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How to Stomp with Aghs Spectre

I’ve been winning game after game with this underrated build.

Spectre Spammer here. 7.27 just dropped and as people are trying out new builds, I wanted to shed some light on a build I’ve been theory-crafting for a while now. After some test runs, I think this is build is absolutely broken. With some key changes that have been introduced in 7.27, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this take off in pub matches with a little practice.

I will cover why I think the build is strong, as well as some history on Spectre first. If you want to skip straight to the build, scroll down to the builds section.

For reference, I am a Divine 2 (dropped from Immortal playing poorly on a bad couple weeks) player with 550 games on Mercurial. I’ve gotten flamed more than I care to share in the past for trying unusual builds on her, but have enjoyed relative success over my 550 games (~65% winrate, which is nothing crazy for Spectre, who has an inflated winrate in pubs for most players).

Dotabuff: https://www.dotabuff.com/players/86503184/matches?hero=spectre

Ever since Icefrog gave an Aghs to Spectre, I’ve been trying to come up with situations in which the item actually made sense to buy. Let’s look at what it actually does.

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Essentially, Aghs gives Spectre a single-target Haunt on a shorter cooldown. When this was first announced, most people thought it was neat, but couldn’t find a time that made sense to buy it except as an extreme luxury lategame item. Even then, it competes with other 7th slot items for her such as backpack refresher or BKB. If you aren’t getting it as an ultra-late luxury item, when would you ever buy it earlier? She already struggles to farm in many games, so when would you ever consider a 4200 gold stat stick that gives you an extra haunt over something that lets you fight or farm better.

While these are relevant concerns, they’re founded on an outdated concept of Spectre. To understand why this item is broken on Spectre, we have to take a look at history.

First more recently, 7.03. She had just received some talent buffs and started getting more recognition in the pro scene due to people experimenting with faster tempo builds. It was common to see blademail, drums, and other stat efficient buildups. Blademail meant you could fight early and often, but more importantly was the old Haunt.

Haunt had a 140/130/120 second cooldown instead of the 180/150/120 it has today. The strategy was to farm safely, aggroing creeps under your tower to secure what cs you could in lane. Then, as soon as you hit 6, you haunt, pick up an assist or kill, and go back to farming for two minutes. This relieved pressure on the map by killing a hero but also gave you sweet gold. Since you built into blademail/drums/efficiency fight items, you weren’t weak in the early game like Spectre traditionally was, and then you scaled into late game as Spectre does. People complained that she was busted, rightly so, because she no longer suffered from the weak timings and horrible laning phase that balanced her previously.

In 7.06 the Frog nerfed Haunt as well as the items that contributed to her early-midgame power spike. She went back to being a good, although niche late game carry pick, instead of a hyper late game timer hero.

Second, four years ago one player redefined the Spectre meta by playing her aggressively: Badman. Badman rose to fame for crushing pubs with stat efficient, fighting items. He often would ignore creeps entirely to search for kills early on, despite playing pos 1. The classic Badman build was:

Wand -> Urn -> Phase -> Drums -> Vlads -> Yasha/Radiance

No one built urn on this hero before Badman. By the time he had drums, around 10–12 minutes, he ran around the map killing as often as possible. Usually he snowballed so hard that he would end up with radiance at the timing of people who AFK farmed on the hero. This playstyle of fight often gave rise to the 7.06 style mentioned above. For the same reasons as above, this build was broken. You got to play a hero strong at all points of the game that also outscaled almost every core.

What do these have in common? They’re about fighting often. Spectre is absurdly strong late game — everyone knows that. The problem is, she suffers from being able to fight even after acquiring radiance or another item. She relies on a long cooldown ultimate to help win fights, which simply isn’t always available. I can’t tell you how many games I’ve lost, despite being mega farmed, where I couldn’t help my team enough because haunt was on cooldown. Once you take away her ult, she’s just a really strong, tanky run-at-you hero. With supports being stronger than ever due to neutral items and talents, she’s not the same hero old Mercurial that can always 1v5 if she gets 6 slotted.

This isn’t to take away from Spectre. She’s still good even with the limitations she has, especially in pubs where games go later. Even now, she’s considered an A or B-tier carry for late game drafts. However, what if she could constantly join her team?

Shadow Step gives Spectre a 35 second cooldown single target haunt. Take a moment to process that. I don’t think people fully grasp just how good this is. With level 3 haunt that means you can do a single target haunt three times for every regular haunt you use. You know how it’s annoying to have a Zeus drop a nimbus on you as a pos 5 when you’re just trying to farm a wave? Imagine that instead it’s a Spectre illusion instead, one that she can freely jump to, kill you real quick and haunt out if you’re alone from your team.

