Playing With and Against Phantom Assassin

With Phantom Assassin surging in popularity earlier this year, and her being in almost every game during/since the Manifold Paradox event, I thought it would be a good idea to put out some general tips and data.

Dodgem Cars

Since Phantom Assassin has 50% evasion, you’ll notice that when you attack her you end up with more misses than a Saudi king; and they have a lot of wives. I tend to find that most people have enough sense to get an MKB against PA, even on heroes who don’t like getting one. It’s usually one of their first 3 item pickups. But this doesn’t only impact the PA, this impacts her team as well. I see far too many people get Butterfly on someone like a Luna when they’re on team with a PA. I find this to be a poor item choice, since the enemy carries are already going for an MKB. 50% evasion on PA, and then 35% evasion on her teammate tends to be putting too much emphasis on evasion. Even sometimes Halberd can be a bad pickup alongside a PA. I say that it’s a generally a pretty bad idea to get Butterfly when you are playing with PA, no matter how good of an item you think it would be for you. It’s putting too many Phoenix eggs in one basket.

> Safelane Please

Carries tend to have one thing in common that’s not Princess Leia related: they lose more when they have a carry on their team . While Phantom Assassin has seen a massive shift in laning over the past year, many still safe lane. All of the atypical ‘safelane carries’ also utilize the jungle to be successful. This means that PA’s worst teammates tend to be the heroes that want the same as her. Void, Terrorblade, Anti-Mage, Juggernaut, Chaos Knight, Lifestealer and Terrorblade all statistically don’t match up well when on the same team as PA. Despite laning shifts (such as a recent surge in offlane Void, Mid PA, etc), I would call these heroes fairly similar in laning: historically they’ve wanted to safelane, and use the jungle a bit. Even when in a different lane, they have similar ambitions and fill the same place in team (in most pubs).

You actually end up doing yourself a disservice if you pick this sort of hero, PA doesn’t perform too well when she plays alongside them. It’s humorous that people slur low/mid tier Dota for having too many carries, and yet PA still manages a better win rate in these ‘carry centric’ brackets despite the disadvantage. If you want to make the most of a teammate’s PA pick, it’s probably a hero you wouldn’t initially think of: Techies.

Yeah, based on a reliable method (matchups of win rates), Mortred’s best team mate overall (since he was added to Dota 2) has been Techies. Techies happens to go incredibly well with all the heroes that PA does bad with: the ‘safelane carry’. It’s incredibly likely that a offlane duo Techies ends up having such an impact on the enemy carry, that it gives PA the ability to ‘out-carry’. Being able to carry isn’t just about getting farm, it’s about stopping the enemy farm as well. With early kills, making it risky for the carry to push, and constantly restricting enemy movements, Techies ends up putting the PA in pal.

For the Veiled Ones!

Phantom Assassin is likely to only be on your team half the time, which still leaves an ungodly amount of games when you have to play against her. Sand King is one of her top counters in the game. Before IceFrog decided to make PA a nightmare by removing/reducing evasion-disabling from Legion Commander and Doom, I often enjoyed using them. Other times it was a Faceless Void, of course, that was before he removed the evasion-removal Chronosphere had. Yeah…. IF really has been egging on PA in recent history. Regardless, Sand King and his Veil of Discord works well against the Sisters of the Veil.

An essentially instant blink-disable – including mass Magical burst damage – frequently nets the king of the desert a kill. Sand King also has a much easier time getting a blink than heroes of a similar role, which allows him to exploit PA’s early game weaknesses. Omniknight and Razor are also top counters, who both tend to do well against ‘in your face’ heroes like PA or Lifestealer.  Centaur Warrunner can sometimes be a “poor-man’s Sand King”; lots of magical burst while Stampede helps with kiting PA throughout the game.

Easy to Overlook

I don’t like the common trope of “play your own game”. I tend to find that Dota is a team game resulting in one player’s actions having a massive impact on the success and failure of another, and the team as a whole. Terrorblade has 7 base armor, so I believe it’s rather silly for a laning Terrorblade to get a stout shield. Physical damage is not a weakness that needs to be solved in his starting items. Extra stats are far better at boosting his survivability and early game impact. So I tell them. After all, a Stout Shield’s 250 cost is 40% of your starting gold, which is a lot to spend on a hero with 7 armor and less than 500HP (435 base). Sometimes this occurs for Phantom Assassin as well, although not to the same extent. With 4 base armor resulting in about 20% physical reduction, and then 20% evasion on top of that, she looks pretty good against physical damage early on. And yet the vast majority of PAs will get a stout shield (if not a PMS) unquestionably.

