Lifesteal is an interesting stat to think about. It’s undeniably a defensive stat, but it’s a defensive stat that rewards you for dealing damage. If you don’t really do any damage, there’s not any point in having lifesteal because you have no damage to lifesteal with. That’s why nobody really rushes Bloodthirster anymore except for Draven. The reason lifesteal is so good on Draven is because on-hit damage, as long as it’s physical, counts towards lifesteal, so he gets to lifesteal off of his axes. BORK on the other hand, is a pretty popular rush at the moment despite providing less lifesteal because it provides many more sources to scale your damage: AD, attack speed, and on-hit damage. ADCs have historically chosen lifesteal as their main source of defense in most situations since they have to build full damage anyway.
Lifesteal is best in drawn-out fights. Sure, you get more raw defensive power through just having health, armor, and MR. Lifesteal can, in theory, provide more effective health given enough time and DPS output. Even if you get chunked out of the fight, you can always just find a minion wave or jungle camp to heal up on and be ready to go. Lifesteal is also a great dueling tool. If two people can output similar damage, then having lifesteal can push you over the edge to win the duel. When we talked about scaling splitpushers, lifesteal can often be a factor for how strong you are in that duel. This is one reason why Fiora in particular is so strong right now. She is able to scale really high amounts of damage through just raw AD, so she can stack lifesteal items. A full build for Fiora often has Ravenous Hydra, The Bloodthirster, and Death’s Dance in it.
The counter to lifesteal is, of course, burst damage. If someone can blow you up with a single spell rotation, then your lifesteal really doesn’t matter. Historically, The Bloodthirster has somewhat been able to mitigate this through its shield. It’s really not hard to stack up BT’s shield and the grace period for keeping it is huge.
Death’s Dance was first introduced in the preseason for Season 6, as an alternate option to Bloodthirster for champions who like to weave a bit more spells into their combos. Aside from briefly becoming a staple item on Graves, Death’s Dance never saw that much popularity until recently.
One thing I want to explain, or at least attempt to, is that you don’t get end up taking more damage with the damage being converted to true damage. This wording could get a little confusing, but basically, the damage is calculated at the moment it occurs. That’s the moment it reduces the damage based on your resistances. The conversion to true damage happens afterwards. It’s there to make sure you don’t get to double down on your resistances. It’s a very confusing concept, so I hope I was able to word it in a way you can understand.
Death’s Dance takes a different approach to the sustain game. It allows you to sustain off of literally any damage you deal as long as it’s physical, with of course the classic 1/3 interaction for AOE. In theory, the damage delay allows you enough time to heal up the damage you would have taken. Then it also supplements its ability to heal off of your spells with 10% CDR thrown in there.
Statistically, these two items are very similar. There are, of course, some stray cases where one is definitely better than the other. For example, on Corki, Death’s Dance is obviously super troll. Jinx is another case because you can actually heal for the full AOE value of your rockets with lifesteal, but Death’s Dance prevents you from doing so. Twitch is another example of a similar interaction since his ult autoattacks apply on-hit effects to every single target.
5% lifesteal really isn’t a large difference. The main thing you lose from building Death’s Dance as opposed to Bloodthirster is actually the shield. Death’s Dance’s passive can only delay damage. Bloodthirster’s shield can actually negate it. You get to lifesteal off abilities with Death’s Dance, but since most abilities have cooldowns, you usually can’t get that consistent sustain. Still, the difference in lifesteal on your auto is small enough that you can probably make up for it with your abilities. Death’s Dance’s most valuable attribute has to be its Cooldown Reduction.
One popular mistake people make with items is that you can’t just consider the finished product. Most of the time you won’t be able to buy your items outright for their complete cost. You have to get them in increments. This is referred to as the item’s build path. Some items have build paths that feel so right in every way. For example, Morellonomicon. Lost Chapter by itself feels great for laning and it’s only 900 gold. Then you can get another small powerspike from the Fiendish Codex. From there it’s only 1100 gold to complete your Purple Book.
