Add-On Spotlight: MTGATracker

Introduction


I come from an almost purely digital CCG background. I played Magic the Gathering (MTG) when I was still in school, which was at the beginning of Revised (3rd Edition, 1994) up until Mirage (late 1996). I found my love for CCG again in the digital age with Hearthstone, Hex: Shards of Fate, and Gwent. Hex was the closest to Magic, but MTG was always my secret love. Therefore I was hyped when I finally got my closed beta key for MTG: Arena (MTGA).



One of the first things I was looking after a few games was any sort of deck tracker. Those tools should fulfill three task:
  · show your decklist
  · track cards played
  · track matches for each deck with win/loss ratio

In the games I previously mentioned, especially Gwent, such an add-on is crucial as there is a lot of deck interaction and thinning involved. A lot of veteran Magic players might argue that in MTG such software is less important – which might be true. Nonetheless, for the less experienced player, it is a very good tool to:
 · get used to the deck you are playing
 · see what options are left in the deck
 · improve your own deck and play

Atop of that, if you are a player like me who gets a lot of fun out of playing various decks, the advantage of seeing the list of a deck you do not know inside out is obvious. The ability to track matches equally important in MTG than in other games. It will help to assess your performance with every deck you played as well as identifying strong and weak matchups which can then lead to building / refining your deck appropriately.

The only one available right now I know of is MTGATracker. Following, I will provide you with information starting from setting up the program up to real life user experience. At the end of the article, you can find a developer’s interview. Let’s go!

Installation


You can download it through their website. The latest build available as I write this is 3.1.1 and its size is around 80MB. During installation, the first obstacle showed up for me. My AV software (BitDefender) was warning me of malicious software behavior. That got me worried for a moment. I talked a bit to the developers via the MTGATracker discord and I was also assured by other community members from the Compleat discord I know for a good time now that the software is safe to use. I hit the “install anyway” button and installation was quick and easy. As a note in defense of the project, I spoke with the developer about the issues claims that those occur for a couple reasons: 1) obtaining a code signing certificate is very expensive and 2) antivirus softwares generally only mark executables as safe after they have been run on a large volume of machines; he estimates that this number is in the thousands, but he told me his background dealing with antivirus started with mtgatracker and that he's still learning how to overcome these types of issues.

The first use of the software went without any problems. The second time I wanted to start the tracker it did not work, though. This was again caused by the AV soft, as it did quarantined the MTGATracker.exe due to suspected malicious behavior. I had restore it and for it not to happen again, I had to implement exception rules. If you run in the same problem, you can read in the following paragraph what I did. If not, you can skip it.

The file location of the MTGATracker.exe on your windows-drive (normally c:\) should be c:\users\myusername\Appdata\Local\ and c:\...\local\app-3.1.1\ which you need to whitelist both. I also whitelisted the Update.exe as well as the squirrel.exe in those folders; tbh I do not know if it was really necessary. This fixed the problem. Thank you at this point to the developers, especially @Spencatro that were quick to answer and provide aid with this problem as well as a java related issue I was facing with the previous 3.1.0 build.

UI & Options menu


General appearance
The UI is clean and simple (screenshot are displayed further below). The font is easily readable. There are only a few buttons which help the clean uncluttered feel. Cards are color coded to easily identify their allegiance. You are able to customize the appearance of MTGATracker through themes which I will tackle in detail below.



Options Menu
The options menu consists of four pages. The first one is the “About” page which indicates the version number, general informations, and various links. The second is the main options windows with a few self explanatory toggles (see screenshot below). The third tab is all about
custom themes and the fourth and final tackles privacy options. To discover more about themes follow this link and watch this video guide on how to create your own themes.

Size and transparency

You can resize the box by hitting the “+” and “-“ buttons at the top that are not obvious when you first see the UI. The out of the box size was a bit too big for my which drove me to click the “-“ twice immediately but you can choose at your own convenience which is nice. By default, hitting the right mouse button makes the overlay transparent while hitting the left mouse button makes it appear again. There is also a streamer mode available with green screen like back color. Sadly, there is no option to transparency option, but I am sure this is an option that the developers will consider to implement rather sooner than later.




Decklist
Starting up the game, all your decks get discovered which worked properly for me. I could browse through all of them by just clicking on them and I would see all cards of the build. The software is still missing a card browser function at this stage of development which would make for an even better experience. It also would be nice of you’d have any kind of sorting options to sort for color/lands, mana cost, rarity, and so on. Once you start a match, the list will get rid of the cards you already played and the UI will show you the number of cards left.

