Countering Phantom Assassin doesn’t require a special strategy as many heroes have abilities to deal with her. You only need to buy some essential items to boost your survivability and neutralize her evasion.
Phantom Assassin’s huge critical damage has always attracted a vast portion of the player base. She is the third most picked hero up to Crusader with a 25% pick rate, holds a respectable 20% at Archon, and is almost in the top 10 even at Legend with 15%.
Her win rate isn't extraordinary - around 50% at most ranks - and IceFrog barely touched her since the big adjustments brought in by 7.07. In competitive, she was a tier 5 hero in April, with a 55% win rate but only 20 picks.
Learn More: PA Talent Guide.
My preferred choice when playing a caster as you can avoid all her attacks for 4 seconds, which is enough to nuke her down or just teleport to safety.
As a support, you might prefer the Glimmer Cape because its active ability can be used also on your allies, potentially saving greedy casters who built no escapes.
Overall, I advise to buy both items whenever possible: being able to survive is one the most significant accomplishments for a squishy support.
It works well until PA purchases the Black King Bar. For three second she won’t be able to inflict any physical attack. During a teamfight, your team can use this time to kill her or just ignore the threat momentarily and deal with another opponent.
The bonuses granted by this item are of great help on strength heroes.
Any tough hero able to survive some critical hits should buy this item. If used at the right time, you will return all her damage, potentially killing PA because she doesn’t have many health points.
Monkey King Bar
Even if now it doesn’t pierce evasion with every attack - but only 75% of the times - it is still one of the most reliable items you can buy to counter this ability.
As an auto-attacker, you should always get it as soon as possible when facing PA. I saw a good deal of agility-based carries delaying it because they wanted the Butterfly first: indeed, it gives you more total dps, but that doesn't even matter if PA can evade 50% of your attacks.
Silver Edge and Bloodthorn
The former disables the target’s passive abilities for 4 seconds, so PA won’t be able to evade the attacks of the enemy team, neither inflict any critical hit, which will reduce her damage consistently.
The latter silences PA for 5 seconds while also granting True Strike and 100% chance to crit for 140% damage to any hero attacking her.
These two items are somewhat less dependable than the MKB because the bonus isn’t permanent, but if used at the right time you will benefit the entire team and assassinate PA together.
In the late game, it may change the fate of the battle in the hands of a melee dps. Phantom Assassin is a very squishy hero that needs to annihilate his opponents as soon as possible, so a stun can easily lead to her death.
Complete this item only after getting a counter for evasion or you will just waste the stun duration - instead, a Skull Basher is a reliable option in the mid game.
Best offlaners against Phantom Assassin
Axe and Bristleback
Both heroes have a huge health pool and abilities to dominate the lane, particularly when confronting a melee hero. PA possesses a ranged spell (Stifling Dagger) but the damage isn’t sufficient in the early game and it is also physical, so some extra armor will reduce it even further. Only a good support can save PA from these two heroes.
Not a popular pick nowadays - many in pubs consider her a "jungle hero" - but LC can be a reliable pick in the offlane due to her AoE nuke and survivability. Overwhelming Odds is a big threat in the early game, and with a Soul Ring you can spam it without pause, using Press the Attack for regeneration when necessary.
Also, if PA tries to engage, similarly to Axe you can exploit the aggro of the creeps to proc Moment of Courage, inflicting lots of extra damage and even healing yourself.
Ion Shell is painful for a melee hero. You can keep PA at a distance, preventing many last hits. To be honest, it loses most of its efficiency once Phantom Assassin gets Coup de Grace as Stifling Dagger can crit and instantly destroy the shielded creep. Still, DS has easily the upper hand during the early game.
If PA doesn’t have a great support on her side, Broodmother’s spiderlings will take the control of the lane, potentially scoring multiple kills. Stifling Dagger is worthless against them because it isn’t an AoE ability. Especially at lower ranks, you can force her out of the lane, and cause rage and discomfort in the enemy lines.
Razor and Bane can reduce PA's damage
They can dramatically diminish her physical damage using Static Link and Enfeeble - those spells are amazing at all stages of the match. Note that the Black King Bar doesn’t help against the former, and won’t completely counter the latter. In fact, the damage reduction debuff of Enfeeble persists if used before spell immunity.
Both heroes are also reliable picks versus PA. She doesn’t want to fight against Razor because he can overwhelm her with all the damage stolen via Static Link, and the damage plus the armor reduction caused by Eye of the Storm.
Bane possesses one of the longest single-target disables in the game: Fiend’s Grip. PA can be disabled for 5 seconds, long enough to be killed. The ability also pierces spell immunity.
Force PA to rush defensive items with magic damage and disables
Phantom Assassin has a solid mid game. With a couple of items she can kill most heroes in a few hits, thus players often rush the “battle build” with the Desolator.
You can stop or at least delay this threat by persecuting her. PA is a squishy hero that is very susceptible to magic damage and disables. Heroes with nukes such as Necrophos, Tinker, Lina, or Lion can destroy her with the help of the team.
If her life is often in danger, PA will rush a BKB as soon as possible. While this item is mandatory on her, buying it too early will hinder her damage and most chances to snowball during the mid game.
Pure damage and abilities able to pierce spell immunity are convenient to counter the Black King Bar. We already talked about Bane, but also Hex effects like Shadow Shaman and Lion's abilities or the Scythe of Vyse's one are very helpful. You can’t cast them once the BKB is active, but if used before its activation, the debuff will persist.
Prefer tanky cores to squishy ones
We classified Bristleback and Axe as some of the best offlaners versus PA, but there are more tough heroes capable of dealing with her later in the match.
He isn’t as strong as the others against her in the lane stage, but I prefer him in the mid and late game because Stampede will save countless lives from PA’s assassination attempts. Double Edge is a good nuke (400 magic damage every 5 seconds) and Return is a sort of free Blade Mail, even if a lot less effective versus critical hits.
A late game Spectre has nothing to fear as Phantom Assassin can potentially kill herself and her own team due to all the damage reflected by Dispersion. Of course, there are ways to disable it, such as the active ability of the Silver Edge, but overall Spectre is one of the most difficult carries to kill for a physical dps.
He can easily overwhelm PA in the lane phase with the help of a support, and he can ignore most physical damage thanks to Dragon Blood. His great armor and the long single-target disable (Dragon Tail) make him a solid hero against Phantom Assassin.
Moreover, the splash damage while in Dragon Form is not affected by Blur, so you can inflict from 50% to 100% of your damage to her while attacking an opponent nearby.
Note: the splash damage while in Elder Dragon Form depends on the radius considered - 100% at 150, 75% at 225, and 50% at 300.
Massive counters via ultimate
There are really many heroes with ultimates able to counter her, but today I will focus my attention on two popular ones in the current meta: Omniknight and Doom.
- Omniknight’s Guardian Angel reduces to 0 all PA’s damage for 8 seconds because it grants immunity to physical damage to the whole team - and that’s the only damage at her disposal.
- Doom is a hard counter with the Aghanim’s Scepter. His upgraded ultimate prevents an enemy hero from casting spells and using items, and also disables their passive abilities. PA won’t be able to evade physical attacks or even inflict significant damage without her critical hits.
Header image: Creeping Shadow loading screen for PA - Valve
Vincenzo is an esports writer with five years of experience. Former head editor for Natus Vincere, he has produced content for DreamHack, FACEIT, DOTAFire, 2P, and more. Follow him on @SkulzDota.