When I see Roalesk, Apex Hybrid, I see a card with a bright future in Standard. It reminds me too much of Verdurous Gearhulk, which also had the ability to distribute +1/+1 counters and was a defining part of the metagame during its entire time in Standard.
Providing two counters compared to four, Roalesk, Apex Hybrid doesn't pack the same immediate punch as Verdurous Gearhulk, but its double proliferate ability has the potential to add many more. Adding two counters and then proliferating twice adds two more for a total of four—right on par with Verdurous Gearhulk. The potential of proliferating on any other creatures that already have counters, say from explore or adapt, means the sky's the limit.
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid does have to die to trigger, and its flying 4/5 body, which is even better than Verdurous Gearhulk's, will often be more useful in play than in the graveyard. That means this proliferate ability is more of a resilience to removal than the primary use, but that's still a great trait in any Standard card. Sometimes the trigger is going to be busted, and what pushes Roalesk, Apex Hybrid over the top is the ability to use it proactively. One secret to unlocking it lies in its legendary status, meaning additional copies will die and trigger proliferate. Being a legendary is usually a significant downside to a card, but in the case of Roalesk, Apex Hybrid, they get better in multiples. With one Roalesk, Apex Hybrid in play, the second copy will add two counters somewhere, potentially to the original, and then trigger proliferate. That's at least four counters out of the deal, and likely two more if the creature the original Roalesk, Apex Hybrid targeted is still in play.
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid already has some pretty obvious support in Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger, and even Wildgrowth Walker, all of which benefit from proliferate. These creatures form the backbone of Sultai decks and have proven to be some of the best creatures in Standard, and they'll play perfectly with Roalesk, Apex Hybrid.
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid gets even better when you consider the synergies it could unlock. We've still not seen the entire spoiler, so there could be some great new cards to pair it with, but Standard already has some great options. Benthic Biomancer screams out to me as playing well with Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. Benthic Biomancer is a useful adapt creature that is already seeing play in Modern and Legacy Merfolk decks, but it's potentially even better in a deck that can add counters. During a recent event I watched my friend pilot his Merfolk deck, and he used Deeproot Elite to turn Benthic Biomancer into a potent card selection engine. Combining Benthic Biomancer with Roalesk, Apex Hybrid will also be effective. It will trigger when Roalesk, Apex Hybrid enters play and adds a counter, and will be best of all with the double proliferate triggering two loot effects.
Incubation Druid is another creature begging for counters from Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. Incubation Druid helps get Roalesk, Apex Hybrid into play faster, and once it gains counters will become a powerful mana engine fueling future copies of Roalesk, Apex Hybrid, or even bigger plays like Hydroid Krasis—yet another creature with counters to proliferate.
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid could even be the card that changes the fortunes of the Sharktocrab, a limited all-star that hasn't cracked into serious Standard play. Similar to Benthic Biomancer, it will trigger repeatedly for every new instance of counters being added—twice with double proliferate, and that sounds pretty strong. Looting is one thing, but repeatedly tapping opposing creatures and taking them out of the battle for a couple turns is even better.
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid comes along with a great new support card in Karn's Bastion. It will help stretch the value of counters, Roalesk's or otherwise, which over the course of a game could amount to a ton of value. In a deck full of creatures with +1/+1 counters—say, explore creatures and Wildgrowth Walker—Karn's Bastion will feel a lot like Gavony Township, which was huge in Standard and is still a Modern staple. The ability to generate repeated value is incredibly useful and just as hard to come by, especially in this Standard format, so this card could be a real game-changer. It's at its best with creatures like Benthic Biomancer and Sharktocrab that can be triggered every turn, but it will be valuable in just about any deck with counters to proliferate, so it seems fantastic in a deck like Sultai, with or without Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. Proliferate can even be used to add loyalty counters to planeswalkers like Vivien Reid.
Proliferate is one of the few ways to add loyalty to the new uncommon planeswalkers, so Karn's Bastion and even Roalesk, Apex Hybrid play well with those too. So far the most appealing of these new planeswalkers to pair with Roalesk is Jiang Yanggu, Wildcrafter. It's very comparable to Rishkar, Peema Renegade, which helped supercharge the Verdurous Gearhulk deck by giving them a mana engine. That era had cards like Walking Ballista and Winding Constrictor to really pay you back for going the counters route, but I could see the planeswalker helping to play its part, whether it's turning Benthic Biomancer into a mana source or putting a counter on Incubation Druid. The idea of the explore package doubling as mana sources is also really useful, so I could see the card outshining Hadana's Climb.
