Commander Brainstorm! With Roalesk, Apex Hybrid

Great Commander decks aren’t just written down as flawless lists! Peek inside Sheldon Menery’s brainstorming process for Roalesk, Apex Hybrid.

As we barrel on towards the War of the Spark Prerelease, we Commander players start thinking about what we’re going to do with the new cards in the set in a somewhat different fashion from those brewing for other formats.

To Standard players, new cards mean a shifting metagame, which might necessitate wholesale overthrow of current thought patterns. Cards like Ilharg, the Raze-Boar can change the face of a format with a smaller card pool. While Ilharg might redefine Standard or even Modern for a period of time, and while it will certainly have an impact in Commander, single cards rarely reshape the way this format works. Our thoughts turn toward one of two avenues for new cards (at least the ones worth playing): Will they be one of 99, or can we build a new deck around them? Last week, I supposed that I could just put Roalesk, Apex Hybrid at the helm of my existing Zegana and a Dice Bag deck—but that would rob me of the opportunity to building something new and interesting.

They way we’ll do this is by suggesting classes of cards that might go in a Roalesk deck. In each section, there will be more cards than we’ll have slots for in the deck; they’re there to help you with your own brainstorms. Unlike normal pieces, in which I offer up a decklist and then explain why we went that way, I’ll cover the categories first and then suggest a list towards the end.

With Roalesk’s ability to proliferate, counters of all kinds are on the table. If you’re interested, the Magic: The Gathering wiki has a complete list of all the counter types. Counting all the “plus and minus N” counters as one type, there are 120 different types of counters in the game. We have all those juicy new planeswalkers from War of the Spark to consider in addition to the classics. The real problem we need to solve here is that Roalesk’s proliferate triggered ability only applies when it dies, so having it as a commander becomes particularly tricky. The direction we’ll take is making it less so. The answer comes in using the legend rule.

Sending in the Clones

Potential Creatures:

Potential Noncreatures:

When we Clone or make any other copy of Roalesk, the legend rule kicks in and one of them has to die. Depending on the game state, we can choose to have the new card die to get the proliferate trigger or put Roalesk itself in the graveyard. We can then just copy the copy with something else that copies. With Roalesk in the graveyard, Body Double does some nice work. What’s great about this idea is that, in the unlikely eventuality we can’t get our own engines running, the Clones can just copy the awesome things that other people are casting.

I crowdsourced some ideas from Facebook, and Zack Adamczak gave me the idea to add Blade of Selves to the package (one that I hope I would have come up with anyway, but props to Zack for beating me to it). The legend rule wipes out the copies and we proliferate four times—even better if we’ve managed to get some +1/+1 counters onto Roalesk already.

In and Out of the Graveyard

We need Roalesk to die (and not replace the event with going to the command zone), so we’ll also need ways to get Roalesk back to its starting spot (blue and green not being all that great at putting stuff from the graveyard back onto the battlefield). We could put it back on top of the library with Hua Tuo, Honored Physician, but that would eat up a draw. Exiling it from the graveyard is the right answer, since we can then replace that event with putting it into the command zone.


I had already considered cards like Scrabbling Claws, but the one that jumped out at me is Back from the Brink. Back from the Brink effectively lets us get Roalesk an additional time for just its normal mana cost every time we cast it from the command zone. It’s like an ever-increasing discount. Seems like a pretty techy solution.

The card that most people will think of here is Scavenging Ooze, which both does the graveyard work and gets counters to be later proliferated up. Ongoing Investigation is also quite nice, getting some Clues to draw cards with while giving us a method of getting Roalesk back to the command zone.

Sacrifice Outlets:

Creatures with Counters

There are way too many creatures that have counters than we can possibly list. Instead, we can talk about a few of the classes of creatures with counters. Here’s a list of those worth strong consideration.

+1/+1 Counters: This is obviously the largest group. There are some sweet creatures and tribes here. There are 31 Hydras in our color identity, so playing Hydra tribal is viable and it also lets us play Metallic Mimic. Having 38 Elves also allows us to do the same, and they might provide the kind of mana to get a really explosive deck out of. You kick off with Marwyn, the Nurturer; Incubation Druid; and Joraga Warcaller and run from there.

+1/+1 Counters That Do Stuff: Chasm Skulker is a prime example, not to mention a favorite card. Hangarback Walker is another example. Champion of Lambholt fits this category as well, and the beautiful thing is that you don’t have to send it into combat to get its benefit.

