A backstab is a context-sensitive attack that a Spy can perform with any of his melee weapons. When a Spy uses any one of his knives to hit an enemy from behind, a successful backstab is performed, resulting in an instant kill in almost all cases, with the exception of invincibility granting effects such as ÜberCharge or the Bonk! Atomic Punch.
Should a Spy perform a melee attack that connects with an enemy while he is behind said enemy, a backstab will occur. Backstabs deal damage equal to 200% of the target's current health and are also always critical hits, resulting in a total damage of six times the victim's current health; while the critical damage can be negated, this does not stop the stab from being lethal unless the target has significant additional protection.
A backstab will trigger as long as the Spy is anywhere within a 180° angle behind the enemy, utilizing the enemy's current aiming direction as straight forwards. To indicate that a Spy is within the required range and angle to perform a backstab, he will raise his knife and turn it downward, primed for a kill. The knife will remain in this position until the target is no longer in reach, or the Spy attempts a backstab by attacking. The knife turns downward even if positioned behind a cloaked or disguised enemy Spy. As the Spy's melee weapons do not have a delay between the swing being initiated and the damage being dealt, as long as the knife is pointed downward, the Spy simply needs to attack for an instant kill to occur.
Like normal melee attacks, backstabs can be performed while disguised, though the Spy proceeds to lose his disguise whether the attack connects or not. Backstabs are nothing more than pure damage, and so cannot injure or kill invulnerable players. Buildings and Halloween bosses cannot be backstabbed.
Robots in Mann vs. Machine can be backstabbed just as normal players. In addition to this, if a robot is sapped, it can be backstabbed from any direction, not just from behind. However, giant robots operate much differently. Backstabbing a giant has a base damage of 750, but this is reduced to 25% of that (188) by default; each armor penetration upgrade restores 25% of the base damage, up to 125% of the base (938). Spies must therefore upgrade their knife in order to have a chance at taking out giant robots.
Various weapons affect backstabs in some fashion:
- Backstabbing with Your Eternal Reward or the Wanga Prick causes silent death. The victim will not scream, their body will vanish, and no killfeed notification is given to the victim's teammates. The attacking Spy will disguise as the fallen enemy almost instantly.
- Backstabbing with the Conniver's Kunai will take the victim's remaining health and give it to the Spy, up to a maximum of 210. This is offset by a lowered base health.
- Backstabbing with the Big Earner will fill the Spy's Cloak meter by 30%, regardless of which cloaking device is equipped. A backstab with this weapon will also give the Spy a 3 second speed boost.
- Backstabbing with the Spy-cicle will turn enemy ragdolls into an ice statue, which also creates a loud freezing/cracking noise.
- Attempting to backstab a Sniper wearking the Razorback will result in the backstab being blocked, in addition to preventing the Spy from attacking, cloaking, or switching weapons for 2 seconds afterward. Thus, the Razorback makes Snipers less prone to backstabs and encourages Spies to use their selected revolver instead.
- Stab-and-Sap: Stab a (turtling) Engineer, before switching to your Sapper and sapping the Engineer’s Sentry Gun; this must be done fast enough that the Sentry Gun doesn't have time to turn around and kill you. An experienced Spy may track the Sentry Gun's turning direction and move against it after he stabs (as it will follow him, this will buy him more time). Using Your Eternal Reward can be useful in this approach, as you instantly disguise upon a successful backstab, preventing the Sentry Gun from detecting you and retaliating; a Spy without a prior disguise must rely on cover to avoid the Sentry Gun's attention, as the Sentry will not be fooled by your instant disguise once it has already begun firing. This tactic is slightly easier on Engineers using the Wrangler, because the Sentry Gun is disabled for three seconds after the Engineer's death.
- Sap-and-stab: Sap an Engineer's unattended building as bait, hide, then stab him when he returns to remove the Sapper.
