Axe is the very first hero that shows up when a player visits the Dota 2 hero pool.
The reason for this is the default alphabetical sorting used in both the ‘Heroes’ tab and the pick phase. Intentional or not, this reflects both Axe’s frontliner role in-game and his status as one of Dota 2’s poster boys.
Even in the original DoTA on Warcraft III, Mogul Khan the Axe was a staple of the game from day one. His simple yet effective kit enables him to both dominate melee carries in the lane and apply great pressure with just a Blink Dagger. But why did the global Axe pick rate suddenly skyrocket in patch 7.29?
How Axe’s Shard Upgrade made him the highlight of Dota 2 7.29
Axe has never really fallen out of favour as an offlaner. He always found at least a half-decent pick rate in DPC games, pubs, and all MMR brackets. But it was some cumulative buffs to Axe’s Shard Upgrade that marked his resurgence in the meta on patch 7.29 of Dota 2.
One of Axe’s lvl 15 talents pre-7.28, or before shard upgrades were a thing in Dota 2, was that his attacks could proc Counter Helix (E). Since Counter Helix is the bread and butter skill that the hero itself is designed around, this was always a desirable upgrade.
7.28 reworked the talent so that Axe can get this effect for a 20-minute 1400 gold investment. On top of this, Axe also gains +10% to Counter Helix proc chance, and 35 extra attack speed since 7.28b. It is easy to visualize how overpowered the effects are for a meagre 1400 gold, so the extra proc chance got axed by half in Dota 2 7.29d.
The nerf was clearly not enough to dwarf Axe’s repute as one of the best core heroes in the current Dota 2 meta. An easy demonstration of this can be found in the WePlay AniMajor 2021. Axe has been picked six times so far before the playoffs.
Liquid’s offlaner, Max ‘qojqva’ Brocker, played Axe with the traditional Blink and Blademail setup in game two against EG. But the remaining five picks have all featured the currently ‘meta’ Manta-Shard build. This includes four carry Axes – two from TNC Predator’s Kim ‘gabbi’ Villafuerte, and one each from PSG.LGD’s Wang ‘Ame’ Chunyu and Liquid’s Michael ‘miCKe’ Vu.
Why is this the absolute best build for Axe right now? Interestingly, it is due to interaction that should not theoretically happen.
In general, attack modifiers acquired from abilities do not carry over to illusions in Dota 2. Slark’s illusions do not gain Essence Shift, Monkey King’s illusions do not gain Jingu Mastery stacks, and so on. But Axe’s attack-proc Counter Helix does carry over to Manta Style illusions. This is with no cooldown for the Helix procs to boot.
Playstyle of Manta-Shard Axe in Dota 2 7.29d
This build works best with a carry Axe that can farm Manta Style with greater ease. But such quirky team compositions are not a hard requirement. Zhang ‘Faith_bian’ Ruida played offlane Axe with Manta just recently in the AniMajor, for example.
In any case, the build-up to the Manta purchase does not deviate much from how offlane Axe is traditionally played. Axe starts the game with Battle Hunger (W). The optimal skill build from lvl 2 onwards is to max E and Q in that order, with the stray point in R when it becomes available.
Ideally, Axe opts for an early Vanguard rush and a pre-15 minute Blink Dagger. If the lane is rough, Bracer and Phase Boots will do just as well. Generally, Axe starts ganking right after Blink, since lvl 4 Counter Helix is too strong to let the early opportunities slide.
The first purchase from the spoils of battle used to be a Blademail to further the combo damage. But as of Dota 2 7.28, Axe can just forgo Blademail and build Yasha next. Not only does it build into the intended Manta Style, but the movement speed bonus also comes in handy.
After Manta and Shard are purchased, the combo is just Axe’s usual blink-call. Except, to top it off, Axe immediately spawns Manta illusions after the call. The target now must weather the absolute pure damage beatdown that is rapid Counter Helix procs, both from Axe and from his twin illusions for all three seconds of Berserker’s Call (Q).
More often than not, this will be enough to get most Dota 2 heroes into Culling Blade (R) range. If not, there is always Battle Hunger (W) and additional help from the team to seal the deal.
Itemization, as expected of Dota 2, is situational. The core items are Blink, Manta, and Shard to make the combo happen. Other than this, Axe can build:
- Crimson Guard
- Abyssal Blade
- Assault Cuirass
- Overwhelming/Swift Blink
- Moon Shard
- Mjolnir or Gleipnir
- Shiva’s Guard
- Black King Bar
- Octarine Core