Hello, and welcome to this Axe guide.
I have, to this day (26.10.2014), played 707 games with Axe, not counting DotA 1 days.
My solo MMR is 4.4k. I mention this so you can measure what level of experience you can expect.
I play Axe so often for several reasons:
1. You don't get much manlier than playing the Axe. Laugh, as the vermin flees before you.
2. For me, Culling Blade is the most fun skill in the game. It looks flashy, feels satisfying, speeds up your team and therefore encourages further battle, and it has no cooldown, giving you the (admittedly rare) chance to completely obliterate the enemy team.
3. I love heroes that can blink/need a blink dagger, that can follow up with a stun. There's a certain magic to blinking next to an unsuspecting player, and Axe has it all.
In this guide I'll first describe how I play Axe in a normal game and why, then I'll share all the general and situational information I have acquired over the many, many games I've played Axe. This will not be a guide for the absolute newcomer to DotA 2, but for the person that already knows basic game mechanics and hero skills, and wants to improve their performance with Axe in particular.
I play Axe in the jungle, and so at least the first part of this guide will focus on playing a jungle-Axe. I prefer the jungle instead of offlane, because:
1. The jungle gives me a semi-static (at least more so than a lane) environment, that enables me to perfect my early game.
2. The performance of Axe on the offlane depends highly on if your enemy laner is melee or ranged. You might get no gold if your enemy is ranged and plays well.
3. Axe is easy to read and to outplay if you see him coming, until you get your blink dagger
4. Axe needs his Blink dagger to be truly impactful, as early as possible. The early, usually uncontested gold in the jungle helps him jumpstart his farm.
Two Stout shields
If the game realizes one shield effect has been triggered, it will ignore the other shield, but
if the first shield didnt trigger on the attack it will give the second shield a chance to trigger.
This results in an overall higher chance to block incoming damage.
It takes three melee lane creeps ~2 minutes to kill a level 1 Axe with two stout shields.
It takes three melee lane creeps ~45 seconds to kill a level 1 Axe with one stout shield AND a Ring of Protection (which you couldve bought instead)
I tested and timed this myself, ingame, using console commands to create lanecreeps.
This, however, is a very optimal situation for having 2 stouts as lane-creeps deal 21 damage, and stouts can block 20, resulting in nearly negated damage. In the jungle, damage ranges get much higher, which means that the positive effects of two stouts are reduced. That being said, you're still going to have an easier time jungling with two stouts, instead of going Stout + Ring of Protection immediately.
Tranqs give you great movement speed which'll help you gank. They also give you immense HP regeneration, if unbroken. This helps to jungle your most important item, the blink dagger, more efficiently. Broken Tranquils that you drop on the ground will still count down. This gives you the option to drop your Tranqs, kill a jungle camp and pick them up again afterwards, without the counter being reset by your fighting. This can be very efficient on one hand, or desastrous on the other if an enemy catches you off-guard and steals your boots, so only do this if you have rune-control (you know that no enemy picked up an invis rune) and view of every enemy hero with an invisibility ability. Even then, a pudge hook or a mirana arrow you didn't expect will make you lose these boots, so know your minimap.
An extremely cost-efficient item which helps axe when he's strongest: early-mid game. The mana it gives especially is a godsend.
Your bread and butter. With this, you can actually make things happen without the enemy having seen you miles away. Why not go vanguard first? Because then yes, you are a tanky axe, but you're also a harmless axe. Going Vanguard first will cause you to miss many opportunities in which you couldve blinked to the right spot for a call or a cull, if you had farmed your dagger first. Going Vanguard first allows a good enemy team to overpower your team, before you had the chance to get a dagger.
Either Vanguard or BKB
Does the enemy team mostly have magic users? Go BKB, if not, or you're unsure if the bkb will be worth it, go Vanguard. Either way, you need an item which gives you survivability, since Axe's skillset forces him to be very upclose and personal with the enemy team. I go Vanguard in about 80% of my games. If you have a Vanguard, you can farm Ancient creeps efficiently. A vanguard reduces damage from towers considerably, allowing you to dive towers recklessly for a kill, or tanking tower damage until you and your allies destroyed it
The ability Call gives axe bonus armor, so it might seem counter-intuitive to go Blademail. But it isn't.
When you're in midgame, you jump(use your Blink Dagger) on the enemy team, call, wait for it to wear off and then activate the Blademail, forcing the enemy team to swap focus or be damaged, and allowing you to retreat and potentially blink-call in again.
