This is a collection of alternative playstyles/builds for Spectre. Spectre is not only my most played but also my most successful hero, and these are some alternative builds to consider when cookie cutter Vanguard --> Phase Boots --> Radiance gets old, most of which are strong enough to be considered full out alternatives or even superior options. Each one will get it's own minisection for you to check out, so consider this an anti-alt-tab guide. They are primarily sourced from the Southeast Asian inhouse Dota scene and my personal experience. They're also for my benefit as well so I have an external collection of builds.
Spectre can be one of the hardest carries in the game, but not all of these guides will build her as such. All 5 builds start with the same items to safely get you to fast tranquils to give you lane-sustain with the regen, movespeed, and armor. If you do not like quelling blade on her (I do, her base damage is meh), instead you can grab 3 braches or easily have a stout shield delivered to you by the time the creep waves meet or go pick it up at the side shop. I pick up an early level of dispersion on all builds since level one dagger is pitiful as a nuke and dispersion will always be useful in lane, but there's certainly an argument for dagger at level one to avoid a first blood attempt. Since we don't have a timing window to hit like we would with Radiance, if your early laning phase is going well Hand of Midas is good to start stockpiling reliable gold for buyback, plus it accelerates your level gain as Spectre is deceivingly level dependent. It also adds attack speed which helps with farming and synergizes with desolate.
Spectre is tanky, strong teamfighter with a global presence, and is a reasonable laner. She has a very strong single target initiation spell in the form of Spectral Dagger, which also helps secures early ganks every time haunt is off cooldown. She has really poor stat gain compared to other carries, with a fun skillset to compensate. She is not an early tank, but can come online before several other carries and carry hard late game.
Note that for time calculations these guides assume around ~350 gold per minute. Early less is expected and later more, but this will help you identify the time constraints you're under for certain builds without having to run them multiple times.
Another important note is that skill and item build are not a one-size deal. If you're getting free farm in lane and your team is ganking heavily maybe early desolate levels should take priority; maybe you need stats early against a trilane. There isn't a way for me to offer alternative skill builds, but know that you can be successful with many different ones.
I'm not going to list out skills/whatnot, there's a lot of excellent videos and replays of how to play Spectre. An easy way to get better is to watch replays on player perspective -- filter recent games for Spectre and very high skill level. I will cover some of the points I don't see people execute consistently, even at higher levels.
Go look at replays you. It's almost impossible to share all the nuances via text.
Spectre is a hard carry, but really isn't quite as weak in lane as a lot of people think. Your base movespeed/armor/damage are pretty mediocre, as is your level 1 contribution; however, both of your passives along with your ult scale incredibly with items.
You really do need to play cautiously in lane until and even after you have tranquils+poor man's shield. Desolate can be pretty strong if they try to dive you at tower/side shop/in jungle, but otherwise trading hits is typically unfavorable. You will need support in almost any matchup. Remember your escape mechanisms and don't die.
Once you have haunt keep your eye out for ganks/dives where you can contribute via haunt/reality/dagger. Even if you don't reality in the vision, illusion to tank, and damage from haunt can be significant. If a gank is favorable you can haunt in for it, but make sure it's worth the time out of lane -- haunting in for a kill on their level 3 Crystal Maiden is probably not worth it over just letting your team get it with your haunt illusion there to put you in the assist gold pot, but a kill on their carry is pretty huge. Spectre has serious mana issues, so try to be there for arcane boot activations and don't be freaked about going back to base occasionally, especially if haunt is coming off cooldown and you know you'll want to use it. Huanting out of base will give you a few seconds of fountain buff to heal/regen mana after you reality, making your haunt and followup dagger effectively "free" in terms of mana. Keep farming, though the laning phase will typically collapse at this point so you'll have to jungle or split push -- keep your eye on the minimap and watch for missing heroes. That probably means a gank.
Once you have a significant item start playing as per the playstyle description for that build. Make sure you're playing as a carry and farming when nothing is going on. Abuse haunt for split pushing and farming, it's one of your few ways of outfarming other heroes. If haunt is not up your team should avoid forcing fights. During fights you should probably reality in on the target that is either squishiest or most out of position. Remember that reality has a slight cast animation so don't wait too long to reality in to crucial fights. Also remember that if you have aegis/buyback save haunt for your second life. Itemize towards what the enemy has, though the order given here is typically going to work fine.
