Team Analysis – If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the sandbox

My name is Ben Grissmer, aka Chef, and I’d like to share the team I’ve been using so far in the VGC18 season with you!

I’m a relatively new player. I dabbled in the Gen 6 formats after watching the 2014 World Championships, but I first started taking VGC seriously at the beginning of the 2017 format. My first event was in March 2017. In that limited time, my three notable finishes are:

  • Day 2 (35th) North America Internationals (using Stoutland sand)
  • Top 16 (11th) Memphis Regionals (using Sandslash hail/physical Tentacruel)
  • Top 4 (4th) Sydney Challenge 2018

Team’s Achievements

  • Top 4 Sydney Challenge
  • 1st Showdown Ladder (~1850 rating)

The Team

Link to Paste

Tyranocif (Tyranitar) @ Darkinium Z
Ability: Sand Stream
EVs: 52 HP / 236 Atk / 108 Def / 4 SpD / 108 Spe
Adamant Nature
– Rock Slide
– Crunch
– Low Kick
– Protect

Tyranitar sets sand, which is obviously critical for any sand team. I gave Tyranitar Darkinium Z because it puts on more offensive pressure; especially with OHKO potential against Cresselia and Aegislash, two of the bulkier Pokemon in the format. Rock Slide, Crunch, and Protect are standard. I choose Low Kick over Ice Punch or Dragon Dance in the last slot because I lacked any other fighting coverage. Low Kick also provided a strong option against opposing Tyranitar, Kangaskhan, and even more niche things like Stakataka.

I wanted near maximum attack to (almost) always OHKO Cresselia and enough speed to outspeed Salamence under Tailwind. The rest is in Defense to have a decent chance to survive Mega Metagross’ Iron Head. I felt this extra bulk was more important than outspeeding Tapu Koko in Tailwind, when most of the rest of the team can deal with it.

  • 236+ Atk Tyranitar Black Hole Eclipse (160 BP) vs. 220 HP / 172 Def Cresselia: 224-266 (100.4 – 119.2%) — 100% chance to OHKO
  • 252 Atk Tough Claws Mega Metagross Iron Head vs. 56 HP / 104 Def Tyranitar: 164-194 (90.1 – 106.5%) — 43.8% chance to OHKO

Noacier (Ferrothorn) @ Figy Berry
Ability: Iron Barbs
Level: 50
EVs: 160 HP / 204 Atk / 100 Def / 44 SpD
Brave Nature
IVs: 0 Spe
– Power Whip
– Gyro Ball
– Knock Off
– Protect

Ferrothorn is very important for beating rain and partial Trick Room teams. It hits hard and has tremendous bulk. I gave it a relatively uncommon Figy Berry to offer recovery in lieu of Leech Seed. This created a real headache for teams that relied on trying to chip away at Ferrothorn and often let me take a powerful attack in order to get rid of their Ferrothorn answer. Power Whip, Gyro Ball, and Protect are necessary, but I chose Knock Off over Leech Seed. This was an extremely effective way to deal with Snorlax and Cresselia in Trick Room, as well as clearing other random berries.

The spread aims for overall bulk, while still hitting hard. Specifically, it always survives two Pelipper Hurricanes, any fighting attack from Landorus or Kangaskhan and almost always OHKOs Politoed.

  • 252+ SpA Pelipper Hurricane vs. 160 HP / 44 SpD Ferrothorn: 70-84 (41.4 – 49.7%) — guaranteed 4HKO after Figy Berry
  • 204+ Atk Ferrothorn Power Whip vs. 252 HP / 108 Def Politoed: 192-228 (97.4 – 115.7%) — 87.5% chance to OHKO

Milobellus (Milotic) @ Choice Scarf
Ability: Competitive
Level: 50
EVs: 4 HP / 252 SpA / 252 Spe
Timid Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
– Scald
– Ice Beam
– Hidden Power [Fire] – Haze

I already knew how annoying Intimidate was for sand in VGC17, and I knew it would be worse in 18 since its staple user has a type advantage. However, Arcanine and Landorus do have one other thing in common: they get dunked on by Milotic. So I pasted in the Milotic I ran on my 2017 International Championships team.

Choice Scarf has always been my Milotic item of choice (no pun intended). An offensive build fits better with the team and the surprise factor can win games in 1 turn. Scald and Ice Beam are required. HP Fire is for Kartana and can sometimes help with opposing Ferrothorn/Scizor. Haze helps with Kommo-o and the random Eevee.

  • Spread is 252 Special Attack for maximum damage and Timid 252 Speed to outspeed base 135s, notably Mega Manectric. It also will outspeed +1 Kommo-o that aren’t +Spe nature.
  • +2 252 SpA Milotic Scald vs. 4 HP / 0 SpD Tapu Koko: 144-171 (98.6 – 117.1%) — 93.8% chance to OHKO

Drattak (Salamence) @ Salamencite
Ability: Intimidate
Level: 50
EVs: 84 Atk / 172 SpA / 252 Spe
Naive Nature
– Hyper Voice
– Double-Edge
– Tailwind
– Protect

This guy goes well with sand for a reason. It resists the common weakness of Excadrill/Tyranitar, fighting, water and ground, and hits a lot of threats hard. Speed control and Intimidate are also extremely helpful. I originally had a a fully special set with Draco Meteor, but decided mixed with Double Edge was more consistent.

