An interview with Callahan, founder of Major League Commander

Jake FitzSimons • May 9, 2022

Back again after the raging success of their inaugural event in 2021, Major League Commander is bigger and better than ever. A draft league comprising 155 decks, 32 players, and only one winner, the MLC will run from May 7 to August 13 with eight games a week over ten weeks. Every game will be streamed live on Twitch via Monarch Media

Consisting of a draft phase, where players pick in order of their record from last season (now finished), and the actual league itself (which began May 7th), the MLC is a competitive Commander league trying to showcase everything that makes cEDH awesome. Each player chooses four cEDH decks and will play 10 games total before a champion is crowned. 

I sat down with MLC founder, Mind Sculptor host and cEDH all-star, Callahan, to find out more about this one-of-a-kind competitive Commander league.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Jake: How did you pick the 32 contestants? 

Callahan: It's a mixture of content creators, previous tournament winners, and famous deckbuilders from all over the cEDH spectrum. We've got a lot of returning players from last year and a bunch of new faces. We're hoping to make a league that's competitive, but the number one goal is to bring in good content creators and make good content.

Jake: Where did the draft pool come from? How did you come up with 155 decks?

Callahan: Not every color pair has enough decks on the database to fill out 155 slots in the league, and last year we took everything from the cEDH decklist database, but this year we've gone further. We wanted five decks for every color combination, except colorless, but if you look at the database you'll see there aren't many options for red, green, white, red and green together, etc.

So this year we've looked to decks made by other prominent brewers and we've also also pulled a lot from the brewers section on the database, and we took some decks from Shaper's discord, the commander's library. Not every deck is the pinnacle of cEDH, but we want known quantities that will make for interesting games.

Jake: What about the order of the draft? Who picks first?

Callahan: So last year we did a randomised snake draft. Everyone got a randomised position and you went through from 1 to 32, and then 32 would get the first pick in the next round. This year, we determined draft position based on final record from last year. New players were just inserted randomly throughout.

Callahan, 28, founder of the The Mind Sculptors and the MLC.

Jake: And once someone drafts a deck, is that it? Can they make any changes to the 99? Or the 98 for that matter?

Callahan: [Laughs] Let's be honest, it's mostly 98.

Jake: Goddamn Partner mechanic...

Callahan: [Laughs] Yep, so last year we allowed for five changes per deck. And as Sickrobot will tell you, some of the manabases on the database back then were terrible, so players were spending their allotted five on fixing up their manabases, and didn't get to make an actual impact on their deck. The feedback we got from players said it was too restrictive, so this year everyone is free to make their own list.

Jake: But they can't do a full transformation of the deck, right? 

Callahan: It needs to stay within the spirit of the deck. Whatever changes get made, Fenix and Lerker will look at them, and if there's a big question mark about it deviating too far, we'll talk to the player about that. If it doesn't pass, we'll give feedback to help them get it up to scratch.

Jake: Who plays who? What does the actual structure of the league look like? 

Callahan: So it's similar to how they do it in the NFL, where they split it up between the National Football Conference and the American Football Club. They're split up into four divisions of four and the winner of each division gets a bid to the play.

Last year we had two conferences, East and West; this year we have the Gatewatch Conference and the Coalition Conference, and those are split into four division: north, south, east and west. The winner of each division will get an automatic bid to the playoffs. It's probably too much to go over, but you can see the schedule how the structure looks on our official website.

Jake: So what's the goal of the MLC? Is it just about showing off how much fun this format can be for those who haven't played it? 

Callahan: Yeah, ultimately it's like a giant advertising thing. It's the big thing we do once a year to showcase just how cool the format is. We want to get more people interested in cEDH. I very much want to show people that cEDH is more than just Thrasios and Tymna, and it's more than just whatever boogeyman combo people have in their mind. It's this vast, diverse format, and you can pretty much play whatever you like.

Obviously there's some caveats there: you have to be optimizing your choices, but I'm playing Greasefang Vehicles right now and I have a pretty good record with it. I think people don't realize stuff like that is viable. And then they go, oh okay, this format is cool, there's a lot of space for brews, and then they get hooked, and that makes me happy because I love sharing things I love with people.

Jake: For everyone who watched last year, what's different this time around? How has the MLC changed? 

All games will be hosted on Twitch via Monarch Media.

Callahan: Like I said, we've got way more freedom within each deck now, but our biggest issue last year was not having a streaming partner. It was just too difficult for fans to actually watch the games happening, there wasn't a central location. Some weeks they'd be on Mind Sculptors, some weeks they'd be on ComedIan's YouTube, on Mental Misplay, on the Reflecting Pool, all over the place.

It became clear to us very quickly that the demand for watching it was a lot higher than we anticipated. The solution is Monarch Media, they're our streaming partner this year. All the games are going to be hosted through their network.

