The three or four times I've played against a well managed PL, my team always got destroyed and no one really knew how to handle him.

Is there a way to pick out the real one from the phantoms?

  • 1
    Watching damage taken can be tough due to the doppelganger illusion that takes normal damage. A number of spells will only affect actual heroes. For example, only the real PL will become silenced by Global Silence.
    – Samthere
    Commented Jan 9, 2017 at 9:48

9 Answers 9


Spotting the real Phantom Lancer is a pain. Good Phantom Lancer players won't often show the real one during pushes and let their illusions do the work. Same goes for teamfights: once the army of illusion is here, they tend to dopplewalk away and wait for a good opportunity to show again. If an illusion army is pushing a lane, the real one might be jungling on a nearby neutral camp.

Spot PL before a gank

If you want to spot him before a gank (or spot the real one on the map if visible) you have some options:

  • He takes less damage than illusions
  • He deals more damage than illusions
  • He benefits from some items when illusions don't: if he has a vanguard or a heart of tarrasque, he will have health regen (this require some practice but the vanguard (or ring of health) regen can be spotted by the naked eye). If he has a vladirmir's offering, he will be the only Phantom Lancer to lifesteal on attack (the animation of lifesteal is still there on the illusions but they actually don't lifesteal).
  • If he throws a lance you can try to see which lance deals the damage (quite hard to do)
  • If you are lucky he will level up thus becoming the obvious target

Things to remember

My best advice against a Phantom Lancer army is to: Massive AOE > spot the real one (the one who took the least damage). This will work in most situations, then it's up to you to focus correctly.

PL players tend too often to doppleganger away when they feel insecure. When they do so you only have 3 remaining possible choices (2 illus and the real one) : One of the illu doesn't deal damage, the other take 600% extra damage so spotting the real one quickly is a matter of reflex and game sense. With a bit of training you shouldn't be annoyed by those anymore. Be carefull though, the illusion that doesn't deal damage doesn't only for normal attack, it the PL has diffusal blades, both illusion will still deal the feedback damages.

Shut down a PL

Prevent him from farming. Come in his lane as early as you can to harass him. Take down the outer tower as soon as you can. PL tends to farm tranquil boots > ring of aquila > diffusal blade whereas other carries will tend to farm farming items first (battle fury on void/magina, midas on Alchemist etc.). This means that Phantom Lancer is shut down early on, he won't be able to catch up as other carries can. But remember: no matter how much ahead you think you are, a good PL can win the game by himself.

  • 1
    "If he throws a lance you can try to see which lance deals the damage" you are joking right....
    – Pacerier
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 1:04
  • @Pacerier Nop :)
    – WizLiz
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 6:22
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    It's almost impossible to see which lance deals the damage since they are going to arrive in a mass.
    – Pacerier
    Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 6:24
  • Thus the "quite hard to do" part. :P
    – ZAD-Man
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 15:37

In addition to the great answers already provided, you can also use Skywrath Mage's Concussive Shot

Concussive Shot will not target illusions, making it a powerful hero detection tool. If you are facing an illusion-based hero such as Phantom Lancer, Chaos Knight or Terrorblade, using Concussive Shot will cause it to automatically home in on the real hero, provided that they are the closest target for the spell. If the spell fizzles, then it means that the hero is not present.

Source (look in tips section).

This method will not work if PL is already invisible, or if he is not the closest enemy hero. So yes, this method's effectiveness is limited, but on the other hand, even if you hit the wrong heroes with these spells, won't hurt. Skywrath is also an intelligence hero so mana isn't too costly.

If possible, gank with another hero that can put true sight on him or identify him so he doesn't dopple walk after you have identified him.

  • Heat Seeking Missile doesn't identify the real one. It will hit anything that looks like hero and is in range, even illusions. Concussive shot as well.
    – Zikato
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 8:26
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    @Zikato keep in mind the time and date of the posted answer before you DV. I haven't played in over a year and it did work at one point. I will remove HSM from the answer. About concussive shot, the wiki says otherwise, "Concussive Shot will not target illusions, making it a powerful hero detection tool."
    – gitsitgo
    Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 14:07

The recent past has shown us time and again that a well-played phantom lancer will not lose late game, if the game is even tipped to both teams. If you manage to get the core items on PL even if the opponents got their core items, there is an extremely good chance that PL's team will win. A really good PL will never reveal his identity while pushing in the danger-zone (unprotected / far from towers / far from allies). He will just let the illusions do the job. With manta, boots and diffusal, PL is a pushing machine. If the real PL is pushing on his own with the real one, then there is good chance that it is a bait (assuming his teammates are good as well).

Now with this being said, the way to find out whether there is a real PL among a set of PLs are:

  1. WARDS : If you find out that the opponents are pushing-in on a lane, it is better to ward that lane (not too close to the tower) with both an OBS and SENTRY. I mentioned not too close to the tower because, if the opponents are just planning on pushing the lane with PL and not interested in a fights, chances are they wont come too close to the tower (assuming that your team is good). They will push with the PL and illusions until the lane creeps meet somewhere near the team. Why? because it is risky. If a blink-in batrider with dust can catch the real one and pull him into the tower, PL is as good as dead. So unless PL is fat with heart and something more, may be Assault on one of his teammates, a good sensible PL will never come close to towers while pushing in.