Stout shield is generally great on high HP heroes with low/average armor, such as Centaur, or most famously when tanking creeps (such as in jungle). But PA spends a lot of time daggering creeps from afar, and is likely to have her first death predominantly from magic (perhaps from a mid gank such as QoP). It’s 250 gold for a ~53% chance to block 20 damage. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get it, but I think it shouldn’t be anywhere near as set as stone as it is now (and TB should probably get it less too).

When you kill a PA early on in the game, how effective was her 250 gold spent against you? It’s a thought to consider on almost any carry, when you die in the early game (even if you think a support or lack of wards was the cause), how effectively did you utilize your gold to prevent that high-impact early death? And the better part of this exercise, is when you kill an enemy carry in the first 20 minutes of a game, what mistakes did they make that allowed you to kill them? Perhaps their lack of boots due to their Midas rush enabled you to kill them, which you should factor into your decision making process next time you’re the carry. Don’t just learn from your own mistakes, learn from other people’s mistakes as well.

I See You (Later)

PA is an interesting hero. She basically forces you to buy an MKB, which can become problematic if you also need a slot for detection, anti-kite, magic immunity or a dispel. But if we are going to see her as much as we are, I think it’s at least a good idea to attempt to improve your ability to play with and against her. I try to encourage my readers to follow the philosophical viewpoint of Freethought when dealing with Dota 2.  That is to reject dogma and tradition, instead using logic, empiricism, and reason to come to conclusions on heroes, strategy, itemization and all things Dota related. So I’ve laid out some data, some reasoning, and some ideas. Give it some thought and hopefully you weren’t distracted by my terrible Carrie Fisher joke.

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See Also: Building Phantom Assassin Effectively – My article from May this year, laying down Key Concepts with the hero while encouraging people to take advantage of her unique timing window.

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Building Phantom Assassin Effectively

Phantom Assassin has almost always been built incorrectly in pubs in my opinion. And I think the problem stems from the suggested build, along with a lack of understanding of the hero’s strength. Let me explain.

Blur

Blur will give 50% evasion when maxed, which gives her massive survivability boost against right clickers. The problem is that smart players will eventually get an MKB, and the main part of the skill is now void against that hero. If you look at the defensive skills of other carries, they scale so much better into the late game. Dispersion, Backtrack, Mana Sheild and Spell Sheild all do so much more in the late game. All 4 heroes are often considered very strong late game heroes, and all 4 heroes have an ability that scales much better than evasion. Evasion can eventually be counted, where as Backtrack is annoyingly strong even past 70 minutes. This puts Phantom Assassin’s defensive ability in a unique situation, it will eventually be void against the heroes that matter the most.

Evasion Window

Phantom Assassin’s Evasion Window is what I call the time where PA needs to strike. It’s the time where PA has evasion, but the enemy doesn’t have MKB yet. Most players won’t get MKB as a first item. For example a Shadow Fiend isn’t going to rush an MKB, he might want items like a Blink or a BKB first. Morphling and other attribute-based carries take this a step further. With 50% evasion you generally need to get an MKB, but a Morphling will probably want 2/3 items first. A Morphling with Treads, Aquilla and an MKB just doesn’t do enough to warrant rushing it. But a Morphling with Treads, Ethereal and Linkens will be more than fine in getting a generally sub-par Morphling item in order to hard counter the Phantom Assassin.

The Problem with Battle Fury

This is the problem with Battle Fury on Phantom Assassin, it doesn’t allow her to take advantage of the Evasion Window. If she gets a Battle Fury, she gives time for the enemy carries to pick up an MKB. Adding to this, she is also a really good early-to-mid game fighter. She has a 4 second 50% slow on a 6 second cooldown, a Psuedo-Blink, and high damage with Coup de Grâce. Keep in mind that you also can’t Blink Strike to Magic Immune targets, but that’s the hole you can dig the enemy into.

