Last updated on January 20, 2022

Counterflux - Illustration by Scott M. Fischer

Counterflux | Illustration by Scott M. Fischer

There are a lot of accessories that paper Magic players can use to make their games run smoother. Like, a lot.

But instead of listing all the things under the sun, I’m gonna focus on one thing for today: life counters. I’ve been playing Magic for over a decade now and I’ve seen all sorts of ways to track life totals. From high-tech gadgets to pen and paper, there are quite a few options.

Today I’m going to cover what I think are the best life counters for MTG, but first!

Quick Recommendations

Best Commander Life Counter
Cadillac of MTG Life Counters
Best Casual Life Counter
MTG Magic Commander Anthology Dice100 Life Counter
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
MTG Magic Commander Anthology Dice100 Life Counter
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
$13.49
$24.99
$7.48
Best Commander Life Counter
MTG Magic Commander Anthology Dice100 Life Counter
MTG Magic Commander Anthology Dice100 Life Counter
$13.49
Cadillac of MTG Life Counters
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
$24.99
Best Casual Life Counter
Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
$7.48

Commander’s Arsenal and Anthology Spin Dials

Commander Anthology d100 life counter spin dial

The Commander Anthology spin dials are just so nifty for a variety of uses. I constantly use these for Commander games and even casual stuff. They’re a little hard to find nowadays because they were only released with the Commander’s Arsenal and Anthology sets, but it’ll last you a long time if you can find one for $10 to $15.

Spindown Dice

Sometimes the simplest solution is the best. Spindown dice come out all the time and there’s a wide variety to choose from. You can even get oversized ones from set bundles which look nice.

Pen & Paper

When in doubt, keep it manual. Any piece of scrap paper and a writing utensil will do. My local game store offers free life pads which is pretty awesome of them. Heck, I’ve seen players use fast-food napkins before. It works!

Carbon App

By far the easiest and most visually appealing app out there. I’ve been using Carbon for years. It’s handy, lightweight, and feature rich. The app is currently only available on iOS since the Android version is waiting to be renewed.

Why Do I Need Something to Track My Life?

Prying Questions - Illustration by David Palumbo

Prying Questions | Illustration by David Palumbo

As dumb as it sounds, you kinda need a way to track life totals when playing in person. You can’t reliably track life totals by memory unlike with Arena’s handy calculator. Magic’s tournament rules state that you h­ave to have a way to track life totals for any games beyond your kitchen table.

It’s also just better for you and those you play with. It makes a clear impact on a game when you can talk about life totals, or at least view them. Competitive players will want to know when life totals change so they can plan their next turn. Casual players will want it for table politics in multiplayer games.

Heck, it even helps prevent arguments if someone disagrees when it comes to the current life totals.

Buyers Guide

There are a bunch of options for how to track life totals. Plus, everyone has different needs. What I look for in a life counter may not be the same as what you’re looking for. So I’m going to highlight some of the features that guide my recommendations.

Reliability

Trusty Machete - Illustration by Raymond Swanland

Trusty Machete | Illustration by Raymond Swanland

One of the most important factors for buying a life counter is “can you rely on this?” Whether you’re using spindowns, percentile dice, or anything else. If you can’t rely on it to be accurate it might end up being more harm than good.

This is the main reason I prefer not to use dice. They can get knocked over, grabbed, rolled, etc. In the end it’s more of a pain than it might be worth. This also extends to digital stuff. If an app auto-closes and wipes life totals, then what’s the point?

Electronics deserve an honorable mention here. Some of these “smart boards” (like Boogie Boards) can have terrible battery life or be too easy to clear. Checking to see the battery life or auto-save options can be a lifesaver (heh).

Quality of Materials

Osgir, the Reconstructor - Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

Osgir, the Reconstructor | Illustration by Victor Adame Minguez

Quality is naturally a close second to reliability. They’re almost hand-in-hand because quality can directly correlate to the reliability of a product. But quality is more than just long-lasting when it comes to most of these products.

