Chances are if you’ve played Modern on Magic Online or in a paper tournament of any significant size recently, you’ve likely run into Rakdos Scam. This deck’s path to becoming the Modern boogeyman is an odd one for sure, and today I want to dig deeper to see what about today’s metagame allows it to be the top dog.
I also know that many players look to beat the boogeyman instead of playing it themselves, so I’ll also cover what I believe to be good options to combat Scam.
What is Scam
Scam, at its heart, is a Rados Midrange deck… sort of. While Scam may look a lot like a traditional Jund style midrange deck looking to grind a resource based gameplan, it is a bit different. While most midrange decks have the goal of grinding long term advantage, Scam front loads a lot of its potential into a powerful turn one before following it up with a more normalized midrange plan, akin to that of Legacy Moon Stompy. It simply starts high and balances out as opposed to starting slow and ramping up as time goes on.
Scam has likely the best turn one in all of Modern, boasting plays such as: Evoke Greif + Undying Evil, Evoke Fury + Feign Death and Ragavan, go. A strong turn one backed up by a couple of interactive spells seems to be enough to get Scam across the finish line way more often than not.
After all, when your turn one play doesn’t pan out, you always have the out to lock down many decks with Blood Moon. At the same time, Scam can also grind reasonably well with Tourach, Seasoned Pyromancer and Kolaghan’s Command. Some would call that good early and good late.
No More Yorion
Yorion, Sky Nomad pushed out all of the other viable midrange decks in Modern because it was impossible to play a resources-matters type of game when your opponent starts with a five mana 4/5 that draws four cards when it enters the battlefield. I had previously spoken about my belief that Thoughtseize was dead during that period, and you can find those thoughts here.
However, without Yorion around, playing resource based games is allowed again. I still think a singular Thoughtseize in a game is likely on the underpowered side for Modern, especially since Thoughtseize decks don’t often back it up with pressure well.
Scam, on the other hand, frequently plays four or five Thoughtseize effects, and some of them come with a 4/3 menace on turn one. Similarly, it is possible to erase a strong opposing board with Fury combined with out of the Undying Evil effects, which evens out card advantage in a hurry.
Positive Against Murktide and Hammer
In last week’s tier list update, the three S tier decks were Scam, Murktide and Hammer. Scam has a positive matchup against both Murktide and Hammer, which happen to be the two most popular decks in Modern for most of the last year or so.
Hammer notably hates seeing Fury, especially when Scam can easily double it up and have it stick around to get busy in combat early. Instant speed removal (especially when it is unconditional) or a Shatter effect is also great against Hammer. That’s good news, because Scam is packing Lightning Bolt, Fatal Push, Terminate and Kolaghan’s Command. And while not spectacular against Mono White Hammer, Blood Moon is oddly powerful against Azorius Hammer.
Meanwhile, Part of the reason Murktide Regent is so powerful is it dodges almost all of the commonly played removal spells in Modern. Yet, Terminate and a doubled up Fury will almost always take down Murktide Regent. Packing plenty of answers for Ragavan, Dragon’s Rage Channeler and Ledger Shredder, it is easy for Scam to handle all of the threats out of Murktide and grind them out in the long game to win.
Blood Moon Cleans Up
Blood Moon has increased in power and popularity in Modern recently. On its surface, Blood Moon has been good against the Omnath decks for some time, but it was only recently that it became true.
While Yorion was legal, Omnath decks were packing a full set of Abundant Growth and Oath of Nissa to alleviate their mana concerns. Now that those decks are 60 cards, Abundant Growth and Oath of Nissa have been cut, making the mana in Omnath decks much more vulnerable.
Blood Moon also shines against Amulet, Living End, some builds of Rhinos, Creativity, Tron, Zoo and more. Scam usually packs two or three main deck copies of Blood Moon, which is going to get you free wins, or something close to it, against a good chunk of the metagame.
Picks to Beat Scam
Naturally, like everything else, Scam isn’t without weakness. I didn’t want to just sing the praises of the deck without offering any possible solutions if playing Scam isn’t up your alley.
Scapeshift is traditionally a powerful option against decks with a lot of discard spells, as Scapeshift after turn four or five is often a kill by itself. Scam can put together draws that put a lot of pressure on its opponent, but that isn’t the easiest thing to set up.
This means ramp spells combined with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle can take over the game. Normally, Scapeshift is vulnerable to Blood Moon, but Boseiju, Who Endures and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove do a good job at combating it in game one, while Force of Vigor bolsters that defense in sideboard games. Veil of Summer is also a homerun against the deck trying to string together Grief and Thoughtseize until the game ends.
Tron has been beating up Thoughtseize decks basically since the inception of Modern in one form or another. Tron is uniquely capable of rocketing through the early and mid-game to start casting seven mana spells on turn three, which goes way over the top of what Scam is trying to do.
On top of cards like Karn, Ugin, Ulamog and Wurmcoil Engine being just statistically more powerful than the cards in Scam, they also tend to generate advantage. Ulamog is basically a lock to trade with multiple cards, Wurmcoil leaves behind tokens if you kill it, Ulamog exiles two permanents on cast and Karn likely will trade for at least two cards.
Blood Moon can be good against Tron, but it needs to be backed up by enough pressure to finish the game before tron can either answer it or just start casting their spells through it. Life is tough for Scam, which is looking to play small ball against a Tron deck swinging sledgehammers.
Burn presents a clock that Scam really isn’t well equipped to deal with. Sure, Burn has the creature heavy draws that Scam can interact with. But outside of setting up a turn one Fury, Scam doesn’t often apply enough pressure to finish off Burn before Burn can close out the game.
Black midrange decks often deal themselves a bit of damage, both with their lands and Thoughtseize, which makes games even easier for the Burn side. Sanctifier en-Vec is also a huge pain for Scam, as it has protection for the whole deck.
At the end of the day Burn presents a ticking clock that Scam has to beat in order to win the game, and Burn is simply faster at doing that most of the time.
Dredge: the nightmare of Thoughtseize decks everywhere. If we thought Burn was bad because it is hard for Scam to interact with what they’re doing, we have even less interaction for Dredge.
Not only are the discard effects not good, they’re actively good for the opponent who wants most of the cards in their deck in the graveyard. On top of that, killing the creatures in Dredge doesn’t do almost anything because they just come back as easily as they went away.
Creeping Chill means life totals start somewhere in the realm of 11 and 29, making it even more of an uphill climb. Dauthi Voidwalker is very powerful against Dredge, however, though four cards in the deck historically isn’t enough to make the Dredge matchup favorable.
The trend of “decks that kill with spells or the graveyard beat up Scam,” continues. Calibrated Blast is designed to do one thing and one thing very consistently: get to three mana, shoot you for 15 and then do it again on one of the next two turns.
Sure, Thoughtseize can slow Blast down, and Thoughtseize combined with Dauthi Voidwalker to exile the blast is actually pretty good. But that is a lot to set up, and Scam has a ton of dead cards in the matchup.
Hopefully this shines a bit of light on the current Modern boogeyman to give you a better understanding of what the deck does, why it is succeeding and how to beat it. There is additional nuance that goes into the Modern metagame for sure, but the highlighted points do a good job with showcasing what has propelled Scam to the top of the heap.
As a Thoughtseize enjoyer, I’m happy to see Scam doing well, and it is always nice to see a fair deck that has lines that straddle the unfair side of the line. I’m sure the Modern metagame will adjust going forward as people take Scam into account in their deck building and deck selection process.
As always you can find me on Twitter @RappaciousOne for questions, comments, and feedback. I’ll see everyone back here next week!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.