That is, you want to fight when the enemy has a BKB or MKB, but not both (even better if neither). If they rush a MKB, then they will be really squishy and you can still blink on them due to a magic immunity. A basically raw MKB often means PA can slice through their health pool and swiftly dispose of them. On the other hand, if the enemy has BKB but no MKB, you can’t blink strike on them, but they will miss some of their attacks on you. As you get more and more levels, it becomes a much more significant percent (20/30/40/50).

How Do I Build?

Whenever you build a hero, you need to ask yourself a simple question; “What does a hero truly need?”. Generally speaking PA needs items to allow her to stay on target, items that are effective in the mid game, and items that allow her to commit. Items like Phase Boots, Drums, Basher, Sange n Yasha, Vlads and Black King Bar all come to mind. I would say Black King Bar is the most important out of all these items, since it forces the enemy to kill her via right clicks, which is when evasion is most effective. It also allows her to tunnel vision and truly commit to a hero and dispose of them. Phantom Assassin isn’t a cooldown based hero; dagger is 6 seconds and Blink Strike is 14/11/8/5. As long as she doesn’t die, she can exploit her low cooldowns in a team fight. Where as someone like Medusa or Void have long cooldown one shot ultimates. They still pack a punch outside these ultimates, but are nowhere near as potent during the eary-to-mid game without them.

This is where the HP from Drums and Sange fit in nicely (technically also BKB and Basher), since they boost up her HP pool, increasing the amount of times Evasion will proc during a fight. Evasion is always more effective the higher your HP pool is.

Anti-Kite items allow her to stay on target; Drums, Sange (Maim) n Yasha (+MS), Phase Boots and Basher are useful here. Some people perpetually hate SnY, but it is an effective item on Mid-Game fighting heroes, some people most likely would always prefer Manta though and trash talk SnY at any given opportunity. Manta has some benefits as well.

PA just isn’t a hero you want to take to the late game with and get Battle Fury non stop. She’s a hero you want to exploit her low cooldowns and evasion window. Juggernaut and PA can both do very well when they’re farmed, but I would say that farming builds are not the most effective way to build them. Engaging in a Farm War on heroes who excel at fighting is often not very effective in pubs. It might work out, but it’s rolling the dice for no reason. The commonly accepted idea to win games is to have a High Impact, afk farming is Delayed Impact. You are very Low Impact for the first 25 minutes, before finally starting to Impact your team in a positive way. Technically even carries with a better late game defensive ability than Blur shouldn’t go for the late game in certain circumstances. And in pubs often people don’t, since there’s no time nor farm focus to be able to do so.

PA doesn’t have any flash farming ability, which is the main driver behind Battle Fury. But I still don’t think that’s the problem that needs solving with itemization, because her late game isn’t as strong as other heroes. Especially weakens when more and more Ghosts, Force, Blinks, MKBS, BKBs and Hexes come out as it makes it increasingly harder for her to commit to a hero. Not to mention how good of a fighter she is.

Farming

Pubs tend not to be atmospheres revolved around farming, and people are far less forgiving if you attempt to do this. The most popular heroes in Pubs are a often early and mid game oriented heroes. For years Pubs have preferred winning through ganking, Pudge has topped the charts for years, and Riki and Bloodseeker have always been in close pursuit. It’s probably because ganking is more fun than farming, but regardless this is the atmosphere of pubs. Farming can work in farming games, but the vast majority of pub games have a strong ganking atmosphere. Fighting PA is the High Impact way to build and play the hero, even more so with the recent buffs, such as the 6 second cooldown on dagger, which can now crit.

Pubs also don’t tend to have the same Farm Focus as pro games. Pro teams are 5 stacks who are all trusting of eachother, and all on the same page. They put Farm Focus as a team onto certain heroes. Sometimes it’s the Sand King to get his blink, but often it’s heavy focus on the carry to get as much as possible. This doesn’t happen in pubs, where people are unknowns, heroes are lacking in supports, and there’s no clear team vision or gameplan.

Battle Fury rush works better under a game plan, and even better on heroes who excel in the late game. Mid game focus on PA is an incredibly effective way to itemize her, and pubbers should seriously considering doing it more.

See also: Playing With and Against Phantom Assassin