The Sandstorm Rages: A Guide to Using Sand in OU

By Analytic. Art by Litra.
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Sandstorm Art by Litra


Ever since its introduction way back in GSC, sand was bound to make a significant impact on the metagame. It wasn't, however, until BW that it truly affected OU. With the introduction of Excadrill, a Pokémon that tore apart everything with its Adamant Life Orb set under permanent sand unless another weather inducer came into play, came a threat that was pretty hard to handle. Undoubtedly the best Rapid Spinner and sweeper in the whole tier at the time, Excadrill was deemed too constraining and restricting to teambuilding and was banned with a 69% majority.

Fast forward to XY. Formerly permanent weather was limited to five turns, excluding the effects of the weather stones, which increase it to eight, and Excadrill was deemed fit to be allowed back into the tier. The grip of sand as a playstyle on the tier might've loosened, but it still poses a huge threat to many teams. A notable example of the playstyle being used to good success can be found in TheEnder's RMT, which is a nice representation of what the post-Mega Mawile metagame looked like.

Sand teams perform best against offensive team archetypes. The raw power of Excadrill under sand thanks to Life Orb and its high Attack means that it lands OHKOs like no big deal. It's often paired with a wallbreaker like Manaphy, Keldeo, Mega Charizard Y, or Kyurem-B to break past Pokémon that trouble it.

Breakdown of a Typical Sand Team

There is a process to building a good sand team. Typically, each sand team consists of the following:

Sand setter (Hippowdon/Tyranitar) + Sweeper + Fairy / Dragon check + Ground-type breaker + Mega Charizard Y / Keldeo / Manaphy check + filler

Sand Setter:

Hippowdon Tyranitar

Hippowdon and Tyranitar are the only two viable sand setters in OU. It's fair to say that Hippowdon is a better Pokémon to have on a sand team than Tyranitar in the current metagame. With the introduction of ORAS, new Mega Evolutions were added to the tier, such as Mega Metagross, Mega Lopunny, and Mega Altaria. Tyranitar loses to these Pokémon 100% of the time regardless of their sets, whereas Hippowdon counters Mega Lopunny, checks Mega Metagross pretty well (although some carry Grass Knot as a lure), and checks Dragon Dance Mega Altaria pretty well and can phaze it if need be. Hippowdon also stops Mega Manectric cold in its tracks, as well as other Electric-types like Raikou. Hippowdon also blanket checks a large portion of the metagame. Access to reliable recovery in Slack Off, combined with all its other qualities, makes Hippowdon the superior sand setter overall.



Excadrill is the only viable sweeper that can make use of sand to aid its sweeping capabilities. It generally runs a Swords Dance set, which is preferred to the Rapid Spin set because Excadrill loses to pretty much every hazard setter out there, but both sets are good choices.

Fairy / Electric / Fighting / Steel / Water check:

Mega Scizor Amoonguss Ferrothorn

When you take a look at team archetypes such as this one, you'll notice that they're quite vulnerable to Dragon-types like Dragonite and the Lati twins, and really helpless against Fairy-types like Azumarill, Mega Altaria, Mega Gardevoir, and Mega Diancie. Azumarill is the Pokémon that threatens sand teams the most. The rest of the aforementioned Pokémon, however, can be revenge killed by Excadrill, but only if the sand is up. This is why you'll commonly find Ferrothorn, Amoonguss, or even Mega Scizor on these team archetypes. Amoonguss and bulky Swords Dance Mega Scizor act as great checks to all threatening Fairy-types, while Ferrothorn is a bit shakier as a check but brings Spikes stacking to the table and can help the sweeper in question have an easier time picking off the opponent's team.

Ground-type breaker:

Mega Gyarados Keldeo Manaphy Azumarill Mega Charizard Y Kyurem-B Breloom Serperior

Excadrill struggles against the likes of Hippowdon, Skarmory, Rotom-W, TankChomp, Landorus-T, and Ferrothorn to an extent. This is why this role is very important on a sand team: having a Pokémon that can break past these foes is really helpful and aids the team immensely by contributing towards the overall objective of the team, to attain a sweep with Excadrill. Keldeo, Azumarill, Kyurem-B, Manaphy, Mega Gyarados, Breloom, Serperior, and Mega Charizard Y all break the mentioned hurdles to an Excadrill sweep pretty well. They work in tandem with Excadrill, breaking things that Excadrill struggles with while Excadrill picks off faster threats that these Pokémon may have trouble with.