If something is supposed to spin, how good are the materials that make it spin? Are they going to last a couple of years of use, or will they slowly wear down and be too loose to use? Can any moving parts get smashed or misaligned?

When it comes to handmade stuff, sometimes 3D printing and resin-poured products can end up looking and feeling cheap. Especially if it’s a dubious Etsy or Amazon seller. Or something from Wish. Just stop buying stuff from Wish, please.

Style

Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher - Illustration by Bram Sels

Acornelia, Fashionable Filcher | Illustration by Bram Sels

This is more of a personal choice than anything. Style can be a deciding factor for some players. Aesthetics matter, especially when your MTG accessories are treated like an extension of your personality.

Style can also extend to be a feature. Are you looking for something that four players can use for a multiplayer game? What about just 1v1 opponents? I mainly play Commander so I’d look for something that works for just myself or up to four people.

Spindown Dice

set of 5 MTG spindown dice

It’s hard to argue that spindowns aren’t the easiest way to track life totals. Almost all Magic players have a couple lying around thanks to their inclusion in most official­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ products. While they aren’t super reliable for anything competitive, they’re the best choice if you want something quick and easy. While they’re only 1 to 20, adding another die to the pot isn’t that hard.

I prefer using the smaller spindowns that come with prerelease kits compared to the set bundles’ oversized spindowns. Mainly because I find that most other MTG accessories are only designed to fit regular d20s.

Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
  • 5 MTG 20 Sided Spindown Dice
  • White, Blue, Black, Red, Green
  • Used for Magic: The Gathering

Pen and Paper

When in doubt, write it out. The most tried and true way to track anything. You’re good to go as long as you’ve got space to write down a couple of columns.

This is also the only real option for competitive play. The Magic tournament rules specifically require methods that can’t be easily changed. So while you might be able to use other options, pen and paper is the most common.

Spin Dials

Commander Anthology d100 life counter spin dials

I love these things. They’re so useful. Spin dials are limited to 0-99 life totals, so they work great for casual and Commander play, especially the Commander Anthology spin dials. Plus they have a firm clicking mechanism that not only makes sure they can’t be accidentally adjusted but it’s also super satisfying.

Etsy has some similar options that range from 3D prints to handmade wooden ones, so your mileage may vary based on who made them. But they’re certainly unique!

Mobile Apps

Everyone’s got a phone nowadays and there are literally hundreds of apps out there for tracking life totals. With how diverse the market is you can probably find an app that suits your specific needs.

Fancy colors, different player count options, poison and commander damage tracking, you name it and you can probably find it!

Life Wheels

MTG life wheels

These little flimsy wheels generally come with precons like Commander decks and the old Brawl decks. They’re cheap but also easy to use. Some savvy collectors might have access to the old Ultra Pro versions which were made with hard deck box-like plastic, too.

They aren’t usually visually appealing and they aren’t super reliable after a while. They also typically just go from 1-40 so it’s limiting at a certain point. I really don’t recommend life wheels unless you’re a super new player and don’t have anything else yet.

There are some other options that are similar to these but come in double digits which you can find on Amazon or Etsy. They’re usually either cheaply produced or handmade, so I can’t give a full recommendation either way. Your mileage will vary based on the retailer you buy from, but the quality is probably better than the paper ones.

Abacus-style

Hey, it’s me. It’s the year of our lord 2022. Stop it.

Seriously, these look hideous and we’re too far into the digital age to use an abacus anymore.

The Cadillacs of MTG Life Counters

Boogie Boards / E-Ink Notepads

Boogie Board reusable writing tablet

These are somewhat new tech that’s become more popular over the last decade or so. While I see the Boogie Board more often than any other brand, there are a few to choose from. Many of them look stylish and eye-catching and they’re more economical than paper and pencil. They serve the same function as any other notepad without wasting paper.