Note: for twitch streamers, there is an add-on available called DeckMaster. This neat overlay allows viewers to hover over cards on the battlefield, the players hand, the graveyards, and exile zones. I am not sure if it also supports a list view with hover over. For details and questions contact the developer Fugiman.

Game Inspector - Tracking your matches


The Inspector is a web based game tracking service. It provides you with your win/loss ratio of each and every deck you played. This feature is likely the most important for the majority of the players.

Setup
In order to use this service, you have to get on MTGATracker discord. Then, you have to post your discord name in a post on the official MTGA beta forums. From the time of post posting there to being confirmed it takes only a few seconds. The software provides all necessary links and informations to get through this process without any problems or frustrations. Well done!

Once you have taken all those steps, you can see statistics regarding your decks and/or matchups. YOu will see your win/loss ratio as well as individual matches. A graph also shows you how your or the selected deck did against decks which contained certain colors. The statistics section is still very basic and contains no further information about card winrates, but it is a good starting point. Of course we would like to have a plethora of statistics of the likes of HSReplay, but this takes time and manpower to develop.



Conclusion


The software is still in its infancy,but the base is solid. Weather you need the tracker to track which cards are left in deck is debatable for a game like magic but tracking your wins and losses is definitely a huge improvement for your game. Therefore I can recommend it to all players. I am also sure that the functionality will become better and better over time which can further improve your experience.

Bonus: developer interview


Spencatro, one of the developers was kind enough to sit down with me and answer some questions about the future of MTGATracker and the people behind it in an interview. Following, you can read the transcript.

OtakuMZ: Hi Spencatro, first of all, thank you for taking your time. Tell us a little about you and your team. What did drive you to develop MTGATRACKER and what are your background regarding CCGs and MTG in particular?

Spencatro: Howdy OtakuMZ! I got into the MTGA Closed Beta around March 2018. I remember the day I got the email from Wizards- we were in the middle of a skiing trip, and I ended up racing down the mountain as fast as I could to get the MTGA client installed. Within days of joining the forums, someone pointed me to the MTGA log file, and really from there, the spark was lit. I'm always looking for side projects to stay fresh with writing code. I also write code for a living, but sometimes IRLwork ends up being a little too pre-structured, or a little too pressured by deadlines to slow down and learn new things. In that vein, MTGATracker really started just as a "I wonder what new stuff I can pick up / I bet this would be fun to mess with” kinda thing. As I started telling people about it on the forums and otherwise, seeing how excited they got - that's what really made it obvious that I needed to make this a *real thing.* I started playing MTG in a kitchen table setting with my sister and her friends, probably around 15 years ago or so when I was around 10 years old. I only recently started playing DCI sanctioned standard and limited events with OGW, though. Most recently, daphpunk and I went to Seattle for GP Seattle, which was a huge blast! Before MTGA, I was a daily Hearthstone player, all the way from their closed beta (with a few hiatuses here and there). I never made legend or anything; the best monthly rank I ever got was 5, I think. Now that MTGA is out, though, I've...barely opened Hearthstone since the Witchwood. (Sorry Blizzard!)

OtakuMZ: I see a lot of similarities there, although I still play Hearthstone as I am involved in a cool meta report project. Back to the tracker, the software looks very sleek so far. What are the next things you want to implement and what is your timeframe for that?

Spencatro: Thanks, that means a lot! I'm still learning when it comes to keeping clean roadmaps for personal projects, but for now our "next featureset planned" lives on github as milestones. I'm pretty happy with this for now, but if there are devs (or others) out there with better ideas for this, we're definitely open to them! Generally, I try to spend one week working on releasing a tracker update, then the next working on releasing Inspector improvements and updates. This week I'm working on implementing the ability to hide old decks from inspector, implementing a dark or nighttime mode on Inspector, and fixing a few access bugs.

OtakuMZ: Interesting, those are good quality of life features. I am sure a lot of the players are as eager to the that all coming to MTGATracker as I am. Further down the road, what is your long-term goal with the add-on?

