It's time we talk about RB Scam, one of the archetypes made possible by Modern Horizons 2's cycle of evoke elementals. The evocative name comes from the deck's ability to "scam" quick wins by dismantling the opponent's hand or board for only a single mana and leaving behind a powerful creature as early as turn one.
The core concept of the deck is nothing new as players were theory-crafting the interaction even during MH2's spoiler season. A similar play line is even prevalent in Modern by casting Ephemerate on Solitude.
Despite no new or groundbreaking additions to the archetype in recent sets, the deck has rapidly grown in popularity. While I can't track down the exact proliferation point, pro player Andrea Mengucci reported a 13-0 win streak on stream about two weeks ago, which certainly helped put eyes on the deck.
Fast forward to this past weekend, RB Scam put three copies in the top eight of Saturday's Modern Challenge, including a mirror match in the finals. It's clear that scamming players is a powerful strategy and a contender in the current metagame.
How Does it Work?
Step one is to cast Grief or Fury for their evoke cost and resolve the first enters-the-battlefield ability. For step two, cast one of the seven "undying" effects in the deck such as Undying Evil before the sacrifice trigger resolves. This allows the elemental to die, then return to the battlefield, triggering their ability again. In doing so, Fury distributes a total of eight damage or Grief takes the opponent's two best cards, putting them on the back foot.
This interaction is supplemented by other midrange staples like Seasoned Pyromancer, Blood Moon, and even Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger whose own sacrifice trigger works well with the "undying" effects.
What I Like
RB Scam offers substantial, low-cost interaction like Lightning Bolt and Thoughtseize backed up by cheap threats like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and Dauthi Voidwalker. Thanks to all of the various undying spells, non-exile-based removal isn't reliable from the opponent either.
I'm also a big fan of Voidwalker's interaction with the undying spells, allowing you to use the stolen cards from the opponent while keeping Voidwalker in play. In the event of cards getting clogged in your hand, Seasoned Pyromancer can help turn them into more impactful spells while leaving behind some 1/1 tokens for your trouble.
Of course, the main feature of the deck, the evoke elementals, are the top highlight. Grief punishes opponents for holding cards in hand while Fury punishes them for playing to the board. It's a lose-lose situation for the opponent, which is exactly where I want to be.
What I Don't Like
There are a lot of non-functional hands in this deck. As a result, it mulligans often. Hands with too many undying spells without creatures or too many expensive spells are issues. I'm also apprehensive about an 18-land deck (21 including Agadeem's Awakening // Agadeem, the Undercrypt and Malakir Rebirth // Malakir Mire) playing so many three drops. Missing land drops is common and so is the need to tap out for a threat, thus rendering the undying spells useless at saving deployed creatures.
While we're on the subject of the three drops, I have differing opinions on what those slots should be. The singleton Liliana of the Veil is hard to cast for this Blood Moon deck. I'd like to see it and potentially some number of Seasoned Pyromancer as Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki instead. Fable does a better job of churning through the air in the deck while also helping to fuel Kroxa's escape cost.
When flipped, Reflection of Kiki-Jiki can soft-lock the opponent by copying Grief in their draw step, or repeatedly killing creatures with Fury. A cute interaction here is an undying effect on the Reflection would return it to play on the front side, gaining tons of added value.
I'm also interested in possibly playing Persist over a copy or two of the undying effects. This offers some late-game functionality at a point where the undying cards start to lose their usefulness.
This may be a bit nit-picky, but I have concerns with Scam being soft to Sanctifier en-Vec. Not only does it shut down any graveyard shenanigans from the deck, but it blocks exceptionally well. Since the deck tends to put a lot of eggs in a single creature's basket, such as an early Fury to win, Sanctifier shuts us down cold. The only answer to it is Engineered Explosives in the sideboard. Fortunately, Sanctifier is on a downward trend right now, but with RB Scam's increased popularity, it's sure to make a resurgence.
And that's a wrap! Overall, RB Scam seems like an excellent contender in a graveyard hate-light environment. Even in the face of Leyline of the Void or Unlicensed Hearse, the deck still presents a strong fair game plan. If you're looking for something novel for FNM or even your next RCQ, this is a very viable option.
As always, if you want to keep up with me, you can follow me on Twitter at @AdamECohen. Catch you all next week!