Thursday, September 22, 2011

Two-Handed Axes: Stuck In the Middle With You

Welcome back to Disenchanting Azeroth!

Thanks again to our readers who participated in our previous article poll, from which we determined Two-Handed Axes was next in line.  We've seen a lot of sustained interest in our polls for Daggers, Polearms and Bows, but it appears our voters are heavy on 2H melee.  As such, we're going to forgo a poll for our next article and jump right to our review of Daggers, giving an editors' bump to the near-winning effort the voters put in on the previous poll.  In the meantime, though it's time for a showdown to see if the Hunters want to see their bows or if they're willing to give way to the rest of our Polearm-wielding audience.  It's Polearms vs. Bows, cast your votes now. And with that said, onward to today's article:  Two-Handed Axes.

The goal of our evaluations is to determine just how much visual parity there is among weaponry in the World of Warcraft, and where the niches lie that players can leverage as a means to visually differentiate themselves from their peers with Transmogrification in 4.3.

The chart you see to the left (click for larger image) represents every Epic, Rare and Uncommon Two-Handed Axe model currently available in-game that can be transmogrified.

We have already removed a few items from consideration, following Blizzard's current "rules" for Transmogrification, which may inflate the "uniqueness" of some of these models.  And as always, our Visual Positioning Analysis, Editors' Picks and a Map Key identifying every model reviewed here can be found at the base of the in the article.

*New*  We've introduced a few tweaks to the way we segment these models that will be new to our readers.  First, what we traditionally consider to be "truly unique" in the top row will now be labeled "Exclusive".  We've also introduced a new segment that specifically identifies models with Heroic alternates.  These models are simply recolored rather than recycled with an entirely different skin, and are almost as unique as those we've identified as Exclusive.  We began testing this segmentation in our Shields chart a few weeks ago and have received positive feedback since then.  The Heroic colors here are on top and surrounded with a white halo.  More below on the few that didn't receive a different color.

At the time of this publication, we've had some clarification from Blizzard on the rules of Transmogrification, but the jury is unfortunately still out on what they mean by weapons requiring "stats" in order to be eligible.  So stay tuned, as a few of these items may shift.  In fact, we've highlighted two bonus weapons in our Editors' Picks that hinge on this very rule, The Blade of Harbingers and the Singing Crystal Axe.  If "Chance on hit" or "On Equip" values pass for this rule, these two weapons below will immediately qualify for our Editors' Picks.  In addition, you will note slight shifts to a few items in particular across each of our weapon evaluations.  At this time, we suspect at a minimum Blizzard will implement these weapons for Transmogrification at some point. Whether or not they qualify for the rule and for immediate use at the release of 4.3 remains to be seen.

If you're familiar with the rest of the way we segment our Differentiation Analysis and the models in the chart, feel free to jump to the next header and our initial conclusions.

For those of you who are new to Disenchanting Azeroth and our methodologies here, we refer to the chart above as our Differentiation Analysis.  This is a visual analysis of design language and form, so the different variations of color and model skin for each version of a particular model is not represented here. That being said, if you find something here you'd like to inquire about further, scroll down to our Map Key and links to WoWhead for details on where you can acquire the model or various recycled versions of it.

We arrange each individual model (not each skin) horizontally by the expansion in which it was introduced to the game, and vertically by the number of weapons the model is recycled with a different skin.  The more it is recycled, the lower we rank it because it it is technically less unique. The less it is recycled, the more unique it becomes and thus the higher we rank it.  The models in the top row retain exclusive rights, as there is nothing else currently attainable in-game to match it that is a candidate for Transmogrification, not even a Heroic recoloring of the skin.

