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Ghostly Assassin: How to Play Spectre in Dota

Patrick Bonifacio

Mercurial, the Spectre, is one of the more unique hard carries in Dota 2. Rather than going all out on physical damage through regular attacks, Spectre emphasizes defense in order to create offense. She does this primarily through her passive ability Dispersion (E), which reduces all incoming damage while reflecting it back.

Spectre Game Art

(Image courtesy Valve)

This means that Spectre is more concerned with raw durability and staying power in teamfights, rather than outright physical DPS. If you fancy a farming carry that can become almost impossible to kill in the late game, read on. We will show you the spooky ways of Mercurial herself.

Flexible Spirit

This is not to say that she isn’t capable of dealing damage straight up, though. Spectral Dagger (Q) deals magic damage to anything caught in its path, slowing them if they step onto its shadowy trail. Spectre also gets a movement speed boost and free pathing when she is on the trail, allowing her to chase targets down with ease. Desolate (W) on the other hand deals pure damage to targets with no allied units near them, making her a truly frightening duelist.

Spectre Game Art

(Image courtesy Valve)

Her signature ability is her ultimate Haunt (R), which instantly spawns illusions on each enemy hero in the game. These illusions attack their assigned targets relentlessly, forcing them to retreat or face the consequences. During Haunt, Spectre can use its sub-ability Reality (D), in order to teleport to the targeted illusion and replace it with her real self. Haunt is a global ability, which gives Spectre a special advantage as a carry: she can be away from her team to farm creeps, but join them for a fight at a moment’s notice.

All of these combine to make Spectre a one of a kind carry that can be unstoppable if left to her own devices. That said, she is very weak in the laning phase, and can quickly turn into dead weight if she gets shut down early. On her own, she doesn’t really have a way to get back in the game, as she needs certain items to increase her farming rate. It is therefore vital to pair her up with a support that can babysit her effectively.

A Ghost’s Hunger


Despite her design as an item dependent carry, though, Spectre can actually be built in two distinct ways. There’s the traditional method of buying Radiance as her first major item, which entails avoiding fights at all costs to focus entirely on farming. Spectre is one of the best Radiance carriers in the game, thanks to the nature of Haunt and the fact that her base farming rate is so slow. Radiance helps Spectre clear creep waves and jungle camps much faster, as well as deal tons of passive damage in teamfights. Radiance also has the added benefit of disabling Blink Daggers, especially when combined with Haunt.

But as with any carry that builds Radiance, early deaths can set this build back significantly. Saving up 3,800 gold just for the Sacred Relic component means that Spectre is a high-priority target in the laning phase. If your team’s draft is effective at creating space for you, consider the Radiance option.

Mid Game Fighter

Otherwise, there is “Combat” Spectre, which involves building mid game items like Blade Mail and Diffusal Blade in order to fight early. Leveraging Haunt’s ability to let you join fights even while hitting creeps, this build is excellent at pushing the tempo and taking objectives fast. Combat Spectre generally eschews Radiance, in favor of items that have much better build-ups and more stats to offer upfront.

Should she get the momentum she needs through this build, Spectre can then scale into the late game with big, expensive items like Eye of Skadi and Abyssal Blade. The build does fall short of true hard carry status, though, if Spectre cannot capitalize on its strengths early on.

Hard to Exorcise

The rest of Spectre’s usual items focus primarily on two things: increasing raw health and agility. Raw health items like Heart of Tarrasque and Eye of Skadi are extremely important to Spectre, due to her reliance on Dispersion to deal damage. Basically, the more health she has, the more she’ll be able to reflect incoming damage. Eye of Skadi is best used against heavy lifesteal and healing, though it also partially solves Spectre’s huge late game mana issues. If preventing healing isn’t a concern, then the health regen from Heart of Tarrasque is more valuable.

Spectre Game Art 3

(Image courtesy Valve)

Agility, on the other hand, is much better for Spectre than raw bonus attack damage. This is due to the fact that illusions do not benefit from bonus attack damage. Instead, they hit harder with the increased base damage from the parent hero’s primary attribute. In this case, Spectre can only pump her illusion damage through bonus agility. Manta Style, Sange and Yasha, Diffusal Blade, and Butterfly all come to mind in this regard.

As for neutral items, we recommend the following per tier:

Tier 1

  • Chipped Vest
  • Possessed Mask
  • Broom Handle

Tier 2

  • Essence Ring
  • Dragon Scale
  • Ring of Aquila
  • Quicksilver Amulet

Tier 3

  • Cloak of Flames (stacks with Radiance!)
  • Titan Sliver
  • Elven Tunic
  • Orb of Destruction

Tier 4

  • Illusionist’s Cape (incredibly strong on Spectre)
  • Minotaur Horn
  • The Leveller
  • Ninja Gear
  • Penta-Edged Sword

Tier 5

  • Apex (your illusions will hit like a truck)
  • Stygian Desolator

The Phantom’s Knowledge


Spectre’s ideal ability build has remained the same over the years, as her abilities haven’t changed much themselves. Maxing out Spectral Dagger and Dispersion in the early game is recommended. Spectral Dagger can be used to go for kills in the lane, as well as to secure ranged creeps from a safe distance. It does cost quite a lot of mana, though, so Spectre can only really use it twice or thrice early on.

Dispersion on the other hand makes Spectre more likely to survive in lane, and jungle just a little bit faster. As mentioned before, Spectre’s early game is terrible, and so Dispersion helps with her durability in the laning phase slightly.

Desolate isn’t really valuable until the mid game onwards, as you won’t have the tankiness required to chase lone enemy heroes down before that point. It becomes very potent later on, though, especially as heroes start to split up and do their own thing away from creep waves. Therefore, it’s best to leave this alone until around level 10. Do note that Desolate’s damage cannot miss, which makes it great against heroes with evasion that don’t have illusion abilities.

