In all my theorycrafting, I’ve found Damage Block to be one of the most weirdly complex and controversial mechanics in the game. You’re probably thinking, “What, damage block? It just reduces damage from physical attacks by X, and it’s basically garbage past 20 muinutes unless you’re Axe, what’s the point?” Well, okay, yeah, pretty much. But there IS a great deal of nuance with Damage Block, and now that Crimson Guard is a thing, and many current meta heroes are actually countered by it to one extent or another, it’s more relevant than ever. Beyond that, I really think it’s one of the most poorly understood mechanics in the game, particularly in regards to:
What it Doesn’t Affect, and What it Does:
This is my primary reason for creating this guide. Many (not most, but enough) people think that Damage Block only works on attacks – however, it actually works on all physical damage sources… except for a whole slew of sources that are exceptions, primarily: Quill Spray, Exorcism, all wards (Death Ward, Serpent Wards, Plague Wards), Acid Spray, Poison Touch, and Diabolic Edictas well as Land Mines and Wild Axes. Rule of thumb: if it’s a Physical DoT or Ward, it bypasses Damage Block.
So then, what does Damage Block work against?
- Illusions and creeps/summons. Pretty simple, Damage Block tends to make a pretty good dent vs summons and illusions and whatnot. Granted, when you’re dealing with stuff like Radiance burn and mana burn it doesn’t seem that amazing, but it is helpful.
- Cleave, including affects such as Tidebringer. This is the one place where Damage Block helps you, but armor does not; granted, the heroes that use cleave to greatest effect tend to be those who deal such massive damage that the actual damage block is pretty pitiful, but it’s good to keep in mind. EDIT: Psi Blades is, in fact, NOT cleave.
- Splash Damage, such as from Dragon Knight’s ultimate or Shadow Shaman’s Serpent wards, is affected much like Cleave. (So, in a very strange interaction Damage Block works on Serpent Ward’s splash damage, but not against direct hits).
- Counter Helix. This is one of my favorite applications of Damage Block: particularly in the early game, it’s a very significant reduction to Axe’s damage, and especially if he’s gonna be bonking you on the head with his rightclicks for the duration of the call, it can save you from Culling Blade threshold and prevent Axe from getting solo kills on you.
- Fatal Bonds. The damage type dealt by the bonds is the same as the damage type received by the target, so Damage Block is extremely effective against this spell, but only when those you are bonded to are receiving physical damage.
- Anchor Smash. Makes Tide a lot easier to lane against.
- Centaur’s Return. Seriously. Pick up a PMS and that passive will do basically nothing until very late game.
- Omnislash, on both the ult procs and the intermittent attacks. A Vanguard vs. a full Omnislash with one attack in between each hit can give you an effective 320 HP, on top of the 250 from the Vit Booster; might be enough to facetank the whole thing, if you’re tanky enough to begin with (An Axe or Centaur comes to mind.)
- Shadow Wave: At a max of 140 damage per bounce, and each bounce counting as a separate source of damage, Damage Block can actually pay dividends against this ability, as well as functioning fairly well against -Armor, which is an excellent segue for my next point:
Damage Block and Armor:
Damage Block is calculated before armor values, which has some interesting ramifications. Consider the following calculation: a Tidehunter with 9 armor is hit by a level 16 Slardar dealing 160 damage per hit. With level 4 Kraken shell, that ends up being (160-40)x65%, for 78 damage; the decently high armor makes the Damage Block effectively end up shaving off 26 damage per hit. However, if that Slardar then uses Amplify damage to reduce the Tidehunter’s armor to -11, the Slardar deals (160-40)x1.4, for 168 damage; the Damage Block in this case is effectively reducing a whopping 56 damage per hit.
So, what does this all mean? Well, Damage Block Isn’t actually better against -Armor effects, because, well, Math. However, what this does mean is that Damage Block is just as good against X outgoing damage, in regards to your relative EHP, at 100 Armor as it is at -50 Armor. When deciding whether to build Damage Block, you should consider the outgoing damage you’ll be facing, not the damage you receive after Armor is calculated.
- Damage Block tends to be effective against heroes who have a very high attack speed early-mid game, such as Drow Ranger or Juggernaut, and I’ve even found it very useful against Phantom Assassin; while crits melt right through the Damage Block, the rest of her attacks are going to do barely anything before she gets some big items. In the same sense, it is also very effective against Troll Warlord, god of Improved Attack Speed, at least until he picks up a Daedalus; even then, it’ll help against his teammates.
- Visage. This is the big one. It’s well known that a few familiars will shred through even the tankiest of heroes with Drow’s aura, even at 0 damage charges; pick up a Vanguard and laugh in their face(s). Do remember that their attacks count as creep for the purposes of a PMS, however.
- Windrunner’s Focus Fire. ’nuff said. Don’t underestimate her maelstrom procs/MKB/Daedalus, however.
- Beastmaster; yes, it does nothing against his Wild Axes, but when he has two Necro summons, a boar, and his own rightclicks all hitting you at once with two Attack Speed buffs, it pays off.
- Medusa. Many Medusas primarily focus on stats, building items such as Skadi, Manta and Linken’s Sphere, as well as getting off a ton of effective low-damage attacks per second with her split shot; Damage Block will make her hit like a kitten if she doesn’t itemize effectively, and should be helpful even if she does.
I’d like to note, at the end of all of this, that I’m not trying to paint Damage Block as a hard counter against all of these effects; this guide not meant to be me preaching to the hills about the glory of Damage Block. I’m just suggesting a few scenarios where, were you on the fence in regards to building a shield, you might choose to pick it over other options.