Spencatro: As far as the technical side goes: I don't really have a huge long-term goal for MTGATracker. If we can get to a point where MTGATracker has somehow generated enough revenue to even cover our existing
fundraising goals, I'll have considered it a giant success that has far surpassed my original vision. We break crazy milestones every week that I never thought were possible - just at the beginning of June, we broke 20k games tracked! Anyways, for now, day-to-day I'm just focusing on making the tracker and Inspector better than they were yesterday, mainly by taking in & fixing feature requests and bug reports on discord. One of the long-term goals I have in my mind is something along the lines of publishing data-driven, investigative MTGA content. (Think fivethirtyeight, but for MTG!) I think the MTGATracker platform gives us as MTG players collectively a unique chance to see some broader analytical data that was previously only available to Wizards. I also think it could be empowering to the MTG community to let individuals contribute MTG content at whatever rate they can or want to, without requiring them to "know someone," or forcing them to launch their own blog platform. To be frank, though, this is still a very fresh idea in my brain; I have no idea if it would work and it's definitely a long way out, blocked by lots of tough issues like data privacy and consent, finding contributors in the community, or even developing a blog platform in the first place.

OtakuMZ: Yes, you are still at the beginning, but as I already said, the tracker already looks very promising. Speaking of support, what would someone have to do who is interested in helping out?

Spencatro: Well, there are tons of ways to help out, even if you don't write code! The best way to help make MTGATracker better is to give us feedback, either in the form of feature requests or bug reports. We prefer Discord, but I also try to keep on top of the Twitter, Facebook page, and email. If you do write code and want to contribute, the desktop tracker part of MTGATracker is completely open source, and I'm personally always thrilled to get a new pull request to review, or even to answer code-related questions in Discord from a curious dev who might contribute. We don't necessarily (yet!) have a dedicated "team" when it comes to development other than myself, but being open source means that, really, anyone can write some code, open a pull request, and become a collaborator, or even a core contributor! Our contribution guidelines and suggested workflow are outlined here for anyone who wants to get involved. If you're not sure where to start, we have a "good first issue" list, and a #dev-corner channel in Discord where I or any of the other collaborators might be able to answer questions. We'd even appreciate contributions in the form of security research, third party audits of our code, etc. (but definitely get permission from us before doing any kind of security research on your own).

OtakuMZ: What's the deal with "Open Source”? Why does that matter?

Spencatro: I decided early on to try and keep MTGATracker code free and as open source as possible--which really just means that we publish our code freely on the internet--for a couple reasons. First, we think anyone who wants to should be able to "join the team" by proposing quality, peer-reviewed contributions. We hope that allowing the community to help us will make our code better, and allow us to add new features faster than if we had a "closed" team and were closed source. Second, I personally want to follow in the footsteps of groups like Auth0, who pledge to be radically transparent (we're not affiliated with Auth0, but their open source projects and tools help power MTGATracker, and have solved [more] [than] [one] issue for us already - I'm a huge fan). Anyways, keeping as much of our source open as possible allows anyone in the community to read or audit our code to make sure it's safe. Maybe publishing our code will help other third party devs make something else cool! DeckMaster originally used MTGATracker's card-to-MTGA-ID mapping, and that's super cool! It is definitely a big win when our code helps someone make something else cool.

OtakuMZ: COol stuff. Thanks a lot again Spencatro for answering all questions. Do you have any shout-outs and where can the Compleat community find you on the interweb?

Spencatro: Yes, absolutely! First, the best way to get in touch with us about anything MTGATracker-related is on discord. Note that if this invite link expires, there will always be an up-to-date one on our homepage. We recently had to roll our invite links due to some spam bots, though. Shout out to our wonderful discord mod team, Venerae, StichflammeNZ, Kealdor/Ghost, and daphpunk, who do their best to help out our users in Discord when they run into issues. Shout out to OxRyan and Uber_Jester who run The Mana Coalition, a community of fledgling MTGA streamers who are dedicated to helping each other grow and are always exuding positivity. Huge shout out to @Fugiman and DeckMaster; he beat us to implementing a highly-requested feature, but I'll be honest, I think he did it better than I could have anyways. If you're a streamer, run, don't walk to check it out, it's super awesome (and compatible with MTGATracker, too)! And, of course, shout out to MTGA devs, who make this incredible game (and put up with so much crap from us). Thank you all, and please keep doing what you're doing!


OtakuMZ is a guest writer for Compleat, BlizzPro and Fade2Karma. You can find him on Twitter and our Discord:



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