When you compare the build path of Death’s Dance to Bloodthirster, I think we get to the main reason why Death’s Dance hasn’t been popular until now. Both items have 3 components, which generally makes build path worse, especially in the later stages of the game. Bloodthirster is generally built either last or next to last. It, of course, depends on the necessity of something else, most commonly a Last Whisper. So having less item slots makes it more of a burden to actually complete your item. If you don’t need Last Whisper, then being able to buy BF Sword and Vampiric scepter should feel really nice. That is, in comparison to Vampiric Scepter and Caulfield’s Warhammer.
In terms of early game however, Death’s Dance is much less of a burden to rush than Bloodthirster. Its components, along with the item itself, are less expensive. Say you’re rushing a Death’s Dance on Draven and you’re up against a Jinx who wants to get BF Sword on her first back. You have a farm lead and back early and pick up a Caulfield’s Warhammer, pots, and control ward. You’re stronger than Jinx. Now Jinx has to make a choice. Either she stays to get her optimal first back, or she backs now and gets a sub-optimal purchase.
This graph illustrates the most common purchase times for Bloodthirster. You’ll notice the most popular point is that 30 to 35 minute mark. Consistent with what I said earlier, that’s lategame. Item winrates as a whole are not something I would advise you putting much stock into. Especially if it’s item winrates at a certain point in the game. Draven is good when he rushes Bloodthirster or Death’s Dance, as I said earlier, but it’s not a good option as a first item for basically any other AD Carry. Also, the amount of gold you have is a factor to consider. The winrate is going to be higher for situations where you can get the items earlier because by the sheer virtue of having more gold, you’re probably just ahead in terms of stats. It also doesn’t measure the sample size.
This is a similar graph for Death’s Dance. You’ll notice that in the botlane the bulk of the completion time for ADCs in that 10 to 15 minute range, but the range for completing it before the 10 minute mark is obviously going to be higher. Granted not many ADCs actually build Death’s Dance, but most of the ones who do are going to do it early.
This one is for Death’s Dance in the toplane, where it’s become a popular midgame item, around your 2nd or 3rd item on certain champions.
So What Champions are Good with Death’s Dance?
As I mentioned earlier, Draven likes rushing Lifesteal. The differences between BT and Death’s Dance aren’t huge, but that friendlier build path can really come in clean in favor of the Death’s Dance for him. Being able to heal off of his ult is also pretty bitchin’.
I feel like there’s not much to even explain on this one. Fiora scales like mad with AD, CDR, and lifesteal. Those are just the classic Fiora stats.
CDR feels so clean on Riven. Ask any Riven main. This item’s honestly been popular on Riven for awhile just for the reason of the CDR.
That Titanic Hydra Black Cleaver is still the most popular core for Kled, but Death’s Dance delays the time it takes you to dismount. Ravenous Hydra > Black Cleaver > Death’s Dance > GA can be a strong build path if you’re not teamfighting as much with Kled and just splitpushing with him.
I mentioned that this was formerly a Graves staple, and it still works great. The thing is, you usually want Warrior, Black Cleaver, and Maw on Graves anyway. If you reach a super lategame point, you can maybe sell your warrior for Death’s Dance. Or, if you don’t need any MR, Death’s Dance is a great alternative.
I AM NOT ENCOURAGING ANYONE TO PLAY URGOT. Little known fact, if you’re an analyst, and you endorse Urgot, MonteCristo comes to your house and beats the s**t out of you. If you do play Urgot, however. You must, it’s your life’s calling, whatever. Then I advise you to try Death’s Dance. There’s really no reason why it wouldn’t help him.
The One Bad Example
One popular example I didn’t mention was Jhin. I did this on purpose, and I’m devoting an entire section to say that this item is hot stinky trash on Jhin. Until this patch, Jhin had serious itemization issues. The most efficient path was Essence, Rapid, IE. Unless he rushed Youmuu’s, he didn’t feel like he did damage. Especially with his ult, which was lacking in the threat potential it honestly should have. Death’s Dance does not fix the issue with the build path. It’s more expensive than Youmuu’s, and it results in less damage. Jhin is also the worst ADC to have lifesteal on. Lifesteal is best in extended fights, as I said. In the case of Jhin, the longer the fight goes, the more his rate of damage decreases because of the time he has to spend reloading. Maybe Death’s Dance is okay after Essence, IE, and Rapidfire, or after Youmuu’s. Rushing Death’s Dance on Jhin though? You’re trolling.