Phantom Lancer is a very strong pusher and a hard carry. With his illusions and unique play style he is also very fun. He requires a lot of gold (items) to be effective and struggles early on, but is a powerhouse pusher and dpser late game if he doesn't fall behind.
I will cover the hero in general, his abilities, the main skill order (with a note on the laning phase), an item build, how illusions work, and some tips and tricks. I have posted a few alternate skill builds as well.
Constructive comments will be appreciated. I hope this guide will help you enjoy Phantom Lancer as much as I do.
The remote village of Pole had no knowledge of the wars raging in the heart of the kingdom. For them, the quiet of spear fishing, and a family meal were all that a full life required. Yet war came for them nonetheless. Joining the able-bodied conscripts as they filed passed their homes, the humble lancer Azwraith vowed to bring peace to his kingdom, and in so doing, his people. Placed with his kin in the vanguard of the final assault against the Dread Magnus Vorn, the cost to his fellows was absolute. As the charging force battled toward the fortress, Azwraith alone among his kind remained standing, and he alone was able to infiltrate the keep. Focused and infuriated by the slaughter of his brothers, Azwraith bested each of the wizard's deadly traps and conjured guardians. Soon the simple fisherman arrived at Vorn's tower sanctum. The pair dueled through the night, pike to staff, as chaos raged below, and with a defeaning cry Azwraith pierced his enemy. But the wizard did not simply expire; he exploded into uncountable shards of light, penetrating his killer with power. As the dust settled and the smoke of combat began to clear, Azwraith found himself standing among a throng of his kin. Each seemed to be dressed as he was, each seemed armed as he was, and he could sense that each thought as he did. Aware that his allies were approaching, he willed these phantoms to hide themselves, and one by one they began to vanish into nothingness. As the soldiers came upon the sanctum they found the warrior that had bested the wizard. When they approached their champion, the lancer vanished. The pikeman who stood before them was no more than another phantom. The real Azwraith had fled the field, ashamed of his anger, heartbroken at his loss, and all the more determined to ensure peace for his people through the wars to come.
+ Excellent pusher
+ Difficult to target
+ Good escape ability
+ Solid dpser
+ Decent stat development
- Very item dependent
- Weak starting hero (melee attack, low HP and mana, small last hit window)
- Relies on team for CC/disables
- Momentum can be easily stopped with aoe, sentries and dust
Start with Doppelwalk and max it right to level 7. It is simply too powerful an escape and too useful overall. Also, its mana cost and cooldown are reduced substantially as you improve this ability. The sooner you get it ranked up, the more you can sneak around, confuse enemies, dps and push.
Next get Spirit Lance, and max it right to level 8. Though the mana cost is a bit high, it only increases by 5 per rank. With this skill you get decent damage and some chasing ability.
Similar variations (examples in builds 2 and 3) could be starting with Q, maxing right to 7; or getting W at 1, then Q on 2 and 3, maxing Q to 7 and W to 8. And so on. The basic idea is you really need your Q and W up first. Personally I think either going WQQW or WQWQ is your best start.
Wait until 9 for the first point of Juxtapose. You have hardly any items, are focusing on last hits only, and get a ton of utility out of your Q and W. You won't get many illusions and they'll be weak anyway. Take the first point at 9, and fill it out from 12 to 14.
Phantom Edge is a very nice ultimate, but like Juxtapose, is not worth putting skill points into early on. Your other skills are hardly leveled early game, so you want to hold off until levels 10 and 11 and of course finishing it at 16.
By level 16, the combination of all your max skills will be really powerful, and with a supportive team, the pressure you provide against towers and in team fights will be decisive.
Note on the laning phase with Phantom Lancer:
You could also get stats early (a couple variations can be seen in builds 4 and 5) rather than pushing out your active abilities right away if you are struggling with your last hits or can't get a baby sitter. Phantom Lancer is a hard hero to play early game, so don't hesitate to go for stats or let someone else solo mid if your farm is struggling.
In my opinion, Phantom Lancer works best in the safe (long) lane with a baby sitter (or two) and his actives leveled up right away. An ideal situation for Phantom Lancer is being given last hits on all the creeps and ganks in a tri lane or dual lane with a lot of cc; the supports more or less allowing Phantom Lancer to get some solo xp and all the farm.
Stats do help to last hit but your active abilities add way more value: a ranged nuke and slow, an escape ability, and illusions. It is my experience these will do much more to enhance your laning phase. You can't get that huge farm up if you can't stay alive or offer some sort of threat beyond a melee autoattack.
Starting out you want a Ring of Protection, 1 or 2 Tango, 1 Healing Salve and Slippers of Agility (and 1 Iron Branch if you only got 1 Tango). There are two reasons you want to start with this.
First, you will have very nice sustain to keep in your lane, which is needed to compensate for your low hp. Last hitting will still be hard, but if you went with a Quelling Blade instead, you'd get forced out of the lane way too easily.
Second, you can quickly build your Ring of Protection into a Ring of Basilius for early game regeneration, which can be easily built into a Ring of Aquila.
Once you have your Ring of Basilius, you should work towards Boots of Speed, then finish off your Ring of Aquila. Then you want to work towards Power Treads. From this point you really want to save everything you can to get a Diffusal Blade ASAP.
Don't neglect buying at least 1 Town Portal Scroll though, should your team need you to move from your lane and help with a push or a gank.
Phantom Lancer can build items pretty flexibly in my opinion, going either for more tankiness or damage, but your core should really be a Blade of Alacrity, a Diffusal Blade and Power Treads for two main reasons.
First, you do best with raw stat items. A lot of agility increases your damage, attack speed and armor, which translates into more and stronger illusions.
Second, your illusions copy your items (not everything though--more in the next section). The mana drain and purge ability from Diffusal Blade are incredibly useful, giving your hero a lot of control and good stats in one item.
I also like to add Manta Style to my core, as the stats are very nice, and the extra illusions make your pushing power and ability to confuse enemies even greater. (The Blade of Alacrity in your core helps you build to this faster.)
The main thing is to keep up a strong economy and get your Diffusal Blade and Power Treads ASAP. Then you work to the optional items which really depends on how the game is going, or your preference.
Since Phantom Lancer is a hero whose niche is creating many illusions, I figured it would be appropriate to have a section in this guide devoted to how illusions actually work. Your illusions only copy you and your items in a handful of ways, otherwise they simply look the same.
First, the list of what illusions do benefit from:
Please leave a constructive comment and vote, as I will always be seeking to improve the guide. I have had a lot of fun working on it and hope you guys enjoyed reading it, NOW GO OWN (FARM)!