Carrot vs Stick
"But this sort of thing feels to us like it's trying to push users towards Wayland, rather than actually attracting anyone."
This is exactly the problem. The folks forcibly pushing Wayland are the same ones forcing hideous, mandatory, touch-centric UI elements upon everybody through GTK, removing any element of user choice through their devout belief that their 'new' way is the only way.
If Wayland as amazing as they say it is then it will stand on its own merit and people will naturally migrate to it as they "wake up" to whatever is apparently so hideously broken in X11. Threats and FUD to try and scare users into switching isn't going to wash.
And for the folks behind Budgie to declare MATE as dead... That's just bollocks. The team behind it is constantly releasing improvements and someone will have to prise it from my cold, dead hands before I stop using it. I don't care whether it's running on X or Wayland so long as Wayland doesn't remove any of the features I use or introduce any instability to my desktop.
I put my money where my mouth it with this one: it's my daily driver and I run my business on it, so I pay a monthly subscription to the project
MATE is an excellent desktop which not only balances functionality and performance but it also gives users huge flexibility with its user interface, which can easily be switched between classic layouts like the original GNOME 2 on which it's based, through to looking and behaving like Windows, Mac and several other desktops.
Sadly, just like XFCE and any desktop either based on GTK or running GTK applications (yes KDE users I'm afraid this affects you too), MATE is now tainted with awful (and probably irreversible) Hamburger Menus and buttons nested inside title bars along with some other UI horrors, which were all forced in by the GTK developers. A major driving reason was because.... at the time, Wayland required "CSD" (Client-Side Decorations) - i.e. the application has to draw its own title bar, scroll bars etc. The sad part is that I'm led to understand that since then Weyland has gained support for Server Side Decorations which basically means that the whole story which led us to our desktop UIs being irreversibly effed up, was actually a lie.
Dear reader, you might be able to tell that I'm a tad miffed about this whole situation. I'd possibly go as far as to say "angry". I'm not angry about "modern" UIs per-se, I'm angry that major players in the desktop Linux ecosystem are carefully stripping away the user choice which has always been one of the biggest selling points of desktop Linux - this could all have been implemented in a way which embraced the spirit of user choice, but instead it has been hard-coded on a wide scale which means folks will be getting these changes whether they like it or not... That's not the spirit of FOSS / Linux, that's the way the likes of Microsoft decides to dump 'TIFKAM' on the world.
If you prefer Unity or KDE, GNOME, Cinnamon, Budgie, XFCE or some other desktop, it's YOUR choice. I'm on my high horse about this because I see this choice being eroded and with the changes being pushed out under the banner of "Wayland is better", don't be surprised if your choice of desktop begins to lose its unique character and features :-(
I hope I'm wrong!