When you're in lategame against a farmed carry, the damage-reduction from call will be neglible in face of the high damage the carry dishes out, so it's best to activate blademail during the call.
In either situation blademail is an indispensable item on axe due to Axe's "In your face" playstyle.
It increases the Cull damage range, which is great. It also gives you the ability to cull any junglecreep, lanecreep or enemy summon that's below 550 health, therefore giving Culls buff to your team at your will. This is great when pushing towers or raxes, obviously. or when running from A to B. Or when wanting to feel like a Badass. Its efficiency in comparison to other items you might've bought for the money might be disputed, but not the FUN it yields. Also, if you Cull without killing the target, you'll only be penalized with a 5 second cooldown, which means that
1. It's not so gamechanging when you **** up and
2. You could potentially use Cull as a damagedealing skill, in order to get the target low enough to kill it on your second cull.
I won't go into detail about jungling in general. Instead i'll write about Axe-specific jungling.
Rune spawns at 0:00, be there and have Counter Helix skilled. With two stouts on you there are few enemy heroes that'll be as tanky as you, so be aggressive if you see one. worst thing that can happen is a Mirana arrow, so be watchful.
Getting an illusion rune is the equivalent to a jackpot for a jungle Axe, because, with some practice, it'll allow you to stack two camps at the same time at the 1:00 mark with your illusions, while you're taking out a camp. Extremely efficient.
Stacking is good for you, because of Counter Helix:
more creeps attacking = more helixes, doing damage on every creep. Don't attack one mob until it dies, but even out your autoattacks on all mobs, so that A: your Counter Helix will deal maximum damage (since all creeps are still alive and damageable) and B: your helix has a higher chance to proc. there are exceptions to this, which i'll mention later.
Use your mana: +40 bonus armor for 2 seconds (call level 1) might not seem like much, but if you time it right you can block two attacks from a large centaur. the more creeps youre attempting to kill at once, the more effective this will be. Still, be mindful to have enough mana left to help on the lane if the enemy decides to dive, an ally wants to gank, etc.
Once youve killed enough camps (2-3) to
1. get level 2 (level call) and
2. got the gold needed for a ring of regen (needed for tranqs)
go buy it at the sideshop. This'll give you an opportunity to pressure the enemy offlaner, or at least show your presence, influencing his playstyle. Maybe it'll even give you a chance for firstblood with your call + an allied stun, if youre lucky. The early ring of regen will help your jungling immensly. Return to the jungle.
Keep checking your safe lane while you jungle though, and consider attempting a gank if you see the creepwave pushed far into your territory.
Help, Bounty Hunter / Furion / Mirana (etc.) is harassing me!
If this happens, keep in mind that anyone looking for you in the jungle is essentially trading their XP- and gold-gain to disrupt yours. Your plans are out the window, but so are theirs, which equalizes the teamadvantage. Treat is as such, don't play unneccessarily risky (ie. get your HP too low with an invis bounty around) and try to squeeze a camp or two in. You'll need to have a support that understands his job and places good observer wards, so you can predict that arrow incoming, and sentries to destroy vision the enemy has placed in your jungle. If you have no such support, consider buying observers and sentries yourself (also, flame the support, as proper DotA etiquette demands).
Help, they warded my jungle camps!
If it's only the easy camp they warded, you can play around it. If they warded two or more camps, have your support buy sentries to neutralize those observers. if he won't do it, flame him, as proper DotA etiquette demands, then move to the enemy jungle. Show your presence on the lane and pressure them where you can, but don't take too much xp from your offlaner. Stick to camps that are close to the lane, since the further you move into the jungle the farther you'll be from your teammate(s) who can prevent a gank on you. Keep a close watch on the minimap: if too many enemy heroes are gone on other lanes, play safely. If they do commit a lot of energy into ganking you out of their jungle, keep in mind that you kept them from the gold and experience they could've gained if they had stayed on their lane.
When farming a camp with one or two ranged satyrs in it, pull the melee mobs out a little, so that your helix wont reach the ranged satyr/s. that way they wont die prematurely and keep proccing your counter helix while you're taking out the creeps with higher HP. Move back into range in time so that you wont be stuck autoattacking small satyrs.
The easiest large creepcamp is the Trollcamp, as it consists of many, low-damage-dealing units. You can take this out at level 1(!). The most efficient way to farm this with axe is to kill a small troll immediately, causing the large troll to summon 2 skeletons from its corpse, then autoattacking the large troll only. Your helix will do the rest.
If you're unlucky and get a Centaur + Wolves Stack early on, dont farm it until you're at least level 3 (even then you'll lose a lot of HP), they're the worst combination to get in medium camp as their high damage burns through your maximum 20 damage block from your stout shields.