Minotaupe (Excadrill) @ Focus Sash
Ability: Sand Rush
EVs: 4 HP / 252 Atk / 252 Spe
Adamant Nature
-Iron Head
-Rock Slide

Excadrill and Tyranitar in combination are the bread and butter of the team. Excadrill is able to outspeed almost anything under sand and score knockouts. I took a page out of my own book from my Memphis hail team, which has Focus Sash Sandslash and gave Excadrill a Focus Sash in turn. This not only gave it survivability but also gave me more freedom to play risky: willing to take attacks that would normally be a KO. I choose Earthquake over Drill Run for good spread damage and also because it has good synergy with Salamence and Rotom.

Motisma (Rotom-Heat) @ Electrium Z
Ability: Levitate
Level: 50
EVs: 132 HP / 4 Def / 204 SpA / 4 SpD / 164 Spe
Modest Nature
IVs: 0 Atk
– Overheat
– Thunderbolt
– Will-O-Wisp
– Protect

Rotom-Heat fits well on the team as another strong option to beat Tapu Fini while being immune to Excadrill’s Earthquake. It also completes the team’s Fire/Water/Grass core. I got the idea from the legendary Alex Underhill’s 2015 US Nationals team. I gave my oven the Electrium Z, as I felt being able to OHKO Tapu Fini was important, as well as to have a second nuke option besides Tyranitar. Will-O-Wisp allowed me to hinder Landorus and Kangaskhan for the match, two Pokemon that give some team members trouble.

The spread is heavy on Special Attack to make Gigavolt Havoc as threatening as possible. It also always survives a Tapu Lele Psychic. There is still enough Speed that it will almost always out speed opposing Tapu Fini.

  • 252+ SpA Tapu Lele Psychic vs. 132 HP / 4 SpD Rotom-H in Psychic Terrain: 118-141 (83 – 99.2%) — guaranteed 2HKO
  • 204+ SpA Rotom-H Gigavolt Havoc (175 BP) vs. 252 HP / 44+ SpD Tapu Fini: 192-228 (108.4 – 128.8%) — guaranteed OHKO

Team Play

In general, against most standard teams, (CHALK, Zard-Y) the strategy is to weaken and the opposing team for an Excadrill in the back. More often than not, people see sand and lead their sand matchup right away. They will try to get up Tailwind immediately to get rid of your speed advantage. The sand mode is most effective in the back versus these teams.

Semi-TR teams (Cress/Snorlax etc.): it’s best to try to not let Trick Room go up in the first place. Usually, this requires pressuring the Trick Room setter with Tyranitar, while protecting it from Intimidate with Milotic. Sometimes Trick Room does resolve, so it’s best to have Ferrothorn in the back which can operate under Trick Room should things not work out.

Rain: Ferrothorn is the key. If you can avoid the one or two checks to Ferrothorn, it can run through their team. Use turn 1 protects liberally to try to catch a random Fightinium Z. Your Tyranitar (to change weather) and Salamence (resisting water attacks and setting Tailwind) are both tools against rain.

Perish trap: Darkinium Z Tyranitar is your best friend. Even through Protect it does a big chunk to trappers. Be aware of when it’s looking like you’ll be able to KO the trapper before Perish Song ends. This is when they switch, relying on you let them get the trapper in before the end of the turn. (Eject Button, using switching moves). As counter-intuitive as it is, double protecting can be the best option.

Core Combinations and Common Leads

Salamence + Rotom-H: This was my go-to lead most of the time, especially against Tapu Fini teams. Rotom threatens huge damage, while Salamence can get up an early Tailwind. You also get in an Intimidate and threaten a burn on Landorus or Kangaskhan: Pokemon people will often lead against sand. At worst you can trade knockouts or set Tailwind, both of which set up for sand to win.

Tyranitar + Milotic: If an opposing Cresselia and Trick Room seems rather threatening, this is a great lead. It puts opponents in a tough position where they don’t want to get knocked out by a possible Z move, but they can’t Intimidate without giving Milotic the boost and losing their Landorus on the switch in.

Tyranitar + Excadrill: Does the opposing team not have anything that that can stop the sand mode? Don’t be afraid to lead it and profit. However, this doesn’t happen often.

Ferrothorn + Salamence: There are two occasions where this can be a good lead, against rain and against LeleGross teams. Neither of these usually have much to counter Ferrothorn or if you set Tailwind, you’re in a great position for whatever is in the back.

