While every single hero in Dota is unique, they can be broadly categorized by their role in the game. Moreover, within this category, there are sub-categories that share some specific traits. Today, we would like to focus on one such sub-category: illusion heroes.
Over the years, mechanics surrounding player-created illusions remained largely untouched: they usually do reduced damage based on the base attack values of the original hero. They typically take additional damage and, since patch 6.83, they also deal less damage to buildings.
Illusion heroes also typically have good agility growth, hence high armor and attack speed. This, coupled with an obvious fact of having multiple disposable units to tank, make them excellent jungle farmers and lane pushers.
Despite that, the three most common illusion heroes all have very different playstyles and nuances, which we are going to go over today.
Naga is in a pretty bad place right now: the hero is neither popular nor successful in pubs or the professional scene. There are certainly very neat combinations with Song of the Siren, but from a strictly carry perspective Naga is definitely outclassed.
Her scaling is based on the hero’s net worth primarily, and her level 25 talents do not provide a massive power spike like they usually do for other heroes. Most importantly, she can’t fully utilize her armor reduction abilities. Desolator is a natural progression for most heroes who already have access to armor reduction, but Naga, being an agility core with illusions, doesn’t really benefit from bonus damage not provided by stats.
The only viable way to progress the hero, it feels, is to play tempo: Naga has a pretty strong power spike with Manta Style + Diffusal Blade, and it has to be utilized to its fullest potential. The hero can have up to six illusions with these items and the level 20 talent and that makes her damage output pretty scary.
She is also undoubtedly strong when split-pushing: illusions last for a pretty long time, allowing her to force the enemy team to spread apart, making pick-offs much easier. Inability to man fight without a massive net worth lead and innate tools for split-pushing make her a strictly macro hero in most games, and that is something generally not worth picking in pubs, unless you are playing in a team of five.
In the latter case, though, especially if your stack is well-coordinated, Naga can make some supports and utility heroes truly shine: combinations with Dark Seer, Jakiro or Disruptor are incredibly powerful and are pretty easy to execute. They are also very satisfying to land, so if you are playing the game just for fun with a couple of friends, Naga can be a good choice.
Phantom Lancer is in a much better position than Naga, but the hero is still struggling: his overall win rate is below 50% and only in Divine+ lobbies does he get truly effective.
Compared to other illusion heroes, Phantom Lancer doesn’t require as much micro, when played casually: his illusions are disposable and spawn continuously. They are also very weak in terms of DPS and tankiness, so Diffusal Blade is a must on the hero. With this item, Phantom Lancer can limit the enemy's effectiveness almost as fast as Anti-Mage.
Lancer is probably the most elusive of all illusion heroes: Doppelganger is frustrating to deal against, since it is both a repositioning tool and a confusing one. Figuring out the real Phantom Lancer is hard as it is, but when one of the illusions suddenly starts taking regular damage, it can get very, very tricky, especially against experienced PL players.
His Phantom Rush is also a pretty powerful gap-closer, making up for the fact that PL is a melee character. It is unreliable at times, but the extra 44 Agility are absolutely devastating. This added AS and Armor also allow the hero to farm jungles pretty effectively, as soon as he hits level six.
To fully tap into the hero’s potential, one usually has to play him similarly to most elusive heroes, at least until he gets a sizable net worth lead. Evading direct confrontation is a must, as is trying to pick off squishier targets first. Unlike other illusion heroes, PL’s illusions are more of an extension of the hero itself, rather than additional units to control, so saving your life is often the highest priority.
One of the more popular heroes professionally, Terrorblade still struggles in pubs. The hero has a massive agility growth of 4.8 per level, making him exceptionally tanky against physical damage, but his HP pool is pretty limited until after he gets his first couple of tankiness items.
Because of high base damage, high agility growth and decent percentage on illusion damage, Terrorblades usually don’t go for Diffusal Blade: it is redundant DPS-wise and it doesn’t solve the hero’s main problem. Instead, cheap, cost-efficient stat items are what the hero wants at the start of the game, with Drums being the prime choice in the professional scene.
Ranged form through Metamorphosis is also pretty crucial for the hero’s success: teams with Terrorblade usually don’t want to fight when Meta is down since, with no gap closers and the general reluctance to get up close and personal, Terrorblade has trouble dealing damage.
TB’s illusions are also the only illusions that do not confuse the enemy: they have a different texture, making it easy to figure out the real hero, limiting his potential for trickery. Not until after Manta Style is purchased can Terrorblade start trying to bait the enemy into making wrong moves. Sometimes players even skip this item altogether, relying on BKB or stat items to survive, rather than confuse the opposition.
What is interesting about the hero, is that his Reflection can be his most powerful tool in the right game: when dealing with heroes who have strong passive abilities, Reflection can be stupidly overpowered. It also works pretty well against any stat-based carries, who suddenly start hitting themselves for full damage, while being slowed.
Of all illusion-based heroes, Terrorblade is probably the easiest to recommend right now, especially for pubs. The hero never stops scaling, farms incredibly fast, can split-push reasonably well, and is among the scariest things in the game, if he gets a net worth lead. He has some natural predators in the game, sure, but playing around Magic Damage is possible, and at a certain point, with proper itemization, Terrorblade is almost unkillable without several layers of lockdown.