The Vennen are one of the more wicked of the Underworld races. A hybrid of spider and orc, the race as a whole has been fairly instrumental in the Shards of Fate metagame with cards like Xentoth’s Inquisitor, Xarlox the Brood Lord, Inquisition, and Incubation Slave. More on the Vennen and their lore can be found on the main HEXTCG site here.
Today’s card is a Vennen Warlock: Xartaxis, Bishop of the Azure Fang. What’s interesting here is that we haven’t been exposed to the Azure Fang contingent of the Vennen before. Just looking at the flavor text on Xartaxis, the Azure Fang seem to be an almost rogue group of Vennen that the Inquisition elders look the other way on. That’s not to say that the Inquisition elders disapprove of the Azure Fang, only that their methods may be abhorrent to the elders—but their results are likely in the Inquisition’s interest.
Xartaxis has two abilities, and one of these, uniquely, requires two Sapphire threshold to activate. The first ability creates a Spiderspawn (a 2/1 Spider Troop) when a Vennen enters play under your control. For Shards-of-Fate-branded Vennen we have Brood Creeper, Xarlox the Broodlord, Xentoth’s Inquisitor, Rot Caster, and Xentoth’s Chosen fitting the bill. Of these, Xentoth’s Inquisitor has seen the most competitive constructed play in Set 1. The Inquisitor’s ability to never stay dead, instead going back into your hand at a higher casting cost, makes him a threat on his own; but now with Xartaxis, he becomes an even bigger threat. Now he can hit the board with his gem-fueled come-into-play effect and create a Spiderspawn at the same time. With Xartaxis’ 5 resource cost, you can play a Xentoth’s Inquisitor on 4, Xartaxis on 5, and then if the Inquisitor had been killed in the two turns leading up to 6, be replayed on 6 but now with a bonus Spiderspawn coming into play alongside him.
Should you have two Sapphire threshold while Xartaxis is in play, each Spider that damages your opponent also draws you a card. This is huge, especially if you can give some sort of evasion to a spider on your board. Or maybe there is a spider with inherent evasion… one that is immune to Murder? Yes, I am talking about the Infiltrator Bot, who happens to be a Robot Spider Troop. When coupled with Xartaxis and 2 Sapphire, it will be drawing you a card every time it hits the opposing champion. Perhaps Sapphire shards are where the Azure Fang takes its name from and we’ll see a Sapphire theme with all Azure Fang cards in the future.
How does Xartaxis fair in Limited play? I’m afraid that if you are unable to draft extra Vennen he might just be a 4/4 for 5 with not much else going for him. In the 2/2/1 format for drafting you might have an opportunity to draft an Infiltrator bot in the last pack, but the rest of the Vennen are Uncommon or Rare, meaning your chances of seeing any are greatly diminished. Even Shattered Destiny’s revealed Brood Missionary is also an Uncommon, so unless we see some Common-slotted Vennen I think Xartaxis is going to be a terrible pick in draft and a wasted card in sealed.
Besides owning one of the sweetest names in HEX, Xartaxis’ two powerful abilities are going to run over a number of opponents. Once one ability starts going they naturally will begin to feed each other to generate some insane card advantage swings. While anyone can jam some Vennen together and make the natural play line of Xartaxis into Vennen into profit, the scariest decks will be the ones that have Spiders already waiting in the wings to deal damage the turn that Xartaxis comes down. While our current Spider-making outlets include Xarlox (the Priest to Xartaxis’ Bishop) and Incubation Slave (and thus the conditional Brood Missionary), the main attraction will be Brood Creeper.
The big deal with Brood Creeper and Xartaxis is how well they combine no matter which order they are played. Played Xartaxis and then drew your Brood Creeper? Here, have a Spider that is basically socketed already with a Prime Sapphire of the Mind. The other way around, a turn 3 Brood Creeper can hit the opponent on turn 4 to make a Spider, which leads to a Turn 5 Xartaxis which further allows the Spider itself to start generating value which can quickly cascade out of hand. Brood Creeper wants to combo with Sapphire tempo spells anyway to get through the first time, so the Buccaneer/Time Ripple package already is a natural fit. Toss in Field Tactician for good measure, and you have a shell ready to exploit—once Xartaxis starts drawing your Sapphire tempo cards your Spiders are going to keep on hitting for the rest of the game. Thus the victory of the Azure Fang will be complete…
The rules text on this card reminds me of the initial wording on a Shards of Fate common: Adamanthian Scrivener. When he was first unveiled, he read “When a troop enters play under your control, gain 1 health” which was somewhat ambiguous as to whether or not he triggered his own ability upon entering play. The final version, of course, explicitly includes the Scrivener himself. If Xartaxis is also intended to work in this fashion, the card becomes even better as he’ll enter play with a Spider right off the bat to trigger his secondary ability. He’d suddenly become much more limited-playable in shards with available evasion or tricks like Dwarven Ballistics Training (a self-replicating spider-cannon? Hilarous.) So watch out for the final wording on this card when Shattered Destiny releases next week!
DeckOfManyThings here again. Let’s see how Xartaxis fares in a deck:
Clown Car Full o’ Spiders
Champion: Wyatt the Sapper
1x Incubation Slave
4x Brood Creeper
4x Xentoth’s Inquisitor [Prime Blood Orb of Brutality]
2x Menacing Gralk
3x Xartaxis, Bishop of the Azure Fang
2x Infiltrator Bot
4x Xentoth’s Chosen
The idea here is simple: make Spiderspawn, let Spiderspawn hit your opponent. Use Gralks and Stormcalls to clear the path for your eight-legged friends and continually draw cards to fuel getting more Vennen and Spiderspawn onto the field. Xartaxis is the key to it all, and with all the card draw you should have no problem fishing one out by turn 5.