There are a total of 8 Phantasm skills linked to mesmer weapons (Greatsword, Staff, Sword Offhand, Torch, Pistol, Focus, Trident and Spear) with a further two Phantasms available from utility skills (Phantasmal Defender and Phantasmal Disenchanter).
Each Phantasm has its own role to play but they all tend to come down to one thing: dealing damage and lots of it. Like Illusions, Phantasms are temporary summons that only last as long as your target is alive or until they are killed. Phantasms can be easily identified by the fact they are a transparent and pink in colour and tend to have a unique appearance based on their role. For example, the Illusionary Duellist wields twin pistols. Just like Illusions however, Phantasms have very little health and can be killed incredibly quickly. Ensuring you use them at the right moment is key to maximising their damage.
It should be noted that Phantasms and Illusions should not be seen as a permanent fixture of the mesmers playstyle. Treating them as a damage skill, rather than the view point of some as temporary pets is a much better way to handle their death and often inability to attack more than once before they are killed.
In this guide I’ve detailed what Phantasms do what and why I prefer some over others.
Greatsword – Phantasmal Berserker
Out of all the Phantasms, the Berserker is probably my favourite. Not only does it deal large damage (though a little less than the Warlock) it also provides good area of effect damage and will cripple its targets. What really makes the Phantasm shine is the fact that it will appear right next to your target the moment it is cast, regardless of their elevation. As long as you are in range and can see them, the Phantasm will appear next to them, meaning for those who think they can escape, they really can’t. If you prefer an aggressive play style the greatsword and its Phantasm really is the weapon of choice.
Staff – Phantasmal Warlock
The highest damage dealing Phantasm in a mesmers arsenal, the Warlock really does hurt. With a cool down of only 18 seconds by default and as a ranged attack, the skill is formidable in dealing high damage quickly. What makes the Phantasm interesting is that it deals more damage based on each unique condition on the target. Each unique condition on the target provides a 10% damage buff and with a total of 11 conditions in the game, the damage potential is enormous if you pair with a condition heavy player. It isn’t uncommon to see the Warlock dealing damage in excess of 8,000 with the right build and condition stacks.
With that in mind, you might wonder why I consider the Phantasmal Warlock a more “offensive” Phantasm considering it deals less damage. The simple answer is that the Berserker appears next to the target where as the Warlock appears next to you and fires a relatively slow projectile, one that can be avoided simply by moving out of its range.
Sword Offhand – Phantasmal Swordsman
If you had asked me several months ago whether or not I thought that the Sword Offhand was worth using, I would have said no. Compared to the pistol, it doesn’t seem a particularly viable choice. However, I have come to love and favour a Sword/Sword play style over Sword/Pistol. The Phantasmal Swordsman is great for several reasons, the first being that it actually acts as a Leap Combo, meaning when you use the skill you too gain such Combo benefits if in the right Field. The Swordsman also deals considerable damage (in excess of 5,500 with the right builds) while also being capable of avoiding damage because it leaps in and out of combat. The fact you can also have its cool down to as little as 9 seconds makes it formidable.
Focus - Phantasmal Warden
As the only Phantasm that acts as an area of effect Whirl Finisher, the Warden presents some really interesting play styles and opportunities. I will warn, it definitely doesn’t suit everyone’s play style as it doesn’t move once it has been cast and it can be easily avoided. However, the fact that it deflects all incoming attacks and is capable of dealing large amounts of damage to those around it make it useful in various encounters, especially on point capture maps or in a PvE environment. The fact the Warden doesn’t move makes it one of the more difficult Phantasms to be effective with, as you really have to time its use to perfection. Thankfully there are various things you can do to avoid this, such as using Signet of Domination to stun people in place, or using Into the Void to pull them to the Phantasm. The Warden can also be incredibly useful in WvW if you place it on a bridge between opposing forces, as its AOE protection has no player limit. Of all the Phantasms, it also really benefits from the trait Phantasmal Haste, which sees its skill cooldown reduced from 14 seconds to 6.6.
