This is my guide to Phantom Assassin, one of my favorite heroes in the game. She has a niche presence in the game, as a carry, as she comes online extremely early, but can fall off during the late game unless she super boosts her mid game farm.
There are a couple of different ways of playing Phantom Assassin. She can be played as a safe lane farmer, in which case, you can simultaneously take advantage of her mid game presence, while also transitioning into a devastating late game carry. Alternatively, she can be played in the mid, and can hold her own against most mid heroes, thanks to Stifling Dagger's insane range, and still get comfortable CS.
However, playing her in the offlane would be a bad idea. Although she can possibly survive the offlane (thanks to Blur) and get some CS with Stifling Dagger, this is a carry that actually needs items in order to be effective. She is not a Faceless Void that can hit level 6 and only needs a Mask of Madness to be effective in the mid game. She isn't a Bristleback that can easily get damage from simply spraying quills and survive teamfights by turning her back on the enemy. No, she needs farm to be effective, and for this reason, playing her in the offlane isn't a viable choice.
That being said, let's get into some of the details.
Like most carries, Phantom Assassin has skills that scale well. Her kit is extremely suited towards both picking off a straggler, as well as sustained teamfighting. With low cooldowns on both her active abilities, you should be able to use them multiple times in a teamfight.
This is your bread-and-butter nuke, harasser, safe CS tool, etc. It is an extremely long ranged skill with an insanely low mana cost. At level 4, it deals 180 damage to a creep and costs merely 15 mana. If you are getting harassed in lane, this is your go-to tool for securing CS.
However, it isn't just creeps that merit your dagger. This is an extremely powerful tool against heroes, although it only deals half damage to heroes. There are two important facts that make this a great ability against heroes - firstly, Stifling Dagger can crit off your Coup de Grace, which means that, with a lucky proc, you will be doing about a third of a support's HP with a single dagger in mid game fights. This is extremely strong in the mid game, where supports don't have the necessary HP pool. Moreover, it deals PURE damage, which means, it doesn't give a hoot about their armor. The next important thing about Stifling Dagger is that it slows the target by 50% for 4 seconds. This can be handy in chasing down fleeing targets.
This skill should be maxed first, as with all nukes, since it has the maximum potential during the earlier stages of the game.
Always remember your staple combo - Stifling Dagger into Phantom Strike. This will be what you are doing during most teamfights. Pick a target, press [Q], then [W]. Rinse and repeat. During the midgame, a single [Q] followed by a [W] should be enough to take down supports and poorly farmed cores. Come late game, you'll need to press a few more keys, but we'll get to that later.
This is a steroid and mobility skill combined into a single ability. It works similar to Riki's Blink Strike (without the Backstab) in that, it teleports you on top of the enemy. It also gives you 130 bonus attack speed for 4 attacks, which is cruicial for bursting down targets. Combine this with a Coup de Grace proc or two, and the kill is secured.
One overlooked facet of this skill is that, Phantom Strike can be targeted on allied units (does not include siege units or buildings) to escape sticky situations or just faster mobility. This can be a life saver often times when you need to escape. You can Phantom Strike to an ally up/down a cliff and escape, denying the enemy your bounty.
This skill should be maxed right after your Stifling Dagger. The cooldown reduction gives you unparalleled mobility during the midgame, which is essential, since that is where you shine.
An extremely potent passive, especially overpowered during the midgame, it gives you evasion, and the ability to be invisible on the minimap when not near an enemy hero. It is a great value point at level 1, giving you a 20% evasion. At level 4, it gives you a whopping 50% evasion. For comparison, an Agility carry's late game go-to item, the Butterfly gives 35% evasion.
This skill is extremely potent during the midgame and early late game when the enemy carries haven't picked up their Monkey King Bars yet. A maxed out Blur gives you insane EHP in teamfights against right clicks. However, as awesome as this sounds, a Monkey King Bar completely negates this ability, barring the minimap invisibility. This is the main reason a Phantom Assassin can fall off during the late game. Her HP pool isn't great (she relies on Blur for her EHP), and with an MKB nullifying your evasion, you can melt to farmed carries with an MKB. However, an MKB costs a significant chunk of gold, and is usually picked up as a 4th or 5th item, by which time we would have other ways to deal with those carries.