This is a Skadi-first build that focuses on coming online earlier than a radiance build by combining your tank and DPS item. It offers great tank, chase, some DPS (equivalent to diffusal 1), with a crazy annoyance factor. Plus your core builds out of orbs, allowing you to call yourself the orbmaster :) Skadi offers over 700 HP, solves your mana issues, while adding enough DPS/armor/annoyance to be a real alternative to heart. In fact, once you have over ~1700 HP Skadi ends up giving more EHP than Heart against physical, and it only scales from there. If you can justify a diffusal+vanguard build Skadi costs the same and just offers more in all areas -- chase, DPS, durability, while also solving your mana issues and not blocking lifesteal from your orb slot. Plus Spectre has real issues with BKB carries, which Skadi helps solve.
The poor man's, tranquils, wand, Point Booster, and Orb of Venom allow you to be very useful before 10 minutes where a vanguard/rad spec would be contributing almost nothing, though from 10-18 minutes you should focus on finishing your Skadi, popping in via haunt as needed. At only ~3K for 11 minutes you have a worthwhile teamfight presence with the OoV slow, desolate's stupid damage, dagger slow, and your/your illusions fast movespeed from the tranquils. The tranquils take the place of Phase Boots movespeed and the RoH component of vanguard, the PMS offers a fair amount of damage block to synergize with Dispersion, while the Point Booster serves as an almost vitality booster with the benefit of giving you one extra dagger in a fight.
Skadi comes online at ~7K gold, or about 5 minutes earlier (at least!) before Vanguard/ Radiance and the same time as phase/ Vanguard/ Diffusal Blade. You suddenly have a very strong (BKB penetrating!) anti-carry and chasing presence along with some very nice stats -- all of which are appreciated. The slow provides the incentive needed for them to actually rightclick or disable you. Skadi's +25 agility actually gives the same DPS as diffusal, while also adding tons of mana and durability far ahead of vanguard. It's also a tier-4 item so you're not giving yourself a best by date with vanguard (bad item with irrelevant damage block by 25 minutes, prevents use of RoH/vitality booster in a T4 item) and diffusal (blocked by BKB, blocks non-vlads lifesteal, not good once enemies have 1000+ mana).
If needed tranquils can be dissassembled into power treads and maybe vlads or pipe. Manta is your first choice after Skadi for the extra stats and movespeed along with extra desolating illusions.
Consider standard tank/carry items at this point. if they have major magic damage I recommend BKB or pipe. Pipe gives you an appreciated EHP boost (it comes online when most damage is still from nukes) as well as the regeneration missing from Skadi and the teamfight active. BKB protects you from disables and all magic damage.
There's two lines of thought from here -- build illusions or build yourself. For illusions grab stat heavy items like butterfly, halberd, heart, satanic. For yourself build non-illusion helping items like Mjollnir, AC, Basher, or satanic. I think the best is some combination, since even if you go illusion heavy you can use basher and satanic well.
AC and Bfly give DPS and tank at the same time, which is nice since Skadi gives some of both. Mjollnir gives no survivability but acts as an AoE blademail of sorts and gives great attack speed. AC gets carried by your illusions and therefore acts as a global armor reduction on enemies and attack speed and armor boost for allies. Obviously, pipe and AC are the more teamfight and push oriented options, while Bfly and BKB are (more selfish?) better in smaller engagements or against on hit effects/long duration disables respectively.
Basher provides additional annoyance and should be grabbed after your attack speed item (AC/Bfly/Mjollnir) to provide extra anticarry potential. Satanic is a great final item for dragging fights out and giving you extra durability, though as always heart is there if you know you'll be spending lots of time disabled and not lifestealing.
Blademail if you don't have the farm for a damage item or have the chance to shut down a carry that delays BKB. Pipe gives you lots of magical EHP and a great teamfight active. Halberd gives some HP/evasion/damage/chase with a great active. Heart as stated for if you're going to be disabled too much for satanic to be good.
