As a Magic: The Gathering player, it’s practically a right-of-passage to become overwhelmed by the madness of cardboard. Yet the best way to organize a Magic collection depends on the player who owns them. This complete guide will cover every aspect of sorting and storing Magic cards. Overall, the goal is to create a system that makes old cards easy to find and new cards easy to add to your collection.
This method of organizing Magic cards asks each person to consider how they play the game and what cards they readily need access to. From organizing cards in binders to the best methods for sorting cards in storage boxes, here’s our complete guide in three steps:
- Tips Before Organizing Your Magic Collection
- Organize Your Magic Collection with Categories
- How to Sort & Store Magic Cards (Best Method)
Whether pro player or casual collector – if your Magic collection is in need of organization, you’ve come to the right place.
1. Tips Before Organizing Your Magic Collection
There are a few things to consider before organizing your Magic collection. These general tips will make the sorting process smoother:
Organize On a Deadline
For most players, it’s unlikely their entire Magic collection can be sorted in one day. But with life’s responsibilities, it’s all too easy to organize half a collection, returning only to add more unsorted cards to the pile. To avoid this, choose a period of time and block off hours for organizing your collection. Then set a deadline by which you’ll complete the task.
Cards for Sell or to Donate
When organizing my collection, I am often hoping to pare it down as well. Since the task of sorting can be long and tedious, it’s helpful to determine a rule for when cards should be removed from the collection. To make this decision, you may need to consider the type of Magic player you are.
For example, those who play in many formats may want to keep a playset of each card. However, someone who predominantly plays Standard may choose to only keep one of each card from Legacy sets – possibly none if they don’t also play Commander.
Again, it’s important to consider your own preferences. Even if you never plan to play with a card again, you might choose to keep it anyway – whether due to value or the simple desire to have one in your collection.
Finally, assess whether or not you have enough storage supplies for sorted cards. This isn’t always easy to determine if a collection hasn’t been organized (or needs to be re-organized). Overall, most players will need some combination of binders, deck boxes and storage boxes:
In most instances, it’s more efficient to use a three-ring binder with sleeve pages made to protect trading cards. This allows the player to easily maintain the sorting system when adding and removing cards from the collection.
Deck boxes are often used to house current decks, as well as those being built or updated. For most players, acquiring more of these before sorting cards won’t be necessary.
These will make up the bulk of most player’s storage needs. Hard plastic containers are available, but most people use cardboard storage boxes. These are extremely cheap and often sourced from BCW Supplies, whether bought online or at your local game store.
2. Organize Your Magic Collection with Categories
The first time I organized my Magic cards, I did not think to categorize my collection. Looking back, skipping this step is what made it impossible to maintain the system.
Before you begin sorting by various card characteristics, consider why and how you will look for cards in the future. Without realizing it, you are probably already grouping cards into categories.
It’s important to choose categories based on how you play the game and invest your time in Magic overall. Once you’ve determined the most useful categories for storing your Magic collection, consider how you want to store each category of cards. Here are some categories you might include, as well as how each is stored in my collection:
- Expensive ($X & Over) Cards. I prefer to keep two different binders within this category. The first binder holds cards (aside from those in decks) with a value of $20 or greater. The second binder only holds valuable cards I am willing or wanting to sell. This binder is organized into price sets (i.e. $10-$30; $30-$50; $50+) with tabs.
- Decks in Progress. Most of my decks are in a state of constant evolution, not to mention the many others I’ve started building. Therefore, I use bundle boxes from old sets. This keeps the cards protected and allows me to organize them specifically for their use within the deck. If you do not have bundle boxes, other deck boxes or smaller cardboard storage boxes can be used for the same.
- Commander Staples. My preference is to use a smaller binder for Commander staples. But if you’ve got a lot of commander staples, using a storage or deck box might be easier in the long-run.
- Standard Sets. Standard format players may want a binder exclusively dedicated to cards that are currently legal in standard. Using a three-ring binder makes it easy to retire sets to other categories when they are rotated out.
- Bulk. Rares and mythics go into a binder; while everything else is sorted in storage boxes. This is how I used to store all of my cards before using categories. While it was inefficient for the entirety of my collection, it’s ideal for the vast majority of the cards I own.
- [Your Category Here]. Remember, these are the categories that work for me. I’m certain there are categories I wouldn’t even think to create. Knowing what aspects of the game you invest your time and money into is the most important aspect of organizing your Magic cards.
Without determining these categories, it’s easy to organize an entire collection as bulk. Using categories allows an active collection to be easily utilized.
3. How to Sort & Store Magic Cards (Best Method)
This reddit thread importantly points out that how a person organizes their magic cards will ultimately need to be decided by what they will be looking for within the collection.
We’ve broken this down further (above) by suggesting players create categories. The most efficient sequence for one category may not be the sorting order that works for all of them.