Help your midlaner with rune control. This means, keep checking the clock, and be there when it spawns, while not sacrificing too much jungling time. If you get an invis/haste rune your mid-laner doesn't need, take the chance to setup a call into a kill on a suitable lane.
Once you're level 6 and have your tranqs, your stick and bought a town portal, keep a watchful eye on the minimap: See that the enemy is diving to kill your ally? Teleport in and help out. Axe is extremely effective in early game, if the enemy lets him come too close. The movement speed swap from your one level in battle hunger will ensure that if he dove, youll probably be able to catch up to him, call him and have an ally deal damage for you to cull.
Is an ally attempting a gank somewhere? Consider helping. Do you think you can sneak a kill with the help of that certain ally on that certain enemy hero? Try it. Your helix is the main reason why you have the early game advantage, its damage can surprise even experienced players. Make use of any creep that can proc it, if you're going for the kill. Stay hidden a few seconds longer, if you predict that by then the enemy creep wave will have moved to the spot the enemy hero is. But don't forget: If you make an attempt and it fails, you could've made that much more money in the jungle instead, so if you don't see a good chance to kill a guy, keep farming in the jungle. You need that dagger, without it you're crippled. Got it at minute 9? You're Dendi or You must've gotten lucky. Minute 14? You need to improve or it wasn't meant to be.
Once you got your dagger, you can fish for initiates. You should therefore leave the jungle and look for kills. There are times though, when you can assess that you won't be getting kills this minute, even with a blink dagger. Use those times efficiently by earning gold at the jungle or the ancients spot. If an enemy is a melee hero you can dagger in, call an enemy and run back, forcing the enemy to follow you during the calls duration, into your allies castrange. If the enemy is ranged, this stategy doesnt make much sense and it's usually better to get your autoattacks in and hope your ally can reach you in time for the kill. In general: axe doesnt do much on his own, since he lacks abilities to get enemy heroes into the healthrange in which he can cull, except when enemy creeps proc your counterhelix which is situational. Of course, if you see the chance to call a hero next to many lane creeps, go for it.
Once teamfights start, the rule of thumb is to dagger-call in on as many heroes as possible to get the most of the stun. If you dont see a chance for an immediate cull: retreat, wait for the dagger to cool down and jump in again for another call. Retreating first and utilizing the blink dagger again can (it usually is) be more efficient than staying in the fight, since a blink allows for better positioning for your call and the element of surprise.
It's axes role to have created room and control over the game, so that the allied carry had enough possibility to farm and ensure victory.
Also, usually, I wouldn't call Axe's strength being able to initiate, but to counter-initiate. It's usually a better idea to stay behind, hidden, until the enemy attacks your teammate, and only then to blink-call. Since they initiated, the enemy team is forced to move closer to your team, while your team can immediately react to the attack. While they move in they'll have to give up on positioning, to be in skillrange. Often you'll see the opportunity to blink-call two or more heroes because of this.
Killstealing and you
There are some situations in which we both know you didn't have to cull that guy, he had no chance to escape anyways. There also were no other enemies around which you could have hunted with your buff from cull. In such cases: If your carry is with you, let him have the kill instead, he's in charge of winning the game and needs the money more than you. If you're with anyone other than the carry: cull if you don't have your blink dagger yet. Else, let them have the gold.
The healthbar in DotA 2 is not only a green or red bar, it's also seperated by several lines, that indicate a certain amount of hp. Normally, one of these lines appears at every 250 HP, but you can use the Dota 2 Console to change the amount of HP until the first line is supposed to appear. This information, in conjunction with axe's skill cull gives you a tremendous advantage: you can actually change the enemy heroes healthbars, so that the first line in the bar will indicate the damage-threshold for your cull. Don't see that first line anymore, or realize that the next autoattack will cause his HP to drop under the line? time to cull.
I personally have bound my keyboard, so that pressing F1 to F4 will change the healthbars in the game according to the damage threshhold of my current level of Cull. Everytime Cull levels up, i press the according button:
F1 = 250HP until the first HP-bar appears
F2 = 325 (Pressed on level 2 cull)
F3 = 400 (Pressed on level 3 cull)
F4 = 550 (Pressed upon acquiring aghanim's scepter)
To implement this for yourself, go read a guide on how to personalize your hotkeys. The commands look like this:
bind "F1" "dota_health_per_vertical_marker 250"
bind "F2" "dota_health_per_vertical_marker 325"
bind "F3" "dota_health_per_vertical_marker 400"
bind "F4" "dota_health_per_vertical_marker 550"
You can cull the enemy chicken. And you should. It'll also give you the buff, so you can flee afterwards
You can cull Roshan. but his linken's sphere effect will block it. make sure it's been taken off first.
