Why I’m still holding on to my Phantom Blade in World of Warcraft twenty years later

The coolest sword I’ve ever obtained in a video game is the Phantom Blade World of Warcraft. In fact, it’s so cool to me that I’ve never parted with it. It’s still sitting in my original character’s bank vault some 19 years after I first got it – even though its stats have been squashed to almost nothing by the multiple mathematical resets the venerable online game has had over the years , and even though that character is now well past the point where the sword would be useful.

What makes the Phantom Blade cool? It’s not a special weapon, even if it’s not bad. It’s not some legendary boss you earn through the blood, sweat and tantrums of a raid party. It’s not even Epic – just a plain blue Rare. It doesn’t hold a special place in Warcraft lore, it’s not Ashbringer or Frostmourne. It’s just… a sword. But to me it’s not just any sword.

In 2005 – or now, if you play on Blizzard’s Classic servers that (more or less) replicate the game as it was then – the Phantom Blade was a decent, crafted weapon for mid- to high-level characters, but certainly not endgame gear. It could be used starting at level 44 (the limit then was 60), at which point it was quite useful and would remain competitive until probably the early 1950s.

Look, there it is on my couch!
Image: Blizzard Entertainment via Polygon

Its damage stats are okay, and it has a handy “proc” (a chance to activate an effect on a hit): it reduces the target’s armor for 20 seconds and prevents the target from entering stealth or turning invisible for that time. This made it a coveted weapon Wow‘s player-versus-player community for dealing with annoying Rogue players (and was thus hated by Rogues). The thing is, I never played PvP.

My original Wow character was a warrior. I didn’t really want to play Warrior; I fancied being a fighter or a druid, but when I joined the game, my friends’ guild had already had enough and was short of tanks, so it was assumed I had to be a warrior. I didn’t go into it – I’m terrible at tanking, and when it comes to playing a role that does damage, Wow has other classes that I prefer. I eventually moved on to a Hunter lead role, but that Warrior still has a special place in my heart. In my mind, he has an endearing, good-natured ineptitude about him, and the adventures we had exploring Blizzard’s extraordinary creation together are unforgettable. Anyway, while not a specifically great weapon for Warriors, the Phantom Blade’s armor de-buffering was quite useful while tanking.

But that wasn’t why I coveted it. No, I wanted a Phantom Blade for two very superficial reasons. One: True to its name, it’s a ghostly sword with a curved, translucent blade that gives off a soft, bluish glow. It seems sick. Two: unlike almost every other one-handed weapon in the game, the Phantom Blade is seen at rest on the character’s back, rather than off to the side as if hanging from the belt. For a tanking warrior, this means carrying it diagonally under a shield. This looks unique – and sick as hell.

Man, I wanted a Phantom Blade so bad. Have you ever gotten like this, where you crave a virtual item with an intense, almost painful hunger, just like you might crave something in real life? That’s how much I wanted a Phantom Blade.

A troll character holds a sickly looking ghostly sword in World of Warcraft.  Next to him is a cute mechanical squirrel.

Cool sword. Even cooler robot squirrel.
Image: Blizzard Entertainment via Polygon

The only way to get a Phantom Blade is to have a character with the blacksmith profession craft one. I couldn’t afford the prices it was asking at the auction house, and my Warrior character was an engineer, so I needed our guildsmith to make it for me. These things weren’t that easy or cheap to make; you needed mithril And real silver bars, several aquamarine gems, some rare Breath of Wind drops, plus two lesser invisibility potions, which meant an alchemist had to get involved too.

As I remember it, I mined the raw metals myself, but my guildmates collected the rest as a gift to me. Maybe they knew I wasn’t really enjoying the fueling they had me do and made up for it. Maybe they were just being nice. We did things like that for each other, in those days before each Wow expansion became a ruthlessly optimized race to the finish. One reason why my Warrior engineer leveled slowly and wasn’t a very good Warrior is that I set the goal of making a completely pointless mechanical squirrel pet for every member of the guild. This lasted agesand it was a lot of work, but also quite possibly the most fun I’ve ever had playing Wow.

That’s why I’m still holding on to my Phantom Blade. My friends made it for me, and it reminds me of them – and of a time when this incredible game was an all-consuming engine of wonder that we could discover together.

It also looks really damn cool.