Jake: Well, that's not a bad problem to have. Speaking of problems, there's been a lot of talk about Krark and the unique challenges the thumbless fella brings to tournaments. Is that something the MLC is worried about?

Callahan: Before Marchesa 2022 even happened, while we were building our draft table, our staff had a really long conversation over whether or not we wanted to include Krark decks. Krark decks are a bit easier online because you have access to the Krarkulator, but it's open source, so it's open to manipulation. If somebody downloads it, they can change the code and make it more favorable for themselves. That's just what open source programs are like.

Krark decks can create non-deterministic sequences that will probably win the game, but take a long time to resolve.

But we wouldn't be doing a good service to the cEDH community if we excluded them, so our solution is this: games with Krark will have a special Krark judge. So whenever a Krark deck is doing its thing, we have a judge specifically dedicated to keeping track of everything. That's not a reasonable thing to expect in a paper tournament, but it's something we can do. 

Jake: What do you think Comedian's [winner of MLC 2021] chances are like this year? Does he have a shot at pulling off back to back wins? 

Callahan: I've said this to his face, I think he's going to have to play the best Magic of his life to come out of his division alive. Ian is one of the best players in the league, and those four are probably the best cEDH players on the planet. Pongo made the playoffs last year, and Spleenface and SickRobot were right on the cusp. We've been calling it "the hell division."

Ian, host of ComedIan MTG and winner of MLC 2021.

He's a very talented player, and I think he has the chops to make it out, but it's going to be rough sledding for all four of them.

Jake: Do you have a favorite to win? Never mind who you think has the best shot, who are you rooting for? 

Callahan: I'd love to see Nick (Predatory Pickle) bounce back after going zero and ten last year. He's a much better player than that record indicates. This year he got Najeela, Hinata Ukkima and Oswald, and those are three pretty good decks, and then Najeela, which I'd call the best deck in the entire format. It's been the first pick two years in a row!

Jake: There's also been a lot of hype around Magda in the wake of Koibito's performance at Marchesa 2022. Is she really that good? 

Callahan: So, I think everyone is ready for Magda, they've seen what she can do, but she's not as fragile as she looks. If you have a group of savvy players, it is very hard to break through with her, but all it takes is one person not being super familiar with how the deck works. As we saw with Marchesa 2022, that's all it takes for the deck to do its thing. All of a sudden, it's game over.

Jake: Callahan, there's one question that anybody who knows you will want answered: did Lavinia get drafted? 

Callahan: [Laughs] Lavinia wasn't part of the draft pool!

Jake: Really!?

Callahan: Yeah, I chose not to include her. She's actively bad in the MLC. Lavinia is really good as an answer to a particular meta, it's the deck you bring in when your meta is entirely turbo. You mulligan to a turn one Lavinia, and none of the turbo decks can handle her and you just sit there and grind it out. Anytime people sit down with any amount of midrange or grind or other stax, you're f***'ed.

So we just didn't include it this year, because I didn't want anybody to have the unfortunate experience of having to play her in this environment.

Rest easy, queen.

Jake: So where does the motivation come from? Is it all just a labor of love? 

Callahan: I grew up in rural Ohio, and I produced talk shows in high school, and then I had my own radio show on a small station called radio 90.9. I covered sports, and I'd go to see the Columbus Blue Jackets and Cleveland Cavaliers games and report on them and talk about local sports and all that jazz. I've grown up loving sports my entire life, and I wanted to bring that sporting vibe to cEDH.

So the decision to make the MLC what it is has been two-pronged. Firstly, I want to make content that I'd like to watch. I think content creators do the best when they're making content they would want to consume. You can play to the algorithm, but I believe if you make what you want to watch, you'll attract people who'll appreciate it. 

The other thing is that I just freaking love cEDH, it's become my family. And I want to give it this beautiful annual thing where we can bring people together from all across the cEDH spectrum for two and a half months with a fun league where there's nothing more than bragging points on the line.

I could sit here and talk about the format and the brews and the decks and everything great about them, but I could get that anywhere. What I love about cEDH is the people.

Jake: Thanks for speaking with me Callahan, it's been a pleasure. Where can we find all the MLC action, and where can we find you online? 

Callahan: Everything MLC is going to be broadcast live from Monarch Media and you can find me on Twitter, Moxfield or my podcast, The Mind Sculptors.

If you'd like to read more interviews with cEDH community members or learn more about what the cEDH meta looks like, you can find it all right here on Commander's Herald.

Jake FitzSimons is a writer from Sydney and a Magic fiend. He's either the johnniest spike or the spikiest johnny, nobody is sure which. When he isn’t brewing or playing cEDH, he can be found writing, playing piano, and doting on his little cat.