MTG Meta Breakers: How to Beat Rakdos Scam in Modern
Welcome to MTG Meta Breakers! This series is devoted to helping you take on some of the most common decks in your favorite formats (aka “the meta”).
Whether you’re looking to grind competitive events on MTGO, want to win your local Friday Night Magic (FNM), or are just sick of getting beat, you’re in the right place.
For the purposes of this series, we’ll assume that all games are in best-of-three format. This allows you to sideboard against your opponent. When hoping to take down the metagame, sideboarding is your best friend.
Without further delay, let’s dive in!
Rakdos Scam has taken over the Modern metagame, putting up results every week and turning into one of the top archetypes of the format. The deck is undoubtedly powerful but does have several weaknesses that can be attacked. Don't give up hope! There are multiple ways to battle Scam and many small things you can do to improve your win rate against it.
Understanding Rakdos Scam Decks
First, we have to understand how Scam works, and why it's so popular. The “scam” in the deck’s name comes from the feeling of being “scammed” on turn one of the game after your opponent evokes a Grief or Fury, only to use a one-mana instant to bring it back from the graveyard.
Grief will trigger twice, discarding your two best cards. Fury can do up to eight damage to your board, and even if it’s cast on turn one with no targets, it comes back as a 4/4 with double strike, conveniently outside the range of most early removal spells. Considering Modern's painful manabases, this is usually enough to put you on a two-turn clock unless you can answer the threat.
Many opposing decks don’t have a good way to interact with the prime "scam" sequence on turn one, and very few answers exist that can disrupt it on the draw. This does give Scam some number of free wins, but it can't completely rely on this combo.
Fortunately for the deck, it can also play a fair midrange game as a solid plan B with the ever-looming threat of a huge elemental, clearing the way for smaller creatures with powerful removal and discard, and both aspects of the combo are viable at any point in the game.
Rakdos Scam's Threats
Fury and Grief are the scariest turn-one plays, but the rest of the lineup is full of solid value up to three mana. Ragavan is still hard to beat on turn one without an immediate answer. Dauthi Voidwalker is an unblockable creature that also doubles as graveyard hate and a sneaky way to use your own spells against you. Seasoned Pyromancer and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker both give access to incredible card advantage and selection.
A “fair” evoked Grief or Fury can still be backbreaking at the right time. They can also be cast for their full four or five mana costs once the game passes the first few turns. Feign Death, Malakir Rebirth, and Undying Malice are all effectively the same card when used on turn one to bring back a Fury or Grief. They can be used on any non-token creature as well, but they all bring that creature back tapped. This can make killing creatures and keeping them dead difficult.
Removal and Disruption
Red and black are the two best colors for removal spells, and Scam has no shortage of options. Lightning Bolt, Terminate, and Kolaghan’s Command are ready for game one, and Fatal Push can come in after sideboarding. In addition to Grief, Thoughtseize can also take cards from your hand, and Blood Moon is present to attack your mana base.
Modern Rakdos Scam Sideboard Options
The typical sideboard contains many cards of only one or two copies each, allowing Scam players to make the perfect choice for every situation. There is also some flexibility in what the deck chooses to play between the two colors, so watch out for cards you might not expect and be ready to adapt between games.
Engineered Explosives and Path of Peril help against creatures with protection from red or black, while the former eradicates tokens on the cheap. Nihil Spellbomb and Unlicensed Hearse attack opposing graveyards. Necromentia attacks dedicated combo decks, and Tourach, Dread Cantor combats white decks with upside. Hidetsugu Consumes All is a silver bullet against Hammer and doubles as more graveyard hate. You might also find some artifact-centric answers like Abrade, extra Blood Moon effects, and more specialized removal.
High Priority Targets
While early elementals are Scam’s optimal start, creatures like Ragavan and Dauthi Voidwalker also come down early and apply pressure. Ragavan is a must-answer threat against Scam, like so many other decks, as the mana and card advantage quickly snowball. Another common sequence is Ragavan turn one, followed by a turn-two Blood Moon using the treasure as a third mana source. This locks out many decks that can't respond fast enough to develop their lands. A reborn Fury also has to be dealt with quickly, as it can attack for eight damage a turn when ignored. The other creatures are less important to immediately dispatch as they don’t hit as hard or make treasure tokens every turn.
Scam wins by applying pressure while answering threats in a mana-efficient manner. Many cards in the deck perform double duty, both impacting the battlefield and acting as removal spells or card advantage. Most opponents can't afford to draw the game out, since Scam will quickly dig through their library and find more threats, even if the first few are dispatched.
