoin a push across the map before BoTs or to knock escaping enemies back into your Epicenter.
Undying is a bit of an awkward hero to lane on the same team as Sand King these days. Since Undying traditionally excels in such situations, your best bet may be to put Sand King solo safelane while offensive tri-laning with the Undying, who can not only make short work of the enemy's three heroes with his Tombstone Zombies, but also later on will amplify up his opponents with his ultimate, Flesh Golem, so that when Sand King eventually rotates for a gank he can deal even more damage.
Bloodseeker is perhaps the most underutilized damage buffing hero on this list, and is also one who has great synergy with Sand King. Since you'll like go into Sand Storm or scoot out with a Force Staff after getting off your Epicenter during the fight, Sand King is actually a fairly safe hero to just cast Blood Rage on directly, allowing him to potentially heal up from any creeps or heroes he finishes off with Epicenter and Burrow when he goes in. The real question here is how to lane Bloodseeker and Sand King on the same team—all I have here is theories, but I'd say that putting Bloodseeker either in the jungle or as another core can both work.
As mobility tools for Sand King, heroes like Tusk, Tiny and IO provide loads of utility—but keep in mind that all three of these modes of transportation cancel Epicenter channeling. The other heroes in this category offer unique synergy to be used in combination with blinking, ganking Sand King.
This is one of the most fun lane combos there is—Snowball into Burrowstrike is a nearly guaranteed catch (blinking heroes can probably escape, or a self-banish like Puck), and the amount of damage these two hefty brawlers put out during the combined stun durations will nearly always result in a kill the first few times you use it. Later on, the potency of this combo falls off because you can't Snowball while channeling Epicenter (it cancels Epi), so you should mostly rely on the lane combination of these two heroes (likely in your offlane) to snowball and win the game.
This one is probably less obvious, but Burrowstrike is the perfect duration for Invoker to get a Sun Strike off, allowing your potentially mid Invoker to participate in kills in his own safe or off-lane starting pretty early on. Later on, the potential of a long-range Tornado catch into Epicenter blink combo is really devestating in sloppy jungle fights and skirmishes, making this a scrappy combo of heroes apt for early game rotations. Even as a support SK can make this combo work pretty effectively.
Simple enough—Burrow into Arrow makes a pretty good hit and run ganking combination, and once Mirana gets her ultimate you'll be able to gank as a team, or just as a duo, very effectively. The laning possiblities between these two heroes are so open that you can also safely pick them together early, so long as you're able to flip them both to a support if needed.
This craggy guy makes an excellent teammate because of his ability to toss you in for a Burrow stun, but it is rather hard to fit both Tiny and Sand King on the same team. Some teams have experimented with some weird offlane or support Tinys, but really I think the best way to make these heroes work together is something like a mid Tiny+IO, or a safelane Tiny. Keep in mind once again though that Tossing your teammate Sand King will cancel Epicenter channeling, so wait until he's done if you want to try for that.
Besides the more obvious synergy of Skywrath's Ancient Seal into Burrow/Epi to buff your magical damage—you'll also find that Concussive Shot makes a great setup slow for Sand King to catch out enemies at low levels, especially at level 1 when roaming into your enemy's jungle as 5. Once Skywrath hits level 6, the ability to drop Mystic Flare on top of a casual Blink+Burrow turns this ganking duo into a seriously scary one-two punch.
Again the first thing to note here is that Relocating while Sand King is channeling Epicenter will result in a canceled ult, BUT the ability to Relocate stun anyone on the map, plus all the bonus movement speed and damage reduction from Tether to help keep Sand King alive, makes this combo a fairly potent one well into the mid-game. The best part about it is that you don't need to lane them together, and can utilize Sand King's naturally strong laning capabilities to afford IO's lane support to a more important hero like your team's hard carry.
Of all the combinations with Sand King and his Epicenter, wombo combo is often the most obvious. Keep in mind that putting all your team's eggs in one basket by relying on a large number of long-cooldown ultimates is risky. Losing one teamfight can mean a long period of crippled engagements while waiting for cooldowns to come back up.
Miss someone with your Burrow? Catch them before they scurry away with a Vacuum! This is one of the deadliest combo picks with ANY teamfight ultimate, and Sand King is no exception. The ability to clean up enemies with huge Epicenters, plus elevate a simple Burrow into a ravage on the whole other team, makes this simple synergy invaluable. You can also make use of Surge plus Ion Shell onto Sand King in lane, which is often something your enemies won't expect but which can happen with either a smoke rotation or a jungle DS/SK.
As a teammate, Tidehunter makes one of the best setups for your Epicenter channeling, since if you time it right the enemies will be stationary as you line up the perfect Burrowstrike to chain after the Ravage. Offlane Tidehunter and safelane SK is a fairly flat combo that can be punished if you reveal it too early in the draft, so try to hide at least one of these picks until 5th (as with most of the heroes in the wombo section).
Enigma is a significantly faster jungler than Sand King, plus he's the perfect hero to grab an early Mek instead of a Blink, allowing your team to push and group up earlier and allowing SK to do the initiating. While this combo is somewhat punishable in the draft, you may be able to actually throw your opponent off by picking these two ambiguous heroes early and laning them in a unique configuration, or if your enemy overreacts and plays a style they're not comfortable with. Opponents will definitely be scared if they see Enigma and SK early during the draft, so you should at least be aware of this before you grab them together.
A long-range AoE initiator like Warlock is the perfect setup for your majesty's carefully crafted Epicenter. Warlock is viable as a support these days and can certainly zone out an enemy if your core SK gets an unfavorable lane matchup, but even as a core Warlock makes a good companion for Sand King. The utter devestation of Fatal Bonds into Epicenter is enough to make an entire team crumble on its own.
Magnus is a lot like Tidehunter in that you'll definitely benefit from his setup if he gets an ult off—the difference here is that Magnus's initiation is generally much less reliable than Tidehunter's (somewhat on par with your own as an SK really). The nice thing here is that Magnus being generally a mid hero means you'll be able to either safe- or off-lane your team's SK.
Holding potentially multiple members of the enemy team still with a Kinetic Field and, potentially, Static Field makes your life WAY easy as Sand King. Although there's no direct damage amplification from Disruptor, he does enough magic damage on his own that you can really warrant a Veil maybe even first item on Disruptor when there's an SK on your team.
As teammates, SK and Faceless really make a powerful duo—Epicenter can deal its damage even if you blink into the Chronosphere, allowing you to potentially followup with a Burrow stun while your enemies are Time Dilated. Other than Zeus and Skywrath there are few magic damage dealers that pair as well with Void as SK does, although having them both on the same team implies that one of them will most likely be safelane. If you can run a support Sand King that also works especially well here, as the new FV really enjoys finding his farm early and may need to rotate around to find a decent lane. SK has the same finicky needs as a core and so may not make the most reliable partner to grab early in a draft.
Phoenix is a fun combo to run with Sand King, but their synergy is a bit difficult to take advantage of. The most common play by far will be Sand King blinking in to Burrow stun an enemy that's trying to take down the Supernova, but more effectively you would combine SK and Phoenix with someone like a Treant to ensure that the Phoenix ult goes off first, then put the Epicenter damage on top of the the Supernova stun to let SK do the cleanup. A support Phoenix or even an offlane one with a mid or safelane SK can really result in powerful earlygame teamfights for you, assuming that your lanes go as you would hope. If they don't, that's where some strong support picks come in, to reassure these more utilitarian cores don't falter against a snowballing enemy team with potential hard-er carries.
Any hero that can hold an enemy in place while you close the gap for a Burrowstrike is fair game to be a lane partner with you—these listed here are just some of the classics, as well as some new alternatives.
Rubick makes a strong teammate for Sand King because of the ease of a lift setup into Epi+Burrow, just be careful where you set the enemy hero down! Don't throw them out of Burrow or Epi. Picking the Rubick as a team looking to grab SK also serves the additional purpose of taking one of his counters off the table.
While much less straightforward to execute than the other lane combos mentioned in this section, this is a classic one that works best when the Sand King is the one initiating. As either a support roamer or just a lane partner doing some sneaking around, try popping out from behind some trees as SK and Burrow stunning your lane opponents, allowing Lina the time to follow up with her LSA. The extreme amount of magic burst betweeen these two should be able to level all but the absolute tankiest opponents (BKBs can be a problem too obviously). Picking this much magic damage, especially early on in the draft, can leave your team open to being countered, so be prepared to be creative with your laning to salvage your early game if you do.
Sven's Storm Hammer is simply one of the best stuns to follow up on. Not only is it easy to hit, but it does enough damage to soften weaker enemies up for a potential Caustic Finale, maybe adding enough damage to turn a difficult gank into an easy one. Sven's Cleave allows him to make short work of Burrow-stunned targets later on, so consider pairing the two with another synergistic hero like Dark Seer to really emphasize your combo's strength at all stages in the game.
The slow from Frost Blast is easily enough to catch a fleeing enemy during the early game, usually, but if not there's always the fact that you're probably destroying the enemy on experience with a Lich on your team—especially if he's in your lane as an SK. Lich would be a fairly decent candidate to get an early Veil to support his SK as well, although this is certainly not a common pickup by any means.