Our Initial Conclusions

  • Diversity breeds opportunity.  The Exclusive models that can be found in the Burning Crusade content are extremely diverse in terms of aesthetics.  Though a number of them are easily identifiable as representing the Draenic style of that expansion, a few of these could easily have been released with Wrath of the Lich King or Cataclysm content and blended in just fine.  With essentially fourteen (14) different Exclusive models to choose from, the Blacksmithing item's progression aside, there is solid opportunity here for personalization in 4.3
  • The value of introducing Heroic models is mixed. If we include the Heroic models from Wrath, the ratio of high end, unique models compared with TBC grows to 11:14.  So though unique model numbers have still gone down, it's a much closer percentage than what we have been measuring previously when not considering the value of Heroic pairs.  That being said, it drops to five (5) so far in Cataclysm.  That's a lot to make up for in a potentially short amount of time.  The other irony is 3 out of 8 Heroic counterparts aren't even recolored, unless we've missed something in our data mining.  One could argue these 3 therefore belong in the Exclusive category, but from our point of view it's an argument nobody should have to make. The root cause is the fact that these were released before the influence of Transmogrification. So going forward, we expect models to be evaluated by more than just stats, and we'd be surprised if a Heroic version of an item is ever the same exact model and color after the release of 4.3.
  • Where are the Cataclysm Exclusive Epics?  The two Exclusive models introduced so far in Cataclysm are (1) Rare and (1) Uncommon.  No epics.  
  • Vanilla is still King.  With over 85+ variations in color, texture and iconography of the models depicted here, there is a bounty of opportunity for personalization using models that were generated during the early years of World of Warcraft.  We've seen this sort of weight before in previous evaluations, but this chart depicts really well just how many of those models from Vanilla are still being recycled for various means.  Next up, we'll see how well they stack up against each other from a form language perspective to see if you can stand out using some of them.
  • Some things you just can't use.  Oh, if only some models in the game files could actually be equipped for Transmogrification.  Those of you wielding Two-Handed Axes would be the envy of many, as you could throw down with one of Blizzard's guitar models below:

So is our Differentiation Analysis enough to determine what you should be using for a Two-Handed Axe to stand out from your peers?  In short, no.  Which brings us to our next exercise:  a qualitative, visual analysis of all the models represented above.

If you're familiar with the way we segment form language in the matrix below, feel free to jump to our Red/Green highlight picks below.

For those of you who are new to Disenchanting Azeroth and our methodologies here, we refer to the chart below as our Visual Positioning Analysis (click for larger image).  We use this matrix as a means to provide a visual landscape to what is currently attainable in-game for Transmogrification.

The vertical axis here is a continuum of INTROVERTED forms (singular geometry, quiet) to EXTROVERTED forms (multiple, intersecting geometry, loud).  Basically, weapons at the bottom of the matrix are visually much quieter than those at the top.

The horizontal axis here is a continuum of STATIC forms (rectilinear, sharp transitions) to FLUID forms (organic, smooth transitions).  Basically, weapons to the left appear more stoic and angular and those on the right appear more organic and curved.

The goal here isn't to determine the exact placement of each individual weapon, rather it is to identify deltas between them as a means to draw some conclusions and inform our recommendations.  For the sake of argument, we're also going to take Blizzard's "Exclusive" Two-Handed Axes from the top row in our Differentiation Analysis and cross reference them with this Visual Positioning matrix.  This will let us know if the models that have maintained their exclusivity over time can actually stand out in the crowd (click for larger image).

Red ellipses identify a Two-Handed Axe from the "Exclusive" models that looks too much like the other weapons around it. In other words, the value of being an Exclusive model doesn't do it much good if its aesthetic is too similar to its peers.  A great example here is Gorehowl, an epic drop from Prince Malchezaar in Karazhan. Two thumbs up if you can find it. There are just too many other axes that visually compete with it for it to stand out in a crowd.

Green ellipses identify a Two-Handed Axe from the "Exclusive" models that is far enough removed from the mass of parity that it should be able to maintain its identity.  Equip one of these, and you're more likely to stand out among your peers.  A great example here is the Razor Axe (15, 80).  It's so introverted and rectilinear that it's completely set itself apart from the rest of the available options in this category.

It's also worth noting that the Greataxe of the Ebon Blade (50, 15) is in a fantastic position here as well.  So if you're a Death Knight that has held on to your blade over time, congrats!  It's time to pull that baby out of storage.  And if you no longer have it, perhaps the upcoming Darkmoon Faire will rekindle your spirit by releasing it for those DKs that no longer possess it.  Time will tell.

