MTG Budget Modern Mono-Black Scam – Deck Guide

Decks in Magic can generally be categorized into either fair or unfair. Fair decks are generally those looking to pay full cost for their cards, trade resources on a case-by-case basis, and come out on top based on tight play and stifling the opponent’s resource development in some capacity. Unfair decks are those that want to cheat on mana costs, assemble a game-winning loop or combo, or generally go against the flow of how a game of Magic should be played, “as Richard Garfield intended.” Other times still, some decks straddle the line between fair and unfair, such as the fabled Splinter Twin deck of yesteryear, where it plays the fair game until suddenly it doesn’t. Today’s deck is one of the latter, riding that thin line between fair and unfair. Let’s cause some Grief with budget Mono-Black Scam.




Budget Modern Mono-Black Scam by Darren Magnotti


Note: Each Modern deck covered in this series is built at the time of writing to a $150 budget. This is in attempt to keep things reasonable for those who are actually looking to buy into the format on the cheap while not skimping so much that the deck is completely without the power to keep up. Every deck showcased in this series has been personally tested and is being shown off for a reason, whether it’s the deck’s competitive aptitude, its ability to transition easily into a nonbudget version or its capacity to teach a newer player a vital skill required to keep up in today’s competitive metagame.


Header - The Deck

“Scam” is a relatively new archetype in the Magic scene, referring to any myriad of decks that look to abuse the Modern Horizons 2 Elementals by “interrupting” their evoke trigger with a card that will bring the Elemental back, effectively getting the ETB ability twice over as well as a creature in play for just one mana. We call it a scam because when played correctly, it definitely feels like you’re pulling the wool over the opponent’s eyes with the amount of value generated as compared to its cost.

Typically, this process is accomplished by the likes of Ephemerate, or one of the  “undying” cards available in black such as Malakir Rebirth. While this isn’t a particularly new concept (the strategy has been around since at least 2015 in some capacity), it’s caught on like wildfire ever since the spoiling of the Incarnation cycle. This mono-black variant looks to combine some of the old with some of the new in order to create a pseudo-control deck that’s capable of dismantling all of an opponent’s resources within the first few turns of the game. 


Header - The Creature Suite


Starting off with the strongest creature in the deck, obviously Grief is here because it’s the basis of the synergy. A free creature that for one mana allows for the complete dismantling of the opponent’s opening hand, punishing mulligans or greedy keeps, that then sticks around to attack in for four each turn with menace starting on turn two.

ShriekmawFulminator Mage

In terms of creature disruption, Shriekmaw fills a similar role to Grief. In the ideal scenario, 1BB leads to a 4/3 that’s difficult to block that also destroys two non-black, non-artifact creatures. Fulminator Mage is sneakily one of the more powerful cards that the deck has access to with its ability to wipe away an entire mana base. It acts similarly to a reverse Sakura-Tribe Elder in this list, frequently being relegated to blocking duty with a scam card in hand to buy it back. The key play here is to play it out and pass the turn to let the opponent think that your guard is relatively down. They make the most of their mana on the following turn as they can see that they’ll be a turn behind. You then untap and blow up the Fulminator with one or two scammers in hand, running them all out and running the opponent out of lands for the following turns. Even against Wrenn and Six decks, this is an excellent play as it effectively buys two to three turns with minimal counterplay that can be used to set up a win condition. 

Dauthi VoidwalkerArchfiend's VesselFell Stinger

While every creature in the deck “works” with the scam cards in some fashion, these previous three are much more synergistic than these latter three. Dauthi Voidwalker is just generally a good card against the Modern metagame at the moment, though being difficult to block makes it pretty useful as a beater and there are scam synergies available if a game goes late enough. Exiling graveyards is very key in a lot of matchups, from Yawgmoth and Murktide to Dredge, though this is one of the first cards that gets sided out as well between games.

On to the spicy inclusions, Archfiend’s Vessel may seem innocuous, but in conjunction with the scam cards, it can end up as a two-mana 5/5 flyer, which I hear is enough to base an entire Tier 1 archetype around. The clock for this deck is generally pretty slow, so this inclusion helps to close out those games where opponents are still struggling to fight through the early resource denial.