This combo has been proven so potent that I had to add it immediately—Na'vi has shown specifically that offlane SK with Dazzle is a very potent kill-lane, and one that's both safe thanks to the heals and Shallow Grave to keep things from going South too quickly, and which will often be underestimated, leading to a kill. The slow from Poison Touch could be nice, but the Shallow Grave to save your Sand King diving under tower is just too strong to pass up. Toss out that Shadow Wave heal after SK goes diving in to proc caustic on a wave of creeps, and practically anyone will go down (even a 10 armor Terrorblade).
This is another easy to execute lane combo—just Fortune's End long enough for your SK to walk up and stun. It's actually a strong enough combo that the two heroes can roam together as supports if they have suitable targets to find, although a simple roaming Oracle on top of your core farming Sand King works too. Taking Oracle out of the pool against your Sand King is always helpful too, as his Fate's Edict can completely turn around an Epicenter gank.
When it comes to carries with ranged stuns that can set up for a Burrowstrike, Wraith King is about as good as it gets. His unique flavor isn't particularly helpful to a Sand King, but the chaos caused by his respawning and potentially silly Aghanim's upgrade can make him a formidable teammate for SK as well as a decent lane partner. Jungling your SK and then roaming to the Wraith King's lane can work, as well as farming the SK and having a roaming WK to stun into the lane, probably from Smoke.
Venge can use Magic Missile to set up for Burrowstrike. That's about the extent of the synergy, besides swap saving the Sand King or swapping an enemy into Epicenter, but that means that like the other heroes on this list Venge makes a good support (and rarely carry) to pair with Sand King when it comes to Captain's Mode. The lack of any strong synergy means this is a combo you would probably roam them together early and then turn SK into a static jungler or laner, because neither one of these heroes can carry on their own or together, and thus they cannot afford to both be cores on the same team.
Shadow... Disruption. What I'm talking about here is using Disruption, and potentially Soul Catcher, to gank people. They make a decent roaming support duo or lane partners, but do keep in mind that their synergy starts to really fall apart after the early-mid game when teamfights start to become messier. It's hard to use Disruption to set up for an Epicenter unless you're getting clean initiations, so potentially save this combo for a late-draft pocket pick.
Also useful as a counter to Sand King with his Coco's Rum, Kunkka is a stellar combo hero with Sand King, especially together in a dual- or tri-lane getting kills. X-Marks is an incredible ability to catch opponents out, so a support Kunkka maxing it first can make your team's Sand King's life incredibly easy. X-Marks into Burrow and/or Torrent is already ~4 seconds of disable, and of course all that Kunkka AoE damage can be used to proc Caustic. Later on in the game, the wombo-combo of a simple Boat plus Torrent onto a Burrow+Epi is enough to win the fight on its own.
These heroes all offer a way to stop you from completing the Blink → Epicenter combo, with varying degrees of reliability. In all cases you want to avoid getting counter-picked by these heroes, so save your Sand King pick as late as you possibly can unless you're prepared to ban the heroes listed here that you cannot counter.
Zeus is the most obvious counter to Sand King there is, as you can pretty much always outplay the SK player by sitting back and disabling his Blink with Thundergod's Wrath—that is until you get a BKB. This matchup is the clearest one of all to pick yourself up a Black King Bar, so plan to itemize defensively if you do get counter-picked.
His Nether Ward is one of the easiest ways to get your Blink disabled, plus Pugna is excellent at bursting you down after you've jumped in, so always be wary of the potential blasts and Life Drains. Pugna may be squishy, and a bad Pugna player may get himself killed by going ethereal at the wrong moment, but a good Pugna player can ruin your day just like any other hero that's primarily a spellcaster.
Not only is Spectre tanky and capable of canceling your Blink Dagger with her global ultimate Haunt, but she also redirects a portion of your Epicenter damage back onto your own team, which is not good. Bursting down a Spectre often means killing yourself for someone more fragile like Sand King, but if you do manage to follow this guide and pick-up the Octarine Core early you'll find that the spell lifesteal will help you equalize the Dispersion damage nicely.
There's no other hero that can actually just cancel your Epicenter channeling from across the map, which is why you'll often see Silencer picked directly to counter other channeling heroes like Enigma as well as wombo-combo teamfight lineups in general. If you do find yourself counter-picked by a Silencer, definitely consider going greedy in the jungle and letting someone else take a lane. You may also want to consider itemizing defensively, as Eul's and BKB will both help you remove Global Silence (although only BKB can prevent your channeling from being interrupted).
Veno is incredibly annoying for any Blink initiator and SK is no exception—any one of his three poisons will disable your Blink, plus Veno's Wards are great at scouting you out and getting that poison on you. In lane Sand King needs tons of regen to make this matchup bearable, but Veno is squishy and slow enough to make your kill potential at levels 5-7 decent. Just don't feed before then!
Clockwerk is one of the best heroes at catching Sand King out, both with Flare to reveal him in trees plus cancel his Blink Dagger, and also Cogs to knock you out of Sand Storm and burn some mana. Just overall not a fun hero to play against, even if you're capable of out-CSing him 1v1.
These are all the heroest that Sand King will have a hard time killing with Epicenter, mostly through skills and raw health points. You want to avoid picking Sand King as a damage dealer into lineups with these heroes.
Abaddon is annoying for just about any hero to burst down, and Sand King is no exception. He can save allies and ruin your day by shielding off one of your stuns on a crucial hero, so make sure you and your team handle him somehow during these fights. A Eul's Scepter is one especially good way for Sand King to thwart the Abaddon when he attempts to heal up from your Epi.
Centaur is the only hero on this list without some form of built in magic protection (although he may frequently go Hood/Pipe), but by all means Centaur is tanky enough to last through your Epicenter, in most cases. Avoid picking a Sand King into teams with multiple tanky heroes like these especially.
Similar to how Kunkka can counter Faceless Void and other wombo combo heroes like Dark Seer, Tidehunter, etc by just throwing his Boat at the right time to block 50% of your damage, against your favorite scorpion Admiral Kunkka can be both especially annoying to lane against AND annoying to teamfight into. Blocking your Epicenter might be devastating a handful of times later in the game during teamfights, but Torrent to knock you out of Sand Storm and Tidebringer harass will pretty much always make Kunkka one of the more annoying supports for you to go against, not to mention Kunkka as a support if you're trying to offlane and he goes X-Marks. Avoid it!
Both by sheer health and through damage resistance when he turns his back, Bristle's kit makes him resistant to Sand King's damage. But add on a few defensive items like Mek/Pipe/BKB and add in the hundreds of damage from your own Epicenter reflecting off of his quills... and you're gonna have a bad time. Bristle isn't a specific strong lane counter to SK, but you will want to avoid picking Sand King into a team that will be fighting around Bristle as much as you can!
There are the heroes that either completely or partially resist magic, and some of them can also give that buff to their allies. In general when these opponents are on the enemy team you should only pick Sand King for his stunning abilities, not his damage, but depending on the matchup, sometimes these counters are more impactful than others (depending on the timings and goals of your lineups).
Repel may be great for you with an Omni on your team, but on the opponent's team Omni means failed ganks left and right, as well as severely hampered teamfights. Omni can luckily only keep Repel up on one hero at a time though, so if you really have to play SK against one you'll be able to hopefully switch targets during fights such that you come out on top. Avoid wasting your big spells on Repeled targets and you'll be fine!
Rubick, along with the several other heroes listed below, can on very rare occasions ruin your Epicenter initiaton by snatching you (or in some of the cases below, hexing or silencing you) instantly, before you can even get the Burrowstrike off but after blinking in. These kinds of superhuman feats are actually performed by simple shift-queuing of commands usually, but still you must be wary of these outplay potentials, as well as the potential for Rubick to nab one of your spells. None of them is one you particularly want to give Rubick, but Sand Storm is most definitely the one you're most okay handing over, so always try to use that after your initiations if you don't catch Rubick himself. All of this discussion and we have to of course mention Rubick's aura, which is actually perhaps the number one reason why Rubick sucks to play against as SK. Being that level 1 Null Field was recently buffed to 10% magic resistance, you certainly want to control the Rubick pick after you've grabbed Sand King, if you can.
It should be pretty plain to see, but Rage is stupidly good way for a melee carry like Lifestealer to avoid all of your Epicenter damage, and potentially even the Burrow stun if you aren't on point with your shift-queuing. In lane the SK should actually dominate a 1v1 matchup with Lifestealer where CS is concerned, but you'll have far less kill potential than against other melee laners and be in some danger should the Lifestealer get support rotations. A good Lifestealer player won't be afraid to dive you early on, thanks to his Rage.
Ember is definitely a slippery split pusher capable of getting caught by your average SK player, BUT thanks to Flame Guard you'll nearly always find the solo-kill much harder than other similar heroes. If Ember for some reason doesn't have the Flame Guard up, and/or you get an aggressive burst item like Dagon, you can definitely pick off the otherwise somewhat fragile Ember Spirit. Sand King does have the choice of picking up a Eul's to dispel his Flame Guard, but this combo may simply fail if the Ember has a remnant up that he can leap out to. Not to mention Ember can also respond to you with Linken's or BKB to try and stop your initiations, or even Skadi to tank through them instead.
Pudge is just an annoying hero overall, but his innate magic resistance and ability to scale infinitely into a long game where you may be struggling to pump out enough damage is disturbing. As a Sand King, I would really LOVE to avoid playing against Pudges altogether, but the 1v1 lane matchup really shouldn't be that bad. Avoid getting hooked out of Sand Storm or caught out by some kind of surprise magic resistance and you'll be fine. Later on, after Pudge has something like a Blink, you'll have to be clever and also control the other team's vision to maintain the advantage in this matchup during chaotic mid-game teamfights.