This deck loads up on Roalesk, Apex Hybrid so it has extra copies to sacrifice, but there are other methods, Prime Speaker Vannifar being a great example. Being in the same guild, these two cards are made for each other, and it makes Roalesk, Apex Hybrid a strong addition into a Prime Speaker Vannifar toolbox. Roalesk, Apex Hybrid will generate value when it enters play, and then more when it's sacrificed, making it the perfect card on the way to something bigger.
Neoform is essentially Prime Speaker Vannifar's ability in a spell, and it's going to make the strategy much more consistent. It's another great way to unlock Roalesk, Apex Hybrid, and has additional synergies with the +1/+1 counter it adds. Sacrificing Roalesk, Apex Hybrid as part of the cost means proliferate will trigger first before the counter is added, but just the simple fact that Neoform will be in the deck and adding counters throughout the game means there will be more opportunity to get value from the trigger. Neoform's counter can be used for some immediate strong plays, however, like finding creatures with a +1/+1 counter trigger or clause, with Incubation Druid and Sharktocrab as prime examples.
To really get the most out of Roalesk, Apex Hybrid in such a deck, playing Rhythm of the Wild makes a ton of sense. The ability to put a counter on every creature means double proliferate will be devastating when it goes off, and the deck has plenty of ways to find and sacrifice Roalesk, Apex Hybrid to make it happen. The most popular Prime Speaker Vannifar decks are already using Rhythm of the Wild to give it haste, so it's a perfect match.
War of the Spark brings a nice value card to the toolbox with Fblthp, the Lost. A blue Elvish Visionary is good enough to be a role player in a deck that can abuse the body, and it's indeed a great card to sacrifice to Prime Speaker Vannifar or Neoform. Alternatively, searching for Fblthp, the Lost will fulfill its condition to draw two cards. Turning Llanowar Elves into that kind of value will be a nice option, and it makes the new legendary an easy inclusion into the toolbox. The real question is if it's a nice one-of or something to play more of. Compared to Merfolk Branchwalker, it's a smaller body, but will more reliably yield card advantage, and I think that's what the deck is interested in.
Vivien's Arcbow is another way to get full value from Fblthp, the Lost, and it looks like a good fit into the strategy. Discarding a card and digging into a creature isn't quite the same as the Birthing Pod effect, but it's definitely the sort of thing such a creature-heavy deck is interested in. This mana sink is perfect for the late game, turning dead lands into action, meaning every draw is a killer topdeck. It's the sort of card that seems like the perfect one-of, although drawing multiple actually isn't bad at all because extra copies can just be discarded to the first.
Vivien, Champion of the Wilds looks to be a powerful planeswalker, and an appealing card for such a creature-heavy strategy. I think it has good prospects as a sideboard card, and it can be brought in against control decks like Esper that lack ways to pressure it. That leaves it to generate card advantage with its -2 ability. The passive ability is also useful here, allowing for more tricky plays at the end of the opponent's turn, which is especially valuable against their sorcery-speed sweepers.
Exploring other colors, a great card to find with Neoform or Prime Speaker Vannifar is Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves, which does a whole lot for the cost. Not only is it two 3/3 creatures for five mana, but it comes with three life and a fight trigger, which can pick off an opposing 2/2 or smaller for free. That's going to be a blowout against aggressive decks, and compares very favorably to Biogenic Ooze when it comes to immediate impact. It's a card I'd really like to have access to in a toolbox, and makes a Bant approach more attractive.
Knight of Autumn is great in Bant for the utility and value it provides, making it the perfect card to get value from and then sacrifice. Alternatively, its +1/+1 counters opens the possibility to proliferate with Roalesk, Apex Hybrid. This proliferate will be best of all with the help of Shalai, Voice of Plenty, another card unlocked by white. Adding counters to the team and proliferating twice will end most any game, so Shalai, Voice of Plenty will be a nice finishing option to have in the deck's back pocket.
A new option for the toolbox of Bant builds is Bulwark Giant, which is the perfect life gain speed bump after Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves and en route to Pelakka Wurm. A common like this on the spoiler is easy to overlook as another piece of limited filler, but against Mono-Red it will feel like Thragtusk—and with 6 toughness will soak up just as much damage.
Roalesk, Apex Hybrid has all the makings of a quality mythic rare, and I think it's destined for Standard success. It offers a great amount of immediate value and battlefield impact, along with the potential to generate much more. Its double proliferate effect acts as insurance against opposing removal, or can be unlocked proactively for profit. It's a card that can be used in a very simple, brutal fashion, or with finesse—but no matter the method, it's going to be effective.