Mega Charizard Y / Keldeo / Manaphy check:

Latios Latias Tornadus-T Mega Altaria

Let's go over the current team skeleton. What you'll notice is that whatever combination of Pokémon the team consists of at this point, it's really weak to Keldeo, Manaphy, and Mega Charizard Y, which break down the team with ease. Also, if the team opts to forego Rapid Spin for Swords Dance Excadrill, it leaves the team vulnerable to entry hazard stacking. This is where the Lati twins come into play. Both are excellent checks to Manaphy, Keldeo, and Mega Charizard Y. Latios is primarily used for its offensive presence, while Latias is a better check to these threats and packs Healing Wish, which gives an opportunity for a sweeper like Excadrill to have another go at the opponent's team. They also provide the team with hazard removal. Mega Altaria makes for a very nice check to Choice Specs Keldeo and Mega Charizard Y because of its decent bulk and typing. It can also take on non-Tail Glow Manaphy.


Tornadus-T Tyranitar Mega Manectric Thundurus

This can be anything, really; I usually opt for a secondary check to Manaphy, Mega Charizard Y, Keldeo, and Mega Gardevoir in Assault Vest Tornadus-T. If I'm running the combination of Mega Charizard Y + Keldeo + Excadrill, I usually opt for ScarfTar to Pursuit trap the Lati twins. Electric-types like Mega Manectric and Thundurus take on fat Water-types like Suicune and Slowbro that pose a problem to Excadrill.

Common Cores

Tyranitar Excadrill Mega Charizard Y
Hippowdon Excadrill Keldeo


In the process of adding Pokémon to cover most threats to the team archetype, the team is left pretty vulnerable to some foes. Let's have a look:


Keldeo can overwhelm its checks pretty quickly with the combination of Scald burns, a potential Icy Wind for Latios, and Secret Sword for Ferrothorn. It has the ability to put in a lot of work against typical sand balance archetypes, especially with Pursuit support.


Azumarill is a huge threat because of its typing, access to priority in Aqua Jet, which allows it to revenge kill Excadrill, STAB moves that let it take out the sand setter, and decent bulk, which allows it to take a hit or two from common Pokémon found on these archetypes, such as Latios, Keldeo, and Tornadus-T.


Manaphy is a huge threat to most sand balance teams. With access to Tail Glow, it can become really threatening in an instant. While it's checked by Ferrothorn and Latios, two common components of a sand balance team, Manaphy can threaten them with Hidden Power Fire and Ice Beam, as well as dismantle them with Pursuit support. Its natural bulk allows it to take a hit or two and plow through teams.

Mega Charizard Y

Mega Charizard Y can pretty much win on its own against sand balance archetypes. Latios is generally the only check that these teams carry to it, and it gets trapped by Pursuit, which is pretty miserable. Tyranitar is a very nice check too, but it's very risky to switch it in directly due to Charizard's access to Focus Blast. The combination of Mega Charizard Y's ability Drought, high Special Attack, and access to powerful moves in Solar Beam and Fire Blast is just unfair.


Kyurem-B is slower but pretty much on par with other threats to sand teams. Ferrothorn, Latios, and Keldeo can check it pretty nicely, but Ferrothorn has to watch out for Hidden Power Fire variants and Keldeo can only switch in once and fears Fusion Bolt. Latios scares it out, but yeah, it's still a pretty huge threat. Support Tyranitar and Choice Scarf Tyranitar make for pretty good checks to Kyurem-B, as it performs best against Hippowdon sand balance, usually.


Life Orb Tornadus-T is just an amazing Pokémon against sand balance teams. With its high Speed stat, it outspeeds the majority of the team and has the potential to OHKO them. Heat Wave deals with Ferrothorn and does a ton of damage to Excadrill, Hurricane OHKOes Keldeo and 2HKOes Hippowdon, Superpower or Focus Blast handles Tyranitar, Knock Off or U-turn is used for Latios/Tyranitar, and Grass Knot takes care of Hippowdon. Unless you're running something like Clefable, this Pokémon can be very hard to deal with.

Sample Team

Mega Scizor Kyurem-B Hippowdon Excadrill Tornadus-T Latios

By ArchPhantom

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