Last updated on October 6, 2023
Doubling Cube | Illustration by Volta Creation
Oh no! You’ve made it all the way to your buddy’s place for your weekly Commander night, but you’ve forgotten your Crown Royal bag of dice! The last time this happened, you all had to keep track of life with pen and paper, like barbarians. But don’t worry, it’s 2023 and you have your iPhone and a WiFi connection, so a slew of Magic: The Gathering life counter apps are available to download at a moment’s notice.
There are dozens and dozens of MTG life counter apps available on the App Store, but which ones are the best? Which should you avoid?
Lucky for you, I’ve punished my iPhone’s memory with just about every app I could find so I could narrow it down for you!
When I went into this article, I was surprised by how much I liked Lifetap. I’d been a diehard Carbon user for years, but as soon as I got comfortable with Lifetap’s interface, my eyes were opened. The simple truth is Lifetap has all the functionality you’ll need to track everything in a game of Magic: commander damage, poison counters, energy counters, floating mana, Planechase planes, Archenemy schemes, etc., plus it has enough customization built-in that you can fine tune the aesthetics to your liking. Best of all, it’s free to download with no ads.
It’s true, Magic players have been tracking life totals without apps for decades, so why should you start now? You’ve got dice, which we all know are never jostled out of place by the slightest shake of the table. Oh, and we all absolutely love spinning a non-spindown d20 endlessly trying to find the next number up or down. Plus, without dice to track life, when would I ever get to break out my nearly illegible Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth spindown d20? Seriously, can anybody read this thing?
Or perhaps you’re a die-hard who only uses pen-and-paper to track life. This does have its advantages: keeping notes on life and crossing out previous life totals can help track who took which damage when and for how much. Typically, life is tracked on paper by creating a column for each player and doing some elementary subtraction from the totals as the game progresses. This works fine until you have to start tracking additional totals like Commander damage, poison counters, energy counters, experience counters, or even floating mana. Commander games tracked on paper can quickly become a mess.
The best MTG life counter apps should solve all of the aforementioned problems with using dice and paper to track life. They should be easy to read on a phone screen from across the table, and players should be able to modify their own life totals and counters without fumbling into others’ fingers or accidentally changing their total. They won’t be oppressive to look at, and they’ll offer bonus features like digital dice rolling, random player selection, Planechase and Archenemy support, or even mood music. They’ll offer customization to make the life counter work best for you.
Honorable Mention: Magic Companion's Life Tracker
That's right. You know the Magic app you have on your phone you use to register for events? It's got a fairly simple, but effective life tracker on it. It covers all your basic functions including life totals, infect, commander damage, and that's about it. It's great in a pinch and is always there for you!
LifeElk’s free version is a pretty basic set-up; it supports life counting for up to six players and can track poison, commander damage, and energy for each. It can roll a d6 or flip a coin, and you can pay $2.99 to remove the ad bar at the bottom of the screen. Fairly basic functionality, but at least it lets you choose the color of your tracker using a full spectrum.
Collected Company’s Lifelinker is on the simpler side of MTG life counters. It counts life, that’s for sure, but that’s about it. Its main menu includes an option to keep your device’s screen awake while playing, but most phones and tablets can already do that innately. It also has the option to redeem… something. I’m not sure what it could be adding to the app, since it doesn’t specify or even give me the option to purchase the upgrade. It’s pretty easy on the battery life, though!
Dragon Counter is your run-of-the-mill life counting app. It’s got all the specs we’ve come to expect for the free version: a life counter, a commander damage tracker, and all the other fixins’ are just a long press away. Personally, I’m a big fan of the ability to scroll your life total up and down. This allows you to quickly change your life total after that big haymaker from an opponent, no need to tap on the screen for a full thirty seconds while you count out damage. You can’t customize layouts, but it does include a dark mode option.
If you choose to unlock the Pro version for $5, you’ll unlock the ability to customize colors, roll virtual dice, and have access to a game history. That’s not really enough extra function for your money, in my opinion.
Talisman Games’s LifeTotal looks nice enough, and it launches directly into a game when it’s opened. I’m not a huge fan of its UI, but everything the life addition/subtraction buttons are clearly labeled. It can support up to six players, but it doesn’t let you change the layout of the table. Plus, these options are hidden in a menu that’s only accessible by clicking the “M” in the center of the screen. Once you find them, there are options for changing the starting totals and a d6 roller, but not much else. My final gripe is that you change from counting life totals to other counters by swiping up on your life total. This took me a bit to get the hang of, and I can imagine a scenario where I’m constantly picking my phone up from the center of the table to fumble with my commander damage.
