So... we've had a history of bugs with the autocard feature linking to Gatherer. Whatever way we try to link to it, there's always new and different arbitrary cards that break for some reason. Today in chat we discovered an entirely new bug scenario with ordinary card names not working right, which sucks.
Up to this point we've been working on the assumption that Gatherer must be externally accessible as a search engine as long as we just use it right and find the right way to feed it card names. But at this point, I don't think they do try to make it externally accessible.
The bug was: we found out that when a card name is two or more words, and there's another card name that also contains those words, the search fails completely and returns no results. This impacts Waxing Moon (which exists) because there's another card called Cult of the Waxing Moon. This also impacts famous cards like Phage the Untouchable (who also exists) because there are vanguard avatar "cards" for them in Gatherer, like this one for Phage. (But curiously not Etched Champion, which also has an avatar.) When a card is just one word, like Recall or Chronatog, it returns a search page for all cards including that name, without an error.
This stuff really isn't our fault at this point. To date we haven't found a single reliable formula that, for all cards, takes the card name and gives us an exact link to just that card and not a search, and we've gone looking several times. There is no documentation on how to do this correctly nor does Gatherer integrate with years-old modern browser search features, both of which I think they'd provide if they intended to make this system externally accessible.
Then there's also Gatherer's language issue
We discovered recently that Gatherer search fails for anyone from non-English regions. If German is your computer's primary language, Gatherer configures itself to operate in German for you. If you click on an autocard link on Boardgames.SE (because you're also comfortable using an English site), our autocard links tell Gatherer to search for that card name — but it searches for it in the list of German card names. Of course it doesn't find the English card name in the German card list, so the search fails and tells you the card doesn't exist.
This has lead people to edit posts to use straight-up links to the English versions instead of using the
[mtg:autocard] syntax. People often won't even know why Gatherer isn't working for them, because they never configured Gatherer themselves. There's no way we know to tell Gatherer to search in the English card list.
Depicted: the results of clicking an autocard link for Grizzly Bears whilst the site is configured to Japanese.
Let's switch to a different MTG search: Scryfall
(Full disclosure: I'm a Scryfall patron on Patreon and I talk in their Discord channel with other patrons and the team. I have no other affiliation with them and don't stand to benefit in any material way from recommending them. They didn't ask, pressure, or incentivise me to do this in any way, shape, or form. I have checked with them about BG.SE doing this, and linked this page to them.)
Scryfall started up just over a year ago and has become a very popular card search engine in that time. It's wonderful to use and, most importantly for us, has external accessibility as a major development goal. (To the extent they also have a well-developed public API.) Its database is kept up to date with correct details and comprehensive card imagery, and they routinely stay up to date with card previews within a day or two.
... So basically it has everything we'd want. It also has a reliable formula for us to use for searches. And it fixes that language issue by being English-only right now; they have an internationalisation project in their distant future.
Stack Exchange devs: Requesting we use a third-party resource seems weird, so I feel this merits some explanation. M:TG players use a lot of third-party services to augment our involvement in the game. Gatherer plays a role as the single source of truth for Magic card details (including errata, etc) but it is not the go-to search engine. Up to last year the go-to search engine was Magiccards.info, but then Scryfall came out as an effort to modernize MTG searching & deliver things Magiccards.info wasn't doing, and so far they're succeeding.
The search formula
Scryfall's developers confirmed this one as OK. They requested we include the
&utm_source=stackexchange particle for better tracking. In this formula we replace CARDNAME with the card's name:
Links below this point all use this formula, although do not contain the
One text transformation: strip out double quotes from card names
The only actual transformation we need to apply (beyond normal URI character encoding) to the card name is to strip out quotation marks in the card name (
") because they'd mess up that formula. This still works; I'll mention why shortly. Apostrophes (
') are fine and don't need to be removed. There's only four cards in all of Magic that use quotation marks in their name, so that means:
- If I write
[mtg:"Ach! Hans, Run!"], strip out the quotes to make it just
Ach! Hans, Run!:
https://scryfall.com/search?q=!"Ach! Hans, Run!"