  2. HEROES : There are a certain heroes that go well with a illusions/huge numbers.

    • Spectre - I am not 100% certain of this, but her ultimate will create an illusion against the real PL. Please test it out.
    • EarthShaker : For his ulti, given you are 100% sure that the real PL in among the illusions. Again, a real PL will not come to you. So smoke gank or surprise attack him with blink initiations using ES with your teammates.
    • Warlock : His Fatal Bonds can be used on the illusions to find out the damage distribution. If one of the 'illusions' is taking lesser damage from fatal bonds than the others, chances are, he is the real deal.
    • Medusa : Her ULTIMATE 'used' to destroy illusions. After the recent patch, where they turn to stone gradually, i am not sure whether the illusion destroying capacity has been removed.

    Honorary mentions (Please note: I'm mentioning ways of identifying the real from illusions, not counter PL)

    • Kunkka : A well farmed Kunkka with decent damage items, can reveal the real one from the illusion thro his splash damage from Tidebringer. However, be careful to go too close to the illusions, as it can be Kunkka's death if the real one is in there.
    • Medusa (again) : same logic as Kunkka's. Use her Split Shots from a distance if you have good damage output. Also, her first ability bounces off 7 targets. This can be used as well.
    • Gyrocopter : Flak em from a distance (flak has a range of 1000). See the damage taken. Use above logic.
    • KOTL : Illuminate.
    • Any spammable AOE nuke : Tiny's Toss (and/or avalanche), Pugna's blast, Alchemist's ACID, Invoker's meteor, Puck's Orb, Zeus's Chain lightening, Timbersaw's Chakra, Super-farmed BKB Sven's cleave (if crits reach over 1000, Sven with BKB is actually a very good counter to PL), Farmed up Axe, blink-in->Call->BladeMail (note that this will fail however farmed the Axe be, if performed late game against a farmed PL), and many more.

Now while we are at it, here are some ways to counter PL:

  1. Ganks, ganks and ganks : PL will always be in the safe lane, if the opponents want a safe late game. In that case, there will be baby-sitting, creep-pulling involved. To gank you will have to tower dive 70% of the time. Make sure to burst him down, since you will be low in levels and cant tank the tower hits. Better to go in with the creeps, carry dust, atleast one slow/disable. If there are no creeps to tank the tower hits, make sure the tankiest of you all go in.
  2. Push lanes. HARD : ALmost all the time, there is no chance you can win against a late game PL. In case there is a PL in the opponents, the aim should be finish the game as soon as possible. Push and get rid of the towers, ward for vision wherever necessary. The point is to make PL farming time as miserable as possible. Include a gank on PL here and there, and you should be golden.
  3. Have heavy nukers for early game ganks : A gank against PL should NOT go wrong. Instead of slowing his farm(money), if you provide him more, the time to say GG will be lessened. There is a reason he is called Phantom Cancer, TimeBomb, etc.

Hope this helps. Cheers!

  • Lion and other heroes with spells that instantly kill illusions (Mana Drain in this case) are useful when he does his Doppelganger juke, because those illusions are more potent than the others (namely the one that takes 100% damage). Commented Jul 16, 2015 at 21:17

Ursa can identify the real one too. Go hit him before he doppel, then you will find that there is a mark on the real one head, which is ursa third skill.

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    There's a few other heroes with long-duration, low-cost status effects that are great for tracking the real one such as Slardar and Bounty Hunter, both who can track PL with true sight.
    – wyqydsyq
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 1:01

Another useful tip to spot a PL in an army of Illusions: Use Veil of Discord. It puts a non purgable debuff on him that makes the real Phantom Lancer look purple. Veil of discord is not purged by even Doppelganger.


Phantom lancer is a fantastic hero who will destroy your entire team late game. Here are some ways to detect him. I have over 100 games played as pl

Look for any pl that is being microed particularly well. This will be hard to do but the illusions will take the route that is shortest while pl actually is harder to controll due to the block with the illusions. Not sure about phantom rush though due to the phase caused by that. As said above look for damage and health output, as well as placement of the spirit lance. Regarding Doppler ganger look for the illusion he micros first after he comes out. A good pl will micro them all in other directions.

Once pl gets a diffusual blade he will hunger for blood. Try and go in groups of two to gank him. but if you really want to know how to detect him play the hero maybe ten matches. Lookup a few builds and really get a feel for the character.


You also can spot it by using Bristleback, the 2nd skill of bristleback will stick only on the real phantom lancer.


lich with an aghanim's scepter can find the real PL.His ulti will bounce infinily between the illutions and one with more life is the real one...


By far the easiest way to notice the real one is that he gets hurt slower. If you notice three of them get hurt down to 30% health quickly while one only goes down to 60%, the one that isn't hurt as much is probably not an illusion. If you put out some AoE damage, you'll see the real one pretty quickly.

Another way is that he will often move separately from the illusions. If a bunch of Lancers are charging your tower while one's hanging out back, that's probably the real one. However, sometimes that could be a decoy or a forgotten illusion from Spirit Walk or something.

There are probably a few more minor ways, but I'm not really aware of them. They're probably too subtle or time-consuming to notice quick enough to matter anyway. Remaining mana might be a clue. I'm not sure if that decreases on illusions with abilities. Also activated items might be a tip-off, but I'm not sure if the enemy team can see those, so don't bet on that.

Another thing to note is that good Phantom Lancer players will not show themselves that often. The best counter to Phantom Lancer is wards and/or dust.

  • 1
    Not sure why this was downvoted... It's still the most common way for me to drill-in on him. Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 3:49

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