What is the Magic: The Gathering ION Card Scanner? by Joseph Dunlap

Magic The Gathering ION Card Scanner App mtg

What is the Magic: The Gathering ION card image recognition scanner, and how could it revolutionise your MTG collection?

One of the biggest problems for a Magic: The Gathering player who has been playing for more than a few years is the size of their collection. For many of us, our collections grow to comprise thousands of Magic cards and becomes unmanageable.

This week, a new software (videos at the end of this article) is hitting the internet that allows users to scan Magic cards and automatically create a database of their collection. I recently spoke with Kelly Reid, Co-founder and Lead Software Developer of QuietSpeculation.com, a website devoted to tracking the Magic: The Gathering secondary market. Reid is also the Project Lead for Quiet Speculation’s latest project.

“Very soon, we’re going to have something called the ION Scanner,” says Reid, “which is software that uses a webcam to recognise Magic cards and help you catalogue your collection.”

The ION Scanner is one of several tools that can help a retailer or Magic player organise and sell their collection. It is one of several that have been developed over recent years. Last year a screenshot from a card scanner smartphone app was posted to Reddit by its developer showing three cards being scanned at once.

Toucharcade.com ran a feature two years ago about a similar app called “CardSplice”. Another developer combined a card dispenser’s functionality with a card scanner to automate the entire scanning process. The technology of such software has steadily improved over the past few years, but there are still limitations on what they can do.


Quiet Speculation Trader Tools

The idea of a software that catalogues Magic cards into an inventory list began when Reid was a store owner. “I had probably 15,000 cards that were just dead stock,” Reid says. “I needed to liberate those cards from my inventory to get my capital back out, so I developed a tool called Trader Tools.”

Trader Tools is a software that looks at the buylists on major Magic retailers like Starcitygames, Channelfireball, or Card Kingdom and helps you sell your card collection for the highest possible price. Reid developed and used Trader Tools as a retailer, and after Quiet Speculation was founded, the software was offered as part of the Insider account subscriber package.

With as much as Trader Tools offered, there was still a problem. “This tool will do all the heavy lifting once it knows what cards I own,” says Reid. “I don’t have time to type in every single card.”

This is a problem faced by most Magic: The Gathering retailers who want to inventory their stock of singles. Reid set out to remedy this problem with a software that could do that job for him. “I had a webcam taped to a stick,” says Reid, “and I stitched together a couple of pieces of open-source software, and eventually I was able to get it to recognize a Magic card in about 10 or 20 seconds, which is obviously way too slow.” As a result, Reid shelved the project.


Improving the Technology

Over the next few years, the technology of card scanning began to improve. Apps were developed for smartphones that allowed users to scan their cards into a database using the built-in cameras, for example.

“The problem was that you have to hold your phone in one hand, and manipulate cards in the other hand,” Reid says, “and I didn’t really care for that. As a store owner, you might have millions of cards that are sitting in cards and uncatalogued.”

After researching the various programs that were in development, Reid and his partner Doug Linn found one that showed promise. “We found a guy who has really good technology,” says Reid. “He was in a position to accept an offer from us to work on it as opposed to taking out on his own. So we brought him on board to the team, and we sat down with him [and] talked to him about what we wanted the technology to look like.”

As it was being refined, the software was tested by retailers and customers. This week, it is now finally ready for release.


Releasing the Quiet Speculation ION Scanner

Last weekend, Quiet Speculation announced that the ION Scanner would soon be released to the public. An announcement went up this morning that it is ready for download. Retailers are still being accepted to beta test the software, and the basic version is available for free to subscribers.

For retailers looking to purchase the software, there will be a more advanced version that will interface with Trader Tools and the point of sale software used by most stores.

What does this mean for an ordinary Magic: The Gathering player?

First, advances like the ION Scanner are the first of many that we will begin to see in the near future. Being able to scan cards into a digital inventory is revolutionary for a trading card game that still uses physical cards in a digital world. It has always been difficult to keep track of collections, and even more so for local game stores with more cards than storage space.

But there’s even more to it than that.


The Future of Digital Inventory

As more advances into these types of software reach our local game stores, the secondary market will be positively affected. Cards sitting in bulk boxes can be catalogued and either shipped out to online retailers or kept in stock, organised and ready for players to buy. The secondary market will become healthier and more stable as cards begin to move more freely among the Magic community in the next few years.

Websites for the Magic community are already heading that direction. Pucatrade is a popular website that allows players to exchange cards for a digital currency, effectively allowing them to trade unwanted cards for cards they are looking for – much in the same way Trader Tools allows retailers to offload their bulk to online retailers.

With the increasing popularity of Magic: The Gathering Online, Pucatrade will soon expand its service to include MTGO cards as well. MTGGoldfish and similar websites allow players to buy MTGO singles directly from an online retailer, but Pucatrade will soon allow players to trade directly with each other regardless of whether the cards being exchanged are online or physical cardboard.

One of the weaknesses players have pointed out about Magic: The Gathering Online has been a lack of incentive to play the online version of the game and the cardboard version simultaneously, as they are entirely separate from each other. Services like Pucatrade will change that, as the card economies of both versions of the game will soon begin to mix. A player who has only played online will be able to cash out part of their collection in order to build a physical deck for a Grand Prix, and a player with a large cardboard collection will be able to trade out unwanted cards to get a decent start in MTGO.

Helping players sell unwanted cards through services like Pucatrade and the ION Scanner will help the game as a whole as players are able to get past the expensive barrier for entry – a barrier that often can be kind of daunting. As more and more players are able to pass that barrier, the game will grow as a result.


Quiet Speculation ION Scanner banner mtg

Magic: The Gathering ION Card Scanner App in Action

Augmented Reality with ION


Community Question: Do you think Magic: The Gathering card scanning technology will impact the game? And if so, then in what way?

Thanks for reading,

Joseph Dunlap

What is the ION Magic: The Gathering Card Scanner? by Joseph Dunlap
What is the ION Magic: The Gathering card image recognition scanner and how could it revolutionise your MTG collection?

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