- An Interview with a Gamer

Matt Morgan • April 6, 2024 is a website and app that has been on the rise recently. With more and more players seeking to get some additional insight into their own games, the app offers a great deal of insight. I wrote about getting into, and now we've had a chance to interview one of their more active users. The interview was conducted by staff of If you're into Commander and curious about how game tracking could improve your experience, this read is for you. Their story is packed with reasons why keeping tabs on your games could be the game-changer you're looking for. 

Introduce yourself briefly and tell us something about your background with Magic and Commander.

I've been playing Magic since right around Return to Ravnica, I want to say that's around 10 years ago. I took a few short breaks from Commander to focus more on competitive Magic, but of late I've been almost exclusively playing Commander. I'd say I've probably been having 7 years of experience with Commander where it's the main focus of my play.

In terms of setting, what is the typical setup for how you play Commander?

It's been a mix of random and known players. For the majority of the time it had been one or two friends who I've known for the whole time I've been playing. We would be playing Commander and would have people fill out the pod from the LGS. After a while we were getting kind of tired of the occasional salty player joining us, then my girlfriend got into Magic rounding out the fourth person in a pod and we transitioned entirely to a set pod. 

And what does your pod look like in terms of power level?

So in our group nothing is off the table. You can win on turn one and nobody will really care. It's rare but it'll happen. I would say the going vibe is very much you won, cool, then you shuffle up and you play again. Everything's fair game. 

I do believe that most conceptions of power level are a bit ridiculous as far as conversations go. Every single game we play, you will see free or one-mana ramp and a lot of interaction. The only time I have played a deck without an infinite combo in the past seven years was when I was explicitly challenged to build a list with no fast mana and no combos. The person who got me into Commander got me in by beating me down with combo decks, so that was just kind of fine. I got used to it, you know?

What is the average number of turns until a game ends?

So when looking at the stats, our average number of rounds is 6.22. That is actually much higher than I had expected. I suppose when you have maybe a quarter to a third of the games being played with a heavy stax list it will inherently slow things down.

When did you decide to start tracking your games with and why did you choose

We first started using it about a year ago. I'm a big baseball fan and the sport is very heavily entrenched in statistics. Being a fan of such a sport, I've always enjoyed being able to break down why certain people that you can see are good. Taking that to Magic, I tend to be an optimizer. I don't mind playing a strategy or a commander that is suboptimal, I don't necessarily need to be running Blue Farm every game for example. In my head, if I'm going to play something it needs to be as good as it can possibly be. So in order to get there, the stats your app offers are crucial. 

There are a ton of stats that help me get there like how long my turns are taking, how much damage I'm dealing, what turn the games are ending on etc. These things can all be directly fed into the deck building process. If you know your game is ending turn seven on average, you shouldn't be running many six-drops. That was sort of the underlying reason why I've been so enthralled by your app. I've found myself tracking much more than I really would have expected. It's been very, very helpful.

Can you name an example of a deck building decision you made based on the stats?

One example I have recently is the card Smokestack. I've been playing Smokestack for 10 years and I was trying to keep it in my stax list just because it's fun for me. Once I discovered that games were ending on turn six typically, Smokestack drops on turn four if it's on curve, then you're maybe getting up to two counters. The stats just put things in perspective for you and that is the key factor for me.

How easy do you think it is to set up an account and start tracking games?

Obviously for your first game there will always be a slight learning curve relative to if you were not using a similar app before. You have to make an account or take advantage of the guest feature, but there's some setup involved. That's it. It's not like you're tracking stats by hand or anything and it's all automatic. The initial barrier is very, very low.

What did you do to encourage your playgroup members to start using the app during games? 

