If you get sand, get the snail that burrows underneath the sand. The name escapes me right now ^_^ You don't "need" shrimp.
Sand is fine... That is sometimes the substitute. There are plant care stuff you can add to the tank to ensure they can live. I am not an expert on that however!!!
To cycle a tank a filter is needed anyways... So yes, filter. I use mine in my community with tons of live plants. A baffled filter is even better!
Lots of plants help keep ammonia down. If you would be willing, do a fish in cycle to ensure you have ammonia present. Otherwise the other methods are like... fish food, or shrimp (raw) in a panty hose (which can both be messy) or straight ammonia.
Breed for the breed, not for the money; the words any REAL breeder would understand.
You must know nothing in order to know all, for all is nothing and nothing is for all.