- Overhead stab or Stairstab: Stand at the top of a set of stairs, ramp, prop, or any slight elevation (Teleporters work fine, but are harder), facing down at an enemy approaching you. Run forward and crouch-jump, releasing forward while turning in mid-air to stab them in the back. This technique can be difficult to master, but it is also difficult to protect against, as the enemy has to turn almost completely around to avoid it. The amount of time spent crouching is critical for this trick; the stab will not register without crouching.
- More experienced players will either avoid climbing, moving towards you, or even backing out of range when they see a Spy at the top of the stairs or ramp. Instead of advertising your intent, you can perform the stab without having to wait at the top. While retreating up the stairs, jump up and hold back. Most players will continue to run forward, passing underneath you. Backstab them as you land.
- There are multiple ways to counter this, and both are for advanced Spies. One is to perform a Blind stab where you duck out of sight before making the stab, which could be a Drop stab. Strafing is sometimes necessary, but the difficult part is predicting your target's actions. Another way is to perform a "Reverse" Stairstab, where you run forward to just large enough of a height advantage, crouch jump backwards and go forward to stop your jump just above your target's head before backstabbing them. Both generally work since even top players won't suspect you.
- Some Spies may prefer to execute this stab by landing on top of the enemy's head instead of directly behind them. To do this, you will have to stop yourself in the air to avoid sliding off the player's head by using the opposite strafe key than the direction you are going. You can then stab while crouched on top of the other players head. The benefits of doing it this way is that it can be executed a lot faster, so the other player has less time to react, you have more time to stab, and even if the player turns completely around, you can still use your strafe keys to position yourself into their backstab hitbox and get the stab.
- Quickstab: While an enemy is running towards you, let them run past you before spinning and stabbing their retreating back. This is one of the only reliable methods of backstabbing Scouts or any enemy that buys your disguise.
- The Corner Stab: This is an advanced Spy technique. The technique involves luring an enemy to a corner, then immediately backing out and stabbing the enemy as he turns in the way you did. Note that this can sometimes only work once or twice on an enemy, and is best used on pursuits with Scouts or Pyros.
- The Topstab: Sometimes Engineers will place their Sentry Gun and Dispenser in a fashion that allows the Engineer to have his back to a corner, making him seemingly protected from backstabs. It is possible to jump on this Engineer's head via climbing from his Dispenser or Sentry Gun while positioning yourself over the Engineer (facing the same direction as him) around his back until you get the "Knife-raised" animation, allowing you to score a backstab with a click.
- The Leap Stab (or Drop Stab or Eagle Stab): This is similar to overhead stabs, but instead it focuses on striking enemies from a significant height (usually from ground above the opponent - bridges, roofs, ledges) and is best used with either the Cloak and Dagger or Dead Ringer. Cloak on a bridge/high place (or hide if you're using Dead Ringer) and as the enemy passes beneath the spot, jump after them and stab them in the back. Doing the stab itself is easier with the Cloak and Dagger, but getting away is easier with the Dead Ringer (especially against multiple opponents). The enemy will have no idea where you came from, as they usually do not check the skies.
- Attempting to leap stab the same opponent at the exact same spot twice could be a bad idea (doing it again elsewhere is more secure, though he might be paranoid) - this tactic may be best used while the enemy is distracted, as they will not notice you jumping on them.
- The Matador stab: This is an advanced Spy technique and a difficult one to master. To perform it, you must be facing a single enemy, who is facing you. Either run towards him or let him approach you, then, just before he is in melee reach, strafe in one direction (left or right) for a split second, before quickly changing direction and strafing to the opposite side. This will reveal the enemy's back for a very short moment as he follows your first strafe, and you should stab him promptly during this brief gap. This is useful for those players that dismiss Spies and try to melee them, such as some Scout players. Should this technique fail, and you miss the stab, you will be extremely vulnerable in close-range and will almost certainly die, but when performed correctly, this technique enables you to stab an enemy in a potentially fatal situation. Great for Dead Ringer Spies. Not recommended to try this on Pyros; the technique might still work, but unless the Pyro wants to melee you, you will probably be set alight and dealt a fair share of damage. Once you get more confident with this stab, it becomes perfect for Pyros who try and come at you with their Axtinguisher. One quick side-step and you should have them.