A highly useful side to this skill is that, you can often be pushing side lanes, and be invisible on the minimap, even though the enemy team has vision of the area. This can let you split push if needed, especially if the enemy team is pushing an advantage and sieging your towers.
This skill is usually maxed last, since it scales with time. A 50% chance to evade attacks is more effective during the later stages of the game where the enemy heroes deal more damage.
Coup de Grace
This is the signature skill of the Phantom Assassin. She has a 15% chance to deal a staggering critical strike. At level 3, she has a 15% chance of dealing 450% damage. This is the skill that makes you a scary mid gamer. You can often one shot supports during the midgame. There are situations where you can two shot the enemy carry with a couple of lucky crit procs. However, you are relying on RNG for your most powerful ability, that's the downer. That being said, there is nothing as exhilarating as one shotting a hero during the midgame.
Combined with the bonus attack speed from Phantom Strike, this allows you to burst down enemy heroes.
Level this up whenever you can (at levels 6, 11 and 16).
Maxing Blur over Phantom Strike
I would usually not recommend this, but there are certain scenarios in which this can be useful. I'll leave it to your discretion on when to max either skill, but here is a scenario. You are against a team where all the cores are right clickers - say, a Bristleback, a Faceless Void and a Lifestealer. This might be a good game to max Blur instead of Phantom Strike. You are pretty much taking 50% of the damage from those heroes, which can win you midgame fights. A single point in Phantom Strike can serve as a utility skill in this case, allowing you to jump to enemy supports to burst them down, or to escape by blinking to your ally.
Again, this is a highly situational choice. Usually, I prefer maxing Phantom Strike over Blur, but there are cases where the vice versa proves more effective.
What Phantom Assassin is, and what Phantom Assassin isn't (Pros/Cons)
Phantom Assassin is a midgame carry
With her few core items (treads, bracer, bkb is more than enough), Phantom Assassin is one of those cores that comes online extremely early. You can use this to your advantage, crippling the enemy team before their carry has a chance to get farmed.
Phantom Assassin can be a snowballing late game carry if played correctly
Although a Monkey King Bar shuts you down late game, you can deal with it if you manage to snowball during the midgame. You can deal with MKB carries with a combination of Black King Bar and Abyssal Blade which allows you (in most cases) to keep the enemy carry in place and beat on them for 2 seconds while they stay still.
Phantom Assassin gets her EHP from Blur
This is important to keep in mind, because Blur can be deceptive. You can be winning teamfights comfortably, and then, the enemy carry picks up an MKB, and suddenly you find yourself losing a manfight against them. Keep this in mind. PA gets most of her EHP from Blue.
Phantom Assassin is extremely vulnerable to magic damage
This is one of the reasons Black King Bar is core on this hero. She has a pretty small HP pool for a carry, and can easily be burst down without that BKB. Until the late game where you have a couple of luxury items, play safe against nukers when your BKB is down.
To Battle Fury, or not to Battle Fury, that is the question
This is an interesting debate - is a Battle Fury on Phantom Assassin a good choice, or is it a pointless farming item on a mid game carry that only delays her core?
I've watched several pro games, and played quite a bit of either variation to try and understand this, and here is my take on the issue.
Battle Fury is necessary on Phantom Assassin if the following are true:
1. You are the 1 position carry on your team, without another late game physical damage core.
2. You expect the game to go on past 40 minutes.
3. The enemy team has more than one physical dps core that can become a late game carry.
Consequently, Battle Fury is not needed on Phantom Assassin if ONE of the following are true:
1. You are not the only physical DPS carry. You have another carry that can right click in the late game.
2. You are confident that your team can push the high ground, pre 30 minutes.
3. You have a Magnus on your team. (See Friends & Foes section for details)
It is completely true that Battle Fury is a farming tool. It does give 65 damage, but what it really does is that, it allows you to clear waves, and stacked camps extremely fast, allowing you to farm faster than you normally would.