Oracle's Fate's Edict is the perfect way to save someone from Epicenter. If you see him on the enemy team, you're either going to need a way to catch out the Oracle reliably, like a vision advantage, or you'll want to avoid picking magic burst like Sand King.
Huskar is pretty hard for anyone using mostly magic damage to burst down, but Sand King does have the advantage of being able to escape from most sticky situations if Huskar starts to get Burning Spear stacks on you. Avoid wasting your ult on a solo Huskar and you'll be fine, but if you really have to kill Huskar with magic damage then a source of Break would be nice (an ally with Silver Edge is the best choice, as Scythe of Vyse no longer disables passives).
While a Sand King is quite ideal for hunting down and catching the Anti-Mage, with even one point in his Spell Shield you'll find that Anti-Mage is quite an annoying target to take down. For this reason I still don't recommend this matchup if you can avoid it, even though Sand King can be great at catching out a ratting AM. At the end of the day it comes down to your confidence that the Sand King will snowball off of heroes besides the Anti-Mage. The 1v1 matchup between the two is easy to get last-hits but potentially dangerous due to AM's mana-drain the fact that he has an escape to bait you with, plus Anti-Mage often gets help from his supports.
These are some assorted melee heroes that give you a hard time as SK—not that you're necessarily destined to lose the lane against them, but you will have a harder time than usual.
Despite the farming utility of Caustic and Burrow both, Tidehunter's ability to reduce your attack damage is unparalleled, and in a 1v1 matchup Tidehunter with Kraken Shell and Anchor Smash will certainly come out on top of you in CS. Your wave clearing abilities are somewhat equal if he maxes E, so it's up to the Tidehunter player play smartly and not take free Caustic harass when you go in for your last-hits.
Dark Seer is annoying for any melee hero to lane against because he'll definitely force you to invest in additional regen or an item like Tranquil Boots, BUT he's also quite simple to catch and kill, and can't do a darned thing to contest your CS without putting himself in danger. For this reason your best bet in this lane is to just grin and bear the Ion Shell harassment, leveling perhaps 4-0-3 and taking Epicenter at level 8 once you get Blink so as to maximize your chance to catch the pointy bugger.
With two ways to knock you out of Sand Storm, as well as a manaburn that will completely wreck your day, even with Mangos, Nyx is not an opponent you really want to lane against. You can certainly CS and potentially kill him if he gets overzealous, but his kit is well-suited to outplays and harassment, so watch out. Even in the side lane this matchup may call for a Bottle.
Axe would love nothing more than to stand in one of your Sand Storms spinning as he takes minuscule damage—dealing pure damage to you in the meantime. His love of Blademail is troubling as well, as this item can singularly wreck a magic damage dealer like yourself who prefers to forego defensive items when possible. Axe's Call obviously throws a major complication in the way of any initiation you might go for, so just avoid picking an SK into Axe unless you think you'll be able to get fed in some other 1v1 lane.
Like just about any melee laner, Sand King hates getting harassed by ranged opponents, especially strong ranged 1v1 matchups like the ones listed here. These are the kind of 1v1 matchups you want to avoid if at all possible, although some of them may be winnable with enough regen and defensive itemization (Stout Shield at least). This list is not exhaustive by any means though, so beware of just about any ranged hero not listed anywhere here.
Drow is annoying to lane against especially because of the threat her silence Gust provides. It can knock you out of Sand Storm for one thing, but the possibility of a quick and unexpected Gust forcing you to Burrow away before you even know whether there's follow-up is a very real and present threat, even 1v1. You do not want to get silenced especially early on in the game before you get up an item like Blink, Force, BKB or Eul's that might let you escape these situations.
Besides Necrophos' two annoying passives that will make the lane about as miserable for you as anything, there's also Necrophos's tendency to tank up, build defensive items like Mek/Pipe, and ability to catch you out with his ult. His ranged harassment and overall lane presence makes him one of the worst heroes to 1v1 mid or in a side-lane.
Viper is definitely a target you'll struggle to focus down as Sand King—thanks largely to the magic resistance from Viper's Corrosive Skin—but there are always moments when you'll be able to catch the immobile Viper out. This is a very difficult 1v1 matchup for any melee hero like SK, and mid-lane especially you'll find it's better suited to a ranged playmaker like Puck.
Similar to Shadow Fiend, you'll find that Sniper is a difficult opponent to shut down or kill in lane thanks to their long range, BUT you can always kill them if you somehow catch them. Avoiding the 1v1 matchup here is once again probably a good idea, although some kind of 2v1 shenanigans like Tiny+SK here could be great fun to feed on a glass cannon like Sniper.
Not only is Death Prophet going to harass you out of lane with Siphon plus right-clicks, but she also has her Silence to potentially ruin Sand Storm if you ever need to go for that play. Basically this matchup should be a cat-and-mouse game to see who takes Sand Storm/Silence first, but you have a much lower chance of coming out on top thanks to DP's similar flash-farming capabilities and strong early-to-mid game presence with Exorcism. Just avoid this lane matchup if you can.
Windranger is just about the strongest ranged laner there is, so don't try to 1v1 her unless you've got supports with a plan to take her down. She's got plenty of kill potential on you, including a way to stun you out of Sand Storm with Shackleshot, so don't trifle with this ginger ranger unless it's an absolute must.
Razor's passive grants him magic resistance and a purge to hamper your chasing, so in general, when fighting a Razor, go for his teammates first. If you can kite him away from the main fight on your own without taking too much ultimate damage perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to initate on him, but otherwise when there's a Razor in the game, keep in mind that his Static Link and general strong lane presence would make him one of the best lane counters to SK there is. Your only real hope against Razor is to hope his supports don't provide detection so that you can escape with Sand Storm at least a time or two.
All these builds are some variant of 4-2-4-2. What matters is what order you get those skills in. In general, always max Burrowstrike first and Caustic Finale second.
For free farm lanes where you most likely won't be ganked, and won't need to jungle or escape a gank early on, this build provides the best combination of lane presence, gank potential and safety. Skipping Sand Storm at level 8 and taking Caustic over Burrowstrike would provide more damage at levels 5-9, but you're only able to utilize that bonus Caustic damage situationally.→
This is the most aggressive skill build, foregoing early points in Sand Storm to focus on winning the lane, so naturally at level 1 you should abuse your Stout and/or Quelling Blade to to get off Caustic harass on your opponent. If for some reason you're not in a 1v1 lane, keep in mind that you can always do small camps with level 1 Caustic, but this only benefits you if you're in your own safelane of course.
Once you have both Burrow and Caustic, you're a kill threat. Generally at level 2 you'll only be able to kill a very inexperienced opponent, but with support gank rotations you can possibly pick off your lane opponent (a hero like Witch Doctor, Skywrath, etc makes a good gank partner, someone with damage and CC). At this point you should only use Burrow for damage on your opponent, not to farm, unless of course you're mid and looking to push the wave before going for a rune. Your damage spike at level 3 means you'll want to save your mana for then.
Unlike the build in the chart above, which shows Q-E-Q, I would actually recommend this E-Q-E build if you're looking for maximum kill potential. The lower cost of level 1 Burrowstrike, plus the higher max burst damage of Level 2 Caustic over Level 2 Burrow (if you look at the chart above carefully, you'll see that Caustic provides more absolute damage since you can proc it on a whole creep wave).
For max kill potential once you start looking for ganks, take Burrow at levels 4, 5 and 7. It gives you the most range early on in the game, which is usually the factor holding back your kills— not damage.
Level 5 is one of your peaks against your lane partner, as you'll find that it's a common time for you to get a kill in a lane that you've been slowly taking over. By this point you can clear a creep wave and most medium jungle camps with Burrow and one or two Caustic procs. If you can get this off on your opponent once or twice, they should either be dead or completely zoned out.
Not every build here recommends Epicenter at level 6, and that's because without a Blink Dagger you'll always have a hard time using it. The best way to use an Epicenter without Blink is NOT to clear stacks, no no you must set a trap. Hide in trees (use that Quelling Blade!), wait for someone squishy to walk by (you deal ~600 damage plus any Caustic procs you can find, after reductions), then Epi in the trees and Burrow out onto them. This move only works in the early game before people have mobility or defensive items, so take advantage if you can. The combined slows from Caustic and Epi can make even a fast hero significantly slowed as they escape, just avoid using this combo on a Blink hero like Anti-Mage or QoP unless you brought some stun-lock.
With max Burrow you can safely roam looking for pick-offs, but more likely you'll be getting close to Blink Dagger money at this point, and if so you'll want to find an empty lane and farm away. Obviously if you had points in Sand Storm you could alternatively jungle, but keep in mind that this point of this particular build is to be in a lane, getting all the last hits and zoning out any enemies who are dumb enough to stand near you. You're the KING of this lane, so make sure that all other 9 players know it.
What's this? A point in SAND STORM? Why would we want that? Well if you haven't deviated from this lunatic guide yet then I might as well give you an explanation: it's to escape. At this point, level 8, you should almost certainly be getting your Blink, and now is the moment when you'll need Sand Storm not as a jungling tool but as an escape. After you Blink deep into the enemy team a time or two without Sand Storm, you'll stop going 4-0-4-1 or whatever it was Moo did one DC game recently. The extra damage from Caustic is amazing, and costs no mana, but you do need Sand Storm by around the time you have Blink.
