Multiple changes to phase have long rendered this strategy obselete and entirely untenable. I am leaving this blog in place as a monument to what once was, like the Argonath on the River Anduin.
"Things change. And friends leave. Life doesn't stop for anybody." - Stephen Chbosky
The PvP meta environment is an ever-changing landscape of tricks and twists, something akin to the moving staircases at Hogwarts Scool of Witchcraft and Wizardry: you may think you're headed in one direction only to discover that forces beyond your control deposit you somewhere entirely different. The latest door we stand before is the confluence of two spec ops items: the Hoarfrost Mace and the Sinister Scepter.
The mace is the third item in the game that grants the agent a passive protect ability, following The Knight and Blade of the Guardian, but is the first available without gold cost. The fact that is saves the agent from death and buffs the team is only icing on a very rich cake, as the protect trait alone makes it worth using.
The scepter is a magic weapon that deals damage, applies Bane, and turns the agent astral, making him very hard to hit indeed. This is the equivalent of giving the agent Kitty Pryde's phasing ability, which is useful but hardly game-changing by itself. Add the protect action of the mace, however, and all of a sudden the agent is jumping in front of every attack and dodging all damage and debuffs.
A third item has compunded the effectiveness of such an agent setup, and that is the Nanite Inductive Nailgun. Since the agent is already the target of single-target attacks via the mace, this little beauty launches a counteroffensive against attackers and puts up a handy little shield. With just the scepter and mace the agent needs a turn to get going; with the addition of the nailgun, the combo works even if the agent gets unlucky an goes last.
"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win." - Sun Tzu
So how do we fight such an opponent? First we need to understand the different mechanics behind this arrangement and what works around them.
(effect) Protect - We begin with the first influence in this arrangement, the passive protect action. This action redirects single-target attacks to the agent. But protect is hardly foolproof. Effects that bypass protect actions include psychic/psychic energy attacks, stealthy trickery, ground attacks, and catastrophic effects. Stun attacks are still intercepted by protect actions, but they prevent any further redirection until the stun is removed. There is also no agent protect item that can redirect an AoE (area of effect) attack, so if all else fails, attack everyone instead of going one at a time.
Astral Form - The effect from the scepter is probably the trickiest part of this whole setup, and there are fewer options against this than the other effects. The astral effect lasts for three rounds unless the agent attacks, at which point the phase is broken. Once the phase is broken, the agent gets the recently phased debuff and cannot phase again for two rounds. During those two rounds the agent is vulnerable and you will want to finish them within that time frame, if possible. Psychic/psychic energy attacks do not care if the target is phased. Ethereal attacks still land, and Heavy Sai, for some reason, works perfectly fine against phase.
Counterattack - Most players should be familiar with counterattacks by now. In mission 1.2, Whiplash uses counterattacks regularly, and if you're reading this I expect you to be well past mission 1.2. Methods of dealing with counterattacks include the now-familiar Attack psychic/ psychic energy attacks, stealthy, stun, off-balance, and my preferred method of preventing counterattacks, death.
Shield - This is probably the least concerning of the different game effects that converge in this strategy, because if all else fails you can just blast right through it with regular damage. Even so, if you find those damage-eating spheres vexing, try psychic and psychic energy again, attacks that ignore defense, or best of all, Exploits Shields .
"Well I may not be the best lookin' but I'm the right tool for the job." - David Lee Roth
So, with those in mind, who best overcomes the astral agent setup?
Emma has long been a staple in PvP because her skillset is so versatile and effective, including against setups like this one. With two psychic attacks and a stun in her arsenal, Emma seems tailor-made to overcome the astral/protect/counterattack/shield, because none of it means a thing to her. She remains a first-rate choice.
Phoenix was buffed in between when I started writing this and when I got to the point to add her, so she may have even more infleunce on this that I am aware. Consider this box a work in progress until I find out more about her updated skillset. But even prior to just now, Phoenix - like Emma - has two psychic attacks and a stun, so nothing in the astral agent setup bothers her in the least. If you have her Phoenix Five suit, it will sometimes grant allies the ability to hit astral targets as well.
Tac BW in the grey pajamas is always stealthy so the protect action and counterattacks have no influence over her. Her kick also removes shields. Though she doesn't have an answer for the astral form, she can still attack around the agent until the astral effect wears off. Her counterattacks will also eat away any any of the agent's allies who try to go on the offensive.
Like Grey Widow, Quicksilver goes stealty quite often. He also goes first, so he can get a small truckload of little hits on an enemy agent prior to any phase. He also has an AoE stun at his disposal, meaning three of his 4 attacks bypass protect. Add the preemptive punch of his blue suit, which can land before the sceptre goes off, and you have a selection of different skills that work against the astral agent.
Psychic energy (her L9) is really all you need for the subject at hand, but telepathic coordination, preemptive attacks, and defensive tricks make her more than just her psychic knives.