- Same for
[mtg:Kongming, "Sleeping Dragon"]: turn that into
Kongming, Sleeping Dragon:
https://scryfall.com/search?q=!"Kongming, Sleeping Dragon"
[mtg:Pang Tong, "Young Phoenix"]becomes
Pang Tong, Young Phoenix:
https://scryfall.com/search?q=!"Pang Tong, Young Phoenix"
[mtg:"Rumors of My Death . . ."]becomes
Rumors of My Death . . .:
https://scryfall.com/search?q=!"Rumors of My Death . . ."
This works because Scryfall actually ignores punctuation completely. Even
https://scryfall.com/search?q=!"rumorsofmydeath" works just fine. It does this because the developers don't want people to have to remember if Vitu-Ghazi, the City-Tree has one or both of those hyphens in it or not, or if Saskia the Unyielding has a comma or not (like Nissa, Vital Force does). It's a very forgiving mechanism, but still exact on the actual words you use.
Some test cases using this formula
- The Longest Card Name Ever Elemental
- Split cards can be searched by either or both halves: Alive, Well, Alive/Well (the traditional double slashes are also fine: Alive//Well)
- Aftermath cards too: Insult, Injury, and single/double/triple slashes are all fine: Insult/Injury, Insult//Injury, Insult///Injury (since they ignore punctuation anyway)
- Cards mentioned above all return their exact correct matches without errors or a search page: Phage the Untouchable, Waxing Moon, Cult of the Waxing Moon, Etched Champion, Chronatog, Recall
- The card simply named X
- Searching for Storm Crow returns both the actual card and the token variant generated by Crow Storm.
- Searching for a token by name returns each unique functional variant of that token: Soldier
The functional same-name reprints from Unstable result in a search page of all variants, which to my mind is a good thing:
- Very Cryptic Command
- Garbage Elemental
- Knight of the Kitchen Sink
- Ineffable Blessing
- Sly Spy
When I say this is a good thing, it's strictly better than what Gatherer does, which is to just return one variant (Very Cryptic Command, Everythingamajig) without hinting that the other functional variants exist.
The nonfunctional variants just return one result since they're handled the same as reprints: Extremely Slow Zombie
Every other card yet mentioned in MTG Autocard bug reports not already mentioned above
(All of these work.)
- Circle of Protection: Art
- Ranger's Guile
- R&D's Secret Lair
- Question Elemental?
- B.F.M. (Big Furry Monster)
- Sphinx's Revelation
- Sun Titan
- Sundering Titan
- Black Lotus
- Erase (Not the Urza's Legacy One)
- Ghazban Ogress
- Ring of Ma'rûf
- Who/What/When/Where/Why, accessed by the full name.
- Yet Another Æther Vortex
- The Ultimate Nightmare of Wizards of the Coast® Customer Service
- Chicken à la King
- Junún Efreet
- Pharika's Mender
- Lightning Bolt
- Platinum Angel
- Grafdigger's Cage
- Trial / Error (and Trial and Error)
Some of the above cards have diacritics, the "Æ" grapheme, or punctuation that's unusual for an English writer. Note that I can also write those card names without remembering those details or knowing how to enter those unusual characters with my keyboard:
Details for MTG players
Scryfall has the following plan:
Index all printed and online cards accurately, including extras, joke cards, tokens, etc, all with high-res scans
Index official spoilers
I checked their general policy on leaks:
Scryfall doesn't post leaked/stolen cards until they're officially spoiled. However, sometimes WotC does "guerilla marketing" where someone opens a pack on a table or in "my attic" etc and we have to guess if it's really an official spoiler or not and we may guess wrong. We also don't count stuff like early release promos or release marketing materials as "leaks" because those get shipped to stores and are almost always posted immediately.