Phantom Assassin is far from the powerhouse she was when Valve released patch 7.20. But even after getting nerfed in three consecutive patches, she is still the 3rd most picked hero in pubs.
In fact, Phantom Assassin is the most picked hero in both Ancient and Divine/Immortal tier. Her win rate, however, hovers around 50-51%, which puts her close to the win rate she had in both 7.18 and 7.19. She was still popular then (~24% pick rate), but nowhere close to to her pick rate today at 36%.
Her current popularity doesn’t necessarily reflect her strength in the meta. Pudge is a mainstay in most pubs, regardless of how strong or weak his state is. In the ongoing Winter Madness and MDL Macau.
But it’s the way in which PA wins that’s the heart of most players grievances with the heroes. She can delete heroes off the map, while being undetectable under the cloak of Blur. And in the mid to late game, with her Triple Dagger talent and a handful of damage items, you’re playing roulette against the house.
Phantom Assassin’s strength hinges on her burst damage during her Phantom Strike buff. It’s what has made Blur this patch such an annoying spell to play against, since she can unload a flurry of attacks with impunity. Heroes that succeed against PA target this window when she’s strongest, with either defensive spells and/or stuns, or target her weakness against magical burst damage.
To control PA, two effective meta picks are Beastmaster and Brewmaster. Not only are they strong offlaners to contest her farm, their skills scale into the late game. In Beastmaster’s case, he can push, offer vision, and his BKB-piercing stun gets better as the game progresses, when pivotal moments can hinge on one pickoff.
Brewmaster’s new Drunken Brawler gives him a defensive tool to survive PA’s burst damage, enough to cast his ultimate. Brew’s ability to control the fight, during his ultimate, has made him a go-to pick for other meta carries, like Terrorblade and Huskar, as well. His flexibility as a support hero is just icing on the cake. Keen Gaming immediately picked both Brew and Beast in response to IG’s first pick Phantom Assassin.
While in China’s H Cup, Invictus Gaming has been countering PA with the classic Gyrocopter and Io duo. The pair offers combines both magic damage and the necessary sustain to outlast PA during her burst. Following the same vein of magic damage, heroes like Morphling, Lina, Timbersaw, and Pugna, has an advantage against PA.
Silver Edge is a possible choice, yet in practice it tends to be lackluster against Phantom Assassin. Four seconds isn’t always enough time, and it doesn’t counter BKB when PA initiates. It could be viable for natural Shadow Blade carriers, but MKB is often the better offensive item. This is too narrow of a focus, however. Whether the carry on your team purchases MKB or Silver Edge won’t make as large a difference as how the rest of the item drafts and itemizes against her.
In this match with Pavaga vs. Vega Squadron at Winter Madness, Glimmer, Ghost Scepter, Crimson Guard, and Vladmir’s help mitigate PA’s effectiveness.*
PA has benefited from the armor rework in 7.20, but the patch has also buffed armor and defensive items. NoPangolier, who spammed Phantom Assassin on their way to the Chonqing Major qualifiers, is familiar in her counters. Against Vega Squadron in Winter Madness, they played a mid Nature’s Prophet, who rushed Vlads and Crimson Guard to end the game in 25 minutes.
The same defensive strategy follows for support heroes. Glimmer Cape and Ghost Scepter are ideal, since you can pop it reflexively when PA jumps, and it’s rare that she’ll have slots later for detection. But if those items are too far away, stacking Bracers can buy precious time.
The list goes on for what can deal with PA, but they all stem from identifying the kind of threat she poses, as well as her weaknesses. But considering her win rate and her current state in the competitive meta, you may not need to devote that many resources to counter her.