If you are the 1 position carry, and you are expected to carry the late game against potential MKB wielders, you need to make sure that you have the farm necessary to do it. A Battle Fury means that, your supports can stack ancients for you, you can clear out all 3 lanes fast, while farming jungle camps, much like an Anti-Mage does. This lets you get your Abyssal Blade and Satanic faster, which would allow you to carry your team during the late game. However, this does mean that your mid game is delayed; a Battle Fury delays your Black King Bar, without which you cannot be as powerful in the mid game skirmishes. You would be playing safer, and cleaning up low HP heroes during the midgame, rather than standing on the front lines and dishing out DPS like you would if you had picked up an early BKB.
On the flip side, if you do have another late game DPSer on your team, for example, a Bristleback on the offlane, or a Shadow Fiend mid, you can ignore the Battle Fury and go for a mid game combat oriented build. This allows your team to snowball from midgame fights, and if the game does stall, you have 2 carries for the late game that can deal with the enemy cores.
Alternatively, if you pick a pushing lineup, and expect to end the game by 30 minutes, you should definitely not build a Battle Fury. You should focus on mid game items that let you win those fights, and push up high ground early. However, as with all push lineups, this is a little risky, since if the enemy does manage to repel your push, you will be severely crippled during the late game.
The rest of the items should be similar for the most part.
If you are going the Battle Fury route, you should pick up treads for their late game scaling. With the ability to get some attack speed and switch stats, these scale better into the late game more than any other boots. Also, since you are going Battle Fury, I would expect that you have free farm in your lane, which means that you shouldn't need the early damage from Phase Boots to last hit.
This is your farm booster if you are building towards the late game. It lets you farm camps, lanes and ancients extremely fast. Usually, a free farm laner should get a Battle Fury between 12-13 minutes if you are good at last hitting. At worst, aim for a 16 minute Battle Fury. While building the components, I usually pick up an early Ring of Health from the side shop for lane sustain, then buy the Claymore and Broadsword, and finally buy the Void Stone, since I don't need the mana regen.
If you are building a Battle Fury, make sure that your supports are stacking ancients for you. If not, buy a Helm of the Dominator, dominate (active ability on the item) a ranged creep or neutral, and use it to stack ancients yourself. To stack ancients, have the creep attack the camp at the 53 second mark and have it move away from the camp. The ancients should follow you out of the camp, allowing a new set to spawn at the 00 second mark.
A great early game item on agility carries, it builds naturally from a Wraith Band that you would usually build at the start. It gives you some nice early armor and mana regen, combined with damage and stats from the Wraith Band. Remember to turn the ring off when you are holding the creep equilibrium, and remember to turn it on when you are pushing towers.
Drum of Endurance
This is the ideal mid game fighting item. It gives pretty much everything you need for the mid game skirmishes. It gives you the stats of an Ultimate Orb (well, almost) for 250 less gold, and the active is especially useful in mid game teamfights and tower pushes. The 10% attack speed and move speed bonus makes a big difference in early fights.
However, make it clear to your team that you will be building this item. You don't want to end up with two drums on the same team, since they do not stack. If someone else has already built the item, you could build a naked Bracer for the raw HP. Make sure you do build the Bracer though. You need the raw HP for the mid game fights.
Black King Bar
A core on most carries, it is even more important on a Phantom Assassin. This item makes you extremely strong during the midgame. A maxed out Blur means that you are mitigating 50% of physical damage. Combine this with magic immunity, and you can stay in mid game teamfights with impunity, and wreck havoc.
This should be one of the first big items that you build.
Another great item on a Phantom Assassin. It gives you a large chunk of damage, boosting your crits, and gives you the ability to lock down an enemy hero for 2 seconds. This is especially significant in the late game, where the enemy carry has a Monkey King Bar. Even if you cannot win a manfight against them, Phantom Strike them and instantly cast the active, Overwhelm on them, to lock them down (it even goes through BKB), allowing you to right click them with impunity. After the two seconds, they should either be dead (if you got some lucky crits), or you should have enough of an HP advantage to manfight them now.
The item builds from a Skull Basher, which should be built first, over the Sacred Relic, since the chance to bash is useful during the midgame.