- The Understab: This backstabbing technique involves hitting an enemy with the knife in a second that you are under them. It is typically used on pursuers of the Spy when the victim is falling from a height and the Spy can abuse this to strafe under the victim using the horizontal arrow keys and stab them for the brief moment the victim is exposed. The technique sometimes involves standing still before strafing to confuse an enemy and thereby generally forcing them to move in a predictible pattern and allow for an opportunity to get under the victim as they fall. The Understab is also known for being a risky counter to the above mentioned Overhead/Stairstab as the player is turning. The understab can also be used on unaware enemies in areas such as spawns where players drop from a height or other common paths that have drops that the Spy can use.
- The Strafe-and-Snap: This is a highly advanced backstab technique. This stab is similar to a matador stab, but instead of strafing back to the player, you strafe away. To execute this stab, run at the enemy, but just before you reach them, release the forward key, then as fast as you can, snap your view towards the player at the same time as strafing the opposite direction while clicking. This stab takes a lot of practice to master, but once you get it down, it can prove extremely useful for tight situations.
- Counter to Counter: Invented by CulRulDud, this stab revolves around the players who know how to avoid the Cornerstab, by making their "Counter techniques" turn against them. There are 2 versions, the one where the enemy backs off when you go for the cornerstab and the one where the enemy keeps going, but tries to take the corner wider than you. In the first version, when the enemy backs off, you'll take the inner corner and keep going onto him, strafing at him and aiming at his back until you can get the backstab. In the second version, when the enemy's about to go around you, you back off, he'll turn around to aim at you and you'll be behind him since you backed off when he was going around you, backstab at that moment. In both versions, if you stab too early you'll miss the stab and probably not be able to get it again unless you re-do the stab.
- Frog stab: This is a highly advanced backstab, following the same basic maneuvers as a stairstab, but instead involves jumping off the head of an enemy player to backstab another. You can propel yourself even further by doing a c-tap jump off of the enemies head, this will go further based on the enemies missing health. This requires a lot of practice, and good timing, but can be used to travel from one victim, to another very quickly.
- Reverse Matador: This is very similar to the matador stab (see above) but you will have your back turned to the target. To execute this, have an enemy chase you, turn around and strafe one direction, and once you think he is fairly close to you, strafe a circle the other direction until you see the targets side, then stab. This technique works well on Pyros, Scouts, and any fast class trying to melee you.
- Due to an in-game glitch, a stab that has appeared to have occurred from the front can sometimes be rendered as a backstab. Known more commonly as a facestab, these kills are now mostly the result of lag compensation by the game engine itself. Prior to many game patches, facestabs were more common due to bugs in the way the game detects a backstab. Facestabs take two forms: the "valid" stab and the "true" facestab. Most of what the recipient sees as a facestab is usually either a cornerstab or a sidestab, where on the Spy's screen, he sees it as attacking the target's back, but due to lag, the target sees the Spy attacking from the front. A valid facestab works as intended by the developers, making correct use of lag compensation. In a true facestab, the Spy appears to be attacking an enemy from the front on both players' screens, but lag compensation results in it being registered as a backstab. This is considered a bug. You can also perform a facestab when you are running directly at an enemy, while the enemy is running back on himself, this is because the hit-box of a player lags behind a little bit while moving back.
- Another community-coined term is the failstab, which refers to a backstab which should have succeeded but instead did only normal Knife damage, despite the backstab animation playing fully and the Knife connecting. These stabs are almost always linked to the latency conditions between the server and the player.
- Rarely, during taunts, the player's 'back' changes position; it becomes directly behind the player's 3rd-person camera, which means that players can avoid backstabs by moving the camera away from the Spy. This generally occurs by accident; for example, when you position the camera in front of you to watch the taunt yourself, making your back into your front. Facestabs can also rarely occur this way.