Axe's call forces invisible heroes to attack him, and break their invisibility. You'll often be in situations where the enemy has just went invis and you have the time to guess and blink-call to a location where you think he mightve run to, and often it works.
Both Call and Cull work on magic Immune units. This means BKB, this also means Naix's Rage.
Forcestaff can synergize well with your Call, as you have the control as to where the enemy is facing before forcing him
If you have level 3 Cull + Aghs, you can deal well with summons, like the Warlocks golems, Visages familiars or Invokers fire elementals: you'll get gold, the enemy loses a damage dealing mob and your team gets a buff, while your cull only gets 5 seconds cooldown.
Heroes that Axe works well with:
Having a magnus on your team can feel like the second coming of christ. His ability to pull people on one spot, and then also to push them in your direction is the perfect, the best setup for a call of yours, followed by, usually several, Culls.
Tiny's toss can act as an early game blink dagger, until you get your own: get tossed, call immediately giving Tiny time to approach and apply his AoE stun, Cull them.
His heal synergizes well with the fact that your call draws enemy heroes towards you. He'll also keep you alive with heal and repel in the early-mid game, where your main strength lies, until your teams carry gets strong enough.
Your cull enables her to use her duel earlier and still get the kill and the permanent damage increase. LC also usually gets a dagger or a shadowblade, which makes LC+Axe a good ganking pair.
Gets a blinkdagger like you and has a high damage output, allowing you to blink in after him and finishing the deal with a cull.
You can be a good host for a naixbomb, since you have a dagger and a AoE stun.
You're a great target for his ion shell and speed buff.
His shallow grave can prolong your life until your enemies are in cullrange
Heroes that have an advantage against Axe:
His mobility paired with his high damage output AND his defense skill can be a pain in the ***. A good timbersaw can outplay an Axe left and right.
A good Venomancer will try his best to place wards that interrupt your blink dagger, making you a lot less effective in a team fight. Even worse, the usual teammate won't realize what's happening and risk their lives trusting you'll engage with them.
His Viper Strike's movement speed reduction will make you a sitting duck. You also can't battle hunger him, as Corrosive skin will be in effect on you during its whole duration.
Consider getting a BKB or he will control you. With BKB however you can run through his stasis field and ignore his ultimate.
Consider getting a BKB, or he'll lift+meatball you to death once you initiated on one of his teammates.
Acid Spray cancels your blink dagger.
March of the Machines cancels your blink dagger.
Heroes that Axe has an advantage against:
He get's insanely strong if his HP is low. Good then, that Axe can deny him his damage peak with a well timed Cull.
You can spin him in any direction with your call, negating his defense skill for a while. Turn him towards your teammates. Bristlebacks also have the tendency to stay in a fight with low HP, since it's hard to take them down once they flee. Cull forces them to retreat earlier, or die.
Axe's casting speed is faster than that of Pudge, which means that after you've been hooked you can call faster than he can bite you. This also allows you to deliberately walk into a hook that wouldve hit a teammate and have a higher chance of surviving.
Cull increases attack speed for your whole team so that you can whack Phoenix's egg down quickly. All you need is a creep you can Cull.
His invisibility forces him to stay stationary. Easy target for a blink+call.
You can Call him while he's spinning, and force him to follow you. He'll be forced to play more carefully.
She also has a stationary invisibility skill, easy target for a Call.
You can keep an unfarmed PA in control with ganks, and you can force a farmed PA to attack you, even through BKB, instead of a more important target. Best way to do that is not to initate on their team, but to wait with your blink until she's chosen her target.
A nicely guessed blink+call will force her out of invisibility. Calling her broodlings is also easy money and might kill her if she's close.
You can stun all the meepos and all the meepos will proc your helix.
Has summons for your helix, and can be hunted fairly well. Blink, cast battlehunger and keep close while hitting (orbwalking) him. Once he panic teleports you can call. if you didnt manage to be inside his treecircle, you can still call him from the outside.
Cull is the only ability ingame that ignores Shallow Grave.
His familiars are callable (!), get damage from counter helix, are cullable and give 100 gold each.
You can cull an abaddon before his ulti is triggered, or after it's triggered and his HP hasn't increased above the cull threshold yet. A good abaddon triggers his ultimate manually to avoid this.
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