Mjollnir offers very strong pushing/farming power above radiance, along with comparable teamfight damage via lightning procs with the benefit of the active to increase your AoE DPS when targeted. Not much less expensive than the Radiance build, but easier to build, better, certainly more fun, and scales better late. The IAS opens you up to using on-hit modifiers like basher well, which also help you stick to your target. The DPS increase makes lifesteal valuable as well, even preferable to heart for durability. Hand of Midas is especially good on this build to synergize with chain lightning procs.
Again, early tranquils offer you lots of very cost efficient movespeed and regen. This build does not focus on teamfighting early, but you do come online with just Maelstrom and of course you're always there with Haunt + dagger. I like to prioritize desolate since the attack speed makes you work a bit like a bash hero, and 65 pure damage hurts early.
You have a lot of options after Mjollnir. I tend to like basher->atos->satanic, but I'm a freak and most people would tell you to go heart or skadi then basher/BKB. If you know you want to build Halberd or early BKB, you can get an ogre axe in place of the vitality booster. If you want Skadi grab a point booster in place of a vitality booster. Again, heart is there for if you know they have sufficient disables that Satanic won't give you the survivability needed.
The build up to Mjollnir costs ~7.5K (~22 minutes), but has a much nicer buildup than Radiance and saves the Vitality Booster/ Point Booster/ Ogre Club for your heart/Atos/Skadi/Halberd/BKB which can be up shortly after. Mjollnir is easy to use -- place the active on yourself during teamfights, supports die if you get clicked on. Rod of Atos is an interesting option for your early vitality booster, giving you some extra free durability and solving your mana issues, as well as giving you a gigantic range slow. I like to think of it as a diffusal alternative without charges and tank/mana rather than DPS (since Mjollnir gives lots of DPS and, again, doesn't block you from a lifesteal orb).
This build is crazy fun and also crazy dangerous. It either pays off very hard with dual lifesteal items ( Mask of Madness for chasing/DPS, Vlad's for teamfight presence and extra sustain/DPS) and a huge snowball or leaves you with moderately irrelevant items, deaths, and a feeling of "could have gone radiance". It's not really as all in as it sounds as if it doesn't pay off you have very solid jungling ability to make a turnaround. It also lets your team apply very strong early Roshan and teamfight pressure. Your tranquils will be getting disassembled a bit earlier for this build :). I was originally taught this build with your early ring of protection being made into a basilius, then tranquils, but I've found tranquils too imba to not build early, especially against harder lanes. This build maxes desolate at 7.
It looks like a lot of items, but all the way thru to Vlads, MoC, MoM, and a pair of boots (your choice of phase or power treads, see below) is only 6.5K, and you can easily apply ~8-12 minute Roshan pressure (especially as dire) with lifesteal and MoC. The extra armor (11!) gives good HP to physical DPS despite MoM's active, while the combined 32% lifesteal, vlad's aura DPS, and MoM IAS gives you some late-game level lifesteal/DPS for mid-game cash.
This build can be worked either MoM first or Vlads first for your lifesteal. MoM is much better for ganking (combined with boots/dagger you move at basically max and have solid DPS), while Vlads can be very strong if you're teamfighting early (free chainmail+lifesteal/damage boost for your team). If you feel that you're roshing, pushing, and teamfighting, go vlads. Jungling, pushing, or ganking? Probably mask of madness. A note is that when you disassemble your tranquils to get Vlad's is when you should focus on finishing a pair of boots.
As for boots you need to choose between phase and power treads. I feel that having extra movespeed without necessarily activating MoM/dagger is nice, and phase gives good DPS with the IAS from MoM. Treads are better late game, but this build focuses on snowballing early so that may not be relevant.
This build is much more powerful if a support can pick up the Medallion of Courage/Vlads instead of you, as you come online (and therefore can snowball) earlier. On the other hand, the armor and 32% lifesteal is crucial to allowing you to face off early with MoM on.
This build is very ganking oriented -- but, much like an exort invoker, you don't have to be roaming all the time to get kills as you have haunt. Do not go this build against teams with many hard disables/burst damage. Depending on how you roam a bottle can be an OK pickup. BKB is a must for this build after your core, while the IAS allows you to use a basher/desolate to transition into a carrying mode as you farm/jungle/teamfight super hard with MoM and 32% lifesteal.