- The angle required for a backstab is based on the direction the victim is looking; however, all players have models whose normal stance has their backs rotated to the left slightly, due to the way they carry their respective weapons (this is most prominent with Heavies). This means that at certain angles you appear to be stabbing your target in the back, when in fact you are not inside the 180 degree angle for backstabs. Equally, there are valid backstab positions which appear to have you stabbing slightly into the front of your victim. These hit-box positions can be determined by the shoulders of the character models.
|| War Crime Spybunal|
Kill a Spy who just backstabbed a teammate.
|| Shock Treatment|
Kill a Spy whose backstab attempt was blocked by your Razorback.
|| Consolation Prize|
Get backstabbed 50 times.
|| Agent Provocateur|
Backstab your Steam Community friends 10 times.
|| High Value Target|
Backstab an enemy who is dominating 3 or more of your teammates.
Backstab 1000 enemies.
Backstab 3 Snipers in a single life.
|| Come in From the Cold|
Get a Revenge kill with a backstab.
|| FYI I am a Spy|
Backstab a Medic who has healed you in the last 5 seconds.
|| Identity Theft|
Backstab the enemy that you're currently disguised as.
|| May I Cut In?|
Backstab an enemy and the Medic healing him within 10 seconds of each other.
|| Slash and Burn|
Backstab an enemy, who then switches to Pyro before they respawn.
|| You Only Shiv Thrice|
Backstab 3 enemies within 10 seconds.
October 25, 2007 Patch
- Fixed a Spy backstab exploit where you could stab a player who was not facing away from you.
February 19, 2008 Patch
- Fixed a case where a Spy stabbing from the front of a player would score a backstab.
March 1, 2008 Patch (Xbox)
- Fixed Spy backstab exploit.
February 24, 2009 Patch (Scout Update)
- Changed backstab handling to fix facestabs.
- [Undocumented] Reduced stab radius to 160 degrees. Removed quickbackstabs and thus reduced the Spy's backstab range (Has since been reverted). Made backstabs quicker.
March 5, 2009 Patch
- Increased backstab check so that Spies can side-stab again.
May 21, 2009 Patch (Sniper vs. Spy Update)
- The Heavy and Sniper now have new custom death animations.
June 8, 2009 Patch
- Added a backstab custom death animation to the Heavy.
- Fixed a couple of cases where viable backstabs would fail.
August 13, 2009 Patch (Classless Update)
- Cloaked Spies standing in valid backstab positions no longer raise their Knife.
December 17, 2009 Patch (WAR! Update)
- Added more backstab animations.
January 13, 2010 Patch
- Added backstab death animations for Scout, Spy, Medic, Demoman, Engineer, and Pyro. All death animations have a 25% chance to play.
October 18, 2011 Patch
- Fixed a glitch where the Spy would take fall damage after backstabbing someone while standing on top of him.
October 30, 2014 Patch
- Fixed the knife not playing its backstab animation when crits are disabled.
- When a player for the opposing team is standing on top of the Spy, the Spy can always perform a successful backstab regardless as to whether or not the Spy's aim falls within the regular backstab radius.
- Occasionally, when swiping at an enemy, the Spy will do the backstab animation, even if it wasn't a backstab.
- Originally, the Spy's backstab animation was just over a second long and manifested as the current animation, but was slowed down. This was changed to the current, sped up version used today in the interests of balance. Before this change, skilled Spies would "quick-stab". This involved staying out of backstab range of the victim, and then swinging the Knife just before entering backstab range, thereby bypassing the backstab animation but still rewarding an instant kill.
- Killing a player with a backstab will sometimes cause a special backstab death animation. This animation has a 25% chance of occurring, and varies from class to class. The Sniper performs this animation and sound during Meet the Spy.
- The Sniper's backstab animation was first seen in Trailer 2 before any backstab animations were integrated into the game.
- Despite dealing no damage, backstabbing an enemy who cannot be killed (Scout under the effects of Bonk! Atomic Punch or Übercharged enemies) deals a great amount of knockback that can easily be used to push the enemy into environmental hazards, such as off the side of DeGroot Keep, causing them to die while being invincible.