More Caustic means both faster jungling and more kill potential, so snap it up. Lane creeps are easy to blow up with one Burrow at this point, but the magic resistance and higher health pools of jungle creeps means it's way more efficient to utilize just W and E when jungling, if you decide to. With one point in Sand Storm you can certainly do any camp or stack you want to, but you'll have to stand there and take some damage while you apply Caustic if you want to do any stacked jungle camps.
At level 10 you're nearing your absolute peak power, so feel free to be aggressive. If you're following this item build closely you'll also be getting Boots of Travel in here somewhere, giving you unparalleled map mobility and the ability to show up at every fight. Hint: you should. Sand King as a core hero is an investment that has to pay off for his team, especially if it's safelane or mid, and showing up at fights is the first step to that.
Level 2 Epicenter isn't a huge boost in damage over level 1, but it is noticeable enough and it comes just as you max out Caustic Finale as well, giving you your peak magical damage relative to most other cores. This is when you and your teammates want to group up, look for objectives like tier 2 towers and Roshan, and look to take control of the map using Epi to outright win key fights.
The skill build from this point onward is pretty self-explanatory, as additional points in Sand Storm will give you somewhat respectable added damage in fights but more important a nice, short cooldown escape. With max Sand Storm and Octarine you can use that sucker to disjoint projectiles every 7.5 seconds, making you one of the most elusive heroes of this kind in the game (right behind Puck).
For contested lanes or games with roaming enemy supports. Be prepared to take Sandstorm earlier than level 4, so long as you're 1-1-2 at lvl 4. Delay Epicenter until you get a Blink Dagger, unless there's a nearby enemy squishy enough to surprise and kill with a pre-blink Epi.→
While the mechanics of this build don't differ much from the Lane King build, being flexible with your first point in Sand Storm does mean you also have the ability to jungle slightly earlier. Especially as a mid-lane Sand King this can pay off if you're able to burst down creep waves and then go stack for yourself, or have a support to stack for you.
In the offlane or midlane you may find yourself getting ganked even as early as level 1. Usually if you're 1v1 in the safelane you can use your map awareness to detect any enemy rotations coming your way, but in the midlane and offlane specifically you're much more likely to be within range of an enemy support rotation pre-level 4. Taking Sand Storm as early as level 2 will likely work out fine if you absolutely have to do it, but your kill potential compared to the Lane King build is drastically reduced if you are forced to compromise like this. With adequate Observer Wards and missing calls you should be able to just back off any time an enemy support goes missing (assuming they could kill you of course), allowing you to safely just take Sand Storm a little later such as at level 4.
When it comes to burst damage at level 3, 1-0-2 is definitely the strongest you can get. 1-1-1 is a perfectly acceptable build though, and works in practically any situation. Just keep in mind that the extremely long cooldown of level 1 Sand Storm means that a smart opponent will make you waste it before the actual gank shows up, so you actually stand more to lose by taking Sand Storm and wasting it than by simply holding a skill point until you absolutely need it or simply investing in more harassment/farming with Caustic.
With 1-1-2 you become a somewhat reliable ganker and jungler besides your ability to lane aggressively, which means that if you're in the offlane and not enjoying yourself you can leave! Go find a gank on the enemy mid (use a Smoke!) or hit up that convenient new sidelane creep camp if you aren't getting much in lane somehow (for example, you're up against a trilane).
At this point you want to return to your regularly scheduled programming by maxing Burrowstrike. Level 5 with 2-1-2 is nowhere near as strong as 3-0-2 or 2-0-3, but you'll find that you can likely still harass your opponent out of lane with a couple Burrow+Caustic combos. Especially if you're offlaning against the enemy's hard carry, don't be afraid to dump your remaining regen into some dangerous dives just to disrupt their farm at this point, especially if you aren't being bothered by the enemy supports enough to feel like you need to save that Sand Storm cooldown.
Why would you want to skip Epicenter at level 6? Well, most of the time it's because you aren't going to be able to kill anyone with it anyway. As a rather long cooldown ultimate, however, the usual school of thought is that you want to use it as many times as you can throughout the game, so it's really up to you to decide if a level 6 gank with Epicenter but no Blink is going to work. If you do opt to skip it here, you're essentially committing to staying in lane until you finish Blink and get level 8.
The main reason to max Burrowstrike is that you really want that maximum cast range, but the damage is nice too. With 4-1-2-0 at level 7 you offer close to the maximum burst damage possible without using Epicenter, plus with your Sand Storm you actually have a way to survive any gank you go for, but in general this build is about static laning and flash-farming with some degree of safety. If you somehow end up getting Blink at level 7, before you get a skill point for Epicenter, you can still rotate around looking for ganks, but it also may be worth considering using your Level 1 Sand Storm and Caustic to jungle up one more level quietly so as to not reveal your Blink before you have Epi.
It's pretty much always a good idea to pick up a Smoke of Deceit to send out on the courier with your Blink Dagger. Your first rotation is definitely the most important moment of the game for a Sand King, as it will set the tempo for your farming for the next 10 minutes and gives you an idea of what kind of itemization you want to go for. If you find that the first gank fails because your opponents are tanky, you may want to go straight into a Veil or Dagon. If you die because of enemy support rotations, you may want a Force Staff or Eul's next. If you succeed in killing 1 or 2 major targets and everything goes according to plan, Boots of Travel are the next purchase because they allow you to keep the pressure up AND find farm all over the map.
After your first rotation you might even already have reached level 9 if you were successful, but either way you now most likely want to return to the lane you came from and keep farming. If you see easy pickoffs across the map or both teams are doing lots of fighting you likely want to be there instead, but as a Core Sand King keeping up your farm is what sets you apart from a support, and you'll farm considerably faster in lane than in the jungle. Just make sure to keep a vigilant eye on the mini-map at this point, as the fact that your lanes will have most likely collapsed means that supports and gankers will be roaming potentially anywhere and everywhere looking for opportunities to kill oblivious heroes standing in lane.
Now that you have max Caustic, farming is that much easier plus you stand to deal an absolute truckload of damage with your Epicenter. Always keep in mind that you can potentially sting a few creeps with Caustic after you Blink in and before Burrow-stunning if there are no BKBs or heroes with mobility/defensive spells that you're trying to target. The slow from Epicenter helps with this too, just make sure you don't let anyone get away before Epicenter pulses explode those creeps for you!
With level 2 Epicenter and maxed Caustic by level 11, this build completely maximizes your damage potential at this point. Level 11 is an excellent timing for your first few aggressive pushes as a team, taking perhaps any tier 1/2 towers that might be in your way and Roshan. One good tip here in general is that Sand King is even better at counter-initiating than initiating, so when you're playing around an objective you can almost always afford to hang back, possibly in the trees, looking for the perfect moment to strike. Be patient with your first few Epicenters and you will be rewarded with an unstoppable snowball.
The second point of Sand Storm and on are not really going to be used for farming the jungle at this point so much as to allow you to escape during teamfights and deal slightly more damage if you get the chance to Sand Storm on top of your Epi. Ultimately the damage from Sand Storm is slightly easier to get off in a teamfight than that of Caustic, but you're much more likely to be able to tap some creeps and casually catch enemy heroes with Caustic damage in early game teamfights, which tend to be less chaotic and easier to escape.
For games when you plan to dedicated jungle levels 1-4. This build is specifically for passive early games, which are usually bad for your team, so be sure to mentally check that your team can handle this greedy support play. Once again delay Epicenter until you get Blink Dagger—unless you think you can successfully gank someone pre-blink.→
This is absolutely one of the trickiest parts of this guide, and if I get around to it I'll add a video of it, but you CAN jungle at level 1 with Caustic Finale. If you're not going to go practice it in an empty lobby before you unleash this on the public, just stop right here and go find another Sand King jungle guide. You can also do the the same movements with Sand Storm, but the 34s cooldown at level 1 does mean that you'll be slightly slower in getting your level 2. Basically you need to start off by doing your side's small camp twice, using Tangos to heal up constantly, and if at all possible you want to stack the nearest camp at 0:53. You may think that sounds impossible, but if you cut down a bunch of trees between the small camp and the nearby medium camp to the Northwest for Radiant, or the nearby large camp to the Southwest for Dire using your Iron Talon you'll find it's quite reliable. Assuming no one saps any exp, finishing the second small camp will give you level 2 and Sand Storm to then clear your first stack. Just be aware that on Dire side, this puts you quite close to any action happening top lane, so you may want to have your team's other support nearby on the off chance you need to zone out the enemy offlaner.
Alright if you're still following along, clear your first medium camp stack with level 1 Sand Storm and potentially some Caustic procs. At this point if you had Burrow you'd want to gank, but since you have Caustic we get to do something way more fun: DOUBLE STACK! This is really tricky again, so please practice it before trying in a live game, but essentially you want the 6 second timer for Caustic to expire right at the stack timer for one camp, while in the meantime you walk over and manually stack another camp. To do this you have to first aggro (but not ATTACK) the correct camp at ~:45 seconds (either the Southernmost Dire medium camp, the one closest to the top rune, or the Radiant medium camp closest to the mid-lane), then turn to sting (apply Caustic to) one of the creeps at :49, and finally use Iron Talon or simply aggro the nearest camp at :55 (the Radiant large camp or the Dire medium camp up the stairs from you). Note that connecting with the double stack on radiant is also much easier if you cut some trees. If all of this sounds way too difficult, just jungle with Sand Storm and Caustic as you would normally, but be as efficient with your Caustic procs and Iron Talon as you can! The best strategy is usually to apply Caustic to any of the small creeps in a camp (usually more if it's a stack), then use Talon on the highest health creep, and finally Sand Storm near the edge of the spawn box that the creeps will run towards.