Originally a terrorblade build I faced in a clanmatch, I recently saw this exact build on a Naga Siren. This build focuses on a weird item for an agility carry -- Armlet of Mordiggian. It actually makes use of three of the most cost efficient items in the game (armlet, Vlad's, drums) to give you a strong midgame presence without the requirement of an early ganking phase of the all-in. Armlet/drums have solid synergy with spectre. The extra 500 health works well with dispersion, and her built-in illusions benefit from armlet health and drum aura -- activate your armlet before you haunt! The skillbuild tries to time having good levels in dispersion/desolate to synergize with your armlet timing.
Our traditional tranquils+quelling blade give you a solid chance of laning well, while the fast PMS/bracer into Vlad's lets you participate in teamfights with the early Vlad's aura and stats. I really like picking up an early Orb of Venom here. You can consider adding an Urn of Shadows or Medallion of Courage if it's more ganky than teamfighty early. After vlads you can build power treads or phase, again on preference. I like phase with this build since drums give you nice movespeed to stack with it. While building armlet be sure not to accidentally build HoTD.
Manta is the obvious transition out of this, as you'll hopefully be winning teamfights with your OoV slow+armlet+drum haunt illusions and solid item build. Manta gives you more illusions to benefit from your items while also stacking movespeed and stats for them/you. Heart becomes an awesome endgame item as it lets you leave Armlet on all the time. Basher and diffusal are good extensions, while BKB always remains pertinent against teams with many disables.
This build is my last build because it's the most boring/standard. This is my version of the radiance rush, which I basically do when it's a radiance game as I've decided it's better than vanguard first everytime. One of the big issues with this (and all rad builds) is deciding whether or not you can complete it on time, as well as if you need to go vit. booster before relic or not.
The poor man's, tranquils, and Orb of Venom, and maybe a potential Vitality Booster allow you to be very useful before 10 (or 13) minutes where a vanguard/phase/rad spec would be contributing almost nothing, though from 10-18 minutes you should focus on finishing your Radiance, popping in via haunt as needed. At only ~3K for 11 minutes you have a worthwhile teamfight presence with the OoV slow, dagger slow, and your/your illusions fast movespeed from the tranquils. The tranquils take the place of Phase Boots movespeed and the RoH component of vanguard, the PMS offers a fair amount of damage block to synergize with Dispersion, while the Vitality Booster serves as the HP component of vanguard while being there for a faster heart after Radiance.
Radiance comes online at ~8.5K gold, or about the same time as a Vanguard/ Radiance. You have great farming and some teamfight with the radiance burn, but should probably finish heart ASAP as you'll start being focused in teamfights. If needed tranquils can be dissassemble into power treads and maybe vlads. Consider if you need to go in an offensive or defensive carry position (Are you the only carry? Offensive. Do they only have a semicarry? You could maybe go defensive.).
This build is last because it's not mine -- it's the variant of the old-school drums build modified and used by Aui_2000 fromm Dignitas. It shares a lot of similarities with the Armlet Spec build, but is a bit more stable for coordinated play.
Start with items to fit your lane -- though you'll probably want a stout shield and tango no matter what. If you're up against a solo offlane dark seer get branches for HP. Against a Broodmother/Lycan/Profit/LD get armor or a Poor Man's Start with pulled tangoes for the extra block. If you're trilane vs. trilane I would get tangos, salve, stout, and 3 branches.
The poor man's, tranquils, stick, and drums give you mana, speed, and bulk to participate early where a vanguard/phase/rad spec would be contributing almost nothing. Drums is like half a yasha and half an ogre axe/ Point Booster/ Vitality Booster (fantastic early items on Spectre), so getting drums along with your yasha and vitality booster stacks your early game. Early maxed desolate is stupidly strong against isolated targets, and no one can really run from your movespeed from dagger+yasha+drums despite the lack of an OoV. Remember to use the drums active and drop your drums temporarily when using wand to maximize your mana regen from it.
There are early game items in situational, check the item analysis to see if you want one.
Aim to finish your manta by 25 minutes, though 30 is OK as well. You now blow up lone targets and have all the utility from manta stats and illusions. Much like a void, play based on your ultimate CD. Force fights with haunt up, play more passively and farm when it's down.