As for Haunt, it’s important to get it as soon as it is available. The cooldown at level one is extremely long, but each level removes 20 seconds from the base cooldown. The mana cost does scale up accordingly, however, so keep this in mind.


Here’s where it gets a little bit tricky as Spectre’s talent tree is kind of a mixed bag. Some like the Dispersion talent at level 25 are really strong, but some like the +400 Health talent at level 20 are kind of forgettable. The beauty of her talent tree however is that almost every talent has its place depending on the situation.

Spectre Game Art 2

(Image courtesy Valve)

For the most part, though, here’s what we recommend you take and why. For level 10, the health regen talent is better if you need to catch up from a bad start. It allows you to stay in lane longer and tank more harassment, after all. If you are ahead, though, the +5 All Stats talent will help you more in the long term.

At level 15, the Spectral Dagger cooldown reduction talent is better in most cases. Being able to ignore normal terrain pathing that much more often is underrated in our opinion. It also helps you farm faster, assuming you have ways of topping up your mana like with Clarities or Ring of Aquila. On the other hand, the +12 Desolate Damage talent can be useful for Combat Spectre.

At level 20, we recommend the Spectral Dagger movement speed change talent in almost every instance. It’s just so much better than +400 health most of the time, especially when facing speedy heroes. Used correctly, you can also use it to weave in and out of combat if need be.

Finally, there’s the +5% Dispersion talent at level 25. Assuming you’re not going up against Break mechanics, this talent can help close out a long game. Five percent bonus damage from Dispersion really adds up in deep late-game teamfights. Not to mention that you also become five percent more durable at the same time. The Haunt talent is kind of worthless in most situations, as you won’t be looking to deal the bulk of your damage through that ability anyway.

Our recommended build, therefore, is as follows:

  • Spectral Dagger
  • Dispersion
  • Dispersion
  • Spectral Dagger
  • Dispersion
  • Haunt
  • Dispersion
  • Spectral Dagger
  • Spectral Dagger
  • Level 10 Talent
  • Desolate
  • Haunt
  • Desolate
  • Desolate
  • Level 15 Talent
  • Desolate
  • Haunt
  • Level 20 Talent: +14% Spectral Dagger Slow/Bonus
  • Level 25 Talent: +5% Dispersion

Optimizing Your Spectre Play

Because Spectre’s kit is unique in its own right, there are a few ways of optimizing your play available to you.

Spectral Dagger

Spectral Dagger is perhaps the most important ability when it comes to optimization, as it can be used to stack multiple creep camps at once and make your overall farming rate a bit faster. Whenever you’re in the jungle, it’s important to try to hit two creep camps at once if possible. This can be done by hitting one creep camp physically, then launching a Spectral Dagger at another camp close by.

In general, you can also use Spectral Dagger to get from place to place faster. Since its path allows you to completely ignore terrain, you can use it to quickly scale cliffs and get to creep camps that much sooner. It’s likewise fantastic for escaping ganks, as you can easily abuse elevation and treelines.


Desolate works only Spectre’s current target does not have any friendly units within a 475 unit radius. The way the ability interacts with heroes when they’re jungle creeps is a little weird, though. Heroes will still get affected by Desolate even if they are next to neutral creeps, regardless of whether they’re in the Radiant or Dire jungle. This means that your damage output will be at maximum when chasing heroes through the jungle, provided that they don’t run into any allied heroes or creeps there.

As for farming jungle camps, it is more efficient for you to hit the weakest creeps in each camp first before you go for the strongest one. This ensures that you get the most out of the bonus damage.


Dispersion is essentially an always-on version of Blade Mail, in the sense that it reflects a portion of any damage dealt to Spectre back in a maximum radius of 700 units. Heroes closer to Spectre receive more damage from this ability, while those in the maximum radius receive less. These mechanics distinguish it from Blade Mail, which only reflects damage back at the same source and no more than that. Dispersion instead absorbs and then scatters the incoming damage in an area, which means all enemy units in that area will get hit.

Spectre is so reliant on Dispersion, though, that Break mechanics basically hard counter her. She becomes way softer than one would expect her to be in the late game without it, and she loses a large chunk of her damage output. This means that things like Silver Edge, Aghanim’s Scepter Doom, and Spirit Breaker’s Aghanim’s Shard weaken her significantly later on.

Knowing how vital Dispersion is to Spectre, you’ll want to keep in mind which Break mechanics you can prevent and which ones you can’t deal with. Thankfully, the Dota 2 wiki has a list of these along with the pertinent details.


New Spectre players often aren’t aware of this fact, but you can actually jump to active Haunt illusions multiple times. You can use this to your advantage in teamfights, in order to blink from one target to another in quick succession. Reality also allows you to jump to the next target right after killing an enemy hero, greatly reducing the time it takes to get to them.

You can even use Haunt as an escape mechanism in a pinch, though this will only apply if there is an enemy hero that is far enough away from you and their teammates. This will put it on cooldown and give your opponents a big window to get aggressive, but sometimes it’s better than dying outright.

Spectre certainly isn’t as straightforward as more popular carries like Anti-Mage or Sven, but mastering her gives a satisfaction that few others can. She may be difficult to play as in the laning phase, but there just no feeling like being unkillable in the late game as a hard carry. Take the time to practice her game plan, and Mercurial will reward you plenty.

Get out there and scare the living daylights out of your enemies!

Patrick Bonifacio

Patrick Bonifacio

Patrick has been playing Dota since the dawn of time, having started with the original custom game for WarCraft III. He primarily plays safe lane and solo mid, preferring to leave the glorious task of playing support to others.

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