Since we're jungling full-time here you want to get another point in Sand Storm right away, which conveniently you should be able to get after finishing your first medium camp stack. Level 2 Sand Storm means you have a 30s cooldown and can thus clear two non-stacked camps per minute (and you CAN clear stacked camps that fast if you get lucky and get small Satyrs or Wolves), which is as much as you need to happily Sand Storm away in the jungle. If you clear two camps with Sand Storm plus the small camp with Caustic per minute you should be able to have those Tranquils and your Blink by around 9 minutes.
When to gank, as a jungle Sand King? Not with level 1 Burrow. This is a build where you want to use Burrow pretty much only defensively or to clear a camp that's about to kill you, otherwise you aren't going to be doing much rotating. Your goal is to lay low and get Blink Dagger plus Epicenter as quickly as possible!
By this point you'll most likely have Boots+Bottle or Tranquil Boots, which means you'll be equipped to contest runes or help save your allies in a lane at this point, if you have to. If no one needs your help, keep stacking as much as possible to maximize that efficiency!
Higher levels of Burrowstrike can actually clear some camps with just Caustic Finale, for example small Satyrs and Wolves. If you really need to make a stack timing or clear the camp before the minute mark comes up and you block it accidentally, this is around the point where you can do that.
You should be getting close to Blink now. If you get ganked or your team's lanes aren't going well you may have to participate in some fights at this point, but hopefully your team understand that you'll have a huge power spike in the next couple minutes when you reach that Blink.
Level 1 Epicenter is usually enough to get a kill, but don't just naively assume so and go drop it on the nearest enemy. You should always do a little calculation in your head: after reductions, you deal ~500 damage from a full Epicenter, ~215 from Burrow, ~35 per passive Caustic proc and ~70 when a creep dies, and of course around ~40 damage per second from Sand Storm. You should expect to be able to kill any non-mobile target without magic immunity and below 800 or so HP.
It's pretty normal for Sand King to return to the jungle after executing his first Epicenter gank combo, but the game state at this point can vary so much that it's hard to give you much direction besides keep farming when you can. If your team's objective is to push early and avoid taking the game late you can certainly begin to deathball with them and build some support items to keep the push alive, but if you get the chance to go back into the jungle and farm greedily there are all kinds of strategies you can come up with. Ultimate you want to keep leveling Caustic at this point to take advantage of the burst damage in the early game while it still matters, not to mention speed up any farming you're able to do.
At this point you're nearing your peak power and hopefully your team has utilized your early Blink to get multiple pickoffs on key targets or win any teamfights. Go for kills on enemies surrounded by creeps to proc Caustic as many times as possible, but otherwise you can pretty much afford to just play with your team and grab any farm you see in the jungle or open lanes. Just remember that as a support SK you're not trying to take up space but create it, so if your team is fighting you need to be there!
Level 11 is a huge power peak for Sand King, although with this skill build we have not yet maxed out Caustic. Level 2 Epi with level 3 Caustic means you can deal around 1000 damage pretty easily if there are nearby enemy creeps to proc Caustic on.
With maxed Caustic you will most likely be able to farm faster than any other hero on your team (unless we're talking someone like Alchemist or Doom), so don't be a farm hog and try to be considerate in letting your team's true carries take the safer farm. One Caustic sting plus a Burrow can clear a whole creep wave, and gives you a whopping ~900 damage if you apply Caustic to a whole wave and then Burrowstrike to clear it!
For supporting when you need to make plays early game. This is a difficult and potentially risky play-style, so it works best against slow/immobile heroes and weak supports. For a more defensive/standard version of this build, take a second point in Sand Storm early instead of Caustic and stack for yourself instead of ganking aggressively with Caustic for the slow.→
There's no way you're going to get work done at level 1 without using your stun, plain and simple. While level 1 Burrowstrike is considerably less mana-hungry at just 110 manacost, you'll be hard-pressed to cast the spell more than twice without some kind of mana regeneration item. In case you haven't done the math, that means that you need to connect with a kill on one of those two Burrows, or else you're looking at the walk of shame to fountain and back. You need to reach Arcane boots ASAP, and like most other roaming heroes, the way to do that is by not dying and saving your 900 gold up over ~3-4 minutes. Go to lane with your offlaner if you have the ability to soak some experience there without getting killed, and grab level 2 that way if at all possible. Your other possible move at level 1 is to try and get behind the enemy mid or offlaner with a smoke or just some creative rotating. You may want to wait for level 2 and Caustic to do this though, as the chances of killing with your first Burrow are much higher if you have the burst damage from level 1 Caustic.
This skill build definitely doesn't look like most support SK builds, but the essence of taking Caustic this early is that it's perfect for harassment, almost like a super Orb of Venom. Besides the ability to chase down most slower heroes in an open chase, Caustic on a support SK allows you to zone out opponents by simply applying Caustic to the creeps in their lane. This kind of zoning manuever obviously pushes the lane in, so use sparingly and at intelligent moments, e.g. like right before a rune spawns so that you can force your opponent to stay in lane to get exp, or when the lane is near your enemy's tower so that you can potentially hurt the enemy laner's farm by forcing them to last-hit under tower. Also, note that since you won't be getting more levels of Caustic anytime soon, you might want to learn exactly how much damage you can deal with Caustic this way (see chart above).
Unless for some reason you end up needing to start jungling at this point (in which case take Sand Storm), your goal at this point is to keep looking for any ganks you can, whether against your offlaner's lane partner or against the enemy mid. Generally you just want to figure out the weakest enemy lane and feed off of that for at least a kill or two, although you may quickly end up backing off to the jungle if any of your early gank attempts fail or if you end up farming the offlane after your offlaner dies or falls back to jungle himself. You'll definitely take Sand Storm at level 4 if not by now, so consider looking for opportunities to stack jungle camps (at :53 or :55) in between looking for kills and rotating around the map. You can even potentially control runes with this build, using a Bottle and your early points in stun to fight anyone who shows up to contest you.
By this point you will need to start supplementing any lane farm and exp from kills you're finding with jungle farm to stay ahead (unless you've taken over one of the lanes and started grabbing solo exp, but this depends on your ally being able to jungle so don't count on it). Sand Storm level 1 still has an obnoxiously long cooldown, but with the new longer duration you can actually clear single stacked jungle camps despite the recently added stacking magic resistance on certain creeps.
At this point in your build you're actually quite strong relative to most heroes, but this depends on your ability to get level 5 at a reasonable time as well as get in range to hit Burrowstrikes. If you're never going to be able to sneak up on your enemies and get your stun off (or obviously chain your stun with some kind of setup from an ally), you're not going to be leveling up (or farming that Blink Dagger) very fast at all. You may decide to take a second early point in Sand Storm if you find that you aren't successful with enough ganks to get your Blink at a reasonable time, so that you can take over the jungle full time.
There's a whole art to killing enemies with Epicenter before you get a Blink Dagger. Especially if you're coming from a tough offlane where your opponent expects you to be underleveled and underfarmed, there are all kinds of wonky plays you can make to get a kill here at level 6 and accelerate yourself back to the farm level of a safe or midlane Core hero. Most of the tricks involve a Smoke to position behind your enemy and Quelling Blade to sneak in through some trees, but suffice it to say as long as you're creative your enemy will probably be surprised. Just keep in mind that you stand to deal at most around ~800 damage after reductions, and that includes hitting some Caustic procs and Burrow.
Unless you end up deviating from the listed skill build, you'll end up with maxed Burrow by level 7 just like all the other skill builds here, meaning that even as a support SK you still reach your full offensive catch potential at level 7. Even without a reasonbly early Blink, the extended cast range of Burrow level 4 makes you as dangerous as you'll ever be as a roamer, so take advantage and keep the pressure on at these levels, especially if you still have an Epicenter to use.
Basically you need to be finding kills or getting jungle farm, one or the other. If for some reason you find a lane to farm that's great, but you probably want to be taking more points in Caustic ASAP if that's the situation you find yourself in. Even just the second point in Caustic over Sand Storm or Epicenter can make your lane presence that much more reliable, even as an underleveled support trying to lane against the enemy safelane, for example. Otherwise, just take your second point in Sand Storm early and farm the jungle in between each attempted gank.
For a support roaming SK your Blink timing might not be that great, but hopefully level 9 is about the latest you're going to find Blink. If all goes well hopefully you can get it more like level 7 or 8, it just depends on how well your ganks and overall movement go. This type of play requires an intuition for what you can accomplish so that you can figure out which rotations will work, but practice makes perfect! Hitting those stack timings and clearing camps in time to make it to rune spawns is definitely something you learn from experience (watching pros can really help here too).
More levels in Caustic helps with your farming no matter where you are, plus it increases your burst damage. At this point it's also highly likely that you'll have a lane to farm as the lanes start to break down and each team's core heroes start to rotate and group up, so make sure you hold on to a TP scroll or two and actually show up to fights. If you're playing support SK, showing up to fights is of the utmost importance, although if you don't have a Blink Dagger it's often excusable to stay in lane farming if your teammates are somehow keeping the enemy busy elsewhere on the map. Just don't be oblivious and get killed because you got distracted by farming!