The question to ask yourself here is, “when finding a card from this category, what will I be looking for and how can I make it easy to find?”
Sort cards by price, set, rarity, color, mana cost, alphabetical order, or any other criteria you can think of. What’s most important is that your organizational system works for you.
Let’s review the categories we discussed above. This time, let’s consider the most optimal sorting order for each:
- Expensive ($X & Over) Cards. Quite predictably, in the binder with cards to be sold, cards are only sorted by price. However, in the binder with valuable cards that I may use, the cards are sorted by price, color, mana cost. I find this to be most useful when looking for cards to add to a deck.
- Decks in Progress. This depends entirely on the deck. In absence of a clear strategy, I will often sort by card type then mana cost. However, with a clear strategy, I will sort by function. For example: mill, removal, burn, counter, lands, etc. This allows me to more easily balance the various aspects of my deck.
- Commander Staples. In my binder, staples are organized by color, card type, then mana cost – since I will be looking for specific colors, then specific abilities, followed by how much those abilities will cost.
- Standard Sets. In a large binder, these are organized by set, color, card type, then mana cost. While it’s tempting to organize these by rarity first, I find that isn’t efficient for building or updating a deck. And since these cards will eventually rotate out of the binder, I don’t mind a slightly more complex sorting order.
- Bulk. This is the only category that I organize by rarity first. Rares and mythics are stored in a binder, while commons and uncommons (as well as miscellaneous other cards) are stored in boxes. After rarity, bulk cards are organized by set then color.
I highly recommend labeling the boxes and binders by category, set or other criteria as needed. Again, it’s important to adjust any suggestions here to what will work best for you. Especially for players who enjoy highly competitive or random formats, create categories and sorting sequences that make the most sense to your brain and the way you build decks.
Order of Organization
One component to consider is what happens when a card fits into multiple categories. To plan for this, I suggest choosing the order of organization for cards.
In my collection, decks-in-progress are king. If a card belongs in this pile, this is where it currently needs to be. Expensive cards are the next priority, followed by Commander staples, then Standard sets, with my bulk collection last.
That being said, you will want to choose an order based on how you play the game.
Long-term Organization: Keeping Your Collection Updated
You will probably continue adding to your collection of MTG cards. Therefore, as you determine what system will work best for your collection, make sure it is easy to add new cards later.
An example of this, as previously discussed, is using a binder with three rings. This allows a player to easily add or remove pages wherever necessary. Players who want to organize their collection alphabetically should strongly consider whether or not they will maintain this.
That is the key: building a system you can easily maintain. Organizing your collection into categories (step one) helps make this easier by defining where cards need to be organized.
But thereafter, you’ll want to decide to be one of two types of people:
- Those who organize cards immediately after opening them; or
- Those who collect unsorted cards until a box is full
The process that is best is the one you will follow-through with. For me, it’s easiest to keep a fairly small storage box (around 300 count) that I fill with cards as I open them. Once it’s full, I block off some time to organize those cards into my larger collection.
The exception to this is when I buy a box. In which case I try to organize the cards as soon as possible, since I have already created a pile for myself.
As your collection grows, it will take a consistent system to keep it organized long-term. But if the system is too complex, piles of unruly cards will quickly begin to sprout up once more.
Storage Units for Large Magic Collections (Affordable to Fancy)
Any big-box store that carries home goods will have affordable cube (or cubby) units that are ideal for storing an organized magic collection. The cubes are an ideal size, perfect for stacking storage boxes and tall enough for standard three-ring binders. Cloth bins (usually purchased separately) can be used like drawers that slide into the cubbies. These are ideal for storing other Magic accessories, including bags of dice, playmats, art scrolls, and more.
An alternative is a card catalog cabinet. While pricey, long-term collectors with big collections may consider investing in one. If you’re old enough to remember using the dewey decimal system in a library, those are the types of cabinets I’m referring to. Many old library card catalogs are sold in antique or thrift stores, but new ones can be purchased as well.
Smaller versions of the same are called apothecary cabinets. Although you’ll want to be aware of the drawer dimensions, these beautiful wooden cabinets sit on a desk. Not ideal for housing an entire collection, these small cabinets make for beautiful, minimal storage.
Oddly Satisfying Organization
Opening Magic packs and playing draft are two aspects of the game that bring a lot of joy to players. Oftentimes, sorting through those cards also brings back fun memories.
In the past, there are two reasons I’ve allowed my organizational system to fall into disrepair: the system didn’t actually work for me, or life happened. Either way, it’s oddly satisfying to revisit my collection with fresh eyes. I always find a card I forgot I owned or one I’d been meaning to add to a deck.
How do you organize your Magic cards? What information did you find most useful? We’d love to hear your input in the comments below.