An insane defensive item for the late game. It gives you a passive 25% life steal which is awesome, but the active is what makes the item crazy during the late game. When activated, it gives you 175% life steal for 3.5 seconds. Combined with your high damage, activating this can take you from virtually no health to full health in a matter of a second or two. Jump into a fight, manfight them, and if you get precariously low, pop the Satanic, and keep right clicking. Activating Satanic when BKB is on, or when BKB is down is a choice you have to make depending on whether their stuns/disables are down. If they still have disables, make sure to pop your Satanic while the BKB is still on, so you don't get chain locked to death without being able to attack while your Satanic is active.
A solid late game item that gives armor for your entire team, lowers the armor of the enemy team, and gives you attack speed. Get this if no one else on your team is getting one, and the enemy team has some hard right clickers.
A heavily mid game centric item, the passive Corruption gives you an insane damage boost against heroes that don't have much armor. However, the damage it gives can fall off, once heroes get higher amounts of armor values. Get this against strength carries or if you plan on finishing the game early.
An obvious choice for breaking targeted abilities. However, you can have a teammate build it and cast it on you if necessary. This can be useful against those pesky single target initiators like Batrider or Doom, or against annoying abilities like Static Link, Fiend's Grip, Enfeeble, Viper Strike, Assassinate, etc. However, it's situational because, once the enemy finds out that you have a Linken's, they'll use a different ability to break it, and still be able to unleash their kit on you.
This is a very interesting choice on a PA. It gives you a ton of stats and the ability to slow enemies down with the passive. However, it is highly situational, since the Satanic gives you a ton of HP, and the active is too good to pass up.
This ***** mammoth is one of the best allies you can get. He gives you a 50% boost to your damage, as well as a free cleave with his Empower, and then proceeds to setup that Rampage for you with his Reverse Polarity. Here is how it works:
1. Magnus empowers you.
2. Magnus blinks into enemy team and casts Reverse Polarity. (hopefully catching all 5, but 3-4 will do)
3. (OPTIONAL) Magnus skewers them closer to you.
4. You Phantom Strike one of them (preferably one with low armor).
(OK, that's the dream scenario, but we can hope, right?)
Oh, and here's a fun display of the wombo combo. That is the full game, but for the specific plays, watch at 35:30 and 46:30.
Pretty much any hero with a stun/disable combo that allows you to beat at an enemy hero unhindered is a friend!
These two are special mentions. They bring the entire enemy team together nicely for you to cleave the lot with your Battle Fury crits. Although not as exciting as our horned friend, they are still good allies.
If you get caught with your pants down (before you can get your BKB off), these heroes can disable you and burst you down before you get a chance to react. Especially Lion, watch out for his Blink Dagger initiations into Hex.
The way this usually goes is:
1. Lion blinks in, shift queues Hex on you.
2. Meanwhile, a wild Storm Spirit appears out of nowhere and right clicks you, while placing a remnant.
3. Just as the Hex is about to wear off, Lion casts Earth Spike on you to make sure you don't do anything fancy (like activating that annoying BKB).
4. Lion casts his Finger of Death on you, killing you.
This guy is literally the bane of right clickers. His Enfeeble reduces your damage, which means you no longer get those 1k crits. So, you try to get fancy and activate your BKB so he can't Enfeeble you? Tough luck; he proceeds to cast Fiend's Grip on you, ignoring your BKB, while his carry has all the time in the world to right click you at his leisure, while you are busy smashing your keyboard for having picked a PA against a Bane.
Oh, so you and your woolly mammoth friend managed to get a 4 man Reverse Polarity? Good job, but you missed that Omniknight who was standing at the back; he now casts his Guardian Angel, which means, you have 8 seconds of utter uselessness in front of you. That is when you rage quit if you are a baddie, or, if you are above such shenanigans, reinitiate after RP is off cooldown again, this time however, making sure that you blink-Abyssal the Omni and take him down quickly, to prevent cheeky plays.
Decrepify renders the target un-right-clickable, which is the worst scenario for you.
A source of Decrepify that doesn't take up a hero slot! The active Ghost Form gives them 4 seconds of time for their team to react before you punish them for their cowardly item pickup.
What's worse than being unable to right click? It's right clicking an enemy hero, and finding out that you just one-shot yourself. Phantom Assassin dishes out a LOT more damage than she herself can handle, so watch out for those Blade Mails on the enemy team. If you see one, pop your Black King Bar before engaging!