Depending on whether or not you took a second point in Sand Storm earlier, either level 11 or 12 will be your peak damage potential relative to most heroes, as you dish out a tremendous amount of AoE damage in teamfights. Hopefully by around level 11 you've also reached your second major item, usually something like a Force Staff on a support SK. The utility of a second mobility item on SK, or even the damage from a teamfighting item like Veil, should allow you to scale extremely well into the early-mid-game, teamfighting with your allies and farming up a storm in between. Make sure to keep up your end of the warding duties as a support SK, especially because with your Blink you stand to be able to rotate and gank anyone you spot out alone. This means that creative warding, especially lane wards on the enemy side of the map or overlooking some of their jungle camps, are the best to get you kills.
Max out that passive and now you've got the full payload online. You don't need to be doing much lane farming at this point, but again you're excellent at soaking it up if there is any available. Don't be a farm hog just because this guide lists tons of items—your team's core players hopefully scale harder than you do, so for example if you're looking at this guide you can safely ignore most of the normal item timings and simply get whatever you can as far items. Major items like Octarine and Aghanim's are still incredibly strong on a support SK, but if you end up skipping them entirely and just piecing together 3-4 small items like Eul's/Force/Veil, that's entirely acceptable.
Provides a 50% chance to block 16 damage (8 for ranged heroes)
Most SK players seem to go for a Stout Shield in 1v1 matchups, and understandably so. Stout is always a good pickup when you'll be taking harass or tanking creeps while going for harass, so even as a non-starting item Stout can be invaluable to SK. With the aggressive nature of his lane presence, however, Quelling Blade makes a nearly adequate substitute in terms of how much aggression and lane control it allows. You'll burn through your regen quicker with a QB, but with Stout you'll be able to maybe get that level 3 or 4 before having to back in the offlane, giving you the point in Sand Storm you need to jungle, for instance.
Deal a bonus 40% damage to creeps (15% for ranged heroes)
Chop down a tree or ward 4s
Quelling Blade is exponentially better on Sand King than most heroes, even other melee heroes, because of the nature of Caustic Finale. Quelling Blade's 40% bonus damage, plus Caustic level 1's 90 magical damage, means you have two means of getting last-hits, both much higher than the average hero's level 1 damage. Keep in mind that you must still last-hit the creep at the ~75 damage threshhold unless the 6 second Caustic timer from one of your stings expires at the right time, dealing 45 damage, or you can last-hit another nearby creep to cause the full 90 damage. Quelling Blade means you have a much wider window (~20 damage at level 1) to weave in close to the creeps for a last hit. This means you spend ~40% less time in danger of getting harassed, if you're still following along with my pseudo-math.
No matter where you send Sand King, Tangos are the sustenance he uses to survive levels 1-2. You may end up grabbing any number of regen items later on, but you have to stretch your first pack of four out for as long as possible, until you can pick up an item like Bottle or Tranquil Boots.
IceFrog is a huge fan of these little suckers, and I am too. For a hero like Sand King, the effects of 2 mangoes vs 1 are pretty stark, as you get diminishing returns returns from each additional mango as far as HP regen stacking goes (+100%, +50%, +33%, etc...). Two is the right number to fit into your early item build anyway, and gives you two Burrowstrikes whenever you need them. It's a sound investment, but even moreseo if you can hold on to the Mangos and reap their regen for as long as possible!
Iron Talon has changed the face of Dota forever, allowing all kinds of new heroes to jungle more effectively. For heroes that were right on the borderline of being good-to-decent junglers before Iron Talon, like Sand King, it makes him a pretty darned reliable one. This build never advocates Sand Storm at level 1 (full-time jungling is a whole different guide), so since you'll be jungling starting with Caustic Finale you'll want an Iron Talon to help you cut through those first few big creeps you Sand Storm down with your puny level 1 Sand Storm damage. Don't forget to put Caustic on at least a small creep or two in any stacks you take (heal the damage you take with a Tango or Tranquils).
If you're doing anything besides jungling at level 1 as a support Sand King, you need boots. Wind Lace is sometimes acceptable if you for some reason don't have 400 gold to spend, but that already suggests to me that you're trying to play him as a 5-position, which is pretty rough. Grab a ward and potentially head to the lane with your offlaner if you're in a lower-level pub, using Boots+Caustic to harass and your ward to keep track of rotations. If you feel confident enough to rotate middle or safelane with a smoke of deceit (confident that you'll get a kill without dying yourself!), then that's where these boots really come in. Without boots of speed, there's practically no way you're going to catch someone with a level 1 Burrowstrike!
This guide is geared towards core Sand King play, but it's definitely possible to utilize Caustic Finale as a support SK. If I ever add a video to this guide, it will definitely include a section on how to double stack with Caustic Finale. The essence of this build is that you can clear small camps, and some medium camps like small Satyrs, with even just one level of CF, and if you time it right also stack one, possibly two camps in the jungle for you to clear later. Keep in mind that Centaurs and Ursa camps have the magic resist aura, making any stacks with these creeps considerably more difficult to take from 6.86 on.
As self-explanatory as boots are on pretty much every hero, Sand King has an especially strong dependence on movement speed, which is definitely reflected in his boots choice. Getting these up ASAP as a mid or safelane core SK often means the difference between surviving a gank, as well as in catching your opponent with Burrow. Even if you plan to go for early regen items like Soul Ring, Urn or Wand, you need to get boots first! The only exception to this is Bottle when you're mid-laning, which is just too important for rune control to delay.
Bottle is the staple of any hero that wants to go mid, but it even functions reasonably well on jungle and offlane heroes thanks to the possibility of rotating for runes. When you go mid especially you want to rush the item ASAP to start pushing your advantage in the lane, which on Sand King means using Burrow just to CS and harass. Don't let mana go to waste when you take those sips! Bottle is definitely a go-to regen item on practically any roaming hero, and the nice thing about it on SK is that it doesn't set you as far off of your core progression as Tranquil/Soul Ring does, assuming that the health regen from Bottle is sufficient and you can proceed to Arcane/Blink. Some games the early Tranquils on roaming SK are just too valuable though, and in those games Bottle + Tranquils is pretty decent as well.
After noticing that quite a few professional offlane and even mid players who play Sand King prefer this in their starting items, I figured it would be worth adding PMS as a reminder that it's always worth investing ~300 gold (if you already have a Stout Shield) to further cement your lead in a lane and net much more than that in CS and experience. Some players even opt for Phase Drums builds on Sand King for that reason. Just remember that Poor Man's Shield excels against large numbers of weak attacks, blocking damage 100% of the time against heroes and 53% of the time against creeps.
Not only does the slow from Orb of Venom's 12%, 4 second slow stack with Caustic Finale's if you re-apply it, but it also helps you keep your enemies from escaping your reach before the 6 second timer for Caustic's passive timer can proc. This is a deadly combo for early roaming or solo laning, but the investment is only worth it if you can get a kill or two with it in most cases.
After being changed for several patches, the cooldown on these shiny blue boots is now holding steady at 55 seconds, meaning you get an effective bonus 2.45 (135/55) mana per second. That 135 mana will be enough for you to have a free Burrow once every minute-ish, which combos nicely with two Mangos you maybe have/had. Basically all this extra mana in lane makes you even more of a menace to lane 1v1 against, gives you better odds of escaping if you get ganked, AND it means any allies that hang around you get to benefit as well. If you end up grouping and pushing any time before 20 minutes, the effect of the mana restoration on all of your allies can be pretty darned good on its own, but the #1 greatest trick with Arcane Boots on Sand King is that you'll be able to disassemble them into your early Boots of Travel and Soul Booster.
These boots are AMAZING for a hero who needs movement speed as badly as SK, and they're the golden standard item for him in the jungle. No matter what the situation they allow you to stay healthy and get around way faster, but while roaming especially you need to consider the opportunity cost of spending any gold you don't absolutely HAVE to. Saving the majority of your gold by skimping on cheap early game items and simply focusing on consumables like Wards/Smokes/TPs until you save up enough for Blink can make your early roaming pay off that much sooner, especially if your first couple of ganks work out.
Soul Ring pretty much always needs to be combined with Tranquil Boots on a hero like Sand King without any built-in sustain. For this reason the timing on this item isn't really as useful as that of Arcane Boots unless you reeeeally need that Tranquil armor and regen to survive a hard lane. You don't have much use for Bloodstone either, unlike other nuker heroes that can justify this item without Tranquils. If you really feel like a Soul Ring would be nice but don't have Tranquils, never hesitate to just grab another Mango!
Wand is good on every hero, but for someone as slot-limited as a Sand King you only want to get a Stick or a Wand in games where your lane opponent(s) will be spamming spells, which can include, though is not limited to, the following examples: Zeus, Skywrath Mage, Batrider, Bristleback, etc.
Sometimes I used to recommend Urn of Shadows as a decent option for early-game mana regen on Sand King, but these days Raindrops have become the ubiquitous alternative. Being slightly cheaper, and expendable, Raindrops are the much better option compared to a casual Sage's Mask on a frugal offlaner or support. If you're slot limited like SK often is, small items like Urn really just aren't as appealing as an item that will always turn back into a free slot. Plus staying alive to protect any streaks you have going is an exceptional reason to spend 225 on a Raindrops.
