Conditions Allow - Roalesk, Apex Hybrid

(Roalesk, Apex Hybrid | Art by Svetlin Velinov)

Sitting at the Apex

Hello, and welcome back to Conditions Allow, where I take a closer look at commanders with a drawback and turn it into a strength. This week I’m delving into something new with Roalesk, Apex Hybrid.

Roalesk, Apex Hybrid is a five-mana 4/5 with trample and flying. When he enters the battlefield, you can put two +1/+1 counters on another target creature. What I’m really interested in, however, is Roalesk’s last line of text. When he dies, you can Proliferate, and then Proliferate again. With the right setup, Roalesk has the potential to overpower Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice as a counter-gathering engine.

With that in mind, I want to take a look at some common themes on both Atraxa’s and Roalesk’s EDHREC pages. Roalesk actually makes an appearance on Atraxa’s page, and both boast an impressive list of planeswalkers. Both also work well with +1/+1 counters, especially since Roalesk, Apex Hybrid can jumpstart his own source of counters to Proliferate. Charge counters on artifacts like Astral Cornucopia can be powerful, as well. There are even some lands that function in similar ways, removing counters to add large amounts of mana all at once. Regardless of the direction we take the deck, lands like Sand Silos and Hollow Trees will be powerful inclusions.

The major downsides of those lands, however, is that they’re slow. In order to make that delay worth it, we’re going to want plenty of ways to Proliferate those counters, as well as plenty of other mana sources. Alongside dorks like Llanowar Elves, we're running plenty of land ramp, like Rampant Growth and Grow from the Ashes. We can also use Chromatic Lantern to ensure that our storage lands, like Mage-Ring Network, are always useful. If you feel like you need a redundant version of this kind of effect, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth will give you a way to use Hickory Woodlot when it runs out of counters as well.

Life Finds a Way

So far, we have plenty of mana, but nothing to use it on. The first thing this deck is going to have to do is deal with its commander dying. This is the major downside to Roalesk, Apex Hybrid’s ability: he has to actually hit the graveyard to get that sweet, sweet double Proliferate. While Simic isn’t terrible at getting things back from the bin, it isn’t nearly as efficient as white or black. Still, there are a couple of ways we can mimic an Aristocrat’s strategy.

If we really want to mimic Aristocrats with sacrifice and recursion, we are going to have to accept some compromises. The best way to bring creatures back automatically in blue and green is with cards like Lifeline and Triassic Egg. However, these are not great options: Triassic Egg is a one-time effect, and we are unlikely to get more use out of Lifeline than our opponents. Luckily, Roalesk, Apex Hybrid's colors don't suffer for quality sacrifice outlets. We have access to great artifacts, like Ashnod's Altar, as well as strong enchantments like Greater Good. Both of these cards also have functions beyond simply sacrificing creatures. By providing mana and card advantage, they can put in serious work even without a recursion engine in place.

Of course, if we don't mind recasting our creatures, there are a few other options. Tamiyo, the Moon Sage’s emblem will grab anything that hits the graveyard. With all the extra counters we're throwing around, eight loyalty isn’t a challenge to get to.

Also, Elvish Soultiller represents a neat way to get Roalesk back to the command zone: if the Soultiller dies with Roalesk, Apex Hybrid in the graveyard, all you have to do is name 'Mutant' for Elvish Soultiller’s death trigger for both creatures to be shuffled into your library. Since your commander would change zones, you can instead redirect him to the command zone. I think this is more cute than good, but Elvish Soultiller is a decent attacker, and has some utility with the the high density of both Elves and Wizards in the deck.

We can still do better. A simple trip to Roalesk, Apex Hybrid's EDHREC page quickly reveals that leaning into blue’s penchant for Clones is the perfect solution to our dilemma. When a copy of Roalesk hits the field, the legend rule automatically wipes it away, but we can still get its enters-the-battlefield and death triggers! Normally, when a creature dies as soon as it enters play, the leaves-the-battlefield trigger would resolve before the enters-the-battlefield trigger. With Roalesk, though, the legend rule wipes the copy away before any triggers can be put onto the stack. In other words, we get to put counters onto Roalesk and then Proliferate two times!

