Cycle and Dredge takes a different approach on how to scan Magic cards. We put a lot of thought into it.  There were some challenges.  But ultimately, we are happy with where we landed with our approach on how to scan Magic cards.

How can you scan Magic cards, and what are the differences compared to other apps?

First, you should probably visit the help articles here and here.

Both of those links will explain how to scan Magic cards into your MTG collection. They will also explain the best way to scan your MTG cards as well.

So, I suppose we need a little back story and explanation.  While this might be a bit boring for some people, it adds some context behind our decisions.

So many numbers!

Most MTG collection apps use something called perceptual hashing to compare Magic cards. This works by taking a digital fingerprint of a card image (turning it into a number) and comparing it against other known fingerprints.  If two fingerprints match closely enough, the MTG app will make a guess that the card you are scanning matched closely enough with a card in its database and offer that card as a match.

This works great because scanned cards have a higher potential chance of associating itself with the right set as well.

Quickly doing perceptual hashing requires apps to be made specifically for a certain device.  This is one of the reasons why most MTG apps that scan Magic cards are apps and not websites.

Webapps are dandy!

Cycle and Dredge didn’t want to make an app for a smartphone, though.  As nice as apps are, they require a lot more person-power to make and maintain correctly. We opted to go the website route so that we could pay more attention to a single app rather than spread ourselves to thin.

That creates another issue, though.  Doing perceptual hashing on a card image in a web browser can be slow compared to a dedicated app. So, we investigated other ways to make this work.

We ultimately landed on the OCR (optical character recognition) route. So instead of creating fingerprints of cards, we read the text on the cards directly.

Drawbacks of using OCR

This has disadvantages, though. For instance, rather than turning the image you scanned into a fingerprint, and transferring just that fingerprint to the server, we must transfer the entire scanned image. This adds additional time while scanning card images. Likewise, because there is no text indicating the set or set code that scanned card came from, we must guess the set a card came from a little.

Advantages of using OCR

There are advantages by using OCR, too.  It’s not all bad. One of the biggest advantages is that we can scan multiple cards into our MTG collection at once.  With proper lighting and a good smartphone camera, I have been able to achieve scanning an entire binder page of cards at once.  Even better, I was able to scan cards through a couple of empty spots under binder pages.

After doing some testing and speed runs comparing scanning Magic cards into our collection using both our method and other popular apps, we found it took just as long to scan Magic cards using Cycle and Dredge, when scanning multiple cards at once, as it did using other apps. Of course, other apps still hold the speed record for scanning single cards at a time, though we try and make up for this by optimizing our manual card entry feature so it works as fast as possible.

Cycle and Dredge will work on a way to add perceptual hashing scanning as soon as we can make it work correctly. Once we get that figured out, both options will be available to everyone. Until then, we feel like we came up with a good solution that works for anyone with a browser and a camera.  The Cycle and Dredge MTG camera scanner works with a smartphone or a computer with a webcam.

Accounts are free!

So, give it a try today!  Don’t forget, you can also import your existing collection into Cycle and Dredge with a CSV sheet as well.  Take a look here for more information about that.

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