Touch of Death: it’s no execute

Touch of Death versus Hogger. Who else?

In retrospect, I should have anticipated the downside to naming a blog after a class skill: luring people in search of Actual Information to a blog full of rambling and silliness.

To all the WoW players who’ve stumbled here while searching for the details of the monk ability, I'm sorry. Here’s a run-through of the basics as they stand.


Touch of Death is learned at level twenty-two.Touch of Death. Image by Nyxrinne.

At a cost of three chi, Touch of Death will instantly kill non-player targets, but it can only be used on foes whose health is equal to or lower than yours. This is the actual number of hit points they have, not the percentage: as a levelling monk, you’ll find you can essentially one-shot some mobs from full health with this skill.

Touch of Death requires melee range to use, and has a 1.5 minute cooldown.


There are two things that change the way Touch of Death behaves: the glyph and the Mists gladiator four-piece set bonus.

The glyph removes the chi cost from Touch of Death. In exchange, an additional two minutes are added to the skill’s cooldown time.

The PvP set bonus enables use of Touch of Death on enemy players with 10% or less health remaining. Touch of Death instantly kills the player you use it against: it ignores resilience and effects such as rogues’ Cheat Death. If a warrior uses Intervene on Touch of Death’s target, your health in damage will be dealt to the warrior, as seen here.

I should add that 5.2 is not removing the chi cost of Touch of Death. Anyone who has said that is confusing it with Touch of Karma, which is dropping its two chi cost.

With the facts out of the way, time for some Opinion.

Touch of Death versus execute effects

If you do a quick web search for Touch of Death, you’ll stumble across several forum threads demanding it be altered to better match the warrior class’s Execute.

Worgen warrior executes.

It’s an absurd suggestion. In fact, it’s absurd to compare the two in the first place. Execute is the original ‘cast this when enemy health is low’ ability, precursor for the present iterations of several similar spells across various classes:

Hammer of Wrath Kill Shot Shadowburn Shadow Word: Death

These skills all have six second cooldowns and become available when the target’s health dips below twenty percent.

There is some deviation. Shadow Word: Death and Kill Shot reset their cooldowns if they fail to kill the target, an effect that can occur once every six seconds, and retribution paladins can spec into Sanctified Wrath to halve the cooldown of Hammer of Wrath and enable its use during Avenging Wrath.

(Note to paladins: anger management sessions may be a worthwhile investment. That’s far too much wrath. Someone will mistake you for a boomkin.)

Ultimately, however, execute effects are high-priority, short-cooldown, low-cost abilities that enter the user’s rotation and ramp up their damage dealt toward the end of the fight.

Touch of Death is nothing like them. The only reason it is being compared with Execute and other execute effects is the involvement of a health threshold that controls when it can be cast, and even that health threshold is completely separate as it’s based on precise HP rather than a percentage.

Touch of Death versus murloc

In review:

  • Touch of Death has exacting health requirements for use.
  • Touch of Death has a substantial cooldown.
  • Touch of Death eats your resources for breakfast.
  • Touch of Death is not an ability you weave into your rotation to ramp up your DPS.
  • Touch of Death is a guaranteed kill, and that makes it unlike anything else.

To state that Touch of Death should be replaced with a monk Execute is a little like saying Fists of Fury should be replaced with a monk Stormstrike because their icons are the same colour. Apples and oranges and all the rest of your sodding five a day.

Of course, its present state isn’t necessarily set in stone. Monks lack the ability to shift to a different priority system to increase our DPS: we have our mid-to-long cooldowns to blow, but those are straight damage increases. We activate them and we continue with the same flow of strikes, save to cut out Fists of Fury while Energizing Brew is active. Turning Touch of Death into an execute would bring some variation to our damage output.

It's still the wrong thing to do.

Touch of Death and Dim Mak

Why am I so bothered by the idea of diminishing Touch of Death into the same execute package that benefits so many other classes? There's the issue of homogenisation, of course: generally I would rather classes remained as distinct as possible. But that’s not the root of it.

Dim Mak in the paper

Touch of Death is based on the concept of Dim Mak: the art of striking pressure points, arteries or meridians (the passages through which qi life energy flows) to incapacitate or kill a foe. It’s fairly prevalent in Wuxia fiction, but there are, of course, people who believe it is honestly effective.

Dim Mak is an iconic skill within fantasy martial arts. To cut it out entirely would be much the same as taking away a rogue’s poison, a warlock’s summoning circles or a mage’s staff: the class would still work, yes, but it would lose a lot of its flavour. It would lose one of the markers that makes it stand out as a representative of its specialisation.

And let’s not forget that it’s all about cultivating a comprehensive understanding of physiology. Through extensive study and practised precision, it allows a martial artist not only to take out their opponent, but to do so with the minimum expenditure of energy.

This puts it perfectly in line with Warcraft’s take on the monk class in particular.

The origins of the Pandaren monk

Slaves of the Mogu

The first monks were Pandaren enslaved by the Mogu. They were subjected to all manner of cruelty, including the division of families and forced labour on the Serpent’s Spine, with the Mantid picking them off all the time.

Although their rebellion came about with the realisation that they were the strength of the Mogu empire, on an individual level these Pandaren were highly unlikely to be in the best of health, let alone well-rested. The early teachings of Kang will have had to focus on allowing his fellow Pandaren to fight with, ah yes, the minimum expenditure of energy.

Precision, focus, preparation, discipline. To fight at all, the earliest monks had to embrace the core demands of Dim Mak.

And in conclusion

Execute isn’t a precision blow at all; it’s a sort of second wind your character gains when the end of a battle is in sight, allowing them to strike that bit harder. To alter Touch of Death to fit the execute model would be to sever its link to Dim Mak and to diminish its compatibility with the monk fighting style on the whole.

That, to me, would be a terrible loss to the flavour of the class, and an unthinkable concession to the ill-considered idea that every ability must be useful in every situation.

Pandaren monk

Perhaps Touch of Death won't amount to a significant DPS increase on a raid boss – perhaps the health window will close too quickly for you to use it at all.

But must it be integral to raid-level PvE? Must it so urgently that the feel of the class should be compromised to allow it?

I doubt I need to restate just what my answer will always be.


  1. Though I dont' have a DK or a monk at max, I did like reading this post, and your passion about not wanting to change Touch of Death. I guess that's all I can say since i have nothing useful to add! <3

  2. Heeey, I'm writing to entertain, so confirmation that I managed to do so is plenty useful! I'm glad you enjoyed it. :D