Boogie Boards are the cheapest option with little to no-frills. There are some other notepads out there that serve multiple purposes but come at a much higher cost. Some are even Android-enabled tablets!

Sale
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
  • JOT is Boogie Board’s best-selling reusable writing tablet that’s perfect for quick lists, reminders, family game nights—the list goes on and on!
  • WRITE WITH ANYTHING: Write with the included stylus, a pen cap, pencil or even your fingernail.
  • ERASE INSTANTLY: Push the button on top of the LCD writing tablet to activate Boogie Board’s unique Quick Clear technology and watch the board instantly clear itself. No need for special erasers or paper towels.
  • PERFECT FOR HOME ORGANIZING: The bright, durable display and integrated kickstand feature and magnets make this a great writing tablet for all your home organizing needs.
  • AUTHENTIC: The reusable writing tablet uses Boogie Board’s patented technology made of scientifically engineered materials, which offers a natural writing experience and a bright, durable screen that lasts for years.

Flying Tricycle Spindown Life Dials

Flying Tricycle life counter white mana symbol

These Flying Tricycle spindown dials are a beauty to behold and are extremely unique. But it seems that the manufacturer closed shop eons ago. It was hard for me to even find the name of the manufacturer to put it on the list! These dials only go from 1-60 but their brilliant gold-leaf mana symbols will impress anyone.

Reaper Miniatures Life Counters

Reaper miniature life counter

In a similar vein to the Flying Tricycle dials, Reaper Miniature counters are beautiful but hard to find. They’re typically made of pewter instead of traditional metals and haven’t been in production for a long time.

You can find a list of what types there are from Noble Knight Games with them even having a few options. Most of these counters are a dial with a detailed miniature on top, but some are just dials. Be aware of which one you’re looking for since some of them were exclusive to the Scrye magazine in the ’90s and ’00s and could be harder to find.

Best Budget Deal

Boogie Board reusable writing tablet

My personal favorite recommendations are Boogie Boards and the Carbon App.

Boogie Boards (and their knockoffs) are super affordable, generally in the $20 to $40 range for an infinitely re-useable tablet. You really can’t go wrong with pen and paper but saving the environment by using a digital version is much better in my opinion.

Carbon (App Store | Google Play) is the most feature-rich life tracker app I’ve ever used. I can use it on my phone, tablets, even my Chromebook laptop! It’s free, comes with everything I need, and doesn’t even have ads. What’s not to like?

Sale
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
  • JOT is Boogie Board’s best-selling reusable writing tablet that’s perfect for quick lists, reminders, family game nights—the list goes on and on!
  • WRITE WITH ANYTHING: Write with the included stylus, a pen cap, pencil or even your fingernail.
  • ERASE INSTANTLY: Push the button on top of the LCD writing tablet to activate Boogie Board’s unique Quick Clear technology and watch the board instantly clear itself. No need for special erasers or paper towels.
  • PERFECT FOR HOME ORGANIZING: The bright, durable display and integrated kickstand feature and magnets make this a great writing tablet for all your home organizing needs.
  • AUTHENTIC: The reusable writing tablet uses Boogie Board’s patented technology made of scientifically engineered materials, which offers a natural writing experience and a bright, durable screen that lasts for years.

Best Mobile App

Carbon! I can’t sing this app’s praises enough. It features almost every function I’d need in a life tracking app. Being able to track commander damage, poison, and other things is handy for almost every case. Plus the app is visually appealing, and best of all: it’s free!

Quick note: Carbon is temporarily only on iOS until Google approves the latest version of the app according to the developer of the app, Matt Marks.

Best Commander Life Counter

Commander Anthology d100 life counter spin dial

It’s hard to go wrong with spin dials. My friends and I all have the ones from Commander Anthology and we use them almost exclusively. Most of our games don’t feature anyone going past 99 life and the dials are firm and stay in place.

