Gatherer, Wizards' card database, has been out for a while now. Many have been using it as their only card search resource, both for autocard tags on forums and in other applications, such as the source of pictures for spoilers and articles. But is the Gatherer really as good as it has been made out to be? In this article, we explore the strengths and weaknesses of the Gatherer in comparison to other resources.
On the surface, Gatherer's search interface appears good for the default settings of a card search. It allows you to search for a predefined segment of text in the name of the card, the rules text, the card type, the flavor text, and even the artist or mana cost, all at once. However, one quickly notices the first major flaw of Gatherer; one cannot search multiple variables at once.
Unlike other card searches, you cannot search for cards that have Kobold in their name and 0/0 in their rules text. Rather, to find out which have both, one would have to do a good deal of work on one's own, comparing two separate searches to find the cards that have both. This can be a major annoyance to those who are looking for certain cards. For that matter, Legendary Creatures, when "searching by type", show up in an entirely different place than normal creatures, which can be inconvenient.
Gatherer, however, does allow one to search for Magic Online formats like Online Extended and Prismatic, something that most resources do not because of the relative lack of play in those formats. However, this makes little difference to most people, as most do not use those formats.
What Gatherer needs is a more in-depth interface. One that allows one to choose multiple variables simultaneously, search multiple phrases of text simultaneously, and things of that sort. As far as card searches go, Gatherer lacks in this respect, simply because it does not have as many features and options as the competitors.
In this aspect, I give Gatherer 7 out of 10. Although it fulfills its primary function, it leaves much to be desired in terms of other functions and extra options.
This is what many competitors lack; adequate images of the actual cards. Wizards, unlike the others, owns the images of the cards, and is free to display them as they choose (not that this has stopped other card searches from displaying images as they please). Beyond that, the images found on Gatherer are much clearer than others, albeit a bit smaller.
An example Gatherer card image.
An example Gatherer card image.
The last part deserves further mention; the card images are a little smaller than the cards themselves. Although this can make it more difficult to view the details in the art and read the card, it also makes the picture look better overall; the images other sites use are generally derived from the Wizards database, and often the resizes are not done as well as they could, resulting in heavily pixelated, less visually appealing images. Gatherer's images also do not have the site-specific text (ie. putting the URL of the website in semi-transparent letters over the art) that some websites have.
Although Wizards generally does not make undue fuss over the use of card images in card searches, many searches do not include said pictures as a precaution against legal challenges. Because of this, Gatherer has a slight advantage; Wizards will not challenge the use of its pictures on the search because these pictures are being used by Wizards itself.
For the stability, and for the clear pictures of the cards, Gatherer receives 8 out of 10 in this regard, losing two points because the cards are smaller than they necessarily need to be.
The Gatherer page is extremely simple in comparison to other Wizards subdomains: a simple banner at the top depicting various creatures from previous Magic sets, and a strip of checkboxes and dropboxes in pastel greens and whites. These are neutral colors. Generally, people will not dislike them; they might not like them, but they will not be completely turned away from the search engine by them. However, the small size of the search box leaves an enormous white field around the box, especially on computers with high resolutions.
Other search engines fill space in various ways. Some, like essentialMagic, integrate the search into their usual website. Others such as MagicCards.Info, do not work on this; they simply have a color in their background and put the card search box in the center. As neither are truly preferable, I give Gatherer 8 out of 10 here, missing two points because of the overall dull appearance and large empty spaces.
It is here that Gatherer can be considered truly good. On forums and other applications, linking the name of a card to a small popup with the card is commonplace. Gatherer fulfills this well; the popup is small, pleasing to the eye, and displays not only the card but all relevant information, from the sets the card was in to the flavor text. With a click of the mouse, the image can change from that of one set to another. As most card searches do not have these popups possible (instead opening a large window, as seen with the MTGnews.com Card Popups).
My only complaint with the Card Popups is that they can seem somewhat cluttered at times when compared with other Card Popups like those of MagicCards.Info. However, this rarely creates a significant problem when using the resource, as the clutter is generally justified.
Because of its high usability and relevant information, I give the Gatherer popup 9 out of 10, the missing point owing to the aforementioned clutter.
Overall, Gatherer is a good resource, but in comparison to other card searches, it loses some of its impressive appearance. Although it does have some advantages to other searches, owing to its status as being owned by Wizards, the lack of some features puts it behind others. On most days, I'd rather use MagicCards.Info or some other card search over Gatherer, because I'm able to have more control over what I'm searching. Use Gatherer if you need something fast and official, but go elsewhere for something else.
Before we go, I'd like to give Gatherer an Overall Rating. The official patina, the excellent popups, and the neutral colors give it 9 out of 10, but I must subtract some points for the lack of a complete interface and the layout. Overall, I'd give Gatherer 7 out of 10; good, but not great.