Boots of travel are a way underbought item on tempo-controlling core heroes like core Sand King, who stands to split farm just as well as other heroes like PL or Ember Spirit who often get early BoTs but also has a strong desire to be at every mid-game teamfight so he can get off Epicenter. Not only does picking up BoTs early save you gold in the long run and help you keep your inventory uncluttered with TP Scrolls, but ultimately BoTs even help your ganking by allowing you to close gaps on all but the speediest heroes with the +50 movespeed BoTs offer you over Arcane Boots. If you utilize this item correctly, it shouldn't slow down your farm at all. You should be split-farming nearly all the time whilst you know where your enemies are, scooping up farm across the map and joining your allies for fights.
Some games you just know that you'll need a Force Staff. If you don't have a good sense of what I mean, just try to imagine what could possibly go wrong after you Blink+Stun into the enemy's lineup. If there are enough ways for you to get locked down instantly or stunned/silenced out of Sand Storm, then you're most likely going to need a Force. The timing for this item should pretty much always be directly after Blink Dagger, but keep in mind that the biggest cost associated with this item is the slot. You would prefer to use those item slots for scaling damage if you're a core Sand King, so maybe even consider skipping Blink Dagger for an early Force Staff (or getting a late one) if you know the conditions will be bad enough (Zeus, Spectre, and Clockwerk are some examples of enemies that could force you to forego early Blink).
Soul Booster, and indeed this buildup, just got nerfed by 6.87, but the theory behind a fast Octarine Core still stands. Building it up this way gives you a nice round item build, giving you tons of mobility for your first 2250 and 2000 gold respectively (Blink and BoTs), then giving you raw survivability for your next 2300 gold in the form of Soul Booster's stats. The 2700 gold leap from Soul Booster to Octarine can be a difficult stretch if you end up struggling with your rotations or lose your lane to farm due to push or gank activity, but the payoff is more than worth it. Don't be afraid to insert another small item after completing Soul Booster but before finishing Octarine if it would solidify your mid-game though, for example with a Eul's, Force Staff or Veil.
BKB is a timing item, meaning that you want to pick it up right before you go into an important teamfight. Of course there will be games where your opponents try to counter you with Zeus or Silencer, and in those games you may be forced to get BKB at a non-optimal time, but in general never allow yourself to feel forced into getting BKB. Don't pick Sand King into a situation that you know will force out a BKB—there are SO many other heroes that can fill a similar niche who won't need it (think Earthshaker, who can just Fissure into Force Staff even while taking damage or silenced). Also remember that BKB won't prevent you from having your Blink Dagger disabled by physical damage (like Spectre's Haunt), or from having your ultimate channeling interrupted by BKB-piercing disables (like Global Silence).
+425 mana (725 total)
+50% mana regeneration
Reduces cooldowns by 25%
Spell Lifesteal 25% from heroes/5% from creeps
You can totally follow this guide and ignore my recommendation to get Octarine first, but you should really try it at least once. The only other hero who you could really get Octarine this early on seems to be Death Prophet, but why? Naga and sometimes Alchemist like the item for their Illusion/Radiance shenanigans, but when it comes to spellcasters like SK and DP, it seems to me that an early Octarine makes the most sense on heroes with both multiple short cooldown spells AND a long-cooldown ultimate that they absolutely RELY on. Exorcism is the sole ability that allows Death Prophet to be scary in teamfights and to take objectives, and for Sand King I think Epicenter is an easy comparison. Sand King with an early Octarine increases BOTH the tempo at which he takes major engagements AND uses his stun/escapes in fights, which is far more noticeable on Sand King than on a hero like Zeus, for example, who still does plenty of damage with his Q/W alone and doesn't have a flash-farming mechanism like DP/SK do to help them get their Octarine faster. It's a lot like heroes such as Invoker, Queen of Pain, and Rubick who get Aghanim's Scepter early because it gives Cooldown Reduction—Octarine just happens to be beneficial enough to Sand King that he can rush it to fill that same role. Lastly, if you look at the charts below you'll see that the Damage Per Second increase from Octarine is roughly equal to that of Veil (25% more damage vs 25% more spell casts, therefore Veil is slightly stronger before you have active items like Eblade while Octarine is slightly stronger after you have active items), with the key difference being that you can benefit fully from a Veil of Discord on your ally, but obviously can't have someone else build Octarine for you. This item makes core Sand King work in a way that seemed startlingly strong the first time I tried it, and I think you'll find the same thing too.
+10 all attributes
+175 health (375 total)
+175 mana (295 total)
Increases Burrowstrike range to 700/900/1100/1300
You're probably thinking "Whoa whoa, Aether AFTER Aghanim's? Why get the more expensive item first?". Well, when it comes to range extension on Sand King, Aghanim's does a WHOLE lot more for you. Anyone who would ever think of getting Aether Lens first, before even Blink is missing the point of the item entirely, as it has its greatest effect after you have multiple targeted spells (plus items, such as your Blink) versus the early game, where you have only one (Burrow). Aghanim's makes SK perhaps the single strongest initiator because of his instant AoE stun (actually 2000 speed, and 3000 with Aghs, but close enough). Aghanim's actually doubles your Burrow range, while Aether gives only a 30% increase.
+8 health regen
+5% spell damage
+200 spell/item cast range
Aether Lens is a fantastic item for anyone with initiation or nuking duties, and Sand King is no exception—he has both. The key is not to rely on it as an early core item, as 5% damage and 200 range on 1, potentially 2 spells if you have Blink is so not worth it. The item slot is the greatest cost associated here, but the nice part is it's cheap enough that you can sell it without much regret if you end up needing to itemize defensively or decide to pick up more damage. Note that this logic explains why heroes with 4 targeted active abilities, like Lion or Bane or Shadow Shaman, benefit so much from an early Aether Lens.
+16 intelligence (+192 mana)
+9 damage (12 total)
400 magic damage / 600 cast range 35s 180
Sand King's function on a team can vary slightly depending on your allies, but, in general, besides your responsibility to help teammates by stunning as much as possible during fights, your next goal is to pick off as many key targets as possible with Epicenter. The more you play Sand King, the more you might notice that oftentimes you'll be very close to finishing off the key target you go on—these are the situations that beg for you to get Dagon. The item often pays for itself this way, plus it's the most cose effective item choice besides Veil/Aether by DPS per gold and the recent Intelligence buff in 6.87 gives it a free +1% damage. One note about upgrading your Dagon however: don't. The only situation where upgrading Dagon makes sense is when you've filled your other item slots or you're stomping so hard that the instant damage boost for 1250 gold is more valuable than saving for an Eblade, which you obviously prefer after Dagon 1 if the game is going to keep going because it boosts your Epicenter damage.
Ethereal Blade (Eblade) is a criminally underbought item for how large of a boost it gives nuking heroes like Sand King, but there are some good reasons for this. Besides the obvious factors like its cost, the fact that it takes up an item slot and offers relatively useless stats, the main reason Ethereal Blade is difficult to use is that it has a projectile, and a slow one at that. Compare this to items like Veil, which is easy to target and affects all enemies in the AoE, or Aether Lens, which has no active at all. If you practice working Eblade into your Burrow+Epi combo, you'll find that you can actually get the Ethereal damage amplification to cover the entire Epicenter duration (Eblade debuff and Epicenter both last 3 seconds), but this REQUIRES the use of shift-queuing to be at all reliable in a chaotic fight. Definitely practice this combo before you start buying Eblade in real games!
Veil is an incredible item for a hero like Sand King who can deal boatloads of magic damage in an AoE, but the best thing about it is that you can get one of your supports to buy it for you. While there is a new trend with Intelligence cores buying Veil before their Blink Daggers even on heroes like Puck, and pretty commonly on Zeus, as a Sand King you don't stand to benefit much from the stats of Veil, and as mentioned elsewhere you stand to gain much more value per item slot if you're allowed to go for items like Octarine, Aghs, and Aether Lens that directly buff Burrowstrike. The best situation for a Veil on Sand King is when he's a support himself, or if he really needs the early armor because of a dangerous lane matchup.
Shiva's Guard is the armor item you want to get, when you need armor that is. The AoE damage it adds is especially strong for you as a Sand King, plus the slow stacks nicely with Epicenter's and all that intelligence obviously helps too. The only real downside of Shiva's is that it limits your damage output against a single target, as you can see in some of the charts below. Considering how expensive Shiva's is you should really only get it for the defensive capabilities, especially when you're behind. You can pre-cast Shiva's before Blinking in and the blast will follow you, the AoE damage plus Octarine gives you a nice bonus heal, and compared to targeted items like Dagon/Eblade/Sheep you'll be much more likely to get it off before dying if you're losing fights.
Eul's on Sand King is mainly to counter silences. You can also get Eul's Scepter to simply give yourself an additional window to try and get your Blink Dagger off cooldown and escape like a Puck would, but in general Force Staff is more useful in those situations since the escape is not guaranteed and you'll want to get into a new position for your next Burrow rather than staying in the middle of the fight usually. The mana regeneration and movement speed from Eul's are absolutely incredible for SK, but since the item's active gives you no real offensive synergy there are other items that serve you better (special shoutout to Eul's Scepter into Epicenter though, which can work against enemies with no defensive items or mobility spells... but please don't rely on this combo).
Scythe of Vyse (Sheepstick) is the best disable money can buy, and for an initiating hero with heavy mana needs like Sand King it's the perfect item to fill that last slot. When should you go for more disable rather than more damage? If your allies are getting destroyed by an enemy physical damage carry getting in their face, definitely grab a Sheepstick. The other situation is when you know you can pick off an enemy with an important teamfight spell, but some item or spell is preventing you from getting the damage off. Sheep gives you an excellent window to channel Epicenter against solo targets, plus it gives you a way to disable key targets like enemies supports with channeled spells without putting your body in harm's way, as you must when stunning someone with Burrow.