Best Competitive Play Life Counter

If you’re a competitive player, you have to use pen and paper (or a digital equivalent like an e-ink notebook). Having the ability to notate life totals when they change is vital to playing at a higher level. It helps you clarify things between you and your opponent and you have a record to show a judge in case anything goes wrong.

Best Casual Life Counter

set of 5 MTG spindown dice

Spindown d20s are a casual player’s best friend. They come in a ton of colors and set symbols, they’re ridiculously cheap, and it’s easy to find one that fits your style. I specifically chose spindowns because it’s easier to go from 20-1 in order than trying to find the number on a standard d20, but those also work in a pinch.

Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
  • 5 MTG 20 Sided Spindown Dice
  • White, Blue, Black, Red, Green
  • Used for Magic: The Gathering

Best Metal Life Counter

Flying Tricycle life counter white mana symbol

I love the look of the Flying Tricycle life counters and I think they’re the best option out there. They go from 0-60 which is suitable for most matches, and they spin pretty easily. They also look super unique and are quite eye-catching.

Life Counter Apps and Websites

Carbon

I’ve mentioned Carbon (App Store | Google Play) enough times in this article, so I’ll just let my previous words speak for themselves.

MTG Familiar

I use MTG Familiar all the time mostly for its other functions but it also works as a life tracker. The app features a database of all cards and prices, a trade list tracker, mana pool tracker, and more. It’s also free! Its interface is nothing to write home about though, so don’t expect to be visually impressed.

Magic: The Gathering Companion

Wizards’ new official app comes with a slew of features mainly for in-person play, including its own life counter. You might as well use it for a life tracker if you’re already using it for an event. Some Android users have reported issues with the app, so your experience could vary.

Custom Life Counters

Sensei’s Divining Top Life Dial

Sensei’s Divining Top Life Dial

Reddit user GOJOECHRIS provided the STL file for this beautiful rendition of an iconic card. Sure, you probably gotta paint it yourself, but just look at it!

ByYourCommand’s Fan-Made Dials

Etsy fan-made life counter dials

These dials on Etsy are probably the closest you can get to the Flying Tricycle dials. While they aren’t as luxurious as their predecessor, they come in a variety of options and are super customizable to fit whatever theme you want.

WildCasting’s Metal Dials

Etsy WildCasting’s Metal Dials

These beautiful metal dials may only be limited to 1-40, but they’re beautiful and look high quality. They even give off those Reaper Miniature-style vibes in a new way. They also come in several designs and also feature a bunch of different bundles with extra tokens and trays!

Wrap Up

Life's Finale - Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

Life’s Finale | Illustration by Svetlin Velinov

There’s always going to be a myriad of options to track life totals. Whether you like to write it by hand, use a bunch of dice, or just whip your phone out. I’ll always stand by the Commander Anthology spin dials as well as the Carbon app. I recommend these to anybody who wants an easy way to track totals and they’re easy to get.

Best Commander Life Counter
Cadillac of MTG Life Counters
Best Casual Life Counter
MTG Magic Commander Anthology Dice100 Life Counter
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
MTG Magic Commander Anthology Dice100 Life Counter
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
$13.49
$24.99
$7.48
Best Commander Life Counter
MTG Magic Commander Anthology Dice100 Life Counter
MTG Magic Commander Anthology Dice100 Life Counter
$13.49
Cadillac of MTG Life Counters
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
Boogie Board Jot Reusable Writing Tablet, Includes 8.5 in LCD Writing Tablet, Instant Erase, Stylus Pen, Built in Magnets & Kickstand, Blue
$24.99
Best Casual Life Counter
Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
Magic The Gathering Spindown (Set of Five) MTG
$7.48

What do you think? Are there other ways to track life totals that I missed? Maybe you really like an abacus? Let me know in the comments or tweet at us.

As for me, I need to bust out my credit card for one of those Flying Tricycles. Stay safe out there!

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