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 wearing 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.
Fundamental Backstabbing/ Sapping Techniques
- 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), this set of movement is also known as circle-strafing. Using Your Eternal Reward can make the approach easier, 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.
- The Topstab: Sometimes paranoid 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.
- 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.
- Sidestab: As the name suggests, a side stab is accomplished by stabbing the back of an enemy from the side.
- Trickstabs are a form of backstabbing techniques that revolve around manipulating the enemy into turning or looking into a certain direction that leaves their backs vulnerable to a backstab. These take advantage of the 180 degree backstab radius of the hitbox, allowing the Spy perform these stabs with relative ease. Trickstabs are a powerful tool in a Spy's arsenal should they be mastered but should be very situational otherwise. It is not recommended to overuse such techniques in the attempt to flaunt one's fancy footwork or supposed "skills"; rather, trickstabs are an escape tool that aid the Spy in more desperate situations where retreating is not an option. They should thus be used as a mere last resort aside from the Revolver.
- Overhead Stabs: Pioneered by SubtleArt, these stabs make use of a relative height advantage in which the Spy can exploit against enemies in pursuit. Timing and prediction is key in ensuring the success of these stabs as a slight misalignment will result in the failure to execute such stabs. Enemy manipulation can also play a part, if they think you are just retreating and become confident in their pursuit, they will most certainly fall for such stabs.
- The Basic 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 as the stab will not register without crouching. 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.
- 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 ramps, rendering the stab obsolete. Other players may also just simply turn around to avoid the stab.
- The Reverse Stairstab: 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. This generally works since even experienced players won't suspect your intent until it is too late.
- The Blind Stairstab: Duck out of sight before making the stairstab, which could be a Drop stab. It can be done mostly around corners with inclines where the target is aware of a possible Cornerstab but does not suspect a Stairstab, leaving them vulnerable to the latter. Strafing(Air Strafing) is sometimes necessary, but the difficult part is predicting your target's actions.
- The Ghost Stab: This set of movements is used to counter players who turn around in an attempt to avoid the stab. Fake a basic stairstab by doing the similar set of movement without turning mid-air, and then backpedal slightly while still facing the same direction. The enemy will turn around as usual expecting a failed stairstab, exposing their backs for an open opportunity to backstab.
- The 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.
- The Leap Stab (or Drop Stab or Eagle Stab): This is similar to stair stabs, but instead it focuses on striking enemies from a much more 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. This relies heavily on timing and prediction of enemy movement.
- 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.
- Understabs: These stabs are often used against players with a height advantage. Due to the varied nature of enemy movements, there is no fixed set of movements required for executing an Understab; it can just be a normal matador stab (see below) albeit at lower ground. Strafe accordingly depending on the enemy's movement. Understabs also directly counter stairstabs.
- Strafe Stabs: These stabs make use of Strafing and are considerably easier to execute with a simpler set of movements as opposed to Stairstabs. Understanding enemy movement and habits are even more crucial to ensure a successful stab, although timing and prediction still plays a role as well.
- The Corner Stab: This is an advanced Spy technique. The technique involves luring an enemy to a corner, then immediately doubling back and stabbing the enemy as he turns in the way you did. These stabs are performed mostly using right and left strafe keys. Note that this can sometimes only work once or twice on an enemy, and is best used on pursuits with Scouts or Pyros. Try not to look directly at the enemy when luring them nor linger around the corner, as this will announce your intention. Fake running away, then strafe back to stab the unsuspecting enemy around the corner.
- Players will often times counter this by either:
- 1) Taking the corner wide; or
- 2) Backing away when they see a Spy round a corner; or
- 3) Staying just behind the corner anticipating the Spy to strafe back.
- Players will often times counter this by either:
- This is why acting is very important, it is when the enemy does not realise your intention is when it works best although players today already have the tendency to avoid cutting corners tightly and backing off upon seeing a Spy round a corner. There is however a lesser known stab which nullifies these counter methods.
- Counter to Counter/ C2C: Made known 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 two distinct variations:
- Variation 1, for players who back off or stay just behind the corner upon suspecting a Cornerstab. Once certain that the player is backing off, strafe back into the player as you would when executing a Cornerstab, then turn around and backpedal until you get the stab. This takes advantage of lag compensation as hitboxes lag in front of the enemy as they attempt to backpedal with you, allowing you to hit the back hitbox.
- Variation 2, for players who take the corner wide. As the enemy makes a wide strafe, you strafe back into the player as you would when executing a Cornerstab while holding the backward strafe key as well, allowing you to get behind 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. Matador Stabs will not work on players who will move using strafe keys such as airblasting Pyros or Scouts, thus it only be used to counter players who utilise the mouse to move or aim.
- The Unorthodox Matador: This is another version of the matador albeit using the forward and backward strafe keys and, due to its uncanny nature, is less suspected by enemy players.
- The Reverse Matador: This is relatively similar to the matador stab (see above) but you will have your back turned to the target, making it a very psychologically-oriented stab as enemies will become hell-bent on pursuit once they see you seemingly running away, letting their guard down. To execute this, have an enemy chase you, strafe one direction, and once you think he is fairly close to you, strafe a circle the other direction whilst turning around to face him until you see the target's side, then execute a quick stab. This technique works excellently against (airblasting) Pyros as they will oftentimes stop airblasting upon seeing you run away. It is also possible to bait and dodge an airblast if one starts strafing immediately after being airblasted as most Pyros have a certain habit in which they will flame once before airblasting, allowing for easier prediction and timing of consecutive airblasts, enabling the Spy to strafe out of airblast's reach, effectively dodging its effects. The Reverse Matador can also be used as a recovery stab if one fails a normal matador and the enemy manages to get behind the Spy.
- 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. This stab can often register as a "facestab" due to in-game lag compensation between server and client, but nevertheless is legitimate as it relies on the 180 degree backstab radius.
- The Circle-Strafe Stab: This is stab used to counter players who know how to avoid the matador stab, or more specifically, players who know how to strafe appropriately. This stab will become more difficult to execute against players who utilise their mouse to track your movements, thus, when faced with those players, a matador stab is usually enough dispatch them. Before learning this stab, one must first understand circle-strafing. Instead of using two strafe keys, this stab usually requires only one strafe key, although subsequent variations require more.
- Variation 1:Utilise one strafe key to circle strafe around the enemy while keeping the crosshairs on him at all times. This requires excellent tracking of the enemy in order for the stab to register. If you find that the enemy is tracking your movements without much difficulty, immediately strafe the other direction to get a matador stab.
- Variation 2:This variation incoporates the forward and backward strafe keys, mostly the back strafe, to increase the chance of getting a stab. This set of movements, when used around corners is also known as a C2C Variation 2 stab (see above).
- This stab also directly counters the matador stab.
- 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.
- 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.