Prepare for Trouble, PUCL, and make it Double! Or triple, since this is the third and final piece about playing with specific weather conditions in the VGC.
So Rain and Sun are the polar opposite weather conditions, and Hail is the unloved, ugly duckling. What, then, does that leave Sand with? In a number of ways, Sand is a much subtler weather condition than Rain, Sun, and even Hail. In Rain and Sun you know what type of attack gets a 50% boost to its power to exploit. Similarly in Hail, you know the attack to spam is the perfect accuracy Blizzard. But Sand does not provide an attacking type with an always-on power boost to capitalize on, even though there are certain abilities on various Pokemon that do so in Sand.
A Sandstorm mainly just damages non- Rock, Ground, or Steel type Pokémon for 1/16 of their health at the end of the turn and gives Rock types a 1 stage boost to their Special Defense. There are other effects and interactions with various moves and abilities in the game, certainly, but nothing especially dramatic like boosting the power of Fire attacks by 50% or making a 110 Base power, enemy-only spread attack go from 70% accuracy to never missing. It does have arguably the best weather setter, though.
Speaking just with regards to non-legendary auto-weather Pokemon used (because you are not going to be seeing Kyogre or Groudon in the VGC these days, Primal or not), Tyranitar is the original; the Sand it summons is old like the sands of time. Abomasnow brought us Hail in Gen IV and Hippowdon brought more Sand but still came later. Ninetales and Politoed did not give us non-legendary auto- Sun and Rain until Gen V, and obviously Mega Charizard Y is an invention of Gen VI.
But Tyranitar has been summoning Sand since Gen III and giving the weather a VERY solid history further built upon every year. In all my previous articles about weather (including the one for Hail for Christmas), I have made mention of the successes various weather team archetypes have had at major VGC tournaments and levels of play. And they all have very impressive accomplishments under their belts validating them. But Sand has actually WON the VGC World Championships before – Tyranitar has a World Champions title on its VGC resume, and this is completely justified.
It is fitting that Tyranitar is the de-facto auto-weather setter for Sand because just as Sand is arguably the most versatile weather condition, Tyranitar is definitely the most versatile auto-weather Pokemon in the game by a VERY wide margin. Name a role. Tyranitar can probably fulfill it if appropriately tailored. It can be a physical, mixed, OR special attacker. It can opt for set-up sweeping or a choice item or something entirely else. It hits explicitly different speed benchmarks with its Mega Evolution. It gets coverage on basically whatever you need with its outrageously large attacking movepool on both ends of the spectrum. It can opt for high speed with Rock Polish OR Dragon Dance (the Mega’s minor speed increase is a HUGE deal for Dragon Dance sets) or slow down to function best in Trick Room (very famously Iron Ball and Fling). It is perhaps THE best user of the Assault Vest given it already gets a stage boost to its Special Defense as a Rock type in Sand and one of the best users of the Weakness Policy item given how many weaknesses juxtaposed with its excellent bulk. Its Physical STAB Attack standards (Crunch and Rockslide) both also have flinch rates attached. So in spite of the fact that Tyranitar is tied for the most weaknesses on a single Pokémon, it is still an extremely good Pokémon that you can tailor to meet your team’s specific needs very easily.
Oh, right. There’s also Hippowdon. You can technically use Hippowdon to summon Sand, too (I have mentioned before that stall is not viable in the VGC, but all shade aside Hippowdon can work on the right team – it saw a little bit of success paired with Mega Aerodactyl last year!).
Aside from an extremely flexible (presumed) Tyranitar, how to take advantage of Sand is really a matter of how you want to play the team to an even greater extent than it is to other weather archetypes. At the end of the day, given how much more quickly VGC matches tend to play, Sandstorm damage to your opponents is not going to be as high at the end of a match as it is in a six-on-six singles battle so when opting to use Sand its applications do need to be considered.
If you are interested in sweeping Swift Swim/Chlorophyll style, Excadrill is Sand’s designated Sand Sweeper with its Sand Rush ability (Mold Breaker is also extremely common in the VGC though it does not utilize Sand) and can be especially scary if it gets a Swords Dance under its belt or an offensive boost through some other means in Doubles. The Sand Rush pickings besides Excadrill are far slimmer than those for Swift Swim and Chlorophyll, however. Stoutland has been on successful teams, however, should he offer something extremely specific your team needs.
An alternative offensive approach to utilize Sand is the Sand Force ability, boosting the power of Rock, Ground, and Steel attacks by 30% in a Sandstorm, and probably most notably available on Mega Garchomp (and Mega Steelix – but I have written about why Mega Steelix is a bad pick in general before) Landorus-I also has it but is virtually unseen in the VGC given how popular his Therian forme is in the VGC. Mega Garchomp is an extremely niche Pokémon that the vast majority of people prefer playing the regular version of more but he has seen some success in VGC 14 and is at least worth consideration.
Regular Garchomp also highlights the third commonly used way to take advantage of Sand: Sand Veil. A stage boost to Evasion can win games. End of discussion. Given how popular Garchomp was in VGC 14 and how physically oriented the metagame had become, Rough Skin actually became more popular for the vast majority of teams, but on a Sand team, Sand Veil needs to be heavily considered. Ray Rizzo’s World’s Winning VGC Team featured a Garchomp with Sand Veil and Substitute for good reason. And I’ll be completely upfront about this (which will also probably be a topic on its own at some point): if you have a problem with luck influencing Pokémon battles or some moral opposition to Sand Veil, maybe competitive Pokémon is not for you (certainly not the VGC). You can play in a format with as many bans on evasion modifiers as you like: this game at its core features random chances for any attack to do extra damage with Critical Hits and TONS of moves that have imperfect accuracy. Luck is a major and inherent part of competitive Pokémon, and Sand has the fortune of featuring an ability that can give you more of it.
Aside from those three abilities, how to build a Sand team is far more open-ended than any other type of weather. Of course you will want to feature Pokémon immune to Sandstorm damage either by virtue of their typing or their abilities (Overcoat, Magic Guard). Certain things are to be considered however for maximizing your Sand.
For example, when doing damage calculcations, you can factor in an additional sixteenth of your target’s HP being taken down which can impact how many EVs you need to invest in various stats. You also know to EV your own Pokémon NOT immune to Sand to have just one hit point below a number divisible by 16 to minimize damage taken. And you can even further minimize damage your own team takes by taking advantage of the excellent Safety Goggles item.
Aside from that, the same adage of making your team capable of handling all other types of teams remains true. This is definitely easier for Sand than other weather types, though as running Sand requires less resources on a team than other types of Weather. A LOT of really strong VGC Pokémon are immune to Sand to begin with as starting points, and Sand is probably the easiest type of weather to combine with another strategy. Tyranitar is extremely versatile and Sand does not weaken your attacks which force you down certain channels for picking Pokémon. It might not be as showy as other weather types, but Sand is definitely solid as a rock.
‘Til next time! Sublime Manic signing out and blasting off again!