Stupidly Chasing Helm of Obedience

Joseph Americ Pasco (@affinityforblue 140 characters at a time) is an innovator of Magic podcasting; enunciator emeritus of Yo! MTG Taps and current co-host of In Contention, the official podcast of the Star City Games Open Series. He is one of my favorite people I have met on Twitter.

Full Disclosure (and to be fair to Joey) if the Star City Invitational were tomorrow, I would play the U/R/W Aetherling deck he made.

I think the first time I clashed with my good friend Joey Pasco on the topic of his slavish adherence to Islands was around Grand Prix Washington D.C. 2010, a short time after I won a Nationals Qualifier with Grixis Hits. BDM had qualified in the same tournament with a Naya Vengevine deck designed by Gerry Thompson. I mean respeck. Respeck all around. I was a bit queasy about Grixis’s continued viability in the format due to the snowballing of Vengevine — so resilient against Grixis discard and removal strategies — down the metagame mountainside. Joey, on the other hand, said he wanted to Counter Target Spell. I was like, “Good luck countering a Vengevine.”

I didn’t — and don’t — have a huge problem with blue in general. At the time I just rejected the notion of the traditional blue control deck that draws cards at instant speed (with Jace’s Ingenuity) and Counters Target Spell. My idea at the time coming off of maxmially efficient single card choices a la Naya Lightsaber and Grixis Hits was that even when you were blue, you wanted to be active, not tapping three for Cancel, and in the wee hours of that Grand Prix D.C. Brad Nelson emerged triumphant with a U/W Control deck… sans main deck permission.

But dear Joey carries the handle @affinityforblue on Twitter (really has Affinity for Islands, but that doesn’t fit) for a reason; he is a blue mage through and through, a blue mage to his guts and a blue mage in his soul. It is okay to be a blue mage; Patrick Chapin is a blue mage to the extent that he loves Cancel more than Counterspell (anyone can love Counterspell… a real blue mage shows his colors by being willing to cast a Cancel)… I can understand Patrick’s forthrightness in tapping three mana to do two mana’s work even if I wouldn’t be happy doing the same thing, and absolutely tip my hat to his ability to trick Hall of Famer DIs like Gabriel Nassif into the same. My clashes with Joey come from a perceived inflexibility. Patrick will Suspend a Wheel of Fortune and deal you seven to pop a Hideaway if he has to; to my mind Joey doesn’t just lean blue but will go blue even when it isn’t good for him.

Argh! MichaelJ throws up his arms! Americ!

Joey, good natured, chuckles at a frustration he, himself, never feels.

Today I realized it isn’t Joey who has a problem; for…


Where is this coming from?

Joey Pasco is one of my favorite Magicians!

Just last month he let me bunk at his beautifully-kept Baltimore home!

So I am currently in Gates Mills, OH, visiting the ‘rents and gearing up for a week of the best roller coasters on earth, hot dogs, and fireworks in the burbs. Last time I was here, I made off with a hella haul, uncovering over a dozen Force of Wills and other booty combing through my old bedroom drawers.

Riding home from the aforementioned Baltimore trip, my friend Josh Ravitz and I did some trading; Josh saw a couple of Judge Foil Gaea’s Cradles in my binder and asked me how many regular Gaea’s Cradles I have. I dunno. Probably twenty. “They are like $150.” That was roughly the equivalent of that time Worth Wollpert and I were having steaks in Seattle and he told me that my Wastelands were all worth $60 [I really should have liquidated x-4 at $60]. Stupid Josh! I probably would have given him both of my foil Gaea’s Cradles for a set of Geist of Saint Traft (Judge Foil Gaea’s Cradles sell for between $300-$400).

So here I am back in Cleveland and I am digging like a truffle hound for all kinds of Gaea’s Cradles. I have no idea what I have left here versus what I [correctly?] brought to New York when I moved in 1999. I mean last time I dug, I found over a dozen Force of Wills!

This ended up today’s haul:


So… No Gaea’s Cradles. I went through hella magical spells + fantastic creatures; even found a mint-looking box stamed Urza’s Saga. There might be a Gaea’s Cradle in this house, but I didn’t find it.