Most lists have access to several Blood Moon effects, and many are playing at least one in the main deck. Fetch for basics and play relevant lands like Urza’s Saga early if possible.
Cards That Beat Rakdos Scam in Modern
The easiest way to beat Rakdos Scam in Modern is with graveyard hate. Not only does this shut off the reanimation aspect, but it also prevents Seasoned Pyromancer from amassing even more value in the late game.
The single best card against Scam is probably Sanctifier en-Voc, as it’s both graveyard hate and has protection from both of its colors. Scam’s only real answer is to force you to discard it early or use clunky removal.
Other good choices include Leyline of the Void and Rest in Peace since the deck has almost no way to deal with enchantments. One-shot graveyard hate cards like Endurance and Soul-Guide Lantern work as well but know they can more easily be answered or fought through. Also note that your Scam opponents will know you might have a way to attack the graveyard and can have an answer to it or cut down on the synergy cards, playing more of a fair game in response.
Leyline of Sanctity is another specific card that shuts off many of Scam’s cards, since Grief and their discard spells can’t target you.
Solitude is one of the few answers to a turn-one elemental on the draw and completely shuts off any undying effects. Leyline Binding is another great answer that exiles their threats. Since Scam has a near-impossible time removing enchantments, especially expensive ones like Binding, they won't be coming back anytime soon. Prismatic Ending and March of Otherworldly Light are also exile effects that can get rid of smaller creatures effectively. Exile effects are much better in general because of the deck’s graveyard synergies.
Scam can clog up the battlefield, but has no way to block fliers. Evasive creatures pushing through damage is another good way to win in the long game. The deck is great at keeping up with one-for-one removal outside of a Fury, so multiple threats that outnumber or evade your opponent’s creatures can help you find a win.
Tips and Common Mistakes against Rakdos Scam in Modern
Try not to play multiple creatures into a possible Fury. Even if your opponent can’t reanimate it, clearing your board gives them more time. By being patient with your creatures, you can force them to use removal spells as one-for-one trades or to use Fury early.
Remember what’s exiled with Dauthi Voidwalker, and know that if you cast a spell or discard a card, your opponent can trade their Voidwalker to cast it for free. Try not to discard something game-breaking like Archon of Cruelty or Primeval Titan.
Make a note of cards discarded with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker and Seasoned Pyromancer. If a removal spell was discarded and you’re playing creatures, there’s a good chance your opponent already has one in their hand. If lands were discarded, it’s likely your opponent has enough and is trying to find some spells.
Pay attention to your opponent’s lands. Thanks to only playing two colors, Scam has access to several utility lands in black and red, such as Shizo, Death’s Storehouse, Den of the Bugbear, and Castle Locthwain, among others.
Best Matchups Against Rakdos Scam in Modern
In general, strategies that rely on multiple cards working together or those that play several small creatures are less favored against Scam. Thoughtseize and Grief can pick apart your hand, and Fury can be a nightmare when it kills more than one of your creatures.
This makes a deck like Yawgmoth unfavorable, as it relies on small creatures surviving and can be weak to a well-timed discard spell. Scam’s early plays counter Yawgmoth’s strategy of developing a board, and if Yawgmoth itself doesn’t get discarded, it can be easily killed thanks to all the removal.
Creativity is also somewhat weak to the black-red deck since the main goal hinges on keeping a creature alive to sacrifice to the namesake card. Blood Moon attacks your multicolor mana base and Dwarven Mine, and Scam can also beat an Archon of Cruelty on the battlefield thanks to Terminate. Counterspells can increase Creativity’s odds, but an early elemental sometimes just takes over the game. The Jund version with Persist has a much better chance against all the discard spells.
On the other hand, decks that don’t have much synergy are more favored, since hand disruption or losing a creature to removal are less likely to seriously impact their game plan.
Burn is one such deck. Many of Burn’s cards are interchangeable, and can easily kill Scam’s creatures and race. All the burn spells played guarantee a turn-one answer to Ragavan.
Rhinos can also compete easily. Discard can take away powerful cards from the Rhinos player’s hand, but there’s a good chance of drawing more. Scam has a difficult time beating multiple 4/4s, and without counterspells has no way to answer a top-decked cascade spell.
Dedicated control lists are also favored, as each card has a higher average power level. Control also has much better top decks if the game comes to that.
Rakdos Scam is a menace to the Modern metagame and isn't going away anytime soon. Though beating their "nut draw" is near impossible, you can find wins against this deck in many ways.
Don't let yourself get tilted when your hand gets stripped early or when your creatures are wiped out by an evoked Fury. Take a breath, play the game, and remember that Rakdos Scam isn't invincible.
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