Our Final Conclusions

  • There is not as much diversity compared with other weapons.  Compared with the landscape of options we've seen in our other reviews, this category finds the majority of Two-Handed Axes to fall in the central region of the matrix.  Given this centralization is partially due to the extroverted, hybrid linear nature of the traditional design of an Axe, but the Razor Axe is a great example of how to effectively debunk the classic paradigm, vary things up a bit and still maintain a relevant aesthetic.  There are some great options that surround the fringes, though, and we anticipate the Deathwing Raid in 4.3 will release some new models that could really pop because it won't take much to differentiate a model from the current options available.  
  • Some of the most visually unique items are unfortunately quite common.  For as unique as their models are in terms of form language, we really wish the Termination Axe (75, 20), Ingvar's Monolithic Cleaver (25, 45), and the Axe of Frozen Death (30, 30) weren't shared with so many alternatives.  These are three models here that would have really shined had they been more exclusive. 
  • Blizzard's future aesthetic could progress just about anywhere.  Realistically, from what we've gathered here, the Blizzard Art Team could pick a corner and start opening up their aesthetic for Two-handed Axes in four completely different directions.  Given it's not very likely to find more options in the lower left or right when we consider the traditional extroverted form of an axe, but for the most part the landscape is fair game in the future.  So while technically this supports our theory here at Disenchanting Azeroth that Blizzard's next move is towards a more fluid and organic style for the next expansion, realistically they could go just about anywhere and it would be considered a fresh look for Two-Handed Axes.
We hope you've enjoyed our review of Two-Handed Axes.  If your goal is to truly take advantage of Transmogrification in patch 4.3 and stand out among your peers, we encourage you to reference these charts.  For those players desiring a kickstart to their selection, we've included our editors' picks below based on our analysis.  And remember, a Map Key identifying all the models reviewed here, as well as links to WoWhead and the actual items can be located below our editors' picks. Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more content here at Disenchanting Azeroth.


The following models are in no particular order:

1. Draconic Avenger, a potential random drop from Death Talon Wyrmguards in Blackwing Lair. Though incredibly similar to the Drake Talon Cleaver, another drop from Blackwing Lair, we've decided to go with the Avenger here not only because it's a fantastic example of old world design that still packs some visual punch today, but it's also adorned with ornamental dragons.  A relatively easy model to argue out of our top picks in terms of form, the rationale that keeps it in for us are the ornamental details and the old-world appeal.

2. Soul Cleaver, a potential drop from Teron Gorefiend in the Black Temple.  In a way, this model was paid homage with Ingvar's Monolithic Cleaver and the Axe of Frozen Death.  And given how pervasive those models currently are, we find it rather fitting that the root of their iconic forms makes it into our top picks.  A blend of the aforementioned models and the tooth-and-claw Gronn styling introduced in TBC, this bronze beauty is a fine weapon from which to build your identity.

3. Dual-Blade Butcher, a potential drop from the Champions' Cache in the Trial of the Crusader. Though this model is similar in nature to a number of others previously reviewed in different weapon categories, the simple fact here is it stands alone among other Two-Handed Axes.  The color scheme is also fairly fitting given current content, so it is likely to be very versatile with your gear selection.

4. Crow Wing Reaper, a potential drop from Talon King Ikiss in Sethekk Halls.  We considered the Reforged Trollbane here, but considering its resurrection as of late, we opted for the Reaper which hasn't been around for some time.  An axe that comes off as more visually fluid than it actually is, an intriguing bonus to this item is the swirling particle effect.  An interesting study will be to see how this innate glow to the weapon competes with that of enchants placed upon it.  The model is also attainable via Kael'thas Sunstrider in Magisters' Terrace, and carries the same swirling particle effect.

5. Colossal Skull-Clad Cleaver, a potential drop from Loken in the Halls of Lightning.  Artisans would likely call its styling grotesque.  We call it uncontested.  Even if you don't like it, you can't argue that this one is one of the easiest to pick out from a crowd.  One of the most extroverted designs we've reviewed yet, it is also available in an alternate scheme with the Edge of Ruin from the Trial of the Champion (H) dungeon.