Aghs amplifies Spectre’s strongest factor: global map threat. If you build this after radiance, you can drop it on enemies who show farming in lane to mop up lane creeps from afar. You can harass supports. You can threaten kills. You can drop it on a hero, dagger them for some free vision, and reality back to where you were before. You can use it as an escape like Spirit Breaker charging away from a gank. You can haunt into a fight, kill a hero, TP base to heal, and shadow step back in to rejoin the fight. You can even use it in combination with your haunt, as it stacks, meaning you get a free pair of illusions attacking one hero. This ability is insane. It was only so-so when it came out, as it had a 70 second cd, but the frog noticed no one was buying it and cut it in half to 35. And even after that no one buys it.

Haunt has always been one of the strongest ults in the game, but usually you’re only haunting to one target. Maybe you can pick off a squishy support and haunt to another target quickly, but the advantage is that it gives you a guaranteed initiation on your target of choice. Unfortunately, you have to have vision to shadow step to your target of choice, but the idea is still the same.

On top of all this, the stats and buildup are decent. Spectre loves having the stats, extra health and mana. It’s expensive, but you’re comparing it to other items in the same price range: perhaps an SnY, most of a manta, or a yasha+blademail. I argue it should be considered at least as strong as those for her.

Okay, I’ve convinced you it’s strong. But the problem is still the same: when would I buy it?

I’ve experimented with a few builds, but there are a couple of ideal routes. To simplify, you’re either going radiance or you’re not. Spectre still lacks a farming tool, so if you can get a radiance, it’s preferable. It’s not always necessary though. Figuring out when it’s a rad game versus not is something that takes a lot of practice, and I won’t cover in this article.

In 7.26 you could get away with just a necro 1, but really you wanted to go necro 1 into radiance and then get mega-farmed. Necro was perfect because it let you farm fast, but more importantly it solved all your problems while doing it. It tanked you up, gave you mana regen, built easy, and let you farm. You could probably do something similar with HotD now in 7.27.

However, in 7.27, we’ve seen the return of drums with mana regen and a great build-up. I personally think drums will return to being the go-to first item for Spectre. The movespeed helps you chase people down, the mana regen lets you spam dagger, and the 6 attack-speed steroid charges give you the potential to secure 6 early kills that you desperately want to snowball.

Item Builds

Wand/Wraith/Bracer -> Phase/Treads -> Drums -> Radiance -> Aghs

This is ideal. You can skip wand and wraith if your lane is free, but let’s not kid ourselves, you’re going to need them. Spectre recently got a huge base HP regen buff. She starts with a whopping 5.0 hp regen (recently buffed, thank you Frog), which means if you grab an early stick, some tangos, and a sage’s mask you can brawl pretty well in lane. The sage’s mask is key. In the worst lanes, you’ll want a mango or two to secure ranged creeps with dagger. Make sure you line up the dagger to hit heroes and the ranged creep at the same time. If your lane is really bad, you can spam dagger to shove the wave out, keeping you safer from ganks, and jungle the small camp until you have some small items.

Once you have drums, you’re stronger than you think you are. The drums active combined with desolate means you can melt squishy supports. You are getting a point in desolate, right? You don’t always have to max dagger, but please get one point in desolate, at least. It goes a long way in these early kills.

The idea is the same as it always has been. Once you have drums, your priority is farming unless a good kill presents itself. Tell your team when you have haunt and use it ASAP.

You’re aiming to finish your radiance before 20 minutes. It’s possible to get it earlier, but that’s a good goal.

At this point, you’re going to be itching to get a manta. And you know what. If you need a manta or a bkb because you’re going to lose the game if you don’t get them, get one. But if you can afford to get an aghs because you have some amount of control over the game still, get it. As soon as you get it, use shadow step off cooldown. You’re teammates are going to flame the shit out of you for buying aghs, but you’re going to ignore them. Use shadow step to join in pick offs that you normally wouldn’t be able to. When they thank you for joining pick-offs, spam ping your shadow step ability cooldown to assert dominance.

After this point, build into whatever you need as you would normally, but enjoy being able to haunt every 35 seconds.

It’s worth noting that refresher shard refreshes both abilities, which means you have four opportunities to haunt with a refresher.

Wand/Wraith/Bracer -> Phase/Treads -> Drums -> Yasha -> Aghs

This is the same idea as above, but instead of getting a radiance, you’re looking to play aggressively with your team. I like this build if I have someone else who can hit towers after a good teamfight, like a TA, meaning you might not need to go late. In lineups like this where you have an opportunity to close out the game, you can pick up a yasha (or a blademail) and pressure for kills from the minute you get your drums.

Personally, I like to always have a yasha upgrade. Manta is usually too good to pass up with desolate, but don’t discount SnY. With drums, yasha, and dagger you are very fast. Combine this with free pathing and permanent dagger uptime (DO NOT TAKE THE DESOLATE TALENT FOR THE LOVE OF GOD), and you’re a monster in teamfights. If you take the bonus dagger movespeed/slow talent, you hit max movespeed in dagger.