Devour: Bloodspore Thrinax, Gluttonous Slime, Mycoloth, and Skullmulcher all have some game in them. You’ll need to commit to some token-creating strategy to make the most use of them. Mycoloth seems like the best call in a proliferate deck, since you won’t need to devour that many creatures, and it creates more. Bloodspore Thrinax is obviously the one that’s going to pay kind of busted dividends once it gets rolling.

Evolve: Of the thirteen cards with evolve, Fathom Mage and Gyre Sage are in the top tier. The former provides cards, the latter mana. Renegade Krasis is also worthy of consideration.

Fading/Vanishing: Deadwood Treefolk, Ravaging Riftwurm, and Tidewalker are the creatures with vanishing that have the most promise. The latter could get quite large quite quickly. Saproling Burst is the old-schooliest of cards with fading that could get silly, but the one that made me think of the keyword is Woodripper. You’ll have the time and always plenty of targets to blow up with it.

Divinity Counters: Myojin of Seeing Winds can be a win condition all on its own and Myojin of Life’s Web can vomit a bunch of creatures onto the table, but they’re both pretty expensive, so they’d represent the top end of your mana curve (and you’re not going to Birthing Pod them out).

Others: Vorel of the Hull Clade is a must, and if you’re doubling up, you might as well consider Djinn of Wishes. Surrakar Spellblade will draw a fine number of cards. Fertilid is a ramp creature worth playing, and if you don’t need the lands, just get busy proliferating it up and beating down. Realm Seekers is a champ and will deal some damage, especially if you’re running Crowned Ceratok, Trollbred Guardian, Tuskguard Captain, and/or Zegana, Utopian Speaker. Ravenous Slime will help prevent your opponents’ graveyards from becoming an issue. Also consider Centaur Vinecrasher, Chimeric Mass, and Reverent Hunter.

Other Things To and With Proliferate

Planeswalkers: It wouldn’t be much of a War of the Spark deck without thinking about planeswalkers, too. Counting the cards already previewed from War of the Spark, there are 46 choices in this color identity, so the choice of planeswalkers is very much one of play style. The new Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter obviously goes with the deck we’re building, as do (the also new) Jace, Wielder of Mysteries; Nissa, Voice of Zendikar; and Vivien of the Arkbow.

Cards with Proliferate: War of the Spark’s Evolution Sage will be one of the most popular cards in the format. There are the classics, Contagion Clasp and Contagion Engine. Tezzeret’s Gambit draws two cards and proliferates. Inexorable Tide is, well, inexorable.

Charge Counters: Blue Mana Battery and Green Mana Battery play the long game. Angelheart Vial could net well more cards and life than the five mana might normally indicate. Astral Cornucopia will likely start with just one counter on it, but it’s pretty easy to run up from there. Clearwater Goblet should gain a big pile of life. Door of Destinies is kind of ludicrous in a tribal-plus-proliferate deck. Darksteel Reactor offers an alternate win condition. Eternity Vessel makes a nice combo with Angelheart Vial, since it will reset your life total, hopefully higher and higher. Magistrate’s Scepter is there if you want to think about some extra turns. Talon of Pain could build up to being a big finisher. Transmogrifying Wand will keep opponents’ creatures in check. You already know how insane Umezawa’s Jitte can be.

Storage Counters: Ramp up your long-range mana game with Sand Silos, Rushwood Grove, and Mage-Ring Network, but be warned the first two are kind of slow.

Other Cards to Think About: As Foretold, Evolution Vat, Gutter Grime, Hibernation’s End, Magma Mine, Riptide Replicator, Lightning Coils, Grindclock, Mana Bloom, Eternity Vessel, Orochi Hatchery, Otherworld Atlas, Riptide Replicator.

At some point, you realize that there is way too much to proliferate to squeeze into a single deck. You pick your path and head down it. I wanted to go with both the Hydra and Clone sub-themes, but there aren’t enough slots left after putting together all the utility I wanted, so I went with just the Clones and the odd Hydra.

The deck is a template from which to work. Once the War of the Spark cards hit the street, I’ll sleeve it up and we’ll see what works, what needs to go, and what might need to come in. I hope it inspires some thoughts of your own. Until then, enjoy the previews, and much success in your own brewing.

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