Followed Footsteps and Mirror Mockery both appear under Roalesk’s Top Cards. These both function similarly, automatically creating a token copy of the enchanted creature at different points during your turn. Followed Footsteps does this during the upkeep, but Mirror Mockery requires the enchanted creature to attack, a sort of miniature Blade of Selves, which is also a sick pick here for Roalesk. Even without anything else on the field, just making one token with Mirror Mockery will bump Roalesk, Apex Hybrid's power by 4, to a total of 8. With his innate flying and trample, Roalesk could actually be a pretty scary Voltron commander.

Making Counters Count

With that in mind, let’s take a look at both Banshee’s Blade and Sigil of Distinction. Similar to Umezawa’s Jitte, these Equipment will power up a creature based on charge counters. With both Mirror Mockery and Blade of Selves giving us Proliferate triggers before damage, we can very quickly make Roalesk, Apex Hybrid into a real threat, and because the counters that matter live on the Equipment, rather than just relying on putting +1/+1 counters on Roalesk, we'll be able to rebuild after board wipes faster than many opponents will expect.

Of course, we’re going to need a backup plan or two. The first is a card you may have heard about in discussions of budget Storm or Spellsinger decks: Sphinx-Bone Wand. Instead of simply tracking the number of spells cast in a turn, Sphinx-Bone Wand keeps track of the spells you cast throughout the game in the form of charge counters. For the first few spells, this will basically staple a Lightning Bolt or Shock onto every instant or sorcery you cast. After adding a few extra counters, though, you can start throwing around huge chunks of damage. Because the Wand can target anything, both stages of its progression are useful: early on you can point the damage at threats on the field, and then gradually deal higher amounts of damage to players.

The last win condition for the deck is Simic Ascendancy, the only one of the bunch to appear on Roalesk, Apex Hybrid’s EDHREC page. With the amount of Proliferate in this deck, Simic Ascendancy can quickly gain twenty growth counters, even with only Roalesk on the field. By including a small package of token makers, and a few extra ways to add +1/+1 counters to our creatures, it can present a very real threat. Talrand, Sky Summoner, Murmuring Mystic, and Docent of Perfection will all create creature tokens with every instant and sorcery we cast, synergizing nicely with Sphinx-Bone Wand. Then we can use Nissa, Voice of Zendikar to put counters on all of those creatures. Alternatively, Master Biomancer will add two counters to each of our creatures, getting Simic Ascendancy to twenty growth counters twice as fast. Finally, Avenger of Zendikar will take advantage of all the land ramp in the deck to both create a huge number of creature tokens, and then quickly put +1/+1 counters on all of them.

Of course, Roalesk synergizes nicely with all of these strategies while representing a significant threat on his own. With a few extra ways to Proliferate, and filling out lands and spells, we can build a highly-synergistic deck that launches its attacks from multiple angles at once.

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Roalesk, Apex Hybrid is a lot of fun to play, and packs a much bigger punch than I expected. When playing him, be sure to keep in mind that the winning with Sphinx-Bone Wand takes a lot of mana and only slightly less setup. People will see that coming and will try to remove your big seven-cost artifact. The same applies to Simic Ascendancy. So don’t shy away from being aggressive with Roalesk himself.

That brings us to the end of this week’s Conditions Allow. What did you think? Is there another legendary creature, recent or otherwise, you’d like to see me cover? Let me know in the comments down below.

Ben was introduced to Magic during Seventh Edition and has played on and off ever since. A Simic mage at heart, he loves being given a problem to solve. When not shuffling cards, Ben can be found lost in a book or skiing in the mountains of Vermont.

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