The following builds show you just a handful of examples of how to build Sand King optimally, but in live games something will always go wrong, and thus your builds in practice will certainly diverge from these ideal builds:
With an !!!18.75s cooldown Hex!!! and an absurd 1500 range Burrowstrike every 8.25s, this build absolutely maximizes the potential teamfight control for our slippery sand friend. It also provides the most mana of any build listed, with 2.3k mana and ~13 mana regen at level 16, and 2.7k mana with ~18 mana regen at level 25. Feel free to improvise in your matches, but I find this inverted buildup with Aether Lens late to be very resilient, as in you are unlikely to need to deviate, and smooth, as in you gain power steadily until reaching 6-slots. Even past these six-slots you can itemize further with Refresher Orb on a courier, or Ethereal Blade in place of Aether Lens potentially, but as the charts below show the real key to this build is initiation range and the manapool/mana regen to keep it up in a late-game fight.
If you feel like blowing enemies up instead of turning them into pigs, this is the build for you. Aether Lens on just Ethereal Blade and Blink Dagger may not seem like much justification for the item over a stronger alternative like Veil, but the extra range on Eblade especially can make your late-game skirmishing abilities seriously scary. Keep in mind that Sand King's item builds are VERY flexible, and all of the builds listed here are subject to experimentation. You can hybridize the baseline build with defensive capabilities by adding a Eul's or BKB instead of Aether Lens, for example. Just keep in mind what order items are considered Core (as in you'll get them eventually), and which are just a luxury (all the items listed under Situational or Extension, although Aghanim's is definitely pretty Core too).
One problem that the above build suffers with is a lack of mana regeneration, and if you're going to be using a cooldown-reduced level 5 Dagon you'll definitely need some of that. With a ridiculous 11.25s cooldown 800 damage nuke (600 after reductions) you can really deal some damage... this of course after you amass something well over 25k gold, and you won't be getting that fat without dominating the early-to-mid game. I would only shoot for a bloated build like this if I were really snowballing, otherwise smaller items like Aether to fill your slots and quickly multiply the power of your Burrowstrike and inventory are often better.
Sometimes you need a defensive item. Or two. This one has two, counting Shiva's. Between Eul's and BKB, the one that ruins your item progression less tends to be Eul's, since it does fill your mana needs and makes you a speedy lil devil with BoTs. BKBs are pretty much only absolutely neccessary when you get hard-countered and need a sure way to get into the fight, such as against Pugna or Zeus. You have to BKB preemptively to get Epicenter off in most situations which means that BKB will start dwindling fast, so definitely hold off on a BKB purchase until you get at least one major item before breaching highground timed with that BKB purchase, if you can afford to. If not I'd say try to address the issue in the draft stage to give your Sand King some room to breathe, e.g. get Omniknight to protect your core SK from enemy Zeus or Silencer picks when possible, that or rotate him to support. Playing Sand King in games where you'll be forced to itemize defensively is not fun.
BKB is an item that wins games, but sometimes loses them too. The first thing about building BKB on Sand King is don't get forced into it unless you absolutely have to. Especially as a core SK you need that farm to accelerate and scale in teamfights, and BKB gives you neither more spell damage nor a way to farm faster. I really prefer to get BKB after Octarine or generally as late as possible, so the first few lengthy charges have maximum impact, but you get BKB whenever you need it. It will always be there for you, if you chicken out. Sometimes, like against a Silencer for example, all you need is a vision advantage to outplay the opponent and force them to waste their global ultimate (same with Zeus).
This type of build is usually a reaction to either an especially bad lane or a specific enemy hero that warrants mobility that isn't disabled by damage (like Blink is). Clockwerk is a perfect example of a hero that can only really be countered by saving whoever he Cogs with a Force Staff, whether that be yourself or otherwise, but there's a plethora of other situations that may arise. Hard carries that are vulnerable to kiting, like Ursa, make good heroes to get Force Staff against, and in higher competitive play in general the value of a Force Staff rises because there are more chances for game-changing teamplay. Never discount Force Staff first as an early item on Sand King, but don't just get it randomly. This type of defensive build with Tranquils, Soul Ring, AND a Force Staff first means you won't be forced to save up anywhere near 2250 gold (1000 at most for the Staff of Wizardry in the Force Staff), but it does mean you'll be hard-pressed to start snowballing as hard. This guide in general tends to favor more lean builds that forego potentially wasteful small regen items like Soul Ring, which you'll never build into a Bloodstone, but in games where you expect you'll have time to just farm a lane quietly Soul Ring is perhaps the best way to just nuke down waves and farm/push, not to mention jungle infinitely should you run out of lane creeps.
When it comes to killing someone tanky, this is the build you'll need. Not counting extra Caustic procs, this full combo including Epicenter does a whopping ~2,300 damage to a single target, if you hit it all. And that's with only a Dagon 1! Obviously this type of all-in magic burst build is quite easily counterable (Linken's Sphere, Lotus Orb, BKB), so it's a relatively situational build, but even the most coordinated enemies won't be able to stop you from getting solo-pickoffs somewhere on the map with a build like this. If your team has a farmed hard carry the control from a Sheepstick is generally more useful for Sand King (you'll have some slight mana issues with a build like this with no mana regen item), but if you were going to try and solo carry as a Sand King, this is definitely the build. It's highly possible that you kill two or three enemies with one combo after you have this much raw damage, you just have to think on your feet to make sure you choose the correct targets.
Some people might not like the Octarine idea, or maybe you simply don't have the mana to support all that cooldown reduction. A lot of people also seem to like the early Aether Lens, and such a decision actually pairs quite nicely with the decision here to get an early Dagon 1. Boots of Travel to keep moving around the map and keep the pressure on, plus Aether-boosted Dagon to finish off kills is quite a satisfying, and not overly expensive combo! Aghanim's provides a fair bit of damage and the extra range is crucial to making this type of catch-out ganker build work, so your 6-slot becomes pretty obvious if we're excluding Octarine and looking to maximize damage. Just have a teammate grab Veil and you're all set.
This build is your secret weapon against illusion heroes. That's basically the only reason to go Aghanim's first as well, as Blink Dagger does a fantastic job of netting you kills for only 2,250 gold if that's really all you need. When it comes to brutally, sadistically destroying illusion heroes by exploding them in a pool of their own filthy illusions, that's when you want to rush Aghanim's and make them leave the game all the more quickly.
With less guaranteed farm than a laning Sand King, support SK players must be more frugal, and stick to smaller items that can be easily completed during the early-mid game. Octarine early is a great build but it's much more acceptable to let it slip in situations where you aren't snowballing because you just can't afford it. Iron Talon and Tranquils together make Sand King a versatile jungler/roamer with no need to return to base, although a second point in Sand Storm early is a must so that you can do two camps a minute with the 30s cooldown. Stacking is of the utmost importance to high-level jungle Sand King play, so practice it several times in a lobby before taking it to online play. You need to be able to reach level 4 by 4 minutes in the jungle, on BOTH Radiant and Dire. I prefer to use an empty lobby, turn on cheats to give myself a courier (use a command such as -gold 100). This type of "come out of the jungle every once in a while" Sand King tends to be about saving teammates more than anything, so itemizing with a Force Staff and eventual Eul's to later save yourself are all par for the course.
Sand King roaming isn't a terribly easy thing to learn, and I certainly can't just explain it all in one neat paragraph. Like any early roaming, especially at a higher level roaming comes down to reading support movements and vision so that you can have some actual surprise when you show up 1025 units away from the enemy's mid-laner out of smoke looking to stun them with a 500 range stun. Timing and teamplay are crucial in these moments, so starting boots and a quick upgrade to Tranquils of Arcanes are a must. At that point, honestly, the easiest way to get your Blink and continue on the path towards winning the game is just to not die. You don't even have to necessarily jungle, or pull-off ninja ganks every 2 minutes, but staying alive and participating wherever you can are all you really need to do. This type of playstyle tends to lead itself to teamfighting and showing up for objectives, so an early Veil along with an even earlier Aether Lens (mainly out of convenience since you presumably wouldn't find enough farm for an Octarine) means you'll be able to contribute a heckuva lot in mid-game fights while both scaling late and staying available to support.
This is pretty much just here for completeness, if you want a totally vanilla build that doesn't acknowledge how awesome Burrowstrike scales then this is the build for you. An instant disable that isn't Burrowstrike, plus a shiny golden button to make sure you get off Epicenter, and a convenient Aether along the way, because why not, plus that Force Staff you seemed reluctant to part with. Aghanim's is a much better item for your 6-slot if we're talking plentiful farm, but if you're looking to play an impactful SK on a shoestring budget this type of build works whether he's in a core OR a support role.
When deciding which lane is best for Sand King, it's
important to take the pro meta into consideration, especially
when the hero was played extensively at a recent LAN tournament.
The following chart shows the success of Sand King by
team and role at The International 2016, where negative
bars indicate lost games and upward bars represent
victories. Each bar is scaled by the length of the game
and more information is available by clicking on or
hovering over each element. Following the chart there
is also a table with links to example Sand King games from
around when this guide was first written:
Coming soon! Updates on Twitter