There’s also the problem of the price to remove advertisements. I’m okay paying $4.99 if I’m unlocking additional features, but a $5 bill just to stop distracting me with a moving ad at the bottom of my life total is just a little too much.
Moxtopper is the edgy cousin of the life counter family. Sassy KO messages, neon lights themes, and support for up to 10 players are what sets this app apart. Moxtopper includes a ton of different themes for the player playmats and the app’s icon, and it can generate a line graph of player life totals at the end of the game. You can upload custom photos as your playmat for $5, too. The only thing it lacks is a dice rolling mechanic. You can randomly generate the starting player, but if you ever need to actually roll some dice, Moxtopper can’t help you. Also, you know the folks who made it are fun because they included all these goofy messages in the app! Haha, so quirky!
Carbon is the ol’ tried-and-true as far MTG life counter apps go. Carbon has a simple design with plain flat colors for each player’s life total. Its intuitive controls mean most players pick up how to modify their life totals immediately (tapping above and below the number).
Carbon’s Pro version costs $4.99, but it gives you access to some cool effects like a marker for the city’s blessing, the monarch, and a “kill players” animation. But even without the upgrade, Carbon is one of the best for its simplicity and legibility.
This one’s got all the bells and whistles. For the low price of $2.50, you get the most complete Magic life counter app on the market. Magic: The Life Counter includes trackers for everything you could possibly track in Magic and then some. Besides all the typical “player” counters like commander damage and poison, you can also track individual planeswalkers’ loyalty counters or the counters on battles or sagas.
If all that weren’t enough, this app has excellent flavor and theme options. Want some moody theme music for your game? Magic TLC’s got you covered with eight different tracks from everyone’s favorite free-use composer Kevin MacLeod. Absolutely need to have a player profile pic? Choose from a library of hundreds of characters from Magic’s history. It’s even got auto-generated landscape playmats based on color combinations, too! My only complaint is with so much going on on-screen, it can be hard to tell at a glance what the life totals are all set at.
Ajfek Software’s Magic Life Counter has more functionality on offer than any other life counter on the market. However, unlocking all that functionality costs a whopping $10. With a modular home screen, you can easily add or remove any kind of tracker you’ll need (including Archenemy schemes and Planechase planes) and rearrange them however you like. Want to keep all your experience counters at the top of our screen? You can easily drag and drop any of the counter widgets around.
Magic Life Counter also has a game history tracker, and lets you save game profiles to easily restart a game with all the trackers you’ll need preloaded. While this is the most expensive life counter on the list, you definitely get the bang for your buck.
Lotus has a lot going for it. Besides its simple and easy-to-read design, Vanilla b.v.’s Lotus also has a built-in timer to track how long you have left in a round. Plus, it’s got a card image search that’ll display prices pulled from TCGplayer. Plus, they’ve included a simplified summary of the basic rules, useful for pulling up quick definitions or wordings on specific rules.
Lotus also stands out for its game history archive, where it saves previous games however you left them. If you, like me, are also irrevocably brain-poisoned by your phone and constantly picking it up to fidget or reply to messages without thinking, this saves you the embarrassment of having to recall where everyone’s life total was and who had taken how much damage from which commanders.
Lifetap’s another life counter app that launches straight into a game when opened, but it has so much more going for it. Along with the standard features we’ve come to expect, Lifetap includes trackers for everything in the game, including poison counters, commander damage (it automatically ticks down life totals), the monarch (automatically switches from player to player when selected), the initiative, and the city’s blessing. It’s so customizable, too. The settings menu lets you modify just about everything. You can increase the font size, set the menu to auto-hide, enable or disable Planechase and Archenemy, change the layout of the board in multiplayer games, even enable a “webcam mode” for display on stream.
My favorite part is the ability to create and save player profiles with names and playmats. In the example images, I’ve saved my name and a playmat featuring Richard Kane-Ferguson’s Animate Wall.
Mutility’s name doesn’t lie; it’s truly the utilitarian MTG life counter. Basic life counting and starting life total options, blisteringly bright colors for the counters, and a roll-off mechanic with a simple animation. Of course, most of the customization is locked behind the $3.99 paywall, meaning you won’t have access to the life tracker history or the other colors or any additional counters until you cough up. Also, that app icon is ugly as sin, sorry.
Life's Finale | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov
It’s true nobody needs a life counter app on their phone, but with such a plethora of cool apps available, it’s worth it to find one you like, just in case. You don’t necessarily need an app with all these cool bells and whistles, but if you’re looking to take your digital accessories for Magic to the next level, this might be your next upgrade.
Do you think life counter apps are worth the trouble? What do you use to track life in your games? Let me know in the comments, or over on Draftsim’s Discord.
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