The way I got my playgroup using the app was to just put a tablet on the table and said let's try this. They thought "Okay, cool, we don't have to worry about this anymore!" It slowly became more quoting stats and using them in petty arguments and whatnot. There was a lot of fun stuff that came out of it. When you're in a playgroup and you have an argument about who's turns take too long you can prove empirically that someone has a 10 second longer turn on average. This makes the arguments quite fun. Ultimately, I think just if you want to get your playgroup into it just provide the device that's going to do the tracking and I don't foresee a concern. That's really it. 

And apparently your playgroup members all had some incentive to track their stats.

They really do. The majority our group does something with the stats. We've got one player who I would say "I don't care," and I don't think they check the stats at all. It's not aversion to stats so much as not letting it factor into their gameplay or their thinking. I would say actually the Discord bot has really helped us out as well.

Do you think those discussions had an impact on the rule zero aspect of Commander and fostering a specific experience each game?

Since we're in a fixed pod most of the time there sort of isn't a rule zero conversation, and the stats from the app preempts that. Of course you can look at the stats and say "Hey guys, I think the game is ending before we can really get to the fun part of the match." Sometimes we can talk about that. Players definitely don't have to take the stats and put them into the optimization process like I do. You really can use them as heavily or lightly as you please. Someone could just see how high of a number they could get for damage dealt in a turn for example.  I wouldn't say that it inherently pushes you towards spiky optimization/CDH or whatever you want to call it. I think it's just what you make of it.

So when looking at the UX of the tracking itself, what would you say is the most helpful?

I would say that the swiping becomes intuitive quickly. It takes a little to find the in's and out's but it all makes sense once you start to get a feel for it. The recent changes to the special actions menu that allow you to do things like damage to multiple players at the same time have been fantastic. Draining people out is probably one of the more prevalent win conditions in the pod at the moment so this feature has been great. There are some ideas they have with allowing for some sort of customization per deck to the special menus. If and when that point is reached would comfortably be the best option for tracking life. There wouldn't really be an argument for using any other app for us. 

What would you say is your favorite stat to track on the app?

By far my favorite stat is the player stat of average time taken per turn. I pride myself on being efficient with my turns because I think it would be hypocritical to get annoyed if someone takes an inordinately long turn and do the same myself. I'm almost at under 50 seconds a turn last time I checked. But also I think it speaks to knowing your lists. If you can have a good win rate plus low time taken on average, that's a really good sign that you know your deck. I think between those two things to look at and together I think they give you a pretty good profile of how you're playing.

And what is your favorite individual feature?

The borrowed deck feature is by far my favorite feature. I've built a lot of the decks that are played by others in the pod either through helping someone optimize or as a gift. Being able to track myself playing with something I've built that I don't own is nice. It's something that wouldn't have really occurred to me until other users on our Discord brought it up but I absolutely love it. It's cool that you can see how other pilots are doing compared to the main pilot.

What's your experience with the Playgroup development team?

I remember distinctly about a year ago we would be playing and an issue would come up and I would just post it on the Discord. The team would usually have solved within a day and that was super cool. It's really awesome how responsive they are, and now that the community has grown a little bit it is pretty cool to see all the new ideas pop up. It's very democratic in that if enough people want a feature, ultimately it will be added provided it makes sense.

Any features that you would really love to see in the future?

I think the number one feature I'd like to see that I'm not sure how it could be implemented would be to figure out how many cards you're seeing each turn. That's the one stat that in looking at how one would optimize or perfect the deck. It would be the only stat that I don't think could reasonably be tracked but that I would love to see it if possible.

How would you rank your overall experience with the app?

I love it. It's basically become another tool in the toolbox. For me I pretty much just use, a deck builder website, plus a couple of other artistic sites. That's now how I conceptualize the format. is very, very useful in that regard.

Would you recommend to other people?

Absolutely, I would tell everyone to at least try it. What are you losing?

Matt is a member of the EDHRECast, formerly grinding pro points until he let the inner Timmy take over and shifted his attention to Commander. He appreciates bad wordplay as much as a good alpha strike. A diverse nerd, you might also see him maining Leona support in League of Legends as well or on the deadlift platform at the gym.