Most of what I ended up setting aside this time around were black-bordered Legacy staples (i.e. Swords to Plowshares and Red Elemental Blast) and / or random cards that I have had to buy, play regularly, and / or keep misplacing right around when I need them (Nomads en-Kor including a foreign one, some Annuls, Pyroblast).

The “money” portion of this haul includes almost $100 in Lotus Petals including some foreigns, a set of Ancient Tombs, and a prerelease stamped Dirtcowl Wurm (though I have no idea if this is a $10 one or a $40 one).

But the ultimate inspiration of this post is that trio of Helm of Obedience up top; Helm of Obedience itself has become a one-of staple [again]. This is where being a convert comes in for me. Some of you know this story already but for those of you who don’t, once upon a time I was an idealistic blue mage. Not idealistic in the sense that I had stars in my eyes; rather I was one of those who felt that winning with creatures was somehow unsure or beneath a really skilled mage. I was the anti-me; idealistic to the point that how I won was more important than if I won. Me in 1995 or so would win only with Karma + Magical Hack or Ray of Erasure-fueled Millstone decks. I made my first tournament finals with an Orcish Spy + Millstone deck, though the judge at the time accused me of treating Orcish Spy as an enchantment; I ultimately lost to the first deck I faced that actually played Land Tax and / or Necropotence (i.e. could draw more than one card per turn).

What 1995 MichaelJ brought to the final table. Mondo combo!

I actually went through a point where I tried to buy every Helm of Obedience in my local market. I had a twofold objective here… I wanted to have ALL THE HELM OF OBEDIENCES so I could put them into all of my decks; and I didn’t want anyone else to have any (as all of my decks were woefully vulnerable to them). I gave up a at some point but remembering this, was fairly surprised to have only uncovered three today.

Now I played in a local Ice Age / Alliances Pro Tour Columbus warmup tournament in the summer of 1996, whichever one; finished in the elimination rounds and if memory serves, sniped Worth along the way. Back then Worth was the “local Pro” and the only person from our area who was actually qualified for PT3. I played a Circle of Protection: Green + Sleight of Mind U/W Control deck that killed with Helm of Obedience (usually via my opponent’s Deadly Insect). I had Thawing Glaciers all figured out early on, etc.

Fast forward some months later, to November of 1996, and I was prepping for my third-ever PTQ; which was Ice Age / Alliances format like PT Columbus. I was of course bragging left and right how I was going to take it down with my Helm of Obedience control deck. I lost. I lost and Lost and LOST and LOST. Middle of the night the night before that third-ever PTQ I soul gazed myself and asked the question that I think any successful Magician has to at some point face. Was I going to “stick to my guns” and play the deck I loved, that was “me” … Or was I going to alter my path, and with it alter my history in Magic?

I chose the latter.

24 hours later I had won my first-ever PTQ (actually finished Blue Envelope second to Erik Lauer), playing a B/R Necropotence deck.

So what’s the lesson?

Like I said, there is no zealot like the convert. I might harsh on green — my own play of green — because I did the math. I play[ed] green 80% of the time and lost consistently, versus playing non-green only 20% of the time and winning at a much better rate. I think my visceral reaction at a “pure” Control affinity by @affinityforblue is ultimately more about not liking the boy who bought all those Helm of Obediences… Less not liking anything about Joey. I like most everything about him.

Joey doesn’t care what wins the most; Joey cares about playing the game he wants to play, how he wants to play it. Bombastic as I can sometimes be, I have always been a big fan of learning from differing viewpoints; and like I said, if I were to big game Standard tomorrow, I’d be packing Joey’s Aetherlings.

Also I just wanted to gloat about finding 100 Gaea’s Cradles. I didn’t though; so you get Helm of Obedience.


P.S. You’ll note that I pulled 4-5 Guerilla Tactics (basically because I know Patrick Sullivan bought a play set prior to GP Denver and ruined Jund decks with them); next up I will recount the tale of Guerilla Tactics and my first Pro Tour.

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#1 How Far We’ve Come (1/2): Teremko Griffin and Guerilla Tactics — Five With Flores on 07.07.13 at 2:40 pm

[…] This post is inspired by the Guerilla Tactics I found digging around my parents’ basement last week; you may have read about this expedition here. […]

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