You can either go diffusal->heart->extensions after Manta or Skadi->Bfly/Heart->extensions. There are some situational early items to come immediately after manta like pipe if you need it for that game -- use your brain and consult the item analysis, which also has your choices for your final item. I'm partial to Abyssal.
That's a lot of builds, and there's always the cookie-cutter build to consider. You have two big concerns:
What role does my team need me to fulfill? and
What does the enemy team have?
If your team needs you to be your tank you should go radiance or skadi, maybe mjollnir. If you have another obvious radiance carrier (probably shouldn't, but still), Mjollnir becomes the obvious AoE DPS choice, while Skadi holds them in place for longer. If you need a ganker or want to focus your power early/mid game either the all-in or armlet build give you very strong early game. If they're squishy with lots of supports radiance still makes lots of sense.
If they have a lot of disables, I highly recommend the Skadi build and an avoidance of the all-in. If a lot of pushers, radiance or mjollnir are my picks. If they have teamfight early armlet or the all-in with vlad's before MoM is probably the best.
I can't give you a list of every scenario and every pick, so here's an easy pro/con table for the builds to help you choose.
Early HP and stats
Annoying anticarry and chase
Comes online pretty hard fast
Easy buildup compared to a radiance rush
Less than huge teamfight presence
Not that good at farming or pushing
Leaves you open to getting disabled then ignored until last in teamfights, relegating you to a cleanup/chasing role
Early damage output
Annoying split push
Comes partially online fast
Very decent farming ability
Good synergy with both desolate and dispersion
Transitions very well into basher/diffusal builds
Only moderate teamfight presence if ignored until BKB
Doesn't benefit illusions
No early HP, requiring early HP item (vitality booster, point booster, or ogre axe)
Early lifesteal, armor, and DPS
Fantastic early gank
Early teamfight with level 4 desolate and Vlad's aura is reasonable
Super strong jungling ability
No 'that's it' item finished that gives you a clear advantage/timing window
Leaves you open to getting disabled then either focused down or ignored until last in teamfights, relegating you to a cleanup/chasing role
MoM is a very double edge sword, requiring you to be actively hitting targets to make back the damage taken
BKB needed very fast
Easy to stop if you don't get kills and can't spend time jungling
Early HP and stats
Good teamfight auras
Comes partially online fast
Benefits illusions well
Great transition into diffusal/manta
No huge teamfight presence save auras
Not that good at farming or pushing
Armlet requires attention to turn off/on
Good early contribution with PMS/Tranquils/OoV
On par (above?) with Vanguard for survivability, while saving out the vitality booster
Radiance forces them to focus you
Radiance offers good farming/pushing power slightly below Mjollnir or the All-In
Very open extensions
No huge teamfight until radiance and preferably one other item is complete
Costly initial buildup, forces you to play conservatively near 3800 gold
Little attack speed without an IAS item
Open extensions require some thought
Good early contribution with PMS/Tranquils/Stick/Drums
Well above vanguard for survivability, while saving out the vitality booster
Early yasha and maxed desolate gives you real kill potential
Very open extensions
Easy timing window with Manta
Not as team oriented as the Armlet spec build
Open extensions require some thought
Here's a list with some quick analysis of the major items you can buy for Spectre.
Blame your team.
Kidding, look at the game and figure out why. You can analyze your team's actions but your actions are probably the most important since you learning form your mistakes means you get better. Did you lose your lane early? Did you reality in on an unrealistic solo kill? Did your team get 5-man ravaged repeatedly? Figure out why you lost and get better -- you can access replays through your game history.
So, there's some fun builds. Try them out. I know they may seem out there -- try them. If you have any questions/comments/criticisms feel free to post them. At the very least I'd like a comment why if you feel like downvoting :P. If you're feeling adventurous you can mix and match -- maybe you want to build maelstrom but then grab Skadi before finishing Mjollnir? Or maybe dual lifesteal is your thing with radiance? If you feel it was worth the read a vote up helps get builds seen more, and I certainly would love to see some more Spectre play. A final point I'd like to emphasize is that a lot of time the right build can be the cookie cutter, but a lot of the time it isn't.