Colemak + Niro + Soul + MTGAP
This story began with a desire to make an ergonomic/efficient keyboard layout that was easier to learn than all the existing ones. It was a good success producing the Qwickly (and transitional) layouts. The layout is shown below and was largely created from scratch by trial and error and lots of community feedback.

Qwickly (prototype)

Q W U D F J L P Y ; [ ] \
A S E T G H N I O R ' ⏎
⇧ Z X C V B K M , . / ⇧
As it was later discovered the layout has a strong resemblance to the Niro layout while being easier to learn coming from QWERTY.
[What follows is a selection of layouts with goals similar to that imprecise notion of what I'm looking for and had not yet found. The impatient can skip ahead to MTGAP below.]

Niro

Q W U D P J F Y L ; [ ] \
A S E T G H N I R O ' ⏎
⇧ Z X C V B K M , . / ⇧
Compared to Qwickly; Niro additionally swaps the letters P and F between hands as well as moving the frequently occurring letter O to a different finger. It does however keep L on the same finger.

Qwickly (NIRO)

Looking for opportunities to make the layout more smooth and efficient I combined the best parts of Qwickly and NIRO. Special tweaks are that comma is above the right pinky home row, swapping places with the semi-colon. Note that the shifted characters did not swap places--shift-comma is colon (:) and shift-semi-colon is less-than (<). A typing method where the left-hand middle finger only presses the 'E' and 'U' letters, which avoids awkward reaching as well as bigrams involving ''C' or 'X'.
Q W U D P K H Y L , [ ] \
A S E T G F N I R O ' ⏎
⇧ Z X C V J B M ; . / ⇧
This strayed from the "Quick to learn" ethos of the Qwickly layout. It is however a smooth layout that was still as easy to learn as other existing layouts with as good or better stats. It does open the door to all other layout possibilities.

Colemak

Q W F P G J L U Y ; [ ] \
A R S T D H N E I O ' ⏎
⇧ Z X C V B K M , . / ⇧
Of course we can't discuss layouts without including Colemak. It and Colemak (Mod DH) serve as good reference points when measuring proposed layouts using various tools and input text.

Soul

Q W L D P K M U Y ; [ ] \
A S R T G F N E I O ' ⏎
⇧ Z X C V J B H , . / ⇧
I discovered the Soul layout by way of Niro as they are both presented on the The Symmetric Typing Project site. I'm literally half-sold on the idea of symmetric typing on a standard staggered layout. I will use Pinky and Ring fingers for Z and X in non-symmetric fashion. Then I use Index finger for C as per symmetric typing. I've always typed this way before I knew it had a name.
The Soul layout is interesting it that it seems like an evolution of Niro with lessened (ease of learning) constraints to compete with the likes of Colemak on efficiency and ergonomics.
It's weird (or intentional?) that the Kia Motor company have cars named both Niro and Soul.

MTGAP

Y P O U J K D L C W [ ] \
I N E A , M H T S R ' ⏎
⇧ Q Z / . : B F G V X ⇧
Now this is an optimized layout! Why is there so much discussion about Colemak and even Dvorak when this exists? Obviously; Dvorak is supported everywhere and Colemak keeps many of your shortcuts and is easier to be proficient especially it using the Tarmak layouts. MTGAP did open my eyes to what was possible and had me started on a new quest without knowing its destination.

Benchmarks

Sample
MTGAP
Qwickly2
Colemak-DH
Soul
Colemak
Alice
68.40
68.22
68.02
68.06
66.61
Common
73.29
72.18
75.56
74.21
73.94
S.A.T.
70.97
70.07
75.07
74.13
73.11
Magna
70.23
69.65
69.68
69.61
68.09
1984
69.78
70.86
69.23
69.10
67.47
Tarzan
71.09
70.65
69.28
69.65
68.38
Jungle
67.39
66.56
63.50
65.07
63.98
Difficult
68.47
67.30
69.61
70.21
67.97
Medical
68.66
70.07
74.26
72.48
72.76
Quotes
54.97
58.84
48.55
55.13
54.50
Tao
64.20
61.77
61.35
62.15
61.61
Bigrams
72.35
76.63
78.30
73.28
72.68
Cost
59.36
59.28
58.12
58.26
58.11
Contract
56.75
54.08
57.50
53.32
57.38
Binary
60.95
59.88
59.61
58.20
59.05
Lorem
54.46
59.04
58.27
57.82
57.06
Game
36.08
48.30
36.70
41.10
38.86
avg prose
avg all
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