Organizing Your Collection #1 – Piles of Cards

This picture was not staged. Courtesy of Casper Orluff

“There’s a Jace in there somewhere…” (This picture was not staged.) Courtesy of Casper Orluff

When we moved house a few months ago, Himself wanted to call our new house ‘the house of cards’ as we own so many. Often we have piles of cards all over the house, until I get around to sorting them all out again. Himself has been playing Magic off and on since he was at school, and I started playing about four years ago, our collection has since grown from one shoebox full to several thousand cards.

It’s quite possible to play Magic without owning a large collection. One advantage is that you have a lot more space in your house for other hobbies! Some players only play Eternal formats and have one deck they always play – so they may only need to own about a hundred cards (one deck plus sideboard options).
You can also buy cards you want for a deck as singles and then sell them on when you change decks. Other players own no cards and simply borrow or rent entire decks for a particular tournament.
If you really don’t want to ever have to organize any cards, you can play online and the computer will keep all your cards in order for you. However this article assumes that you own at least some amount of paper magic cards, and you’re trying to store them and organize them in some fashion.

Our local Magic events are mainly Limited format, as that is more popular locally than competitive Constructed. I like playing Limited, but one of the problems is that if we’re not careful we end up with piles of cards all over the place which are old draft pools. This is the main reason why we have a lot of cards, it’s simply that we play a lot of limited Magic.
Other players may have different reasons to keep a large collection of cards, for instance I know a player who tries to collect one of every card that’s printed including one of every promo card. Some players like to speculate on card prices, so they may buy lots of a particular card when it is relatively cheap and hope to sell off at a profit later on.
In some areas, it’s necessary to keep a large collection because there isn’t anywhere locally that sells a lot of singles – this is the case where I live, so we tend to keep hold of four of all our commons and uncommons so so that we can change Standard decks without having to buy a lot of cards online.
As there are different reasons for players to own their collections, so there are also different methods to store your cards. Here’s some things that would be good to consider when you’re deciding how to store and organize your cards.

Cost

Whatever method you choose, as your collection grows you’ll probably need to expand your storage to accommodate it, so consider the expense of both initial set up and then expanding it.

Ease of expansion

It’s great to have a cool box that fits all your cards in, but what about when you “accidentally” acquire a bunch more and now your box is overflowing? Generally as time goes on your collection will grow, so consider when you start how you can keep your cards organised as your collection grows.

Time

Aside from the classic ‘throw all your cards in a pile’ method, it will take time to organise cards so that you can easily find them again. Consider how much time you want to spend on this – not just the initial time, but also how long it takes to maintain and keep it organised.

Easily find your cards

This depends on your collection size. It’s mostly due to how you choose to sort your cards rather than the storage method, so I’ll go into this a bit more later.

Ease of transport

As well a storing your cards safely, you may also want to carry some of them around to trade with other players, so it’s common for players to keep certain cards separately to their main collection for ease of transport. If all you want to do is keep ALL THE CARDS like some kind of [card]Hoarding Dragon[/card] then you don’t need to worry about this.

Card condition

One important thing to consider is how good a condition you want your cards to stay in? It’s all very well to throw basic lands in a box where they may get rattled around and a bit scratched, but this kind of treatment can devalue your high end cards significantly, so bear in mind how to protect your high value cards from damage.
Please – whatever your cards, never store them in a bundle wrapped in a rubber band as it makes baby Jace cry.

Our Standard collection: Khans block, Origins, Battle for Zendikar plus trade binders

Our Standard collection: Khans block, Origins, Battle for Zendikar plus trade binders

However you store your collection, you still need to make sure your cards are organised so that you can find what you’re looking for though – this can take quite a bit of time to set up and maintain but it means that you can find last minute sideboard cards on the morning of a tournament or find cards for your new cool commander deck easily.
There’s probably a few different ways to organize cards, but this is the one I use, as it seems fairly logical and it is easy to expand as new sets are released.
Sort by set, then color, then alphabetically.
If you’re not sure what set a card is from, look at the symbol on the type line. Cards from some preconstructed decks like the duel decks or the modern event deck have their own set symbol, as there’s not normally enough of those to split into their own set I generally keep those cards with the most recent normal printing.
Color is obvious – you can order the colors however you like (I tend to use WUBRG just because that’s how Wizards sort them on their lists of cards). Just keep to the same system for each set rather than swapping them around, so that you don’t get mixed up later.
You can also divide up by rarity – I tend to separate out the rares and mythic rares from the commons and uncommons, but I don’t split otherwise.
If you don’t have many cards from each set, that might be enough sorting for you, but I also sort alphabetically by English name (as the majority of my cards are English). This just means that I can flick through the cards in the box instead of lifting loads out of the box at a time and then the rest of the cards fall over.
All this can take a while especially at the start, but it’s quite satisfying to see all the organised cards at the end all neat and organised. I also keep a list of what cards we’re missing (we never quite manage to get a playset of everything) so that it’s easy to check what we’ve got at a glance.

In my next article, I’ll talk about a few of the most common methods people use to store their cards, and see how they relate to the considerations I mentioned above.

About the Author
Marianne started playing Magic since Innistrad came out and is still not very good. She likes silly combos, attacking with dragons and organising all her cards alphabetically. She lives in Cork, Ireland.

6 comments on Organizing Your Collection #1 – Piles of Cards

  1. Alex says:

    Cool article. =) I like the jokes like “makes baby Jace cry”

    1. Marianne McDonald says:

      thanks! i specialise in terrible jokes

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  3. Psithief says:

    I’m fairly sure you did not intend to tag this as “Unified Theory of Commander”. It’s not part of the series.

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