Pistol – Phantasmal Duelist
The bread and butter of most mesmer builds, the Phantasmal Duelist is absolutely fantastic. Dealing huge damage from afar it avoids most damage sources because of it and is capable of ripping through players incredibly quickly. The fact it is also a Projectile Finisher makes it incredibly useful with Time Warp as it can very quickly stack confusion. As it only has a 15 second cooldown, like the Swordsman, this too can be reduced to as little as 9 seconds. The main difference between the Duelist and Swordsman is the time between attacks, with the Duelist attacking every 7.6 seconds and the Swordsman every 4.7. As a result it’s a close call which to choose based purely on playstyle and the accompanying skills for pistol: Magic Bullet or Illusionary Riposte for sword offhand. I really enjoy Illusionary Riposte as it deals a large amount of damage while still allowing me to daze my target which I feel just tips it over the edge.
Torch – Phantasmal Mage
I still consider the Mage the worst of all the Phantasms. As good as retaliation can be, it lasts for very little time with the Mage and the confusion stacks are very low although its duration is 9 seconds. As the only Phantasm that truly benefits from condition damage (the Warlock works amazingly well with 0 condition damage) it compliments excellently with the use of Scepter. I will add that as retaliation stands, it can be a very powerful boon and works wonders with the trait, Confusing Cry. I'm still hoping that the Mage receives a bit of a buff as there's a reason you never see any torch mesmers; it just isn't very good.
Spear - Illusionary Mariner
The Illusionary Mariner is one of two underwater Phantasms, the second being on the Trident. As there are only two weapon sets underwater, it's highly likely that you'll use this Phantasm on a regular basis. Whether or not it is your favourite out of the two depends entirely on whether you prefer a ranged or melee based playstyle. The Mariner deals a series of attacks incredibly quickly (8 times in total) while also evading your target, making it incredibly powerful. With a 10.4 second duration between attacks however, you'll be fortunate to see it attack more than once before it is killed. Out of both the Mariner or Whaler, I much prefer the former simply because of its attack animation and raw damage.
Trident - Illusionary Whaler
Incredibly similar to the Duellist, the Whaler fires a series of harpoons at the target across 4 hits, that also cause bleeding. Similarly to the Mariner, the duration between attacks is quite long by default at 12.8 seconds, however this can be reduced to around 10.8 seconds with Phantasmal Haste. I'd recommend in most fights that you open with the Whaler before swapping to the Mariner for a quick flurry of damage. What I do like about the Whaler is its bleed stacks which work really well Sharper Images.
Utility Skill - Phantasmal Defender
I'm undecided as to whether or not I like the Defender. On paper, no one could deny it sounds excellent. In reality, I've struggled to make it work. The fact that it causes a buff to all party members around it (Illusion of Defense) that redirects half of all incoming damage can be incredibly useful. What I dislike the most however is the fact that its cast time is incredibly long (around 4 seconds) while it dies incredibly easily as a result of running into the thick of action. What I would like to see is the Defender simply stand next to the mesmer and attack anyone who comes near so that suicidal tendencies are removed and you actually stand a chance of utilising its damage mitigation buff. With such a lengthy cast time, it also makes the skill impractical in the heat of battle as you'll undoubtedly receive a huge amount before it even comes into play. Would I take this over other utility skills? Never in its current form, though I have used it in some PvE boss encounters but even then, I wouldn't recommend it.
Utility Skill - Phantasmal Disenchanter
Like the Defender, I've rarely found a viable use for the Disenchanter. Having attempted to utilise it in tournament PvP as well as PvE, I just consider there are much better alternatives. Admittedly if you manage to have 3 Disenchanters active on a boss, it can be useful for boon stripping. Unfortunately if you have only one active, removing a boon or condition every 4.5 seconds is a small drop in the ocean when they can be reapplied instantly. In the face of tough competition from skills such as Null Field or Arcane Thievery I'm not sure there is currently much value in taking the Disenchanter with you. Here's hoping ArenaNet give it a little love.