Spectre had this weird problem where after radiance you did a lot of damage, but felt kind of squishy still. Because of this you basically always go something to give you effective HP: Manta, SnY, etc. Aghs gives you a lot of HP with the ogre club and point booster, so it fills that role.

Additional options are diffusal, basher/abyssal, butterfly, skadi, heart, and linkens depending on what you need.

Tier 1: you want things that enable you to farm and survive: iron talon is S-tier, but otherwise PMS, Broom Handle, Brooch, or some form of stats are good.

Tier 2: is a similar story. Vambrace, Aquila, Net, Pupil’s Gift, and that broken green Ring are all good.

Tier 3: you’re looking for a Sliver, Mind Breaker, or Orb of Destruction. I prefer mind breaker and orb as mind breaker gives you a silence when you haunt on someone and orb helps you slow people and take buildings.

Tier 4: pray to god for an illusionist cape. This item is a wet dream for Spectre for obvious reasons. If you can’t find that, Spell Prism is also deceptively good, giving you more daggers, shadow steps, and haunts while offering great stats and mana regen. Prince’s Knife should also not be underestimated, as it’s a free hex out of your haunt/shadow step.

Tier 5: I’ll let you know if I ever see tier 5 items.

Skills:

I max dagger first 99% of games. Levels 2–9 vary outside of that. By level 6, you want 1 point in all your skills. There are games where I go 3/2/0, but this is greedy. Both dispersion and desolate are high value at level 6. With lvl 3 or 4 dagger, a point in desolate, and drums active you can kill isolated heroes, sometimes even without the help of a teammate.

Usually I will skill desolate level 2. Most people skip it until later, and I think this is a mistake. 20 pure damage helps secure range creep last hits under tower. It also lets you play aggressively. Offlane wants to trade with you at lvl 2 without creeps? Great. You have 5 hp regen and deal 20 pure damage every auto. Don’t be afraid to use your dagger to trade. Tell your supports to auto when the enemy offlaner or support has dagger on them.

The only reason you would take dispersion level 2 is if your only goal is to stay alive. Maybe you’re against a trilane and need every inch you can get.

Once you have max dagger and a point in your other skills, you weigh whether you need to survive/farm or kill. If you don’t feel you’re in danger of dying with your drums, you can max desolate second for an early power spike. If you need to farm jungle or are worried about being bursted, max dispersion. Dispersion and max dagger can farm stacks. Abuse that.

Talents:

Comes down to personal preference. I usually go 5 stats, as that scales better and gives you more EHP, which might keep you alive in a gank, give you the extra edge you need to get a kill, and gives you extra mana in the tank. 5 regen however is great if you plan on farming jungle for a bit, especially stacks.

This is honestly such a joke. I’m surprised Icefrog hasn’t changed this talent yet, and wouldn’t be surprised if it gets changed in the upcoming hero changes patch. What would you rather have: higher uptime on dagger, which gives you vision on slippery heroes like Slark, Qop, Brood, etc., lets you farm faster, and lets you contribute to fights from the outside during midgame when you might be hesitant to commit, or 12 fucking damage that isn’t even always going to proc.

I basically never see anyone take the +14%, and like most things I discuss in this guide, I think that it’s underrated. This makes your spectral dagger an un-purgeable, BKB Piercing 36% slow/movespeed buff. You can cripple heroes like Ursa, Slark, and Sven who depend on movespeed to be effective lategame. Not only that, you have permanent uptime on it. It’s also worth noting that it slows everything in the path, so a well placed dagger with this talent is like a weaker, moving ice-wall if used correctly. Try using it to slow creeps that are walking up to the lane as you defend high ground. That said, sometimes you need the 400 health. Spectre likes to tank up, so both are valid options, but I think the dagger ends up being better in many games.

I see this as a similar case to above. Basically, do you need to 5% more health? If not, +32% haunt illusion damage is a nice buff to your aghs.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading. The hardest part about this build is getting your teammates not to flame you or feed when they see you’re looking to build aghs. I’m writing this to spread awareness to what I think is a fantastic item. It makes playing the hero feel much more fun, and I love the concept and hope it doesn’t get nerfed heavily in the future. Also it’d be great if people could stop tilting when they see it in quickbuy.

I write all of this also to say that I think that Spectre is in a good place right now. Getting aghs does not mean you win the game, as she still suffers from needing to farm. Sometimes you just can’t take off fast enough and lose the game, and that’s not a problem with the build in my opinion.

Thanks and good luck! Have fun experimenting.

They/Them | Software Dev | Chronically seeking orange juice | devon.wellsa@gmail.com

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