Finally there’s Fell Stinger, which wears a couple of hats in the deck. Its exploit ability allows for the sacrificing of any creature we have in play, which can enable additional scamming to happen. Aside from blocking, this is the main way to get the Vessel off the board. It can also sacrifice itself, either to be a bad Sign in Blood or enable a scam. It also has the hidden mode of being a two-damage burn spell (by targeting the opponent with the draw trigger) that also synergizes with the scam cards; I’ve used this in the past to deal upwards of six to eight damage in one turn by chaining all of the scam cards in hand together. The Stinger offers a tremendous amount of versatility and flexibility to the deck that many players would be quick to overlook.


Header - The Scammers

Feign DeathUndying MaliceUnearth

The core concept of the deck, these cards all basically serve the same function in the deck: to recycle and rebuy each creature as it leaves play to double up on its abilities. Feign Death and Undying Malice are here to provide seven copies of the same spell here, both bringing back a creature from death with an additional +1/+1 counter. While the original intent of this type of card is to make a trade with an opponent’s removal spell or buy some additional time with a blocker, these cards become pretty insane when they’re turning the downsides of the creatures in this deck into upsides. Unearth plays a similar role, though in a less practical sense, trading off the ability to interact with the likes of Grief and Shriekmaw for the ability to cast it whenever instead of waiting for the moment before a creature’s death. 

Inquisition of KozilekMarch of Wretched Sorrow

The deck also packs some general interaction as well, being a fair deck after all. Inquisition of Kozilek is primarily used on early turns where the Grief line isn’t available. March of Wretched Sorrow helps to stay alive in the aggressive matchups primarily, as some decks like Burn don’t particularly care about losing two cards to a Grief. Decks like this are some of Scam’s worst matchups, though I’ve been attempting to just avoid them rather than tuning for them. If these sorts of decks are problematic or in high numbers in a given metagame, cards like Bottle Gnomes and Ayara, First of Locthwain are good options to slot in against them. 


Header - How Does It Play?

This deck is quite strong, just to say out of the gate. Whether it’s getting the turn one scam off and an opponent conceding because they kept a loose hand, a land-based opponent who didn’t come prepared to outgrind three Fulminator Mages in the first five turns or a graveyard opponent picking it up to the turn two Dauthi Voidwalker, I had many many many concessions in the first handful of turns of the games that I played.

The deck can come out swinging hard, which is a good place for these budget lists to be. If you can put up a front to make someone think that you’re either a different deck entirely or at the very least a non-budget list that has access to the million-and-a-half answers needed to beat any deck in the format, it puts you in a good spot in the mental pole position going into the sideboarded games. The deck does have access to incredibly efficient disruption though, and can create the clock required to back it up relatively easily. It has varying levels of efficacy in every matchup thanks to its disruption suite, and can perform in both the short and long term depending on the draw.

In terms of consistency, it’s slightly lacking and very dependent on its opening hand to be successful, though with some of the explosive draws available, that isn’t too big an issue. Overall, the deck performed very well for me and I feel comfortable saying that this is one of the best modern decks I’ve tested in a while. 


Header - Upgrades

At present, there are a handful of ways to take the Scam archetype. Most people dive into red for access to Fury, and AspiringSpike has been jamming quite a bit of his version in the last couple weeks that combines aspects of the traditional midrange version and a Rakdos Sacrifice version.



Modern Rakdos Sacrifice by Evart Moughon


Other popular streamers have also given the archetype their own spin, such as CalebD’s version shown here, which touches white for Solitude and the Stoneforge package. 



Modern Orzhov Scam by Caleb Durward


There are also options for staying in black as well. While this particular version hasn’t boasted any results in competitive events as of recently, it just goes to show the flexibility of the archetype.



Modern Mono-Black Scam by Darren Magnotti


Regardless of how you slice it, the Scam archetype is definitely here to stay so long as the Modern Horizons 2 Incarnations retain their stranglehold of the format. There’s a ton of variability and customization to be had with the archetype, which really speaks to the raw power of that core principle. 

Anyway, that’s all for this one. While I was, and still am to a degree, heavily against the concept of the Incarnations when they were first introduced, I have to say that there’s something to using them to get an unfair deck’s feeling out of a fair game plan. The archetype certainly feels like cheating, which is right up my alley. I hope that this has inspired you to think a bit outside the box when it comes to deck building and deck selection, as there’s still undiscovered power lurking around out there in the dark corners of Modern. Until next time, stay safe, play smart and thanks for reading. 


Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top