Salamence + Excadrill: This can function as a second version of the previous lead against LeleGross, as neither one wants to take an Excadrill attack, and Focus Sash is protecting you. This is also a good option against more standard teams that have a Tyranitar, which completely shuts down the Salamence/Rotom lead. Again, the Focus Sash gives more options when sand isn’t up.

Overall, the leads on this team are very flexible; I’ve certainly led every possible combination at some point. Use the time in team preview to come up with the best lead that does well against what they might lead, and also have a plan for if they lead the worst-case scenario.

Team Match-ups

Salamence/Rotom vs. Kangaskhan/Tapu Fini
Here, it’s tempting to double Protect to waste the Fake Out, but if Tapu Fini sets a Calm Mind it can turn into an issue. I prefer to Tailwind and Electrium Z the Fini. If they Fake Out Rotom, you get Tailwind up; if they Fake Out Salamence, they lose their Fini to an unexpected Z move. Worst case scenario, you’re in a decent position, and best case you took a KO for free and threaten Tailwind the next turn. This can also apply to other turn 1 situations with Kangaskhan where the opponent is going to set something, such as paired with Zapdos. Either you can match their Tailwind or burn and cripple Kangaskhan.

Milotic/anything vs. Landorus/Tapu Koko
This is a fantastic situation to be in. People will often lead Koko with Landorus to take care of a Milotic. Always target the Koko, as +2 Scald will almost always KO. This is the situation where games end in 2-3 turns as you’ll be in such a commanding position.

Salamence/Excadrill vs Whimsicott/Gengar
The Whimsicott/Gengar with Kommo-o in the back is one of the worst matchups. My strategy against is it to bait the turn 1 Fake Tears Shadow Ball on Salamence and switch it into Tyranitar, then use Iron Head + sand damage to KO Whimsicott before it can set Tailwind. Then you’re in a decent position to significantly damage their Kommo-o where Milotic can come in, surprise outspeed, and KO with Ice Beam.

Good Match-ups

This team has lots of tools to deal with rain. Salamence can set/match Tailwind if given the chance, Tyranitar can change the weather and Ferrothorn can tank most hits and deal super-effective damage. The key here is to conserve Ferrothorn and realize the opponent will be doing everything they can to take it down. Don’t be too conservative though, you can take some attacks and heal back thanks to the Figy Berry.

Zard-Y “goodstuffs” (with Koko, Kartana, Landorus, etc.)
Milotic, Rotom, and Excadrill are all very good against these type of teams. Controlling the weather and speed is key. This is by no means a guaranteed matchup, but I find that I have more tools to deal with my opponent’s team than they have to deal with mine, especially with scarf/HP Fire Milotic and sash Excadrill.

Bad Match-ups

Hard Trick Room
Teams that both have super reliable ways to get Trick Room up and have a slow fire type (Camurupt/Torkoal) are hard to deal with. Assuming they are able to get Trick Room up, usually by using Fake Out, try to get as much out of turn 1 as possible. Then stall the Trick Room and attempt to win after it expires. For example; if they have a Scrafty that can Fake Out to allow Trick Room to be set, lead something like Tyranitar and Salamence, so even when they resolve Trick Room you can still take a large chunk from Scrafty and put it into Ferrothorn KO range. Smart switches and protects can stall Trick Room, but it isn’t easy.

Worst matchup for this team by far is Kommo-o. It doesn’t have any fairies, and Salamence is Kommo-o fodder rather than help if it gets its Z move off. A combination of outspeeding it with Excadrill and Milotic is the best strategy. Therefore, it is important to prevent or match opposing Tailwinds, but that’s easier said than done. In dire situations, Milotic can take a Kommo-o attack and Haze to turn Kommo-o into much less of a threat, but then you’re locked into Haze.

Key Points to Remember

  1. Speed control is crucial. It’s best to prevent or match tailwind. Or better yet, get one up yourself unopposed.
  2. Leading the sand mode is mostly a bad idea. People tend to lead things that play favorably into sand. It’s much more effective to keep it in the back.
  3. Remember to take advantage of the unexpected items. Milotic’s Choice Scarf will be unexpected. Keep your Excadrill in against a Charizard in sun and KO it while it brings you down to Focus Sash (or doesn’t even target you because it’s such an obvious protect/switch). Grab a quick KO with a Z move from Rotom or Tyranitar.
  4. Remember what you’ve revealed, especially in Best of Three. Opponents won’t fall for your tricks twice, but you can make more informed plays knowing what they know.


Thanks for reading everyone! It’s a fun team, but I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t perfect and it does take a bit to get used to.

I’d like to thank a few people for helping me out. First, Sam Pandelis (Zelda) for hosting the tournament that let this team shine. Also Alex Underhill (lexicon) for giving me inspiration for a sand team from his 2015 Nats team, and also for being a big fan of ovens. Finally, Daniel Thorpe (TTT444), Bryson Everette (Shadowzek) and Josh Adams (FeintGWP) for telling me when my bad ideas for teams are bad, and when some aren’t quite as bad.

Credit to mark331 for featured image

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