6. Brutal Gladiator's Decapitator, a legacy PvP weapon.  This is likely to be a familiar foe for those that have been around since TBC, and if so it's time to dust one off.  Not only is it an Exclusive in-game model, it's also one of the most visually unique among Two-Handed Axes, having maintained its own little niche over time.

7. Razor Axe, a world BoE drop.  If you see one of these on the Auction House, it's likely to be extremely cheap.  Not only is it worth picking up for what little investment you'll have to make, as we mentioned earlier in this article it's one of the most visually unique Two-Handed Axes available.  With so many vibrantly extroverted models out there, dare to be different with this linear set of blades.

8. Grand Marshal's Sunderer, a legacy PvP item.  Sad to say we didn't feel the Horde equivalent was worth calling out.  It's unfortunately lost amidst the sea of sameness.  What side do we play here at Disenchanting Azeroth, you ask?  Currently our ratio tips the scales to the Horde. When we consider the Grand Marshal's Sunderer in light of the other Two-Handed Axes available, it really does land in a niche all to itself.  Were it a staff, it would be lost in a bit of parity.  But since we're talking melee, you're in a good place with this item.

9. Ethereum Nexus-Reaver, a potential drop from Doomwalker, a rare spawn raid boss in Shadowmoon Valley.  The sweeping curves of this blade are reminiscent of another item from the TBC era, though the elegance of the lines here are integrated with with a number of additional elements that mask its elegant gesture.  Draenic crystals hovering at the base are really the only reminders of what expansion this weapon is from.  Without them, the Reaver could easily have been resurrected as a drop from the Throne of the Four Winds, with its sweeping curves and atmospheric lightning core.

10. Bryntroll, the Bone Arbiter, a potential drop from Lord Marrowgar in only 25-man modes, this Two-Handed Axe is sure to be on a number of favorite lists out there.  So count us in as well, but for the sort of reasons we justify here.  Incredibly extroverted in its segmented detail and animated elements, yet subtle and elegant in its overall form, we suspect the majority of players who once wielded this beauty still have it in their bank because there's nothing else quite like it in-game.  One of the ironies of the Heroic models introduced in Wrath, its Heroic counterpart is no different in terms of color.  So hard mode or not, you'll be acquiring the same item, in terms of Transmogrification.  Time to get your Bone Storm on.

Bonus 1. The Blade of Harbingers, a TBC weapon available via Justice Points.  As mentioned earlier, if the "rules" that determine candidates for Transmogrification include "On Equip" values, then this blade vaults into our editors' picks.  Nothing else quite like it in terms of a Two-Handed Axe, and definitely one of the more elegant, sweeping models available.

Bonus 2. Singing Crystal Axe, a world BoE drop.  Again, as mentioned earlier, if the "rules" that determine candidates for Transmogrification include "Chance on hit" values, then this axe would definitely give those currently in our top ten a run for their money.  Similar to the Twinblade of the Phoenix in that it appears more delicate than most of its thick, robust peers, this axe has a technological flair to it, with detailing that parallels the contours of the form in the fashion of a circuitry board.  Add that to its pulsing particle core with a few animating crystals, and you've got something very unique.

Map Key:

76. Axe of Practical Vengeance
75. Fras Siabi's Cigar Cutter
74. Skullstealer Greataxe
73. Vicious Gladiator's Decapitator
72. Shalug'doom, the Axe of Unmaking
71. Kolkar Cleaver
70. Termination Axe
69. Greataxe of the Hinterlands
68. Axe of Earthly Sundering
67. Angerfang Broadaxe
66. Tyrannical Beheader
65. Shadow's Edge
64. De-Raged Waraxe
63. Greataxe of the Ebon Blade
62. Hateful Gladiator's Decapitator
61. Betrayer of Humanity
60. Justicebringer
59. Ruthless Gladiator's Decapitator
58. Ramaladni's Blade of Culling
57. Bryntroll, the Bone Arbiter
56. Dual-Blade Butcher
55. Colossal Skull-Clad Cleaver
54. Worldcarver
53. Ingvar's Monolithic Cleaver
52. Axe of Frozen Death
51. Battlement Enforcer's Axe
50. Honed Cobalt Cleaver
49. Brutal Gladiator's Decapitator
48. Reforged Trollbane
47. Soul Cleaver
46. Gorehowl
45. Axe of the Gronn Lords
44. Reaver of the Infinites
43. The Burning Crusader
42. Crystalforged War Axe
41. Axe of the Nexus-Kings
40. Singing Crystal Axe
39. Grand Marshal's Decapitator
38. Ethereum Nexus-Reaver
37. The Blade of Harbingers
36. Lunar Crescent
35. Mooncleaver
34. Bloodmoon
33. Honed Voidaxe
32. Axe of Shattered Dreams
31. Ghostly Battle Axe
30. Wrathful Gladiator's Decapitator
29. Edge of Inevitability
28. Legacy
27. Adamantite Cleaver
26. Slavemaster Axe
25. Draconic Avenger
24. Drake Talon Cleaver
23. Razor Axe
22. Dark Edge of Insanity
21. Death's Bite
20. Greataxe of Stonard
19. Neretzek, The Blood Drinker
18. High Warlord's Battle Axe
17. Malicious Axe
16. Brain Hacker
15. Grand Marshal's Sunderer
14. Shadowhide Battle Axe
13. Supercharger Battle Axe
12. Greataxe of the Horde
11. Arcanite Reaper
10. Death Striker
9. Twin-Bladed Axe
8. Grinning Axe
7. Kang the Decapitator
6. Rockslicer
5. Brashclaw's Chopper
4. Angerforge's Battle Axe
3. Double-Bladed Axe
2. Fiery War Axe
1. Cold Iron Pick


  1. Thanks for your work. The only other ax you might have included is the crafted Nightfall. Though it is a recolor of the Arcanite Reaper it's distinctive red coloring really makes it stand out.

  2. Thanks William! We've seen some players as well as other external resources talking about Nightfall, and while we agree its color is striking, we felt after working our analysis that its model was a bit lacking. Its appeal was also somewhat diluted with the release of the Bloodied Arcanite Reaper as an heirloom, so we feel there is likely to be a bit of model fatigue associated with it. But with that said, perhaps we'll have Nightfall tag-in on the Differentiation chart and we'll swap out the Arcanite Reaper for it. Thanks for reading! -Keel

  3. What about the Dark Edge of Insanity?

  4. The Dark Edge is here, we haven't forgotten it!

  5. Confirming that the Axe of Shattered Dreams (Crow Wing Reaper equiv) -does- have the same particle effect. Just dug mine up out of the bank to check.

  6. Fantastic, thanks Action Bars! We'll update our description.

  7. If you need/desire screenshot evidence, let me know. I'm also TheNargrath on reddit.

  8. There IS one guitar-model axe in the game. However, it's no longer obtainable (it was only available during the pre-WotLK event) and I have no idea if it can be used as a model source for transmogrification. Arcanite Ripper:

  9. Thanks Dreams! This is definitely worth noting, we'll edit the article and include it! Thanks again! -Keel

  10. Small update to my previous comment - I made a premade character on the PTR and the very first thing I see is some lucky guy who managed to copy his own character... and transmogrify using the Arcanite Ripper. It's valid.

  11. That is FANTASTIC! We've tweeted out your pick, thanks for forwarding! I'll try to get on this evening and test the non-stat weps. -Keel

  12. When are you releasing 2 handed maces charts?

  13. It's in the cards Bjorn! After we finish up our Daggers articles, we've got Bows and some housekeeping on deck. We've had a lot of great comments that has prompted a list of edits that we need to attend to. Then we'll likely open the polls up again to see where our readers want us to place our magnifying glass next and 2H Maces will be one of those options available. Best guess we're two weeks out from a potential 2H Maces review. -Keel

  14. Fantastic work as always gentlemen. However, I am not seeing the
    Torn-Heart Axe of Battle, one of my favorite models.

    Did I just miss it?

    Keep up the great work.

  15. You look to be spot on, sir, not sure how that slipped through - it's a beauty! We'll try to get this list updated asap, each article has a bit of housekeeping since 4.3 hit the PTRs. Good catch! -Keel